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.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Transported Teen Writes: Trying My Hand at Sugarcane

 


Marian is one of my first friends here. We both enjoy crafts, drawing and "shoetags" (their word for nail polish). As we talk, we have cultural exchanges. Sometimes I forget most people in rural areas have no connection outside of Uganda. In America the internet gives us a widow to other places, like the post you're reading right now. Watching Africa on YouTube is rather lacking. It doesn't give you the feel of Africa, the excitement of their worship, the racket of rain pounding a tin roof through the night or the chatter of exotic birds in the morning. The window only works one-way. Marian and I have created a bridge, I share something American and she teaches me about Uganda. I get to explain hamburgers and she shares Ugandan expressions. She was shocked that we live down the road from an enormous plantation but never eaten sugarcane. So she brought some over.


Like a fancy chef from Benihana, she skinned, chopped and sliced the bamboo stalk in a matter of seconds. Swoop, chop, ka-chunk, perfect. Then the pivotal moment of failure comes as she hands me the knife. Let's just say, my obviously superb knife skills are unrefined for African cuisine. Swoop, slice, oops, ow. The knife attacked my thumb. It's fine, a mere flesh wound, but it proves the fact that even though we've been here for almost a month, we are not yet experts.


Dora and I got invited to her house Tuesday. We met her mother, older sister, younger sister and baby brother. Her simple brick house had no windows so it was very dark. The living room was already very small, no bigger than an average bathroom, but it was also the kitchen sink storage and dining room. Apparently it's a thing here, when you have visitors to show them your family photo albums. After meeting the family, we discovered more cultural exchanges by watching the Avengers movie translated to Lugandan. Later language lessons with her mother included phrases like, Wasuze otya, good morning. We removed dried corn off the cob for grounding into posho powder. They were kind enough to feed us lunch. It was a very traditional Ugandan menu: potatoes, cabbage and posho. As much as we are indifferent about posho, theirs was much better then what we're used to on the base. We also snacked on popcorn, more sugarcane and blacked corn kernels which tasted like little salty rocks yet were surprisingly good. Then it was time for Dora and I to leave, next time I'll bring my camera. It was fun to hang out with my friend and her natural teaching spirit is what I need most, just don't ask me to cut the cane.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Weekly Update 5

Welcome to YWAM Hopeland’s kitchen. In this open concrete building over one hundred staff and students are fed daily. The children and I prepared the after church meal in Texas for roughly about the same amount of folks at the Tyler base each Sunday last year. When people asked if I was a good cook I would correct them and say, “No, I’m just good at warming food up,” (mostly what we cooked was boxed or frozen). How else could one person make chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, and roasted cauliflower for a hundred people? In Africa I’ve worked a couple of dinner preps and it is just the opposite. 


Everything is raw and sometimes out of their own garden, which means dirty. So you sit on a bench and you peel it or take it to the sink and wash it. Greens and cabbage get shredded. Onions and tomatoes get diced. Fruit gets chopped. Then the fires get built. The kitchen has four wood burning stoves, the picture to the right shows beans in a pressure cooker. They start with long logs and keep pushing them in till the food is cooked. All the pots have a thick layer of soot on the outside which remains beyond clean-up because there isn’t enough soap in Uganda to clean them at this point. If you have worked in an open kitchen before you know resources have a tendency to walk away so the knives and cutting boards are an assortment of cast-offs that nobody cared to “borrow.” I’m sure they use the repaired bottoms of the pots for identification. “Bring me the three patch pot. No, the one with the rivets, not the welds.” Despite all these challenges the food can be filling if you can eat enough.


The components repeat daily so if you come to Africa let me give you the breakdown of what to expect. The first pot will be rice or posho. The second pot could be small russet potatoes, pasta, or white sweet potato. The third pot might be beans, collard greens, or stewed cabbage. Some days a tomato cucumber salad, pineapple, watermelon, or avocado makes it to the service which helps to break up the plate of off-white food. To accommodate everybody portions are strictly doled out. Special meals will include the local chapati flatbread, a beef soup, or sliced sausage added to the cabbage, these are especially limited. Basic foods and plenty of them, well at least plenty of posho.

Needless to say, every food related post we see on Facebook fills us with longing and fond memories of life back in the States. We have hope to increase the food variety and availability of vegetables at Hopeland through our Sustainable Agriculture Course. This will benefit the locals in healthier ways to eat and give our foodie friends a reason to visit us here in Uganda. Thank you for your support.