Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Daddy's girl

Gracie is Daddy's girl. Most definitely. And I don't mind! I spend my day lifting, changing, feeding, entertaining, teaching, stretching, defending, and checking on her... I don't mind that she prefers to snuggle with Daddy in the evenings and I definitely don't mind that she prefers him to feed her... ;-P

I've been trying to teach her the sign for Daddy for a good six months - I jokingly say that it takes her a year to learn each new sign... but it's not far from the truth. She has 3 signs, we've been a family for 5+ years... BUT, she just added "Daddy" to her repertoire (!!) or the Gracie variant thereof (hand to her forehead).

Josh is out of town this week. He was out of town last month for less than a week and we all did fine. But this time, Gracie has been refusing to go to sleep - whining, even crying, instead of sleeping. Is it the heat (it's HOT this week)? Is she thirsty (hydrating her could be my full time occupation)? Is she hungry? Does she need a position shift (she's not good at getting herself into a comfortable position at night, so we spend a lot of time at night shifting her until she's comfortable)?

Tonight, she clearly signed "Daddy" as she whined. Wow! So I asked her if she missed Daddy: "yes" (patting her left hand). "Do you want to hear Daddy's voice?" "Yes." "Do you want me to call Daddy on the phone?" "Yes."


Those of you who have "talked" to Gracie on the phone know that it's a VERY one-way conversation - she gets completely quiet and might be kissing the phone or Mommy, but there's no feedback to the person on the other end of the call.

Not this time! She whined loud and hard at Daddy on the phone - she has NEVER done that before! After a long "conversation" full of reassurances of love and a return tomorrow from Daddy and loud complaints from Gracie, she put her head down on her bed and I felt her body relax and she stopped whining and complaining. After I closed the conversation with Josh, I fully expected her to start up her whining again. Nope! That was what she needed. She smiled and laid her head down. She started "clicking" her tongue (her self-soothing thing) and working on going to sleep.

Wow - so, the Gracie fans aren't surprised, but ARE deeply touched that we are RIGHT that this sweetness of a child has so much going on inside her. Those that don't know her well might be surprised that she can communicate SO well with 3.5 modified signs under her belt!

THAT's why we're here in Uganda (in part). As we struggle to reach Gracie's world and help her reach the world around her, we treasure her just the way that God made her. We are praying that I can struggle along side other moms with precious children with various struggles. That through our shared struggles we can display God as great and these children that He created as precious!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The great school fees dilemma

I was alerted to her presence by the dog barking. Almost as a rule of thumb, Acholis HATE dogs - they are taught from childhood that dogs want to kill them. So this frightened teenager was hiding behind my gate by the time I got out to her. ("SO SORRY!!")

She had been collecting firewood in the vacant lot adjacent to our house all morning and we had waved at each other. Now, she invited herself into my home (floors wet with half-done mopping) and sat down.

"What can I do for you?"
After multiple attempts to draw out an answer as to why the teenager was in my home, sitting at my table, coloring in Ana's coloring book, a mumbled: "I have a problem."
"What is this problem?"
No answer.
"Why are you not in school?"
"Teacher sent me home."
"I had no shoes." (I'm understanding the nature of her "problem" quickly.)

Through the course of a convoluted conversation, it came out that she has no shoes nor school fees to pay for the cheapest school in town. She has no parents to pay for her fees. Two younger siblings are enrolled in World Vision's sponsorship program, but not her.

Those of you who live or have visited low-resource areas globally know this familiar story. There are always twists and variations. The story always tugs at my heart. So does the elderly woman on the street begging. (The drunk man who flagged my car down to beg today, not so much...) Last week it was a respectable mother of three looking for work...

I could have opened my change purse and handed her enough for her school fees and shoes (a total of about $30 would have put her back in school for this term). Some of you might be scandalized that I didn't. Sometimes I have offered a few hours of work on the spot with no promise of future employment - today, I had literally just finished all the dishes, laundry, and floors - a rare event, indeed!

But, handing out money or favors on the street, from my car, or from my home does no-one good except to assuage my compassionate heart's ache momentarily.

The next day, there will not only be another heart-wrenching story inviting herself into my home, but there will be ten.

As a long-term missionary, this question of HOW to help in such a needy environment is very pertinent. Yes, it's pertinent to a short-termer, but the consequences may not affront you before you leave the country. The missionaries who live in the community are the ones who have to pick up the pieces when short-term teams "promise" to try to raise money for school fees, hand out clothes, hand out money, even hand out candy and balloons. When the team leaves, the missionaries are suddenly inundated with requests for help and even angry demands for the money that was "promised" them (whether or not the team intended to convey a promise). In other words, when you're going on a short trip, ask your host missionary how to handle the requests that WILL come for assistance BEFORE you are faced with the situations.

But, back to the young girl wanting school fees. I sent her away after praying with her. I told her to come back tomorrow for my answer. Josh and I talked about it and prayed about it. The next morning I offered her temporary employment to earn her school fees. The mother in me didn't want her falling behind in the term, so after one full day's work, I took her to her school and paid her school fees and bought the required uniform sweater. I took her to the market and bought her black leather school shoes and white knee socks. And I made her promise to return on Saturday to work. I wrote down in a notebook the amount that I had paid and the number of days that she needs to work in order to pay off her "debt."

I may have opened a can of worms. But this girl is back in school today. (She showed up looking very smart in her school uniform asking for water on her way to school this morning... yes, a can of worms has definitely been opened!) She is not the most efficient worker and she does not seem to understand a lot of my English nor my lovely Acholi. I'm going to have to work hard to set boundaries with her, I can see that already as she showed up for dinner last night... uninvited.

But ministry is messy - whether in the USA or in Gulu. We have decided NOT to give money on the streets (difficult though that is, believe me!). I do not buy a yogurt for the kids who follow me into the little shops to stand by the yogurt cooler ready to pounce when I walk by. If I buy one yogurt today, I'll have to buy 5 tomorrow, and I'll be disrespecting their parents. (Imagine if you found out that your child begged from a foreigner to buy them something...)

Our goal is to display the Gospel most clearly. Sometimes that is surely meeting a momentary need with a quick fix and not asking many questions. For the most part, for us, living in a needy community, it's building relationships, praying a lot, and showing Christ's love by showing respect for those asking for help. We ask our Acholi friends for a lot of advice and we rely on God to show us when to take the risk, pay the school fees, and allow a stranger into our home, and when to pray for the person and send them away.

Each person needs to come to peace with how they will respond to the needs around them. James 1:27 says, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." We cannot simply ignore needs - we MUST respond. The question is HOW is God most glorified?

There some good books on this topic, such as "When helping hurts" and "When charity destroys dignity."

As a side note, Gulu has become very dependent on NGOs (non-governmental organizations) since the war. NGOs served a necessary role in rescuing an empoverished, starving, traumatized population. I don't know the answer to the NGO dilemma. But now, we have a generation of people who expect to be handed something for nothing. Many Acholi are hard workers, students attending school at much older ages than you would expect, just grateful for a chance to go to school. But many have gone through so much trauma and relied on NGOs for so many years that they cannot break free of the entitlement mentality and struggle to make it on their own.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Praising our God - across cultures

I find myself especially overwhelmed with emotions when a familiar song is song in church, praising our Father God. Gracie "sings out" especially loudly when she recognizes a song, which always makes me choke up anyway as she makes her joyful noise particularly to songs worshiping God, not just any song.

But those familiar songs speak a language of my heart, a language that my heart longs for at times. We worship ONE God, across cultures, across languages, when we are with others whose names are in the Lamb's book of life. The powerful impact of that unity is astounding.

I remember the same amazing thought as we worshiped with Masaai believers in Kenya and absorbed Masaai worship in Masaai-style, so very different from North American-style. Praising our Abba Father God.

I remember the same thought as we soaked in the rich four-part harmonies of the school children walking to church, singing to God as they went, and we followed. Praising our Abba Father God.

And now, some songs are becoming familiar in Acholi, but I don't understand them as fully as I would like. They aren't in my "heart language." So, a simple song in English, or an Acholi translation of a familiar song, ministers to my musical heart like no other. In time, these Acholi songs will become part of our family culture and will become praises on our lips. But until then (and probably all of my life, to some extent), I certainly miss singing those Sovereign Grace and Getty songs with our worship team in the USA!

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