Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Day 6: King's Primary School

Day 6: King’s Primary School

Jan did not feel well today. Yesterday, she only joined us for the last half of the day, but she didn’t want to miss out on our travels today. We are concerned about her. George is not feeling well either, so his brother, Gus, is driving for us instead.

We traveled north to Mbale, which is a larger city than Tororo, and stopped at a market to buy around 600 bananas, which caused quite a stir. Suddenly everyone was buzzing around our van, wanting to sell us something. We also picked up Dr. Dan Bwonya (the optometrist), and Naboth’s wife, Mary. Naboth is the headmaster at the school we will be visiting. Dr. Dan’s wife met us briefly as well, but did not join us.

We traveled on up to Bunambutye in Sironko District, and the landscape became more and more beautiful, with large fields of maize and sunflowers spreading out on all sides, against mountains as their backdrop.

The roads were quite rough, and we encountered frequent police stops along the way. This is an area where the Karamjong tribe has wreaked havoc, plundering villages and killing hundreds of people as they carry out their cattle raids. The military and police are looking for any signs of their activity, and the papers report that around 80 Karamajong warriors have recently been shot and killed by the military for refusing to give up their weapons.

We stopped briefly by Dr. Dan’s house. He grew up in this area and is preparing a home for him and his wife to share. It looks like a very nice home, especially for this area.

Finally, we arrived at King’s Primary School. The students were all seated in chairs just inside the gate under a monstrous tree that shaded all 300 of them, plus the teachers and staff, and also the tables they had prepared for us to sit at, facing everyone. We first went to Naboth’s office to be received and to visit with him briefly.

As we returned and approached the children, we saw that beautiful crocheted and woven cloths had been spread on the tables and chairs where we were to sit. We were served Coke as soon as we were seated.

Then the children began singing for us class by class. Their songs were about their lives –about AIDS, the Karamajong, and the recent drought that has plagued their area. Some of the songs included dramatizations, and some were songs of praise to God for remembering them by sending us to their school. Africans go out of their way to welcome visitors, and it is humbling to be so honored by them.

Following the music, Naboth and several teachers addressed us, and then we were asked to address the children. Jeanice did a wonderful job of sharing the Gospel with them; then I taught them “King of the Jungle,” which seemed especially appropriate, considering the name of their school. The “bubble, bubble” lyrics were a big hit with these students.

Next, Dr. Dan distributed glasses to the students who needed them.

Meanwhile, the children lined up to receive their gifts from us. We gave them each 2 bananas, a “Story of Jesus” booklet, a toothbrush, some candy, 5 soccer balls (for use at school), and their very own Bibles. Each teacher inscribed his/her students’ names inside and we watched them carry their Bibles home as they left. The children were delighted! We couldn’t have been more pleased with our day at King’s Primary School.

Side note: It seems ironic that many of the Smile Africa children are Karamajong orphans, and many of the King’s Primary School children have been orphaned by the Karamajong tribe, some as recently as last fall! How very sad! Yet, as Pastor Ruth so plainly put it, “God is no respecter of persons. He loves each and every one of those children!” We pray that our ministry to them has been another testimony to that fact, and that they will come to understand that the love of Jesus is real and tangible.

After the school day ended, we went on up Moroto road to make a much-anticipated visit to Feddy’s house. Feddy is the grandmother of Deo, another Ugandan soldier still stationed in Iraq, who is in contact with Heart of God International through the soldier’s ministry. When he learned that Heart of God was making a trip to Uganda, he requested that we visit his grandmother. Of course Uganda is a very large country, but it just “so happened” that his grandmother lives about a mile from King’s Primary School! In other words, we saw this as another God ordained detail. Feddy is nearly blind and lives in a humble mud hut, sharing it with a daughter, her children, a grandson, and several orphans. A meal had been prepared for us, along with beautiful dishes to serve it on, coke to drink, and chairs for all of us to sit in outside. The meal consisted of boiled potatoes, matoke (green bananas), chicken, and gravy. It was such a gracious act that we could not refuse, although I will confess that my “bless this food we are about to eat” prayer was quite urgent.

As we traveled through one village on our way home I was able to photograph an unfortunate, but all too common sight in Uganda -a group of men "boozing". Notice the long "straws" leading to their shared pot of booze. Alcoholism and drug abuse abound here, and greatly contribute to the abuse of women and children as well. Although the mode of drinking is different, the effects are all too similar across cultures.

We passed on dinner at the hotel this evening, and cooked freeze-dried lasagna in our room, instead.

Many biblical concepts have taken on new meaning for me in this culture. One is somewhat humorous. James 5:12 says, “Let your yay be yay and your nay, nay...” Pastor Ruth tactfully told us that what we say when offered something is confusing to Ugandans. Apparently, “thank you” means “yes” to them, so when we say, “No, thank you,” it sounds like we are changing our minds! We need to practice letting our yes be yes, and our no, simply no!

Another biblical concept that is coming to life is this:
“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside his garments; and taking a towel, he girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” (John 13:3-5)

By the end of each day our feet are coated with thick, red dust. Each evening when we return to the hotel the first thing we do is wash our feet in the wash basin, and each time I am reminded of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. I have even considered how Jan, Jeanice, and Denise might respond if I offered to wash their feet, or if they offered to wash mine. I’m afraid it would be too weird, a broach of personal space and boundaries in our western way of thinking. At the same time, I’ve observed such a serving spirit among Africans that I don’t think foot-washing would be a strange practice for them at all. Many women and children kneel when they shake our hands. Coke is served to us by those who can’t afford food for their own tables or clothing for their own children. Beautiful tapestries are spread for us to sit on. When I say that these gestures are humbling, it is impossible to adequately communicate what I am feeling. However, having my feet washed by Jesus would most likely generate a very similar response. I would like to think that I have a servant’s heart; but in reality, I have a lot to learn.
“So when He had washed their feet, and taken his garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him’.”(John 13:12-16)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Day 5: I Was Naked, and You Clothed Me

Yes, I know it has been many days since my last post. But some things just take precedence over everything else, and one of those things is getting a new grandchild! That’s right! On Thursday, July 16th, Selah Noel Guthrie was born to Travis and Kristen way down in Austin, Texas, weighing in at 8 pounds, 2 ounces. This caused a great deal of excitement and was a major distraction for me this week. Imagine that! So without further adieu, here she is!

I will be spending two weeks in Austin, starting July 31st, and a week in Dallas chaperoning a youth group trip the week before that. Therefore, I have to get busy and finish blogging about my Uganda trip, because many of you are waiting to read the next installments, and I assure you there are many great things to come! Lord willing, you can expect new posts nearly every day this week.

24 June, 2009

The weather was beautiful today. I have marveled at how the rain has never interfered with our plans. This evening was a perfect example. It rained only after we returned to the hotel, cooling things off nicely. We are very near the equator here, so the sun feels hot, but it isn’t muggy, and there is nearly always a breeze.

This morning I told Pastor Ruth that I would like to buy fruit for the children with some of the money friends had donated, so she took us to the Tororo market, which is tucked in the center of a “block” behind storefronts, and covered with canopies. It is a very large market, and overflowing with produce of every kind. I bought around 800 bananas for 90,000 shillings, or about $45.00.

I was still in the van talking when we got to Smile Africa, but suddenly I heard the children shouting and cheering. “What’s going on?” I asked.

“They see your bananas!” Denise replied. Sure enough, the bananas were being carried toward the kids, generating great excitement. The teachers got them all seated in rows, and then the children began to sing a song of gratitude. I will post the video of their “Thank You” song. If you gave money toward this trip, this song is for you. Even if you didn’t contribute, it will bless your heart to hear their voices.

We all helped pass out the bananas through our tears. It is truly humbling to observe such gratefulness for something we normally take for granted. Not one child turned down a banana, and we had enough for two a piece for the older children.

A couple of my neighbors had donated clothing, and I also bought several skirts and dresses at Goodwill to take along. Today was bath day, so I took the clothing into the office and sorted it. As the children were bathed, they were brought a group at a time for us to dress –lots of little naked children lined up with great anticipation. They just beamed, once they were dressed in their new clothing! So, of course, we took a lot of pictures. The hard part was seeing how disappointed the rest of the children were. Many had taken off their clean clothes and crowded around the office, hoping to be included in the “new clothes group.” I simply could not have brought more clothing with me. But the experience helped me to consider a direction for more of my donated funds. Later in the day I talked to Pastor Ruth about purchasing clothing in Uganda for the rest of the children. We will be looking into that.

This afternoon I was able to visit the classrooms. I began by teaching the song, “Who’s the King of the Jungle?” The actions made them giggle. They loved it!

Next, Eli the eagle puppet shared his story, and then we talked about caterpillars and butterflies and the new life that Jesus Christ offers. I also handed out cards printed with II Corinthians 5:17, and they practiced memorizing the verse. The students then made butterfly pencil toppers, something that many volunteers had helped me to prepare before the trip. Here are a couple of things to note about the classrooms. First, the children are literally packed in, wall to wall. Those taking pictures had to do so from outside the room. Secondly, you may notice that some children are holding babies. These are siblings that they are responsible for. They are carried to Smile Africa on their backs, up to 3 miles each way (see the top photo). Many children play, eat, and go to class with babies on their backs or in their laps.

Side note: Have you noticed how many of today’s blessings were made possible through the generosity of the wonderful Christian friends and family members who gave as unto the Lord Jesus? I keep thinking of the passage in Matthew 25:34-40, in which Jesus says, “for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat....naked, and you clothed Me...Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?’...Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” I am fully aware that I am just the “middle man,” but I feel so privileged to be the one passing on all of these blessings and seeing first-hand the expressions of joy on each face.

Jan followed up in each classroom by handing out pins with various colors of ribbons representing the gospel, which she explained in detail. The children heard the gospel message loud and clear today, but we are confident that they have heard it before. Pastor Ruth and the teachers of Smile Africa love Jesus, and they are continually reminding the children of His great love for them.

We again handed out candy as the children left today. With each gift throughout the day, the teachers and children exclaimed, “Thank you for blessing us!” Yet we were the ones being blessed repeatedly. It is truly more blessed to give than to receive, and possibly more of a blessing still to give what you have received for the explicit purpose of giving!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Day Four: A Glorious Day!

Day 4

23 June, 2009

Denise and I awoke early to the sound of roosters crowing once again. We thought it was 5:30, but when we showed up downstairs for breakfast two hours later, it was 6:30. Since we are nine hours ahead of Central Standard Time, I guess our bodies are still a little confused. It made for a very long day!

Denise’s bag was delivered to the Entebbe airport last night. Praise God! Saphon was able to pick it up, and he and Alex will bring it today. They wanted to come for the vision celebration, anyway. The way it all worked out is just one more miracle to add to the growing list!

We had brought with us around 1,000 pair of eyeglasses which had been sorted, cleaned, read, and tagged. Many donors, including the Lions Club of Toddville, Iowa, had contributed to this vision project. Dr. Dan Bwonya had brought his mobile clinic to Smile Africa in May to screen the children and any adults who showed up as well. Today he would be able to distribute glasses to those who needed them.

After breakfast we loaded up the glasses and went to Smile Africa for the vision celebration, which was supposed to start at 9:00 a.m. Several people had already arrived, and the crowd eventually swelled to around 300. Meanwhile, Pastor Ruth gave us a tour of Smile Africa, and Dr. Dan Bwonya, Grace, and Denise sorted through the glasses to match up prescriptions.

The celebration finally got underway about 11:30. We’ve been assured that many events such as this run on “African time,” which is much more relaxed than “English time.” I gathered immediately from all the formalities that Africans like official titles and decorum. Four government dignitaries, the chairman of Smile Africa’s board of directors, Dr. Dan, Pastor Ruth, and Denise all gave speeches. Each speech was translated into Ateso or Swahili for those who do not speak English. One of the officials made the statement that Tororo has 400 registered humanitarian organizations, but only 20 of those are actually credible and successful in achieving their goals. Smile Africa, he said, is definitely one that is successful and benefitting the community. It is especially notable that Smile Africa was originated in Uganda by a Ugandan.

Finally, the glasses were presented with much ado and clapping. The recipients were all extremely grateful and overjoyed! Dr. Dan instructed them in the proper care of their glasses. He is a very kind and gentle man, who is also a believer in Jesus Christ. As a result of his screening, Dr. Dan identified nine people who needed cataract surgery. He told us that his cost for these surgeries would amount to $20 per person! We were amazed that cataract surgery could be so inexpensive, but thrilled that we are able to cover the cost of all nine surgeries! Praise God! Dr. Dan also offered to screen several more people today who had missed the earlier screening. What a blessing he has been!

The children sang for the dignitaries and then they were fed a special meal of rice topped with beef, which Heart of God had requested and paid for in advance. Meat was quite a treat for them.

I can’t sufficiently communicate to you how those children immediately stole my heart! They warmed up to us quickly, attaching themselves to us by grabbing our hand or finger or a piece of our clothing. Just like kids everywhere, they vied for attention in other ways, too. They loved posing for pictures, and especially enjoyed viewing them on the camera. Some of them shouted, “T.V.!” when they saw the camera screen, and everyone came running to see, nearly knocking me off my feet!

When lunch was finished, Denise got out the bubbles she had brought along. The kids squealed, catching and chasing them! They even invented a way to catch them on the stem of a particular plant, and soon many of the children were equipped with one. Their resourcefulness was obvious in other ways, as well. We had brought jump ropes to leave with them and wondered whether they had any experience jumping rope. Before our U.S. version of a jump rope was introduced, we found some little girls jumping a rope made of weeds tied together. (see the video at the end of this post) When we pumped up nine soccer balls and two basketballs and threw them out in the field for everyone to play with, the excitement was unbelievable!

As the children lined up to leave for the day, we handed out suckers at the gate. They were so happy and excited that we almost got crushed! Even the teachers and our driver, George, were thrilled to get a piece of candy!

We were exhausted by the end of the day, but also very pleased with how it all went, and overjoyed to see the joyful expressions on the faces of young and old alike.

This evening we met two young girls from the U.S. in the hotel. They are both students at Yale University and are here to work with a humanitarian organization. Pastor Ruth is familiar with that organization and knows the founder of it, who is supposed to arrive tomorrow. We are beginning to believe that Pastor Ruth knows everyone, and vice versa!

We were hungry, but had a difficult time knowing what to order from the hotel menu. I settled on chicken stir-fry, which came with rice. It was pretty good and also quite a large serving. After we finished eating, Pastor Ruth came to visit with us. She was so happy about the day! The government officials had made some wonderful observations about Smile Africa, and they had made many promises, too. The vision screening and eyeglass distribution were all a success, with the added bonus of the provision of nine cataract surgeries.

What a glorious day this has been! God has been so good in laying all the ground work here, and in allowing us to come alongside Pastor Ruth to encourage and build up the work she is doing for Him. And what a treasure we have found in Dr. Dan, as well!