Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thoughts of Christmas and My Trip to East Central Africa

This Christmas I am reflecting on numerous things. You see, I have recently returned from two weeks in Africa – visiting Kampala, Uganda -home to two million people and unbelievable traffic; Kabale, Uganda - beautiful, terraced hills of green in western Uganda; Rwankuba, DR Congo - a remote area that 2 years ago was under rebel control, a place where there used to be a thriving missions outreach, but now there remains a small hospital and empty buildings; Goma, DR Congo - a town that was overwhelmed with refugees from Rwanda in 1994, and then devastated by a volcanic eruption in 2002, a place where children play and families live in homes built on top of lava rocks; Kigali, Rwanda – a mixture of old and new, where the country strives to move on after the horrific genocide nearly 17 years ago, and where I looked at homes and people and cried – wondering how many family members died, how many are still refugees, and amazed that there can be reconciliation, where 50% of the population is under the age of 15 because nearly a million people were killed 16 years ago; Ggaba, Uganda – a poverty stricken“suburb” of Kampala, where we were welcomed by delightful children. Although each place was different, they were all the same in that the areas we visited were dealing with extreme poverty and difficulties. 

The purpose of the trip was to update and add children to the His Hands Support Ministries child sponsorship program.  (Please go to for more information.)  The emotions the three of us felt ranged from guilt, anger, amazement, joy, and peace, to a complete sensory & emotional overload – where we couldn’t even find the words to describe what we were seeing and feeling. 

I came back to America to homes covered in lights and Christmas decorations, to traditional celebrations, to Santa Claus, to commercialism and materialism, to all sorts of things that were not evident in our African travels – though I did see a white Santa Claus in one Rwandan store that looked extremely out of place!  It has caused me to think….. “What is Christmas?  Why do we do the things we do?” Because of that, other thoughts and reflections, and needing lots of sleep, I have been slow to put up decorations. 

As of today, December 23, I have a grapevine wreath on the door, a ceramic tree in the window, a couple of candles that happened to be out before I left, as well as some Christmas themed tins that I had forgotten to put away last year, and a small nativity from Guatemala.  Will I get out more?  I doubt if I will add much else. A part of me wants to, but I can’t face the abundance of stuff that we have collected over the years. I did find a quilted nativity wall hanging that I hung last night. Will we have a tree? Only if my husband decides he wants one and helps to put it up, but, if we don’t, it won’t matter because “Christmas” will happen anyway. We will have family and friends over and celebrate the day set aside to think of our Savior's birth.

The trip to Africa is hard to describe.  I found it difficult to even journal between exhaustion in the evenings to not being able to find the words to write.  I thought I had seen extreme poverty in Haiti, but now I have seen worse.  The border town we crossed through from Uganda into DR Congo tugged at my heart.  Children sitting in tattered, dirty clothes by the roadside. babies sitting alone on the ground, many men hanging around with seemingly nothing to do, women working around their homes, but it was all shades of brown and covered with dust.  Then once we were allowed to cross and miles later, we found ourselves in a lush remote area - though still poverty stricken, where some children had terrible oozing, fly infested sores on their legs and feet, some missing toenails - the worst feet the team leader has ever seen, even though there is a hospital and medical help available.  But... I suppose that takes money they don't have, or maybe they see their medical problems as nothing to be concerned with.

Rwanda was very emotional for me - both times I entered it. The genocide was utmost on my mind. We were able to visit the Genocide Memorial in Kigali.  It is hard to take in... just as the Holocaust Memorial in Washington, DC is.    Rwanda is a beautiful country - hills, and mountains and volcanoes, terraced fields, tea plantations. The children we visited met us at our car with handshakes of welcome.  They were so sweet.  Of course, many children hung around to watch what we were doing even though they were not in the program.  Whenever I would take a child to be photographed, a bunch would follow me outside and watch.  I had to be discreet when giving the child a piece of candy after their photo, but the others knew what I was doing.  Incredible, they never begged for me to give them candy too.  I wish I could have, but it was not possible.  They even got to where they would tell the child being photographed to smile or to do just what I wanted him/her to do without me saying a word!  They didn't understand my words, nor did I understand them, but they watched and modeled. There were some children here that I wish so much I could have found out more about - they seemed even more needy than others were.

Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo ... wow.... I had been told it was bad, and at first I thought, "What's so bad about this?" and then we got further into the city and saw the devastation of the volcanic eruption in 2002.  The roads are horrendous - rivaling those I have seen in Haiti, if not worse.  Then there are the piles of volcanic rock, made into walls, or just lying on the ground or jutting through the roads.  The children we met here delighted us with songs, imitations of us, cartwheels, games, and by just being themselves.  When I saw the church.... well, I have to admit I became angry at how much emphasis many American churches put on their buildings and building funds.... what is the church anyway?  I would have liked very much to have been present for a Sunday service at this humble little church.  One little girl here has a spinal problem.  When I first saw her, I was struck by her outfit; I liked the pattern and color. Little did I know, that this was the child God would place on my heart to sponsor.  Neema is now my Congolese "daughter".  After I took her photo and she left the house we were at, she came back in the back door and her mom came in behind her and we met - smiling and shaking hands though we couldn't understand each other's languages. Her mom had been helping some other ladies to prepare food - which I found out later was our lunch!  Delicious.

There are many other stories to tell, but I must go.  I will say that I am so glad that I obeyed my Father's call to go to Africa.  I still may not know the complete purpose for me to be there, but I know it will be revealed over time, just as He was preparing me for this trip over many years. 
 I will leave you with some photos.

The first view from our window in Kampala, Uganda.  Overwhelming!!!

At the market near our hotel 
Visiting widows who had been given a pig as part of The Pig Project 

Children at the Kigali church waiting to be seen
Children in Rwankuba, DR Congo
Goma, DR Congo
The church in Goma with dirt and volcanic rock floor.
Neema, in the middle, playing with other children.

The beautiful land of western Uganda.  Rwanda is similar.