DATELINE:Â Gulu, Uganda.Â 10:15 P.M. Gulu time.Â That’s 2:15 P.M. for those of you keeping score at home.
What a day!Â What an amazing, incredible, glorious day!Â A day filled with the joy of the Lord and His incredible presence here with us!
We started the day with church at Watoto Church, the same church we visited in November.Â It’s a satellite church of the Watoto Church in Kampala.Â The American worship leader we saw in November was not there, but the passion and energy of the worship and praise was unchanged.Â We sang with loud voices and exuberant praise:Â “You Are Good”, “There is No One Like You” (good old David Crowder!) – and when we got to “You Are God Alone” I lost it.Â Just the power of those words, and being in a foreign land, away from my comfort zone, brought me to tears of absolute humility and gratitude and repentance and longing.
Pastor Joe – another one of Rose’s cousins! – brought the sermon, a powerful message on Truth.Â He used the example of pillars to represent truth as the foundation of strength for our lives.Â At the end one of the “elders” – a man probably younger than me! -Â came up and spoke passionately about the need for Christians in Uganda to rise up and be involved as pillars in their spheres of influence: entertainment, education, health care, law & justice, politics, business.Â It was inspiring!Â I pray that Ugandans will heed that call and allow God to use them to heal their country from the inside out.
I was struck by the thought that Americans could have used that message, too.Â And it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea to have Americans rise up as pillars of truth in our spheres of influence either.Â Our country is desperately in need of healing from the inside out, and maybe God can use US to be the ones to bring about that healing.
We lunched at the same place as last year – a great restaurant above Cafe Larem.Â The fish fillet (pronounced WITH the “t” at the end) wasn’t as good as I remembered – and there were a few more bones in it – but we had great fellowship and were able to catch up on our Nigerian soap operas which is always fun.
You see why we never go hungry in Gulu.Â Yeah, I’m really “suffering” for Jesus.
During the meal, Trace – out of the blue – asked me to tell one thing I loved about everyone at the table.Â I guess it came from my “10 Things I Love About….” lists I had been compiling on everybody from the beginning of the trip!Â Although I was put on the spot, this is something I *LOVE* to do, so I was happy to oblige.Â I don’t remember exactly what I said, and this may be embellished a bit, but here goes…
Maddie – I love your sense of calm.Â You always seem to be able to adapt to whatever is going on without getting yourself all riled up.Â You are the peace of this group.
Mindee – I love your friendly, outgoing nature.Â You never seem to know a stranger.Â You have the ability to make everyone feel right at home the moment they meet you.Â You are a true friend, and people are drawn to you.
Chris – I love your take-charge attitude.Â Whenever we’re not sure what to do, or things seem to be disorganized, we can count on you to take the situation by the horns and get things moving in the right direction.Â You keep us from being frightened of ourselves or paralyzed by the unknown.
Amy – I love everything about you!Â Your spiritual maturity, the way you just dive right in and take whatever comes your way.Â You may feel afraid inside but you certainly don’t show it.Â And you have just the cutest sense of humor ever.
Connor – I love your sense of initiative.Â You don’t wait to be asked…you just DO.Â You jump in headfirst and give all that you have.Â You pour yourself out to make someone else’s day.Â You ran off to play football with the kids and came back filthy…but with a smile as big as Texas on your face and the face of every child in that camp.Â You are a model to me of what I hope my son will be like at your age.Â (I know I didn’t tell you that last part at the restaurant…but later I wish I’d thought of it then…because it’s true.)
Jon – I love your child-like curiosity.Â You are in this trip to suck all the marrow out of it.Â You are immersing yourself in every opportunity you have to learn about Uganda, its people, the Village of Hope, and what God is doing.Â You are available and willing to see how you fit into God’s plan for these children and their future.
Asunta – I love your smile.Â You are a beautiful woman inside and out with a heart that just spills out love for these children and young mothers.Â You are a shining light of hope to them and you are making a long-lasting impact among your countrymen.Â I am honored to be your friend.
Careenna – I love your sense of adventure.Â You take life for all its worth.Â You give it your all and don’t worry about what others will think.Â You have a heart that beats with passion and fever and you refuse to sell out for anything you don’t believe in.
Trace – I love that you are genuine.Â You are real.Â You are who you are, and you are comfortable with that.Â Your sincerity makes you approachable and easy to love.Â You have a depth of character that defines who you are, and gives you wisdom beyond your years.
Renee – I love your tender spirit.Â Your eyes see beyond the faces to the heart.Â Your heart bleeds for others.Â Your hands speak tenderness and love.Â You are the embodiment of compassion to everyone you meet.Â You are vulnerable and kind.
Robert – I love your big heart…a heart that is big enough to be a father to your own children as well as the fatherless in Uganda.Â You have opened that big heart to love these forgotten ones, and you have shown them what a man of character is.Â You have given them a glimpse of their Heavenly Father through the love that is spelled T-I-M-E.Â You are in it to win it as far as these kids are concerned.
Rose – I love your passion.Â You are the angel of Uganda.Â Your tireless efforts on behalf of these precious little ones are not forgotten or unappreciated by any of us.Â God is using you to change the future of your country…to rebuilt your people…to raise up a great and mighty nation that knows His name and calls on Him.Â You are a blessing to me and so many others.
Charles – I love your driving skills.Â I am so grateful for your commitment and dedication to getting us where we need to go safely.Â I am never afraid when you are driving.Â I know I speak for my family and friends – and for ALL our family and friends – when I say this.Â We love you Charles…oh yes we do….
Dave – I love your gentleness.Â I know you get frustrated and irritated, but you speak with calm words that soothe even the roughest situations.Â You are a true peacemaker and a man of quiet strength.Â You remind me of my own father, and I’m grateful I can see a glimpse of him in you.
And then I cried.Â The big, ugly cry.Â Yep, it wasn’t pretty, but there it was.Â My heart, spilled out right there on a little cafe table in the middle of Africa.Â Renee’ hugged me, and Trace thanked me, and I tried to catch my breath and the moment was over.Â But I was so honored to be the one to build into our team.Â God has put together an amazing group of people and the fact that He allowed me to be part of it is simply awesome.
After all that food, we felt like we needed to walk a bit, so we walked back to the hotel where we changed and headed out to our final IDP camp of the trip.Â This is the camp that has most of the young children.
This precious little one crawled up on my lap and stayed there the whole time.
She never snuggled in though I held her tightly and told her how beautiful she is.
She never spoke, but those eyes pierced through my heart.
This little sweetheart clutchedÂ bead necklace with a cross on it.
How I hope and pray that one day she will come to know the love of the one who sacrificed His life for her on that cross.
They sang and danced for us and did a poem and recited Bible verses.
The boys are ready to get going with the drum!
Then we sang our two songs for them.Â Before we could even sing a lady appeared from behind one of the huts.Â Her face was deformed and she looked wild.Â She was shrieking and ran up to us and started hugging all of our team one by one.Â She especially took to Chris and made her dance.Â We learned later that the woman’s name was Anna and she was abducted by LRA rebels.Â They cut her lips off, giving her the deformed look and they also infected her with AIDS.Â Finally one of the older boys stepped in and off she ran, dancing and shouting all the way.Â You can see the video of our encounter with Anna here.
After we sang, I shared the Bible story – the same one about Lazarus – and taught them the Bible verse.Â It amazes me how quickly they pick these verses up!Â I’m so grateful to have a small part in helping them learn about God and His love for them.
They finished with a time of dancing.Â Â Connor, Careenna, Amy, Mindee and I all danced with them.Â It was a blast!Â I never did get all the steps right but my dancing coach Stephen was right there beside me showing me where to stand and interpreting the steps for me.
Me with my dancing coach Stephen.Â What a wonderful young man!!
Dancing brings out the joy in their hearts!Â Lots of smiles when they dance!
All too soon it was time to say goodbye.Â The reality of what life is like for them after we leave…the monotony of day-to-day living in the village…hit hard as I looked in their eyes.Â The smiles may hide the pain, but the eyes haunt my soul.
Beautiful faces…such sadness in their eyes.
I hate goodbyes…especially this kind.
We returned to the hotel where some went off to play volleyball and others of us went shopping.Â We found an African handbag for Mindee, so now she and Trace are “bag buddies.”
I tried one last time to get on the internet, to say hello to Matt and update my friends.Â But the cafe’s were all filled to capacity with long waiting times so it was a no-go once again.Â We walked to where Heather and Gus were staying and had the chance to visit with them one last time.Â Maddie was able to say goodbye since we’ll be leaving Gulu and she’ll be flying back to the States before Heather returns to the village.Â Even though we were only a few blocks from our hotel, we opted for a boda-boda ride back.Â That was an adventure!
I’m pretty sure he cheated me out of about 500 Ugandan shillings, but I was willing to forgo the 25 cents he owed me.
Amy and I snuck up to the third floor of the hotel, where we took some time to look out over the city of Gulu.Â If the squalor and filth is appalling from ground-level, it only gets worse when viewed from above.
This is the marketplace where we purchased the African handbags.
The trash just piles up anywhere there is space for it.
The architecture is a varied palette of mud huts, rickety shops, and concrete buildings.
We enjoyed dinner by candlelight again.Â Chris picked up an avocado from one of the roadside vendors and enjoyed that as her pre-dinner “snack.”
We closed out our evening with some game time in the lobby (where there was light).Â I began by teaching Connor, Robert, Maddie, Amy, and Careenna how to play “Hearts”.Â I had no idea what I was getting myself into with this but it soon became our nightly addiction.Â We modified the rules to accommodate more than 4 players and adapted Ugandan shuffling and dealing rules.Â We also played Bananagrams, and I proved once again why I’ve been banned from that game on all mission trips.