Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Side track... a trip to Kampala

I haven't written a "cultural" post in a long time - everything seems normal to me, so I have to remind myself of what might be of interest to readers who are wondering what missionary life is like in Uganda. But our recent trip to Kampala is probably interesting to you...

We had to go to Kampala to renew Ana's passport - yes, my cutie is 5 years old! 5 years ago we took her to Kenya so her passport still had a baby photo in it. So a 7 hour drive to renew her passport... Unfortunately, Micah's birth certificate (a twenty step process) is still in progress so we weren't going to be able to do his registration of birth abroad and passport application, which would mean that both parents and Micah would have to go again to the embassy.  'sigh'

We left Gulu before dawn and carefully picked our way over the road in the dawn light.  The road close to Gulu is really in terrible condition - down to one corroded lane that is almost more potholes than road.  Pedestrians, motorcycles, bikes, animals... cars, buses, trucks from the other direction do not yield which means that periodically the driver has to throw the car off the side of the pavement and drive half on half off the road and hope that the drop-off isn't too steep.

There's a new "diner" toward the half-way point on the trip.  We decided to finally stop at it this time - Josh and 3 kids got expensive sodas while I took care of Gracie and baby in the van.  This restaurant has "mzungu toilets!" (not latrines)

We got to Kampala, met up with our country director to give him some toys for a gospel outreach that they were doing in a poor neighborhood that very hour, gave him a medical "exam" and advice in a mall food court, ate Chinese food, got passport photos done, shopped in the super market, and moved on to our lodging - a lovely guesthouse that treats us to very nicely (a little plug for Adonai House!).  For dinner, I did what is now becoming our Kampala tradition for a few meals of our stay: cold cuts and cheese and bread and Blue Band (margarine)! We can't really get cold cuts (even low quality ones) and especially good cheese (even low quality good cheese) so we've come to really enjoy our Kampala sandwiches!

On Sunday, we headed to church with our directors - we enjoy having a "church home" when we're visiting Kampala - getting to know people a bit.  Then to lunch - we opted for another mall with a food court and adjacent "indoor playground" (think Chikfila or Mcdonald's play areas).  Our kids LOVE this indoor playground and were THRILLED while we were happy to let the kids play so we could have adult conversation with our directors, the Watters, and our friend, Anna.  We ordered Indian food for us and Gracie and fried chicken and chips (fries) for the kids.  The kids LOVE meat of any sort and we always try to eat lots of meat when we're in Kampala to make up for a lack of meat in our diet the rest of the time.

To bed early to start our Monday early.  We rose at 5am to get us ready to leave by 7am - our directors came to the guesthouse to keep Moses, Gracie, and Noah for us and we were off to the USA embassy, minus all cellphones, electronics, etc for easy entry.  First appointment of the day and it went smoothly AND the lady accepted Micah's paperwork even though we still have one document to gather.  PRAISE GOD! That part of the day went very American... then back out of the embassy, back onto Ugandan soil...

We got a treat for Ana at French cafe (and coffee for us) and then gathered the other kids and headed to the Indian embassy.  But by this time, there was an incredibly long line so the kids and I waited in the car for 3-4 hours for Josh to emerge.  I fed the kids snacks, water, and the infamous coldcuts and cheese while we waited.  His application was accepted but he still needs to produce one more document.

Then, to the doctor's office... and that's a process.  Wait... explain why we're there... wait... explain why we're there... wait... see the nurse, explain why we're there... wait... figure out what vaccines we all need... go pay... return with the receipts... wait... tell Moses that it'll hurt but not much more than an ant biting... "what's an ant, Mama?"... okay, that analogy didn't work, I'm not prepared to explain what an ant is right now... FINALLY get the shots (the nurse was fantastic, btw!)... get Josh to bring Gracie up the hill so the two of them can get shots...

Now it's 3:30pm... much too late to return to Gulu so we found a room at Adonai House again.  We stopped at our (now) favorite pizza place (Caffe Roma) that has a lovely little tiny playground, huge sandbox, and trampoline out back WITH an attendant who enjoys playing with children.  By then, the stress of Kampala traffic, the waiting, the heat, the dust, the crowds, the open stares, the open glares, have all caught up to me and my body aches with fatigue, dehydration, and exhaustion.  A soda, water, and milkshake (not available in Gulu) later, my outlook on life improves.

We enjoy playing with the kids out back as our kids experience a sand box for the first time.  "This is sand, not dirt..."

Get settled back into Adonai House, rig the mosquito nets up, put the kids to bed in their clothes for the next day, shower the ones that there is enough water to shower, tuck the nets in 10 times per bed as children wiggle their way to sleep, fall into bed exhausted... up by 5am to get on the road to Gulu... this gets us OUT of Kampala before traffic, cutting 2-3 hours off the trip.  But driving in the dark is a challenge.  By dawn, we're out of the city, cruising on the beautiful portion of the road.

Before 8am, we reach a road-side market - through the open passenger window I negotiate and buy produce for the entire week - tomatoes, cabbage, onions, green peppers, a pumpkin, two papayas, 4 bunches of bananas, carrots, "Irish" potatoes, a pile of avocados... I turn down passion fruit (I'm not crazy about the seeds) and pineapple (they're not comfortable to travel with and we were tired of buying produce by then).  Once the kids are comfortably seated on pumpkins and potatoes (and the bananas and avocados are safely stashed), we're off again!

We see monkeys and amazing birds along the road as the scenery turns more and more brown along our northward journey.  By Karuma falls, the kids are grouchy but eager to see the baboons who are mostly hiding in the trees from the heat of midday.  The road deteriorates quickly, making the last hour and a half stressful on the body (and car!).

We're home! I'm hard at work bleaching all the veggies and unpacking the goodies that I found in Kampala at the grocery store.  I'm hoping that the power comes on and I'm grateful that I remembered to put a towel in front of our leaky dorm-sized fridge to catch the water run-off when the power goes off.  I plug in our solar panels and open the windows... we're home!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Missionary struggles - family off the field

We've been on the field for nearly a year and a half - feels like only months and yet a lifetime...

We've missed countless birthday parties and a few funerals.  We have yet to lay eyes on two new nephews and a few "pseudo" nieces and nephews.  We aren't involved in the day-to-day lives of our families.  We don't get to go see a house that sister is considering buying.  We haven't met the new boyfriend.  We don't get to help clean up mom and dad's yard after the big storm or shovel out the car for them.

Our children are growing up without family bearing witness.  We left the USA when our second youngest child was still a baby.  He will visit the USA as a talking child complete with his own well developed personality.  We'll visit the USA in a few years with two new children who will experience the USA and our friends and family for the first time.

This separation from family is so difficult.  Missionaries miss weddings, funerals, babies, graduations.  In this modern era of missions, it's not like the olden days.  As a missionary kid in the 80's and 90's, we called my mom's parents once every 6 months and rehearsed a script beforehand.  My mom returned to the USA when her father's health was failing but we all missed the funeral.  Now, we skyped with my parents the day that Micah was born and they "saw" him on their own computer screen.  We can call on the phone, email, facebook, blog, skype - all with "immediate" feedback and results.  We can know the second Sis goes into labor and can pray in real time for our little nephew.

We are thankful for all of this technology, but it can never replace BEING there.

Pray for your missionaries:
1) Pray that the family bonds would strengthen over the miles.
2) Pray that God would provide clear communication lines when it's most important.
3) Pray that God would comfort in times of sorrow.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Missionary struggles - family on the field

Many of you read my blog to get a glimpse into what it's like to be a missionary family.  I want to write a series of blogs on the struggles of being a missionary as well as the blessings of being a missionary.  I will, by no means, be able to cover all struggles and blessings... but my hope is that this series will give you a glimpse into how to pray for your missionaries.  You may find that missionary struggles and blessings are no different from yours!

One of the biggest struggles that missionary families share in common is protecting their children on the field.  Even an area that is no more dangerous than inner-city Chicago is foreign and the dangers are unknown.

Diseases are serious and unknown.  Medical care is often lacking.  Parents have to be everything for their children instead of parents being able to pass some things off to others.  Parents have to decide when to vaccinate their children and for what and sometimes have to give them the vaccines themselves.  Parents have to decide when a fever is just a virus or when it's malaria.  Every "off day" could be a life-threatening illness... or could be a kid being a kid.

Some regions have dangers that are foreign to Westerners, like child sacrifices.  How do you protect your child against something that you don't even understand?

Snakes, scorpions, strange millipedes, parasites... you gotta let your kid play outside, you gotta let your kid play in the dirt, you gotta tuck them into bed at night...

It is incredibly stressful to feel this weight... especially on the days when I forget that GOD is sovereign and I convince myself that I can protect my children from all calamities... especially when a family is searching for that second or third opinion or reassurance... and I'm that line of defense.

Pray for your missionaries with children:
1) Pray for wisdom and discernment in decision-making when it comes to health and safety.
2) Pray for safety against unknown dangers.
3) Pray for no need to access medical care.
4) Pray for protection against "the elements."
5) Pray as you feel led for your missionaries and their children.
6) Pray that your missionaries would trust in the sovereignty of God in ALL areas of life!

On death

On particularly exhausting days of mothering, I complain, "the children have been trying to kill themselves all day!" Jumping off ledges, playing barefoot where there might be snakes, climbing on furniture, you know what I'm talking about. Children find every single potential hazard.

Over the last couple weeks, there has been one tragedy after another that I've become aware of - children dying.  Parents grieving.

Try as we may, as parents, we cannot protect our children from everything - choking on food, car accidents, furniture falling, seizures in the night, malaria...

God frequently reminds me that HE is sovereign. HE is bigger than everything. HE never falls asleep.  I could be the most inattentive mother in the world or the most attentive mother in the world, yet HIS will be done.  He holds each of my little ones in His hand and nothing can take Him by surprise.

Someday, I'll record my thoughts on why bad things happen even to little children.  But for now, I will focus each day on being faithful to caring for these little ones but also releasing them to God.  I pray over my children each night, that they would trust in Him, and that God would wake me and take me to them if they need me.  Every day is a conscious effort to hand them to God - some days more than others!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A new year

It's inevitable.  The calendar shifts from the old year to the new year and you can't help but reminisce.

A year ago, we had three children in our family.

A year ago, we were the newbies on the mission field.

A year ago, we didn't have a church home in Gulu.

A year ago, we rarely had electricity, reliable internet, cheese, or running water.

So much happens in a year's time... and yet, in the scheme of eternity, what is a year?

A year from now, I could be looking at my life from heaven, wondering how I possibly thought that a year was of any significance.

So this year, I'm not making "new year's resolutions." Rather, I'm continuing with my struggle to make more of Christ and less of me.  Granted, I'm determined to struggle harder, but today is the same as yesterday as I plod forward, fighting the sin that so easily entangles me, clinging to grace, and praying for Christ to be evident in me.

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