Mukwano Gwange (Beloved Friend)

25 05 2010

I find myself very inadequate when I speak with pastors in the village. I feel I have nothing in common and get this sense that I am somehow in their way. But those feelings of inadequacy and distance fade away whenever I visit Pastor Mike Obaya. The first time I spoke at his church, he took me by the hand and directed me to the front of his church where he usually sits. He relegates his seat to me and sits on a wooden pew in front. I watch as he directs people in the church to lead songs of praise, to share testimony and to read scripture. The best part was watching him play something similiar to a djembe (but it was an African drum). Most pastors I know in the States are musically and rhythmically challenged so it was a joy to see him slapping a mean Ugandan beat.

My beloved friend has shown me so much about being humble and a servant. He does not draw a salary from his church (he barely makes enough money to support his family), has no formal Bible training yet he is filled with inexplicable joy. During the week, he works on a small plot of land farming and growing vegetables to feed his family. On the weekends, he ministers at his church perched on top of Namawojoolo village overlooking beautiful Mukono district. He is known by most everyone in his village as an honest hardworking man.

Today I visited my beloved friend and he shared with me that the church building collapsed a few weeks ago during a strong windstorm. There were people inside when it happened, but fortunately no one was injured. I surveyed the church and saw that they were slowly rebuilding, reusing the lumber that tumbled and straightening the corrugated aluminum roof. They have been meeting outside for the past several weeks and hope to be under a roof by June. There’s nothing fancy about this church. No electricity, no running water, no walls. It’s just some beams, trusses and a roof. No state of the art sound system, no lights, no projection system. They sing from memory, share from the heart and laugh with such joy. I know their joy resonates from the love of Christ, but I believe it is also because they have a wonderful servant leader who leads by example.

As I got ready to leave, he had a personal request. He asked if I knew anyone that could help him get a large print NIV Study Bible. He currently uses an old KJV but it’s not helpful when he needs to study or read the Luganda version of the Bible (which is translated from the NIV). I told him ‘too bad, if they could read it in 1611, we can read it in the 21st century’. I gave him a fist pound and headed back to the office… j/k. I told him I would ask my friends and see what we can do.

So how about it? Can you help my beloved friend get a NIV Study Bible? If you’re interested in making a small contribution, send me an email and I’ll get you details.

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Mwasuze Mutya (‘Good Morning’ Plural Form)

27 02 2010

In the month since I have arrived in Uganda, this is all I have really learned how to say. I find myself speaking Spanish more to my colleagues Greg & Paloma whenever I can. I guess I have been lazy to start Luganda lessons. I have a great translator who goes out with me to the villages and most people have a working knowledge of English so I haven’t been motivated to start… yet.

One of the things I have come to appreciate about Uganda is the friendliness of most people. There are several children who wave and say hello to me every afternoon as I round the last corner on the hill before my house. The boda boda drivers are always friendly to me… because they want my business. The lady that I buy breakfast from every morning is very nice and asks how the food was the day before. And then there are the many people who want to sell me anything from electric fly swatters (looks like a toy tennis racquet but highly effective to zap the mosquitos at night) to sugar canes.

So it makes me want to be friendly back each time. I get the curious smiles and children following me especially when I go to the villages. Who can blame them, they don’t really see a Chinese American very often. Last Sunday was a great example. I spoke at a church in one of the villages called Takijunge and as we pulled up to the church, two little girls with beautiful braids and their shy smiles stood at the door waiting for us. I had just bought some chapatti (kind of like tortillas) for breakfast and asked if they would like some. I handed one to each of the girls and the response was so Ugandan. Many of the children and women in the villages will bow down to you out of respect when greeting you or receiving something. So these precious children bowed down to receive the chapatti, smiled and slowly ate them. Honestly, the first time this happened to me I was like “no, no please get up!” but since that time I have learned that it is how they show respect to you.

This type of greeting has been frequent especially when we have been doing our case intakes. After our legal educations where we teach the community about how to protect their rights, we invite those participants who may have been victims of property grabbing to stay and talk with us. The first legal ed I conducted, we had over twenty women patiently wait to talk with our staff. Every time they greeted one of my colleagues, they bent down and bowed in respect. I really want to figure out some way to honor them back. You see, these women are the courageous ones. I look forward to talking to these women because their faces light up when we teach them what the law says about property rights. They feel empowered and a sense of hope. As they wait to talk to one of us, I can only imagine what they’re thinking. Perhaps they have been a victim of property grabbing and this is their last option before sleeping on the streets. Or they haven’t had a meal in a few days and came to the legal ed because someone invited them. Whatever the case, I am beginning to understand a little more when Jesus said that he had compassion on the multitudes because they had been with him for several days and had nothing to eat. I think my favorite moments so far in the legal education have been watching my colleagues minister to the women who come for legal advice. Sometimes we are able to take on their case, other times we are not and we have to refer them to one of our legal aid partners. But everytime we hope to treat these women with the same respect that they greet us with. Some believe in God, others don’t. But we want to close each conversation with them by praying. We pray for hope, we pray for the opportunity for their land to be restored, we pray for peace and we pray for many other things. So while it is a case intake situation, it is so much more. It is a counseling session, it is a time of encouragement, it is the hopes that International Justice Mission can bring relief to a victim and secure justice for them.

Below are a few pictures of our legal educations.

Kaye (my translator) and I polling the participants to see what they know about Ugandan law

Here’s a great picture taken by our communications fellow Laura. Pictured from L – R are Jesse Rudy (aka my boss), Pastor Diana and myself. Pastor Diana helped me mobilize this recent legal education and was instrumental in inviting many community leaders. I love her heart for her community and desire to advocate for the rights of widows and orphans.





My Ugandan Home

24 01 2010

Home – it’s a word that I am still trying to figure out. I’ve been living out of my suitcase for the last five months. Although I miss my creature comforts, my own house and the little things, living with just what you can roll and carry has taught me a few things.

First is the amount of excess stuff that I have. I recently watched Up in the Air starring George Clooney. The story is about a man trying who is trying to obtain the Gold Level status of frequent flier miles for American Airlines. He works as a middle man who terminates employees for companies who are too scared to terminate their own workers. Overall I liked it because it was an interesting commentary of how people live their lives (somewhat lonely) yet surrounded by people with no real relationships. But the thing that struck me was the way George traveled. Everything was carry on. He managed to pack suits, ties, shirts and leisure clothes into his rolling carry-on with ease and efficiency. I, however, have not perfected this art. Two back packs and two rolling suitcases is quite difficult as you’re trying to navigate the line to obtain your entry Visa as well as make sure you have your  important documents protected.

As I unpacked into my new apartment, I wondered if I packed enough. Even though I had read previous fellow’s experience and packing suggestions, I still felt that I had forgotten things. I’ve learned since being in Uganda that I should have brought more toiletry items. Why might you ask? Well, one is that everything is super expensive. Deodorant is $6 dollars and hairspray/gel can go upwards of $11. It’s just crazy. I’ll have to email my friends to send me a toiletry care package. The second is availability. You can’t just go waltzing down to your local Wal-mart and pick whatever you want. It’s a creative game of understanding Ugandan brands and buying when available. For example, I bought the last bottle of mustard at the grocery store the other day because I don’t know when they will have more. So I will use sparingly.

The other thing about living with less has taught me is budgeting my finances. I’ve always been pretty good at this but living in a foreign country makes you ask yourself need vs. want. I need to go to work everyday. I don’t need to take the boda. I want to take the boda to save me time and not be a sweaty mess when I enter the office. But how often do I take it? The other is dining out. I can skip a meal and be fine. Besides, not like I need to be packing in the pounds.

So back to my title of this post. Below is a pic of my home. I didn’t take a shot of the actual house, but the view from one of the porches. As you can see, I have a great view but it is an interesting dichotomy of rich and poor because just a hundred yards away is a row of homes that just have tin as their roof (may or may not have running water). Uganda is situated on hills and my hill has a huge radio tower close by. As I write about this year’s adventure, I am grateful to be serving in this capacity (if you want to know what I’m doing click here) and hope to share more about a simpler way of living for me in 2010.





The Irish Pub

16 12 2009

So I spent my birthday with some great friends at an Irish Pub tonight. Now what’s a Chinese American who just spent four months in Mexico doing in an Irish Pub? It gets better. This evening consisted of topics and conversations that covered the whole spectrum. From sports, business, faith, church, you name it – we talked about it. I even spoke in Chinese. One of the guys asked me to share about what I will be doing in Africa because I promised his wife I would tell her why I’m so excited to go.

But before that, they wanted to hear about Mexico. The food, the culture, my host family and what I learned. I told them I learned to slow down. I learned about the sabbath. I learned that I am truly loved by some wonderful people (more on that in the next paragraph). And I relearned how to just talk to God. My school was about one mile from my house and I walked to and from school twice a day. During most days, I would just pray while walking. Just talking with God asking Him to show me things to do and asking for opportunities to share and talk with people about Uganda. Coincidentally walking four times a day helped me lose 15 pounds!

My friends asked how they could get involved with IJM and I shared a few different options. Then I shared with them why I’m so excited to go. I started to tell them that it’s ironic that the work I will be doing will be helping protect widows and orphans from forces of oppression. It’s ironic because some of my #1 supporters are orphans. I have over 125 children and staff from an orphanage who have committed to pray for me daily. And I know they pray because they’re up at 4:30 am during the weekdays for morning prayer (6am on weekends). And the times that I have been there this fall, the children and staff would gather around and lay hands on me and pray. They would also pray for my friends G & P who are going to Uganda as well. But here’s where I usually tear up while telling the story. The directors of the orphanage asked the children to pray about supporting myself, G & P financially. He said ‘why can’t an orphanage give to missions and especially to people they have known for many years?’ When they finished praying, he asked how many would like to give their money. ALL the children raised their hands…

The director told me the story the next time I came to the orphanage and true to their word, they have given and will continue to give financially and pray daily. That’s one of the many reasons why I am so excited to go. I have orphans praying for orphans to be rescued. I have orphans giving financially to the cause so that I can be part of the fight to loosen the chains of injustice.

When I finished sharing the story, I saw these men tearing up as well. The guy who asked me to share about Africa in the beginning of the story said that he and his family are going to commit to pray and support me as well. All of this happened at the Irish Pub. This is one of those memories I will cherish and look back with fondness.





The Faithfulness of God

2 11 2009

Lately I’ve been praying that God would give me more faith. Faith to trust Him more, faith to do things that I’m afraid of doing but know I need to do it, and faith that He would give me enough to get through the day.

Of course, God is funny in the way He has answered my prayers. He has been faithful to me all along (c.f. Hebrews, 13:5-6). The last month has been a whirlwind sending in paperwork to IJM, making a trip back to Texas to share with friends and family about Uganda, and probably experiencing a lot of joy and frustration during the process.

God has been faithful to me because He constantly gives me enough to get through the day. I’m a planner and I like to forecast and think years and years in advance, but God has been teaching me to live the fullest of each day. Just as He gave the Israelites manna enough for one day, he has put people and events to remind me that He’s got my back. For example, I have been praying for people to surround and encourage me during this preparation time and I have received an outpouring of emails and phone calls from people saying they are behind me praying and giving financially. I have also received discouraging emails, but not enough to dissuade my decision to serve in Uganda. The best encouragement has got to be knowing that I will not be going alone. My friends Greg & Paloma will be joining me in Uganda. They have also joined IJM and will be doing some incredible work regarding planning and forecasting for the future. It has been a blessing and encouragement to know I can talk to them when I’m having a tough day because they understand what I’m going through.

God has also been faithful in stretching me. I preached my first message in Spanish. Well almost… I had written out my message in Spanish last Friday and finished around 5 pm. At 5:30pm, I got a text from the pastor that he would like me to share about Uganda, my life and vision, and a challenge to the youth about some important steps I took for God when I was young. Needless to say that is about four messages compacted into one. I had only written about my life and my upcoming opportunity in Uganda. One thing about Mexican culture is learning to be flexible and adapt on the fly. I didn’t have time to write and translate another message so I went with the one I had. I was determined to speak as much as I could in Spanish until I went blank. When I got there on Saturday, I was greeted by some of the youth and one of them turned out to be the pastor’s nephew. He said that he would be my translator!!! So I was able to share about my life and ministry for ten minutes in Spanish and then I switched to English. It was a great time getting to know the students. When they found out that I was from the same church as many of the students they know, they got very excited.

I really don’t know what the next day holds. Many of my material possessions are uncertain. Dwindling savings account, home up in the air, and belongings in storage. Yet God has given me enough for this day to trust Him. I read in Joshua 4 the other day and it’s the story when the Israelites crossed the Jordan river. God commanded Joshua to set up a memorial with twelves stones. It was to serve as a reminder for generations to come that whenever their children asked ‘what’s that pile of rocks for?’ they could tell them how God faithfully provided by helping them cross over to the Promise Land.

What’s your pile of rocks? What is it that you look back to when you need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness?






International Justice Mission + Uganda + Me = 2010

29 09 2009

The Boston Red Sox, Arizona Cardinals, Golden State Warriors, and Chicago Cubs. Professional sports team with a common theme. They were all long shots. Granted the Cubs have not won a World Series since the 1900‘s, the Cardinals came close and my Warriors can’t keep good players, but the fact remains that these teams share a common theme of being underdogs in some ways and long shots in others.

I happen to resonate with long shots and being an underdog. If you asked me a year ago what I would be doing, I would have told you that I would be enjoying my job as a youth pastor in Texas spending time mentoring and discipling students. If you asked me what I thought of Africa and the country of Uganda, I would have had compassion and told you I would pray for the people serving there. Honestly, Uganda was the farthest thing on my mind. The thought of an AIDS pandemic and extreme poverty caused me to file these situations as someone else’s problem. I rationalized that I was doing my part by praying and giving financially to people and organizations serving there to alleviate the poverty.

A few years ago I became acquainted with an organization called International Justice Mission (IJM). IJM is a human rights organization founded in 1997 by Gary Haugen to combat the injustice going on throughout the world such as slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of oppression. You can read more about what IJM is about right here.

My view of the world started changing back in the summer of 2008. That August my church hosted a Willowcreek Leadership Summit and one of the keynote speakers was the president of IJM – Gary Haugen. Gary shared his story of working for the US State Department and how he came to start IJM. He shared a childhood story of his family frequently going on hikes. On one particular hike to Mt. McKinley, he was not feeling like making the journey to the top with the rest of the family. About halfway up they stopped at a visitor’s center. The center was great with pictures of the mountain top and a lookout point to see the summit. He decided to stay back while his brothers and father continued to the summit. He shared his regret of staying back and related that even though he could see the summit, he missed out on the adventure. Sometimes our lives as Christ followers can be like staying at the visitor’s center. We have opportunities to follow Christ passionately and serve whole-heartedly yet we often stay back because of fear, uncertainty or we just don’t feel like it. Gary shared that in the journey of following Christ many of us miss out on the adventure. He challenged those attending that Jesus didn’t come to save us so that we could be safe, He came to save us so that we can be brave. He concluded his session with a question: “What brave thing are you doing for Christ?” I, of course, started to rationalize that he wasn’t talking about me. Heck, I was doing my part. I was being brave. I was working with high school students and in Texas. God didn’t buy that excuse. He started putting long shot dreams in my head and ideas that I would never want to do. I started thinking about working overseas. I didn’t know what country but the thoughts started coming into mind. Yet Africa was still not on my radar. I was thinking more of Latin America or Asia.

Months past and then around March I decided it was time to do something. I had no plan, no clue and no logical reason why I should resign my job. But I did it. Shortly after I resigned, I had lunch with some dear friends and they asked me: “Ray what do you want to do and where do you want to serve?” I responded “I don’t know, but here are some organizations that I would like to look into”. I rattled off a bunch of great organizations and then I said IJM. The husband immediately got excited and said that his former college roommate had just moved to Uganda to become the field director of the IJM office there. He asked if I would like to get connected with him and I said yeah.

I was able to visit Uganda and the IJM field office in July and in late August I submitted my application to become a Church and Community Relation fellow for 2010 in Uganda. Long story short, IJM has offered me the fellowship and I accepted today. I was the underdog and long shot in a lot of ways. I was the one who would be the last one to volunteer to live in a country thousands of miles away and without pay. I was the one who would be the first to recommend someone else more qualified.

Yet I find myself filled with excitement and joy with the prospect of being able to learn more about a continent, a country and a culture steeped in tradition. Long shots do pay off. I’ll share more about what I’ll be doing and how you can help support and pray for me at a later post, but I want to close by encouraging you to pray about your journey with Christ. What sort of adventures is He putting in front of you? It could be completely out of your comfort zone in another country or in your backyard. Maybe it’s time to pray about being a long shot.

By the way, don’t write the Warriors out. One day… one day they will reign victorious as NBA champs.





Building Inauguration

24 09 2009

I had the opportunity to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony of the new teen home for young men at Lirio de Los Valles today. Many high ranking officials from DIF and other government agencies were in attendance. The older children were given a free pass from school so that they could help and be part of the festivities.

Almost five years ago I walked on this piece of land with Mama Rosa and she started painting this picture of wanting a home for the older boys. She also showed me plans for a similar building for young ladies. Back then I thought this was an impossible dream because Lirio did not have the funding or resources to make it happen. But Mama Rosa and Papa Ed began to pray. Through a series of random conversations and providential encounters, Lirio somehow got the funding to build the homes for both the boys and girls. Coincidentally, the land was donated free of charge. Praise God.

The children were great today helping out in the kitchen by cutting fruit and making horchata. The house was given a thorough cleaning Sunday and the new home has four rooms, four bathrooms and two small living areas. It can house sixteen boys and now the main property has more living space for the smaller children. Lirio has never turned away a child because of lack of space and now they have the freedom to continue to grow.

The highlight for me had to be the slideshow. It showed before and after pictures of Lirio over the past fourteen years. As the pictures began to progress, I recognized every child’s face and their success stories. Stories like Martha Castillo who two years ago was adopted by a family in Michigan and was given a chance to succeed in the United States. I saw pictures of graduations from high school and I saw Brenda’s graduation. Brenda was the first child to graduate from college at Lirio and now she is the business administrator for the orphanage. Then I saw Belem’s graduation picture. Belem has a cool story because at the end of next month she will be moving to Boston to attend college. A family in Southwick is paying her tuition and housing her. She starts school in January but is moving up there early to adjust to her new surroundings. I joked with her that she better start getting used to cold weather.

Ed y Rosa were wonderful today sharing with passion and conviction the desire to provide a house and home to any child who is abandoned. The story of Lirio is truly one of miracles. Children have been adopted, others have gotten married, and still others have been given the opportunity to get an education.

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Belem (center) will be starting college in Boston in January