Monday, July 23, 2012

The Parable of Cinderella

Two years ago we met a little girl. She’s friends with the girls I sponsor and she just cracked us up. Her spunky little attitude stood out to us. Her smile was big and her laugh contagious. She was too young at the time to be in the sponsorship program, but we always remembered her. We looked for her last year, but couldn’t find her.

Then, while on home visits last week we finally found her. Or maybe she found us, I’m not really sure. We were standing outside Mariam and Sophie’s home (the girls I sponsor). Their mother was working so it was going to be a short visit and we’d come back again later. As I stood there with my girls, all the sudden I noticed a face. I smiled and when this little girl smiled back at me I knew it was her. She looked a little older, her teeth were a little bigger, but it was her. I looked at my parents and pointed at the girl and said, “That’s the one!” They knew right away who I was talking about.

The next day, my girls came to the center to see me, and they brought their little friend. At first she wouldn’t come in the gate. Since there are so many kids in this area, they try to only allow sponsored kids in through the gate, otherwise they’ll have so many kids on the small compound that no one could move. But exceptions are made for visitors, and we brought her in.

Right away we gave her a hug, just like we did Mariam and Sophie. We played games with her just like we do with my girls. We put her in our laps just like we do my girls.

We felt God brought her to us now for a reason, and that it’s time for her to come into the sponsorship program. One of the workers is looking into her family situation to give us more details, but we went ahead and took her picture.  She came wearing a dress that was filthy and tattered. The one sleeve had been completely ripped and had to be tied together for this photo.

The workers had a dress at the center. We brought her inside and helped change her. She had no panties on so as teacher Betty lowered her dirty, torn dress, I put the clean, beautiful one on over her head. In that moment something amazing happened. She looked at the brand new dress on her, then she looked up at me, and she smiled the biggest smile I have ever seen. She looked at me like I had just transformed her into Cinderella and she would now be the belle of the ball.

So what happened next? She danced with my dad.

She swayed and she twirled, and for a moment in time she was Cinderella. She went from being just another quiet face in the crowd to being someone who matters.

Isn’t that such a picture of what God has done with us? He saw us in our filth, all tattered and torn waiting on the outside, and He brought us in. He hugged us, put us in His lap, and loved us as His own child. He took our dirty clothes and replaced them with best garments He has to give.  He saw us the way we were and still He chose to make us matter in this world.

- Aly

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Our VD

On Sunday, we had VD. It’s not what you think. Here VD is Visitation Day, (which is a relief because when someone tells you that on Sunday you’ll be having VD one tends to get a little nervous). On visitation day, parents come and visit their kids at school. Since we are staying right here at Upendo Christian School, we were right in the middle of VD (I won’t lie, I can’t say that without chuckling).

Upendo has a mixture of kids who come to school just for the day and kids who stay in the boarding section and are there 24/7. Last year, the boarding section was only for kids who were part of the orphanage, but not it’s been opened to the public so that the school can make money to keep it running.

Many of the children received visitors. They were so excited to see their older brothers or sisters, their Aunties, moms, grandmothers, and others. These family members brought little gifts for their children. Some received special food to eat and other small gifts like soap or sugar. These kids were so happy, and you could tell by the smiles on their faces that they had someone visit them.

But then there were kids with tears in their eyes, with no one to come and visit them. They saw other kids having visitors and felt left out. But we couldn’t let that happen. So we became their visitors.

I was the parent to 4 kids. Bet you didn’t know I have 4 daughters. It started with one of the girls joking with her teacher and calling me her parent. And I said I was and went to her classroom to have a conference with her teacher. For another, I knew her mother wasn’t coming so I told her at the beginning of the day I was her mom for the day. And the other two were sitting in their rooms. It was near the end of the day and parents wouldn’t be coming much longer. I asked the girls if they had anyone coming and they almost started crying. When I offered to be their visitor, their faces lit up. They walked with pride to show me where they sit in class, all of their notebooks, and I talked about their grades with their teachers.

One of these girls was Ameri. I’ve known Ameri for years now, and I love her so much. She’s very quiet, and she’d been shy since we arrived. I told her to take me to her class. I sat down with her teacher and we discussed her grades, talking about how she can improve. Then I looked at all of her notebooks and tests. I’m not talking one or two. I’m talking piles and piles of work she’s done just since the beginning of May. When we were finished I told her to treat me like she would her mother. Show me all the things she would’ve shown her mother if she had shown up.

So she showed me where she sleeps: top bunk all the way at the end. She named off everyone else and where they sleep. She told me she’s the leader of the Primary section, so she’s in charge of all the other girls. She took me to the kitchen to show me where they prepare the food, and introduced me to the cooks. She showed me the dining hall where they eat. She took me up to the clinic, and then we walked to the main gate so I could see that. We walked around the entire compound. I even ate lunch with her: posho and beans. She talked to me about the crops they grow and the animals they raise. She told me about what she likes most about living at Upendo:

She can study hard and there’s always food.

My throat caught on that last one. If you’re not familiar with Ameri’s story, a few years ago we found her living alone with her brother, no parents around, and with no food. She was 13 years old. We found her more sponsors and had her moved to Upendo where she could just be a kid and not worry about finding food.

The funniest thing is that everything she showed me, I already knew about. I know where she sleeps. I know where the kitchen and dining hall are. I’ve passed through the main gate. I’ve even been treated at the clinic. I’ve met the cook, and I’ve sat in her class during school hours. But it wasn’t about the tour. It was about the support. It was about being there for her, spending over an hour just walking around with all of my attention centered on her. It was about loving her and supporting her just when she needed it.

Fred, the Frog in Our Fridge

I have a frog in my fridge. I named him Fred. He’s teeny tiny, and his skin is transparent. He kind of looks like an uncooked piece of chicken (if uncooked pieces of chicken had eyes and little legs and could jump). He hasn’t moved much, so I’m not 100% sure that he’s even alive. All I know is we have a good thing going. He’s not bothering me, so I’m not bothering him.

I’m just waiting for the moment when he decides to launch an escape from the Alcatraz of my fridge and jumps out. With my luck it will be when my mom opens the fridge and she’ll run screaming into the other room.

What is it with me and critters in the house?
*Update* Since this blog post was written, Fred has been freed. He hopped around the fridge and mom screeched.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Settled In

Wednesday, July 4

It was strange to spend Independence Day outside of the US. There was no barbeque here, or picnics with the family. No fireworks display while endlessly listening to Katy Perry’s song. It was just another day in Uganda. But it was our first full day. Since we didn’t arrive at the house until close to 1:30am we were allowed to sleep in a little. But I could hear the kids outside singing and playing and by 7:30 I was up.

At around 10, the kids have a break from their lessons. If you remember my little neighbor, Michal, who was afraid of me back in January, I can tell you that she is no longer afraid! In fact, she was the one organizing all the other 3 and 4 year olds to run up to the house and attack us! And attack us they did. They started off with some nice greetings. “Hello. How are you? I am fine.” Then they wanted to hold my hand. Not one of them, but all of them…at the same time. Then came the shouts of “My muzungu!” I started walking towards the school with about 15 kids attached to my arms.

My dad managed to get a picture of me with my posse.

Finally I had to free my arms because I could hardly move. But I decided to have a little fun with them. So I raised my arms up, looked at them for a minute, and then I just started running. They all shrieked and laughed and chased after me. Man those kids are fast! And I learned it’s not a good idea to run in flip flops. They all latched onto my arms again and I walked back up to the house and sat on the veranda. There I started quizzing them. I would say, “These are your?” And I would point to a child’s eyes. “This is your?” And point to their nose. They would respond to each question. Then we sang Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes. Which is seriously just too adorable in little kids with Ugandan accents!

When Eva returned from school (she attends a school separate from Upendo since she’s older and they don’t have a secondary school there yet), she and her friend Sarah literally ran up to the house and gave us the biggest hugs. They ran so fast they could hardly breathe, but it was so great to see them again. We had similar reactions from some of the other kids. Big smiles from Ameri, and a hug that about squeezed all the air out of my lungs from Vicky.

I can't think of another place I'd rather be right now!

- Aly

Impacting Others

Tuesday, July 3

On the 10 hour flight from Brussels to Entebbe, I sat next to a guy who was from Scotland. His parents were Rwandan and he was headed to Rwanda for business. We started talking, and I told him that I was doing missions work in Uganda. Once he found out I was a Christian, he started talking and asking me all sorts of questions. He said that he believes that when we want to do something, we have to make a request to the universe and then the universe will eventually give us what we want. And since God is everywhere in the universe, he listens to those requests and grants them.

I wanted to be sure I was hearing correctly, so I channeled my inner counselor and said, “What I hear you saying is that the purpose of God is to give us everything we want.” He said that was exactly what he was saying. So I began to talk to him about this misconception. I explained that God is not like a vending machine. We cannot come to him, put in our money, make our request, and just wait for whatever we want to drop down in front of us.

We talked back and forth for some time. He argued that even the Bible says that we have to make our requests known to God. I told him that was very true, God does want us to come to him and pray to him, but that is not his sole purpose. At the same time, God knows the desires of our hearts before we even come and tell him. He was shocked by this. He could believe that God is everywhere, but he had a very hard time believing that God knows everything.

A little while later I got up to use the bathroom. When I sat back down, the man sitting next to me left to use the restroom. As I sat, there was a young guy in front of me. He turned around and he said, “When I heard you witnessing to the man next to you, I started praying for you.”

It’s amazing to me how the Lord weaves our lives together. That he would put that Scottish man next to me and give me the opportunity to share with him. That he would put an American man in front of me, who turns out to have a very similar heart for Uganda as I do, who would pray for me and share stories with me. That he would bring me halfway around the world to meet people who are searching for him and needing someone to help light the way. If that doesn’t show how much he loves us, then I don’t know what does.

Tuesday July 3

The man I sat next to on the plane from Brussels to Entebbe was born in France, lives in Scotland, but his parents are from Rwanda. As the beverage cart came around, he asked for whiskey. A while later when we were served lunch, he drank wine. He then had another whiskey later. He looked at me and said, “I can’t believe I’m drinking alcohol sitting next to a monkey!” Ok, what he really said was, “I can’t believe I’m drinking alcohol sitting next to a Christian!” (But I totally heard monkey). He tried to convince me he wasn’t a drunk, but he didn’t do a very good job of it.

He explained that in Scotland, if you don’t drink then you don’t have friends. So that’s where he picked up drinking. But then he started talking about a time when he was visiting Rwanda and had been to a big party and had gotten drunk. He drove away from the party, but at night in Rwanda they have road checks so he ended up getting pulled over. They gave him the test, and found he was drunk.

So I knew it was time to get to share Ashley’s story for the very first time. I told him about the accident, and how she was riding with a guy who was drunk. I told him what she went through, how she had to relearn everything. I told him what happened to the guy, how he went to prison, but that no amount of jail-time could ever bring the old Ashley back.

Then I looked at him and said, “Your story ended well. But imagine if you had crashed into someone and killed them or if they would’ve been injured like Ashley.”

The man looked at me. He was speechless for a minute. He said, “I almost feel like crying. I couldn’t live with myself if that ever happened.” He paused then said, “I’ll never drive drunk again.”

Whether or not he will keep that promise, only he will know. But I’m willing to bet he will think twice before he gets behind the wheel drunk.

Until we get to heaven, we will never truly understand how our lives will impact other people. By sharing with this man, his life or the life of someone else might be spared. The accident left Ashley with many scars, reminders of what happened. Let’s not be afraid to let our scars be a reminder to others of how healing can come.

Our Great Adventure

Monday, July 3, 2012

I swear I thought I was living that scene from Home Alone when the family is running through the airport trying to catch their plane, only we didn’t sleep in, and lucky for me no one forgot me at home or sent me to NYC.

When we arrived at Buffalo airport, we noticed that the screen said that our flight to Washington DC was canceled. That’s never a good sign. There was some bad weather in DC a few days back, but mostly I think it’s just because we were flying United, and United hates the world.

After waiting in line for one hour, the lady at the ticket counter, who hates her life because she’s a ticket attendant for United, informed us that we needed to hop in a taxi and ride to Rochester to catch a 4:20 flight to Chicago. It was 2:20 when she told us this. That’s when the whole Home Alone scene starts. The crazy part is it felt like it would never end.

We made it to Rochester with very little time to spare. We checked in and the young guy at the ticket counter, who hates his life because he works at the ticket counter for United, decided to charge us $70 for each of our second bags (which should have been free). We asked to speak to a manager, who hates his life because he’s a manger for United, and he decided to “do us a favor” and only make us pay for 2 bags instead of 3 even though he’s “not supposed to do it regardless of what the internet says.”

“Thank you” for your “kindness” sir.

We make it through security and were just walking up to the gate as our plane was pulling in. We boarded but we taxied around the airport like 6 times, or so it seemed. Because there is no way that Rochester airport is that big. I honestly thought we got on a plane that was going to drive to Chicago. But finally we took off. We landed with about half an hour before our next flight was supposed to take off, but you know those silly airline people who get you on the plane early.

As we walked up to our next gate to board our plane to Brussels, the gate attendant, who hates her life because she attends to a gate for United, informed us that we must board immediately because we’re extremely late and they’re waiting for us and we’re holding them up!

We power walked to the plane where the flight attendants, who hate their lives because they’re flight attendants for United, were very rude, and the business class people were all lounging around like, “Hey look at us and our awesomeness!” There’s no room to stow my carry-on in my cabin, so my bag is sitting in a closet somewhere on board…I hope.

As I approached my seat, it was already taken by a man who had already been moved multiple times because his seat was double booked. And I’m not sure how that’s my problem but he refused to move. So I stood there and waited for the flight attendant, who hates her life because she works for United, to find somewhere for me to sit. And I’m waiting, and I’m waiting. And people are giving me the stink eye, because obviously I’m the reason we haven’t taken off, and good grief is it HOT in here!!

Finally I was given a seat, and I sat down I finally realized what was really holding us up. There was a guy DUCT TAPING a piece of the overhead compartment back on. Not just on one of the compartments but on multiple compartments. Is it just me, or is it a sign that things aren’t going well when the plane is being DUCT TAPED TOGETHER?! And for heaven’s sake could it get any hotter on this plane?!

Then a flight attendant, who really hates her life and is seriously starting to consider a new profession, comes on the PA system and announced that since the plane was so stinkin’ hot, they deemed the food not good to eat. So we had to sit and wait for the new food to be brought so we don’t all end up puking our guts out from here to Europe (those may not have been her exact words). So we waited and we waited. And good golly it only got hotter which means all the flight attendants got more mean because not only do they hate their lives since they work for United, but now they are also dying of heat exhaustion and dehydration in their goofy wool uniforms issued by their beloved United.

Then they fed us pretzels.

And even though there’s a 90% chance we won’t make our next flight after all of that, and that sometimes I can be dramatic, I know God has it all under control.
- Aly

Sunday, July 1, 2012

All Ready

I can hardly believe that it is once again time to leave for Uganda. We have 5 suitcases and one trunk filled to capacity with 50 pounds worth of supplies. Many people have asked us what it is that we pack. Of course we have our personal items: clothes, shoes, and some snacks. But mostly we take supplies. This includes painting supplies, such as paint brushes and rollers, also clothes to distribute for the kids, gifts for sponsored children, and anything else we can hand out.

This year, we have a church and an individual who donated bras and girls' underwear for us to hand out. These are considered "luxury items" for most of these young, growing girls so many of them have none or maybe one or two. We are very excited to have the opportunity to hand these out to the girls.

So far, we're pretty sure we have everything we need. And now all that's left is to get a good night's sleep, get up and ready, and head to the airport.

We are so excited about what God has in store this summer, and we look forward to sharing it with you along the way. But as always, please be patient since (much like my apartment) we won't have internet right away. We will be sure to post as soon and as much as we can.

We ask that you would pray for us as we travel. Also, please pray for me (Aly). I'm still experiencing blurriness in my left eye, which according to the eye doctor will eventually work itself out so long as I continue to put drops in throughout the day.

Thank you for your prayers and for joining us along the way.

- Aly

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Story of Ashky

Five years ago, Ashley Sam was just a typical 22 year old trying to figure life out, but that all changed in the blink of an eye. On December 27, 2007, Ashley was involved in a motor vehicle accident where she suffered two broken legs, a broken arm, multiple fractures in her face, and a severe traumatic brain injury. She was in a coma for 2 months and remained in the hospital until May 2008 in an altered state of consiousness. Her parents, Randy and Jenny, brought her home at this time. Since then she has required 24 hour care. She has had to relearn how to walk, talk, and eat. Since she was unable to move for such a long time, she has had to work hard to gain back muscle tone and strength in her body. (You can read more about her story by clicking here).

Through all of that, you couldn't blame Ashley or her parents if they were bitter or resentful. But as my mom and I have spent Tuesday nights over the last few months visiting at their home, I can tell you that they are anything but. Ashley has kept her sense of humor and often has everyone cracking up. One day while we were visiting Ashley said, "With everything I've been through, God has loved me through it all."

So as our family has prepared to go to Uganda this summer, I knew I wanted to to something special for Ashley. I didn't just want her to hear about Uganda, I wanted her to experience it. I wanted her to see the rusty-orange dirt under her feet and hear the kids singing praises to God and feel their hugs. The wheels started turning in my mind.

I knew Ashley wouldn't be able to go herself, but I thought maybe someone could go on her behalf. If you've ever heard about the children's series of Flat Stanley books, then you'll know where I'm going with this. Kids in school do projects with Flat Stanley, a boy they cut out of paper and send to someone they know. That person takes Flat Stanley on some adventure and takes pictures, sends the pictures to the child, and then sends Flat Stanley on to someone else. I thought a paper cutout would be a little too flimsy and easy to rip or lose. So I needed another idea.

I introduce to you, Ashky.

Ashky is a sock monkey I bought. I dressed her up in a t-shirt (which matches a shirt I had made for Ashley), and made a little skirt for her. This is actually the original Ashky, but when I brought her out to explain what I was doing, Ashley's 7 month old nephew Wesley went nuts. He started shrieking, kicking his legs, and flailing his arms. He wrapped his arms right around the monkey and he would not let go. If anyone tried to touch the monkey he shouted. He made hilarious noises that sounded like he was trying to talk to the monkey. Needless to say, we gave Wesley the monkey because he was so cute with it.

Wesley says, "I love this monkey!"

If you are on Facebook, you can follow Ashky's adventures in Uganda by liking the page "Ashky goes to Africa." If you're not on facebook, have no fear. I'll let you know how it goes with Ashky as time goes on.

Ashley (center) with Karen (right), her mom Jenny (left), Aly, and Wesley (the monkey loving baby).

- Aly

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sights and Sounds of Preparation

There are bags, boxes, and bins taking over my parents' livingroom. There are freshly washed skirts hanging out on the line. The piles are growing. The lists are forming. The trips to Walmart are starting. And the luggage is filling.

The nerves of getting everything done are showing. The excitement of taking off is mounting. The good-byes are starting. The hellos are longing. And the attention spans and energy are waning.

Minds are spinning. Tempers are shortening. And those piles are still getting higher.

Did you grab the converters? And what about razors? Do we have toothpaste? Please don't even start talking about taking anti-malaria medication.

I need to print t-shirts and roll letters for supporters. Wait. Scratch that and flip it.

More supplies are piling. There's a couch under here somewhere, and with it is probably where I can find my keys.

There's only one thing that all this can possibly mean.

We leave in 1 week.

- Aly

Saturday, June 23, 2012

I Think I'll Move to Uganda!

I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there's gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running...

If you're around little kids you may be familiar with the first page of my favorite children's story, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst. It's a little glimpse into our lives right now. To say it's terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad would be dramatic. But there have been weird things happening to us.

In the story, after Alexander talks about his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, he would say, "I think I'll move to Australia." When I was in college and would have a bad day, I used to tell my mom, "I think I'll move to Uganda."

So here is my version of my favorite children's story, and the weird things that have been going on lately:

My mom went to sleep with a scratchy throat and now she sounds like a man and when she called me to tell me she could hardly stop coughing. So I came to the house and cleaned for her after picking up my apartment. My eyes have been feeling dry and irritated and now when I try to look out of my left eye it's all blurry. When I went to the eye doctor, he told me I can't wear my contacts for a while and I should probably wear my glasses for the trip. I hate wearing my glasses!

I think I'll move to Uganda.

No matter what I do, my apartment still smells like cigarette smoke and cat pee. My microwave keeps turning on when I'm not even in the room, my refridgerator makes gurgly noises, and I bought a sock monkey last week that just sits and stares at me. I put a brand new colored ink cartridge in the printer and it's telling me it's empty, and I can't print out my orientation packets I made for the team.

It has been a goofy, weird, so strange, very odd day. My mom says some days are like that...Even in Uganda.

By no means am I whining about any of this. I'm thankful to have my own apartment, as quirky as it can be. I'm thankful to have glasses as a back up when my contacts don't work, and I'm thankful we live in a country where we have easy access to medications when we're sick. But it's just been one of those days when all these things pile up and can make a person crazy.

- Aly

Friday, June 15, 2012

17 Days

At this point in our preparation, we all start to get a little crazy. There's so much to do, and so little time to actually get it done. There are things to get ready for the trip: lessons to plan, things to pack, supplies to buy. And on top of all that there are the everyday things that need done: cleaning the house/apartment, getting groceries, and school is still in session so there is still work. I'm also planning on having a friend stay at my apartment while I'm gone, and if you were to see the status of my guest room you wonder how on earth it will be ready in just a little over 2 weeks.

But slowly things are getting done. We work together, each of us focusing on a different project, and somehow we get it all done. Sometimes it feels like we do more running than accomplishing. But through it all, it is so important that we don't let our focus shift from God to the circumstances around us. Afterall, that's what made Peter start sinking out on the water, and we certainly don't want to sink.

We ask that you'd pray for us, that we'd continue to keep our focus on Christ, not on all the things that need to get done. That we'll always remember that He is the reason we do what we do, and without Him this ministry means nothing.

- Aly

Monday, June 11, 2012

3 Weeks: The Exchange

Yesterday, we spoke at a new church. As I was sitting in the car, looking out the window, it started to hit me. In 3 weeks, we'll be headed for Uganda.

In 3 weeks, we'll exchange the rolling hills of Western New York for the hills of Kampala. Instead of looking out at freshly farmed, brown dirt, we'll see red dirt, packed down by millions of feet walking along the paths. I'll swap my new apartment for my Ugandan home. The sounds of cars passing by my window, will be replaced with the sound of crickets chirping and dogs howling in the night. Instead of order on the roads, we will find ourselves among barely controlled chaos. My usual lunch of chicken salad and fresh veggies will be replaced with beans and rice. We'll trade in our quick American English, filled with slang for a more descriptive, slower version of English. Instead of tap water, we'll drink bottled. With our daily regimen of vitamins, we'll add in anti-malaria pills and the side-effects they bring. Our now clean, nice smelling hair will be full of sweat and grease. Our feet, once clean and white, will be brown and dusty. Hot showers will be a thing of the past, as cold water brings refreshment each morning. My heart will experience that feeling of being completely at home, and peaceful, while at the same time feeling broken and at times ripped apart.

I've waited 5 long months. My parents have waited for almost a year. And in just 21 days, we'll be on our way to hearing the pilot say the words we love so much:

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Uganda.

- Aly

Monday, June 4, 2012

Crazy Week!

No, I haven't forgotten about the blog. This last week has been very crazy! Dare I say that this has been one of the craziest preparations for a trip that we've ever had.

I spent the bulk of last week playing gym teacher at the elementary school. And let me tell you, trying to corral 50 kindergarteners is exactly as hard as it sounds (as long as it sounds like complete madness).

Last week I signed a lease and was handed the keys to my apartment. We did the majority of moving on Saturday, carrying boxes and furniture up 15 steps to my apartment (most of which had already been carried 15 steps down the stairs at my parents house). Needless to say we were all quite exhausted.

Yesterday, we spoke at 2 different churches about the ministry in Uganda. One was completely new, and the other was one we've been to a number of times over the years. The Pastor of the second church also asked me to come join them for youth group and talk to the teens, so I spent most of the day finding pictures to show.

We also spent the last week reworking our trip schedule. Some new things came up, and we ended up playing around with dates, trying to lock in on tickets, praying about what God wanted us to do, and just trying to make sense of it all in the midst of everything else.

I'll share more about that last one in the days to come. For now, my apartment (which has no internet, so please bear with me if I don't post quite as often as I hope to) is piled high with boxes, and I need to find all my stuff!

- Aly

Monday, May 28, 2012

Take Time to Remember

Against backdrop of Memorial Day, Wheaton couple prepare to bury their serviceman son

May 29, 2012

While the nation marked Memorial Day on Monday, Susan and Thomas Watts prepared to bury their son, Army Spc. Samuel T. Watts, who died earlier this month in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center of injuries he sustained from a improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.

"We're proud of him. And I know he would be honored with all the things that people are saying and doing. He would be humbled," said Susan Watts, 50, of Wheaton. "But it's hard for me. He was still my little boy."

Across the region, people celebrated the Memorial Day holiday with backyard barbecues, the laying of flowers at grave sites, parades and parties. In Grant Park, a group of veterans and families laid wreaths at the Gen. John A. Logan Monument.

But the visceral, heart-wrenching reality of the holiday — enacted to remember those who died while serving in the military — has just come home for the Watts family.

On April 25, Samuel Watts, 20, was on a foot patrol in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan when an improvised explosive device detonated. Watts had been about 8 feet from the blast, and he suffered devastating wounds, including head, arm and lung injuries. "We were told he was in cardiac arrest in the field," his mother said.

He was rushed to a hospital at Bagram Air Field; airlifted to Landstuhl, Germany; and then brought to Walter Reed in Maryland, where his family stood vigil for two weeks. Before he died May 19, he was awarded the Purple Heart in a ceremony held at his bedside. His father, Thomas, pinned the medal to his chest.

"The thing about my son, he was so strong," said Susan Watts. "He was strong in stature. He was strong in who he was. He was a young man of character."

Samuel Watts was a strapping young man, who stood 6 feet 2 inches tall and who, in his role as an Army specialist, often volunteered to carry extra equipment.

"Sam probably had an additional 90 pounds of gear on him. But he never complained. He was proud of the fact he was able to do that," said Susan Watts.

At Wheaton North High School, he had been average student, but he loved history, especially the stories from World War II. Growing up, he idolized a great-uncle who had been wounded on Omaha Beach, had been taken from the battle but later returned to fight in the rest of the war.

"Sam admired him so much. That's the kind of man he wanted to be," Susan Watts said.

Samuel Watts had enlisted while still in high school. He had wanted to be a soldier since he was a little boy.

This Memorial Day, the family stayed close to home and tried to prepare for Tuesday's visitation and Wednesday's funeral.

"For the moment, we're so lost in our grief," said Susan Watts. "There's no sleep. When I eat, I get sick. ... I just really want to lie down and wake up from this terrible nightmare."

The family has been pulling out photos, which they plan to display at the wake and memorial service. But Susan Watts said she has trouble looking at the pictures of her son. "I just miss that face so bad. It's hard to know he's never coming home."

Sunday, May 27, 2012

37: Let's start a Fire

During the trip in January, my team had the amazing opportunity to do a radio broadcast in Uganda. Dr. Reuben, the director of AMG Uganda, does regular broadcasts in a city just outside his hometown in Western Uganda. He uses this time to preach the Gospel and teach scripture.
Our very last day visiting his home village, Dr. Reuben asked our team to record some interviews to be broadcast on Ugandan radio. He said our message would reach about 2 million people.
No pressure, though.
We split up the men and women. The ladies were asked to specifically target the adolescent girls listening. We were asked to share about our own lives. Before being recorded we practiced what we would share. But, as always , we ended up saying so much more than we planned.
There were only 3 of us women, but we covered 3 generations with a grandmother, a mom, and a single 24 year old. Each of us had a unique view of life to share, including our struggles and triumphs over the years.
When it came to be my turn, I was asked what I would want to share with teenage girls. This was my message:
"Focus on your school work and stay away from boys! They will tell you anything and everything they think you want to hear, but they generally only want one thing. If a boy really cares about you, he won't pressure you to do anything. Focus on God and doing well in school while you're young. Don't let the world pressure you to do anything outside of God's will for your life."

The ladies after our interview.

That day, our ministry wasn't the typical face to face work we normally do. We didn't get to see the faces of the people who heard our message. But I believe somehow God used our message, our mistakes, and our dependence on Him to change lives.

Sometimes doing ministry means that we will never really know or understand the impact we will have. We don't really know if what we did made a difference in someone's life. But even if we're not sure of the impact we have to do it anyways, because what if what we did made a difference for just one? It brought hope to just one? It gave courage to just one?

Our action, as well as our lack of action, affects others. And as Christians we can either let the fire smolder or we can create a spark that will ignite the world for Christ. I say, let's start a fire.

- Aly

Saturday, May 26, 2012

38: Movin' on Up

About a year and a half ago, I (Aly) applied for a position with AMG International to be the Team Coordinator in Uganda. The process led me down a long and winding road that has included traveling to Chattanooga for meetings, taking a written test that was reviewed by a psychologist, meeting certain requirements, and even going to Uganda this past January to get my feet wet in the work I'd be doing. It's all led me to where I am today: planning and preparing for my next trip in 38 days and moving out.

There have been 2 major requirements to meet. One is to find a sending church, a body of believers who will partner with me on this journey (more on that later). The other was to move out of my parent's home, the house I've lived in for the last 24 and a half years.

I've been searching for a place to live for some time now. But the world out there is expensive and I just couldn't find a place I could afford.

Until Wednesday.

It was one of those things that only God could plan out. One of our supporters is looking to rent out an apartment she owns in town. It was a great location with great landlords at a great price. My dad had known about it for a little while and kept thinking that he should tell me to look into it, but he kept forgetting. When I finally went to speak to the woman she said that my name had popped up in her head a few times when thinking about someone to rent from her. I took a look at the place, went home to pray about it, and knew that it was a step of faith that God wanted me to take.

If everything goes as planned, I will be moving in on June 1. So just shy of one month before I'm leaving on a jet plane, I'll be moving on up (except since it's at the bottom of the valley I guess I'll be moving on down).

I could certainly use your prayers, that I would be open to whatever the Lord has for me on this leg of the journey and that I would trust the Lord to provide. At times I already find myself concerned about where the money for rent and groceries will come from or where I'll find all the things I need, but in the end I'm reminded that I serve a God who provides. He provided Abraham wtith a ram as a substitute for Isaac and gave the Israelites manna for 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus fed 4000 men with just 7 loaves and a few fish.

And afterall, Matthew 6:25-27, 34 says, "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

One day at a time. One step at a time.

- Aly

Friday, May 25, 2012

39: Snow Day!

Believe it or not, we had a snow day today. Ok, so it wasn't a real snow day, but since the school district my mom and I work at didn't use any snow days this year, we were given today off. One of the teachers I talked to said that hasn't happened in the 15 years he's been teaching there. And so our snow day this year was spent wearing shorts and tank tops, drinking iced tea, and sitting outside instead of how we normally spend snow days all curled up in sweatshirts and Granny's slippers, baking Christmas cookies, and drinking hot cocoa.

It was nice to have a day off after the crazy week we had around here. On Monday, our pool collapsed. I watched helplessly as water rused down the hill at warp speed and leaving a path of stones, metal, and hoses. So while I'd love to say I went swimming on our snow day, there wasn't anywhere to swim (though I was tempted to go buy one of those plastic kiddie pools at Walmart).

My mom has had a sinus infection all week. I woke up this morning with an eye infection. My dad's truck is acting goofy.

It always seems like things get crazier as the trip gets closer. But I honestly have to say that it's a good thing, because it reminds us that we're exactly where God wants us to be. Stationary Christians, the ones who are satisfied with the status quo, don't face spiritual battles. If you're not doing anything to further God's kingdom, then satan has no business with you. But the ones who are moving forward, doing what God has called them to do, those are the ones that will face opposition. And there's so much more happening than just these things I've listed. God is working in our hearts in so many new and exciting ways, but at the same time satan is working to undo all of those things.

Tomorrow, I will be sharing some exciting/kind of scary news with you, so stay tuned.

- Aly

Thursday, May 24, 2012

40 Days-ish

If you've been around our blog for long, you may remember that we consider the 40 days leading up to a trip to be very important. In the Bible, the number 40 is often associated with a time of testing or trials, and ends with a time of revival, renewal, or blessing. The Israelites faced one trial after another as they wandered in the desert. After 40 years, they were led into the Promised Land. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for 40 days. After He endured testing, the Bible says angels came and took care of Him.
We have once again reached this significant time in our preparation for Uganda...sort of. This trip is unlike any others we have ever taken, since I (Aly) will be leaving first, followed by my parents 3 weeks later. But we take this journey together, so I will be documenting our preparation for my departure which, as of today, is in 40 days.

Already the Lord has been testing and challenging us on whether we have the faith to do what we say we believe. And while we feel the spiritual battles raging all around us, we trust that the Lord will bring a great time of blessing and revival, not only to us, but to everyone involved in our story.

So I invite you to join in on our story. Over the next 40 days I will do my best to update you on our preparation. No two trips are ever the same. The Lord is always giving us new adventures, allowing new hardships, and bringing us ample opportunities to grow in our walk with Him. So whether it's joy, excitement, nerves, trials, or just plain chaos may God be glorified in it all.
- Aly

Monday, May 7, 2012

Make a Difference for One

There are over 16 million children in this world who have lost their parents to AIDS. It is estimated that 14.8 million of those children live in sub-Saharan Africa, and that millions more living in India, China, and Russia are unaccounted for. Not only have they been through the trauma of losing a parent, they also face many other hardships. Most of them are not able to attend school, receive medical care, or even find food that will help them grow. They're vulnerable, and when left of the street are east targets for exploitation, being sold into hard labor or even as soldiers and sex slaves.

To us the thought of this is a terrible nightmare, but for millions of children around the world, it is their reality. They've been left alone with no one to love them.

Today is World AIDS orphan day. A day to stop and think about the millions of children who have lost hope, who know nothing more than a world full of hurt and abandonment.

I urge you to click here to read the story of a little boy, orphaned by AIDS, suffering from the disease himself, but more than anything plagued by a world that understands so little about his life. He is only one of millions cast aside with no one to kiss him goodnight, no one to hug him when he's sad, no one willing to teach him, no one to stand up for him in this world.

But that can change.

We need to come together and make a difference for these children. Will you stand up for the least of these?

Sponsor a child today or find out other ways you can change a life forever. With so many suffering children in this world, one person can't save them all. But if each of us makes a difference for one, if each of us loves on, we can change the world.

- Aly

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bite Me

When we go to Uganda, we have to take anti-malaria pills every day since our bodies have not built up an immunity to malaria. The pills can be miserable, causing all sorts of side-effects, all of which I will always say are worth to keep from getting the dreaded illness. On our trip last August, our team was sitting at dinner. We were laughing and having a good time. My friend Ashley had just taken her malaria pill when she saw a mosquito and shouted out for all to hear, "BITE ME! I JUST TOOK MY MALARIA PILLS!"

Malaria is a parasite transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. The parasites multiply in the liver and infect the red blood cells. Symptoms include high fever, terrible throbbing headaches, and vomiting. Without treatment, it will quickly become life-threatening by disrupting blood supply to vital organs. About half of the world's population live in areas at risk for contracting the illness, but the majority of deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

It's a hot, sticky evening. She sits near her mother who is cooking rice over an open fire. She hears a buzzing, but sees nothing. Then she feels it. A quick prick makes her jump. Her reflexes spring into action and smack at her leg, but it's too late. In that split second, malaria has staked its claim on another precious child, and over the next few days, that child's body will have to fight for its life.

Every 30 seconds, an African child succumbs to malaria.

Every one of those deaths could be prevented.

Malaria is entirely treatable, and completely avoidable. Medications can treat the infected person, bringing them back to full health. Nets treated with insecticide can protect an entire family from the bite that brings malaria.

(Click here for a video about malaria)
Today, April 25, is World Malaria Day. If you'd like to find out more about what you can do to in the fight against malaria, click here.

It's time to tell malaria to bite me.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A New Dynamic

Ok, so it comes as no surprise to you that sometimes I just plain stink at updating the blog. It's been far too long. Until now I haven't seemed to have much to say. Or maybe that's not entirely true. There have been some things going on that have knocked me down hard enough that for a few weeks I stopped writing altogether, which for me is not normal. It would be like asking a fish to stop swimming. A couple weeks ago I picked up a pen and started up again and haven't looked back. The rest of my absence, well the rest the time I was teaching...

7th grade Science...

If my life were a tv show, this is where we'd play that creepy dun dun dun music, because my degree is in elementary and my subject area is English. So to plan for and teach 7th grade science for 5 weeks was a new adventure.

Now I'm back to my regular old substitue teaching with a new classroom and new students each day. For now it's giving me time to plan for what the Lord has in store this summer.

Back in February my dad and I hopped in the car and drove down to Chattanooga, TN. The director of AMG Uganda was visiting the US, and I was hoping for a chance to talk with him. During a meeting with him and Pete Lafakis (the man in charge of AMG's missionaries around the world), I was asked to return to Uganda in July to prepare for the team that comes in August. I will be there for about 6 weeks.

Where the January trip served as a way to get my feet wet, the July trip will be more of a dive into the deep end. It will be a training of sorts where I'm given more responsibilities in planning for the team's ministry. This will be a medical trip, which I have never taken part in before, but I am looking forward to witnessing what God will accomplish this summer.

Don't worry. I won't be leaving my family behind the whole time. My parents will be joining me at some point during the summer to take part in the ministry.

We are very excited about what God has in store for the future. But as you can see, the nature of our ministry as a family is taking on a new dynamic. We ask for your prayers as we navigate through these changes. Our goal remains to serve the Lord by serving His people, and in the end giving Him the glory.

We're glad you're along for the ride. It will certainly be a new adventure. Thank you for your continued love, prayers, and support.

- Aly

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Birds and the Bees

It's time we had the talk. No, not that talk. The talk about the birds and the bees. Not those birds and bees. But the birds and bees I encountered in Uganda. Allow me to explain:
I gave you all a little teaser about a certain little bird.
It was my first full day at my house. It was late in the morning and I was sitting outside with my neighbor, Rachel. We were sitting on a bench on her veranda (or porch if you prefer), discussing education. We're both teachers so we had quite a lot to talk about. As I was sitting there, I saw a little red bird hopping up the stairs on my side of the house. Something startled the bird and it flew off, but it flew off toward the house. I was around the corner so I didn't actually see where it went. I just hoped that it was sitting on the bench on my veranda.
As I continued talking to Rachel I forgot all about the little red bird. Some time later I went back into my house to fix lunch. But as I neared the dining room and started turning left toward the kitchen I heard a strange fluttering noise. I was only slightly alarmed after learning the night before that sounds in that house aren't always what they seem. It can sometimes sound as if something is inside the house when in fact it is outside. But the fluttering persisted, so I started to investigate.
The sound was coming from the window in the kitchen. The curtain had fallen down, so I pulled it back and nearly JUMPED. OUT OF. MY. SKIN!
There was a bird in my kitchen, and it didn't know how to get out.
What's my first reaction you ask? Did I scream? Did I run and hide? No, despite my usually girly responses to such a predicament I rushed toward my bedroom to grab my camera.
"If I don't get a picture, the people at home will never believe me!"

There he is, sitting in my kitchen window, completely unaware that if he just moved about 7 inches to the right he'd be free like Willy. Nope, instead he turned around so I could get a good shot of him from the front.

I named him Lovey Dovey.

I tried my best to get him to leave. I shook at the curtains. That just made him fly into the window like when a fly gets trapped between the window and the blinds and just buzzes around aimlessly until it makes itself tired. I walked outside to try to scare it toward the open window. I walked back inside and made some cat noises.

Nothing seemed to work.

Finally I walked back outside, knowing if I didn't get him out of there I was not falling asleep that night. Apparently from the time it took me to walk out my front door and around to the back of the house where my kitchen window was, he found the open window. Or at least that's what I tried to convince myself of.

I was actually a little sad after he left. But the whole situation made me laugh. (If you watch this clip you'll understand why). I was proud of myself for taking care of things and not acting like a complete girl, something I cannot say for my bee story.

A few days after the bird flew the coop, I was out sitting on my veranda. I was taking some notes to prepare for giving the team their orientation once they arrived. As I sat there with my notebook on my lap and pen in hand, I smiled and said good morning to Maureen as she walked down toward the school. A few minutes later a bug flew right into my face. Unsure of what it was, I swatted it away. It didn't take long for me to learn that it was a bee.

A very angry bee. Fortunately it did not sting me on the face. Unfortunately it still stung me.


After I swatted it away that first time it attacked my right arm. It got me good once and started on the second sting before I smacked it away. In the meantime, the notebook on my lap and pen in my hand went flying causing all kinds of racket. I ran into my house looking for the benadryl spray trying not to cry or pass out.

I haven't been stung in over 10 years but I never remember it hurting so bad before. It started swelling up, and I knew if I didn't say something to someone I was going to faint. I found Rachel who put parafin (of all things) on it as I tried my hardest not to cry. The parafin worked. The swelling went down and the pain went away. I ended up with quite a welt on my arm for about a week after that. (You can still actually see the mark on my arm from the initial sting).

Later on, Maureen asked me what happened. She said she left me sitting there writing and next thing she knew she heard something fall to the ground. She looked back and I was jumping around (did I forget to mention that part?) and then disappeared into my house. We laughed about how crazy I looked, and were thankful that the sting was only minor.

Whew. I'm so glad we could finally have this talk about the birds and the bees!

- Aly

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Won't You Be My Neighbor

I arrived in Uganda late on a Friday night at the end of December. I spent two nights and rang in the New Year staying with the director of AMG Uganda and his family before moving to my new home at Upendo (the orphanage).

The first night I was there, I will admit that I was pretty scared out of my mind. I had a hard time sleeping with all the new noises and the anti-malaria meds making my mind play tricks on me. As I lay wide awake in bed at 2am I thought to myself, "What am I doing here all alone in the middle of Africa?!"

The next day I sat up and escaped my mosquito net. I turned on my iPod to listen to Mandisa sing "Good Morning," exercised a little to get my blood pumping, and then got ready for a nice cold shower. After breakfast I unlocked the padlocks securing my metal door and walked out onto my veranda. My neighbors were out so I walked the three steps it took to get to their door and said hello.

The other half of my house was taken up by an AMG worker and his family. His wife, Rachel, is a teacher so we had lots to talk about. She had actually been in a teacher exchange program and had a chance to go to London and teach for a short time. So we talked about the different education systems as well as the differences in culture she noticed while away.

There were 3 teenage girls living with them at the time. One was a girl from Upendo who couldn't go back to her village during the break, another was a niece, and another was a girl who needed somewhere to stay. Throughout the week, due to the heat we would spend our time sitting under a mango tree chatting. I taught them how to make friendship bracelets, and sometimes the girls would challenge me to a game of volleyball (which, I might add is a lot harder to play in a skirt and flip flops).

Sitting on the veranda chatting with Maureen.
Rachel also has an adorable 3 year old daughter, Michal, who just so happened to be scared to death of me.

You see, some time back she had been sick. Her parents took her to a clinic where she saw a white nurse. This nurse gave her a shot, which Michal didn't enjoy, and since that time she has always connected white women with getting an injection. So she was very afraid of being around white women.

I was going to do whatever I could to let this child know that white women could be really nice. She loves coloring so I gave her coloring pages, made her bracelets. I even gave her stickers, which she loved by the way.

I was selling, but she was not buying it!

Actually that's not entirely true. See, when she was around me she acted like she was afraid of me. But when I went back into my house she would talk on and on about me. Whenever they invited me for dinner (which we ate around 9pm) she would refuse to go to sleep even though she was so tired all because she didn't want to miss a minute of me being around. Then the next day she would tell Michael, my driver, that she was afraid I was going to bite her.

What can I say? She's 3.

I lived next door to her for a week and a half before the team came, and she still wasn't quite used to me. So you can imagine her surprise when she saw a busload of Americans coming her way. She ran all the way from the mango tree to her bed and fell asleep until they left.

But one day during youth camp some of the older girls attending had been spending time with her. I was walking down the path, and they had just left her standing there by herself. So I went to her and said, "Michal, I will take you to Mommy." And then it happened.

She took my hand.

I don't know who was more surprised, me or her. I wanted to dance and hoot and holler but I didn't want to scare her. As we got closer to the house, Rachel was coming our way and was so happy to see Michal holding my hand. But she was on her way into town so she couldn't take her. So I took Michal to her daddy. When she saw him she called out, "Daddy!" and then pointed to the white hand she was holding. Her dad was very excited. He said, "Who are you with?"

With a big grin on her face she answered, "Auntie Alyson."

- Aly

Monday, February 6, 2012

Exhaustion with a Purpose

This trip was so different than any other I've been on. I had to make the transition from just being part of a team that ministers to the people of Uganda, to being the one who is in charge of taking care of the team that is ministering to the people of Uganda.
I couldn't have picked a better team for my first time as "Short Term Team Coordinator."
I had been in Uganda for a week before they arrived (more about that time later). I was already over the jet lag, adjusted to the time difference and different food and environent, and ready to do my very best to make the trip a success for them.
On Saturday morning Michael (our driver), Dennis (a former AMG child) and I made the one hour drive to Entebbe to pick up the team.
This is how I found them at the airport:

After traveling for 3 days on 4 different planes, sleeping on the floor, and losing 5 bags they didn't look too bad.

The team of 8 ranged in age from 20 to 75. Six of them had been to Uganda before while 2 were coming for the first time, and they all had a heart for serving God.

And as much as I loved working with them and seeing them interact with the kids and AMG workers, they completely exhausted me. I'm not complaining. It was a good exhausted.

It was exhaustion with a purpose.

And while typically my purpose on a trip is to minister to the people of Uganda to the best of my ability, this time my main purpose was to make sure that the team could minister to the people of Uganda to the best of theirs.

So while I spent time ministering to the people alongside them, I was also planning, paying bills, answering questions, and meeting with the workers. It was a new role that put a lot more responsibility on me to make sure things ran smoothly.

Most of the time it did.

I'm still learning and hope to continue to have opportunities to serve in this role. It's a role unlike any other I've taken before or even imagined taking. But I'm finding that God often uses us in ways we don't expect.

How else do you explain Him taking a girl who is afraid of the dark and loves the comfort of home surrounded by family and sending her halfway across the world to live in a house where it gets dark by 7pm, has no electricity, and still feel perfectly at home?

I don't know why God chose me, of all people, for this. But I do know that apart from Him I can do nothing.

- Aly

Sunday, February 5, 2012

It's Time

I've been a little MIA lately. I apologize for not updating sooner. I've been in a bit of a funk since I came home 2 weeks ago. There's just been so much to think about and process. Sometimes I think about things that happened and just start to cry. I think of the kids and all the things they're facing in their lives, all the things they shared with me and my teammates during youth camp. It breaks my heart. Sometimes I find myself crying and don't know exactly why. Sometimes I'm frustrated with life at home in the States. Other times I just don't know what to think. It's all part of coming home.
But it's time.
It's time for me to share. It's time for you to know. Because I know I can't keep it all to myself. I always say that the ministry doesn't end when I step on the plane to go home. The ministry continues even now. And it's my prayer that you will be touched by the stories, and that maybe you'll even be changed by them. I pray that you'll see that while one person can't save the world from poverty or suffering, that each of us can make a difference for a few.
Today I want to introduce you to one of the girls I met at youth camp.
Each morning at camp, the teens would enter the meeting hall and take a seat in a plastic chair. Most would choose a seat near friends. The front row was neglected by most of the kids not wanting to be quite that close. But one girl would choose a seat in the center of the front row. As I walked into the meeting hall that first morning, I saw one girl seating among the row of empty seats. I chose the seat next to her. Every morning after that I chose the empty seat next to her.

We didn't have much time to talk. Once we entered for the morning session we had praise and worship, then listened to the preacher, and then it was time to meet in our small Bible study groups. One day I asked her name. She replied, "Lailah."
On Friday morning, one of the team members from the US was the main preacher for the day. He asked everyone to stand up and take the hand of one person next to them. He challenged everyone to pray for that person over the next year.
Lailah and I became prayer partners.
That same day during a special meeting with only the girls, they opened up the floor for anyone who wanted to give a testimony of their time at camp. Lailah stood up and said, "I praise God for the youth camp because I come from a Muslim family, and when I am here I can worship and pray freely."

I later told Lailah that our team would be coming to her village a couple days after youth camp to do some painting at the center and visit some of the homes. She told me she really wished we could come visit her home because it was near the center.
As we traveled closer and closer to her village I felt a strong urging to visit Lailah's home. I talked to the director of her center to set it up (being the coordinator of team ministry has it's benefits). It was all set. Our team would visit Lailah's home and share the love of Christ with her Muslim family.
When we arrived, she had prepared tea for us. She set out boiled water, tea, hard boiled eggs, some meat, and bananas. As we sat there in her humble home enjoying the feast she laid before us, she was busily folding paper behind me. A few minutes later she plopped 9 letters in my lap, one for each of the team members.
Her mother, a beautiful woman named Grace, joined us along with Lailah's siblings. Grace was born into a Protestant family, but she married a Muslim man and was therefore joined into his religion. And although her husband died, she continues to practice Islam (possibly for fear of the consequences of leaving the Muslim community).
One of the team members, Alex (who was in Uganda for the first time), came forward, sat before this woman and shared the Gospel. She understood no English, so he needed a translator. Lailah stood before her mother, translating everything Alex shared.
And while this woman didn't accept Christ that day, God did an amazing thing. He took a young girl who wasn't even free to pray or worship at home and He used her to share the Gospel with her mother. Because although the words originally came from an American visitor, Grace understood them through the voice of her own daughter.
And I'm praying that one day, Lailah can pray and worship freely in her home along with her entire family.

- Aly

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I'm Back to the States

I'm back to the cold, snowy hills of Western New York, back to stable electricity and a refridgerator in the kitchen. I'm back to the quick cleaning of dishwashers and washing machines, back to family close by and the tv just the click of a button away. I'm back to quick internet in any part of my house and hot showers, back to eating less starches and more raw vegetables. I'm back to appointments and soon I will be back to work. I'm back to hustling from one place to the next, to instantly getting whatever I need.

I'm back to the States, and it's just a little weird.

It's weird to be so cold, and it's weird to just walk over and flip on a light switch. It's weird to pull food out of my refridgerator or load my dishwasher. It's weird how fast my clothes are clean. And because life here went on without me it's even weird to be with my family. It's weird to watch tv and not have to walk up a hill to get internet.

I'm back to the States, and it's just a little weird.

Weird is the best way to describe what happens when you step on a plane after leaving your heart somewhere else. I come home and things just aren't the same. And it's not that things aren't the same. Actually in so many ways they are the same. The difference is me. I've changed. I've traveled halfway around the world, and somewhere in transit something happened and a change occurred.

These next few days after coming home are always critical. They can make or break the whole experience. They are the deciding factor in how life will be from now on. Will I allow the trip to continue to change me? Or will I just slip into life again and pretend like none of it happened?

Will I take the stories of all the kids I grew to love, the kids who are struggling with friends, faith, drugs, and so much more, and let it affect the way I live my life? Or will I just move on, pretending it never happened? Will I let the encouragement I gave those same kids be the last words I spoke to them? Or will I keep on encouraging them an ocean away? Will I let the ministry stop when the seatbelt light was turned on? Or will it keep going and growing long after I'm stamped back into the US?

I can say with certainty that just moving on would be a whole lot easier. If I could just pretend I didn't see and hear the things I did, my heart wouldn't be so heavy.

But I can't do that. I don't want to do that. I know that there's a reason for everything God put in front of me during the last three weeks. I don't ever want to forget it. I want it to change me even despite the pain and heartache it can cause. Because if I don't let it change me, then how can I ever encourage anyone else to change?

While at the youth camp, Dr Reuben spoke to the teens. He talked about how so many of them have been to youth camp 4, 5, even 6 times. They've been to camp that many times, but how many times but the question is, have they allowed it to change them? Have they let the things they learned really sink in deeply or have they just shown up? If not, then why come?

That same truth applies here. This was my sixth trip to Uganda. But what good is it if I don't continue to allow it to change me?

So that's what these next few days are all about. Trying to make sense of it all and allow God to continue to mold me.

- Aly

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Winding Up"

Just a quick post to let everyone know I'm still alive! These last few weeks have been amazing. I don't even know where to begin but I can say that lives have been changed, both Ugandan and our American team. The gospel has been preached, youth have been challenged, workers have been encouraged, and so many kids have seen the love of Christ come to life.

I'll be sharing some of my stories over the course of the next few weeks, but please know that I need some time to process it all. So much has happened over the last 3 weeks. I'm sitting here amazed that I've already been here this long. I've enjoyed every moment. I can honestly say that I was so freaked out before I left. I was scared and just wondering what God had in store. And really I was ready to just lay in bed, pull the covers over my head, and hide there for all of January. But I knew that's not what God wanted me to do and how glad am I that God never gives up on me even when I'm not too sure about things.

I have been so blessed by the ministry these last 3 weeks. I've felt myself grow in so many ways. And I know as they say here - The best is yet to come.

I look forward to sharing it all with you in due time. I ask now that you would continue to pray for me and for the team as we say good-bye and begin our journey home on Saturday. We're all leaving a chunk of our heart here. Pray for all the children and adults we shared with and encouraged along the way. And pray that more lives will be changed as a result of the ministry here.

- Aly

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Missing you!!

Have you ever found yourself missing someone so badly that your heart aches?

These past weeks since Aly has been in Uganda have been a brand new experience for me, mom! I have been so far apart from the daughter that I love so much! At times I wonder if I will make it for the 25 days or if my heart will just whither up and die?

Don't get me wrong, I am so proud of her, and I know she is following God. It's just my human side that would like to keep her close to me. But what about all of the kids who have come to know her and love her in such a short time? The ministry opportunities that she has been given, I could never wish them away.

I have made time to pray, more than I have in a long time! I find myself waking in the middle of the night and my thoughts immediately go to Aly and the team in Uganda. I lie there and pray, until sleep takes me away. And when I wake, the first thing I do? Pray!!

I was wondering, if I miss Aly that much, how must our heavenly Father feel when we are so far away? There are times when we too are worlds apart and how he must grieve the loss. The loss of a relationship that is as simple as crying out. Praying when we wake up in the middle of the night and talking to him first thing in the morning before our feet even hit the floor.

How thankful I am to have a personal relationship with God! And in another week, Aly will be coming home to share of her adventures from half way around the world. I know she misses home, but has fallen deeper in love with the people of Uganda.

The children who live in a part of the world that sometimes seem forgotten. But I know that this is true; they are not forgotten, and some are rich beyond imagination! They have no worldly possessions, but have the kind of riches that they will take into eternity. The kind of faith, that gets them from day to day. Thanking God for each day that he has given them to be alive. He loves them and they give him all the praise and glory.

Some of these kids may have never heard the gospel, but God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. He uses people just like you and me to go half way around the world to tell people that he loves them sooo much.

In Romans chapter 10:13-15 For "whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?
As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!"

And so, she went! To spread the gospel, to share Gods love, to answer a call! And yet I miss her! The time has flown by quickly for her! (Not so quickly for me!) Much of the time she has been without electricity, Internet and warm water for bathing. I know she has wanted to share her stories, but time has not allowed. Please keep praying for her as she heads to one of the villages, to continue working with the people of Uganda. For continued good health, safe travel and for lives to be saved.

"God is good all the time, and all the time God is good cuz that's his nature!" wooooo

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Welcome to my Home!

I'm all settled into my new home at Upendo, and I love it! Let me give you a quick tour...
You are most welcome! That's what I would say to you if you visited my home. It's the Ugandan way.

This home is actually a duplex (so there is another section of it) but I'm only showing you my half. The other half is occupied by an AMG Uganda worker and his family.

When you first walk in you will find my living area. It looks a little different now because I moved the chairs around. I kept running into the one so I put 2 together on the long side of the wall to look like a sofa and then the two on the sides.

Next is my dining area where I sit and eat all my meals. Dinner is eaten by candlelight since there is no electricity.

Next comes the kitchen which is complete with running water and a propane stove. You can see here I was in the midst of doing dishes. Some are drying on the counter and some are still in the sink. That window is my bird window. More about that later....

Then there's my bedroom. A nice bed with mosquito net. Underneath the bed is my "dresser." I put all my clothes into one of my suitcases and organized them. And my shoes are next to that. I have a table to place my oil lamp at night (it gets dark by 7).

My bedroom also has a bathroom right inside it so I don't have to open my locked bedroom door to go out in the middle of the night. It comes complete with a flushing toilet, a sink, and shower (and you have no idea how excited I am about that!!).
I keep the windows and doors locked up tight at night. The first night I heard all sorts of creepy noises I wasn't used to. But last night I slept like a baby...if a baby slept with a knife in their bed.
So that's my home! I hope you enjoyed your visit.
Now how's this for irony. I'm in Kampala for a meeting right now and to charge my laptop at the office. But wouldn't you know the power just went off and I wasn't done charging. That's Uganda!
Thank you for all your prayers. I can certainly feel them here. I feel a peace in my heart I haven't had in a long time and God has given me courage to do all kinds of things like taking care of birds in my kitchen...but that story will have to wait for another day!
- Aly