Friday, March 27, 2009

Showering under the stars

Since I've received so many emails and comments about my late night showers under the moonlight, I had to post this picture I found from one of my volunteers. I've added the white arrow pointing out the shower stalls. The brick walls formed two side by side stalls about 7 feet tall, with no roof. The building on the far right is the composting latrine, with the main building in the middle background. It wasn't quite dark yet, but this picture was a great shot of what it was like.
Seeing it makes me miss those showers - they kind of turned into a significant moment for me in regards to the bigger picture of our time here and with eMi, as being out in nature away from the city and alone beneath the stars reminded me of where God had brought our family and how following God's plan for your life, though oftentimes difficult and illogical, can certainly lead to exciting adventures and stretch you in ways you never thought possible. It also solidified on my heart a desire to be a part of what God is doing in this world.

Monday, March 23, 2009

PART III (of III) – Church in the village

The project team taking flight

Day 6 – Sunday, March 15, 2009:
After a big, windy storm in the middle of the night, we had a late breakfast and headed down to church in the beach village. We arrived 15 minutes late but were greeted very warmly. When we arrived, they informed us that they wanted one of us to preach. I had warned the team of this possibility and asked one last time if anyone wanted to do it. After a long pause and a bunch of blank stares back at me, I could tell I would be given the honor.
The church was a small, one room building about 12 feet wide and 25 feet long. There were only about 12-15 people inside to begin with, so our group of 14 doubled the attendance (though as time passed another 10 people or so trickled in). I quickly identified Syd to the pastors as our leader, since up to that point they were treating me as the leader. It was important to New Hope that this introduction to the village go well since they will be neighbors with these people, and I wanted to make sure that they knew Syd was the guy. After entering, Syd and I (as the preacher) were asked to sit up front. The worship was already under way, led by the two women pastors and a couple of young men playing drums. We clapped and sang for a bit, and then went around the room one by one making introductions. After this came the collection of tithes and offerings. We had decided to not give anything ahead of time at Syd’s request to make sure they didn’t see New Hope as a cash cow; there would be plenty of opportunity in the future for New Hope to help these people. It was a bit uncomfortable as I’m sure they were hoping if not expecting a larger amount in the pot that week, but I agreed that with Syd that it was best to not give anything on the first day. After this, I was up and it was about to get interesting (not because of anything I would say).
I got up and went through some verses that walked through the gospel message. It was the same verses I had used when I spoke in the prison in Iganga nearly a year ago. They had allotted 45 minutes for me to speak, but I only took about 20. After I finished with a prayer that gave people the option to (privately) accept Christ, I sat down to mild applause and a thanks from the pastor. At that point, one of the gentlemen leading worship on the drums spoke up that he had been touched by the message. He pointed to the verse in Revelation (Chapter 3, verse 20) that struck him, where it talks of Jesus knocking on our heart’s door, not barging in but waiting for us to invite him in. He then said that it was just what had happened a few days ago when I had stopped to talk to them and they had invited us to come. Next came a very awkward moment.

Worship time
Paraphrasing here, he went on to basically explain that this example was showing that I was Jesus!! My heart sank and I immediately felt a sickening fear rise up. Our translator, Alex, one of the boys from New Hope, laughed and asked, 'Are you sure?!" As he translated that to the rest of us, he began talking feverishly in lugandan to the man, asking him ‘if he was sure he wanted to say that’ a couple of times and then in the end convincing him that what he was saying was not right and that he really shouldn’t be saying it. I asked Alex aloud what he was saying, but Alex kept talking to the man, and eventually explained to the crowd that the man was just saying that I was like Jesus in that situation, because until they asked me to come our group had not felt welcome to come there. I was pretty relieved that Alex was there and had done such a great job of handling the situation.

Up front, giving my sermon as Alex (on my left) translated sentence by sentence (that, by the way, makes preaching much easier than it otherwise would be - you get to stop and think after each sentence!)
Afterwards, on the walk back, I asked Alex if that had just been a translation issue, but he told me that no, the man was actually trying to say that I was Jesus before he (Alex) convinced him that that wasn’t right. Wow, amazing how rumors get started!

The head pastor Florence is on the far left, followed by some older gentleman whose position I never could figure out, then me, then the misguided drum player, and finally Lois, the assistant pastor whom I had originally met a few days prior.
We had certainly expected some surprises, but that one was a little much. I don’t know when the last time was that I felt so uncomfortable. After the service, fortunately no one treated me any different, other than coming up to thank me - “Pastor Brian” - for the message (most Ugandans call me Brian unless they know me long enough to figure out my name is Brad. This might work to my advantage in this case – if they go around saying they’ve seen Jesus they’ll say it was ‘Brian’ and I can claim immunity! It's all sounding like a Monty Python movie to me!)

The church - almost all of the buildings in the village are wooden, which is very unusual for Uganda. New Hope has had to really battle to get them to stop cutting down the trees on the site - some of them are very old.
On the walk back, some of the kids tried to follow us, but the team kept telling them to return to the beach. I too raised my hand and waved them back to the beach, at which time the (coincidentally) turned and ran back to the beach. Someone in the group remarked, "Oh sure, they'll listen to 'jesus' when he says go back!" Uh, yeah, I'm not at all comfortable with that nickname so we put that to rest quickly...especially since there is no resemblance in appearance, in word or in deed! I don't really know what to think, but I'm just hoping some of the verses I read got through.

After the service we hung out with the kids for a bit. Grace and Kara brought bubbles, which were a big hit.
After we returned back to camp we got right to work. With the presentation a day away and having taken time off for two events – the boat trip and the church service – we were antsy to get working on finishing up our stuff.

This little guy named Steven came right up to me as I walked out of church and help my hand for the next 15 minutes. Never said a word. He sure was cute.

Day 7 – Monday, March 16, 2009:
Presentation day! We got up, ate breakfast and went straight to work. It was amazing to see how everyone knew what they had to do and just did it. We worked right up until lunch at 1pm, and all within a very short time everyone was just done. Since I hadn’t seen anything final up to that point, I was very impressed by what was produced.

A couple of the perspective sketches the architects produced. I don't have any of the drawings they did so this is just a sampling of their hand-drawn sketches. They sketched them in pencil, scanned them in, and then added some faded color using photoshop and illustrator. We had some talented people on this team - I'll try to get some of our drawings posted sometime too.

A section of the Bunkhouse that will be used for the camps. They'll roll down canvas at the front concrete columns to protect from the driving rain. The steel cable out front is to keep the roof from blowing off in 100mph winds.

After lunch and hearing the testimonies of camp director Syd and his wife Andrea, we got the projector ready and started the presentation at just after 3pm. It went very well and the ministry was excited and thankful. After the nearly 2 hours our slideshow lasted, the ministry had a bunch of questions to work through, so we kept going until about 7:30pm. They were very appreciative and were happy with our work. Syd remarked that having a master plan for their vision was very exciting and made it all seem real finally.

I know this is out of order, but I loved this picture of Chris, out doing "perc-tests" all over the site in the sun. The perfect picture of an eMi volunteer on a trip, jerry-can and make-shift walking stick and all.
That night, as is customary, the eMi team sat around a bon fire and had our closing meeting – a time where each person shares what they took away from their week in Africa and what God has done in them through the week, and also a prayer request for them going home. After that, the rest of the team takes turns encouraging that person about how they were impacted by them during the week. It is routinely a favorite part of the week for many team members, and I think this trip was no exception. For 3 hours, we took turns sharing how God had used the week to draw us closer to Him, and how that had affected us. The dirty little secret about eMi trips is that it’s every bit as much about what God wants to do in the lives of the eMi team members as it is how He wants to use their skills and talent for the ministry we serve. But then again, the same could be said for any job – it’s not about what you do but about 'who you know'...and getting to know Him better!

This is one of the grossest things I've seen - a termite queen! This thing sits under 10 to 12 feet of soil (some above ground in the big hill) and just cranks out more termites. It can't move - that sac is it's abdomen, and with the head and legs sticking off to the right. Hideous!
Day 8 – Tuesday, March 17, 2009: Time to head home! We packed up early and left the site at 9:30am…after a 'short' 3-hour trip back to Kampala we went to a nice buffet lunch and went swimming at the very nice, Speke Resort in Kampala. Later that night I took volunteers Chris and Ryan to the airport – the rest of the team will leave Friday night. It will be sad to say goodbye to them all as it was a great team and a great trip. Now, it's on to finishing the project report over the coming weeks. We've committed to publishing our report by the middle of May. Lots to do between now and then!

I'm not a photographer by any means, but I like this picture. This tree is beautiful - the trunk at the bottom is split up into stilts and it looks like it's sitting up off the ground (see below)

Here's the bottom of the tree

Friday, March 20, 2009

PART II (of III) – Snakes and Crocodiles

The eMi team, pictured out on the island we visited. From left: architect Lewis from Texas, architectural intern Lindsay also from Texas, civil engineer Pat from BC, Canada, Pat's wife Kara, civil engineering intern Ryan from Edmonton, civil engineer Chris from South Dakota, graphic designer Grace also from Canada, civil engineer Ryan from South Dakota, me, and architect Mike from Connecticut. One of these people had to be photo-shopped in because they didn't make the trip to the island...can you guess who??

Day 3 – Thursday, March 12, 2009: Once again, after sleeping very well in the tent, we were awoken around 6am to the sound of rain. This time, water started pouring directly off the rain-fly into one of the windows in our tent! Fortunately, we quickly fixed the problem so only a small puddle formed. Had we been sleeping and the window left as it was for even a few minutes, the whole tent would have been flooded.
Today was a full work day, and the team got right to work after morning devotions. The civil engineers headed out to dig bore holes and take more water samples up at the spring, the architects continued to work on the master plan, and I started working on some preliminary truss calculations for some of the roofs. Also, the graphic designer worked with the ministry on their fundraising and promotional materials, and during this time they came up with a name for the site: ‘Musana Camps’, which means ‘Light’ in Luganda. They also came up with the motto: ‘Encountering truth; Transforming lives’.
Just as we were gathering for lunch, I got to see my first deadly snake in Africa! Apparently, one of the guards was using the latrine and noticed a green Mamba inside crawling up on the roof – it was about 2 1/2 feet long and about an inch thick. He quickly got a stick and killed it. They cut off the head, and then squeezed out an undigested gecko that amazingly was still barely breathing and moving (though it soon died as the ants swarmed in to steal the snake’s kill). Anyway, apparently the mamba’s like to climb trees and fall on prey from above. Syd from New Hope quickly cut down the tree branch that was hanging over the latrine to hopefully prevent more snakes from getting in there. Not looking forward to the next time nature calls, since that’s the only toilet on the site!

This is a perfect picture of the biblical idea of 'crushing the serpents head'. They had already pretty much killed it before they finished the deal with this blow.

The snake's body is barely seen here on the left, with it's severed head and the recently deceased gecko.

After a full day’s work and another great meal, we lit a large pile of clippings and tree limbs using a little gasoline and enjoyed a bonfire. Since 4 out of the 10 people on the eMi team are from Canada, we took the chance to learn about our neighbors to the north by asking them all kinds of questions. It’s amazing how little many (most?) Americans know about Canada and Canadians. Honestly, I have always thought of them as pretty much the same as Americans, and though there are not that many differences really, I think a lot of Canadians are a little perturbed that so many Americans don’t really know anything about them or their country. So it was good to learn a little about Canada, and also to get to know these team members better in the process.
We stayed up late around the campfire, so at 11:15pm I braved the cool breeze and stuck to my nightly ritual of showering under the moon.
The only picture I have of the shower stall is this one - you can just see the brick walls behind the trees on the left of the house/work room. The wooden door is open in this shot, and there is no roof.

Day 4 – Friday, March 13, 2009: Since many of us had gone to bed late, we woke up a little later this morning – but once again a rain storm blew in just before sunrise. This time, the tent stayed totally dry thanks to a little tweaking the day before. Actually, being up on a platform and with the tent now staying dry during the downpours, I actually like sleeping in a tent in the rain (a bit of an about face for me, as in the past I have been known to pack up camp in the middle of a rainstorm and drive home several hours rather than to camp in the rain!).
Work space is tight on eMi trips. I was happy to have carved out a corner of the table for a minute, though it meant hanging my laptop off the edge of the table.

After the morning devotional and a couple more testimonies, we got back to work. I love the testimony part of project trips as it really draws the team together and gives us a view into their lives. It’s amazing how on these trips adults can be so open and vulnerable with people they’ve never seen before in such a short time. It really goes a long way in building team unity.
Today was more of a ‘grind out the work’ kind of day, without much else in the way of activities. The architects worked on trying to get this enormous project down on paper, while the engineers wrapped up their data collection and are set to begin the design process tomorrow.
A meeting of the minds - the architects and civil engineers discuss some design issues

I’m starting to grow attached to this site, and though being with Alisha and the boys is always on my mind, at the same time being out here reminds me that I really don’t like living in the city. I think if we lived more remotely I’d feel a lot more connected to Uganda than I do living in Kampala. Two of the boys from the main New Hope Uganda site up north are spending 3 months working on this site as a part of a co-op with their schooling and they have been assisting us with all kinds of tasks and learning about engineering. Alex and Alan are their names, and they both want to be engineers someday. They are 16 years old and in level S4, which is roughly equivalent to 10th grade back home. They’ve been a lot of fun to have around. Alex was teaching me some Luganda last night, and has been keeping me posted on Manchester United highlights since he’s a fan too (he hears the daily updates on his radio). Another late night shower under the stars finished off my night, though the full moon is slowly fading and was behind some clouds on the horizon, making for a much darker night and shower.
Day 5 – Saturday, March 14, 2009: For the first time, we didn’t wake up to a rainstorm this morning. After breakfast and devotions, we got to work on the design. Also for the first time, all 10 of us were in the work room all morning as most of the data collection has been completed.
After lunch, we walked down to the beach where I had arranged for a boat to take us out on the lake for a little break from work. First, I had to go buy some ‘petrol’ for the boat (see the picture of the ‘gas station’) and then we had to wait while they repaired the boat. While we waited, the local kids from the village gathered around us and we got to play with them. I kicked a small ball around with these 2 kids for nearly an hour while we waited for the boat. It was a lot of fun. I also got to practice some of the Luganda I learned the night before. It was funny, one time I said ‘How are you?’ to an old man, and his face lit up with excitement as he started saying a bunch of things in Luganda, to which I had to reply that I only knew a little. His face immediately turned back to normal and he said, “Oh, ok” clearly disappointed. I guess that’s what I get for trying out the language!
Waiting for the boat actually turned out nicely, as it gave us over an hour to hang out with the village children. We kicked little balls around, took pictures and showed them on our cameras, and just hung out with them.

Every kid out there wanted their picture taken

We finally got on the pretty old, wooden boat and headed out about 2 miles to this small island, maybe 150 yards long and only about 20 yards wide with steep, rocky cliffs up about 25 feet above the beach. After a choppy ride that took over an hour, we arrived on the uninhabited island and were told by the boat drivers to be careful because crocodiles were regulars to the area around the island (now they tell us!). Within a minute of being off the boat this was confirmed as we spotted a dead, 12-inch long baby crocodile.

The 'gas station' where we bought fuel for the boat trip. A woman came over, unlocked the door, and then poured gas in a coffee cup to measure the amounts as she transferred it into our jerry-can. The price was 3200 Ugandan shillings per liter, which is about $6.10/gallon.

Looking back towards the site from the island
We moved up to higher ground and looked around down on the beautiful scenery. On top of the cliffs was about a 25-foot wide flat area covered in rocks and basil plants that extended over most of the island. After exploring around a bit - some of the team spotted two monitor lizards - we all headed back to the boat, taking with us the baby croc to show the others left behind back at camp (someone also

Our boat
mentioned that we could use the baby as collateral if a big croc approached the boat. We'd just pretend it was still alive and tell the big croc to back off or the little one would 'get it'. Heehee!) I have to say, with a poisonous snake and a dead croc now in the trip’s archives, this is shaping up to be a pretty ‘epic’ project trip - certainly a very testosterone-inducing one anyway.

I'm not exactly the next Steve Irwin, but I did feel kind of cool holding a wild crocodile! (Significant information omitted in this caption that could affect any conclusions you may be making about my manliness: 1) it was a baby; 2) it was dead)

The ride back to the mainland was very rough. Our wooden boat (actually more like a canoe) was tossed about pretty good by the large swells in the lake. Generally the waves were around 3 feet, but a couple of them were 5 feet tall and gave our boat a pretty good teeter. At that height, the waves were taller than our heads as we sat on the bench down in the boat – a wee bit unnerving. The boat is made of 1x wood planks, attached together with 1 1/2" metal strapping. You could feel the waves bending the boards under your feet every time we hit a wave.

It is unbelievable how sharp those little teeth are!

This partially submerged ridge of rocks connecting to another nearby island is supposedly where the crocodiles like to hang out.
Since we knew crocs were in the water now, it made all those waves a bit more nerve-racking than they otherwise would have been. But more on my mind was the fact that I was getting very sea sick. By the time we reached the beach, I was starting to feel like I might see my lunch again. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

The rocky back side of the island was beautiful. The boat drivers told us that there were caves somewhere down there where the crocodiles liked to sleep.

We were also greeted by the assistant pastor, Lois, who had an older gentlemen with her who wanted to meet me as well. They re-invited us to church, and we told her that we’d be there. We’re all looking forward to that – it should be very interesting.

Just heading out from the beach, I was doing good. The trip home was a different story, as the waves really started getting to me.
Since we were dirty from the island, I broke my tradition and showered in the daylight. I have to say it was nice to be warm, though I missed the moon and stars. After dinner, the team got back to work as we’re starting to feel the pressure of Monday’s presentation.

Glad to be back on solid ground, I hung out in front of our tent for awhile to try to get my brain to stop rocking back and forth

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Project trip - Men's Training Camp

PART I (of III) – Making Cookies
The following is my daily journal for my most recent project trip, where I led a team of 10 architects, engineers and designers out to a very remote but amazingly beautiful property on the shore of Lake Victoria to design a Youth Camp and Young Men's Training Center for New Hope Uganda. It was an amazing trip, and an amazing design team to be a part of.

The top of the site, overlooking Lake Victoria. The ministry director, Jay Dangers, is in the royal blue shirt

Day 1 – Tuesday March 10, 2009: The ministry showed up right on time at 9am at our office to pick us up. The team had gathered and last minute packing of office supplies was finishing up. The project site, though a mere 40 miles from the eMi office on Google Earth, is 91 km by car and takes over 3 hours to travel to due to a lack of a direct route and very poor roads. We loaded our stuff on the ministry’s two Landcruisers and piled into a matatu to set out for the project. Alisha and Graysen came to see us off – saying goodbye to Alisha and the boys is never a fun part of project trips. Traffic was bad and we had a few stops for supplies on the way, so the journey took just over 4 hours. It was a hot and dusty day and though I was happy to have a window seat in the matatu, when we arrived I was covered in dust from the open window. We got our stuff unloaded into the tents we’ll be staying in - the tents are huge canvas safari tents, and the ministry had built wood platforms to set the tents on up out of the soil and rainwater runoff. We were all a little road weary, so after hearing the vision of the ministry from Jay the New Hope Uganda Director and Syd, the new camp director living on the site, we all set out to walk some of the massive 670-acre property and get some fresh air. With amazing panoramic views of the lake, open grass areas on top and dense jungle with a stream cutting through below, this was one of the most beautiful sites I’ve seen yet in Uganda. We returned around dusk, and after a delicious rice and stew dinner, a cold ‘bag shower’ in the outside shower stalls (showering under the starry African sky reminded me how unbelievable God’s plan for your life can turn out to be - I would've never thought I'd be showering out in the pitch black night in the middle of Africa...not me!), I headed to bed, sharing a 15 ft x 15 ft tent with civil engineer volunteer Chris and civil intern Ryan (there was room for another 3 people inside!).
The tents up on platforms - mine was the one in the middle.
Day 2 – Wednesday, March 11, 2009: We awoke around 6:30am to the sounds of thunder in the near distance and wind starting to blow. We just made it out of the tent after dressing and gathering our things and over to the workroom before the rains let loose. There are two existing buildings on the site – a storage room, and a house split in two, one half for Syd and his wife Andrea and the other for a work room where we would do our design work during the week. The only power was from a small generator, and the only water they have near the house is what they collect off the roof during storms and pipe into a cistern built whose concrete lid forms the back porch for the house. They treat the water to drink, and scoop buckets out of it to shower, clean laundry, and do dishes.

From below, the house where Syd and Andrea are living. The left half is where they live, the right half was our work room.
The work room also doubled as the dining room too
After a devotion time and testimonies in the morning, we decided to walk another portion of the site down to the stream and beach area. Two significant things occurred today, other than the beautiful walk through the jungle alongside the stream. First, during the morning devotions which were on Psalm 139 and how God works in our lives, Jay the ministry leader shared an example about making cookies with his young daughter. He explained that he pays for the ingredients, has purchased the house with the kitchen and stocked it with utensils, cooking bowls, measuring cups and baking pans.

Programming meeting with the ministry
He shared how he helps her pour the ingredients in the right amounts, helps her hold the bowl while she mixes it, and then guides her gently as she pushes the cookie sheet into the hot oven. Once they’re done, he carefully helps her remove the cookies, and place them on a plate. At that moment, the daughter will take the plate and run down the hall, shouting to her mom and brother that she has just made cookies for everyone!

Me with Architects Lewis and Mike, meeting with the ministry
He then explained how we are just like that – we ‘do’ something that we think is for God, seeming to forget that it is actually God who has done everything, provided the tools, the know-how, the resources, the opportunity and even orchestrated the result. And beyond that, He could have done it easier and quicker on His own without our help!

Hearing the vision as we walked the site
So why does He ‘use’ us? It’s all about relationship. He wants to spend time with us, having us get to know Him, and feeling good about spending time with Him, our father. Even as eMi on this trip, God doesn’t ‘need’ engineers and architects to carry out His will on this project. But He chooses to use us both for our relationship with Him, but also to use our work to further his will and ultimately develop His relationship with many more people in the future. I loved that example, and it was a great way to set the tone for the team for this project.

Checking out the spring on the site that feeds the stream
The second significant thing that occurred happened during our walk down on the beach. There are 200 squatters who have been living on the beach for a few years. Part of the ministry’s agreement with the land purchase is that the squatters would be relocated (and compensated) down the beach off the property. That is still being worked out, and the ministry is really trying to develop good relationships with these people so there will be no bad blood and they can hopefully minister to these people down the line. But to date, they have had little contact with these people. So, as we were walking by, this lady asked me about my Nalgene water bottle. I was surprised that she knew English, so I started talking with her. I learned that this woman named Lois was 50 years old and was the assistant pastor of the small church on the beach (the head pastor was also a lady (Florence) and she too came over and joined the conversation near the end). They had just recently started the church and were trying to get the villagers to come. Many of the villagers are fisherman and spend most of the day drunk.

Walking through the jungle on site - can you imagine these trails in a youth camp someday?!
They invited the team to church that Sunday, so I told them that we’d love to but will check our schedule (I wanted to get the ministry’s permission before I agreed to anything, but after talking with Syd it looks like we will end up going). But it was significant because that conversation could be the beginning of opening a relationship between the ministry and the village and help work to resolve some of the misconceptions we’ve heard the village has about New Hope Uganda. Hopefully it will open these people up to their new neighbors, and give New Hope some opportunities to minister to these people.

The team walking down to the beach, with the village in the background
One cool, new thing I got to try today was helping the civil engineers dam the stream to build a weir. We used the weir to try to determine how much water was flowing in the stream. After about an hour and a half of building the dam and preparing the weir, we pretty much determined that the weir was not an accurate method since we couldn't restrict the flow properly. So we found an area of the stream that was fairly uniform, measured a cross section of the stream and then timed how long it took for a small stick to travel down a predetermined distance. After dropping the stick a few times, we figured that the stream was flowing at about 850 gallons/minute (a lot!). (Sorry for the nerdy engineering story, but it was fun for a structural guy to be tromping through a stream building a dam out of rocks and mud!)
As the first work day wrapped up, it was fun to finally be making progress towards our design after spending a good deal of time talking to the ministry about their vision. The site is huge, so the challenge for us will be to limit what we do to the most immediate needs, saving much of the future work to another eMi team. I told the ministry that their goals for the site could easily require 2 more full eMi teams to come to design those future aspects.
Another shower under the stars and I was off to bed - I'm really liking the night showers, though the water in the bags has cooled down a lot from the day and it's pretty cool and breezy out. Fortunately, my jet lag is all over with so my nights and days are back on schedule.

Intern Ryan, Volunteer Pat, and helpers Alex & Alan - damming the stream to build the weir