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.

Well Drilling this Week!

Hey Folks,

This will be a quick one but we shared last month in pretty good detail about Jeff’s project trip coming up (now in just over 2 weeks!) to serve Father to the Fatherless (F2F).  If you didn’t see the previous blog post check this out.

As we shared before, F2F needs to put in a well in order to serve the needs of their ministry as well as to provide a better water source to the community at large.  By putting in the well before our team arrives, this will allow us to know the capacity of the site.  For example, if they want to build homes for 300 orphans but there is only enough water for 100 people, then we have a big problem!  So before we put in the effort to make a Master Plan for them, we are grateful that we will have this information so that we can plan appropriately.

Living Water is a partner ministry of EMI’s and is going to be putting in the well this week.  I spoke with them Monday and they are on the site and are drilling the well as we speak.  There is a lot to it – finding (with guesswork and prayer) where you hope is the best place to put the well, digging the hole (perhaps more than once), casing the hole with PVC piping so that it’s stable, and then testing the hole to determine how much water output there will be.  This process can take several days.

Please pray that the well will go in smoothly, that they can put in a safe and effective well that will be a blessing to the ministry and the community that desperately needs a clean water source.  I will send an update once they have finished.

Father to the Fatherless

For the past few months, I (Jeff) have been busy prepping for an exciting project – my first team lead – called Father to the Fatherless.  Our blogging has not been consistent enough and so I feel like there is too much to share as God has been doing some amazing things through this already.


The Ministry – Father 2 the Fatherless (F2F) is a ministry started by a Ugandan man named Mathias along with his American wife Jolene.  Mathias grew up as a street child and was rescued out of it by missionaries.  Now, they wants to bring hope to children the same way that Mathias did and envision a place of children’s homes, a primary school, a ministry center.  Learn more about the ministry here:

Land shot

The Project – F2F has a little over 80 acres of land near Mityana Uganda that I was able to visit this spring.  The above picture shows a good view of the land – scattered trees, a lot of grass, and some pretty good sloping hillsides. F2F needs professionals to show them how to use their land well so that they can see their vision come to reality.  You can see details on the ministry and the project on EMI’s recruiting web page here.

The Team – for the past few months, that recruiting page has spurred a number of e-mails and dialogues with people from all over.  While the team is still coming under formation, it looks like we will gave a group of 9 including 4 volunteers from the US, 2 interns, a long term volunteer engineer, and my co-leader, a staff architect.  If you see this and are (or know of) and electrical engineer, Master Planner, or Landscape Architect, please drop me a line!  We have a really exciting group of people and it has been energizing to see the way that the Lord is stirring the hearts of the various people of the team.


The Well – The land of F2F has a hand dug well (shown above) on it which is the current source of water for the village around it.  People come from a kilometer or more to get water from this pit using 5 gallon jugs which they haul back to their homes for laundry, bathing, and drinking.  F2F knew that a well was a critical need both for their ministry as well as the community. F2F has been raising the $9000 that they need to drill the well.  We were excited to learn that they were able to raise the full funds for this project!  One of our partner churches Cornerstone E-Free in Saint Louis contributed significantly as part of their Vacation Bible School as they learned about “Living Water”.  We were thrilled to be a part of seeing this 3 way partnership come together.  Now they will be putting in the well before our team arrives so that we will have the data to do our master planning.  Pray for the Lord’s guidance in the well placement so that they can get the water that they need so that F2F can provide Living Water to the community!

More details will be forthcoming, but it is an incredible blessing to be a part of seeing this ministry’s vision come to reality.

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…

Cherish Uganda!

In September of 2012, I (Jeff) was given 3 different projects that I would be managing at EMI – one of which was a medical clinic about an hour away in Entebbe, Uganda.  Little did I know at that time how much this “little” project would truly capture our family’s hearts and minds.  This is the land at my first visit… ???????????????????????????????

Cherish Uganda is a Christian ministry that focuses on children with HIV/AIDS.  Cherish began when a lady on a short term mission saw a dying child with AIDS in a hospital.  The hospital told her that they had medicine, but that they couldn’t administer it to the child without someone to care for her long term (because the meds are extremely time sensitive).  As she prayed, the Lord told her, “you can help this child if you want to”.  Thus began Cherish.  Now about 7 years old, they currently care for ~45 children (several shown below) in home-style facilities and have a school for 170 children all of whom have or are affected by HIV/AIDS. P1030652

As Cherish sought out advice from their neighbors, they realized that a medical clinic that could reach out to the community was one of the greatest needs in the area. While the rate of HIV/AIDS across Uganda is something on the order of 7-8% (very high compared to the US!), in the fishing community around Cherish, the infection rates are on the order of 23%!  They need specialized care and they need education and training that will enable them to live healthy and empowered lives.  Most of all, they need to know a God who cherishes them and offers peace and restoration. Learn more about the details of the hospital here.

EMI’s office put together an in-house team consisting of Jeff as the project leader and 2 interns – an architect named Ellen and an engineer named David (shown below).  Our goal was to develop a master plan of 3 phases (I – outpatient clinic and training center, II – extra services like X-Ray and physical therapy, III – inpatient ward) with full detailed design on the first phase.  By the end of the project, multiple hands played their various parts including other staff, visiting electrical engineer and landscape architect, and another intern named Belinda.  Beginning work in early September, the project carried through until April, when we were able to send off our full published set of drawings to print and present them to Cherish.


Seeing drawings may or may not get you excited but for those interested, here are some sample sheets:

Architectural Floor Plan

Architectural Floor Plan

Architectural Elevations

Architectural Elevations

Architectural Master Plan

Architectural Master Plan

Structural Framing Plan

Structural Framing Plan

Landscape Master Plan

Landscape Master Plan

Much to our joy, Cherish was able to raise the full funds for phase I by April and so we were able to immediate turn the drawings into the municipality for permit.  That review process is currently happening at the time of this writing and so your prayers are appreciated!

EMI has been asked to oversee the construction management as well.  It is wonderful to be able to continue our relationship with Cherish to bring this project all the way form start to finish!  This past Sunday, Cherish hosted a ground breaking ceremony which was a special time for our whole family and many others.  As the project manager, I was honored and humbled to be a part of celebrating the beginning of construction and to dedicate the land and the project to the greater glory of God.


One cannot step foot on their campus without seeing that God is clearly working mightily through the ministry of Cherish.  The privilege of using what God has given me to be a part of something so powerful is a joy beyond words.  This is why came to Uganda.  We give thanks to all of our partners who are holding us up in prayer and giving generously so that we can be here.  We give thanks to God for giving each of us an opportunity to play a part in seeing His Kingdom go forward.

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