Our gifts, God’s purpose

Two days ago, Tuesday—Jinja

Wilfred, Vena, and their two boys:  baby Joshua and almost-three Graham. They left for the States the same day we went to Jinja. We'll miss them here but will be able to re-connect with them in Chicago in just a few weeks.

Wilfred, Vena, and their two boys: baby Joshua and almost-three Graham. They left for the States the same day we went to Jinja. We’ll miss them here but will be able to re-connect with them in Chicago in just a few weeks.

Jinja is known as the source of the Nile River, so it’s a bit of a tourist spot. When Wilfred suggested several weeks ago that we should visit there after the day in Kitenga and the hospital so the girls could see the Nile River, we first got excited because that is where Katie Davis (the girl who wrote Kisses from Katie) lives, and we thought just maybe we could visit her. Dave sent her a Facebook message, but we never got a reply (probably because she is way too busy to spend time on Facebook!).

Some of the beautiful jewelry made and sold by UAPO (Akola Project). Our girls were in awe of all of it!

Some of the beautiful jewelry made and sold by UAPO (Akola Project). Our girls were in awe of all of it!

Then I realized that my friend Sarah Contrucci (a marketing department buddy from our time at Sterling College in Kansas) also works in Jinja. Sarah grew up on the mission field and is a wonderfully free spirit. Through her master’s work in an Eastern University program that partners with Uganda Christian University, she learned of UAPO (Uganda America Partnership). UAPO combines the beautiful jewelry made by Ugandan women with an American market. Sarah was hired as the lead designer (she’s a wonderful artist) and, eventually, DSC_0064was also named the director of the Akola Project (what the UAPO is called in Africa). She lives in Jinja, travels from there to other areas to discover new crafts and ideas, designs the jewelry that the women will make (it’s sold online), and runs the workshop and the vocational program in Jinja. It’s a busy job, but it combines all her amazing gifts.

UAPO (Akola Project) is branching out into woven bags now. This is a picture of Martin, UAPO's master weaver. Not only is he an expert weaver, he built all of UAPO's looms!

UAPO (Akola Project) is branching out into woven bags now. This is a picture of Martin, UAPO’s master weaver. Not only is he an expert weaver, he built all of UAPO’s looms!

So I messaged her and asked if we could come and tour it. She said yes, and she thought she would be there herself, but was out traveling and was delayed coming home so we actually missed seeing her. Her very capable American assistant, Elizabeth, and the Ugandan office manager, Helen, gave us a tour instead, showing us the jewelry workshop, the weaving room (incredible! Their master weaver also built the machines!), and their offices. She told us how they teach the women they work with to budget and plan, to set up savings accounts for unexpected problems, to prioritize their kids’ school fees. Akola employs roughly 200 women (well over one hundred actually make the beads in their villages). That’s 200 women who are making a livelihood that allows their kids to go to school!

What Martin was weaving! Amazing.

What Martin was weaving! Amazing.

It was very cool, and I think it accomplished our goal: to show the girls that God has designed their gifts for a purpose, and He will use all their talents, even things like their artistic ability, for His glory—anywhere in the world!

The later afternoon was spent being tourists. We ate a Ugandan lunch of motoke (boiled, mashed plantains), posho (kind of like cream of wheat; a grain made from the cassava/ugali root [I think I’m using all the right terms]), rice, and a choice of either beef, chicken, or fish. As has happened several times before, I was offered the eye of the fish (a delicacy), and, once again, I turned it down. I always think, Oh, I’ll try it, but I just haven’t been able to get myself to do it. Plus—this is my copout—I KNOW the Ugandan offering it to me will LOVE it, so why should I deprive them? (though I know I’m depriving them of some very real fun in seeing me eat it!). After lunch, we did some craft shopping in downtown Jinja (SO much less congested than Kampala! And so full of mzungus! [white people]), and then went to the source of the Nile. We took a little boat ride on it (many of us dipped our feet and hands in—such a welcome feeling).

The girls' boat.

The girls’ boat.

We drove back to Kampala at dusk and ate a late dinner of beans and rice that Mama Cici prepared. This night we had water but no electricity, so we ate dinner by candlelight!

DSC_0138It was a good day.

Thanks for reading,

Jen

-I’m a day behind, so this was actually our Tuesday. Yesterday we painted at the babies and toddlers home—the girls accomplished SO much! I’ll write and post pics as soon as possible. I cannot believe today we head home! I’m very ready to see my younger three but there’s also a part of me that’s not quite ready to go.

-The little baby from Kitenga slum IS a girl. The nurse who works for Mercy took her to the hospital, so I was not needed, but they gave her medication. Today she gets tested for HIV. We have not yet heard from Eugene (I’m sure he doesn’t have easy access to Internet).

-I will also post all contact information in an upcoming post for any of you who would like more information about all the ministries we worked with

Countdown to Africa

Dave, Emily, and I leave for Africa in four days! We are very grateful that the three of us are able to go together—what a privilege!

I’ll post updates on the trip right here on my (Jen’s) blog: www.jenunderwood.org. If I’m able, I’ll upload some pictures as well. Here’s a bit of what we’ll be doing:

WHO’S GOING?: Twelve of Dave’s soccer players will go on the trip, along with one of his assistant coaches (Lauren Lindner Anderson, who was a former player and student years ago), and two of the girls’ moms.

WHERE AND WHAT? We do have a schedule (though it’s pretty flexible, as it needs to be): In Kenya the girls will play several soccer matches, one of them with girls from the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy in the heart of the Kibera slum. Our girls will also attend classes with the KGSA students.

We have also connected—through Jody and Aaron Hoekstra—with a woman named Mary who started a babies and toddler home outside Nairobi. I had heard so many wonderful things about Mary from Aaron, and when the opportunity came up for us to visit her and her babies, we jumped at the chance.

In Uganda, of course, we will see Wilfred (the director of Mercy Childcare who helped so, so much with Patrick’s adoption), his beautiful wife, Vena, and their two young children.

In Jinja we will get to see a friend I worked with when we lived in Sterling, Kansas. Sarah now works as a designer and project director in Jinja, Uganda, and will show us the work she does with the African women who make crafts for her company.

A few more games, work with the soccer ministry run by Light the World Church in Kampala, processing/prayer time with the girls each night, a church service at LWC, a visit to a cancer hospital… It’s full, but not so planned that we cannot stop to help someone or spend more time with people or take a detour.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? We covet your prayers for this trip. We know that God uses trips like this in significant ways in teenagers’ lives, and we expect that from this trip as well (He uses it in our lives, too!). Please pray that all of us will be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading on this trip and then beyond it when we return to Chicagoland. Pray that we will spread the sweetness of Christ wherever we go on our trip (including airports and guesthouses), and that we will be a true encouragement to the believers we work with. Pray that we will be a great support to these brothers and sisters in their Gospel work.

Thank you!

Dave, Jen, and Emily Underwood