Saturday, December 27, 2014

Family celebrations

Most of us Americans associate holidays with a break from work and spending time with family. We are so glad that David's parents were here to celebrate Christmas with us this year! We still miss other family from the US as we celebrate, but our definition of "family" has grown a bit over the past year and a half. Living on campus at an orphanage along with our missionary team changes things. 

Today I recieved an email about upcoming New Years celebrations. It included our "missionary family" gatherings and our "GSF family" meals and celebrations. I am thankful that these groups of people have grown to feel like family over the past year and a half. This past week we had many family gatherings. I thought you might enjoy hearing a little about our times with our Ugandan family. 

Zeke began the day of Christmas Eve by dressing up as Santa. Esther and Ezra carried him around in a big box (his sleigh) and he gave out various things he could find around the house to the missionaries who were next door.
Oh, did I mention that Ezra was a apparently a reindeer?

As I looked at the schedule of events for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I was looking for a time to have a special meal with our immediate family and David's parents. Mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve seemed to be the best opportunity. Mom, Esther and I worked much of the morning to prepare a special meal. I even made my first pecan pie from scratch with the pecans sent from our church family in Georgia. It was a tasty meal, but we didn't have quiet enough time to sit and enjoy it before needing to move on to the next thing. 

The next family activity was Christmas caroling with the missionaries to all the children's houses. As we arrived, the children and house moms joined us. Once we had all the children together, we gathered at the pavilion for Claudia to read the story of Jesus' birth to the kids along with her puppet, Pedro. Claudia keeps us all entertained! 

After the story the children all received stockings and ice cream. It was an exciting time! I love watching all of our GSF kids open their stockings. Pinto, one of our precious toddlers, wasn't going to let go of her stocking!

Back at our house, our four children watched Charlie Brown Christmas, ate some popcorn and went to bed. On Christmas morning we were overwhelmed with the many gifts from our family in the US and our church family there. I can't tell you how happy we were to receive letters, cards, pictures and gifts from so many of you. It was a very special time! 

I originally had hoped to go to a worship service with our church family in Buundo village at 9:30, but serveral things changed that. First, I still needed to cook the food I was taking to our missionary family brunch at 11. Additionally, the service did not even begin until after I would have had to leave. 

At 11am, we all gathered at the Gwartneys for our missionary family brunch. We had some delicious food and then exchanged gifts. Each family drew the name of another family to give a gift. It was a fun way to still give gifts without having to buy so many things. After our missionary family brunch, we had some time to go back to our house before our GSF family celebration. 

A thunderstorm delayed our afternoon meal, so we had an hour or so at home to rest before heading over to the pavilion with all of our GSF family, kids, house moms, and missionary families. We served a traditional Ugandan meal of matoke (a cooked mashed banana), rice, potatoes, chapati (a flat bread), beef, pineapple, watermelon and a soda. You would be amazed at the amount of food these kids can eat! 
After the meal we had the joy of giving each child a Christmas gift. It is such a joy to be a part of this celebration and see all of their excited smiles! Soon after the gifts, we all went back to our houses. 

We had considered going to join our church family in Buundo that night to help with an outreach event. They were showing a movie about the Nativity. But after the many commitments of these two days, we decided to just have the evening at home. Apparently the event did not end until after 10pm or so, at which time I was already sound asleep! 

Although Christmas Day was over, that was not the end of our expanded family times. Many of the children who live at the orphanage here have extended family somewhere who they can go visit. Holidays are an ideal time for these visits as aunts and uncles may be home from work. But there are some children who live here who do not have any extended family to visit. So that these children would have some special time with a family during the holidays, we invited these children to stay in our homes for a night. Our family invited two of the toddlers to come over, but one of these boys needs his routine so he stayed at the toddler house. Moses, a super sweet little boy, still wanted to come and joined our family for the night. 

He slept well and had a good time playing cars, listening to stories, playing soccer and watching a video. It was fun for each of the children to have a little more time with a family. Moses kept saying, "Happy Birthday" as if this was one big party for him. Here he is eating breakfast with Zeke. 

As you can see, we had many family celebrations this Christmas. We still miss our family and friends in the US, and I have struggled with sadness over that this holiday season. But I am also thankful that God has given us the privilege of being family to many others here in Uganda. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas celebrations!

As many of you attend Christmas parties in America, I thought I would tell you a little bit about some of our parties here. Last year we took our kids on our first safari for their Christmas present, so we missed the GSF staff Christmas party. We did not realize what an event we missed! This year, the staff Christmas party was on Friday. It was full of singing, dancing, skits, fancy clothes, a large meal, and gifts. That may sound like some of your parties in America, but this was definitely a Ugandan celebration. 

Amy Gwartney generously offered to lend me a gomez to wear. That is the traditional dress of this central region of Uganda. It took two Ugandan women to help me get the gomez on properly. I wore it over other clothes that I was going to be wearing during a later presentation, so it got pretty warm. I didn't think to take a photo, and it would be too much of an ordeal to put it back on. But here is a photo of several of us on stage in our gomezi. 

The next clue that this was definitely a Ugandan celebration is that there was an interpreter for everything. I was asked to offer the opening prayer, which I prayed in Luganda, as best as I could. Then we had a time of praise and worship singing songs in Luganda and English. Our family is beginning to learn many of the Luganda songs, but we still don't always know what the words mean. 

After the time of worship and a few words from people in leadership, the presentations from the different departments began. Most of my family thought the security guards dancing was the highlight of the day, but my photo is just of them standing and singing. 
I was invited to sing and dance with the house moms and the childcare department. It was so much fun! All the missionaries also sang a song that Sheila Warfield creatively adapted to fit our situation. 

After several fun presentations, lunch was served. There was rice, matoke, potatoes, beef, pork, chicken, cabbage, cookies and a soda for everyone. Well, some things were gone when it was time for the missionaries to eat, but we were able to serve all of the staff. Eating meat is a special occasion here. 

After lunch, cake and a few more presentations, Claudia concluded the program by calling just about everyone up onto the stage to help her sing "Feliz Navidad."

Then all of the staff were given their Christmas gifts. The gift was a basin with some sugar, rice, soap, a towel, and some other small things. The basins are used for bathing, washing clothes, washing dishes, washing food before cooking and many other things.

After the staff received their basins, they were then sent outside to collect their meat. GSF slaughters a cow or bull every year and divides the meat among the employees. You should have seen the excitement as everyone went outside to the truck to get their meat!
The next day Daniel Iya had planned a small Christmas celebration for the men who are working on our house. I baked two cakes for them and Daniel gave out similar gift basins. He also bought English and Luganda Bibles to give to the men as a gift. As with most celebrations here, there were additional guests. One of those men asked if he could also get a Bible. He borrowed one from another man and and began looking through it and reading. I was so encouraged to see his enthusiasm, and Daniel said that he would get another Bible for this man. Daniel spoke again to the workers about Jesus and his goal that they would all know Jesus and grow in him throughout this project. David also offered some suggestions to anyone who had not read the Bible before about how to begin. Please pray for these men who now have their own copy of God's Word. 

Friday and Saturday were fun opportunities to celebrate the birth of Jesus with many Ugandans. We are also looking forward to celebrating Christmas on Wednesday and Thursday with our family, our missionary team, our neighbors in the village and our GSF kids. I am thankful that even though culture varies, we can still celebrate Jesus, who came from heaven to earth, who lived a perfect life, who died for our sins and who rose again to give us new life! In the midst of parties and presents, I don't want to forget that Jesus is why we celebrate! 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Our neighbors

Please pray for this precious boy, Salifu. He lives with his grandmother, sister and cousin. When I first met him he was running. He is no longer able to walk and is having trouble eating. The grandmother, Mariam, doesn't know why. Please pray with us for this family for healing physically and spiritually. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Our 100th Day of School!

For most schools operating on the American school schedule, the 100th day falls sometime in January. Our school is a bit unique in that we schedule our school year primarily around the furlough schedules of the missionary families. This year we began early since our family needs to go to a meeting in America in late April. It is hard to believe that we have already completed over half of our school days in our second year of teaching in Uganda! 

Today we celebrated our 100th day of school with many different activities. We all did 100 jumping jacks, took 100 steps, did a total of 100 push-ups together, and then divided up 100 sweeties (candies) among the students. 

We also had fun counting up to 100 cents with American coins and counting by 100s with Ugandan shillings. The 100 shilling coin is the lowest coin that is commonly used in circulation. You can see the current exchange rate written on the blackboard in the first photo. Here is Ezra with a 100 shilling coin. 

We also did some creative activities like building towers with 100 toothpicks and glue. 

And trying to string 100 beads...

It was a fun day of school! I am so thankful to be able to teach this awesome group of kids and thankful that God has given us 100 days of learning about His world.