Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fifteen Thousand People Now Get Clean Water

For today's post I just wanted to share this video clip made eight years ago when my daughter Tessa and her husband Jim first went to Uganda. If you look closely you will see them in some of the clips.

Through their sharing with Mary and I and the stories of other dear friends (thank you Peter and Shiry) we made the decision to go in 2011.

As Issac Hydoski shares from this 2008 video there has been much progress made these past seven years. There are now 15 wells dug throughout the villages and communities near Kiburara. Each well supplies clean drinking water to a thousand residents. That's an astounding fifteen thousand people  now getting clean water who are alive and well because of generous donations.

Enjoy this clip

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Development by Ugandans for Uganda

We decided to take public transit west. It would be about a five hour trip and it was the most affordable. Heck it was good enough for the locals. George and his driver were a great help again getting us from the orphanage to the Bus Depot in downtown Kampala. On our way to the terminal John Emilio had to make several stops to buy bars of soap for a research project.

You see John was doing this research for SMI in the hopes of developing a soap made in Uganda for Ugandans. It seemed odd that a country with all these natural resources would import soap. Also some of the research done here in the USA showed that the process could be fairly simple, economical, create jobs and profit revenue for the local villagers. So SMI was developing this great idea of a soap factory in Kiburara.

Once we got within a quarter mile of the bus terminal we had to pull over because traffic was in gridlock. We stopped in what seemed to be an ally way and waited for George to fetch some help to carry the bags. Once help arrived we were on our way for the next leg of our adventure.

The bus trip west was an interesting experience. The bright orange buses from Globe Coachway were lined up in a semi straight line. The whole place was busying with the energy of an open air market. People buying and selling; trying to catch a bus, loading luggage and animals and produce anywhere they could fit it.

Inside the bus they arranged five seats across, three on the left and two on the right. John and Kendra got the two on the right Mary and I went left. The open seat next to me was soon occupied by a young mother with a young toddler. A tight fit for sure.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

No Small Favor

I had given Pastor George Nsamba from the Wingate Guest House two hundred dollars (USA) to exchange into Ugandan Shillings for me. That was two days ago, and I was starting to sweat it, thinking that I might not hook up with George before our bus trip west the next day, Sunday morning.

What I didn't realize at the time was that $200 was the equivalent of about three months’ salary for a school teacher there. In other words this was a lot of cash. I tried calling George when we returned from dinner Saturday night but we were always cut off or disconnected.

We developed an expression over there when something unplanned or unexpected happened, “TIA”. This was shorthand for “This Is Africa”. At any given moment plans could change, sometimes five times a day. You really had to lose that sense of being in “control”. Sure, it was always a good idea to have a plan, but you couldn't get your nose out of joint when things changed.

So I resolved in my mind that if George didn’t show up on Sunday that was just the way it would be. I needed to guard my heart at that point from allowing this event to somehow damage or impair my relationship with this pastor. I considered him a friend. After all one of the key reasons for being there in the first place was to develop deep relationships. I couldn’t allow $200 to damage that relationship or accuse George in my heart. I went to bed Saturday evening in total peace.

Sunday morning the whole crew from Redeemer Church headed off to church service while we remained behind to pack. To my pleasant surprise, who walks in the door after church service? It was George with my exchanged money. He had joined our group at church and came back with them. He even brought his own driver to escort us to the downtown Bus Terminal! Not a small favor in the crowded Kampala streets below.

This was another important lesson for me about trust and always trying to think the best of others when you don’t know the entire story and your mind is telling you to go the other way.

It Was Dangerous and a Lot of Fun

So here we are on Saturday night, the four Musketeers’, brainstorming, talking and reminiscing about the first time we felt an impression that Uganda was it. We talked late into the night about why we were so drawn to these people, this place and why it was on our hearts.

I know in my case I had never done a missions trip before 2011; I was always too busy at work when Mary and my daughter’s would fly down to Arizona or Mexico to at the orphanages. 

I don't know if you can count the time about ten years ago when my best friends called me and said they were putting together a posse to drive down to Mississippi. 

Hurricane Katrina had just hit and it was a disaster down there. We were just a loose group of guy’s from the church, with no backers or financial support, who just piled into three vans and trailers to do what we could. Because I have forty years’ experience as an arborist we stacked the trailers up with ropes and chainsaws. 

We hooked up with Samaritans Purse down in Biloxi and cut trees off of houses and covered roofs with blue traps to keep the weather out. We were down there for a week or two. I don't really know if that qualifies as a “mission’s trip” in the traditional sense of the word, but it was dangerous and it was a lot of fun. 

Affirmation of this Budding Friendship

The next day Kendra helped Mary finish her outline for the women’s workshop. Her law experience had given Kendra a keen eye for editing concise documents, and the two of them working together was another affirmation of this budding friendship. 

John, Kendra, Mary and I were able to steal away an afternoon talking about Uganda and all of the similarities each of us felt to this new country. 

It is difficult to explain, but each one of us in their own way felt a pull to the people and the culture.     

Monday, August 25, 2014

How Relaxed They Were

After settling in our tight quarters (John on the sofa, Kendra in a cramped room with three other women, and Mary and I in a small room with two single beds) we walked down the steep hill to a nice Indian restaurant for lunch. 
The entire team of 15-20 from Redeemer Church joined us. It was a bright sunny afternoon and we ate out on the terrace. It felt a lot like any sunny day back in the states. 

Kendra was opposite of us and Mary asked her about herself. She without hesitation told us about her journey and how God took her from the relative safety and security of a lucrative law practice back in Virginia to a call to full-time missions work. 

We were blown away to say the least.

I was also very impressed by the entire team, how relaxed they were, how easy they got along and interacted. Kirk Alexander was the lead pastor. An imposing big man with a career in the Navy before a calling to the ministry, he also was relaxed and easy to talk too. 

We Felt Welcomed and an Immediate Ease

Arriving by taxi, we knew we would be staying with another team from Redeemer Church of Virginia. Theirs was a team of first timers just like Mary and I four years ago. 

You could still see that wide eyed expression of “what have we gotten ourselves into” look.  But they had a passion to explore and serve and that is really the only prerequisite for this kind of work.

What we didn't know was that John (a friend from church) had told a young lady Kendra, about Mary and I. Kendra had given up a successful law practice in Virginia months ago to pursue full-time missions work in a Mexican orphanage. 

She had been told about Mary and I and our desire to do "more extended and a different kind” of mission work. She was waiting to meet us when the taxi pulled into the driveway. Kendra was one of the first to greet us a fetch our bags. She had a sparkle in her brown eyes and a rare kind of energy not common to most folks. 

We felt welcomed and an immediate ease with her. Mary and she made an instant connection!

The Wingate Guesthouse

We arrived at the Wingate guesthouse in the wee hours the night before and slept very well. We had two days to decompress from the 18 hour flight, time to prepare for what would be a whirlwind of activity. Mary was to be part of a group set aside for just ministry to the women. I would be doing construction to the widow’s homes and preaching and teaching as our host would request. 
We spent much of our time at Wingate reading, studying and making notes for the workshops and teaching that were to come.

We even got in a nice 5k run that morning through the dusty streets to the gate of the Department of Agriculture’s grounds in northern Kampala. Running inside the grounds was fascinating. There were huge experimental plots designated for different types of coffee beans. It was fun to run past homes where small children would call out “muzungu, muzungu”.

By mid afternoon the second day John Emilio from SMI picked us up to take us to our lodgings for the next two days, one of the oldest orphanages in Kampala the Sanyo Baby house. This was about an hour’s drive through the city center atop one of the tallest hills of the city.

The view was amazing. The Baby House itself was a configuration of houses and huts behind thick walls and an iron gate.

Flight Arrangements

We had made our own flight arrangements and itinerary for the January 2014 trip. We attended the team building meeting at our church because we wanted to be totally connected and part of the team when they arrived in Kiburara. We were also super excited about our plans to be out on our own the week before the team arrived. We worked on our schedule to make sure that we would be in Kiburara when the team got there.

 George Nsumba met us at the Entebbe Airport late in the evening and little did we know that another group of Americans from Syracuse New York would be joining us for the ride to the Wingate Guesthouse. During the hour and a half ride we were able to find out that their team had been coming to Uganda for several years and ministering with some of the local churches in Kampala. The organizer of the group had been working in the county for several decades.

We were fascinated to learn of many groups, organizations, and NGO’s that have used this country as a base of operations because of it stability and ease of language (English is the primary language for this former British Colony). 

The Airport has a huge UN Contingent with equipment, personnel; F-14’s and transport planes.  Samaritans Purse, the Peace Corp, MONUSCO ( and many others are a very active presence in the country. Uganda thought to be the first country to detect the HIV Aids virus decades ago has since had one of the best prevention and lowest infection rates in the region.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Testing Our Intentions

We didn't come with the team January 2013 because our daughter Anna was due to deliver her second child and she wanted Mary in the delivery room with her as her midwife. That winter Mary and I also contracted pneumonia.  We had no way of knowing that this illness would have trumped our plans for international travel anyway.

Mary and I spent that year discussing with our pastor, family and friends about changing up the concept of “Short Term Missions” and asked what it would look like to do “Mid Term Missions”. David Platt’s classic book “Radical”, talks about Matthew 28 with a fresh perspective. We are all “Missionaries” based on Jesus’ desire to spread the good news. So it isn't a question of going or staying like I had thought for years, it’s just a simple question of being, being his disciple. Whether that looks like crossing an ocean or just crossing the street in your neighborhood we are to be salt and light in a world void of flavor and full of darkness.

We had been counseled and decided to “take it slow”, to not do anything rash. We agreed that we would go again with our church's mission team in January 2014 but this time with a little twist. Mary and I would go a week early on our own to “scout the land”, to test our own intentions and see how we would cope going it alone.

What wonderful surprises were in store for us.

“Divine Appointment”

When Mary returned from her experience we had long discussions about what she saw, and how different this trip had been from the previous ones. She also made several new friends chiefly Pastor George Nsamba and his dear wife Beatrice from the Wingate Guest house in Kampala. This was what they call a “divine appointment”. 

Mary and Polly at the Wingate
SMI had been working closely with a company here in the states developing and installing rain catchment containers for local villages. The beauty of these systems is they literally catch the rainwater as it comes off the roofs and is gravity fed into 10,000 gallon containers. These containers can be filled within two days during the rainy season. The down side to this simple technology is filling the containers during the dry season. George Samba is the Ugandan representative for the U.S. Company developing these systems. 

He is also a local pastor responsible for several local churches and well-connected throughout the area.
Mary had the opportunity to stay at Wingate and go on excursions into the Kampala Markets looking for supplies for the jewelry making and craft business that SMI was helping to develop. Beatrice was an excellent guide and helped the muzungu get the local prices and not the two hundred percent markup reserved for foreigners. 

We started to talk about what it would look like to come back just the two of us. How would we cope and adjust when we were not “protected” by that larger group crowded onto a bus and fared through the city on the way to the countryside eight hours away?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

This would be the genesis of a desire to go back to Africa

I need to thank Catherine Hoover for the excellent post she made from her teams experiences in the spring of 2013 for the SMI trip. She was very generous letting me copy her post here to my blog. I think it is important to see the connections, to connect the dots as it were, of the relationships that have developed here in the states as well as those special friendships that have been forged with our dead friends in Kiburara western Uganda.

Because Mary was a part of that team it was our first experience as a couple being separated by eight thousand miles on an international trip. It was also unusual in that Mary was "invited" with only about two weeks notice. Not enough time to get nervous or have second thoughts.

The most nerve racking part of that trip for me was the limited communications, especially during the Boston Marathon bombing. We had several close running buddies in the race that day, and I wanted her to know they were all accounted for and that they were safe.

Mary's 2013 trip was also significant in several other ways. First, this was an unexpected windfall, because we were not able to go with the team in January like we had in previous years. Secondly, she would be a part of a small 3-4 team. Past trips to Uganda were always with 15-25 muzungu, all different ages and nationalities. Being a smaller more agile, and mobile group they were able to go deep into the capitol, go shopping in the market and meet the locals one-to-one. We didn't know it at the time but this would be the genesis of a desire to go back to Africa, just the two of us.