Monday, November 24, 2014

An eventful weekend!

Last weekend we needed to go to Kampala to buy some things for our house. Things like sinks and toilets and electrical switches and light sockets are not easy to find nearby since most houses in our area do not have indoor plumbing or electricity. Since we knew it would take quite a while to find, agree on and buy everything on our list, we asked the Foxes to spend Friday night with our kids, and we left after our morning classes. 

We drove to Kampala and after a quick lunch, went to a store with a big showroom full of plumbing fixtures, tiles, cabinets, etc. I was impressed to find this type of store in Uganda, but as we began walking around, we found that the prices were double or triple what we had budgeted for these items. Apparently if you want to buy something at a nice store, you pay a significant mark-up. We traveled around looking for several other shops, some that we were able to find, some that had apparently relocated. Traveling around Kampala in Friday afternoon traffic can be a bit tricky, particularly when you are not sure where you are going. 

After some time, we found several smaller stores in one area and were able to find some plumbing and electrical fixtures that were within our price range. Since we were spending the night in Kampala, we decided we would shop around a bit more in the morning and come back if we were going to buy those items. After navigating the Friday night Kampala traffic to get to the place where we were staying, we found that they did not have any rooms with bathrooms available. Then we found that the shower room near the room we were staying in was being renovated, and we would need to walk to another shower room if we wanted to bathe. Instead we just crashed knowing that we needed to get going early the next morning. 

The next morning we were meeting the "tile guy" who was going to advise us about getting good quality tile for the bathroom. He gave David directions for us to meet him. After finding him, he directed us up an alley to an area with several tile shops. We never would have found this place without him. After selecting some tile, we talked with him about other items that we were looking for. He directed us to a place further up the alley where a friend of his was working. This man was very helpful and brought us all kinds of things to consider. He brought a plastic chair for me and sent his guys to go get various things. They carried various sinks, faucets, toilets and even a bathtub to us in order for us to consider buying them. As he brought the items, if I was interested I bargained with him about the price until it was within our budget. After going back and forth several times while considering a specific item, he said something that I took as a complement. He said, "You really are Ugandan." I was pleased knowing that I wasn't just paying the "mzungu price" for these items. Above is the photo of our friendly negotiations. (Cultural side note: Since Kampala is a big city, it is more common and socially acceptable for women to wear pants, so I wore my jeans for the first time in months.) 

We left this alley area having purchased several items from the list, but still lacking  many others. At 2pm, after going to several other locations, walking around in the heat and bargaining, I was so exhausted and hungry that I knew it would be a bad idea to make any more decisions until I had eaten something. David drove us to a mall where we could get something to eat and also look at some other options for lighting. It was so good to sit and eat, and although we did not find anything to buy for our lighting needs, we did get some ideas about things we could make to save money on light fixtures. If you know me, you know I am always happy to find a way to save money. 

After lunch we went back to the industrial area to find some of the last items on our list. We found things within our price range that we are hoping and praying will hold up over time. After all of the house shopping was finished, we needed to go to a supermarket. It is the week of Thanksgiving and many of us on the missionary team are cooking special foods for our Thanksgiving celebration together. Many ingredients can only be found in Kampala so I had shopping lists from four people. By the end of my grocery shopping, I was spent and it was almost 7pm, so we just grabbed some samosas and a coke for dinner and began our drive back home. 

Early in our drive home I commented on how the traffic didn't seem as bad right around Kampala, but that soon changed. The trip from that grocery store home usually takes us about 2 hours, 3 when traffic is really bad. But last Saturday was  
another story. We drove for a little while in light traffic and then eventually came to a complete stop. We knew there had been road construction, but we thought it just must be narrowed down to one lane and the two directions were taking turns. Eventually no one was coming from the other direction and we had not moved forward for about an hour. It was 11pm, there are no street lights, and we were in our van loaded down with things for the house. Most of the other drivers had turned off their vehicles and seemed like they were going to sleep in their vehicle or got out and went for dinner or a place to sleep. It was clear that no one was moving forward that night. We had heard that there was another way to Jinja, but it was a very circuitous route and we didn't what to get lost on a back road in the middle of the night either. David sent a text to our team with an update, and thankfully Mark, our team leader, was still awake. He called and talked with David about the alternate route. They agreed it would be best for us to drive back west toward Kampala, northeast to Kayunga, southeast to Jinja, then west to Good Shepherd's Fold. We all agreed that it wouldn't be a great idea to spend the night on the road in a parked vehicle loaded with merchandise. 

Honestly, once we were moving again I had trouble staying awake, but David found his way and we made it home by a little after 2am. (The Foxes graciously stayed with our kids and spent the night here again.) At that point we unloaded only the "refrigerated items" from the grocery store, which we had put in a cooler, and then went to bed. 

We thought Sunday would be a more restful day after the craziness of the weekend, and it mostly was....until Zeke decided to try to fly. Our team here was so thoughtful and supportive on Sunday. Amy generously offered to have my kids and our usual Sunday lunch guests over after church so I wouldn't have to worry about a meal and David and I could rest. Normally I love our Sunday lunch routine, but it was so good to just eat some leftovers and rest a bit. In the afternoon Ezra and Zeke were playing outside while I was inside the house. I was talking with our neighbor Kim when I heard a loud noise from our van and Zeke starting to cry. I ran outside and found Zeke on the ground with a cape on. Here's what I could gather from the boys' stories and my observations. The boys had put on capes and were being some sort of super hero. Naturally they needed a hideout. So they climbed up the front of the van to the roof-rack, which is probably 8 feet above ground level. Zeke had some trouble getting up, so Ezra being a creative and helpful big brother, hooked a bungee cord onto the roof-rack and threw it down for Zeke to pull himself up. Here is the front of our van to help you picture this scenario. 
They were having a good time playing their super hero game until 3 year old Zeke wondered if he could really fly. Thankfully David had left the trunk (called the boot here) open to air out the van a bit after all the things we had brought back from Kampala. Zeke thought he should jump off the back of the roof-rack onto the raised trunk and then fly off. So the noise I had heard was the trunk slamming, Zeke falling 8 ft and crying because his feet hurt a little bit when he landed. Here is a photo of the van with the trunk up/opened.
Since Kim was right there she and I checked him over. She is so good with kids and he was showing her how he could walk and run fine within minutes after his fall. I just thanked God!!! There are so many ways that this incident could have gone very poorly, but Zeke had no broken bones and wasn't bleeding. Zeke said, "I have no blood!" Even a three year old knows that a fall like that should lead to some bleeding or something. After I was certain he was ok, I talked with the boys about some rules for their safety, like no going on the roof-rack without adult supervision (We do ride up there on safari trips), no jumping off the roof-rack, and no flying, which I thought might stop some other unanticipated dangerous ideas. I love my boys and their adventurous, creative minds, but I also want Zeke to make it to his 4th birthday. Here is a photo of me cuddling with my little superman when he was sick a week ago. 

As I reflect on the weekend, I can see how God graciously provided for us throughout the weekend. Sometimes his provision looked like keeping us safe. And sometimes it was helping us to grow in patience as we shopped and then sat in traffic for hours. His loving care does not mean that this life will always go smoothly, but that He will be working for our good, to make us more like Jesus through this life. (Romans 8:28-32)

Friday, November 14, 2014

A wonderfully exhausting week

On Monday I wrote about David preaching on Sunday and us taking a woman and her child to the hospital on Monday. If you have not yet read that post, you can read it it here. While I was working on writing that blogpost, David was running errands in Jinja and getting the van worked on. These things took longer than expected, so we ended up driving home late in a borrowed vehicle. It was a good day, but we were a bit worn out by the time we got home.

On Tuesday after school Esther and I went to the hospital to check on the woman and her daughter. I was so happy and relieved when I found the little girl sitting in her mother's lap. She was still very weak, but she was alert and looked so much better than the day before. Honestly, I did not know if she would be alive which was why I was anxious about going to check on her. Esther brought along some small things of hers that she could share with the children in the "pediatric ward," which is just one big room with some beds and cribs. The women and the children there loved meeting Esther and trying to talk with her. I decided to try to pray for the child in Luganda so that the mother could understand. When I said that I was going to pray, the moms from all over the room gathered around. I don't know if it was because they were curious to here a mzungu pray in Luganda, or because they also wanted prayers. I did my best, but I know that God hears and understands even if I still struggle with the language. That night I went to bed feeling so thankful that God was bringing healing to this little girl, but very tired.

At around 1am I received a phone call from my friend and teammate, Katie Fox. Her husband Cody, was diagnosed with malaria on Sunday and had been taking the medication for treatment. He had really improved by Tuesday and even taught that day. But that night he woke with symptoms of cerebral malaria. I had made Katie promise in advance that she would call me at any hour if his malaria got worse and he needed to go to the hospital, so she called. David has more experience driving here, particularly in Kampala and at night, so we decided he would go pick them up Katie and Cody in Nyenga. They decided it would be best to take Cody to a clinic in Kampala that is open 24hrs. David had another chance to be the ambulance driver, but this time not really knowing where he was going in the middle of the night. I stayed home with the kids and prayed. After doing several blood tests, they concluded that Cody was okay, and that he was having side effects from the medication he was taking for treatment. I received a text message around 4am that Cody was alright and they were heading home. I went to sleep around 4:30am and woke when David arrived home a little after 5:30am. As he lay in bed, I tried to make a joke saying, "You could have a second career as an ambulance driver." His replied, "I don't want a second career." Within three minutes he was snoring. We sent a message canceling school since none of the teachers had slept more than an hour or so, and then slept for another hour.

On Wednesday morning we received a phone call from the local hospital administrator that the little girl was ready to be discharged. On Wednesday morning, I took Elijah with me and went to pick up the woman and her child who had recovered so quickly. She was much stronger and even smiled a bit. While we waited for some paperwork, (They had to turn on the generator in order to print the receipt for them to be discharged.) Elijah and I visited and prayed with some others there in the children's ward. He enjoyed passing out stickers to all the children and practicing his Luganda. I wish I had his young mind which seems to learn the language so quickly. We were able to drive them home and talk briefly. If we understood correctly, the father is not in the picture. Unfortunately, this seems all too common in the local villages.

On Thursday, we did not go to any hospitals! We taught school, worked on some ministry related paperwork, and had a generally quieter day. I got a chance to go for a short run which was really good after such a physically and emotionally exhausting several days. In the evening, I went to visit our neighbors and they told me that they had sweet potatoes for me. The sweet potatoes here are white, but they are still very tasty. When they asked if we ate them, I thought that maybe she would give us 6 so that we could each eat one. Instead she brought a huge bag and gave it to me to carry home on my head. Wow, these Ugandan women must be so much stronger than me, because my neck and back are so sore from that sack of potatoes. The Ugandan women told me that if I had a baby on my back and was carrying a 20L jug of water, then I could be like a Ugandan woman. Yikes. I have my work cut out for me.

I thought Friday might just be an ordinary day of school and then a trip to town for some supplies, but I have learned that there is no such thing as an "ordinary day" here. During our morning school break, a Ugandan friend found me and said that she had a gift for me at the gate. I was very curious since most of the gifts I have received from Ugandan friends are food items. I thought, "Why would she leave a bag of tomatoes at the gate?" I walked to the gate to meet her and found her there with a live chicken. The feet were tied and she had obviously carried it here for me. Most of the people around here do not eat meat very often, so a gift of a chicken is an expensive and very generous gift. I was so honored and grateful that this sweet woman sacrificially gave me this amazing gift. I am still overwhelmed by the generous hearts of so many of my Ugandan friends.

I don't know what the rest of today or tomorrow will hold, but this week has been both amazing and exhausting! I am so thankful that God has brought healing to the sick, given us opportunities to be his hands in feet, and shown us a small picture of his lavish love through the generous gifts of others.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Our compassionate God

On Sunday David had the opportunity to preach at our church in the village. He chose to preach about the passage from Luke 10:25-37. It was his first time preaching, and he was a bit nervous, but he did a wonderful job. He talked with the congregation about the questions of who is our neighbor, what does it mean to love our neighbor, and why Jesus used this parable, to show us our inability to earn our own righteousness. He reminded us that in the parable, we are like the person in the ditch, helpless and dying, and Jesus came and sacrificed himself to save us. Actually Scripture says we are dead in our sins, not just dying, but parables only carry the analogy so far. When we realize that there is no way we can justify ourselves, but that Jesus saved us at great personal expense, this changes our heart when we see another person equally helpless. It was a very good sermon, encouraging God's people with the love of Jesus, and encouraging them to live out that love with their "neighbors" even if it happens to be someone who is more like an enemy.

One of the things that I have always loved about my husband is that he is a compassionate man. He knows that he has received grace and mercy and wants to show that to those around him. Not all the time and not perfectly, but it is one aspect of the way God is shaping his character that I absolutely love! Since a young age he has particularly had a soft heart toward the needs of widows. As a teenager, he would help the widows in his neighborhood with gardening or mowing the grass. A few months back, we began driving to church instead of walking so that we could offer a ride to a widow who is in poor health and cannot walk to church. Soon we realized that some of the GSF kids with special needs also were not going to church because their wheelchairs cannot make it through the narrow walking path. Since God has provided us with a van that can carry wheelchairs on top, we are able to drive these kids too. When I told David how I appreciated his work every Sunday loading and unloading the kids and their chairs, he had a funny reply. He said, "Having a small inconvenience to make it possible for some handicapped orphans to go to church seems like a no-brainer." We laughed a bit realizing how this is obviously something God would want us to do, not just because of the needs of these kids, but because of the way God has had that type of love and compassion toward us at a great inconvenience to Himself.

Since God has blessed us with generally reliable transportation, and since most of the people around us do not have that convenience, we often stop to offer a ride to people on the side of the road. We usually stop for either an elderly woman or a woman carrying a child. Sorry men, you can walk. Today, we had a "fall break" of sorts, which is just a day off of school to take care of some other important things. We were planning to drive to Jinja to run several errands, get lunch, use internet, and take care of some things related to building the house. Soon after we turned out of the GSF driveway, we saw a woman carrying a child, walking. We pulled over to see if she needed a ride somewhere. I got out to ask her "Ogenda wa?" (Where are you going?), but as I stepped out I immediately saw that something was terrribly wrong. She was wailing and carrying a child who was maybe 4 or 5 years old. At first I thought the child was dead. The child was limp and her eyes were open, but completely empty. But then some friends from the village came over to her and began rubbing onion all over the child's face to see if they could bring her to consciousness. She eventually came to, but was very limp and barely conscious. In the midst of the gathering crowd, I offered to drive them to the hospital. After a bit of brief discussion in 2 or 3 languages, some of the people in the village who have become my friends told me to take her to the nearest hospital. David drove like an ambulance driver as fast as was reasonably possible to get this child to the hospital. As we arrived, I was struck by how many people there were in similar situations. I have been to this hospital several times and each time my heart breaks for the people there. We were able to make sure this child was seen received testing and treatment quickly, prayed with them as best as I could in Luganda, and then we left them in the care of the doctors and nurses there.

It was interesting how God gave us an opportunity the very next day to live out what David had been teaching about. One thing that his sermon reminds me, is that caring for people in need is not earning for us our own righteousness. As I thought of all the people in need there, I realized that there was no way, we could help everyone. I also realized that we had only a mild inconvenience to take this woman and child to the hospital, but Jesus gave his own life for us.He died so that he could save you and me. Any little expression of his mercy is simply what we want to do as people who have been rescued from the ditch. Just moments before seeing this woman and child, I had been irritable with my family, and lacked love and compassion with them. I know that on my own, I fail to love often. I cannot keep the law and earn my own righteousness, but Jesus has rescued me, has declared that I am righteous, and has graciously given us opportunities to live out a small picture of his love to those around us. Please pray for this woman and her child. I don't even know their names. But our compassionate God does!