Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Adventures With Mark

As my alarm went off I found myself struggling to get out of bed but I knew I had a few important days ahead of me. Being anything but a morning person as all of my friends would know I new the first task was to make it to the bathroom to take that luke warm shower to get me going. A few hours later I arrived at school and found the six Rwandese students in our grade seven class were packed and ready to go. As they threw their belongings in the back of the pick up I was surprised at how many students had tears running down their face. They said their good byes to teachers, staff, and fellow students and we hurried to catch the bus to Rwanda!

Yes, we were off… my first visit to Rwanda with six very special students and my good Ugandan friend, Abraham. I had a great seat and enjoyed my view as we got further out in the country side. After a few hours we had a “short call” and out everyone poured of the bus for a potty break on the side of the road. I thought we were in the middle of nowhere until the bus was surrounded by a surprising number of people trying to sell a variety of ‘snack foods’ and drinks for the road. Immediately a young boy who was selling deep fried fish (yes, the head too) caught my eye. He was wearing a T-shirt that I immediately recognized because I grew up as a good Canadian kid playing, watching and loving hockey. It was a Vancouver Canucks T-shirt! I had a little chuckle and felt bad for the little guy that he did not have a high quality Calgary Flames T-shirt to wear!

Beautiful Country

The bus roared on and five hours later we reached the Rwanda border. It was not like the 49th parallel in North America with air tight security. I watched people crossing on bikes without being stopped or even noticed it seemed and even a herdsmen with 8 cattle sauntered through. Once we had our Ugandan exit visa stamped and our entry visa for Rwanda in our passport we made our way back to the bus. All the bags were outside on the ground and they were being checked thoroughly. Perhaps drugs I thought, but instead plastic bags of any kind were being confiscated as these are outlawed in the Republic of Rwanda. (To cut down on the litter factor I guess). As our bus switched to driving on the other side of the road like I was accustomed to in Canada, I could not help but notice the beautiful hillsides. The next hour to Kigali, the capital, was spent looking at the steep terraced hills and lush valleys of tea and sugar cane.

Heroes And Transport

As our bus pulled into the taxi park in Kigali I was ready to pour myself into the lives of these six young people for a few days and learn as much as I could about their families, the challenges they would face back home, and the possibilities for their future. We were met by an older African Children’s Choir member from a previous choir who had just finished secondary school. We all piled into a taxi (mini van) and made our way into the city to one of the two orphanages where our 16 Rwandese students at the school come from. It was dark as they all unloaded their belongings and were given rooms. There was no power as the orphanage had been late in paying for the last few months. We then found a special hire (regular taxi car) and made our way to our guesthouse. During these last few events I have left out details about the driver who was high on something and the fight on the street that almost turned into a brawl… No need I guess as we ended up in the guest house safe and sound.

As morning came I bounced out of bed a lot quicker than usual and took my regular shower. Soon we were back at the orphanage by boda, boda (motorbike taxi) and greeted by our special six and many others. The man who runs this orphanage is a national hero in Rwanda as he saved the lives of over 300 people during the genocide. Whoever arrived at his gate during that time was hidden in different places within the walled compound and when soldiers came time and time again they could find no one but little children.

Making A Difference

Before we said our goodbyes to two of the children Abraham and I met with the six of them and explained that they would be going to secondary school in Rwanda. We reminded them that their being chosen by the African Children’s Choir was no accident and now that they had a good base spiritually and academically from choir training, touring, and Music For Life Primary School in Uganda, they were ready to make a difference in their home country. This was not an easy conversation as all six of them had lost many family members during the genocide and did not have a lot to return to. We ended our time in a circle with some time of prayer with these six amazing young people.


As the afternoon approached we left the students who were in good spirits, and made our way back to Kigali. It took a little longer as our taxi had to stop for repairs, but that provided a good opportunity for some lunch. Once back in the capital Abraham went one way and I went to see the National Genocide Memorial Center.

As I entered this building I was not sure what expect as I had heard so many things before my arrival. I was amazed that it was two different European countries that started to classify the Rwandans into two different groups, the Hootoos and the Tootsies. They were not two different tribes but rather originally classified by how many cows they owned and later the length of the nose and other defining physical features. Early on the Europeans used the minority group to help rule the country. Bitterness grew and was harbored and eventually the genocide began as the president’s plane was intentionally shot down and the act of violence blamed on the minority group. Soon it become a nightmare that I just could not believe. People were slaughtered in the streets and hunted like animals. Neighbors turned on each other and husbands were told to kill their wives depending on their classification. As I toured this memorial it shared all the details and how in a matter of just a few months almost one million people were murdered and half a million women raped. I read about the Canadian general who saw what was happening on the street and wanted more UN troops sent so it could be stopped. Instead the UN turned its back and a few European countries even provided millions of dollars to buy the arms to carry out the process….And then looked the other way as the horrors took place. People fled to churches and some were then surrounded by soldiers who were instructed by the bishop to burn them. The memorial had human bones, individual pictures of those murdered and clothes uncovered in mass graves. A shirt that said “I love Ottawa, Canada” caught my eye and I wondered as a Canadian why we didn’t do more. As I left the main memorial I went upstairs where there was a special memorial for the children that were killed during the genocide. Their large pictures on the wall had a plaque underneath that told about their favourite sport and past time. Then it was told how they died… What I read I couldn’t believe as some were stabbed in the eyes, macheted in her mothers arms, shot and killed in many other unbelievable ways. The one that brought tears to my eyes was a little boy the age of Seth who was bashed to death against a wall.

As I left I was in shock. Yes, there is still some tension, but Rwanda has started a remarkable process of healing and moving forward. Tribes are no longer mentioned, but instead a person will say they are a Rwandese.

As we climbed back on the bus to head back to Uganda, I had a much better understanding of what our Rwandese students had gone through and the challenges that lay ahead. I made up my mind that I would return to visit these students and refuse to forget them. Over the eight hour journey I thought about that little boy I read about at the memorial center and thought about little Seth and my lovely wife, Sarah back in Kampala. I realized more than ever how thankful I was for my immediate family and the heritage I have back in the West and the country I am truly blessed to be part of. Yes, Canada and other countries like the United States are not perfect, but we should be extremely thankful for growing up in countries where individuals are welcome to be different and express themselves in a country where freedom for all is a cornerstone. I also vowed to be all I can for my family and be a husband and dad who places them first.

Please continue to pray for my six P7 Rwandese students (and a seventh one returning later) that they will adjust quickly back to their culture and do well as they start secondary school. As you think about these students and Rwanda remember to be thankful for the country that many of you are reading this from.

God Bless and have a great Christmas season as the birth of Jesus approaches. Mark

Adventures With Sarah

After reading Mark’s writings, I felt I had nothing to write this month that would seem to fit together with such powerful content. But then I realized we just celebrated American Thanksgiving and I was overwhelmed and humbled by how God has blessed me and my family beyond what we have ever deserved or ever will. Mark and I both growing up in loving, Christian homes with a mother and father who love us and healthy brothers and sisters……both of us coming from countries where we were free from fear and evil that kills, deeply wounds, and paralyzes a people for decades to follow….and now, being able to be together and give our son everything he needs with no doubt that God will provide and shelter us. Yikes. I feel the kind of gratitude that gives me nothing to say. How can I say ‘thank you’ for all of that? And how could one ounce of me not be grateful? I realized I have a very suitable story to tell…. A story of our Thanksgiving celebration, shared with the most sincere, ‘bubbling over’ and at the same time speechless gratitude, that I’ve ever known simply because I have heard and seen the pain of others who don’t have what I have. I won’t try to say I have felt their pain at any level, by knowing them and seeing the evidence of the scars in their lives. I have tried to understand why I am me, having what I have and they are they, having what they have…. But I can’t. I will never like it… I will never be able to think about it and have all the ends neatly tied up in my mind. But I can tell you this. I will never stop being grateful! Never! Now, let me share briefly, our delightful Thanksgiving (celebrated on American Thanksgiving because many of our friends here are American).
About 7 couples plus all of our children (about 30 people) summoned our creativity (and the women our best Thanksgiving recipes that can be passed off as authentic here in Uganda) and donned costumes in order to reenact the sailing of the Mayflower and the first Thanksgiving, Squanto and all! The very ‘funnest’ aspect of it all was that half of us were American and the other half British. We are all good friends from the same care group at our church, so the good natured ‘ad-libbing’ that went back and forth throughout the play was more fun than the play itself. Mark and Seth and I were Indians. I had a great time painting black shoe polish on all of us and attempting small headdresses for me and Mark. And, our little Indian boy likes nothing more than being naked… so he was having a jolly old time in his diaper with bandanas tied around his waist and shoe polish all over! He actually giggled out loud when we were having a family picture taken. It seemed like he was getting in the spirit of the dress-up thing and catching on to everyone’s excitement. You know, something I realized,….fun things like that party/play seem silly until you have kids. Then it’s a riot. And I was in there with the best of them, costuming, running across the driveway quickly because it was ‘the ocean’, and listening intently while the narrator (Mark) declared that ‘the Pilgrims spent the first Winter on the Mayflower and many of them got sick and some of them died’. (Having young boys in the group who launch themselves onto the ground in ‘death’ makes the dying part seem funny even though it’s not). And after the play…..the food!!! Wow! It really felt like Thanksgiving! And it was fun watching Seth in his little Indian garb, chomping on a cob of corn for thirty minutes with his squishy little gums, not a tooth in his head. As the evening wore on, I missed my family as I thought of them all together celebrating as we always have. But I was so, so thankful to be with my husband and son, living the good life God has given us and surrounded by dear friends. I hope all of you can relate to my joy and I pray that none of us will forget for one second, where our blessings come from and like the song says ‘Every blessing You pour out, I’ll turn back to praise’ let us exalt Him for His goodness to us! Have a Merry Christmas! Sarah

Adventures With Seth

Hi everybody. I’ve been working really hard on my teeth. That’s what mom says anyway. I just feel kind of grumpy sometimes. I don’t have any yet and I think it’s almost time. And you know what else? I got a really bad cold where I was coughing and my nose was running all the time. I couldn’t sleep very good and I was always calling for mom and dad to come and get me in the night. Sometimes they would let me sleep with them when I was sick. That was much better. I’m still working on my crawling… my arms and legs don’t work together very good and I just crash down. But I really want to go and get my ball when it gets away so pretty soon I will be all over this house! I need to go now…my toys are waiting for me to come play. Good bye!

Yahoo For Toys

I really like my toys. Lots of times I don’t need mommy during the day and I just play and listen to music.

Swinging Away

My second time on the swing! It was my favorite thing of that day!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

African Adventures With Mark

It was after 5:00 pm but I decided to quickly check in on our senior girls’ football team that was playing in a tournament. My senior teacher hopped in the car with me and we were off to see the final happenings of the big day. We knew that they had been winning games to take them into the last two rounds and we wanted to show up and cheer them on. Once we turned off the main road we bumped along a trail and then snaked along a narrow ditch to the activities. By now I know not to look for a nice green football field, but was still surprised to see the actual pitch. Yes, it was not green and was probably one third the size of a regular field. We parked so we could keep the vehicle visible and as we got out our girls came running down off the field to greet us as they were lined up to begin the next game. The surprise that followed caught me off guard. As the girls greeted us and jumped up and down, I looked up to see another 200 children running toward us from the pitch. In seconds we were surrounded. They were all clamoring to greet us, having no idea who we were but happy enough that we were with the team that was winning the tournament so far. It wasn’t long before everyone knew who we were for as we made our way up to the pitch we were introduced over the sound system by the announcer and were brought to the special guest tent. Yes, the VIP Tent was a tarp and my seat was the very front middle seat….a big sofa chair. I felt a little awkward as I went with a few other special guests to meet the teams at the center of the field and wished them success. Our girls were excited to have us there and I whispered a few extra encouraging words to them. As we moved back to our seats I realized once again, my plan of blending into the crowd was not going to happen.
Once the game started I looked around and became more familiar with my surroundings. The field had an extreme downward slant from one end to the other, which did make it nice viewing for myself in the VIP area. People were lined around the pitch and cheering for the home team – not us. There was garbage and debris all over the uneven ground on the pitch and even a tree on one side that the girls maneuvered around.
As the game progressed we were fortunate to score the first goal. Our girls were very excited and flipped cartwheels across the field. The announcer had to explain what they were called as this was something they learned on tour and is not a typical form of excitement here in Uganda. Then in the second half as I peered through the binder twine that was used to form the net between the two wooden tree poles for goal posts, we scored another goal. Magdalene made an excellent strike to the top left hand corner. Again, screaming and cartwheels. The girls played hard and in the end we won the game and the tournament! In fact, not a single goal was scored on our team throughout the day.
As dark approached the Muslim onlookers were eager to go home as it was Ramadan and they were anxious to break their fast once the sun had gone down. The Muslim school hosting the tournament was not excited to see a Christian school win their big event. As the girls came forward they received their trophy and yes, you guessed it a GOAT. That’s part of the deal here…The winning team receives a goat to roast. The girls held the trophy high and sang a Christian song even though a Muslim man showed his frustration by kicking one of our girls. I stifled my desire to kick him back or something, and instead put down the video camera and remained calm…. A good idea always but especially that day as our testimony was of great importance there. The girls piled in a taxi along with there trophy and the goat, still singing songs about Jesus.
It was a great day for MFLPS! But to finish the story, as the headmaster, this one goat presented a problem. It would not feed the whole school and everyone wanted in on some delicious goat meat. What to do… Well, a few days later on Uganda’s Independence Day I purchased two more goats and yes, we had a good old party. The three goats were on the menu and I must say they were excellent with the rice. A soda for everyone and all the staff and students went to bed very happy.

African Adventures With Sarah

Ah, yes October. I’ve always loved this month. I have a birthday in October and it seems to be a stellar month for a birthday. Mark says he is taking the day off and I shouldn’t plan anything so, yippee! Looks like Mark has something up his sleeve. This month has been much quieter than September. I am finishing up the term letters and Christmas cards written by the kids to their sponsors. That means filling out 900 papers and cards with child and sponsor names, then proof reading them all when finished and having the kids make any corrections necessary. This term we made it a competition… the best class won cookies and sodas… the winning class teacher won 10,000 shillings airtime for their phone. Boy they all worked hard and it was so fun to reward the winning class and teacher. I made over 100 cookies and no one could have enjoyed them more!
On the home front? I’ve decided I should start a book of re-definitions – A Dictionary for Parents. My first entries will be-
Hypocrisy – smiling and saying “mmmm-mmmm” while shoveling peas into your baby’s mouth. Knowing that the thought of taking a bite yourself makes you gag. (Uganda’s peas are particularly nasty.)
Rise and shine – get up in the dead of night with the flashlight or lantern to take care of the baby
“Wet”ness protection program – the system of tightening the baby’s plastic pants over his cloth diaper until he can’t breath. (not advised)
Anyway, as Seth begins teething seriously and moving around more I am finding the fun to outweigh the challenge (just barely!) God is so good and faithful. I continue to see Him give me every circumstance in my life as an opportunity to make right choices, grow, receive His love for me and give that love to others. Sometimes in the grind of home, the routine stuff, I find the love wearing thin. That’s exactly where He wants me to truly love…. Not on the surface or only when the giving makes me feel “big” or “good.” But when it makes me feel kind of well, frankly used sometimes. In my more glorious moments of actually seeing the needs of others more than I see my own I squawk “God use me!” Then when He does, it doesn’t look like I thought it would and I try to quickly scramble out of it, convinced He must have something “bigger” for me. The little stuff… that’s the big stuff!
Enough “journaling” from me. I pray you are all well and God is giving you joy! Until next time!

African Adventures With Seth

Well everybody, I’m sorry but I’m just too busy to write right now. I have to work on my rolling over and my scooting and getting from my bum to my tummy without bonking my head. I have lots of eating to do and I feel a tooth coming on. I’m having so much fun and I wish you could all come to my house! I will ask mom and dad to put on lots of pictures! Mom says they lost a cable to the camera so maybe you won’t get to see the newest pictures of me…. Maybe next time! Bye bye! (Oh, that’s another thing… I can wave bye bye now and I can say ma-ma too!) I’m big! Seth

A Picture of me in July

This is when I was just a baby. I’m pretty grown up now and you can see I was almost tipping over. Yep, but I don’t do that any more (very much).

Me and Daddy

It’s so cool because my Grandma Winnie gave me this jacket that used to be on daddy when he was a baby. I saw pictures of dad and this jacket…. He looked cool just like me!

In My Walker

It’s my favorite thing to go fast around the house looking at new stuff and grabbing everything! There’s lots of cool stuff for me to get and I try not to get in trouble very much.

Fun Times!

I really like to have fun and here's a picture of me fooling around. My favorite time is evening when I like to play rough and laugh lots!