Monday, November 29, 2010


A couple weeks ago Bro. and Sis. Groves flew in from Kenya to go with us to the district conference in Lira.  They are from Jamaica and they are missionaries to Kenya and Sudan.  They're really good people and a lot of fun to travel with, but sometimes no matter how hard I paid attention, I could not for the life of me understand their accents, haha.  It was a long drive to Lira, but not as long as it was to Adjumani because a.) Lira is not as far as Adjumani, and b.) the entire road was paved.  There is a lot of development in Lira because there is a huge UN presence there.  Even the children speak very good English, which is unusual for the villages, and everywhere I kept seeing UN and WFP vehicles and tents.  I was curious about this until Bro. Tolstad explained that the Lira/Gulu districts were like a stronghold for the LRA until only a couple years ago.  I rememer reading in Time magazine some years ago that in Uganda there was a certain town where young boys would walk for protection under government troops.  They had to walk for dozens of kilometers every night to get to this town to sleep in the streets or under tents or anywhere they could find a place, and then walk back to their villages every morning.  They had to do this because if they stayed in their village then they would be abducted when the LRA raided their homes every night, and they would be commissioned into the Lord's Resistance Army as child soldiers.  Bro. Tolstad said that that town where they walked to was Lira.  I was amazed to be in this place that I had cried over when I read of it before.  I have always loved going to the villages, but I felt more drawn to Lira than to any place else in Uganda because of what they have been through.  During the services when we were praying for the people, I prayed with special fervency because I kept thinking, "What has this boy seen?  What is going on inside this man's head that is making him cry so much?  This woman has likely lost a son or nephew or cousin to the LRA and yet here she is worshipping God with all sincerity."  I was completely humbled by the love for God that I could see in all the people that I met there.  Bro. Tonney said that there are still places in the bush that are full of active land mines, reminders of the all too recent genocide. 

When I first arrived in Uganda, Sis. Tolstad had me read a book called Aboke Girls about some school girls here in Uganda that were abducted from their bording school by the LRA.  They were taken in to the bush and marched into Souther Sudan to become wives of the LRA commanders.  Their headmistress was so upset by the action that she followed the soldiers in to the bush and retreived over 100 of the girls herself.  The remaining 30 spent many months in the LRA while their headmistress petitioned leaders all over the world, including the pope himself, for their release.  Some of the girls managed an escape and the book is their story.  The things that they went through were beyond horrifying.  The last girl was finally returned only about a year ago.  When we were driving through Lira, Bro. Tolstad turned to me and asked, "Did you read the story about the Aboke girls?"  "Yes, sir."  "Their school is up here on the right."  I was stunned that the place of such slaughter and horror was actually before my eyes.  I didn't even know how or what to pray as I stood looking out my hotel window at the town that night.  All I could do was weep like I have never wept in my life, and ask God to show his people here that he loves them, and to bless the work of the church, so that the name of Jesus Christ can be glorified in the midst of the pain that can still be read in people's eyes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Human biology lesson

A few weeks ago I was sitting with the other teachers during tea break and one of them, Mr. Kaka (he's a Massai, from Kenya), took my hand and turned it over to where my wrist was facing up.  He and Teacher Samuel leaned in close and started running their fingers along my wrist and upper arm.  I finally asked, "Um, what are you doing?"  Samuel said, "Your blood.  We can see your blood."  At first I thought I was bleeding, and then I realized that they were saying that they could see the blood veins that run close to the surface of the skin.  The underside of my arms are so pale that you can easily see the veins there.  Kaka's tribe is not very dark, so I looked at his wrists but still the veins were not visible under his skin.  So I layed my arm next to his and the contrast was so sharp that it struck all of us as funny.  This drew the other teachers, who also leaned over and started running their fingers along the map of veins in my arm.  Kaka finally raised his head and asked me, "Are you white or clear?"

Then, on Friday, the biology teacher left his classroom and approached me in the dinning hall.  He took my arm, looked at my wrist for a moment, and then gently pulled me in to his classroom.  He then took me to every desk of students in the class, stretching my arm out for them and showing them that the different veins in my arm showed how oxygenated blood is a different color from non oxygenated blood.  The students were fascinated! They all leaned over my arm and started chattering at one another in Luganda, which I pretended not to hear since they are supposed to only speak English in class.  Some of them tried to tap my arm to see if the veins would pop out (like when the doctor draws blood), but this earned them a smack on the head from Teacher Jacob.  I didn't mind, though; I thought it was a lot of fun to be a human biology lesson.  I also think I may have learned more that day than the students did, haha.   

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sis. Tolstad suggested that I go to the National Theater on Saturday.  They have all kinds of booths there filled with native arts and crafts.  Ugandans are amazing artists!  But she had to go to the doctor, and Bro. Tolstad was out of town, and they will NOT let me go anywhere by myself, so she had me chose one of the teachers to be my chaperone.  I took the other sports coach, David.  I was completely amazed by him that day, because I've been shopping with men before and they quickly get cranky and impatient, but David was just the opposite.  He was extremely patient and he helped me pick out gifts for my family.  He even negotiated prices for me.  If the shop owner said 20,000 shillings, David would gruffly answer, "We are giving you 10!  Donna, give him 10."  At the last shop, the owner asked David something in Luganda and he laughed and answered her.  When we left I asked him what they had said, and he told me that since I was greeting and thanking them in Luganda, they assumed I was married to him.  So they asked if I was his wife and he had answered, "No, she is my sister."

I taught Devotion at Primary for the last time last Thursday and Friday.  I love teaching at Primary!  They kiddos are soooooo cute, and it always takes me forever to leave because all 500 want a high five and a 'bump.' I told them that our memory verse was one of the most important verses in the Bible, John 3:16.  Then I told them all the Christmas story and that Jesus came so that we could go to heaven.  I emphasized to them that God loves them so much that he sent his only Son to die for us, so that we could go to heaven.  I told them that it does not matter what your skin looks like or what country you are from (this produced a fun few moments of letting them tell me all the countries they knew.  I found out that San Francisco and London are countries!).  I said that none of that matters because God loves everyone more than we can understand.  Then I helped them learn the memory verse and I gave pencils to anyone who could stand up and say the whole thing from memory.  I was impressed with the effort of some of them.  I kept emphasizing the Love of God to the point that I probably over emphasized it.  But there are so many Muslim and Hindu children in the school that I want them to remember that specifically.  I gave them all a color sheet to take home with the verse written out, but I had to explain to some of them what a color sheet was.  Oh, how I will miss those sweet little darlings.  Whenever an adult walks in to the room, the students all stand up and greet that person in unison.  They do not sit down until that adult gives them permission to do so.  I wish there was a way to implement the same policy in American classrooms. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The locals, particularly Tonney, tell me not to give money to the street children who beg at the car windows.  They say that the children get none of the money, that they have masters who are watching closely and as soon as they see the children receive money they take it all away, not even feeding the children.  They say that giving money therefore only encourages child extortion.  But this week we stopped and there in the rain, barefooted and in rags was the tiniest little boy that I'd seen on the streets of Kampala.  His belly was sticking way out and his hair had white circles in it....he has worms or he has a fungus.  Either will kill him.  I couldn't handle it.  Sis. Tolstad felt the same way I did, so we ignored Tonney's warnings and I rolled down my window and wiggled my fingers at the boy (that means 'Come').  He approached me cautiously and I handed him a bill for 1,000 shillings.  I knew anything larger would get stolen from the older kids, and probably get him beat up.  He stared at me with huge eyes.  I guess he couldn't believe that I was so generous as to hand him a bill instead of coins.  We held eye contact for a moment.  He was so small that his little head was barely above the tires of the LandRover.  Then he ran off down the road.  A thousand shillings is about 48 cents. 
I have begun to feel something strange that I NEVER thought would happen...I've gotten to where I don't like Fridays.  Fridays mean that the next two days will be spent away from my students, away from the other teachers.  It's a good think that church is so amazing or I might actually dislike the weekends.  My students talk so much during class that I had come to think that they didn't really like me much.  But then we were gone to Adjumani for five days.  We returned late on a Monday night, and on Tuesday morning I walked in to the school compound via the gate that opens in front of the Senior Two classroom.  First one girl from Senior Two saw me and she raised her hands above her head and began to clap, so then the others noticed me.  They all began to clap and cheer, shouting and standing to their feet.  They were so loud that I couldn't hear much of what they were saying except varied "Teacher Donna!"  "We have missed you!"  I was so happy that I couldn't do anything but wave and smile.  In Senior One I got the same reaction, accompanied by shouts of, "Please don't leave us again!"  and the teachers scolded me, "We thought you went back to America and did not say goodbye!  We were upset!"  Since then the students have done a much better job of listening in class, volunteering to write their answers on the blackboard, and having me check their work after class.  Whoever thought teaching could be so fun!

Since so many of my students strugle greatly with English, I've been trying to think of the tactics that my teachers in Costa Rica used to help us learn Spanish.  One of them was writing assignments in Spanish.  Also, since I love writing so much, I decided this will be a great way for the students to practice their English.  So now for the past few weeks an hour and a half of Senior One and an hour and a half of Senior Two is dedicated to writing a story in English.  Sometimes I let them do free writing and sometimes I assign them a topic.  They are very creative!  This week I explained to them that there are many different kinds of writing and that they all have a purpose and a place, but that the best writing, the most inspiring writing, is usually writing that is true.  Writing that has come straight from a writer's personal life is usually the kind of writing that sticks with the reader forever.  So then I told them that their assignment was to write for me something that has happened in their own life.  I told them, "I want you to tell me about an event that changed the way you think, or changed the way you understand God, or helped to make you into who you are today.  Something that you will remember forever."  At the end of class they all filed by and handed me their papers and that evening I sat down to read them.   I couldn't believe some of the things these students wrote about.  AIDS, witchcraft, death, abuse by a father's second or third wife, being raised by grandparents because the parents no longer want the children, fleeing the war in Rwanda in the middle of the night.  How different they are from the things that fill my own journals.  One of the toughest things I've had to do in Africa yet was to walk into class the next day and look those children in the face, knowing that the reason that they strive so hard for my attention is because no one has ever really loved them. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Oh, my Africa.  I have never felt a love so deep as I love you.  I dance along to a worship service, listening to the drums and the beautiful languages until the sound of the African drums becomes the beat of my heart.  And I look out the windows as we drive through the old refugee camps, and I see the people on the sides of the road, waving and smiling so big, all so happy...people who are old enough to remember the horrible war.  The same war that people in American used as an excuse not to believe in God is seemingly forgotten here as people treck to church on Sunday to sing about how wonderful their Creator is.  How much I am learning from my Africa.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

more Adjumani weekend

At church Saturday evening 28 people received the Holy Ghost AWESOME! and 17 had received it the night before.  Greatest birthday gift ever :).   More people than that raised their hands that they had gotten a healing of some kind when we prayed for them during altar call.  About 50 or 60 got the Holy Ghost during the entire crusade that weekend.

On Sunday we had service all day again.  Instead of an evening service, though, we had a baptism service.  I could have gone with them to see the baptism, but I was EXHAUSTED and anyway, all the little kids were staying at the church and so I wanted to stay with the kids :).  I was sitting on a chair in the shade with Bro. Tolstad and the kids were standing there staring at us, haha, until one little girl, maybe 6 years old, got brave.  She came up to me leader her tiny sister by the hand (here it is the job of the older sisters to care for the littler ones).  She pushed her sister towards me and chattered something at me in Ma'di.  I smiled at the tiny girl and started touching her little ears and her nose and her eyes, saying what they were in English.  When that didn't scare her away, I took her hand and slowly led her around my chair and sat her in my lap.  She didn't mind at all.  I had Bro. Tolstad take a picture and when the other kids saw that, they rushed over to get a picture, too.  So I took the camera and took as many pictures as they wanted, turning the camera around to show them the screen.  They kept crowding closer and closer, getting brave enough to lean on me and touch my hands.  Pastor Robert came over at one point to shoo them off, but when I grinned at him he just smiled and walked away.  I was getting very hot with all those chattering, sweating little kids and I knew probably half of them had some kind of sickness that I could catch, but I didn't care.  I loved it.  Oh, I loved it.  Finally we had to leave and as I approached the car, the kids started coming up and taking my hand.  The little girls would hit their knees or bow when they took my hand, and two children in particular took my hand and touched it to their chins and their foreheads.  Pastor Christia told me later, "It means they love you.  That's a sign of very high respect." 

That night I noticed that the reason the bats were in my room was because of a large hole in my ceiling, which is also why my walls were crawling with spiders.  So I lay in bed that night I was drenched in sweat because the entire village has no electricity, and my hair was a mess because I couldn't wash it.  And I knew there were spiders all over my walls and I could hear the bats making that horrible high pitched screaching they do (that you can feel more than you can hear) and I knew that my room was probably full of them.  And I also knew that I had to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to spend 16 hours driving, hot and sweaty, on an unpaved road back to the city.  And I should have been miserableBut all I could think about was a tiny black hand clutching my index finger as a chubby little girl stood barefooted in the dirt, absentmindedly swinging my arm back and forth.  And two tall, skinny pastors wrapping their sweaty arms around me to join me in their worship dance.  And Pastor Robert handing me a tree branch and indicating that I should follow him in a march around the church (waving branches is a sign of celebration) and all the little kids running to march beside the muzungu in worship.  And I thought of my translator, black face dripping with sweat, smiling at me as he waited for my next Bible verse to give to the church.  And the image of some 30 people walking off into the bush, carrying their belongings on their head, to start the 3 kilometer walk to the water so they could be baptised in the beautiful name of Jesus Christ.  And the lamentation choir, dancing in traditional Ma'di and crying in lament for the lost souls and in lament for revival.  And Pastor Deo claiming victory in Jesus' Name over the holds of witchcraft in his village.  And instead of being miserable, I realized that in my entire life I've never felt more content.  Before I left the States, I prayed that I would have a love for these people that was strong enough to overpower any discomfort or homesickness I may have, and that's exactly what God has done for me.  I've never felt more at home.  I love this place.  I love these people. I love these people.

Birthday in Africa

I'm pretty sure the greatest way to celebrate a birthday is in the bush of Africa.  Particularly if that exact location is Zaipe, Uganda. 

We woke up early on Thursday morning and left for Adjumani (a district in the far north of Uganda that is about 15 minutes from Sudan border).  We drove FOREVER before coming to a stop in the road because about 200 tractor trailer trucks were stuck in the mud.  We saw that it was going to be a long wait, so we all piled out of the vehicle (btw, thank you Sheaves for Christ!) and Tonney went to see if he could find us a way around.  In the States I would hate being stuck in such a jam, but here I actually really enjoyed it.  It was especially funny to see heads jerk around for a double take when they saw a muzungu leaning against the car, haha.  I chatted with the people as they walked by until finally Tonney convinced some young men to pile dirt up so we could use it as a ramp and drive around through the bush.  So two hours later we were past the 200 trucks and back on the rediculously bumpy road to the village.  We arrived, checked in to our hotel rooms, and went to bed.  The next morning we got up and drove to the community building where we were to have service.  We met the local pastors and we had service all day.  They fed us at midday of rice, beans, posho, and millet.  Their worship is amazing!  I forgot how wonderful the village is :).  They never see white people up close and so the children all stood in a circle around me, staring silently for almost the entire day.  It was so funny!  I would smile at them and they would grin back and jerk their heads away shyly, but never get close enough to touch me.  The most amazing part of the day was that we had planned to have an outdoor service at night, but we got rained out.  At first they just kept having service and they were doing a victory dance/march around their yard area and invited me to join.  So we danced and sang in the pouring rain, splashing through the puddles until everyone was soaked.  Finally we went inside, but after sitting in the building for about 30 minutes I noticed that every few minutes I would see heads run by the window.  The girls from the youth choir were still outside, singing and praying, running laps around the building.  Around and around and around they ran, their Ma'di worship songs drowinging out the rainstorm as they worshiped and prayed for revival. 

Saturday was the same, except we didn't get rained out.  Because of that, it was HOT!  And that morning I had found a bat hanging from my bedroom curtain, calmly stretching his wings.  When I got back on Saturday night, I couldn't find him.  At dinner Bro. Tolstad just said, "As long as you stay under your mosquito net, you'll be fine."  But when I got back to my room, that's exactly where I found the disgusting little my mosquito net.  So I took the drawstring from my dress and tied him in there.  Then I cut the mosquito net from the ceiling and threw it in the bathroom.  The next day I took him outside and when one of the workers came over, I said, "I trapped at bat in this net," and he stared at me in amazement.  "You are a brave lady!"  I let the bat go and as soon as I got back in to my room, guess what I found?  Another  bat!  This one was on my curtain, so I crept over and rolled her up in the curtain, then had to take down the entire curtain rod to get her outside.  I must have rolled her too tightly, because when I tried to release her she was dead.  Oops.  At dinner, Tonney and Pastor Christia both found it hilarous that I had managed to trap two bats without screaming for help, but that for the life of me I couldn't manage to rehang my curtains.