18 December 2007

video clips

Here is the video footage of Dickens mentioned in the previous post. You can also check out this second video of Frank.

13 December 2007

Ugandan reflections: part 3

I spent a good deal of time at the conference in my room – specifically, the bathroom. I went over a little bit ill but thought nothing of it. Unfortunately, I was sick a good portion of the conference and was only able to attend the sessions by not eating for about two days. (For me to not eat, you know I was really sick.) It could have been something I picked up in Liberia along with the kids (and the Hep A) or something from Uganda. Either way, I ended up catching up on my reading and even some of my movie watching. (Is the remake of The Dukes of Hazard really the best we have to offer the rest of the world?)

As a result, I thought I should share with you my suggestions for international travel:

- Several weeks before you go, start eating “healthy yogurt.” Something with live yogurt cultures will help build up good bacteria in your system. If you can get it, kefir is even better for this.

- Take Pepto-Bismol with you and use it regularly. This will coat you stomach lining and give added protection against local bugs. I breezed through a trip to Israel doing this even though one-third of the people got sick.

- No matter how good the food being sold on the street looks, don’t buy it. (I have managed to resist the heavenly smells so far, but I am always tempted.)

- “Boil it, fry it, peel it, or forget it.”

Now back to the point. When the conference ended, the rest of the Westerners piled into small buses with too many bodies and way too much luggage for some very long road trips to Rwanda or rural Uganda. (Think clown car for 12 hours without the smooth road surface or shade of the big top.) I, on the other hand, was picked up by a lone driver in a van to visit with Scripture Union of Uganda. SU is a great ministry that works with students and families and has some excellent material for AIDS prevention. Of course it comes from a Christian perspective, so when an Islamic school invited them to share the program with their students, 200 of them responded to the gospel!

Worldlink has connected our church in NJ with one of SU's ministers, Dickens Zziwa Ssenyonjo. I was able to spend the day with Dickens and some other staff people before they dropped me at the airport. I even had the chance to meet Dickens’ wife just a couple of weeks before they had their first child, a boy named Jeremy Reynolds. I was able to take a short video of Dickens describing the benefits of Worldlink’s partnership. It is available on Worldlink's website (or was until the ice storms cut off power to our hosting service in Tulsa). As soon as the site is up again, I'll post the link. It is well worth 2 minutes to watch.

Having lunch with Dickens and another minister named Frank Nkandu was interesting. When we walked into the restaurant to get our food, the tables in the courtyard were all reserved. When Dickens, Frank, and the white man walked back out, the best table was suddenly available. When we all ordered fruit juice, mine was half again as large as theirs. I was uncomfortable with that, so I asked the waitress to bring them the larger glasses as well. I’m glad they took my US currency, otherwise that would have been pretty embarrassing.

Thankfully the restaurant experience was the only time I really felt the deference and privilege that comes with being a Caucasian. I am told by friends in Africa that it is not uncommon for a westerner to be given more authority and honor than he or she would receive if they were African. While most of the rest of the world is better at hospitality than we are, Western privilege goes beyond that.

Part of the problem is a vestige of colonial rule. Another part is the assumption that the "west is best." A third part is more subtle and related to communication and authority. That topic is a post in itself, but I will try to explain it quickly.

Western thought is strongly individualistic. Americans are the poster children for this trait. We are also the loudest and quickest to speak. Other parts of the world - and Africans are the poster children for this - tend to be more communally oriented in their decision making, People tend to listen more and longer. So when an American is in a meeting, logic makes a case in the brain, which the mouth communicates in matter of fact terms. That is not how the local decision making process works.

This difference is one reason Worldlink's vision and programs are so essential to the kingdom. The gospel is shared by local people, with local sensitivities and experience, and it can be heard clearly and without pressure to please a foreigner.

Those are some of the highlights from the Uganda trip. It would be impossible to describe the entire trip adequately - the friendships, the food, the discussions, and the worship. (Nothing makes me feel more rhythmically challenged than worshiping with Africans!) If the muse strikes me, I might try to write a little about reconciliation and some of the other things we discussed, but you should go experience it for yourself. The next conference is in Rwanda. Sign up here.

08 December 2007

very sweet

We sent photo albums to Liberia for each of our kids while they were at the orphanage. When the kids came home, they still looked through them constantly. It was the link that tied their old life to their new one. Every few weeks Joshua and Patience still pull theirs out and ask to have them read at bedtime. The books for the older two are virtually identical, but we read both anyway. Garty's, however, is a Sassy chew book appropriate for the 4 month old baby we were matched with. We didn't write anything in his except "we love you" on the last page. It's just pictures. A few minutes ago, Patience started looking through Garty's book and applying her "story" to his pictures. It sounded like this: "Mommy and Daddy. Mommy and Daddy love you so much. Jesus love you more." It's good to hear from her mouth that she understands how much we love them, especially during a week when loving has been harder than usual.

07 December 2007

is 6pm too early for bed?

If you've been wondering where we've been all week, I (Becky) have been drinking heavily and taking sedatives. Well... that's not entirely accurate, but I'd be happier right now if it were true. The kids are on my last nerve, and it's a very short one in my little toe. Every day this week when Joshua comes home from school, the kids get wild. Maybe it's Christmas mania rubbing off on Joshua during the school day. It shouldn't be because he doesn't even understand all the Christmas hype, but holiday insanity isn't reasonable. At any rate, bedtime has been moving progressively earlier as the week progresses. Then today happened. This afternoon Patience peed a puddle on the floor, walked across the room dripping a trail behind her, peed a second puddle where she stopped, and then continued to walk around the downstairs in her soaked sweatshirt, pants, and slippers. I found out about the incident when I had a close encounter with one of the puddles. After cleaning the floor and changing clothes, Patience spent 20 or 30 minutes alone in her room for her own protection. We had been having bathroom issues with Patience a while ago, but she's been doing really well recently. Not only has she been having fewer accidents but she also has been telling us when she has them (because she only gets punished when she doesn't tell us). What happened today is a mystery to me. My horoscope for the week must have been bad. Then when it was time to leave to pick up Joshua, I discovered that even though Patience had been getting ready to leave for at least 10 minutes, she still didn't have even one shoe on. We've been trying to help her understand that she needs to tell us when she wants help, but it obviously hasn't made a dent. It turns out that her velcro strap had pulled out, and she couldn't get it back where it needed to be. I had to move things along, and we still barely made it to school. The rest of the afternoon involved a lot of repeating myself and nearly sending the older 2 to time out before they listened. At dinner, Garty decided he didn't like his chicken, so he messed around for 40 minutes. I fed him the last 4 pieces so we could move on with life only to take him out of his chair and discover that he had hidden the other pieces under his rear end when I wasn't watching. Interestingly, when we had chicken the other night he inhaled 2 bowls of it. Peter's away speaking for a campus group tonight, so I decided that for my sanity I'd let the kids watch a movie and then get them ready for bed early. When instructed to go choose a movie, Joshua decided instead to mess with the movie that was already in the VCR. He jammed the VCR and destroyed the tape in the process. After 5 minutes on the steps, we discussed the fact that since they haven't been obeying very well today, they shouldn't be allowed to watch a movie at all. However, because I love them (translated: because I don't want to deal with them right now), I would still let them watch a movie as long as they cooperated really well at bedtime. Barney ends in 5 minutes, so we'll see how things go. If anyone has any suggestions on how to survive the weekend (other than the aforementioned relaxation aids), feel free to let us know!

03 December 2007

Ugandan reflections: part 2

After the second day of the conference, I knew I had a target on my back because of Worldlink’s mission. One of the men who worked in the housekeeping department of the hotel stopped me, asked for my card, and told me briefly about the ministry he is involved with to street children in Kampala. I had not even spoken about Worldlink to an audience of more than two or three people at that point!

It was very hard to hear about the needs and know that neither I nor Worldlink had the resources to meet them. Even harder was not being able to meet them when I had the resources, as in the case of Timothy, a brother from Kenya, near the Western Ugandan border. He is a police officer from a rural (poor) area who also pastors a church. He asked for a laptop. I was unwilling to leave him mine – and since it was Worldlink’s, I could not do that with integrity even if I so chose. He did not know I had six other donated laptops in a suitcase in my room that I was delivering to ministry partners later in the week. I am glad he did not, because my polite brush off would have become an insult.

I encountered three types of people at the conference. The first type was there trolling for funds, despite the admonition of the organizer not to seek short term benefit at the expense of a long term relationship. It is hard if you see this as your only opportunity to get your message out and make your request. I probably saw more of this than anyone once word got around about what I did.

The second type was also interested in partnerships (funding), but came from a less desperate place. It is hard to describe what I mean by that, but these people were genuinely interested in conversation with me, not simply selling me something. The ones that I was most impressed by also seemed to be the ones who did not ask or only did so in a peripheral way. These people came with honest questions above their needs and interests (Paul Vivire, Jessy Togba-Doya, Ronald Nalera).

The third type primarily came from outside the region or from larger churches in the area. They came for the conversation, perhaps seeking partnerships, but primarily driven by the desire to be there, hear the questions, and hopefully some answers. Of course, many more questions were raised than answered.

I had been asked by the organizer to lead a discussion on International Partnerships. The workshop was Thursday, near the end of the conference. It was well received, though it ran long because of the good discussions. Even though I kept telling people they should leave and have tea (Africans love their tea time – every morning and afternoon), most stayed until the end, and 12 or so asked for copies of the presentation.

I think the most helpful part of the discussion was the concluding section which covered how to write a proposal for funding. This came out of a conversation I had the day before with a great minister from rural Uganda, Paul Vivire. I talked about what to include, why to include it, and what types of pictures to use. (DO include photos of yourself or the staff. DON’T wear a suit and tie when you get your photo taken or subconsciously I will think you are on the same level I am. And smile! Most of the world does not smile when having their picture taken.) A lot of this came out of what I have learned from trying to effectively promote Worldlink.

It was a little disappointing to see only about 5 Westerners in the workshop, especially since the only other option was on “funding your ministry.” I know some folks from North America who wanted to come but were engaged in deep discussion with Africans at the time. I suspect others were just plain tired by that time – I know I was. Still, I was hoping to promote Worldlink to them, so it was disappointing to not have them in attendance. I pray it means they were busy creating partnerships and not dismissing the notion.