Monday, August 4, 2014

Sharing Living Water

With humility and the blessing of obedience, we have finalized air travel, lodging, in-country travel, and our program plans. The theme for VBS is "living water." Four separate lessons for the children will reveal how God delivers promise after promise to sustain His people. We will carry this theme over to swim lessons. Lifeguards Without Borders, Starfish Aquatics Institute and PADI are partnering in our efforts to deliver not only swim lessons focusing on safety and survival, but to promote drowning prevention education and practices. Once again we will continue to work in the sewing classroom that was started last year. We have new sewing machines to set up and are excited to see the school's vocational options grow. Beatrice, Simon Peter, Micaela, all the teachers and staff members are to be commended for sustaining Lira Integrated School through the good times and the difficult times. This year a HUGE number of Dive Spot customers, friends from Prattville, Al and Sugar Land, TX, PADI, SAI, AquaSphere/AquaLung, Goggles for Guppies/USA Swimming, Glenview (IL) Park District and others have donated swimsuits for the kids, teens and adults who will learn water safety with us. How many? Over 500 suits thus far!
Oops - I left this in preview mode and just realized it. Sorry if it's out of order.

The Path to Lira

Our path to Lira this year began with multiple road blocks and detours. We were not certain we were going! Gratefully the Lord's plans grew clearer month by month and then plans proceeded as if we were zooming down the highway to Lira with a police escort.
Beatrice, the school's founder, has warmly welcomed us back to use the school facilities. VBS will be held at the Nursery school, sewing in the secondary "lab" set up last year, and swimming will continue at the school pool. It is exciting to know we will have the assistance of Sam and Albert from Kampala. Micaela, who hails from CO and who has been volunteering more than a year of her time to Lira Integrated School, will also be on campus to help. Simon Peter joined my swim instructor lessons last year, and will rejoin us. Francis has returned to Lira to cook for us. What delicious lunches and dinners those will be.
It's like a homecoming!
The VBS theme of Living Water will segue to swim lessons. This year our focus is on teaching children more than helping prepare instructors. "Why?" you might ask. The instructors don't stay at the school or grow too busy, thus there is still not a regular and viable swim program. So...we are hoping to teach 500+ students while there and will continue working with adults who might teach once we're gone. Some children will actually be Integrated students, but since it is a school vacation when we're there, children from the nearby neighborhood attend, too.
The swimsuit collection response has been astounding. We will finish counting in the next week or so, but there are probably 700 suits. When the time comes there will be some well-suited swimmers in Lira.
I know not everyone knew about the swimsuit drive, but would have sent some if they could. Let me share one well-wisher's response upon finding out about the collection as it was ending. After thanking this person for being willing to send suits, I mentioned that in lieu of suits we sure would welcome prayers if s/he was the praying sort (I do not know if the inquiry came from a man or a woman although I suspect this is a woman.) Here was the reply, "We are absolutely the praying sort. We will be praying for you and with you as you follow the path God has already prepared for you."
Yes, indeed, the path to Lira is ready!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Well, Well, Well: Uganda Bound

Well, well, well. Following my last post you could have, as they say, knocked me over with a feather if we decided to fly to Uganda. Get out those feathers! We are going to try once again to be helpful in Uganda because, apparently, Uganda is calling for us. Who knew???
Planning will resume after having been temporarily suspended. We and our friends in Uganda are working on airlines, lodging, transportation in country, etc. We need to select a theme for four different days of Vacation Bible School because we learned how unmanageable it was last year to offer VBS to a certain group at a certain time with the intent of spreading a message over two or more settings. We will also be prepared to work more on a swimming program and a sewing program. We know we cannot plan the exact shape of either program, so will do our best to go with the flow. Setting aside the cliches, and without sounding trite, I must simply say that God will carry this out and we plan to do our best as the delivery men and women. Thank yous are already due to so many who offer their financial, emotional, spiritual and practical means of support. You are the best!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Does Uganda Call?

We are trying to decide whether we are called to Uganda this summer. We have tentative dates, tentative team members, tentative plans and so on. Airline tickets are on hold. We are in a holding pattern. What will drive us forward? Praying. Planning. Praying. Planning.
In the meantime, Micaela continues to be a solid presence in Lira and has already helped us by gathering information we requested. Beatrice, the school's founder, welcomes us while she is working to create a viable vocational program and cannot always be onsite. Sam, a Ugandan friend, has also been helping and we know we owe gratitude to all of them.
Maybe it is time for us to make the call that Uganda calls for our team to deliver at least the following programs.
1. Set up additional sewing machines and create a sewing program that is more clearly successful when we leave.
2. Conduct VBS again.
3. Teach swimming and water safety again.
Our team numbers only 5 or 6 at this time plus Micaela and Sam.
We are not waiting without preparing. We are preparing without clear vision. It does seem clear that at some point we will know whether to buy those airline tickets or not!
Until then, we know God's love is huge and all encompassing.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Lira School Dress Project

It began in a heart, the heart of a mother who loves to sew. She was so busy with her two girls and toddler son that joining us in Uganda was simply not an option - especially in light of the fact that her military husband was deployed. What to do?
Thank you to Heather for creating the Lira School Dress Project that began with a request on Facebook for the wildly brazen goal of delivering 66 handmade dresses in size 6 for the girls enrolled in Primary 1. For good measure the pattern of a simple "pillow case" dress was proffered.

Dresses began to trickle in a month or more before departure time. First a single dress arrived. Next was a small package of six dresses. Soon there was box after box and the goal of 66 dresses was met and surpassed! The GIVERS of these dresses for the little girls in Lira sewed alone or in groups. One mother-daughter team sent a lovely variety of dresses including some in smaller sizes. Packages arrived from the west coast to the east coast of the good ol' USA and many, many states in between. An Oklahoma high school art class sent many dresses with sweet notes for the recipients. (Yes, these notes were delivered to Lira, too.) One Texas church sewing group sent a large package of blessings, er, dresses with a note to let them know when we did the same or a similar project because they want to help again.

Beatrice humbly and gratefully accepted the largest portion of dresses for the primary girls.

Many dresses were distributed to young girls attending VBS.
A dozen dresses went to the children living in the home compound of Teacher Susan. Child by child, they timidly held back the front door curtain to peek in during our home visit until six or more were in the room or on the porch. They had not attended VBS so Luke brought some VBS songs to them. These were indeed very precious moments that came about because of the relationship Susan and Lorraine have developed since meeting over a year ago. Blessings, indeed!
Be assured the dresses brought HUGE SMILES as you can see in these photos. How many dresses were there in total?
In addition there were 132 little girl panties and many colorful hair bows. One box was waiting at home upon our return, but fear not. They were flown with another team member returning to Lira early in July so every dress has now reached Uganda. The dresses were well received, but even more importantly, the love that went into sewing each and every dress was recognized. Thank you for letting us be the delivery persons!

Vacation Bible School

Our team members offered four days of Vacation Bible School to children not attending the basketball clinic. There were four of us manning VBS since Rachel needed to work in the sewing room and John David had decamped to the basketball program where he was sorely needed.

The lessons were:
1) Miracle of the Ten Lepers (the power of Jesus and being grateful),
2) Parable of the Good Samaritan (love your neighbor),
3) Parable of the Good Shepherd/Lost Sheep, and
4) the Gospel Story.
We distributed Gospel Story bracelets of color stripes ranging from black (sin) to gold (heaven) and each bracelet was accompanied by a wallet-sized card telling the story of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Our time was spent in song, games, crafts, skits, and Bible lessons. Sounds simple, right? Let me tell you…

VBS was held on the nursery school grounds at the far end of Lira Integrated School. On the first day we walked amidst cries of “Mzungu!”* feeling very much like the Pied Piper, but this wasn’t Hamlin and the closer we got to the nursery school the more the children crowded around us and amidst us until we could hardly pass through the throng at the gate. Once successfully on the school grounds, we quickly organized the rooms for crafts and Bible stories, talked to Auntie Mary about the milk tea and biscuits for snacks, and then came back to the guard at the gate. He was not a large man, but he wielded a four-foot stick about 1 ½ inches in diameter and he wasn’t shy about swinging it about. The kids moved!
*white person

The plan was to work with 100 children in the morning for two days and 100 children in the afternoon for two days and then repeat with new children on days three and four. Mind you, there had been no advertisement about VBS at all because we had been told that once word was out about registering for the basketball clinic, the kids would linger in droves. So true! The numbers had now grown to the point that the cyclone fence on one side of the school yard was at an awkward angle leaning toward the ground, children were standing on the concrete block wall on the other side of the yard, and when we opened the gates to allow in 50% boys and 50% girls the onslaught was almost alarming. It took five adults to close the gate after 161 kids entered. We put on their i.d. bracelets (our attempt to work with the same kids tomorrow morning) and joined Mr. Luke for song before separating into three groups. We had enough craft supplies and had ordered enough snacks for the week to handle 400 children plus up to 50 extras. Since our plan didn’t work immediately, we re-grouped and decided to help Rachel that afternoon and meet the 161 kids again the next morning.

We arrived at the nursery school earlier and earlier with each passing day but could not arrive before the waiting children. The first VBS session met with 87 boys and 57 girls. We tried to meet our 50% boys and 50% girls goal with the second VBS session, but had 74 boys and 58 girls. One of the major reasons Beatrice founded Lira Integrated was to offer the “girl child” the same educational opportunities as boys. It is difficult. These numbers reflect the children we sat down and interviewed during the crafts session, but there were a good 30 or more each day that would slip in as the morning wore on and the groups swelled during rotations. This does not account for the many children who remained at the fence or back windows throughout the course of each morning (approximately 9:00-11:30 a.m.).

Five to seven of the college participants in World Race (, 11 countries in 11 months) joined us for some of the next to last day of VBS and all of the last day. On that day the remaining groups of children were neatly lined up for our early arrival in a row of boys and a row of girls. The guard beamed with his success and we thanked him for the orderly beginning to this final day of VBS.

J. had brought Frisbees for the children to play with and that became the activity of choice for these early morning hours. When the final songs had been sung, crafts had been made, Bible lessons had concluded, and snacks had been eaten, the boys received farewells and high-fives from J. and Luke at the gate while the girls met with Lorraine, Greta, Teacher Susan, Moriah, Jackie, Kaitlyn, LaShondra and Jessa to change into new dresses that were lovingly sewn for the Lira School Dress Project. The remaining dresses were waiting to be distributed to the school’s primary class girls when school resumes in late May. Photos of this and more information about the Lira School Dress Project will be featured in an upcoming post.

The two cooks, watchman, three teachers and some of the teen boys enjoyed snacks after the children received theirs. We visited with the group and offered them Bibles, which they eagerly accepted. Several of these adults approached us quietly later in the week with a request to take a Bible to “my wife,” “my mother, “ and more. Thanks to the McCanns we were able to honor each request.

A Bible study for Saturday morning was planned at the request of many of the boys ages 10-15. They wanted more time with J. and Luke! That will also be featured in an upcoming post. It is most definitely a story worth telling!

Do You Know My Name?

The lines were long as children waited to register for the ISC basketball clinic. Understatement? YES!

Since it was important to include boys AND girls in this equal opportunity sporting camp, ISC staff met the children at the door to the large room where registration took place and counted them like Noah - boy, girl, boy, girl... Names and ages were duly recorded on the laptops and the child's name was written on his/her t-shirt. The ideal camper population would be 50% boys (250) and 50% (250) girls in the age range of about 7-9 or 10 years old. A matching wrist band was snapped in place with the intent that the child would honestly be wearing his/her own shirt and matching color band to attend the clinic each day. Then each child posed for a photo in order to later match that name to that face. Why all this effort to identify participants? Granted, it is required for the grant. We wanted each child to attend each day of the basketball clinic in order to learn. And then there is the reality of last year when campers grew with each passing day to the point there was no doubt that bigger kids were taking shirts from the smaller kids who registered in order to participate.
They are so eager. It was important in the short time we had to know them by name, to greet them to each session, and to see them grow in knowledge and skill.

I photographed the boys while Greta snapped the girls that came through the line. I don't have a perfect memory, but as the day progressed I noticed that one boy sure looked familiar. During a lull in the action I scrolled through my photos - already hundreds by that time - and sure enough I had two shots of the same boy in two different shirt colors. I checked to see if identical twins had registered. At this point I don't remember if he used the exact same name, but we deemed it was the same boy because the scar on his forehead was unmistakable. It makes me wonder how often I come to God struggling to be seen, begging to be loved, hoping to... WAIT! The GOOD NEWS is that I was known before I once struggled, begged or hoped... My registration process was handled by someone else. I have the gift of participation in this Christian walk and am grateful for God's grace. So, while sharing news about our many events during the week in Lira is delightful - look at future posts about what we worked to accomplish through VBS. Does God know my name? You betcha!