Mzungu Memoirs

Archive for July, 2011

Caleb’s Angels

When we were on the eMi project trip in June, we tried to include Caleb as much as we could, but there was a lot of time spent in meetings and working on the design that we felt would bore a 5 year old to death, so we found people to watch him.  Each of the eMi families took at least one turn watching Caleb for a day.  Even the interns watched Caleb a couple of evenings.  I felt they were angels helping me out and making us feel like a true part of the eMi family, but they weren’t Caleb’s angels.

No, Caleb’s angels didn’t show up until the very last night of the project trip.

We had traveled to Jinja with the project team for our closing time.  Again, this was a part of the trip in which Caleb really couldn’t participate.  Unfortunately, we didn’t really have anyone we could call upon to watch Caleb.  Since we were not leaving the retreat center at which we were staying, we decided that Caleb could just stay in the room by himself and put himself to bed.  So we set him up with his DVD player and one of his favorite movies, Disney’s Cars, gave him instructions to go potty when the movie was over and go straight to bed.  He seemed ok with the instructions, so we gave him goodnight kisses and left the room.

About midway through our closing time with the rest of the team, I went back to check on Caleb.  He had done exactly as we had instructed him as I found him safely tucked in bed fast asleep.  One thing we hadn’t thought to do before we left Caleb in the room was to pull the mosquito net down, so I had to do that without waking my sleeping child.

Later, we heard Caleb’s side of how the evening had gone.

After he had finished watching the movie, he had turned off the DVD player and left it sitting on the couch just as we had instructed him to do.  He forgot to go to the potty, but that’s ok.  The he proceeded to climb the ladder to his bed, my one hesitation about leaving him to put himself to bed.  But apparently I need not have worried as, according to Caleb, there were angels that helped him climb the ladder.  I believe he said that there were two, one in front and one behind him.  And then he had four angels come “snuggle” with him.

I don’t know if Caleb really saw angels or not, but I believe they were there protecting my child.  I know because I pray for that kind of protection for him every day, and I believe God answers our prayers.  And I believe he sends angels to protect us and help us whether we really see them or not.

I wish I had angels to snuggle with me.

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

Angels watch me through the night,

And keep me in their blessed sight.

– Author unknown

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The Dorcas Miracle

When looking for a major eMi design project team to join this summer, I was considering a couple of projects in Central Africa, a Christian university master plan in Gabon and a school/ orphanage project just north of Kampala.  The Gabon project desperately needed an architect and ended up not having one, but the project here in Uganda offered a rare opportunity for Heather & Caleb to join the team as well.  I ended up leading the site master planning effort, while Heather led the architectural building design effort.

Aside from Heather, Caleb & I, the team was recruited from Canada and the States.  This was an incredibly humble servant-minded and willing team.  We all worked really well together, as if we were being led by the Spirit.  Several on the team were experiencing their first eMi trip, while others were seasoned eMi veterans.  The team bonded very well, enjoyed one another’s fellowship and enjoyed Bible studies together.  Pictured from L-R, Corwin Neufeld, structural Engineer from Calgary, Alberta; woman serving with Agape; three crazy mzungus living in Kampala, Uganda; Daniel Wang, architect from Oakland, CA; Dorcas, serving with Agape; Steven, contractor who grew up through Agape ministry; Eddie, driver serving with Agape; Kevin Winner, architectural engineer from Redwood City, CA; Darren Eklund, surveyor from Calgary, Alberta; Kristen Sharer, eMi intern/civil engineering student from USC, Los Angeles, CA; woman serving with Agape; Andy Engebretson, electrical engineer/eMi Project Leader; Agnes Kabatesi, Agape Ministry Leader; Dave Yackuboskey, eMi intern/landscape architect from Penn State University; Chris Ford, civil engineer from Raleigh, NC.

The site became increasingly more difficult as we progressed into the design.  Despite a seemingly ample 60 acres, the buildable land continued to shrink due to high water tables, government restricted wetlands and septic limitations.  Approximately 40 acres of the site is a seasonal wetland marsh.  Related high water tables consumed another 5 acres, leaving only 15 acres of buildable land.  To add to the site difficulties, this area had a steep cross slope of about 16%.  If that wasn’t enough, it also had poor soil conditions that were not conducive to septic soak pits predominantly used here.  On a few occasions, I said that this site was cursed.

Agnes, our ministry contact, has a God-sized vision for this site.  Having worked with Watoto Children’s Homes for several years, she has developed a big heart for the orphans of Uganda.  Her life is an amazing testimony to God’s continued calling and patience.  Despite a successful secular career, several supporters continued to encourage her to develop a ministry and pursue a divinity degree in the UK.  After brushing them off several times, she finally relented and began to feel God leading her.

Currently working with about 100 orphans, Agnes feels called to develop Agape Education Centre, a boarding school for almost 900 primary students and about 800 secondary students, housing 75% of those on site.  In addition, the centre would provide teacher housing, administration offices, dining/multipurpose buildings, a vocational school, kitchens, canteens, toilets, etc.  Agnes also has a huge heart for a Bible training centre which would provide discipleship for local pastors and church leaders, with housing and meeting spaces for 50 students.  In addition to all of this, the vision for the site included a retreat conference centre for 300 guests, with sleeping accommodations, meeting spaces, restaurant, pool, exercise spaces, etc.

As we began laying out all of those program requirements on the 15 acres, we realized that, despite trying two-story buildings, proposing shared dining spaces and other ideas, the great vision would almost completely saturate the site, leaving very little open space between buildings.  A final blow came when our civil engineers discovered that the soil strata in the buildable land of the site would not percolate and allow the typical septic soak pits.  Their solution was to propose horizontal percolation fields with imported sand, similar to leach fields often used in rural areas of the West.  With buffers and the extensive size of these percolation fields, the project became impossible.  Discovering this dilemma the night before our presentation to the ministry, we were faced with the need to contact Agnes and inform her of the problem.

As Andy was preparing to call Agnes, she called him to inform the team that she and Dorcas, one of the women working with the Agape ministry, had decided to remove the secondary school from the program of the buildable 15 acres, moving it to a potential adjacent property acquisition in the future.  The “Dorcas Miracle” thus allowed the project to become feasible.  On many eMi project trips, I have witnessed the fulfillment of prayer, angelic protection and work efficiency that could only be explained as Divine Provision.  Experiencing the Dorcas Miracle impacted our whole team as we all felt God working in an amazing way to provide for the expansion of His Kingdom.

Despite a rough construction cost estimate of about $9 million USD to develop the entire vision given to Agnes, she feels confident God will provide, knowing His heart for orphans.

He presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES.” – Matt. 13 31-32

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Happy 4th of July from Uganda

I know as Christians, we are called to be in this world but not of it, but we are all still born into certain cultures.  And as an expatriate, I struggle with balancing learning about this new culture we have immersed ourselves in and honoring the culture from which we come.  We are not really part of the culture here, more of observers and occasional participants, but we’re not really part of the culture we come from either, at least not physically.  And as the mother of a TCK (Third Culture Kid), it is very important to me that I share with my child about my native culture and that he understands the culture he comes from.

Which brings me to the 4th of July.  It is just another day here in Uganda, just like the 3rd or 5th of July.  But to an expat American, Independence Day is probably the most important holiday of the year.  Notice I specified “American” as opposed to “Christian.”  There are many Christians here, both Ugandan and fellow expats although not necessarily American, who share the important holidays of Easter and Christmas although the traditions may be different, but that is the subject of another blog.

In the weeks leading up to the 4th of July, I really wondered how we could mark the day as special when no one else around us would be.  Because we work with an office that is predominantly staffed by Americans, we decide to have a good old fashioned hot dog roast/potluck.  This also gave us the opportunity to share our important holiday with the Ugandan staff and help them understand a little bit more about our culture.  We had some very American pasta salad and baked beans, and I even found paper plates with a picture of the American flag on them for the occasion.  I’m not sure the Ugandans were really all that impressed with the hot dogs and baked beans, but they sure seemed to have fun with the s’mores that we made afterward over what was left of the fire.

We ended up having our little office potluck on Saturday, July 2nd because the American Recreation Association (ARA) was having their Independence Day Celebration on Sunday, July 3rd.  The celebration at the ARA was an interesting mix of American traditions like fireworks and hamburgers and hot dogs and cultural presentations by Ugandans of singing, dancing and drums (they do like their drums here).  There was a march through American history presented by The Patriots, a club comprised of American expat children organized for the purpose of teaching about American customs, history and holidays that are not taught in the international schools.  I was very impressed with their performance.  Of course, we had the presentation of the colors by the Marine Corps and the singing of the American National Anthem as well.

It really was a nice celebration, attended by American expats as well as other expats and some Ugandans.  There was even an impressive little display of fireworks set to music even.  I’m sure they paled in comparison to the displays that were shot off in the States, and the musical choice seemed a bit odd (“Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen?).  But Caleb, who had never actually seen a “professional” display of fireworks before, was duly impressed, and I enjoyed watching his reaction to them.

For some, it was really just an excuse to get together and have a party.  But the thing that impressed me most about the whole celebration was the little speech given by someone representing the American Embassy.  She talked about it being the 235th birthday of the United States, and she reminded me of why we celebrate the 4th of July.  Yes, it is our American Independence Day.  And yes, it’s a pretty big deal and a good excuse to have a party.  But sometimes I think we forget that on the 4th day of July, 1776, a new nation was born in a way no nation had ever been born before.  It makes me proud to be an American and unashamed to share the culture from which I come.  Of course, I still want to learn about this culture that I now live amongst, but I don’t feel so bad about holding to the roots of my American culture and teaching my son about them.

Happy Birthday, America.  God Bless the USA… and Uganda and the rest of the world as well.

“And I’m proud to be an American,
where at least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.

And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
‘ Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.”

— Lee Greenwood

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Spiritual Warfare

When I was originally thinking about this blog, I thought I would write something about our second visit to The Surgery and call it “The Surgery, The Sequel.”  But Robert suggested that our recent trips to The Surgery are part of a bigger picture and are about much more than the experiences themselves.  He maintains that they are part of the spiritual warfare and attacks from Satan the eMi office has been experiencing as a whole lately.

When we signed up to serve with eMi East Africa as Long Term Volunteers, we knew that attacks from Satan were part of the deal.  We had experienced spiritual warfare before, usually as Robert would be preparing for a short term trip.  We didn’t always recognize it until after the fact, but we could usually look back and identify certain events as attacks from Satan.  Some of his attacks seemed to get pretty creative, like when our car was broken into while Robert was at orientation for coming to Uganda and all the illness we were plagued with before we left to come overseas.  But we had always experienced these attacks either personally against Robert, as a couple or, at the very most, as a family.

When we got here to Kampala, Satan of course didn’t give up on his attacks, but we started realizing that it wasn’t just our little family that he was attacking.  We were now part of a larger family, the eMi East Africa family here in Uganda as well as the more extensive eMi family around the world.  And somewhere along the line, eMi must have really pissed off Satan because he seems to be coming after the eMi family here in Uganda with a vengeance.

Satan does seem to like to use illness in his spiritual warfare.  Even before our two recent trips to The Surgery for Robert with malaria and Caleb with a stomach flu, I had had some stomach trouble and flu-like symptoms.  Fortunately, neither was terribly severe and I was over it in about a day.  And there have been others affected by illness in the office as well.  Brice, another Long Term Volunteer who has actually been here less time than we have, has already been through a round of malaria.  Steve, a staffer stationed in Jinja and Brice’s immediate supervisor, has had malaria since we have been here and was just recently bitten by a tick which is causing some problems that the doctors are having difficulty diagnosing.  Stephen, the eMi head of security, has been having stomach issues and trouble with acid reflux.  Janet, the office cook, has been having trouble with pain in her leg.  And Stella, one of our house help ladies, spent some time at the hospital here recently.  There was concern that is might have been an ectopic pregnancy but ultimately it was determined to just be heavy menstrual bleeding.

The office seems to have been affected by more than its fair share of family deaths as well.  Not too long after we arrived in Uganda, our wonderful neighbor and fellow eMier, Grandma Maggie, lost her mother and her sister within a month of each other.  Due to financial reasons, Maggie was not able to return to the States for either funeral.  John, the director of the office here, and his wife, Paula, have both recently lost their fathers.  Fortunately, John was able to return to the States for his father’s funeral, and Paula was able to move the departure date for their furlough up so that she could return earlier to participate in her father’s memorial service that was being postponed until her arrival.  The Ugandan staff has not been free from the wages of death either.  Semei, the office accountant and jack-of-all-trades, has recently lost a sister and niece.  And Stella has lost an uncle and two other clan members, a clan member being part of the Ugandan extended family, a much closer knit unit than the American extended family.

And the very structure of the office has been under attack.  Before we left the States, it was discovered that the process of applying for a work permit had changed.  Once the change was discovered, we began apply for Robert’s permit, and the visas for Caleb and myself that are tied to it.  That was six months ago, and we still don’t have a permit or visas.  We have been able to obtain special passes that allow us to legally live and work in Uganda while the work permit is being processed, but it was an extra $300 for passes for the three of us on top of the $200 that we have already paid for visitor visas to get into the country and for Robert’s reentry from Burundi.  And if the work permit has not been processed by mid-August, we will have to spend an additional $300 for more special passes.  This is all on top of the $550 that we will have to shell out once the work permit and visas are approved.

At least Robert’s work permit is still in the approval process.  The work permit for one of the other eMi staffers, Brittany, the office administrator, has been flat out denied, and she is essentially living here illegally.  The reason for the denial, according to the immigration office, is that “office administrator” is a position that can be filled by a Ugandan.  The thing the immigration office does not understand is that Brittany is here as a volunteer, raising her own support to pay her way, and eMi is not going to hire someone to do the job she does if she isn’t here.  There is also concern that with the current problems with Brittany’s work permit, future work permits for staff, long term volunteers and interns that will be arriving soon will be difficult or obtain to denied as well.  And there is always concern that eMi will be asked to leave Uganda all together.

One thing that I don’t think Satan really understands is that with every attack he throws at us, he forces us to grow closer together as an eMi family.  And he forces us to rely greater on the God that has called us to serve here.  That’s the ironic thing about spiritual warfare.  While Satan is trying to break us, his attacks are really making us stronger.  And really, it is just confirmation that we are right where God wants us to be.  If we weren’t, I don’t think Satan would be all that interested in us.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms.” – Ephesians 6:10-12

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