"We came down to CVI to serve, but sometimes God just wants us to see and care before anything else happens. I look at these women, and subconsciously, because they have children, I naturally consider them to be my elders. But, they all must be around my age. We watched the first part of the Invisible Children documentary the other day, and I realized that some of these women must have gone through the same things I saw in the documentary. Sometimes it’s very easy to forget. The girls dance and sing in chapel with everything they have, and we’ve all enjoyed some awesome games of netball together (like basketball without a backboard, but using the rules of ultimate Frisbee). All the girls are here taking classes, getting an education, and receiving counseling and pastoral care, in order to prepare for the day they return home and live a normal life in society. Someone told me not all of them end up successful, but I pray they do. I’m leaving in a few days, but the stories of their lives will continue long after I’m gone.
It’s hard not to become angry when you think about Joseph Kony and what he’s done here. It seems so mindless, so purposeless. But here, I am watching God’s redeeming hand at work. He cares about them all. He really does. He’s the one who brings the smile to their faces at chapel. He’s the one who heals their hearts and looks past their histories. He’s the one who gives them a new identity. I came down to serve, but service doesn’t just mean doing heavy manual labor, especially since I’m convinced these women who are half my size are stronger than I am. No, the way I serve is through love. We love and we care and we are friends, even though most of the time, I’m just a clueless American man, scaring little babies, and stumbling through life here. Love is the reason I came here, to learn to love, to give love, and even to receive love (Acts 20:35, Galatians 5:6). God is love. ~Wai Cheng"
"Hello! I’m finally sitting down to write something! We’re currently in Lukodi, Uganda staying at Child Voice International, which means we’re staying in mud huts, sleeping in hammocks and pooping in “long drops.” The girls at CVI are incredible and inspiring. Communicating with them has been difficult, as many are shy to speak English, but it has taught our team to be awfully resourceful! I have been so grateful for this entire experience. God has continued to pull me closer to himself in the most surprising ways, and He has also shown himself to me in the people around me. I have built so many amazing relationships with teammates and many others, and God is continually showing up in those relationships. I am going to miss my Ugandan friends so much; they’ve been wonderful and gracious partners on this journey. I can’t wait for the day I can return to Uganda to visit them (or when they come to the US to me..)! As our time is coming to a close, I am realizing all I have learned and experienced. I’ve eaten grasshoppers and termites, been into the most hopeless slums, held dying children, and called an Acholi my friend. There have been so many ups and downs, but I can now say (after much prayer and self-reflection) that I would not trade any bit of it. I have been incredibly homesick for North Carolina so many times, but looking back on everything, every moment was worth it. I am beyond excited to come home and see everyone and to tell everyone about everything. Y’all are in my heart and in my prayers until July 3rd! With so much love, Camille"
"It's amazing how the little reminders of home can sometimes provide just enough of a push to get through the more difficult cultural barriers; whether it's a bit of ketchup with an African dinner or singing some familiar worship songs, there's a certain comfort to be taken in the things we know. The difficulty comes when trying to get out of those comfortable atmospheres so that we can learn something new.
Ever since arriving at CVI I've had extreme difficulty connecting with our hosts. Their hospitality has been mind-blowing, they do everything from washing the floor in our huts to scrubbing my dust stained sneakers. However, as a guest there have been many times when I've felt like an unnecessary burden. The task of communicating with someone who speaks an entirely new language seemed like an impossible task when we first arrive. Fortunately God used a little bit of home to get me out of my nervous bubble.
In past summers I've worked at a variety of summer camps and at one of them I had the opportunity to spend some time leading kids through some ropes course activities. I'm certainly no expert, but when our leader Kate mentioned that she'd like me and a couple other team members to accompany ten of the child mothers to a recently established ropes course, I happily excepted the opportunity. The facility known as "The ReCreation Project" was developed and sponsored by a church in the states and consists of many of the elements one would expect to find on any common ropes course, including the only zip-line in East Africa.
When we arrived the girls seemed quite fearful, I'm not sure if it was simply being in a new environment or our presence that had them so timid, but I became very nervous as to how the day would turn out. Courage and willingness among the participants of a ropes course are key. We began with some simple name games and I let our FOCUS leader, Aaron, who is an Acholi set the tone. The first few activities broke the ice as we learned each others name and built trust with each other. We were introduced to what our course leader called "the spider web," which ultimately consisted of a series of randomly sized holes separated by flexible chord. Our goal was to get everyone through the web without touching the wire and we were only allowed to use each hole twice.
The pure athleticism of the child mothers, many former child soldiers, became very apparent as they twisted and lifted their way through some very difficult spaces. Initially everyone seemed to go randomly, everyone doing their own thing as they tried to get to the other side. However, it was quickly realized that if such a task was ever going to be completed we would have to develop some sort of unity. There is something to be said for the relationship formed as you trust one another to lift you four feet off the ground. You also share in one another's failures. It took us about an hour and a half to complete the task, but once we finished there seemed to be a significant shift in attitude; there was much more confidence not only within the girls but within myself as well.
In struggling through this task with them I got to see a bit more of each of them. The lives of each of these girls is far beyond anything you or I could likely ever being to comprehend. Many have been kidnapped, brainwashed, raped, and forced to murder, yet there is something within them that still has the ability to laugh, to praise, to tease, and to play. American culture has influenced me to a point where I associate a lot of what these girls have gone through with ancient history and fictional stories and I had felt disconnected from them. Upon getting to know the girls at the ropes course, I've been forced to accept that the crimes they've been through do exist in our modern world and that at the same time their joy, personalities, smiles and fears are real. These girls are real.
As the day went on their excitement grew. One by one we lifted each other through more obstacles, defeating fears and sharing laughs. At the end of the day I saw no difference between the girls on the team, and the people I love and care about back home. The joy, the fear, the courage and all of the other intricate attributes that shape our personalities are uniquely the same. We live on different continents, we differ in gender, and most of all we have greatly different experiences, but God manifests himself in their lives exactly the same way; He loves, He forgives, He strengthens, He frees, and He grants joy. He intentionally creates each of us and in all of the child mothers there are phenomenal gifts and abilities, and what I find even more powerful is that with all they've been through they're still able to sing praises.
Much of the world wonders why a good God would allow pain and suffering, and here there are girls who have undergone more than their fair share. Yet they are still shouting praises and thanksgiving to God. There is much they have to teach me, and I have God to thank. He used the comfort I had in ropes course to introduce me to some very powerful teachers, and it has truly been a blessing. ~ Jake Marcoux"
When we arrived on Thursday to the Child Voice compound in Lukodi we were greeted by smiles, embraces, and much laughter. The child mothers and babies who live and learn here are filled with more joy and energy than seems possible. They have welcomed us into their home, they've fed us well, and helped us learn how to live in this new environment. Since we've been here we've learned how to roll and fry chapati, how to carry jerry cans filled with water up from the boar hole, how to sweep out our huts with a grass broom, and how to climb into and sleep through the night in a hammock.
This week we've started to help the staff and child mothers with their classes and work. We’ve visited the Kulabel farm, helped out at the Child Voice Health Center, assisted the Early Childhood Development class for the kids too young to attend the primary school. We’ve joined a team of 20 local women as they make paper bead jewelry and have had our hair braided by the child mothers learning to run a beauty salon, one of the most lucrative careers. Wednesday we will be taking the new class of child mothers to The ReCreation Projectwhere they will learn to trust and depend on one another as they go through the ropes course.
The sound of the women's and girl's voices lifted in worship fills the air of this center. The sky is filled with clouds that threaten to rain, but when they clear at night the stars are spectacular. The land is bursting with growth - grass, corn, ground nuts, sweet potato, cassava, and local greens grow in abundance. It is hard to describe this land well enough to transport you here in your mind. I pray that some day you will get the chance to see this place, to meet the beautiful Acholi people, and be transformed by their persistence and hope in healing from the wounds of war.
Leaving Behind the Gates – Wai Cheng
"The scriptures come to life here in Lukodi. Today I was blessed with the opportunity to live out Luke 10. It was hard going out into the community. It’s so different from the gated compound here at CVI. I saw two kids, one kid with only a t-shirt, the other with only pants. The father’s clothes were raggedy and torn. It was so hard because they offered us mangos from their tree, which could have got then 1000 shillings in the market. It is a considerable amount for village living, and yet costs less than fifty cents in the US. They were the best mangos I’ve ever had. And Jesus reminded me of his command – to eat whatever was set before me. Even though Joseph Kony has fled Uganda, you can still feel the effects of what the LRA did here. David, the man who gave us mangos, told us Kony had massacred his dad. I cannot imagine that the very land I walk on today has been a place of such sorrow in the very recent past.
Another man we met, Charles, thanked us for leaving the CVI compound and taking the time to listen to the heartbeat of the community. He told us about land disputes that had arisen as people returned from IDP camps and tried to find their ancestral homes. In Lukodi, my friend Aaron told me, land is so important. To try to steal land from someone means messing with their very lives. The disputes can become violent as a result. Joseph Kony has left, but the community struggles to rebuild.
I preached in chapel this morning on Luke 15:11-31. I prayed very hard for God’s help in planning and he drew me to this passage. I’m realizing now that it was the very words of Jesus, and not my preaching, that touched the girls. They know how valuable an estate is. They know what slaughtering the fattened calf really means. They know better than I do the extreme and radical love of the Father, who takes the younger son back. They love much because they have been forgiven much.”
- Humility for all the members of our team – the ability to not be proud but take the time to learn from others and be open to having our ideas changed.
- People to encourage the believers here who cannot speak English, or read the bible in Luo, their native tongue.
- Health for our team – many members have had bouts of digestive adjustment, fatigue and cold symptoms. Please pray for quick healing!
Our last two days in Kampala have been very full. We visited more schools, returned to Mulago Hospital, and met with The Aids Support Organization to learn about their work. Throughout our time in Uganda we've been reading through the Gospel of Mark as a team - learning from the example of Jesus how we can meet people in need, and how God meets us. When we arrived at Mulago on Monday we walked through Ward 3B where most people who come to the hospital wait to be seen by a doctor before being placed in a treatment-specific ward. It was heart-wrenching to see burn victims, people with blood soaking through their bandages, and so many people just waiting to be cared for. As the few nurses and doctor were moving through the rows of people, it was hard not to feel like an obstruction. After our visits the previous week we decided to purchase high-quality soap to give to people that we met, hoping to share the small encouragement while we also prayed with people. Shelby and I approached a women in the waiting area, where we felt a little less distracting, and knelt to hear her story. Irene's brother had a fever that was affecting his brain, the friends and family were waiting patiently outside while he received treatment. She asked what we were doing in Uganda, and after we shared she was encouraged and wanted to bless our time here. We prayed together, holding hands, for her brothers healing, for wisdom for the doctors, and for peace for those waiting. In a room filled with chaos, blood and pain it was so good to share God's love together.
On the walk back to the FOCUS office from the hospital one of the FOCUS students started crying. As we talked she shared that she had never seen so much pain in her life and that it was so frustrating that she wasn't able to treat any of the physical wounds. Mary is studying to be a high school teacher and what she shared next blew me away. "Kate, today I learned that you never know where the students in your class are coming from. One of the women I prayed with has a daughter who is at home and in class right now, while her mom is here very sick and waiting for a diagnosis. If you have a student in your class that seems distracted, you don't know why. Maybe they didn't have any food in their home to eat the previous day, maybe their parent is dying in the hospital. I will teach differently now." I am amazed at how God is using our time on this trip to change how each person sees the world and how we're called to respond. As we sent the students into a time of reflection Tuesday afternoon, they read from Ephesians 3:14-21 that God does "far more abundantly than all we ask or imagine." So it shouldn't be a surprise that each day we are seeing God move us in ways unimagined!
"Faith is an amazing thing. I see faith in the man who has HIV, yet proclaims it without fear, knowing that Christ has given him a new life. I see faith in the deaf and mute man, who can walk to a random Christian, seeking prayers for healing. I see it every time my friends go out to preach, or do things they never dreamed of accomplishing. As for me, I'm still learning to walk by faith. I do not want to be a Pharisee, so full of knowledge, so puffed up. When it came down to it, the Pharisees missed the God who walked in their midst. Tomorrow will be my last day in Kampala, and even though I've done so much for Jesus, Jesus has done so much in my heart. It has been more than I ever expected. Please lift up prayers for: *healing for my friends Gerald, Adolph and George *the team to be united, and especially united under Christ *our own hearts, that God would have his way ~ Wai Cheng 6/13/11"
"We are on our last day in Kampala and gearing up to heat to Child Voice International in Gulu! Thanks so, so much to those who have made it possible for me to be here and those who are praying for us. God has been stretching me in all sorts of ways and I can't wait to share it with you all when I get back. In short, He is showing me more of who He is and how He wants to use me. Our God is infinitely Good in this brokenness. Much Love, Jen 6/14/11"
In our time of joint bible study Friday morning we looked at how the leper and paralytic are healed, Simon, Andrew, James and John are given new purposes, and Levi is invited to follow Jesus. For them, and for us, it is the process of following Jesus that shapes them into who they are supposed to be. The outcast becomes reintegrated, the immobile become ones who can spread word of Jesus authority, fishermen become agents of healing and restoration, and a traitor becomes a hospitable host. As our team follows Jesus in Uganda this month, we too are being shaped and transformed. Read on to see what Leah, Jessica, Canace and Jake are thinking about!
"In Uganda, 'Mwzungu' is my name. It's what the little kids with dusty feet and big smiles call you incessantly as the van full of 'foreigners' rumbles by. Even if you're Asian, you're still considered white, which is what 'mwzungu' means - although I have had kids run up to me in excitement, thinking I was Chinese (because all Asians are, right?) and that by default I knew kungfoo. It's been a little over a week since we've arrived but it seems like longer, not because we haven't been enjoying ourselves but because we've just done so much in such a short time span. I can proudly say I learned how to poop in a deep hole, to shower from a bucket of water and a tea cup I stole from the plane ride, and to eat dinner in the dark using a head lamp. In the past few days we've been doing door-to-door evangelism in the slums, visiting and praying for patients in Mulago hospital, clearing bush with machetes to help with New Start Center's construction, and doing bible study every day with the FOCUS university students who are now like brothers and sisters. Although the dusty slums we've been walking through every day are becoming more familiar as the days progress, I have moments where I still can't believe we're actually here in Uganda <3 Leah (love you Mom, Dad and Lynn)"
"Let me start by saying I MISS YOU ALL like crazy, but I am LOVING my time in Uganda. Everyone has been extremely kind and welcoming. God has been good. He has given me peace in the city of Kampala and YES it is a city and this country girl is only doing it through God. Nothing compares to what Africa is like actually seeing it. It's more than what you see on Planet Earth, haha. God has taught me a lot by emerging me in this culture. He is transforming me more and more each day. I can't wait to tell you all the stories about the wonderful people, food, toilets, culture and God's awesomeness! Mucho love! Jessica. p.s. Pray for our transition into the North next week. Remember Joshua 1:9"
"Pulling with Patience - For a while I've felt useless here, I've not seen God manifest in the ways I thought He would in using me and I worried that I would cause no effect here. After two days of visiting hospitals and schools to talk and pray with people, I welcomed the chance to do physical work, even work I was not used to. While clearing fields at the New Start Center property, I got stuck on pulling out one root. I had already faced the easy and the hard and so thought I knew when I needed help. This time I looked to a friend and instead of offering his aid again he said, 'It's coming, pull with patience.' I don't know how many times I've quit pulling because it seemed like I was making no impact. I've decided that this time I won't stop...it will soon come out. - Canace Morgan"
"Creation is certainly filled with some difficult questions. Within the past two weeks my world-view has been challenged in more ways than I ever thought possible. While out on one of our many projects, Aaron, Miria, Rachel and I, had the opportunity to meet with a group of women struggling with HIV. They revealed to us the difficulties they faced each and every day, and I quickly learned that these women were enduring far more than disease and poverty. They explained the extreme level of discrimination that comes with Identified HIV in Africa. Once the disease is identified they are treated as though they are lepers, not only by the larger community, but by their family and close friends. One of the key factors in the spread of HIV is a lack of recognition by those that have it; the discrimination and label that comes with having HIV often causes people to refrain from being tested, and in all honesty who can blame them. Fortunately this particular group of women have formed a support group to combat the cultural perception of HIV. They encourage people in the community to allow themselves to be tested, and provide deep and loving support for those affected within the community. Their strength is powerfully encouraging. - Jacob Marcoux"