Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Melody Moment

Time has come for yet another Melody Moment. Here at my house, we have a watchman at all times. There is one particular one who is here most of the time, and others take shorter shifts to relieve him each day. So this particular guard is named Michael, but everyone around here just calls him Askali. Now I have been seeing Askali almost every day for the past 2 1/2 months right? And this whole time I just call him Askali like everyone else, and when someone says Askali I know exactly who they're talking about. So the other day I was asking my language helper Diana how to tell the taxi man in Luganda, "Stop there where the guard is." Diana replied, "Koma wali awali Askali." Slightly confused, I looked at her and asked how the taxi man would know who I meant. Slightly confused back, she asked what I meant. I tried again. "Diana, how will they know who I'm talking about? Do they all know my guard's name?" Understanding lit in her eyes, and laughter spread throughout her body. Between chuckles, she said, "Askali is the word for watchman or guard! You thought his NAME was Askali?!?!?" I'm sure at that moment I was the reddest muzungu anyone has ever seen. Both of us couldn't stop laughing and giggling for the rest of the afternoon. Yes Diana, I've spent almost 3 months thinking Askali was that man's name. At this moment I'm glad Africans haven't discovered blonde jokes yet, cause I'm sure they would never stop after this.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Songs in the Night

The brisk evening mountain air fills my lungs as I leave the darkness behind and enter the blue florescent light of the small African church. In front of me sits a small group of young men and women, eyes closed tight and lips moving in muffled prayers. I silently slip into a wooden pew, setting my water bottle down on the dusty floor, and join the intercession. It's late on a Friday night, and we have gathered together to pray, sing, listen to the Word, praise, and worship 'til morning. One person starts to sing, and with one voice everyone calls back the response. The song of the believers fills me with joy, and I know that I am home. All through the night, we praise, dance, pray, and sing some more. Unexpectedly, I am asked to teach around 2 am, which I do only through the power and work of the Holy Spirit. When heavy eyelids threaten to close in sleep, we sing. and dance. and jump. and clap. and call aloud for the Lord to work in us. I join in singing all the songs I know, and laugh, clap, dance, and rejoice during the ones I don't. When the power goes off, and the fuel for the generator is spent, we walk down the path to join a neighboring church who is praying and worshiping that night as well. Two bodies of believers now join together before the Lord with their sacrifices of praise. The energy and joy permeates the air as I gaze at the faces of of those around me. As we finally slowly make our way home, my heart overflows with thanksgiving for the precious people who desire praise more than sleep, and prayer more than rest. May the Lord fill each one of us with that same passion, commitment, and longing for His glorious work to be done!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Brian's Story

Say hello to Brian! This precious little boy stole my heart right away, and I wanted you to meet him and hear his story. Brian lives just a hop step and a skip away from me in Namatala, the poorest housing area of Mbale. While I live in a 3 room carpeted, furnished, bug-free (mostly ;) ), beautiful apartment, it takes me only 5 minutes to walk to Brian's small mud and thatch hut where he lives with his mother, Regina and older sister. I first noticed Brian among all the many children of Namatala that swarm around the muzungus because of his clothing. That first day as Paul scooped Brian up in his arms, we were surprised to find that under the extra long, tattered, dirt encrusted, gray t-shirt, this bright eyed little boy wasn't wearing any shorts. I was later told that while he owned exactly 2 t-shirts, he didn't have even one pair of shorts or pants. Surprised, I determined to find out more about this little boy. Brian is the youngest of the 6 surviving children born to Regina (out of 12!!!!). From reasons we don't know, Regina suffers from many many ailments and is unable to walk or do anything besides lying on the mat outside her hut. While Brian is only 7 years old, many times the job of finding food and water fall to him. By 'finding' food, that is exactly what I mean. Some of the time they just rely on the charity of their neighbors, but since neighbors can't help all the time, Brian is out in the trash heaps searching for anything to fill their stomachs. They don't have money to buy clean well water, so Brian will walk to the river and fill his jerry can with that water made precious by the hard labor and weary feet required to obtain it. The family's only source of income is provided by Brian searching for small scraps of metal to sell in town, which brings in only pennies every now and then. As I heard his story and grasped his small hand, my heart wept. I knew before I came that I would be faced with poverty here, and that the needs would overwhelm, but looking down into Brian's face made it real. I started praying fervently for a long-term solution for this family. For a couple weeks all I could do was pull Brian close, hug him, laugh with him, watch him play with my funny white fingers, and pray, pray, pray! Last week, those prayers were answered! There is an organization here called I Choose You which sponsors children from Namatala to go to school and receive a monthly distribution of basic food supplies. Brian and his family have now been included in the monthly food distribution and have received the food they were so desperately needing! Now we're just waiting for a sponsor for Brian so he can actually start attending school as well.

There are definitely days when I'm frustrated with language learning and I wonder why I'm taking the time to do so. When there are so many needs right now to be met, and so many children to love on, why am I in my room studying?? When playing games, singing songs, and distributing meals can be done without words, why am I struggling so hard to be able to speak? But then I look into Brian's eyes and wish beyond all else that I could talk to him and know what he is thinking and feeling and wishing. I wish I could tell him that I love him, and that Jesus loves him with the words that will make him smile and laugh for joy. So I will continue on. Stumbling on in this language, and daily causing offense in this culture until I have learned well. Daily learning what it means to lean on Jesus and be who He wants me to be to these precious people.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

All kinds of Viruses

Bout 2 of sickness successfully conquered! And before you ask, no, it was not malaria. That much anticipated event is still to come. It did however feel much like malaria, or so I'm told. Last week I woke up one evening with sever body aches, weakness, light headedness, and a fever. I waited a couple of days hoping that it would just pass since from what I had heard, my symptoms weren't serious enough to be malaria. Finally though, at the urging of my American and Ugandan families, I agreed to go into the clinic to be tested on Monday. The finger prick to test for malaria wasn't too bad, but I must say if I never have to give another urine sample on this side of the world, I would be most content! Since apparently collecting in a bottle the size of your thumb wasn't challenge enough, I was also gifted with outhouse accomodations and slippery floors in which to accomplish my mission. However, that mission proved successful since it gave me my diagnosis: kidney infection. Apparently a virus had settled in my kidneys, so I was prescribed a full round of antibiotics with continuing ibuprofen for the fever. 2 days later, I was as right as rain!

Having recovered sufficiently from my own sickness, I ventured out to an outlying village with a medical team from the States to do a clinic. Together with a team of Ugandan doctors, nurses, and translators the team from Houston met with patients, handed out mosquito nets, dispensed medicine, and tested for HIV. While patients were being seen indoors, hundreds more waited outside for their turn. As they waited, the team preached and prayed for many many people seeking relief from even more than just physical needs.

The setting for the clinic: one of our village churches.
The 'exam rooms' are the gray tent booths lining the room.

A group of mothers waits to see a doctor

Dispensing medicine African style!

For the past 2 days, I helped a couple of Ugandan nurses test patient after patient for HIV. At least 1/2 of the people being tested were young mothers holding their babies close with one hand while extending their other hand for the dreaded prick. While in the States pricking fingers for a blood sample might be one of the most simple tasks, here in Africa it can be quite a challenge. Fingers here are rough and calloused. Young and old, men and women alike show the evidence of hard work in their hands. At times, I could perfectly visualize their daily lives digging in the fields, washing clothes, and cooking over charcol by just looking at those work-worn fingers. Those years of work made our challenge of collecting enough blood for a reliable result a challenge! Many many times a finger prick had to be abandoned in favor of a syringe just to collect enough blood.

Once the sample had been deposited on a testing kit, and a re-agent carefully applied, the patient was told to come back in 15 minutes for their results. Those that tested positive were gently asked to come back again the following day for a confirmation test. For those that were confirmed to be HIV positive, my friend Diana carefully broke the news and counselled them on options and keeping hope. Thankfully here in Uganda, it is possible to get ARV drugs for free as long as the person is willing to accept them. Unfortunately, many choose to live in denial fearing the cultural and personal repercussions of admitting they have HIV.

One of the happy test results card showing all patients negative for HIV

As you might imagine, looking into the faces of people fearfully waiting as if for a sentencing can be draining! My hope was that by offering them an encouraging smile and a gentle touch, their hearts would be strengthened and they might see the love of Jesus. Of course the happy, relieved smiles when pronounced ok also did my heart good! I was so grateful for this small opportunity to practically love these people, and meet with them in their pain and joy!

P.S. One funny thing I learned was that if someone says they have a virus, they always mean HIV. You can imagine the looks I got this past week when I was asked if I had malaria and I said, "I don't think so. I think it's just a virus and it'll go away pretty soon." Oh dear. Hopefully I don't have people now believing that these amazing muzungus can also miraculously recover from HIV in a couple days too! :)