The journey before the journey

November 2007 through January 2009: This very long blog entry tells the story of how I ended up in Uganda the first time, how I met Patrick, and how we decided to adopt him. During all this time I sent regular email updates to my family and friends. This blog entry includes all of those updates. They cover the time period from November of 2007 to January of 2009.   
Dear Friends and Family,                                                                        
 Three weeks ago today my husband Dave and I were talking with a teenaged girl from our church just after the service ended. She shared with us that she and a couple of other teens had wanted to go on an upcoming church mission trip to Uganda, Africa, but were unable to because they are under the age limit. She finished by saying, “We would need a chaperone to go with us.” Dave and I looked at each other for a moment. Then I turned back to her. “I could possibly go with you.” My quick response wasn’t as sudden as it seemed. For several months I had felt that the Lord (in part through Dave’s urging) was preparing my heart to go with some teens on a missions trip, and I had been waiting to see how He would lead. So I would like to share with you the opportunity God has amazingly created for me—to go with three Wheaton Academy students and a group from Water’s Edge Bible Church to Uganda, Africa, in January 2008.   We will be working with the Ugandan Orphanage Relief Fund (UORF), a Christian organization, as well as with one of the Ugandan churches it partners with. In Kampala alone ( Uganda ’s largest city) there are thousands of orphans living on the streets. For this reason UORF is involved in the supporting and start-up of Ugandan orphanages. The girls and I will be able to serve in several of these orphanages with the Ugandan church members who run them. We will also be able to participate in the kids’ camps that the group from Water’s Edge Bible Church holds in outlying areas. Along with feeding the children, these camps share the good news of God’s love for them through Christ. More than 700 children attended one of last year’s camps. Miraculously, the food prepared for only a few hundred stretched to feed every single child. It will also be our privilege to work in one of the orphanages alongside Jodi Schwartz, a 2007 Wheaton Academy graduate (also my daughter’s violin teacher), who has been to Uganda twice already and will be leaving again in November for a 5-6 month stay.   Please pray for us. Pray that the Lord will give me wisdom in my mentor role with these young women. Pray for their hearts (and mine) to be sensitive to the Lord’s leading. Pray for the church in Uganda , that they would continue to be a shining light in a very dark place. Pray that the hearts of those who hear the Gospel would be receptive to it. Pray that all of us going would fix our eyes on Christ and be filled with his love.
January 2008–IN Uganda
Hello everyone, Not much time to write (you’ll see why below), but wanted to write you all and thank you so much for sending me and praying for me (I’m meeting many of our Ugandan brothers and sisters in Christ and sharing the love and truth of Christ with many children.
 
Quick list of what we’ve done…
-Saturday-visited Mercy Ministries orphanage, played with orphans there, visited the slums and the church that is there (the pastor and his wife sleep about 40 orphans/neglected/abused children in the church and they sleep there to protect them) as well as the evangelistic soccer ministry that Light the World Church has there, prayed on Prayer Mountain
Sunday-LONG (but fun) church service at L the W Church (had to pray in front of a LOT of Africans), rode a boat on the Nile
Monday-Kids Camp at L the W church–about 1300 kids!!!!! Played with them, fed them, sang with them, hugged and held them, shared the truth of Christ with them, said a lot of “Jesu Akwagula” to them (Jesus Love you) and spent the day with them. LONG but good (9:30-4:00).
Each day packs in tons but it is wonderful and thought provoking.
Love, Jen Underwood
 
January 2008, IN Uganda
Dear All,
Here’s a brief update since Monday: (please excuse my typing–fast and not the greatest keyboard)
Tuesday-traveled to Masaka, the possible epicenter of AIDS. Got settled in a guesthouse and then visited the children’s home at Kyananjula–many improvements there since last year, I was told. 25 children in the home there. BEAUTIFUL setting, out in the land, green everywhere, but very few men, mostly family units of young and old, few parent-age. The far-reaching effects of AIDS keep cycling here for generations. Went to a church service at the small church there led by Pastor Vincent (rare to see a man his age). Wonderful, fellowshipping, worshipful service.
Wednesday-Kids camp at Kyananjula–about 350 kids, have no idea where they came from. we went out into the bush and gathered them, but still. Great time with them. Many responded positively to the gospel and there is hope that the little church there will grow. The churches this group has worked with in the past have reported more people coming after kids camps, some staying and becoming a true part of the fellowship. Traveled back to Kampala
Thursday-Work day at Bweya, a children’s home housing about 40 children, feeding about 60 a day. Another great setting, out with grass and trees. Most of the children’s homes are out further. It’s so good to get these kids away from the city–bad influences, bad air, etc. We painted both the girls and the boys dormitories and then ended the day with a puppet show about Christ and what knowing him gives us (forgiveness, freedom from guilt and sin, Holy Spirit, eternal life). Wonderful children with (as one of the leaders told us) horrible stories. I’m learning that when a Ugandan says a story is horrible, it really must be. Hardship is such a way of life, abuse and neglect are so rampant that they are, sadly, not such a “big deal.” And they should be. Then we went and had a pizza party at Mercy Home. Good to repeat contacts with some of these kids, to really form relationship with them.
Today we are doing some shopping at Sister Gertrude’s market. She gets women off the streets and trains them in a craft so they can support themselves and their children. Then we are holding a kids camp in the slums. Pray for that, please.
So much to reflect on, but the girls are doing so well, and I am proud of them. They are truly becoming a team, sisters who are willing to be real and open and who encourage each other in serving.
More later and much love,
Jen Underwood
 
January 2008, in Uganda
 
Dear Family and Friends,
This is our last night here. I am very ready to see Dave and my kids, but I have met and learned to care for many precious brothers and sisters in Christ here. Their hearts are steadfast in spite of sufferings that I cannot even imagine.
Thank you for your prayers. They have been opening doors and opportunities. Yesterday the kids camp in the slums (Katanga) went wonderfully. We made the decision not to hand out candies or toys because we knew we would not have enough and we might be mobbed. Estimates are that there are approximately 30,000 people in this slum area, shack upon shack upon shack with narrow paths winding between. We had visited this same slum area earlier in the week just to see the soccer ministry in action (two young men from Light the World Church here hold a soccer clinic once a week and share the gospel afterwards). As you can guess, I was quite interested in that. Amazingly, even with our visit being a mere hour long, maybe two, some of the kids remembered us and came running. They hug, they ask to picked up, they hold hands and stroke our arms, craving attention from anyone who will give it. We sang songs with them, held the puppet show, shared the Good News, the things we had done in the previous two camps, and then we fed them a meal that some women from the church had prepared. Amazingly we had food left over–and we were able to give that food to Pastor Godfrey, the pastor of a church right there in the slums who takes in slum orphans/abandoned kids. What a blessing for the slum people to be able to see the church as a source of help–so that Pastor Godfrey can pass out food to the most needy (something he doesn’t usually have the resources to accomplish) and then tell them of the bread of life and the living water that will allow them to never hunger or thirst again. That is just wonderful for that church.
Today a Ugandan wedding (that lasts ALL day) and was sooooo on Ugandan time. (Supposed to start at 11, bride and groom actually arrived at 1:30). All good–was able to hold Patrick, a little boy Jody’s taken in, and talk to several people we’d met earlier in the week.
I’m planning on writing a couple of emails next week as I get past the actual events that happened on the trip and focus on how God has been drawing and teaching me. Thank you for your prayers. They are not only much appreciated but much in evidence.
With Love, Jen Underwood
 
Late January 2008, back in the U.S., writing to Jody, who was staying in Uganda till May
Hey Jody,
I miss you and that little guy! (If Aaron’s reading this, I miss the big guy, too). How has this week been? How is it with Lauren? I hope all is well. I hope Patrick isn’t still haveing fevers. How did his visit to the clinic go? Any news? Jody, thank you for a wonderful visit. I just wish I had you and Patrick right here to give you both hugs.
More later. I gotta’ run do carpool.
Love, Jen U.
 
January 2008, in the U.S.
Dear Friends and Family,
Today I have been back from Uganda for a week. Last Monday I was very ready to see Dave, Emily, Jake, and Maddie, and I am still very glad to be with them. BUT, I miss many in Uganda–Jody and her little Patrick, the young men at Light the World Church, Rachel and Linda and Angel from Mercy Home, etc.
I know that God will continue to use my time in Uganda to impact my heart. I am thankful that it is part of His good work for me. The group that went to Uganda reported back to our church (Water’s Edge Bible Church) this past Sunday, and it is beautiful to see how the body of Christ responds to the needs of widows and orphans. Each member of our group got the opportunity to speak to our church body for a few minutes about something that impacted them in Uganda. I told the our church that I have always been amazed at the heart of our God, that He can hear the cries of all those afflicted and hold each of them in His heart. He has a big heart. I do not, and in Uganda and even now I am overwhelmed at the need, at the sorrow, at the hurt that is so evident there (and is present, though less blatant, here in the U.S. as well). I do not know what to do with a problem this big, but God does. He hears every cry and he promises that He will be a father to the fatherless, a champion for the afflicted. He promises this over and over in Scripture. When we were in Kyanjula we went to a church service with many widows and orphans. I hummed along with many unfamiliar songs, enjoying the spirit of worship if not the words, but at one point a new song started and I realized I knew the tune. I sang in English as those around me sang in Lugandan, “Standing on the promises of Christ my king, through eternal ages, let His praises ring.” And suddenly, surrounded by so much need, the Spirit of God reminded me that HE is the one who keeps his promises, that these poor and abused and neglected people who call on the name of Christ will be answered. They have specific promises and blessings just for them. I do not need to be overwhelmed. I only need to listen and follow and obey. God holds these people in the palm of His hand, just as He holds me. 
 
 January 2008, an email to a woman who was also trying to adopt from Africa
Hi Amy,
The story of Patrick–well, long one, actually. My husband and I teach at a Christian school that is heavily involved in supporting a World Vision village in Zambia. One of our students has a real heart for people and the poor and medical care. She tried to go on a couple of trips to Zambia (one of which my husband went on), but was unable to. She also goes to our church, and when a trip to Uganda opened up at our church, she was able to go. She fell in love with the place and decided to go back after she graduated from high school in May. She left for Uganda literally two days after graduation. She found a baby at the orphanage who’d been brought in severely malnourished and near starvation (nearly 18 months old and about 8 pounds). He still wasn’t getting the one-on-one care he needed at the orphanage, so she took him home to stay with her and some of the other Ugandan women living with her. She had to come back to the States in September but went back in late November, and Patrick is back with her. When I went to Uganda in January, I met Patrick, but I’d been hearing about him for months by that point. I spent a lot of time with him because he and Jody came with us to all the orphanages we worked in, and I even was able to babysit him some so that Jody could get out to do some errands. He’s an intense little guy, a thinker (a lot like my son Jake) but quietly happy, too. I left from Uganda wanting to bring him back, but I also felt that I didn’t want to pressure my husband into feeling that way, so I prayed that if the Lord wanted us to pursue this, that He would put the urging in Dave’s heart. The very first day I got back, Dave said, unsolicited by me, “I think we should pray about adopting Patrick.”  And that’s where we are now. I have pics of him, but not computer accessible at the moment. I’ll try to send you some later. Thanks for listening.
Jen
My email to Jody and Aaron, who were still in Uganda caring for Patrick at this point, asking her about adopting him.
Hello you two,
I feel so bad about not having written you since I’ve gotten back, but there’s been a good reason. I just couldn’t until I got the go-ahead to ask you a certain question. Before I get to that question, though… Jody, I’ve been reading your updates and praying lots for you and the women’s group–sounds wonderful and heartwrenching. God will make you more than adequate for the task. Aaron, I have no idea what you’ve been doing, but I’m hoping that will change. If you send out updates, please put me on the list so I can be praying more specifically.
Okay, when I was in Uganda, I was definitely feeling urges to have Patrick in our family, but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to push it on Dave and have it be a “me” thing that he was merely “adopting,” so to speak. So I began praying in Uganda that the Lord would put it completely separately on Dave’s heart without any prompting on my part. (That rhymed, and I really didn’t mean it to). Sorry for the rambling. I think I’m nervous. So the day I got back we were in the car headed to get lunch somewhere–we hadn’t even gone home from the airport yet. I was sitting in the backseat with the kiddos. Dave asked me, “How’s Patrick doing? What’s he like?” I replied, “Oh, he’s a cutie. If I could have put him in my suitcase and brought him home I would have.” Suddenly there’s this silence. I look up and meet Dave’s eyes in the rearview mirror. He says, “Well, maybe we should start praying about that.” Turns out the Lord had been putting it on his heart while I was in Uganda, too.
SO, I’ve been doing some initial checking, talking to Troy and Shane, and yesterday Troy gave me the go-ahead (based, I think, on the research I’ve done, which has turned up no concrete answers, but lots of questions, but still) to contact you.
So I’m sure hoping you check your email soon, because I’ve been waiting for more than a month to talk to you about this.
Would it be all right with you if we pursued adopting Patrick, and, if your answer is yes, would you help us with the process?
MUCH LOVE,
An impatient Jen
This is a group email sent in February 2008. I was not ready to share our plans with everyone yet, so it doesn’t mention the adoption. Following the email is an essay I wrote about the slums in Kampala, Uganda.
Hello Everyone, Though it is more than a month since I’ve returned, Uganda is on my mind every single day, and I am happy that I have been able to stay in contact with several people from there.   I’m copying in an essay I wrote about Uganda. My hope is that it will prompt you to pray. I will also be sending some pictures as attachments next week (I finally got some downloaded to a cd). Love you much and thank you so much for your prayers and willingness to be a part of my life.
Jen
P.S. One specific prayer request: pray for a little guy named Patrick. He lives with Jody Schwartz right now, and she doesn’t want to leave him without a family when she returns to the States this summer.    
Essay on Kitanga            
Careful steps—the mud is sticky and slick as congealed oatmeal, rust-colored, more orange than the red clay of my Alabama home. The rains of the past two nights make it shine with wet, our feet slip, and I feel the muck ooze in through the holes in my sturdy hiking sandals. I cringe, just a second, and envy those in my group wearing tennis shoes. Who knows what is in this gunk that supports these slums of Kitanga in Kampala , Uganda , home to 30,000 people? It’s not “just dirt,” what my mother said growing up when I tattled that my younger brother was actually consuming bits of our mud pies, “just clean dirt.”            
No, there is nothing clean about this dirt. Filth is everywhere. I can smell it, the sick, sweet odor of rot and the acidity of unwashed bodies. It is strong enough in moments I can taste it in my mouth, in the back of my throat. I can feel it, at this moment, on my feet; later it will seem as if it covers my entire body. I can see it—the litter everywhere— Kampala has no trash service, so these people can fill cans until they overflow or toss garbage on the ground to begin with, and the choice has obviously been simple. There are times I step on mounds of litter and wonder how thick it is. How deep down does the orange mud lie? Is this literally an island of trash?            
I can see it, too, in the only water source for this entire area of the slums, a single spigot trickling water into a stream that snakes through the shacks and overflows into the field the children play in. My mind knows, empirically, this water is not clean. It cannot be: this is Africa . Water coming from a shallow hillside carries parasites, viruses, causes typhoid, conjunctivitis.            
But my mind is not needed. I would know this was not clean without my knowledge of wells and contamination. My eyes tell me. Three feet from the spigot a small boy pees into the creek; a girl washes some plates further down; trash floats on the surface; the water runs brown with milky foam. And they dip water for drinking from the pool just below the spigot. It does not run fast enough that there is not backwash.            
Each snapshot my eyes and camera lens take reveals more of what makes even poor people in other areas of Kampala (and that is mostly what Kampala is) shake their heads when Kitanga is mentioned. Except for this one field beside the water source—and it is often a swamp—and the narrow paths that meander maze-like, houses are packed on these acres so tightly it makes me claustrophobic. And it is generous to use “house.” At best these living structures are misshapen mud bricks roofed with a conglomeration of tin sheets, at worst they are long sticks chinked with clay and a plywood or cardboard roof. The floors are dirt, packed hard except in places where rain has seeped in. Few doors, just pieces of cloth. Merely entrances, not protection, entrances to one room that shelters, sleeps—how many? Up to ten? Ten lying on woven mats on ground so uneven my bones ache thinking of it.            
Children flock to us in the field we have slip-slid into. They cling to our shirts, pants, hands, hug our legs and arms, ask to be swung up onto backs and hips. I hold two small brown hands, one in each of my own, and when a few of us decide to go for a walk through the slums, the children join us. We are the Pied Pipers of Kitanga today, and soon our numbers are probably five children to each adult. I help my two small charges negotiate board bridges and slippery spots that they could probably handle better than I, but they enjoy the attention, and others, unclaimed because of our simple lack of extra hands and arms, ask for help they, too, do not need. They show no fear of us Mzungus, us foreigners, us white—no, one of our number is African-American, but they call him Mzungu as well. They know he is different, too, is not like them, is not trapped and scrounging for survival, feeling lucky if they consume enough food to keep stomachs from bloating and bones from stunting.            
Not only do they not show fear, they show love, or at least the desire for it. More than once I feel my hand being stroked and examined. One of them finds a hangnail on my pointer finger and shows concern. Personal space has been forgotten; perhaps they never knew it. It is a luxury they do not have. But we have forgotten it, too, held as we are by their arms and hands and eager, ravenous hearts. They are so blatant about their needs, their hope that, at least for a little while, someone will hold them, protect them, let them be, truly, a child who is cared for and cherished.            
For these are not cherished children, not in my American-biased way of looking at things, nor even, I find out when I attend African church the next day, in the African view. This is not to say there are not any cherished children in the slums, but the ones with us range in age from 8 months to possibly 7 years in age, and we have no idea where their parents are. Nor, I’m assuming, do their parents know where they are. Or do they have parents? Or even mothers? Again, my knowledge bank chides me. AIDS-ravaged Africa is missing a generation, perhaps two of them, and there are more orphans and single-parent homes than I can fathom, and many of those single mothers are little more than children themselves. My eyes, now here in one of the places I have heard about and studied, concur. The women, mothers, I assume, sitting in front of shacks, cooking and cleaning, are young. It is hard to guess their ages—Africans, forgive me for the generalization, age beautifully—but I have not seen one woman I would guess to be anywhere near my own age, 37. I have seen many grandmothers caring for children in other neighborhoods in Kampala , but even that age is missing here in the slums. There is young, and younger still, and very, very few men.            
We make two stops, the first to visit a little girl from the orphanage our group supports. She is on school holiday and has come to the slums to visit relatives. This seems ironic: the orphanage is far nicer than this. The second stop is at a home where a woman is making banana pancakes to sell. We buy a large stack and hand them out to the children with us. Suddenly a few more join us. I wonder how acute their noses are, how far away they can sense the scent of food.             We pipe our way along the back side of the slums, the brown-white creek on our left, until our tour ends back at the common field, and we join up with the rest of our group. Together we clamber up the hill. Our vans are parked on the road above, but we make one last stop, at a tin-sheet building longer and larger than any of the houses. It is a church, still rough and rude with a dirt floor and open patches in the roof, but a church all the same, and the sign hanging outside its doorway is the first revelation of a different heart than any we’ve seen all day. I blink as we enter, my eyes adjusting to the dim interior. It’s a large room with wooden benches arranged pew-style. Probably twenty children, ranging in age from ten to sixteen, sit on the far side. Pastor Godfrey comes to greet us, clean and neat in his short-sleeve button-down shirt and dress pants, cropped hair and trimmed beard. (I am continually amazed at how dapper many of the Africans remain in the heat while I feel and look grungy mere hours after my shower). He welcomes us to his church and asks us if we would like the children to sing and dance for us. We tell him we would love that, and the young Africans rise and move to the small platform in the front. Their voices are sweet and their bodies have a rhythm my own white hips have never, will never know. I am drawn to the leader of the group, a beautiful girl, probably one of the oldest, who is confident in her role and, somehow, unhampered by a badly mauled and scarred leg. Because of its twisting she can only touch the ball of that foot to the ground, yet she is grace in movement, grace, it seems to me, in person. After they finish, Pastor Godfrey rises again to speak. He is soft spoken and dignified, but intense, his Luganda carrying weight and passion to me even before it is interpreted into English and I understand its full meaning.  He speaks of God’s love for orphans and God’s desire that we, those claiming to follow Christ, be concerned for them. He tells us the children in the room are orphans, either literally or by abandonment, and that there are another twenty of them, younger children, in the room behind this one. He and his wife began this church, feeling led by God to serve the least of the least, only a few years earlier, and shortly after it opened, the orphans began coming, seeking help. Now the church houses and feeds more than 40 children, and for the past nine months this couple has been sleeping at the church to protect them from those who would want to abduct or molest them. “For the love of Jesus,” Pastor Godfrey says, “and for the love of these children.”
I, too, am here in Uganda for the love of Christ, for the love of children, but my love suddenly pales in comparison with this couple’s. I am giving ten days, and my group will return in a few day’s time and hold a kids’ camp here in the slums. We will tell them of Christ and his love and sacrifice for each one of them. We will feed them a meal and we will continue to give money even after we are gone so that this church can continue this work. But our ten days and our money are nothing compared to what the Godfreys are giving, will continue to give. My days are offset by nights spent at a local guesthouse with a real bed and plenty of food and running water, even, sometimes, hot running water. At the end of ten days I will return to the States, to a comfortable house and healthy children and a loving husband and, again, plenty of money for plenty of food, a surplus of food. But the Godfreys are the ones giving their lives, continually, so that these children might have hope and love. 
Five days later we come back to hold the kids’ camp. We sing and dance and play with the children. We put on a puppet show and teach them new songs. We hold babies and dish out rice and meat and beans. Best of all we have leftover food that we are able to give to Pastor Godfrey so he can take it straight to the families he knows with the greatest needs. Finally we are finished with the packing and the carrying and the organizing and are merely waiting for the signal to head to the vans. Exhaustion and sorrow both drag at our bodies; we are ready to go, but we will not see these people for a long, long time, some of them, perhaps, never again. The signal is given, and we begin to straggle up the hill. And then I feel a touch on my shoulder. It is Pastor Godfrey. He pulls me aside, motions to my camera, and nods his head toward a group of four children. “All orphans,” he tells me in halting English. “Please take a picture. Remember to pray for them.” I snap off a couple of shots and lower my camera. He reaches out and takes hold of my forearm. “Never forget orphans,” he says. “They are special to God.”
They are special to God. I must never forget.        
 
February 2008, an email sent to family and friends
Hello everyone,
So glad to be able to share some awesome news–and something I desire your prayers about. While I was in Uganda, I felt led to pray about adopting a little boy from there named Patrick (many of you know of this little guy because you know Jody Schwartz, who has been caring for him). When I returned from Uganda, Dave, without my mentioning it at all, revealed that the Lord had put the adoption of Patrick on his heart as well. Miraculous! We began praying about it and researching the possibilities. At this point, the head of the orphanage where Patrick is “registered” is helping us to get paperwork in order and meet with Patrick’s father (who is dying and who has never met Patrick) to see if he will sign over guardianship papers to the orphanage. If he does this, Patrick is free to be adopted. The Lord has opened so many doors so far, and we are just trusting that He will do his will and prepare our hearts to trust Him even more through this. We have already seen His work as He puts Patrick deeper and deeper into our hearts, and every member of our family wants to add Patrick to our crazy mix! Please pray with us as Wilfred (the head of the orphanage) is meeting with this father. Also pray that the Lord will continue to open doors here on the States end with all the paperwork, finances, home study, etc.
I know I have written this before, but I am so overwhelmed by the love and capacity of God, that He is aware of all those suffering in this wide world and He is with them in their suffering. We feel privileged that He has put little Patrick on our hearts.
Thank you so much for your prayers.
In Christ,
Jen Underwood
 
March 2008
Dear Everyone,
On Thursday we received word that Patrick’s dad gave consent for him to be adopted. We thought this would take months, and there was always the possibility that he would not give consent at all. Praise God. The next steps are pulling together all the paperwork (death certificate for Patrick’s mother, official consent form from Patrick’s dad, Patrick’s birth certificate, and a form signed by a Ugandan probation officer). Then we can apply for a court date in Uganda, and waiting on a court date can take anywhere from 3 to 9 months. We are praying for the three, but we are really praying for the Lord’s timing since we know that we really have no idea what the best timing is. He does–how thankful I am for that.
Just wanted to share the good news with all of you.
Jen Underwood
 
March 2008
Wow, it has been amazing to see the Lord work in this. Last week the father gave consent, by early this week Wilfred had both the death certificate for Patrick’s mother and the Patrick’s birth certificate and he was beginning the process of applying for a passport for Patrick, and yesterday I had a conversation with the lawyer in Uganda who is working on this and he said that as soon as we get the home study report and I-600 to him he can apply for a court date in Uganda! Wonderful news–but also startling. Two weeks ago we were told to expect next January, so we made the decision to put off the home study until we move to Kansas. We will probably still have to have another one in KS, but we are hoping to get one as quickly as possible here so that we can send it off to Uganda and start the court process there. We are hoping not to have to use an adoption agency here for a home study because the cost is so much greater through an adoption agency, SO, here’s my question: do any of you know of a independent licensed social worker who does adoption home studies? I already have a few leads that I’m following, but I figure I might as well get as much input as possible.
Thank so much for praying. Nearly every day people tell me they are praying, and that is very encouraging.
Oh, one last note. We found out Patrick’s official birthdate: Jan. 17, 2006, so he turned two while I was in Uganda with him, and he is younger than we originally thought he was.
Jen 
 
March 2008–update to Jody and Aaron–both taking care of Patrick at this time
Hey Jody and Aaron,
wow, so much to tell you, and I don’t have a whole lot of time, so it’s going to sound like bullet points. My apologies. I don’t know how much you guys have talked to Wilfred, so some of this you may already know from him
-Wilfred has birth/death certificates and he’s hired a lawyer
-I’ve emailed and then talked to the lawyer. I talked to him just this past Wednesday and he shocked me by saying that as soon as they have the home study he can apply for a court date. I had no idea it would move that fast.
-here’s the problem, well, not a problem, just means that this may not move as fast on the U.S. end as the Ugandan one has. (and that drives me crazy–pray for me about that)
-We met with an adoption agency several weeks ago now, and based on what we could tell them of Patrick’s situation at that time (living father, hadn’t given consent yet), they suggested we wait to do our home study in KS because they said if we bring Patrick home to KS, then we’d have to do it there anyway.
-So, I started researching KS and found a social worker there I liked and had a long conversation with her and got a list of things for us to work on even before we move
-Troy, just two weeks ago, told us to plan on next January before we could have him and that made me really sad but seemed to confirm our decision to wait on our home study.
-Then, the consent came so quickly and the lawyer said that, so I prayed constantly on Wednesday that the Lord would lead us if we were to try and get an IL home study before we moved so that at least the lawyer could apply for a court date. Dave and I talked, and he said, let’s at least find out.
-SO, I have been researching like crazy and calling people and the consensus right now, from another adoption agency I talked with yesterday, is that the process is SO complicated in IL and takes so long that she didn’t think we would save any time by trying to start it here. Like, (I can’t believe I just used that word as a transition–bad English teacher) she didn’t think we would have it for another 3-4 months–and based on the KS social worker’s explanation of the KS process, that really wouldn’t save us any time–the KS process seems much simpler. Very frustrating. I still have several other people talking to private social workers to see what they think. 
-I emailed Wilfred to explain all this, but I probably didn’t make very much sense, so I wanted to let you know–just to let you know, of course, but also so that if he had any questions, you could spell out the nasty red-tape process that seems to be a specialty of Illinois. Seriously.
-I also emailed the lawyer to find out if they need the I-600 to get a court date or if they just need a home study completed by a state-licensed social worker. If they just need the home study, then maybe a private social worker could get it done more quickly and I could just send that to him. I can’t, though, do an I-600 in both IL and KS, though. I don’t think I can at least. 
-Pray for wisdom for me. I’m really, truly trusting and resting, but I also feel like I am definitely meant to be researching all this and figuring out what I can, and all the answers seem to be partial and sometimes contradictory.
-and a huge part of my struggle is with the idea that the Ugandan end of things may be completed more quickly than the U.S. and Patrick’s court date may be waiting on us to get a home study. That makes me want to cry because the Lord has really prepared our hearts to have this little guy as part of our family.
Tell him Jake especially wanted him today to play pretend mountain-climbing and shark-fighting with. Somehow the girls were more interested in paper dolls. Jake’s words, “I want my little brother NOW!”
Love you,
Jen
 
early April 2008
Hello everyone,
Just wanted to write a quick update on what’s happening. After a lot of research (and MUCH kind response from many of you–THANK YOU), we’ve decided to continue with the home study in Kansas and not try to get an earlier one here. From all the feedback I got, IL’s home study process is so complicated we would not have been that far ahead timewise working on a home study here versus waiting until we moved. Plus, I’m already in contact with our social worker in KS and gathering information/documents for her, so I’m hoping to have much of the preliminary work ready for her.
Thank you so much for praying and walking through this with us. I’ll keep you posted. Patrick now has a birth certificate (it took three days and sometimes takes as long as 3 months!) and his passport papers are in process. I’m also double-checking to make sure that the Ugandan lawyer really needs a home study in order to apply for a court date. There’s the possibility that I may have misunderstood (hmm, international phone call, different accents, no surprise there).
We are learning (again, this is a lesson we must be really hard-headed about) to trust and rest and wait, and keep our eyes on Jesus. And these are good lessons. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…”
With love,
Jen Underwood 
 

May 2008

Dear Friends and Family,

I know it’s been far too long since I’ve updated you on Patrick and our lives, but I just have to write you a quick note to tell you that someone bought our house yesterday! We have learned so much from waiting on and trusting in the Lord throught this–we have learned how weak our faith actually is–and how faithful HE is! We close here in IL on 6/25; we close in KS on 6/27, and I’m planning on calling the social worker tomorrow to talk about when we can begin the home study! Thank you for your prayers. Boy, have we appreciated them. I’ll be trying to do a better job updating on Patrick–one huge praise of about a month ago regarding him. Jody and Aaron, his American caretakers IN Uganda, are back in the States now, and we weren’t sure where Patrick was going to be living. Well, the head of the orphanage, Wilfred, offered to take him to his house to live with Wilfred and his wife Vena. What a praise. I can picture in my mind the people Patrick is spending his days with, and that is a huge blessing.

More later. All Praise to our awesome Saviour and love to all of you,

Jen

early June 2008

Dear Friends and Family,This will be short because packing awaits, but just wanted to update you on the home inspection “thing.”After multiple visits from inspectors and plumbers and electricians this week, it looks like we will pass the general inspection on Monday! That’s wonderful. Dave will have some cleanup work, but not too bad. The plumbing, well, the Lord is teaching up that our help is from him, because it sure ain’t from the plumbing inspector. He’s been by twice now, told us we failed twice now (even with a great plumber standing right there saying, “It’s all up to code) and spent a grand total of, oh, about 6 minutes in our house. He’s coming back Monday to see a video of what’s under the floor and to see if the other “thing” is fixed. Please pray for that. He wouldn’t wait to see video of what’s under the floor on Friday so if he doesn’t like what he sees on Monday then we have to bust up the floor, fix it, have him back to inspect on Wednesday (he doesn’t inspect on Tuesdays) and then get it all cleaned up. At this point, based on our history with this guy, it will be a miracle if he passes it based on video footage, so that’s what we’re praying for. I was sitting on our front porch venting to the Lord about the plumbing inspector yesterday (good thing our house is far from the street) and I found myself saying, “We just need a little help from him, just a little guidance.” And a verse popped into my mind. “My help is in the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” That’s a lot better than help from a plumbing inspector. (Okay, what I really thought was, “Take that, you plumbing inspector.”)SO, that’s our personal prayer request, but there have been lots of praises. The general inspector has been AWESOME and very helpful, all the workmen the Lord has brought to us have been great, and our realtor doesn’t think that this will hold up our closing on Wednesday.

Also, we were able to get money to Patricks lawyer in Uganda, and paperwork is rolling there. AND we have a meeting with our social worker in Kansas on the 30th, so our home study will begin soon.

Thank you for all your prayers and all your support. We appreciate it. We will keep you posted on our transition and how the home study is going.

Love,

Jen 

 

early September 2008
 
Dear Friends and Family,
Since the last time I wrote, many of you have written to tell me you have been praying for Patrick to come home to us soon and to encourage us. Thank you so much for that, even if I have not gotten back to you personally.
As of last Wednesday, ALL our documentation has been sent out, to both the Kansas Bureau of Immigration AND to Uganda. We are, once again, waiting. That’s a BIG praise.
The prayer request regarding that is the timing. We cannot go to a court date in Africa until our documentation is approved by the Bureau of Immigration here in the States. According to the dates posted by the Bureau of Immigration, we did not turn it in early enough to be approved by November, and the courts in Uganda are closed for December and January, so if our approval does not happen soon enough, then we will have to wait until February. That may be the Lord’s plan, but we sure would like it to be earlier. Please also pray for Patick’s health, that he stays healthy and can fight off the malaria that he gets pretty easily.
Life here in Kansas continues to be a story of God’s faithfulness. We had our first Bible club at Emily’s school this past Tuesday. It was wonderful. The lady I’m working with really has a heart for those kids, and they know that. Getting to come in alongside her is such a blessing. I led the singing, and the kids really participated. How awesome to be able to share the gospel in song with them and know that with motions and repetition they are absorbing God’s truth. Very fun.
We continue to have a lot of little kids in the house, one little girl in particular whom we have taken to church with us and who knows very little of Christ’s love for her. The soccer guys are starting to really express interest in hanging out at our house as well. We’re glad they want to. The next couple of weeks will be a little crazy as far as having people in, since we are remodeling the forty-year old floors and counters in the kitchen. Dave’s brother Scott has graciously driven out to basically do the remodeling (with us assisting his expertise), and we are thankful for that.
Lastly, the soccer guys are off to a great start, winning their first two games and showing a great amount of respect for Dave and his leadership and Christianity as well as his coaching. We are praying that all of them come to know our Saviour.
Oops, one more lastly. I got a part-time job writing for the college. I spend one afternoon a week in the office and the rest of my hours are from home and whenever I can fit them in. We knew that I would want to do something, but we were waiting to see what the Lord would reveal. This is amazing. Not only will I be honing my writing skills (I’ll be writing everything from news releases to magazine feature articles), but I will be working closely with a couple of college students and getting to interview/talk with many others.
Thank you for praying for us and for Patrick. Please continue to pray that we would be faithful, “shining like stars and holding out the word of life.” That is our hope.
 
Early October 2008
 
Yesterday, far ahead of schedule and what the Bureau of Immigration promised us, we received notification that we have been approved to adopt Patrick! I feel like the woman in Luke 15 who lost one of her few silver coins and then finds it and wants to throw a party! I was fearful that I had submitted the form too late. I had to step back into faith again and again that it was God’s timing and not mine. But He is faithful, just as He always has been. So thank you for the many prayers and for the encouragement.
This is a major step in having Patrick with us before Christmas. Amazing! We are now waiting as our lawyer in Uganda gets a court date. In the meantime I will need to get my shots updated and start checking flights.
 
Everything else here is good. We are seeing some fruits–small, but real, we think–of Dave’s time with the soccer guys. Three of them came over for dinner last week (our kitchen was out of commission for about three weeks, so we’re just now getting to have people over–which I love to do), and almost all the guys came to a chapel last week at which Josh Riebock spoke! Dave suggested it was a chapel they wouldn’t want to miss–and when I showed up the next morning at chapel, there they all were, down in the front two rows next to Dave. So encouraging.
 
Em, Jake, and Maddie are doing well. Jake has found a best friend, and they are getting to be inseparable. They both are kind of intense little guys and they enjoy being knights and firemen together. Maddie really misses Kelsey Bowling, her best friend from West Chicago. She has friends, but not that ONE special friend yet, so I am praying that she connects closely with someone soon. Em is doing great. She’s friends with a couple of girls who, even at their young age, truly want to love Jesus, so it’s cool how they are encouraging each other.
 
The Bible Club on Tuesdays at the elementary school continues to be a joy. Those kids want to sing about Jesus and learn. They’re just flat-out excited every Tuesday afternoon, and that’s such a blessing. Pray that we will really see fruit, in the kids, and in their families. I know they go home talking about what we do and discuss and sing about.
 
I really like my job. That, too, is an incredible blessing, because the Lord literally tailor made it for me. I go in on Mondays and Dave stays home with Jake and Maddie. I sometimes have meetings while they are in preschool Wednesdays and Fridays. The rest of the time I work at home. And my writing skills are growing. I had the privilege of interviewing a guy at Sterling this past weekend and then writing a story about how he came to know Christ while at Sterling and then was led by the Lord to return to Sterling as an employee. Fun story, fun to work with him, and fun to write.
 
I’m getting to do some things that I never really had time for while teaching. On Tuesday mornings I go to Moms-in-Touch, a prayer group that prays for our kids and our schools, and I went to a Women’s group at church last week that was awesome!
 
But I miss my friends and our church family in West Chicago. I miss the people and the students at Wheaton Academy and having so many of them over at our house all the time. I miss my writing group at COD and the special friends I have in it. I miss our families, since we are even farther away from them now. Being in this world is always so bittersweet. In Christ we can have such amazing relationships, so much deeper and real-er than without Him, but the hard part is that we are always having to say goodbye. That is one of the many things I am looking forward to about heaven–no goodbyes, perfect communion with our Father and with each other, and there will be no such thing as distance, physical or otherwise. How awesome!
 
Well, this was supposed to be a short email, and it wasn’t. My apologies. Thank you for rejoicing with us. We cannot wait, even though we trust (and are graciously pulled back into trust when we doubt) that God will have us united with Patrick at exactly the right moment.
 
Late October 2008
 
Dear Friends and Family,
I just received an email from our lawyer in Uganda. He asked ME when I wanted to come to Uganda and when he should schedule a court date. I’m assuming that means it could happen any time! We’re excited about that! As Emily said just last week, “Mom, it feels like we’ve been waiting on Patrick to come home for a long time, but now it it feels so FAST!”
I’m getting shots (as soon as I find the closest clinic that gives Hep A and Hep B, etc.–our little clinic here in Sterling does not), and waiting to hear back from my lawyer, because I emailed and said we would really rather have a court date first and then schedule a flight, and starting to think through all these funny little details.
Please pray for us, for the practical issues (shots, place to stay, tickets, visa for Patrick, etc) as well as for the adjustment when I return. Little Brother will suddenly be a talking, walking, “I want to play with that” reality, and I’m praying that Jake, in particular, is given grace from the Lord to love Patrick with a selfless, sharing love.
It’s so interesting how the Lord continues to teach my heart through this. I remember back to early last spring when we’d just received word that Patrick’s biological father is alive (though dying of AIDS) and we didn’t think the adoption would be possible. I was standing in an aisle of Walgreens on the corner of Washington and 59 in West Chicago, feeling very discouraged, when I felt the Holy Spirit urging me, “Keep persevering. I want you to do this.” And just this past Monday as I sent off another FedEx with more crucial documents and I had reviewed the packet over and over so that I didn’t make a mistake. I dropped it in the FedEx box (we do have one of those in Sterling) and was attacked by worry that I had done something incorrectly. And again, the Holy Spirit reminded, “Remember how you mis-read the I600 application and sent it in later than you could have (I thought I had to wait for the home study to be completed). Didn’t I take care of that?” He did. Scripture reminds me over and over of the faithfulness of God and I have held onto several promises of that throughout this process, but the experiences He gives us in our personal lives are also incredibly precious (like the gems Much Afraid puts in her sack in Hinds Feet on High Places–if you have not read that, I strongly recommend it).
So, please pray with us and for us as, it seems, we enter the last part of bringing Patrick home. Pray also that I quickly learn some basic Lugandan (pants, shoes, shirt, eat, dirty) so that I can communicate more easily with Patrick.
That’s all for now, but I am sure there will be more later.
Thank you and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you today and forevermore.
Jen Underwood
 
November 2008
 
Dear All,
First of all, I apologize to the many of you who have emailed me. I have not responded, mostly because we are nearing the end of the pre-tournament soccer season and life is busy–good busy, lots of interaction with college students and little kids, but, still, busy. I am hoping to snatch a couple of hours soon to “catch up” on “catching up” with many of you. Thank you for your prayers and your love. It is so encouraging, and is one of the many, many, many things I have to be thankful for.
We seem to be getting closer and closer. The lawyer in Uganda now has ALL our paperwork–and I mean all, probably a good forty pages in all (the Ugandan government wanted copies of our diplomas! I had to search for them). I spoke with him this past Saturday and he said that he really did think we could get a court date in Uganda in the next month! We were thrilled.
Then, oh, the roller coaster, on Monday we got an email from the orphanage director saying we should plan on late January! I’m still not sure what is going on, but we’re still planning on the next month (hopefully sooner rather than later), and asking God that we would all be together for Thanksgiving. We wait and pray and hope, and we are thankful for the many of you who do the same with us.
We will keep you posted. I have had my shots (so very few compared to the many I had to get last January), and just need to get my anti-malarial pills–and, of course, a flight, place to stay, etc. HA! Please continue to pray that Patrick stays healthy. Our small group here in Sterling prayed specifically for that this past Sunday. Amazing how God has already built up a support system for us of people who have same-age kids as we do.
Sorry this was so choppy, but I’ve got to run.
Much love,
Jen Underwood
 
Late November 2008 
Dear Friends and Family,
“Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save…
Blessed is (s)he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord (her) God…
the Lord, who remains faithful forever.” Psalms 146:3, 5, 6b
 
I have been putting off writing all of you, writing even some of my closest friends, lately, because I feel like I am struggling through those verses. God is taking my head knowledge (He IS faithful; He does have a plan–even though I don’t know what it is; He will work all things together for good even though it may not look like it is good from our earth-bound eyes) and making it heart knowledge–ONCE AGAIN.
 
I told a friend today that I often think I have learned this lesson–to trust in my always-faithful God–only to find that my learning has a lot of holes in it when it gets tested again. I thought I was completely trusting God in regards to Patrick. God worked miracles in ou being able to send everything we needed on our end of things to Africa well ahead of schedule.
 
But now we wait for a court date in Africa, and the courts there close halfway through December and do not open again until late January. And it is now nearly Thanksgiving, when I had hoped we would already have Patrick home with us. I need to be honest. I’m disappointed and hurt. “Why, Lord, hasn’t this happened yet? Why can’t it be simple? Why?”
 
And then the Lord reveals to me that I am trusting men, mortal men (and myself/my plans) and not my God. If God chooses, He can work a miracle and we will get a court date and things will go faster than anyone believed they could. But, if He so chooses, we will wait until next year, but that will be the perfect time for reasons we may never know.
 
As I continue to pray about this and through this, I am realizing that my prayer does not ensure that God acts or prompt Him to act in some “push the right button, and the door pops open sort of way.” Prayer, real prayer and communion, with my heart laid bare in all its selfishness and pride and sin before my holy and loving God, allows me to walk WITH Him through this. It means I do not separate myself from Him. I allow His Holy Spirit to minister to my very needy soul and spirit, and I truly know that I am never alone.
 
Here’s the “odd” thing. He does not make it easy for me to forget. I go through my days, so blessed–with three children in my home, a loving husband, a roof over my head, work I enjoy, developing friendships around me, and a host of people who love me enough to keep me in their prayers. Yet I feel an ache for Patrick that is almost physical at times. It reminds me of those last weeks leading up to the delivery of my other three. I wanted the delivery so badly–and not just for the discomfort of pregnancy to be over–but to be able to know these secret children, to touch fingers and toes and cheeks and to begin to find out who they are, uniquely created.
 
That feeling, I know, is an answer to prayer. From the very beginning we have prayed three things: 1. Lord, please keep Patrick safe: physically, emotionally, and spiritually; 2. Please bring him home as soon as possible; and 3. Plant him so deeply in our hearts that he is a member of this family even before he is physically in our midst.
But this feeling makes the waiting very hard. It keeps me–a blessing in disguise–in prayer.
 
Well, that was REALLY long, and, as I read over bits and pieces of it, somewhat dramatic and raw. But I felt truly convicted today that I had been putting off writing to you and asking for prayer because I felt like I was being strong and self-sufficient by NOT asking for it–like that somehow made my faith greater than it actually is.
 
 
With much, much gratitude,
Jen Underwood
 
Early January 2009
 
Dave and I keep a Scripture verse calender in the bathroom–great place for meditation, you know–plus it’s often the quietest room in our house!
We’re getting ready to work out this morning–read today’s verse together.
I Thessalonians 5:24 “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”
We smiled at each other because we have been impressed with this lately, that God will do it in HIS timing, not ours, because He IS faithful and He knows the best timing (I’ll write more on this later, the process of growth and faith He’s been leading us on). So, finally, these past few weeks have been full of patient, expectant waiting, not the almost-frantic feeling I was experiencing in the late fall.
So, long story short, I got on the computer to check the weather/emails, and the top email was from our lawyer in Uganda. We have a court date on the 14th–that’s next week!–and he needs me there the 12th! I’ve already emailed my travel agent (she’s getting this email, too). So, lots of prayer, lots of details to come together, but, as we know, as we continue to learn, “He IS faithful!”
More later,
Jen
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