Archive for November, 2011


Another Little Piece of My Heart

In the mountains of Nyharuru, Kenya, located about 4 hours from the capital of Nairobi, the temperatures drop, allowing even for small amounts of snowfall. The small city is part of the Great Rift Valley where giraffe, zebra, baboons, and hyena can be seen in great numbers even just alongside the main roads. People on foot walk right by the zebra as if they were nothing more special than a dog or a deer. A vulture feeds on a dead hyena that was roadkill. Locals set up makeshift shops along the road selling sheepskin hats and rugs for the passing tourists. The roads make dramatic twists and turns around the mountains which were constructed by prisoners of war in the 40s. Along these seemingly desolate roads are British-owned coffee shops scattered along the way making for a pleasant rest-stop.

Elephant orphanage in Nairobi. Their mothers were killed by poachers and they were found and taken in until they’re big enough to go out on their own.

This is not at all what I expected and is quite a contrast to the neighboring Uganda that I have come to know so well. I can’t help but compare everything I see to that though. My every other sentence starts with “In Uganda…” I have to catch myself. This is not Uganda, and the issues here cannot be treated with a one-size-fits-all approach.

I am spending only 2.5 days on this first trip to Kenya in order to visit a new potential partner, Mt. Moriah Ministries which is an orphanage for 21 children and an extension of a New York based inter-denominational church, both of which were established by its American pastors. I have only a short time to spend with the children and learning about Mt. Moriah’s programs and visions for the future. I am inspired by this couples’ willingness and ability to answer their calling and serve in this way.

Over the next several days, I got to know the pastor couple as well as an American missionary couple stationed in Juba, Sudan but vacationing in Nyharuru during my stay. They bless me beyond anything I expected with their testimonies about God working in their lives, and I am encouraged by their faith. Despite my efforts to seem professional, I let down my guard and receive the blessings of a relationship that I hope will grow for many more years to come. And I leave another little piece of my heart behind everywhere I go. I know I’ll be returning to Kenya soon.

Children fom the village surrounding Mt. Moriah. They want to come in and play too!

A ‘Godwink’ in Kenya

While in Uganda, I went to the market with a list of names as well as corresponding basket sizes, amounts and colors to purchase. I hand selected each one, going from shop to shop to scour out the best ones. The last shop I visited had a red and white one that was different than all the rest, and I couldn’t help but buy it. I knew that I already had my own baskets and had no need or space for anymore. I had already bought for everyone I could think of who would even want it, but for some reason I just felt I should buy it. Even as I was purchasing it, I thought, “Why am I buying this?” yet, I just felt I should. I didn’t think anything of it after that except to remind myself that it was an unnecessary purchase… until I got to Kenya.

A Guatamalan-American missionary woman named Kenia (coincidentally pronounced the same as Kenya) welcomed me into her temporary home with a warm hug and promptly fed me a delicious meal. Later as we shared stories in the sitting room, she excitedly complimented my large stack of baskets. Her husband told me that she admires and collects baskets, finding a special use for each one of them. He joked that he doesn’t mind it because baskets are a much cheaper fetish than shoes. All of a sudden I felt with complete certainty that God wanted me to buy that basket for Kenia, and I didn’t even know her. She cried when I gave it to her and explained the situation. As it was, the couple was taking a short retreat in Kenya from the constant work and high stress life they had been living in Sudan. God knew they needed uplifting, and He knew Kenia needed a beautiful basket.

“… for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” (Matthew 6:8)

“Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)

Driving on the boda at night through Gulu town, it is pitch black. The driver swerves to avoid a drunk man crossing the road. He stops and stares at us as if to say ‘how dare you drive on the road?’ The light shines barely enough to see also small figures as we pass—young children walking somewhere, maybe nowhere.

I am reminded of what has occurred in this very place over a few short years ago when thousands of children flooded Gulu from all the surrounding villages, walking 8 miles or more each way just to sleep on a shop veranda or even along the street, anywhere at all to avoid being abducted in the middle of the night by the rebels. Racing back from school to gather a piece of bread and a blanket if they are lucky, they made the march to town every evening before dark. They tried to get to town as early as possible to secure a good spot. Crowded together in small spaces, the children slept a few hours and then awoke before the sun rose in order to make the long trek back home to go to school and do it all over again..every single day for fear of their lives.

Even the trek to town was dangerous for the young girls as men preyed on them, ready to take them at any moment and no one to protect them. It was a time without safety and without justice. There was no room for sympathy either as everyone was facing the same struggles. One girl told me this conversation with her mother: “You were raped? Sorry, me too…..so how was school?”

Again as the school children line up to have their pictures taken the next day, holding onto the person in front of them, I am again reminded of what could have been for these little ones and what was for children their age a few years sooner. Innocent children as young as age 5 captured and lined up and tied to the child in front of them as they are forced to march hundreds of miles and taught to be dangerous soldiers. I recall the countless stories I’ve heard over the last year and a half and I am disturbed by these thoughts, but I can’t stop myself from thinking them. But I only heard them...I cannot imagine living them.

Things have changed in Gulu town since the rebel army left Uganda in 2006, but the people cannot forget and many struggle to move on. The city is now beginning to be rebuilt, but the people from the villages are the ones who suffered the most. Poverty inhabits every corner of this place and so does disease as the number of people affected by HIV/AIDS only continues to grow, leaving behind new generations of sick and orphaned children.

Coming back to Uganda has been such a happy and affirming experience for me, but it also brings back unpleasant reminders of the problems the Acholi people have faced, for it is the very reason I am here. Yet through the optimism and resiliency of the Ugandan people I am also renewed in my passion to continue working for change in this great place and take comfort in God’s control.

I have told you all these things so that you may have peace in Me. In the world you will have much trouble. But take hope! I have power over the world!” (John 16:33)

As I drove closer and closer to the ChildVoice center in Lukome, I could barely contain my excitement. I was going to see the girls and kids again for the first time since I’d been gone, and I didn’t know what to expect. As the car turned into the driveway, I saw Concy drop her jerican at the borehole and start running toward the gate. Soon the children were yelling and running too. The Bead Project women and the girls wooped and hollered, surrounding me with hugs and laughter. I thought for sure it would soon result in a massive pileup with me on the bottom. Before I knew it, they were carrying me through the gates into the center and singing. Talk about a warm welcome! True to Acholi style.

I spent the rest of the day catching up with everyone, asking them about their family, about school, about the harvest, everything. I was surprised that the children even remembered me and embraced me rather than shying away like they often do with unfamiliar people. I am  ‘Aunty Natalie’ to many of the little ones. I was happy to have remembered most of my Acholi so I was able to tell the girls about home and they even asked about my family members and friends by name. I remember thinking they didn’t listen to me, but I guess they did after all.

Things eventually calmed down a little and I was able to visit with other people individually. I went to Lily’s hut where she was playing with her daughter, Hope. As I used to always do with Hope’s sister, I sang the rhyme that my dad teased me with when I was little: “There was a little mouse that lived right there, and when he got scared, he went allllll the way up there.” This always ends in lots of tickles.

Lily watched and then proceeded to sing a song with very similar gestures and the same rhythm as mine. Hers also resulted in tickles. I was surprised to see that the Acholi had the very same song that my dad taught me more than 20 years ago; one that was not even very popular among Americans.

As I watched Lily play with her daughter, I was again reminded of how very much alike we all really are, even if we are world’s apart. Everyone at ChildVoice welcomed me back as if I had never left, and I quickly fell into stride, helping prepare dinner and having tea time under the mango tree. It felt good to be “home” again.