Monthly Archives: May 2012

Babylon

When the people of Jerusalem and Judah were in exile in Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah wrote them this letter containing the Lord’s instruction. I imagine these people waiting for guidance on how to get out of this situation. I imagine them waiting for justice, ready to righteously resist their Babylonian oppressors.

But this is what the letter said.

 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jer. 29:5-8)

 So not only is God not coming to rescue them. He’s telling them to get comfortable. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Well, at least for the next 70 years. After 70 years is up, then God promises to bring them back to their home, “For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer. 29:11).

 I think about how many times I’ve seen that verse slapped on bookmarks, journals, posters, and pamphlets. It’s a great verse- don’t get me wrong. I just find it ironic how out of context it usually is. No harm will come your way because God’s got this shiny, awesome plan for your life.

 But if you read the verse in it’s context, you realize that God is saying this to people who are probably hearing His “plan” and considering finding a new God.

 I think we can all relate to the exiles.  I watch Plan A and Plan B circle down the toilet, along with backup Plan C and I explain to God about how much easier my life would be if He would just let me keep one of my strategies. But no. God’s plan prevails. So, I complain about how I’m responsible for this thing and people are depending on me or about how nervous people get when things are out of control. My faith-wrestling comes in waves and in weeks, ceilings and stares, and a host of unanswered questions.

But God is radical. He can’t be tamed. He can’t be put in a box or fit in a brain. He has these outrageous and incomprehensible ideas. According to this passage, personal peace and prosperity is the result of giving oneself generously in service to others. Here, Jeremiah essentially foreshadows the teachings of Jesus, who called His followers to seek their ultimate good—the kingdom of God—by seeking the good of those around them. Jesus said His followers must be generous to those who steal from them (Luke 6:29-30) and pray for those who oppose them (Luke 6:28). So, for the exiles in Babylon, seeking the peace and well being of their oppressors and praying for their enemies would actually be establishing the kingdom of God there.

I think about my Central American brothers and sisters who are deported and dumped at the border and live with our friend Hector in Reynosa because they have no money or means of getting to Guatemala or El Salvador or wherever they may have come from. I think of the Congolese and Sudanese living in IDP camps in Uganda because of war in their countries. I think of the LRA that come out of the bush and want amnesty despite the atrocities they have committed. All these people who aren’t where they want to be.

But God says: Live. Prosper. Plant. Wed. Make babies. Even if you aren’t where you wanted to be. Love. Serve. Pray. Give. Even to the people who have robbed, raped, murdered, and harmed you.

What kind of strength did it take the exiles to do those things God asked and to believe peace would come from it?

 Do we think faith can be had without a fight? Or trust given without a cost?

 What kind of hope in God does it take for a woman with HIV, a sick baby, and a crippled hand to look at me and say, “Some answered prayers come slowly.”

 Here we are at the edge of Babylon. Here we are staring at the journey ahead. Before the plan is revealed, before the waters part, before the breakthrough. And the question is there: What will you choose to believe? 

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Meeting (another) Concy

I will never forget meeting Concy. She was the first Child Voice graduate I had the pleasure of getting to know, and her home was the first Ugandan residence I had been invited into. I had been told that Concy came to Child Voice as a child mother from an abusive home. Now she and her daughter, Presca, live safely with her aunt and uncle. Since Concy graduated from the program, she has been using the knitting skills she learned to make school uniform sweaters. Concy brought out this huge, intricate knitting machine and set it on the table in the living room. She began to show us how she threads it and makes the sweaters that sustain her income. I don’t know how kids wear these heavy wool sweaters in the scorching hot Ugandan sun, but apparently there is a large market for them.

Concy, like many of the Child Voice graduates, is supporting herself and her daughter all on her own. She earns enough money to send Presca to school and even pay for medical bills. Presca has an eye condition and recently suffered from a severe burn to her hand. Concy beamed with pride that she was able to pay for Presca’s hospital visit and treatment. I am not a mother, but I can imagine how great it must feel to not worry over providing your daughter with the care she needs.

I loved getting to hear how Child Voice changed Concy’s life and gave her the skills she needed to launch and market this thriving business. She hopes to purchase her own knitting machine as she’s renting the one she currently uses. From what I could see, I don’t think it will take her long to get there. It was so cool to see her happy, healthy, and hard at work

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Affirmations and Realities

Anybody who knows me knows how much I love Africa. At times it’s all I think about. My days off of work I scour the internet looking for blogs, academic journals, anything that I can learn about the politics, culture, or development of Africa. That being said, in the build up prior to leaving for Uganda I wasn’t feeling the excitement I felt I should have considering that fact that I was fulfilling the biggest dream that I’ve had for the past 5 years since taking Modern African Civilizations my freshman year at Central. I wasn’t feeling giddiness or even nervousness. I was so entrenched in the pattern of work and play in Des Moines that I couldn’t get my head around the idea that I was spending the summer in one of the most traumatized regions on the planet. This numbness I was feeling terrified me and started making me question my motivations and reasons for doing this internship.
I felt this way for months and months until I actually landed in Africa. Seeing that God had so clearly tattooed on my consciousness for my whole, albeit young, adult life thus far dissolved any indifference I had been harboring as easily as the equatorial African sun vanquishes clouds at midday. The second I hit the tarmac in Kampala I had such profound swells of affirmation that my fascination and passions in the abstract IDEA of Africa was instantaneously replaced with a tangible love for the reality of Africa. Here’s what I wrote in the very first journal entry I made:
I’m here now and I’m ALIVE. I’m affirmed in loving the IDEA of Africa for so long, and have started to love the gravity, the reality of Africa. This love will grow and it’ll surely be tested, but I love where I’m at now. Thank you Lord, for the love you have cultivated in me these past few years. I ask you humbly for more! 5-17-12
I truly believe that God is trying to teach me to love Africa like HE loves it. I’m as culpable and dysfunctional as any other human, however, and this will constantly be a refining process, but I really desire for myself and Taylor’s compassion to converge with Jesus’ compassion in Spirit and in Truth.
As I previously mentioned, I’m growing in love for the reality of Africa. The reality of Africa, however, is very difficult. Not even a week being here passed, and we were confronted with how complicated and slow-moving development is. We’re in Northern Uganda at the start of rainy season and during a torrential downpour the roads to Lukodi, the site of construction for the new Child Voice center, are utterly impassable. Not only that, but if you are already in Lukodi during a storm, work is impossible because the building materials—soil, sand, and concrete—are unusable if they get drenched. We’ve also run into huge schematic realities. For instance, it has been the task of us interns to triangulate coordinates on the property to map out where the clusters of huts will be. This seems straightforward and easy enough, but this terrain is a step below uncleared bush, with grasses chest high, and trees in the way. Additionally, we do not have a tape measure long enough to reach the points so we’ve had to purchase local twine and tie them together and measure them out to the appropriate lengths. Within these constraints we’ve essentially wasted 3 days of work and have still not pinpointed the first area of construction. That’s the reality here. It moves at a crawl, and you have to constantly go back to the drawing board.
As if the contextual limitations weren’t enough, I’ve also been struggling internally about my vocation this summer. As I’ve mentioned I’ve been helping with construction of the new center. Here’s my dilemma though. Thus far I’ve been helping with the manual labor of making bricks. I’m not averse to hard physical work, but anybody can do what I’ve been doing. In fact, if I were to be replaced by a local person, he would be paid and that would help his family AND the community. It makes me feel useless because I have no specialized skills that can add value to ChildVoice’s operations AND I’m keeping a local guy from having a job.
These are the realities of my situation right now. I’ve voiced my concerns and struggles with Conrad, the leader of ChildVoice, and he assured me that my problem solving skills and different perspective will be invaluable to the construction of the center. Also, I’m going to partner with Brad, another intern, in evaluating the microfinance project and finding ways to improve it and possibly at a savings aspect as well. This I’m very excited about, as I’ve been interested in microfinance for a long time. . There are a plethora of obstacles, and an abundance of uncertainties, but I came here to be a servant, and here’s my chance to. Tay has shared the stories of girls who have gone through the program, and I’ve met so many that have experienced the worst imaginable Hell in the bush, and yet after going through ChildVoice have found renewal and most importantly hope. I will do all I can to help get the center up and running, so that more women can find this restoration, even if I have to shelf my pride and ambitions to “be useful”. Please check out this link and consider giving in order that the center can be constructed, and the women can return to a place of refuge and growth. http://childvoiceintl.org/construction-begins-on-new-lukome-centre-in-uganda/

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Meeting Rose

There she was, this woman who was only an 8-year-old girl when she was abducted by the LRA. This woman who had lived in the bush for the majority of her existence. This woman who has shared a bed and two children with one of the world’s most hunted men. And there she was, just sitting on a wooden stool in a tiny brick room smiling as she put rolls of dough into a boiling pot of oil. The insanity and complexity of her background combined with the simplicity of the moment made her all the more breath taking to me.

Her name is Rose and today she is a 24-year-old mother of two little girls and a Child Voice graduate. She works for a very sweet couple that owns a bakery in Gulu. This couple had nothing but good things to say about Rose and her hard work. She bakes over 1,000 doughnuts a day and sells a dozen for 1,200 shillings (50 cents).

Rose was one of the Child Voice graduates to receive a micro loan. Her hope had been to open her own bakery, but she took two jobs to pay off the loan in a hurry and didn’t end up using it to start her own business. Conrad, Winnie, Megan, and I sat with Rose outside her place of work as she opened up about her life. She told us that she’s happy and enjoys the work she is doing. She hopes to save up enough money to purchase a hut of her own and get another loan to buy an oven for herself so she could sustain her own business. She is earning enough money to pay for her daughter’s school fees all on her own. She repeatedly remarked how thankful she was that Child Voice gave her the skills to help her stand on her own two feet. She couldn’t describe how much it meant to not have to beg for money to send her children to school.

Rose’s children are living with her parents until she can pay for a place for them all to live. Rose told us that the situation at home is not good. She visits her girls on Sundays after church, but is anxious to have them with her again. Please pray that Rose’s business continues to flourish and that she can start a home with her children soon.

Rose is our age and has faced far greater challenges in life than we probably ever will. I’m sure her journey will continue to be full of them, but it was amazing for me to witness the difference this program had made in her life and see that she is equipped with the faith, determination, and skill set to push through whatever comes her way. 

*Rose was abducted by the LRA in 1996 when she was only 8. During her time in the bush, she was selected to be one of Joseph Kony’s wives. Kony keeps about 30 wives and 10 “senior wives” (his favorites). Rose and another senior wife, Lilly, were captured in the Congo in 2010 by the military. Child Voice was contacted and both girls entered their program. The girls remain close friends and room mates to this day

 

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Meeting Concy

Nustled back in a little array of huts Concy lives with her husband and two week old daughter, Kathy, (who Conrad had the privilege of naming after his wife while we were visiting!). We were invited into their home and we sat arm to arm in this cramped little hut. Concy brought out her little one for all of us to hold. She has ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes. She is perfect. But I couldn’t help feeling a pang of sadness as I awed at this amazing creation.

You see, Concy came to Child Voice as a HIV positive child-mother. At 19 years old, Kathy is her fourth and only living child. Concy lost her third child, Sunday, while she was at Child Voice and it was obviously an incredibly difficult time for everyone involved. I can’t imagine burying three babies before turning 19 years old. 19! And despite all of this heartache, Concy smiles and laughs and is creatively marketing her own business alongside her husband, James.

Upon graduating from the program, Concy took the sewing skills she learned and went to work making bicycle seat covers. As I observed her peddling away at her sewing machine, I learned that she is the only one who supplies these covers in Gulu. Since bicycling is a main form of transportation, they are doing extremely well for themselves. Concy and her husband produce 100 bicycle covers a day and 500 a week. Local bike repair shops sell the covers for 1,300 (54 cents) shillings and they make a 50 percent profit.

Concy told us about how Child Voice had helped her grow as a woman. She was thankful for the friendships she had made there and the valuable skills she learned. After purchasing a few bicycle seat covers from Concy, we said goodbye. As we drove away, I prayed that Concy’s baby would thrive and overcome her odds of contacting HIV. I prayed that Concy wouldn’t have to endure another heartbreak. And I thanked God that I had the opportunity to meet her and that her business has taken off in an amazing way.

“He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3. Isn’t that the truth. 

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Sunday Bloody Sunday

Sunday morning we were at the Lukodi Church. The church used to meet at the Child Voice center and welcomed four or five hundred members each Sunday. Since the center was handed back to the government and the new one hasn’t been built yet, the Lukodi Church meets in a small shaded area in a building made of branches and some thatched roofing. There were a handful of attendees who welcomed us graciously and insisted we sit on the chairs instead of the benches. It felt silly to be treated like such celebrities but I had to remind myself I would extend the same hospitality to visitors at home. As I watched these people worship God with their singing and dancing I kept pinching myself to make sure I was actually there. That Sunday marked the 8th anniversary of the Lukodi Massacre and here were these villagers bringing their coins, or produce if they had no money, to the offering table and praising Him despite the darkness that is their past. I’ve heard horrific story after horrific story and literally can’t comprehend how these people remain strong in their faith. Conrad (the founder of Child Voice) told me a story of a woman who witnessed her husband being murdered by the LRA and then the LRA forced her four sons to rape her before abducting them. She lost everything. And even years later her response is, “I stay close to Jesus because he’s all I have left.”

This week I’m going to be trying to capture some interviews with Child Voice students and graduates so that supporters back home can hear their stories and how Child Voice has impacted their lives. It’s not easy to ask these girls to reopen old wounds in front of this little flip cam. They don’t have to, but they also understand it helps raise awareness and financial aid for the organization that supports them.

I just don’t want any of these beautiful, precious ladies to think we’re plucking their stories to wear around our necks like some trophy. And this isn’t about my research project or my degree. It’s not ME. MINE. I. I never want their pain to be a picture for my slideshow or have their home feel like a tourist attraction. Its possible I am way overanalyzing this, but that’s how I feel. It’s one thing to read the stories out of a book and another to look into the eyes of the story teller. Like walking on glass. 

It is easy to see how Aid and ignorance has brought ruin to this place. We, as Westerners, might come to give, but we can also come to stake out our destiny. Ours is a history of dominance. Always the explorer, the colonizer in our blood, and it is hard to run away from when we’ve been so “blessed”. We come with our visions and strategies, our opinions and ideals, and without meaning to, we impose them. We think we know the way and we think we know how to do it better and more efficiently then the next person. And it comforts me to know that Child Voice recognizes this and does everything in its power to NOT follow those footsteps. All the staff here is local and they give local people jobs and truly take into consideration what is best for the girls at their center. Also, I’m not saying Westerners aren’t capable of shedding new light onto something or having good ideas. The depleted and dependent often need a helping hand, but we also need to empower and not overpower. But I’ve seen what a huge transition some of these girls have made and they are really healing and pressing forward. It’s remarkable and makes me so proud to be a part of the work that is being done here.

I will post some of the stories as I have the privilege of hearing them and please pray for these girls who have been so gracious and vulnerable to share the pain of their pasts and the hopes of their futures with us. 

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First post from Africa!!!

We’re here!  We’re healthy! We’re safe! We’re happy! The traveling days have merged together, and I won’t even attempt to put dates on when everything happened, I’ll just make sure the order of events is accurate. We flew from Chicago (thanks Doles and VanderWells for such a great time!). We flew to Detroit where we met our comrades in intern, Matt of Faribault, MN, Brad of Washington, IA, and Megan of Wheeling, WV.  They are incredible (more on them to come). From Detroit we flew to the Boeyink-VanderWell Dutch Mecca aka Amsterdam.  We had a bit of a scare there due to mechanical issues on the tires that caused a 3 hour delay that was mere minutes away from causing us to miss our flight from Amsterdam to Uganda.  We arrived in Kampala at 10pm local time on whatever day, only to find out that Brad and Matt’s bags had not arrive and would not arrive for another 2 days.

We spent the night in Kampala and the next day set off for Gulu, the central city of Acholiland, the people of the North from which Kony and the LRA were spawned and have subsequently been terrorized from.  The road to Gulu was absolutely beautiful; full of the flora and fauna that I have forever envisioned of this continent.  It gave us pause, however, to think that it was this road that so many children were taken, and so many ambushes have occurred from the LRA upon innocent people.  It was also on this road where were able to stand at the banks of the Nile River, something I have never imagined I would be able to encounter in my lifetime.

We stayed in a hotel for the first two nights in Gulu because the ChildVoice center in the village of Lukodi is still under construction, and the house that we will be living in for the summer has yet to be furnished with beds.  We’re spoiled by the house we’re living in, especially with the notion that we had mentally prepared to stay in mud huts for the summer.  We’re praying that we can complete the center so that we can spend some time living as the local people do.   I know perfect solidarity with oppressed people living through poverty and unfathomable atrocities is not possible, we’d be delusional and naïve to think we could even remotely relate to the suffering the Acholi people have gone through. We still want to strive for equality in relationships, however, but it’s such a difficult thing to achieve while we are living in an 8-room gated compound with two maids that cook and clean for us.   This is no fault of anyone’s, circumstances have created this dynamic.  That being said, once we get settled in to our new home, we’ll be able to dive into our projects. Tay and Megan will team up in implementing group art therapy projects with children in primary school (Lord willing and school headmaster willing).  Brad will be reviewing the existing microfinance infrastructure and look for ways to improve upon it.  Matt and I will help with construction on the new center and will be looking for other opportunities to serve.

As I mentioned before, our team is amazing. The last night in the hotel we came together after a long day for fellowship and devotions. I suggested we share our testimonies with each other so we could get to know each others’ stories better.  I throw this out there, thinking and expecting safe, surface level stories would be the result.   Instead, we hadn’t spent more than a half a week together and every single one of us turned ourselves inside out. We shared how messed up, confused, and wayward our lives have been.  No frills were spoken, people shared of mental disorders, incredible loss, addictions, past trauma, and huge struggles of faith. Even Conrad, the leader and founder of ChildVoice, candidly shared of a lifetime of pain and confusion in his faith journey.  None of us are even close to having everything together, and yet we’re here in Uganda called to serve.  It’s so typical of God, ya know?  God delivers and renews us THROUGH our struggles and journeys, not just at the end of them.  God’s also calling us—vagabonds at best—to play a role in renewing broken and traumatized people in Northern Uganda.  It’s not us saving these people, they’re not helpless and they’re certainly not weak.  God is instead using us Americans and these Ugandans to deliver each other.  We’re all hurting.  When we can invite Jesus in, we can all start healing.  This is going to be a unforgettable summer.  Stayed tuned!

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The Latest

10 days until the Mr. and myself will begin the journey of 7,881+ miles to Gulu, Uganda. A lot has happened since I last posted so I will do my best in catching you up.

We had SOOO many donations for the garage sale and were completely blown away by everyone’s generosity! While the garage we used was huge and wonderful, it was in kind of an obscure location downtown and with the cold/rainy weather, it made traffic pretty slow. However, we still came out with close to $700! We are so thankful for our friends, family, and church who helped pack, load, organize, sell, donate, bake, etc! You guys rock!! We are suuuuper close to being set on funding, plane tickets are purchased, we’re ready to go!

Child Voice has been leasing the land for their center from the Ugandan government and can no longer use it. They have broken ground on a new center, but in the mean time all of the girls have returned to their villages. Teams of Child Voice staff will be traveling across Northern Uganda, visiting the girls individually each month. I am sure we will be traveling with them from time to time, but now are focus will primarily be in the city of Gulu, where Child Voice’s office is. They are trying to secure a house or apartment for all six of us interns to live in. No more mud huts (darn!), but we will be responsible for finding our own food and doing our own laundry. I have no clue whether or not we will have running water, but you can pray we are blessed with that.

So what does this mean for our internships?

For Taylor: I will still be doing art therapy, but my audience will be a little different. The staff in Uganda has been speaking with headmasters of the local schools to see if they could identify traumatized children that Megan (another art therapy intern) and I could meet with on a regular basis. There is even a school especially for war-traumatized children and the possibility we could be working with Invisible Children’s school. I will be shadowing and learning from Winnie, Child Voice’s counselor and hopefully visiting some of the girls who have gone home and/or have graduated from the program. The staff has also asked Megan and I to work on a sort of how-to manual so that the staff can continue to work with the women and children with art.

For Clayton: Obviously, a huge priority right now is to finish building the new center. This means Clayton is going to feel extra-manly all summer as he helps mix concrete and nail boards together or whatever it is they do 🙂 He is pumped about this and ready to jump in! They have also asked Clayton to come alongside their local pastor and accompany him as he visits members of the community with various needs. But, my guess is what Clayton is most looking forward to is playing soccer with kids. And we’re lucky to have a new intern coordinator that will be there with us who is a soccer coach/art teacher from the Twin Cities!

So that’s the scoop. Plans always find a way of changing themselves! We are bracing ourselves for living and working through a transition period for Child Voice but also know that perhaps now with the unexpected changes they’ll need more help than usual. We feel so lucky to have this amazing opportunity and want to thank everyone who has supported us financially and through encouragement. We wouldn’t be doing this without you and have been praying God blesses you for your willingness to give.

So here’s a little shout out to our sponsor loves:

Jason & Michelle Dole, Ed & Bonnie Hall, Regina Gritters, Alan & Patty Dole, Michael & Jaxine Corum, Bruce & Diane Baier, Nathan & Bonnie Hall, Mark & Mary Core, Mark & Jen Phillips, Third Reformed Church, Shorty & Marlena Wichhart, Dan & Kristy Wichhart, Nancy Van Roekel, Ryan & Alyssa Morrison, Mike & Myra Van Zee, Emily Boyd, Jean Jones, Mark & Tammy Putnam, Jacklyn Punt, Luke Boyd, Keith & Suzanne Corum, Marlin Doctor, Wanda Van Roekel, Tim Vander Well, Dean & Jeanne Vander Well (and their sweet friends), Tom & Wendy Vander Well, Madison Vander Well, Atalie Ferring, Brenda & Eric Jones, Chad & Shay Vande Lune, Mallori Ghent, Jenny Dingman, Colyn Burbank, Dave & Maria Eick, Will Fisher, Brandon Vogel, Daniel & Amy Smith, Paul & Jessica Stewart, Gateway Church, Bob & Donna Smith, Kevin Schlabaugh, Paul & Joan Moede, Pat & Peggy Moriarity, Jan & Phyllis Grace, Kaleb Korver, and everyone who bought stuff at our garage sale too (apologies if I left anyone out).

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