Category Archives: Kiddos


This August, we got a couple of weeks of leave time for family vacation.  Knowing it would be hard to make a trip to the US work in that window, we decided to “meet Jeff’s parents halfway” and have an amazing adventure touring Italy.  Unlike the first leg of our trip, the rest of our family vacation was to quite a tourist hotspot, but one that each of us felt drawn to for different reasons: (we’ll try to avoid pics you can see on Google).

Pompeii walkingFor Jeff, the chance to see 2000 year old concrete and brickwork (e.g. walking the streets of Pompeii) put joy in his engineer heart.  And to see the massive spanning cathedrals kept Jeff looking skyward.  Indeed, Jen has always known she married a nerd, but said that she hasn’t seen this kind of structural excitement on display in many years.

Colosseum martyrsFor Jen, her “era of history” has always been the early church and so to walk around Ancient Rome, where so many early Christ followers died was a special time. And after spending so much time teaching the children about so many Renaissance artists, she was thrilled to see Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Rafael’s work in person.

Inside duomoFor Mercy, the Duomo of Florence was a special place that she was eager to see.  As beautiful as it is on the outside, it was on the inside that Mercy kept insisting how “lit-er-a-lly cool” it was inside.  She kept staring upwards and was struck by how “small” she felt.  The architecture made an important theological point loud and clear.  She was also really excited for all the artwork that she had studied in school.

St. PetersFor Haven, Michelangelo’s Pieta (located in St. Peters basilica) was a special treasure.  Not only did she get to see this beautiful sculpture, but after climbing the dome of St. Peter’s for an amazing view of Rome (the girls trained in Ug. for dome climbing), Haven picked out a model of the sculpture that she carries around the house with sweet care and delicacy.

Isaac grapesIsaac could care less about 90% of the things we saw.  His draw to Italy – grapes.  We have grapes in Uganda but they are small, bad quality, and expensive (because they are imported from Kenya).  Our neighbors buy them and feed him 2-3 grapes several days a week.  When we told him we were going to eat “grapes in Italy”, that was his big draw and he repeated it to everyone.  I think we purchased at least 5 kilos of grapes during our trip…yum!


Family time

For all of the Ugandan Austins, getting to spend time with “Nana and Pop” was wonderful.  While Jeff’s parents were excited to see the sights, in all honesty – they were there for the kids.  We all had some great family time all around from swimming in the pool and eating Lots of gelato.  Jeff and his Dad also had a special father-son trip to Pisa together.

Isaac Ride

Girls DolphinAfter Jeff’s parents left, Jeff and Jen had 2 big surprises for the kiddos. One was a trip to an Italian theme park that Jen found online – Zoomarine.  Picture Sea World meets Six Flags meets a water park.  While there are opportunities for roller coasters all over the place in the US, this was a HUGE treat for everyone, was some great family time together.  For Mercy, who is 100% dolphin obsessed (see her book), this was a dream come true.

Blue GrottoOur second surprise was a trip to a small island called Capri.  Jen and the kids fell in love with this place before they even knew it was real because of a (Strongly recommended) kids book called Red Sails to Capri.  We were able to visit and even swim inside its famous Blue Grotto which can only be described as magical.

Jeffjen TreviWe are so grateful for the time that we had and the amazing memories that we experienced on this trip together.

FullFam Tuscany



Not your typical vacation spot right now!  When we began planning some vacation time for our family, we decided to visit Italy (the subject of another post).  When we saw that flights there went through Cairo, we decided to add a couple of days to visit some good friends, Josh and Sarah and their children, and see the sights.  Media reports on Egypt weren’t exactly flattering several months ago, but protests were localized and life continued as normal.


When July hit and President Morsi (of the Muslim Brotherhood) was removed, we were admittedly anxious, but understood a very different picture on the ground than what we were reading on the news. More on that below but in short, with friends on the ground who knew where we were safe to go, we decided to keep our plans.  So what we got was a whirlwind picture of Egypt from the inside and some great catch-up time.


When I thought of Egypt, I thought mostly of pyramids and sand.  Cairo?  A staunchly Muslim city with the River Nile running through it.  What we saw was a shock to our system on many levels.  Cairo is a city of about 20 million people – making Chicago (not to compare with Kampala) look like a podunk town.  Rather than cows and goats on the roadside, we looked out from Josh and Sarah’s mid-rise apartment to see miles of tall buildings in every direction.  Though free to walk around without a headscarf, it felt repressive – women seemed very undervalued and disrespected.  At the same time, it’s far more westernized than we would have expected: we visited a mall with a Fuddruckers, Coldstone Creamery, and an American Eagle.  Dairy Queen is not only there – but they deliver!  (A Blizzard was a beautiful indulgence for us).  Our children were able to reengage with the long lost Golden Arches and feasted on McNuggets.  And if you’ve ever wondered what the Great Sphinx is thinking about – he’s actually staring across the street at a Pizza Hut (we’re not kidding).


We toured the Egyptian Museum – an amazing place where we saw statues of the Pharaohs that interacted with Abraham and Moses and the entire collection of King Tut’s tomb.  4000 year old statues that would be the centerpiece of a museum in most of the world were effectively thrown in a corner of the museum.   Though the museum is located directly adjacent to Tahrir square, it was (as expected and verified by our guide) completely calm absent a few tents.


We toured the pyramids and saw the Sphinx. Getting to climb on and even go into these 5000 year old monuments was pretty incredible.  Unlike the museum, the pyramids were quite crowded – not so much with tourists, but with youth who were on break because of the Eid celebration (end of Ramadan).  The drop in tourism meant that the normally aggressive souvenir sellers were even more pushy, but we took our guides advice and pretended not to speak English.  We used Luganda to communicate with each other which the girls loved. We were able to check off a pretty good bucket list item by riding a couple of camels as a family.  Some enjoyed more than others (they are really tall!) but memorable certainly.

camel kiss

We saw the Coptic zone of Cairo – where Jesus would have come with Mary and Joseph when they fled from Herod, and visited a 7th century church (makes the Renaissance church of Italy seem young!).  We saw cave churches – where Christians built communities blasting into rock and where the Coptic faith is alive and a beautiful shining light in the area.

Cave Church

And we heard beautiful stories of the Lord working in the lives of Egyptians individually and corporately.  Indeed, the vast majority of Egyptians (with Muslims, Christians, and secularists working side by side) came together with dreams of a free Egypt to unseat a President that was not even close to living out his calling.  We worshipped in a church with our friends seeing that He is working in this place, in spite of the darkness.

Walk Like an Egyptian

We were saddened (and sobered) to read the news reports (after we left – thankfully) of the Muslim Brotherhood protests dispersed and the subsequent lootings and burnings of Churches.  Indeed, Egypt still has a long way to go in its quest for peace.  There is tension and a lot of uncertainty (especially since we left).  Yet, there is a spirit of hope there and we pray that the Lord Jesus would shine brightly.  And we pray that the picture of grace that comes in the Gospel – so desperately needed – would find a home in the hearts of Egyptians.

A cousin to Jane Austen

Creative writing never came particularly natural to Jeff – but somehow the genes of “cousin Jane” seem to have been transferred nonetheless.

Mercy adores books – she devours them in fact and beyond that she has grown increasingly passionate about writing.  We have a binder full of “books” that she has written since coming to Uganda last year – including a multi-book (7?) series of mystery novels, a non-fiction work on dolphins, a choose-your own adventure book… and she is 8.

Last month she completed her first typed book, “the Mystery of the Abandoned Cave”.  She requested no editing so apart from help getting pictures and the formatting of the headers and footers, this is all her.   So without further ado, check out this link and enjoy:

The Mystery of the Abandoned Cave

Prayer Request for Upcoming Travel

On Tuesday, Jeff will travel to Western Uganda for 3 days with a surveyor and civil engineer to provide an assessment of a ministry there called Bless the Children (BTCM).  BTCM has an existing orphanage in operation and about 20 acres of land.  They need help, but doesn’t fully know how.

Part of the reason for EMI to have an office in Uganda (as opposed to doing all of our work from the US) is so that we can be a part of work like this which is critical to ensuring that our efforts are put into helping ministries in the way that they need most.  This could lead to a full blown team trip down the line or possibly a smaller scale amount of work that is handled in-house like many of our other East Africa projects.

Would you pray for Jeff as he inspects their existing construction and reviews their master plan to see how EMI can best assist BTCM.  Pray also for Jen and the kiddos as they manage the homefront without him.

Soon after he returns, 3 people will be arriving from North America to be a part of a construction management exploratory trip.  This is not unlike the trip Jeff led in July, but with Jeff’s schedule, he will only be participating in pieces of it.
This group of volunteers will be here from 23rd Feb. – 5th March.  Jeff has continued to dialogue with many and we are trusting that the Lord would raise up staff and long term volunteers out of this group and others.  Would you join us in praying this way?

here come the brides…

On Thursday Haven got married.  The groom is 8 (an older man, I know).  How did I find out?  Well, I walked into our closed-up playroom to find 4 girls doting over Haven and fixing her hair, getting her dressed, etc.  The groom is a neighbor, and while this poor kid had to be coaxed into the job in the first place, he really rose to the occasion!  After finding Haven in the playroom, I walked out on our front porch to find him in a button-up shirt and dress pants, wringing his hands in nervousness!  Here’s a pic…

the nervousness of a groom

And here’s a pic of him moving the battle axes out of the way of the aisle…

gotta remove the battle axes before the wedding

However, there was really a problem with this entire arrangement: he had not asked permission to marry our daughter.  So (again, after much protests and coaxing) he had a meeting with the father of the bride, my wonderful husband.  During this interview, Jeff asked all sorts of questions about whether he was going to treat Haven well and cherish her (“um, yes, for the course of this game”), and if he was employed (“yes!”) and what he did (“I sell cell phone airtime”).  Then we discussed the bride price, and it was decided he would give us six cows – um, which we have yet to see.  After a pretty grueling interview for an 8-year-old, Jeff decided he was worthy to marry our daughter as a game.

So Haven was walked down the aisle and her older sister officiated the wedding.  Then she pushed them off into their recessional like this:P1020676

But they did stop to get a good wedding shot: P1020678

Later on the kids had the reception, where Haven was literally “swept off her feet” by daddy on the daddy-daughter dance.  The wedding was ended by Jeff and I demonstrating swing dancing for this entire group of kids – quite humorous, but cute, I assure you.

Our house has actually had a huge focus on weddings recently, as Jeff and I had the huge privilege of celebrating our ten year anniversary on Friday.  I have been incredibly amazed at this gift of my husband recently.  Here’s how I put it in a facebook post yesterday:  “Ten years ago today I walked down the aisle to a man I was madly in love with. We made crazy promises to one another — ones that are impossible to keep. Yet, I am so amazed at the Lord’s mercies — mercies full of more blessings than I can ask for or imagine. In the midst of our mistakes Jeff has loved me so consistently — through way more “sickness” than we ever imagined might happen, through the joys and challenges of the last ten years, through my sins and ways I’ve acted foolishly…and in it He’s shown me what “unconditional” means.”  My husband is incredible, and I am so grateful for his friendship and consistent love to me.

So conversations about marriage have been abounding this past week.  And, in response to their questions, we showed our girls our wedding video last night.  It was absolutely precious to watch their reaction to Mommy & Daddy getting married.  They hung onto pretty much every word of the ceremony.  “There are SO many traditions.” “Oh, is that your first kiss?”  “Mommy has a lot of best friends.”  “This is SO special.”  “I like the ceremony better than the reception because it’s quieter.”  But my favorite, above all, was their reaction when I told them that Grandpa walked me down the aisle and someday Daddy would walk down the aisle.  They both squealed with excitement – “I get to be with Daddy for that!?!”   The joy on their faces as they hugged their Daddy was priceless and will be treasured for a very long time.  Jeff has loved them well as well.  J

So in the midst of the humor of our children getting married, and the seriousness (yet joyfulness) of watching our girls crave knowing about weddings and loving each other in marriage, it has been a week full of fun times of laughter and gratefulness at this gift of marriage, and this gift of my spouse.

***Oh, and a personal note for our friends (you know who you are) whose son was betrothed to marry Haven before they were both born… don’t worry, that is definitely still in our (and Haven’s, by the way) long term plan. 😉

growing up…

As the one year mark of living in Uganda fast approaches, we marvel at how much God has done in this past year and how much our kids have grown.  We are so sad that many of you have not seen the growth that we have gotten to witness, so we wanted to dedicate this blog post to highlighting the growth in our kiddos over this past year.

Fall 2012 057

the kids on halloween: Mercy as Danielle in Ever After, Haven as a Roman princess, and Isaac as a 2-year-old-ready-to-go-to-bed



Mercy is now 8 years old and is clearly growing up.  People always told us that we would wake up one morning to find our children grown up, and she is helping us understand this at a much deeper level.  She spends any spare bit of time she has reading and writing pages of very creative stories, or running around with her friends.  She is developing an incredibly sweet heart that is extremely thoughtful, kind, and pure.  She desperately wants to do what is right and wants to know Jesus and serve Him.

In school, Mercy is – well, again – reading and writing like mad.  God has given her an incredible gift to write!  It is so much fun to watch her bring the most simple stories to life.  She’s also starting multiplication and working on tons of subtraction, and she loves memorizing anything she can – songs, poems, etc.  She continues to love drama, but finding a drama production here has been harder than we had hoped.  She fortunately is doing a small drama at church for Christmas, though!  At home, she has started helping out a lot more with the cooking and cleaning – partially because that’s how life is here, and partially because one day she declared, “Mom, I want to have ten children when I grow up.  And if I want to have ten kids, I need to know how to cook for them!”

Here are some ways that Mercy describes herself…

Favorite Things to Do: Reading, Writing, Needlepoint, Basketball, Studying Dolphins, Play with Friends

Highlights of Past Year: going to Aristoc (local bookstore), Christmas Coming, Homeschool Co-Op, Kingfisher (hotel at the source of the Nile River)

What do you love about Uganda: my friends, no winter

What do you miss about the US: my friends and family, traditions like Halloween and stuff, getting a chance to see dolphins, museums and parks



As of December 1st, Haven proudly talks with a lisp!  By that, we mean that she lost a top tooth and her “s” is now ssssaid with a bit of difficulty.  She is also very proud to be 6 years old now.  Haven is a beautiful little girl with an incredibly deep heart.  Everything she feels, she feels deeply (think mini-Jen here), like when she mourns for her friends who live in a house the size of her bedroom, mourns for the people who do not have Bibles, and yet also takes deep joy at the simplest task like cutting tomatoes.  In school, she is now reading simple books to herself and doing some pretty complicated addition.  She has a builder, analytical mind (think mini-Jeff here) and loves doing math for fun as well as building lego sets.  She also loves any time she can get with mom or dad, and so she is our little helper around the house whenever we are cleaning, cooking, or working on projects!

Here are some ways Haven describes herself… 

Favorite Things to Do: art, legos, playing with my friends, playing with my brother and sister, helping around the house, swimming, homeschool, and “I love Kingfisher!” (hotel at the source of the Nile River)

Highlights of Past Year: having family time, having Nana & Pop and Grandma & Grandpa here, Christmas coming, birthdays

What I Love Most about Uganda: laughing, running around a big compound, seeing the hills from our house

What do you miss the most about the US: FRIENDS AND FAMILY, and our house

Special Message from Haven: I think it’s funny that people in the US drink tap water!

Isaac , Growing Faster than You Might Realize…


Isaac is almost 2 ½ now and is growing up so fast.  People have recently been asking if he grew a couple inches in the past month, as he’s growing taller and thinner – looking more like a boy than a baby.  He is a very funny boy, always making people smile.  He is extremely handsome and this, combined with his playful personality, makes him quite famous among our circles.  Jen is continually faced with meeting a “stranger” who knows Isaac by name!  Also, he is learning and growing in leaps and bounds.    He loves memorizing little songs, having conversations with us (he is a “full Austin” in that he likes to get in as many words as he can at the dinner table, too!), and doing activities like picking up beads with tweezers.  Fortunately, even in the midst of his constant running, he still loves cuddling and getting his hugs.

Ironically, Jeff realized in October that Isaac has had a pretty varied life — he had spent nine months of it in Rwanda, nine months in the US, and nine months in Uganda!  How’s that for some crazy numbers?

Here are some ways Isaac would describe himself (well, if he could talk a bit better):

Favorite Things to Do: blow up balloons (he really can!), play in the water, ride his bike, helping around the house, play the piano, have guy time with Daddy, go in the “vroom vroom” (the car), break into our neighbors’ house and beg for snacks

Highlights of the Past Year: turning 2, singing Happy Birthday to lots of people, learning to kick around the swimming pool, learning to have conversations with people

What he loves about Uganda: a big compound he can run freely in, friends, lots of trampolines

What he misses about the US: doesn’t remember the US, but still clearly misses seeing extended family, and would definitely love the easy access of playgrounds and parks in the US! 

While we look at our kiddos and these descriptions and know that they have changed a lot, we also know and realize that our dear friends back home with kiddos have changed a lot as well!  Every little picture we see of all of your kids shocks us!  From the babies who no longer look newborn, to the kids who are now becoming teenagers, to our teenage friends who are now becoming adults, we are amazed at the changes we see in the pictures on facebook, e-mails, etc.  Thanks for sharing those pics with us, and allowing us to be a part of your lives!

The Austin Manor

In Homeschool, the girls have been learning about the Middle Ages.  Now I (Jeff) can’t claim to be into the nitty gritty details of this in the least, but when Jen came up with the idea of having the girls design a castle, she clearly was coming to the right person.

Austin COA-comp

Knowing that there were even better resources than myself in this, I recruited 2 of our interns – an architect named Ellen (who as a side note Jen has been mentoring) and an Australian engineer named Ann-Elise (who grew up in Europe and has seen many castles).  Ellen and Ann-Elise came over for a “programming meeting” with the girls to discuss the design of their castle.  They discussed details like what rooms should be located on what floors, the shape of the castle’s towers, and how the overall site should be laid out.  By the end of their time together, they had a preliminary set.

Site Master Plan:

Master Plan

Floor Plans of the Keep (the main building):

Floor Plans

And a Building Section of the Keep:


The next day, the Austin family was planning to come to eMi for lunch and so I invited the staff to come for an optional “design review” of the Austin Castle.  The design review is where the preliminary design is shown on Powerpoint for the staff’s edification and critique.  The staff were most impressed with Mercy and Haven’s architectural prowess and made suggestions such as the addition of a swimming pool.

All in all – it was a great educational experience for everyone and our girls did a wonderful job.  Thanks to our technical consultants Ellen and Ann-Elise!