In the Silence

In the silence, images float across my mind…

Images of orphans running in the night.

Fleeing for their lives.

Dancing in freedom, that isn’t really freedom, but feels like it.

Their smiles glow, even with pain behind their eyes.

They are beautiful.

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Images of teachers and pastors moving forward.

Knowing the hard truth.

Getting up each day anyway.

Speaking hope, teaching love, praying something takes root.

Their weary souls knowing they are not abandoned, even though it feels like it.

They are faithful.

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Images of women standing strong.

Working for their families.

Despite pain, despite hardship, despite poverty.

Sharing their talents to feed their children, and grandchildren.

Smiling in their contentment.

Teaching others what it looks like.

They are wise.

Images of laborers in the dump working hard.

Digging trash.

Sweltering in the heat, wading into garbage, earning pennies.

Humbling those of us who could never understand.

Grateful for their food.

Happy they are not begging.

They are rich.

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Images of God’s heart.

Crying tears.

Pouring out love, and blood for them all.

Hoping for understanding and getting accusations instead.

Knowing we don’t get it.  Yet.

Longing for peace and family and unity to come quickly.

Depending on us to bring it.

He is patient.                                      In the silence.

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I saw God at the Dump

 

I have heard Isaiah 61 preached. I have seen it proclaimed from the stage in drama.  I have sung it, but I have never heard it like I did at the dump in Nicaragua.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me…

because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
   and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

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 Plastic bags of all colors created a patchwork on the parched brown earth, as our bus bumped down the road.  The ditches on both sides were full of the discarded plastic, and the bags waved like flags on the trees and shrubs.  The closer we got the more of them covered the ground.  The closer we got, the worse the smell.  The closer we got, the hotter it became. Our destination was the dump.  Our mission was to feed the dump workers lunch. The pastor and his wife we were working with, prepare food like this several times a week, every week.  They serve out of the back of a pickup truck to the dump workers who are forgotten by most people.

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Coming around a curve in the road, we saw the smoke first. They were burning a mountain of garbage.  When our bus arrived, people began their descent from Trash Mountain.  Dressed in long pants, long sleeve shirts, hoods and some with cloths over their faces, they gathered around. The smoke and heat were suffocating to those of us who were uninitiated.  Running back to the bus wasn’t an option for us, as much as we would have liked to do it.  Instead, we gathered around for the devotion which happens before the meal.

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One of the moms in our group read Isaiah 61 with the help of an interpreter.  As many times as I have heard, quoted, or sung that chapter, I have never heard it like I did that day.  It was as if heaven came down and touched the Earth.  Suddenly, the dump was the Holy of Holies where God dwells.  It was as if the words carried the living Christ with them.  His heart so beautifully expressed, as he did in the temple as a child, and still does even now.  The words hit my heart, which was beating like a sledge hammer.  Bind up the brokenhearted…who were standing right in front of us.  Proclaim freedom for the captives…who were waiting in line for nourishment.  A crown of beauty instead of ashes…to those who were covered in ash.  The oil of joy instead of mourning…for those who walk in heaviness. A garment of praise…to those cloaked in despair.

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Suddenly, I was humbled to stand in the presence of such precious people. Suddenly, I knew the high value which they had in God’s eyes.  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  A hushed reverence flooded my soul. These are the ones he was speaking of.  When you look into their faces you see his.  To serve them lunch was an honor.  To pray with them afterwards was an act of service.  As I prayed for a woman who longs for unity in her family, tears flowed…hers and mine. I asked if I could hug her, and though she seemed surprised at the request, she agreed. I whispered blessings in her ear and we held on to each other tightly for some time. I released her to go back to the heap, and I headed back to the bus which would carry me away from this place.

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My heart was breaking into a thousand pieces, as we were leaving behind a granddaughter, a daughter, and a grandmother…generations of poverty, digging through the trash. Workers who make $20 a month to find plastic and metal…a needle in a haystack…of garbage.  No gloves, no masks, no protective gear.  A blind man gathering soles of shoes to sell the rubber. A girl in her teens, in shorts pulling nasty stuff off of what turned out not to be plastic.  A little girl of four, doing her part to dig for her family.  Men with bags on their backs with which to collect their finds.  A boy, excited to find what appeared to be a radio, in hopes that with some work, it might turn on.  All of them thanking us for coming, for not forgetting them.  All of us, thanking them for opening our eyes.  I saw God at the dump, and he didn’t look like me.

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The Beauty of Nicaragua

A Parent Vision Trip (PVT) is when parents of World Racers go to the field for a week to be with their kids in another country.  They get to do ministry with their sons and daughters.  It is a life changing trip.  I am fortunate enough with my job, to go along on these trips as a facilitator and see the amazing places around the world where God is working.

This week I am in Nicaragua…

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The hibiscus open their faces to the sun. Morning glories, sprawl across the ground calling me to a path leading to time with God, just after dawn. Rows of plantain trees quiver in the breeze, their frons flapping, making a distinctly different sound than the trees at home.  The birds also sing different songs than my neighbors in the States. In the distance, the volcano Mombacho towers over the landscape. My eyes to lift to the peak in order to determine if it is smoke I see, or clouds playing tricks. There is not a rain cloud in sight, as it is the dry season.  The ground is parched, and the wind blows up dust which creates puffs wafting across the fields. As the day wears on, the sun will broil the grass and any exposed flesh, with its direct rays in close proximity to the earth.  In the glorious shade, the wonderful breeze dries sweat…as long as it is blowing.  The secret of this land is to walk in the cool of the morning, with circulating air kissing my face. It welcomes me to the beauty of this country.

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Her people are as welcoming as the breeze. Our translator and guide work with this community regularly enough that they no longer have to go ask to pray for people, because the people come to them.  They invite us into their homes, which have dirt floors, and are held together with very little.  Animals roam free, and the dirt streets have rivulets of sewage and laundry water swirling through them.  As we walk, we are invited in to pray over the inhabitants. A woman in a wheelchair needs prayer for her daughter.  Her five-month-old granddaughter lies in a nearby hammock, curious at our white faces.  We stop in the streets all along the way to pray for those we meet.  We pray for a man whose wife and son both recently had appendectomies, and he is caring for his other children while they recover.  Another man approaches our translator, in tears, saying he does not feel well.  We pray for healing of his body and his downcast spirit, and then we receive the gift of a smile in return.

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We continue down the streets and we intersect with people all along the way.  One woman, a cancer survivor like me, is about to go for her one year check-up.  I pray that the fear of reoccurrence does not flood her mind, because I know that fear all too well.  I pray for continued celebration of health and that her testimony would shine the light of God to those around her. She admits we are the first she has told of her miracle.  We swap treatment stories, and I share what an inspiration she can be to others around her.  I pray for her to pass the one year, five year, and ten year marks.  We share a hug that transcends language barriers. Our team takes turns praying, as it seems that God is directing us to homes where we have commonalities.

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In maybe the most beautiful moment of the day, we pray over a woman’s feet.  A mother of twelve children, and grandmother of at least five that we could see, she welcomes us into her home. Her cough is noticeable, and we pray for her lungs, but her request is for the pain in her feet. She makes tortillas for a living and she stands all day. As she points to where her pain is, three moms in our group recognize the description as plantar fasciitis. We have all had it. We sit her in a chair and we gather around her feet.  We remove her shoes, and begin to pray.  As we pray, we rub her feet and stretch them. We speak healing and cry tears of compassion.  One mom kneels down and kisses the woman’s feet. No translation is needed.  It is a God moment.  Moving.  Tender.  Hugs all around.  Her feet are feeling better, from the prayer or from the massage we cannot tell, but the smile shows us she is sincere in her assessment of her pain.  She offers to make us tortillas, and we agree to purchase from her tomorrow.

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The Nicaraguan people invite us into their hearts as well as their homes. One elderly woman in a wheelchair invites us in.  She is used to having prayer teams come to her home.  She offers us chairs, and we ask how we can pray for her, she says, “I do not know of anything to pray for.  God has given me so many blessings.”  We all stand, pretty stunned, in this dirt floor home, with holes in the walls, and chickens running around the floors, as this woman, bound to a wheelchair, shows us what contentment looks like and shines a spotlight on our own lack of understanding. It is a gut moment, when we realize we are not here for these people, they are here for us.

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International Women’s Day

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Photo Credit Haley Huckabee

I awoke to a ding on my phone from a friend in Uganda wishing me a happy International Women’s Day.  I thanked him for his well wishes, and promptly went to look up what International Women’s Day is. I found it originally began in New York, but after Russian women got the right to vote on March 8, 1917, March 8th became the day to celebrate women around the world. It is a day for women’s issues to be championed and the spotlight to be shined on progress made.  I found out it is not only a national holiday in many countries other than Uganda, but it has also been celebrated since 1909.  What?  How have I missed this? Probably because it was started by a socialist movement and further celebrated by communists, and now is going forward with feminist backing. These are not the groups conservative women typically link arms with, which I think is unfortunate in this instance, because there is a global issue and we are burying our heads in the sand.  We object to the methods of protest, or the forceful nature of the groups, or the perception that somehow taking care of the home and children is frowned upon, or the agenda that women want to be like men.

There are a whole host of reasons we, as conservative women, are unaware of this movement. However, when you see women who strap their babies to their backs so they can go to work because there is no childcare, or when you become aware that school girls cannot go to school while they are having their periods because there are no feminine products available to them, something shifts inside of you.  Women’s issues are no longer about some bold and vocal women who seemingly want to attack all conservative viewpoints.  You recognize those same voices are loud, because so many women are silenced by their shackles.  They sit, on cardboard each month in their homes while they bleed because they have no other option.  They are ashamed of the very thing that makes them women and gives the ability to create life.  The children they bear become a liability when it comes to getting out of poverty.  Womanhood and motherhood should be celebrated, not a source of shame, and that is something ALL women can get behind.

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I don’t think women want to take the place of men.  I don’t think they want to become higher up, or somehow over men.  They simply want their voices to be heard. They want to be respected, as women. They don’t want their ideas and viewpoints to be dismissed, just because they are female.  They don’t want their gender to be a liability.  In other countries, their futures are set for them, because of their gender.  They miss so much school they fall behind, so far they cannot catch up.  Without an education, they repeat the cycle of young marriages, young motherhood, and young poverty.

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Here it is different.  Women have an abundance of options.  We can have careers, or children or both.  We can vote and have a say.  Yet, underneath all those options, is a mindset that we should not want more.  We should be happy with what we have and not press to go further, as if ambition is only the right of males.  As if our ideas are somehow flawed, because we do not think in the same way men do. Trust me, we do not want to think like men do!  We have a uniquely feminine viewpoint, which is absent from many male-dominated fields. They are missing out on some pretty spectacular ideas, and they don’t even know it.

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What we bring with us is more than just people who can get it done. (And we can get it done, because we are superb multitaskers!)  However, we are also visionaries, strategists, creatives, innovators, analysts, collaborators, and worker bees.  We can do it all, if given the chance.  The thing is, God made us that way.  We are made in his image.  Uniquely formed, just like men, with specific gifts and talents to be used. To be pigeon-holed is to be limited and not fully who God made us to be.  There is more for us.

Jesus knew that, and he set women free.  The woman at the well, the adulterous woman, Mary and Martha, and a whole list of others, each felt his acceptance of who they were.  As they were.  He didn’t demand from them, he allowed them to be who they were and he called them up in truth and in love to be more fully themselves. Once again, he was a rebel of his day.  He is our example of how women should be treated, accepted, respected, and included. Rather than seen as property, or less than, he elevated women and called them into their purposes.  Purposes beyond childrearing, he called them to walk alongside him, to spill their tears for him, and to anoint him. He knew their hearts were tender because of motherhood.  He knew they had wisdom because they were women.  He honored their roles, and he raised them up. They were the first to see him alive after his death, because he knew they would understand resurrection from a dead place. They had lived it, when he called them forth.  He was a feminist, and I think he would celebrate International Women’s Day, because he wants all women to be free, and I can celebrate that too.

My Comfort Zone

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I have been back from Uganda for 2 weeks. Back in my comfort zone. I have hot and cold running water just a few steps away at any given moment.  My electricity works all the time.  I have 3 types of ovens and a stovetop, as well as a refrigerator, which is full of food and spits out luxurious ice at the push of a button. I have a car that can take me anywhere I want to go, at any time I want to go there. These are the things I assume will always be there for me, the things I take for granted.

I do not have to walk several miles each day, with a jug on my head, to get water for my family.  I do not have to gather firewood to cook my food. I do not have to wait a month for my food ration to arrive, or figure out a way to make it last so that my kids can eat every day.  I do not live in a tent made from a tarp, or a hut made from the mud I made myself.

These differing experiences make me ponder and feel. They move me, and cause me to recognize I could have easily been born in a different place and had a completely different reality.  I could have lived in a country where war knocks on your front door, while you are running out the back.  Honestly, I am not sure I would survive it, because I am soft. I am not accustomed to the back breaking work it takes, just to make sure my family lives another day. It is beyond my comprehension how strong the South Sudanese people are.  If it were me, I would crumble up in the heat and die.

These kinds of trips are perspective changing ones.  I knew this would happen, and that my eyes would, once again, be opened to the disparity of the world in which I live.  I have heard it said, “We have poor kids here.  Why not feed them?”  I would agree with that statement. I have 20 years-worth of experience meeting the needs of poor kids in my own community, educationally and otherwise.  The schools here feed them breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack.  They also send home backpacks full of food every weekend. There are food banks, and soup kitchens in our town. The schools have clothes closets.  All of the community programs are specifically designed to care for these kids and their families. All of them are important to the well-being of children.

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In the refugee camp I visited, there are not the same types of programs. There are monthly rations, and that’s about it.  Fending for yourself is the norm.  Some kids can do that, and others cannot.  Being that 85% of the people in the camps are women and children, it is difficult to make do.  It requires the entire family just to survive.  The little kids, pick up firewood.  The bigger ones walk for water.  They plant and try to make the dry dirt produce something edible. It is a life of survival which produces a survival mentality.  Thinking past today is a rarity.  Going to school, if you have one near enough, is a luxury.

The Greater Hope Schools Initiative, just started a school lunch program at Hope Primary School in the camp.  The parents of the students do the cooking, so all 600 students get one meal each day.  The pictures show smiles from ear to ear, as the children eat their fill.  Learning is increasing, as is hope.  All because of one meal a day.

I heard a story once of some orphans who had been through traumatic times.  They couldn’t sleep at night, until someone figured out they were worried about when and where their next meal would come from.  Each child got some bread to sleep with so they knew they would eat again tomorrow. It solved the problem of not sleeping. For the kids at Hope Primary School to know they will get at least one meal a day, will have a similar effect on their studies. It is difficult to concentrate when starvation is rumbling around in your stomach. The difference on their faces, after just one week of the lunch program, is remarkable.

I am not sure why it has to be either we feed kids here, or we feed kids there.  Why can’t we feed both? It seems to me that all children should have the right to survive and to thrive, no matter what country they live in. It is not up to me to pick which ones need help.  They ALL do.  So rather than wall my heart off, I have opened it wide, and despite the pain of seeing the hardships, I have also seen a spark of hope beginning to flame up.  The smiles of the students are amazing to witness, because this lunch brings life to them, in more ways than one.

To find out more about the lunch program go to The Greater Hope Project

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As a Matter of Fact…

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The story of how I got involved with a South Sudanese refugee camp in Uganda is an interesting one.  I have been asked about it enough times I thought it might be a good idea to write it down.  Sometime in the fall of last year, a question popped in my head demanding an answer.  I ignored the question for a good while. It was in reference to the plans for establishing long term bases and church planting in foreign countries that AIM (Adventures in Missions) is currently undertaking.  The question was, ‘Is there an educational component to the development of these bases?’  I am a part time employee in the Parent Ministry department, not the Long-Term Missions department, so I wasn’t sure why I needed to ask this question so badly, but it would not leave my head, so I went to Seth Barnes (the founder of AIM) to ask it.

“As a matter of fact…we do have an educational component to our South Sudan Refugee Project,” he said.

“What is the South Sudan Refugee Project?” I asked.

He proceeded to tell me about the conflict in Sudan and how his dear friend Uche had contacted him about helping in the refugee camps in Uganda.  Uche has been a missionary to South Sudan for years. The project to come along side what Uche is doing there, already had a team of people working to help refugees in many areas of need.  Seth sent me two documents, one had an overview of an expansive plan to address needs of water, medical care, shelter, food, as well as emotional and spiritual needs.

The other document was a plan to develop an educational model, called the Greater Hope Schools Initiative, that will be used in refugee camps to start schools which address the specialized needs of children who have endured enormous trauma.  The overview document included an empowerment program in which students work on projects around the school to create ownership. A student lunch program to meet their physical needs was to be developed. It included a child-centered teaching approach which focuses on real life problem solving and critical thinking skills. It addressed the emotional needs of children who have experienced trauma.  It had a discipleship program built into it.  It included a community component which involves parents in every aspect of the school.

As I read that document, everything I have done in my 20-year career as an educator was included. My heart began to beat faster and my mind was spinning with ideas of ways to put some meat on the bones of this document. I felt the need to talk to the educator on the team about the school portion of the project, only there was no educator.  What?  No educator?  How can you build an educational model without an educator?  And so, I became the educator on the team, and began to design a chit system (point system) to have students do jobs/projects around the school.

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Meanwhile, in Uganda, there was a man who escaped South Sudan’s war and saw the need to start a school in the refugee camp.  Alfred is an educator who has a passion to see the children of his country educated to be the leaders of the future.  A group of refugee parents led the way, and they started Hope Primary School. It started under a tree, with Alfred teaching all the students.  Soon there were more teachers and more students.  The group came together, each family bringing a tree to be a post of what would become the classrooms of the school. Alfred and Uche came together and a vision for Hope Primary School to become the first of the Greater Hope Schools was born. Hope Primary School is a pilot school for the Greater Hope Schools Initiative, which is only a small piece of the overall South Sudan Refugee Project. There are many moving pieces in this project on many levels, but the school is the part I felt most drawn to.

I felt compelled to go to Uganda.  I wanted to meet Uche and Alfred to hear more of their vision.  I wanted to see the teachers I was designing things for, and hear their hearts.  I have been a teacher who is told what to do from someone who has not been in my classroom.  I did not want that to be the case here. I needed to stick my toe in the water and see if this project was as much of a fit for my skills as it appeared.  The only problem was that it costs quite a bit to go to Africa. Every penny we bring in goes to pay bills, so I talked to God about it. I told him if he wanted me to go, at this time, he would have to make it clear and provide the money.  My first seed money came in when a friend of mine won a contest and felt led to send the prize money to me. I got three other unexpected checks in the mail as well.  Next, some work I had done years ago resurfaced, and it was clear I had never been paid for it, nor had I finished it.  With the back pay, and the pay for the completion of it, I had what I needed to purchase my ticket. Hannah found me a great price on a ticket, which went up ten minutes after I purchased mine.

There was another team going in at the same time as me, to do some filming to bring some awareness to the plight of the refugees and to spotlight the project.  Another team was there to live and serve in a children’s home for orphans in the camp, called Dreamland. Others were also going in to train people to work with trauma victims.  It seemed to be perfect timing for me to go.  God had done what I had asked, which meant I needed to follow through with my decision to go.  Let me say, I have not traveled internationally until the past couple of years, and I have never done it by myself.  I am always with someone who knows more than me, and I follow along like a chick follows its mother.  The idea that I would have to fly nearly 24 hours, with a lay-over in which I would leave the airport in Qatar, and find an Air Bnb, was scary to me. To get back to the airport in time for my flight was scary for me.  To spend a night in Entebbe on my own, and handle switching money, as well as paying for things with the money I didn’t understand, and then to fly in a small plane to a dirt airfield was scary to me too…but I knew I had to do it.  I got encouragement from many people to go for it.  Hannah promised me I could do it, and I believed her.

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I went.  By myself. I didn’t get lost or miss my plane. Honestly, I felt quite accomplished when I arrived back home that I made it intact, with all my belongings.  While I was on the ground in Uganda, the people I met, were as inspirational in person as they were from a distance. I met men who fled their country and brought 135 orphans with them. I met pastors and missionaries and teachers.   I got to meet the government officials who are over the camp from the Office of the Prime Minister.  I met the Bishop of the Church of Uganda who we are working under while we are there. I had a wonderful meeting with the Minister of Education and her team to discuss the Greater Hope Schools Initiative. I had an opportunity to train the teachers and develop next steps for their plan for the school.  I got to dance and play with orphans, and meet students who see the need for education. My trip confirmed what I thought to be true, I have something to offer to this project. Therefore, you will be hearing more from me about the crisis in South Sudan and the needs of the refugees. I have been invited back to train more teachers in May, so pray if that is supposed to happen God would provide.  I am still tutoring and working in Parent Ministry.  This new project isn’t a paying one, but it is a heart one.  Thanks for all your words of encouragement to me as I take these crazy steps I feel led to take.  Here’s to living fully!!

Beginner’s Luck

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I made some adjustments at half time.  I studied my opponents.  Every move was predictable.  Then I realized, so were mine.  Especially, being as green as I am.   I changed my strategy to behave like a veteran traveler, and I went back into the game.

Being intentional as a strategy was new to me.  I put my haphazard ways behind me and set out to leave no room for my enemy.  I got up, got dressed, and then coated myself with bug spray…slowly, one limb at a time.  I gave myself breaks between each limb, so the chemical cloud would dissipate.  That way I could both breathe and don my chemical shield.  It worked for the day.  Round 7 was mine.

In the evening, the weather was glorious.  I decided to sit on the porch and enjoy the breeze, however, I neglected to reapply my armor.  Round 8 went to them.

By the last two rounds, I had my strategy down.  I applied my spray the same each morning.  I also learned, that as soon as I arrived back in my room each afternoon to go ahead and ready the mosquito net…before the sun set, while the little blood suckers were asleep.  It worked like a charm, and they couldn’t figure how what hit them.  Rounds 9 and 10 went to me.

In the end, I starved the little guys.  The final score was 6 to 4, and barring any malaria breakout when I get home, I must say I was pretty proud to win so big in my first major championship. I will continue to take my malaria meds for the upcoming days because I know pride comes before a fall, and they would love it if I let my guard down and got sick once I am home. Ultimately, I know I learned some great lessons which will benefit me in future matches with them, but this time, I am happy to have won by beginner’s luck.

 

The Story

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The story that got me here, the one that actually got me on the plane to Uganda, wasn’t the fact that there were refugees or even the orphans of war, those exist in many places around the world.  No, as compelling as those stories are, I would have been content to read about them from the comfort of my own country, as I have done many times before. I would have given them my pity, but not been moved by compassion to go. I would have felt bad and hoped that someone would help them, but I would not have saved my own money to purchase a ticket. I would not have known how to help and I would’ve thought there was nothing I could do.

The story that captured me is one where a man named Alfred fled his country to make sure his family was safe.  He left a job and a life behind.  He arrived in a foreign land and saw the future of his country roaming the refugee camp, and decided to start a school.  Under a tree. He gathered a community of parents who wanted a school also and they built one.  That story mesmerized me.  The recognition of a problem, yes, but he did not wait for someone else to bring aid.  He started.  Just himself and a handful of others.  They took the initiative to educate the children who will be the future leaders of their country.  Without supplies.  Without help.  Without a building.  Without books.  Now THAT’S a story.  Maybe it spoke so deeply to my heart is because I am a teacher.  Maybe it is because now there are 16 teachers who have done the same as Alfred.  They inspire me. Only a few of them are officially trained, most of them are not, but all of them passionate to see children educated. Alfred planted a seed of hope and it started to grow.

Now, he is my new friend and has told me more details of his story.  He has a bachelor’s degree in education and was a teacher.  Then he went to India to complete his Master’s degree in business and personnel management. When he returned to South Sudan he was hired by the schools to be the assessment coordinator for a large number of schools.  It was a very good job.  He drove from region to region visiting and consulting with schools.

Alfred has 6 children and in many African countries, the children who go to school must pay tuition.  With that many children, his tuition bill was high and caused him much stress.  Shortly after he started his new job, war broke out again. It was not safe for his family, so they came to Uganda.  He continued working in South Sudan, but many conversations with his family led him to come here to get them settled. He planned to return to work so they would have income, but the borders closed to those coming into South Sudan.  He lost his job, so now he lives in a refugee camp.  He suffers from hypertension due to the stress of the past few years. He was offered a job by a university 1 ½ hours away, but without a vehicle he cannot make the journey, besides, he says he will not abandon the children in the camp because he knows they are the future of his country.  He saw a need and he leads the school here.  The steps they are taking are small, but the vision is huge.

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Because of his story, I had to come meet them.  To see what they are dealing with in person, so that the Greater Hope Schools Initiative I am working on will encourage them, rather than hinder them in their efforts.  I did some training today and thanked them for what they are doing. I told them how inspiring it is to others.  I also told them they are the reason I came across the ocean, so I can learn from them. Even though I am the one training, they are the ones teaching.

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I had no trouble at all in getting them to share their vision of what they want their school to be.  There we several words that reoccurred in the activity we were doing: leaders, community, peace, exemplary, respect.  These ideas are born out of their struggle, born out of knowing what is NOT needed because of their experiences. Taking the big ideals and translating them into actionable steps required focus, thinking, and much discussion.  As a group, they came up with plans to begin developing student leadership and community dialogue immediately. Baby steps to implementing the Greater Hope model. They are not deterred by the fact it will be a slow and gradual process.  They are used to slow processes. These young teachers want their country to change and they see the potential to have some part in the process and that is enough reward for them.

We then spent time on how to write a lesson plan, since most of them have no formal training.  We talked about behavior management strategies and what will work in a classroom of 96 students who are all experiencing differing levels of trauma and PTSD. We talked about how to break lessons down into chunks, and how to try to allow the kids to be more engaged. We talked about record keeping. We could have gone on for days.  One day was not enough.  I came with the idea I could encourage them and bring some hope, but as it turns how they were the ones doing the hope bringing…to me. The name of their school is Hope Primary School and it couldn’t be any more accurate.

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Exile Life

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Our project leader Uche and Mickey, our communicator with the Office of the Prime Minister, have been orienting the team.  This includes cultural awareness, as well as a history lesson. There have been hours of questions and answers about the situation in South Sudan and all the people have endured there.  It was very informative, but if I had to tell you all the different tribal issues in detail I could not do it.  The complexity is mind-boggling.  The simplistic explanation is one tribe got positions of power in the government and began living above the law while oppressing others.  Another tribe did not like this and began to rise up.  Several other tribes then also joined in to try to overthrow the government.  The bigger issue is that many of the other tribes do not like one another, so pretty much everyone is fighting everyone else. The whole country is unstable and there is no security.  (Uche please let me know if this is too simplistic or inaccurate.)

However, what stood out to me from our meeting was the fact that this is not the first war in the region.  There was another one, some years ago, where there were refugees who fled into Uganda. They were here for many years waiting for peace to come.  When things settled down, they returned back to South Sudan. Now those very same people who were children when they came before, are faced with the decision to leave again now that they are the adults.  Some have decided to stay in South Sudan, because they would rather die on their own land than go back into a refugee camp.  Others are fleeing again, bringing their children with them this time.

Uche made a comment that stuck with me, ‘They have an exile life.’ More importantly, our instructors made sure we understood, anyone working with them needs to know they also have an exile mindset. It comes from being forced from their homes.  Living in another country that is not their own.  Waiting. Simply existing.  Living in limbo. Foreigners in a foreign land. For years.  No hopes for the future because they don’t know where they will be, or even if they will still be alive in the future.

We are helping Hope Primary School, a school in the camp run by South Sudanese teachers, attempt to develop a model that brings some sense of stability to life in the camp.  They need some guidance and someone to come along side what they are doing. Their desire is to create a vision for the future for kids who don’t know how to dream. They want to break the exile mindset.  To do so there is much work to be done and it starts with the children.  The school will be a bridge to families and develop a sense of community from the inside out. It will give them a place to call their own.  It will help them to feel like they are moving forward.  The children will be educated so future of South Sudan will be different when they are the leaders.

On paper, it all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?  Theoretically it is neat and clean and simple.  But in practice, here on the ground, it is another story.  The lack of resources, the lack of personnel, the enormous numbers of children, the environment of hopelessness in the camps, all of it is daunting.  All of it is overwhelming to me…and I don’t live here or try to teach 96 students a day with no books, paper, pencils, or materials. I cannot imagine what the teachers must feel on a day to day basis.  It is a God-sized vision, which only he can bring to pass.

So in that spirit…here is my prayer.

 

Lord,

Please direct the teachers at Hope Primary School.  Give them wisdom. Show them the steps needed to progress their vision and yours.  Give them strength to teach the numbers of students you bring them.  Help them to see past the crowd and into the hearts of each child.  Multiply their numbers, bring them more educators and more to support them.  Stir in the hearts of the parents to join with the school by helping, volunteering, and being with the kids. Give them divine creativity on how to do this thing they can see.  Help them to have innovative ideas for scheduling, and teaching.  I pray for the children.  That they would feel your love at the school.  That they would feel safe there and I pray their minds will be open to learn and they will be motivated and engaged in the lessons.  I ask that you give them dreams for their future.  That the exile mindset would be broken off of them.  Help their thoughts to be looking forward.  Heal their hearts Lord.  Erase their memory of traumatic events they have witnessed.  Allow them the freedom to share their stories with those who are trained to help them.  I also pray for their parents.  Lord, hold them close to your heart.  They are in survival mode and it is hard to see past a lifetime of pain.  Heal them.  Heal their scars.  Give them hope again.  Help the children to lead the parents on a new path of hope.  Bring routine and normalcy through the school.  Help it to feel like a home away from home.  Give the teachers ideas for kids and their families to be involved in building a community there.  Connect them with the right leadership to carry it through, here in country, and also those around the world who can help them.  Thank you Lord for your hope for this school.  In Jesus name Amen.

Michelle vs. The Mosquitos

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Something a bit more lighthearted for you…and me.

In Africa, they have a lot of mosquitos. It is why I am taking Malaria medication while I am here in Uganda. The pesky critters are the same as ours in that they buzz in your ears, and hover around you looking for a meal.  They are different than ours in that they are smaller, and you cannot feel their bites so much…and of course, they can carry malaria.

My first night, they tricked me. It was probably their strategy for a newbie, and I think they can smell a rookie from miles away.  The weather in the shade with the breeze is glorious here. Especially knowing that at home, everyone is frozen over. I was sitting beside Lake Victoria in Entebbe as the sun set.  Just like at home, the little buggers came out to eat.  I noticed around the lights there were thousands of them, so I headed indoors.  My room was screened in and had an AC unit so I turned it on.  I couldn’t get the mosquito net around the bed so I went without.  No problem.  In the morning, I had no bites. Round 1 went to me.

So, the next night in Arua at my new location, I didn’t even attempt the net, and because there was no AC I slept in as little as possible, on top of the sheets. Can you say feast?  I woke with bites all over.  Fortunately, they do not itch like they do at home, and I brought anti itch cream with a suspicion that I would be on the mosquito menu. Round 2 went to them.

I was determined to not fall prey to the blood suckers again.  Before dressing, I sprayed myself with bug spray for the day.  I came home with more bites.  I wondered, do African mosquitos think my American bug spray is perfume? Does it attract them rather than repel them? It appears they crawled into my sleeve and chowed down.  Round 3 went to them.

Finally, I figured out how to use my net for sleeping.  Only did you know, that if one mosquito gets inside the net, it turns into a cage? I slept in a cage with a mosquito.  Round 4 went to them.

I saw some mosquitos in my room.  I got my flip flop ready.  I danced wildly swinging it over my head, until I got them both.  Round 5 went to me.

In my cage…I mean bed, I carefully checked for rouge mosquitos.  I saw one on the inside of the net, just hanging around waiting for me to go to sleep. I tip toed to my bag and got out my spray.  I used the element of surprise and sprayed him to death.  I also mostly sprayed me to death too.  I could not breathe.  I’m not sure who won the round.  I coughed all night…but no bites.  He died…so I am claiming victory for round 6.

It is half time and currently the score is tied.  The bites I have from earlier are fading.  My strategy to win this is to receive no more bites for the next three days. Here I go…back into the match….