Day 11: T.I.A.

In Uganda there is a common phrase: “this is Africa,” which is lovingly referred to by its acronym T.I.A. and seeks to encapsulate the notion that time is flexible and not to stress when things don’t go as planned. It’s a concept that strikingly contrasts the following common Western point of view: if you are on time, you are actually late because time is money and money is the bottom line.

Yet, what I have come to realize, and what I often fail to remember, is that schedules are human made, selfishly created to keep our agendas in line. As a type A personality, I rely on it as an organizational tool, but often it becomes a mental framework that we trap ourselves within, convincing ourselves that it’s necessary to craft and order our days and is something we must live by.

Admittedly, this is often the initial mental landscape I found myself fall back into each of the days we went to our digging site and only made inches of progress instead of reaching the next phase of construction that was laid out by our schedule.

For context, our work site (lovingly referred to as Team RSF) ran into a bit of a challenge, to say the least. Our auger bit got lodged in a layer of rock somewhere between 15 and 18 feet beneath the surface, and despite our team’s, a car and many Ugandan’s best efforts to pull it out, we had to switch to plan b and hand dig a 6-foot wide pit.

  

On our last day of scheduled “work”, we were still chipping away at the hard rock and earth, which did not correctly correlate to our hopes and paper schedules, which listed that we should be cutting the ribbon allowing entrance to our wells, signifying that they are officially open. On this day, we had hoped we would be guests at a huge celebratory ceremony with singing and dancing, speeches of all lengths and gratitude to God for the work we had done.

While that was not the scene that unfolded for Team RSF, there was a sense of peace and a feeling that this was more than OK. I can’t deny that I was not a little disheartened, feeling like we didn’t finish our commitment to this community and all of our supporters back home, but I got a dose of reality in remembering that it’s not about our timing, or really timing at all. Often we get so preoccupied by following a particular path or timeline, expecting it to go as we had planned, however life experiences and this most recent instance, reminds me that true joy and true love knows no bounds, no space-time continuum. We are called to love. We are called to serve. We are called to care. Everything else? That’s icing on top.

Would I have liked things to turn out differently? Of course! But I truly think that many of the moments we experienced—dancing, laughing, shoveling side by side in this pit (often bumping bootys :D)—fostered greater laughter, relationships, camaraderie, respect for and understanding of each other than would have happened if things had gone according to our timeline. Because only two people could be in the pit at one time, the down time gave us the opportunity to seek friendship with each other and those in the community, to reflect, to serve in creative ways such as having dance parties and yoga class with the kids. My takeaway is that this path was not better or worse, but that all paths in this journey we call life are worthy and purposeful.

The well at Team RSF’s site did eventually get finished … about 3 weeks and 40 feet into the earth later :). Ultimately, the fact that this community is now able to enjoy water is all that matters, regardless of when it happened.

This was my third year returning to Uganda to work with Mission4Water and I’m so grateful for another unique year and experience. I’m beyond grateful for each of the other 14 people on our team who supported me and Team RSF during this journey. I only hope that as the team and I return to the US and reintegrate into living our lives that can so easily become polluted with insignificant things, that we remember to be present in each moment, to give thanks for all we have. I often fall victim of trying to control and create my own destiny, but the truth of the matter is, each day is a destiny, each moment.

We often seek success or the achievement of self-serving goals thinking and hoping that once we get there, we will find happiness. Recently I heard a counter perspective: happiness in the aforementioned scenario is virtually unattainable because we often set a new stretch goal once we reach the initial goal and thus we never reach happiness because the success is not attained, but a constantly moving target. Instead, the counter perspective argues that we should find contentment and happiness where we are and in doing so, it will redefine and shape our version of success.

So, now that I’m back in the US, for me, T.I.A. doesn’t stand for “this is Africa” anymore; it stands for “this is adventure.” It stands for “this is alive.” It stands for “this is all in.” I’m constantly seeking to throw my schedule out of the window (or out of a 15 foot hole :D) and remember what’s important in the big picture: to find happiness and appreciation for where I am now, to love and be a light in my community, to get out of my own head and my own way, and know and trust that He is good and He up there orchestrating the rest.

– Sally
(#RSF Team Leader)

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Day 11: T.I.A.

Day 13: Transitioning to Change

Once a Mission 4 Water well is completed, you just see the finished product. You see the beautiful blue bucket and blue pump system. You see the total feet dug to clean water. You see the drawings we tried really hard to create of our NCC logo and the Washington, DC flag. And most importantly, you see crystal clear water that is now clean for the community members to drink. But what you don’t see if all of the work that went into. You don’t see the layers and heaps of dirt that were removed. You don’t see the bent poles and auger bits (or the stuck auger bit). You don’t see the blistered hands and ripped gloves. You don’t see the rock pieces, sandstone, quartz, and crazy hard dirt that were drilled, chiseled, and shoveled through. You don’t see the piping that was cut and sealed together. You don’t see the mound of tiny pebbles that now fill the drilled out. You don’t see the hand mixed cement that is made stronger by mixing in shovel-full after shovel-full of quartz. What can only be observed now is purely surface level because everything beneath the surface (the process of making a well) has now been covered up.

  
At the end of our trip, we had some decompression time that allowed us to see some of the beautiful terrain and animals that Uganda has to offer and allowed us to process what had happened to each of us individually and as a group from the day we signed up for the trip to Day 13 of our time in Uganda. What people see when they look at our pictures from the day or what people saw when they saw us touring Uganda was all surface level—a group of muzungus just wanting to see some elephants and giraffes. What they don’t see is all of the internal reflection, analyzing, overanalyzing, frustration, happiness, sadness, confusion, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of emotion processing that was occurring beneath the surface.

The “Surface Level” of the Day
On this day, we had a crazy packed day to do so many fun things in Murchison Falls National Park—including a safari, relaxing at the pool time, a great team buffet lunch, a Nile river cruise, hiking up a crazy difficult trail to get to the top of Murchison Falls—the waterfall that basically powers the Nile River. We all woke up dark and early to prepare ourselves for the day by gathering our backpacks of all the items we may need that day, getting our bag breakfast, and making some coffee to go so that we could head down to the Nile River, board a ferry, and go see some animals. There are some countries in Africa that you travel to where you must go on a safari. Everyone you know expects you to go on a safari; you expect to go on safari; and it’s a missed opportunity if you don’t go on safari. So we on safari! After seeing white rhinos the day before, we were all on the lookout for the other 4 of the Big 5—lion, elephants, rhinos, jaguars, and hippos. (Yes Rashida, I’m not sure how giraffes didn’t make the Big 5, but I’m sure they are in the Top 10.) We successfully spotted the elephants, hippos, and lions, but the elusive jaguar did not make an appearance. At one point we came across a pack of elephants that were right next to the street, and we were able to just stop and observe them while they just hung out and then eventually cross the street right behind our bus! The beauty of all of the animals combined with the landscape truly shows you how wonderful of an artist God truly is.

After the safari, we headed to a hotel to hang out at the pool and relax for a little bit, and then have a nice all team lunch together before heading out on our next adventure to boat down the Nile River to Murchison Falls. While boating along down the river in a boat I probably would have preferred to be a little bigger initially once I saw my first clutter of hippos 10 feet out that was larger than our boat, we saw so many hippos, cape buffalos (which I kept calling water buffalos), and numerous species of birds including the kingfisher diving into the water near our boat to catch some fish. No crocodiles, but I’m sure a number of people on our team were more than ok with that. As we made our way closer to Murchison Falls, we began to hear the roar of the falls, and of course, our anticipation only grew. Once we got closer to the waterfall, we pulled over to a boat dock, and we would have to hike the rest of the way. Following the trail up to the falls, our view of the falls was blocked by trees/rocks/terrains…you know, nature, but every once in awhile we would get a peek to show us how much progress we had made and how powerful this waterfall was going to be. Around 45 minutes later, we ALL finally made it to the top, and this waterfall did not disappoint. I’m sure you have seen pictures posted by other team members but no picture or video or boomerang we took could ever do this place justice. The water drops, crashes, swirls, and flips through several different rock drop offs and formations. Plus safety standards are different in other countries so you can get seriously close to the edge—causing to you to feel even smaller and insignificant next to the strength, power, and might of this waterfall. We eventually made our way back down the trail and to the boat to finish our boat ride back to where we started our day.

And this is just a Reader’s digest version of the details of our day because trying to fit everything we did and saw that day would make this more than just part of a blog post, and probably multiple blog posts.

The “Below the Surface Level” of the Day
I’m sure you all are thinking something along the lines of “This sounds amazing!” or “I can’t believe you fit that in to one day…” But after months of preparation, 12 amazing and challenging days in Uganda, and the realization that we only had one full day left in country before we began our journey back to Washington, DC, there was so much more happening below the surface. So many questions circling through our heads “How is this trip almost over?” “How am I feeling?” “How do I explain what all happened on the trip?” “What did I learn from the trip?” “What are my good memories?” “What were my more challenging memories?” “How do I go back to the States?” “How do I go back to my normal life?” “How do I take the lessons learned in Uganda and apply them to my everyday life back in America?” “How do I be intentional with my time, with my thoughts, with my friends in America like I was with them in Uganda?” “How do I go from having a clear purpose of digging wells to feeling pulled in all directions when I get back?” “How do I have so many questions?” “What questions or things haven’t I thought about yet?” “How do I prepare for this transition?” Are you stressed and overwhelmed yet processing through all those questions yet? Because we were.

One of the benefits of going on a mission trip is removing the daily distractions that exist in America that can take away from how we live out our faith, how much time we have for devotional, and how often we take time to pray and thank God for everything He has done for us or to discuss the challenges we are facing with Him. We are distracted Christian in America and living intentionally for others is one of the most difficult things that we will face in our daily lives as Christians. When we are on mission, we were intentional with loving Ugandans as God loved them. We are intentional with starting each day with personal and group devotionals to start our days focused on God. We were intentional with serving Ugandans and our teammates. We were intentional with sharing our testimonies and building our friendship at a deeper, more vulnerable level. We were intentional with praying to celebrate our victories and praying to ask for God’s help in our challenges. Every part of our days were designed to be intentional so that we lived the life that God calls us to because that is what a mission is. But as we begin to ponder all of the questions building beneath the surface, our first task will be to find answers to those questions. The second task will be to figure out how to live out those answers. You know…something like putting the whole “a little less talk and a lot more action” concept in to practice.

How do you participant in an amazing mission trip, and then go back to the States the same person but also a different person? The decompression time on the back-end of a trip allows us to have a better transition from Uganda to America because the things we experienced—the poverty, the simplicity of life, and the struggles for water, just to name a few—will not always make sense in an American context. In David Platt’s book “Radical,” he talks about how the American dream and American culture can, in some instances, be a direct contradiction to the Christian dream and Kingdom culture. Given the spiritual focus on God that occurs on mission trips, I began to wonder if decompression isn’t necessarily about reverting and transitioning back to the ways of America. I wonder if it’s more about transitioning to something better—transitioning to a more holistic viewpoint of what it really means to be a Christian in America. Transitioning to a life where we now know the abundances we have been blessed with may not always a good thing. Transitioning to a life where my priority is more on starting my day off with devotional time and pray so that I can be better in tune with God’s voice rather than hitting the snooze numerous times or spending 20 minutes just picking out an outfit. Transitioning to a life where thanking God for all of my blessings is an ever present understanding and an active dialogue with Him instead of accepting my blessings as a given. Transitioning to a life where I’m no longer accepting of small talk with the community around me but am now desiring to know people at a deeper level—at a level where we can come together and see each other as Christ sees us. Transitioning to a life where being intentional with my friendships takes priority over my social media based intentionality.

What if we challenged ourselves to be fully changed by our trip? What if we challenged ourselves to live intentionally in America? What if we challenged ourselves to bring mission to our everyday lives because our mission is not just a mission trip? First and foremost, it’s about being on mission every day in our work, in our families, in our community. So maybe rather than just transitioning from Uganda to America, we transition by bringing Uganda to America.

~ Ami (#WaterHitters)

Day 13: Transitioning to Change

Day 15: Reflecting on Uganda

 

I have been trying to come up with words to reflect and summarize our time in Uganda. I have a torrential waterfall, much like Murchison Falls overflowing with feelings that flood through me every time I try to share.

How do you summarize or share something that wasn’t just life changing for you personally, but also for 14 other people?

On one hand, it is simple to say, “It was amazing!”
Another, possibly more accurate description would be, “It was incredibly hard from every possible aspect, but God showed up in equal measure.”

Before we left in July, I had been praying for everyone on our team for months.

When I started praying in December, it was more generic, “Lord, be with ____ today.” And then, as I got to know them better, my prayers became specific and nuanced. But, about six weeks out, I started praying that our Lord would give each of us a greater awakening of who He is, who we are because of Him, and that we would have a greater awareness and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

In hindsight, I probably should have been a bit more specific, and in the future I will probably be more intentional about the words I choose. I absolutely feel like all of my prayers were answered, but in a way that meant the trip was incredibly difficult, and yet, through it all God was faithful, and he showed up with gentle but incredible force.

For years I have maintained that trouble, persecution, trials, difficulties often act as a greenhouse for God to show up. – Uganda was no different.

Every day we had a new challenge, some interpersonal, others health related, some were directly connected to why we were there, and then others blindsided us and needed some massive amounts of prayer for wisdom. Each unique problem felt like we were presented with the option to take the blue pill or red pill… Choose stress, frustration, and giving into the emotions or instead, press in to God, through prayer and petition, and rely on one another even more. – Spiritual warfare at its finest.

There was not a day that went by that I did not find myself both thanking God for showing up and surrounding us as a team and individuals, extending extra grace and tangibly sending the Holy Spirit to comfort and encourage us.. But, also overwhelmed with the gravity of some of the situations we had to face.

Never in my life have I been so aware of spiritual attacks, and equally as aware of the presence of the Lord surrounding both myself and others.

Some of the things we faced are simply not meant to be shared in a public setting with people we cannot have a conversation with; other challenges are not mine to share.

However, to help give you a glimpse:

Challenge:
Right at the beginning we had busted out a back window of the rented vehicle. – In Uganda the difficulty is actually replacing it with authentic car glass that will shatter correctly.

God’s Grace:
We had raised extra money and took it as an “emergency fund” and were able to replace the window within 6 hours with little to no stress because of the donations we had received.

Challenge:
After four days of drilling, and an absent local community, one well was caught in the middle of a community dispute about the location. There was beginning to be pressure on the team to abandon the well location and start over. – If we had to do this, the only well that had hit water at that point would not have been able to be completed in the time we had.

God’s Grace:
A community meeting was called after dark at the well site on the fourth day, and the Holy Spirit showed up. The women of the community rose in defense of the well location, and fought for their needs and ultimately won.

Challenge:
One site’s auger bit got stuck at 16ft, causing the team to have to dig a 6ft in diameter pit by hand with pickaxes that broke on the regular down to unstick the auger bit. (***Update, the pit ended up having to go to a total of 31ft, then they started auguring again, hit water at 40ft, and completed the well depth at 55ft! – The third well is now complete 3 weeks after we left!)

God’s Grace:
The community rallied and men joined in daily to help with the efforts. It was one of the most beautiful examples of people literally fighting for a need they have, but also creating space for the team to bond with their community. The Holy Spirit also seemed to extend extra grace to that team, giving them confidence, so much fun and laughter, and peace about the ever increasing realization that they would not be able to complete the well, but that it would be completed after we left.

Challenge:
Rocks, clay as hard as rocks, more rock, bending and breaking tools.

God’s Grace:
Because of the donations that were sent and the abundance of support we received prior to leaving, we were able to replace everything that broke. And, eventually, slowly, little by little we were able to hand drill and chisel beyond each level of soil or rock.

Challenge:
So much discouragement, insecurity, fear, pain, physical illness; more than I can accurately explain in a blog post.

God’s Grace:
Every single time, before we encountered any issues or problems, someone lead a devotional in the morning that tied directly to what we needed to hear, or someone shared a word or passage of scripture that resonated and sustained us through.

And, these are just the things that we dealt with as a team; this does not include the individual problems, challenges, or struggles we faced and prayed through.

So, reflecting on the trip hasn’t been simple or linear either. As I have begun to work intentionally at creating more space for my own process, I began reading through my journal and prayers. I had already forgotten, or simply have no recollection of praying for some of the things I prayed to our Lord for!

A few nights ago, I was asked how I was feeling, at first I sidestepped with my usual answer of giving a few valid, but not the total picture answers. Soon though as they pressed gently, I began to ramble through my feelings of being overwhelmed, still trying to find space and time to process, and then found myself in tears as I ended my ramble with, “I just miss Uganda”.

I miss the organization we work with, the work we did, and the people there. I also miss the simplicity of focus I needed to have. In Uganda, I only had a handful of things I needed to manage and focus on, in my normal everyday life the focus is in the hundreds daily.

But, if I’m being honest, what I miss most is our team’s daily togetherness and intentionality to love well. It isn’t easy, nor is it glamorous for 15 people to live and do intimate community together (especially in Africa); actually, it’s really hard and it pushes you and requires you to grow in ways you never expect! However, there is also an element of “rightness” to choosing to live and love others intentionally in a true and very real community of believers.

Since getting back three weeks ago, there is a great deal of spiritual warfare still taking place for many on our team and for the organization we work with in Uganda. Please continue to keep all of us in your prayers as the Lord is still on the move.

(click the images and scroll through)

Thank you for your support, for your encouragement, prayers, money, and for loving our team so well for the last 8 months as we have prepared and then gone to Uganda to provide clean water to three communities! We cherish you and your support more than we can communicate to you.

Thank you for sending us to Uganda for 16 days that changed our lives forever.

~Krista
(Team leader for #WaterWarriors)

 

 

Day 15: Reflecting on Uganda

Day 14: Loss, laughter, love, and coming home.

What a whirlwind of emotions I have felt over the past 16 days in Uganda and the subsequent journey home. It, in a way is a little bit relieving to know that I still have the ability to feel those dark lows, immense highs, and all the varying states of consciousness that fall in-between. It has been a journey that has tested us physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but through it all I like to think we have all grown and are better off for it.

Early on in the trip, after a morning of tough work at Team RSF’s site I was met with the somber news of my eldest uncle’s passing. My uncle George was larger than life, all packed into a man that barely stood five feet tall, a hundred pounds of sinew and ferocity. My brother characterized his life as “a life fully lived, for every minute of it, sixty seconds worth of distance run.” He was an extraordinary man, and the world now shines a little less bright with his departure. In his loss I do find some solace, my uncle was a man of very little means, a man that had been fighting for his life for the past two years with cancer, a man that decided that the twenty four dollars he could scrape together to donate to Diana and my journey was much better spent so that two deserving Ugandans could have clean water for life than spent on himself. That’s just the man he was, a man who put people before possession, a trait that I saw so abundantly out of the Ugandans that we came to serve.

After that heart wrenching revelation, Diana and I were not sure how we were going to continue, we were halfway across the world, away from our families, and the nature where we so typically sought refuge and recovery. However, little did we understand the healing power of a whole school of laughing smiling children. We spent that whole afternoon at St Kizito Catholic School, although we brought materials and knowledge on how to construct silly animal masks, it was the children that gave to us. They poured joy, and laughter into our broken hearts, they were the therapy that we could not have found anywhere else. As they say “laughter is the best medicine,” there could never have been a truer statement.

The journey to Uganda has been a breath of fresh air, the love from the Ugandan people, and our whole team from NCC has been palpable. We were met with love at our wells everyday, people stopped by to thank us, to wish us a job “well done,” to lend a hand while on a twenty minute break from work, to dance, and to just uplift our spirits. We were welcomed at the services of Watoto Church with adulation. We were honored guests during eye opening home visits with Pastor Bob. As well as adored during our best attempts to entertain during field day at a marvelous primary school. No matter where we went, love poured out of everyone we encountered, and for that reason Uganda will forever have a place in my heart. We came to give, but we received so much more, from the bottom of my heart I thank those wonderful people we encountered, and I vow that one day I will be back for more.

Now we return to our lives, all of us calculating what we could do to get back to Uganda. Many of us return to the rise and grind of everyday life, the rat race or whatever you want to call it. We struggle with the trivialities that western society takes so seriously, the type of problem most Ugandans would love to have. In it all we must remember the laughter, the love, and the countless lessons we were taught during our journey. I know that I will find the places I love here in the United States to ruminate about my experience in Uganda, and bid farewell to my uncle George. For the ultimate lesson learned, no matter where we are if we love and serve but also accept love like we did in Uganda our lives will be a success.

– Liam Kiernan (Team Sally, aka #rsf)

Day 14: Loss, laughter, love, and coming home.

Day 12: TO BE CONTINUED…

Each of the 15 individuals who embarked on this journey to Uganda had many different reasons for choosing this mission, however, there were three common themes that I saw ring throughout the 16 days. Although each team’s experience to Clean Water was filled with varying lessons, each one came back with the same message. LOVE. SERVICE. COMMUNITY.

LOVE is the clearest reason why we all chose Uganda and Clean Water. This lesson was taught from the first day. Waiting in packed lines, sitting on a packed plane to a packed bus for more than 12 hours with NO AC, patience like this can only come from LOVE. The strength for intense labor that goes into making each well, including African Concrete and an 18 feet deep pit has to come from something powerful as LOVE.

SERVICE is another obvious reason. SERVICE wasn’t just done through sweat equity in each well, but the selfless acts and uplifting spirit of each team and community members. From giving the shoes to the well commitee boys, teaching dance lessons to the community children, making rattle toys with rocks and bottles for the community babies, to sharing tools with the community women that were tending to the fields near the well site, these were just a few countless examples of love and SERVICE throughout the 16 days.


Lastly, COMMUNITY. Throughout our time in Uganda, our little Tribe struggled and thrived together, and we each got to share our testimony to the group. Each story had a common wish, COMMUNITY. Spending 16 days in a foreign country with many unknowns and discomforts, you really get to know people and have the opportunity to grow close to them. Little did I know that we would grow our COMMUNITY/Family/Tribe, not just by 14 more people, and not just with Mission4Water and our driller brothers, but by the communities we helped in Uganda.


The communities that we loved and served for 2 weeks will always be a part of our COMMUNITY and we will forever be a part of their COMMUNITY. Although the ending our trip is bittersweet, I leave Uganda knowing that my COMMUNITY has grown more than imagined and will continue to grow through LOVE and SERVICE. Mission4Water and our Ugandan brothers will continue this amazing work and continue to build our COMMUNITY further with each well (one is still in progress). So, I leave Uganda with so much more than I ever prayed for since this work is to be continued.

– Diana Kiernan (Team Krista, aka #waterwarriors)

Day 12: TO BE CONTINUED…