Uganda, eh! Ever since I was a little kid, I always wanted to go to Africa. It always felt like a dream that would never become reality. Meanwhile, I had been traveling to Guatemala…more and more frequently. My friend, Yelsi from Guatemala, said about feeling like God was telling her to go to Africa. I thought, “Oh that would be so awesome! But, there is no way that I can do that while working at Reading hospital. I can’t get off that long.” Yelsi and I continued to talk about it. She wasn’t sure she wanted to travel alone and really wanted me to come along. Well, one thing led to another and I think most of you know how 2015 went for me, which led to the 3 month leave of absence from work, which led to me saying, “That’s it! I’m moving to Guatemala!” So, Yelsi and I continued to talk about Africa and Conner said, “Hey! I want to come!” I told Yelsi to figure out when this trip would work for her to go; I will make sure I’m done with work beforehand and then we can go to Africa together and straight to Guatemala from there. We had a connection with a children’s home in Uganda. However, that fell through. But then, a friend from Guatemala gave us another connection, who took a chance on having us come for 3 weeks and stay with them. Well, God totally put everything in line for us and we had an amazing time!
We arrived late at night after over 30 hours of travel. We were met by our amazing Ugandan driver, Brian. That poor guy. He was all ready to talk and get to know us and we were practically dead asleep or all but asleep during the drive to the house. After we got some rest and attempted to adjust to being 8 hours ahead of PA time, we jumped right in and started helping with the DOORS ministry. DOORS had made their start by taking in some street boys. They now have grown to helping in numerous areas. Yelsi, Conner, and I helped with the kids in the village of Katwe on Mondays and Wednesdays and then with a women’s Bible study and house visits in Namuwongo on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We had such an amazing time with them! We took public transportation to get to these places and definitely had some entertaining moments while riding the taxis and “bodas” (mini motorcycle/dirt bikes).
Tuesday nights, we had Bible study with women in Namuwongo. Many were pregnant and single mothers. A lot of the woman are HIV positive and their husbands leave after they find out she is positive, even if they got it from them. There was a nurse there who took blood pressures of the pregnant women and talked to them about their health. After that, we gave out Mama Kits to the women who were close to their due date. These kits provided them with supplies that the hospital would need to safely deliver their baby. If they did not have the kit, the hospital would either turn them away or just use whatever supplies they could scrounge together. As we handed out these kits, we prayed with each woman. To me, that really pushed me out of my comfort zone. I never was a huge fan of praying out loud in a group. But this pushed me to do it. I could really feel God’s presence while we prayed for each woman.
After that, we had a time of singing and Bible study with the women and their children. Our friend, Jen, decided to have us act out the story on the last Tuesday that we were there. We were talking about being ready for Jesus’ second coming. I had to beg to Yelsi to share some of her oil for my lamp. So I did a running slide across the stage…and skinned my knee in the process. At another point, I was to come running down the aisle, late. As I came running down, a toddler was backing up from the bench that he was sitting on and ended up right in my path. I did a spin move at the last moment and mostly avoided the collision. But the kid was so startled that he fell forward. The women were cheering, laughing, and clapping the whole time. (Side note, the kid was fine. No injuries). Afterwards, Jen said some people asked how long we practiced the skit. Jen said, “Oh, they just found out about it 5 minutes before we started and didn’t practice at all.” She also said that she has never seen the women clap or laugh before. That was really special to be a part of them opening up and being really engaged in the story. At the end of the service, we had a time where the women could come up and be prayed for if they wanted. Many came up to us in tears, asking for us to pray for health for them and their babies. A lot of the ones that I prayed for were HIV positive and they were just praying that their babies would be HIV negative at their next appointment. After the service was over, anyone who wanted us to come on a house visit on Thursdays could come up and request that through the woman leading our group.
During house visits, we split up into groups to go to different houses to talk with the family and pray with them. We always had a Ugandan with us to help with translating when needed and for us to follow their lead. We talked with so many women who were struggling with their husbands leaving them; they are trying to single parent these children, don’t have food and don’t know when they will get their next meal, children are malnourished, praying that their child will get school fees paid for so they can receive an education, don’t have enough money for rent, being chased out of the house, and unsure where they will live, trying to start a business to provide for their family, and the list goes on. We shed some tears and poured our hearts out to one another in those tiny 1 room houses.
In Uganda when someone greets you, they say, “Hello. How are you?” and the response is always, “I’m fine,” even if you aren’t fine. When we visited one woman, we asked her how she was. She said, “I’m fine.” Then she shook her head and said, “No. I’m not fine. I’m not fine.” She then began to explain that her brother had died suddenly a week ago after having a massive headache and died the following day. He was never sick a day in his life according to this woman. She then explained that her mother-in-law died and numerous other family members within the last few months. She was just sad and really worried for her mother who just lost her son. My heart just broke for this woman. She is normally smiling and was trying to smile that day. I felt God pushing me to share about my experience from the past year. I shared with her the loss my friends and I had experienced and how even through that downright terrible time, God’s glory shined. He never left our sides. He pulled us through, turned people to Him, and restored us to even better than what we were before that happened. He is our provider, our healer, and even in the darkest times, He can use something for His glory. He knows the big picture. We may not understand why something is happening, but He is in total control. Yelsi also shared how hard it was losing 2 of her brothers, but how God is faithful. We all shed some tears with her, but she left feeling encouraged that she can get through this time in her life.
On Mondays and Wednesdays, we went to Katwe to help with the kids. (For those of you who have not seen the Disney movie Queen of Katwe….go watch it! You can see where I have been, experience some of the culture, and watch a really good movie. Main actress is awesome in person!). We did a Bible story and singing with the kids and then played games. Those kids are just awesome! Love to play, get hugs, and certainly loved being in pictures. It was funny though how they would ask for us to take a picture, then stand there and stare at the camera. But when you would show them the picture, they would break out in a huge smile, laugh, and cover their mouths. We did house visits on one of the days that we were there and the moms thanked us for having this program for their kids to learn about God and have somewhere safe to be, rather than roaming around on the streets of the slums where it isn’t the safest place to be.
On 2 days, we went to the Acholi quarters. The Acholi people are from northern Uganda and are now in this area after seeking refuge. Kony led a children army, kidnapped children and forced them to become children soldiers. Many were forced to kill their own family members or witness them being killed. So many families were torn apart and many never found out if their loved ones were alive, even years later. (Another movie to watch: War Dance. It is a really well done movie that follows a couple of children as they prepare for a school competition, but also explains their past and what happened to them during the years of Kony’s reign). These children soldiers are now adults and have children. On the first day we were there, we sang some songs and did a lesson about the verse talking about tasting and seeing that the Lord is good. We did a demonstration where they had to try cookies that didn’t look very appealing. But once they tasted it, they realized they were good.
On the second day, we went to do medical care for those who needed it. We were set up in a one room house and our translator was a woman who looked like she could tear you apart, but really was the sweetest woman ever. She witnessed her father and brother being killed as Kony and his men invaded their area when she was much younger. While we were there, women kept filing in and explaining their medical issues. At one point, a woman crawled into the room and sat in the corner. She explained that she had a leg wound. I cleaned it and changed the dressing. While I was talking to another woman, the previous woman spoke up and asked why we couldn’t just cut off her leg. She would rather crawl around than drag this leg around. We explained to her that it would be worse for her to amputate her leg at this point than to keep it. We also shared with her about going through hard times and how God is our provider and healer and no matter what we are going through, He will be right there. I shared with her the lyrics from the song, “I have this hope” by Tenth Avenue North. After we prayed, she led us in a worship song in Luganda, WALKED out of the house with us, and followed while we went on a house visit down a really steep hill.
Another day, we went to the area where street boys stay. Most of the boys were high from huffing petroleum, which helped them with their feeling of hunger. I cleaned wounds and did a teaching about the effects of huffing and substance abuse. Conner brought them a soccer ball and explained the salvation story with the colors on the ball. Marjorie taught them about listening to the Holy Spirit and how to have a personal relationship with God. It was eye opening for me to see where these boys were at in their lives. Many left home because it was that bad at home: abusive situations, alcoholic parents, etc. They came to the city in hope of a better life and money. They are out on the streets and in dirt areas. When it rains, it’s a terrible situation for them. They have nowhere to go and it’s just a muddy mess. Later that night, we went to worship night with DOORS. The awesome thing was watching the teen boys who were leading worship night. DOORS started by taking in street boys, just like the ones we worked with earlier that day, who were high and living on the street. And now, these boys are leading worship, giving their whole hearts and lives to God and working hard to finish school. It was one of the most amazing things to witness and realize just how far these guys have come. Absolutely amazing.
It’s time for the safari…While we were in Uganda, we were blessed with the opportunity to go on a safari and to the zoo. We traveled about 12 hours to get there and 17 hours to return. Our driver, Brian, was amazing. It was so great to get to know him and some of his friends more as we traveled. We saw a ton of water buffalo, hippos, elephants, water bucks, warthogs, birds, and some other animals. Unfortunately, Conner got a GI bug and then later shared with Yelsi and myself. But otherwise, we had a great time. One thing that really stuck out to me was when we were sharing our testimonies. Brian had mentioned that he was involved with ministry, but there was a point where he wasn’t and had time to himself. He wasn’t quite sure what to do. He poured his heart out to God and realized that you have to take care of yourself first before you can pour yourself into ministry. Once you are filled up, what is extra and overflowing, is what you can pour into ministry. That really stuck with me. I have a tendency to dump it all out there and then I get to the point that I’m worn out, but I keep pushing along. I feel like growing up as a farm kid and being an ED nurse has that engrained into me. But, I found out the hard way last year that I need to take care of myself before I can take care of others. It took a long time and is still a work in progress to get back from the place that I was in last year. So, Brian, thank you for that reminder! On the way home, Conner was feeling like crap. I was starting to get sore. But we made the best of it: blasted the music and sang the whole way home! I was losing my voice from singing so loudly. We had an awesome time! We even got Brian hooked onto My Lighthouse by Rend Collective Experiment. On another day, Brian, Conner, and I went to the zoo. We definitely laughed a lot, especially when the baboon walked right up to the fence and pointed to his butt. I pretty much lost it! Brian and I also reached through the fence and touched a cheetah. It was my idea...don't want to get him in trouble with his wife!
I just can’t say thank you enough to those of you who helped make this trip possible and just downright awesome! You guys in Uganda are amazing and we had a life changing experience! Marjorie, Glenn, Annalise, Brian, everyone with DOORS, Hank, and Mary, especially thank you! I am so thankful for this opportunity and we hope to see you all again in the future! All are welcome to visit us here in Guatemala too!
So this Haiti trip…clearly it was a God thing that it even happened. It was not on my radar at all…and the more I talked to the people in our group, the more I realized it wasn’t on their radars either. But like someone in our group had shared, she loves to see how God puts these groups together. They always turn out perfectly. Our group rocked. I may be a bit biased. But seriously, I laughed so hard that I cried pretty much on a daily basis. We shared our testimonies and hearts with one another. Even though I had just met many of the people in our group, I felt at ease to share how the past few years have seriously kicked my butt. But how God used it all, healed me to even better than I was before, and helped to prepare me for what is to come: Guatemala! And to quote a person from our group: who’d a thunk it?
Let’s just start with the hot mess of traveling to Haiti. So I was crazy and got 45 minutes of sleep prior to leaving for Haiti…so you all know where this is going: I was loopy. Everything was amusing. And the group quickly found out that I can sleep about anywhere. Once we arrived to Fort Lauderdale and had boarded our connecting flight, they realized that there was a crack in the windshield. They announced, “We need to get something to measure the crack in the windshield from a store or from another airline.” So, back off the plane we went and couple hours and many laughs later, we boarded yet another plane that had to come from Miami. We finally arrived to Haiti, hopped on the back of a truck, and drove 3 hours north to the children’s home where we would be serving for the week.
It was a beautiful drive up into the mountains. Just fresh air and the stars. The following morning, we were ready to dig right in. All throughout the week, we worked on painting 2 bathrooms and 2 bedrooms, pulling nails out of boards, mixing concrete, washing clothes, cleaning up trash, and visited people in prison. On Tuesday night, the neighborhood kids came to the church and we sang, did a Bible story with them, and then fed them. 55 lbs of rice later, over 250 kids were fed. It was amazing to sing with all of them and be a part of that awesome night! Those kids have so little compared to what is available in the States, but they have such joy and a hunger to learn more. In the evenings, we just fellowshipped with one another, played games, talked, had a certain someone believing that Leah was in the witness protection program, and played with the kids who came to hang out. During our last breakfast we together at the home, something happened that was absolutely hysterical (oh my word…I will spare them from sharing what totally happened. But it was hysterical and we laughed so hard. You just have to trust me on that). We also played some soccer and volleyball, 2 of the girls loved to braid our hair, and some very competitive games of dutch blitz, memory, and bananagrams happened. On the final night, we went to the beach. Leah, Peter, and I went snorkeling…and again, I will spare the details since I value their friendship…but again, laughed hysterically and I can only imagine what the boat driver went home to tell his friends! Let’s just say, he had a smirk on his face and at one point, tried to jerk the boat to see if I would fall in the water since I was laughing so hard already.
The one evening, we walked up the mountain to see how the water project was going where they were going to build a dam. We started out with our group and ended up with way more than double our group following. We had to get back fairly quickly since there was a brush fire that was spreading rapidly, plus we didn’t want to be walking back in the dark. But we were able to still take time to do some balloon rockets for the kids. At one point, the horse way up on the mountain came barreling down the hill, neighing, wanting to join in the fun of running around with the kids. There is a lot of voodoo, especially up in the mountains. Every night we could hear chanting, drums, and at times, they would go into a “frenzy.” In some of the houses we walked past in the mountains, we noticed the setup where they did their voodoo each night.
“As I went down to the river to pray, studying about that good old way…” That is what we sang every time we went down to the “river”…aka stream to wash paint supplies and/or clothes. It’s also the hot spot where people get baths. So it is not uncommon to have someone getting a bath right beside you while you are washing clothes. Some of the most entertaining moments came from being down at that river. Oh my word. So, there a concrete dam under the bridge and that is where we would stand to clean out the paint supplies. Well, the algae got the best of us at times. One woman went face down into the river water. By the time Leah, Peter, and I had arrived, everyone down at the river was laughing and there was a growing crowd of kids watching the “blans” laugh hysterically. Once they explained what had happened to Carol, we all were laughing. Jean described it as “Carol was prostrate before the Lord.” Which of course that made me think of Tim Hawkins, “I’m just going to lie here prostate. Prostrate…I don’t know! That R is so important!” It got to the point that Peter was lying on the ground laughing hysterically, the rest of us were about dying, and a few almost fell in the river.
On Sunday, we attended church that meets in a pavilion that has some legit leaning pillars. The group had found out that I played trumpet because I had told one of the kids who came to help paint the day before. So all of a sudden, the pastor knows, and I’m scrambling through hymnals to find something to play on a whim at church. Well, I played Great is Thy Faithfulness and everyone sang along. It was a little shaky playing with the hymnal on a music stand on uneven dirt ground, playing something that I haven’t practiced, and the hymnal and stand started to fall at one point. But all was well, they caught it; I kept playing. Once again, while worshipping with them, I was hit by how they have so little, but they are so joyful, praising God, and I loved watching the little kids just go right up with everyone else and do their little dancing shuffle. There is definitely something about living simply and having more focus on God. A friend from Guatemala has said many times, “Being a missionary really grows your faith. You HAVE to trust Him for absolutely everything.” There is so much that we take for granted that it’s going to be there. But these families, don’t even know if they are going to have food for the day, but they still take the time to praise God.
Listening to everyone’s testimonies and stories, both from Haiti, and those who were a part of group really helped all of us to see that all of us have baggage, have had crappy parts to life. But, God can use us to help others and it helps to heal ourselves. The way we all ended up in Haiti was totally different. Some have been coming for years. Some came after family members had died. Some of us were retired and wanted to help serve. Leah had heard it while attending their church one Sunday, had served in Haiti for a year 14 years ago, and told me about it. I said, “Pretty sure I am crazy, but I’m going to say yes.” 2 weeks later, Peter had mentioned that it would awesome to be able to join a mission trip in another country and got the go ahead to purchase tickets. Well, like I mentioned before, this group was put together by God. Most of us had really rough weeks before, doubts about going, and a rough trip down. We just knew that God had big plans for our trip. The one night, most of us stayed up and sang songs. Mama Ruth told us the next morning that she thought she was in heaven when she heard the singing, “but the more I listened, I knew I wasn’t in heaven!” Man, did we laugh at that comment! I was told that when I’m in my 70’s, I will be like Mama Ruth. Probably a fairly accurate statement. But I just pray that I can be even half as amazing as she is. She’s awesome. The comments she would make, the random slap while talking to you…yeah…that is like me and my grammy. She, along with everyone in our group, has quite the testimony. Not only were we blessed by serving in Haiti, but we blessed each other. And now, a lot of our group want to come next year to visit in Guatemala. Who’d a thunk it