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 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.





Who Really Lives Like This?

7 09 2009

One of my favorite chapters in Francis Chan’s book “Crazy Love” is titled Who Really Lives Like This? It tells the stories of people who don’t live normal lives. They live sacrificially hoping the way they live will spur on a conversation with someone about a God they love. Some are famous, some are not. If Francis knew the couple I know, he would have included them in that chapter.

I met Ed y Rosa Salo about five years ago. Back then I thought they were nuts. I still do. They are the directors of an orphanage – Lirio de los Valles (Lily of the Valleys) in Aldama, Chihuahua. The orphanage houses about 125 children from 0-18 years old. It’s run like a house and it works for them. They wake the kids up at 4:00 am on school days to pray and have morning devotions. On weekends, it’s 6:00 am. Some of these children have the most horrible stories of neglect and abuse. But through the love of Ed y Rosa, they have learned their abandonment is not their fault. They learn to know a God who loves, cares and protects them. They learn to live sacrificially.

Most of them work very hard – going to school, cleaning the orphanage, cooking meals and fixing things that break (which tends to be daily). Ed bombarded me with a million questions when he found out that I had visited Uganda. The Salos have a heart to want to start a Lirio III in Kenya someday (The first Lirio is in Tijuana). On Saturday he spent the morning praying for Africa. He found me and Court later in the day and we talked for about an hour about what God was placing on his heart and Rosa’s. He then proceeds to hand me 2200 pesos and says please give 1000 pesos to IJM Thailand so that they can continue to fight the injustice of forced prostitution amongst children. The other 1000 pesos went to World Vision’s orphanage in Uganda where they minister to children who were once forced soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army. The final two hundred he wanted me to give to an organization of my choosing. That’s about $200 USD. Now that’s a lot of money for anyone but for someone who doesn’t receive a salary or assistance from the Mexican government, that’s a gold mine.

Ed y Rosa live by faith knowing that God will always provide and that their situation is far better than other people in the world. Who really lives that way? Who would give up a lucrative chance to make money, a name for themselves and a comfortable life. Oh by the way, Ed has his master’s from Harvard and was an Div II All American football player. He hates that I know this and doesn’t like to talk about his pedigrees.

He is no fool if he could choose to give the things he cannot keep to find what he could never lose – Jim Elliot

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Papa Ed showing off his boots





Three Girls – One Common Passion

7 09 2009

I’ve had the privilege of being a pastor to students for over thirteen years. It never ceases to amaze me the creativity, drive and passion students will have if you nurture them and give them the freedom to chase after their dreams. In my short time of ministry in California and Texas, I’ve seen students grow and succeed in life, survive tragedies and ordeals, and most of them continue to follow Christ passionately. My students in Cali are doing great – two are helping lead their college group at their church, one is on staff with Intervarsity, two others are teachers at a Christian school, and one just got back from a month in Kenya. Meanwhile, I have kept in touch with most of my students in Texas. I was close with two classes – the class of 2005 and 2009.

I want to give you a glimpse of the class of 2009. This is a generalization and represents the heart of most of this class.

Britton or Belen:
She loves to swim and teach swimming to her class in Plano. In her spare time, she volunteers in an apartment ministry where most of the residents speak in Spanish. About nine months ago, she decided to defer her first semester of college to immerse herself in Spanish. She never talks about herself, rather she sings the praises of others and would rather spend her weekend at an orphanage playing with children.

Abigail:
Abby needs coffee in the morning or else she doesn’t function. She is fun to be around and laughs at anything. Some say she is the life of the party. Abby has spent the last two summers working at a camp in Wisconsin doing every job imaginable (even the ones no ones wants to do like cleaning bathrooms). In her spare time, she’ll ride horses, volunteer for various causes and roam around Walmart if she’s bored. She’s been dreaming about Chihuahua, Mexico ever since she set foot here in 2005. Oh and she loves her church here and will spend all day playing and laughing with her siblings Uriel (Udi) and Mimi if she could.

Court:
This girl is like her mom. She’ll give everything away to help others. I’ve seen her fight through her diabetes for years and continues to not let it bother her. I’ve seen her grow through seven mission trips and she works harder than most boys. She told me in 9th grade that she was going to live in Chiwas when she graduated high school. Now here she is. Court spends her weekends going to help others. She loves making friends, hanging out at an orphanage, and laughing at herself. Or maybe I always laugh at her?

Most eighteen year old young women would rather be doing something for themselves versus for others. Most would be wanting to accumulate material things, make money and finding the man of their dreams. These girls shatter the typical mold and stereotype when we think of youth. They don’t live for themselves. They live to serve and share their love of Christ with others.

I’m so proud I get to continue to see them grow over the next four months. What a blessing to be able to see young people live in such a way that demands an explanation.





The Pearl of Africa

26 07 2009

It’s fitting that I’m listening to Africa by Toto as I blog this entry. My thoughts are scattered as I try to give a fair and accurate picture of my time here in Uganda. It was a short visit (just two weeks) but in the brief time I have made new friends, been inspired by the culture of this country, appreciated the simplicity of just being alive (see bodas), and have started to see why so many people are passionate about Africa.

  • Church: I believe the church is the hope of the world in which Christ has commissioned us to proclaim the whole gospel for His fame and renown. I got to see the church in action through its partnership with IJM and also visiting some houses of worship. I worshipped at St. Francis Anglican and Watoto today and was blessed by the messages of both. I was moved by the prayers of its leaders in wanting justice and relief in eastern Uganda where there is a famine, peace amongst wars and the desire to raise up a new generation of leaders through its children. See Watoto and what they’re doing. Pretty amazing.
  • Children: I have seen some of the most beautiful children. They’re cute and adorable wanting to follow a “mzungu” around. They hold your hand, want to be hugged and have the biggest smiles.

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  • Justice: I will try not to use this word flippantly. It’s hard to define and it comes in various forms. The form of justice I saw was through the eyes of IJM and victim relief for widows and orphans. They have a fantastic team here in Uganda and I got to hear some of their stories of how God brought them here to write the wrongs and be a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves. Thank you Jamie & Sara, Grace, Nina, Kaye, Alice and Suhanya. Lawyers can have fun!

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  • The Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven: Jamie introduced me to Roxanne this weekend and I have to share her story. I was moved by what she has done and is doing by living out James 1:27 and caring for Waswah. Roxanne works with Samaritan’s Purse caring for widows and orphans and I asked her how she met Waswah who is six. She saw him on the side of the road in a village where she was working about two years ago. He was on the brink of death, severely malnourished, and his feet were covered with sores. Both his parents died of AIDS and seven of his nine aunts/uncles have succumbed to this awful disease. His grandmother had been looking after him but did not have the means or money to feed him. So Roxanne took it upon herself and asked to be the legal guardian. The grandmother has been very supportive of this and other relatives have helped out getting the proper documentation to make things go smoothly for Roxanne. Today, Waswah is healthy and adorable. He is soft spoken but is very intelligent. He has a very acute awareness of right and wrong and would rather be reading or doing more productive things than watching a video. Thank you Roxanne for making the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven for Waswah.
  • Beauty: I will just let the pictures below speak for themselves.
  • The Simple Life: I’m kind of reluctant to go back to the States because I don’t want to lose this feeling of appreciating the simple things I take for granted. I’ve been very surprised about my capacity to adapt (I’m a clean freak).
  • Bodas are a means to get from point A to B albeit a scary way. Is there something wrong when the driver wears a helmet and the passenger doesn’t?

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  • I’m not scared to use the tap water to brush my teeth although I prefer bottled.
  • The mosquito net over my bed is a reminder to appreciate my health and to take my malarone. I feel like bubble boy but with mesh when I’m sleeping.
  • AC is for wimps and those who can actually afford it. I don’t have AC in my room and have actually enjoyed the fan. Ask me again when I return to hades, I mean Texas in August.
  • Walking and exploring Kampala has been fun. Carry backpack in the front.
  • I have enough dirt on my clothes and body to fill a jar.
  • People: By far the warmest people I have met. Sure they call me Mzungu, but they are caring and truly take the time to talk to you.

I’ll close with a quote from one of the brilliant theologians of the 21st century who is passionate about Africa. I think you will want to buy a plane ticket after reading this.

“I genuinely see myself as a traveling salesman. I think that’s what I do. I sell songs door-to-door on tour. I sell ideas like debt relief, and like all salesmen, I’m a bit of an opportunist and I see Africa as great opportunity. And I don’t just mean this in terms of doing business with Africa for America or Europe, which I do. I mean it’s an opportunity for us in the West to show our values, because a lot people are not sure we have any — to show what we are made of, to see a continent in crisis and demonstrate what we can do.” – Bono

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The best way to spend three hours in Uganda

25 07 2009

I joined some of the IJM staff this morning to go learn about a ministry started a few years ago by some guys at Cornerstone (some adults passionate to serve the least and last). Godwin (one of the leaders) took us to the slums just above the hills of the taxi park. To refresh your memory, the taxi park was where I was almost pick-pocketed so I was sure I wore my backpack in the front. Again, just a surreal experience walking in such congestion. But we walked past safely and after some turns and up a hill we encountered one of the slums (Godwin called it the ghetto) where they help minister to street children. And believe me it was the ghetto. You can smell the sewage in the drains on either side of the street, many children are barefooted and wearing tattered clothing, and families are just trying to make it selling vegetables, household goods, food or whatever they can find. That’s the thing I love about Ugandans here. They’re very entrepreneurial They have resolve, little money, but they make it happen.

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(These are the tin cans the children recycle to turn into oil lanterns)

These street children are orphans. Some have gone to school, others have not and all been surviving on the streets for years by themselves, some as young as eight years old. They pass their time collecting tins to recycle into oil lanterns, find food in the garbage piles, sleep when they can (sometimes huddled together in the park until the cops kick them out), and to escape the painful life of surviving on the streets, they get high daily on aviation oil. They pour the oil into rags and inhale it much like you would through spray paint cans or glue. But the oil has a greater effect of getting you high. They get the oil by befriending some of the local mechanics or pay for it. It’s a vicious cycle. They have enough shillings to buy the oil but not food.

I met these children and immediately saw the bottles of oil and rags stuffed in their pockets. Godwin and the other guys try to confiscate as many as they can and have been educating them on the dangers of inhaling as well as AIDS awareness. I saw the emptiness in their eyes as they were fully dilated from the high. But then I saw hope. Behind the high, the conditions they were living in and the ragged clothes, I saw hope. I saw children wanting to be held and loved. They latched on and held my hand or came under my arm wanting to be hugged. They did the same to Grace, Suhani, Kaye and Jamie who were with me. They were excited to see visitors (Mzungus – fair skin ones) and greeted us. But we made it past the differences and heard ‘Mzungus’ as we walked up the hill to the soccer field where we were to have some fellowship and futbol. Godwin and his friends have been building a relationship with these street children for the last two years and you can tell these children trust them calling them ‘uncle’. After some encouraging words, some songs and a message it was off to futbol.

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(Grace and her new friends as we walk up to the soccer field)

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(Pastor Kaye and some beautiful children)

Now I was excited to play futbol since it’s what they do here. And I figured there was no way they could play since they were still high. Oh I was so wrong… Godwin told me that futbol is the common denominator to reach these children and it also serves a purpose by getting their bodies to burn off the high. I decided to play defense and one of the plays came my way with a ten year old dribbling the ball at me. So I attacked trying to get the ball and next thing I know I’m flat on my back with a nice dirt burn on my elbow and the ball past me with the ten year old looking at me thinking “silly Mzungu”. But that was when I saw how these street children care for one another. They all ran up to me helping me up, dusting the dirt off and looking at my wound asking if I was okay. They hugged me and the ten year old was so apologetic and hugged me as well. I told him no need to apologize and that I was fine. A quick high five and I was back in the game. Interestingly, the same thing happened to Jamie and while they helped him up, he quickly got the ball and continued playing hoping to score a goal. It didn’t happen.

We didn’t have money to give to these children, but I gave some to Godwin so that they can buy them lunch after futbol. Godwin and his friends give them vouchers every Saturday so they can have a hot meal. I managed to snap some shots of the morning. It was a beautiful picture. Jamie, Kaye and I playing soccer, Grace was playing duck duck goose and Suhani was getting a guitar lesson from one of the former street kids. This was truly the best way to spend three hours in Uganda.

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(Suhani talking to one of the children)

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(Grace playing duck duck goose with the children)

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(Jamie in the far corner trying to be a savvy soccer player)

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meandsoccerkid(The ten year old who schooled me in soccer)