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