Monday, June 14, 2010

African Hearts - Ssenge

Click the title to see the video from our time at African Hearts - Ssenge.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Death ~ 1 Corinthians 15:51-58

"The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ"
1 Corinthians 15:56-57

After getting off the plane in San Fransisco, returning from Africa, the team and I walked to the baggage claim area. We were all looking to collect our large trunks and suitcases filled with gifts we had purchased in Uganda. I thought I would be efficient by grabbing the biggest cart I could find so all our trunks could go out together. Some of the team gave me a strange look and then suddenly an airport employee came after me saying, "I am sorry those carts are for the caskets". I felt like a stupid red neck missionary at that point. As it turned out none of our bags arrived that day. It actually took four more days before they got to Medford.

There were a lot of stories of death and disease we also brought back from Uganda. Stories of fatal accidents and near misses. Widows who lost their husbands to HIV and who now suffer from it. The heart breaking stories of orphans suffering from HIV, TB, Malaria, malnutrition and abuse. I could tell about government corruption and inefficiency. I could go on about petty crime, lies and pride. However in the time it took our trunks to finally arrive I was reminded of the stories we have to share of love, life and hope. Death has no sting, our victory is in Jesus.

We have returned home not with a message of death but hope for a far away land. One of the orphanages in Jinja is called Welcome Home Africa. This group gives me hope that there are people working for these children's future Their motto is "To love and care for destitute babies back to health; or into Jesus' loving arms." Another orphanage called Our Own Home is a place specifically for children who have HIV. Above the main door are the words to Psalm 100. They also sang the Psalm to us. They sang praises to God and cheerfully wanted whatever God had for them.

Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands!
Serve the LORD with gladness;
Come before His presence with singing.
Know that the LORD, He is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.
For the LORD is good;
His mercy is everlasting,
And His truth endures to all generations.
~Psalm 100

These people and many others give me hope that Jesus is working in the hearts of the people of Uganda but there is still much to do. The team and myself were a part of a wonderful work of God. I thank God He chose to use us. I continue to give thanks to God , who gives us victory in Jesus Christ. What we bring home from Africa is not death but a testimony about God who is living, loving and powerfully at work in Africa.



Sunday, June 6, 2010

Psalm 68:5

For about 10 years, I have wanted to buy a “decent” camera. With a trip to Africa, I finally had a good reason to make the investment. So I did. During our trip, I kind of became the unofficial photographer for the team. This worked great for me as I could use my camera to mitigate uncomfortable situations – you know, “hide behind the camera”. I shot approximately 3100 photos while in Uganda.

The day we visited the slum village of Kawuku, I packed my camera and had it in the van where it would be safeguarded by Jackson, our driver. I knew the slum was going to be an opportunity for some of the most impactful shots of the entire trip. I had been tempering my picture shooting in many situations so as not to make the local people feel like I was taking pictures of them because they are so poor and their lives are so terrible – gawking at them. I had a zoom lens and would sometimes shoot from the van to be discreet. Many times I just asked people if I could take their picture and then showed them the result on the digital display. They liked that and it worked well.

As we got ready to go into the slum at Kawuku, I hurried to the van to grab my camera. I flipped the camera on and the screen displayed “no memory card”. Ugh! I checked the SD card slot and sure enough, I had left the memory card in Lashae and Charlie’s laptop back at the guesthouse. We had been downloading the photos each night to the laptop to make sure they were backed up and not lost. I had forgotten to put the card back in the camera. I said, “Ok Lord, I’m not sure if you want me to shoot pictures today. That door was closed so I’m gonna try another door.” I ran over to Ron and asked if I could use the memory card out of his camera. He said “sure”. I opened his camera and found a completely different style of card. I felt the Lord lay upon my heart that I was to lay down the camera for some reason that day. It would soon become obvious why.

The purpose of touring the village was because many of the Redeemer House kids came from Kawuku. We were going to get an opportunity to see firsthand the conditions from which these children were rescued. As we walked toward the village, my hands were grabbed by kids like always happens in Uganda. Today, it was Gloria and Deo. These kids are absolutely wonderful as are all the Redeemer House kids. Gloria is a happy, smiley and energetic 12 year old. Deo is one of the most kind and caring boys I have ever met.

We walked into the village and I was stunned. The conditions were deplorable. The smell was indescribable. It was like the World Vision commercials you see on TV but this time I was smelling it, feeling it – a part of it. You could taste the despair. Tears welled up in my eyes as they did so many times in Uganda. I wanted to drop to my knees and sob. The feelings are indescribable – anger, shame, deep gut wrenching compassion among others.

As we approached the hut where Gloria and Api had lived with their uncle before coming to Redeemer House, Gloria’s happy spirit faded away. Her shoulders dropped. She grabbed my hand tighter and put her other hand around my arm. Fear? No. Anger? No. Extreme sadness and sorrow – yes. I met Gloria’s uncle and shook his hand. Kathy had told me that Gloria and Api's uncle was a good man and had treated them very well. He was just too poor to feed and support them. One of Gloria’s cousins was there with the uncle – a little girl maybe 7 years old. Did Gloria see her and remember what it was like? Was it “survivor’s guilt” she felt in seeing this little girl still there with no hope?

Whatever it was, it was overwhelming for Gloria. Tears streamed down her face. She hung her head in deep sadness. I wanted to make it better. I would have given anything at the moment to have been able to take the weight of what she was feeling upon myself. But I couldn’t. A very similar story when we went to Deo’s hut and saw his grandmother – tears, sadness, burying his face so as not to see and remember. Unbelievable.

That day I held those kids. Hugged them. Rubbed their backs. Patted the black hair on their heads. Loved them.

God spoke to me in those moments and the verse in Psalm 68:5 ran through my head – “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” You see, we are to be his hands and feet. God can comfort orphans and widows if He wants to. But that day He wanted me and the team to be comforters.

That day was another day I realized why, for me, sending money isn’t good enough. I needed to Go, See and Serve. It was possibly the greatest privilege of my life.