Sunday, February 6, 2011

Day 1 - Breaking Down Barriers

The day progressed well – everyone busy about his or her task. I was beginning to feel a connection with the other men as we began to work together, and sweat poured from my forehead and through my clothes.

I found out as the day went on that many of the men spoke perfect English (to my surprise). The Ugandan’s are a very kind, and courteous people, but they are also a little shy around stranger’s, especial Mzungu.

I was being checked out. Why was I there, could they open up, could I be trusted? Valid questions for sure. Nothing like manual labor to break the ice.

In the mean time, the ladies were also breaking down barriers with the village women and kids. They were situated just opposite of the mud hut the men were repairing.

They had started with several games for the kids and story time for entertainment. Gerald, a local young man came with us as our translator (not everyone’s English was that good). He was a delight.
Several times as I peaked my head around the corner to find Gerald with a full smile, & laughing as he was conversing with the ladies.

By the end of the day some of the local men and I were having good conversations, and wheelbarrow races to see who could bring over more dirt for our construction project.

I was surprised and pleased when one young man came over to give me a piece of baked maze. They would simply cook it in the open coals of the fire and then just eat it like corn on the cob as they worked. This felt more like a act of acceptance from the  “crew” to the Mzungu as we “broke bread together”. Acts of kindness and acts of friendship as well.
At one point in the afternoon the ladies also volunteered to go down the quarter mile hill and fetch water for the construction project. As they described the brown water they carried on their heads I realized for the first time that this was also the water that the locals had been drinking.

When pastor Moses picked up our team later that afternoon he was kind enough to stop at one the wells a previous team had built. He told us that many children’s lives have been saved from simply installing nine fresh water wells around his village. Each well was supplying water for as many as a thousand villagers.
Watching the young kids getting clean water that afternoon almost brought tears to my eyes.

The significance of this trip was taking on new meaning by the hour. We were there not only looking after the villagers spiritual, and emotional needs but in a very real and tangible way their physical needs also.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Day 1 - Getting Physical

Those first minutes were like those awkward ones at parties when you really don't know anyone and you need to make that pointless small talk to break the ice, you know what I mean? But, in this particular case you don't know the customs or even speak the language.
One of our prayers that morning was to be “outward” focused and not be self-conscious or self focused. If we were truly looking to help others, and looking to meeting the needs of others there shouldn't really be time to be overly introspective.

At first Pepper and I just observed the younger men as they started the process of moving the two huge piles of dirt and cement mix from one side of the ground to the other. Then back to the other side again. No water was being used at this point, just the moving of the dry dirt and cement mix back and forth.

At some point after slowly combining the two dry piles into one larger pile the water was also slowly added in a small dike like structure at one end of the pile. They created a small damn that would trap the water and the dirt concoction in a small pool area. As all the ingredients were slowly turned with hoes and shovels the dry mixture became a mud like mixture, and then a slurry consistency.
When the time was right, we shoveled the cement mixture into plastic containers. These were really just five-gallon rectangular jugs cut in half so that they became rectangular trough. In this country nothing goes to waste, everything is recycled into something useful and practical.

At this point the older gentlemen would take the cement on their trowels and with a very specific flick of the wrist toss this pancake batter against the mud hut, and it would stick beautifully in place. When I tried this same move, my concoction hit the wall with a splat, and just fell off to the ground (much to the amusement of all my coworkers).

So it continued all morning. We would bring the dirt down the single lane trail from the road to the hut in wheelbarrows, add the concrete, add the water to the mix, and load up the plastic containers with the pancake batter for the masons.

There was a consistent and beautiful rhythm to the work, no one was in a particular hurry, the work was all getting done, no orders were being shouted, and everyman taking a turn working and then resting from the hot sun. 

This was a picture of harmony and cooperation in a workplace that I hadn't seen before in thirty years of being around blue collar workers here at home.

Indeed, there was much I could learn from these men, & much I needed to observe.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Day 1 - Let the Work Begin

It was amazing to see God's care and provision for the Ugandan people in so many ways during our visit.

We prepared for the drive to our work site but we would not use the bus with the rest of the team, that first day we would be driven to our work site by Pastor Moses himself. What a privilege.

Friends of ours from a church in the Philadelphia area made contact with Moses several years ago. They saw his passion for God, his commitment to the people of his village and his personal integrity. As Moses told me “they were checking me out”. I think they wanted to make sure he was the real deal. He was!
Anyway we had the chance to talk with him a bit and get a better feel for that area of the country and the people. When we got to the widows house, where we would be spending the day, we were dropped off and told he would be back with lunch.

One thing we were warned about before hand was what they call “Uganda time”. That means that nothing starts when you think it will, but certainly nothing happens before it should. So we were okay. Lunch would arrive when lunch was supposed to. 

My work crew was composed of several well-dressed older gentlemen (I found out most of them were teachers), and several really young guys in their early twenties. They were dressed in a variety of clothing from stuff that looked like J Crew to tattered t-shirts and cut offs. 

Everyone seemed to know what to do, without anyone in particular “barking” orders. There was a rhythm, and harmony to the way the day was unfolding.

It was humbling to work alongside of such a grateful and joyful people. Despite such material poverty by western standards, it was clear to see that we Americans in many ways are much poorer than our Ugandan counterparts. I learned so much from them that day of their comparable wealth within.

Pepper and I were the only Mzungu men on site and we also had three ladies from our team. As we started the construction the ladies gathered the women & kids for games and stories. The kids were amazed and looked at all the Mzungu as if we just stepped off a spaceship.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Day 1 - Mornings Work

We started the first day early with a simple breakfast. We were the last ones down to breakfast all the others were seated and enjoying their meals. 

I looked at the buffet table and commented that we had missed breakfast. No, was the reply that was breakfast. Remember the two “rules”, no complaining and no talking about food back home. Breakfast was dry toast, a hard-boiled egg, & a banana.                                                                             

After a brief team meeting of the days events we were each assigned a different location for the days work. What we didn't know was exactly where we would be going, the composition of our crew, the abilities of our crew and how to repair these homes. I would need to depend on the locals for all my training.
The physical work was going to be difficult, Hand-mixing cement, with shovels & hoes, and then applying the mixture to inside and outside walls of the widow’s homes with trowels. This would be time consuming and exhausting work but satisfying.

The materials the first dry were deposited by dump truck near the road and 50 meters from the house we were working on. This met that we would need to move the sand and dirt by wheelbarrow for the entire day. Another exercise in love and patience.

The men I worked with were all volunteers just like me, but I was Mzungu (white) and they were all locals. My mission was to work alongside of them, just as hard as them. Martin Luther once said, “preach the gospel always, and when necessary use words”. My goal was to preach the gospel by my actions. It has been said that actions speak louder than words. In this case I wanted the Mzungu to keep pace with the rest of the work crew. 
One conviction I had before leaving was to learn from the locals and not go to Uganda as the teacher, but to go to Uganda as a student. I knew if I went inquiring, and asking, I could learn something special about local construction and learn something special about the people.  

All the literature I had read before leaving for Africa explained how their culture was family, community, and village oriented. This is very different than our “western” values of independence, and individualism.

We didn't know a lot before leaving the guesthouse for our days work but what we did know was that we needed to be spontaneous, patient, and to perform under uncertain pressures. We were reminded of the two “rules”. First “No Complaining”! This was strictly forbidden. The second rule was, no talking about food from home.

Let the days work begins!

Monday, January 31, 2011

First Night in Kamwenge

This was to be an exciting life adventure for sure. Our experience in Uganda was amazing.

So the flight was eight hours to London and nine hours to Entebbe. We arrived in Africa late Saturday night. 

Seemed longer because we left the States on Friday. We had a hotel booked for Saturday night (thank you Lord!). So we got some rest and a shower before our nine-hour bus trip to Kamwenge in the west.

These long trips mess with your head because you are also traveling through several time zones. We would end up eight hours ahead of the time back home.

When I said there were places God wanted to take me it was both figurative and literal. Places I had never been before both figurative and literal.

So after the nine hour bus ride, (much of it on a single track, pitted dirt road), we arrived at the guesthouse. Think clean Motel 6 with a very firm mattress and mosquito netting.

When we checked out our bathroom we realized the toilet was missing. They had a flushing urinal mounted into the floor (that’s right, level with the floor).

We had a late dinner, and reviewed the next days work; and then to bed. We were given two “rules” at dinner. First “No Complaining”! This was strictly forbidden.

The second rule was, no talking about food from home. Monday would be a difficult physical day after two days of travel so we needed a good nights rest.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Six Church Services & 42 People Baptized

This will be the last report as we have completed our work in Uganda and are on their way home!
Sunday was a great day! Our team divided into six groups to visit and serve six area local churches. 
Adam, Paul, Eric, Peter, Isaac, and Robin each taught at one of the six churches. Isaac said that four of the seven people who professed Jesus from the village he visited during the Saturday's outreach  attended the church he taught in.

Pray for continued fruit in all of these new follower's lives as they seek to grow in and share their faith in Jesus with others!
Our team attended a concert that afternoon performed by the "youth" (singles high school aged plus) of Pastor Moses' church. They had written and produced joyful, gospel-centered songs which they performed along with dance in honor of our team. What a blessing!
Monday was an exciting day, as well. Forty-two people were baptized in the river at the Kamwenge District line. Many of whom were new believers and had given their lives to the Lord during this week! 
Monday evening the team returned early to the guest house to pack and rest in preparation for the nine-hour bus ride to Entebbe at sunrise Tuesday morning.  
Tuesday our team arrived in Entebbe at about 4 pm Ugandan time and checked into a hotel to shower and have dinner. We wouldn't stay the night just freshen up before the trip home.
Everyone was doing well and is healthy! We are getting ready to leave the hotel for the Entebbe airport. 
We are scheduled to leave Entebbe to London at 11:35 pm. Then we leave from London to Dulles at 6:05 am arriving home at 2:30pm. 
We always ask prayer that the flights leaves on time and we are able to make our connections along the way.

Everyone was excited and eager to get home on time! 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Busiest Trip Ever

So grateful for all the team has been doing this weekend! They have been busy about doing God's work for sure! Below is a detailed update of all they've been up to:
This email includes updates from both Friday and Saturday; what an exciting couple of days it has been for our team! God has been meeting them and giving them favor as they have labored to share the wonderful news of the Gospel. Many lives have been changed forever!

22634_1296071332260_1544654903_30776280_1615656_nFriday was the last day of the Pastors' conference (PC). Isaac was able attend a portion of the PC and emphasized what a joy it was to observe Robin so effectively leading and equipping these dear men who are so eager, hungry, and grateful to learn from God's Word. Robin taught directly from Biblical text and those present were voraciously asking questions and taking notes. There was also a time of prayer and ministry. Isaac said Robin did a wonderful job and simply is "the man"!

Friday also saw the continuation of the Youth Conference (YC). Jason W., Adam L., and Isaac each preached a message that morning.

Friday afternoon found our team participating in another open-air evangelistic crusade in the center of Kiburara. Eric M. preached an excellent message. In addition, Katie T. spoke to approximately 200 children, sharing her testimony of salvation and of God's grace meeting her through the death of her brother. She exhorted these little ones to trust Christ and it was a powerful time of ministry.

Sara M. and Megan A. rested at the guest house on Friday as a precaution, due to cold symptoms, and are feeling much better! They were able to rejoin the team on Saturday. Everyone on the team remains healthy, praise God!

22634_1296043051553_1544654903_30776206_3491161_nSaturday morning was the conclusion of the YC. Pepper R. and Robin B. preached. Robin taught on remembering and applying the Gospel through the "five finger reminder", that "Christ died for my sins".

Eric and Pepper did an amazing job leading worship at the YC. They were able to, for the first time ever in the four-year history of Covenant Life Church's trips to Uganda, get the local residents involved in singing and dancing with our team! (Historically, those attending would watch and observe quietly).

Adam and Pami Lotinsky organized drama presentations this year and did an outstanding job. The drama was saturated with Biblical content and quite funny too!

On a side note, also on Saturday morning, Jason and Isaac were able to rescue a local village dog that had fallen into an eight to teen foot open well the evening prior. The poor guy had been treading water for hours and was very grateful to be rescued!

Saturday afternoon the team divided into eight groups and participated in door to door village outreach. They shared the Gospel, prayed for folks (often for healing), and passed out mosquito nets to those they visited. The local farmers have been very hospitable and open to talking and praying, kindly inviting our team members into their homes. Isaac said that seven people professed Christ just in the village his group visited. In fact, there were two men waiting for them when they stepped off the bus, asking to know more of Christ and expressing a desire to follow Him! As of the time we spoke, Isaac had not yet heard all of the praise reports, but was aware of a minimum of 10 people that had come to know the Lord. Also, many more had heard the Gospel and received invitations to visit are Churches on Sunday. It was a powerful time of ministry for all!

Going forward, please pray for continued health and stamina for our loved ones. Isaac said this has been the busiest trip ever. They have not been able to get back as early in the evening as hoped to rest. As a result, though in good spirits, everyone is very physically tired. In addition, torrential rains fell for about an hour during the village outreach on Saturday and everyone was soaking wet by the time they returned to the guest house. Unexpectedly, it was also a little cold. Please pray God would protect them from potential illness and gives them increased opportunities to rest during their remaining time in Uganda.

Sunday morning our team will divide into groups to simultaneously visit six of the local churches. Men from our team will lead services and worship. Also, our team members will be sharing testimonies. Please pray for much fruit!

Sunday afternoon, our team will participate in a prison evangelistic outreach; please pray for the Gospel to go forth!

Also on Sunday afternoon, our team will attend a concert held in their honor by the children of Pastor Moses' Church.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Uganda Missions Video

As we wait for more news from the 2011 team, I wanted to post this video about the church in Uganda. I hope it informs your prayers and excitement for all the team is doing right now.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Two Men Profess Faith at Pastors' Conference

Here is the most recent update:
The first portion of today found our team once again participating in the Youth conference (YC) and the Pastors' conference (PC). Peter G., Paul F., and Isaac H. each preached at the YC, while Robin B. continued investing in local Pastors at the PC. One exciting highlight of the day was the two gentlemen who wandered in to the PC and professed faith in Christ after hearing Robin teach; to God be the glory!

In the afternoon our team split into three groups. Two groups visited local villages in order to share the Gospel door-to-door and pass out much needed mosquito nets to local residents. The third group participated in an open-air evangelistic crusade in the heart of town. Four people gave theirs lives to the Lord at the outreach; praise God! 

Moving forward, the prison outreach previously mentioned in the last update has been rescheduled for this coming Sunday. Tomorrow's activities will be the same format as those of today. Please pray God continues to pour out His Spirit and accomplish His purposes as our loved ones are faithful to serve these dear folks!

As for the team, everyone remains healthy overall. There are two prayer requests: 1) Please pray for Mary F. to rest at night as she has not been able to sleep well thus far and 2) please pray for healing & stamina for Megan A. who is fighting a slight cold that is resulting in her being more tired than usual.

Lastly, Isaac desired to emphasize what an outstanding job the team is doing! Without exception, everyone is evangelizing, engaging with people on a personal level, and participating in public ministry.  He is truly blown away by their Christ-like servanthood!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Robin Preachin' It at Pastors' Conference

Another great day for Uganda E-Team 2011! They are certainly feeling your prayers! While they did lose the soccer game (no surprise to the team) and had one injury, the team continues to be healthy overall. Both the Youth and Pastors' Conferences went very well, noting our pastor Robin's preaching as a highlight for the local pastors there. Lets keep the team in our prayers as they continue the conferences tomorrow and then split the team up to minister in the local prison, some village evangelism and outdoor evangelism time. Details on the day read below:
Isaac wanted me to begin by thanking each of you for your prayers; they have been felt and appreciated by all on the team! Everyone continues to be healthy overall.
Four o'clock in the afternoon found our team playing soccer with the local Ugandan soccer team. Fun was had by all! Our team was dominated and lost 2-1. Isaac said the score is no true reflection of the content of the game, as the only goal on our side was scored by an Ugandan graciously playing on our team. :) 
There was an injury during the soccer game today, however. Pepper's nose was most likely broken when he received an elbow to the face during the match. Jess has applied ice and given him ibuprofen for swelling and pain. She indicated that this is pretty much what would be done for this type of injury, even in the US. Isaac said Pepper is doing well and in good spirits. Please pray that he heals quickly and remains comfortable throughout the trip. 

One of today's highlights was the start of the Pastors' conference, taught by Robin. The local Pastors have expressed much gratitude for his wisdom and Biblical knowledge. Isaac said that Robin is knocking it out of the park!

Also on the calendar was the commencement of the Youth conference. (Isaac wanted me to mention that "Youth" is more accurately defined as high school aged & up Singles in this venue). Blaise R. preached the first message of the day, followed by a second message preached by Isaac.

On the schedule for tomorrow is an additional day of teaching at the Pastors' college for Robin and a continuation of the Youth conference for the rest of the team.  At 4 pm, the team will gather and split into three groups. The first group will participate in a prison evangelistic outreach, the second group will take part in hut to hut evangelism at a nearby village, and the third team will partake in an outdoor evangelism outreach in the heart of Kiburara. Please pray for much fruit as the Gospel goes forth in these various ways!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Four People Accepted Christ!

To summarize the praise reports from Tuesday, the entire team is healthy, the widows' homes were completed and four people accepted Jesus Christ as Lord of their life! Prayer requests are now favor on Pastors' College and Youth conferences beginning tomorrow and gospel opportunities at 2nd annual Uganda vs USA soccer game. Below is the detailed update:
Great news on every front!

God has mercifully healed Jason, Pepper, and Novia. The entire team is healthy and doing well!

Today the team repaired the remaining four widows' homes. During work, the team witnessed to and shared the Gospel with folks and four people committed their lives to follow Christ; Praise God!

Tomorrow will be the start of both the Pastors' College and the Youth conference. Everyone on the team will be participating in ministry in one or more of the following ways: preaching, teaching, reading testimonies, singing, and performing drama. Please pray for wisdom, favor, and much fruit.
Tomorrow will also find our team participating in the second annual Uganda vs. USA soccer match. This game is an eagerly anticipated and much talked about regional event. Local residents are excited to come see the "Mzungu" play their hometown soccer team. (Isaac reports our team members are preparing to be demolished again this year!:) 
 Over 1000 attendees are expected at the 4 pm game, so please be praying for Gospel opportunities!

Isaac will try to call again at the end of their day tomorrow with another update.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Four Homes Repaired & Radio Interview

An update following the team's first full day of ministry work in Uganda. Highlights include four repaired window homes, Gospel broadcast on radio interview and reports of salvation fruit from last year's 2010 team! Email report reads below:
Isaac, pastor and team leader, was able to get through at the end of their day, just before bedtime. He says the team continues to do great!

On health front, everyone is doing well overall. Please continue to pray for Jason W. who is still experiencing nausea and gastrointestinal upset that the team nurse, Jess C., believes is due to travel. Also, please pray for Novia H. who is currently battling nausea, as well.

Ministry-wise, everything is going fantastic! The team spent the day repairing four widows' homes in the region. They hand-mixed cement, with shovels, and then applied the mixture to the inside and outside walls of these ladies' homes with trowels. This is difficult, but satisfying work. The widows were very blessed and everyone is tired from a long day's work and ready for bed!
Today also brought an unexpected, exciting opportunity for the Gospel to go forth in this area as a result of our team's efforts. Isaac was interviewed by a regional radio news crew. They asked him why "Mzungu" were here in Uganda, working on these widows' homes, and he was able to share the Gospel, in full, as the reason! The interview should be broadcast soon. Please pray many come to the Lord as a result of hearing the Gospel on the news!
As for tomorrow, the team will be repairing an additional four widows' homes, to complete a total of eight. About half of these eight women are unbelievers, so please pray that the Gospel goes forth as a result of their interactions with our friends & loved ones. To God's glory Isaac also reported that all of the widows whom they served last year's 2010 trip have given their lives to the Lord!

Isaac will try to call again tomorrow afternoon our time. Please pray he is able to get through as the cell network is having more difficulty connecting than usual this trip.

Pray for Health & Hydration

This is the most recent of updates from this morning. The main request is prayer for health and hydration as team begins repairing widow's homes today and tomorrow. Below is the email update:
Team leader, Isaac, reports the team continues to do well!

As for team member health updates, Shirley G. is recovering from her ear infection. Jason W. cold is diminishing, however, he has developed some nausea and stomach upset. Please pray that God would heal him completely.

The team is eager to begin their work repairing widows' homes today and tomorrow. Please pray all goes well and that many are  impacted for the sake of the Gospel by this tangible demonstration of God's love and care. Also, please pray the team stays well hydrated and healthy during the labor!

Isaac will call again at the end of their day, sometime tomorrow morning our time, with an additional update, if he is able.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Repairing Widows' Homes Tomorrow

Another update from the team leader...

"God is good and helping us. Everyone is well. Arrived in Kiburara at 5pm today and we enjoyed our first Ugandan meal.

The team is well and excited to start work on repairing widows homes tomorrow."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The team has arrived safely in Uganda!

Greetings all Uganda supporters! My parents have asked me, Tessa, to write blog updates as I receive news via email on the team. Here is a a brief update from the team leading Pastor's wife....
The team has landed in Uganda and everyone is doing well! The flights went great and the team is on its' was to the local hotel to sleep for the night. They will leave (by bus) for Kiburara tomorrow morning.
Grateful to be partnering with you all in prayer!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Preparing for our flight to Uganda

Just taking a moment to reflect on tomorrow’s flight to London & then on to Entebbe, Uganda. We leave on a Friday, arrive in Africa Saturday evening. Stay the night in the capitol, and then an eight-hour bus trip into the bush for our final destination - Kiburara, Uganda.

When we were approached about the trip last summer (has it really been that long ago?) we were the most uncomfortable with the fund raising aspect (we hate fund raising)! But to tell the truth by putting ourselves out there and asking people to help us we deepened relationships, made new friends, and were amazed by the generosity of so many (some we hadn't heard from in a long long time).

Suffice to say we have learned a lot about trusting God and leaving the results to him, and to not “feel” like we needed to do it all by ourselves. The “trust factor” has been one of the best experiences of this entire process; in fact this is a lesson that will serve us well during this adventure.

Every step during this process has been filled with surprises. The best part has been to not over reach and try to take control of things we never had control of in the first place.

In one of my earlier entries I spoke of the desperation I felt after falling down during my endurance run and not knowing if I could continue the race. Bloody and exhausted I had to stay focused on the immediate, in the moment and not be distracted with “white noise”.  Well that picture is the perfect metaphor for this mission trip. Being desperate for God’s help and moving in the present moment, not fretting about tomorrow or what tomorrow might bring. 

I am thankful for the valuable lessons learned and haven’t even left the country yet! I am anticipating friendships, situations, and circumstances never experienced before, in a land never visited before. With God before us we will trust and look to him for all our provisions.

Keep checking in with this blog for additional entries as we travel.