Monday, December 22, 2008

African Christmas

Baby Jesus in the manger at our Sunday school.

My mom emailed me the other day and asked, “Are there any African traditions for Christmas?” I wondered that too…are there any? Really, Christmas came with the missionaries along with Christianity, and was reinforced probably through colonialism. There are no “tribal African Christmas traditions” per say, well none that I have seen. They put a “tree” in their house and decorate it just like us. Sometimes it’s more like a branch. I think the type of tree they use is a fir tree. They decorate with paper, balloons, tinsel, plastic trinkets and anything they have. The “tree” is definitely not “African”. I have to admit to being pretty disappointed after I asked many Ugandans about African Christmas traditions, and found that they really didn’t have any. Somewhere in my daydreaming of Africa I imagined that there were special dances, drumming, secret games, and ceremonies for the Christmas season. There very well may be some deep in the bush somewhere, or in certain households, but I haven’t found any. But, what I did find out about African Christmas traditions is even better than anything I imagined.
As I sat under the light of the moon the other night I started to chat with our night watchman, George. George worked at the hotel where Jeff and I stayed in 2005. Upon arriving in September this year, Jeff was taking a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) to town quite often. On one of his trips, the boda driver looked up at Jeff and said, “I know you sir, from long ago”. Sure enough they pieced it together that this man was in fact George, the night watchman from the hotel. We had really enjoyed conversations with George and his company at the hotel. He and Jeff talked at length about hunting, life, African culture and other guy stuff. Jeff trapped huge rats around town called the Gambian Pouch rat for George so he could eat them. George insisted that they tasted just like chicken! I could never get myself to try. Once Jeff reconnected with George, we decided to hire him as our night watch man for our 6 months here.

As George and I talked, I asked him about Christmas. He pondered the question about African traditions. What he said fell on my heart like a warm blanket. Well, at Christmas, what I remember is everyone being together. Aunties, uncles, cousins, kids home from boarding school and the house being full. We all went to church and for prayers. Late into the night there was singing and prayers. It was also a time where everyone got something new. I remember getting new clothe-es, a new shirt maybe or a new pair of pants. The girls would get a new dress for Christmas. Everyone got something “new”.” All year the parents saved their shillings for a piece of new clothing. But of course many times the ‘new’ clothing is actually used clothing that you find in the markets here in town. The ‘new’ used clothes could very well have been yours! Places like Goodwill ship palates of used clothing to Africa after they have tried their shot at selling them. I’m sure everyone has made a trip to Goodwill or Savers sometime in their life if not every year as we restock our closets with the latest fashions. Well, all of our discards, all of our trash become treasures here in Africa. And to think most kids nowadays are totally bummed when they get new clothes, unless of course they are teenagers. I was one of those kids when I was young. Getting clothes was about the same as getting a piece of coal in your stocking!!

God has given us the best gift of all...Jesus

George continued, "Then, everyone eats meat at Christmas! It’s the biggest celebration and everyone gets to eat meat on Christmas. Goat, chicken, or beef, some kind of meat” Everyone? I questioned. Everyone? No, not everyone George. How could everyone afford meat George? What about the poorest of the poor George? George exclaimed, “EVERYONE MAMA KT, EVERYONE. Those that cannot afford to buy meat are invited to eat with their neighbors. Everyone will eat meat mama KT. The village will divide all their meat so that not one will go without." A flood of tears welled up in my eyes. I sat in silence as the thought and picture of this buried itself deep in my spirit. How’s that for an African Christmas tradition.

The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel which means, God with us. Matt 1:23

I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. In the town of David a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11


Monday, December 15, 2008


You don’t realize how much of your life is swallowed by the death of distraction, until you are in a place without any! I lay awake at night pondering the way I live my life, the things I feel like God is teaching me, the junk in my heart that needs to be reckoned with and the ways of Africa. You can’t help but lay awake thinking when you are transported to another land, culture, people, food, climate, language, and lifestyle.
In all my journeys to Africa, I am usually always in awe at how much I feel like I am much more in touch with the Lord here. I mean it’s not like the Lord isn’t at work all around me in Fort Collins, at the grocery store, at the park, you name it. He is! He is at work all around us, 24/7 but are we aware? Am I aware? Are we listening? Am I listening? Are we conversing with our great God, our amazing creator, friend, and kind Father? I feel the Lord more intensely here because there is nothing to distract me. I don’t think God is anymore alive here in Africa than He is in the states, I just think our need of Him and our acknowledgement of Him is minimal. I call my girlfriends, I blog, I race around town doing errands, I make play dates, I hang out on the Internet and dive into hours of photo viewing, chatting, and joining worthy causes. And yes, many of these activities are life giving and in some of these Internet places there are journal entries, confessions, and ponderings that have taken my breath away and have dropped me right into the lap of God. But…I found that my days and weeks disappeared right before my eyes.
It saddens my heart to think of how much I cheat my Savior. It’s as if He takes last place on my list of things “to do”, when all He really wants, is to do these things with me. I don’t know how or when I started to live this way. When did I start condensing God into a time slot? As if the only time I can hear Him or see Him or understand His heart is in “quiet time”. I do admit that I personally, am in need of a time set aside just for God, and I believe it is where we can be at one with Him, but if that time is erased or overlooked, then what? I have heard it all before, probably a gazillion times, that we should always be “open” to the Lord each and every day for His direction, leading and surprises. We should arise and greet the day with the words, “What are you doing today Lord?” But have I? Did I? At times, yes, I would be on a roll and wake up feeling good, ask the Lord to keep me open to Him and pray for a divine moment with someone. Then life takes over, the kids drive me nuts, too much to do and too little time, and then BAM!! Back to boxing God into my “quiet time” if I even find time for this. Now it’s not like Arua, Uganda is so different from the States. It’s also a little honeycomb, with worker bees coming and going, buzzing with activity and movement; but, somehow, there is little to distract one with. I am not sure what it is, but I love it! I love that each day moves slowly enough for me to communicate with my creator as we walk the dirt roads together. Even when our day is “full” or “busy” which could mean one trip to town, there is still a quietness in my soul that leaves room for His whispers, and it’s lovely. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Duet. 6:4-7

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Our days in Uganda...

*****Before you read this tidbit of our lives...please drop by my friends blog at for a chance to send real Christmas love in a practical way to the people of China who are in serious need!! *****
Well, here's a few photos from our daily lives. We are all doing good for the most part here in Arua, Uganda, aside from missing our family and friends. Out of our family, I definetely had the hardest time with the transition! The kids did great and Jeff has been busy with work so he kept his 9 to 5 schedule which was similar to the states. Me,..well, it's been almost 3 months now and I am finally feeling settled and feeling more at "home". I had some pretty intense quiet times with God and shed many tears but I can sense the Lord speaking, molding, healing and tending to my heart. And He's answering my prayers for friends to be with, life life with, and pray with during our time here. I am looking forward to building friendships with these ladies.
Homeschooling has been good, but definetely challenging. I think it's a bit overwhelming for them since they have haven't had any schooling, and for me, since I've never taught Kindergarten and 1st grade! I sure do respect Jeff's mom Myrna, who taught kids all her life and Linda, my sis-in-law who is teaching Kindergarten currently. We are making progress!! Osobie read his first Bob books last week. He just grabbed the first one, sounded out the words and was reading! He read the first 4 books that evening. We are stoked!! Fatu's doing better than I had anticipated but isn't up to reading just yet. Jeff's work has picked up in the last month as there are many plague cases in the areas he is working. He is doing a excellent job and enjoying it too!! We're getting to know our neighbors, the ladies at the "duka" (small store, like really small), our boda drivers (motorcyclists), and the other missionary and NGO folks around town. I taught my first "sunday school" at a church we have been going to and it was pretty fun! Tks Mekay for the tips! They don't have a consistent Sunday school for the kids so I'm going to volunteer for awhile. I watched the little ones heads jerk down every few minutes as they fought sleep in service and was reminded of my early years in the church, falling asleep or getting into trouble passing notes to my sis. So, we started today with a Christmas story. O and F performed their first skit of Mary and the angel Gabriel. They did great, completely confident. I was proud.
I shared this photo with my friend Barb because she's such an inspiration to me in eating healthy and gave me my first "recipe book"!! I had to share it with you all because this is the bounty from a BIG trip to the market for our "groceries"!! Isn't it gorgeous?? Organic, inexpensive and pretty much what we eat on a weekly basis. I put the bag of sugar in the picture too because it's the raw sugar straight from the sugarcane fields nearby. I pay big bucks for the "sugar in the raw" in the states!! Don't get me wrong, we still splurge and buy cookies, sweets and of course Mayo!! Yes, the supermarkets have Mayo! We're all happy about this.
F and O's first birthday party in Africa. Isn't this a beautiful picture! Look at the children...a rainbow of colors!!

A little butterfly fun...much better than finding gargantuan speckled spiders. We sure are having a grand time in the home schooling area of science. The thing is, Africa is loaded with bugs. I remember when I was in Jinja I had a little trouble with cockroaches in my room and my friend who lived there said, "this is how we live, we live together with the animals". It's true. They are wise enough to know which insects are harmful and the rest they live with in harmony. I don't know...I just don't think I'll ever be able to live in "harmony" with bugs. Thank goodness for Jeff! He is teaching the kids that God made the insects too!

F and O playing submarine tag (this is why they are all holding their shorts in a "i gotta pee" stance) with some of the neighborhood kids in our yard. They are all out for holiday now so we are finally getting in some good "kid play time"!! Thank you Jesus for answering our prayers for more friends for Osobie and Fatu.

Jeff grilling up the scrumptious meat!!!! We splurged and bought a big pack of sausages and then of course, the power went out for 2 days so we had meat for every meal!!

O, F, and neighbor Bella putting on a church service in the living room for us!

Fun with pita/tortilla...hmm... what can I compare them to?? A light crackerish snack. This one was of course shaped in a "princess dress" according to Jeff & Fatu.

A late Thanksgiving snack a la candlelight