Category Archives: Life in Uganda

Are you new here?

Yesterday, we met a group of visitors to our church.  One of them will be staying in Uganda for ~6 months working as a nurse.  The others (including her Mother) are here to help settle her in.  The mother asked how long our family had been here, and Jeff remarked, “getting close to a year-and-a-half…so still pretty new”.

This brought wide eyes to her mother.  “What do you mean? How long does it take you to get adjusted?”

Jeff explained that culture shock tends to come in waves.  Incoming interns and new staff (and we ourselves) have remarked after being here a month, “yea, it’s starting to feel like home…” But it always seems that a few weeks later, you realize that you still have no idea what you’re doing.  After 8-9 months, we felt pretty well acclimated, but then at a year, we found ourselves saying, “I know we’ve been here a year, but I still just don’t get X…”  We know folks who have lived here for quite a few years and can still echo that they still just don’t “get” Uganda (and Ugandans) yet.

At this point, we’ve made a life for ourselves.  We know the neighbors, the ladies at the market, and the motorcycle taxi drivers down the street.  We know how to clean the produce and don’t even think of drinking from the tap anymore.  Geckos are welcome friends in the house and the thought of a wood floor seems strange.  We know our way around Kampala pretty well and for the most part, have figured out how to get what we need to get.

But culture runs deeper than these things.  Culture is why a Ugandan will tell you that you’re going the right way when you ask for directions even when they have no idea.  Culture is why the word “yes” can mean about 8 different things including “absolutely not”.  Culture is why the people that we invited for lunch after church one day had to scramble because our assumption (that we were each paying for our own meal) was not theirs and while we didn’t find out about this until afterwards (when one of them graciously explained this to us against all of her cultural norms), that it was Definitely expected that we were picking up the tab (oops!).  This isn’t to say that these things are necessarily wrong – however much I do “get it”, they all have a rational basis behind them.  This also isn’t to say that you can’t have authentic relationships.  We do, but boy, you certainly can’t call them simple. As one of our co-workers said, “Ugandans may as well come from a different planet – you are wired differently!”

Ironically, as Jeff was sharing some of this with the wide-eyed mother, Jen was talking with a Ugandan about a cultural mis-fire.  The incident too small to even explain – and all is well – no harm done.  But yea, we’re still new…


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

Bless the Children

In March, I had the privilege of leading my first “project trip”.  This was not a traditional team trip where volunteers are recruited, flights, purchased, etc.  But was a streamlined in-house team consisting of myself and 2 long term volunteers: an Aussie civil engineer named Darren and a surveyor named Alan.


We were asked to visit a ministry called Bless the Children Ministries (BTCM) which is WAY out in western Uganda – about 2 hours off of the paved road (1° 02’ 36.9”N, 30° 55’ 05.3”E for Google Earth folks).  BTCM cares for 72 orphaned or abandoned children in residential facilities as well as a nursery and primary school that has over 400 children.  While BTCM has an American financial base, they are primarily focused on fundraising and are beautifully intentional to allow the Ugandan leadership to lay out the vision for the ministry and their 20 acre piece of land.

The purpose of our 3-day visit was to provide a survey for the property and to do an assessment of their development.  Unlike some of the ministries we serve, BTCM has buildings built which were drawn up by a national architect.  Unlike most of the ministries we serve, BTCM has a master plan for their campus.  As funding has come in, BTCM wants to make sure they are on the right track before they lock themselves in with more buildings; however, they don’t have the expertise to evaluate that.

Our team arrived tired and sore from the bumpy road but were greeted by the energizing smiles of these littluns…


After walking the perimeter of the site and getting an intro to the ministry, it was really neat to see our little mini-team get to work.  Alan went to work with his GPS-based surveying equipment which gave helpful data to show how the ground was sloping and moving.  Darren tested their water for bacteria (E Coli anyone?), evaluated their wastewater systems, and tried to figure out if there were ways to collect their rainwater so that they aren’t entirely dependent upon the irregular municipal water system, which can go out for days at a time.


For myself, I set out to evaluate their existing buildings (something very comfortable to me) – looking at their roof framing, walls, and foundations to see what is working well and what is not so good.  The ministry was glad to be aware of the fact that a couple of the roof members were cracked through!  What was less comfortable to me (but a critical piece) was learning to play architect and master planner – understanding what the goals are for the ministry as they look into the next 10-15 years and trying to figure out how the existing construction and the existing master plan plays into that.  It turns out that several buildings that they need are not currently shown on their master plan and due to topography, spacing, zoning, etc., this needs to be addressed before they continue to put down other buildings on the site.  No, the kitchen should not go right next to the pit latrine!  It’s definitely good to know this now.P1030080

Here’s a shot of our team along with a couple of BTCM reps.

A neat God moment: One other element to our assessment was to work with BTCM to think about electrical considerations.  While the electrical infrastructure there is minimal right now (3 very small solar panels), we learned that they expect to connect into the power grid soon.  EMI doesn’t have an electrical engineer on staff right now, so whatever assessment we could make would be limited.  In God’s provision, it turned out that we were on the ministry site as the same time as an adopting family (BTCM’s first) who were working through the process of bringing 3 wonderful  children into their family.  It turned out that not only was the husband an electrical engineer who runs a municipal power department, but they were delayed in their adoption and so he had a couple of days to spare.  So we commandeered ourselves an electrical guy for our time! Now, with or even independent of EMI, he can help steer BTCM through the design of their electrical systems.  Praise the Lord for that!


It was wonderful to connect with this ministry.  The trip itself was only a small piece of our work – though if you’ve made it this far in the blog, I’ll pat you on the back and not risk putting you to sleep by describing desk-work!  But 50 pages of technical writing and drawings later, we gave BTCM something that should give them lots of ammo – both in ways that they can improve their current property as well as guidelines to direct them as they move forward.  I was encouraged to see the love with which this ministry is serving the children in their community and trust that the Lord will use our report to empower BTCM to function even more effectively moving forward.

Dewey Defeats Truman!

During my (Jeff’s) first trip to East Africa I was on an EMI trip to Rwanda.  We had one sunday there and had the opportunity to worship at a church there along with a number of school children.  I well remember (with a grin) seeing one of the interns on the project express delight at seeing a number of the children wearing sweatshirts from his Alma Mater – Clemson Univ.  When he expressed his school pride at seeing this sight, I quickly shot back, “well…you do realize that they’re wearing them because they couldn’t sell them in the US…”  His smile quickly diminished because he knew there was some truth in this statement.

Last week, our office met together to share about what the Lord had done in the various project trips that were sent out in the last week and to provide feedback as they work through their design.  One of the teams went to Burundi where they did an assessment on a mission station called Kigobe – which is doing some incredible work throughout the nation.  As they were doing their presentation, my eye was caught by a couple of pictures like these:


The shirt stuck out to me because I have a t-shirt that is almost exactly like this, but of the Saint Louis Cardinals – who won the World Series in 2011.  Looking closer into the details – the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011 Against the Texas Rangers (shown in the shirt).  Hmmm….

So if you’ve ever been unsure how they had some many champions shirts printed within a day of the game, or ever wondered what happened to the shirts that were printed of the team that went on to lose – now you know.  They really do get shipped off to Africa!

Kinda reminds me of a history lesson from way back when: 


When Harry Truman ran for president in 1948 against some guy named Dewey,  Dewey was the strong favorite and because the printing deadline was before the polls closed (least of all counted) on election day, the Chicago Tribune decided to go to press with their predictions.  Only they were wrong.  Truman picked up a copy of the paper with great pride.  So yes – Cardinalnation – we really did win!

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?

Lesson #15: endurance produces character

Today is a day of Double Blessing: first, my incredible husband is home!  He and the team arrived back to EMI today to an office full of staff, interns, and families cheering and yelling for their victory!  We are so proud of all of them, and our family is especially proud of one in particular for all his perseverance, hard work, and courage.

Second, today is our 1-year “Afroversary.”  In other words, one year ago today our family arrived in Africa.  🙂  Jeff will write more in the next few days, I’m sure, on his adventure.  But, while my exhausted husband slumbers upstairs (he fell asleep while Haven read to him, how cute is that?), I thought I would share a little about what our entire family has learned on ours

Each month in our homeschool co-op, our kids learn about a certain character trait and learn a song about it.  Their fantastic “character” teacher (and my increasingly dearer friend) is able to turn abstract concepts into practical, real-life qualities that they each desire Jesus to form in them.  This month we are learning about endurance.  Romans 5: 3-4 talks about how we can rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

Jeff being gone has given the girls and I much opportunity to discuss what it means to endure, and, with that, to talk about how God is shaping our character.  But it’s not just Jeff’s trip that has done that.  It’s this entire year.  This year has been a year full of incredible blessings, incredible mercies, and incredible FUN.    But it’s also been a year where God has stretched us in ways that we had no idea needed to be stretched (or ways we already knew needed to be stretched!).  There have been times when, like a balloon, I wondered if I would pop.  There’s been times when I’ve been really concerned for our kids because of how they were being stretched.

And yet in the stretching, in the struggles, there’s been growth.  In our kids alone there has been tremendous, incredible growth.  In this past year they have become more grateful, more empathic, more joyful, more respectful, and more loving.  And they have fallen so much more in love with Jesus.  For Jeff, even in this last week and a half, he has been shaped significantly.  The moment he got off the taxi today, I could see — he’s different.  Something changed in him up on that mountain.  He’s endured much, and he’s grown through it. 

And as our character grows, says Romans, so does hope.  As we struggle through challenges God teaches us to trust in Christ all the more.  He teaches us to cling to Him.  And that is the greatest way we can grow — to become more dependent on another, on Christ.  So whether your struggles right now are due to living in a new environment, a surgery or health issues, family struggles, fostering a child, or something else — I pray that God will use your suffering to produce endurance, which produces character, which produces hope in Jesus.

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. 😉