Monday, October 13, 2014

Country Mice Visit the Nation's Capital


There are cities that you can walk and get to most of the places you'd like to go. Washington, D.C. can be like that and we spent a lovely day in Boston once just wandering around. Growing up in Los Angeles with communities like Manhattan Beach and Pasadena walking around could be enjoyable but most of LA is for driving. Oh sure once you got to the shopping mall you walk around but then you get back in your car and drive away. Here in Uganda, Jinja (our local town) is a good place for a walk, Kampala however requires a vehicle.

We showed up on a holiday weekend (Ugandan Independence Day) at the national stadium (home of the Uganda Cranes Soccer Team) to meet our friend who was going to show us around. Of course when we made the plans we had no idea about any celebration or that the Cranes were playing Togo's national team that day. Needless to say traffic was a mess. So much so that the taxi bringing us into the city took a preemptive detour up into the dirt roads of the outlying villages to avoid the gridlock. Skip ahead to the end of the day, getting out of the city equally put LA traffic to shame. Several times en route the driver would frustratingly turn off the engine while we waited for traffic to progress. When we drove through from the airport two months ago at 2 am the drive took an hour; Saturday's challenge took four.

While in the city our friend took us to an authentic Mexican restaurant near the American Embassy. The taste of home was definitely a check in the win column for us. To complete our adventure in the big city we went to a bookstore for homeschool supplies, a fresh bakery for treats for the children, a grocery store for hard to get items, and the KFC franchise in Uganda for take-away dinner. Each of these destinations required driving to individual shopping centers. Our friend was very generous to taxi us around the city. We spent a lot of time negotiating crosstown traffic. You need a car in Kampala just to get around but mostly you're sitting in your car waiting to go. Like living in Los Angeles without the near-sighted boda-boda drivers banging into your car every time traffic stalls.

We were gone 12 hours, classmates looked out for the children, and accomplished very little. But it is important for assessment to know all available resources. That is a standard in community development and in raising a family. Without knowing what is available to you will limit your ability to expect a higher standard. If we didn't think our children had the capacity to do hard things we would never have come to Africa. But we all read and were challenged by a book that said not only are hard things possible but that we should seek them out. We challenge you, maybe it's enough to just do the next thing or maybe there is a bigger next thing that you need to seek out. Keep moving forward. Don't turn your engine off and sit until life starts up again.

Thank you for making it possible for us to do the hard things. If you've missed any of our previous posts check our site at clarks2africa.blogspot.com.

Monday, October 6, 2014

My Other Car is a 24 Passenger Mini-Van


That's the record so far, which is I'm sure far less than Guinness would even acknowledge. Maybe if we also counted the live chickens they would consider the transport of that many living souls in the predecessor of the Toyota Sienna some kind of accomplishment. As it stands we just call it getting to church on Sunday. We found a church we could all get to with minimal vehicle transfers and still less expensive than hiring a private car. How remarkable is it that transportation plays such an integral part in selecting the congregation with which you choose to worship God every Sunday?

We start each Sunday testing the weather, however even if it is raining monkeys and cows at eight it could be clear skies by 9:30 when we leave (though we will have to negotiate the path of least muddiness to the main road). The past few weeks we have negotiated the taxi to take us straight to the church after all the other passengers have disembarked. There are four kinds of churches in Uganda: For Ugandans in Ugandan, Ugandan with English translation, English with Ugandan translation, and English without translation. As you can imagine most of the English only churches attract mostly English speaking folks. We managed to find one of the few churches in English with mostly Africans and only a few white faces, which is why we came to Uganda. Not only that but the sermons have been driven by scripture and not about God blessing us with more money if we give, which can be a very popular thing here. And although the sermons are in English the worship is definitely African. There is lots of dancing and jumping and maybe three songs will fill up half an hour. It was a selling point over straight mzungu worship.

Through the course of travel and ministry we have visited many churches but in my entire life of continuous church attendance I have been a member of only four fellowships, that's an average of ten years per church. We've worshipped and served in churches with over 10,000 members and loved it. The congregation that sent us to Africa had maybe 300 max. This church—though  part of a bigger network—probably only has enough chairs for 150 and in a temporary space. We anticipate being at this church for a while. How much we'll be able to participate in church activities outside of worship services is difficult to foresee, we are connected with a couple of the homeschooling families that attend so that may be enough to tie us to community because church without community is rather pointless. 

I hope you have a church community surrounding you. We strongly debated not  going to any church and we could have justified our abstaining without much effort. YWAM could have easily been our community, and in many ways it is, but there is just something about church that makes it different. We always go back to the folks that surrounded us after Wilson's death and how we would've been lost without our church. And obviously without our church back in Texas we wouldn't be in Africa today.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Weekly Update 11


As you have seen over the past two months we have done what we are able to transform our living space to accommodate a family of seven. We take up two ground level rooms; the children in one and Jeri and I in the other. Our room is also the kitchenette, living room, dining room, bedroom, homeschool room, etc. Both rooms have bathrooms with showers which is above and beyond the norm on the base and the living standard of most Africans, we are blessed. The Hospitality Department also went above and beyond getting us a large table and five available chairs. The remaining two children ate on stools or boxes. We ordered some wood from the local carpenter and I set to work building a bench. 

With a borrowed plane to smooth out the edges I set to work on my design. As I've mentioned in the past this locally available African wood is hard on my tools. I brought a hand saw, for the "just in case" necessity, but it has turned out to be my most used tool. All this to say we worked diligently on this project just to have the nature of Africa undo our efforts. Rather than collecting commercially treated lumber from Lowes that has been cured, pressed, and treated for maximum flatness we built with lumber that was still green. Without knowing the source of my stock this wood could have still been a tree a week before I got it. Which meant it was still finding its way when I started hammering and glueing it together. If you can make out in the photo the seat of the bench takes a twist. Does it make sitting on it uncomfortable? At first because one leg always popped up and made the whole bench rock.

So I added a post. As soon as I did it it reminded me of all the little additions my grandfather used to construct around their home to repair or accommodate things that were broken. His shop was a living example of reusing every single item that could have dual purpose. We would say he was from another era, a time when there wasn't a Walmart where if something broke you could just pop out and replace it. It involved a phrase we don't use much, "You just have to make do."

We are blessed above most here but we still don't have a Walmart. So we've learned to make do. The Western practices that are not Kingdom principles conveniently get twisted really quickly when we try to force them on African culture or unprocessed lumber. We are learning sometimes poverty just means not having the liberty to make your own choices. Of course with any foreign relocation the missing of home comforts is to be expected. If an In-N-Out Burger gets as far east as Tyler, Texas we will have a talk with God about how long this Clarks in Africa journey will last. Please keep posting your own culinary accomplishments or when that new dine-in movie theater opens but please remember to offer thanks and say a short prayer for the Clarks. We need those reminders of home to offset how much work there is here to share with the people of Uganda to seek the liberty that comes in restored relationship with God.

Thank you for your prayers.

Monday, September 22, 2014

First Quarter Report


We are the Clark family. We started in full-time ministry over a decade ago. Since then we have served in Mongolia, Mauritania, several cities across the States and now in Uganda, Africa. As our family has grown so has our range of ministry. We are currently focusing on community development. Jeri, a licensed midwife in Texas, is preparing to join the midwife community here in Uganda. Sean is currently training in sustainable agriculture and is already in the Niggembe community demonstrating more effective ways of growing crops; both boys, Xander and Jax, go with him. The two older girls, Zoe and Dora, are learning the language and developing friendships with a family from a neighboring village. Dora is also going in to the local town, Jinja, with Jeri once a week to serve at a crisis pregnancy center. All the girls, including Liesel, have joined a fellowship here at YWAM Hopeland that ministers to women who are HIV positive.


When we started off 2014 we were broke and without many options. We had started and stalled on serving in Africa for over eight years. We prayed daily for a direction to proceed. After the first of the year we felt God release us to go. Not go on a short-term trip but to just go. So we kept praying. Sometimes affirmation would come in the prayers the children would pray, sometimes random people would give us large sums of money, and our hope began to build. When Sean's parents were forced to sell the house we were living in the timing was perfect. Then things began to snowball and ideas began to come forth. We got featured on our local news broadcast, we had a variety show fundraiser where fantastic performers donated their talent, our church hosted a yard sale where most of our household got sold, we got invited to share at another church, people bought t-shirts, and the list goes on. After every event we would sit in shock and awe of the blessings God poured out. After every dollar someone gave us we would repeat, "We're really doing this." Two months into being on this continent we are still pinching ourselves, "We're really doing this."


We list our ministry projects, one, so people who made real sacrifices financially to get us here know their gift is doing Kingdom work; and two, because we are living examples that God can use anybody. Sure we'll brag on our children and say they have been pretty exceptional (giving up friends, beloved pets, ministry, most of their possessions, and hot showers) and we couldn't do this without them. But other than that we're still just Sean and Jeri. We only do what we ought to do. Please take our journey as an encouragement to do what you ought to do, no matter how hard or impossible it may seem. God is doing so much good in this world, you are a part of it and if willing you can do more.


Our vision and mission statement has been for some time, being family for those who need family. In Texas that took the form of hospitality for those who needed a place to live. That may not be an option here in Uganda till we get a bigger place, so the children want to start a guest house ministry. Right now we just want to focus on the things in front of us, but who are we to tell them that's not in God's plan. A year ago none of this was possible. Believe in God. We did and now we're in Africa!


None of this happens without the prayers and generosity of those who sent us. We are your representatives in Uganda. We have been obedient to our call to go and you have been obedient to your call to send. This partnership means our successes are counted towards you. We are truly humbled by your faithfulness and love for our family. We pray God blesses you above and beyond how much you bless us. We step out in faith, sustained by the prayers of our supporters. Thank you.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Children Start a Blog



These days, "just Google it," is more common than, "go ask your father." This has its pros and cons. My general knowledge of the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything isn't challenged daily but I also don't get to sow into my children's lives my vast wisdom and lifetime experience. I'll let you decide which is the pro which is the con and for who, me or the children. I'm sure somebody somewhere has made a study of how our brains are losing cognitive recall or memory storage capacity because we don't keep information at the forefront of our minds (if you don't believe me just Google it). How many phone numbers can you rattle off? Can you even remember your own? If sales tax wasn't so close to 10% could you calculate a tip without a calculator? Baking from scratch without a recipe? When is the last time anybody did that? Too much information around us necessitates us relying on technology to help us process, record, and remember. For better or for worse this is reality. 


Despite the demise of our cranial capacity the ability to keep a running post of our lives is a plus. My Facebook and blog posts are forever in the "cloud" allowing me to reflect on a moments notice what I did, when I did it, and whether or not other people "Liked" it. This recall gets to be very important not only for TV shows like the Newlywed game (YouTube it) but when children want accounts of every decision and choice you've made from favorite breakfast cereal to where were you on 9/11. As I get older I am glad to have this resource available. I'd only wished I had started sooner. Well the children have.


They don't want any of these new experiences to go unrecorded not only for posterity but with so many families are coming to Uganda if the children's experience can help someone else make the transition, it will have been worth the effort. 


They have started with simple intro bios and will over the subsequent weeks add all of their challenges, accomplishments, frustrations, Christmas lists, etc. This will also fulfill the constant request from the grandparents for more updates about the children, yeah Pop I'm talking about you. ;-) 


We've had so many encouraging comments about the older girls' posts but we also want the youngers to get involved so look for short videos, drawings, photo diaries, small scale sculpture, flash mob choreography and safari excursions. Xander would make a fantastic safari guide all he needs is a financial backer to send him to North Uganda for training. 


Pray for Jeri. Almost as soon as she got here two of the long-term gals took her under their wing and showed her the way to get things done. They have been an invaluable help and resource in getting settled and they have been good friends. As one would expect in this business both are leaving the country for a spell and Jeri is at a loss. Pray she finds new friends to share this experience with. She is already serving in two separate women's ministries, joining a homeschooling collective, and will be starting her Ugandan midwife certification this winter but a friend would be  a blessing.


Thank you for your prayers. If you've missed any of our previous posts check our site at clarks2africa.blogspot.com. And visit their site at clark-kids-in-africa.blogspot.com.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Weekly Update 7: Nine Down Thirty Million More to Go


Fathers and sons should have many bonding moments. If possible they should involve some kind of messiness, disassembly/construction, and in the best of situations a wee bit of killin'. Both boys helped in the field planting technique we learned this week (more about that in the next post). They came with our Community Development Team again this week. And they visited a local farm with our class. All of these activities checked appropriate boxes in father son development and shared moments. Heck, if they are paying attention (most of the time they are—I quiz them frequently) they might grow up to be farmers without having to take a class. 

That third component, knowing my short list isn't comprehensive, needs to be visited often and with great revelry. Now a wee bit of killin' can be the equivalent busting something big down to tiny little bitses. In fact if the something big is technology based and has been a great source of frustration it might even be more satisfying to beat it till the plastic returns to granular form. Which if you've seen the above pics brings us to Xander and my work duty Friday morning.

As mentioned in previous posts the spiders here are exactly as you would expect jungle spiders to be: large, black, and terrifying. We haven't photographed them up to this point because we didn't bring enough smelling salts to revive Zoe from the fainting she would succumb to in sheer fear of their appearance. I'm not sure if you can make out the traffic safety stripe across the back of specimen on the upper left. That stripe is required by the state as it is on all vehicles over two metric tons. I don't have fancy back stories for all the spiders we encountered cause me and the boy were too busy just killin'em. 

Did we create unbalance in the ecosystem? Did we needlessly eliminate God's natural mosquito exterminator? Could we have relocated each of those nine reason-for-sleeping-with-the-lights-on to another hospitable environment? (One  more) Did we explore all the options possible to live in harmony with the spiders, like distributing hazmat suits? And of course Zoe's solution, "so what if we burn down the dining hall? Dining by starlight sounds delightful." 

Armed with a brush nailed to a pole, I knocked them down and Xander stomped on them. Nine, we got nine. That's 72 legs, 72 eyes, mandibles, thoraxes, abdomens, etc. I have to tell you it was satisfying the first few times but as we knocked them down from their perch they proved to be less than formidable foes. Superior acrobats in their own webs but less than pedestrian on the ground, all back end and no scurry. In fact the final kill in the last pic on the bottom right practically fell off and lied still till Xander ended it. We collected lots of webs and scraped off more egg sacks than we could count and for a few minutes before breakfast a new day dawned in our open air dining hall.

As for all the unanswerable questions, unnecessary. By Saturday just as many new spiders filled in where the previous ones were vacated. Like teeth on a shark or workers from a temp agency as soon as a space is available there'll be another to fill in. We keep killing them, but I have a feeling Zoe's solution will prevail someday, hopefully after the rainy season ends.

Thank you for your prayers. If you'd like to get weekly updates by email please contact us at clarks2africa@gmail.com.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

If God Farmed Today



Systems. Systems. Systems. I love systems! Measuring and building and layouts, yeah. It's like graphic design for the garden. Farming God's Way is not only an ideal for a agricultural principle it is also a resource for maximum yield in farming your crops. In a nutshell you create reusable planting stations that you nourish and return to every season. It is a minimal till, heavy mulch, and limited compost strategy that is very effective in Sub-Saharan Africa. We were introduced to the technique in a seminar fashion (very quick overview) and spent a day of practical demonstration creating a small plot, pictured above.

Much of the time spent in the classroom was devoted to the Biblical principles behind changing a culture to make lasting development possible. When we take this farming practice into our community we are purposeful to build upon scripture because establishing Farming God's Way is hard. Without the conviction of God's Word most farmers couldn't follow through with the high standards required to make this system successful. For me the scripture was gravy on top of a systematic strategy for crop management. 

Our instructor/trainer was a Canadian fellow who married a Ugandan and has spent the last decade or so traversing the subcontinent teaching conservation farming. The consequence of his pan-global experience has modified his speech patterns to what I'm going to refer to as a mimic-dialect. When I fall victim to it my wife calls it, "Stop trying to sound African."

The stereotypes of this speech pattern are characterized by Anglo speakers who holler when confronted by a non-English speaker (as though they were hard of hearing) or adding a foreign affectation to their words ("Do you speakee Eenglish?"). Our instructor was much more subtle, he only tended to drift into a more African sound when he was translating terms from Swahili or reflecting on the traditional farming practices of the locals. I on the other hand am much more broad in my mimicry. "Hello my brother, how are you today?" Is my family's impression of how I sound.

Granted, I do this with any accent. If I am watching too much Doctor Who, I'll walk around for days sounding "like" a Brit. When we stopped in France en route to Mauritania, my "French" was merely speaking English with my lips puckered up. I still answer the phone with "Allo?" Because I worked for a Palestinian guy and that's how he answered the phone. Some people chew their nails, I put on fake accents. 

I've asked my African friends if they can tell the difference when white people talk to each other and when they address Africans. They say they can but don't bother pointing it out. I'm not sure if there is an equivalent in 'Murica. We are such a land of mixed up dialects. Texans were always remarking how they knew, "I weren't from there" but I don't know if that was a commentary on our accents or that we never quite conjugated "y'all" correctly.

The boys did very well Farming God's Way. This Friday we're planning on making a few planting stations ourself. We'll let you know how it goes. If you are interested in the resource find them on the web. The information is all available and they have directions for kitchen gardens too. Thank you for supporting us so we can go and support others.

This is Weekly Update 8. If you think you've missed any check the blog at clarks2africa.blogspot.com.