Tuesday, August 4, 2015

August Update 2015

One Year Ago
Last Thursday marked our first year in Uganda. It has been quite the year of milestones. Our first year of foreign service, a year of being totally dependant on God for our finances, and our first year of not owning or driving an automobile.

In a nation where private car ownership is not the norm and roads are not maintained one would think a break from vehicle maintenance, insurance, refueling and driving in congestion would be refreshing. However over the past year getting back and forth from church, purchasing tools and building supplies, and joining with homeschool groups in town has proved to be challenging if not impossible in many cases. Just going to the store and getting a box of groceries (yep, a box) strapping it to the back of a motorcycle and schlepping it up the dusty hillside is exhausting. Our friends from South Africa have left to visit home and have loaned us their van for six weeks. We have only driven it twice but I’m not sure we will be able to go back to public transportation after they return. Next month we will begin the process of fundraising for our own vehicle. There have been many opportunities for ministry that we have not been able to pursue because of lack of transportation. If you know of any organizations who specialize in funding ministry vehicles for overseas missions let us know, we’ll need all the help we can get.

We welcomed a Family Ministry School for several weeks of outreach here at Hopeland this month. They organized a children’s event, ministered in the hospital, served in the village, and helped refurbish our friend’s birth center. Jeri and Dora have been working at the Good Samaritan Birth Center for almost as long as we have been here. They even spent a night in the guest quarters hoping for a baby to be born. The midwife, Christine, has a well appointed facility but has little time or resources to get up to the requirements for national registry. We combined our own personal resources with the team and were able to buy several liters of paint, wood for furnishings, and supplies for cleaning. They set aside three days and postponed a day-off to complete the job. The second day we arrived, Christine came running out to bring Jeri and Dora in to catch a baby. It was not her first delivery in Africa, but out of the hospital and sharing it with Dora made it special. The team lost no momentum and neither did the baby’s mama, two hours later she was on the back of a motorcycle with her new bundle of joy and headed home. The team was amazed at how issues of personal care are overlooked but equally impressed with how Christine managed it all. Christine still has a number of projects to complete but some deep cleaning, a new coat of paint, and some extra seats made a world of difference and she was thrilled with the results. This is the second team we’ve hosted as a family here at Hopeland and both have been great. If you would like to journey to a foreign place, that is very safe, and has so many opportunities to do good let us know and we will set it up for you.

Liesel got dunked in Africa! Two weeks ago Liesel chose to accept Jesus as her savior. Last weekend she got into an inflated pool in the middle of the sanctuary and declared to everyone that Jesus is her Lord, and then got baptized. Little did she know it would be so cold. She braved it and now is a part of a big family. We couldn’t be prouder and know her life will be a blessing to many.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Monthly Update July 2015

We grew food. We fed people. Can we come home now?
The rains have come and gone. The beans have grown, harvested, and prepared in the kitchen. The maize is putting on cobs and will be ready to collect in a week or two. Mission accomplished, are we finished? Not yet. Though we have seen much providence in the soil there is still much to do. We have grown the local crops as well as our neighbors but that is short of the calling that brought us to Africa. We want to be a place of hope and a center for learning and transformation in this nation. So we have to produce more than just our neighbors, we have to grow more variety than just the usual crops, and we have to do it in a way that is sustainable for everyone. This season we tried zucchini, yellow summer squash, and acorn squash, unfortunately most were lost to the abundance of worms in the soil. Our broccoli never quite flowered but the leaves were delicious. Tomatoes did well but needed better caging. All in all some good experiments and we will get more seedlings ready for the next rains. If you think of some seed that will grow in only ten hours of sunshine, heavy clay soil, and lots of rain send it to us; we'll give it a try.

Answering Our Call
Many of you responded to our recent call for support and prayer on behalf of seven year-old Arnold. The grandson of Ruth, a woman in Jeri's Friday Bible study, Arnold was born with severe cerebral palsy. His whole life has been a struggle of survival. Unable to eat the staple foods of the Ugandan diet, his caretakers have tried to provide for his special diet. Without assistance they have barely scraped by these past seven years. As you might imagine, there are no additional resources for emergencies and when he gets sick it is hard to get him to eat at all. Two weeks ago we got word Arnold was ill and not eating and so we sent help to get him seen by a doctor. Circumstances prevented his transport so Jeri stepped forward and visited his place. Shocked that this seven year-old boy weighed only 15 pounds she put out the call for prayer and many answered. She organized transport, got him admitted to the malnutrition ward at Jinja Children's Hospital, and set up his aunt to stay with him. The next week we visited them and took them more food and supplies (the children are fed but the caregivers are left to provide for some meals). While Jeri took Arnold and his mom for X-rays at another clinic and more supplies, we stayed back, sang songs, prayed for families, and colored with the children—anything to provide distraction from the endless days of waiting for their children to get well. In Uganda, the caregiver has to stay with the patient, helping to clean them, do all their laundry, and to get meals. It is no small job! The caregiver lies usually on a mat on the concrete floor in one big room crowded with beds and patients and children. This is quite the sacrifice to care for him, especially since he could be in the hospital for a month or more. Arnold still has a way to go before he can come home but thanks to those who gave we have a reserve to get him well and support his caregivers so they can stay with him.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Monthly Update June 2015

If you’re cheap like me many of your apps have the designation “lite” in them. Why pay for the full version of something they are giving away? I get bored with most games before I exhaust the free levels and the productivity apps are too dependent on the internet to be of much use. The business model of give the consumer a taste and they’ll come back for more has proven as successful with Angry Birds as it has with narcotics as it has with missions. This month we had a group from the YWAM Tyler base come out and give Foreign Missions Lite a try.  

Youth With A Mission has been pioneering short-term missions since the sixties. The idea that a bunch of inexperienced youth could train for three months and then just go and share the good news with people was radical 50 years ago and is still polarizing today. Our family and those that serve like us are out and don’t intend to come back anytime soon. These short-term teams are out just long enough to see the need, smell non-conditioned air, taste the difference of something foreign, and most importantly feel the stretch of doing hard things. 

This group of young people spent a month in Uganda and finished out their tour here at Hopeland. In Kampala they worked in inner city areas and reached out to street kids. In Iganga they worked in a village with the locals and witnessed to many Muslims. Out on Buvuma Island they showed the Jesus Film and performed dramas. Here in Jinja they worked the maize field, refurbished mosquito screens on our staff house, and visited a children’s home. They ate a lot of posho, got a lot of bug bites, rode in very cramped vehicles, took nothing but cold showers and according to them had a great experience. 
And what are our lives but the collection of our experiences and interactions with those around us?
Will they all go on to become full-time foreign missionary workers? Maybe. Did their ministry make a difference in a Ugandan’s walk with God? Maybe. Will their presence here have lasting impact on the nation of Uganda? Maybe. Did they ruin themselves for the ordinary and change their perspective of the world around them? Definitely. That change extends to the friends and family that sent them, the youth groups they go back and share with, and the innumerable social media connections that “like” their internet posts. Add that to all the “maybe”s of permanent influence and we’ll take a team of mzungus any day. These future leaders of our nation spent what could have been spent on a vacation, saw a new part of the world, lived in challenging conditions, and survived. What else could you hope for the young people of this generation or the countless young people who have ventured forth since 1963?

The bait and switch of YWAM is we get you to come to a discipleship program with the premise of training you to be a missionary and then turn the focus from changing the world to changing the participant. We are glad to be a part in these kid’s process to being more available to God and learning to hear his voice. If you’d also like to experience and serve in a majority world culture let us know, we’ll make a space for you.

In children news Liesel lost the first of her front teeth. The Tooth Fairy unfortunately left her Tanzanian shillings and she got shorted in the exchange rate.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Monthly Update May 2015

 Weddings and Weeding

April showers bring May flowers. What do May flowers bring? Weddings! We attended our first Ugandan wedding this month when the Kitchen Director got married. Her kitchen and staff was one of the first photo essays in Africa Zoe collected on film so she asked us to come and shoot her wedding, I went along to keep Zoe company. We were assured we were the only photographers she asked but as you can imagine as soon as things got going out came every image capturing device people have and we were off to the races. One of the things that photographers will do here is without invitation people will shoot a wedding, both still and on video, and if you like it they'll sell it to you. Most were just friends and loved ones who wanted images for their own personal memories, I guess. It goes beyond a culture that just got a new toy and has to use it for everything, folks just crowded in for every moment. Zoe did a wedding shoot in the States and her mentor guided her how to be invisible. Photographers are necessary but they need to capture the moment without becoming part of the moment. As you can see in the top photo that's just not how it is done here. One official photographer, one videographer on speculation, and then as many as ten people who would just come right up and take pictures or video. Zoe quickly adapted and jumped right into the fray. I don't believe any elbows were thrown but she certainly had to push in to get the shot. That is the way here. They don't value confrontation so if you need something or are in a hurry you just do it. If you wait, it's because you've got nowhere better to be. The big thing that makes them get on schedule is when the rains come. 

And boy have they come. We went from two and a half months of nothing to well over 40 inches in thirty-nine days (I say "well over" because my home-made rain gauge tops out at four inches). We'll keep getting rain through May, maybe a bit more in June, but that will be all we get for the short growing season. The long growing season goes from August to December and that's when most of the crops are grown but this short season is still important. As you know from previous posts we were ready to plant. The beans and corn we got going are all doing well and of course so are the weeds. The picture below is one of our base work crews weeding the bean field. We also have another crew weeding Mondays and Tuesdays. All that grass behind us will become mulch next week so once we get this round of weeds cleared we can slow down the next set from growing. Yes, a nice treatment of weed killing spray would make this all hard labor unnecessary, but that kind of defeats our goal here of soil restoration and sustainability. Just as confused as we are about photographing a wedding the Ugandans are just as confused about our weeding.

One thing they do appreciate is natural medicine. When we covered this subject last year in the Ag School, Jeri was able to attend. Now she has the opportunity to share with her Bible study group what the plants they already know have to offer them. The irony of course is the foreigner has to educate them about their native plants. Just as in the States, the passing down of traditions is challenging and much of the knowledge from previous generations has been forgotten. But nobody likes going to the doctor especially when the remedy grows in your back yard.

Thank you for following our journey. Your participation and support allows us to bring education and resources to those who hope to end their poverty.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Monthly Update April

Here comes the rain ...for real. The rains have arrived. In Uganda that means it is time to plant. In the past week we’ve seen over 12 inches of rainfall mostly at night. During the day we measure and plant. Here in YWAM Hopeland, Ugandans are learning the value of mulch. The Farming God’s Way technique of planting that we follow calls mulch God’s Blanket. Even though it is just cut grass, there never seems to be enough of it. We will start our compost for the vegetable gardens soon and it will require more grass as well. We must move forward not fearing scarcity. If we truly believe in God’s provision for our gardens and our lives we must live as though there will be enough, even an abundance. This is so much different than what the world teaches. If you get more then someone else gets less. For you to win someone has to lose. We rob from Peter to pay Paul. But we believe in a messiah that fed 5,000 people with three small buns and two fish. Not only was there enough, there was an abundance. We are naming our fields after the Fruits of the Spirit. There isn’t a fruit of abundance because we expect them all to be abundant. Many believe Africa can not only feed itself but also the world. Thank you for helping us train Africans to grow beyond their fear of scarcity. 

Jeri leads a group of local HIV+ women who meet every Friday for support and the study of scripture. AIDS has ravaged Africa, and those who are diagnosed with this disease do suffer with many obstacles. One of these was lack of education. They come to the Bible study because they know only God can minister to their need and they know that comes with the study of scripture, but many of them are illiterate. The Ugandan Bible Society has adapted a device that speaks to that challenge. A solar powered audio Bible with the scripture in the local language that has a headphone jack as well as a speaker. Jeri found this resource and reached out to our supporters for help. Ten people received her plea and now twenty women and families have the Word of God available to them in a language they can understand. We went all the way to Kampala to collect them and Jeri and the girls presented them to the women at their end of the month feast. The joy these women had in hearing the word of God was such a gift.  It was a true party! What a privilege to be your ambassadors and give these women your expression of love and compassion for the people of Uganda. 

Easter is upon us and our church gave the children’s ministry the opportunity to present a resurrection drama on Palm Sunday. Xander was a Roman guard, Liesel was one of the ribbon dancers, and Jax was Jesus! He did such a good job. The children have missed their community theater opportunities since being here so this was a great chance for them to perform and bring glory to God this season.

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.