Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Fabulous Fourth Without Fireworks

4 July, 2011

It is hard to imagine all the celebration that must be going on at home in observance of the 4th, for here it is an ordinary Monday. The electricity was still off this morning. We met for breakfast at 8:00, got things sorted out to send to Mbale with Kermit and Bryan, and prepared for the Women’s conference.

Although we were supposed to be at the conference at 9 we didn’t even leave until around 10. This is Africa, after all. Before we left Mary and Allwyn arrived from Wales, along with two friends traveling with them. It was so good to see them! Kermit and Bryan are traveling with them to the school while the rest of us remain here in Entebbe.

Despite last night’s experience, the roads were passable today, in part because we took a different route. The men’s and women’s conferences were to be held at the Botanical Gardens. What a beautiful setting! As we drove in we saw and heard monkeys swinging from the trees, and the drivers stopped to let us get out and take pictures –no worries that we were already two hours late for the conference!
When we finally got to the conference site it was in a breathtaking setting with natural beauty all around, exotic birds and butterflies flying about, monkeys swinging from the trees, and Lake Victoria visible below us.

The men and women were separated by a road and a grassy expanse. Many chairs were set up, but only 12 women and a handful of men were there -apparently our being late didn't matter a whole lot. Nevertheless, we got set up and began introducing ourselves.

We soon began the program, but women kept arriving from every direction and many modes of transportation -mostly on foot. Jan spoke first, then Denise, Wendy, and myself. I had prepared well, but had a hard time concentrating because many were still arriving and so much shuffling was going on as I spoke. Our theme was "The Virtuous Woman" of Proverbs 31. I spoke on “The Virtuous Businesswomen” and I must admit that I didn’t feel real good about how my talk went, although several told me that they took notes and learned a lot from it. If so, it was all God! Denise shared her very emotional testimony, Jan shared some of her earlier personal struggles, and Emily shared how she had accepted Christ in Uganda last year and couldn’t wait to return to share her testimony here. The women, now about 50 of them, began warming up to us. We sang together and they shared testimonies and some of them addressed us, too. Wendy, Andrea, Christy, and Cassandra from our team each spoke as well, and others read Scripture passages.

This lovely young woman was our interpreter the entire day, and she did an amazing job!

Soon after noon the numbers had swelled to nearly 100 in each group.

Lunch brought the men’s and women’s groups together, but it was delayed by nearly two hours, and some had to leave soon afterward in order to make it home before dusk began to fall. The men remained with us, and Scott finished up our time by preaching. We also sang together and had a meaningful prayer time. We handed out gifts at the end of the day and each attendee received a New Testament.

After the conference we had a little time to walk around the gardens. We saw a huge “wall” of spider webs with very large spiders in them. We also sat and talked for a while, admiring the beauty surrounding us until someone came to pick up the chairs.

The day was cool and beautiful. What a blessing to enjoy God’s creation and share time with His people in such an amazing setting!

My ankles have been swollen from the long flight, and another young woman on the trip has very swollen ankles with broken blood vessels beneath the skin. We asked the kitchen for a head of cabbage and I fashioned wraps out of Ziploc bags. I went to sleep with my spa treatment in place and slept well.

Friday, July 29, 2011

As High as the Heavens are Above the Earth...up, up and away to Uganda

I am just getting my first blog post up following our trip to Africa. As you can see this was written during the trip, beginning July 1st -nearly a month ago! We were constantly on the go while in Uganda until the last week when malaria struck, but you will hear more about that later. We returned home around midnight last Sunday, and I'm finally feeling recovered enough from everything so that I can begin posting. I hope you enjoy reliving the journey with me.

1-2 July, 2011

We met at the church at 11:00 am and began weighing bags and shuffling loads. We finished by 12:00 with only 6 extra suitcases. I say “only” because of the amount of donated items given to us this year. Most of these items were hand-made (600 school bags and 400 pillowcase dresses). The effort and love put into these made them too precious to leave behind. Besides, money was donated to cover much of the extra baggage cost.

We all joined hands with our friends and family members present as Aaron prayed. We decided to have a girls’ car (ours) and a guys’ van (Bryan’s), so I drove the car. We planned ahead to stop in the Quad Cities for lunch, and when the girls spotted a Chik-Fil-A sign we called the guys to say we wanted to stop. After pulling off the interstate, the guys asked me to pull ahead, and I did, but it felt as though I was on ice –something on the car slipped. When we turned a corner it happened again. Then we stopped at a red light, and when I tried to go forward I only rolled backwards. The transmission had failed. John got out and got in the driver’s seat. I stood in the middle of the busy street until Bryan decided to try to push the car around the corner. Then I jumped in the back seat of the car. We made it around the corner and down a couple of blocks to a storage business. After pulling in we noticed a trail of transmission fluid, and the car was smoking. We quickly unloaded our things and put them in the van.

Bryan was aware that Stacia (Jelmelland)Stroud lived nearby, so he called her and she drove over to get the key from us, promising to arrange for the car to be repaired. Her husband just “happens” to be a mechanic –probably not the one to fix the car, but with connections. Since the temperature was in the upper 90’s Stacia brought a cooler full of freezer pops for us! All in all, it was a perfect place and time to lose a transmission! We were all able to fit into Bryan's van, along with all our stuff, and after a delicious Chik-Fil-A meal, we continued on our way.

We arrived in Robbins, Illinois –the village where Aaron Green grew up, and where most of his family lives- around 5:30. We were warmly greeted by Pastor Williams, Aaron’s mom, Dora, his sisters, Margo and Zella, and several of their children and grandchildren. They had a nice meal prepared –chicken wings, fried perch, French fries, peach cobbler, and birthday cake, since it was Dora’s birthday.

After eating our fill and visiting for a while we filled our air mattress and claimed a piece of floor where we spent part of the night. We had to get up at 2:00 am to have Aaron’s brother, Harold, drive us to O’Hare. We were first in the international line at 3:45. Still, by the time we got checked through and accounted and paid for all the luggage, we had little time to spare before boarding our plane for Washington DC Dulles airport at 5:40.

Besides going fast, the O’hare to Dulles flight was unremarkable. Upon arriving at Dulles we took a fun ride on the train to another terminal and walked quite a distance to meet our group -a total of 21 from all over the U.S. Our group of seven was the last to arrive.

It was great to see Jan, Denise, Sylvia, and Scott, and to meet the others. It was also a treat to eat at Chipotle (we are all about good food!)

Despite concerns over our carry-on weight (the limit is 15 lbs. of all carry-on items combined!), none were actually weighed. They only gave it a glance and waved us all through.

The plane –a B777 was a very nice plane, and the flight attendants were extremely pleasant and accommodating. They allowed much movement about the cabins. The first meal was served around 2:00 pm and wasn't bad, for airline food. It got worse from there. Movies, games, and other entertainment is all provided on individual monitors, and we were supplied with a blanket, pillow, sleep mask, socks, toothbrush, and toothpaste.

The man seated in front of us was traveling with his two young sons, ages 3 and 7. The three year old was pretty agitated and giving his dad a hard time, but I observed the dad’s patience and complemented him. I sat by a very nice young man named Caleb who is originally from Addis Ababa, but lives in Richmond, Virginia. His wife and children (ages 5 and 1) have been visiting family in Addis Ababa for 6 weeks and he was very excited to see them.

I re-read Psalm 103 today -the chapter God gave me for this year's trip. Verse 11 really struck me as we flew so high above the clouds: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

Today I am experiencing a tiny glimpse of just how high the heavens are above the earth and how far the east is from the west. David, the psalmist, could never have guessed that men would someday have the opportunity to fly halfway round the world at such heights in one day. And yet the God who inspired him to write the Psalm knew. God’s Word is always fresh, always new, always in step with our lives, for He is without limits of time and space. I am thankful today for the gifts of flight and technology that allow me to peer beyond what generations before have known.

3 July, 2011

We arrived at Addis Ababa –an emotional arrival as it struck me where I was and I thought about it being Bruck’s home (Bruck is a close family friend who now lives in the US).

The part of the airport to which we were confined was not very modern or pleasant. We had to wait in the gate area which was so crowded that all the seats and floor space were filled and many were standing. What a relief to finally leave that place after three hours!

We arrived in Entebbe just two hours after taking off and went through immigration fairly fast. Several cartloads of baggage were claimed and we were met by Saphan and Alex –such a welcome sight! One bag belonging to Aaron was missing, however, and it took nearly two hours to make a claim. Meanwhile, the rest of the bags were loaded onto a large open truck bed. Of course these had to be watched very carefully. It was overcast and a bit muggy, but pleasant as we waited in the parking lot.

We were all very tired and looking forward to getting to the hotel. Two vans were finally filled with all the passengers, and the truck full of luggage positioned between the two. We were on our way. It wasn’t to be easy travel to the hotel, though. The roads were wet and muddy.

Travel was slow, with vehicles often getting stuck. It was quite a sight, with bodas sinking past their rims, cars sliding within a hair’s breadth of the van, etc. On several occasions people got out of the vans just to watch the excitement.

When we finally arrived at Lubowa Gardens it was nearly 6 p.m. and getting dark. There was no electricity, so we had to quickly locate our flashlights and try to get organized in the dark. Even the cold shower felt so good! Electricity, mostly produced by generaor, came and went throughout the rest of the evening, but we managed fine.

Dinner was at 8, along with some formalities and instructions. After we finished we had to get many things organized for the following day, so I finally got to bed around 11. It felt SO good to sleep, as it was Sunday, and I hadn’t had a real night’s sleep since Thursday!