Sunday, June 26, 2016

Summer craziness

In America, summer holidays are often full of camp schedules, Vacation Bible School, family trips and other things. Parents who are at home with kids are remembering that a break from school is anything but a break for the parents. Life often gets hectic and when there are long periods of unscheduled time, we find that there are many behavioral and heart issues to address with our children. 

For the most part we do not have busy schedules here in Uganda, but life has certainly been full! As a teacher, there have been many things that I put off until the school year was over. (Mostly paperwork) This first week after the end of the school year has been full of trying to meet deadlines and take care of things like that. The summer is also busier with many teams visiting GSF. Since our teams coordinator has recently returned the U.S. for a time of rest, each member of our team here is picking up some aspects of her job. It is great to have visitors who come to encourage, help and support our work here, but it also adds a bit to the schedule.

In addition to all of this we have been wanting to do some follow up with people who were diagnosed with cataracts by our friend who is an optometrist when he was visiting. This week we were able to take two of those people to a local hospital to find out if they would qualify for a free surgery. One of the patients does not yet have severe enough cataracts that they would do the procedure, but the other was scheduled for surgery the next day. That meant that we needed to scramble to find someone to go to the hospital with her. No one in her family was available on short notice. Here nurses and doctors care for your medical needs at the hospital, but you always have to go with someone to care for any other needs and help with paperwork, communication, payment, etc. We were thankful that Esther Hannah who usually helps with our children was willing to go along and care for this Jajja. Esther is very gentle and patient which are great characteristics for a setting like this. They spent the majority of the day waiting, but finally the procedure was completed. Then they were told that they needed to come back the next day for a follow-up visit. Here we are as David was helping her back to her house at the end of a long day. 

That evening Zeke came down with a fever and cough, so we decided that David would stay home with the boys, and Esther would come with me as I would drive Esther Hannah and Jajja into town the next day. I also had a few errands related to the paperwork that needed to be finished. It was good to have a date with my girl.
This time their appointment went very quickly, but we decided that we would also take this opportunity to take Jajja for a medical check-up. It sounded as if she was laboring to breathe and she had a bad cough. She also had many body aches and some swelling in her ankles. At the clinic they diagnosed her with pneumonia and we were able to help her get treatment. As I returned home, I was able to finish organizing all of our paperwork and send the necessary emails by the deadline!

Saturday proved to be another full day. Elijah has written a blog post about coming with me and my Bible study group to visit a sick, elderly woman in a "nearby" village. Here is a link to that post if you have not yet read it.

Today is Sunday. This morning, we received a message that Jessica, a girl who lives at GSF, might have broken her foot and needs to be brought into town for an x-ray and to see the doctor. Since the Gwartney family spent yesterday taking another child, Precious, who had a broken leg into town yesterday, we volunteered to take Jessica today. Here is a photo of sweet little Precious. Please pray for her!
So here we are in Jinja waiting... Jessica has already gotten the x-ray and has been waiting several hours now to see the doctor. Our family has been able listen to a sermon and some worship songs in the van, and now we are sitting at a cafe in Jinja waiting for her to be seen.

While life is always busy, I had some strange thought that things would slow down once the school year was over. I know it has only been one week, but that expectation has certainly not come to fruition. As we are busy with things other than our usual routines, I am asking God to give me energy and strength for each day. I'm remembering that in my weakness He is strong. And I am keenly aware that the brokenness in this world around me far exceeds my ability to handle it. But our God is is gracious and compassionate. This morning I read, "In your goodness, O God, you provide for the needy." (Psalm 68:10) and "Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation." (Psalm 68:5) As our lives are often "interrupted" with the needs of the fatherless and widows, I am thankful that our God has given us the privilege to be a small part of his care for them.

Elijah's village visit

The following story was written by my 11 year old son, Elijah:

Thirty minutes after leaving, I was beginning to regret my decision to visit a sick Jajja in the village with my mom and her bible study group. I think the only thing that kept me going was the vain hope that there was only "seven more minutes" like our guide, Anthony, said. Surely it must be just around the next corner. But sadly, no.
Ten minutes turned into twenty which turned into fourty which finally turned into an hour. As I was stumbling through sugar cane field after sugar cane field, l tried to wrap my head around the fact that many people do this daily. During the third mile while l was mentally writing my will, I realized we had reached our destination. 

The sick Jajja looked, well, sickly. I heard her rasping breath, the intervals growing longer and longer. We sang a few hymns, read Psalm 23, said the Lord's Prayer, prayed for her and her caregivers and left gifts for them. The people from the Bible study brought beans, flour for posho, sugar, sugarcanes, and gifts of money.

As we left, I wondered how much time the Jajja had remaining.

The walk back was more enjoyable. We took a shortcut that led us over a very steep hill and back home much faster. When we got back, I was in awe of how much hardship the Ugandan people go through daily and yet they are still the most happy  people I know. I definitely don't regret going and am thankful for the opportunity to encourage someone in need.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Celebrating our 3rd school year!

Yesterday we wrapped up our third year teaching here in Uganda! It is hard to believe all that has happened during these 3 school years. Yesterday was a big day of celebrating God's grace to us as we acknowledged ways in which the students have grown in knowledge and maturity. 

We began the morning with the students setting out samples of their work from this year to prepare for the program for their parents. 
All of those books along the back of the table were read by our Omnibus students!  We are encouraged and amazed at all our students were able to do this year! 

And of course there had to be a snack table too! The students made doughnuts, cakes and other treats to help celebrate! 

Here is a photo of all of our students at the beginning of the program reciting John 14:6 in English and Luganda. After that all of our students presented something they learned or produced during the school year including songs, creative writing, reciting poetry and acting out a movie scene translated into Shakespearean language. We have such an amazing group of kids! It is a privilege learning together! 

Since this is the beginning of summer break we wanted to plan some fun, celebratory activities for the evening. We decided to make two separate plans, one for the elementary students and one for the middle and high schoolers. The younger children all came to our house for pizza and a movie and a sleepover in the living room. The girls enjoyed helping make the pizzas. (We had a few extra friends who are siblings of one of our students join in to add to the fun.) 
They were all the most excited about the dessert pizza! Not our most healthy day of eating... (Many thanks to our team from Faith Presbyterian Church for several of these ingredients!)

The kids were setting up for days trying to figure out where everyone would sleep, making beds out of cushions. Here they are in the morning after a few hours of sleep.

Our babysitter stayed with all these kiddos for a few hours while David and I took the middle and high school students out to dinner. It was a very nice time. We went to one of our favorite places, the Rainforest Lodge. It is a peaceful, beautiful place with delicious food not far from where we live! 

We are thankful to have completed this school year and are beginning plans for the next one. Since we will be adding 7 more students, we are busy ordering curriculum and planning schedules. We are still praying that we will be able to find someone to help us teaching next year. Please pray with us and if you have any leads on another teacher, please contact us ASAP! We have seen God's faithful provision for the last 3 years of our school and we look forward to seeing how he will provide for us next year! 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The gift of 40 years!

This past week I celebrated my 40th birthday. As I was approaching this milestone I often would joke that I was now counting years backwards and getting younger each year. As I shared my age with one of my Ugandan friends she responded by saying the Luganda word for "gift." She was saying that 40 years is a gift! 

As I reflected on this several things came to mind. Here is Uganda the life expectancy is in the 50s. It is also a culture that respects and values the elderly. Each year is a gift! 

My scare with the abnormal cells on my tongue was really a wake-up call. It made me realize that none of us are promised tomorrow. When the doctor said something to me about wanting to take care of the problem on my tongue so that I can see my children grow up, I was shocked to think about that. (Since then I have had the abnormal cells removed and have not had any indication of the problem recurring, worsening or spreading.) Having had that scare has helped me see that each day is a gift. I want to be thankful for each day and make sure I am using my days and years for things that will last. 

While one of my students thinks that I am so old that I may have gone to Kindergarten with Jesus, I am celebrating this milestone! God has blessed me with 40 years and I praise Him for that gift!
Here is a photo from celebrating with our missionary team. I love that we use a cross between fireworks and candles to celebrate here! 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Jewelry Business

I have recently decided to get into the jewelry business. Well, that's not exactly how it went... Several women and teenage girls in Buwundo village were meeting weekly to study the Bible with me. During our prayer request times, some of these women would share about someone who was sick but didn't have the money for medical treatment. Many others were requesting prayer for a way to provide school fees for their children, grandchildren or themselves. Most of these women work in their gardens, but they grow just enough food to feed their families and sometimes a little more to sell and then buy soap or medicine when they are sick. As we gathered to pray, I would ask God to meet their needs. I did not want Bible study to become the place for handouts, but I also would pray for wisdom about how these needs might be met. In order to support these women, I have often bought chickens, woven mats, and other things they have been able to make.

Recently, I found a few women in the village who knew how to make beads out of scrap paper. They also have learned how to take those beads and make some beautiful necklaces. Since there were others who also wanted a way to earn money for school fees, I bought the supplies and offered that others in my Bible study could make these necklaces too. 

Since it was a break between school terms for the Ugandan school system, many families were looking for a way to earn money for the next school term. I began expanding this project to include others, but soon found that I was regularly having people show up at my house asking for supplies or asking to sell their necklaces. Remember that I am a teacher, a wife and a mother of four. People were coming before school as we were getting breakfast or waiting at my house when I got home from school to ask for more supplies or to sell necklaces to me. I quickly realized that this was not going to be a good idea long term. During my day away to pray last week, one of the things I prayed about was how to proceed. I didn't want to shut down the project, but neither did I want to spend every spare moment managing a business on the side. 

As I prayed the idea came to mind of selecting one of these women as a business manager. She could manage the supplies, and I could purchase the finished necklaces once a week on the day of our Bible study. As I prayed about it and then discussed this idea with David, he was supportive of not having our home become a trading center. He also suggested having the women buy the supplies in order for them to have some ownership and use them wisely. After organizing all of my thoughts, I called for a business meeting. I thought the ten or so people who were already coming to my Bible studies and who were currently making necklaces would come, but it was more than double that. I had a friend come to translate whenever my Luganda was not sufficient in order to make sure everything was very clear. He also served as a secretary to help keep our records straight.

I was concerned that the women would not be happy that now they were going to have to purchase supplies when I had provided them for free at first. But when I explained that I was selling them the supplies at a fraction of what I am paying, they broke out in applause. When I explained that we need to pray that we can find a way to sell these necklaces for them in order to continue this project, they prayed. When I explained that they would be only be able to sell to me once a week, they all understood. I was very encouraged about the desire of the women to study the Bible, worship and pray together, which we do each week, but also about their desire to work and save half of what they earn toward school fees for their children.

Today was my first day to buy necklaces from the larger group and the weekend before the start of another school term. The women and teenagers have been working hard in order to sell enough to pay for their next term of school. It was exciting to celebrate with them as they brought many beautiful necklaces, some earrings and a few bracelets to sell. Young children even tried to make some necklaces as they were hoping to earn money to buy snacks or school supplies.

As you can see from the photo, I now have many necklaces! Some of the women are starting to make earrings and bracelets too. While I was wondering and praying about what I would do with all the jewelry that I would buy, a friend connected me with a woman in Jinja who wants to help sell things to support local ministries. I doubt that we will be able sell all of the things I buy at that one store, so I am also sending some of these back to America for some friends to help either sell or distribute for me there. If anyone wants some handmade jewelry and wants to contribute to the needs of my neighbors in Buwundo village, Uganda, let me know!