A Downside

It’s one of the most painful things we have to do.

It makes our life feel transitive, impermanent, without real physical or emotional ties. It hurts.

It’s a struggle for my kids in particular. This hurts a mother’s heart.

We do it here, then we have to do it again in Uganda.

We have to say goodbye.

We say goodbye to family. This grows harder each time we see them. People grow and age and life circumstances change. Will this be the last time we see my grandma? Our parents? I hope not, but there is no way to know. Will my kids still have fun with their cousins next time they see them or will they have changed so much that there isn’t a connection anymore?

We say goodbye to good friends, people who are like family to us. Unlike family, they have no obligation to us. It’s more of an effort to see them and sometimes we wonder if we’ll ever have another chance.

We say goodbye to people in our church, both our home church in the US and our churches in Uganda. Some of our Ugandan church members emigrate to other countries and we might never see them again this side of heaven.

We say goodbye in each and every church we visit where connections are made. People are busy. I’m busy. We go on with our lives and don’t keep up with those connections like we should.

We’ve said goodbye to missionary friends on the field as they move their family back to the states. Their children are friends with my children. It adds to the isolation we sometimes feel.

Technology is a wonderful thing. It means my kids can keep in touch with people in the US, even talking with them face to face from time to time. They can know their grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. They can see their friends.

But technology is a double edged sword. It also means we keep busier than we ever have before. Social media makes us feel connected, but the connection is on our own terms, at our own convenience. It can increase feelings of loneliness for people living overseas, because we see all the activity of those in the states and we feel left out. Even worse, sometimes we struggle with feeling ignored, insignificant, and forgotten.

So, as you pray for missionaries, pray that God will give grace through the goodbyes.

(Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a downer, but merely to express one thing we face and deal with as missionaries. We say goodbye and go on in the joy of the Lord. Some days, however, it is a struggle.)

The Packing Challenge – Part 2

There was never supposed to be a part 2 to this story. I felt like my last post on it was sufficient.

Then we got to the train station Saturday morning.

James and I worked all week to get the packing done. We weighed, repacked, weighed again, repacked some more, until we got everything up to the weight it was supposed to be. Or so we thought.

Packing Part 2

Upon arriving at the train station at 5:30 Saturday morning, we were informed that the bathroom scale we were using was 2 pounds off and all our bags were overweight. Amtrak would not allow them to be checked. They had to be 50 pounds. They wouldn’t even allow them if they were 50.5 pounds. 🙁

I cried. Again.

It did not help that I’d only slept about two hours the night before. (A combination of nervousness about waking on time and lower back pain from all the packing.)

Thank God the train was delayed which gave us enough time to make all the adjustments. We found a way to reduce the weight enough that Amtrak would take the bags in question. This added a box we would have to carry on to the train, but we had no other options.

Then we waited.

And waited.

Then waited some more.

An hour an a half after we were originally scheduled to depart, the delayed train arrived, we all got on with our carry on luggage and found a place to sit.

Thank God for train travel! It’s so much more convenient than car travel, especially when you are tired! We arrived in Chicago along with all our bags, unloaded and met the people who were to pick us up. By some miracle they got all our stuff and our bodies into the vehicles they brought with them and carried us to where we’d be staying over Sunday.

They also had access to an industrial scale. We were able to weigh each and every piece of luggage to verify the weight and add or remove things to get it right! Now we’ll see what happens when we get to the airport tomorrow. Should be interesting, and, as always, never boring.

The Packing Challenge

Numerous times we’ve had people say to us “We appreciate the sacrifices you make!” While we acknowledge the sentiment, we don’t feel like we are sacrificing by living on the mission field.

I have a corner full of luggage that can attest to this lack of sacrifice. :-/

It’s difficult to condense one’s life into a series of 50 pound pieces of luggage, but we must do this every time we make a trip back to the US and return to Uganda. We have to take items we will need but can’t get there. This includes:

  • Sheets for the next couple years. Cloth wears out faster in a tropical climate. We go through about one set of sheets per bed, per year. Growing up, I had a set of sheets given to me that lasted me until I got married. The rate at which sheets fall apart in Uganda came as a huge surprise to me.
  • Clothing is much the same. We line dry everything and we’re careful not to leave it out too long, but it just wears out faster, especially socks and underwear. We have to pack clothes for 6 adult sized people and 2 child sized people for the next term, planning for the growth of the kids in the family. There are clothing markets in Uganda, but the clothes they sell no longer fit my older boys. It’s difficult to find quality clothing in the market. (I’ll come back to this in another post.)
  • School books for all six kids for the next school years. And school supplies. Just before we left on our last furlough, I started to see higher quality crayons and markers available there. But we still can’t get good colored pencils or mechanical pencils of any kind.
  • Shoes for all of us. Half of us can’t buy shoes in our size in Africa. So if we need them, we have to take them with us. You can buy higher quality shoes there, but you pay for it. It’s cheaper for us to watch for sales here and take the shoes with us, even if it takes luggage space.
  • Chocolate chips – or any baking chip we might want. You can’t buy chocolate chips where we live. The available chocolate is poor quality. I stock up on chips here (and dried blueberries and cranberries) so we have them for baking when we get back there.
  • High quality kitchen implements. I cook a LOT in Africa. It takes hours every day to prepare food there, even meals that are “easy” in the US. We’ve invested in a number of items that will make this take less time.
  • Mexican spices. We can get Chinese and Indian spices but not Mexican. Indian chili is NOT the same as chili seasoning. Found that one out the hard way. If we want something to have a Mexican flavor, we have to take the spices to flavor it.

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that I had the packing well in hand in preparation for leaving for Uganda.

I was wrong.

Or delusional.

Probably delusional.

Remember how I said that every piece must weigh exactly 50 pounds and be securely packed? Yeah, well that’s easier said than done.

It’s rather like putting together a 15,000 piece 3D puzzle with pieces in a variety of shapes, sizes, weights, and volumes and in total weighs over 1,000 pounds.

I had most of the packing already “finished.” Friday, I had the kids sort all the things they needed to have packed and make a pile. Saturday, I worked to get one piece that was full but did not weigh 50 pounds up to weight. I worked on that for an hour. No matter what I did, the container could not hold 50 pounds with those contents. I finally had to stop and move on to another container. Then that container could not reach 50 pounds no matter what I did. By this time, I’d been working for several hours. I was hungry, hot, and tired. And I was crying.

I think I’m just bad at packing.

Saturday night I barely slept. Remember the puzzle analogy? I laid awake thinking of ways I could get those pieces up to the right weight and still have room for everything.

Conclusion? I opened every piece of luggage with any flexibility on contents and pulled out the heaviest items. Then I took the lightweight items out of the containers and distributed them among the luggage. My nice, neat, orderly row of packed luggage was ruined.

But it worked. I filled the containers. They weighed 50 pounds. I fixed the suitcases and made those weigh 50 pounds. I cheered every time the scale hit the desired weight.

It’s a process. 🙂

It also ought to be a challenge or a reality show: Packing Xtreme. Pick up your life and make it fit in as few 50 pound pieces of luggage as you can using only a bathroom scale to check the weight.

Born Abroad

When you have a baby in America, everything with registering the birth is very straightforward. A nurse comes to your room later in the day after the baby is born or the next day. They take down your information – Parent’s full names and birth places, and that sort of thing. They give you a paper on how to get a Social Security Number. There is no running around, no trying to figure out if you have all the right papers, very simple, very easy.

Having a baby in another country is something else altogether. We discovered that the last few weeks as we tried to register Brennah’s birth. The first step was to contact the American Embassy. James did this just a day or two after Brennah was born. A lady there sent James a list of paperwork that was needed. Here are the steps to register her birth:

  • Obtain a short form birth certificate from the town of birth.
  • Obtain a long form birth certificate
  • Turn in these along with the form for the Consular Report of Birth at the American Embassy

We were to obtain a short form Birth Certificate from here in Mbarara. Thinking this might take a couple weeks, James called the hospital. They were happy to help and he went there and filled out the paper, which was signed by the Dr. We had it only a couple days later! We were thrilled! Things normally aren’t that easy in Africa.

Then James got an appointment at the Embassy in Kampala. You have to apply in person for all the paperwork and an appointment is required. Sometimes it is hard to get an appointment. The only available times were early in the morning. Since we were already going to be in Kampala for the field conference for our mission board we made the appointment during that trip.

We’ve been trying for months to get our work permit paperwork through but things often move very slowly here. About a week before we were to drive up to Kampala James went up on the bus to turn in the short form birth certificate and get the long form one. He also had to check on the work permits so it was a trip with multiple purposes. When he got there he found out that the birth certificate we’d gotten from the hospital wasn’t the right one. We needed one from the Town Council. He called me on his way back and we sent our language helper, Osbert, to get that process started.

In order to get a birth certificate from the town council you have to first buy the paper that is the certificate itself. Osbert did this and the next day brought it to us. James carefully filled it out. The next thing you have to do is get all three LCs to sign it. You have to pay a fee to the first LC and he stamps it, then the other two just sign it. This is where the fun began. The first LC signed it and then Osbert went looking for #2. The second LC took one look at the birth certificate and told Osbert it wasn’t filled out correctly. The first LC could have told us that but didn’t. Instead, he just took the money and signed it, knowing we’d have to come back later and do it again and pay him the second time. So Osbert came back, we got a second paper and James filled that out correctly. Then Osbert went back for the signatures only to find the first LC had left on a trip to Kampala.

The worst part about all this is that we now only had 2 days until we left for our trip to Kampala with our embassy appointment that is hard to get and one of those days was Saturday when they don’t work. We started praying hard about this. That LC really needed to come back! Thankfully, he came back the next day. Osbert was able to pay him for his stamp and signature again (but not before the LC asked for huge bribe!) and then was able to get the other two signatures very quickly. God worked it out so we had our short form birth certificate in time for our trip!

Sunday we traveled to Kampala after finishing at the refugee camp. Monday morning James got up early and went to get the long form birth certificate. The lady that was helping him with that had told him the week before that she’d have the paper filled out in readiness for seeing the short form birth certificate. All that would be needed was the signature at the bottom. But she forgot. She felt terrible about it. But our appointment was in 45 minutes! What would we do? She took pity on James and dropped everything she was doing and filled it out right there for him. He got back to pick Brennah and me up just in time for us to make it to our embassy appointment. God worked it out so we had both our long and short form certificate.

Thankfully, the appointment at the embassy went well. We were able to get all the forms turned in and should have our Consular Report of Birth very soon. We’ll have her passport and SS# soon after that. There was a little issue with the passport photo. We had to go get another one taken and that took a very long time to get done. It took longer to get the passport photo right than it did at the appointment!

Now Brennah is a citizen of both America and Uganda. When she turns 18 she’ll have to choose with the American government which country she’ll be a citizen of permanently. (Uganda recognizes dual citizenship but America doesn’t. She’ll always be a Ugandan citizen.) Until then, we have a true African-American living in our house and all the Africans we introduce her to remind us that she is one of them. 😀

A Year in Review

Wednesday was the first anniversary of us moving to Uganda. It’s been an eventful year and I thought a recap of it might be nice.

March… The month started with our commissioning service. Later in the month we loaded our container and saw that ship off. Then we flew out of Chicago with 26 pieces of luggage on March 22. God blessed and all the luggage made it to Entebbe with us. Matthew Stensaas and Tom Tracht met us at the airport and helped load the luggage. Our plane got in late at about 11:30 PM and then, by the time we’d gone through the line to get our visas and found all our luggage, loaded it up, and driven to the motel it was almost 2AM the next day. We slept a few hours and then got up and going again. We looked at some appliances and then drove to Mbarara with Matt and Keila. The following day we looked at houses and a couple days later decided to take the house we’re currently living in. It needed a LOT of work. Only half of it was finished and that half had a lot of damage so needed repair. James worked out the contract with the landlady and work was begun to finish it. God also brought along a vehicle for us to buy. It needed a new engine but it was the right price and, it turns out, the right kind of vehicle for the ministry we’re working in.

April…. We spent most of the month staying with Bro. and Mrs. Brian Stensaas. James worked hard every day to get the house finished as quickly as possible – mainly he just supervised to make sure things were getting done right. He also ended up making a trip to Kampala to get some of our appliances. We got mattresses to sleep on and then we just waited for it to be done. We moved into our house as soon as it was finished enough for us to live there. We’d decided to have them tile the house and the tile on the finished side was barely dry before we moved in. They had a lot to finish on the other side and that was done about a month later. So we had workers in our house every day starting at about 7:30AM until dark (about 7PM). We also didn’t have a wall or fence around our house because of a disagreement between our landlady and the man next door.

May… May was a busy month, particularly Mother’s Day weekend. We got up that Sunday morning and someone had stolen several of the fence posts we’d put in to have them in readiness for the fence to be put up. James spent the entire day dealing with police reports and all the mess that came with it. The next day, one of our workers was planting some plants around the outside of the hedge surrounding our property and broke a water main. A 20ft geyser of water was opened and poured down our hill, through our house, and around the septic tank in the front. After that was stopped, two walls of our septic tank collapsed. It was weak already and would have eventually broken but the main break revealed the weakness and forced us to repair it sooner rather than later. The day after that happened, we got our dog Teal’c. We’d wanted to get a dog for a while so James was really pleased with being able to get that particular dog. We’re all glad he did. 😀

June… Thankfully June wasn’t as eventful as May. 😉 We butchered a cow in our garage. That was interesting! The other side of the house was finally finished completely and cleaned and we moved the kids into their rooms on that side. We also started language study and then restarted three weeks later when the Trachts wanted to join us in it. Father’s Day Sunday we found out we were expecting Huckabee child #6 and so ensued several weeks of miserable morning sickness for me.

July…. I was quite sick for the whole month and James and Osbert ended up doing most of the cooking. Near the end of the month our container arrived. First it arrived in the country and James had to take a trip to Kampala to clear it through customs. Then they brought it to our house and we unloaded it. We got most of the unpacking done in the next couple weeks. It was so nice to have our own beds and the familiar things from home! It was like Christmas!

August… We got most of the packing done and I began making curtains for the house. I was able to repurpose many of our curtains from the States and use them on the windows here with just a little work. We also started school in the middle of August with the kids and continued our language study. Thankfully, about the time we started school the morning sickness went away and I started feeling a LOT better. That helped!

September… Relatively uneventful aside from the fact that we started going with the Bassetts to the refugee camp on a weekly basis. James had gone with them one Sunday in late July or early August and really loved it. So we all went at the end of August. It was our niche. We all tremendously enjoyed it! God seemed to be directing us into that ministry and so there we are. And we still love it!

October…. We took our first trip back to Kampala. On the way there the transmission went out on our vehicle and had to be repaired. That made the time there interesting in finding transportation! But God worked everything out for us. I had my first Doctor visit while we were there. We were planning, at the time, to have the baby in Nakasaro Hospital in Kampala with Dr. Mbonye. She is really nice but kept recommending we check a hospital in Mbarara. We had an ultrasound and found we were having a girl! We got our third dog – a female Rottweiler – and she’s been fun to have around and great for our other puppy. Calmed him right down! We also had a baptismal service at the refugee camp. I ended up missing it with sick kids but James and the boys really enjoyed it!

November… Our first Thanksgiving here and we hosted it at our house. It was a LOT of fun! We bought two turkeys and had them butchered right in our yard! Definitely a learning experience there!

December… Our first Christmas here. We took another trip to Kampala the first part of the month and were able to get some paperwork taken care of and also find some special things for Christmas. Our church family sent a couple boxes of surprises to us from the states for Christmas and that was so special. It was a very special time for us and, while we missed family back home, we had a really good time remembering Christ’s birth here in Uganda. There was another baptismal service at the refugee camp and this time I got to go! It was great – a very moving service. We got there early and I got to visit with many of the ladies in the church there. It was such a blessing.

January…. We finally decided to tour the hospital here in Mbarara and decided to try having the baby here instead of going to Kampala. It was a big decision for us but we both had peace about it. Debbie and Matthew Guimon and her niece, Sarabeth, visited from America. It was SO good to have someone come from the states! James had an accident on the way back from taking them to meet Phyllis Hall in Kampala. God worked things out with that, helping him have the right people with him at the right time.

February…. Baby was due but didn’t arrive. That’s okay, though. The election took place on the 18th and was relatively uneventful.

March…. Brennah LaDynne was born on the 6th, almost 2 weeks late. Her birth went very well and I’m so glad we decided to have her here in Mbarara. She came before we’d been here a year.

So there you have it. Our first year overview. Sorry this is so long. Thanks for persevering to the end of this post. 😀 It’s been exciting to see God work in the good times and the hard and discouraging times as well. We’re really enjoying being here in Uganda and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else! It really feels like home.