Friday, August 28, 2009

Acquainted With Grace

It has been too long since I last joined Friday Fiction. Today I am sharing a non-fiction story I wrote for Faithwriter's "unsung hero" challenge. It is especially appropriate this time of year, because the story begins on a long ago August day. You will soon see why it is a story very near and dear to my heart. I have edited this piece a bit since I am not limited here by word count.

Acquainted With Grace
by Sharlyn Guthrie

Tall sunflowers waved from both sides of the narrow highway leading to the tiny Kansas town that would be our new home. My father pointed to the low building on the edge of town, just past the sunflowers. He would be the school’s new principal.

We turned off the highway onto Main Street passing a post office, a bank, a thrift shop, a grocery store, and a barber shop. As our car and moving van crept through town, an old man sitting outside the barber shop pulled his pipe from his mouth and leaned forward, following our progression with interest. Another rose and removed his hat as if receiving royalty. In those parts, a new principal might have come pretty close.

We pulled up to a small, sagging house kitty-corner to the Presbyterian Church. “Here we are,” declared my dad, the only one to have seen the house prior to our move. My wide eyes surveyed the barn, the huge tree with broad sturdy limbs, and the patches of flowers sprinkled here and there. I bolted from the car, eager to explore. My mother and sisters were less enthusiastic. They sensed that this was yet another temporary home. Getting excited or attached would only make moving away more difficult. At the age of five, I had yet to learn those lessons.

The townspeople with children lived on the other end of Main Street, nearer the school. Our neighbors were elderly, and most of them grumpy. Aunt Grace, who was not actually my aunt, and who, in fact, was closer in age to my seventy-something grandmother, was the exception to the grumpy rule. She was a spry old maid who lived across the street and owned the town’s thrift shop, a second-hand store. I loved Aunt Grace from the moment we met. Unlike our other neighbors and all the adults I knew, she encouraged my company and never seemed to tire of my chatter.

Aunt Grace’s one-bedroom house was equipped with ramps to accommodate her boarder. Fern was younger than Grace, and wheelchair-bound. She occupied the largest room on the front of the house, the one lined with windows. I often wondered if Fern’s heart and soul were more crippled than her body. Despite Grace’s sunny disposition and obvious devotion to her, Fern kept the blinds on her windows closed, preferring to sit in the shadows mumbling and grunting to herself. Aunt Grace always invited her to join our picnics by the pump and our games of “Hide the Thimble” and “Pleased or Displeased,” but each invitation was declined. Only occasionally would she let us take her around the block in her wheelchair.

Work was important to Aunt Grace, and working alongside her was delightful. Unlike other adults, she actually made me feel as though my contributions were helpful. In her shop she trusted me to hold delicate figurines while she dusted the shelves they normally occupied. At her home I pumped and carried sloshing buckets of water half my weight; then cranked funny-looking underwear through the wringer on her old-fashioned washing machine. She taught me to make and serve tea, and then to act lady-like and proper as we sipped it from dainty china teacups.

Aunt Grace’s laughter, the sound of pure joy, still plays in my ears. I heard it for the first time when she caught me, a princess on a white horse, riding her propane tank. It rang out again after she had endured all nine verses of “Honey, You Can’t Love Two” sung from atop the mound that was her cellar. Applauding wildly, she laughed until she cried. I was certain from her response that I was destined to be a star.

Two years after my family moved to that idyllic village set amongst wheat fields and sunflowers, we moved again, leaving Kansas and Aunt Grace behind forever. Naively, I anticipated new neighbors just like her. But there would never be another person in my life like Aunt Grace. I had already met the woman who would have the greatest impact on my life, a true servant of Jesus who proclaimed, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me…” (Mark 9:37 NIV) I vowed to follow her wonderful example to the best of my ability. As a result, teaching, shaping and nurturing young lives has become my life’s work. I want every child I meet to feel important and loved, because each is wonderfully made -painstakingly formed in their mother’s womb by a loving creator. (Psalm 139:13-14)

Aunt Grace is my unsung heroine. She measured worth differently than most, turning others’ junk into treasure; from outmoded nick-nacks, to disabled, disgruntled old women, to curious, meddling children. Each of us, regardless of age or ability, was better off for having been in her care. She never left that small Kansas village, and was never formally honored or acclaimed. I learned of her death after her funeral, and cried as I rocked my own two year old son, clutching the announcement to my heart. A half century after our first meeting Aunt Grace is still my greatest inspiration, a beautiful example of love, joy, patience, humility, and yes –grace.

For more great Friday Fiction, please visit Julie at her blog, THE SURRENDERED SCRIBE.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Postscript on Uganda: What Now?

Postscript: What Now?

I am thrilled now to fill you in on many exciting developments since my return from Uganda. First of all, after purchasing bananas for two schools, food and soap for many families in the slums, 300 Bibles for King’s Primary school, and clothing for all of the Smile Africa children, I still had around $350 remaining in my Heart of God account! After discussing it with my husband, John, we decided to take a step of faith and arrange through Heart of God to provide fruit to the children of Smile Africa once a week for as long as God provides the funds to do so. July and August have now been covered, and we are trusting that others will want to join us in continuing this ministry to the children throughout the year. More than just a feeding program, these children will be assured each time they are given fruit to eat that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of light, who never changes.” If you would like to be part of this ministry, please see the details at the end of this post.

I would also like to see that the children continue to get adequate clothing, and possibly even shoes throughout the year. This will need to be researched, in order to decide the most efficient way of doing this, but money will be needed, regardless of the method. The money will either be used for the actual clothing, or for shipping donated clothing from the U.S. The same details at the end of this post apply to donations for provision of clothing.

Another exciting development is that Heart of God, Uganda has offered me the position of education director, and I have accepted. I will be working alongside Denise, the director of Heart of God, Uganda, to put together a team of teachers to return to Uganda next summer to train and encourage the overburdened teachers there. So what I want from all of you teachers out there is prayer, practical suggestions for materials and teacher’s conference topics, as well as prayerful consideration about joining us for this next trip in June of 2010. We are also planning two other components of our 2010 trip: a men’s conference, and a teen rally. How exciting!

Since our return Pastor Ruth has forwarded many pictures and sent many updates and developments. She delivered clothing and our gifts to the family in the slums.

The children at Smile Africa all received new clothes from the bales we purchased!

Pastor Ruth has taken in ten elderly widows whose homes had crumbled, and who needed help. They were given some of the mats to sleep on, as well. These women are eating at Smile Africa and they are also helping as they are able with the children.

The children are using the mats that were purchased for resting, and are enjoying their weekly servings of fruit.

Through Heart of God International Pastor Ruth has partnered with World Vision to provide surgery for a little boy who was born with his bladder on the outside of his body. This will most likely save his life and make caring for him much easier.

As might be expected, Satan is active, and trying to interfere with God’s work in Uganda, just as He is anywhere. Kings Primary School has experienced recent personnel difficulties, Pastor Ruth and Grace have both had the flu, and Pastor Ruth had a serious infection from a cut on her foot. Alex was injured when she fell off a motorcycle while going to visit her parents. The father of the child needing surgery has tried to intervene and block the surgery because he believes the mother will benefit from it somehow. Although he has never provided for the child, he went so far as to kidnap him and the mother, holding them against their will until the police were called. If we came away with one notion, it is that life is fragile and often brief in Uganda. Half of the population of the country is under the age of fourteen. This fills me with a sense of urgency. Even one year from now we will no doubt witness many losses and changes among those we came to know and love.

I tell you these things to remind you to pray for Music pastor, Stephen and wife Mary; for Pastor Ruth, her family and staff; for the children and widows of Smile Africa; for Kings Primary School; for Agnes and the Early Learning Center; for Saphan and Alex; for Pastor Stephen and Rosalyn, their four children, and the seven boys they are caring for, as well as for their church and nursery school. I also elicit your prayers on behalf of Heart of God International as we come alongside these brothers and sisters in Christ to assist and encourage them.

If you are moved to give toward providing fruit or clothing for the children of Uganda please send your gifts to: Heart of God International Ministries, Uganda
P.O. Box 248
Willard, OH 44890

Be sure to designate your gifts for “fruit and/or clothing for Uganda.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Days 11 and 12: The Journey Home

Days 11 and 12: The Journey Home

30 June, 2009

After awaking in the middle of my flight from Entebbe to Amsterdam, I visited with Robert, my seat mate. He is Ugandan, born and raised in Jinja, which is a town we traveled through between Tororo and Kampala, and is currently a student at the University of Utah, majoring in health education and economic development. As part of his schooling he was assigned to go to Ghana, but stopped to visit family in Uganda on his way home. He loves his country, and hopes to return to help in establishing an infrastructure. Although he enjoys many aspects of living in America, he is truly grateful for his African upbringing. I can definitely understand that. There is something wholesome, transparent, and down to earth about Ugandan. There is also an unquenchable spirit –one of extreme gratitude, unbridled joy, and hope. Robert wanted to know about all the things our group experienced during our visit, and he thanked me sincerely for “doing all that you did for our children.”

We didn’t have long to wait between flights in Amsterdam, but the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit seemed oh, so long! I was seated across the aisle from Jan, who slept much of the flight. As we were nearing Detroit she began visiting with her seat mate, who was a soldier returning on leave from Afghanistan. Jan was sharing with him about Heart of God’s soldier’s ministry, and she pulled out a business card to give to him. I could see that the man in the seat directly behind her was literally sitting on the edge of his seat, straining to see and hear what she was saying. As soon as she finished talking, he called, “Miss Jan, Miss Jan.” Finally Jan realized he was talking to her, and turned around. He introduced himself as a brigade commander with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, on his way home to bury his father. “I have 12,000 troops and 14 chaplains under me,” he said. “Do you have any materials for them? How about Bible study materials for women?”

Needless to say, Jan was quite excited to share information about the soldiers ministry with him! He promised to contact her later in the week to arrange for some materials for his troops.

When we reached Detroit, everything went into high gear. We had to go through immigration, pick up our checked luggage, and go through customs, then re-check our luggage and find the gate for our next flight. Jeanice and I only had about 40 minutes between flights, so needless to say, we were hustling.

Just as I finished with customs I had a major surprise; I saw Frankie, my seatmate from Iowa, the one I had met on the way to Uganda on Day 1! We had both returned on the very same flight. We embraced, exchanged bits and pieces of our respective experiences, and I assured her I had prayed for her daily and would continue to keep her in my prayers. Now I am even more certain that God crossed our paths for a purpose. I believe that she feels the same. As I left customs for my gate I also ran into Robert, my seat mate from yesterday’s flight, and we wished each other well.

Jeanice, and I bid farewell to Jan and Denise, who each went their separate ways. We then continued on to Chicago together. This was a short flight., but I looked forward to it ending. My stomach felt upset for the first time since leaving Iowa eleven days ago.

John and I had reserved a hotel room in Chicago –one with free shuttle service from the airport, with the plan that I could go there to shower and sleep, and he would join me after working half a day and then driving to Chicago. It worked out beautifully, because I was more than ready for a break from traveling and for real sleep in an actual bed. I was sleeping soundly when he arrived several hours later.

We found a nice little Italian restaurant nearby, and during dinner I began to fill him in on my many adventures.

Since he had the entire next day off, we decided to take a longer way home, opting to stop at East Iowa Bible Camp to visit with the camp’s director -our son, Tyson, and his wife, Sarah. It was great visiting with them, and they were even able to get away with us to eat at The Malt Shop. My stomach was still having issues, but I enjoyed spending time with them, nevertheless.

Later, arriving at home, I was happy to be there and thankful for my husband’s presence and time spent with family, but I was also keenly aware that many pieces of my heart remained strewn across a small country in a continent 8,000 miles away. I also knew that my life had been permanently altered –a good thing, to be sure, but life could never return to “normal.” God had revealed Himself to me in so many ways, and through so many of His beautiful people. Although my journey to Uganda officially came to an end today, I felt that a much greater journey had only just begun.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Day 10: Is it Time to Leave So Soon?

Day 10: Is it Time to Leave So Soon?

29 June 2009

We rose at the break of dawn to shower and finish packing. Although I'm looking forward to seeing John and the rest of my family, I prepare to leave with a heavy heart. I have grown to love the people I have met here, and can't help but wonder if I will ever see them again.

As we finished breakfast, Pastor Ruth joined us and finalized all of our bills for George and Gus’s transportation and the hotel. I had asked her to look into purchasing mats for the Smile Africa children to use for nap time. (They have been falling asleep wherever they happen to land -on the ground or on the concrete floor.) She was able to buy 10 large and 20 small nylon mats for 600,000 shillings (around $300). She will give mats to the families we visited in the slums, too. She was also able to get homemade brooms for Denise and I. After picking those up we said goodbye to Tororo and headed back to Kampala. George was back as our driver today.

As we traveled back toward Kampala we saw a number of baboons along the highway. We also saw many varieties of large birds –cranes, herons, and tuxedo birds included.

With 1,250,000 shillings ($625) of my donated funds still available, we stopped to buy bales of clothing for the children of Smile Africa. We felt that it was much better to spend the shillings here, rather than to lose money by exchanging it. We found a large warehouse of clothing where we purchased three 100 lb. bales of the highest quality clothing: one of shirts, one of shorts, and one of skirts and dresses. Pastor Ruth could not conceal her joy when the decision was made! “Yes!” she exclaimed, “This is a golden opportunity!” Each bale contains around 300 articles of clothing in various sizes, so all of the remaining children will receive new clothes. How wonderful!

We continued on to Entebbe to Saphan and Alex’s house (we met this couple on Day 1), where we were treated to bottled water and gifts thoughtfully selected for each of us. Mine was a beautiful maraca. We also gave them the gifts we had prepared for them.

Next, Saphan and Alex took us to Early Learning Center where their children attend school. We met the kids and Agnes, the head teacher, who founded the school sixteen years ago. The school is high on a hill in Entebbe, overlooking Lake Victoria –quite a beautiful sight!

From there, Agnes took us to her home for a bounteous lunch that had been prepared for us, including delicious baked tilapia from the lake, rice, beans, matoke, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, cucumber salad, potatoes, brown nut sauce, mango juice, and fresh pineapple and papaya. It was our grand finale of African meals! Agnes’ husband is a doctor, so they live in a large home on a beautiful property with spreading trees and beautiful flowers. Agnes had asked to serve us because she was so touched by the things we have done for Saphan and Alex and the Smile Africa kids. She has a beautiful godly spirit about her. She and Pastor Ruth hit it off right away as well.

From Agnes’ house we continued on to the airport, and Pastor Ruth said her goodbyes. She and George needed to make it back to Tororo before dark. Saphan and Alex stayed with us until we had to go to our gate. It was a long while after that before we boarded, and we were all very tired as we began our trip home. We had been up since around 5 a.m. and going strong all day long.

Once on the plane, I visited with Robert, my Ugandan seat mate, ate a few bites of dinner, and then fell asleep for several hours, dreaming of smiling, once-ragged children in beautiful new clothes.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Day 9: Praising the Lord at Mile Eight

Day 9: Praising the Lord at Mile Eight
28 June, 2009

Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. (Psalm 150:1-6)

We drove to a village outside of Tororo to attend church today -Mile Eight village, to be exact. Pastor Ruth was instrumental in starting the church. It is housed in a small building that was completely packed with over 100 joyful, praising people. Their praise was genuine and amazing, and the words of Psalm 150 tumbled around in my head throughout the morning.

After a warm greeting, complete with hugs and handshakes, we were paraded up the center aisle to our seats facing the congregation (a now familiar scenario for us). They continued worshiping God with their voices, drums, and other rhythm instruments, including something that reminded me of a clanging cymbal. Several groups of children then sang for us. One song was from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ.” The teens sang, too, a medley of songs, including one about the name of Jesus, which is a name above all names. The teens were so enthusiastic and full of life –what a blessing to hear them!

Pastor Stephen introduced several individuals in the church to us, including the music leader, a young lady who is crippled. She is a converted Muslim, who is cared for by the congregation, and serves them through her music ministry and work with the children. He spoke about how God had worked in their community and in the life of their congregation, and about how they had grown to the point that their numbers exceed their building space. Pastor Stephen is well-spoken and seems well-grounded spiritually. Pastor Ruth was asked to share, and she had a moving message as well, and was visibly moved as she observed what the Lord has done and is continuing to do among these people. The Spirit of the Lord was evident in this place!

About this time, we were served cold bottles of water –again, a humbling and somewhat uncomfortable experience, as it was quite warm in the church, and everyone must have been thirsty, but we were the only ones given water to drink. Next, each of us was asked to share, through an interpreter, what was on our hearts. I shared how God had laid Psalm 36 on my heart for this trip (see Day 1), and how I have personally experienced God’s faithfulness, mercy, and righteousness throughout the many experiences and circumstances encountered on this trip. God’s character never changes, so we can never go wrong focusing on it.

An offering was taken, and we watched in awe and utter humility as many gifts were laid on and around the small offering table: a mango, a bag of onions, a bag of tomatoes, along with other produce, some handmade items, and some monetary gifts as well.

The church was cleared after this, and we went out to shake hands and greet people, after which we were led back inside the church to eat a lunch of potatoes, matoke (green bananas), chicken, beef, and sweet bananas, all of which Rosalyn, the pastor’s wife, had prepared. Rosalyn is a jewel. She and Stephen have four children of their own, and they are also caring for seven Karamajong boys that Pastor Ruth brought to them from Tororo. These boys had begun sniffing glue, so Pastor Ruth wanted to replace the negative influences in their lives with some positive ones. Denise presented Pastor Stephen with around $100 for the church and also discussed the possibility of sponsorship for children in the church’s nursery school.

It rained hard and stormed on our way back to Tororo. We were especially impressed by the lightning displays. (later, we read in one of the newspapers that Tororo receives the most lightning strikes of any place in the world!) The temperature dropped considerably, and the lightning shut down the hotel’s electricity.

We spent the afternoon packing in the semi-dark. When we realized we had several odds and ends left over, I went downstairs to inquire how many employees work at the hotel. They told us it was between 25 and 30, so we put together 32 baggies filled with a toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, a writing pen, a Gospel of John book, and several pieces of candy. These we left at the front desk with a note that said, “God’s blessings to you, from friends of Smile Africa.” We also filled larger bags with gifts we had set aside for Pastor Ruth, Grace, and Saphon and Alex (who will meet us once again tomorrow in Entebbe)

In the restaurant that evening, one of the waitresses came to our table and just stood there, beaming. Finally, she said, “Thank you so very much! We are all very happy tonight.” Other employees also stopped us and thanked us for our gifts to them. It is hard to imagine such gratitude for the seemingly mundane items they received from us. Can you imagine the disdain with which hotel employees in the U.S. would regard such a gift? The Ugandans were genuinely pleased, however.

The electricity was restored during dinner; we remained seated for quite some time, enjoying the brisk breeze cavorting with the sheer curtains that hung over the dining room windows. As we visited, we reminisced about God’s goodness and faithfulness to us throughout the week. Our last night in Tororo was cool, relaxing and pleasant. As Jan tallied our expenses for the week we learned that the entire week’s meals for all four of us in the hotel dining room amounted to around $50.00!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Day 8: Women's Conference, Uganda Style

Day 8: Women's Conference, Uganda Style

27 June, 2009

Today was our Women’s Conference. Although it began at 10:30, Pastor Ruth said that the women began arriving at 7:30. The hall was completely full, and more chairs were added throughout the day. Around 220 attended in all, and all of these were by Pastor Ruth’s invitation, who pointed out that we could not have accommodated the number that would have come, had the invitation been open.

Jan is still not feeling well. She sweats profusely and also chills, which is making us wonder if she has malaria. We have all offered medications to her, and keep praying with her and for her of course. She was determined to attend the conference, regardless, and made it through the first half of the day before returning to the hotel to rest.

We were greeted warmly, with loud singing, clapping, and the unique trilling sound that we have found to be the classic African expression of joy. We were able to join the women in singing, “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” and “This is the Day.” One song that was sung in Swahili was about never going back to Egypt, but continuing on to the Promised Land. For the chorus of this song, the women put their Bibles and purses on their heads and walked around, symbolizing the traveling Israelites.

Robinah and the wife of the President of Tororo District each spoke. Then Denise, Jeanice, Jan, and I took our turns speaking, with a translator interpreting. Denise shared a little about the planning of our trip and offered many words of encouragement from the book of John. I sang “Knees to the Earth” and shared my testimony of dealing with fear and how it drew me into relationship and dependence on God. Jeanice spoke about the widow’s mite, and Jan spoke about God’s word as a seed that is planted in our hearts, and the need to nurture it so it will grow. She ended with an invitation to accept Christ. Four women responded by coming forward to pray with us, however several more responded by raised hands. How thrilling to see these women begin their new journey with Jesus Christ today, and even more thrilling to be a part of it –to pray with them and see the radiance on their faces!

We made a trip back to the hotel at lunch time, where Jan remained. When we returned for the afternoon session, the ladies were eating their meal of rice, beans, cabbage, and beef when with their hands, which is customary in Uganda.

Three women shared their testimonies during the afternoon session. They were touching stories of God’s deliverance and provision. They also had high praise for Pastor Ruth’s ministry to them. Pastor Ruth became quite emotional as they shared their stories. She is personally involved in the lives of many of these women, and has done much to empower them through assistance, skills training, and bringing them to faith in Jesus Christ.

We ended the day with our gifts to the women. Each had already received the Book of John. We also gave each of them a heavy-duty garden hoe, some bean and corn seeds, a toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, and some candy. They came through in a line to accept their gifts, and were so excited and thankful!

All of the women were dressed beautifully, many in colorful traditional African garments. One woman, however, stood out as being quite ragged and dirty in her appearance. When she approached me, accepting the gifts I handed her, she began to sing –her gesture of gratitude. It brought tears to my eyes, for I felt that I had just been a recipient, on our Lord’s behalf, of the widow’s mite.

Jan was beginning to feel better after having rested this afternoon. We marveled over the day’s blessings during dinner, and were engrossed in conversation, when Allison, with the other organization, approached us and asked if we would like to “go shopping” at their table. I went with her, and was surprised to find a woman selling necklaces like the ones we had purchased at the Smile Africa store. I was even more surprised and delighted when she said, “You came to Smile Africa! You were at the conference today! I am Jacinda!” Then she whispered to me that she would give us a special price on any necklaces we bought because of our ministry to Smile Africa; so, of course, we bought some more!

This evening we decided to bless one of the families we met in the slums yesterday –the man in the overcoat, who didn’t have pants. We packed a suitcase for his family with some food, clothing, a flashlight, a soccer ball, and a little extra money. Tomorrow we will arrange for its delivery through Pastor Ruth.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Day 7: Life In The Slums

I apologize for taking such a long time to continue with my posts. I spent this past week in Dallas with our church youth group, working in various ministries around the city. It was a great trip, and I was so happy to see our youth serving the Lord with servant's hearts. My computer also developed some serious problems last week. I am now at my son's home -the son with the new baby, Selah, and I am using his computer. Selah may be somewhat of a distraction for posting this week :). I will do my best to continue, however!

Day 7: Life in the Slums

26 June, 2009

Our first revelation this morning was that the toilet wouldn’t flush, and there was no running water. I “bathed” with wet wipes. A container of water was later brought to our room, just as we were leaving for the day.

Our first stop today was at Smile Africa. The kids cheered when they saw the van drive in. They missed us yesterday! I brought a parachute to leave with them, so we got it out to demonstrate it this morning, asking some of the older children and teachers to take the handles around the perimeter. When the younger children saw it unfurl, they ran toward it shouting, “Umbrella!” and crawled underneath. I demonstrated how to move it up, down, and center, how to wave it, roll a ball on it, and finally, how to bounce a ball on it. They loved bouncing the soccer ball, and soon several little homemade balls, retrieved from pockets, were tossed onto the parachute as well. It was great fun. I’m sure the parachute will get lots of good use.

During their morning opening time I sang “King of the Jungle” with the children once again. We then gave each of the teachers a package of several items (toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, cocoa mix, lotion, soap, antibacterial gel, etc), plus 30,000 shillings (or about $15.00). They were overjoyed! I also gave the pinwheel craft I’d prepared to Joyce, and showed her how to put it together. She was so happy to have a craft all prepared to use at a future time. Finally, I gave her several Bible story big books. Again, she was almost giddy!

Denise had asked Pastor Ruth if we could see where the children go when they leave Smile Africa –where they sleep at night. So today, with special permission from the government, we went to visit the slums.

I used more of my donation money to buy three large bags of grain (rice, beans, and posho or corn) and a case of soap. The soap came in bars approximately sixteen inches long. The grains were portioned out into smaller bags and we took these with us to the slums, along with toothbrushes, toothpaste, and dental floss. As our van drove through the narrow streets, children appeared from everywhere shouting, “mazungus!” which means “white people!” We had little packs of children following us everywhere we went. In one case we heard rustling as we passed some trees, and then up popped a few children out of the branches.

The first home we visited was a round mud hut with a grass roof –very small, with only a mat on the dirt floor and a small cooking area. A man and his two sons were there. The man wore an overcoat, despite the heat, most likely because he did not have pants. His wife was away. He asked for us to pray for his home and his family, which we did. It was a humbling and heartbreaking experience. Next to his home was a church with only partial walls and no roof. Pastor Ruth says that is a believing church with a fine pastor.

The next home belonged to a Smile Africa student and her mother. It was actually a narrow room with only a door (no windows), a mat, and a cooking space, with a few items stuck in the wall for storage.

Next, we visited the home of a woman whose baby had recently died. She had a toddler with her, but she seemed either very nervous, or ill. She was shaking and sweating as she shook our hands. We prayed for her, and for her home as well, and she seemed more at ease by the time we left.

In each slum area we gave toothbrushes to the children who gathered around, and toothpaste and dental floss to the adults, with instructions not to eat the toothpaste. We were told that it would be tempting, since it tastes so good and they are hungry. Children, especially, would most likely eat it despite our warning. I also demonstrated how to use the dental floss, because it wasn’t something they were familiar with. In fact, they found the concept rather humorous!

Paul, a Smile Africa employee, was traveling with us and asked if we would like to see his house which was nearby. Repeatedly he told us what a nice house it was. We walked through a maze of doorways and clothes on clotheslines, before reaching his house where his wife and two children greeted us. Their home was a slightly larger room than the others we had seen that day, but still contained only a sleeping area and a cooking area. Paul beamed as he said, “My house is a very nice house, but I wish I had a table.”

Animals roam or are tied up throughout the slums, and many small garden plots fill the spaces between buildings. Dozens of homemade brooms dry on the roofs of some homes, and women are busy everywhere: cooking, washing clothes, sorting tiny fish, cleaning, and hauling water. The population is dense, and we observed many small businesses such as hotels, pubs, barber shops, and medical clinics. We left the slums with heavy hearts and a better understanding of how many Ugandans live their lives.

Our next stop was at another building that belongs to Smile Africa that houses many of the widows Pastor Ruth ministers to (including her own mother), a nursery school, and a small store where the women sell their handcrafted items. We did our souvenir shopping here, greatly blessing these women by our purchases. Their offerings include baskets, banana fiber balls, shirts and dresses, hand-made bead necklaces and bracelets, African dolls, tingos, and slippers. Pastor Ruth had sent one of the women to Kenya to buy flags for me as well, a special request from my grandson, Noah, who loves flags. When I had told Noah that I would bring him a Ugandan flag he had replied, “I think I want one from Kenya, too.” He will be getting three flags: Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.

We retuned to the main Smile Africa campus just in time to hand out some bracelets, toothbrushes, and candy to the kids. Sadly, this will be our last day with them. Knowing that, it was hard to watch them go, and hear many ask wistfully, “You be back tomorrow?” Even in the short time we’ve spent with them, these children have found a special place in each of our hearts. We will not, can not forget them!

Next, Pastor Ruth took us to visit her church and to meet several church leaders and the bishop, whose lovely wife, Robinah, we had met at the vision celebration. The church is quite large, but has only a canvas canopy for a roof. Eventually it will have a large balcony area surrounding the ground floor. We were asked to pray with these church leaders for their church, their ministry, and the city of Tororo.

When we returned to the hotel we were pleased to find that the water was working again, although it was initially very thick, dirty water that came from the spouts.

We were all hungry, so we ate at the restaurant, and I discovered the “egg and mayonnaise salad,” which was cole slaw with sliced tomatoes and three hard boiled eggs cut in half with mayonnaise on top. It tasted really good. The french fries and boiled potatoes are very good, too.

As we got up to leave the restaurant, Mary, an American woman, approached us. She runs the humanitarian organization the Yale students are working with, and we had spoken with all of them this morning before leaving for the day. Mary said, “I just wanted to tell you that we had a very good day today –so many things went well for us, both big things and small things. As we were discussing our day Allison said, ‘I think it’s because we talked to those Praise God ladies before we left this morning!’. We wanted you to know that your presence here made a difference in our whole day and in the lives of many people we are trying to help.”

Our reply was, of course, “Praise God!”