Again we are in the Children’s Village. It is impossible to share the experience of each encounter with a child or national staff. Each is unique and each is a reassurance that God intends us to be where we are in this time and place.
As the daylight fades we gather the full-care kids together in the center house to celebrate birthdays – “Baby Day” to them. Lindsey, Malynda and Elly all have birthdays within a few days of each other. We surprise them by bringing party horns. The kids have never seen such contraptions and run around all night – I mean all night – blowing the horns in each other’s face. We make smores for them using Nutella rather than chocolate. They have never seen marshmallows before. The national staff crowds us out of the toasting of the marshmallows and soon develop their own tastes and techniques and discuss which tastes better – burnt or browned.
The day ends on a high note. I mean a HIGH note. About 10 p.m. we go to church for an all night prayer service. Unfortunately, we did not stay for the entire service as we were worried that our driver had not been home since the early morning hours. The energy and freedom of the praise and worship are quite moving. As pastor Michael has said, the air was thin. God was very close and the communication easy. Even those, like I, with little rhythm and coordination, cannot help but move with the celebration of God’s majesty.
Pastor James, as always, had words that touched us. I have known three pastors in my life who seem to have followed me all week and then offer messages about their observations. Jim Gordon, Michael Canada, and James Okalo Ekweng. Tonight’s message focus not only on the frequency of prayer, but the quality of it, as well. I just don’t understand why a sinner like me receives such great blessings to be guided by these three men of God. I understand that my salvation has nothing to do with my earning it, but I still don’t get why the blessings are so great. Thank you God!
Arriving back in Uganda is an experience in familiar and unfamiliar. The travel, though long (22 – 23 hours actual flying time plus layovers), has become routine. The smile on Jimmy Mau’s face as we come through customs feels like a welcome home rather than a welcome to an adventure into the unknown and unusual.
We arrived late at night and went to Central Hotel in Entebbe for the night – again, familiar. The people of Uganda are hard workers. It is not unusual to see people work around the clock. Sixteen hour work days are very common – particularly with the staff of COTN – Uganda. Jimmy Mau, for example, earlier today brought a group from Faith Church in California back to Entebbe. He leaves us about 12:30 a.m. after making sure we are settled in, and then returns at 4:00 a.m. to pick up the group from Faith Church and transport some of them to the airport for return to the U.S. A few hours later he returns to Central Hotel to take a couple of people from Faith Church to the airport to travel to Malawi where COTN has another station.
We wake to uncommon calm. The day we arrive is Independence Day for Uganda. They are celebrating their 50th year of independence. Because of that we are not able to begin our journey to Lira and the Children’s village until afternoon. Normally, we begin the journey to Lira in the northwest of the country by 7 or 8 in the morning.
There is only a single road which goes the 20 miles, or so, from Entebbe airport to Kampala, the capitol city. Typically, it is an hour or two to make that trip. But today the road is eerily vacant. Soldiers and police line the road. Just hours before, the road was full of armed diplomatic caravans carrying heads of state from other African countries to the Independence Day celebration in Kampala. When the celebration is completed in a few hours, the road will again be full of those caravans making their way back to the airport.
Jimmy tells us that the road is clear because people are staying home. Some are afraid of armed conflict. Others were out engaging in protests along the road while the diplomats were traveling, but have gone for lunch and will return to demonstrate when the caravans start back to the airport. Jimmy participated in the morning protests. We sail through Kampala, leaving for our 7 hour journey after only 45 minutes, or so – very unusual.
There are no interstates. In Kampala there are some four-lane roads, but not after you leave the city. The further you travel away from Kampala the worse the roads become. There are no lanes marked on the roads. Where there is full pavement, there is a road about two lanes wide with small paved shoulders. This is shared by cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians. As we work our way further from Kampala, the edges of the road fall away to an unpredictable weave. Some times the road is two lanes, but most usually the motorized vehicles travel down the center of what is left of the pavement. They slow down and leave the paved surface when necessary to avoid on coming traffic or pot holes. Travel on a straight road anywhere in Uganda rarely results in driving straight. We can tell when we near Lira because the road surface improves for about the last 10 to 20 miles.
Even in the middle of “nowhere,” with no village for several miles, the roads are lined with people walking or on bicycle. It doesn’t matter the hour of the day, there are always people walking the roads. This is true of the unpaved dirt roads in the bush, as well. It seems the entire population is always on the move.
Today there are more people walking than usual. They are probably traveling to the villages nearby for celebrations. Along the way there are three or four shopping centers we travel through. These consist of an area along the highway three to six blocks long where people gather. The buildings are not the typical thatch roof hut, they are brick buildings never more than one story high. When stopped at a couple of them to purchase pineapple and a cooking oil product that is made from milk. If you stop your vehicle at one of these areas your vehicle is surrounded by dozens of vendors trying to sell you everything imaginable in food products. Everything from fresh fruit to grilled meat on a stick (type unknown). If you get out of the car, they press up against you. There are no personal boundaries.
We arrive in Lira around 9:00 p.m. We are in luck. The lights are on at the guesthouse. Translated that means we have electricity and there is a possibility of a warm shower. Normally, there is a large celebration with children waiving branches they have cut from trees and running along side the car as we enter the children’s village. But today because of the lateness of the hour, our travel the last 10 kilometers to the children’s village will have to wait until tomorrow.
Patrick, the guard at the gate of the guesthouse, is there to greet us. Shortly, Rose and James arrive with wonderful warm smiles to greet us. They have become such good friends and are full of God’s joy and grace all the time. Then Lucio, Susan and, their soon-to-be 3 year old, Devotion arrive. Devotion runs to “Mama Lisa” and wants a big hug from “Papa Steve.” Our grandchildren Graham and Izabell are about the same age and Devotion makes us feel like we do at home. We have great fun chasing about and tickling.
God has provided us a safe journey. We look forward to him taking us tomorrow to the Children’s village.
Hello from Uganda. We are drawing to the end of our first week. It has been busy. We have been re-acquainting with the Uganda staff and children. Though it has been a year, it seems like just yesterday we were last in Uganda. Our relationships have picked up right where they left off. The school has grown from about 200 to 340, and 12 teachers. Today another teacher was hired in anticipation of the second building being completed in the next couple months. 61 children are now in full care. The remainder of the children live on their own or with a relative and come to school at Children of the Nations where they receiving clothing, food and an education. We have spent time painting the alphabet on the walls of several class rooms and loving on the children.
God is blessing us here with incredible morning devotions. For those blessed to come last year, you understand what I mean. What a way to get your day started!
We are looking forward to worshiping tomorrow in Lira with Pastor James. It will start about 8 and go until noon. After that we are going to try to go to the dedication of a new church planted by our host church and then travel some distance to visit Geoffrey, who was a driver for us last year. A month or so ago he was in a serious accident that broke his collar bone and arm. We are anxious to see him and pray for his full recovery.
We are often thanked for CrossBridge’s generosity in giving the brick making machine. The first building built with the brick machine is completed and in use. The brick machine is hard at work on the second school building containing four more class rooms. They are beautiful. Sorry, but the internet system available here does not have the capacity to send photos well. We will share them when we return. Several solar panels are up and operational so that the kids can study in the evenings. It is not light we would deem adequate, but they see it as an incredible help. Now that they have the brick machine they have put together a plan to double the number of children in full care, build housing for the teachers, and a guest house on the Childrens Home property.
Today we visited in the home of Christopher and Joy Odongo. He was proudly wearing his Nebraska T shirt. Their twins are beautiful. Once we arrived, Christopher and Joy did not get to hold either of them until we left. They will be 6 months old on Monday. They send their love and prayers to last years’ team and all of CrossBridge for supporting their work.
The t-shirts you all sent last year are worn frequently by the children, as are the dresses that we brought.
Thank you for your continued prayers. The work here is significant. Malynda is hard at work with the counseling team, and Lindsey is doing a remarkable job with the teachers here. The Ugandans refer to both of them as Africans. We are thankful for your support and caring. Please continue to pray for our work and the work on the Ugandans in raising children to change nations. They seem to be right on target. While we miss you all very much and look forward to returning to you soon, we know that God has brought us to this place and we will miss the Ugandans when we leave. See you all soon.
Steve & Lisa
Here’s the first note from Lindsey. Stay tuned for more updates about Lindsey’s experiences over the next 6 months!
I left Lincoln at 11:30 on Friday morning. Sunday at 6:00 pm, I was in Lira, Uganda. After 46 1/2 hours of traveling (accounting for the time changes) I am where my heart has been leading me for the past 10 months.
As we drove into the guest house in Lira (where the teams stay-because there is electricity and running water!) we were greeted by the staff of COTN. Greeted is an understatement. We drove through the gate and the staff ran toward us waving huge leaves that look like palm branches and shouting their welcomes. But that was nothing compared to the hugs we got as we got off the bus. I don’t think I was free from an embrace for at least 5 minutes. There really is no way to describe the happiness that consumes you the instant you see a smile or receive a hug that is genuine. It was even cooler for me because I know these people and they know me. So it wasn’t only a welcome-but more of a welcome home.
After we dropped off our bags, we went to the Children’s Village. To get to the children we drive through the city of Lira and another village called Anai-Okii. As we drove through I was reminded of why we go. It’s not that I forgot the poverty seen here, but when you are gone for an extended amount of time, the urgency once felt is clouded by other things. While driving through the village and seeing the small huts with mud walls and grass thatched roofs I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the people were hungry? How many are sick? It’s not long before an overwhelming feeling creeps up on you. But then, as we kept driving, you see these beautiful blue roofs sticking up through the bush (the roofs to the children’s village). And soon, there are 60 plus kids running towards you waving more huge leaves and shouting their hello to you. They run along side the bus with huge smiles in anticipation of the many hugs they are about to receive as we drive to the village. It is the coolest thing ever.
After that, the children always dance and sing to welcome teams to their home. It’s a welcome you just have to see to truly understand. These are children who are orphans for one reason or another. Many have seen atrocities my brain cannot fathom. And yet here they are, just a few years later with smiles on their faces welcoming visitors from America into their home. Not an orphanage, but their home. It is amazing the changes that happen when people choose to take action (no matter how big or how small).
Those of you who followed our group’s trip to Uganda last year, no doubt remember Lindsey and the experiences she shared with us via this blog. Well, she’s headin’ back, this time for 6 months! She will be leaving Friday afternoon from Omaha and will be sharing her thoughts and experiences with us again as often as she can. She will be joined soon by Malynda (also staying for 6 months) and then later on in October by more Crossbridge missionaries.
Be sure to start checking back regularly for updates on what God is doing through these amazing servants in Uganda! Blog posts will also be linked on the Crossbridge website as well as link with Twitter and on our Facebook page so follow however it’s easiest for you!
We are getting a great response already to our invitation to help in Joplin! I’ve seen several people signed up on the sheets. They’ll be heading down June 24-26. If you want more information about this trip and how you can be a part of it, send an e-mail to the church and someone will get back to you!
Lindsey Mueller is the first of our Uganda team to head over. She’ll be leaving on Tuesday, so please be in prayer for her and her travels. Hopefully we’ll hear a bit about her preparations as she gets ready to go! Stay tuned!