Held in the palm His hand

29 12 2013

I’ve been holding this blog post back for weeks because I can’t find a biblical basis for it anywhere, even though it’s a phrase we use all the time in Christian circles! (So do let me know if you know of one!)

Before I went to Uganda I was pretty nervous. I’m not in the slightest bit well travelled, and the idea of adapting to such a different culture was a bit concerning too. I was so grateful to have so many people praying for me. One thing someone said to me, I’m not even sure who anymore, was to remember that I’m held in the palm of His hand. And this stuck with me.

I reflected on this a little, I don’t think I’ll be any good at explaining my thoughts, but what’s new?! Here goes!

Hold your hand out face up in front of you.

Make it as flat as possible.

There’s still a dip.

Even if God didn’t have His hand closed tightly, there’s still a valley.

Even in an open palm, because we are tiny in comparison to Him, we are so safe, there’s no way to fall out.

Probably theological twaddle, but hey, maybe the idea helps? I don’t know – sorry if I offended at all!

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Uganda – Church & Markets

27 12 2013

On our final day I had one more experience of washing my hair over the sink, packed up as much as I could and headed down for breakfast. Just in time for the last day I discovered that they made fresh pancakes, so after a week of beans on toast, I had pancakes with syrup, and a croissant, a continental!

We headed off to a church in Kampala, and only arrived 45min late – not bad for African time! This did mean we missed all the worship time, we arrived during the last verse of the final song, I was gutted to miss that part of the service as I’d been told there was nothing like it, but fortunately we’d been able to experience a few times of worship with the LDP students earlier in the week.

We were there in time for the commissioning of their women’s ministry team, and to hear testimony from one of their current LDP students. It’s amazing, through the week, how many of the testimonies we heard mentioned how they had gained social skills from the project. It’s not something that instantly comes to mind as something they may be lacking in, but it’s definitely something Compassion is there to do!

The sermon was on Genesis 26vv1-33, and was on keeping the promise (v4) alive. In the UK you sometimes get people clapping at the end of songs (which I tend not to do) but here they gave the sermon a good hand clap! My only concern was that it felt ever so slightly prosperity-gospel-y, or at least expressing a need for people to be wealthy so that they can do things, but maybe I misunderstood.

This church also ran a Compassion project, and so after the service we went upstairs to the project office. We met the project director who himself was a formerly sponsored child and an LDP graduate – it’s great to see the circle of sponsorship complete! They gave us mini fresh bananas to snack on and we also had their pastor join us, which was very generous as he was actually on sabbatical!

We headed off for lunch at the Good Africa Coffee Place. This was in a retail park, and because the terror alert was on maximum (and potentially they would have done this anyway) as we entered the car park we had to vacate the bus to have it searched, and also have our person and bags searched and checked too. We were used to lots of metal detectors and bag searches by now, but it was less common for the whole bus to be searched. It did make the place feel a little safer though.

I ordered bolognaise, which was a little odd but fine, and a strawberry ice tea. I took a sip of the drink before someone pointed out it had ice in it. Of course, ice could be made with tap water, and so you can’t consume it. Such a shame, I was so looking forward to that drink! I only took a sip from the bottom with a straw where the liquid was still warm, so wasn’t too worried, but it would have been silly to drink any more.

Several of us bought coffee there to take home as presents for family and friends, but they didn’t have enough in, so they first said they would bring it to our table when it was delivered (we had already paid), and then promised to bring it to us in the market in the afternoon. In the end Lillian had to collect it for us – it all worked out in the end!

I didn’t really enjoy the trip round the markets as much as I expected to. There were so many lovely things, but you weren’t able to stop and think. There were repeatedly ladies asking you to come into their stall, to see what they had, offering good prices. Even when I went in they kept talking and showing me things so I couldn’t just pause to work out what I wanted to get for the people on my list, or how many shillings I had left. In the end I just got a few things and sat down later to work out what to give to who, but for myself I did get some extremely colourful trousers with elasticated waist and trousers!

We went back to the hotel to change into more comfortable travelling clothes, collect our luggage and check out, and then as we realised there may be no time for dinner, a few of us got something to eat at the restaurant. A couple of us just had brownie and ice cream as it was a bit early for a meal, but we needed something to keep us going!

On arrival at the airport not only was our bus searched, but they even sent sniffer dogs aboard! We were all searched too, and then when we entered the building, even before we could get to check in desks our bags were put through security scanners and we all had to walk shoeless through the metal detectors, and then finally there was another security check at the gate.

While we were waiting to get on the plane a few of us had fun trying to do accents – I was taught some American over the week, and some of them did their best English accents for me which I managed to get on camera, lots of fun!

The flight left around 11pm I think, and once we were up and cruising we were served chicken and rice for dinner. I then managed about 3 hours sleep before breakfast. So given a late dinner, very little sleep, it’s unlikely anyway that you’d want breakfast within 4 hours of your previous meal. Not least when breakfast is broccoli, potato and quiche! I left it all and just had a roll.

We got off the plane at Amsterdam, and after a tearful goodbye with my new American friends, I headed back to London.

The End! I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about my trip, please don’t hesitate to ask me more about it, most particularly if you’re interested in finding out more about Compassion, or sponsoring a child! I’m very happy to talk!





Uganda – Sponsor Day

23 12 2013

It’s been a busy month, coming to the end of these blogs now, I’ll try to finish them before the end of the year – here’s the Saturday!

For the sponsors on this trip, this really was the big day of the week – the day they met their sponsored children. Some of them met one, some met two or even more. Some had met before, for some it was the first time. For some of them their child was about to finish the programme, and so for them it may be the last time.

We got on the bus and headed to the amusement park. This wasn’t any Thorpe Park, but a small, slightly run down ground with dodgems, a couple of water slides, a pirate ship, teacups, and a few other little rides, along with face painting and other fun little things, and everything painted in bright, happy colours!

As we drove up to the park entrance there was a line of children, all singing and dancing, with their project workers who’d travelled with them from all over the country stood behind them. We parked up, got out and enjoyed the entertainment. Then joined in as they sang songs we knew.

Then it got emotional! With the children in their line, the sponsors formed a line opposite, and one by one, Lillian read out names and the sponsor and child would run into the middle, hug, and cry! As I wasn’t meeting my child that day, I borrowed one of the sponsors’ nice cameras and took photos at rapid speed as they spun around! Once we’d gone through a few though, I got pretty upset. I wanted to see my little boy who’s in Tanzania. I kept taking photos, even though there were tears running down my cheeks!

On the Tuesday we had been to Prisca’s home, who was sponsored by Patricia from our group, and so she was there again that day, and what’s more, her project worker Robinah remembered me from when we had visited on the Tuesday, saw me upset, took my hand, and took me over to the three of them. Patti asked what was wrong and I said “I’m just being selfish and jealous, don’t worry!” They let me hang out with them, but I knew it was their time, so once I’d sorted myself out I left them to it.

We entered the park and each group of sponsor, child(ren) and project worker(s) sat at a table and went through a folder full of all of the information the project holds on the children. School information, health information, all sorts! So lots of time was spent leafing through them, and chatting, getting to know one another. I went round taking a few photos while they did this, (and met a stunning stray kitten), and then went to sit with JoAnn and Jennifer, the American staff – they were my “family” for the day!

Everyone headed off to rides and I carried on wandering and taking photos – little did I realise I was getting sunburnt! I saw Jocelyn and her sponsored child were going on the pirate ship and decided to go on with them. This wasn’t quite like a UK theme park ride – the rail we pulled down to keep us in was still nearly a foot from my lap! It was just as scary though, and went on to ages, which her sponsored child did not enjoy at all. Of course, she’d’ve never experienced anything like it before! We just kept telling her it was ok and that it’d be over soon, and eventually it was, but she didn’t feel well and lay down for quite a while afterwards.

We went into a room for lunch in our “families” again, I had chicken, beef and rice 🙂 Then after a couple of children sampled ice cream, we took them back to the hotel on our buses. The kids and project workers came down to the field by the lake, and the sponsors went back to their rooms to collect their bags of gifts. Justus who was one of the kids hung out with me, it was nice to have the company, I think he knew I was alone, it’s amazing how intuitive kids are – plus he had his face painted like batman! He and a couple of other kids had been given cameras for the day so I also got him to take a photo on mine 🙂 I also had a lovely chat with one of the project workers who actually happened to be the church leader, Pastor Samuel.

The goodbyes were tough on the sponsors. I had a packet of tissues in my bag so just went round handing them out as needed, along with occasional hugs etc. When Prisca got on the bus I just took Patti’s hand, she’d had the privilege of seeing her child twice that week, had spent much more time with her, and so I guess the goodbye was a little tougher.

This day was particularly difficult because I didn’t get to say hello to my sponsored child, Hamad, in the morning. But it did mean I didn’t have to say goodbye at the end.

We went to the hotel restaurant for dinner and as it was the last night I decided it was safe to sample the Asian menu! The hotel was owned by Indians, so I ordered the Chicken Tikka Masala and it was fantastic! 🙂 I decided to only have half as it was so rich, and I’d had so much plain food all week, I didn’t want to make myself sick! That said, to get to the point where I was choosing not to eat where I would have expected to struggle to eat, this was a great step forward!

We had a debrief and a group photo (which I need to find actually!), packed and went to bed.

That night I wrote in my diary:

“I never thought I’d get to the point where I didn’t want to leave this place, but it’s happened. I’ve had the most incredible week.
We have seen the end result of Compassion!”





Uganda – Graduation

3 12 2013

Friday was graduation day! A ridiculously early start as the ceremony started at 9 and there was lots of security to get through first – by this point we were aware of the terror alert and so I think all the bag searches, armed guards and metal detectors actually made us feel safer.

We got in the room the ceremony was to be held in, and it was beautiful! It was decorated like a wedding reception, chair covers, centrepieces, everything!

What was weird was how the seating was organised. The room was in approximately 4 sections, front right – graduates, front left – sponsors (and us), back left – project works, other representatives (even DHL were there for all their work in delivering letters between children and supporters!), and back right, caregivers. The word “parent” wasn’t heard the whole day, there are so many different family combinations and dynamics, these students were brought up by all sorts of relatives, so the word for the whole day was “caregiver”.

It was ridiculous that we should have better seats than the graduates own families. But I guess that’s the way the whole week went, white people get treated like celebrities – kinda hard to handle occasionally.

The ceremony started with the graduates processing in while a group of kids from a Compassion project played To God be the Glory. There was also a group of kids from another Compassion project who did a dance as part of the entertainment – it was great to see how Compassion involved these kids, hopefully it’ll inspire them to work hard so that one day they can attend the ceremony as graduates themselves!

I scribbled down a few key quotes from the different talks again:

  • “Not everyone who is in a leadership position is leading” – Herbert
  • “Leadership is not about serving oneself, leadership is about serving others” – Herbert
  • “Leadership is an important combination of strategy and character, but if you must be without one, be without strategy”
  • “I believe that one day a formerly sponsored child will lead his or her nation” – Herbert
  • “Once Compassion, always Compassion” – Herbert
  • “Hope is rooted in faith”
  • “Our potential is God’s gift to us. What we do with it is our gift to Him”
  • HHH Leadership
    • Head (not empty headed)
    • Heart (Psalms, David led with his)
    • Hands (use the skills you have)

We heard from the Pastor of a church in Florida who sponsored over 2000 children, 700 of which were in the US, and also sponsored 7 LDP students, some of which were in that graduation ceremony.

As the students were called up in groups to receive their graduation certificates, they were also presented with a towel with the Compassion logo embroidered on it. This was to remind them that whilst they are leaders, they are servant leaders.

Also in the entertainment were an acapella group called Canaan Gents. These guys were phenomenal. Beautiful five part harmonies. They were even pulled up at the end of the ceremony to sing again even though they were on their way out of the building! Following the ceremony we all had lunch at our tables, chicken and rice for me, and then there was a cake buffet – what a great idea!

Of the 123 graduates, 10 were presented with awards for being “outstanding” – one of these was Edith, who I’d met on Wednesday, although her university graduation was on the same day, and so she wasn’t there. Another was Justina, who was also sponsored by someone in the UK. I found her afterwards and asked her to write a message in one of the programmes and I’d try to get it to her sponsor. A few of the other UK sponsored graduates gave me letters for their sponsors.

Later, we were sitting on the minibus in crazy heat waiting to go, no one really knew why we hadn’t left, just that we were boiling. Some people got a bit restless, and then, just when it was getting unbearable, Janat, who I’d met on Thursday, appeared at the minibus window and gave me a photo of herself for her sponsor, and gave me a bracelet as a souvenir and thank you. Ridiculously touching and humbling.

When we got back to the hotel we had a couple of hours to ourselves before dinner, so I put a pair of trousers on having worn skirts all week, and went for a walk around the hotel grounds. It contained a marina, and sat on the edge of Lake Victoria, so there was plenty to see. And to be honest, I could have just sat looking at those palm trees for hours and been happy!

We had our meal at the hotel restaurant again and then had a briefing ready for the next day when the sponsors would meet their kids! There were an awful lot of questions, they were all clearly excited and nervous, and wanting to do everything absolutely correctly!





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.





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!





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?”

“Fire”
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”
“Amen”

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”
“Wow!”

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!