Wednesday, January 11, 2012


The other night I dreamt I was in Uganda, walking through the mud, talking in Luganda to the Ugandans I met along the way. It was one of those dreams that was so real and vivid I could almost smell Africa again. When I woke, however, I discovered that not only was I not in Africa, I was in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the South, my new home. I couldn't help but feel a sad disappointment when those edges of sleep wore off, to not be there. I am one hundred percent excited and confident that God has me here by His leading, but sometimes there's just nothing you can do when you miss home.

I have about 45 minutes left of being 28, before I enter my final year of my 20's. Okay, really it's not that dramatic, but at least its a reason to give pause for reflection. In both part confusion and overwhelming awe, I am humbled by the life God has granted me, where He's taken me, and where He is walking with me now.

I drove across the United States, from Chico, CA, to Charlotte, NC with my dad just last week. From the US, to the places I've traveled around the world, it astounds me - where people live. From huge metropolitan cities with beautiful skylines, to slums in the mud, to trailer parks in the middle of literally nowhere in Nevada, people live. By choice or force of circumstance, we live. And I wonder, how much does where we live define who we are? How we feel about ourselves? How others see us?

I've been thinking about my own sense of house, home, and belonging lately. I've back in the US for 3 months now. How can that much time have passed already? Each month that goes by I feel like I should be more adjusted with less longing for my Uganda, but I'm not. I worry that I'll forget all the little details of things that I love (like people's accents and the sound of the Plantain Eater birds) and the big things that I hate (like raw poverty and corruption) that changed me so much. I worry that I'm staying away too long. I worry like it really is home. Like I'm away from home.

The UNHCR defines a refugee as a person who,
owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.
According to the UNHCR's Global Trend Report, 
43.7 million people are now displaced worldwide  roughly equalling the entire populations of Colombia or South Korea, or of Scandinavia and Sri Lanka combined. Within this total are 15.4 million refugees, 27.5 million people displaced within their own country by conflict, and nearly 850,000 asylum-seekers, nearly one fifth of them in South Africa alone.
I've been thinking a lot lately about a story in the book of Jeremiah. I love this verse, this promise in Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." I've certainly hung on to this promise many times, but never really stopped to read the whole story, the why of this promise God makes. Without going too far back into the story, essentially, this verse is part of a letter the prophet Jeremiah sends to the Israelite exiles in Babylon.  God's letter to the exiles (Jer 29:1-10). And this amazes me.

God writes a letter to a people, His people, who were taken from their homes by a foreign king and now exiled in a strange and foreign land. And what does God say? Let me paraphrase. God says, "I am the one who sent you into exile. Now I want you to live in this foreign land. Build yourselves houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their food. Get married and have babies. Let your babies grow up and have more babies." And I love this part. Verse 7:
"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."
Then God tells them that He has a time in mind for their exile (70 years) and then, then God makes them this promise: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Kind of makes it all the more significant, don't you think?

But while I had always focused on that particular promise, now I can't get past the instructions God gave to His people before He gave them the promise. In exile, away from all their own sense of belonging and home, they were to live, and live well. What is that saying? "Grow where you're planted." Or, as one wise missionary I know said, "This is the assignment."

Millions of refugees live in the US and thousands of these live in Charlotte, NC, where I also now live. I am so excited and grateful that God has led me here, to work and serve among these people, to have this season of life.

I've kept a little piece of paper from a church bulletin when I went to Grace EV Free church during my Biola days and these words continue to speak the truth my heart often forgets:
"And so, one again, a principle pertinent for so much in life smacks us squarely in the face: expectations rarely coincide with actual outcomes, but the outcomes show that God has been at work even though we haven't clearly seen the process. This is the God we hope in - his ways are not our ways, but he is for us, not against us, even if the circumstances would seem to indicate otherwise. Let's trust and believe and wait and hope. Our God cannot fail us - he will prove faithful."
Hebrews 11 tells about heroes of faith and says,
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
Maybe 29 is my year of exile, as I wait to see, "just where are you taking me God?"...maybe you are outside of your should-be ideal, behind or too late, or not there yet...maybe we are all exiles, journeying our way to our true Home. For now, I'm thankful for the journey, I'm thankful for God's promise for the future, I'm thankful that He allows prosperity and growth even in the in-between times of life, and I'm thankful that I'm on my way Home.


Saturday, December 24, 2011


I have a friend named Claire, she is about 7 years old, and she gave me possibly the best, most selfless gift I've ever received. 

About a month or so before I left Uganda, one of our mentors asked me to visit a few homes to check on their health and sanitation.

Claire was beaming the day we went to visit her home because she got picked up from school by a muzungu in a car, she got to eat popcorn in the back seat, and best of all - we were going to her house. 

Claire is one of the smiliest kids I've known. A little chubby compared to most of our kids, a contagious giggle, mischievous smile and always ready to get in on a hug. 

As with most slum areas, we wound our way through muddy dirt passage-ways to the curtained door of her house...a house little more than what most of us would call a walk-in closet. The small room fit a bed and a couple chairs, nothing else really. At night, Claire, her mother, and an aunt cachexic from AIDS share the mattress; the remaining floor space is bed to a young mother and her newborn that the family has taken in. 

Claire's mom couldn't have been happier to have visitors. She is a heavyset woman and told us that she wishes she could feed the family healthier food - but her cheapest option is to buy greasy snacks from street vendors.

That day we talked about options for the family - for better, safer housing, and small business opportunities for the mother. We talked about what a good and kind and smart girl Claire is. She told us how Claire comes home from Saturday Club on top of the world because we give her lots of hugs. Had I never visited her home, I never would have guessed that such a joyful little heart could persist despite the daily dirty hardship that is so normal for her. 

Weeks later, at my going away party, she handed me a box in shiny silver wrapping and wanted me to guess what it was. 

"...a giraffe?"
Giggle. "No."
"A hippo?!"
More giggles and smiles, "No." And unable to wait on my silly games any longer, "It's kind of like a doll." 

At that point, activities called us away from opening the present together. Days later I finally sat down to unwrap my gift from Claire. The shiny paper was so used and dirty I felt like I probably needed to wash my hands a few times. As I opened the top of the box, a pair of arms and a pair of legs popped out like a Jack-in-the-Box. It was a Woody the Cowboy doll (from Toy Story), very loved and dingy, but cowboy boots and hat intact. She gave me her doll.

She gave me her doll. 

She has nothing, and gave me her best most loved, all the while smiling and giggling joyfully.

It's Christmas tomorrow, and I can only think about Another who knows the cold of naught. That baby Jesus who had no crib for his bed, asleep on the hay, and woke up for the first time, poor. Cows making noise, stars twinkling instead of a roof. This Jesus understands Claire. 

I had a hard time helping to decorate the house for Christmas with my parents. So sweet to be in the same place as my family this year, but handling festive decorations transported me back to my first Christmas in Uganda. Coming home from the Christmas church service we saw a small family sitting on the side of the road gleefully eating ice-cream together. That would be the entirety of their Christmas decadence. 

The week after Christmas that year, we asked the kids to share what they enjoyed about Christmas - what made it special. One little girl stood up immediately and with pride told everyone, "We got to eat chicken." 

If I could choose anything right now, my Christmas wish, I would be with my kids (all 400+ of them), and give them all squeezes, feel their velcro hair on my cheek and their little arms so tight around my waist. 

Instead, this year I'm singing a old familiar Christmas carol with new and urgent meaning for me:

Away in a manger,
no crib for His bed,
The little Lord Jesus
lay down his sweet head.

The stars in the sky
looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus,
asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing,
the poor Baby wakes,
But little Lord Jesus,
no crying He makes;

I love Thee, Lord Jesus,
look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle
till morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus,
I ask Thee to stay,
Close by me forever,
and love me, I pray!

Bless all the dear children
in Thy tender care
And take us to heaven,
to Live with Thee there.

This year, these words are my prayer for my kids (the ones I know and the ones I've never met the world over) who will celebrate Christmas mostly without. Those last words - "Take us to heaven, to live with Thee there" - I feel them so heavily. Not in a sad or morbid way, but as words that hold a reassuring longing for the Rest of utter completion we will finally find in heaven with our King of Kings - our Jesus who became poor for us on that truly Holy Night. 

 [For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.] 
2 corinthians 8.9

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I've been told I need to talk about Africa.  More.

I've been back in America, away from Africa, for 9 weeks and 4 days, if anyone is counting. I've visited friends and family and church and have shared about Uganda - my kids, my work, my life there. But honestly, its hard, because it hurts to remember what I love and miss so much and to be transparent with the heart of who I've become. 

Let me give you a good illustration::
"When Peter, Edmund, Lucy, and Susan stepped out of the wardrobe, they were shocked to find out that no one seemed to know anything about the world from which they had just returned. In Narnia, they had experienced the breathtaking beauty of the place and its citizens; they had discovered things about themselves they had not known before; they had conquered evil; they had known love on new and different levels; they had met friends that had challenged all of their normal ways of thinking. They had been important people there. They had completely become a part of that world. So when they walked out of the wardrobe, they were shocked to find their changes were unapparent to everyone around them. When to the children, the changes they saw in themselves were so great that they were now almost completely different people." *
When people ask, "How was Africa?", sometimes it's just easier to say "Good" and move onto details of their lives rather than risk them not understanding, or worse, not really caring about the answer.

And yet, I've had so many people embrace me back into life here in America, graciously listen to stories, genuinely wanting to know more (even when they have dig or pry it out me at times).  Thank you, for being you and for putting up with me. 

As a part of this process they call "reentry" or "reverse culture shock," I'm realizing that yes, it will be hard to adjust back to life here, but I need to be a person filled with God's grace. I need to recognize that part of my job, part of telling my story, is to continue to say it out loud, in ways that people can connect with and relate to. I need to help people ask the right questions. 

How do I love  - continue to love and honor - my kids in Africa and my friends and family here in America? A song I really like ** says it like this:
Love does not run, Love does not hide, Love does not keep, Locked inside 
I will love them and you by continuing to share the story. I will share the things I'm tempted to keep secret. 

Like how yesterday, as I was driving, there was pothole in the road and I dodged it, effortlessly, and for the breifest moment, almost thought I was back in Uganda. 

Like how I went for jog in a neighborhood here and a little African American boy waved to me and I automatically said "How are you?", expecting him to wave respond with "Muzungu byyyyeeee!"(If you're wondering what "muzungu bye" looks like in person, see photo below).

Like how I've had to have people explain culturally relevant Western things like Groupon and QR codes that apparently happened while I was dodging potholes in Africa. 

Sometimes I forget that I should tell people about the everyday normal things of living in Uganda. Like how Ugandans are a beautifully dark-skinned people and how most use their feet as their main form of transportation. At night, the sides of the roads are filled with people of all ages walking home in the dark. Nighttime driving becomes a challenging activity - bumpy-holed roads unlit by street lights and populated by dark-skinned people and animals that dart across and cross the road with an everyday alacrity that borders on alarming. Naturally, drivers, in an effort to see all things moving turn on their brights...all the time, essentially blinding other drivers on the road and making it impossible to see the people. Which was kind of the point. 

Sometimes I forget that I don't have to bleach my vegetables or filter my water or worry about forgetting to take my anti malaria pill. Sometimes it still feels strange to pour from a gallon jug of milk or pump my own gas. 

But what are all of these things, really, besides small details of another life in another place just like anyone else anywhere else in this big world? They will continue to only be mundane details unless they are matched with lives that tell stories - stories of transformation that lead to more transformed lives. Stories of love which lead to more loving. If my details of a far off place can you stories that point back to the One who authored our lives, then I'll keep sharing. 

I'd tell you about someone so special to me, a older student in Hope Alive! named Jimmy. I know he wouldn't mind if I told you - I think he would sort of look down humbly, but have a huge smile on his face.  

Jimmy joined Hope Alive! when he was 14 and in the 4th grade. He had missed a lot of school because his mother, who is HIV+, couldn’t find work and so couldn't pay school fees. Out of the 267 4th graders at his school, he ranked 237. After enrollment in the project, Jimmy began to grow and thrive. He became very active in a local church. Halfway through 5th grade, he was number three in his class. By 6th grade, he was number one. And in 7th grade, not only was he number one in his class, he was also elected school president. Jimmy started a Bible club at his school and led three of his friends to the Lord. More have become Christians since then.
Jimmy has now near the end of his final year of secondary school. He is an ambitious and passionate young man, desiring to become a medical doctor one day. Currently, Jimmy serves as the chairman of the student Leadership Team in Kampala and has the respect and love of all Hope Alive! staff and students. His nickname is “Pastor.” The healing hope of Jesus transforms not just one life but has exponential impact. ***

I have never seen anyone work so hard, worship so passionately, or live with so much joy. Knowing Jimmy has made a difference in my life; maybe his story will touch you in some way, incite you to action. 

I could fill your day with stories of Uganda and kids like Jimmy, but if they won't change your heart or make a difference in how you think about the world, I'd rather not say a word. Kierkegaard said, "to listen in order to act, this is the highest thing of all, and, God be praised, every man is capable of it if he so wills."  If you can listen with an open heart - not just to me but to so many people who have stories about the Truth to tell - then maybe you can start to see the Jimmy's in your own world, the poverty and unloved in your own cities and backyards. 

muzungu bye

* Excerpt from Coming Home, Reeentry Devotions for a Successful Return by Howard & Bonnie Lisech
** Love Never Fails, by Brandon Heath
*** Taken from Hope Alive!'s website, found at

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

the foray

WENDY (courteously). Boy, why are you crying?

PETER. I wasn't crying. But I can't get my shadow to stick on.

WENDY. It has come off! How awful. (Looking at the spot where he had lain.) Peter, you have been trying to stick it on with soap? It must be sewn on. I will sew it on for you, my little man...Sit here. I dare say it will hurt a little.

PETER (a recent remark of hers rankling). I never cry. (She seems to attach the shadow. He tests the combination.) It isn't quite itself yet.

WENDY. Perhaps I should have ironed it. (It awakes and is as glad to be back with him as he to have it. He and his shadow dance together.)

Trouble with shadows. I feel a certain kinship with Peter Pan these days in that I seem to be having trouble with my shadow. What is it they say? "A shadow of who he used to"? "A shadow of things to come"? It comes down to this:: the calendar now reads September 6, 2011, which means I have exactly 1 month and some days left before my two years in Uganda come to end and I leave to return to the US....and I feel like Peter Pan, looking for the shadow that hid itself away in the US these last years and now, somehow, doesn't seem to fit the me that I am now. You could say I'm having a bit of an identity crisis.

Did you know that "identity crisis" is included in the Oxford American Dictionary? Indeed, and it is defined as:

"a period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person's sense of identity becomes insecure, typically due to a change in their expected aims or role in society."
A crisis of identity. Apparently these things are not limited to men who turn 40 and buy red convertibles they cannot afford.

When I say this, I'm not meaning to be uppity or pretentious. It's heart thing that can really only be expressed as an ache, not ever fully through words:: There is no way to sum up these past two years of my life in Uganda... how it has changed me, the way I see God, myself, and others.

The words to a pop song by Dido come to mind:

"Yes, they'll ask you where you've been, and you'll have to tell them, again and again..."
Maybe that is the scariest part - not knowing exactly who I've become and not knowing how to express that to friends, family, acquaintances, strangers...

But isn't that the age-old life-long question:: who am I?

I don't have a witty story or memorable experience to tell you, but I wanted to share my thoughts anyway. You have been a part of my journey from afar and this is part of our process (of life) - to tell our story (out loud); because that is what stories are for.

So I started wondering, "Gee, I wonder if anyone in the Bible ever had an identity crisis?" Turns out, the answer is yes, and it's kind of a major biblical theme. More on that later. First, some case studies.

Joshua. Imagine coming after Moses, the guy who "the Lord knew face to face," there was "none like him," had "mighty power" and did "great deeds." Talk about having some huge shoes to fill. When the book of Joshua begins Moses is already dead and the torch of leadership has already been passed to Joshua. But...the very first verse tells us that God talks to Joshua "son of Nun, Moses' assistant." In other words, it's how we recognize his character in the story; "assistant to Moses" has been his identity. God gives him some pretty tall orders - he's supposed to take over where Moses left off, to lead the children of Israel into the promised land. I wonder how Joshua was feeling? Scared out his mind? Not only was he now the leader, but the leader of a people not exactly known for their friendliness, flexibility, or obedience toward their leader.

But God doesn't leave Joshua in a crisis of identity. Instead, God's encouragement and promises to Joshua about the way forward are rooted in Himself.
"...Every place...I have given you just as I promised Moses."
"...I will be with you..."
"I will not leave you or forsake you."
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
The encouragement was not "you're a strapping young man, handsome, and have a good personality, too. You'll do fine." No. Essentially, Joshua was to take courage because God is God. He did it for Moses, and He was going to do it for Joshua.

Elisha. Imagine taking over for God's great prophet Elijah, the man whose prayers stopped the rain for 3 1/2 years, called down fire from heaven (multiple times), and raised a person from the dead. Wonder how he was feeling? The first chapter of 2 Kings gives us some clues. Somehow he knew that God was about to take Elijah. Like most of us, it seems that Elisha was resisting change, clinging to the past, what was old and familiar....3 times he tells Elijah "I will not leave you." Other people keep reminding Elisha - "don't you know this is going to happen?" (i.e. your life is about to change). His response - "I know it; keep quiet," as if to say "shut up, I'm in denial, I don't want to think about it." In almost desperation, it seems, Elisha's final request from his boss is for double portion of Elijah's spirit - as if he believes that God could never do through him what He did through Elijah...even then, Elisha's first question after Elijah is taken up is, "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" It seems that so much of Elisha's ability to function as God's servant and his belief in God was tied to this man, Elijah. Without Elijah, where was he, Elisha?

Graciously, God shows him that HE is present and upon Elisha by parting the waters and having other people recognize God's spirit in him. Once again, the assurance was in the presence and power of God himself.

I could go on with people in the bible who faced a crisis of identity: Abraham, Esther, Ruth, Saul, Peter... It permeates. In fact, Hebrews 11 talks about some of the OT saints saying that they "acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth." Stranger, exile. These words conjure up images of displaced people, people shoved from a place of belonging, people with identities stolen.

So let's go back, waaaay back to the beginning to the moment when mankind crossed the line from perfect identity into identity crisis.

Adam and Eve. The first man and first woman created in perfect identity. How can I say that? Because "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him." And then there's this detail: "And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." Now there's some confidence in being oneself if I ever heard it.

And then...the attack.

This is the clincher. When Satan tempts Eve, he doesn't tell her that she is fat or ugly or untalented. No, he attacks God, His identity, and what Eve knows to be true of Him. Essentially, satan describes God as a lier and greedy; a power-hungry tyrant, instead of a loving Creator.

The choice is made and immediately the description of Adam and Eve changes - now they are acutely aware that they are naked (and ashamed of it) and are afraid. Their own identity has been forever altered, and why? Because they chose to believe a lie about the identity of God.

Don't you see? Our identity is rooted in God.
"For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory..." {Romans 11:36}
And isn't that our entire story? That God created us in perfect identity that was destroyed by sin; and the rest of history is the process of God calling and redeeming His people back to perfect identity and relationship with Him. This calling of "come back to who I created you to be."

Listen, can you hear it?

"For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son..." {Rom. 8:29}

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." {Rom. 12:2}

"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." {2 Cor 3:18}

"Therefore is anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God..." {2 Cor 5:17-18}

"My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!" {Gal. 4:19}

" renewed in the spirit of your minds...put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." {Eph. 4:23-24}
So finally, does it matter if I know my "true identity," who I am? Okay, I don't believe that we are just intended to be cookie-cutter blobs, that's not the point. The point is that God knows who I am (He's the one who created me). The more I can rest and trust and know His identity (i.e. his character) the more I know my own.

As I foray into what seems like the great unknown, I'm reminded, humbled, encouraged by people in my life who face struggles and challenges of identity greater than my friends and family who have moved away from the comfort of "home" to find a new one, have obediently followed spouses into new places and jobs, have followed dreams that seemed too big to be possible, are facing the death of a child, are choosing to follow the call of God rather than the call of status quo. In Uganda, due to war, AIDS, death, poor medical care, even lack of family planning, many children don't have birth certificates or know their birthdays. I have friends and work with children who have chosen an age that seems probable (or advantageous) and quite literally picked their own birthday. I know that these people, when faced with the question of their own identity have found their answer rooted in the steadfast character of an unfailing God. I am indeed surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, not just the people of the bible, but people now, around me and in my life.

So will my shadow fit? I hope not. I hope that I will have changed too much, and now look more like Christ, resting in His identity, not my own.

{2 Cor 5:11} "Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience." May you trust in the unfailing, steadfast, and never-changing character of God, knowing that He knows you more than you know yourself. And may you, in your trusting, start to look more and more like Him, day by day.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Confession:: I waited till nearly my 3rd decade of life to watch my first Super Bowl this year.

Apparently, inspired by either homesickness or feelings of nostalgia for anything American, I decided that living in Uganda meant I should watch Super Bowl XLV. Having spent most of my life saying my feelings for football almost border on hate, I will point out that I showed an extraordinary amount of dedication to watch this football game - getting up at 3am Ugandan time and even making an effort to learn the rules (and no, they still don't make sense…something about yard lines? Yard sticks?).

In case you don't know, Super Bowl XLV, the Green Bay Packers vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers, was hosted at the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX. Turns out the thing that I remember most from my early-morning football initiation was not the teams or the score but this colossal, bedazzled stadium.

The stadium's architects will say that it is the world's largest, most technologically advanced entertainment venue. The stadium site covers 73 acres and can hold up to 100,000 fans. The stadium boasts the most spectacular column-free room in the world, stretching a quarter-mile long, and has the largest retractable roof in the world, about 660,800 square feet. The price tag:: $1.1 billion. Oh, and did I mention the stadium's video board? The world's largest LED display - it weighs 600 tons, has 300 million light bulbs, is the equivalent of 4,920 fifty-two inch flat panel tv's, and cost…40 million dollars.

Oh, it dazzles and it sparkles and it boggles the mind and the only word I can think of to properly describe it is...excessive.

The Super Bowl was 5 months ago and while it was a unique memory, it didn't leave a lasting impression on my life. But for some reason...real life pictures I saw this week, in my world, in my neighborhood here in Uganda, the starkest of contrasts possible, brought me back to it. Destitute and broken poverty vs. opulent and dripping wealth. Darkness, dirt, ashes and shards vs. Shiny lights, towers, brilliance and masterpiece. Nothing vs. Everything.

In a series of events that swirl in a confusion of African culture, Ugandan history, modern-day business investments and political intrigue, about 2,000 people who live a few miles away from me lost their homes, communities, and livelihoods the span of 24 hours.

The residents of Naguru and Nakawa woke up on Monday morning to find their neighborhoods surrounded by armed police. Hours later city bulldozers flattened a few homes of people who were absent, at work already…homes replete with belongings of people who live, work, have lives, and families and memories – smashed to a pile of rubble. Books, beds and blankets, pots and pans, picture albums, teddy bears…some lost the only home they had ever known and some where only left with the belongings they were wearing.

Several of our Hope Alive! children and their families lived in these neighborhoods. The facts and details of the land agreements seem murky. The land that housed these few thousand people was apparently sold by the government to a UK private development group. Instead of neighborhoods that were deemed “dilapidated” and “unfit for human habitation” there will instead be high-end apartment units, shopping, a Muslim school and other “affordable” housing units.

The other side of the story is that the residents had been warned and threatened of evictions for several years, but each time the deadline approached and passed without anything happening. I am sure that the residents again thought government red tape and political promises would keep their houses standing.

I am quite sure I am not learned enough on the cultural complications of this story, nor do I have the political savvy to comment learnedly. But I do have relationships with people who lost their homes and livelihoods and know families who were forced to split up in the name of this development process.

Emma is one of our older students, in vocational school for mechanics. He was called home from school in the middle of the day and arrived home to find his family frantically throwing all of their belongings out of the house before it was demolished. As people in the neighborhood were suddenly scrambling to find housing around the city, landlords and truck drivers took advantage of a golden opportunity and hiked prices exorbitantly. Families made agreements for rent prices they will never be able to meet financially in matter of months.

I visited Emma the day after his house was torn down. He was dirty and sweaty from loading his mother’s belongings into a lorry (aka, truck). As we sat and chatted his house was just a pile of cement blocks and rubble behind him. The sounds of a hammer striking cement punctuated our conversation – an man, a stranger to Emma and his family, was breaking the rebar out of the cement blocks that used to be their home, scavenging for anything that could be sold for money. This picture is so striking in my mind – a stranger on a heap of rubble that used to be a home, taking what he could for himself while the family sits with their belongings piled on a bed frame watching him with disconnect.

When I asked where the family had slept the night before, Emma told me they had had nowhere to go. So, they hired a policeman to keep guard and they slept outside, where their house should have been. He’s a big kid, Emma, and he seems composed but there is unmistakable sadness in the way he sits, his shoulders, his words. “Emma, were you able to sleep last night?” He shakes his head, just barely, looks at the ground and says in a small quiet voice, “No, I’m not used to sleeping outside. I’m used to sleeping in my house. I haven’t slept outside before.”

He has scratches on his forearms from working in the debris of his house and sorting through their possessions. The family members sit around, mostly without words, as the mother and older sister discuss possible living locations. I bend over to greet the grandmother, but she won’t even shake my hand or offer me her arm, telling me ashamedly that her hands are too dirty. The family will be split up now. The mother will go back to their village, 4-5 hours away from Kampala, but Emma and his sister will stay in Kampala so they can continue school and work.

They finish loading the truck and it is time for the mother to go. We gather in a small group and pray over the family. When we finish the mother goes around the group and shakes our hands, thanking us for coming. She reaches Emma last and also extends her hand to him. Instead he jumps up and grabs her in a big hug, shaking his head and saying, “No, you are my mother.”

I tell you this story not as an exploitation, not because you’ll be able to relate, but because I told Emma I would. I told him there are Christians in America who would be praying for him and his family. I tell you this story because there are many many other sad stories like it. I tell you this story because it is so easy to watch our televised Super Bowl games under glittering lights and forget that so much of the world lives in poverty, often in desperate situations. I tell you this story because some of these families had to relocate to houses that have no toilets or running water. Imagine for moment…having to go outside and pay to use a toilet because your house doesn’t have one. We forget that maybe, just maybe, it should bother us that we can spend 40 million dollars on a stadium video screen when, at the same moment in time, somewhere in the world a family will be chased out of their home because they can’t afford a monthly rent of $100.

I don’t understand it, and I’m certainly not above it.

A wake-up call to myself::

“Jesus told him, "If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matt 19:21

“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.” Prov 19:17

And a reminder that God still reigns as compassionate and righteous judge of this world::

“The LORD takes his place in court; he rises to judge the people. The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: 
“It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?” declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.”

Isaiah 3:13-15

May we be people who continue to be bothered by the injustice in the world and brave enough to take compassionate action.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

pictorial prayer – july 6, 2011

please pray for the residents of Naguru and Nakawa. on Monday, the residents of these

neighborhoods (just few kilometers from my house) were suddenly and forcefully

evicted by the Kampala City government.

Several of our Hope Alive! children and families were among those who lost their

homes. Emma, (pictured above) was called home from school in the middle of the day

to find his family’s belongings being throw outside before his home was bulldozed. Now

his family will have to split up in order for them to find affordable housing and for

Emma to continue school.

Although the government had been threatening this relocation for years, the final

move came suddenly and many lost not only their homes and shelter, but also

livelihood and community. Close to 2,000 people have been forced to relocate without


Thursday, May 26, 2011


Pull up a chair, it's story time.

George R. Price was born in October of 1922, grew up through the Great Depression, and emerged a strong atheist. He is known as a "population geneticist," but comes out on the top of the over-achiever list; he worked as a chemist on the atom bomb, solved problems in transistor research, researched oncology treatments, and invented computer-aided design. In the process of bouncing through major scientific achievements in history, George married, but then left his family when his children were still very young.

While he was on track for at least a few nobel prizes, George eventually settled on a question that seems strange for a scientist - Why family?. His question (ironically enough,)was focused on the evolutionary origin of the human family (how does it persist?), but this eventually led him to the a question that would dramatically shift the rest of his life - Why does anybody help anybody? Essentially the question of goodness...kindness...altruism.

As a scientist that believed in Darwin's evolution, altruism seemed to be the elephant in the room that everyone was trying to ignore. So, like any reasonable person, he wrote a mathematical representation for the trait of altruism (now called the Price Equation).

[Price's theory] holds that the farther genetically removed two organisms are from each other the less likely they are to show altruism to each other. If true, then altruistic(kind) behavior is not truly selfless and is instead an adaptation that organisms have in order to promote their own genetic heritage.

He figured that if goodness could be formulated biologically and mathematically, then trait itself is never really altruistic...and there is no true selflessness.

But his science became the very thing he could not accept - a world devoid of genuine genuineness. In a 180 degree change, he flung himself into a quest of radical altruism - going to the streets of London and giving any physical or monetary help he could to the homeless, alcoholics, derelicts, and down-and-outs.

He gave up everything to help the poor, but many of them stole from him, leaving him essentially destitute himself.

Just after Christmas of 1975, George was found after he cut his carotid artery with a pair of scissors.

George died, despondent, because he felt been unable to go on helping the homeless.

I wonder what George's last thoughts were - did he think through his scientific achievements, did he think of his two daughters, or did he die haunted by his own lingering question - why does anybody help anybody?

Back in February, I told you a story about Sofia - a Hope Alive! student I had grown particularly close to...a 16-old year girl who is now a womanly mother of 2 children. Though Sofia had been given the grace for a new start after breaking our rules with her first pregnancy, she chose to not only willfully disobey again, but to do it while lying with a smile to our faces.

While I was in Gulu this last March, I didn't know why, but I couldn't shake a very deep feeling that I needed to find Sofia in her village to visit her and her new baby. She had left Kampala for the holidays before we even knew she was pregnant and hadn't seen her since.

So roommate Kate and I squished together on the back of a boda (motorcycle taxi) for what we thought would be a quick ride...and ended up being over a 40 minute ride down dusty bumpy roads to the village in the middle of...nowhere.

We were welcomed warmly into one of their huts - a circular construction of mud bricks and a grass-thatched roof - and eventually left alone with Sofia and her baby.

So there I was - suddenly holding little baby Auma Praise (a name that symbolically has the meaning of one falling on her face). Little fingers curled around one of mine, eyes closed peacefully in fierce sleep that couldn't be bothered by noise or strangers.

Sofia was sitting next to me, but what do you say in this situation, something that is not only socially but culturally appropriate?

But deep down, I think I knew why I needed to come, to see Sofia and her baby girl. I needed to tell Sofia that I forgave her. Forgave her for deceiving me, for treating my trust and friendship like something limp and dirty, for not making the good choices I know she is capable of.

So, as simply as I could I told her that; that she hurt me, but I forgave her and I still love her. But that I forgave her because God did the same thing for me and for all of us.

Like most Acholi women, Sofia is strong and usually only puts on the face of stoic happiness. As we talked though, Sofia's head went lower and lower, her hands covering her eyes to hide quiet tears.

I feel like this is a theme God wants me to learn and re-learn and learn again...the lesson that true loving hurts. In this case, the very humbling truth that loving will often mean forgiving before someone even asks for it.

Given the fact that we have family, and friends, and roommates, and colleagues, and employees, we have limitless opportunities for practicing. And given the fact that I usually fail miserably or maybe just achieve love minor-ly, it should come as no shock that I recently had an epiphany - love does not happen by accident or by mistake, it is intentional - every minute, every word, every action.

I like these song lyrics::

love hangs on invisible strings
so roll up your sleeves
this could take some time
The bible sums it up like this::

Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn't, and doesn't, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn't been so weak, we wouldn't have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.
In 1970, it is said that our Mr. Price had a religious experience and became quite a New Testament scholar. I wonder what he found there? Did he read about how God loves His enemies and forgives those who are useless compared to His greatness? I wonder if Mr. Price gave up on life because he realized that true goodness takes too much concentrated effort for it to merely be a evolutionary adaptation? Was he disappointed that he did not possess the altruistic trait that would allow him to go on helping the poor or was he only disappointed that he failed to be a present love in the life of his own children? I wish I could ask him these questions myself.

May you, as you become aware of your own insufficiency in living and loving, turn and lean on our God of continual and enduring goodness (ps.52.1).



1. The belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.
2. Behavior of an animal that benefits another at its own expense. (podcast "The Good Show")
-"The Price of Altruism" by Oren Harman
-Scripture verses taken from Romans 5:6-8
-Song lyrics taken from "Green Screens" by Sleeping at Last