Africa Connections Info

Dave and I have mixed feelings about missions trips.

That’s a weird statement considering we just got back from leading one.

On one hand, you spend a LOT of money to get there that could be used instead either by the organizations you work with or by full-time missionaries. Sometimes missions teams go in with the idea that they’re coming in to save the day (not exactly a Philippians 2 attitude).

But on the other hand, often the money spent to go on the trip is like an initial investment. It opens up the team members’ eyes and hearts–as well as the hearts and eyes of their friends and family members–to needs and Gospel opportunities they had no idea of before so that future support gets funneled in directions it would not have otherwise. Mission team members find that they are “mutually strengthened and encouraged and comforted by … (the) faith” of the people they meet. (Romans 1:12)

My hope is that those of you who have read my blog have, in a sense, traveled with us and been impacted just as we have. Some readers have already asked me about ways to contribute to some of the ministries we worked with, so what I want to do in this post is provide links to all of the different organizations we worked with while we were in Kenya and Uganda. You can learn more about these organizations and donate to them at the website links provided. I’ve also included the link to the specific blog post I wrote about our experience at each organization.

1. Kibera Girls SoccerAcademy:

http://www.kiberagirlssocceracademy.org/

This is a FREE secondary school in the heart of the Kibera Slum (the second largest slum in the world) that provides girls with a quality education so they can continue on beyond secondary school to universities and colleges. Great program.

Blog link: https://jenunderwood.org/2013/07/11/day-3-in-africa-a-gift-of-a-day/

2. Springs of Hope Orphanage run by Kenyan Mary Musyoka:

http://www.entertheventure.com/

Venture Corps is a U.S.-based non-profit that advocates for several non-profits run by Kenyan and Ugandan nationals. You can find more info on Springs of Hope on Venture Corps website and donate specifically to it or to the Venture Corps general fund.

Blog link: https://jenunderwood.org/2013/07/10/meet-mary-day-2-in-africa/

3. Mercy Childcare run by Ugandan Wilfred Rugumba:

http://www.mercychildcare.org/

Mercy is dear, dear, dear to my heart. Our son, Patrick, is from Mercy, and I lived with Wilfred and his wife, Vena, for five weeks during our adoption process. Almost all the ministry we did in Uganda was through Mercy and its founding church, Light the World Church in Kampala, Uganda.

Blog links:

https://jenunderwood.org/2013/07/15/seeing-ugandans-light-the-world-day-1-in-uganda/

https://jenunderwood.org/2013/07/16/beauty-from-the-awful-day-3-in-uganda/

https://jenunderwood.org/2013/07/22/final-days-in-uganda/

4. UAPO (Ugandan American Partnership Organization) (In Uganda, known as the Akola Project):

http://www.theuapo.org/ (this site has information about the UAPO)

http://akolaproject.org/ (this is the UAPO’s shopping site–beautiful jewelry and very soon, some amazing woven bags)

Blog link:

https://jenunderwood.org/2013/07/19/our-gifts-gods-purpose/

 

 

 

Final days in Uganda

playing with babies while others painted

playing with babies while others painted

Wilfred and his wife, Vena, left for the States this past Tuesday, leaving us in the very capable hands of Angel and Rachel. Before he left, he and Dave talked about the painting he wanted us to complete at the babies and toddlers’ home: two accent walls, a mural (of our design) on one of the accent walls, and the entire living area (a BIG room). He wanted us to paint it in a gloss coat rather than the current flat paint so the walls could be cleaned.

Dave looked over the entire job and said, “We’ll try, Wilfred, but I am almost certain we will not be able to complete all of this. That’s a lot, but we’ll do what we can.”

Britta with a couple of the little ones

Britta with a couple of the little ones

We had good reason to be proud of our team of girls (we’ve had good reason this entire trip) because they completed the entire job. Some girls played with and cared for babies and toddlers (keeping them away from the painting areas); some painted; some planned and painted the mural; some cleaned paint drips (Deb Smith was on her knees for probably three hours!); some cleaned rollers and brushes so they could be used for different colors. In the end, it was completed! They worked HARD!

naptime!

naptime!

We wanted to get the job finished, but we also wanted to give the two ladies who work round-the-clock there to have a bit of a break and a fun day, so when lunch time rolled around, Angel, Lauren, and I went down to the nearest chapatti stand (a pancake/crepe made from flour, oil, salt, and water and fried on a griddle [don’t hold me to that recipe; I’ve only watched them do it]) and made the cooks’ day. Their eyes grew a little round when we said we need FORTY rolexes (that’s egg fried with salt and chopped vegetables rolled [hence the name] in a chapatti), but you could tell they were a little excited to make such a big sale. One guy began making more dough by hand, up to his elbows in it as he kneaded, and another began chopping veggies and then frying eggs with them. The main guy had on a pristine Starbucks apron J and thanked us for our patience.

Deb's knees were red by the end of the day b/c she spent so much time on them! What a trooper!

Deb’s knees were red by the end of the day b/c she spent so much time on them! What a trooper!

While they worked on the rolex, the three of us walked down the road to find a fruit stand. We bought two big bunches of mini bananas for about $2 and then bought several sodas for Aunt Josephine and Susanne as a special treat. When we got back we picked up our hot, steaming rolex and took everything back to the home. The babies and toddlers ate nearly as much as the adults, and the mamas shared the extra sodas with the kids and by the end they were sticky, almost comatose but happy messes. The girls on baby duty pulled their mattresses into the main room and lay down with them so they could take naps. One girl said she lay there looking into her baby’s eyes and began praying for him—for his future, for his health, for his relationship with Christ and even his future wife.

the mural the girls painted on one of the walls

the mural the girls painted on one of the walls

Dave was still trying to get enough cash to pay for the guesthouse so I went downtown with Angel to visit ATMs there. We rode a mutatu (like a mini-bus), and I had fun watching all the different passengers. Then I had a new experience: I’ve always ridden bodas (motorcycle taxis) while wearing pants (so I could straddle them). This day, though, I’d put on a skirt because I’d thought I was going to the hospital with the new baby, so I had to ride sidesaddle. I’ve always admired how the women balance so gracefully, but I have an even deeper appreciation now. I was a little hunched over from gripping the underside of the seat–probably not graceful at all!

Christy with Susanne and Aunt Josephine, the two ladies who selflessly care for these little ones day in and day out.

Christy with Susanne and Aunt Josephine, the two ladies who selflessly care for these little ones day in and day out.

Angel and I caught up with the team at a game they played that afternoon. Though a “football” match played by an official girls’ team had certainly drawn crowds in Kenya, the Kenyans weren’t really surprised. It was very different in Uganda. We often had to convince people that they really played. We didn’t play any “official” matches in Uganda simply because there aren’t any girls’ teams to play, and when we told people the girls played “football,” the Ugandans assumed it was a genteel version of the game. So when the girls played a friendly-but-competitive match against some of the older boys at Mercy Childcare home and their friends from the neighborhood, the guys were really surprised. “They really play!” they said, and we would laugh, nod, and say, “We told you.”

the whole painting/baby care team--after the project was finished!

the whole painting/baby care team–after the project was finished!

So the boys had told more of their friends, and some of the guys from church wanted a final match on Wednesday afternoon. They played on a field near Light the World church and had a great time. Fortunately I was finally able to catch up with another friend, Ronnie, who helped care for Patrick before we adopted him. So fun to connect with him and hear what he’s been up to. When Jody lived in Uganda, she cared not only for Patrick but also for another baby named Grace. When Jody left, Ronnie continued to check up on her and, eventually, when her home situation grew worse, he moved her into the home he shares with his mother. Then he moved in another child.

Ronnie, Em, and I

Ronnie, Em, and I (while Angel and I were downtown earlier this day a woman selling crafts on the street dropped these beautiful blue beads around my neck. When I protested, she said, “but I like you!” Angel then bought some from her.)

Ronnie’s story—told simply and without any fanfare, full of his joy over getting to be a dad to these two kids—reminded me of something Wilfred said to Dave a few days ago. They were talking about the book Kisses for Katie and all the work Wilfred and the other pastors at Light the World had done, beginning when they were only 19 years old. Dave said, “Wilfred, you could easily write a book!” Wilfred laughed and said, “But what we do is just normal. It’s simply what we’re supposed to do.”

Shelby and little Scovia--joyful together!

Shelby and little Scovia–joyful together!

Wilfred, Ronnie, Deo, Vena, Angel, Rachel—this week our girls have gotten to see young Christians who are “simply doing what’s ‘normal’ for those who say they follow Christ, who do ‘what they’re supposed to do.”

Wow!

We finished the game and went back to the guesthouse, where we ate another of

Em with Rita, one of her friends from the orphanage

Em with Rita, one of her friends from the orphanage

Mama Cici’s wonderful meals. Then it was packing time. The girls had several items of clothing, etc, that they wanted to give to the wonderful women who cared for us, so we made a pile in the courtyard and then enjoyed watching them try on different dresses and skirts. Christmas in July, and their joy was infectious. What added to the fun was that little Scovia from the orphanage (she’s six but has CP and is the size of a three year old) spent the night, and she is a bundle of laughter, so she had us in stitches.

Angel, Dave, and I--last morning together

Angel, Dave, and I–last morning together

The next morning we drove one last little time down the deeply rutted red roads to visit several of the older orphanage kids at their school. Then we made a quick craft shopping run, grabbed some lunch, and then headed toward Entebbe (the airport town).

In Entebbe we made one detour at my request. A dear friend of mine, Florence, had just lost a baby at 7 months of pregnancy and was still at the hospital in Entebbe. I was able to visit with her for a while and meet her husband (they’ve been married about two years), and I was able to introduce her to Dave and Emily. We chatted and prayed, and then we had to leave.

Rachel

Rachel

At the airport we said our final goodbyes. I will miss my Angel. I will miss Rachel. (I’m grateful for Facebook!)

Thank you, Lord, for this amazing trip, and the opportunity to re-connect with so many beloved friends from my earlier time in Uganda. May the entire trip be used for Your glory in the lives of everyone it touched.

Beauty from the awful, Day 3 in Uganda

Julius (who is getting married to beautiful, smart Hope very soon) working with the kids at the school in Kitange.

Julius (who is getting married to beautiful, smart Hope very soon) working with the kids at the school in Kitange.

Sometimes God works great beauty out of what seems to us most awful.

We saw that on Monday. (I was unable to get onto Internet to post this blog yesterday, so I’m a day behind.)

Rachel with three little friends

Rachel with three little friends

We first went to the Kitanga slum in Kampala. It’s far smaller than the Kibera slum in Nairobi, but we also got a far more personal look into it. A little over five years ago I visited this slum and met a pastor who had begun a church in it. When he started sharing Christ with the community, children and teenagers began coming to him. They either weren’t safe in the homes they had or they had no homes to go to. The pastor began letting them sleep in the church, and then moved in himself with his wife so they could keep the children, especially the teen girls, safe at night.

So Kitange had a good church. It was a start.

The new school in Kitange

The new school in Kitange

Well, just a few months ago Kitanga also got a school. Preschool classes all the way up through 5th grade meet in a building on the edge of the slum, and administrators plan to add another grade each year. When we pulled up near the school in our vehicles, Kitanga children, most dressed in their uniforms, flooded to greet us. They showed us the inside of their school, and presented a small program. I asked their principal if they have to pay school fees, and he told me they use a sliding scale, and that many do not pay anything at all.

There’s some beauty!

Anna and this little sweetheart spent the entire morning together.

Anna and this little sweetheart spent the entire morning together.

We went back outside, threw a couple soccer balls into the field, and the older boys were off, leaving the girls and babies free to show great interest in us. I listened to a couple of folk tales from the ringleader of a group of 11-year-old school friends while the soccer girls swung babies onto their hips and played with toddlers.

Light the World has an active ministry in the slums. DSC_0048Several of the children at Mercy come from there, and Mercy works with their families to try to rehabilitate them until they are able to take the child back. L the W also offers microfinance loans to women who need them.

So after a little while, we split into groups and went with LtW staff members to visit some of the families in the neighborhood they are working with. We all have different stories, but I will share mine with you. My team (Dave, me, our Em, Emily Mascari, and Anna Lindus) had Wilfred as our leader. We went first to Florence’s home. Florence is leading a women’s prayer and Bible study group in Kitanga. She and her husband Moses accepted Christ a few years ago. She runs a small duuka (shop) next to her house and hopes to expand it to provide

Moses, Florence, and their little girl, Asfa

Moses, Florence, and their little girl, Asfa

more income for their family. We entered her home, taking our shoes off at the door so we did not make a mess on the tarps spread across the dirt floor. They sat us on the couches that nearly filled the room, honoring us while they sat on the floor. Florence took their baby from Moses and we learned a little of their story. Their baby, Asfa, is five years old but looks about two. She had a fever when she was very young and it resulted in brain damage that has left her mentally at the age of a baby and physically with very stiff limbs.

DSC_0056I have to be very American here and say this: any middle-class American would enter the slums and say, “This is no place for a child to grow up.” That is what our first impression would be.

That impression would be wrong.

The best place for Asfa is exactly where she is. Her parents adore her, and it was clear not only by the ways they looked at her but by her physical condition. Her skin was clean and perfect, with no pressure sores. The entire time her parents were talking with Wilfred, Florence was unconsciously doing physical therapy with Asfa, stretching her feet and hands, moving her elbows and knees, making her stand up for a few seconds and catching her when she tottered. Florence showed me the notebook she keeps for Asfa’s medical records, carefully filled out with every time they could afford medication and the illnesses and treatments she has had.

Beautiful.

Moses sang us a song he wrote about his faith in Christ, about how we should all bear fruit because we are connected to the Vine. That, too, was beautiful.

Asmin and I

Asmin and I

Dave prayed over that little family, and as he did, I was so glad to once again see Wilfred and Light the World in action. Wilfred knows that the best thing for both children and their parents is for the child to be in the home God placed him in. When you take a child permanently away from parents, they lose hope and motivation. Of all the children at Mercy, only a few are adoptable because all of the others have some form of family who can—and who deep down want to—care for them. Wilfred wants to share Christ with the families and work with them so they can become fit families for children. Then fathers work hard to pay school fees and put sufficient food on the table, and mothers can really care for their children.

We next visited Asmin, a Muslim lady, at her home that she has made clean and even pretty with a lovely curtain separating the sleeping and living areas. We asked if we could pray for her, even though she follows Allah. She said yes and prayed first before I prayed over her, asking that she would know the Christ who will draw her close to God. Asmin has a sweet presence about her, and she hugged me, drawing my head close to her own, when we finally left her.

This little girl was put in Dave's arms in the slums.

This little girl was put in Dave’s arms in the slums.

Then came the surprises. Someone came up to Wilfred and told him of a baby that was in trouble, so we trekked through some narrow paths, avoiding line-drying laundry around our heads and water runoff at our feet. When we arrived, neighbors handed Dave a tiny little girl (at least we think it is a girl). Nine months, they said, and she couldn’t have weighed more than 10 or 11 pounds. They told Wilfred the father had abandoned the family, and the mother goes off working but does not care for her baby. They were angry about the state of the baby, and the women’s raised voices drew several drunk men to the area. “Take her,” they told Wilfred. “She needs care.”

But Wilfred, without talking to the mother, was not ready to just take the child, so he had Dave hand her back (Dave was all set to take her, but we know we are also, to put it plainly, CLUELESS about the bigger picture!) because he wanted to get out of there before the crowd got too agitated. He will send Julius (his assistant who does a lot of work in the Kitenga slum) to the house quietly to make more inquiries—and then he will probably take the child.

We discovered this house in the Kitenge slum was where our son Patrick was found

We discovered this house in the Kitenge slum was where our son Patrick was found

We visited one more house, another Moses who has a child being cared for at Mercy. He showed Wilfred the progress he is making so that his girl Prossy can return home.

That was, honestly, enough to process and pray about for an entire day, but we were also scheduled to visit the hospital, with its rows and rows of metal beds with children in various stages of sickness, their parents camped out on straw mats by their sides because they have to administer the majority of the care. I first prayed with a woman whose two year old came down with a fever four days ago. His body still radiated heat, and she patiently urged juice down his throat, sip by tiny sip. She was so calm, and I couldn’t help but think how frantic I would be in her shoes, watching my child grow more listless by the day, knowing that hope was slipping away.

I checked on the soccer girls who were holding babies and chatting with mothers. As I walked down the hall to find another group, I passed an open doorway and saw a room that, though full of beds, held only one boy, skeletal, sitting up on a crib at the far side of the room.

Skin stretched across cheekbones, neck reduced to the size of the spinal column, eyes that were far too big for a shrunken face. I’d seen faces like his in pictures of concentration camp victims, but never, never in real life.

I pretended I didn’t notice the open door and continued down to check on the other group.

But on my way back I was with my friend Angel (I lived with her during the five weeks I was in Africa several years ago), and she said, “Mama, do you want to visit here?”

Holy Spirit took over, and I said yes without thinking much about it. We met Agnes and Eugene, and they introduced us to Earnest, who is 7 (same age as my PJ) and who began having diarrhea 4 months ago, and is now vomiting and coughing besides. I put my hand on his foot, and felt his cool, thin, dry skin. We looked at the x-ray and prescriptions given by the doctor (not that we could do a thing, but it just felt like a way to express sympathy). We listened to their calm recitation, and I fought to keep my face as smooth as theirs.

I asked if I could pray. Both said yes, and Agnes told me that she was a believer in Jesus. “God is my only hope now,” she told me.

“He is our only hope all the time, really, isn’t he?” I said.

Her smile stretched wide and she nodded.

Suddenly, just before I began to pray, soccer girls filed in. They laid hands on me, and I let what was in my heart spill forth in words, and I knew the Holy Spirit was groaning in far better utterances than my limited language in the very presence of God.

In the middle of my prayer, I felt something cool and dry touch my hand, and when I opened eyes, I saw that Earnest had put his small hand on top of my own, his fingers curled over mine. That did it. I had to turn away and sob quietly.

The girls filed out, and I stayed behind to talk more with the parents. Eugene showed me the medications the doctors prescribed and admitted that they could not afford it all. I told him I would be back.

I gathered Angel and Rachel (our two wonderful Ugandan guides for this day) and Dave, and Rachel came up with a plan. We went back and told Eugene that we would take him with us to the pharmacy and buy him the medication. Then Rachel began telling him he needed to accept Christ. “Dave,” Rachel suddenly said, “Do you have anything to say to Eugene?”

Dave, taken off guard at first, said no, but then he asked Eugene why he had not yet made the decision his wife so clearly had. “I’m not ready,” Eugene answered.

So Dave simply and wonderfully reminded him that it is a gift, unachievable by ANY of us, EVER. We have to simply accept it. “Do you want to?” Dave asked him.

“Yes.”

“Then there is nothing standing in your way. Your sin does not keep you from the grace of God.”

Dave wanted to be sure that Eugene was not making this decision simply because a muzungu was asking him questions. “No, no,” Eugene answered, and then he prayed with Dave while Agnes beamed, and she and I clasped hands and lifted them to the heavens in thanks.

We drove with Eugene to the pharmacy down the hill and filled the prescription for his son. Dave gave him his email address, Rachel gave him her phone number, I waved at him from the van window, and he was gone.

The ride home provided time to pray and think because we got trapped in a traffic jam caused by an 18-wheeler that was trying to fit into an incredibly narrow driveway. (I’m always amazed at how patient people are here with this. School children gather to watch; men walking by stop to give advice; and cars and bodas wait patiently until the truck moves out of their way.)

By the time we arrived home, it was time to grab a quick bite and go to Light the World Church’s cell groups. Most of the team stayed here for the group Wilfred and Vena host, but Dave and I, along with our Em, Julia, and Britta (and Ugandans Isaac and Rachel) headed up the hill in the dusk to a cell group that meets nearby. They welcomed us in and translated all they said into English. Babies nursed, one little girl came and sat on Dave’s lap, and a small boy sitting in a chair in the corner fell asleep and didn’t even wake up when his chair toppled over.

And through all the life that was happening, the members shared testimonies and requests and we sang and prayed and even cried a little. And then, in the dark, we trekked down the rutted dirt road by the light of Julia’s iPod.

The water was off when we arrived, so Wilfred heated water on the electric stovetop, and we had jerry-can showers.

It was a beautiful day

*Please pray for Earnest, Eugene, and Agnes. Pray for Earnest’s healing. I’ve been thinking about him much today.

*I will write about today later (we visited Jinja, where an American friend of mine works with a women’s jewelry-making business—beautiful stuff and a very cool model).

*Tomorrow we are painting at the babies and toddlers’ home and playing with the children there. Julius already rescued the undernourished baby from the slums, and tomorrow I will be going with Isaac to take the baby to the hospital for a checkup and some testing. Please pray for this, too.

*I do have pictures. I’ll try to post some tomorrow. Sleep beckons.

Thanks for reading,

Jen

Seeing Ugandans Light the World, Day 1 in Uganda

Lots of us got our hair "done" while sitting on the "sideline" of the soccer game.

Lots of us got our hair “done” while sitting on the “sideline” of the soccer game.

Four and a half years ago I stood in front of Light the World Church’s several thousand members while Wilfred prayed over me and Patrick and the adoption process. At one point while he prayed, I looked up. Thousands of arms reached toward me and toward heaven, and tears spilled onto my face.

I have never forgotten that moment.

All of us with all of the older Mercy kids.

All of us with all of the older Mercy kids.

This morning I stood before Light the World Church again and told them how much their prayers meant to me during that time. Dave and I both thanked them for loving children so much that they are willing to care for so many of them—in particular for the one who became our son.

Tears threatened to spill again.

Anna Lindus with one of the toddlers at the Children's Village.

Anna Lindus with one of the toddlers at the Children’s Village.

I have learned so much from getting to know fellow believers from other cultures. Our God is BIG, and though we must all worship Him in spirit and truth, the different styles preferred by various cultures merely points to yet another facet of our diamond-brilliant God.

Dave offered 10,000 Ugandan shillings (equiv. $4) to anyone who would catch one of the chickens at the Village. Sela took him up on it.

Dave offered 10,000 Ugandan shillings (equiv. $4) to anyone who would catch one of the chickens at the Village. Sela took him up on it.

So today we joined together with brothers and sisters in Uganda, at the 5,000-member-strong Light the World Church with its crooning preacher (he’s also a very well-known Gospel singer in Uganda) and dancing choir and its insistence that all we have and are belong to God, so we might as well surrender it and enjoy the ride.

The girls loved it. Anna Sezonov (sorry, Anna, if I’m butchering your name—everyone’s asleep, so I can’t ask anyone how to spell it) shared her testimony in the first service. She did a great, great job—emphasizing the truth that she’s had to trust in God through difficult times.

Wilfred showed Dave all the projects they want to do at the Village (including an extensive garden--already happening) and they came back w/ 2 giant sweet potatoes, which we'll eat at some point this week!

Wilfred showed Dave all the projects they want to do at the Village (including an extensive garden–already happening) and they came back w/ 2 giant sweet potatoes, which we’ll eat at some point this week!

Wilfred took us on a tour of the church (which was new to me—they had to move from their old location b/c the surrounding ground was too swampy) and told the girls how it was started. Here’s a quick recap: four boys who went through secondary school together accepted Christ. As they began growing in their faith, they began meeting for prayer under a mango tree, and they felt led to start a church. At the same time, homeless children began moving into their 8 by 10 meter shack—simply because the guys were welcoming to them. The church began with a small group and kept growing. The guys rented a larger place, and more children came. Now, ten years later, the “guys” are in their late twenties, Light the World Church is a 5,000 member church with all kinds of ministries in the community, and Mercy Childcare (LtW’s childcare branch) cares for about 100 children. Mercy has a home for its older children (five through 20) and has bought an acre and a half of land and is building a children’s village on it. One home has been completed already, and the babies and toddlers are housed there. We visited both the older kids and the babies yesterday, playing a match with the older ones (and a few village children as well) and rocking babies to sleep.

Eaden with a child from Mercy

Eaden with a child from Mercy

In the fast falling darkness (dusk is a short-lived event here) we drove home and ate a wonderful dinner that Mama Cici (full name Fluyencia) prepared for us. Wilfred and Vena run their guesthouse with simple hospitality, and the girls are getting a bit of a look at what home life is like—a home that welcomes everybody.

All for now.

Playing with the boys. This is Sez (Anna S) squaring off with Isaac, one of the older boys helps a lot at both Mercy and at Wilfred and Vena's house.

Playing with the boys. This is Sez (Anna S) squaring off with Isaac, one of the older boys helps a lot at both Mercy and at Wilfred and Vena’s house.

Sorry for posting this late (well, early for us). I couldn’t get internet access last night (amazing that we have it all!), so I’m posting this in the morning. We’re heading to the Kutenga slum to play soccer with the kids and visit some homes there, and then we will visit a cancer hospital.

Thanks for reading,

Jen