Mzungu Memoirs

Archive for December, 2011

The Full Story of Christmas

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-5, 9-14

I learned something this Christmas.  I learned that the magic and joy of Christmas doesn’t depend on your location, it is more a matter of your heart.  I guess I always knew that, but it has definitely been reinforced this year.

Christmas Eve we planned an open house for all our eMi family.  We would not be able to join them for Christmas Day and I thought it would be nice to see everyone.  The day was full of preparations for the open house as well as making goodies to contribute to Christmas dinner.  The day didn’t go quite as I had planned.  I felt like for every step I took forward, I took two backwards.  But with the help of a wonderful husband and son, I was able to get everything pulled together.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the food and certainly the fellowship.

Then it was off to Christmas Eve service.  Kampala International Church, our congregation, was not having a Christmas Eve service, so we went to a service at a KIC satellite congregation across town.  It was a lovely service with readings, carols and candlelight.  We ended the service with the lighting of our candles, and the pastor spoke about taking our light, the light that Christ has given us, out into the dark world.  We ended the service by singing Silent Night.  It was a wonderful way to usher in Christmas 2011.

We stayed for some fellowship and hot cider after the service.  Yes, someone actually found the ingredients for a hot cider of sorts.  Whatever it was, it tasted good even though the weather really wasn’t quite cold enough to drink it.  Then it was home to make preparations for Santa and bed.

Christmas Day dawned bright and mostly clear.  I was the first one up.  It had been a late night for Caleb, so I wasn’t surprised that he was still asleep.  I was a little surprised that he only slept until 7:30 when he wandered into the kitchen butt naked asking for some underwear that I hadn’t had a chance to iron yet.  Once he had some clean, ironed underwear, he surprised me again by insisting on getting dressed before going to see what Santa had brought him.  He is growing up way too fast!

Once we got Daddy up, it was time to see what was waiting under the tree.  Christmas wasn’t terribly big this year, but Caleb seemed quite pleased with what he received.  He was particularly thrilled with the African flags soccer ball Santa had brought and the watch and video game Gran had sent.  He also embraced the spirit of giving this year.  He and Daddy made a special shopping trip to find Mommy some pretty necklaces (which I just love!), and he and I picked out a nice pen for Daddy.  He also wrapped some things he had made, candy and various other odds and ends for each of us.  Robert made the comment a few days ago that Christmas had better get here soon or Caleb wouldn’t have anything left in his room to wrap.  I thought it was incredibly cute.

After unwrapping gifts, we had a nice breakfast and headed down to church.  I’m not usually one for going to church on Christmas Day as I prefer Christmas Eve service, but Robert since had to go to oversee the collection, I decided to go as well.  Besides, I had to show off one of my pretty new necklaces.

It was a wonderful service with more carols and a lesson.  I thought the lesson was particularly powerful.  The speaker, one of my favorites, did a great job of keeping the kids, who were in for the entire service, engaged.  I learned a lot about the Christmas story and was reminded about some things that I already knew.  The speaker also made it particularly poignant for the adults.  He made the point that when we leave the Christmas story as only a baby in a manager being visited by shepherds and wise men, we don’t give the world anything to make it relevant to them.  The story is not complete until we remember who the baby was and why he came.  As the speaker highlighted the different starting points of the Christmas story taken by the Gospels, it was interesting that John goes all the way back to the beginning reminding us that the Christmas story really started “with God in the beginning.”

After such a wonderful lesson, we participated in communion, very appropriate for Christmas and the idea of completing the story.  Then the German delegation of KIC led us in singing Silent Night, in German.  It was a wonderful service ended by visiting with friends before heading home.

We weren’t home long before a friend Robert met on one of his project trips came to pick us for Christmas dinner at his house.  It was a small dinner, just his family of three and ours, but it was a wonderful time of games, food and fellowship.  We even got to try a northern Uganda Christmas specialty, a sauce made out of greens and g-nuts (sorry, I can’t remember the name) served with millet bread, a spongy brown substance eaten with your hands.  It was quite interesting and I really appreciated getting the opportunity to try something particularly Uganda.  After dinner, we ended the evening with a showing of “Home Alone” and of course, pie, plenty of pie, and a birthday cake for Jesus.

When we got home, we had hopes of visiting via skype with our families, but unfortunately we couldn’t connect with anyone.  Still, it was a wonderful Christmas full of magic, wonder and joy.  I think it will go down as one of my favorites.

Though the day of Christmas has passed, we wish you all the joy and blessings of the season.  May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and forever.

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas…

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev’rywhere you go;
Take a look in the five and ten glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow.

— Johnny Mathis

I’m not sure what I expected celebrating Christmas in Africa, but I was sure it would be different.  It has been different in many ways, but I wasn’t prepared for how similar it would be in terms of the busyness of the season.  It seems the holiday rush is universal.  At least they keep the timeline in perspective here and have only been rushing around for the past month instead of the past three.

I guess the holiday season really started in earnest the last weekend in November.  They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here, so there isn’t anything like Black Friday to officially kick off the holiday season.  But that seems to be the weekend that everything started gearing up for the holidays.  The mall entrances were adorned with brightly wrapped gifts and ornaments hanging from ceilings while Christmas trees decorated many of the stores, where Christmas music even began to play.  At least I think it was Christmas music; I recognized the words but not the tune.  In addition, traffic and shopping starting getting crazy and has only gotten worse.  I shudder to think what this last week is going to look like.

We would normally put up our Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving, but since we did not celebrate Thanksgiving until the following Sunday, we decided to postpone our tradition a weekend.  The delay gave me a little more time to round up ornaments for the tree.  I did bring some other holiday decorations (bought on clearance after last Christmas), but I hadn’t packed any ornaments.  I think the ones I found (bought at one of the local craft markets) are more fitting for our African Christmas tree anyway.

The tree itself is not nearly as big as one we would have in the States, but it is on loan from some friends and I think it has turned out to be quite an addition to our home.  I must admit it was funny to see Robert bring it home on the back of the boda, not quite the picturesque image of a fresh cut tree on top of the car (or in our case in the back of Robert’s truck).  But with a little bending and fluffing, it took on a decent shape.  Robert’s job has always been to put the lights on the tree, which was probably not quite the daunting task as it is with multiple strands on a large tree, but he made it look better than I ever could.  He even added lights to the star I had put on the top of the tree.  Caleb had made the star in VBS last summer and I think it was meant as an ornament, but I felt a large star would better serve as the topper on a small tree.

Once the tree was up and decorated, Caleb and I set about to dressing the house up with the few other decorations I had.  I hung a Christmas wind sock on our veranda.  I love the location as I can watch it flutter in the breeze while working in the kitchen.  And Caleb set about sticking window cling snowflakes to the windows, our sole reminder of what the weather should be this time of year.  I must admit, it is going to feel a little odd celebrating Christmas with 80° weather.  It was a little difficult keeping in the Christmas mood as I was sweating writing our Christmas cards this year.

With decorations in place, it was time to get down to the seriousness of the season: all the shows and fun things to see.  I started out by attending a Kampala Singers Christmas choral presentation with a friend.  It felt a little odd since it was the night before our Thanksgiving dinner, but it was very nice none the less.  The next weekend the entire family went to see a pantomime by the Kampala Amateur Dramatics Society.  It was similar to a melodrama with audience participation.  Apparently, it is a British holiday tradition, and the storyline is typically a fairy tale turned on its head, in this case Snow White.  The next night, we went to a production of A Christmas Carol by the drama department at Caleb’s school.  The kids did a great job, although I think the material was a little heavy for them.  The following week, Caleb’s class was participating in the school’s Friday chapel, so Robert and I attended.

I feel like it has been one thing after another just like it would be with all the activities if we were back in the States.  I have enjoyed the familiarity of the seasonal busyness.  But I am also glad to enjoy a week to slow down and really focus on the reason for the season before the actual day gets here.  There is something to be said about family time, and I am hoping we can spend a little time loving on our friends and eMi family here.

As we wind up the busyness of the season, I pray that you will keep the true reason of the season, the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in your hearts.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” – Isaiah 7:14

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Farewell Interns

It seems like the Fall 2011 Interns arrived just yesterday, but they are already heading home.  We have already said goodbye to two that headed to London to work in the eMi UK office for about a week printing the report for the project they’ve been working on all term.  And we will be saying good bye to two more this week.  One intern who will be returning for the spring term will be staying in Uganda for the holidays and semester break.  Two other interns will be returning for the spring term as well, but they opted to spend Christmas in the States with their families and to do some additional fund raising.

Every term before the interns depart we have what we call an Intern Farewell dinner.  This is a time when we can love on the interns as a family and share some encouraging words with them about ways they have blessed us while they have been here.  Often, this meal is catered, but this group of interns decided to bless us by roasting a goat for us.  They even designed and commissioned the construction of a grill, their legacy to the eMiEA office.

Goat is often eaten at large occasions where many people are being served, so a live goat is bought and then slaughtered.  And this is what the interns did.  Since the dinner was on Wednesday, I believe the goat was purchased Monday evening.  It was at the office all day Tuesday.  Then I believe they slaughtered it Tuesday evening and prepared it for grilling the following day.  The interns said the knives they were using were rather dull and it didn’t help that the power was out, so it was quite the undertaking.  I can only image.  But the outcome was very impressive as the goat kebabs they served Wednesday evening were quite delicious.

Another tradition at the office is for the interns to take a group photo to be hung on the wall.  Lately, each group of interns has been trying to outdo the former group in terms of craziness of their photo.  Since the last group of interns piled into and on the Intern Coordinator’s Suzuki Samurai for their group photo, this group decided to pile onto our boda boda.  They managed to fit all five of themselves and the goat on our motorcycle.  I didn’t know it would hold that much.

Since Robert and I enjoy hosting, we try to have the interns over for dinner a couple of times per term.  This term we got towards the end and I realized that we had never had them over after the initial introductory dinner when they first arrived.  We managed to get one last dinner squeezed in before two interns left for the UK.  In fact, it was the very last meal before they got on the plane and we were honored that they chose to spend it with us rather than just amongst themselves.

One of the things that Robert likes to do at this last meal we host for the interns is send them off with some words by Max Lucado from his book Fearless.  He reads to them from the chapter about the “Fear of What’s Next” called the “Caffeinated Life.”  He’s done it a couple of times now, so I guess it has become a tradition.  The idea is that Robert wants to encourage the interns as they transition into a new phase of life, reminding them as Solomon does that life is full of seasons and that they are simply moving into a new season.  I love this new tradition Robert has started, and I hope it encourages the interns as much as it does me.

So we wish you well, Fall 2011 Interns.  May your life be full of many more seasons and may you look back on this particular season with fondness.  I hope it has blessed your life.  You have certainly blessed ours.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1

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Children of the Nations

Several of our blogs have shared about the dark history and incredible need of northern Uganda.  Oppressive regimes, the psychopathic leader of the ‘Lord’s Resistance Army’, child soldiering, village decimation and AIDS pandemics in relocation camps have created a wake of trauma, death, pain, suffering and orphans.  Several ministries have felt called to serve the vulnerable and needy suffering from three decades of war in northern Uganda.

I was blessed to have the opportunity to serve one such ministry.  Children of the Nations (COTN) feels called to serve double orphans and children with terminally ill single parents infected with HIV.  COTN has growing ministries in Uganda, Malawi, Sierra Leone and the Dominican Republic.  You can read more at

eMi developed a master plan in 2009 for land owned by COTN at the time.  Aaron Haazen, a mechanical engineering intern, and I traveled to Lira, Uganda about a week ago to survey additional land and develop an architectural program and master plan for the now larger site.  I often feel Satan relishes our use of modern technology as he makes ample use of computers and electronics to attack us.  Aaron spent several hours attempting to get our GPS equipment functioning to survey additional plots of land.  Despite equipment never working, I rest in the knowledge that God will be victorious and this was spiritual warfare.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12

While touring the site, we were shown a borehole dug by COTN to serve the local community.  Ironically, the borehole had been dug on an adjacent plot of land.  It was definitely being used by the community as seen by the line of jerry cans waiting to be filled.

One of the mornings, we met a chicken sitting on one of the couches of the guest house where we were staying.  Not exactly something you expect to greet in the morning…

Pastor James Okala, the National COTN Director, asked us to stay longer so we could worship at Truth Fountain Church, where he is senior pastor.  We had originally planned to return to Kampala on Saturday so I could take care of tithe collections at two services at Kampala International Church, our home church.  I sent some texts to ask others to manage the collections and we were able to stay.  Of course, the request included a request for me to preach…a quiet architect preaching in a Ugandan Pentecostal church?

The service was lively to say the least.  I think Aaron explained it well when he told me the service made a Western Pentecostal service look like an Anglican service.  During one song, we noticed a woman bobbing her plastic chair above her head.  I preached for about 20 minutes, followed by Pastor James preaching for an additional 40 minutes.

During our journey back to Kampala, we frequented several fruit stands and stopped to meet some of the locals…some baboons that live in the fertile wooded area along the Nile River.  These baboons seem to be very accustomed to people as several came up to our vehicle to beg for food.  We gave some bread to one who sat on the road to enjoy his meal.  Another even chased our vehicle as we were driving off.

Thanks to all of you who are praying for us, supporting our work financially or following us through our blogs.  We are honored to be serving and using our talents for the Kingdom.  We give God all the glory.  He is truly amazing at planning and orchestrating the plan for our lives.  I cannot wait to see more chapters.

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