Happy St. Patty’s Day!

HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY FROM SOME STINKIN’ CUTE CHILDREN!

Those last two photos took lots of coaxing and bribery to get them to sit still. It’s a rare occasion for Martha to perform for the camera and it’s almost impossible to get all three smiling at once. Usually 1/3 is crying and our photos look more like this…

and this next one is just plain hilarious…

Oh, the joys of sisterly love.

(Thanks Mom for the headbands and decorations… again.  And thank you Garry Hill for bringing a whole suitcase full of stuff to Uganda for us! The kids LOVE their new clothes!)

Scary Boda Rides, Visas, and Grumpy Men

August

Kelsey and I plan on staying in UG for one year and research visas. We take advice from a friend of a friend who had a long spent time in Uganda to just renew our visas every 3 months. When you travel to Uganda, you are granted a 3 month visa at the airport. To renew your visas, you can just take a $10 bus ride to Rwanda or Kenya and then come back in and get another 3 months. We decided this sounded pretty good and it would force us to take a mini-vacation every 3 months to leave the country.

November

Our first 3 months come to a close and we travel to Rwanda and back to Uganda the same day. Kelsey and I are both granted another 3 months in Uganda. The following week, we bring home Joellia, Reeja, and Martha to live with us.

January-Feburary

We start looking at other options to renew our visas. We can’t just pack up and go to Rwanda and leave the girls behind. Kelsey and I would have had to take turns and travel separately out of the country then come back. Then we start hearing rumors that immigration is denying re-entry to people after a couple visits.

We look into work visas. It’s a no go. In order to obtain a work visa, you must leave the country for 6 months-1 year while they process it.

We get advice from friends in Uganda. They had applied for an extension for their family and were granted it twice allowing them to stay in UG for an extra 6 months without having to leave. I also do some research and find that they offer mulitple-entry visas to people who travel to Uganda often.

Thursday

Kelsey and I go to the immigration office in Kampala. We get there and find out we are not eligible for a special pass or an extension. For an extension, you have to show proof of a return ticket home and a letter from your host and we have neither. I ask about the multiple-entry pass and the man at the counter tells me they don’t do that. He tells us our only options are to either apply for an extension or leave the country and risk being denied re-entry. Now, this man was pretty grumpy and didn’t like that we were taking up so much of his time. The people in line behind us are starting to get grumpy because I’m taking too long and they’re standing under the hot African sun. Someone even walked right up to the desk and interrupted us. I guess he was tired of waiting. (If you think the DMV in the US is bad, this is worse.) Out of luck, Kelsey looks at me and says, “We’ll just have to fly out this weekend or book return flights home. That’s going to put a dent into our bank accounts.” Now, neither of us just happen to have $1,500 sitting in our bank accounts to book a return flight back to the US. We didn’t even have enough money in our accounts to fly to Rwanda and back. I decided to risk making him really mad and ask one more time about the multiple-entry pass and tell him that I saw on the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ website that they do offer it. And to our surprise, he magically pulls out two applications and hands them to us. I’m still not sure why he didn’t give them to me in the first place. Maybe it’s more work to process?! Maybe he wanted me out of his face?! Probably both.

He tells us to bring back the applications on Friday and we’ll find out on Wednesday if we were approved. We walk away feeling pretty good about ourselves until Kelsey remembers that our visas expire on Monday. So there I go, back to the counter, cutting in front of the entire line (making more people mad) and tell him that our visas expire Monday and we can’t wait until Wednesday. He assures me that as long as my passport and application are at immigration before Monday, we are safe. (Yes, you have to leave your passport at the office. Leave my passport?! In that giant, disorganized stack of papers on his desk?! Ummm…not happening. Luckily, a canadian woman in line senses my panic and assures us that she left her passport there and when she came back they eventually found it.)

Friday

Kelsey and I plan on going to the grocery store then to the immigration office. Instead, we get an urgent phone call and our afternoon fills up. It’s now getting close to 4 PM and the office closes at 5 PM. Kelsey and I rush to fill out our applications and print out letters to the Commissioner of Immigration explaining why he should let us stay in his country. The power at our house is out and Kelsey’s computer dies which has the letters saved on it. My laptop still has battery so she rewrites the letters from memory. We turn on the generator so we can use the printer. Eeeks..it’s now after 4 and the office closes at 5. (Note: This is the last business day to turn in the applications before we become illegal immigrants. And apparently, they don’t like granting visas to illegal immigrants.) I hit PRINT and my computer freezes and Microsoft Word quits unexpectedly. I open back up Word and the document is lost. We type it out again for the third time. I try to save it but the hard drive on my computer is full and won’t save. I hit PRINT. Same thing. Computer freezes, Word quits and loses the document. Kelsey powers up her computer but our printer doesn’t work with it because her operating system is too new. She saves it to a flash drive and gives it to me. I pull up the file, press print, and word shuts down and I get an error message that the title of the document contains an unacceptable character. Now, it’s not like she saved the document as $(&_#&^(@*}{. Get ready for it, it’s saved as:

letter

Just the word: letter. After multiple attempts and getting the same message, Kelsey digs out her old broken down laptop. Now, this poor ol’ Apple has major problems and is R—E—A—L—L—Y slow and it’s now pushing 4:30 PM. She retypes the letters for the 4th time and finally it prints. Hallelujah!

I make a mad dash for the driveway and hail a boda. Hailing a boda is like hailing a cab, except I don’t whistle. You just kind of flick your wrist and they either stop or they shake their head and laugh at you. It’s now 4:30 PM on a Friday. If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to drive around Kampala, you know that it can take 1 hour to get somewhere that should take 20 minutes because the traffic is GOD AWFUL especially on a Friday. (People leave Kampala to go back to their villages on Fridays. The traffic deserves a blog post of it’s own.) And this is where I make a life-threatening mistake. I tell the boda driver, “Ministry of Internal Affairs on Jinja Road. I have to get there quickly. Drive quickly, but safely.”

Lesson learned: Never tell a boda driver to get you somewhere quickly, but safely. They have selective hearing and only hear “quickly.”

No exaggeration, this was the scariest boda ride I’ve had. And I am a boda boda lover. I ride them all the time because they’re cheap and they can weave in and out of traffic, getting you there faster. I’ve even been in a boda accident and this ride was still scarier. I must have hit him in the back at least five times yelling, “Slow down!” and saying things like,  “If we die, you don’t get paid” and “I want a visa, but I’d rather be alive.” The whole time I was reassuring myself that Jesus wants to keep me alive and I need to get there before the office closes. I make it to the office on time AND alive, tell the boda man that he is a horrible driver, and run my way up to the counter. Seriously, I know I must’ve looked like a hot mess when I made it to the counter. My hair was all sorts of outta whack from the boda ride and I was sweating more than a lady should sweat. I hand the grumpy man (different man but still grumpy) our papers and he looks through them. He starts to laugh while reading my letter, and tells me “You’ve turned yourself in. If you’re volunteering, you need a work visa.” I start sweating more and tell him that I’m just a volunteer and don’t get paid. He insists that volunteering is the same thing as working and that I’m going to be denied. I ask him, “So if someone wants to just come over and hold babies in an orphanage for a day, they need a work visa!?” (Not that that’s what I’m doing. That was just the best argument I could come up with at the time.) He tells me that he’ll still turn our applications in but they would probably be denied and I should come back Tuesday. I walk away upset, still sweating, and hop on another boda.

Monday

Our visas expire.

Tuesday

We drive to Immigration in the morning and I sit in the car with the kids while Kelsey goes inside. A little while later, she comes back and tells me we were approved but that they wouldn’t show her what we were approved for because we have to pay them in US Dollars. We’re elated that we’ve been approved for something even if it’s just another 3 months. So we drive to Western Union and exchange our shillings into dollars. We head back to Immigration and they tell Kelsey that she has to come back Wednesday. You see, it’s now their lunchtime and they’re starting to get grumpy. I’m not kidding, that’s what they said. They make her give them the money but refuse to write a receipt. She argues that she wants proof that she paid. They get angry and tell her to take the money and leave then. Reluctantly, she pays them $200 and walks away empty-handed.

Wednesday

Back to Immigration we go. Kelsey goes in while I stay in the car again. But, this time she comes back, with passports in hand and two beautiful stamps inside.

They granted us both 1 year mulitple-entry visas!!

Praise God!!! No more worrying about getting kicked out of the country! And seriously after all that stinkin trouble and sweating and being told we’d be denied, we were somehow approved!!!!!

I guess the Big Man wants us to stay in UG for a little while longer.

Broken New Year’s Resolutions and Things Y’all Missed

First off all, let me start by apologizing and say that I am truly sorry that I haven’t sent out updates or blogged more often! I could try to blame it on the power outages or slow internet connection but honestly most of the time I think to myself, “I should blog,” then exhaustion and laziness take over and I fall asleep by 9pm.

I even made it my New Year’s Resolution to blog once a week. Whoops, already broke that one! Honestly, it’s just hard to blog. Because of the sensitive nature of SF’s work, many things can’t be shared or have to be worded very carefully. Also, I’m a tad bit of a blogging perfectionist and feel like every blog has to be insightful, inspiring, witty, full of beautiful photos, correct grammar and proper punctuation (which really means that I care too much about what you think). Still, I’ll try harder to blog more and care less about how perfect my posts are (or what you think).

And since, I’ve been SO terrible about updating all 10 of my loyal followers, there’s a lot that you’ve missed! So I’ll try to go back and recap some of the biggies that have happened over the last 5 1/2 months.

The absolute BIGGEST thing y’all have missed is that Kelsey and I have taken in three precious little ones. If we’re facebook friends, you’ve probably seen lots of photos of litte African cuties and wondered who they were.

Meet Joellia,

Reeja,

and Baby Martha.

Told you they were precious!!

They came to live with us on November 14, 2011 and since then my life has been greatly enriched! The last few months have been crazy, messy, fun, wonderful, challenging, exhausting, and beautiful.

I’m sure you have lots of questions about our new additions but the internet is a scary place and most of my posts about the littles will be password protected. If I actually know you, I’d love to give you the password so you can join me in this crazy adventure called life. If I don’t know you, then tell me a little about yourself so I know you’re not a crazy person and that you pinky promise not to share information.

Yesterday

Yesterday afternoon, Jovan, a child at M3 started having seizures while we were there. He had been brought to M3 the previous day by the police. He was abandoned at a mosque and then brought to the hospital who turned him over to the police. He has special needs is severely malnourished weighing in at 17 lbs. at about two-years-old. After the first seizure, we found the administrator who told us that she was waiting on the probation officer to pick him up because she is not equipped to take care of special needs babies. After his second seizure, we couldn’t wait for the probation officer any longer. He needed medical attention and needed it quickly. Kelsey drove and I held Jovan in my arms. He was so tiny and his cries were so little. At the hospital, he slipped in and out conscience, worn out from the seizures. He looked so lifeless, I put my face next to his and listened, checking for signs of life.

Only hours later, I sat in a nice, private room at Mengo Hospital. Nambowa Medina was sitting beside me, drinking juice, and watching Finding Nemo on my laptop. This hospital visit was very much different from the one only hours before. This visit was planned. A duffle bag sat in the corner full of new clothes, next to a grocery bag full of food for her and Coca Cola for me. Nambowa’s tummy is full from dinner at our house. Her bed is made with clean sheets, blankets, and pillows. On the nightstand are books, toys, and a teddy bear. Nambowa is at the hospital preparing to have surgery to remove a very large and painful hernia on her belly button. Over the last few months, I’ve watched Nambowa pull her shirt down, embarrassed, trying to hide what can’t be hidden. But soon, she won’t have to be embarrassed or in pain anymore. She will be a normal ten-year-old with a normal belly button.

I can’t help but compare the two visits. Two children. Two different hospitals. All in one day. One child is fighting for his life. The other is having a surgery that will change hers. Today, I’m praising God for his blessings. Celebrating the new life that Nambowa has been given. But I’m on my knees begging for His mercies, for the life that Jovan has yet to live.

Please join in me prayer over these littles’ lives. Pray for a fast recovery for Nambowa as she spends another night in the hospital. Pray for her next week as she leaves our house and goes back to live at M3. Pray for Jovan, for healing. He was diagnosed with malaria but the doctors cannot explain his seizures.

A Place To Go

During our Christmas party at M2, I noticed a girl that I hadn’t seen before. She was listening to Kelsey preach and the tears were welling up in her eyes. Afterwards, I met Nadiah and found out she was brand new to M2. In fact, she was brought there that morning by her mother and aunt. Now, you would probably assume that she did something pretty awful since her own mother dropped her off at a prison. But, you’d be wrong.

The day before, Nadiah, refused to kneel down and greet her Aunt. The next morning, her mother told her they were going to the market but brought her to M2 instead. Nadiah is only 13.
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A 17-year-old girl is living at M2 even though she’s been released. She was sent away by her brother to be a house-girl. Then he called her back to his house and tried to rape her. She ran away to live with a friend and when her friend’s house was broken into, she was falsely accused of theft and sent to serve her sentence at M2.

She has nowhere to go but back to her brother’s house.
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If you’ve had the opportunity to visit M1 this year, you know who “Didi” is; the cute little Karamojong boy with the infectious smile. Didi was picked up by the police while begging on the streets. He has a mother but she has never come for him. He doesn’t remember where he lives. He can’t be resettled. He’s been living at M1 for the last 8 months and would probably remain there for years…

…Unless, he had a place to go. Since Sixty Feet began, they have dreamed of building a home where the youngest and most vulnerable children at the M facilities could live in a loving, nurturing, family-like environment. A home for children like these.

Now, Sixty Feet is doing just that. Several donors have stepped forward and agreed to match any donations made before December 31st up to the amount of $60,000 towards purchasing the land for the children’s home.

$60,000 x 2 = $120,000
Add the $30,000 that was raised last year and you’ve got $150,000!!

Currently, over half of the $60,000 has been raised but we’ve only got 13 daysleft to raise the rest! So please help us reach our goal by donating and spreading the word.

To donate, click here.

Best Buds!

Meet my newest friends, Alfred and Faizo.

Alfred and Faizo have been at M1 for almost two weeks now. Both were brought at the same time and are around each other’s age. Luckily, they let me into their cute little duo and the three of us have become best buds. We color, read bible stories, play cards, and cuddle. Wednesday, I read Put Me in the Zoo by Dr. Seuss and we drew pictures from the story.
The only thing is, none of us can speak the same language. Alfred speaks Acholi, Faizo speaks Luganda, and I speak English.  We may not be able to communicate very well but we still have a good ol’ time. Luckily, you don’t need words to tickle, cuddle, laugh or love.

They still like Dr. Seuss even though they don’t understand the words. And even though, we have Bibles in Acholi and Luganda, they like the pictures in the English Children’s Bible. Teaching “Slapjack” was a little bit of a challenge but they eventually got the hang of it and laughed every time we slapped each other’s hands. And when Faizo lost his tooth on Wednesday we didn’t need words to celebrate. He proudly showed Alfred and I the tooth in his hand and pointed to the new gap in his smile. We had high-five’s all around to celebrate this momentous occasion for Faizo.

Praise the Lord that His love and understanding transcend all language barriers!!

Getting Mad

Everyday I listen to child tell their story; where they are from, how they came to the prison, what life was like before, and what life is like now. After a month of listening to countless stories of abandonment, betrayal and suffering, it is starting to weigh heavily on me.

“My mother dropped me off because I was stubborn.”
“My parents don’t want me.”
“My parents are dead.”
“I ran away because I was being abused.”
“My stepmother lied to the police because she hates me.”
“I got lost and the police brought me here.”
“My parents don’t know where I am.”

It truly tears me apart listening to these children and at times I find myself growing angry.

For example, I was at M2 when I heard that Anita’s “step-mother” was in the office. The woman who severely abused Anita for years after her parents died and paid the police to get rid of her was just around the corner from me. I immediately burst into tears just knowing that she was nearby and in Anita’s presence. I immediately wanted to protect Anita from her. I wanted to scream at the woman who intentionally caused her to suffer for years. Thankfully I was already on the bus and was also told that the “step-mother” relinquished her rights to Anita. I don’t know how I would’ve reacted if I had actually come face-to-face with her but I probably would not have been displaying much mercy or forgiveness.

Then last week I met a a girl who was sent to M2 because she talked back to her mother. Seriously? If talking back to your parents meant jail time, I would still be completing my sentence. It’s called being a teenager! Back home, proper punishment would include being sent to your room without supper or being grounded for a week. Here, parents send their children to prison for months.

While it seems inevitable to be angry at the parents and the injustice of it all, it isn’t what God commands us to do. Yet, it’s something I struggle with constantly.

In Colossians 3:12-17, Paul writes “Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are all called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise. Use his words to teach and counsel each other. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.”

Father, this is my prayer. I rely on you because I cannot do it alone. Help me to clothe myself in mercy, kindness, gentleness and patience daily. I want to be full of your spirit. Full of love and peace. Of humility. I thank you for your forgiveness and grace. Have mercy, oh God. I want to be your representative in the darkness. May my words and actions bring glory to your name always. Amen.

One Month Anniversary!

It’s been exactly one month since Kelsey and I packed our bags, left home, and headed for Uganda. Wow, how the month has flown by! I can’t believe it was 4 weeks ago when I stepped into “M” for the first time and met all those smiling faces. Faces that I have come to know, love, and look forward to seeing every few days. Oh, and the children who I have drooled over at M3!! They are just too precious and I want to be around them all the time!! And the sweet boys and girls at M2 who I’m blessed to call my friends.

It’s been a challenging month. Coming into this, I knew it would be hard work, but I didn’t think heartache would happen so quickly and so often. There have been a lot of tears but there has been so much joy and laughter! There are lots of stories of abandonment, abuse, suffering and living on the streets, but then there are glorious stories full of hope and redemption.
Kelsey blogged about “Anita” here. Her story is one of the most heartbreaking and we quickly came to adore her. Today, we brought Anita to her family’s home just outside of Kampala. Anita is a double orphan and she hadn’t seen her extended family since she was a child. Yet, they were there the whole time, loving her from far away, not knowing of her situation. They believed she was in boarding school and being taken care of by a family member. She believed she had no family, no one who loved her. Sixty Feet was able to trace Anita’s family and contacted her uncle and grandparents. We spent the entire afternoon with them, getting to know them, and listening to them talk about Anita. Her grandfather said to us, “This is her home. We are her family.” By the end of the day, we were certain there was no other place Anita belonged than here with them. We hugged our sweet Anita goodbye and drove away, promising to visit soon and call often.
Then there is Grace. I met Grace just a few weeks ago when we picked her up from her boarding school for the holiday. She was jumping up and down with joy when we pulled up. She ran up to the car yelling, “Uncle! Uncle” and nearly tackled Moses giving him hugs. It was unimaginable to me that this was the same girl I heard about only a couple months ago. She was living at M1 and planning to end her own life until Sixty Feet intervened. Today, she is a beautiful young lady studying hair dressing at a vocational boarding school, full of joy and loving life. She has many friends and excelling in her studies. She even did a little practice on Moses’ niece!
Finally, there’s this cool dude named Patrick. No, he doesn’t live in one of the remand centers. He’s a normal 21-year-old studying at Makerere University. Last week, Patrick tagged along with us to M1 and M2, toting a giant duffel bag with him. It was full of beads and knick-knacks for making jewelry. He spent his entire day with us teaching the kids how to make necklaces and bracelets. You may think that teenage boys wouldn’t want to make jewelry but you’d be dead wrong! They swarmed those tables right along with all the girls and proudly wore their creations. The teachers at Patrick’s university are on strike so school has been cancelled. Is Patrick out celebrating, having fun with his friends, and enjoying the time off? No, he’s hanging out with “the least of these.” Most Ugandans have deemed children living in these prisons as the lowest of the low, unwanted and stained because of where they live. Not Patrick, he’s right next to them, getting dirty, singing worship and dancing around. I’m blessed to call him friend and to be able to serve alongside him.
So much more has happened in the past month that I haven’t had the chance to blog about, but I will soon, including the incredibly awesome Sixty Feet Missions Team who came to serve for one week!! Thank you for your words of encouragement, prayers, emails, etc. this past month. I truly feel like I have a wonderful support system back home and all around the world.