Back in the Saddle Again

August 7, 2004

Dear Friend Jane,

Well my friend, I have spent two birthdays in Africa now. On our return trip we had an eventful time in London.  Our flight to Entebbe was delayed 5 hours so DSC 074 (Small) we spent the day walking around London streets.  DSC 072 (Small) We took the train into the city and managed to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben.

I slept on the plane ride to London but Mike and Casey were unable to and were pretty beat when we got back to Heathrow.  As we were boarding the plane for Entebbe they discovered that they had double booked our seats so we were upgraded to Business Class –oh, what a great grace that was!  The recliner seats allowed us to sleep on this 8 hour leg of the journey and get prepared for the work that awaited in Uganda.

Would you believe that I left my pocket book on the American flight that we took from Richmond to Boston?

Picture 067 (Small)Shirlene, the Rafiki Girls Center Director, met with me the day we returned and asked me to begin the next day observing the classes that I would teach: Music, Cooking & Nutrition and Sewing.  Procuring the groceries needed to prepare the noon time meals, making menus and gathering recipes, teaching the recorder, teaching the girls to make a dress on treadle machines and supervising in the Weaving Room on Tuesdays and Thursdays will be some of the pieces of my new assignment.  Picture 075 (Small)Uganda 018 (Small)

Shirlene seems most anxious for me to take over the sewing class even though I don’t know a bias from a facing!  I am ready and observing to beat the band to get up to speed.

The Mamas and Aunties are expressing much confusion about my status in the village since my return.  The truth is it is as difficult for me as for them right now. Auntie Edith invited me to come to her home for a visit on her off day yesterday so I went after work.  She had cooked 5 traditional foods over charcoal each was wrapped in banana leaves and she wanted to share them with me.  Jane the extravagance of this gift will astound me forever–she cooked the equivalent of a holiday meal for me and her children were sitting and watching me eat…I can only hope that they tasted some of this when I was gone.

I said, “Edith you don’t eat this early.”  She smiled that sweet smile and said, “Jja Jja, I wanted to share food with you and to pray for what has happened.  I want this meeting and our words to be Christian and honoring.”  That was her way of saying she was not asking me to gossip and she knew that being Christian meant our language needed to be different from that of the unbelieving world.

DSC02777 (Small)With tears she thanked me for making her feel valued as a person and for speaking to the women of Rafiki as though they were as important as anyone  else.  She said, “Jja Jja, my heart felt like it had been put in a cold box when Mommy told us you had asked to go to the RGC.  I thought, ‘What has happened? I know Jja Jja loves us.’  Then I thought you would come back and sit us down and explain to us all the reasons that there were so many changes because you always tell us everything.  What I find is that you walk by with only a wave now.”

I did spend some time explaining things to Edith and assuring her that my help to her family would continue no matter how things were different within the gate.  I asked her to trust God that the changes would help the running of things in the village and we would wait and watch how things went.  We clasped hands and spent a long time in imploring prayer–I will never forget what happened in that hut.

You of all people know how that meeting affected my heart.

I do want you to know I am seeing God and am sustained by Him in all this.  In fact, I am so grateful to be with the girls at the center in morning devotions each day. God broke out in all our hearts while we were praying today.  For devotion time we were looking at the attribute of God’s Impartiality.  Later, during the time of confession one girl asked God to forgive her because she often suspected that He favored others more than He did her–she went on to say that she wanted to believe what the Word said rather than her feelings.  Picture 034 (Small)

The girls sing beautifully and I am most blessed to stand among them during hymn time.  Later, the first term girls completed their first blouse project and were thrilled to think they were allowed to take them home to show family–they kept saying to Shirlene, “God Bless you Miss Shirlene–for assisting us.”

It has been a great morning. I haven’t read our Psalm for the day but am even now rehearsing the truths that are there in Psalm 91 (that is the one right?) through my head. DSC 079 (Small)
We will have mini missionaries for dinner tonight and hope that they are made to feel welcome–Jane, I am glad that God saw fit to knit our hearts together–I miss you daily and am helped and remember to say, “God thank you for e-mail, phones and yearly chances to sit and sip coffee with Jane.”  What would I do without a friend with whom I can talk about any and every thing!”

love-lissa

Rainbow Connection

June 14, 2004

Dear Jane,

I trust the time with Nancy and David Writebol was good for all, they seem like such a devoted missionary couple.  I told Mike I hope you heard stories of people impassioned for Christ.  I look forward to seeing them at Enrichment Week in San Antonio.

DSC02405 (Small) I went to Owino Market on Monday and bought 57 T-shirts, 2 pair of sandals, 42 pairs of shorts and 5 book bags for under $100.  Each outfit for the children costs 75 cents!  For the last two days I have been culling worn out, too little clothes from the cottages and replacing them with “new” things.  The children are thrilled and are colorful as rainbows.  When I give new clothes to the children, I have to first take the old ones away.  If I leave them in the cottages, the mamas continue to have the children wear them no matter what the condition.  This is not a culture that has the luxury of  “throwing things out” — it just is not done here.  They really do not have any understanding of why I come and take things away!  It is very difficult for them and they continue to tell me that a pair of shorts or shirt is still good–regardless of the holes or faded look.

When I do get clothes out of the cottages, it is when they are in better condition than what most children in the surrounding areas are wearing.  I take the clothes that are recyclable to Central Baptist in Wakiso and let Susan distribute them to the children in her congregation. I will never forget the day we went there for Sunday School and a little three year old girl came in by herself totally naked except for a string tied around her waist.  I actually bought her a church outfit and knickers which she was so proud of she lifted her dress for everyone to see!

DSC02113 (Small)I had a fun morning with the aunties and children.  It is Hero’s Day and so all the children were home doing chores from 9-10.  At 10 the aunties had promised them that we would go get mangoes.  Kasmiri our gardener got a long pole and jabbed at the mangoes until he had knocked about 15 out of a tree. We had a feast. DSC02136 (Small) They like to eat their fruit before it is ripe here so the taste of an unripe mango is about like a Granny Smith apple.  We sat and laughed and enjoyed those mangos and it was a sweet time of fellowship.

Later, Mike and I went to town for groceries and we found my favoriteDSC02139 (Small) cracker in stock so I am a happy woman!  It is difficult to find crisp things here and I get so hungry for that.  Mike discovered a cracker made in Malaysia that is really the ticket! I can’t tell you how thrilled you can get when you find something like what you loved in the States–it makes a party!

It is Marsha’s afternoon to cover the activity time and dining hall so I am in with Casey who is off from school. We gave Edith a ride home from work and she took me to her place to meet the 2 orphans that she raises along with her own 3 children. John and Norbert are from 2 different women who have died of AIDS and named Edith as the caretaker. Edith’s countenance about this is never that it is burdensome or out of the ordinary to pick up a couple of extra children.  She cannot imagine that there was any other response than to joyfully take these children in.  One of the boys is infected with HIV but Edith has kept that from the other children so that he will not be ostracized.  In material things, this family is not rich but in love and care they are most blessed!

Well it is the end of the day and I am going onto the porch with a glass of tea, my Bible and watch the sun go down…..

I hope the Lord is very near you today my friend.

with much love,

lissa

Love, a Many Splendored Thing

May 5, 2004

One generation will commend your works to another;
they will tell of your mighty acts.
They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and I will meditate on your wonderful works. (Psalm 145)

Dear Jane,

 This morning I am thankful that God is allowing me the privilege of being one generation commending Him and His Robertworks to another (vs. 4).  Yesterday I met up with the 3 and 4 year olds as they were on their way to school.  Meeting the children is always the joy in my morning–they are all smiles and stories.

Today  Mama Robinah said to Robert, “Robert did you tell Jja Jja that you prayed and God helped you not wet yourself last night?”  That little boy’s face broke out in a big smile and he ran and threw his arms around my knees and said in that wonderful broken English, “Jja Jja I prayed–I pray for Auntie Casey –I pray for Uncle Mike–Jja Jja I pray.”  Girlfriend, moments like that make my heart explode. That his mama has taught him to take all things to God in prayer is mega-marvelous.  He is already armed for life.  When I think on the institutional, non-attentive life that Robert knew in the Babies Home and see the security and nurture that he has here I am immensely thankful to God.Kids2  The children are thriving.

Robert came to the Babies Home so severely malnourished that he could not hold his body upright. God’s plan for Robert’s life is very different from where he began his days.   He is so bright.  He memorizes quickly and sings beautifully all the words of the hymn CD that is in his cottage.  It is not unusual for these children to be walking along the sidewalk and to break out with “How Great Thou Art” or “Amazing Grace.”

We went to Casey’s volleyball game yesterday and the Coiners went as well. DSC01885 (Small)  Later we ate at the Cafe’ Roma and Casey was thrilled that we found pizza that was almost like “real” pizza there.  She said, “Mom, I think you miss something so long that you forget the real taste and something close to it is just as good in the end.”  She is a wise woman.

Thank you for hearing my heart for Mom and sending her flowers dear lady–she will be delighted with that thoughtfulness and loves cut flowers dearly.  I know as I read Psalm 145 that there is nothing facing us today that our Great God won’t be meeting before us–the words “abundant” and “abounding”  and “everlasting” have us wrapped in a security that is awe inspiring.  May the awe of the Lord fall all over you as you meet with Him this morning.   I am wanting to call on Him in truth – regarding Carolyn, advise me if you hear me hiding out of self protectiveness or some other self absorbed something–if God wants to use me differently I am willing.

Love to you friend–lissa

Open My Eyes That I May See

May 4, 2004

Dear Friend,

DSC01495 (Small)There seems to be a new level of tiredness that has entered my spirit–we have lost two mamas and fired a third and are trying to operate the cottages with women who are not yet sure what their responsibilities are.  I am out of the house more than ever.  Jane, I find myself in open conversation with the Lord almost all the time.

Today as I walked between cottages rectifying misunderstandings with the aunties, I said, “Lord, If I was not sure that you are the lover of my soul and the one who is steering me around endless relational potholes today—I would be despairing.  MollyMilk (Small)As it is, you know my weakness–I am just bone tired and longing for rest.”  Later, I was checking on Molly who has a huge knot under her ear and is causing me some concern.  While carrying her, I tripped over a tricycle, I tried to protect her and made every bone in my body sore in the fall that we took.  She giggled like I was playing a game with her.  I am hoping I can get out of bed tomorrow but will take it as a gift from the Jesus who hears and answers if not! 🙂  When Molly spent the night with us we took a picture of her that made us roll–it looks like a “Got Milk?” commercial!

May 5, 2004

I slept so hard last night until I have those sheet creases pressed into my skin this morning!  The children will be fascinated by them–they don’t miss a trick and ask about every bump and blemish on my body.  How are you this morning?  Today, I lead Mama Robinah and the aunties in a study of Gen. 13 & 14–the stories that involve Lot and the war between the 4 kings and the 5 kings.

DSC00563 (Small)Auntie Rose came to Bible study for the first time last week and her heart was so lifted.  She is the one who was working for us for a couple of months when we realized her eyesight was very bad.  She had asked for a Bible and Carolyn and I gave her one.  When she opened the pages and looked down, she asked,  “JjaJa, why are the words smeared?”  We got her some reading glasses and she was thrilled to see things that were not clear before.

At the end of Bible study, I asked if there were ways they wanted me to pray for them personally.  I mentioned that since we had just studied Abram’s plan to solve the problem of famine in his own strength — if they were facing any famines and needed prayer.  Rose who is the most self protective African woman I have ever met and one who does not like to show any type of inadequacy said with uncustomary excitement, “JjaJa, pray for me in having a desire to read the Bible.”  She went on to say,  “I was raised Catholic and was never taught this book. When I became a “born again” I heard how important it was to read the Bible.  I have always felt guilty that I don’t know it and when I try to read it I fall asleep.  I can never see the point of what I am reading.      But today, I have enjoyed this so much–I would never have gotten anything from the story if I had not been here to listen.  I feel like I have been asleep and am waking up.”

Jane pray that God gives her a great desire to know Him in His word–as we talked the other night, we both know it is a great gift to have a heart that loves the Scripture. DSC02757 (Small)That moment with Rose put more wind in my sails that I have tasted in some weeks.  She was in the Bible Study because she is filling in for Flavia who has abandoned her role as mama.

What a God we serve–I am so grateful for the privilege of serving these children. Oh friend, we have a God who is a Rock–He is truly my steadfast love, my stronghold and my deliverer–a strong fortress and shield–He is able to subdue the enemies within me and without–whom shall I fear today?  May you find Him a wonderful refuge–I will love hearing the new song that you will sing to Him.

In the steadfast love of the Lord

lissa

Sweet Reunion

robinahwilliam-custom.jpgWhile roaming YouTube videos from Uganda, Mike ran across this one of dear Mama Robinah’s boys’ cottage.  It was so great to see how the children had grown since we left.

Jovan in the white striped shirt still does not like to dance.  Charles in the dark blue shirt and pink sandals really does break loose!  I could see Samson tall and lean in the yellow polo and Robert in the yellow t-shirt missing his front teeth! How my heart soared to see how little William had grown when his face came front and center in the greyish white polo near the end of the song.  Best of all was to hear Mama Robinah’s strong voice praising again–that is an experience I have missed greatly.

We’re Surrounded!

April 15, 2004

Dear Jane,

It is 9:34 at night–way past missionary midnight which falls for me about 8:00.  DSC01077 (Small) Mike and Casey have retired for the evening.  Mike often takes the mini missionaries who visit back to the airport at Entebbe.  It is an hour drive and the flight out to London is very early so tonight he is not the family night owl. There are times, like today when I feel so surrounded by humanity that I purpose to carve out some time to be still, quiet and alone with God.  God has met me with much comfort concerning the death of James Okwir.  As I prepared for the Mama’s Bible study of Genesis 9, I was warned and helped when I considered the heart of Ham.  He sought to expose and ridicule Noah when he lay naked and drunk.  How easy it is to feel superior and to exploit other’s weaknesses.  How beautiful that the other two sons honored their father and sought to cover and protect him in his folly.

There has been so much tongue wagging about this tragic incident.  Everyone seems shocked that this young man was stealing. I asked the mamas today if we were guilty of arrogantly thinking that the sin of stealing only dwelt in James’ heart.  I asked whether we felt justified in exposing and denigrating his character?  Are we like Ham–anxious to clothe ourselves in self-righteousness and willing to strip this brother of all honor?   I wondered if God would not rather have us tremble at what lives in our hearts and draw close to Him who is willing to cover rather than expose us!

DSC02141 (Small) Carolyn and I took Sophie to Mengo Hospital today where her TB treatment is given.  She will go every two weeks for about 7 months. I thought she would be hooked up to some breathing apparatus or some inhaling machine.  The treatment plan consisted of waiting in line to be weighed–waiting in line to be seen by a doctor, waiting in another line to get in to meet the pharmacist.  She carefully counted out tablets that were to be taken for the next two weeks and put them in a tiny envelope like the envelopes we get from tellers at the bank.  Following the TB treatment portion of the visit, we got into two more lines to have her seen by a doctor for an ear infection and then another line for the medicine for that!

mengo (Small) During those waiting hours, you see sights that you can scarcely believe.  People collapsing from malaria symptoms, lepers, malnourished children who look like skeletons, children urinating on the floor.  Despairing, suffering people–waiting for the most minimal kind of care.

Compared to the sights we saw, our Sophie is thriving!  She now has wrinkles in her thighs that used to look like Kermit the Frog’s!  She is eating to beat the band and getting stronger everyday.  DSC01703 (Small) I wouldn’t take anything for the privilege that is ours to oversee this child’s recovery–she is so worth it.  Carolyn and I adore her hair — it is a soft straight Indian looking growth.  The doctor said that we need to shave it off.  He said that her hair was a sure sign of malnourishment and TB.  He told us that if she is getting good food and good treatment her hair will grow in curly like it is supposed to on an African!

The verse that sustained me through the day was Psalm 125, especially these words:

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the LORD surrounds his people
both now and forevermore.

As I sat on wooden benches in the hospital with TB patients,  I counted on His surrounding Presence and it was there.

Until later my dearest friend–you are cherished and loved–lissa

Sweet & Sour

March 31, 2004

Hello my friend,

DSC01696 (Small)  We brought 2 new babies here yesterday.  After a confusing delay and a much too long wait for dear little Sophie–she is finally here!  Our doctor at SOS is not at all convinced that she is suffering from TB.  He says that the x-ray that he viewed of her chest was of such poor quality that he may recommend a better one.DSC01872 (Small)

He also wants to see her next treatment report from Mengo hospital where she has been getting TB treatments.  In his opinion, he says he would label Sophie as a child who has “failure to survive” complex but believes that that will end when she is eating and sleeping properly.  We were so encouraged by his words.

Sophie will go to cottage #1 where she will be cared for by Auntie Janet.  Mama Jennipher has left the village and not returned. DSC01682 (Small) She left the care of these children in order to take care of a crisis with her own daughter. This is becoming more routine than I can say — any family crisis presses these women to make a choice between Rafiki,  where they are committed to live full time, and their own homes where things are never stable or smooth running.  I know we need a policy that will allow the women some more freedom to come and go so that we can hold on to them over the long haul.  Since I have been here, we have lost 4 mothers!

Auntie Janet has been exceptional in this latest AWOL episode.  She has moved in to cottage #1 and is making the care of these children her top priority. DSC01678 (Small)The presence of babies in the village has lifted all our hearts and made us fix our eyes on the goal rather than all the problems in arriving there!  The children in cottage #1 are fascinated with this cute tyke with the extraordinary eye lashes. Janet is completely besotted as well–it is unusual to see African women display such outward affection.  We have also been waiting on William the one I call our little “Buddah Boy” and he too has arrived to live at Rafiki.    He is taller and his stomach is not as distended — he loves the dining hall and is relishing all the attention he is getting from his new mother– Mama Robinah.

Easter Morning

Jane, we had a tragic thing happen here this weekend.  One of our most trusted guards James Okwir  (O-quill) was on duty Friday night. DSC00282 (Small) James was a Rafiki guard and also worked as a personal gardener for Mike and I and another ROS couple here.  Our hearts were so tender to this wonderful man who tried every way he could to support not only his own family but children who had been orphaned in his extended family.  He would work all night as  guard and then spend several more hours washing cars, replanting and keeping the weeds out of the flower beds around our houses.

Anyway, the generator went off at 10:00 on Friday night and in the darkness he took a 5 gallon can of paint from Rafiki, left the village and went across the road to store it in a house of someone who lives close by.  Since we also pay outside community guards to keep watch at night, one of them saw him stealing and reported it.

James knew he had been caught and that sweet man was so shamed that he went home,  swallowed rat poison and killed himself.  I cannot even begin to describe the heartache this has caused for us  and the nationals who work here.  I found myself of despairing of being any kind of a help to these people when what we bring and build is so tempting to them.  Mike eating sugar cane James was in many ways one of our “success” stories.   He had fled the north where the war is going on rather than be impressed into service with the rebels.  He found work here–he found Christ here and was the most dependable worker.  How horrid that his escape from certain death in the north ended with this– to flee here to supposed safety only to face such temptation and shame that he ended up taking his own life.  The heartache does not stop with him–he left a mentally unstable pregnant wife and extended family who wailed and wondered who would support them now.  Mike commented that CEO’s can steal millions and experience no remorse or shame but this man could not face the world after stealing what would amount to about $50.

Jane, this is the resurrection day of our Lord.  My hope rests in the truth of this day.  I am convinced that James is right now as alive as Jesus and is enjoying perfect fellowship with him.  I am convinced that the truth of Romans 8:31-39 does not mock him because of his sin but has been fulfilled in him because of what Christ did in spite of his sin.  I didn’t expect to appreciate the truth of resurrection in this horrible way but it is more real and precious to me this year than ever before.  He is Alive!  He is Alive indeed!

With heavy, hopeful heart,

lissa