Monday, March 2, 2015

Monthly Update March 2015

Without Television

I am a product of my generation. Television is my friend. When I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s television was the reward for doing homework. In my family we watched Cosby and A-Team before bedtime. In my mind the achievement of adulthood was staying up late. My family teases that I stayed up so late watching TV that the TV would end up watching me. My children looked forward to Sunday nights to watch the Amazing Race and imagine if they could survive in a foreign country. Now we are in a foreign country and the TV that was my constant companion since childhood has been left behind. We have a variety of digital media that we watch from a hard drive and DVDs. Somebody sent us the entire I Love Lucy series which we enjoy regularly. We have also discovered the show Parenthood, which we watch after the children go to bed. The show’s opening credits include photos of the principle cast as children, encouraging you to believe that these people have grown up together. Even though we know these actors had no prior relationship before they were cast, for the sake of the show we believe they all belong to the Braverman family. Almost in the same way Family Ties made me believe Meredith Baxter-Birney raised Alex, Mallory and Jennifer Keaton. Sometimes Parenthood presents such a strong case for family strength I want to be a part of their family as well. As a child I wanted to be a part of the family with a mother who was a lawyer and a father who was a doctor (and former stand-up comedian) with their five children, even if I would’ve been their only white child (and thirty years ago every Thursday night for 22 minutes I kind of was). Television is a powerful medium for showing us something beyond ourselves whether it is a race around the world or how a family could live with and love each other, no matter what. Here in Uganda we are nearing the end of the long dry season and preparing for the rains to come. On the property we are still focusing on soil restoration. This means planting in some spaces that haven’t been used for a while so we can let the overworked areas lie fallow. Crop rotation is not a traditional farming method here which reduces the soil’s ability to grow healthy crops. One of these places is a forgotten sweet potato field that may or may not produce this season because the soil has no life in it. Normally we don’t do this much digging (see above photo) but to clear the weeds and get some order back to this plot we had to bust up the abandoned potato mounds. The children have been helpful in getting this space ready and developing our sunflower garden. We have a number of seedlings growing and as soon as the rain starts we’ll start transplanting. When asked why I chose agriculture the answer is easy, I like to eat. When asked why Africa? I go back to my TV families, I like to belong. Last week I got to share my testimony with the whole base. I told them the story of our son Wilson and how his death crushed us and could have ended our hope. Instead, we put our trust in God, steadied ourselves with those around us, and took the next step. God gave us grace and our family grew. Along the way God brought others to us who wanted to belong. For better or worse Ugandans didn’t have exposure to the Huxtables or the Bradys or the Taylors (if you go all the way back to Mayberry) to give them an example of what family could be. They have family. Their clan or tribe is valued above their nation, but they are approaching a crisis where the children out number the adults. When this generation is gone, leadership will be left to children who have no model to follow. Our mission here as a family is to do that. Be a family. In a small way we model the idea that there is another way besides the way it has always been done. We strive to represent that in farming and in family. Thank you for supporting us to bring hope to the people of Uganda. Photos, top from left, The Family busting up the soil chunks in an obviously posed shot, a better posed group shot, Jax watering sunflowers. Bottom row, Jeri and Zoe singing with the worship team, our mandazi version of french toast, Sean sharing at weekly devotion.

Over a year ago we declared our intentions to represent you and do something bigger in this world. So many folks came alongside us and supported us, without you none of this is possible. We are only just beginning. We have big plans and dreams not only to improve the lives of our Ugandan community but to deliver some new lives as well. These posts will hopefully keep you connected to us and the work you sent us to do.

Monthly Update February 2015

Six Months

January marked our six-month anniversary in Uganda. If we were dating, people would mock our commemorating such a brief duration of commitment. But like an adolescent romance they wouldn’t understand how much we love this country. We ride on the backs of motorcycles or in crowded taxis and get a new vista of landscape around every turn. We are greeted daily by locals who praise our efforts and impart to us well being. And our children are protected and adored by the very people we have come to serve. Showing our affection for this nation was getting the girls’ hair braided in the local fashion. The procedure, management, and duration of the plaits had unique benefits and drawbacks that as a bald man I could not appreciate. Obviously much time was required in a chair both to apply and remove the braids. Apparently once the hair was done scratching the scalp is prohibited which also had the benefit of not having to wash it as frequently. All the attention it garnered was fun and the Ugandans genuinely seem pleased when westerners embrace their culture. The girls are receptive to getting the braids in the future but for the time being like to be able to turn their heads without getting smacked in the face.

Another Shipment of Love

Poverty is broken relationship. Poverty is insufficiency of options. People die from poverty. Poverty is not running out of Skittles. Yet every time a care package has come from the States and we exhaust the treats and consumables within we are confronted with our western sense of poverty. We are not making light of the true suffering that exists in this world but expressing the great homesickness that comes when our supply of familiar comforts runs out. It is not so debilitating that we are not able to go without. We do seem to be building up our endurance in between shipments. As sad as it sounds the exuberance that comes when we open the zipper on a duffle or cut the tape on a box is above and beyond what you can imagine. Folks have been so generous in sending these bundles of hope and love. It may seem an exaggeration but believe us when we tell you receiving that package with mechanical pencils and duct tape and Kraft macaroni and cheese in it is like breaking the surface and gasping air when you’ve been held under water just 30 seconds too long. The effort and expense that y’all have extended to us is nothing short of divine providence and we can’t possibly thank you enough. We know it must seem silly all this rejoicing over material items, but truly it reminds us that we are not forgotten. It reminds us that you are out there, thinking of us, and you are willing to go the extra mile to send a box of Little Debbies and Starbucks Via packets. If you’ve had a notion to send something across and save a drowning bunch of white people we will be more than grateful.

Building a Future

Even in America we are a larger than average family, more numerous (and taller), especially than they are used to accommodating here in Uganda. As we shared last month we are living in a former guest house, which is nice, but we really need a place to call our own. There is an office bungalow that with little effort could be converted into a suitable dwelling. We felt this was a better option than building a new structure for cost effectiveness and speed of occupancy. Our initial projected budget of $15,000 doesn’t seem like much to build a home for a family of seven but with lower material cost, donated labor, and our tax return we are sure God will provide for whatever needs arise. If you are interested in seeing what building a home looks like in Uganda we invite you to join us. If you can’t come and help us here, a special gift would go a long way. If God has placed a burden on your heart for the future of Africa, this is the beginning of our ministry in a new era. Hopeland is positioning itself to raise a generation of young people to lead the nation. As Uganda moves forward–Africa follows. Your investment here will affect the entire continent. Click here if you would like to give. A year ago we declared our intentions to represent you and do something bigger in this world. So many folks came alongside us and supported us, without you none of this is possible. We are only just beginning. We have big plans and dreams not only to improve the lives of our Ugandan community but to deliver some new lives as well. These posts will hopefully keep you connected to us and the work you sent us to do.

Monthly Update January 2015

Our First Chicken in Uganda

We purchased two live chickens from a local farmer and named them Supper and Dinner. Our local friend Marion came out to instruct us in the proper way to process a Ugandan chicken. Turns out it is just like it is done in the States. For about seven dollars you can have a fresh chicken dinner, if you are willing to do the messy work of killin' and plucking. There may be other tastier homeschool lessons but most other anatomy lessons don't allow you to finish with dinner. We ate "Dinner" that night and sent "Supper" home with Marion to surprise her family. Buying local will have to be a special treat until we can get our own flock going. One of our goals for 2015 is to raise our own chickens for eggs and meat production. We have some coop building to do before that (if you'd like to contribute towards our first African chicken coop let us know). The local breed, called a kroiler, is for eggs and eating and is supposed to be quite delicious, we'll keep you updated.

The Mzungu Midwife Gets Busy

Jeri and Dora found the pregnant people! If the Ugandans who live far out in the villages want to have babies in the town hospital, they often have to travel out of the jungle sometimes on the back of bicycles to the crossroads where they get a taxi. They have to travel on a road that has more potholes and obstructions than pavement which is not fun for a laboring mother. Good Samaritan Birth Center was raised up out of a need for these women to get care in a more obtainable location. Really just a spare room in her home, Christine has delivered up to ten babies in one night! Her story began when she inadvertently delivered a baby during a routine taxi stop where the driver wouldn't let the mother on because he was afraid they wouldn't make it to the hospital in time. Christine, a young Ugandan woman had just finishing her midwife training so she got off and delivered the baby. She later learned this was the hub for mothers heading to town and decided to come back after her residency was completed and established her clinic there. A widowed mother of three children she usually works alone but has accepted the assistance of Jeri and Dora with great happiness. These mothers would not get any prenatal care without Christine's services, exactly what God told Jeri she would be doing in Uganda—helping Ugandan women have safe and healthy births. There may even be opportunity to bring in western midwife students to further their birthing experience. This is a growth opportunity for development and life saving assistance. If you have any burden for mothers getting better care during pregnancy, don't hesitate to reach out to Jeri. She has a lot of ideas to support Christine and her calling and would love some prayer and financial partners. Christine gets very little money to run her birth center and Jeri has lots of ideas of ways to improve their care. Dora has also written about her experience at the birth center. You can read her post at 

The Clarks Take an African Holiday

Our oldest daughter turned 16 in Africa. Unable to give her a sweet sixteen party or buy her a car (a common gift at this age according to MTV) we opted for a safari trip at one of the many wildlife parks here in Uganda. The Queen Elizabeth Park in the southern corner of the country has elephants, water buffalo, crocodiles, hippos, lions and 90 other species of animalia. We saw our share. In one section of the park we watched as another party drove off the beaten path to a outcrop of bushes that our guide told us was a known place for lions. We couldn't follow because that party had paid extra for "special experience." We continued to come across antelope, wart hog and buffalo until our guide came across a park employee who gave us some privileged information. He jumped back into the van and off we went into the savanna. A couple of twists and turns and we also found some lions. Being mid-morning they were halfway to settling in for their daily siesta, but they were right there. We've been closer to the king of beasts in several zoos but to see them free was a "special experience." Later in the day when we saw the hippo, buffalo, and elephant all associating by the river's edge with no guardian watching out to make sure they were behaving, it gave us pause to realize how powerful and awesome God's creation is. What an honor to enjoy some of the richness this country has to offer. Of course because Zoe's birthday is also Christmas day the expedition needed to be a special day for all. Thankfully the trip above and beyond compensated for being away from all the usual holiday traditions and fellowship that we missed not being in the States... mostly (we miss all of you dearly). The only tradition we were able to observe was our annual picture with Santa. We sought out African Father Christmas on a hunch and he didn't disappoint. I doubt he had any clue about why we were so excited to find him but he was enthusiastic nonetheless. His inclusion made a fine addition to our 15 year ritual (to see the collection check my Photo Albums). A year ago we declared our intentions to represent you and do something bigger in this world. So many folks came alongside us and supported us, without you none of this is possible. We are only just beginning. We have big plans and dreams not only to improve the lives of our Ugandan community but to deliver some new lives as well. These posts will hopefully keep you connected to us and the work you sent us to do.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Weekly Update 19: A New Day Dawns

We got a house. Nicest one on the property. So nice it was previously where Hopeland welcomed special guests. I guess that's us now, except we're no longer visiting, we live here. We have permission from the government to be here through next year (then we reapply) and vison for the land and community to keep us busy till our children become adults (Zoe is getting close, she turns 16 on Christmas day). This is the fulfillment of a journey that we began eight years ago. Let's get started!

Welcome to the first Monday of our new life. We got accepted on staff here at Hopeland last Wednesday, graduated from the Ag Training School Thursday, and moved into a four bedroom staff house Friday. Quite a whirlwind of a weekend. It all happened so fast if I don't stop to write some of it down we will get settled and not give God the praise for moving on our behalf. During our "acceptance to staff" meeting it was expressed to us that housing us would be a challenge. Two days later we were in the best house on base. God moved on our behalf. The prayers of those that sent us continues to carry us through to the next step.

Most of the time we seem to be waiting for God to move. We pray and we wait. Many times we get tired of waiting and just do it ourselves (and maybe that was God's intention for that situation). When it comes to possibilities for our future we may feel like we're always in a holding pattern. But when God seems to move all of a sudden one can feel overwhelmed quite quickly. I don't know why I say, "all of the sudden," we've been praying for this day for the past eleven months. And when I say we, of course I am including all of you who have been praying with us.

I did the final sweep on our student dorm this morning. We moved out over the weekend but I finally got to finish it after base intercession today. I'm handing back the keys at our first staff meeting after lunch. It is a transition that we have been planning for and we are ready to hit the ground running. I am going to start assessing the local community farming efforts and determine what value I and Hopeland can bring to not only their farming techniques but also their worldview and ultimately higher yields in their food supply.

The transition also means I'm moving from something new happening every week to the slow waiting for the crops to grow. We'll still send out updates but they may not be weekly. Of course if you want to know what's going on always check Thank you for carrying us through to the next step in our serving in Africa. Blessings.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Weekly Update 18: Loose Ends

This week's update is collection of many events. Jeri contracted malaria. In her absence the children and I went to an African wedding anniversary event. We discovered living worms in our water supply. The boys and I finally tried food prepared on the side of the highway. And I begin my last week of class time in appropriate technology for developing rural Africa. 

The biggest challenge this week has been Jeri's malaria. When we came to Africa we were told you don't prevent malaria you manage it. We daily take our anti-malaria pills and it seems the prevailing thought is not if you get malaria it's when. Jeri in her infinite kindness sacrificed her well being to go first. The World Health Organization estimates just over half a million people died in 2012 year from possible malaria related infection. But don't be afraid folks this ain't Ebola. Malaria is preventable and treatable and the mortality rate drops every year. Jeri took the local remedy, Artemesia tea (which tastes awful), and the pharmaceutical remedy which is a three day antibiotic. Five days later she's fine.  During the recovery she missed the big event of the season, the Mukasa's 25th wedding anniversary. 

A joyous event in any culture but our local YWAM Family, the Mukasas, have been especially blessed and chose their to share their special day with 40 other married couples. In addition to celebrating with our hosts these other couples were the center of attention. They had a processional, matching outfits, and gift exchanges. Food and cake was served to a packed hall of well over 300 people. We were just interested bystanders enjoying all of the festivities understanding none of the proceedings. This much spectacle was above and beyond even by Uganda standards and it reminded me that even in this "poor" nation poverty is a mindset not a lifetime sentence.

What is appropriate technology? Basically it's using what is available and affordable for the location you are in. As much as I wish there a Home Depot here to furnish all my construction needs the reality is I need to be able to do as much as I can and advance the local innovation with materials they can get. That sump pump would be a great resource to have but if we're in a village and they don't have the electricity to run it then it won't be of much use if I have to empty a water tank. We are working on a Rus Hand Pump, which only requires some pvc pipe and a couple of wooden blocks (Google it). When we get it running I'll post a video.

We are coming to the end of our course and nearing the next step of joining Staff and using what we've learned to bring up the community. It is a big step and we are glad we have you to pray us through it. If you have thought about an extra gift to send for the holidays now would be the time, anything sent after November 28 won't get to us until the end of December. Why the pics of Liesel in the header? She got her hair done by the local gal and was cuter than any other photos we had. Blessings.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Weekly Update 17: 100 Days

Are you a creature of habit? When you go to your favorite restaurant do you order the same thing every time? Do you have alternative driving routes that you insist on taking even if it frustrates your passengers? Do you have a specific way you fill the dishwasher? Hang your clothes? Do you have a routine that if interrupted requires you to start over from the beginning? Even in Africa, as disruptive an environment as you could imagine, we have found ourselves settling into our routines.

On the occasion of our residence in Uganda rounding out one hundred days our class was invited to visit a local resort on the Nile River. The class and the family spent a day swimming and fellowshipping together about 35 miles north of the Equator. Needless to say four of the children, who do not have red hair, got their summer sunburn seven months early. The children had a great time because it broke up their normal routine of daily chores and homeschool. The sun comes up at 6:30--every day. In Texas we had a weekly routine for breakfast: eggs, Monday; oatmeal, Tuesday; French toast, Wednesday; etc. Here, toast and a banana is the routine, adding eggs and bacon is a rare treat. 

We even have built routines around things we could never have imagined would be the norm. Zoe points out taking motorcycle rides with random black men has become an unexpected norm. Sharing public transportation with livestock and taking cold showers also have lost their initial fascination. Walking through the village and having children shout, "mzungu how are you?" is still  fun especially when they join us for the walk. 

Enjoy your routines. We have started building routines for contingencies. When the power goes out we have routines for the distribution of headlamps and a couple of solar powered lanterns. When the water gets interrupted we gather buckets and trek up the well to collect reserves for washing and filtering. We've also collected rainwater when a storm has been the cause of the water pump failing. Routines are nice, routines are helpful, and routines can help you keep your sanity.

Even after one hundred days there are still some things I'd like a routine for. These hot Africa afternoons, there just isn't an escape, even with cold showers the heat is so pervasive. Relying on public transportation to get shopping done. Even though the availability of bodas and taxis are frequent it is always a challenge of timing to catch a ride. How to keep the red clay from getting everywhere. Avoiding mosquito bites without drowning daily in bug spray. And always the final challenge how to move forward in a nation without an In-N-Out Burger location.

One hundred days has freed us of a lot of the unproductive routines we had in the States but it has also separated us from you. As this course draws to a close, and we prepare for the work to become the full-time endeavor instead of the part-time application, losing our classmates threatens to further emphasize our distance from those we love. We will make new relationships and hopefully ministry partners to affect greater change but please pray for us as we seek new routines.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Weekly Update 16: God Makes Time

What are you waiting for?

I have this inane little game on my iPad. It's a management game so it requires no skill, timing, or ability to see similarly colored gems with potential alignment. You just assign your little characters a task and then wait for them to finish. Progress increases upon their accomplishments and the purchase of more characters. There isn't even a world building aspect and because I refuse to spend actual dollars on "in-app offers" my advancement in the game is almost glacial in its speed. And yet, I cannot stop playing it.

One character finishes his tasks in less than a minute, the returns are minuscule but he requires resending upon each return. This gives me something to do while waiting for my higher grade characters to accomplish their goals and get bigger returns. Every time they do their thing I get to tap the screen a bunch of times as virtual gold coins go bouncing around and accumulate in my "bank." And the process starts again. 

The game developers have mimicked reality in that greater returns require greater patience. The quick fix provides little reward. Sustainable farming not only requires patience, it almost creates it. Why Jesus made so many connections between agriculture, our lives, and Kingdom living has made so much sense since joining this school. The quick fix in our gardening, our investments, and our lives will often cause more damage than benefits. We tell the children using chemicals to solve problems in their lives is the same as using chemicals to solve problems in their soil. Taking vicodin for an injury is a suitable immediate solution but might not be the best option for long term management. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers have also demonstrated their long term detriment on our American soil. 

We have since the beginning of this school been rebuilding the Ugandan soil in our garden beds with compost, manure, and extensive mulching. Last week we also learned natural ways to rebuild our bodies. Anamed is an international organization that promotes natural and indigenous plant based medicines. Christopher, the Uganda National Director, led our instruction for the week. The organization focuses on 60 different tropical plants and fruits that treat maladies but are also helpful for our well being. As you see in the pictures, Dora, our mini-midwife in training, not only got to sit in but helped in many of the practical applications.

Moringa, the miracle tree, is a plant with many uses. We were shown one of benefits of its seeds in water purification. The pitcher Dora is stirring in the lower left photo is dirty water getting mixed with the moringa seed solution. The next day that water was clear! Now, it still needed boiling to kill all the stuff you can't see but the sediment was bound to the solution at the bottom of the pitcher. Dora enjoyed making ointments, soap, and tinctures from all these natural products and learned an important principle of how God's provision will sustain but isn't always as rapid as we demand. We have already started growing some of the plants that will be useful in keeping us free of malaria and adding nutrition to our diets.

What has God put in place for wellness in your life that would be much easier if you just did it yourself? Is it relationships, nutrition, career, finances, child raising or all of the above? Is waiting the worst part or is it the fear of there not being enough time? Every time we come up to the deadline of something, worrying every step of the way, we find once the "thing" is done it worked out just the way it should have, as though God had a plan all along. Funny how the timing seems to work out when the one who created time is in control.