finding joy in the simple things

In an effort to give you a picture of what life is like here, I want to share with you both the heartbreak and the joy. With every day comes a little bit of both. Yesterday was all about the joy. God has put me here with some extremely fun and joyful people. Yesterday was a national government holiday in Uganda, so everyone was “off” for the day. After breakfast and our daily group devotional, a few of us decided to go to town. The main purpose of the outing was to visit a place called “Green Shops”. When I first visited this place last week, I was surprised and thrilled.

You see, back home I loved thrift store shopping. When I left the States I selfishly wondered what it would be like not to be able to drop by the Goodwill once a week. Well, God sent me a little blessing. “Green Shops” are these little thrift stores full of second hand clothes, surprisingly nice goods at super cheap prices. Last week they were having a sale to get rid of their inventory to make room for new stuff. Everything in the store was 1000 Ugandan Shillings (about 38 cents each). We bought some things for our Ugandan cooks, and talked with the store staff about bulk buying the leftover clothes. Our plan was to distribute them to the needy people in the villages where we work. The store staff told us to come back on Wednesday (yesterday) to make the purchase.

Fast forward back to yesterday…We got to the shop and were disappointed to find out that they had already sold off the rest of their stock from last week’s sale. After Lindsey lectured the kid working there about not saving the clothes for us, we decided to make the most of our trip. We shopped around, tying our hair up in African scarves, laughing really hard, and taking pictures of this craziness. The people in the store were even laughing at us.

Green Shops

Our next stop was to visit a seamstress. Her tiny little shop was located on a side street and had barely enough room for some shelves, her sewing machine, a couple of chairs, and a refrigerator. She was wearing a dress she had made of beautifully colored African fabric, and behind her were shelves full of material in vibrant colors and bold graphic prints. The purpose of this stop was to pick out a fabric and a design for choir skirts. We visited a church last Sunday in a village called Kufu. They had the loveliest choir of young ladies who were wearing terribly tattered matching black skirts. We knew they would be blessed to have something special to wear as they use their talents to serve the Lord. So Lindsey had the idea to have skirts made by a local seamstress. As it turns out, the seamstress had been praying for a job like this to come along. She praised the Lord for this new project, thanked us for our giving hearts, and even sang us a worship song- translating the words from Luguisu to English so we could understand.

Seamstress shop              Mbale Side Street

Stop number three was for a few groceries and a radio. Our cooks Phiona, Immaculate, and Justine spend hours a day in the kitchen. They have two broken plastic outdoor chairs in the kitchen where we sometimes go sit and visit with them. They are hard working, full of joy, and hysterically funny. I’ve found that many Ugandans have a wacky sense of humor. I find myself laughing out loud all the time now because of the things they say. These ladies are strong in their faith and have beautiful singing voices, and their prayer for a radio for the kitchen was answered today!

After we returned home from town, we ate lunch and then went on another adventure. Phiona’s church is just down the street and they have a lunchtime service every day beginning around 1pm. We went today for the second day in a row. It’s such a blessing to be able to go to church in the middle of the day if you want! Pastor Ivan shared a powerful message about deliverance from evil (witchcraft is still prominent here in Uganda). Just as his sermon came to a close, heaven opened up and poured out rain. And it didn’t stop for about an hour. “ Open up, O heavens, and pour out your righteousness. Let the earth open wide so salvation and righteousness can sprout up together” – Isaiah 45:8. We were thankful for the rain; a sign of God’s blessings here on earth. The combination of tarps and straw roof weren’t enough to hold back the water. We all huddled together (about 30 people) and waited while until the downpour subsided. Everyone felt bad for the Muzungu (white girl) without a jacket and soaking wet. I just thought it was really fun.

After we got back home I washed the mud off my feet, bundled up, and drank some tea to warm up. It’s been hot here (in the 90’s) but when it rains the temperature drops dramatically. Then I did something I never do: I took a nap! Rest isn’t usually something I do a lot of, but the pace of life here is much more laid back than a typical day in corporate America. So, I enjoyed my nap and didn’t feel guilty what so ever.
After dinner I joined the ladies in the kitchen and we talked, laughed, and sifted beans with the sweet sound of praise music in the background.

Can you see the joy found here in the simplicity of life? I am experiencing something I never allowed myself to in the hustle and bustle of everyday life back in the States. The richness of life is found in the blessings of relationships, the joy of laughter, the gift of thankfulness, the love of people, and the fullness of God’s presence. So today I challenge you to look for all of these things your life. Don’t miss even one of the blessings God has for you today.



new life, new vision

My first week here in Uganda has been incredible. There are so many stories to tell, it’s hard to decide which ones to share. Before I write anything else I have to tell you again how strongly I have felt the presence of God here. The fruits of your prayers have been growing all over the place! God has already opened many doors for building new relationships and has presented numerous opportunities for ministry here.
For the first few weeks on the ground, the plan is to learn as much as I can by observation. It’s extremely important to understand the people, culture, and needs here; both physical and spiritual. My most action packed day of observation last week was probably Thursday. We drove down a long, red dirt road from Mbale to Bugobero, one of Kissito’s health centers in Manafwa District. I traveled with quite an international crew: Dr. Sabiiti, a Ugandan; Lindsey, an intern from Kenya; and Angela, a medical missionary from Venezuela. We arrived to see hundreds of people sitting on the ground waiting to be treated; just a typical day at this village health center. Amazingly, two years ago there were no patients here. Not because nobody was sick, but because there were no supplies, no electricity, and no trained medical professionals. Now, because of the intervention by Kissito Healthcare International, hundreds of patients are treated each day. Many of them are pregnant mothers.

There was a mother in the maternity ward whose baby was ready to be delivered, but was still positioned too high up to be delivered safely. Dr. Sabiiti decided it would be best to perform a C-section, so we suited up and I braced myself for what was next. The mother was 31 years old and pregnant with her 8th child. I couldn’t understand the conversation between the doctor and the mother, as most of the villagers speak the Luguisu language. Words weren’t necessary to understand that she was visibly in a lot of pain, and equally afraid, even though she had been through this procedure before.

Without getting into too many details, I watched Dr. Sabiiti perform the procedure with efficiency and precision. What I was most impressed with was the way in which the doctor began his work: with prayer. I have to admit I was praying pretty hard myself; that I wouldn’t pass out cold right there in the surgical theater (operating room). I typically don’t do well at the sight of blood, but I made it through, Praise the Lord. It wasn’t really the blood or the internal organs that disturbed me. What bothered me the most was her feet. I kept seeing her feet sticking out from under the surgical sheet. Her feet told me just how hard this woman’s life must be. They were stained red from the miles she has walked barefooted, struggling each day simply for the survival of her family.

The dirt here is red (think Franklin County, VA). In America, a woman would never come in to give birth in a sterile environment with dirty feet. In Uganda, everyone does what they can with what they have. Having dirty feet is the least of their worries. Snapping out of the daze I was in, I realized I had successfully avoided getting light headed until the end of the procedure when the mother’s anesthesia began to wear off too early. Imagining what she must have been feeling, I had to step outside to get a breath of fresh air and compose myself again. I think if I have kids I’ll definitely adopt instead of the alternative. If anything, this day I gained a new understanding of the miracle of birth and the amazing resiliency of God’s creation that is the human body.

Although I’m not a medical professional, I could see that the resources available in this health center (one of the best in the area) were nowhere close to the standard you would see in a hospital in the U.S. There are so many needs here; it is unfathomable until you see them for yourself. Many health centers here don’t even have stethoscopes or blood pressure machines. Diagnostic charts are few and far between, most of which are scribbled on notebook paper and taped to the wall.

When visiting Uganda for the first time last September, I was made aware of the need for reading glasses here. Many villagers haven’t read their Bibles in years because they simply don’t have access to a pair of glasses. This really touched my heart and seemed like a problem easy enough to fix with a little help from church partners and also from organizations that specialize in sight projects for developing countries. The staff at the Kissito office in Virginia contacted one such organization, but nothing has developed up to this point.

During our day at Bugobero, the most interesting thing happened. The doctor was sharing the surgical theater with a visiting ophthalmologist performing eye surgeries. Dr. Sabiiti had himself recognized the need for reading glasses, so he asked the eye doctor if it would be possible to do a quarterly vision clinic and eyeglass distribution. As it turns out, everyone thought the idea would work, as long as we could gather up as many pairs of glasses as possible and get them to the clinic. According to the eye doctor, 1 out of every 10 patients that showed up for surgery actually needed it. Most of them just needed glasses. In Uganda, a pair of reading glasses costs approximately six dollars, too much for the average Ugandan villager to afford. So, due to lack of access and affordability, people cannot do simple things such as sew a button, bandage a cut, or read the Word of God. We already have 50 pairs of “dollar store” reading glasses scheduled to come over with the next team from the States. My point here is that God put exactly the right people together at exactly the right time. I have seen this many times during my first week here in Africa. The best part is that everything happening here is leading to an opportunity to meet spiritual needs, not just physical.

I have been reminded every day in Africa that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Your prayers have initiated something new, something big, a mission that can only be accomplished by the power of the Lord. Those miracles will be proof that He is the only One who truly transforms people and communities. He is the One with the vision. It is only through Him that we can heal the sick and restore sight to the blind.

in words: a snapshot of Mbale, Uganda

My first full day in Mbale was full of a mix of many different emotions. For someone who doesn’t typically get very emotional, it was difficult, yet eye (and heart) opening.

Saturday was a market day, so I hopped in the vehicle with Carlos and Carolina Tovar, medical missionaries serving with the organization I am working with (Kissito Healthcare International). On the way to town, we were re-directed off of the normal route due to a paving project. At first glance I would say this is a sign of development for the town. Considering this is Africa, maybe there’s some other underlying story or motivation that the average person doesn’t know about. I’m learning that’s the way things seem to work here. Average situations are not always as they initially appear.

After stopping at the bank and then finding a parking space in front of the BAM supermarket: basically a storefront on a long street of other shops crammed in side by side on a busy thoroughfare. There, we shopped for groceries for the weekend. Currently there are over 20 staff and volunteers living at the Kissito guest quarters. The shopping carts are like our hand-held plastic shopping baskets at Kroger, only they sit low to the ground on wheels and have a long handle sort of like a little wagon. Carolina filled a basket full of meat (yum!), and collected some other things like bread, bags of cooking oil, and baby formula (for their 5 month old adopted Ugandan baby, Isabella). They also had a supermarket worker bring up a 5 pound container of laundry soap, yes there is actually a washer and dryer at the guest house! Our accommodations are quite nice, with unexpected conveniences. I am not living in a hut in the jungle with no electricity! Although I think I would like to try that sometime.

After paying (and receiving a hand-written receipt), we hopped back in the vehicle and headed down the street to the open market area. There among swarms of flies, we picked out fresh pineapples and melons and asked the vendor to hold them for us while we ventured deeper into the market to find some fresh vegetables. Among the stalls of fresh vegetables sat large sacks of tiny dried fish (with cute little eyeballs). There must have been millions of little fish! They looked so dry and light that if you threw a handful up in the air they would float down slowly like the little “helicopters” we see in Virginia in the Fall. Hanging above the stalls were stalks of dried bamboo. Carlos asked me if I knew what they were, because we had a sauce at dinner the night before made from these stalks. To me, they looked just like a snake skin. Carlos and I had a laugh when he told me what they really were. My mom will be so happy to know I didn’t eat dried snake sauce on my first day in Mbale. After paying for the vegetables and fruits, we assisted the vendor in loading the melons and pineapples into the back of our vehicle.

Our next stop was another supermarket where we purchased a few containers of drinking water and loaded them into the back on top of the other groceries. With a full load, we headed back toward “home”. Early on in our short drive back, the back tire of the vehicle began making a noise as if it had gone flat. Carlos stopped and got out to survey the situation. As he examined the tire, a police officer approached him along with a man, his wife, and two children. The woman was holding a small baby and the man was clutching his young boy close to his chest. The boy was covered by a blanket. Because of the Kissito logo on the vehicle, the officer knew that we would be able to help this family. As I sat in the vehicle, I saw Carlos carefully lift the corner of the blanket from the boy’s face. He then motioned for Carolina to come look at the child. Carolina came back soon after and explained that the boy had passed away earlier that day at the hospital in town. The family needed financial assistance to get back to their village to bury to boy. He had been treated the day before in the village health facility for Malaria, but did not respond to the medication. He was referred to the hospital in Mbale where he was given another treatment that his body didn’t respond to. Carolina explained that the family would take the boy home in a taxi, wrap his body in some blankets and bury him as customary in the villages.

Words can’t really explain what it was like to observe something so heartbreaking. An extreme heaviness is the best way I can describe it. Carlos and Carolina were visibly upset by this situation, even though they have seen these types of cases many times in their two and a half years in Uganda. I guess no matter how long you serve God and serve people, you don’t lose the heart of love and compassion that motivated you in the beginning. At least I hope this is true.

As it turns out, the tire wasn’t flat. I was just covered with a cake of dirt and oil that had built up under the wheel well. If we had not heard the noise from the tire, we would not have stopped the vehicle and might never have seen the police officer and the family. Evidence to me that God was at work, as always.

As a stark contrast to the events of earlier in the day, the afternoon was spent at the Mount Elgon Hotel, a popular hang out for the local Muzungus (white foreigners). The grounds resemble a tropical resort with a tiki hut, pool, and nice lounge chairs and a small outdoor cafe. The view from the pool over to Mount Elgon is beautiful. It was strange to realize that such amenities exist inside of a short walk to the village where the locals live in mud huts. As I sat with a couple of my new co- workers, we made friends with a group of young Ugandans and Belgians. There are many NGO’s (non profit aid organizations) in the area, some of which work together in certain situations. There is quite a mix of people from around the world in this small town. I am sure I will continue to meet many fascinating people, all with a heart to make a difference in the world.

So this is just a small view of the beginning of this journey. Truthfully, it is difficult getting adjusted to a new environment and spending time with a lot of people you barely know. In the past week I have experienced the overwhelming and intense love of close friends and family as I prepared to leave, the solitude of “rest” on my 30 hour trip, and now the unfamiliarity of a totally new life. Through it all, God has continued to remind me that He is with me always; will never leave me; and although most of this new life doesn’t make much sense yet: IT WILL. Confidence doesn’t come from people or from circumstances, but from keeping focus on the One who gives us strength: JESUS. His presence has been so evident in my first few days here and I am at peace.