Thursday, October 31, 2013

Uganda YWAM Project (IV of V)

Figuring out the site boundary, with my private security officer
intern Michael in tow.
Part IV of V

Days 9-10:  11th – 12th September

Presentation day! The last night wasn’t too bad, with most of the team only staying up until around midnight. Compared to the all-nighters that commonly occur on trips, it was nice that the team felt comfortable with where we were at to get some sleep.
Jaz Lambert - our team MVP
One thing that’s been difficult on this trip has been the fact that the existing nursery school has been on a school holiday while we’ve been here so we haven’t been able to connect much with the people we’re here to help. But one of the wives on the team, Jaz Lambert, has been a great ambassador for us and has been very involved in various aspects of the ministry on campus here. So after the presentation, we had Jaz share with the team some of the things she had experienced here and the feedback she’d heard from some of the people. It was very encouraging to hear that a number of the women she spoke with said their number one concern was getting money for school fees for their children. Consequently, they are very excited that we are here to design a school!
Jaz speaking to some of the local women who come to the
YWAM site each week for counseling.

Jaz, with ministry Director Tim and his wife Jackie.
The presentation went well – there were about 25 people there, mostly the ministry leaders and others who live and work on the campus. Other than a couple of Western staff couples (one British, one South African), the rest of the audience was Ugandan. They were very excited about our work. They shared how God had given them a vision for the school back in January, but they had no idea how to make it work. With our plans, they feel like God has given them a road map and they now know the direction they need to start heading in.

Intern Michael, preparing the makeshift screen for the presentation.
Scaring the audience with pictures of buildings falling down so
they won't fall asleep during the structural report (it seldom works).
Volunteers Ray and William, doing their part to dispel the
common myth about engineers having no sense of style.
Well done gentlemen.
After the meeting was over and a few questions were answered, the entire room gathered around us and laid hands on us and prayed in their native languages (all at once, out loud!). Honestly, those situations make me feel uncomfortable because I’m not really a ‘touchy-feely’ kind of person, nor am I given to emotional responses (not saying never, just not usually).

But, I’m learning to realize there are all different types of people in this world, and that these people were doing this because that is how they best express their faith and love to others. So, even though I couldn’t understand a word being said and felt a little awkward and uncomfortable, it was an honor for them to express their appreciation to us in this way and I realize that as Christians, we have to make allowances for people having God-given differences in personality and communication styles – it is exactly how God created us! (Hopefully, others will understand this principle and give me grace too as I suspect I'll need it more often than most!) But the whole point of there being all different types of people in the world was driven home to me later in the trip when some of our team members pointed to this experience as the highlight of their trip! J
Uganda is the only place I've been where the thunderstorms
can actually make you feel like you're under water.
From a distance, the beauty of Uganda's landscape is
nearly unmatched anywhere in the world...
but up close, the reality of the situation on the ground
can be more than disheartening.
Since we had presented a day early, we decided that we would head back to Kampala a day early as well. It turned out being a great decision to do that as the team very much enjoyed a quiet day back in the very comfortable guesthouse (i.e. warm showers and clean, quiet rooms). We did our usual closing meeting, except this time instead of sharing about each person, we made up a card for each person and had everyone write something encouraging to the other team members. That really was a great modification, as it kept the team meeting length down (still 2 1/4 hours) and also gave each of us something tangible and encouraging to take home to read at a later time. Alisha will especially appreciate that given my typically terrible memory for recounting what people said during the trip!
On the bus, heading back to Kampala
Road works - despite the flagger's best attempts to restore order
(see his standing aside, to the right), cars in both directions insisted
on forging ahead and sorting their own way around the workers.
And actually, it worked out pretty well. Perhaps this methodology
should be considered back in the US/UK?
This could be any of about 5 million such huts along the road
in Uganda.
After over a week of nothing but Ugandan food (which is nice,
but does get a little old in time), having pizza from one of our
favorite places in Uganda was indescribably satisfying. We were
so giddy we took a picture holding up our bottles for some
unknown reason. Also unknown is why Jean (far left) is holding
up her room key instead. Chalk it all up to over-exuberance at
the prospect of eating good food.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Uganda YWAM Project (III of V)

Part III of V
Overlooking the YWAM site, with a small inlet of Lake Victoria
off in the distance.
Days 7-8  9th – 10th September
This morning, YWAM had an all campus worship and prayer time that we joined in with. It was good to be a part of something with their ministry. One of the Ugandan leaders spoke about putting on the armor of God. It was a good message and reminder that evil does still very much exist in this world.
Our team is making good progress on the work ahead of our presentation Wednesday afternoon. We had intended to present Thursday evening, but it worked better for the ministry to do it Wednesday, so Thursday will be a bonus day where we can work on finishing as much of the work as possible.
This has been a good trip for me as I’ve particularly enjoyed being in the company of Christians from such a variety of backgrounds. Our team consists of people from England (3), Scotland (2), Northern Ireland (1), Hong Kong (2), China (1), and the USA (5). It’s the most diverse team I’ve had and the biggest team I’ve had, so it’s been a very different dynamic. The team has gelled together very well – I couldn’t imagine a team from so many different countries getting along any better than this one has.
Walking the site with Emma, one of the members
of the YWAM Hopeland base leadership team.

Volunteer Geologist/Geotechnical Engineer
Ray, testing one of three soil test pits. No, this
is not at a nearby cemetery.

The engineers, who in this instance doubled as the
soil pit excavation crew.

Gettin' 'er done...wait, are my eyes closed?

The work room

Nobody leaves this room until the project is ready to present.
One thing I learned about the recent history of Uganda was interesting, though not necessarily directly connected to this project (though certainly there are people on this campus who were affected). But regarding Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), I didn’t realize how prayer had an impact on ending the crisis in Uganda that ravaged the North of the country in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
Apparently, after years of terror reigning in the north, with the LRA kidnapping children by the dozens and turning them into either sex slaves or soldiers, a group of Christians had had enough. Fear had gripped the people for years, with many IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps created virtually overnight as people from the rural areas flooded to the larger towns for safety (the LRA largely preyed on rural villages). The LRA was very much into witchcraft and a false version of the bible, with Joseph Kony treated as a deity amongst his followers. Many shrines had been setup in various places throughout the jungle, and people were deathly afraid of these places.
So, this small group of Christians went up to the north and began visiting each shrine site to first destroy it and then pray over the place. The local people were amazed at this since they were very fearful to go anywhere near the shrines. But after awhile, word got out, and word has it that Joseph Kony returned to these sites and found that his ‘power’ had gone. Soon after, he announced that he had to leave Uganda because his power had been stripped there!

What the exact details are of this story is hard to say, but the group that went there to pray did so with a boldness and willingness to confront evil that some may have thought foolish at the time. But their confidence in God and lack of fear of anything else was an enormous encouragement to the people in the area who had been gripped with fear. With the animism of the past and being within the highly spiritual context of life in rural Africa, such boldness in the face of dark spiritual powers spoke louder than any preaching or evangelism could have to the power of the true God and his son Jesus.
Gathering data / fiddling with my favourite pen.

Jean and I, in uniform, checking the water sample results.

The engineers on the EMI team (i.e. the smart ones, plus me)

We took a break one morning to climb the nearby hill to get a
bird's eye view of the site. Uganda is such a beautiful place.

We got treated to a massive thunderstorm, complete with
hail, torrential rain and thunder.

Selfie, with the site and lake in the background

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Uganda YWAM Project (II of V)

Part II of V

Days 5-6:  7th – 8th September
I count it as one of the great blessings of my job with EMI to be able to work with so many good examples of Christians – to say nothing of the very talented architects and engineers our volunteers and interns are. This trip is no different, other than the fact that it’s my biggest team yet so there are more of them to like! Here they are:

With interns Michael (left) and Deryck (right)
Michael Day (Edinburgh, Scotland) – One of two Scots on the team, Michael is an intern in our office in Colchester this semester. An electronics and IT guy by degree, Michael is helping with the electrical design as well as finishing the report back in the office after the trip. He’s one of those guys with a great attitude and always seems happy. I am really looking forward to having him around for the next few months.

Deryck Chan (Cambridge, UK / Hong Kong) – Deryck is one of the more interesting people I’ve met. He’s very smart – after spending his early years in Hong Kong, he moved to a very prestigious secondary boarding school here in the UK, and then on to Cambridge where he was the student of Matt DeJong, our friend from back home in Davis who is now a professor there. Deryck is also a bit of a jack of all trades and seems to know a little something about everything - no doubt he’s been influenced by his time working for Wikipedia! He’s very humble though, and his self-effacing style probably masks how much smarter he is than the rest of us. :)
...and Dave, 'stressing out' over the design.

Jaz, practicing a balancing act...
Dave & Janet (Jaz) Lambert (Portsmouth, UK) – Dave is a recently retired principal architect from London who, along with his wife Jaz, just completed a 4 month walk from the southwestern-most point of England to the northeastern-most point of Scotland – an 1120 mile walk, in all. They are joining the trip as the first step in beginning to figure out what’s next for them in life. They really are a very lovely couple, and Jaz has been such a positive personality on the team and was clearly the ambassador for our team with the ministry, taking part in and interacting with almost every facet of the ministry’s work on the campus. We at EMI are of course hoping this won’t be the last time we see them as they do have a desire to be involved with mission! Dave and Jaz also used to lead children's groups at their church, so they treated us to a mini-concert one night featuring a couple of the songs they used to sing - including the corresponding body gestures.

Meg, doing the dishes yet again.
Ray, smiling as he does 80% of the time.
Ray & Meg Womack (Jackson, WY) – Ray is a Geologist and Geotechnical Engineer who is a longtime and respected EMI volunteer on both past EMI projects and Disaster Response teams. In their early-mid 60’s, he and his wife Meg have also been a wonderful example to the rest of the team of a strong Christian marriage that has stood the test of time. Meg is a very outgoing person and helps Ray run their business back in Wyoming, so she has jumped in to help us here as well and has been a great support to the team, willing to take on any and every job (including our dishes, as seen here). Between Meg and Jaz, the quality of care the trip volunteers received on this team was at a significantly higher lever than what most of my trip volunteers get! Ray also brought his travelling guitar along and led us in songs during our morning devotional times. And on most nights, Ray would strum and pick away on a variety of songs on the guitar while the team would join in singing as we worked.

Shana, working on the architectural report.
Shana Reiss (Atascadero, CA) – owns and runs her own architecture business in Southern California despite turning just 30 during our trip. Shana, alongside Dave, has brought good leadership to the architectural team on the trip. This is her first EMI trip, though in her business she has worked on other projects in Africa and China. Shana went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for her architecture degree, so it was nice to have another West Coast person around to talk to (with the 'correct' accent - ha!).

Pearly, cranking out the CAD and Sketchup drawings.
Pearly Tsang (Hong Kong) – This is Pearly’s 5th EMI trip, and 3rd trip with me. She was on the very first trip I volunteered on with EMI to Uganda back in 2006 and then on a school project I led in Uganda back in 2010. Pearly is a very talented architect and has worked in both London and Hong Kong for a number of years. We’re hoping at some point she’ll just bite the bullet and join EMI full time!
Sarah, plenty safe in her traffic vest in the middle of a sugar
cane field. (The vest was a nod to her company, who helped
support her in joining this trip.)

Sarah Comfort (London, UK) – Sarah is nearly finished with her architectural schooling, but has taken 2 years off to gain work experience. She’s a whiz at drawing things up on the computer and has been so helpful to have on the team. She also never stops smiling, which is probably even more helpful to the team! Also, a sidenote – Sarah’s dad used to play professional football before becoming a vicar, and was a teammate of David Moyes, the new Manchester United manager! And no, I did not insist on her getting me tickets in exchange for agreeing to sign her up for the trip. If she does that anyway, that is her prerogative, and she is more than welcome to email me at or phone me at any time of day, or night. ;)

Our 'niece' Jordan.
Jordan Cox (Fairfax, VA) – If you recognize the name from this blog, it’s because Jordan was an intern with us here in the UK one year ago when we first arrived. Due to the visa mess that semester, she and the other interns weren’t able to travel on a trip. So, we set aside the money they’d paid so they could join a future trip – and that’s what she’s done. Even though she’s an Auburn graduate (who barely beat my Oregon Ducks in the Nat’l Championship game 3 years ago - grrrr!), it’s great to have her on the team and to catch up with her. She too is a computer drafting whiz! Going back to her internship with us, Jordan has always reminded me of some of my nieces, and thus she’s had to endure a larger than normal amount of ‘guff’ from me as her ‘uncle’.

Civil engineers William and Jean had the water and
wastewater design well in hand.
Jean Parker (Guildford, UK) – A British civil engineer, Jean is both a former EMIEA intern and current part-time staff member at EMIUK, as well as being one of the EMIUK board of directors. She’s also helping me on this trip to manage this larger team. She’s become a friend to us in Colchester, so it’s been fun to have her along on this trip.

William MacLeod (Stornoway, Scotland) – William is a young civil engineer who is on his first EMI trip. We have two Scots on the trip (intern Michael), so it’s been enjoyable having that influence on the team dynamics. William is passionate about development work and has been to Africa a couple of times before with other organizations. Ever the jokester, I enjoyed the endless bantering with William.

The stereotypical Alabamian, Yao.
Yao Wang (Birminham, AL / China) – Though she lives in the deep south, Yao is Chinese and grew up in China – so not quite the typical southerner! She has a sweet personality and is very humble even though she’s a capable electrical engineer. This is her first EMI trip and first time to Africa, so it was quite a wild start for her when she missed her connecting flight into Uganda because of a delayed flight, then was put on a different airlines that arrived here (via Egypt) in the middle of the night! She met a couple on her flight and they took her to their home in Kampala when they arrived. She then had to take a boda (if you remember, the motorcycle taxis) across town to meet up with us that morning! Quite an ordeal for her first time in Africa!

Things pretty well shut down on the YWAM site over the weekend. During the week, they run several activities that make it feel like a pretty busy place. First, like all YWAM bases, they run a Discipleship Training School (DTS) for early twenty-somethings from all over the world. The program is roughly a year long, with 6 months of classes, and then 3 to 6 months of in-the-field training. Every staff member of YWAM is required to attend a DTS somewhere around the world before joining. YWAM has over 1000 ministry locations in 180 countries around the world, with 25,000 people a year going through their DTS program!
On top of the DTS program, which I’d guess currently has around 50 students here, they operate a vocational training school, biblical studies school, HIV counseling and awareness programs, prison ministry, street kids ministry and several other outreach programs. Adding the primary school we’re designing (along with the existing nursery school) seems like a natural fit for this ministry site since it’s all about training up people – now they’ll be able to train up young people too.

Our team kept working away though, apart from a trip to the nearby local church on Sunday morning. For security purposes, I stayed behind with all the laptops and gear. It feels safe on site, but there’s no perimeter fence over much of the site and past experiences have made me ultra paranoid about theft. As former President Bush once said, “Fool me once, shame on …me, fool me twice, …shame…on…you just don’t want to get fooled again!”

(Update:  Two weeks after our trip, the Director Tim had his laptop stolen out of his home on the site, which was approximately 100 meters from our guesthouse. He was even home at the time, in the shower. It underscores my feeling that despite how safe it feels in many parts of Africa, the needs and level of poverty are so great that you truly never know how vulnerable or safe you are in a situation. While physical attacks on Westerners are relatively rare, the valuable property that most Westerners bring with them to Africa are a prime target for theft. Thus, it’s prudent to take as many precautions as are reasonable and feasible to prevent our 'things' from becoming too much of a temptation for those who may be in a state of desperate need.)