Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fun Times

So time here has begun to fly so much faster- as of today I only have 6 weeks left in Africa, and only 2 official weeks of class after this week. And the way classes work here, it is a much lighter course load, so I really only have one presentation and four big papers really left to do. That leaves us with not much else but making the most of the rest of our time here, which we fully intend to do. Four weeks from today we leave for a trip to Rwanda, thereby really ending our life here as we know it. So we plan on spending as much time with our Honors College friends as possible, in between all of their course work. But even on our own, we manage to have some fun. Last weekend we went white water rafting on the Nile, and a couple people even went bungee jumping. I have also spent the night at Chain, the orphanage I volunteer at twice and got to spend a lot of time talking with some of the older girls and playing games with the younger ones. So it has been good. And yet, already the good-bye’s will begin soon. Next week, I will go to Chain and TLM, a fellowship I joined for the semester, for the last times. And in the next couple of weeks, I will be visiting my Mukono home stay family to say good bye to them as well. But it has been a great time, and even as it seems so close to ending, it is still a little over a month to enjoy and continue to learn.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


For one of my classes, we have been reading Compassion by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison. The book is a reflection on compassion and Christianity based on the model that Jesus lived out. Much of it is truth that I have already heard, but looks at different aspects from a slightly different perspective. On the second page I already knew that I would be challenged and like the thoughts and discussions that would come out of reading this because I could so directly relate to one of the statements, “we have lost the simple but difficult gift of being present to each other. We have lost this gift because we have been led to believe that presence must be useful…Meanwhile, we have forgotten that it is often in ‘useless,’ unpretentious, humble presence to each other that we feel consolation and comfort.” So often I say or think that presence and relationships are the most important, but have really found that more difficult to live out since being here. And I think it is very directly related to the need to useful. In the context of being here in Uganda, it is even related to the implicit desire and expectation that I am here to serve. And in fact, I have been served most of my time here by learning and by being a guest. All I can legitimately offer is my presence. Later on, it discusses the servanthood that Christ modeled for us, “Here we see what compassion means. It is not a bending toward the underprivileged from a privileged position; it is not a reaching out from on high to those who are less fortunate below; it is not a gesture of sympathy or pity for those who fail to make it in the upward pull. On the contrary, compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there. God’s compassion is total, absolute, unconditional, without reservation.” After talking about poverty, we had already discussed how the Bible talks so much about the poor and underprivileged and the need to be WITH them. After all, James 1:27 says “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to VISIT orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” It doesn’t say to send money and solve all their problems, but instead calls us to be in relationship and offer our presence. So this is something that God has already been convicting me on and this definition of compassion and serving just added to that. So often, it is easy to give money and not have the relationship or offer my presence. I want to feel good but stay comfortable, and that is NOT what God has asked of me. It just shows how easily my selfishness wins out, and I’m not okay with that. It takes sacrifice and humility and it will be hard. But only then will I feel true compassion, and out of that love, I will be able to truly serve others. And I really like what they go on to say, “Radical servanthood is not an enterprise in which we try to surround ourselves with as much misery as possible, but a joyful way of life in which our eyes are opened to the vision of the true God who chose to be revealed in servanthood.” No it won’t always be easy or fun, but I’m not trying to suffer, and I get to live a life with God’s joy which is way better than anything superficial. So right now, I’m just working on how that will look practically in my life. I know it is something that I am not doing, but I want to. Good intentions and all of this learning are not enough, though, so figuring out how to act on these lessons and convictions once I’m back in America is becoming a big focus now. As all of this was in the back of my mind, I had an interesting conversation about “typical Christians” with a Ugandan friend. One of the stereotypes of American Christians that she mentioned was that we ignore parts of the Bible that don’t work for us, and just listen and talk about the passages and theology that we can follow. I gave a noncommittal agreement, something along the lines of, “Yeah, I’m sure some do” but moved on to asking what the faults were of the typical Ugandan Christian. Later, as I was reading for class, I realized that even though I didn’t want to admit it, I fit the description of the “typical American Christian.” By tithing, praying, and occasionally doing different community service or giving money, I thought I was loving and serving the poor as God would ask me. But Biblically, I’m not. And then I read about obedience. The authors mention that this is a word that often has many negative connotations because implies an imposition of authority, but then they redefined it “Obedience, as it is embodied in Jesus Christ, is a total listening, a giving attention with no hesitation or limitation, a being ‘all-ear.’ It is an expression of the intimacy that can exist between two persons. Here the one who obeys knows without restriction the will of the one who commands and has only one all-embracing desire: to live out that will.” What a great description! To someone who has a strong will, I very often relate to the negative connotations of the word obey, and prefer to act out of my own free will. But this definition makes it so much more attractive- a loving listening and then acting upon that to please the other. So needless to say, I have been learning and convicted of a lot. But one of the best things about God is that He still loves me and offers me mercy, forgiveness, and grace. I love Hosea because it is such a beautiful portrayal of God’s love and have been taking comfort in Hosea 2:19-20 “And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I've finally been able to upload some of the pictures from my rural home stay, which include my hair braided, African style :)  Soon I'll also have some from the weekend at Sipi Falls hopefully, depending on internet speed...

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Today has been an amazing and relaxing Sabbath, even though I did not go to church and have not yet had my quiet time. But in the midst of the day’s activities, all that I could do was praise God inside with all of myself, and I’m positive that I could not keep the smile off of my face. My life is indeed blessed and God is indeed a great and loving Father!

This weekend my mom and grandparents (Mimi and Papa) travelled across the globe to visit me! Saturday morning I took a taxi in to Kampala and met them at a shopping center before we returned to their hotel for breakfast. It honestly felt very unreal as two worlds were meshed, but at the same time it was so good to hug them and realize they were really here! We spent the majority of the day simply relaxing and talking and it was so great. For a day, I felt like I was back in America almost while we were at the poolside at the hotel talking with them. And one of the coolest parts of my day and a half with them was the opportunity to introduce them to my rural home stay “mom” as well as my Mukono home stay “family.” Even though I did not talk as much, it was cool to see them interact. It was a little hard when it came time to say good-bye, but it helped that as they were driving away I was with several USP friends who I am nowhere near ready to part with. It was such a blessing to have that short time with my family, in the midst of the amazing blessing of even living in Africa! Sometimes I have a hard time fully realizing that this is really happening and can’t believe how incredible it has been so far…

The afternoon was spent laying outside in the shade and listening to a friend playing worship music on her guitar while a couple of us sang along. During the whole time of worship, all I could do was marvel at God. It has not always been easy here but God continually shows me that He will provide and does love me deeply. Even when my plans don’t seem to go accordingly, God keeps showing me that He has something better in mind. I may not know what that will be or what it will look like, but I am more fully learning to wholeheartedly let go and let Him have control. Jeremiah 29:11 has always been one of my favorite verses, but I don’t think I always completely trust what it is saying “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and NOT for evil, to give you a FUTURE and a HOPE” (ESV). My life is truly blessed, and I have faith that no matter what happens, God is still in control and will take care of me. I am trusting Him with more and working on laying down ALL of my life and surrendering to His will and control. It is not always easy or comfortable, but I believe that it will be worth it. And ultimately, no matter how comfortable or challenging, smooth or painful my life ends up being, I get to spend eternity in heaven with my God, so I’d consider that a pretty blessed life!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ugandan Farm Girl

I just got back on Sunday from my rural home stay in Kapchorwa (a district in Eastern Uganda) yesterday. I spent the week with one other American girl, Erika, but it was a fun chance for us to get to know each other because she lives with a family in town for the entire semester and so we didn’t know each other very well. We lived with Miria and Felix right on the edge of a cliff. Kapchorwa is very mountainous and has many waterfalls, including Sipi Falls which are the largest waterfalls in Uganda. The cliff that we lived by happened to be near a smaller waterfall that we could see from our yard. We spent the week walking around some of the nearby terrain because what isn’t cliff is mountain farming, which is also very beautiful. Ugandan women are incredibly hard working and Miria, our mom, was no exception. She taught us how to milk a cow, feed chickens and gather their eggs, cook over a fire, roast coffee, cut dead leaves off matoke (banana) trees and cut them down to harvest matoke, and even carry matoke on our heads for about a half mile on a dirt path down the mountain to our home. Felix, our father, was able to be home for the week for a funeral we went to on Monday, but spends most of his time living in Kampala because he works as security for Museveni, the Ugandan president. Their eldest daughter, Lillian, is 24 and is living at home. Her other 5 siblings were all away at boarding school, though we did get to meet 2 brothers, Andrew and Mark, because they came home with their father for the funeral. Church was an interesting experience and we got an authentic example of the Ugandan perception of time. We were told that church started at 10am but we didn’t leave until shortly after that to hike up the mountain. When we arrived, though we expected to be late, we were actually some of the first to arrive. The service probably started about an hour late and then lasted for a mere 4 hours, which we were told was actually shorter than normal. The entirety of it was translated from the Sabine (the tribe we were staying with) language to English which made it slightly more tedious, though the subject matter did not help. The pastor was turning the parish over to another pastor and so most of the service was spent giving an inventory of every single material object that the church possessed, as well as all of the pastoral responsibilities and committees that the new pastor would be taking on. The next day was then the funeral, which made for another long afternoon. We went to a 2 hour long funeral service followed by an even longer burial service. Though it was long, it was interesting to see how much of that really was the same as funerals in America.

Over all, it was a great week to get to know the family and just see a different way of life. Though I do not prefer using a pit latrine or a bucket to bathe, we were very comfortable the entire week. It was interesting to see how helping to wash dishes by hand just felt normal and routine, and even the longer time to cook over a fire wasn’t really that big of a deal because there was normally multiple people in the kitchen so it was a chance to spend time together as well as cook. Miria was very proud of her kitchen and showed us how her “stove” was modern. This meant that instead of just having a fire or a charcoal chimney to cook over, she had a dirt “stove” in essence- it had a place to make the fire and then three holes on top to place pots over. Before coming here, I would have thought something like that was an example of poverty or primitive even, and now I have realized how nice and convenient it really is, in this setting. Even our meals were an example of a different lifestyle. Everything we ate was extremely fresh and straight from the garden or farm. We had eggs and milk tea every morning for breakfast courtesy of our cow and chickens only an hour before we ate. One night we held a chicken and then a couple hours later it was on our dinner plates. We often had bananas with our afternoon tea, which were carried from our family’s fields only a couple days beforehand. There is so much real poverty in Africa, but living like that is not an example. It was another good realization of what simplicity and comfort can look like, even if they are living like that out of necessity and not by choice.

The importance of community is something else that was emphasized in my mind over the past week as well. Beyond the experience of living in a small community in which my family knew pretty much everyone, we had one article to read while we were there. It was about homelessness vs. homemaking and illustrated how our university education system in some ways educates people to leave home. This in itself is not the problem except that in some ways the goal has become for people to travel and work towards an upward mobility, so that they are in some ways almost vandals of communities and places because they only consume. It was a very interesting article and made a lot of good points that I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly thought or discussed before. It was really good to consider, because after college I always think about how cool it would be to live in different places but in actuality I don’t think I really want that or realize fully what that would look like. Whether I return home or move somewhere else, I want to settle in and become part of the community there and really engage. And even more than that, it makes me appreciate even more the fact that I have grown up in the same area and that I have such strong family ties. I think I could be completely happy living near my home or somewhere across the globe, but it is good to know that wherever I end up, I will still have a home and community to visit in Cincinnati.

I have also been reading a book, The End of Poverty, written by Jeffrey Sachs, an economist. It has been interesting because I’ve realized that I really enjoy the subject of economics when it is practically applied rather than just the basic theory that I’ve learned in my introductory classes. But beyond simply an interest, it has helped me think about how not only do non-profits and charities play a role in solving world problems, developed governments and economies will have to play a role as well to make a significant difference. It is really encouraging and frustrating all at the same time, because I have realized that I really could work in corporate America and do business more than just with integrity, but really try to make a difference in regards to global issues. But at the same time, it is overwhelming and frustrating to see all that America alone could be capable of and isn’t doing. So more and more I still don’t really know what my life will look like after I graduate and still am okay with that, but excited to see where God will open doors because at this point I’d be open to pretty much anything and know that God could use me in different ways, depending on the setting. We are also reading part of Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution for a class and that has been challenging and encouraging, thinking of how even right now I can start changing my lifestyle in practical ways, not just in thinking about the future.

From our home stay, we were picked up and spent the weekend in the area along with several Honors College students. It was good to be reunited with all of my USP friends to talk about our weeks and have a debrief session. We spent pretty much all of Friday talking about different things, just happy to be back together and then even more excited to be back with some of our Ugandan friends as well. Saturday we had a couple groups go hiking, I chose to go on the longer 6 hour hike with several friends. We saw the tops and bottoms of 3 waterfalls, as well as enjoying hiking around the mountains and cliffs. It can also be fun and adventurous because it was very muddy and slippery and some of the bridges definitely looked rustic. We even climbed on some rocks and stood under one of the falls. It was absolutely gorgeous and was definitely one of those times where I was just overwhelmed at how amazing the whole situation was- hiking around mountains and waterfalls with Ugandan and American friends I was just meeting a mere two months ago. And then Sunday we came back to Mukono and reunited with the rest of our friends. It was so good to be back and we stayed up late catching up and hanging out with people. Life here is just amazing and I’m trying to enjoy every moment because I know this will always be a special and important time in my life to remember all that I learned and experienced.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Long Overdue

After waiting so long to update, it’s hard for me to organize my thoughts into what I want to share from the past couple of weeks. And one thing that I’ve realized is that it can be all too easy to simply describe my itinerary because I am doing many new and different things. But my time here is characterized by so much more, and I hope that I am expressing that as well. So to help me organize and clarify my thoughts, and to hopefully keep myself from rambling on if possible, I’m going to update in two parts on what I’ve been learning and what I’ve been doing, as best as I can separate them.
It is hard to describe all that I’ve been learning and thinking succinctly. Many of my classes, conversations, and experiences are al integrating into a very complicated train of thoughts that can be overwhelming. I guess one of the biggest things I have been convicted of through many of my experiences is my own selfishness. Coming here, I knew that my spending habits and schedule tended to revolve around myself and that I wanted to work on that. But being here has shown me how deeply that mindset and attitude was rooted within me. Earlier in January I shared how living at my home stay humbled me immensely and that was one of the biggest examples. I had to be a guest and become a family member so that I could serve them on their own cultural terms, and not in a way that was comfortable to me or made me feel good about myself. I had to allow them to first serve me. I am also learning that in a slightly different form at my practicum sight, Chain, a school and orphanage. As far as expectations or a schedule goes, there are none for us. We simply go once a week and spend 4 hours with the children. The first week, I enjoyed the opportunity to just get to know the children and show them I cared. But by the third week, this past Tuesday, the lack of schedule grated on my nerves and I felt like being there was a waste of time. I was not actually doing anything productive or even building deep or meaningful relationships because most of the children’s English is not very extensive. But as I sat talking and listening to a young blind girl named Susan, she said something that struck me to the core. She was telling me about an “auntie” (all the children refer to us as “aunties” just as an affectionate and respectful term and is so cute) that used to visit and listen to her sing. In my desire to feel productive and accomplished, I had stopped seeing some of the meaning in simple presence, which is so important in the African worldview and culture. This girl felt loved and valued and consequently remembered this woman simply for listening. I acknowledged that relationships are important and was excited to develop them, but my annoyance revealed that on a deeper level I still wanted to see results more than just trust that was enough. Both instances are very humbling and are stirring me to further analyze my attitudes and expectations. I do not want to continue to have such a selfish mindset.
Vulnerability and boldness are two qualities that I am developing further this semester. I have realized in the past year that I really have trouble being vulnerable on a deep level, and often am very selective in what I share. Here, in different fellowships- like our small groups, people are very bold and vulnerable in sharing what is going on in their lives and expect the same from others. So I am trying to work on opening up more, and even on this blog I am trying to practice this.

I am also gaining a huge passion for business as a mission here. The past semester I really found out more about the possibility of doing business more as a mission, and not just working in a non-profit that does ministry and got really interested. Being here, I have felt a passion growing for that type of ministry as a way to empower people and help them fix their own problems. We are learning about many different issues specifically in Uganda, and the fact is some of the fault is Western influence. Many of the solutions really will have to come from within their own country. Living here, I have also found that I could be completely comfortable living abroad more long-term after college. I do know that whatever God ends up calling me to after college, ultimately I will probably not have a typical corporate career because my heart could not be fully in that. If I do, then I would probably be doing some type of ministry on the side as well. Especially learning more about poverty and the disparity of wealth in the world, I am learning just how well off we are as Americans, and cannot continue to be complacent. That may be harder once I am back in the States but I will work to not grow comfortable with my complacency ever again. To help with being financially responsible and more aware, a couple of us have decided to give up buying food for Lent and will just eat at the dining hall. This will definitely be a sacrifice as the beans and rice can get tiresome, and my roommate and I enjoy keeping apples and peanut butter in our room as a healthy snack. We all also enjoy going to stand on the street right off campus for cheap snacks, but will have to wait for those until Easter now. But it will be good for us to save the money and truly experience the lack of variety in food and just learn to be grateful for what we have. There is so much more, but I think that about covers a couple of the issues closest to my heart right now.

Life over the past couple weeks has just been GOOD. It is so satisfying to be so thoroughly content even though I am living simpler than I ever have. Something about the pace of life here just lends itself to relaxing and enjoying life. As I’m writing this, I am sitting in a common room with several other girls listening to music, some working on homework, and some playing cards. It doesn’t matter that we may not be talking much, just enjoying each other’s company as we do whatever we need to. And this characterizes a lot of our evenings. Life has become very normal and routine here filled with classes, laundry, running a couple times a week with Laura, and a couple different fellowships. With increased down time I have been able to spend more time with God, as well as some time for outside reading; which is so good because the USP library has many good books dealing with what we are learning and experiencing. Beyond normal life, the weekends are a time for us to go on adventures. The past couple of Fridays we have had two field trips- one to a burial ground and another to a palace, both in the Buganda kingdom, one of Uganda’s biggest and most important tribes and the kingdom that we are living in. They were both interesting sites. A group of us also went to Kampala to go shopping at craft markets and enjoy eating a meal other than rice and beans. Last weekend we wanted to do something beyond our normal eating, shopping, and exploring, so me and 5 other girls went to an all-night worship and prayer youth and young adults service at a church in Kampala. It was really cool, but definitely different in some ways to what all of us are used to. Tongues spoken into the microphone without translation and urging the congregation to stand and pace while praying were a couple of the things that were different and uncomfortable. But besides that, it was a powerful night of 9 straight hours singing and praying and we enjoyed the energetic worship. After a night without sleep, I was not thinking very clearly and decided to go get my hair braided for the next couple of weeks but am ultimately glad I did, though it made for a very long day. In the end, it took 10 hours but I currently have African hair that will be fun and easy for the next couple weeks! Sunday, Valentine’s day, was especially fun. Laura and I went to visit our home stay families and it was so good to see them again! After that, we came back and just hung out because several of the guys in Honors College cooked a Valentine’s dinner for us. We ended up having a candle-lit dinner outside while watching the movie The Proposal. It was so much fun with a co-ed group of at least 30 and all just fun, friendly hanging out. It was especially sweet that the guys were willing to do that for us because in this cultural context men do not cook or serve women, so it was that much more meaningful. The girls did help out with the dishes after. Since then, this week has been busy catching up on emails, job applications, and papers to be turned in all before I leave Friday morning for my rural home stay! We will be making a 4-5 hour drive to Kapcherwa, a rural region in Eastern Uganda where we will all be living on our own with families for a week. It will definitely be another stretching experience to be living such a completely different lifestyle, but I am excited! It will be kind of fun to have a week completely cut off from any technology as well, because we will only be using our cell phones for an emergency to contact the program staff. After a week we will stay in the area for the weekend and some of our friends from Honors College will join us on a retreat and debrief time at Sipi Falls, the largest waterfalls in Uganda. We will also get to spend a day hiking because the landscape there is supposed to be gorgeous. I am excited for the next week but sad that this will be marking the halfway point already. I can’t believe how fast the time is flying!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I'm not sure I ever want to leave...

I have already been here for a month and cannot believe how the time is flyng by!  I have completely fallen in love with this place and the people and just want the semester to slow down...  My roommate and I have already talked about how we could come back here to live and I am even looking into the possibility of extending my trip to stay longer with her.  But even though I love it does not mean it is always easy because living here as an American brings up many tricky life questions that I have been struggling with.  The past couple days have been busy and fun- full of class, fellowships, and serving at a school/orphanage.  Fellowships are like small groups but are more formal than Bible studies like we are used to in the States.  They are mainly people taking turns preaching or sharing testimonies of how God has worked in their lives.  I participate in one with Honors College, the group on campus that we live with.  On Monday night, it was Honors College's turn to lead worship for the main campus fellowship so several of us joined in for that as well.  One thing we have learned while being here is that it does not matter if you can sing or dance well, you just do it anyway.  Because of that, though I normally would not, I have joined a group called TLM, which meets as fellowship and also rehearses and gives concerts.  My roommate and I, along with at least one other American have joined because it will be a lot of fun and will push us, as well as integrating us further with more people on campus.  Laura, my roommate, and I are also running together in the afternoons and will hopefully practice some with the track team, though are not sure how formal that will be and may just be on the track around the same time.  On Tuesday afternoon, I went to Chain for the first time to really help out.  It is a school and orphanage, though many of the kids have families but just come from bad situations.  Several of the children are blind or have very bad eyesight (many as a result of childhood malaria), which is a condition that is extremely marginalized in this culture.  I spent my time there sitting with a 13 year old boy named Nathan in Primary 5 (I'm almost positive this is comparable to our fifth grade).  He has poor eyesight and has to use a braille machine.  I dictated whatever the teacher wrote on the board to him.  The classroom style here is more relaxed, especially for the children who cannot see well and therefore are unable to fully participate, so during some of the down time he taught me how to use a brailler and then gave me a paper so I am working on learning braille and how to type it as well.  After the school day was done, I played with several young girls, many of whom were in Nathan's class.  Nathan also showed me his guitar and played "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" and started to teach me some of the chords.  It was a lot of fun, and then we left early to come back for a USP dinner and worship night.  Over all, it has been an amazing couple of days just spending lots of time in community worship and learning. 

But the past couple of days have brought up some hard issues as well.  One of the hardest for me is really confronting the fact that I have grown up in such a blessed environment and really have not had to struggle, while I am meeting so many people that have faced really difficult situations in their lives that I cannot relate to in any way.  The hardest is when they are children and we're supposed to be teaching them but I just am not sure how to do that...  Especially since we are here to learn and grow and did not come with the purpose of helping Ugandans; and definately not on the qualification of being American or white.  Whenever we serve at our practicum sites it is as members of the community, not because we came here to feel emotionally gratified from working with "the orphans."  But it is good that there are other people in the group confronting the same issues so we can talk about it and ultimately, I just have to give it up to God and trust Him and believe in His ultimate justice.  And for now, though I am not comfortable really teaching the children or giving them cliche answers, I can be there to love on them and listen and let them teach me...  Because ultimately, I came here to be challenged by these very issues and learn and grow, not for the adventure or beauty of Africa, though I don't mind enjoying that too!