June 19, 2014-Thursday
Jen, Jeremiah & Peter
At 3:00 AM I was unceremoniously awakened by my alarm to begin this adventure I shall call, #ProjectHopeful2014. I gathered all the last minute items and was on the road by 4:00 to head to Zeeland to meet and pick up my traveling buddies, Jeremiah and Peter Kooshian to set out for Chicago via my trusty, Rendevous, aka, "The Turtle". Our mini roadtrip was uneventful and a fun entrance into the "who are you" of our lives as we embark on this adventure together.
Other than an almost missed toll booth, we arrived at our parking terminal and were transported to Chicago O'Hare by our trusty Thrify Bus with no issue, other than a desparate need of coffee.
Once at the airport we traversed the ticket kiosk, which nearly needs a college degree to operate, we were escorted to the counter to finish our checkin. Other than the normal airport technology gremlins, like the computer burping and losing the entire list of checked in passengers, we had no problems. Once we were wheels up to NYC we had visions of spending our considerable layover climbing aboard the subway and visiting the Twin Towers. Alas we were dissuaded from leaving by TSA...booo, perhaps on the return.
Now we sit and await the arrival of our plane for the trans Atlantic crossing to London overnight. What a trip! Start out on one continent and wake up on another. Fantastic.
We have had fun sharing our trip with a few passersby as we shared coffee and conversation. So fun to watch their eyes light up as we share we are heading to Uganda to love on children. Some were even ready to ditch their flights to join us. So excited to see what is next.
In the Journey,
Movies, Munchies & Making it on the Plane
June 20, 2014-Friday
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
Our flight across the Atlantic left at 11:30 PM. We were on a British Airways 747. Having not flown internationally in sometime I was surprised to find every seat had an in seat screen television to watch movies, a pillow, blanket and mini toothbrush/paste. The Kooshian brothers were totally excited.
After our 7+ hour flight, we made our connection in London with literally no time to spare. We were the last people allowed to board the plane. Note to self: don't down the last of the LARGE Dasani water bottle while standing in line at security, because it takes nearly an hour to get through the gauntlet, then you have to run to catch your flight, leaving no time to stop at a restroom. I just didn't want to waste the water, I am so Dutch.
The space time continuum seems to slow precipitously when you travel half way around the globe. It is always such a surprise and marvel to me that one can traverse the ocean, land masses and time to end up on a continent on the other side of the world. We live in a fantastic time.
We arrived arrived in Kampala, but the boys checked bag did not make it. It didn't make the connection from London. While Jeremiah and Pete were dealing with the missing bag, I kept checking out front for our driver, Martin to take us to Jinja. Whenever I would approach the door a dozen smiling faces would hold up signs to see if I was their arriving passenger. I had no idea which one of these smiling gentlemen was our driver. On the third attempt, a tall, super smiley man held up a sign with the words, "Project Hopeful" on the sign, "Project Hopeful", I yelled and we exchanged laughter and a knowing expression of relief.
At 1:00 AM we were finally on our way to Lugazi, rather than Jinja, to spend the night at Pastor Stephen and Mama Jessica in their home, since wwe knew no one at the Hope Guest House in Jinja. Travel in the little bus on opposite side highways with no speed limits or lines was quite the experience, but that is another story.
Between missing flights, missing luggage, change of venues and highways that call to mind, "Mr. Toads Wild Ride", Hakuna Matata has become the cathc phrase of our journey.
In the Journey,
A Day in Lugazi
June 21, 2014-Saturday
After a few hours sleep we awoke to breakfast made by Mama Jessica. Fresh eggs, oatmeal, fresh bananas , juice and coffee. We met the rest of the Project Hopeful Team, Dawn and Mandy Patterson, Cathy and Sarah. They had been at Mama Jessica's home for several days. Because the rest of our team had missed the connection yesterday, they would be arriving sometimen today via Kenya.
After breakfast we headed into Lugazi to visit one of the Sisters of Hope, Naomi. She has been supported by an American Sister for the past year, getting her business off the ground, supplying emotional and physical support to she and her family as she transitioned to being self supporting. Her little store has done VERY well. She has already bought and sold 200 chickens and has a thriving business in her community. She is doing well enough to have some of her eight children in private school.
When I say she has done well with her store you need to understand, it is a little three sided 10x10 space with two large doors that close across the front. You can have a dozen identical looking little stores one right next to the other. When we asked how do they survive if they are all the same? The answer is in how well connected to your community you are. It's ALL about relationship.
As we were standing there hearing her story a crowd of children gathered around us hungry for our attention, love and for us to take their pictures. They can charm the socks off of you and they have. They giggled and laughed when we took their pictures and we then showed them their faces. They wave and yell, "bye Musungu" when we leave. That is "bye white person". It is a term of endearment and you hear it as you drive around the villages as the van passes and the eager faces look into the bus and see us.
I am in awe of the tenacity, spunk and ingenuity of these Sister's as they begin to move forward in a world not so friendly toward single mom's. Especially not so friendly toward those who have been singled out by the diagnosis of HIV. They are brave, resilient, industrious and humble. They love The Lord and their joy is infectious.
As we left Naomi and headed back to Pastor Stephen and Mama Jessica's home and I ran through some of the images and faces I had captured I was reminded of the verses in Matthew 19:14, Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Their eager, precious faces are pressed into my memory and their want of love, attention and to be seen is pressed into my heart forever.
In the Journey,
Images from Nakibule
The Women of Nakibule Sing
June 22, 2014-Sunday
Church, Children & Chapati
It's Sunday morning and we are heading to God's City International Church a half an hour outside of Lugazi in Nakibole. This was a wee tiny village in the middle of thousands of acres of sugar cane. The sugar cane fields are owned by India. In the compound SCOUL employs 8,000 Ugandans to work in the fields. The landscape was miles and miles of hills, red dirt roads and sugar cane as far as one could see.
When we arrived at the church, we were instantly greeted by Pastor and several of the women of the church. We were hugged, welcomed and ushered into the church where cheering erupted from 150 adults and 50 children. It was overwhelming and a bit surprising given how far we were from civilization.
The service began with many exultations to The Lord for bringing the Project Hopeful team to them. Then the singing began and it was the most beautiful, sincere and amazing worship I have ever had the privilege of witnessing. The joy on their faces was palpable. The love of The Lord exudes from every pour of their being. When your life is stripped down to only Jesus, the result is something pure, honest and infectious. I felt so honored to be a part and so very humbled that my own joy and love of The Lord is so very far from what these dear people share.
The service lasted about three hours, as they wanted to be "American" and watch the time. We all laughed about the obvious attempt at accurately representing the Muzungu's. The children were delightful as some of them would sneak over to get a hug or see the pictures I was taking during the service. Then the adults would come and tell them to go back and sit down with the other children.
The highpoint of the service was when they had an offering. Three baskets were laid out, one for the building fund, another for benevolence and the last for regular tithe. The people came and lined up to place their coins in the baskets. Then another offering was taken where these dear people brought what they had, no doubt the equivalent to an entire days wages or more, to lay down and give a gift to Sister Dawn and Project Hopeful. We were all so blown away. The tears flowed as people brought what they had to give to Sister Dawn in thanks for her partnership with them through Project Hopeful and Hope+Sisterhood-Uganda. There were avocados, passion fruit, an entire rack of bananas, the largest papaya's I have ever seen, plantains, lettuce, firewood, sugar cane and other things straight from their gardens and their hearts. It was the most humbling and awe inspiring moment. We obviously did not feel worth the extravagant gesture, but to refuse would have been and insult and hurt them deeply. Their gift gives them the opportunity to have dignity and say thank you.
We left the service and walked down the road a bit to Rose's home. She is one of the first Sister's in the Hope+Sisterhood program and has a thriving business raising pigs, goats, and chickens to sell in the community. She has become a leader in the church and community for her strength and courage in first facing her HIV health challenges and inspiring other women in her congregation with her passion to be more than her disease. Her little home was small, neat and had her Bible prominently displayed on the table in her front room. She proudly showed us her projects, the animals, the new latrine and her home. It was beautiful.
We ate lunch outside her home, pizza and fresh piping hot chapati brought in for us to eat. She carefully brought our her best dishes to have us eat our lunch at her home. As we ate we watched the local children hovering around hungry for not only what we were eating, but for attention.
Next we visited another Sister, a few miles away, down a winding path in the wild. Her little home was beautifully kept and all twelve or so of us went into her little 6x8 room to hear what she wanted to share about how her American sister Sarah and Project Hopeful has helped her to provide for her children and her. She now has a cow and raises goats to sell. What a privilege to be let inside the inner circle of these dear people, these women who want the same things we do as mom's, to provide for our children and give them a safe place to grow up and prosper.
The day was so very full of every emotion across the board. So much to ponder and take in. It is difficult to put it into words and communicate all that we experienced. So much to be grateful for and so very much to realize how far I am from truly walking in the humility and joy that these families do.
Humbled in the Journey,