31 December 2008

Thinking about war

Ever have one of those moments where you realize just how ugly you really are? It's like now, as the snow melts, and you begin to see where it's been scraped off the roads and lies in blackened piles along the sides of the roads. I had to think of my own heart as I was walking the other day, how much I'd love for my life to be like those beautiful, unbroken fields of snow from last week, but it's more like the snow that's been polluted by the world and is uglier for that corruption than if it had never been snow at all. This is the story of one of those piles of black snow in my life.

Growing up out in the country in a very pacifist state in the United States hasn't given me much personal experience toward living through violence, but I work with people in one of the most politically unstable regions of the world, as was very painfully evidenced one year ago when Kenya erupted into sustained mob violence following their presidential elections.

As I was in the airport returning to the States from this last trip, I was in conversation with Lisa Bevere, a Christian author and speaker from the States. She'd been in Uganda speaking at women's events, and was mentioning how impacted she had been by some victims of the LRA in northern Uganda. I immediately fell into what I now call the "suffering game". It's something that seems to come naturally to me, and probably to other aid workers, where we play a game of "oneupsmanship". Basically, the people who I work with always suffer more than the people anyone else works with, and I have to pull out the worst cases I work with as evidence thereof. It's extremely ugly, but, unfortunately, I think it's pretty common.

So in talking to Lisa Bevere, I lapsed into the "suffering game", and started talking about how northern Uganda had been at war for twenty some years, but Southern Sudan had been at war far longer, and would probably be going to war again in 2011 after Southern Sudan votes to secede from Sudan.

I hope you are as appalled as I am at how flippantly I threw that out there, but if you're not, just wait.

I began building on that picture of impending war by talking about how friends of mine who work for our partner orphanages would probably out in the bush fighting, and, if that's not bad enough, many of the boys who have been growing up in those orphanages would be just the right age to be soldiers and would probably get sucked into the war also.

Fortunately for my humanity the plane began to board and I wasn't able to deprave myself any further, but if I'd taken that picture to its natural conclusion, I would have been painting the pictures of my beautiful brothers dying in the bush and their sisters, mothers, and wives watching for bombs from the air, for landmines in the ground, and for young men who might never come home.

Don't think I'm totally insensitive. I was very emotional during that conversation, as I am now in writing about it, but I am very aware of how far I am from really sharing in the suffering of my family in East Africa if I could use their pain to win a pissing match.

Please pray for me, as I pray for myself, and let us all pray for peace in East Africa. Not peace as some obscure concept that we splash on our Christmas cards, but let us pray for the tangible peace that saves the lives of men, women, and children, the difficult peace that requires sacrifice from ourselves, the essential peace that is impossible on this earth without our blessed Savior.

22 December 2008

Still needing a Christmas gift?

Since we're all snowed in, you may still need a gift for someone in your family. Please consider giving a relational present - like a sponsorship of a child in East Africa.

Currently I have six Sudanese children needing sponsorship at $30 per month, and 20 children in Tanzania in need of sponsorship at $12 per month. These Tanzanian sponsorships are very important because these children cannot begin the school year in February without the tuition money that sponsorship provides.

Speaking personally, I have really appreciated the relationship I've developed with my sponsored children in Tanzania. I have really come to consider them like my brother and sisters, and always look forward to their letters and drawings.

If you are interested in sponsorship this Christmas (or any time after), please email me at ladams@lahash.net for more information about starting the sponsorship. If you'd like to give it as a Christmas gift, just mention that, and I'll email you the child's profile to print.

Merry Christmas, friends.

21 December 2008

Christmas greetings from overseas

In case you hadn't heard, the Portland area has been getting a load of snow this past week. There's also been a bit of ice, and, much to the chagrin of anyone who moved here from the Midwest or East Coast, the city has been panicking. I freely admit that I'm not a big "driving in the snow" person, so I didn't make it to the Lahash office until Friday. On Friday I went to work with my dad and caught the Max out to the office. When time came for me to return to Beaverton, Dan dropped me at the Lloyd Center Max station, where a train was conveniently waiting. Or maybe not so conveniently waiting.

After waiting about a minute without the doors opening, the Max driver announced "Sorry folks, I can't open the doors to let you on or off. The Portland police have advised that there are armed gunmen fleeing in this direction." Upon hearing that, I began to look around and finally noticed the multiple police cars on each corner, and the uniformed officers approaching the Max platform. All the passengers on the platform began looking askance at each other, and some unfortunately close young black men were subjected to intense scrutiny from many onlookers, both those looking to make an arrest and those looking to make a citizens' arrest. Here's the news story I found when I got home.

I called Dan and Erin, who were close by still, and they took me to another Max stop, so I made it home sans bullets, much to relief of my grandma, who believes that NE Portland is all gangstas and prostitutes.

Anyway, I had a packet of Christmas letters from the kids in Uganda for their sponsors, so Dan and I were working on an update letter for those sponsors, hoping to get it out before Christmas. Then, with about an hour before I had to leave, the mail arrived with a huge packet of Christmas letters from Tanzania! That effectively doubled my work load, which I spent last night and this morning preparing for the mail.

So if you sponsor a child through Lahash, you should have Christmas greetings winging their way toward you, just in time for Christmas!

17 December 2008

Christmas in Portland

My friend Jose from Miami was in town this week working with us at Lahash. Jose lived in Sudan for a year, and I got to hang out with him twice in Uganda and Sudan. He returned to the States early in November, and came out to Portland to do some speaking engagements. Friday night after a great speaking event Mandi and I took Jose out for a beer Portland style. (Portland style beer equals organic, brewed on site, with espresso in it)


Saturday morning I had breakfast with my great friend Anna. We started this "tradition" back when I lived downtown, and we planned her wedding over a series of breakfasts at the Stepping Stone Cafe in NW Portland. Now that I'm back in Newberg we have to arrange other accomodations, so we went to Fat Albert's in Sellwood. When we left we saw a true sign of Christmas: Santa making a withdrawal.

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12 December 2008

Here I am, send me

My mom sent me this video that they watched in the ethics class she's taking. It's about ten and a half minutes of a beautiful, moving spoken-word film project. I'm really interested if you all find it as striking as I did.

10 December 2008

Photo update

I'm back in the States now, with such awesome internet connection that I'm going to update you with some photos.
This is Christine Mwende, Edwin's wife, and I on the ferry across the Nile. Lexie and Jeremy are the white people behind me. It was really special to have Christine on this whole trip, although it was difficult for her physically. She and Edwin have been very important people in my life.

Here's a picture of all (but one) of my wonderful kids at Amazing Grace Orphanage. I told them to act like gangstas for the photo. I got to know these children particularly well over the course of my trip, spending about four of the eight weeks at this orphanage. They are such talented, intelligent, affectionate kids, and by the end of the trip we'd built a great relationship. I miss them immensely.

This is me in Kajo Keji, at St. Bartholomew's Orphanage. These two boys, Duku and Mak Wei, are sweet, special boys who are so rough and tumble during the day that they are just wiped by the end of the day. When it was time for them to go to bed, I picked up Duku and carried him to his bed without him ever waking up.

Those who know me well will be somewhat astonished to hear that this photo was taken at approximately six fifteen in the morning. This girl, Guo Betty, was doing her morning chore of sweeping in the compound. I was much better about taking photos and being aware of good photo opportunities, and I was very pleased with how this turned out.
Don't be too impressed. I wasn't at all good at carrying things on my head, but I think I have decent potential. "Strong neck, eyes forward!"
This photo was taken the night we took questions from the girls about their bodies and sexuality and all that. They had such great questions for us, and it was an awesome night. I love them so much.
This is little Juan Minikaya at the Kampala House. She was still my friend even though I had to punish her at one point in the trip for disobeying and being stubborn. She told one of the staff that she just wanted to go with me wherever I was going, even if it was the States. I mimed putting her in my pocket and carrying her around with me, and she got excited, although she told them that she knew she couldn't really go.

It was so hard to leave, and it's not easy to be back. There are so many things to think about and work on and process, and I miss the kids and the staff and my friends so much. It has been great to see my family and the Lahash people, though, which makes life a little easier. Even more fun is that Jose Nunez, who has been living in Sudan and Uganda for the past year and who I've met twice in East Africa, is in Portland this week. It's been great to process with him, and helpful for both us, I think.

Anyway, I'm going to be continuing to update this blog over the next nine months and more. In September of 2009 I'll be moving to Tanzania in my work for Lahash, and in the meantime I'll be raising support and preparing to leave. I'll be updating this blog as I continue along that path, and I hope you'll continue to follow along.

03 December 2008

Sorry for the delay!

I've not had much internet access the past two weeks, so sorry for the lack of communication.

Here's a rundown of impacting events for me since my last update:
* On our last day at St. Bartholomew's Orphanage Mommy Susan called Lexie and I to meet one of the new cooks at the orphanage. She is a single mother who drunkard husband left her with four children. The woman was holding a small child, her son, who I took to be about ten months old. I was shocked to find out that the boy was actually four years old. His name is Leju Julius, and seems to have a litany of mental and physical disabilities, as well as malnutrition. He cannot speak, doesn't seem to be able to hear, and cannot see more than light and dark. Lexie examined him, as did Annet Gune, the IWASSRU nurse, and during their poking and prodding, the only response he gave was moaning a bit when they hit a sore spot. His stomach and probably liver are so distended that his ribs are displaced. His arms and legs have no muscle development, and he cannot support himself even to sit. His hands are tightly curled into fists and he drools constantly. Annet thinks that with good nutrition, vitamins, and physical therapy Leju might be able to gain strength in his limbs. For now Mommy Susan has moved the mother and her children into one of the staff tukels on St. Bartholomew's land and arranged for Leju to spend the days at the Babies' Home while the mother is working, which will free his other primary caretaker, his six-year-old sister, to go to school. This was the only time on this trip that I felt completely unable to process what I was seeing and feeling. My heart went out to this mother and baby so much, and they've been consistently in my prayers ever since.

* That same day, we left SBO, and it was the first time I had to say goodbye to friends on this trip. Until that time I had always been coming back in a week or two, so I didn't have to actually say goodbye. I'll try to upload the photo of our last moment there, saying goodbye to some thirty people all at once, not to mention the children who had become very special to me.

* We returned to Amazing Grace, my favorite place to be, which took the edge off of the goodbyes. We were joined by Mommy Susan, Annet the nurse, and Sokiri the child sponsorship director a few days later. I got to go with Susan and Sokiri and all of the children to purchase new clothes and shoes for every child, courtesy of the Lahash Christmas program. It was so special to these kids to get new clothes, especially ones that were not second hand and that they got to pick out themselves. It was an extremely long day, but really rewarding to see the delight over picking out patterns for dresses and the satisfaction of finding the right belt with the right trousers. I loved getting to "mother" the little boys, helping them adjust the trousers and pick out shirts, and we got to throw away one pair of trousers that a boy had been wearing. He was wearing a huge shirt because the zipper area of the trousers had been totally destroyed and was just open. They're saving the new clothes for Christmas, and I'm looking forward to seeing pictures of them all in their new outfits.

* For the stories of our "American" Thanksgiving and our African Thanksgiving, check out the Lahash blog: www.hopeisalive.com. I also got to talk to my parents, my grandma and grandpa, my uncle, and my best friend, and leave a voicemail for my brother, so that was special also.

*We continued interviews with the kids, and I did eight girls' interviews on Sunday afternoon. It was fun to be asking them questions and getting to know them better, but I was infinitely more blessed by the opportunity that they were giving me. The girls are pretty shy as a group, and one month ago they would never have given me the chance to sit on the floor of their tukul, eating cookies and chatting about their dreams for their futures while they tease each other and me. It was really special.

* We stayed in Adjumani one extra day as a result of Annet's medical exams. Lexie did a great job of administering the medicines for scabies, ringworm, flu, UTIs, and oral thrush, and she taught the kids how to treat cuts and scrapes on themselves and others. She trained the watchman, Father Wani, and several of the kids how to continue diagnosing and treated their illnesses. We talked to the kids again about hygiene, and on Monday we did a massive cleaning of their tukuls. They pulled out all of their mattresses, all of their sheets, all of their clothes and other belongings, and we paid a couple of dollars each to the older kids to wash everything for them. Their mattresses got thoroughly dried out in the sun while the covers were washed, and their sheets and mosquito nets were washed, dried, and repaired. While that was happening, Jeremy and I took insecticide and "bombed" each of their tukuls. The boys got a huge kick out of going in twenty minutes later to see how many cockroaches, mosquitoes, spiders, and other bugs we'd killed and killing the ones that weren't quite dead yet. Through the generosity of my parents, I was able to buy new bags for each of the kids to keep their belongings in, so there are no more piles of clothes for insects and rodents to hide in. We also bought them a big box of medicated soap and individual soap dishes to keep it in. It was adorable to see how proud they were of going to bathe with their individual plastic soap dish.

* Edwin, Christine, Jeremy, Lexie, and I did two nights worth of "adolescent issues" discussion. We talked about personal hygiene, the differences between boys and girls, the way bodies change as they are becoming adults, and respecting one another through those changes all as a combined group on the first night. Their homework was to come up with questions for separate discussions the second night, and the girls came through in a big way. They had a ton of great questions, ranging from HIV to pregnancy to the biology of their bodies to traditional beliefs about infertility. Both nights were phenomenal, and made me even more sad to leave them.

* The best thing out of this entire trip was a compliment from our friend Jaclyn Karkner, a mid-term missionary who has been doing Bible lessons with the kids since February. She said that she could tell that we were doing something right because the kids were acting like themselves around us, not super formally or reserved, and that she could see so many positive changes happening at the orphanage even in the past four months. Those positive changes have so much to do with the prayers and support of you friends back at home. Thank you for caring about these beautiful kids, and being willing to support Lahash and IWASSRU as we care for them.

* I got to chat with my friend Lisa in South Africa one day, and she asked me if I was missing home at all. When I thought about it, I realized that each time I come to Africa, the concept of home gets a bit more distant and obscure for me. My language has started changing from talking about going "home" at the end of a trip to going "back to the States". Every time I've come to Africa one of my good friends has unexpectedly and suddenly moved away, whether temporarily or permanently, and because my focus has been so much on living here in Africa, I've spent less and less time maintaining and growing friendships at home. Of course I miss my family and I miss my Home Community, but when I'm not here I miss my family here and the communities of staff and children who are so special to me. I'm realizing that "home" will probably be a complicated concept for me for the rest of my life, but I think that's a blessing: having so much home that it can't be relegated to one location, or even one continent.

So all that is a recap to say that I'm blessed and thankful and sad and sorry. I'm especially blessed to say that God is good and faithful and the same yesterday, today, and forever, even in Africa.

I'll be arriving in Portland on Monday, December 8th, at 7:13pm. It would be awesome to see some of you then, or in the next few days.

Best to you...Leisha