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Man Up and Dance

Not being one to go back on a promise, I have some video to share from the first day of our trip. Let me set the scene for you first.  Upon our arrival at Return Uganda Ministries, we were greeted by several hundred children who had gathered underneath what seemed like a large circus tent to do some songs for us.  This included some cultural dancing by a group of kids with grass skirts, those famous African drums, and too much cuteness for these missionary rookies to stand.  Here’s a video of what we saw:

Later, as the day wore on and some of our men got a little more “comfortable”, I looked up from playing with some of the kids and this is what I witnessed from my new teammates:

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Too Much

Just when you think you’ve seen it all.

First of all, for the millions of you out there who are religiously checking my blog, let me apologize for the lack of posts. The internet service on this trip has been sporadic at best. During those tiny windows at the intersection of free time and internet
availability I spent the time chatting online with my beautiful and amazing wife who has not only been a single mother for 2 weeks but is also a fantastic prayer warrior and mission trip counselor. This trip has been indescribably amazing in so many ways, and God has taught me many things, but one thing I have learned, yet again, is how vitally important she is in my life.

As the days have ticked by, and the need to compose a longer and longer update to catch you up to speed, I have decided to fast forward in our trip to this past Wednesday. As time (and reliable US internet service) allows, I’ll post more stories and pictures of the last 2 weeks. Each day has been very unique, but this one was very special, so I wanted to give you a glimpse.

We are in Ethiopia now. We spent the 3 days as Korah, a community of outcasts that is a place where one can truly find “the least of these” – lepers, HIV/Aids victims, orphans, widows, single mothers, etc. It is a place where one must be tough just to survive. But as we have now concluded 3 days there, we have witnessed a glowing light that is growing in the darkness there.

Our first activity upon arrival at the community center was to “prepare” the goats we had bought to cook for the kids’ lunch today. The goats were purchased the day before, alive. At lunch they would be dead, so you can fill in the blanks about the “preparation”. I also found the little girl our family sponsors with Project 61, Netsanet, who had put on all the new clothes we brought her that I had given her yesterday when I visited her house.

After that we got a tour of a small building where some ladies are actively involved in making beaded jewelry to sell at the guest houses. We were also invited to join them for worship. This was an experience I hope I never forget. There were about 30 or so of us in a tiny, dimly lit room with barely enough room to stand up. This group of people were singing, praying, dancing, testifying, clapping, drumming, and celebrating before the Lord with all their body, soul and spirit. Only a couple times did someone translate from Amharic to English, so I knew very little about what was being said. However, in that moment I was brought to tears, yes literally, by the tangible presence of the Spirit of God. The only way I can describe it is that my spirit was worshiping along with everyone else and my body was just along for the ride.

Once the worship was over, we split back into our teams to finish the home makeovers. Our team headed back to the home of Addis and her three children. The oldest was Sintayu, but I didn’t catch the names of the other two. Her house needed more mud repairs (yes literally) and plastering than expected, which we had done earlier in the week but didn’t have time to dry, so we didn’t get to paint. That is going to be done next week by the Korah guys. We put down linoleum flooring over the mud floor and put together a new bed with mattress, pillows, sheets and blankets. To celebrate the makeover, Addis treated us to a coffee ceremony. Anyone who has experienced this in Ethiopia before knows what a treat it was.

It was almost lunchtime so we headed back to the Great Hope church to serve kids their goat meat soup and injera. Since it is rare for them to be able to have meat, this was a real treat – maybe even more so for those of us serving to be able to give.

Following lunch most of the teams went back to their houses to have their coffee ceremonies. Since we had already had ours, I took advantage of the time to go visit another ministry we support in Korah – Embracing Hope Ethiopia. I was accompanied by my new friend Goshu to make the 5 minute walk through the daily afternoon rainstorm to this center where about 30 or so kids are kept in a beautiful new daycare facility to allow their mothers to work and earn a living. I was very impressed with the staff, the facility and of course the kids were adorable. I showed up at naptime so it was quiet and peaceful, especially when compared to the ruckus I had left at Great Hope. The highlight was getting to meet and hold and play with Bereket, the little boy we are sponsoring.

Goshu and I returned to the church as it was almost time for us to leave. We were supposed to go to see the trash dump where many in Korah find their food and daily needs. The process of saying goodbye to these kids we had met and spent so much time with for 3 days was not easy. The worst for me was that Netsanet had disappeared and she wasn’t at home. I sent a search party out consisting of several of her little friends, her grandmother, and some of the Korah leaders, along with a few prayers. FINALLY she showed up – running to me when she realized we weren’t coming back. We had a looooooooooong embrace, some prayer together and finally said our last goodbye before piling into our vans and driving out of Korah for the last time.

What happened next will never be adequately captured in the words I write here.

We arrived at the dump, thinking that only the camera crew and a select few would actually go in while the rest of us waited from the edge. Instead, after a quick meeting in their main office, we were all waved in, which marked the beginning of the end of our ignorance about extreme poverty. It only took a few steps before several were gagging. Others were frozen in our steps. Tears began. As we walked toward the center of the landfill where trucks were dumping their solid waste, we saw scavengers – huge birds, dogs, bugs, but mostly people. Kids. Women. Men. Picking. Digging. Collecting. Eating. Fighting…for the best…trash. It was unreal. We made our way to the highest pile of trash there so to do the Dude Perfect Basketball shot. It was as crazy as it sounds, just like living off of other people’s trash. The hoop was an old tire. It was a sobering scene, unlike any other one they’ve done. The shot went well. We then joined together for a time of prayer with the Great Hope leaders. We were broken. It was impossible NOT to weep. Our only hope is that this will be yet another group of voices raising awareness for the extreme poverty we have witnessed, awakening the church to action so this type of “living” will end. The rest of out time there was an opportunity to soak in what was going on around us and make our way out. It took what seemed like an eternity to get to our vans because the harsh reality of what we witnessed was so raw. This was the first ride home in those vans in 2 weeks where it was completely silent the whole way.

After dinner, undeserved showers and some time to emotionally thaw out at the guest houses, the team reassembled at the girls guest house for a time of sharing. More than any other time on the trip, this was a much needed time to process, encourage each other and speak our hearts about what had happened to us.

It is now Friday evening and our trip is nearly over. We leave Saturday night around 10 pm local time. Since I haven’t had many opportunities to write for the blog, I haven’t really processed much of what has happened to me on this trip. Instead I have been in data collection mode, both photographically and experientially, and will try to make sense of all I have witnessed in the next few weeks, with God’s direction. Tomorrow morning we’ll visit a nearby orphanage, then begin the long trek home. Pray for us!

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

I’ve always loved M&M’s

OK, sorry for the cheesy title, but I wanted to share a little bit about our time at two children’s prisons in Uganda. They are code-named M1 and M2 to maintain the protection and identity of the facilities. Our link to them was through a ministry called 60 Feet, which is based in the US. On Wednesday we spent the day at M1, which is where children under the age of 18 are brought from all over Uganda after they have been sentenced to serve their time. There are also younger children that are brought there for “protective care” which can be include a wide variety of reasons, many of which don’t include commiting any crimes. It is sort of a catch all juvenile detention facility.

First we got a tour of the compound including a vocational shop, bathroom/shower house, dormitories, etc. Then we moved into a central room where we were going to have a time of “fellowship”. What proceeded to happen was a worship experience like none I have EVER been a part of. These children (boys, primarily) led the service and sang, clapped, jumped, prayed, kneeled and spent well over an hour in the presence of Almighty God. My words here won’t do it justice, so I won’t try. I suggest that if you know a Man-Upper, when we return you ask them about it. It was unforgettable.

After this we spent the rest of the morning playing sports since this facility had an abundance of space. We were able to bring them lunch for they day which consisted of meat (beef), rice, spaghetti, vegetables, beans. Then they surprised us by sharing their lunch with us. So much for the PB&Js we were going to have. It was a little nerve-wracking to not know how it was prepared, what water it was prepared in, etc., but we prayed an extra strong blessing on the food and dug in. We ate with our hands and it was so filling that I don’t know if any of us were able to finish.

The rest of the day was taken up with soccer. And I mean this was serious business. These kids were good, and just about everyone at M1 ended up down on the field. There was the main game, then several “JV” squads around the outside of the field playing together as well. The sun was hot, so when we had to go shirts vs. skins, I think our whities may have been a little short on sunscreen. We were all exhausted, but had a great time with these kids.

The rest of the day included another great meal at Adonai Guest House, a time of sharing with Moses, who is the in-country director for Sixty Feet, actual electricity, hot water and internet. Morning came very quickly.

We were up the next morning to head out to M2. This is another center where older children, ages 12-17, are held until their trial, usually 3-6 months. Upon entering we were greeted by a cr.owd of about 150 or so (very rough estimate) for another time of “fellowship”. This one was very different and mostly consisted of each of us introducing ourselves and presenting our name, age, marital status, occupation, favorite food, favorite sport. As you can imagine, with 37 of us, this took quite a while, but they seemed to enjoy it. After that we sang some songs together and it started to rain. We broke for some time to hang out, and everyone went different directions. Some went to play soccer. I stayed and hung out with some guys, and met a very special guy named Iga Jimmy. I spent a long time with Jimmy, and his story is going to require a separate post later, probably after I get home, so I’ll leave you dangling there. Todays lunch funds went to help the kids at M3, who were in desparate need for food support, but we didn’t get to be a part of that since we weren’t permitted to go to M3 for some reasons unknown to us. We were able to help purchase milk for the kids at M2, which was a treat for them. After lunch at M2 was finished, we had to head out for our trip to Jinja and the Caanan Children’s Home.

I’ll leave you with some pictures of our time at M1 and M2. I recommend you check out sixtyfeet.org to find out more about what they are doing in this great ministry. More on the next few days later!

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Return Uganda

[Editor’s note: This post is uploaded a day late due to our
power/internet being out all night. We just got back from M1 and power/internet are on so hopefully this will go through]

Today was amazing.

After a good breakfast we checked out from the Namirimbe Guest House and piled into our vans. Destinatin: Return Uganda and about 100 or so of the best dancers in Uganda. When we showed up the kids were assembled by their leaders and singing their little hearts out for us. This led to some dances, which were fantastic. After spending some time singing and dancing together, we “split into 4 groups”, but that was really more of a theoretical concept than acutal physical groups. Then the chaos ensued. Face painting, handing out coloring pages and crayons and markers, crafts, balloon animals, and probably a dozen other things I never even saw going on. We were swarmed, but it was awesome to see the team, especially all these guys, playing with kids ALL DAY LONG. Everyone was carrying at least one kid most of the day, and often 2 or more. It was a blast.

Once lunch time rolled around, the staff invited us to serve lunch to the kids. We lined up in a chain that snaked out through the crowd and passed out plates of rice and beans to everyone. After that we were treated to lunch by the staff, which was delicious. The rest of the afternoon was full of playing, dancing, music and fun. The highlight of the afteroon was undoubtedly when a group of our guys donned the grass skirts and took a turn on the dance stage. The pictures just don’t do it justice, but I’m not sure if I can get a video uploaded. But it’s worth subscribing to the blog or checking back when we get home so you can see it!

We have had about 2 hours of down time here at our new hotel while waiting for the last missions group to move out, so I was able to get this written. Hopefully there is a shower and dinner in the near future for us. It was a busy and tiring day, but worth every minute. Tomorrow we are off to M1, a prison for children, ages 12-18. We are expecting there will be about 180 kids and we’ll be playing lots of soccer, so I’m guessing we’ll be even more tired tomorrow!

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

The plane was brand new, but it wasn’t any more comfortable

Hi friends! I’m just uploading a quick post to let you know our whole team and all our bags made it safely to Uganda. The flights were smooth and we had very little travel hiccups.
Some very special hands waving goodbye from that window

We’ve spent most of our time getting to know each other better as we prepare to serve – there are some great folks here! Probably the highlight of the trip so far was a high speed high volume donation dump-and-sort where we took all the donations everyone brought and dumped them out together. We sorted them by type, then put signs up all around the room for each of the places we are going over the next two weeks and re-filled bags with donations so all we have to do now is just grab the bags labeled for that day and go. It was wild and our team did a good job

We are in a nice little guest house winding down for our first day “on the job” tomorrow at a mission that works with mostly younger kids (1-10 yrs old). They are expecting about 300!

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Now He’s just showing off

OK, y’all.  I like to talk big, but it’s not often that I actually believe what I’m saying if it requires faith in anyone other than myself.  When I started this little fundraising adventure I wanted to shoot big, hoping that just maybe there’d be enough support to put a little dent in the trip cost.  The cost of the trip was over $4000 and I claimed to aim for a total $6000 so that the fundraising could have a more direct benefit to those we are serving.  Just like last year (when my wife said let’s shoot for $5000 and all I thought we’d get was $1200), in my own human efforts and from my limited perspective, both these goals seemed unreachable.

But…

 

The Boss had other plans.

Not only has financial support poured in to get my trip costs covered, we are dangerously close to reaching the second, crazy big goal of $6000.  $232.49 away, to be exact.  God has kept me laughing throughout this process to see where the support is coming from. I laugh, because the only other alternative is to fall on my knees trembling in awe of him who is so faithful when I have so little faith.

Let me share a verse with you that was shared with me just moments ago:

“No, I will not abandon you as orphans–I will come to you.” (John 14:18)

God clearly has a heart for this trip.  We really are on a Mission from God. I still have no clue how he actually wants to use me, but I know he wants me, our whole team, to get there and serve.

Or, as my wife likes to remind me…a lot of people seem to want me to leave.

So, if you have a chance, I’d like to ask two things.  Please celebrate the Lord’s faithfulness and generosity with me by praising him today.  He is extravagant and BIG and I love him for that.  Share that BIG love with someone around you who needs it today.

Secondly, if you’d like to be a part of that last $232.49, because I know it’s coming, click the donate button on the right side of this page.  I’m not sure yet how the funds will be used, but I’ve already discussed with the trip leaders that I’ll be bringing some money that God wants to lavish on the people of Ethiopia and Uganda. Together we will be looking to meet their most real needs in a responsible way. All contributions will go to and through established local ministries. Our sending organization, Visiting Orphans, has very explicit rules and procedures to ensure the process is ethical and managed properly. So you can give confidently knowing we want to Love BIG and be sensitive to how external funds are viewed, treated and handled without damaging the local economy.

Many thanks to all those who have already given.  You truly have made this all possible. I can’t wait to post pictures of what YOUR donations have done.

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

TH4OW Results are in

Hey there, race fans…the inaugural TriAdventure Summer Sprint Triathlon is in the books and the final results have been posted.  Plus, the first ever “Tri Hard for Orphans and Water” is complete, and we have those results as well!

The event was very well organized and well executed.  Over 240 people participated. The weather was perfect and I think everyone had a good time. My time was just a little off the winner’s pace, so my turn on the medal podium will have to wait until next year.  But, the good news is there was some noticeable improvement in my times from my first triathlon last September, even though this course was a little more challenging, hilly-wise. Here’s the breakdown:

Overall: 1:28:18 – 89th out of 121 men
Swim (400m): 9:22 – 69th
Transition 1: 1:43 – 55th
Bike (12.4 mi.): 44:27 – 72nd
Transition 2: 1:57 – 114th (getting pretty tired at this point!)
Run (5k): 30:51 – 103rd

My competition partner, who was competing in his FIRST triathlon, did a fantastic job and came in just slightly behind me, but we passed each other a couple times and ran together a while which made it even more fun. He will crush me next time, I’m sure of it.  His time was 1:30:14, good enough for 93rd place out of 121 as a ROOKIE. Race Day photos are below. Many thanks to the event organizers who did a fantastic job.

Setup Events

TriAdventure

Tri Hard for Orphans and Water

Our combined time was2:58:32, which means the winner of the TH4OW Mega Prize Pack is….

JONATHAN COST

with a winning guess of:

3:01:30

Jonathan was off by only 2 minutes and 58 seconds! Thanks so much to all who participated. I’m also pleased to report that all the funds have been raised for my trip costs! I will report a final total soon as I have a couple “verbals” still to come in, but this has been an incredible blessing to me to have received so much support and to know that I don’t have to worry about paying for the trip. God is faithful and he has provided through so many! The trip is still a month away and I can now focus on preparing for the trip, which is super exciting.

Picture time…

Breakfast + encouragement from my wife 🙂

Transition area prepped and ready

My racing buddy, Jonathan

Poorly done panorama of the Transition Area - but check out those steps we had to run UP. Yuck.

Swim Finish - had a little trouble getting that dumb swim cap off!*

Due to technical difficulties, the only real shot of me on the bike. The runner in black timed his appearance perfectly.

Beginning of the run, after I climbed all those dumb steps!

Jonathan heading for the finish. Proud of him, even if he did get there first!

Very flattering shot of my sprint to the finish line*

My Awesome Cheerleaders

This made it all worth it!

*Note: This pictures are obviously proofs.  The official race photos were taken by Red Barn Photography and I’m currently in the process of placing an order, so I’ll replace these with the “legal” versions once received.  These are just a screen capture from the Red Barn website.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

 
 
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