Sunday, February 28, 2010

Word of Life Project Trip - Part III

Part III of III
Sunday February 14, 2010:
Today was a busy day! We were on the WOL bus at 7:45am to head back into Kampala for church. First, we went to the church at Kampala International University where Thomas was speaking. It was a larger church with around 400 people in the service. Thomas did a nice job – he’s a very engaging speaker and had the congregation laughing at many points along the way. After this first service, we drove across town to a very small church with maybe 25 people in attendance. This was Thomas’ family’s home church, and Thomas is one of the elders. The other elder, Peter, gave the message on Hebrews about how we are to live our Christian lives as if we were running a race, persevering to the end. It was a good message and a very different ‘Africa Church’ experience from our larger ‘Africa Church’ experience earlier that morning.
After the services were over, we drove to the downtown mall and ate at the food court. It was a fun time and very generous of Thomas, who paid for lunch. We then packed back into the bus and headed back to the site for the final presentation.

The architectural team preseenting the site zoning plan.

Hong Kong architect Pearly discussing the new Bible Institute campus (her real name is Pui Lai, but she goes by 'Pearly' since it's pronounced similarly).

Surprisingly, about 25-30 people showed up for the presentation, most of them staff at the school. The presentation went very well as the ministry was excited about our master plan and the guests in attendance were very complimentary and thankful for our work. One funny thing that was a reminder of where we were was that a number of the people in attendance were hesitant to accept flush toilets as the only restroom facility on the site, preferring that some pit latrines be retained in case of emergencies. Thomas was adamant that there be no pit latrines on the site though as he is trying to modernize their students and guests and provide a more sanitary environment. Our team thought it a bit funny that our design of a complete wastewater system was partially shunned for smelly, unsanitary pit latrines! One of the guests mentioned the fact that the water could go out if there was an emergency situation such as a military coup! We later joked that perhaps future coup attempts would have to be addressed as a part of future projects’ master planning!

A site zoning plan, depicting the various site functions in an easy to read, colorful sketch.
The Master Plan, with buildings labeled.

But overall, the night went well and we were excited to have completed our work and pleased the ministry as well. Since WOL is in over 60 countries, perhaps this will be the start of a long-standing relationship between eMi and WOL. I hope this is the case as the youth camp focus of WOL hits a soft spot for me since I was involved with Young Life when I was a kid.
A perspective drawing our architectural team sketched up for the presentation.
Another perspective view of the site. Notice the kite flying in the background...that was inspired by Jonah's kite from earlier in the week!

Monday February 15, 2010:
Well today started out as a great day as I am excited to be that much closer to going home. The project trip work was complete (for now) and we headed back to the office to regroup before heading to Jinja for a 1-day ‘closing time’. When I got home, I quick packed a small bag so I could head down to pickup Brodie from school since he will be joining us on this trip. But just as I was leaving the house, our guard informed me that the power company had come by earlier and disconnected our power! Apparently, we hadn’t paid our bill, which we hadn’t even received yet and which wasn’t due for another two weeks!
Instantly, I was really frustrated. I knew I had to leave town since the team was waiting for me, but I also knew that without dogged persistence it could be a week before the power was turned back on. I was also frustrated that our guard had even let them in the compound, or that he hadn’t insisted that we be notified so we could come resolve the issue. This had happened once before about a year ago, and that guard had notified me and I quickly came home and spoke to the power company and resolved the issue without them turning our power off.
So I quickly got out my phone to start making phone calls – first to the power company. But unfortunately, the cell phone system was off and on and I couldn’t connect. So I tried the number for one of their technicians, Joseph, and after 4 times I finally got through (the only reason I had his number was that one of our power lines was out for 2 weeks recently before I could get the power company to show up, so once they showed up I gave the guy a little ‘thank you’ gift when he left and got his cell phone number. I knew having his number might come in handy again but I didn’t expect to need it so soon!) Joseph told me that if I went down and paid the bill that he would come right over and reconnect us. Since, I was leaving town, I asked Semei our office manager to go down and pay it for me and to call me when he was done so I could call Joseph. Well, to make a long story short, after Alisha called 6 more times and I called 4 more times, Joseph finally came and reconnected us around 5pm.
In the meantime, I had to ‘let go’ and allow others to help me since my team was leaving for Jinja. We left town about an hour and a half late, stopping for lunch along the way at the ‘Chicken-on-a-stick’ place I’ve mentioned in past blogs (also referred to as the ‘In-your-face-chicken-place’). When we arrived in Jinja, I went to check into the little resort we’d be staying at for our closing time. That’s when volunteer Kelly came to me at the check-in desk to notify me that her computer was missing. I had packed the matatu (mini-van taxi we had hired) so I told her where I’d put it. After finishing checking in, I went back to find that the laptop was indeed gone. We figured out that at the road-side chicken place, the back windows of the van had been left open, and since all our luggage was piled in the backseat, we must not have noticed someone reaching in and swiping it.
I was so upset. At the time, the electricity ordeal was not yet resolved so I was still stressed by that. To have this happen once again on a project trip I was leading was very disheartening. Kelly had a great attitude about it, saying that she was just going to start praying for the person who stole it that he or she would come to give their life over to God. It really was amazing to see her perspective on it, especially as I stewed on the inside that it had yet again happened on one of my trips.
We concluded the day at a nice restaurant in Jinja and had our closing time meeting. We each took turns sharing about our trip experience and then we all went around encouraging each other with things we’d seen from the trip. It was a nice end of the day, and Brodie was on his best behavior at the restaurant which was a God-send. But overall, I fell like it was one of my worst days since we’ve moved here. It seemed that every system that I encountered that day had essentially fallen apart – the power, the cell phones, and even the chicken place. I was really struggling with a bad attitude, even though on the outside I didn’t look so mad.
But in the end, I had to remember what was important - none of us were injured and not very much project work had been lost (Kelly had handed out copies of most of her work the day before). Poor Kelly had lost a lot of personal treasures such as pictures and other files, but her positive attitude about the situation was a big help to the team to make sure that the closing meeting wasn’t ruined by the disheartening theft earlier in the day.
I should also mentioned that I really enjoyed having that alone time with Brodie. He did great on the trip – his first real trip away from home without mom there to coordinate all his special dietary issues. Of course, mom packed his bag so anyone with half a brain could have cared for him, but I still felt good about giving her a break for at least one night! And, I loved my time with just me and Brodie, just as I had loved the day I had with just Jonah earlier in the week. I look forward to doing that more and more with each of the boys now that they are a little older.
Brodie and I in Jinja

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Word of Life Project Trip - Part II

The eMi team - (L to R) Denis, me, Matt, Pearly, Rachel, Kelly, Rick, Kate, Josh and Eric
Part II of III
Thursday February 11, 2010:

Jonah and I woke up around 7am and went for breakfast and devotion time with the team. Jonah was so good during the devotion time – he didn’t make any noise and seemed to be interested in what was going on. Afterwards, I headed out surveying again and Jonah was all over helping me.


Intern Matt and I heading out to survey.

Jonah and Graysen were willing helpers.

The damp bandanas we tied on our head were lifesavers from the scorching sun.
Though we didn’t know it at the time, the survey problems from the day before carried over into today. For some reason, our points kept showing up about 200 meters away from where they should be and about 25 meters lower in elevation. Standing out in the blazing sun all day only to find out that you need to re-shoot everything you’ve just shot places a special kind of strain on your patience! In the end, intern Rachel was able to clean up our mess on the computer, but there was a lot of re-doing and tweaking that made for a frustrating day.
...not a happy camper.
Working on inputting the troubled survey data into the computer, Intern Rachel was not a happy camper either. Though in the end, she got it all put together perfectly!
The good thing was that Alisha and the boys returned to hang out and pick up Jonah. I was wishing that he could just stay for the rest of the trip, but he had school and a swim meet that he’s in so he needed to leave. Alisha came and sat with me while I ran the surveying instrument – so it was definitely the most enjoyable survey I’ve done, even if it did have lots of problems (no, Alisha did not cause the problems by distracting me!)
At night, when I went in to shower for bed, seeing Jonah’s empty bunk was sad. I really enjoyed having him along. If I keep doing eMi project trips, I am going to try to start bringing one of the boys along with me. It’a a great experience for them and makes it much more enjoyable for me as well. It’s also a great chance for me to connect with my sons, and for them to be a part of my work life too. I know it has an impact as just this past Tuesday at school it was spirit week and Graysen decided to dress up as me on “What I want to do when I grow up” day. He made his own outfit (once again!) and it was amazing to hear the details he noticed about me.
Friday February 12, 2010:
One of the things I am trying to think about on this trip is what Alisha and I should be looking to do after our time in Africa. We are considering staying on with eMi from the Colorado Springs office, but we want to be sure that we’re doing what God wants us to do. In some ways, staying with eMi is much more difficult than just returning to the States and finding a job (though I am keenly aware of the tough job market back home). But in thinking and praying this all through, I realize that I have really been focusing on the practical side of ‘figuring everything out’.
During our devotional time, the idea of not looking down at our feet when we’re learning to walk or snow-ski came up, and I realized that this is exactly what I’ve been doing in this decision process. The idea is that to step out in faith, sometimes we need to keep our eyes focused on what we feel God is leading us to do rather than trying to ‘look down at our feet’ by focusing on each and every practical detail of getting there. It’s really a radical idea, especially for a planner like me, but I think it’s exactly how God wants us to live. Now for us, whether that’s stepping out in faith to stay with eMi from the headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado, or whether it’s stepping out in faith to find a different job that would use some of the skills I’ve learned working with eMi – that is what we need to decide.
I will say that as a missions organization, I think eMi is an excellent model for missions work in the world. I think getting people involved in missions who otherwise wouldn’t be, and then using those people’s skills to help the global missions effort achieve higher standards and be more effective in their ministry, as well as be more cost-efficient with their facility building process is a great example for building the kingdom of God in the world. So from a standpoint of worthiness, I can’t imagine finding a more worthwhile organization to work for.
As far as the day goes, it was kind of a grind-it-out work time in the work room. We have to have the presentation ready by tomorrow (Saturday night) since Thomas informed me we’ll be gone most of the morning and afternoon in town for church (we’re going to two services!). The presentation will then be whenever we get back to the site.
At night, a group of seven young businessmen from Kampala came for a discipleship training course for the weekend. After they finished their class around 11pm, they invited us to play basketball. So five of us went down and played with them for an hour or so under makeshift lights setup alongside the court. Playing in the dark, except for a few bright spotlights blinding us, with a black basketball was interesting to say the least.
Saturday February 13, 2010:
The final work day arrived with the project in good shape. The problems with the survey reverberated into other areas, since the final master plan couldn’t be completed until the survey was drawn up, and the civil drawings (drainage, water and wastewater) couldn’t be completed until the master plan was set. But overall, we were in good shape, so the day wasn’t too stressful.

Volunteer architect Pearly working hard on the architectural renderings.

Volunteer graphic artist Kelly and the architects had some late nights.


Pearly and Denis coordinating the architecture and civil designs.


Beef jerky is a big part of a successful project trip.
We even had time for a lengthy theological discussion about the nature of Hell and the various differences between Calvinism, Armenianism, and the open view of God. Intern Matt, volunteer Rick and I enjoyed the friendly discussion of how God relates to His creation and what the ultimate fate will be for those who reject Jesus. Great stuff – I highly recommend anyone interested read a book titled, “The Four Views on Hell”. It’s a compare and contrast book written by four Christians with different views of what Hell is, with each proponent critiquing each others’ positions. The conclusion is then left to the reader to make for him or herself.
It was also hot today, so we were sweating pretty good inside the work room. But other than that, I think our team really enjoyed hanging out together working on finishing the presentation. We’ve shared many laughs and light-hearted moments this week, and also some great times during devotions.
Whether I remain involved with eMi full-time or not, I really believe in the work of eMi and the model of not just helping the humanitarian need around the world, but promoting ministries who are reaching the lost and discipling believers in Christ who otherwise would have little or no access to gaining mentoring and instruction in their faith and personal bible study. And on top of that, eMi trips have a big impact on the lives of the team members as many times they are confronted for the first time in person with the extreme need of so many people around the world. It is such a privilege to be involved with a team of design professionals from all over the world who come together to use their skills and training to work for creating opportunity for the less fortunate as well as supporting the kingdom of God in the world. It’s hard to imagine a better ministry for someone with my background to be involved with.


It's not all work during the week - we have a worship and devotion time each morning. Intern Matt did a great job leading us in worship.

...and there's time for just hanging out too. Denis' fiance Sarah (far right) came out to visit a couple times during the week. Denis is Canadian, and Sarah is South African...I don't envy their visa issues in the coming few years! :)

In some ways, working with eMi has caused Alisha and I to sacrifice some things – financial opportunities and living a certain lifestyle that a well-paying job would support. But in so many other ways, it’s been an amazing journey of faith and trust to be able to serve God using my skills and training with the backing of so many friends and family who have supported us financially. Thinking of our ministry as a team effort is really satisfying for us as we depend on others to affect the world for the gospel. Receiving support has been the hardest part for me, as I crave to be able to provide for myself and my family. But God has taught me that He is sufficient for us, and that my ‘right’ to provide for my family is really His responsibility, not mine. While I don’t necessarily like the idea of it, at the same time it has stripped me of my pride, which is exactly where God wants me to be – humbled and broken before Him so that we rely on His provision, not our own. As the head of my household, it’s a difficult concept to give over to God. But to those whom He calls to live that lifestyle (pastors, missionaries, etc.), it can be a wonderful experience as we become partnered with and reliant on others to enable us to be effective in our ministry. It makes me feel very thankful for the people who have supported us to work with eMi. Though I would much prefer to be on the other side of the equation by being on the support team, our family has been tremendously blessed by the generosity and love of our supporters and I feel honored to be able to serve with eMi on behalf of our supporters. So thank you to so many of you!


This fuzzy moth sat here on the building for a few hours, laying eggs. That's Brodie's hand, so the wingspan as it is in this picture is around 5 inches!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Word of Life Project Trip - Feb 2010

Part I of III
Monday February 8, 2010:
This project trip is working with a ministry called Word of Life (WOL). WOL has been around for over 60 years and is in over 60 countries around the world. Their main focus is evangelism and discipleship for youth, primary using camps and discipleship training centers to reach kids. This will be a different project experience for me as we are only about 20 miles from our house as a crow flies. Alisha and the boys are planning to drive out to visit on Wednesday, which is also Jonah’s 7th birthday.
After a late night picking up volunteers at the airport, the team met at the office at 10am and was picked up by the ministry shortly thereafter. But instead of a 19 or 12 hour drive to the site like my last two project trips, after 40 minutes we were stepping off the mini-bus onto the small soccer field used by the primary school on site. Thomas Obunde, the WOL-Uganda director, greeted us, as did the uniformed school kids from afar as we sized up our initial impressions of the land that will occupy so much of our time and effort in the coming week. Thomas is actually Kenyan, and went to Bible College in the U.S. with his wife. He is a very engaging person and big visionary – the kind of person who you are just drawn towards.

Thomas telling the team the vision of Word of Life Uganda


Walking the site is always step 1 after hearing the vision.


Some buildings on the site are already built, and some are still in construction. The architectural team is checking out what will be the lecture hall for the Bible Institute.

This project will be a little different than my past projects in that the a portion of the site is already completed and in use. The ministry has 20 acres, and a little under half of that currently houses the ministry administration and school for 150 kids (grades K-9). In some ways, our job will be easier since we won’t have to come up with a master plan from scratch. But in other ways, tying in all the future plans for the site with the existing buildings that have been built without a master plan in mind creates a lot of challenges that could make our job much more difficult overall.


Kids at the primary school on site during recess. Most of these kids bus to and from Kampala everyday - over an hour each direction! But the school is based on the American system, and the parents all want their children prepared for university in the U.S. one day.

After a day filled with walking the site and discussing all the dreams Thomas has for the site and going through our extensive list of initial questions, we had a team time to cap off the day where everyone went around telling the story of how they decided to follow Jesus. It’s always great to hear people tell their story, and helps the team unify as well as we all get to know a bit about where everyone else is coming from.
Sleeping for the week has the men and women sleeping in separate large room (with self-contained toilets and showers!) with multiple bunk beds. They are nice but simple camp-style rooms that are perfect for housing an eMi team – it’s always nice to have flush toilets on a project trip!


After hearing the vision and walking the site, the architects try to wrap their brains around the master plan and come up with a 'zoning plan' for the different site functions.


Everyone gives their input as the team tries to narrow in on a master plan.
Tuesday February 9, 2010:
I awoke to the sound of heavy rain on the metal roof above - I love that sound! It soon gave way to cloudy and relatively cool weather - a perfect Uganda day in my book. After a morning worship and devotional time, the architects prepared their initial concept ideas to Thomas and he approved, so the master plan is off and running. We are reworking some of what they have existing to better utilize the site and allow their different ministry functions to interact appropriately. One thing I have personally stressed, in light of the Haiti disaster, is the need to stick to single story construction even at the expense of being able to handle less people and ministry function on the site. Though they were initially wanting two-story buildings, I think Thomas is agreeing that it’s better to do a good job on less than a substandard job on more.

The team runs an initial crack at the site plan by Thomas. Throughout the week, we are constantly going back and forth with Thomas to make sure that our work is in line with what the ministry is wanting.


Before I get too far into the week, I should introduce the team: me (structural engineer and team leader), Denis (long-term volunteer civil engineer in our office), Rick (volunteer architect from Wyoming), Pui Lai (said “Pearly” - volunteer architect from Hong Kong), Kelly (volunteer graphics designer), Kate (eMi staff accountant in Colorado Springs), Josh (intern architect), Rachel (intern civil engineer) and Matt (structural engineering intern). We are also joined by Eric, who is a civil engineer on staff with WOL at their headquarters in Schroon Lake, New York, along with Eric’s 13-year old daughter Brianna. Eric is acting as a liaison between the home office in New York and the project, but is a great guy to have around – I keep trying to hint to him that he belongs with eMi!
Today was spent finalizing the master plan layout, with the rest of the team somewhat waiting for more finalized information before proceeding to far. A few people did some survey work to fill in some holes in the survey provided by the ministry (the ministry had hired a local surveyor to survey the land about a year ago). Well, our survey work kind of opened a can of worms, as some inconsistencies were discovered and some of the site had been re-graded after the survey. It seemed that the more survey points there were done, the more we saw a need for further points. Also, when we went to load our new points into the existing drawing, we realized that the original survey points weren’t in the drawing. Without getting overly technical, this just means that incorporating our ‘supplemental’ work with the existing will be difficult. So, tomorrow, intern Matt and I will be heading out to do more surveying work, possibly trying to recreate some or all of the existing topographic survey! Each eMi trip presents its own challenges, so I knew coming in that the project wouldn’t be nearly as simple as it seemed…the good news is, at least I was right about something!


Volunteer civil engineer Denis, overseeing some survey work. I've now been on three trips with Denis, who was on my very first trip to Uganda back in 2006 and who now is a long term volunteer here in our office in Kampala.


Wednesday February 10, 2010:
Today is Jonah’s birthday and I am excited that Alisha and the boys are driving out to the project site! Jonah is made for project trips – he loves to be working on some kind of project, preferably outside. This will also be the first time that Alisha has been out to a project trip, so I am excited for her to see what they are like.
I ended up having to go out surveying today with intern Matt as the civil engineers needed to get working on digging holes and doing percolation tests. Things seemed to go well in the morning, but when we took a break for lunch we downloaded the points and realized that we had made an error and would need to redo our 3 hours of work. What we didn’t know was that this would be the first of several surveying problems we’d encounter over the course of the next two days.


Intern Matt, running the 'gun' while one of the local workers on site watches.
But just at lunch-time, Alisha and the boys showed up. It was so fun to have them here as being away from them is my least favorite part of eMi project trips. The boys quickly found the local school kids and began playing and exploring the property. I didn’t get to spend much time with Alisha as I was out surveying, but she got to catch up with one of our volunteers, Kelly, who returned to Uganda after being on my first trip after we moved here 2 years ago. After about 4 hours, Alisha, Brodie and Graysen headed out leaving Jonah behind to spend the night as a special treat for his birthday!


Brodie's smile hasn't yet recovered 100% after being attacked by a dog 2 months ago during our furlough, but it's slowly getting better and better.

Alisha and Jonah after opening his birthday gifts
The kite grandpa brought us over last summer was a big hit with the school children, as well as the villagers outside the compound.


Jonah and I had lots of fun that night. The team all went up to the top of the site to visit with Thomas and his family and have some ice cream. Jonah had spent the afternoon playing with Thomas’ sons Matthew and Simon, so he enjoyed going to have ice cream with his new friends. After walking back in the dark and looking at some stars, we took a shower and I put Jonah to bed. It was after 10pm so he was bushed from a very fun and full day. When I went to bed a little while later, just having him there on the next bunk made this a special night as going to bed on project trips is usually the hardest time to be away from home.


Me and Jonah