Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Since November 16th, many lives have been changed through the gospel of Christ. On November 18th and 19th, our Rwakaraba PAG church held an open-air crusade in a nearby village named Bubaare. And just like God promised in Isaiah 55:11, when He speaks, His word will not return empty, but will accomplish what He intends and will prosper in what He sends it to do! During our first crusade, two women realized who Jesus was and surrendered their lives to Him, and two people were healed of chronic diseases/pains. I managed to capture a moment in worship as our choir sang "Webare Yesu," meaning "Thank you Jesus!"

Livelihood chairperson Mable speaking in Ikumba
The following week, we went back to the Ikumba only this time with the head of the Livelihoods department. We traveled with about 15 other VSLA (Village Savings and Loans Association) group leaders to a home in Ikumba to discuss how their VSLA was managed, and to discuss how to implement these strategies into their own village groups. 11 years ago, the group was started to increase income to support farming activities and to begin saving long-term. Now, the group of 35 members have countless success stories about how the group has changed their lives and provided a way where they thought there was no way to grow financially. One woman told about her grass-thatched house that was transformed into a permanent brick home through a loan and now protects her from the cold of the mountains. Another woman was able to pay school fees for 3 children and rebuild her home that was previously destroyed by rain through loans. The future they see is one where their group can grow in all capacities and invest in families at the household level.

On Wednesday November 29th, our small group that typically meets in the home of our neighbors decided to reach out to our community. As we set out together, our first and only stop of the evening was directly across our church where 2 women were transformed by Jesus even before we came. We were simply able to be part of God's sovereign plan for them to receive Jesus that day.

After following up with one of those women, we went to see a friend of the church currently in prison that Friday afternoon. The guards had favor on us and let us visit in a room where we could hug and chat with Karen face to face. She told us of the difficult conditions in the local prison, including overcrowding, lack of blankets, food and other necessities. Our small group of 5, made up of Sarah, our neighbors Dan and Sharon, and our boda boda driver Ezra, prayed for our sister and her future.

That weekend, the church held their second open-air crusade in a village named Kiora, and after several complications we finally set up our speakers and had 11 people total receive Christ into their hearts and lives! Following up with new believers has been somewhat of a challenge, but a joy nonetheless as the Word of God encourages all of us.

Finally, after many conversations, our boda boda driver, Ezra, made his way to the PAG church and before he left the building, he understood for the first time who Jesus was and decided he couldn't live without Him!

As many people, myself and Sarah included, are transformed every day, please join me in prayer over the Christmas holidays for people all over Kabale as they begin new journeys with Christ and share the good news!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The past two weeks have been riddled with sickness- when either my partner, Sarah, or I become ill, both of our schedules are affected. However, we truly thank God for the powerful ways He's been at work in Kabale, through sickness and many changed plans.

On the first of November, the agriculture department of PAG Community Development had an in-depth monitoring of both its strengths and weaknesses. Together with all the board members, including the bishop and our village church pastor, we visited three gardens to get a glimpse at the work the Ag department has done since they were last evaluated. When we returned, we spent the next few hours discussing our observation of each garden, including some demonstration gardens in villages, and recommendations for future work.

As part of our shared learning experience, Sarah and I will be observing other branches within the Community Development Department, or CDD. Our first visit outside of Agriculture was with our Livelihood department coordinator, Mable, who is the wife of our pastor at Rwakaraba PAG church. Yesterday, we drove to the neighboring village of Kitumba again, but this time to meet with a group of farmers who began their journey of saving and promoting healthy lifestyles back in 2006. Sarah, Mable and I, with their group leader, Willy, discussed some issues concerning nutrition, health and hygiene before moving to our main topic of group enterprises. Together we discussed the VSL, or Village Savings and Loan, association and promoted the idea of having their group not just save, but implement a project that benefits the group as a whole. The group started out as a group of HIV+ people 11 years ago with goals to improve health and well-being for those living as HIV+, promote income-generating activities, and provide counseling and opportunities to share life experiences. When PAG CDD targeted them for savings through borrowing, raising and selling goats and pigs, they found they had a fundamental problem: How do the animals benefit the whole group instead of just the individual? As a result, they registered their group with the PAG Sacco (aka Savings and Credit Cooperative Organization) in Kabale and had goats, pigs and rabbits to keep, as well as a smaller committee to monitor how the animals are being cared for and their farming practices. We discussed a strategy to benefit the entirety of the farmers and their future with the animals: first, give two pigs out of, for example, eight total to group members who have never received animals from the PAG sacco before. Then sell one from the six left and put the money in the group savings.

Some of the members of the Kitumba VSL group
The Livelihood department coordinator told all of us that the VSL group in Kitumba was a model example for many reasons, but principally for their dedication to save money and invest in resources that will benefit the group and individual lives in the long run, not just an immediate gratification. A prime example is a woman named Prudence. After finding out she was HIV+, she met Willy, the leader of the VSL group, and he encouraged her to join and start saving her money. She borrowed 100,000 shillings, approximately $27, and planted cabbages. After selling her cabbages, she now had 1.8 million shillings, approximately $495! Because of her investments in the sacco, she was able to buy 3 plots of land and create an Irish potato and cabbage-selling business from it. She was also able to build an extension to her previously crowded home which we were able to visit and see tangible differences in. She is praying that God bless her brick business and make her dream to have a more permanent home made from brick built come true. 

On Wednesday evening, our home cell (the group of people in the Rwakaraba PAG Church who meet in a home during the week to fellowship) decided to visit the home of an elderly woman named Eileen. Eileen is HIV+ and was struck by high blood pressure years ago and had a serious stroke. She has been paralyzed on the entire left side of her body ever since. Her neighbors nor her grandson visit often enough for her to have decent meals 2-3 times every day, bathe herself, or clean her clay home. Our group of 7 members surprised her with some food and love this evening, and she was overjoyed that we had found her home tucked away behind the main streets of Kabale. Before we began anything, we prayed over her body and health, and worshipped our Father. We spent the evening cleaning her home and washing her bed coverings while she sat on a bench and looked outside after years of seeing only her walls. We are praying and believing that she will one day be able to worship with us at church with legs that have been healed!

As we plan for a busy few weeks ahead, with an evangelism outreach crusade and holidays in the mix, please keep Prudence, Eileen, the town of Kabale, and the PAG church in your prayers!

Monday, October 30, 2017

My time here in Kabale, Uganda has made me feel like it is home already! Last week was my official first 4 days in the PAG office, 2 of which were spent out in the field with the Agriculture department.

On Tuesday, October 24th, my partner, Sarah, the Agriculture Department Coordinator, Gordon, and I  drove to a neighboring district called Kashereregyenyi to visit a few farmers that were part of the district's farmer group that were taught about conservation agriculture. Our visit to the mountain top village was to see how their farms were doing and how successful the strategies they've implemented were. Our first family included Justus, his wife, and their children who farmed their large piece of land as a family. After we made introductions in their living room, we headed to the back of the house where they housed chicken and goat pens and a small bee farm. From the animals as well as leftover food items they made two compost piles, and this was the first method they had successfully implemented. For them, this was one of the most important because it fosters soil fertilization for their crops. As we walked a little further, we came to the large fields of Irish potatoes, cabbages and short beans, with grafted avocado trees planted throughout their land. The couple showed us the patch of land with Irish potatoes planted and the difference between the plants that had been mulched (another method implemented by covering soil with decomposable materials around your area) and those that had not. The difference was amazing- those that had been mulched had large, green leaves growing out of the ground, producing potatoes for the family in larger number and size! Gordon informed me that their potatoes will continue to look like that if they continue mulching their soil, as it makes soil stronger and more fertile the more it is mulched. Below the field of planted potatoes was a method used to reduce soil erosion by the rain. By planting papayas, with its strong roots and firmer soil, helps the water running down the mountain side meet some resistance and helps prevent landslides.
Justus and his wife standing in their field of Irish potatoes
Some of their trees were also grafted, a method whereby a branch taken from one tree is tied together with the trunk or branch of another tree and produces the food that you desire with the yields that have the strong, healthy characteristics from the original tree. The grafted avocado trees produced the largest avocados that Sarah and I have ever seen, and Justus graciously picked some for us to take home. Despite their luscious-looking piece of land, Justus informed us some of the problems they face on their farm, including lack of mulch, lack of money to buy sprays for plants, and the strong sun that shines during the afternoons.

Our next farmers were Miss Habaasa and Jennifer, both using the mulching technique to protect their soil and crops. Jennifer had planted a few green pepper plants and from her small yield had provided for herself and her friends and made 170,000 Ugandan shillings ($46) from the ones she sold!
Jennifer's farm overlooking towns below the mountains

On Thursday of last week, Gordon, Sarah and I got on a boda boda (the name for the motorcycles came from people driving refugees from "border" to "border") and drove to a small village outside of town called Kitumba. Because it was reported that most of the farming land in Kitumba had lost soil fertility, our plan was to meet with Community Extension Volunteers, or CEVs, at a local PAG church to hold a training on making and using good quality manure and also have a devotional time. Deos, the pastor of the PAG church, led our devotional time discussing material from the Timothy Leadership Training he had participated in, including God's plan to restore the world from its fallen nature through our stewardship of the earth and our personal relationship with Him. Gordon then explained how to make manure from both compost and animals, and how to use it for the benefit of plants. Gordon also explained how to make trenches so that usable soil could be saved even in heavy rainfall that occurs almost every day during this rainy season.
Pastor Deos in his church

A member of our village called Rwakaraba also came to the meeting as he will soon be the second Agriculture Department Coordinator for 3 districts including Kitumba beginning November 1st. Dan is a member of our church and the husband to one of Sarah and I's mentors, Sharon. Sharon and Dan have a farm on their land and welcomed us into their home on Sunday for lunch, where Dan also showed me the potatoes and maize he has planted to provide for his wife and two children.

After work on Thursday, Sarah and I met our friend Ivan and left Kabale to visit his hometown and family in Kisoro. We crammed into an already-full taxi and drove 2 hours in the mountains to reach the town. From there, we rented a boda boda and drove down a road lining Lake Matanda until we reached his home. Though his parents spoke very little English they, along with Ivan's many siblings, were so excited to have a Mzungu (white person) in their home. Friday morning Ivan took Sarah and I to a few famous places, including Mgahinga Gorilla National Park where 3 tall mountains reside, crossing the Uganda, Congo and Rwanda borders. Because it was raining and we arrived late in the morning, we could only hike to a platform view of the park, which featured the mountains, the Congo and Uganda. Our personal tour guide told us all about the area, activities like gorilla tracking and hiking, and found some 3-horned chameleons for us to marvel at on the way back down. Driving back down the long, bumpy road became dangerous when it began to rain heavily, so we pulled into a school and played soccer with some of the children hanging out in a construction building. We then departed for the Congo-Uganda border, only 15 minutes away, but due to time, we quickly went to Lake Matanda where we bargained for a cheap boat ride out on the lake at sunset where we could see the famous Mount Muhabora and the various islands in the lake. We needed the entirety of Saturday to rest when we arrived back home!
Sarah, Ivan and I at Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

God is at work in this community of passionate, welcoming people and Sarah and I are so amazed that we get to be a part of that daily, whether working or free-time fun!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I have been in Kabale, Uganda for a little over one week now and God's glory is everywhere- in the tall, green mountains, in the people, and in the local church.

When I arrived into Kampala late Sunday night, October 8th, I was picked up and taken to a hotel to stay the night.  The next morning, the regional contact, Carol, two of her friends, the driver and I set out for the seven hour drive from Kampala to Kabale (we were lucky to be in a car- the bus ride is 10 hours!) On the way through the luscious green land, we stopped in a small town to pick up gonga, which is a delicious grilled plantain that is soft and chewy on the inside and a favorite snack for locals. My new friends told me all about the Ugandan culture in all of its uniqueness. For example, the country has been influenced by many different cultures and as a result, Uganda is home to 43 different languages. In Kabale, a derivative of the Bantu language, called Rukiga, is the chief spoken language.

When we arrived in Kabale Monday evening, we pulled up to a famous hotel called the White Horse Inn. The inn had previously hosted the meeting of leaders from Uganda and Rwanda and two former US presidents and is known for its fantastic views of the terraced mountains of the city. Our small team stayed there for the week and enjoyed great food and service. On Tuesday, I attended a leadership training on Family Planning and surveying that a public health speaker from Nairobi, Kenya led. About 50 people from 3 different regions of southern Uganda attended to be trained in how to conduct accurate surveys of women in their villages to collect data for family planning statistics. Over lunch, I met the supervisor of the agriculture and sustainable farming program, Gordon, whom I will be primarily shadowing for the next few weeks. Tuesday evening, we had a welcoming dinner at the hotel with the leaders and pastors of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG) Church.

Sarah and I at World Food Day festival
My local learning partner, Sarah, and I were introduced later in the week and as we got to know each other, the church leaders decided to house me with Sarah in her beautiful home down the street from our church. Another woman, Prossy, also lives in the home and owns a local store. After I moved in on Friday, we prepared our first dinner together and enjoyed the evening getting to know more about each other and life here in Kabale.

The English service of the PAG church started at 8am on Sunday and the pastor introduced me to their family in both the English service and Rukiga service. Many of Sarah's friends welcomed me into their church family and community, including a doctor named Ivan who works as a clinical physician at a Christian hospital nearby. We spent the afternoon touring the different wings of the hospital and then headed to the end part of a women's conference being held at the church that evening.

Monday of this week was my first glimpse of being in the field with the Agriculture department, although it was a unique opportunity. October 16th was World Food Day and in the Kisoro district of Kabale, hundreds of people set up tents on the top of a mountain to tell people the different ways they've used the earth's resources to provide income, health and a sustainable future to their families or communities. Hundreds of people, including the second Prime Minister, came to see displays and buy products. Our group of the agriculture and farming department had a booth selling and telling about Amaranth and its benefits for famers.

View over Kabale city
The rest of this week, the pastorate, including the pastors from the two local PAG churches and the bishop, and representatives of PAG's community development programs are attending a Timothy Leadership Training, or TLT, where Sarah and I were also invited to. From Tuesday to Friday, we will gather together in a small room next to the town church and work through a discipleship class geared toward those already in church ministry. This week's module is about sustainable development, and we are learning how to identify and properly use community resources to make our communities independent and sustainable, taking past, present and future into account to work to glorify God in a lasting way.

The first few days have been packed, but as I get to know the town, the people and the work being done in World Renew's partner, I am filled with excitement for every day ahead and all that God wants to do and teach Sarah and I!