Uganda – Project Office & Foot Washing

28 11 2013

Sorry for how long these are taking to get written up, life’s pretty busy at the moment!

On the Thursday we visited the Compassion Uganda country office. We were able to join the staff in their morning devotions, we worshipped with them, and had a message given by one of the ladies there. After the formal time was over, a few of the staff went to their desks to work, and we went round the room with all sponsors sharing their stories of why they had come to Uganda – most of these ended in tears!

I think my favourite Compassion story from the sponsors was Carolyn and her son Tyler’s. When he was younger he’d come home from a mid week church group and told his mum “I want a brother from another mother”, and so began their journey!

After this we had a tour of the office in small groups, we were taken round by Agnes, a Partnership Facilitator – her job is to manage the relationship between Compassion and a subset of the projects. We met people who check all the sponsor and child letters, people who audit the projects, people who write articles that can sometimes be found on the Compassion International blog, all sorts of people! I also got to meet the head of IT. As I’m in the IT team in the UK he asked if I wanted to see the server room – I said “Sure, though I’ve only been in the UK one twice!”. I couldn’t tell you anything technical about it, other than just it was bigger than our room!

We went back down to the room we’d had devotions in and had some Q&A time with a handful of the staff, before leaving gifts with them, and saying our goodbyes.

We headed back to the place we’d been the day before and joined the LDP students for lunch again. This time I sat with Janat, Lillian (whose birthday it was, so we got the whole room to sing to her 🙂 ), Regina, and Paul. We talked about football a lot – the international language, unless you’re American, I think the American guy on my table may have felt left out! The guys on my table were Arsenal and Man Utd fans… shame! Janat asked if I was married, I said I wasn’t, and she said I was getting old not to be married… how things are different over here! We then got into conversation about bride prices – they were surprised it’s not something we do. For them it can be the difference between their boyfriend being able to afford to marry them or not. I said all they have to do in the UK is to afford a shiny ring!

After lunch we had some worship time, hardly describable, and heard testimony from a young lady called Hope. Hope had been on the LDP programme but hadn’t satisfied the criteria to graduate. However, Compassion had allowed her to attend this week of workshops, and she still intended to be a student leader and was already volunteering in her local Compassion project. She was already sponsoring a child, wants to advocate for the children, she was incredible.

There was more shared and I just wrote down some bits (credit given where I caught their name):

  • “The world is ready and waiting for us, and we are ready and waiting for it”
  • “The antidote for 50 enemies is one friend”
  • “We shall work to change the world, to change Uganda” – Moses
  • “In the world of economics, the donor loses value. In the world of Compassion, everything gains value” – Jarvis
  • “What God’s done in the past He will continue to do. He is faithful”
  • “Find a problem in your community, or the world, and apply your God given gifts to it”
  • “Graduation isn’t an ending, it’s a beginning.”

After this we went outside for a class photo in their gowns, and lots of other small group photos etc. I got to use this time to meet some of those sponsored by UK sponsored and trying to get short interviews with them to take back with me!

Yet more worship time followed, it really was like a party with clapping, singing, stamping and a conga line of patio chairs lifted above their heads! A glimpse of heaven really. One of the guys in my group commented that that worship was far more like what heaven will be like that our more reserved churches back home, and I think he’s right! Even the mellow songs were the most beautiful blend of voices.

This was followed by the foot washing ceremony. I knew this was coming, but I don’t think I realised how special it would be. About 30 westerners queueing to wash the feet of about 130 students. We knelt down, washed and dried their feet, and then prayed for them, before rejoining the line to do it all over again. I was privileged to wash the feet of Grace, Winnie, Michael, and one other who’s name I couldn’t remember by the time I came to write my diary in the evening. Grace was particularly overcome with emotion so after hers I took her back to her seat rather than rejoining the queue and sat and held her for a while.

These guys really are inspirational.

Once it was over I went and sat on the floor while we sang some more. I had my second cry of the week at this point, (I think several of us did!) – and was comforted by a lovely lady called Cassandra (who just turned out to be VP of HR and the keynotes speaker at the graduation!)

These guys are the future. They are going to change Uganda. They are truly incredible!

Once back at the hotel we had dinner in the restaurant so I grabbed some bolognaise, which made 3 decent meals in a day!

I was blown away how much God was looking after me, it shouldn’t really have surprised me! But I never expected to handle it that well anxiety wise, I was truly being held safe in his hands.

Carry one another’s burdens

22 11 2013

From this Sunday just gone:

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6v2

The parable of the good Samaritan – Luke 10vv25-37

The idea that we should manage our burdens on our own is very British, very western. The poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling reflects that. We don’t like to be burdens to others, but we’re designed for community.

We all have burdens, there are many types, and they are unique to each of us. We can’t know what burdens feel like for each other, but we can help. We can help with prayer, kind words, hugs, practical support, time.

Rotas are not just rotas, not just names on lists. They are ways of releasing others to worship in the church, to serve them.

We can be too passive, explaining away burdens and dissolving responsibility.

Christ has already taken our burdens on Himself. He often lightens our load by getting other Christians to help carry – we can be porters for Him.

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” – Galatians 6v10

Christ took our burden for us so that we can come with empty hands to receive God’s grace, love and mercy.

We’re not do-gooders. Christ has done good to us.
Do-gooders tell people the good we’ve done. We tell people the good that Christ has done.
There is a whole world of difference between Christians and do-gooders.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11v28

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” – 1 Peter 5v7

Wisdom from a post-it

21 11 2013

This post-it has been floating round my room for ages now, I can’t even remember where or who I got these nuggets from, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth sharing!

  • “To finish something, is not the same as finishing it well.”
  • “Integrity = aligning words with actions”
  • “Culture = the way we do things around here”
  • “God has not equipped me so much that I don’t still depend on Him daily”

The Good Samaritan – retold

14 11 2013

On Sunday we had a guest speaker from Open Doors, and for his children’s talk he told the story of the good Samaritan, a parable Jesus told to illustrate what He meant by loving our neighbour, but not as I’d heard it ever before!

The problem with this story in the church is that “Samaritan” means something totally different to us. In the context of the bible story, a Samaritan is someone from the neighbouring country, a foreigner, not a friend. In the present day in the west, A a Samaritan makes us think of this parable where we have learnt that he is the ‘goodie’, it makes us think of the charity the Samaritans, who help people.

So on Sunday the guest speaker told the story this way, and I found it pretty helpful!:

There was a Christian man who went to a business meeting, it was in a slightly dodgy part of town, and as he left the meeting he was mugged. He was left on the side of the road near a church and a pub. The church had just finished choir practice, and the choir mistress came out the church, she thought he was one of the drunks from the pub and left him be. Shortly after the vicar came out of the church, and also kept well away. Just after that, two men came out of the pub. They saw the man, and called for an ambulance. They went to the hospital with him, stayed with him, and looked after him.

Maybe the “choir mistress” part still makes it a tad old school, but in comparison to 2000 years ago on a different continent, I think this version is far more relateable, don’t you?

Have you heard any good modern retellings of parables?

Uganda – LDP Seminars

10 11 2013

We spent three days on the trip with this years graduating class (123 students) of Leadership Development Program (LDP) Students. These are young men and women who have been sponsored as children, completed the program, excelled academically and shown leadership potential. These outstanding students are then sponsored through their university course (at a higher monthly rate of course!) while simultaneously studying on the leadership course, to become exceptional leaders within their professions. [Taken from my overview post]

On the Wednesday afternoon we had been asked to run seminars with the students, so after breakfast we got into groups to prepare. My group was doing “Finding a job and keeping a job”. Fortunately there were some bolder people than myself in my group, so I didn’t have to speak (fear of public speaking still as strong as ever!). Mid morning we headed across the city and were there by about lunchtime.

We sat in on the end of their morning session where they were talking about CVs and interviews. One of the questions that was asked was “Should you put your tribe on your CV?”. They discussed this for a while, how if you don’t have a surname you might use it, but if you might be judged for it, you can leave it off. It was just surprising to me as it’s the sort of thing that of course would never even come up in the UK! They also talked about skills in Access, Excel, about companies like PWC and Deloitte – for those few minutes you could have been back in the UK! Some of the careers advice was exactly what we learnt at school – don’t list weak hobbies, focus on your Higher Education and A and O Levels. For an interview you need to be knowledgeable about 4 things: yourself, the job, the organisation, and the market the organisation is working within. “Lack of information is the first source of lack of confidence.” If I was job hunting this is some of the best advice I could have got!

We broke for lunch and sat among the students, I sat with Carolyn & Tyler from Florida, and were joined by students Busco, Moses, Emmanuel and Sarah, it was lots of fun! Lunch was liver and rice (I was ridiculously proud of myself for willingly eating liver, but the other option was fish, and I was avoiding that all week!). After lunch there was a short worship time, but you could have been forgiven to think it was a party going on! Africans know how to worship with passion!

In our afternoon session we had 22 students in our group, I didn’t take notes or photos as it seemed rude, but I did scribble 2 things down:

  • On the way to work, pray: “How can I glorify You, and bless the people I work with today?” – even if it’s not where you want to be.
  • You can’t say “I can’t handle this”. You’re an adult, it’s your job to handle it.

Eighteen of the graduates were sponsored through the Compassion UK office, and I’d been asked, if possible, to get short video interviews with them. That afternoon I managed to find one of them, a young lady called Edith who was so full of joy and enthusiasm managed to fill 20minutes of video time while I started to panic about my bus leaving without me! She was amazing, she told me how she would like to be a Reverend, and then go on to be an MP! (not unrealistic!) It turned out later in the week that Edith was awarded as one of the ten “Outstanding” students in her class, and no wonder!

We stopped for dinner on the way back to the hotel at a place called Cafe Javas, which was fairly westernised, and the excitement when we found out they had a proper flushing toilet with a seat, well, we could hardly contain ourselves! Ironically I did try new food here, but it was Mexican food…! I had chicken and cheese Quesadilla – very nice!

By this point in the week I was already realising how we weren’t seeing the poverty in Uganda, but were seeing the happy stuff. The happy, joyful, well looked after children on the Tuesday, the smart, young professionals today. We were seeing the benefits of Compassion sponsorship.

But at the same time, I was being reminded that even in the nicest parts of the country, you’re still in Uganda. In our very nice, safe hotel that we stayed in (metal detectors at the entrance to grounds and buildings, and armed guards at the gates), my shower wasn’t really working beyond a dribble, and this was the morning that my tap ran yellow water – that’d be why you brush your teeth with bottled water only!

Forgive one another

8 11 2013

So I’ve missed several sermons in this series now due to Sunday School, Uganda, and visiting the parents, but this week at housegroup we were looking at the bear with one another and forgive one another commands, and something interesting came up…

We are told to “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” – Colossians 3v13.
We often take this to mean that we must forgive anyone who has hurt us, however in 1 John 1v9 it says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

So does this then mean that we only have to forgive those who ask for it? What an interesting question! I don’t know where I stand on this yet and would love your input!


Uganda – words and phrases

5 11 2013

I learnt some new words and phrases in Uganda, some from the Ugandans, some from the Americans I was travelling with, and some we just made up! Enjoy!

“Check our tyres”
To stop on a road trip to go to the bathroom, eg: “Is there anywhere we can stop soon to check our tyres?”

Tasty, eg: “This doughnut is fire!”

“That is factual”/”That is a factual statement”
That’s true, eg: “Hey the sun is really bright today”, “That’s factual”

“Hand clap”
Round of applause, eg: “Let’s all give him a big hand clap!”

“Zero minutes”
No time, eg: “You guys need to get on the bus, you have zero minutes!” (Though in Africa, you could still be there 20 minutes later!)

“Praise the Lord”

A greeting, eg: Someone comes to the front to speak and says this before saying hello or introducing themselves – the congregation or group responds with the Amen.

“God is good”
“All the time”
“And all the time”
“God is good, and that is His nature”

Says it all!

We also had a greeting within the group where whenever Lillian said “Hello” we said “Uhuh” and whenever she said “Uhuh” we said “Hello”, but without the tone of voice it’s just not the same!

Those of you on the trip, do let me know if you think of anything I’ve missed off!

Uganda – Project Day

4 11 2013

Time to start story telling! So far I haven’t put much about what we actually did, so here goes!

On the first full day there, the Tuesday, after a few hours sleep (not many as we’d got in pretty late the night before!), and an interesting breakfast (I don’t think chicken was ever meant to go in sausages!), we filled up a couple of small buses (I’ll tell you about them another time!), and headed out of Kampala for the only time that week.

I’d heard that the welcome at the projects was a big deal, but I never expected anything like this. We parked down the road, and there was this noise coming from a distance. We opened the door to the bus and could just hear screams! The sort of noise you’d hear at a red carpet film première – utter madness, I kind of thought, “well that can’t be for us” but it was. As we walked down the road we could see the crowds of children and grown ups waiting for us, who knows how long they’d been waiting patiently. We got closer and a group of girls came towards us in a dance and hugged each of us. Once we passed them we arrived in a sea of children and grown ups, hugging as many as was physically possible – so special.

We gradually moved towards the main church building – building might be a bit of a stretch, the entire thing was made of sticks, though it seemed structurally sound and was large, but definitely not watertight. We danced and we walked, and at pretty much all times one child or another was holding each of my hands. The boy on my left held tight the whole time. We entered the church and as sponsors we were ushered to the front, but then mixed with all the grown ups and kids, and who should come and sit on my left but the little boy from earlier in his orange uniform. Some of the girls from the project danced on stage for us, and when they were done came and sat among us too. One of them took a spot on my lap – she was adorable, she kept pulling at the hairs on my arms and giggling, I guess they’re paler than she’s used too! And the hair tie on my wrist she kept fiddling with too. I asked both these children their names, but didn’t catch either of them, which I massively regret. I know I’ll never forget them, and God knows their names, but I so wish I did.

So I’ve mentioned “children and grown ups” a few times now. This wasn’t just a child sponsorship project, it also contained a child survival program (CSP), this means that they look after babies and their caregivers, and also pregnant mums. So in the church building we had mums, dads, babies, and children of all ages – quite a crowd! We worshipped with them, some of the mums and one grandmother shared a bit of their stories and how the project helps them. After this there was more dancing, and we sponsors we invited (the sort of invite you don’t refuse) to join the dancing on the stage, it was a lot of fun, the girls each took jumpers from around their waists and put them around ours. And then we introduced ourselves, asked to say our name, where we were from, and how many children we had… some people were listing grandchildren and great grandchildren! And two of the sponsors had their kids with them, well, not kids, they were 20 and 21, but it was great for the CSP mums to see the future as it were for them!

Gosh this is getting long already, sorry!

They gave us snacks of biscuits water, and then we divided into three groups to go visit some homes. One of the sponsors in the group sponsored a girl called Prisca in the project we visited. Patti only found out that morning that the project we were visiting had her in it, let alone that later that day she would be able to visit her home and meet her mother! I was privileged to be part of that group. Prisca’s home was made of brick, and had been funded by Compassion as previously she hadn’t had a home. we went and sat in the first room, the front door was just a curtain, and we were joined by several small children, some were her siblings, others were just kids from the neighbourhood who were here to see what was going on! We heard what a normal day was like for them, we heard how when they go to get water, the walk is 2 miles (so about 40 minutes at a normal pace, probably more with a heavy load of water), and this is a trip they have to do 4 times a day. That was a shocker, that’s hours and hours just to have something to drink, to wash with. Insane.

We saw the bedroom, 3 beds for 7 people (the mother Margaret, her teenage son Andrew, her baby daughter Jemima, Prisca, and 3 other children). There was a mosquito net over Prisca’s bed, and in the corner we saw a Water of Life filter which was great to see! The wash and toilet “rooms” made out of corrugated iron and wood were not so positive, but this is the reality of life there. We met Prisca’s pig which she’d bought with a gift from her sponsor, and we helped to prepare dinner. A few of us shelled beans and fed the pods to the pig, and others washed clothes and prepared plantain. It felt like hardly anything, just one evening of help, but when we left (with a gift of vegetables from them!) we knew that at least Compassion stays, Compassion cares for them.

We headed back to the project and saw more of the CSP project. How the men were learning woodwork skills and saw some of the furniture they’d made, and the crafts the women were learning, from jewellry making, and hair braiding, to weaving and sewing – skills that will generate an income for them and their children. Alongside this they are taught how to look after their children well. We each took a mum and served them lunch (this was 5pm!) – I met Rebecca, who had the tiniest little girl held against her; Alex was 3 weeks old! I have no idea how old Rebecca is, but she was amazing, cheerful, and so friendly! We served them beans, fish (eyes, scales and all!) and rice, and then went to eat our lunch of rice, noodles and beef, there was also the mashed plantain available.

After some play time we all got in a group and we left our gifts with them, piled them in the middle of the circle, and we prayed with those sat closest to us. This is when I started to feel my chin wobble… The pastor of the church gave us each a scarf made by the CSP mums as a gift, (mine just happened to be the exact same colours as the 2 bracelets I’d bought from the mums earlier that day!), and then I started to cry. One girl took my hand and hugged me, I didn’t realise ’til later because she’d got changed (into a uniform with a torn seam, I just wanted a needle and thread to sew it up for her), but this was the girl who had sat on my lap that morning, had kept poking me and giggling naughtily all day, and had barely left me. She was there when I needed her, and I never even knew her name. Such a beautiful young girl. The children looked quite concerned and hugged me, and I tried to explain (through the sobs) that I was ok, I was just sad to leave them all. I did NOT want to get back on that bus. But I did – and with a few more minutes before we left I found a bottle of bubble mixture and blew them out the window which they loved! (I was still crying, I did for a while after we left too!)

Once I’d calmed down I managed to doze off on the bus, and the next thing I know we’re sat still, I assume in traffic, but then realise there’s a big white wall behind us and people are getting off the bus. We were at a “gas station” (I was with American’s, had to get with the lingo!) in the middle of Kampala with a puncture. Patrick our driver was a superhero in sorting it while we all just stood around, but it was a great time to see a bit of regular Kampala life. While we were stood there a few guys pulled up on motor bikes and parked round one of the pumps, they got out a massive watermelon, and with a massive knife(!) chopped bits off for a snack. They then left the knife casually in the watermelon while wandering around a bit and going back for seconds – so so different to anything that would ever happen in the UK! Eventually we got back on the bus and after sitting in pretty bad traffic, got back to the hotel. It was far too late for dinner, (plus we’d had lunch at tea time!) so we all just had dessert at 10pm.

Several years ago I heard a quote which came back to me that evening: “You never know how much you love someone ’til you can’t face saying goodbye.”