Monday, June 23, 2014

HOME: Inside a refugee settlement 50 years young

For a refugee or victim of war, home is a loaded word. It's one that carries with it mixed emotions of nostalgia, pain, hope and unspeakable loss.

Yes, there are places here in Uganda where it's all white UNHCR tents, truckload after truckload of bursting buses carrying helpless defeated people into a new country and people stampeeding for their daily food. But long after the dramatic newsworthy images appear and the media roll on out what's left?


Humans just like us starting from the ashes and rebuilding their lives. Filled with hopes and dreams they have little to no idea what the future holds. So what happens after the emergency phase is over? What happens after a year, two years, ten or even fifty? What happens when your country is at war  - all the time. When you're too scared to go home for fear of what or who/what will/wont be there anymore.

For many of the people we work with, the camp becomes home.

Welcome to Nakivale Refugee Settlement in South Western Uganda. It is here we find ourselves working with over 65,000 refugees mainly from the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. It's not rare to find children whose grandparents lived here, parents met here and who were then born and raised here.

In honor of refugee week - come with me on a photo journey into life 50 years on.

With over 65,000 refugees living in Nakivale the spectrum goes from babies born here last week to Grandmas that fled from Rwanda in the 1950s. There are many incredible organisations that work alongside these vulnerable people from Samiratans Purse to LWF to Windle Trust. Together we work with people that have lost everything and have next to nothing.

It is here the organisation we work for, Tutapona ,operates to bring emotional healing. By doing group trauma counselling village by village our local staff are able to start working on the trauma and sheer devastation many of our beneficiaries have gone through. We start with the invisible in hopes that the freedom of being able to sleep through the night, forgive for the first time and not have nightmares moves from the inside out into a hope for the future.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A thrill of Hope

In early February this year God dropped a miracle into our arms in the form of our first born child. Originally named ‘Precious’ she was and continues to be just that. It is our great honour and privilege to officially introduce you to her today.  We figured the easiest way to answer the questions you may have would be here on our blog.

What does her name mean?

means "to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true, a feeling of cherished expecation and desire for a certain thing to happen". This sums up how we feel about her! We've also named her after our Ugandan sponsor daughter.

Selah means "to pause and calmfly reflect on these things." This word is found in the Bible a lot. We feel it is important for us (and her) to reflect on the goodness of God in getting us this far.

Kyomuwendo is the Ugandan name she came to us with. It means something precious, valuable, of great worth.  

What’s her story?

Her story is just that. Hers. And until the day she’s old enough to decide if she wants to share it, that’s where it will stay. Suffice to say that she has a beautiful story with God’s fingerprint all over it.

Did you move to Uganda knowing about her?

No. We had nine minutes to prepare for something most people have 9 months for! Thankfully our friends here in Uganda have been a HUGE support and our family and friends in New Zealand are second to none. We would not be here without their prayers and encouragement. On the other hand, the concept of adoption was not a spur of the moment decision but rather one that we have been praying about for 10 years as a couple.

How old was she when you started taking care of her?

Hope was approximately six days old when we started taking care of her. Today she is 4.5 months old and she is a vivacious, spirited, delightful little girl who thrills our heart every day.

Why are you only introducing her to us now?

In Uganda there needs to be a full investigation into the background of any child up for adoption. We wanted to respect this process. In addition, the journey has been an exhausting one. Becoming parents at such short notice has been exciting, stressful, overwhelming and the best thing ever all at once. One of the more difficult things we’ve had to face so far is the uncertainty. We still walk that fine line and will do all the way to full adoption.

Are you still working for Tutapona full time?

Yes, we are both still working for Tutapona full time. Helen is the Communications Manager and Tim is the Programmes Coordinator. We are lucky to have a house helper for the day to day running of the house that then enables Helen to work and take care of Hope.

Will you be posting about your journey to adoption on this blog?

Not really. There are lots of blogs out there that deal with that sort of thing but that’s not for us right now. We will share cute snaps from time to time just like any Mama and Papa.

Why do you keep mentioning God?

We feel really strongly that without God helping us this absolutely wouldn’t have been possible and without his continued help it won’t be either.  The bureaucracy and corruption here is overwhelming and keeping our head above water is something we are committed to. We’ve seen God do the impossible and we owe it all to him!  "Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with youl were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare!" Psalm 40:5 

What's next?
Right now we’re at the beginning of a long and complicated process to adopt her and we plan on following all of the Ugandan laws to do so. If you think of us, we would so appreciate your prayers for our journey. 

Isaiah 55:13 “…This will be for the Lord’s renown…”

With love,
Us three xox

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Love is on the Way

Last week I was asked to photograph the Daughters of Destiny event at Watoto Church Central with guest speaker Bobbie Houston. Here's the story and some images from the event.
Hot on the heels of last night’s electric Big Party here in Uganda, the women of the city gathered together for a special edition Daughters of Destiny event this afternoon at Watoto Church Central. Heralding all the way from Sydney, Australia, Pastor Bobbie Houston is the Senior Pastor of popular Hillsong Church and a long-time friend of Watoto Ministries.

A tangible sense of excitement steadily built as the venue packed out with thousands of African women ready to sing God’s praises and hear his word. Women of all ages, tribes and tongues crowded the venue in such huge numbers there were hundreds standing around the edges and filling the choir seats on the stage!
Starting with incredible praise and worship led by the Watoto Church team, Marilyn then got down on her knees as a sign of respect to the woman “without whom we would not be here today”. Introducing Bobbie Houston brought the congregation to their feet before she began to share her sermon, Love is on the Way. Bobbie shared with the thousands of women in attendance about the importance of grace in our everyday lives. In trusting a God who is always for us. In speaking grace to the tough situations we face in our lives. “God is in our Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. He’s in our March, April and December too”. Event attendee and Watoto babies home volunteer, Annette Carey, said; “What an afternoon. I feel encouraged, uplifted and inspired”.  All the women left with a spring in their step into the warm dry breeze covering the city.
We hope you can join us next time!


This Single Minute Of Jim Carrey’s Speech May Change Your Life....

Jim Carrey delivered a very inspiring commencement speech to Maharishi University of Management’s class of 2014. He reveals how his late father inspired him to follow his dreams.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Things No One Tells You About Going on Short-Term Mission Trips

Another awesome blog about Short Term Missions Trips written by   Originally posted here
It is estimated that over 1.5 million people from the United States participate in short-term mission trips every year. That is a lot of people. And those 1.5 million people spend close to $2 billion for these trips.
My husband and I live in Guatemala and host short-term mission teams throughout the year. I am originally from California and he was born and raised in Guatemala. For me, short-term mission trips were kind of like camp. Every summer I had the chance to go somewhere new and “help people.” For my husband, hosting short-term mission teams in Guatemala was part of what he and his family did. There were blessings that came from it, but it was mostly a lot of work.
We have both seen the good, the bad and the ugly of short-term missions. And we continue to feel this tension with the short-term mission teams that we host. Do they do more harm than good? Do they perpetuate the cycle of poverty? Do they contribute to feelings of superiority? Or inferiority? Our work with families and communities in Guatemala, as well as churches and schools from the U.S. has forced us to ask these questions daily.
We have learned that perhaps how we go might matter more that what we do. Here are a few things you may not have heard about being more effective on short-term mission trips:

You're Not a Hero.

First of all, before you go and when you get there, your team must commit to getting rid of the hero complex. Developing countries do not need short-term heroes. They need long-term partners. And if your group just wants to be a hero for a week, then you may be doing more harm than good.

Poverty Can Look Different Than You Expect.

If at the end of your trip you say, “I am so thankful for what I have, because they have so little.” You have missed the whole point.
You’re poor, too. But maybe you’re hiding behind all your stuff. There is material poverty, physical poverty, spiritual poverty and systemic poverty. We all have to acknowledge our own brokenness and deep need for God before we can expect to serve others.

Historical Context May Be Just As Important as Immediate Context.

Have you studied the history of the country or neighborhoods where you’re going? Do you understand the role that your country has played there? Do you know what the role of the Church and missions has been? Do you know the current needs and issues of the people? Having background knowledge of where you're going will help you know how you can best fit and help in your immediate context.

Don’t Do a Job People Can Do for Themselves.

Last time I checked, people in developing countries can paint a wall, so why are you doing it for them? If painting a wall or school is really a need in the place where you’re working then invite students from that school or people from the village to do it with you.
Doing things with people, not for people should be the motto. Always.

Learning Takes Place in the Context of Reciprocal Relationships.

Be willing to share about your family, your pain and your needs. Sometimes people in developing countries think everyone in the U.S. is rich, white and happy. We know this is not true, and we have the chance to share honestly and vulnerably. Prioritize building relationships over completing projects.
You are an ambassador from your country. Thanks to globalization, YouTube and Facebook, most developing countries will have certain ideas about the U.S. before you arrive. Be willing to ask questions and share about yourself and American culture, as well.
Along the same lines, before you take a picture, ask yourself, "Would I mind if a foreigner took a picture of my daughter/son/sister/brother in this situation?" If the answer is yes, then don’t take it. Come back with stories and name of people, not just an entire album of “cute” nameless kids.

There is Something Special About Going.

All of this isn't meant to discourage missions work. On the contrary, the act of going is important. Jesus left His home, the comfort of the Father to go, to be among the people. Your willingness to leave your home, your comfort and GO is an example of that, too.
So go, be among the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Eat what they eat. Observe what they do. Don’t spend your time in McDonalds.

Don't Raise $1,000 for a Week, and Then Give Nothing Else the whole Year.

We all know money is not everything. But when used wisely it can make a huge difference in the lives of people. You probably wrote letters and had car washes in order to raise money to go, right? Well, what keeps you from still doing that? We work hard for a one-week trip, but then what? What if your church or youth group or school worked on matching every dollar you spent on your one-week trip to send down to the place you served over the course of the year?

You Don’t Have to Fly in an Airplane to Serve the Poor.

Why not focus on seeking justice in your neighborhood? Ask yourself, "If Jesus was here who would He be talking to?" The kid with disabilities who sits in the back at youth group? The Spanish-speaking man who cleans your office? The woman who collects cans in the local park? Ask God to give you eyes to see what He does. It might change your life.
Please don’t stop taking short-term missing trips, but do consider helping your team understand that how we do short-term mission trips may, in fact, matter more than what we do.