Friday, December 29, 2006

I leave today at 5:40pm on a plane back to Uganda to build relationships and begin the planning
stages for an after-care home for girl child soldiers. I'm so excited!
Thank you for all of your support and prayers.
Here is my cell phone there in case you'd like to contact me

Mobile has good phone cards.

Also you can now write checks directly to Zion Project. We have our own bank account
and gifts will be tax-deductible.

Keep checking back for updates.

Tomorrow I'll be back in Africa :)

Friday, December 22, 2006

It is strange to watch a movie about something that feels as close to you as your own breathing, your own organs expanding and constricting in suspended grief, and disbelief, and grief again. As if it were inside your head, inside your skin and each pain flickering across the screen squeezes a little harder around your heart. As if you were attached.
It makes my heart hurt, a palpable, physical thing. The same wincing feeling of losing someone you cannot bear to lose.
Sometimes I feel my heart stop beating.

When I was 12 I convinced myself I had a heart murmur. I wasn't quite sure exactly what that was but I felt sure it had something to do with feeling your heart quit. Or maybe hearing it talk--- as if it were speaking a warning---that it couldn't take some things. Mine would often palpitate and I would try to know what it was saying. I never really knew, but it scared me. That maybe it would just implode.

My kids at school all call me Ms. Heart's. And that's how they spell it too. Mr. Fields' likes to joke with the kids and say "it's because she has a big heart!" and the kids think that's funny. It makes me smile on days when I'm not sure of what I'm doing. It makes me want to change the spelling of my name because most days my heart feels small, like it can't contain any more.

I watched BLOOD DIAMOND for the second time and in the face of the little boy who becomes a soldier I saw the faces of boys and girls who in a way, shut down, because their hearts could not take any more. We all do it. It's called survival. But I yearn for the day when I will see them laugh again, and mean it.

Leanardo Dicaprio said something that struck me--he said, "the peace corps types, they always burn out" and I laughed sort of cynically because I knew what he meant and yet I didn't want to believe it. Whether it be that the government is so corrupt, or change is so hard, or the very people you want to help don't seem to want it. It's the fighting against systems that are so ingrained, so complex, they snuff the hope right out of you.

And I realized this can't be a mission, this can't be a goal with an expected end, it can't be success by standards the world has deemed successful. It can't be a neatly wrapped story.
It must be small acts of love. Relationship. Empathy, not sympathy. Friendship, not services.
It must be one life in the face of many lives or we face the risk of becoming cynical ourselves. I want to stay tender. I don't want to wake up one morning and not cry anymore over injustices that should not be. And I don't want to resent the very people, the very place, that gave me my purpose.

This is bigger than you and me or what we can offer. My working 70 hours a week isn't going to help me become the person I need to be to keep loving, and keep staying when the very beautiful things I'm working for are things I cannot be myself.

What I have always admired about Mother Teresa is that she kept her priorities. She knew she couldn't cure all the sick, so she held one of them while they were dying. I have to remind myself of that. Love one girl. Hold one orphan. Bring one present. Tell one story. Buy one diamond that didn't shed blood. Simple and doable when the problems shout too loud. One. Maybe if we all thought that way we would do more simply by taking on one thing.

Part of me sometimes wants to become a journalist and tell the masses about the things they couldn't imagine happen in the rest of the world. I want to tell the masses to save the masses. But I couldn't say anything shocking enough unless they were connected to it. So instead, I'll just do what I can do. Love. Keep faith alive. Keep hope alive. And never let my heart become hard enough that it stops beating, that it stops believing.

In one week I return to Uganda for a month. I'm bringing a lot of christmas presents that people like you donated to bring hope to children over there who have nothing. I'm excited to be close again to the land, and the people I love. Keep believing, keep praying, and keep doing that one small thing you can do. Watch Blood Diamond. And think of the kids in Uganda who are now experiencing what happened in Sierra Leone. We cannot change the past, but we can do something in the present, for the future.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Last night's event was truly beautiful. So many people showed up to offer Christmas to children in East Africa. I was thinking about why that is so important. I believe its because hope is our greatest commodity, more valuable as a gift than food, water, or clothes on someone's back. It is the belief in something larger than ourselves and in possible change for our future and that is what we want to and are going to, I believe, offer these children. As Jean Paul said, this is the first Christmas children in Rwanda will have celebrated. I think that is so amazing. I had no idea how talented, or how annointed Jean Paul was before seeing him sing and his beautiful partners--- (his wife) and Jacque dance! I was so touched by him and we are hoping to continue to partner in the future to offer hope and reconciliation to war-torn countries.

Myself and Lindsay Branham will be traveling to Uganda for a month on December 30th to lay the groundwork for Zion Project. We will be taking some christmas presents over to some orphans, refugees and child mothers we support and continuting the process of becoming registered as an NGO in Uganda. We also would love to take cameras (used, new & disposable) over to give to children as a way for them to express their own lives. If any of you have seen Born into Brothels, you witnessed how empowering it can be for a child to begin to describe their own lives and experiences. A GREAT CAMERA TO BUY as a donation for us to take over would be a CANON point and shoot 35 mm. If you would like to donate cameras or other items we need them before Dec 24th. You can send them to Sarita Hartz at 4613 30th Rd. S. Arlington, VA 22206. Or contact me for more details. 703-888-6693

I believe that Uganda is a pivotal country and truly key to Africa's future. Please help us invest in them.

We hope to have pictures up soon from the concert and YES we ARE working on a website as well so please be patient with us. We're busy busy bees!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

This Christmas, You can bring Hope to the Children of East Africa !
Come to the Concert on Dec 1st!!!!

While many people are celebrating Christmas with their families, vulnerable children in Africa are isolated and have nobody to care for them.

This Christmas Rwandan musical artist Jean Paul Samputu will be performing for the orphaned children of East Africa . The H.O.P.E Christmas tour was initiated for those wounded hearts.

H - Honoring
O - Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children of all
P - People in
E - East Africa

Jean Paul Samputu is a Christian Rwandan singer and genocide survivor. He has established himself as one of the most prominent African artists on the world stage today. Jean Paul’s music and testimony are well known throughout Africa . Winner of the prestigious Kora award (the 'African Grammy') in 2003, Samputu travels the world as a cultural ambassador for Rwanda educating his audiences through African singing, dancing and drumming about genocide, human rights, HIV, peace and reconciliation.

Did you know….Rwanda has 1,264,000 orphans? That is 30% of the total population of children in that one country alone, one of the highest in the world. Jean Paul and American Musical Artist Meme Stephens ( will be giving the gift of Hope this Christmas in free concerts to children of East Africa--including Rwanda and Northern Uganda!!!!

How can your church help?

Your generous financial gifts will enable the H.O.P.E Christmas Team to provide practical Christmas gifts for the children who attend the concerts as well as children in orphanages. Because of the expense of shipping we are collecting financial gifts from churches in the U.S. and will be purchasing items such as blankets and clothing for the children in Africa .

We hope to provide a present for at least 10,000 orphans.

Your Generous Donations are Gratefully Accepted.

Please make your tax deductible donations to:

Authentic Word Ministries, Inc.
690 Prestonwood Drive
Atlanta GA 30043-4243

For more information see:
Half of the proceeds from the concert on Dec 1st, will go to benefit child mothers being supported through Zion Project. COME! Vienna Presbyterian 133 Park St. NE, Vienna, VA 7:30 pm
$20 at door suggested donation. Please also bring cash to buy photography from Uganda and Rwanda as both mine and Andrew Briggs' will be available for purchase.

Friday, October 06, 2006

After looking into the eyes of young women who asked the question
"What will you do for me?"
I am beginning to find an answer.
A grassroots, faith-based project with a mission of grace:
To revolutionize war-affected communities whose needs are unmet by humanitarian aid through intimate healing, creative empowerment, and holistic transformation in the lives of the most vulnerable: girl child soldiers, child mothers, and refugees in Africa

Believing in the power of women

Dreaming of their potential fulfilled

Seeing their communities strengthened

"For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant and out of Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord will do this." II Kings 19:31

The Need

In the 21st century child soldiers have become
the new face of war:

300,000 child soldiers around the
world in over 30 countries. 40% are girls.

In Uganda 30,000 children abducted
for indoctrination, forced killing, and sex slavery.

Why we should care

Aside from justice and compassion, there
are the consequences:

The first US soldier killed in Iraq was shot by
a 14 yr old boy

AIDS rates in Northern
Uganda are escalating

In March 2006 I went to Uganda and saw with my own eyes things I had only read about. I saw the disease, starvation, and desperation of communities that were now forced to live in crowded camps because of a 20 yr long war the outside world knows little about. I heard the community say they wanted to go back home and they wanted to work their own land. But what was most unjust of all were the young girls not going to school, but caring for infants as a result of their rapes. I sat down and spoke with these girls and found that while some are taken to reception centers upon escaping their captors, most do not receive counseling or care after being returned to their camp. Their neighbors often call them and their children “killers.” After seeing corruption in both the government and in Aid organizations I decided to start my own to ensure that donor’s money would be invested where they intended: in the lives of those who need it most

The Vision

Zion Village

Resettlement of an IDP camp and building a community
that is self-sustaining, a place where "the city shall be
full of boys and girls playing in its streets."( Zech 8:3-5)

Bringing heaven to earth

To welcome the most vulnerable: child mothers, prostitutes, refugees, and children into a community that provides an atmosphere of "home" where safety, beauty, and love can begin to transform their lives. To guide them towards their identity as the Beloved of God through Christian counseling through the arts, education, and economic empowerment. To build bridges with the larger community through acts of love and nurture relationship and reconciliation between the rejected and those who reject them. To create partnerships with other non-profits in a non-competitive learning and giving atmosphere. To create partnerships between Africans and Americans to raise awareness about the beauty of Africa's people and the need for churches to care for the outcasts. Providing an atmosphere of God's presence and offering relationship and connection to each individual. To always receive the rejected, sustain those who are weary, bring the homeless into our home and release them towards a blessed future.
Never turning anyone away without lovingly supporting them and/or referring them to someone who can better help them.


We believe we are God's mirror reflecting his face to disadvantaged of the world.
That there is more than one kind of poverty.
We believe that no one is beyond redemption.
We believe in the power of women in the developing world and their ability to foster positive growth in communities, villages, and continents.

We dream of seeing their potential fulfilled and bridges built with their communities in order to transform entire war-torn regions of Africa.
We believe in the radical redemption of lives and in being Holy-Spirit driven
We believe in supporting all who enter our doors in their pursuit of their purpose, passion and integrity as a human being who is loved by God
We believe there is no true healing without the Divine
We believe in the power of faith and ingenuity to change the world's oldest problems
We believe you have to lose your life to find it


* After-care center (trauma shelter)

for child mothers (former girl child soldiers with children) to support their rehabilitation after being released from the bush

*Being a safety net between the harsh transition
from reception center straight back into an IDP camp or village

*Christian Counseling with respect
to cultural methods of healing

*Income Generating Activities

*Using the arts in methods of counseling thereby transcending culture, class and race and allowing free expression that leads to personal healing


*Fostering an atmosphere of home, beauty
and retreat for all who enter our doors

*Agricultural development within resettled IDP camp
meeting basif needs of larger community to foster reconciliation and reduce jealousy towards child mothers

*Community sensitization
*Partnering with nationals
*Community ownership on all projects
*Service projects by girls to initiate relationship and reconciliation

Partnerships & Accountability

*Bringing teams from other countries
over to openly dialogue, share cultures,
and be blessed through serving and
*Networking with other ministries and agencies that align with our vision
*Encouraging the self-esteem and giftings of all those
we serve and all those who seek to serve with us

*Making sure the money goes to the people
who need it most.

How You Can Help
We are seeking:
Members for a Board of Directors & Finances

Tax-deductible checks can be made out to
Project Salt with "Zion Project" in memo.


Sarita Hartz, Director
4613 30th Rd South
Arlington,VA 22206

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Join me and other activists who are
raising our voices about N. Uganda.

Please contact me if you can house a student
for two nights. We are in desperate need of
finding a place for 120 students.

For more info on the current situation in Uganda:
A wonderful organization I volunteer with and support
their work.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Lots of newness--
New phone number--703-888-6693
New address--4613 30th Road South Arlington,VA 22206
Update it now because a month from now you'll be wondering
why I don't return your calls. :)

Monday, August 21, 2006

They say animals become restless before birth. There doesn't seem to be a soft enough space to lie or right enough place to make a home. Everything is uncomfortable, wrong, and the places that should feel familiar don't offer the reprieve they used to. When I was retreating in Mbale I saw the most precious miserable dog whose stomach was so heavy with pregnancy that her stubby legs could barely carry her weight. She shied away from me when I tried to pet her to relieve a little of the discomfort she was literally lugging around in her aimless pacing. The world had been unkind to her and she was a little afraid to be disappointed again. When she looked up at me with her sad eyes I thought I was going to lose it right there over this small, fat, hot-dog dog. It made me more sad than seeing some of the gross crimes of inhumanity I witnessed in IDP camps and I was more than a little ashamed of feeling that way. But something about her brave helplessness and determination to bring those little pups into the world really broke me.

In a lesser way I think of that moment now and understand a little how she must have been feeling. I didn't think I would feel this acute lostness in coming back home. Returning to the arms of my loved ones and to the foods I missed so badly was just as good as I thought it would be. I think I've already gained back the ten pounds I lost over there. :) Being able to attach a photo into an email in under two hours is good in a "pinch me so I know this is real" way. Nothing can replace being surrounded by people who know you and love you. Not even my precious Africa. But I feel like a weird alien landing on planet Earth. Everything is just a bit off. Out there I was a fearless adventurer doing what I wanted, over here I'm just another broke girl without a job but with a dream. In my head I know this is only transitional. But I'm having one of those-I'm 25 now, shouldn't I be doing something grownup to earn money and buy my parents that bedroom suit they wanted-moments.

I've had two mini emotional breakdowns, one in the parking lot of a mexican restaurant, both for no apparent reason whatsoever. I oscillate between feelings of guilt that I'm not accomplishing more, to utter uselessness, to sheer thankfulness towards my pillow, towards ice cream, and towards wireless internet and generally anything else that is convenient here. I've watched about twelve movies, ridden three roll-a-coasters, rented a cracker box room in an apartment with girls I don't know, bought a book called Non-Profits for Dummies, and signed up to be a substitute teacher...again. But nothing can make me feel any better about the fact that I feel farther away from my goal than when I started. I feel unhappy which is a strange thing to feel upon returning from the journey that was what I wanted to do. I've gone through the list of what I "should feel" and feel guilty that I'm not feeling what I should. When people ask me, "How was it?" I feel paralyzed to offer a response that in any way encapsulates my experience. "Good," or "amazing," I often respond, both of which are true but pretty lame in comparison to what I might be able to say if I weren't so muddled. If there were a way to describe it at all.

I do have a plan. Sort of. I want to go back, maybe within the year, and build something. Something beautiful and real, loving and welcoming, something in which child mothers and young prostitutes alike can feel at home in, something that will take a long time and be nearly impossible, but with God guiding it will somehow graciously come to be. It sounds crazy and maybe a little naiive, but I don't think I'm being too idealistic. I know what it takes now.

I'm in that pregnant phase. I know the ending and I await it, but in-between I feel bloated and off-kilter with only the hope of the goal in mind. Like the lines in one of my favorite poems, "a pin-hole of light that softly hums and murmurs, whose blurry edges beg to come into view," I can barely see the blessing of light but it has not yet touched me.

The thing that makes it all seem worthwhile, makes all the ideas seem real is the smile of a 10 year old girl in Uganda. My little Ugandan family. They make the purpose, the thing, out there somewhere, fuzzy, come into focus. I got an email from Earnest, the man/saint who takes care of them, saying he had to take Mary and Rachael to the hospital for some sort of stomach virus and racked up hospital bills he can't pay. This month they've run out of food. They still need a bigger place to live. And all of a sudden all the scattered pieces of me converge into a single mass of sadness and determination. Now I kind of understand the paniced helplessness of a mother whose child is sick on another continent. The thing is we can help anyone out there, but we are moved to help the ones we are attached to in some way. I'm hoping that through this litany of the tiniest heroes you've met through me, you've found a connection and that the connection compels. I know it compels me. It reminds me of a verse I read again as if it were the first time the other day:

"What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them doth not leave the ninety nine in the wilderness and go after that which is lost until he find it?" Luke 15:4

I cry a little. I pray more passionately than I have in the last month. I'm reminded of the fund I want to create for these kids to finally live in security. I'm reminded that the way I feel about them is the way God feels about me, only about a billion times more unconditional. And the God who has felt very far away in all my wounded wandering seems a little closer.

I fell in love with this book, The Zahir by Paulo Coelho (what a name.) I leave you with these lines:

"History will never change because of politics or conquests of theories or wars; that’s mere repetition, its been going on since the beginning of time. History will only change when we are able to use the energy of love, just as we use the energy of wind, the seas, the atom."

"Do you think we two could save the world?"
"I think there are more people out there who think the same way."
"Will you help me?"

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

This blog has become a kind of relationship. I’ve had fights with it (why won’t the $#%^ upload my photos!) and I’ve had moments of intimacy and connection reading the comments you’ve left for me and knowing that somewhere out there you care enough to read through a million paragraphs of my journey. It’s humbling really. As I write my final one from Africa, I feel a sense of nostalgia. But I don’t think I’ll stop writing in it. Because in many ways, the journey has just begun.

It isn’t easy to lay your soul out before the world’s eyes and meet the gaze you fear will find judgment. Maybe I wasn’t spiritual enough. Maybe I didn’t learn enough. Maybe my pictures didn’t have great explanations. J My God knows how old, but young as anything amazing Irish-British friend Seamus reminded me the other day of one of my favorite quotes: “To thine own self be true.” Often I find I am more worried about being true to the ideas people have of me, or the lofty expectations of myself I fear people have of me, that I sidle up to the danger of losing my essence. This is me. This is the way I see the world. It has evolved and changed and matured and at the same time remained the same in many ways. What I came here to find—the vision, the calling. I believe I found it. I didn’t preach to thousands and I didn’t build a house for someone. In many ways what I did is immeasurable and intangible. But I loved and I listened. And I learned what the people who matter to me want. I couldn’t promise them, but I promised myself. I’m coming back and next time God-willing I’ll do something that will blow their minds.

I’ve learned too that not everyone wants you to succeed. Whether for threat, or intimidation, for fear of not reaching their own goals, for control, or cynicism from a broken dream, there are those who resent the thing you were made to do. And it’s ok. Because once God has given you something, once he has ignited it in your heart, there is nothing they can do to take it away from you. He has already gone before and he has already given me possession of the land. The how’s the when’s the what’s are all just semantics.

I’ve learned that a lot of people want to join you when you have a dream and that is beautiful. That while we might go somewhere a lone we are never alone and we don’t have to be.

I’ve learned we can do anything we set our hearts and minds to.

I feel like I’d like to write a verse here that encapsulates my experience, or a quote that sums up my time, but I’m in an internet café and seriously down to my last shilling. Typical. Not that I could find the words anyway. I don’t feel like this is the end so I’m not going to cry and get over dramatic about it. Surprise. I’ve spent most of my final hours with the kids filming them and getting them to tell me messages so I can cry when I get back home. In some ways this journey ends where it began, with the same passions in my heart. So I guess that does remind me of a quote—it goes something like this: “When I cease from all my exploration and arrive to know the place for the first time.” -T. S. Eliot-

Or something like that. It’s not an exact science.
I go home to dream up ways of making a difference back here. The child mothers I interviewed last week really sparked something in me that I can’t let go of. Some things you see and you can turn your head but others you can’t. Just as you have been a part of this process of getting me here and seeing me through, you will be a part of the force that propels me forward in trying to meet the needs of my little Ugandan family and of these abducted girls. It was cute—as I was leaving the kid’s house last night they slipped a note in my purse that said they will miss me and pray for me. The fact that kids aged 10-18 will be praying for me just amazes me. And I know they will because when we prayed together before they went to sleep they would always pray for the woman who helps take care of them in the US.

I have four minutes left.
But also a whole lifetime.

So if I’m out of commission for the next week—don’t worry you can find me in bed with pizza, ice cream and season two of Grey’s Anatomy.

Don’t forget to do what God made you to do. It is the only thing.
Signing off from Uganda.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

I wrote these next two blog entry's in my travels and have been meanin to post them. Slight change of plans--it is me after all--I leave this Wed for the states. I land at 8:10pm or something. You just come to that point when you know you are finished for now. I felt that. I have all the mixed emotions of sadness and excitement you could expect. But mostly peace in leaving (for now) The work I have yet to do over here needs a lot of energy stateside. I hope to write my final, I'm leaving blog, (sniffle) soon. Can't wait to see your faces!

July 18
Every once in a while you have to risk something, do something that scares the be-jesus out of you so you know you’re alive, so you know you can. The more fears I face in this life the more I realize that not a lot scares me. And that is a feeling I like, one that drives me, one that offers me a lot of freedom to do anything, anywhere for any cause I deem worthy. People ask me if I’m afraid to go up to Gulu alone or to travel by myself at night and I sort of want to say yes so they won’t just think I’m naïve or stupid, but the reality is—I’m not. It’s funny how many physical fears we can face with ease, but how cautious we are with our hearts.

These days I wake up and go to sleep alone, unafraid. And my own skin is a comfort, not a terror. I almost prefer eating dinner by myself now, something I used to want to master. I used to hate the thought of going to a nice restaurant and trying to read a book, all the while wishing I had someone to share it with or another person to justify spending the money. Now, I welcome it. God is funny. It’s all about stretching us. Some people need to learn to stop being such a loner, for me, I needed to learn how to enjoy my experiences just as much without sharing them, because I by nature love to share moments.

Somehow in my travels, I ended up in Mbale. It sounds like a reggaeton song my girls in YoungLives might listen to. Mbale is at the base of Mt. Elgon. Which just sounds cool. Elgon. Rah. It was perfect. The kind of secret you want to keep for fear of the place getting overrun. It was wild, and raw, and quiet. As I approached the mountains on yet another dirty, rainy bus-ride, I felt my soul get excited. I’ve tried to be diplomatic and say I love the beach just as much as the mountains, but it’s just not true. I mean, Jesus went up to the MOUNTAN to pray. He didn’t go to the river people. Or the ocean. Or the tabernacle. And like Him, I always feel closer to God up there or staring out at a stair-case that could lead me. Mbale is something of a paradise. And it has its hold on me. I went there to pray. I went there to learn to pray. And I went there to meet with God when I am two weeks away from going back to the USA and a life that is penniless and unsure.

I went ab-sailing in Mbale, Uganda. It was sort of my way to end my little retreat, my way of closing the deal. The entire time I was up at Sipi Falls I felt as though God was asking me the question—“Am I enough?” If I lost it all—the dream, the boy, the pictures of my time here (ok God you’re pushing it) would he still be enough.
The answer is unequivocally, that would suck, but yeah.

Now you’re probably thinking what is ab-sailing exactly? I wasn’t too sure either. Let me put it into context for you. Turns out it’s a lot like repelling only with less control. Nothing to do with abs. Nothing to do with sailing. In fact the entire word is misleading. Now I know what you’re thinking—cool—ROTC flashbacks of jumping off Eagle Hall etc. Hooah. It’s a little different doing extreme sports in Africa. Different as in stupid. They don’t exactly give instructions. Their version of instructions is, “here watch me…” Simple right? One little African fellow goes over the edge like he’s climbing into a bathtub. And away he goes. “Ok now you. You come. Put feet here.” I look at him dubiously. So is it the same as repelling? Arm behind to front action? “Yes, yes, it hard at first but then become easy.” Hmm, sounds vague. Deep breath. Ok here we go. The hardest part as in most things in life is the moment right before, the moment as you just begin with your feet unsteady, holding onto an African man who could use a shower, for dear life because your life is in this skinny man’s hands. Put on some weight fella. Ok I know it has nothing to do with weight. Not sure of the physics of it all, but even a girl like me can belay someone down a mountain. There is no “on belay,” “off belay” though this time. Just stick your foot over the edge and lean back. Where? Right there, oh yeah sorry I missed the crack in the rock face. My bad. Eventually I realize he’s not going to tell me any more. I’m on my own. Right. Lean back, feel the weight of you tied to this rope on a sheer rockface of a mountain next to a gigantic, ferocious waterfall. At that point on the edge hanging with no where to go but down you’re wondering, “Why am I doing this?” Really do I have a death wish of some kind? I can only answer yes and be ok with it. Ever since I was a little girl I’ve wanted to do things that make me feel alive. Today was about proving that to myself again—taking a step of trust, of faith. Yes I can. I made it down the mountain kind of half-jolting. I could let go of the rope through my fingers and realize I was letting my life slip away, but I was not the one holding me. The guy on top, he was the one doing all the work. He was the one holding me and yeah you can make all kinds of faith correlations there but I just wanted to get down the mountain. Even if it did look like it came straight out of Lord of the Rings. But here’s the spectacular thing—as you’re passing down the side of the waterfall you get the spray and in that spray, a curved rainbow, a complete one that you can’t see anywhere else but from that side suspended above the earth, on a cliff in Africa. It is truly gorgeous. So gorgeous that I want to hang there forever between heaven and earth dissolving into the colors being washed anew by water and light.

But it ends.
I land awkwardly, well before I land I have to let go of the rope I’ve been feeding through the karabiner. I realize its too short to reach the ground and there is still about a ten foot drop, but the guy below says, “let go” so I do it, sort of gritting my teeth in resistance at the same time. It whips around and then slips through and I think I will drop to the ground and crush this man. Amazingly I don’t plummet to my death. There was another rope. A red one I had forgotten about that holds me as I spiral down into the waiting arms of another Ugandan who is skinnier than I am. And feel incredibly grateful. To him, to the universe, to God to the almost lime green mountains, my last of the Mohicans waterfall. (Just stay alive. I will find you!) What’s funny is after you land you have to hike in mud over treacherously slippery rocks, over the waterfall basin where at one point you have to straddle spread eagle between one rock to another holding onto the side of a boulder, and then climb up a mud-slide all the while trying to get one last glimpse of the rainbow, one last mist upon your face. This part is almost worse than going over the edge. I hike back out of the forest which is kind of like the Heart of Darkness and am filled with overwhelming exuberance and joy. So much so that I keep making my guide stop to look and enjoy our view of the valley between two mountains bathed in afternoon light so bright that it almost looks misty like the emerald Irish countryside (I’ll make it there Seamus) the horizon darkening with a summer storm. Poor guide, I’m blabbing on about how its so easy to feel closer to God up here and how he needs to enjoy this view every day and never take it for granted (crazy mzungu) when it starts to rain. Now most Africans are afraid of rain. They think it gives them malaria. I love standing outside in the rain apart from the fact that most people would think I’m an absolute freak, I would do it all the time. For me, I feel like my day is complete—a nice gentle rain, God is smiling upon me, showering his blessing. I feel like screaming into the wild some kind of banshee noise. I feel so full. My heart seems to almost expand as if I could contain more thankfulness, more love, more love. And no fear. A friend once told me that we act out of one of two base emotions: either love or fear. Everything dwindles down to those two things. And if we can leave behind all the fear—what we have left is love. I feel like God is speaking, I feel like the rain is his answer, his whispering a language only I can understand. That was until it started storming so hard I thought God had sent a hurricane in the middle of Africa. My clothes were soaked through in minutes and it started dripping off my nose when we still had fifteen minutes to go and no warmth to go back to. But my faithful guide—he kept on trudging and when I asked if he feared the rain, he said, “No. I have strong blood.” Yeah, me too.

July 27
I spent my last full week in Gulu interviewing child mothers--girls who were abducted by the LRA and were impregnated through rape. Nearly all of them have been rejected by their communities and their children are called "killers" because they were born to commanders and are thought to carry that evil spirit in them. Stigmatized and segregated the girls live a life of a lone-dweller, a lost soul riding the edge of depression and demand with their only saving grace being the acceptance of other child mothers. I still have to write up some of their stories and post what I learned. But here's something I wrote while I was there.

Women work the land, babies on their hips or tied to their backs in colors grown dull by sun. Somehow they still manage to wield a machete in their palms as they dig out roots or carve a line for planting. As is the nature of most societies women are the movers and the shakers, the catalyst sparking movement forward. Perhaps it is our nature—to inspire, to drive and to get less sleep than the rest of the population. Not that I fit into that category, but I remember my mother reading us to sleep at night and waking early to pack my dad’s lunch in his blue Coleman. Somehow she managed to do it all—even come home and cook dinner after a full day’s work, sit down after us, and be up before us washing the dishes before we could take our last swallow. I still don’t know how she eats that fast.

Here they are always in fields of maize or fields of tea, a shade of green brighter than fresh cut grass. Once I saw one managing to hold her baby while hacking into a tree stump. “Where are all the men?” Not to get all feminist, ahem, but I will. When you ask them they simply say they are back at the camp or in the village. Hmm…doing what I wonder. Drinking is my guess. Not just my guess, but a known fact. Here in Uganda the men drink their dignity away since it has already been stolen from them. Unable to provide for their families in the way their warrior, farmer culture has always done, they resort to forgetting. I know quite a few good men, and realize I am one of the lucky ones, but where are the few good men in Uganda? Farther and farther apart. Who is teaching them it isn’t ok?

Thankfully, my life has been filled with amazing men and I think it was a God-thing so I could do the kind of work I do without being bitter towards their entire gender. To see women who have been raped, or smacked across the mouth, or left to fend for themselves with two children, one still nursing, while he goes off and sleeps with someone else and be able to look them in the eyes and say “You don’t deserve this” and “God has someone better for you,” and mean it. It takes having some kind of hope. Hope that springs from the knowledge of someone different. Isn’t that what hope is after all? The possibility.

I am as pro-woman as it gets without wearing an “I hate men” T-shirt and not shaving my legs. Sorry, that was stereotypical. But I’m seeing that if we only empower women then what happens when they get liberated and go home and get beaten for their new-found freedom? What happens when we spend all this time teaching her how to run her own business and he comes and takes the money? Of course, we need to empower women, but we have to take it a step further or we’re only kidding ourselves. In their culture, they rely upon men to provide. Like I did with my sweet friend Jennifer in Lira, you can give her beans and rice but she’ll somehow end up cooking for him when he finally comes home. Liberation is a mentality that takes a long time. And aloneness is not something every woman wants to sign up for. More than ever we need male role models into today’s age. Not that I’m into the whole Promise Keepers thing, but they got one thing right—we need men to stand in the gap, because there is a gap and it is rapidly increasing. We need women too, but for some reason, in this kind of field, they are easier to come by. Because in the end, women can be free, but we exist for relationship and will always long for it. We can leave them, especially the bad ones, but we don’t always want to. We just want them to change. And we think we can change them. Right.

I want to pour my life into girls and women. I want to see them become. I love their strength. I love their ability to overcome. But we are not on this earth by ourselves and as much as we might hate it sometimes, we love ‘em.

There’s this guy Jackson Katz I heard about in Colorado when I was doing DV training who runs workshops for men and has a film called Tough Guise all about dismantling the idea that our society has drilled into men that they have to be like Rambo or never cry. He is one of the few I can think of who are doing work towards men directed at ending violence against women. And I think it’s brilliant. We need more like him.

It begins here with me, a movement, a tiny revolution where instead of picking up my sword, I lay it down. Instead of trying to change the world on my own, I recognize my need for help. It’s not a surrender, it’s more like a truce.

Friday, June 16, 2006

A view of from inside an IDP Camp

Malaria or Unidentifiable Bacterial Infection that feels strangely like Malaria—or what I imagine to feel like malaria—ie—worst flu I’ve ever had. Hmm, so which would you rather have? It’s kind of like that game “would you rather?” Like would you rather be burned alive or drown to death? Only not as fun in real life.

Don’t worry Mom, I feel better. I always feel like it’s easier to tell my mom things after the worst is over. I find this easier for both our sanities since if she starts crying about me being sick, I’ll start crying and turn into a worthless ball of self-pity. It’s been a rough coupla-days but I’m out of the woods now. I’m just wobbling around a little now like an old man with arthritis of the knees, but--No turning back. Honestly, being me, I’ve sort of felt like it was a miracle I haven’t been sick before now, so thanks for any of the prayers you sent out into the universe for me.

Other than being on my death-bed I’ve had a great time the past week. I went up to Gulu and bounced around doing a myriad of things—prayer intercession, hanging out with orphans, going to IDP camps. Probably the scariest but most fulfilling thing I did was I preached at a prison. Now, I know what you’re thinking…why in the world would you go into a prison? And preach? I felt all Johnny Cash without the guitar.
And no, I wasn’t preaching to men—I’m not that crazy!
It’s part of what this ministry, Favor of God, does and they asked me if I wanted to, and I said sure, why not, never preached before. Now, I’m not a preacher by nature. Not one of those people who can get up in front of a bunch of faces and not get nervous and carry out a complete sentence without a lot of thought. I know people like that. I am not one of them. Not only do I like very few preachers (my pastor being one of them) but I’m afraid of whether or not people will think I’m good. It’s a lot of pressure getting up behind a pulpit. Not that I had a pulpit. I was more like Anne Lamott reading at a bookstore. Still, the whole thing went off really well, surprisingly which just went to show it was totally God and not me, because I would have mucked the whole thing up. Sadly most of them were there for stupid things like fighting with their husband’s “other wife” or stealing food for their children. So I spoke on what it means to be a daughter of God, which sounds really elementary, but in fact was a revelation I only had a couple years ago—one that I think instills a lot of dignity and self-worth that some women have a hard time grasping. I sort of um, edited the prodigal son story (for good creative purposes) to fit more with their situations and by the end of the whole thing I was praying for all these women and they were crying and then they all started singing and dancing, and of course I was too. It was all way out of my control and completely amazing.

The cutest little kid who tried to grab my camera

The journey of awesomeness continued as I met up with Invisible Children. Now, this is like a small dream come true. Having put in all that work to see screenings come together and having so supported their cause, to actually be on the ground looking at what their doing, was needless to say—Rad, as the Californians would say. Yeah, they still use it. Not to mention hanging out with a bunch of people my age, who actually speak English was a nice change of pace. I find in traveling you come across the same wandering souls who are looking for their little piece of heaven. You find people who offer a kinship and a nice haven for all the mixed emotions of having left people back home. We meet and we part, it’s the nature of these things. But before we part, we ride the best of both extremes—we spend a day in Awer IDP camp and a night making our own drum circle. I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced this hippie-like concert of moonlight and thunderous sound, but aside from harps, it could be the closest we get to God’s kind of music. If Wyoming is God’s country then drums are his heartbeat.

The IDP camp was hard. Tiny mud huts packed together with 45,000 people sharing holes in the ground for toilets makes for a disease-ridden situation. But I can see a glimmer of hope in the fact that Invisible Children is starting to work there. They want to bring their bracelet making project there as a way for some of the people to earn a livelihood. For those of you wondering—many of what IC does on the ground is the bracelet making, and using that money for sponsorship of children in school. They are truly doing great things. Sadly though, there is one, let me say that again, ONE, NGO working in Awer camp, besides IC. Out of all the glamorous Land-cruisers rolling around town, not a single one is there in the camp. The one we were working with is a partnership of IC called Hope after War—they’re pretty optimistic. They are made up of Ugandans who actually come from that same area and have decided to do what they can to help. It was incredible—they organized a whole welcome committee to meet us with dancing, singing, and even a drama on the war. It is the most real drama I’ve ever seen probably because the former LRA abductees play LRA soldiers, and the former child wives, play child wives. The whole experience was surreal. Welcoming is a big deal here. And it’s almost cute how they have a committee chairperson for each committee—now let me explain—you think camp and you think unorganized but these people have put together their own groups—there is the Widows group, Orphans group, and Disabled person’s group and each of them spoke to us. Their main message was:

“Don’t forget about us. Tell America about us and please bring them back with you.”

And that is what I, we, all of us, aim to do.

I tried to not feel like a tourist, asking permission to get their stories and take a few pictures. We tried to keep it to a minimal, but of course when you see things like that, you want evidence of it. There were about a million raggedly clothed children. So many kids. And so many kids with kids. I was able to interview a few child mothers about their stories, but I want to go back and do more. I told them the reason I do it is not to exploit them, but so that more people will want to come help. The sad part is that many of these women who came back from the bush did so before the cut-off point World Vision instituted, which means that girls who came back before 2000 I believe, cannot get help. They are just slipping through the cracks.

My friends got a former LRA soldier on video and this guy actually choked up and started crying and he was this big-cock-diesel type guy. Not only do men NEVER cry here, but women hardly do either, so to get this guy crying was crazy—he happened to be with the woman I interviewed. She was his child-wife in the bush I found out later, but apparently they had bonded or she doesn’t have anywhere else to go because they are still together and have three children. This one baby broke my heart--he kept climbing towards the cap for the camera lens and trying to put it in his mouth.

What they need are income generating activities like sewing, bread-making, etc, but they need sewing machines and someone to teach them. They need hoes for farming, and seeds for food. And they need medicines for preventable illnesses like Malaria. Having had it, or something similar, but surviving because I have the drugs, and realizing that a child can die from it, simply because they can’t pay the few dollars to get it—makes me feel nauseous.
I think we feel it’s a huge feat to get over to Africa, but the more people I meet here who have just up and done it, I realize it’s not that hard. Why are we so afraid? I was totally jealous of this girl whose friends came to visit her and she was like, why don’t you just ask your friends to come? I guess that was kind of an unspoken, but here’s my open invitation: Come to Africa. See what you can do. And do something, even if it seems very small. Every type of skill can be used here—from business to baking, so don’t count yourself out if you don’t know what you could offer. Half the time, I don’t know, but I’m still over here ;)

What I realized in my beating up of myself for feeling too touristy, is that simply seeing a white person or someone who cares enough to come to them is a big deal and that is why they put on these incredible shows for us. Because they want us to come back and bring more. Visiting them shows that we care. That doesn’t mean we make a spectacle of them or plan never to do anything for them, but what it does mean is that we let the seeing create a movement in us towards greater change.

The reason why many NGO’s are not in the camps I believe is because they think they will break down soon and then they’ll have started something that will not last. I on the other hand, think we can turn these camps into smaller villages and not allow the work we’ve started to dissolve. The other argument is if we help them while they’re in the camps then they’ll just want to stay there, but truly if there was safety, these people would return to their land, or a much better situation in a heartbeat. They don’t want to be there. Who likes to live without freedom?

Speaking of freedom—it’s what I live in these days. Freedom to go or not to go. The malaria-type/bacterial infection set me back a bit…I was supposed to hop on up to Lira to help out with Maresha’s program some more so I hope to get up there by Sunday. I want to introduce her to this couple from England who I think can donate to her projects and maybe we can start up a little tailoring business. Dream. Dream big.

An IDP Camp, from the outside

Many ideas are brewing in me, and it’s my goal to talk to a lot more people who have been doing this a lot longer than me, including the Ugandans who live here. I have so many questions, but deep inside I feel like the questions are not bad, like a faith with some doubts is not awful, because the questions force me out into an open field where I feel waiting for me are answers.

I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching lately and strangely enough that has correlated nicely with the book I’m reading Eat Pray Love (girls—get it!) and the author’s journey within herself as well as through different continents. Something she said really struck me as a way I have often felt:

I was not rescued by a prince. I was the administrator of my own rescue. My thoughts turn to something the Zen Buddhists believe. They say that an oak tree is brought into creation by two forces at the same time. The acorn from which it all begins, the seed which holds all the promise and potential. But only a few can recognize there is another force operating—the future tree itself, which wants so badly to exist that it pulls the acorn into being, drawing the seedling forth with longing out of the void, guiding from nothingness to maturity. The Zens say it is the oak tree that creates the very acorn from which it was born. I think about the woman I have become lately and I see a happier, more balanced me who pulled the other younger, more confused and more struggling me forward during all those hard years. It was the older me, the already-existent oak, who was saying the whole time, “yes, grow, change, evolve!” Come and meet me here where I already exist in wholeness and in maturity. Where I was always waiting in peace and contentment, always waiting for her to arrive and join me.”

I am not saying I am there yet, but I am dreaming of it there, and yes, slowly becoming. Africa has that effect on me. Wish you were here too.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

We as Americans we come to foreign lands in search of something,

something like our own heartbeat, something slippery and indefinable, but with presence, tinged with a certain energy. For any wanderer, traveling is the high, but everyone

wants to belong somewhere--to feel a place, in a slow turning, become home. We want something of the land and in that way, we are selfish. We might come to give, but we come to stake out our destiny, like that beautifully cheesy Tom Cruise in Far and Away, we come to lay claim. Ours is a history of dominance. Always the explorer, the colonizer in our blood and it is hard to run away from. We come with our ideas and plans, our visions and ideals, and without meaning to, we impose them. We think we know the way and we think we know how to do it better and more efficiently then the next person. I am just as guilty of this and that is why I can write about it. Not all of it is bad. The world always needs new eyes to see ancient problems. And we bring a passion and a wide-eyed enthusiasm that even the seasoned cynic needs a glimpse of. But still, what is that part of us that feels that maybe the Africans are doing it wrong and we can do it better. Granted, desperation cripples people. It stagnates and it stilts. Depleted and dependent, yes sometimes they need a helping hand.
But how to get over ourselves?

I passed a birthday with six skinny kids playing spoons. And I felt sorry for myself a lot of the day which was pretty stupid considering I said I came here to help. At a certain point in the night I realized that while my ideal birthday might not be spending it with people all under the age of 13, I think it really made their day. We danced around to African drums until the neighbors complained. Not to mention they got cake. It’s all about the cake.

I am 2 months into my journey and the middle is always the hardest and as my friend Hope said once I am punching my way through. Because here the reason I started seems romantic and completely out of reach, and the ending feeling of accomplishment seems laughable. If I make it that far. I think this is what runners in a marathon must feel. The excitement of the race is over and end seems too many blistering miles to push heel to toe. Is it worth it? Why the hell did I want to run a marathon for in the first place when it’s really hard.

I’ll never underestimate again what missionaries give up for a calling. As idyllic as it can sound they give up a lot in missing those birthdays, those weddings, those trips to the beach with friends. And yet, like in this book I am reading about one woman’s journey through Italy, Indonesia, and India:

“This was my moment to look for the kind of healing and peace that can only come from solitude.” Eat, Pray, Love

I think I can do those three things. Especially the eating part.

Last night I felt that kind of loneliness that makes you feel like a grade-school kid stuck home-sick at camp. I tried to pray but mostly was just getting snot everywhere. And I felt like I heard God say, “I’m here too,” but it sounded mostly like my own voice somewhere in my heart, only more kind and more wise.

I don’t want to be an American tourist anymore. I’m starting to feel less like one. Starting to feel like I’m walking the street with the confidence of someone who knows her way around, not like a target for the nearest pick-pocket. Starting to feel like I’m learning the people and what they want, and less like I just care about doing my own thing.

I go to Gulu, up north, tomorrow. I go to learn, and to touch, to taste, and to pray, and to live with these people I came here for. Mostly I just want to hang out with some orphans and formerly abducted girls and just love ‘em. Who knows about the rest. My friend Tom laughs at me because every time he asks me what I’m going to do I just say “I don’t know. We’ll see.” He laughs and says, “Classic Sarita.” Thus, my life. And it’s ok.

If you pray-whether on your knees, with rosary beads, in your car with the music going, or more like an echo of a voice inside yourself rising up, then say a little one for me.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Pictures of me at an IDP camp in Northern Uganda. I'm totally Angelina Jolie. I think this baby peed on me, but it was totally worth it. She belonged to one of the women I sat and talked to (sort of. :)

Me with corn that the community members had grown from seeds given to them by Abundant Life. So cool to see empowerment in action. What is that saying? "Give a man a fish and he'll ask you for more or give him a fishing pole and he'll eat for life.." or something like that....

really huge sunflowers--what more could a girl ask for?

The North is better than I dreamed in many ways, and worse in ways I had not imagined. Everywhere there are fields of sunflowers that make you want to run through them like Maria in the Sound of Music. I didn’t expect the green. Green trees, green wispy grass, and green cornfields taller than I am. If their huts were green you wouldn’t be able to see them. Granted, there are IDP camps in the North that are nothing but dusty heaps of dry ground and dirty hovels. But Lira makes a heaven out of hell.

I felt like I had my idealistic National Geographic moment when on the third day I sat among the women and their nursing babies and felt a part of them. Ok, so we couldn’t communicate that well, but through a series of hand demonstrations I was able to find a girl who barely spoke English. They pretty much just laughed at me as I tried to speak Luo, but in a way I felt we connected. I guess that is what I came there for.

It was amazing to see the way the whole community would gather under the mango tree and we would dialogue through a translator about the projects Abundant Life is presenting to them—at this point—planting seeds, making bricks for the school, and soon, fish farming. There was a real relationship there that has taken months to foster. Maresha and Peter introduced us and told us to say whatever God had put on our heart. No pressure or anything ;) But the words just sort of came as hundreds of eyes stared at me, the mzungu, wondering what I was going to say. I had been playing photographer most of the afternoon, so I told them the reason I was taking so many pictures was because I wanted others to know the kind of success they were having because they had decided to work hard and trust these people. I hadn’t brought anything, and in many ways I felt completely inadequate to speak to them, but I realized that sometimes all we can do is encourage and offer hope and let God use our mouth to say what He wants. Just like the Israelites, God has given them their promised land and is bringing them back from captivity and I just spoke about the parallels between their current situation and the promise God made to His people. Of course I almost cried as I talked about how one of my dreams had been to come to Northern Uganda and that I felt God had given me that. They clapped so I guess they got it. One is never sure how much gets lost in translation. That phrase has taken on a whole new meaning over here.

One highlight for me was getting to ride in a UN land cruiser out to the camp to talk over the partnership with the World Food Program who is going to offer food for work. I’m not going to lie—it was pretty cool. A lot of things are coming together, but in the middle of that—working with a community is seriously hard. One day many of them are ready to donate their land to build their own houses and centers on, the next day we come, a select few of them start complaining that we should pay them to work on their own land to build their own houses. It was kind of ridiculous, but I was able to see the mentality that has dominated the North for years. A mentality of dependency that has been enforced by NGO’s and ministries who come only to give, but never to empower. Even when we offered to give them food for working, and continue to give seeds for their land, they really only wanted money. Because money to them, is power and they think the mzungus are here only to offer handouts. For Maresha and Peter it was disheartening, especially after the many conversations they have had with the community, but there will always be a few who want to disrupt something good. Tamara (the other missionary) and I were just praying and singing as everyone was discussing and in the end it worked out and things will move forward, but my eyes were opened to the need for more people who will empower the community. Like Peter said, “if I come and build you a house when someone tries to take it away from you, you will run, but if you put your sweat into that house and if it is really yours, you will fight for it.” These people for so long have not had anything that was really theirs that they do not have the ownership and pride that comes along with having worked for something. We are trying to give them back their dignity, but the “give me” mentality is still very strong. I know I got to see the best of the North—an area where families are returning and re-building and that there is so much more need in other places. That is why I feel so strongly about this model of recovery.

All in all, I learned a lot, but still feel as though I really want to get my hands dirty—you know, build a house or something. Every time I come back from doing something or seeing something, I feel this incredible anxiousness and sense of being paralyzed. Like—what am I supposed to do now? Now that I’ve seen, now that I know these things, what am I responsible for? So I’m waiting for an answer. And in the meantime feeling torn between life here and life back home. My sis wrote me an email and I just started crying. Out of all the things that are hard about being in Africa, missing out on life with people I love is the hardest. And yet, I feel the truth of this quote:

“This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

There is something about the rawness of Africa that teaches patience and self-sacrifice. When you can’t get your food for two hours, when you have to sleep on the floor or worry about what kind of bite you got on your leg, when you see a woman with a one-month old abandoned by her husband or a community that doesn’t seem to understand you want to help them, there is something that dies. And hopefully that is the small or sometimes, large part of myself that is only concerned with me.

Sometimes the smallest inconveniences bring out the worst of our personalities and believe me, I complain too when I’m hungry—but it teaches me how far I have to go. If anything, people should come to Africa to learn patience!

If there was just a way I could bundle everyone up in my suitcase or transplant them over here, life would be good. I’ll work on that. Until then, I’ll make it. But don’t forget about me. As if you could ;)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Here is my number but dont put a zero before the seven like i had it before; oops

Sunday, May 21, 2006

So this is Mary, the little girl I want to steal and bring back to the US with me...along with the six other kids who live with her.

I know, I know, highly illegal. But still. You met them earlier in my blog...part of Jonathan's orphans. I've been visiting them as much as I can and one of the great joys of my life right now is being attacked by a troupe of screaming children in their excitement to see me. Tucking these little girls into bed, helping them say their prayers, and hugging the boys before I go, is what makes me feel alive here. I do what I can, but have a dream of doing so much more. A dream of creating a village with a homey house for them, a school, and teaching them projects like candle-making to sustain them. Right now this is only a dream, but I am praying about that dream becoming a reality. Something community-based and sustainable. Something that empowers and doesn't teach reliance. I have always wanted to build a safe place for those in need, and here in Uganda, women and children are the ones who suffer most. I am trying to plan and put together a proposal. Ideally, I could start my own NGO here with the help of Jonathan and others. But am still waiting until I have a clear vision and next steps because these orphans are here in Kampala and I still want to do so much up North. Needs are everywhere and it is between us and God to figure out which ones and in what way He wants us to meet them.

Mom is sending over some clothes and stuff for them, which will be so fun to see the looks on their faces. I'm probably going to do some speaking and fundraising when I come back to the US, but for now I am content to play games with them and try to "mother" them as best as I can--like reminding them to brush their teeth!

Going up to Lira which is in the north for a few days to look into a sustainable development project run by abundant life and to assess needs so I can know where to help so will be out of commission but please keep leaving comments because they encourage me.

Friday, May 19, 2006

(one of the many beautiful orphans you can come to hold if you visit Uganda)

A lot of exciting things are happening. First of all, I don't want you guys to worry about me, I sort of realized after a mini-lecture by a loving person who will remain anonymous :) you know who you are---that I might be freaking people out with all my talk of "unsafe" activities. I really do try to let God guide me and do try to be safe, so as they say in Africa, Hakuna Matata.

It amazes me when we surrender our plans and our will over to God, how he blesses us, sometimes I don't even really believe it myself. I'm like, am I still going to screw this up? But after the saga of not going up to Kitgum (for right now) which was fairly emotional and hard for me, I really just was like--"ok God whatever you want me to do" and was just living day by day in Kampala, waiting for when God would do something through the ministries I was connecting with. I honestly was not trying to fight my way up there, even though that would be the normal me thing to do--and what has happened is that God has connected me with so many amazing people and opportunities up there. I've been able to interview a journalist and gain info on the North, also I met an incredible young woman named Maresha and her partner Peter who are building a model program in Lira--which is another district in the North which is so safe it'll be like I'm walking around in bubble-wrap and more secure than other regions, so they have begun to let some people filter back from IDP camps. Their vision is to give the community ownership and let the "orphanage" they want to build be that I mean, it will belong to the community and will happen through individual homes and not one big center. She has some other incredible ideas too that I'm going to learn from and try to build on--micro-enterprise, vocational training...really creating an environment of self-suffiency. Because too often what happens is that these big NGO's come in here and establish their little kingdoms and get all this funding and really create a reliance upon themselves, vs. empowering the people. The truth is--the earth begins to be again our source of life and with its resources we can flourish and get everything we need. We need medicine--and there are herbs, we need food, and we can plant. We can use our hands and sometimes that's what we need to re-connect to God's creation. If I ever create my own org, I want it to be radically different and not dependent upon me.

Blah blah blah. It's really an innovative idea they have and I am totally on board with it...yesterday I helped her create a brochure for her NGO. I'm seeing how God can use me to serve others and at the same time learn from them.

I am also seeing how things we didn't think we were gifted at can totally surprise us. Turns out God might be using me to be a not, start the fights, I said, mediate. :) Really what I'm seeing is that people like me, a short-term (for now) missionary comes to the field with all my well-intentioned enthusiasm and want to roll up my sleeves and start changing the world one kid at a time and sometimes don't know how I can learn from all the mistakes and victories of missionaries before me. So really I've been like a little sponge lately. On the other hand, there are missionaries here long-term who sometimes don't know what our expectations are or how to best place us, so we end up feeling disollusioned or we end up causing them problems because of not knowing certain things. Short-terms come to serve but end up not feeling their talents used. Long-termers work hard at making plans for us, but end up feeling frustrated and like it was more work than it was worth. If we could come in and not try to change everything, and if they could understand we came to serve but in our skills (bow-staff skills, num-chuck skills) then things would flow much better. Turns out there is quite a bit of strain between the short-termers and long-termers and if we could just sit down and talk through some of our expectations and what is hard for each of us then we could improve the relationships a lot more. I can really see both perspectives. What I'm working on for the missionary couple I'm staying with who are through Touch the World Uganda, is a series of questionaires and evaluation forms for both types of missionaries so that we can best meet each other's needs.

Whew that was long :) Long story short---I will most likely be going up to the North--to Lira, and then possibly to Gulu to work with another amazing program of a man named Robert who I met and will get to serve the people I came to fight for, after all. We cannot help what we are driven towards. And sometimes when we let go of a thing, it finds us again.

Continue to pray for ending of the war. Much of the agricultural component and other dreamy things I want to do cannot really happen until there is peace.

Oh and if you're interested my new address is
P.O. Box 71515
Kampala, Uganda
(yeah no zip..just uganda, no wonder so much stuff gets lost)

in case you want to um...send me a letter or package or something. :)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Find a way to get your hand's on The Unconventional War put out by the Sentinel Group. It came out in 2005 on the war in Northern Uganda. It's riveting and reveals the true occultic origins of the war. It's changing my destiny and my whole take on the war and trying to end it. Get it! Enough said.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Girls at an orphanage called St. Mary Kevin in Kampala dancing their traditional ceremonial dance in honor of our coming to visit last week. The orginial rump-shakers. Never seen anything like it. And no ladies, I can't quite move like that. The things attached to them that look like skunks, are part of their traditional attire--makes the shaking look more...shake-tastic. Makes me think of that song.."my milkshake..."

They put on this whole big thing just because we came to play with them. Two girls from the states came out and brought food and toys, which was a huge hit since often the orphanage struggles to feed all the children. They have street kids from Kampala and also ones that they have found from the North. You take one look at these kids and you just want to start throwing money at them they're so cute. And they all want my address in the states.My plans of taking one home with me were foiled when I learned you have to live in Uganda for three years before adopting. Stupid adoption laws.
More to come.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The things I do for internet :) I decided to walk from my retreat center along the Nile--which by the way I would highly recommend. I'm staying in this adorable little hut--straight out of swiss family robinson and loving life. With all my running around like crazy trying to save the world, I really needed this time of fact we all do but don't do it enough. I feel like I'm having all these little Anne Lamott moments...funny things in the midst of trying to be spiritual. I love to read, but I realized after eight hours of it....I get bored. I did two brave things today--both which were pretty stupid. I started to walk to town and about five steps into it, slipped in the mud with my flip flops and got caked with mud on my legs and all over my favorite hippie long green skirt. At that point most people would take that as a sign and give up. But I decide just to change and head out again, this time, on a boda-boda. Now let me explain this, a boda is nothing other than a glorified moped. Couple that with mud and night-time and it's a recipe for disaster. So I'm haggling the guy about the price, because obviously he thinks I'm stupid and white, but when I hop on I realize, I should just give the guy what he wants lest he drive off with me into the bushes somewhere. Town is farther away than I realize. So I close my eyes (and mouth) or I might be having mosquitos for dinner. Miraculously I make it only to find the cafe is closed...but I am on a mission--I find another one and here I am sunburned, but full of all the happiness time alone with God can bring.

The other stupid thing I did which turned out ok was I decided to get in the Nile. I'm writing this so obviously I wasn't eaten by a crocodile, although I did have flashes of that as I entered the water. It took me like ten minutes to gather the courage to get in. I kept thinking some weird african bird or fish was going to eat my toes. But really because these kids on the other shore kept waving at me to get in, I couldn't let them watch me chicken out, even if they were only 5 and didn't have any clothes on. I swam for a good ten minues and then fought my way back to shore. Apparently the current is pretty strong here (more visions of me getting sucked into a whirlpool of death I had to overcome in order to get in.) With each fear we overcome we find most of our fears are unfounded. Don't worry Mom, I'm not looking for more fears to fight.

The thing about solitude is you learn a lot about yourself. I'm finding I could be pretty happy doing what this woman who runs this place does--she counsels leaders, kind of like a spiritual guru, and is opening a dormitory for abducted girls from the North to come down and get counseling and spiritual guidance to heal from their past. She draws people into their own hearts and into encounters with god and that is really what I'm into. Talking. :) I really got a revelation from god today that as Christians we are so broken ourselves and running around trying to help people, when we really need to take time out and help ourselves. This woman used to work with street kids in kampala for years and eventually said she felt worn out and taht the promises of God were not true because she had poured herself out but not received. finally she just told God, ok what do you want me to do because either you are wrong, or I am wrong. God led her to open up this place because he said she had spent a lot of time working for him, but not being with him and he just wanted her heart. Ten years from now, I don't want to be on a road towards weariness. I want to learn these lessons young so I don't have to wait til I'm 50 to realize I missed God in my striving to do things for him.

What we really desire in life is communion= union with--God, ourselves and others. We look for it in everything we do. As much as I love sunburns and solitude, I miss sharing life after a few days.
But I am finding God out here, like the line from one of my fave poems, “Rest in the arms of love,” which seems to take shape out here among the cranes sweeping low over the water, the ashes from small campfires dusting the wind like snow, the boats dropping anchor at midnight under moonlight. Jinja feels like the beach, like a summer without memory, and without regret.
Eden was where God first walked with man, it was in creation that God made himself known and that still stands true. We need more of it in our lives.

God still speaks if we are brave enough to listen. I’ve been reading a lot of Isaiah…of course Can’t get enough of that old prophet.
”I am the Lord who teaches you to profit who leads you in the way you should go. Oh that you had paid attention to my commands, then your peace would have been like a river.” Is. 48

The first command being “love the lord your god.” I know I don’t do it enough.

Keep praying for me—I am still figuring out what to do, but it no longer matters as much. I can’t complain and I’m learning how useless it is to anyway. The words we speak over ourselves do matter. Two thumbs up for positivity. I am learning that wherever I go, whatever I do, God goes with me…like God said to King David, “Do what is in your heart to do, and I will go with you.” ( II Sam 7:3)

I did meet a woman here who reminded me about a woman whose name I was actually given before…she works with child mothers in Kitgum…so it’s a definite option.

Will try to send pictures soon. Until then imagine me in my little hut overlooking a scene probably much like the garden of Eden. Green. Palm trees. And a tropical river.
Mto Moyoni means heart of the river, in Swahili, but I think of it more like river of my heart.
Go get out into the wild. Like campbells' soup--It'll do you good.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Ok so I haven’t left to find the source of the Nile yet. But I leave tomorrow to hop on a bus towards an unknown destination (star trek music fades in.)

I finally read the comments you guys have been posting. It’s kind of amazing to me that people actually read this thing. I’m sort of self-conscious now. But don’t stop. It puts a smile on my face on a rather difficult evening in Uganda. So thank you. I’m not just ignoring you, it’s actually next to impossible for me to get time to respond. Or rather, the internet connection will cut in and out like five times. It makes me want to throw things at the techy people and say “boo!” But that’s totally inappropriate in Uganda, probably in the US too. So I guess some things are culturally transferable.

I don’t have much time, but wanted to say thanks for all the shout outs. They help boost my spirits when I want to throw in the towel. The most interesting part about the missions community is the fact that we are all passionate and have to find unique ways to align our passions. I'm realizing not everyone is like me! (ha)
So if you pray, send up one to the big guy for me. I could definitely use it. My plans have sort of been changed and I’m not heading up to Kitgum (ie---land of my heart) so I’m sorting through what to do. I know there is purpose for me here, I just have to find it.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The shadow of the banana tree leaves dancing on the courtyard wall, the guitar chords strummed softly in the house, the birds of different colors chiming in with the sound. The sun’s long afternoon rays lazily alighting the tile floors, the brush scrubbing rhythmically the mud away from their whiteness, the water dripping off the banisters, the smell of soap as an African man lays into his work.

I feel a sense of belonging finally. And freedom. I have missed that feeling like I used to feel on nights in Colorado in the middle of fields and sweet-sticky hay barns, a drum circle, and a kind of closeness to God and the earth I could abandon myself to. Isn’t that what we want? To feel alive? I wonder how often we feel it.

A woman strewn on the street with twin babies. Maybe drugged, maybe drunk. Someone had to tap her hand for me to press the shillings into her palm. Their baby faces scrunched in tears and their feet covered with sores. Maybe AIDS, maybe just neglect. I couldn’t talk to her, couldn’t tell her to move her limp body out of harm’s way. I wanted to take those children and put them somewhere safe. Maybe she came from the North, maybe these were the offspring of her enemy. Maybe that’s why she didn’t look at them as they cried. What can we do when there are so many we fail to save? My eyes unfocused with tears on the muddy street in Kampala, the people pushing me, the puddles flicking dirt onto my calves. The overwhelming need. Jesus must have felt it, must have seen the eyes full of demands, or worse—empty.

I think of how Jesus began his ministry. He went to the desert for forty days, alone. I think of the way Jesus used to wander solitary into the wilderness. When the crowds pushed into him too hard, when I imagine he wondered if he was really making a difference, the overwhelmingness of need threatened his spirit, he sought the shoulder of a mountain for refuge. Sought relief of the burden. Can we share in it? Can we leave the confines of church walls and see that we are but a few mis-steps away from homelessness. If we are not called to them—the forsaken of this world, then who are we called to? Jesus came to heal the sick, not to those who had no need of a doctor. There are so many good thing to give ourselves to, but what has God asked of us? That is the question.

We cannot know if we cannot hear. I’ve come to a time when there are so many things I could do, and yet knowing the thing to give myself to is much harder. There is a brokenness that takes place before a building. And building, time.

There is an African man I met. His name is Edgar. And he said he had a word from God for me. It’s not every day someone comes up to me and tells me that, so when they do, I take it fairly serious. That may sound kind of hokey to some, but when you feel your insides leap in response to what someone has said, you know its confirmation of a thing you already knew. He said I was the next. That sounds incredibly vague. But I understood it. Understood that I am next in line for some things God wants to do in Africa, in Uganda. He said a lot of other stuff too about the anointing on my life, which was pretty cool. And all of a sudden, it came to me, what my next steps were. I’m going to Jinja, which is the source of the Nile and I’m going to find the source of my life and to seek out the truth of my future. Because to work without peace, or to travel without fulfillment, isn’t what I came here for. Isn’t why Jesus came.

“You O mountains of Israel shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people Israel for they will soon come home. For behold I am for you and I will turn to you and you shall be tilled and sown. I will multiply people on you, the whole house of Israel, all of it. And I will cause you to be inhabited as in former times and will do more good to you than ever before.” Ezekiel 36:7

And just for fun J
Things I’ve learned in Uganda:

If the driver’s don’t kill you the pollution will
Beware of hawks who like to build nests with white people’s hair
Mosquitos are racist—they only like mzungu skin
Using a lantern like Laura Ingalls Wilder is only romantic for the first day
Bring a lot of underwear because its not as easy as it looks to wash it all yourself
I really hate mosquitos, I mean want them to die. All of them. I’ll never get over the sound of buzzing in my ear. I’ve declared war on them. Literally, I just killed one.
Africans have never heard of watches
Apparently my parent’s dial-up connection at home is new-wave technology compared to here