In honor of my son on St. Patrick’s Day

Patrick and Maddie chasing down a ball during a fierce game of soccer at my sister's house last fall.

Patrick and Maddie chasing down a ball during a fierce game of soccer at my sister’s house last fall.

St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal in Chicagoland–but that’s not why Patrick, our son, was named that. He was tiny, nameless, and very sick when he was rescued by Mercy Childcare in the spring of 2007 (the link takes you to the webpage, but on the page is a link to Mercy’s Facebook page, which is updated often with great pics). In a phone conversation between the dear people at Mercy and Sarah, one of their staunchest supporters here in west Chicagoland, Sarah’s daughter suggested they name him “Patrick” after of one of her friends at school.

Wilfred Rugumba, the vibrant young director of Mercy Childcare, with his wonderful wife, Vena, and their two sons. They're still rescuing!

Wilfred Rugumba, the vibrant young director of Mercy Childcare, with his wonderful wife, Vena, and their two sons. They’re still rescuing!

Not quite two years later Patrick officially became an Underwood–though he was in our hearts long before that. We pray that he, like the saint he shares a name with, will love the Lord with all his heart, soul, and mind and will use his incredible talents and gifts to love his neighbors as himself.

So, in honor of both Patricks, I share this prayer of the bold Englishman who returned to the land where he once lived as a slave to share the power and love of Christ.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

 

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

Meet Mary, Day 2 in Africa

This is a weird pic to include, but the kids at our first game yesterday thought Dave's elbows were quite funny.

This is a weird pic to include, but the kids at our first game yesterday thought Dave’s elbows were quite funny.

Mary Musyoka’s name belongs in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith. Dave and I and the other adults on the team had a blast listening to this woman tell us how she came to start the Springs of Hope Children’s Home eight years ago in her hometown of Machakos, Kenya.

After many years of teaching Sunday School and working as a pediatric nurse,  Mary’s call from God to care for babies and children intensified when she had a dream about giving birth to and caring for twins. “But God,” she said in the dream. “My youngest child is 19 now. I’m almost done with active mothering. I can’t take twins.” Finally, after repeated urgings (in her dream), she said she would do it. The dream ended; she woke up; and she very nearly forgot about it.

We toured the Kirigiti Girls Rehabilitation School before we played its team. This is one of its classrooms.

We toured the Kirigiti Girls Rehabilitation School before we played its team. This is one of its classrooms.

Mary was already known in her community for her work with children. She taught Sunday School and helped the local police find safe places for children who were orphaned, abused, or neglected. Soon after her dream, in August of 2005, she received a phone call from the police about two babies—twins—who needed a place. Mary couldn’t find one, so she decided to take the babies to her own home. Her 19 year old watched her with the babies and said, “Mom, you’re really relaxed about the babies making messes and getting into stuff. It’s like they’re your own twins.”

The dream flooded back to Mary.

A few of our girls with girls from Kirigiti.

A few of our girls with girls from Kirigiti.

Several weeks later she had three more babies, and she began searching for a rental property that would function as a home for them. She rented a building without the money to pay the rent, and God provided.

He has ever since. “I just remind Him of His promises,” says Mary.

For several years, Mary lived at the home, but now five women care for the children, and another five clean, cook, and wash (and wash and wash—just think of all those bibs!). Currently she has 18 children aged 5 and under.

our impromptu bball game yesterday--see what I mean about height!

our impromptu bball game yesterday–see what I mean about height!

Mary has God-sized dreams. She wants Springs of Hope to own its own building, first. Then she wants a kindergarten and homes for older children so they don’t have to be sent to other institutions after they get too old for her baby-and-toddlers’ home. She wants house parents for each group of kids. She wants sponsorship for orphans that will go through the university level.

And there’s more!

The girls (minus one--still inside with a child) in front of Springs of Hope

The girls (minus one–still inside with a child) in front of Springs of Hope

Mary was grateful for the diapers and formula and clothes we brought with us, but she was most excited about the love our girls showered on her children. Every single child there had one-on-one time. The girls fed the eight babies (one was less than a month old), and played nonstop with the toddlers—who also wanted some holding. One of our moms fed the home’s one child with special needs. Dennis contracted meningitis when he was three and is now deaf, dumb, blind, and crippled by cerebral palsy. Shawna (the mom) sat with him for hours, stroking his head and legs. Several of the girls joined her later and prayed over Dennis.

Mary and I

Mary and I

When the children went down for afternoon naps, we visited the site where the permanent home is being constructed. The grounds are partially fenced, and concrete footers are being poured. Then we took Mary out to lunch.

“You were meant to be here for this day,” Mary said when we expressed regret that we were only here for one day. “It is wonderful when they receive individual love. It makes a difference: They sleep better after they have received love like your girls gave them today,” Mary said. “They are calmer, like it filled them up.”

Holes for the concrete foundation for Springs of Hope's permanent home. These were dug by hand!

Holes for the concrete foundation for Springs of Hope’s permanent home. These were dug by hand!

 

an impromptu gathering with children just outside the gates to Springs of Hope's permanent site. Notice Rachel trying to roll a tire with two sticks. She was inspired by the village boys--who were experts at it!

an impromptu gathering with children just outside the gates to Springs of Hope’s permanent site. Notice Rachel trying to roll a tire with two sticks. She was inspired by the village boys–who were experts at it!

She added, “And it will make a difference in their development.”

Mary serves on Kenya’s adoption committee, and she works hard to find adoptive parents (both Kenyan and non-native) for her children. It’s paying off. Though many of our girls left the orphanage in tears this afternoon, their faces brightened when we told them that three of the children will be in permanent homes in the next two weeks.

I was amazed, absolutely amazed, at the incredible level of care at Springs of Hope. The best example is Dennis. It often takes the staff two hours simply to feed Dennis alone. When they told Shawna how to help him eat, they told her, “You must stroke his head when he eats. This is how we let him know he is loved.” They turn him two hours around the clock so he doesn’t get bedsores.

It was a good, good day.

Thank you, God.

Correction/items for prayer/praise:

  1. At breakfast this morning, I was corrected about the outcome of the basketball game we played yesterday. Evidently we actually did win, by one point. My apologies!
  2. Tomorrow we visit the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy in the heart of the Kibera slum. Kibera can be overwhelming with its level of poverty. Please pray that we will se God’s hand at work in Kibera and that we will truly be a testimony of Christ to the girls we will get to know tomorrow.
  3. If you would like more information on Springs of Hope and on how you could donate to its amazing ministry, visit www.entertheventure.com. That is the website of Venture Corps, a Stateside ministry that partners with Springs of Hope. Scroll down to the bottom of the front page and click on the “soh” tab there. You can make a donation through the website, earmark it for Springs of Hope, and Mary will get it. (The founders of Venture Corps are good friends of ours.)
  4. I’m really grateful for our health and safety tonight. God is faithful in sickness and through accidents, but I’m very, very grateful that no one has even gotten the slightest case of an upset stomach so far! Wow!
  5. By the way–wasn’t able to upload too many pics. Have some beautiful ones of the girls holding babies, but Mary asked that I not post any that showed children’s faces. The girls are getting some great pictures with their cameras/phones, but I plan to make a cd of all the pics I take for each of the girls.

Thanks for reading,
Jen