God of the Motherless

Today marked the first time I’ve ever held a one-day-old baby boy. He was wrapped in three blankets, had a full head of hair, and his deep brown eyes kept searching for a mother he would never know.

It was around 3 pm this afternoon that I heard a knock on my door. It’s a sound I had heard 10 times already by that point, so I’m sure I looked annoyed when I opened it. But instead of the usual faces I’ve come to expect, there stood a man I had never seen before. He was asking for Ann, the visitor coordinator here on the field, who happened to live in the house next to mine. I quickly redirected him and shut the door without asking any questions; I had a to-do list staring me down from the next room.

An hour or so later, I actually took my friend Gloria next door so we could make a birthday cake for her celebration at Christ School. I found Ann and started to tell her that a man was looking for her, but she cut me off to tell me that she already knew. She was visibly distressed about something, but Gloria was ready to learn how to bake. I chose to direct my attention to Gloria.

Fast forward another hour, after the cake was baked and put on the cooling rack, I heard the soft cry that can only come from a newborn. I was confused, as was Gloria, so we both turned around to see and finally understand the cause of Ann’s distress.

The baby boy came by way of his brother, who’s easily older than me, with a hand-written letter from a doctor. The mother of these two (and probably many more) had given birth two days before at the health clinic of a village close by. According to the letter, the mother had not survived the C-Section. The father was in deep mourning at home with no current means to care for the baby.

The man said he had searched high and low, but had been unable to find formula for his newborn brother. It was then that he turned to the letter the doctor had written, which was addressed to “World Harvest Mission” with the instruction to come to us for help. Thankfully, we had found a means to provide milk for the baby here. But he needed a surrogate breast-feeder. He needed consistency. He needed a mother.

All of this was relayed to me as I was holding this child. Once again, my heart was overwhelmed by the conditions of this place with no physical means to alleviate the pain of the people around me. Once again, I was struggling to experience this cultural context having come from one so vastly different. But in the craziness of juggling all these thoughts came the quiet whisper of a truth I had forgotten: my God has gone before me in this place, and he’s in Bundibygyo for the long haul. He is the faithful God of this mission, the God of every tribe and nation, and the God of this sweet baby boy in my arms.

I smiled as he reached through the blankets to grab my thumb with his tiny hand, and I immediately began pouring prayer over this tiny miracle. I prayed that in a place so accustomed to the consequences of inadequate medical care, the Lord would be a provider and a refuge. I prayed that this child would not one day be burdened by the truth of his mother’s passing, but that he would grow to take comfort and solace in the presence of Jesus. I prayed that this child’s testimony would forever point to the power of a sovereign God.

I watched as Ann and other team members communicated the importance of these next few weeks to the brother, who would ultimately determine the level of care this baby would receive. We sent him with specific instruction and a promise that we would check on his family soon. I saw hope in the brother’s eyes as he thanked us and took the child. He understood what needed to be done, and I have faith that the many prayers prayed over that baby boy will be heard.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” – Hebrews 10:23

#lifeinthebush

A portrait of day-to-day life in this wonderful place, in no particular order. As Mike Wu so wisely stated, “Life’s full of surprises. If it’s not, go to Africa.” Here are some of my favorite surprises. 

Mike and Joe: Fellow interns on the field. Mike’s been working with the nutrition program at the health clinic, Joe’s been working with me doing PR at Christ School. I’ve never had brothers, but I’m assuming this is what it feels like. Can’t live with ’em, can’t imagine Africa without ’em. 

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Joe’s in the hat, Mike could not be less amused.

Boda: A motorcycle-esque form of public transportation. No rules for the road in these parts, just mere suggestions and/or guidelines. Plenty of honking.

“Olayo”: the beginning of a lubwisi greeting, but mainly my “I don’t have any idea what you’re saying” response. Goes well with a smile and a subtle awkward laugh. 

56,798: The number of times Joe has told the story of British Air losing his bag for 3 weeks. Also the number of times he’s referenced the lizard falling onto his head the first time he used the toilet outside.

Spiders: The things I’ve learned to not kill every time I see them inside. Mainly because they eat mosquitos, but also because I gave up. Way too many.

Africa time: “We will meet at 10 am” = “We will meet sometime after 11:30 am”

RMS: Rwenzori Mission School. The place where teammates Molly and Alanna teach preschool/elementary school to 4 of the children on the Bundi team. Also where giant mud pits make for an awesome field day and photo booths make for a festive 4th of July. 

Teammates and sweet friends Alanna, Sarah, and Molly on the 4th.
Sweet friends Alanna, Sarah, and Molly on the 4th.

Settlers (of Catan): Mike Wu’s favorite board game and pastime. Solid way to turn 3 hours into 5 minutes while competing in the nerdiest way possible against your fellow teammates. If your phone’s ringing and it says “Mike Wu”, he’s asking you to come play Settlers. See also: Dominion. 

Dominion: Equally nerdy. More cards, less monopoly-looking pieces. Mike told me that he intentionally took clothes out of his trunk so he could bring both of these games to Africa. The truth came out and nobody’s surprised. 

The Amazing Race, Bundi Edition: An interactive (and forced) activity designed by our dear intern coordinator here on the field to acclimate the newest mzungus to Babwisi culture. The clues took us everywhere, had us perform certain tasks, find certain people, etc. I personally think cameras were placed all over the village to forever remember the ways those interns made complete fools of themselves, but what’s done is done. 

Pineapple: Uganda’s touch of heaven on earth. If I could leave my belongings and bring back a trunk full of pineapples, I would.

3-5: The number of times a week the power goes out for whatever reason. Goes hand-in-hand with teammate Sarah’s FAVORITE team responsibility: calling the power company to see what the heck is going on. Again. 

Goats: They are everywhere and they fear nothing.

Walked home from school with me the other day.
Walked home from school with me the other day.

“Seriously, I CANNOT wait for you guys to play the expansion pack”: Mike Wu’s catchphrase. We’re not playing the expansion pack, Mike Wu.

Pants: Underwear. Trousers = pants. A mistake that’s rarely repeated.

Chacos: The only way to survive walking anywhere after a rainstorm. Wearing anything else will result in falling down every 25 seconds. No chacos, no chance of gracefulness. 

African spray tan: Climb up to the roof rack of the safari van, grab some protective eyewear, and try not to breathe too much because it feels like you’re flying through a Texas dust storm. BUT you’re 2 shades darker when you come out the other side.

Scarves and winter coats: What boda drivers wear when the temperature drops to a record low of 70 degrees. Practically an African ice age.

That heard of elephants running through the African savannah: Nope, just Mike Wu snoring. FROM THE HOUSE BEHIND MINE.

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TVA: I tell Ugandans I’m from Tennessee, the immediate response is “Oh! The Tennessee Valley Authority!” …….. Of all the things. 

Cocoa (“cuh-COH-uh”): The main cash crop for the district. People harvest the beans and pour them out onto huge pieces of tarp to dry out in the sun. As they dry, they ferment. Joe said it best: “I can’t tell if I’m smelling garbage rotting in the heat or the cocoa beans drying.”

Bat squeaks: what you hear 24/7 when you live in the bat house. The attic is their home, unless they decide to pay the kitchen/living room a visit. In which case there’s a good chance it’ll end up running into you. +10 points if it bounces off your face.

“Ey! Oslahnd!”: Usually means Charity is home from school and is trying to get my attention. He and his siblings live right behind the mission, which means they’re hanging around a lot. Charity and I have a love/hate relationship typically defined by sass, but that boy makes me laugh and I adore his family.

Charity and crew.
Charity and crew.

Slasher: Tool used to cut the grass. Except you’re literally swinging a metal blade back and forth. Grass flying everywhere. There’s a man named Ngonji who slashes for the mission grounds every day, and he let me try it once (and only once). It’s something we unofficially agreed to just not talk about. Slashing’s not my thing.

“HOW ARE YOU???”: The first thing primary (elementary) school students learn in their English classes here. They practice roughly 157 times every time they see a mzungu. Shout it back to them to cause a chorus of squeals and giggles because they don’t know what to say after that.

Meat from the village market: The one thing that no one on the team except Mike Wu is brave enough to purchase and consume. He’s also been sick the most times; so I’m taking the liberty to draw some parallels here. Motto for the summer: vegetarians have more fun. 

Fish eyeball: What I dared Joe to eat one night. He refused to touch tomatoes or onions when he first came here, but fish eyeballs? Sure, why not. 

Best 16,000 shillings I've ever spent.
Best 16,000 shillings I ever spent.

My hair: I’ve turned into a living, breathing American Girl Doll… except it’s up to me to de-tangle after Ugandan hands have been all over it. They’re obsessed.

Black mamba: The snake the guys claimed to have found and killed in their bedroom. Upon further reflection and research, it was actually a tiny baby burrowing asp. Only one man point was revoked. 

Evacuation brain drain: As soon as the adrenaline rush disappears, so does the ability to think. “What day is it? Where are we? Is there something I should be doing right now? WHEN IS THE LAST TIME I SHOWERED.”

Synthesizer: A recent gift to Christ School that ultimately replaced the drums the students once used when worshipping in chapel and Sunday services. Makes for an interesting musical plot twist, especially during the Lubwisi songs. 

And my personal favorite…“Here comes the bride, he is full of pride”: The Ugandan rendition of a wedding classic, sung over and over. Lyrics pulled directly from the program I kept from a ceremony last month.

No one does "I do" quite like Uganda.
No one does “I do” quite like Uganda.

Bundi Never Felt So Good

I’m drenched in sweat 30 minutes after getting out of the truck, but it’s a sweat I’ve become OH so familiar with. The neighbor kids ran out to hug and greet us, so it doesn’t even bother me that the sun always favors the west side of the mountains.

The road connecting Fort Portal and Bundibugyo district.
The road connecting Fort Portal and Bundibugyo district.

Team Bundi said “wesaylo” to our evac refuge in Fort Portal this morning and officially made the trek west back home. That’s right, Nyahuka: the mzungus have returned, and we are the happiest. 

For the prayers and love sent our way from all over, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Peace has returned to the district once again! Constant communication with numerous Ugandan officials, the Serge office in Philadelphia, and past Bundibugyo team members ultimately secured the decision to come back. Those meetings and conference calls spanned four different time zones and used up more energy than anybody had to give. So, on that note: I’m incredibly thankful for the people who have assumed leadership roles during this unanticipated series of events. I saw prayerful pursuit of wisdom and patience throughout the entire ordeal. To me, nothing is more encouraging or comforting.

And who knew evacuation could be so peaceful and relaxing? Those words never went together in my head, but Fort Portal proved me wrong and ended up being the biggest blessing. We de-stressed, relaxed, spent time together, played with kids, laughed with kids, slept… It was a week well-spent. I also befriended a wonderful Dutch woman who owns a guest house and fed me well every night (I’ll miss you, Inneke), and I’m significantly better at Settlers of Catan than I was before we left.

Lunchtime selfie with some awesome teammates. Originally sent to Mom, repurposed for the blog.
Lunchtime selfie with some awesome teammates. Originally taken and sent to ease Mom’s mind.

I now face my final two weeks here. As usual, I’m a ball of mixed emotion about it… but I’m mostly excited to reconnect with the people of Nyahuka village. Kids Club is tomorrow afternoon, and I can’t wait to color and play with those neighborhood munchkins. I’ll try to ask someone for the purple crayon, it won’t make it through the language barrier, we’ll play charades until something registers, I’ll settle for the green crayon I ultimately get handed to me…Back to the routine. 

Basically, life has resumed again in Bundi. And all of western Uganda said, “AMEN!”

Sending love from the Mission grounds. Xoxo.

kc
Kid’s Club at its finest.

Team Statement from Bundibugyo

Dear Supporters/Family/Friends,

Over the past few days there have been many reports in the news of conflict within western Uganda.  We would like to clarify a few things as well as ask for prayer for the people of Uganda and our team.

We believe the series of events that began on Saturday, July 5, in the western region was caused by tribally rooted tensions.  Even though we never felt as though our mission (team) was a target, we made the decision to remove ourselves from the area as the atmosphere in our immediate area intensified.  We are thankful that God granted us the grace to be evacuated to Fort Portal and remain safe, and we are closely monitoring the situation in Bundibugyo.

Please pray for the local families in this western region who have lost loved ones as a result of the fighting that has been taking place.  Please pray against any fear in our hearts that has arisen due to the intensity of what we have recently experienced.  Pray that we would believe Proverbs 29:25 and put our trust in Him.  Lastly, please pray for peace in Uganda and for wisdom for our team and organization as we continue to assess the conditions in western Uganda at this time.

Blessings,

Serge, Team Bundibugyo