Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Go with God

It doesn't take as long as you'd imagine to get used to being in a new place. After a few minutes, you stop flinching when cars pass you on the "wrong" side of the street. Funny signs seem normal and the way things are done are the way things are done. New flavors become the norm and the body adjusts to temperature and time zone.

We've been back in the States a couple of weeks now and the memories of our voyage are already fading. I think God must design us this way, to adapt to where we are and let the places we've come from recede in our memories if not in our hearts. How else could we survive? Otherwise, we'd be pining away for the places we are not.

My heartfelt thanks to all those who helped make our trip possible. Your participation in God's timing was a great reminder to me of how things beyond my control are never beyond His control. Many thanks also to the Koonces, Crowsons, Hammonds and Crockers, the Martins and Cashes, Kibi and his family, Charles and all the others who opened their homes and lives to us.

Wherever you go, go with God.
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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Strangers in a Strange Land

Can you imagine being displaced from your home, being driven from the land and the country and the family you love to a new country? Angelique doesn't have to imagine it--she's living it. Far from the people she loves, in a country where no one speaks her language, she can't even find the ingredients to cook the foods she loves and has to settle for the blander fare of Uganda.

She and I made an instant connection the first time I visited her home, both of us thrilled to find we shared a language and were able to speak and pray together in French. Both of us strangers in a strange land who found a connection in our foreign-ness. At church the next day, when the whole congregation split into groups to pray together, she was left sitting in middle of the room, alone. Edwin nudged me to go pray with her, so I did again.

The topic of prayer was "what has God done in your life to show you his goodness?" A tough question for her, I thought, since I already knew part of her story, about her health problems that kept her in the hospital for months and about how her daughter that came to care for her died on Christmas Day.

She didn't hesitate, though, to share the goodness of God. "He's healed me," she said. "Before, I was so sick, needing care and medicine all the time. Now, it is like I am healed. I can take care of my family again."

We spent a day with her and, as we left, she hugged me and begged me not to come back and see her, perhaps to move to the Congo and work with her, planting seeds for God's kingdom and--above all--to not forget her.

Don't worry, Angelique, I won't forget.
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Saturday, March 13, 2010

He Did Not Meet My Expectations

On the news this week, they announced a program in which Congo residents can trade in a contraband weapon for $50. The problem?--They can turn around and buy another one on the black market for $25. So foreign aid agencies can fund the war with a 2 for 1 special.

With stories like this one, or stories about how ebola and AIDS were born in the jungles on the Congo (formerly Zaire) and spread along its trade routes, you can see why I harbored some pre-conceived ideas about what people from that vast country might be like. Not that I knew I held these prejudices (I honestly don't think much about the Congo in my daily life) until I met someone from there who blew away any idea of what that country and its people must be like.

Meet Kibi.

He lives with his wife and family in western Uganda. He's a refugee, a history professor, and one of the best Bible teachers I've ever met. His wisdom comes from study--sure--but more so from his collection of difficult life experiences. Not that he brought it up or dwelt on it, but Kibi and his family have been displaced from their home. They had to leave their house, their possessions, their jobs, their family.

They gave up everything they had for a chance at safety.

Three times.

He's had to fight for legal status in Uganda so he could get a job and, now that he has one, the school does not pay him what they owe. He keeps working, hoping they will eventually straighten out their finances and give him his back pay. But he's philosophical about it. At least he's got an employment record for the future if the money never pans out.

You'd think that kind of life would make you bitter, or drive you to despair. With Kibi, though, I got the sense that it made him stronger in his faith, that it gives him a constant reminder or where home really is. I watched his affection and patience toward his 4-year old grandson who he will raise as his own since the boy's mother died. Her last wish to her father was that he would teach the child to know Jesus just as he had taught her. I don't think I've ever seen another man in Africa treat a child so tenderly.

God doesn't look at the outside of a man, but at his heart. If God ever hosted a beauty contest, I have a feeling this humble man from the Congo would be a contender.
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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

From the Land of Good Stuff

A box of Oreos. A jar of parmesan cheese. A bag of Craisins.

Simple pleasures, but when they come as gifts of love from back home, they can lift your spirits.

One of the funnest parts of our trips was presenting each of the families we visited with a suitcase full of goodies from home--205 pounds in all.

Members from our church pitched in everything from Kool-aid packets to homemade pillowcases, golf balls to bath gels, Tillamook cheese and a whole lot of goodies from Trader Joe's.

Goldfish crackers for the kiddos. Dark chocolate for the mommies. And a special favorite for everyone: York Peppermint Patties.

Thanks to our church family for helping us take the taste of home to loved ones far away.
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Sunday, March 07, 2010

Getting There

We arrived 15 minutes before our 4:45 a.m. bus departure, but where was the green bus that was supposed to take us to Mbarara? Nowhere in sight. The only bus outside in the parking lot was already pulling away.

It turns out that just because you purchase a ticket on one bus line at a specified time doesn't mean much at all. We hopped on the bus that was pulling away. The more stops we made as we circled through Kigali and out into the countryside, the more I realized that everyone but us understood how the bus "schedule" works in Rwanda.

Instead of a direct line north, we were stuck on the milk run, the bus that stopped at every "station" and bench along the roadside. We didn't even cross the border into Uganda at the correct crossing. Instead, we ended up at a small outpost at the end of the pavement. We dashed from Rwanda to Uganda in a downpour so fierce it took days for my sweatshirt to dry. The books I carried at the bottom of my basket will never be the same.

As we sped along the slippery mud roads that clung to the side of mountains, I reminded myself, "The bus driver does this all the time and he's not dead yet." No one else seemed to mind--no one but Edwin, who flinched every time he looked down the aisle out the front window at oncoming cars, bikes, and pedestrians. I looked out the side window at banana plantations, fruit stands, and an extraordinary number of cell phone businesses in what certainly felt like the middle of nowhere.

When we finally reached pavement, I had to laugh at the first sign I saw. Hand-painted on the front of a building... "Thank the Holy Spirit Merciful God Design Company." Amen to that. The store owner must have named his business after taking the bus.

In Mbarara, we looked for a connecting bus to Fort Portal. No luck. It had already gone. We ended up in a matatu instead, East Africa's taxi alternative.

The joke goes like this:

How many people can you fit in a matatu?

Answer: One more.

And they did. 9 on my row including this boy who sat on my lap against his better judgment. Up to 26 in all in the narrow Toyota van. The more people you can cram inside, the more the driver and his conductor make.

Despite being wet and squished, it was a good day. First up over the mountains where tea plantations stretch in ribbons of brilliant green over one hill and then the next. Then down into a valley so flat and lush I imagined dinosaurs roaming its basin. We didn't see dinosaurs there, but did catch glimpses of elephants, buffalo, impala, storks, and a baboon who barely lost a game of chicken with our taxi. Start and stop, start and stop, over a thousand or more speed bumps and into Fort Portal just in time for dinner.
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Monday, March 01, 2010

Radio Silence

We taxied up to Fort Portal, Uganda, on Friday - a definite African experience, but we arrived none the worse for wear. Internet here is slow and the house we're at doesn't have wireless, so I don't plan to blog again until we return the the States.

Watch for a new post on Saturday. Meanwhile, pray for the work in Fort Portal.