Saturday, December 22, 2012

I'll be home for Christmas (part five)

My sister in law and her husband are traveling "home" today from Colorado to New Hampshire.

Our teammates' daughter and her husband are traveling to Uganda today from the USA to be "home" with the rest of the family - all together for Christmas.

Our friends here are traveling to their villages to be home for the holiday week.  For a Ugandan, home is where the family is.  Our baby is named "Otim," meaning "born away from home" because he was born away from our family home (the USA).

And our dear adopted grandma in the USA has just traveled home - for the last time - to her eternal home.  She is celebrating Christmas with the origin of life this year.  She is home, where Christ is celebrated every day.

Is that the home you're longing for this Christmas? Are you teaching your children to long to be home with Christ? Is that a higher priority in your family than wrapping the gifts and baking gingerbread?

I fail at that daily and rely on God's grace to fill in my adequacy.

I have posted on my wall in front of my computer Colossians 3:12-15.  It's scribbled on by an anonymous two-year old, yet it says, "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy, and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.  And be thankful."

Let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts as we long for our eternal home!

Friday, December 21, 2012

I'll be home for Christmas (part four)

I'm trying to make peppermint patties tonight.  Something I never would have even considered doing in the USA.  Something that was outside the realm of reality this time last year.  This time last year in Gulu, there was VERY limited electricity, no cheese, and I couldn't figure out how to bake with the local sugar. Our Christmas feast last year was... creative... a lot of hard work... and NOT like "home!"

But what a luxury - that I can have someone send me peppermint extract and chocolate chips, I can buy powdered sugar...

We spent the day at our friend's village, visiting with her, her family of orphans that she has taken in, and two of the Home of Love children with special medical needs.  We ate a feast and delighted in hearing her testimony of God's grace and provision in her life.  Her home is full of love, mercy, and joy.  Her home is bursting at the seams with clean, happy, Christ-loving children and teenagers who delight in having her as their mother.

There is not a single Christmas decoration hanging, no hint of a Christmas tree.  This Friday before Christmas could have been any Friday.  The garden still needs to be tended to, the water needs to be brought from the well, the floor needs to be swept...

I miss the hub-bub of Christmas, the glow of Christmas lights at night after the children are in bed, the house is silent, and all other lights turned off.  But our friend is living out Christmas day in and day out.  Taking in the orphans, caring for the widows (James 1:27), all with the joy of an incarnate Savior who didn't tithe his blood, but gave ALL of his blood that was necessary to redeem us.

That's Christmas! That's where our home should be - not in the peppermint patties, the turkey, the Christmas lights, the festive gifts, the fun of children opening gifts.  Our home should be in the daily living-out of our religion, a daily manifestation of our incarnate Savior.  I pray that I will be home for Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

I'll be home for Christmas (part three)

He ran away from home.  Walked MILES.  Showed up at the gate after walking to a friend's village to check on her.

Imagine being placed with your "family" that you have never known.  This is your family.  Know and love them.  Trust them to care for you.  See you later!

Obviously, this is not a recipe for success.  It's not an ideal way to raise a child.

But we aren't equipped as a team to do any better right now.  Our goal is to unite all of our children with a family, a home.  Most can go to their relatives.

So, one of our most important learning goals this year is to learn how to assess a family situation, how to prepare a child and the family for placement, how to follow-up, how to determine if the child is safe and thriving in their new situation... and the list goes on.

Pray for us as we learn - pray for our Ugandan staff (especially Bosco and Ruth, our social workers) and our missionaries as we learn together, struggle through the hard issues together, sort through cultural differences to determine GOD's best plan for each child and family.

Home for Christmas... pray for our children in their homes (especially the teenagers) - that they would trust God to be their all.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I'll be home for Christmas (part two)

The government requires all eligible orphans to be sent to relatives over Christmas holiday.  Seems a bit strange at first.  If the child lives in an orphanage instead of with relatives and yet has relatives who are able to care for the child for a month out of the year... then why does the child live in an orphanage?

But that is very much the reality of the orphan situation in Uganda.

Families were torn apart by the war in the North (where we live).  Children living on the streets of Gulu to escape capture by the rebels.  Parents killed.  Aunts and Uncles displaced.  There was a definite need for children's homes.

But now, the region is stable.  And children need to grow up in families, not in institutions.  Some families are ready to step up and care for yet another orphan, some aren't.  Nearly every family in the region already cares for orphans.  Some widowed parents remarried and the new spouse is less than interested in taking on step-children.  Some children are the products of "the bush" - rebel parents - and carry that stigma.

But now our 60+ orphans are "home" for Christmas.  Some of them are not so happy about that.  Some families aren't sure about stepping up permanently.  Some of the children feel less at home at "home" than they do at the children's home.

We are scratching our heads wondering how best to care for orphans and strengthen their families in a broken world.  How do we know which child truly has no family, which child is best served by a children's home? How do we know which child should be placed with relatives, which child should be adopted by another family?

Every child needs a home... this thought is heavier on the minds of so many these days as families gather to celebrate together.  A home for Christmas... a home forever.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I'll be home for Christmas (part one)

I have a strand of gaudy colorful blinking Christmas lights this year.  And electricity to run them some nights.  Last year, I couldn't even figure out how to find paper to cut our snowflakes in the dark.

I have five children this year - last year I had three.

Josh is director over all the ACTION ministries in Gulu this year - last year we were trying to figure out how to buy tomatoes and drive on the left side of the road.  I failed at five different attempts to make fudge.  I couldn't find cheese or vanilla in Gulu.

So much changes in a year.

Especially this year.

I've hit the wall - mix of culture shock (shock is hardly the word), extreme stress, repeated threats against our team and ministries, five young (needy) children, and ... you name it!

And it's Christmas-time.

Normally, I would have been the first to decorate my home for Christmas.  This year, we have been so busy to the max, that my tiny partially decorated Christmas tree is propped in the corner, only decorated because we hosted the staff Christmas party and I thought it would be a nice touch.  My prized strand of Christmas lights is draped over the window bars.

It's not snowy.  There's no hustle or bustle.  Just an increase in the price of meat.  There are really no Christmas presents to think about buying here. (Although I do want to buy some comfy chairs someday for our bedroom... but that's a big project - I don't have energy for that!)

This Saturday, my sister-in-law and her husband will arrive "home" to New Hampshire for time with the family.  My sister will be doing the same - joining my family in Pennsylvania.  People on facebook, in a different world, are complaining about post-office lines, snow-days, stiff fingers from wrapping so many presents.

Last Christmas, we were hosting Home of Love children - stressful, to say the least, but exciting because we had waited SO long to be here and have those children in our home! This year, I have a desperate need to just be with my family.  Hunker down, cook American-style Christmas food, turn on the fans full-blast, play soothing Christmas carols, be HOME.

But, what a blessing it is that I have such a strong family network.  As I long to see my family, tuck the kids under fleece blankies in new footie-PJs, play games way too late into the night, laugh at Isaac's shinanigans till I'm crying, put Gracie on my mom's horse, I realize that this longing fits right in with what is weighing so heavily on my mind these days: how to best care for orphans.

I have an earthly family, I belong.  I have a heavenly Father who will never abandon me.

What does this mean as we seek how best to care for the 60+ orphans in our care?

I'll be home for Christmas... but what does that mean for our 60+ children who are now "home" in the villages for Christmas, but don't identify with home at all?

...to be continued...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Oops...

We haven't made too many cultural blunders that we know of yet - mostly because we're very slow to act and we ask our Acholi friends EVERYTHING.

But, here's an oops!

We were invited to a wedding over the weekend.  At the end of MONTHS of barely sleeping, running around like crazy, and dealing with unimaginable situations... we were so tired, somewhat sick physically, the children "done" (if you know what I mean)... so, after asking multiple people for advice, we attended the ceremony but not the reception.  We enjoyed a somewhat restful and rare afternoon home as a family.

Sunday, our dear friend and pastor, walked with us out of church afterwards and informed Josh that he stood in on Josh's behalf at the wedding reception.  Apparently, as the bride's (former) employer, Josh was to make a speech.  Peter agreed that we should have been informed and not "ambushed" (he was one who told us that we did not need to attend the reception if the children needed to go home).  But, nonetheless, "the Director" was not present at the reception...

Ah!

Then today, Josh came home with wedding "cakes" (a cake is called "cakes") "for the Director."

Oh dear!

Well, we'll enjoy the "cakes" and, in the doing, try to swallow the guilt that we skipped out on a wedding reception where we were supposed to make a speech...

... And I'm sure that Pastor Peter did a much better job at the speech than we would have...

"Sorry, I'm just a mzungu! I didn't know!"

Jack of all trades

I sit here, during rest time, with a needle between my teeth, quickly sewing a little Christmas gift for one of my children - thankful that I learned to sew as a teenager.  It made me think of the many skills required of me on the mission field.

Sewing up the holes in the mosquito nets...

Baking from scratch... with foreign ingredients... in a gas oven without temperature markings...

Driving the ministry van - a 15-passenger stick-shift full of children not wearing seat-belts...

Managing our finances - for our family and for ministries...

Keeping track of donors, prayer partners, and interested people...

Creating publications...

Repairing toilets, chairs, wheelchairs, buckets... (the list goes on)

... and I'm grateful that my parents intentionally taught us life-skills.  I can sit back and observe.  I can hammer a nail straight.  I can sew.  I can cook.  I can drive a stick-shift.  I can use a computer.  I can carry a tune.  I can speak in public.  I can play with children.  I can teach.  I can take photographs.  I can power-wash a house.  I can ice-skate (not a tremendously useful skill here in Northern Uganda!).  I can swim.  (I'm not saying that I'm great at any of these things, but I can do them, thanks to my parents' hard work while we were growing up.)

I'm thankful that my parents encouraged me to get formal education (a key to many doors in the developing world) but also challenged me to know how to take care of a household and work hard.

So, if you're thinking about going into missions - learn to do as many things as you possibly can.  You might be an engineer, but you should know how to cook.  You might be a doctor, but you should know how to hammer a nail.  You might be a farmer, but you should know how to create an Excel spreadsheet.

My most popular skill-set here? Baking.  My cookies have broken down barriers in many a setting.  I take cookies to the villages when we visit.  Even though cookies aren't culturally the normal thing to take on a visit, the women are so interested to see that I'm a normal woman who cooks for her family and for others.  (Don't worry, we also take soap and sugar - the more culturally "normal" hostess gifts.)

Things I wish I knew more about:
- solar power
- solar ovens
- water collection
- plumbing and electricity
- agriculture and animal husbandry
- web design
- NGO everything (politics, finances, accountability, etc.)
- animal health
- self-defense
- Biblical counseling
- alternative orphan care
- snakes

The list could continue, but maybe it'll serve someone who is preparing for the mission field!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Family in ministry


This week is a busy week, yet one that we look forward to all year.  Our goal at Home of Love, is to "relocate" children to live with their relatives.  Most of our children are with us because of the war - separated from family either because of deaths or because of physical separation. Our orphans all have identified family who may eventually qualify to become their guardians.  We continue supporting them long-term and we have the opportunity to be in their lives long-term.

So this week finds us, as a family, at Home of Love for long, hot, busy days.  These are days where I hardly hold Micah.  He's whisked away by his adoring fan club the second he's done nursing.  Noah wanders the grounds barefoot, drinking from the borehole, covered head to toe with dirt, mud, and food.  Ana and Moses romp with their friends.  Gracie is wheeled around, never alone, often giggling hysterically and screaming in joy.

It's exhausting - the chaos of wrangling 65 children and getting them to follow the program, the multitasking of keeping track of my five children amongst the many, the cultural differences, trying to understand why things happen when and how...

But it's so sweet to spend this time with these precious children.  This week has allowed us to get to know each of them so much better.  It's difficult to get to know the children deeply.  They are always "fine."

As a team, we'll be spending a lot of time this year working through what it means to care for orphans, how to disciple orphans, how to parent orphans, how to reach their hearts and not just meet their physical needs, how to protect and love vulnerable and traumatized children...

But for today... and tomorrow... we'll focus on the here and now, how to give each child a glimpse into God's heart and provide a clearer picture of the Gospel.

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