Thursday, June 30, 2011

Haaaave you met Buddy?

This is Buddy.

He's the official spokesbear for AMG Uganda. He's a great partner in the ministry. You may have seen him out making friends wherever he goes bringing a message of love, friendship, and big bear hugs.

He has his own AMG uniform just like the kids.

He even has his own passport.

He's always there through thick and thin. When I had my spinal tap last year, he laid flat with me for the next few days. He's part of our team, and because of that today Buddy had a very important job to do. Today he had to go with my mom and I to get our typhoid shot updated.

He sat with me while I waited for mine.

And didn't even flinch when he got his.

And he hasn't whined once about how much his arm hurts (which is more than can be said about my mom and I).

- Aly

If you'd like to read more about Buddy click here.

If you'd like to see some of his adventures click here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Few of our Favorite Things

Eseri's beautiful smile

Brian, when he tries to hide his smile and kind of ends up grinning like the Grinch.

Ivan's dimples

Vicky's giant bear hugs.

Tadeo's raspy, singsong voice as he says, "See-stah Eh-lee!"(Ok, that one's probably just one of my favorite things)

And being surrounded by the most amazing kids in the world.

Children of Upendo (though still Camp El Har in our hearts), you all are some of our favorite things. And in 27 days, we'll be on our way back to you!

- Aly

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

We May Never Know

I've asked my mom to share today:

There are some things in this life that we may never know. People that we pass in the mall, on the street or a stranger sitting behind us in church, we may or may not know their life story, but we may be the one person that will change their life forever.

Thereza is a perfect example of how spending a small amount of time showing her God's love has had a huge impact on her life. We won't know the long term affects for some time, if ever.

The first year we went to Uganda in 2007, I knew that I wanted to meet the mother of Eva, the child we sponsor. I had heard the story of how she had abandoned her children, except Eva, who was too small, after her husband had died of AIDS. She had begun to sell alcohol, and would punish Eva by pouring boiling water on her. My heart broke for this woman, and I knew that she needed the love that only Jesus Christ could give her.

We visited several families before reaching the small humble home that Eva shared with her mother. This woman that I had never met before ran to greet me, wrapping her arms around me in an embrace that I thought would never end. This couldn't possibly be the same woman that had done horrible things to her children. She thanked me for helping Eva, and for making a difference in their lives. Before we left I shared the gospel with her and other onlookers. She accepted Christ that day! What I didn't learn until 3 years later, was that her other daughter Mercy, had been listening to me that day too, and she also accepted Jesus that day.

You see, we don't always know what our actions and our words mean to others!

When an opportunity arises, would you be ready to share your faith? Not just do you believe that there is a God, but how to have a personal relationship with the one who created you.

- Karen

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Day that Changed a Life Forever

It was August 5. I remember because it was the day I would celebrate 6 years of walking with the Lord. We woke up just as we had fallen asleep the night before, hot and sweaty, and took a nice cold shower (though not really a choice since that's all there was). We had eggs for breakfast and then were off to the center for morning devotions.

Shortly after we were off for a day of home visits. We visited my sweet girls and their mother at their home. After a funny exchange with Sophie about not being able to find her panties, and of course catching up with their mother, encouraging her, and praying for them, we were on to our next home.

We had no idea at the time what kind of impact that two minute drive would make.

When we arrived, we were greeted by two kids, a boy and a girl, around 13 and 14 years old. There were 4 kids total from that family. The oldest girl was away at a boarding school and the youngest lives at Camp El Har, AMG's orphanage in the city. But these two remained at home.


You see, their father died of AIDS and their mother remarried. In Uganda when a woman remarries, her new husband often will not accept the children from a previous marriage so they are sometimes left with family members, but more commonly just left.

(One of the beds - just a thin piece of foam with a blanket and a mosquito net with lots of holes)

So these kids, named Simon and Thereza, welcomed us into their home. When most kids (like my girls) come to greet us can hardly contain their excitement, but these kids were different. They were very solemn and wouldn't smile, their eyes looked empty, and they looked like they carried the weight of the world on their shoulders.

While I was sick, at times I felt hopeless, like I'd never get better. But God always brought me hope and reassured me that He had a purpose for it all. And I knew that hope wasn't for me to keep to myself, but to share with others too.

So that day we walked into their home and sat down on small wooden stools. The only light in the room was streaming in from the open door and the holes in the tin roof. My heart was completely broken. When I wrote last week about how sometimes it hurts to love these children, this was one of those moments. But as I fought the tears (and it was hard to fight them as my mom and one of the workers were both weeping and my dad was brushing away tears) I knew that everything I had been through led me to that moment. And even though my struggles couldn't compare to what they were going through, I could honestly tell them I know what it feels like when it seems God has abandoned you.

Looking at them caused a lump in my throat and tears filling my eyes. So I picked a stone on the dirt floor and started to share. I shared a passage from 1 Peter. I said that the Bible tells us that we will face many struggles in this world, but because of Jesus we have this reward in heaven that never goes away. For me, I needed good health. But one day my health will fail me, I'll grow old and die. In this life we need food, but one day that food will spoil and it will be no good to us anymore. But this reward we have in heaven never spoils. In never fails. And it will never change.

When I finished we prayed with them, and as we always do on home visits we gave them a small package of beans and rice. As we left we realized why they were so somber when we arrived.

They had no food.

Just before we came they were trying to figure out how they were going to get their next meal because they had nothing. And as we left, one of the workers gave slipped them a little bit of money because now, even though they had some rice and beans to eat, they didn't even have charcoal to cook it with.

And before we left, Thereza smiled. The worker we were with said she hadn't seen Thereza smile since her sister went to Camp El Har a year and a half before that day.

After we left our hearts were so broken and we felt overwhelmed by the needs of these children. I cannot even imagine what they've been through. Facing their father's death, their mother abandoning them, having to deal with grown-up issues when they've barely been teenagers for more than a few months, and on top of that facing the day to day struggles of going to school and being a kid growing up in the third world country.

They have no one. No one to tuck them in at night. No one to help them with their homework. No one to hug them when they have a bad day. No one to care for them when they're sick. No one to talk to about all the things teens need to know as they grow up. There's no one there.

And it just tore our hearts apart, especially knowing this was one family. These aren't the only kids facing this situation. We were surrounded by it.

We knew we needed to do something. Now, Thereza is sponsored through AMG. Her brother Simon is not. Simon was too old to be moved to the orphanage, but in the past year he's been moved to a boarding school. Being a little older and being a boy, he was not so much at risk.

But Thereza, on the other hand, was. You see, when you're hungry, eventually you get to a point where you'll do anything for food. Our goal was to keep that from every happening. Instead we worked to get Thereza into Camp El Har with her younger sister, Vicky. We found the necessary sponsors, and she has sinced moved into her new home at Camp El Har.

We are so beyond excited to see her, to see how she's grown over the last year. We've heard from the workers that she is doing so well, but I can't wait to see her with my own eyes and wrap her in a giant hug.

See that day we went to visit those kids at their home, we did more than just bring food. We brough hope, love, and a chance at a new future. Thereza is now living in a home where she doesn't have to worry about where her next meal will come from. Someone is there to take care of her when she's sick. She goes to school every day and is progressing in her education - unheard of for so many girls in Uganda.

Her life wasn't just changed because we showed up. Her life was changed because someone loved her enough to sponsor her. Without that sponsorship, her life would have turned out so differently. If you are interested in changing a child's life forever through sponsorship, you can click on the photo of the girl praying in the top left corner of our blog, or you can e-mail us at

- Aly

Sunday, June 26, 2011

World Cup Soccer and Role Models

I'm not going to lie to you. This post doesn't have very much to do with our ministry...although Ugandan's love soccer, so maybe there's a connection. So if you're not interested in my non-ministry ramblings, feel free to take the day off. I'll be returning tomorrow to our regularly scheduled blog posting.

Well, anyone who knows anything about me knows that I am a HUGE women's soccer fan. Since I saw the women win the World Cup back in 1999, I was hooked. And I've followed them ever since. I've traveled to Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Cleveland to see them play. I have autographs from some of the best players in the world. And I don't mean to brag, but Abby Wambach gave me a high five and it was pretty awesome. I follow their travels on their blog and twitter. I'm not a stalker...

I prefer the term "professional crazed fan."

So the Women's World Cup officially starts today in Germany. I've been waiting for this day for 4 years, so I am pumped. The US women haven't won a World Cup tournament in 12 years.

I grew up watching Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain, and Julie Foudy. They were strong role models for me growing up, showing me women could be strong and confident in whatever they chose to do. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but for a short while I wanted so badly to be a professional soccer player. (Don't roll your eyes. I was 10 and I thought I had it in the bag). I looked up to these women and dreamt one day I could be like them.

I think everyone in life deserves a good role model. Someone to look up to, to see their hard work and dedication to something. It's important. So often in life we learn from example, and we need more good role models in this world.

Well look at that! Maybe I can make a connection to ministry today. Last year when we were leaving Uganda, my dad talked about this. Others are always watching us. It doesn't matter if we're famous or just average joes. There's always someone watching, and especially with the younger kids, they're always watching what we put our time and energy into, what we're dedicating ourselves to. So the question for us Christians is, are we living a life that shows our dedication to God? Will others take notice and do the same? Are we living out our calling to be good role models for others in this world?

- Aly

Saturday, June 25, 2011

From the Archives: Celebrating Life

Today is my big brother, Derek's birthday. Some of you may be surprised to find that I have a brother. He doesn't go on the trips with us. He always says someone has to hold down the fort while we're gone. So he's part of our team at home.

(He was really annoyed that I took this picture last month and I'm sure he's going to be thrilled to know I put it on the blog...)

Growing up I thought he was pretty much the coolest person. For the most part we didn't really fight. He was always so patient with me, and we were always taught to respect each other. He'd play baseball with me in the yard, shoot hoops, ride bikes, and even let me watch him play video games (I was 4 1/2 years younger than him so I thought that was pretty awesome). He always "let me" watch the Little Mermaid even though he was the one who actually wanted to watch it (that French cook cracked him up). Now, all these years later we're still pretty close. He's a teacher too, so you can often catch us talking about school or grumbling about grad classes. So today I say Happy Birthday to the best big brother a little sister could ask for!

Sticking to the birthday theme, today's from the archives is taking you all the way back to 2008.

One of our favorite places to be in Uganda is at Camp El Har. This is AMG International's home for orphaned children. Back in 2008 there were only about 18 kids living there. One of them being one of our sponsored children, Eva. We wanted to do something special for the kids, so we planned a birthday party. So many of the kids don't actually know when their birthdays are. Record keeping in Uganda isn't the best and for many of these children who were orphaned at a young age don't have parents around to tell them what day they were born. So this party was not so much about celebrating birthdays as it was about celebrating our lives together.

We first planned to have the party at a local school, but there were other local kids around and it would've been difficult when it came time to eat and pass out gifts because we only had enough for the kids from the Camp. So we ended up moving our party to Reuben and Florence's home. It was so peaceful and relaxed.

The girls arrived all wearing thir best dresses and the boys were handsome in their nicest shirts. The celebration started with praise and worship all led by the kids. We sang praises to the God who gave us life and brought us all together for that special day.

Then we started the games. We challenged the kids to a 3-legged race. They thought it was pretty hysterical. Some of them were really good at it, while others struggled to even take a few steps. But they all learned quickly that it took team work.

We played pin the tail on the donkey, which they had never played before. They loved it, especially when someone (like sweet Eva) was so disoriented from being spun that they couldn't even find the donkey.

We ate sandwiches and had cake and ice cream. And then we had the honor of handing out gifts. The kids were quite surprised when we started handing out shirts for everyone. And we didn't just hand them out. Each shirt had a name attached to it. It was their shirt.

It was a bittersweet day because we were able to take time to celebrate, but it was also the last day we would see them. So as the sun set and the night ended, we had to say our good-byes.

The best part of the night was that for just a few hours, these kids could set aside the hurts they've endured in their lives and just be kids. For a little while they could set aside their responsibilities, worries, and fears and just have fun.

I think it was during that time that we spent together that day that we went from being visitors among them, to being family. And that's where we've stayed ever since.

- Aly

Friday, June 24, 2011

Reinventing the Bicycle

The Bicycle.

A frame supported by two wheels. Human powered by using pedals at the feet. In the US it's used mostly for transportation, such as commuting to school and work, or recreation. My mom and I recently started a 6 mile cycling route to get in shape for the trip.

But in Uganda, the bicycle has more uses. Many men use it to make a living with their own bicycle taxi service. You walk up to him, agree to a fee, and he takes you wherever you need to go. Neither hills, nor traffic, nor potholes will keep him from getting you to your destination. It's hard to tell in the photo below, but this woman is riding sideways with a child on her lap (you can see the small white shoe near the bike's reflector). I don't know about you, but at times I have a hard time balancing on my own bike when no one is around me. So having someone riding on the back or having to ride "side saddle" might not end well for me.

People aren't the only thing being transported on bicycles in Uganda. Here a man and his family have a load of matoke bananas they're taking somewhere.

Need some water? The vast majority of Ugandan's do not have running water and can spend hours traveling to a well. This guy is either selling this water in town or has a big family and lots of laundry to wash.

I'm not really sure what's going on in this next picture. But it appears that this man has his goats tied to his bicycle. I'm not sure if the goats pull his bicycle, or maybe they run alongside (can goats even run?)

Who's this? Every child's favorite guy: The Ice Cream Man!!! Yes they have those in Uganda. And they even have a little machine that plays music like the ice cream trucks here in the States. This man travels with his bicycle scooping out happiness wherever he goes.

Now this guy has talent. He's not only riding a bike, but he's riding a bike with a bed on the back. Now all he needs to do is find a way to transport and cook some eggs and he can start his own bed and breakfast.

You're in Uganda and really in need of some new furniture for your home, so you go walk the streets and find a carpenter who specializes in furniture making. You buy a chair and two couches from him but you think to yourself, how will I get them home? Does Uganda have U-Hauls? They do if U-Haul it on your bike!

Uganda, East Africa. Reinventing the Bicycle.

- Aly

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Clean Smelling Hands

The other day I was out shopping and stopped by the craft store. I picked up some of those awesome face painting crayons that we used last year with some of the kids at the Saturday program.

And then again at Camp El Har when Fahad did this to himself when I turned by back for two seconds:

Anyways, I was there to pick up some more to use this year because we had so much fun with them before. I got in line to check out and there were a few people in front of me. You know those displays they always have near the cash register that suck you in with cool little gadgets and gizmos? I was just glancing around at the paintbrushes, paper clips, rubber bands, and assorted chocolates. Then it was my turn to step up and pay. But just as I was about to, something caught my eye.

It was...brace yourself...are you ready?

Dial Hand Sanitizer!

You don't understand. We love Dial hand sanitizer. Sure some of the others are ok. Sometimes it's nice to have my hands smell like warm vanilla sugar, but really it's just mean when they smell like country apple or tropical passion fruit or some other mouth watering smell. And then there's germ-x. Sorry makers of germ-x, but your product stinks. And you know it stinks when it even stinks in Africa!

But before leaving on a trip one year we found Dial hand sanitizer. And my friends it smells so clean! And when you smell of sweat, dirt, smoke, and exhaust fumes, having clean smelling hands is like a little piece of heaven. But for some reason we can't seem to find Dial hand sanitizer very easily.

But this week I found it, and when I did I gasped. My eyes got real big, and I just started tossing those suckers on the counter.

And the cashier looked at me like I was insane...and so did the lady behind me...and the guy behind her...

I didn't care, because my hands will smell clean! Well then on our way out of the mall I realized I probably should've bought more than 6. So we ended up going back and getting more. Luckily I have the best friend in the world and she risked her own appearance of sanity (on her birthday no less) by purchasing a large quantity of travel sized hand sanitizer. (Thanks Amanda!)

- Aly

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Loving til it Hurts

Last night, we came home from a church softball game, and as I stepped onto the back porch I stopped in my tracks. I looked around for a second, not really sure what I was looking for. But something about that moment seemed familiar. It was like de ja vous but not about me standing on the porch or the softball game.

It was something I smelled.

Someone must've been either having a bonfire or burning trash. That smell, along with the thick evening air did something to my mind. I've heard that smell and memories can be closely linked, and that's exactly what must've been going on at that moment because suddenly my mind was in Uganda.

And all within a fraction of a second I could see the streets of the city, lined with people trying to make a living selling fruits or furniture or minutes for your cell phone. And boda-bodas (motorcycles) were weaving in and out of cars on the road trying to get to their destination as quickly as possible. Kids giggling as they walk to school, vendors chatting, horns honking. I thought of dense bread for breakfast and sitting on the veranda writing in my journal, tucking in my mosquito net, and brushing my teeth with bottled water.

And it made me kind of sad. I mean I was excited thinking ahead. I'll be going there in 34 days! I was sad because I miss being in my "Uganda home" so much. But I was also sad because it was one of those moments that I realize that my "Uganda home" and "US home" can never meet. When I'm here I want to be there and when I'm there...well I still usually want to be there, but there's a part of me that still wants to be here where my family is. It's here that I feel safe and can eat American food, and not worry if what I'm doing will offend everyone around me.

And most of all, it's here where my heart doesn't have to hurt so bad...

Because honestly when you love these people and those sweet children like I hurts. Because their hurts are real and present and right in front of me and I can't escape them because they're everywhere I turn. I still think about those hurts at home, but because it's not always there in front of me, it's easier to focus on something else when I feel overwhelmed by them.

But I don't want to forget them. I don't want to forget that so many people in this world don't live like I do. It's just sometimes it's easier to forget.

But God has called us to love the unloved and unloveable even when, and especially when, it hurts. Loveis what brought Christ to and through the pain of the cross. So how can I do any less?

- Aly

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Kids Are Kids

Children in Uganda face so many struggles. Between disease, malnutrition, death, and lack of education and other opportunities they will experience so much more heartache in their younger years of life than many of us will face in our entire lifetime. But despite the hardships they face, they're still kids. And we've found that no matter what, kids are kids no matter where you are.

They love to play.

And draw all over themselves with chalk.

They love to blow bubbles with their gum...

...or in your water.

They love the part in the song where you take the key and lock them up.

And they're fascinated by glow sticks.

They have way too much energy...

...And they never want to sit still.

They make funny faces.

And enjoy being bounced on your knee.

They're show-offs for the camera.

And they love Oreo Cookies!

They can quickly figure out how to use new toys.

They like to goof off between classes.

They learn how to say their prayers, but sometimes they peek.

And nothing in the world beats best friends.

They want to be just like their parents.

And all they really long for is a little love and attention.

Kids are kids wherever you go.

- Aly