Saturday, April 24, 2010

We're Farmin' Now!

Last week was amazing! It was a week of seeing God shower down blessings on us every day. I wanted to post about them, and just did not have a spare moment to do it. This week has been different – a week of daily challenges, not so much fun to blog about. Ministry is often like that. But the same God who blessed us so obviously last week is the God who walks with us through the challenges, seeking to teach us to trust Him, no matter what, and know that He is still at work, still on the throne, and always faithful.

Let me tell you about just one day last week. Earlier in my visit, Gracious told me that in her village, she had an acre of land her father had given to her, and she was willing to let us use it to plant food for the children. I was excited to make use of the land, and Wednesday was the day we planned to visit the village. First, three of us took the public taxi (14-passenger van) to Kampala, with only about 15 minutes lost to “the jam” (the twice-daily traffic jam which can literally take hours to unscramble). Next, “footing it” (walking), first to purchase our precious seeds, and then about a mile uphill to the next taxi park, through streets (yes, literally walking in the streets) teeming with people going about their daily business: hawkers, vendors, beggars, transporters, men, women, and children, all dodging boda-boda drivers, wheelbarrows, bicycles, taxis, cars, trucks, and buses. Then, on to our next public taxi, another 14-passenger van, stuffed with 21 people, for a long, slow journey into the country, punctuated by a roadside stop where villagers surrounded the bus offering “eats”: roasted chicken, goat, or beef skewers for 500 shillings (about 25 cents); bottled water (same price); sim-sim wafers (seeds bound together with honey); g-nuts (peanuts), pineapple, and other offerings, with transactions taking place through open windows. (I have not yet figured out how to predict when or why the out-of-town taxis or buses will stop for “eats’, but I learned on my bus trip to the north (7 hours) that you don’t get to stop at a restaurant, so you better get your lunch on these 3-minute stops.) After enjoying an hour and a half of sweltering heat and no personal space, most of it on bumpy dirt roads, we disembarked at a very small town where we hired two boda-bodas (motorcycles) to take us the last 25 minutes to the “village” (which designates any rural area where people live). Total time for the trip: about 4 hours, to cover a distance of maybe 40 miles as the crow flies! Total cost, one way, (not counting eats) for transport for 3 people: 27,000 shillings, or about $13.50, which is more than some of the people in the worst housing in our neighborhood pay for rent. Transport eats up a good share of your budget, and has to be considered when calculating the price of anything you buy. Fro instance, I spend 6000 shillings for two bodas to transport the sacks of rice, beans, and posho home when I do our big bi-weekly shopping trip to nearby Gaba market – and then I either have to hire another boda for 2000 shillings, or walk the 45 minutes (uphill) home, carrying what the bodas don’t!

OK, back to Wednesday. We arrived at Gracious’ village to be greeted by her 75 year old father, a small man with merry eyes and a ready smile. Even in the heat, he was dressed in his traditional kansu (a long white garment worn over shirt and pants). What a delightful man! Although he doesn’t speak English (and I don’t speak French, Kinyerwanda, Swahili, or Luganda, his languages), I felt his warm welcome. His wife and daughter-in-law fed us a traditional lunch, with warm grape soda as a special treat for the visitors and head of household only. We ate in the sitting room with Gracious’ father – dirt floor completely covered with mats, 2-person wooden couch with cushions, small table, and one wooden chair. Nothing else in the whole room, except the colorful cloths covering the seat and back of the cushions, and a two-year old advertising calendar poster on one wall. Gracious’ mom ate in the other small room with about 12 people – all relatives, including some of the orphans they care for. Gracious’ father has a tender heart for orphans, and for years has cared for relatives and non-relatives alike in his small home. He has really put his money where his mouth is, even buying property for some of them, which is HUGE here in Uganda.

In fact, as we went outside to assess Gracious’ land, I found out that this man had chosen to bless the orphans of Redeemer House by giving us the use of about 5 additional acres of land! I don’t think I can convey what a huge blessing this is! In a country where land is at a premium, and so many people long for a parcel just big enough to feed their families, God has provided us with enough land to feed all of our kids, and then some! And just over one week later, it’s already all planted! Gracious’ brother Steven, who is a very good farmer, hired a team of 15 men to clear and plant one acre a day (at a cost of 30,000 shillings per day, plus lunch for about 20,000 shillings, which gives some perspective to the 57,500 shillings we spent for transport on Wednesday). We also bought a lot of seeds, herbicides, and three hoes. It was a substantial investment for us, but it will pay off in the long run. We now have an acre of beans, 2 acres of corn (which is used for maize flour, or posho), an acre of sweet potatoes, an acre of cassava, and an acre of vegetables (tomatoes, onions, eggplant, carrots, green peppers, cabbage, pumpkins, watermelon, and I can’t remember what else!) More food than we can eat! And we get two crops a year here, so we will plant again in the fall. Steven has offered to manage our land for us, hiring the men again when it’s time to harvest, and he even offered to plant a “banana plantation” for us (not for good, sweet yellow bananas, but for matoke, the green plantain-like food that’s cooked to mush that our kids love so well – although I can’t understand why for the life of me!) Our crops were put in a little late, so pray the rains continue long enough to give our crops a good start – and more importantly, to help Uganda to have a good harvest to avoid the food crisis and starvation that cost the lives of so many people in the North experienced last year.

For the time being, we can bring food to “town” (which is what the whole area around Kampala is called), where we can sell some of it from right in front of our house. God had a plan when He brought us to this new house – it is right on the road, with an ideal place in front to set up our “shop”. I’m thinking we will be able to employ one of the single moms in the neighborhood who otherwise would have no means of feeding their children – another way to share the blessing! And with the money we make – and we believe we will make money, because the one thing that always sells here is food – we can buy our other staples: milk, eggs, rice, oil, sugar, salt, and our once-a-week meat. This is our first step to becoming more self-sustaining, and as the orphanage grows, we will sell less food and use more for ourselves. In fact, we are using more food than ever, because we are feeding more people every day – more about that in another post – so this is such a blessing! I also believe it is another sign that God has plans for Redeemer House to grow.

Before we left for home on Wednesday, Steven took us to his banana plantation, where he harvested a couple of “hands” of matoke for us. He sent us home with a gunny sack full of matoke and another one full of cassava and pumpkin (which added 3,500 shillings to our transport bill). The kids were delighted – for two days they ate like it was like a holiday at our house! But God has bigger plans than just feeding them well for a couple of days. He has rescued them, and He has shown once again that He plans to give them a future and a hope!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The 100-Shilling Sacrifice

I have so many blogs bumping around in my mind, and have had so little time to post, and was trying to decide which one to post. Then something happened this morning, and I knew what my next post would be about.

First, some background. Earlier this week, we learned that the grandfather of Annet and Sarah, two of our girls, had passed away. It is traditional to give money to the family when someone dies, to help with expenses, and so I sent money and a letter of condolence with Noah when he took the two girls to Kowuku, the village (translate “slum”) where they lived with their grandmother until they came to Redeemer House. The girls came home from the village last night, and while Sarah, 7, seemed her old self, it was obvious that Annet, 14, was very sad.

Each morning for breakfast, the children eat porridge and bread. This morning, as usual, I gave Deo money to walk to a nearby “store” to buy 25 rolls for breakfast for the children, staff, and three other children who came for breakfast. It usually takes him less than 5 minutes, but I got busy cleaning outside and then realized some time later that he had not yet returned. Just then he came through the gate and approached me with noticeably less than 25 rolls. In fact, he had only 15. He came straight to me, handing me the rolls and change, and began to explain, in his quiet, gentle voice.

Before he left, he had first asked Uncle Noah’s permission, and then talked with each of the other children, except Annet and Sarah. He asked them if they would like to give up their morning roll, which cost 100 schillings (about 5 cents American), and instead give the money as a gift to Annet and Sarah. Ten of the twelve children he talked to wanted to sacrifice for their sisters. “And so, I am requesting, Jjaja Kathy, can you give to the children who will not eat bread today 100 shillings so they can say ‘Sorry’ to Annet and Sarah.” I gave him back the change, and with a 1000 schilling bill in hand, Deo ran back to the store to exchange it for 10 coins, so each child could present a gift to the girls.

So many things here bring me to tears. Sometimes it’s something so ugly and sad my heart is breaking. And sometimes I am so humbled and touched that my heart is overflowing. There were tears this morning, I can tell you. These children, who have seen such suffering and deprivation, have such generous hearts! And Deo! I have been saying for a long time that Deo truly has a pastor’s heart. He is so kind, so gentle, so aware of those who are hurting around him. He loves God with all his being. He is also a quiet leader. I can only imagine how God will use him. How often I think, ‘Who am I, to have the privilege of knowing children like these?”

Of the two children who chose to eat rolls this morning, one was Natasha, who at 4 is too young to fully understand. The other was Saida, who is 11. She is a very bright girl, and totally understands. In my last post I told of the horrible circumstances of her life before she came to Redeemer House 18 months ago. She is the child I most worry about. Please pray for her, that God’s love would somehow be able to penetrate the walls she has built to protect herself. Pray for us, that we would have wisdom to know how to love her in a way that reaches her heart. Jesus is the Redeemer – He has sacrificed His life to buy Saida back from the life that oppressed and enslaved her. Please pray!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Meet our Amazing Kids!

I had planned to introdouce the kids one by one, but I had to type up a short bio of each one for Wendi Cross, whose team visited us in early March. Wendi's group is trying to find education sponsors for these kids, plus 16 more from the community that they met at our little church, kids who aren't currently attending school because there is no money for their school fees. So, here's a quick introduction to 14 of the greatest kids you'll ever meet!

Annet, 14 years old, was raised by her grandmother after both parents died. She is a soft-spoken, bright, beautiful young lady who, like a typical teenager, is often the last one ready in the morning! As the oldest of the children, she willingly helps a lot around the house, especially in the kitchen. She had never been to school when she came to the orphanage, and although she has progressed well, she won’t graduate from secondary school before she leaves the orphanage. She wants to be a hairdresser, though, so with a basic education we hope to send her to school to learn this skill, which is a good way for a woman in Uganda to make a living.

Gloria, 13 years old, is Peter’s older sister. She is the servant-hearted girl of the family. If she is late, it’s because she is cooking, cleaning the house, or helping someone else to get ready, especially Natasha. She had a problem with stealing and running away from home when she first came, but God has truly transformed her. She told Mama Gracious that she hoped that one day, we would be able to give bars of soap to all the poor kids! (And so the children all fasted to save money, and are planning to distribute bars of soap next month to the children in the slum where many of them came from! Did I tell you these children are amazing!) God is already using Gloria, and she hopes to someday serve Him as a pastor.

Deo, 12 years old, had been living with his grandmother since his mother died when he was 3 months old and his father went mad and ran off. His ragged clothes were almost gone, and he was eating from the garbage dump before he came to Redeemer House 18 months ago. He is a gentle, generous, caring big brother, who always notices when the little ones have a problem, and quietly figures out a way to help. (He is the one who kept bringing children to the team at church, saying this child couldn’t go to school because he had no one to pay his school fees!) He is a quiet leader in the home, and always expresses gratefulness for everything – and he just happens to be a terrific dancer, too! He loves the Lord with all his heart, and wants to serve Him as a Pastor when he grows up.

Saida, 11 years old, is a beautiful girl with a dazzling smile. She is quiet and a bit withdrawn, but very bright, and she likes to look nice! Her mother was a prostitute. She comes from a tribe where, as the first-born daughter, she was supposed to be sacrificed, but God spared her. She was raised by an abusive grandmother who is witch doctor, and has said she would commit suicide before going back. The grandmother only recently agreed to sign over guardianship to Redeemer House, and it was a day of celebration! Saida hopes to be a lawyer after attending university.

Nicolas, 11 years old, is very bright, and is our resident mathematician. He was found living in a tiny room in a building which has since fallen down, with his grandmother, auntie, some cousins, and his sweet little 3 year old brother. Nicolas was trying to hide his tears the day he found out he was going to come live at the orphanage and would get to go to school – but they were tears of joy! His grandmother is a remarkable little woman, and his manners and pleasant attitude show that in spite of his poverty, Nicholas was raised well. Both parents died of AIDS. Nicolas hopes to be a farmer someday.

Brian, 11 years old, came to us as a “rescue”. Last year, his stepfather tried to choke him to death, but his mother rescued him and took him to a nearby home, where he stayed for a short time until he came to us at Redeemer House. He has a ready smile, and loves to please, but with his violent past, he sometimes resorts to fighting. In spite of this, he is a loveable boy who truly loves the Lord. He likes school, and is always willing to do his homework (something some of the others often put off – typical kids!). When he went to the village at Christmas time, he apologized to Mama Gracious when he came back, because he had given away all the new clothes we had just bought him! Someday he hopes to be an accountant, or maybe a pastor.

Allen, 9 years old, was found with his mother and 3 younger siblings in a tiny room in building just weeks before it collapsed, and his mother had just cooked the last of their porridge. She had fled home when Allen’s father tried to kill him, stabbing him in his neck, buttocks, and leg, but she felt she had run out of options, and was preparing to return to him. When we offered to take Allen, and told his mother we would send him to school, she wept with relief. With our assistance, Allen’s mother was able to start a business selling charcoal to support her other children. Allen is quiet and shy, and struggles a bit with English, but is a bright, pleasant, hard working boy whose smile is amazing. He likes cars, and hopes to be a driver someday – a job in Uganda that can range from driving a bus to driving a private car for someone who doesn’t want to face driving on Ugandan roads!

Peter, 9 years old, is a brother to Gloria. They were living with a maternal uncle before coming to Redeemer House, because their mommy, who lives in the bush, couldn’t afford to raise them. However, the uncle couldn’t feed them either, so they often went without eating, and they had never been to school. Peter is shy and has a bit of a temper, but just needs a little extra TLC, and really responds to it. He’s very hard working at home, and likes school, although it’s not always easy for him because he got such a late start. He hopes to be a teacher one day.

Esther, 8 years old, was found just over a year ago in Kampala by Mama Gracious. She was near starvation, filthy, clad only in a dirty T-shirt, trying to find food in a garbage can, with adults trying to chase her off. Gracious rescued her, fed her, and took her to the police. She had been living on the streets since her mother abandoned her about 2 months before, and had wounds all over her body from bites from her own mother. The police granted custody of Esther to Redeemer House, and she is now a very bright, beautiful, hardworking girl who keeps her room very neat, and who always runs to the gate to offer to carry things when someone arrives. She has a quick mind, and is learning her multiplication tables just by listening as the older children are taught. She hopes to be a teacher, a model, or a designer.

Ivan, 7 years old, lost both parents and was living with an impoverished auntie who couldn’t even feed her own children when he got the chance to come to Redeemer House. He is a cute little guy who claims to like school, but he falls asleep in class, and may have a problem with dyslexia. (We need an expert to come and diagnose him, and then teach us how to best help him!) He has a look about him that can make you wonder what he is thinking! He gets along well with everyone, and has dreams of becoming a doctor one day.

Sarah, 7 years old, is a cousin to Annet, and also lived with their grandmother after both of her parents died. When she came to the orphanage when it first opened, she had wounds all over her body, and a fungus on her head that took almost a year to cure. She also has extra sets of teeth coming in and will need dental surgery and braces in the future. She’s now a pretty, soft-spoken, happy little girl who likes school and wants to be a doctor someday.

Joshua, 6 years old, is the “baby boy” of the family. He was living in a tiny room with his invalid grandmother, who has since died, and they depended on their poverty-stricken neighbors for handouts. Joshua often ate from the garbage or cleaned people’s outdoor toilets to get something to eat. His body and face were covered with open sores when he first came, but now he’s very healthy. He likes school, praying, singing and dancing, and hopes to be a pilot one day.

Gladys, 5 years old, is an adorable little imp with a huge smile. Her young mom, who is dying of AIDS, lied to us to help get her daughter into Redeemer House, because she knew that Gladys would be cared for and have a chance for a future. (She didn’t realize we would have taken her anyway!) Her father was killed by The Lord’s Resistance Army She has been with us about 6 months, and is very bright and has picked up English quickly. She’s not fond of clothes, and would just as soon wear just a pair of soccer shorts! Her 5-year-old dream is to be a teacher someday.

Natasha, 4 years old, is the “baby” of the family. She was found by Mama Gracious when she was visiting her sister in “the village”. Natasha, 2½, had been living for a few days in a locked house with her dead mother, and when the police broke the door down and found her, they wanted someone to take her. When no one else wanted her, Gracious took her. She left Natasha for a while with her sister, but the sister’s husband soon said she had to leave, so Natasha joined us at Redeemer House. She is a bright, happy little girl with a big smile, who wins everyone’s heart. She says she wants to be a doctor someday.

So those are the current children of Redeemer House - at least, the ones who stay there every night! We help other kids in various ways, but these are OUR kids! They are great kids, and I know God has wonderful plans for every one of them, because He rescued them from their dreadful circumstances and brought them to this family, to be loved, nurtured, and brought up to love God. Every day they bless me! They make me laugh, they make me cry, and they make me want to be more like them in so many ways. They are one of the great blessings of my life. Wish you could all come on over and meet them! They're terrific!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Meet Gloria - and be blessed!

I wasn’t going to start telling stories of the individual kids of Redeemer House just yet, but after last night, I decided that I really want you to meet Gloria. She is 13 years old, from a tribe in the north. She was one of the original kids of Redeemer House, coming to us from a slum called Kuwugu Senegu when we first opened our home in October, 2008. She was under the guardianship of her maternal uncle, Tatta Api, often eating nothing all day. She owned only the clothes on her back, and she had never been to school. And yet, unbelievably, her life was much better than that of her siblings in the village where they lived in Northern Uganda, and that is why her mother had sent her to live with Tatta Api.
When we first gathered the kids who would be coming to the orphanage and gave them new clothes, 3 outfits apiece, I remember Gloria carefully and painstakingly folding her new (secondhand) clothes. She seemed in awe of them. She was painfully shy, and very serious. She also had a problem with stealing and running away when she first came. But she has been transformed! She is still a bit shy, but she has a quick, radiant smile. She struggles in school because of her late start, but is so excited to be learning to read. We have assigned each of the older kids a younger one to be their little buddy to help with, and Gloria has been the one who has really taken to it. She is very nurturing, a regular “mommy” to Natasha, age 3. She can cook a whole meal for 20 people, and she is the one who always will jump in and start helping - cooking or cleaning or whatever needs to be done - without being asked. In fact, she is usually the last one out of the door, because she is helping clean up or get someone else ready. (Sometimes 14 year Annet, our oldest, is the last one out of the house, but that’s because she’s taking lots of time getting herself ready – but that’s another, very typical teenage story!) Gloria truly has a servant’s heart. She wants to be a pastor someday – and I believe God will use her greatly.
Gloria is the one who told Mommy Gracious some time back that she hoped someday we could buy soap and pass it out to the poor kids who don’t have any. So, some of us fasted last Saturday, and we will all fast one more day, and we will use the money we save on food to buy a big cake of soap. We will cut it into small bars, and the kids will pass it out in Kuwugu Senefu when we do an outreach there with an American team that is coming next month. When I proposed the idea of a fast so that the soap they give would truly be something they earned and gave themselves, the kids unanimously and enthusiastically chose to do it. That these kids understand and practice fasting is amazing to me – but they do! These are incredible children who love God with all their hearts! They recognize that He is the one who has rescued them from desperate circumstances – and they remember those who are left behind, who have not been so fortunate.
Yesterday, Gloria received word from Tatta Api through one of her classmates that he is planning to go north to the family village on Saturday. (Easter is a huge holiday here, with the whole country suspending everything for 4 days, and almost everyone tries to return “home” for Easter.) Last night, at bedtime we heard knock, knock on our bedroom door. Gloria asked Mama Gracious if it would be all right with me if she sent some of her own clothes to her older sister in the village. The kids here don’t have many clothes, and Gracious asked her what she would do for clothes. She replied, “God will provide.” Of course I said “Yes”. How can you deny a heart like that? Gloria brought some of her favorite clothes, and when we nixed her sweat suit, saying that girls in the village didn’t wear pants, she instead brought the new dress I brought for her this trip! (Gina, she also sent the nightgown you made her, and I know she loves it.) A few minutes later, knock, knock. “Jajja Kathy, I also request from you some soap for my mommy, because she doesn’t have any soap”. So, two bars of good American soap. Then, a few minutes later knock, knock. This time it was Esther, another of our girls, requesting that she be allowed to send some of her clothes to Gloria’s younger sister, and there was Gloria, kneeling in the background, head down. Praying that I would say yes? Of course I did, so Esther sent a dress and a blouse. Then a few minutes later, knock, knock. Gloria was back requesting “colgate” (their name for any toothpaste) and a toothbrush, explaining that in the village her mommy used a stick to clean her teeth. We found toothbrushes for her sisters, too. I offered to help pack her gifts, and found she had added another skirt. She gave up her precious book bag to pack her gifts in. When I told her we could tape it closed, she added one last request. “Jajja, I want to send my mommy two cups of rice.” I found a ziplock baggie, and Gloria put in something like 4 cups of rice. Her little book bag was so stuffed we could barely tape it closed! (You never know when you’re going to need good old duct tape!) Then I found some candy and a couple of beaded bracelets, and asked Gloria if she would like to tuck them in the outside pocket of the bookbag for her sisters. She beamed! She left this morning smiling, caring a precious bag full of love for her far-away family.
I wish I could write this in a way that does it justice, that could show what a sacrifice it was, and show the caring, giving heart behind it. I was on the verge of tears that whole time, and when we had finished packing the precious bundle, with the rest of the household in bed, I spent some time in the quiet sitting room, reflecting on God’s amazing transformation of this young life! I was so humbled, so challenged, and so blessed! Oh, God, give me such a heart!
I know God has great plans to use our precious Gloria in the future. He already is!