Back to the Third World

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How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Isaiah 52:7

After a full week of exams and papers and then Hannah’s graduation today, we’re headed to Belize tomorrow. I feel so unprepared for this trip mentally, but so ready to spend some intentional time with Jesus and His people.

Pray this week for doors to open. For kids without parents to feel love. For police men and women to feel appreciated. For American eyes to be open. And for all of our focus to be on the only thing that matters: Jesus.

Also, I got to be a tiny part of another trip that’s going to be happening over break! Be praying for two Mississippi girls, Kristin and Leah, as they travel to Rafiki (my African home)!! They leave on the 15th (tomorrow!) and will be at the village for three weeks! Pray for safety in travel and health while they’re there. Pray that they get to love on those kiddos and the full-time staff at Rafiki well. Pray that God works in mighty ways in their hearts as He always does when we go outside of our comfort zone and into His awesome world! Pray that being away from home for Christmas will be a blessing and not a hindrance to experiencing all that God has for them.

Love first and always,
Hallie.

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Belize

The semester we spent in Belize years ago was the beginning of my love affair with Jesus and helping his people. My parents are headed back on a mission trip to Belize in a few weeks, and I’m just a lot jealous. I’ve been thinking about our time there and wanted to share some fourth grade memories with you.
–Hallie 

When I think about my parents’ decision to take their 4, 9, and 11 year-old kids to live in a teeny village with minimal electricity and plenty of need, I kind of understand the people who thought they were crazy. It was 1999, and we were in the process of moving to Ocean Springs, but before we did so, my parents packed up all our earthly belongings, put them in a storage unit, and headed south. To Belize, Central America. For about six months of life change.

I’m not quite sure who I’d be today without that time of my life. Certainly not who I am now. It was one of those defining moments in the life of our family. I don’t quite remember who I was before that time. Not what I wanted to be really. But I can almost definitively point to that fall semester of fourth grade as one that changed my life. And continues to shape me to this day.

For anyone who talked to me between 1999 and 2009, you know I was set, hard and fast, on becoming a doctor. I decided that on the tarmac of the Houston airport that December as we waited to return to a new home and a new normal. I spent years after devoted to the idea of one day becoming a doctor because of Belize. Because of what I saw and what I heard. Because I wanted to be a part of the action. And that was the closest and most obvious way to get there. I knew then and there that I had to go back. I had to help those people. Because America with its perfection (remember this is a nine year old speaking) didn’t need me like these people did.

I’ve always had a vivid memory, but there’s something about our time in Belize that I can remember like it was yesterday. A smell, a taste, a look, and I’m back playing jacks on a dirt road, climbing over and through cement block construction, and riding on a cane truck with the wind and dust in my cropped hair.

I remember the freedom to jump on a bike and ride to the coke store, nothing more than a person’s straw and dirt hut with a cooler full of glass bottle cokes for sale at an impossibly low and delightful price to a nine-year-old.

I remember staying a weekend in the next village where the nurses of our little clinic lived, finally succumbing to use an outhouse, and the man who came to the door that night. The man with a gash in his leg from the machete he held in his hand. The machete that brought him his livelihood had also given him this life-threatening wound. And I was the only one available to hold the flashlight. Well maybe not the only one, but that’s how the nurses made me feel, important, as I held the flashlight and stole glances of the wincing man’s gash, sterilized, soothed, and stitched by the crudest of means, whatever was available right then and there because the roads weren’t safe to travel at night, and the clinic was miles away.

I remember stealing away into the “dentist office”, the tiny cement block addition to the clinic that boasted the only air conditioned space for miles and miles around, when the hot Belize day got impossibly too much to handle.

And the boys that would leave notes near the clinic. Where I first heard, and didn’t understand, the idea of “Latin lover”. Boys, only a few years older than Hannah and I, and the sweet nothings written to the only fair-skinned girls they might have ever seen.  The ones we quickly tore up with embarrassment and maybe a tiny bit of joy.

I remember the little boy’s screams as my mom peeled banana leaves off his burnt skin. The skin charred from open fire, the only way the family had to cook their food. The banana leaves the only band-aid available when that fire engulfed his leg. I remember my sweet little brother, telling the boy, no older than his four year old self, that everything would be okay. Soothing and smiling at the boy with the pain that most would rush away from.

I remember the hurricane, Kelvin, and standing under the straw-hut covering right outside the clinic’s backdoor watching the rain and listening to the adults talk. It’s incredible the things adults say when they don’t think children can understand. It’s incredible the things that children don’t understand, until years later when something tiny causes that memory to come back to life and pieces to be put together.

I remember the pregnant women and new families lining the halls of the clinic and the clinic employees scrambling for more blowup mattresses and dragging the mattresses off our beds in the little apartment on the back of the clinic where we lived for those months.

I remember the life that my mom helped bring into the world on that rainy wet weekend years ago now. The baby that was born late into the night, and the rush surrounding the hurricane and birth, the first one of the clinic ever, that let a nine-year-old stay up and overhear the details of that exciting night. I remember being so proud of my physical therapist mom. And the joy that she had in helping bring a tiny baby into the world, a job that she would have never been a part of in 21st century American medicine.

And I remember wanting to go back. For years after. And still today in some ever-changing and ever-true way.

Because poverty is the place where you do the best you can. And not being perfect doesn’t disqualify you from helping. And it’s less about waiting rooms and insurance forms and HIPPA violations and more about helping people.

More about saving the life right then and there because it’s the only thing you can possibly do. And you’re needed because there’s noone else. And life is hard, every day. And you’re a thousand miles away from comfort, literally and figuratively, but beauty is more beautiful because you recognize it as such.

And the ice-cold coke tastes better from a glass bottle on a day you really need it. And the mangos are plucked straight from the trees. Sugarcane cut down with the gardener’s machete. And kids can ride their bikes across dirt village roads exploring without fear just like kids were meant to do. And you walk along the Caribbean Sea right after eating in your favorite “restaurant” in town, restaurant in quotations because you know your friends at home would never consider it one in America. And “impossibly fancy” in Belize is much less stuffy and much more my style than the nicest restaurant you’ll ever wait six months for reservations for. And the food tastes better because it’s cooked with love and probably dirt because, you know, there isn’t a big A-rating hanging on the wall from the latest inspection of this place.

And God speaks there. Even when you’re nine and God is more of an abstract and strange imaginary-and-yet-real friend that you meet in Sunday School and try to bring along to the playground, and you know He loves you because you’ve sung all the songs but aren’t sure what that means quite yet because He’s pouring love in ways you won’t understand until years alter, sitting in your first house recalling those long-lost-and-yet-very-near-to-your-heart days. And it’s these memories that pull you back into His love. That remind you that there was no way you’ve done what you’ve done without Him. That you’ve never walked alone, and maybe, just maybe, you’ve never walked at all, because He’s been carrying you all along.

Musana Children’s Home

Two weekends ago, we made the trip to Jinja and Iganga to see two ministries run by girls just a few years older than me. It was a trip we’d been planning since the very beginning of my time here, and I was really excited about it. I know so many people were praying for the weekend, and thank you! because it was an incredible weekend full of good time with Jesus and ones that love Him dearly. This first post is just about Musana Children’s Home. I’ll write another about Amazima later this week. There’s so much to say, and I want to do both of them justice!

Musana is a children’s home run by two 23-year-old sisters, Leah and Andrea Pauline, originally from Boulder, Colorado. I got to meet them in September when they came to visit and see Rafiki. Cecilia and Stan are from Colorado and had met the girls and their mom when they were in the States a while ago.

Musana came about when Leah and Andrea were on a summer trip/internship in Iganga and found/were shown to an orphanage that changed their lives and plans. There were 162 children living in three tiny rooms without beds, mats, or even blankets. When it rained (which is often in Uganda), the floors where the children slept would become mud. The adults running the orphanage were corrupt and would show the awful conditions to people traveling through to get money that they claimed would be spent to buy bunk beds or feed the children or fix the buildings or…. They, however, wouldn’t spend any of that money on the children. The kids were rarely fed and, in desperation and hunger, many turned to the streets to sell themselves or beg and steal for money or food.

After seeing something like this, Andrea and Leah couldn’t just return to normal American life. They got together with locals and worked to acquire land and buildings to move the kids to. They were allowed to take 80 of those kids from the orphanage and now three years later have about 100 from that orphanage and around Uganda.

One of the Buildings at Musana
The Library

Musana is beautiful. You can just feel the love of Jesus coursing throughout the campus. Every building is painted a different bright color, and a few have large wall murals on the outside.

The children are beautiful and loving. They are so thankful to have a home like Musana, probably because they remember the conditions that they were barely surviving in just a few years ago. From the moment we got there, they were welcoming and excited about being alive. The kids live in a dorm situation divided by age groups and gender with a “mom” in each room. They were all over the property, playing football (soccer) and other games, reading in the library, cleaning, and doing other things. One of the little boys recited a poem he had written about Musana. It was precious. These kids know what a hard life is and are so thankful for Leah and Andrea and the rest of the staff for giving them the love and chance at life that Musana is giving. Leah and Andrea are fantastic and solid. I’m hoping God will open doors to let me go and volunteer with Musana at least short term one day soon!

Musana’s whole goal is to be sustainable by Uganda. Right now, they have a sponsorship program and recieve funding from the States and other countries (Leah and Andrea have a sister who lives in Beijing and was doing a fundraiser for Musana the weekend we were visiting!). Their goal is to eventually be totally funded and run by Ugandans to give the people a sense of ownership and break bonds of dependence. They would love to be able to leave it completely to Ugandans eventually. But these things take lots of money to keep going. They have a cafe, tilapia farm, chicken project, jewelry and cloth business, as well as other projects in the works to make this dream a reality in the future.

Making Paper Beads

Paper beads drying after being dipped in sealant.

Altogether, I was so very impressed by Musana and so thankful to see how God is working in HUGE ways across this impoverished country. He’s using normal people to do incredible things. Leah and Andrea make sure things are running smoothly, but they try to let everything be run by Ugandans. Each project (school, cafe, children, etc.) has a Ugandan in the leadership position. This way, God forbid something would happen that foreigners wouldn’t be able to be in the country, Musana would run smoothly. Rafiki has many of these same precautions in place just in case of a problem, although obviously everyone prays this never has to be an issue. It was so neat to be able to see Musana because Andrea and Leah aren’t very much older than me. Because they said yes to God, He has given them Musana and goals and dreams and a reality that is, I’m sure, bigger than they would have imagined on their initial trip to Uganda a few years ago.

If you’d like to read more about Musana (they probably would do a better job of telling about themselves than I do), click here!

Throwing out an idea. And a few pictures from the weekend!

No great moral is coming out of this post! I’ve been feeling out of writing since my last post, but I wanted to throw out an idea and share some pictures of last weekend adventures. I’ll write more later!

With the Thanksgiving and Christmas season coming into full swing in the US, I wanted to put an idea out there and see if anyone would be interested in it. I know so many people have done so much for me from donating for the trip to wrapping books and cars for christmas gifts for the kids and sending school supplies that are hard to get here, but God’s laid something extra for you to help with on my heart a few times. If you’re interested, I’d like to raise some money for Rafiki and the organizations that we visited this past weekend. If God doesn’t have me here next semester helping with orphans, I’d love to at least make it a little easier for the ones He has called for this time! These are all organizations that run on small budgets but do really incredible things for the people of Uganda. I can’t wait to tell you more about our weekend and Amazima and Musana later this week.

I’m not sure how this would play out. It’s definitely up for discussion. I’ll be home in about two weeks and I’d love to get something going for when I get home (nothing too involved Mom, I promise!). Maybe get kids involved in a tangible way. There’s a group that gets kids to do cupcake stands (kind of like lemonade stands) to raise money for orphans. Maybe something along those lines? Hot chocolate and cookies around Christmas time? Or something completely different. Whatever works! I haven’t even mentioned this to my parents, so if it falls flat, that’s totally fine! I just wanted to put it out there because I know this is a season of giving across the world, and I want to keep my eyes on Jesus instead of all the busyness of Christmas as I travel home in a few weeks! If you’re interested in helping or have ideas, email me at Darphin@mc.edu or comment here!

It’s been a week since our trip to Jinja and Iganga to see Musana and Amazima and the work both of these organizations are doing in this beautiful but very poor country. It was a really good and busy weekend full of experiences and conversations I won’t soon forget! I’m going to write a post on it soon (hopefully), but for now, here are some pictures! Enjoy!

And thanks for prayers. I got to meet and spend time with Katie Davis! God answers even the small desires of our hearts.

Thanks so much again for all the support, prayers, notes, facebook messages, books, school supplies, matchbox cars, packages, letters, emails, comments, and love that has been sent my way (and the kids way!) during this adventure God has had me on the past three months!
I love each and every one of you and am so thankful that you’ve followed along so far!
Hallie

Operation Rafiki Children

First Pres Ocean Springs has been wonderful with supporting me and Rafiki throughout the past few months, and now they are doing Operation Christmas Child-Rafiki Version. In place of the normal Samaritan’s Purse project to send shoeboxes full of goodies to kids around the world, FPCOS has decided to take this year to send Christmas to my kids in Uganda! I couldn’t be more proud or excited about this, and I want to thank everyone in advance. Instead of wrapping shoe boxes, they will be sending books and matchbox cars to the children. This might not sound like a lot to most in America, but these children LOVE LOVE LOVE both of these. You don’t know what this will mean to the kids. Here is a little video I’ve put together for my mom to show at the gift wrapping/giving celebration going on this weekend in Ocean Springs. If you’re around OS and First Presbyterian on November 6th, you’ll see and hear more about what’s going on here in Uganda!

–Hallie