We live in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving with Emmanuel International helping local churches in physical and spiritual ministry.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

O Come, O Come! North to Uganda

Happy Christmas to all! Somehow at Christmas, there is a certain poignancy about relationships, about connections with family and friends. Perhaps it is much in part due to missing those you are far from. But this year we have enjoyed the "run-up" to Christmas visiting numerous friends (and meeting new ones) and sharing our stories and laughter and memories. The way God places us in "family" is a precious gift and then the way this large family often interconnects as different "worlds" collide is often quite amazing (we hope those of you who know us as well as some of the lovely people we visited will enjoy the pictures as you share that connection with us!) How God connects the dots in this large picture of our world is incredible; what a privilege to be part of it and what a joy to be connected! We have just returned from a great trip north... across the northern border, across the equator into the northern hemisphere... to the Pearl of Africa, Uganda. And we have loved being joined in community with others, celebrating as we do at this time, that Christ came to draw us into community .. with God Himself and with one another.
Yes... had to take the photo!

We left home at 4:30am on Saturday, Dec. 13th. We picked up Richard, Bishop Charles' nephew who travelled with us... across the Gulf of Mwanza on the short ferry, on to Geita, over 75km of bumpy dirt road to a filling station where our car refused to start. Nervous moment. But with the aid of a couple of guys who linked another battery to ours with a couple of spanners, we were soon on our way (with no further problems) first to Bukoba (a Tanzanian port on the Lake) and then arrived at the Tz/Ug border at 2:30pm. Through a rather chaotic process in various container offices with numerous papers and stamps, we entered Uganda and arrived at our first stop, Masaka at 5pm. It was then a rather interesting first night in a very insalubrious guesthouse when Plan A and then Plan B went awry and darkness was fast approaching! But we all survived with belongings intact!
Connecting the spanners
From then on, it was a great time of catching up with many friends and enjoying another country's beauty! We enjoyed a wonderful few days with the Dangers family at New Hope Uganda. It had been 20 years since I last visited, and it was just amazing to see all that has changed! It was great to share stories and laughs and food and fun with Jay, Vicki, Jamie, Jeremiah and Julia and Jennie and little Elizabeth! It was also good to share some time with Stuart and Sarah Dendy from the UK!
The Dangers and Mongers

Visiting Jennie's home. So lovely to meet Elizabeth!
From there we travelled to Kampala and had a great visit with Seb Allwright, our friend from Tadley, UK. We visited his office (AIM) and really enjoyed staying in his home. He cooked us bangers and mash for tea to the great delight of the girls who enjoyed helping him in the kitchen. He had sacrificially saved the previous four doors of his advent calendar for the girls... real English chocolate from his mum!
Peeling potatoes in Seb's kitchen

Mashing potatoes in Seb's dining room
Then we went to the home of Annie Crowe, a lovely lady from the UK who was first friends with my parents many years ago. She has been working in Uganda for the past 28 years. She took us out for a real treat of a lunch which concluded with the most AMAZING ice cream sundaes! It was lovely to see her again!
Wow! Wide-eyes and smiles with amazing sundaes!
At Annie's home
We then left Kampala and headed to Jinja where we stayed in the second "home" of Mama Oliva (Bishop Charles' wife). She works in Uganda with the East African Fisheries Commission, and it was lovely to spend time with her and see where she works. While she was at work, she arranged for her driver to take us out and show us the sights. What a beautiful place!

The River Nile

We had two nights on our own in Jinja, staying at Eden Rock Resort, a nice, but not-too-expensive place in which to enjoy the pool and a base from which to further explore Jinja. Explorer Speke was the first to identify the source of the River Nile here and we enjoyed our own explorations in a boat.

Relaxed! An easier trek than Speke!

Coffee and milkshakes! Awesome!
After our Nile explorations and an awesome coffee out (a major advantage of exploring in 2014 and not 1862!) we headed back to Kampala. It was wonderful to catch up with my old school friend, Adrienne, and meet her whole family (Francis and children Hannah and little Elijah). Happy memories and a happy time catching up with all that they are doing with Father Heart Mobility!

Playing with Hannah
Francis, Adrienne, Hannah and Elijah
And finally it was an Emmanuel International Get-Together with the Uganda team (Paul and Anita Bertrand, Mike and Marianne Botting and Tom Edom). It was wonderful to meet these guys, hear about all they are doing in Uganda, enjoy Anita's amazing cooking and share in the vibrant Christmas service at Kampala International Church.
The EI Gang
Then it was time to head home. We left at 6:30am on Monday and made good time through the border (far less chaotic this time) and down the rough road (belting out Christmas carols in which the bumps made the "glo-o-or----ias" rather interesting!) and back to the ferry by 5:50pm. But then after doing so well, Amisadai and I boarded the ferry on foot (we are not allowed to board or stay in the vehicle, but Louisa being small was exempted) leaving Tim near the front of the line with the car. We hopped off on the Mwanza side at 6:30 and waited for the next ferry to arrive with Tim and Louisa. They were not on it. Or the next one. Darkness descended and rain splattered as we sat for ages by the water edge waiting. My phone battery died. Finally on the fourth ferry they arrived, Louisa vehemently protesting the sheer injustice shown to them as they were continually bumped in the line-up! Tired and very hungry we delved into pizza when we finally got home at 9:45pm!

So, throughout the past week we have loved being joined in community with others, celebrating as we do at this time, that Christ came to draw us into community... with God Himself and with one another. O come, o come, Emmanuel. God with Us.

Merry Christmas to you all, friends and family around the world!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A Squeeze on Ukewere Island

The long Coca-Cola truck, the cow, the goat, the chickens... we arrived at 6:30am after them all, as well as a number of trucks and loads of foot passengers. We were trying to leave Ukerewe Island on Saturday morning, and it was looking sadly rather unlikely that we would get on the ferry leaving at 7:30am. But it had been a good visit ...

It was our first time to Ukerewe Island, the largest island in Lake Victoria (530 km²), a 3.5hr ferry journey from Mwanza, and a remarkable island. The four of us went with Phil Norris and Bishop Charles to meet a number of church leaders on the island and talk about how we might work with them. So on our arrival, we joined about 20 pastors for a great lunch of rice, goat, fish and fresh fruit. This was followed by a meeting in the church building in which Tim was able to share about our role in empowering churches to serve the needs of the poor and how we might be able to work together. We looked at some of their assets and opportunities as churches and talked about future possibilities.
Getting on the ferry in Mwanza, Phil directs Tim's reversing

Starting the meeting in the large church building at Ukerewe

Mingling after the meeting
At 4pm we filled our car with as many people as we could and drove off to see some of the island and what the churches are doing. First up was the fish farm, a church-led income-generating initiative for the community called the Neema (Grace) Project. The idea did occur to me that we could start a fish farm in our basement, but seriously, there is lot of potential for fish farming projects on the islands.

We drove out to some land that the church owns and would like to see used for something "good." One interesting possibility is a tree farm and nursery, particularly for Moringa trees. We visited the home of one of the pastors interested in a stoves project. He has already built his own more efficient stove out of mud and he and his wife were very interested to hear about the work we have done with stove projects. By this time it was getting late and was now dark (not a good time to be driving on the rough roads across the island!) and we were all getting rather hungry again. So we had to stop the tour and head back to our guesthouse where after a rather long wait (Louisa asleep at the table!), we had tilapia and chips on the beach.

The Fish Farm (Neema "Grace" Project)

Walking to the church land on the lake
Visiting church land, thinking about potential projects
After that rather late night, we were up at the crack of dawn to try and catch that ferry ...

The ferry looked pretty full even before the trucks got on... Bishop Charles and the Ukerewe pastors were doing their best to pull strings, and we were given a 50/50 chance of getting on. It was a good time to do a bit of shopping there at the lakeside; a few mamas were there in the early light selling piles of fruit. Bishop Charles bought us a huge bag of oranges for 3000Tsh (£1.30) and I bought some lovely big mangos!

After a sleepy wait, we were given the thumbs up! But it looked completely impossible. The Coca-Cola truck was off to the side now ... we were glad it was so big that it clearly couldn't get on. Tim turned to reverse the vehicle onto the boat, but then as he went for it, was told to go back and get out of the way. To our chagrin, the smaller vehicle behind us was waved on instead. But it was ok ... they had realised it would fill a little hole before us. Tim got back in position and as Phil, the girls and I watched, he rather skillfully managed to manauever into an impossibly tight spot!
Tim reverses on as we say our goodbyes
Then there was a loud honk and we turned and were amazed to see that the large Coca-Cola truck was actually driving on! We then realised that while we had been watching rather incredulously, we hadn't thought about how we would then embark with all the cracks filled. We had a very tight squeeze to pass with our backpacks between the vehicles to get out of the way of the oncoming truck! We clamoured over the frozen fish sacks and baskets of oranges to a wobbly ladder and all climbed up to the deck above. Then looking down, we realised that Tim was stuck. He had no room to open any door! He climbed into the back to try and get out the rear doors, but with the fish and oranges there was no way of opening that door either. Phil climbed back down to rescue him. With the help of another guy they budged the huge sacks just enough for Tim to squeeze out!
We realise Tim cannot get out!

Phil to the rescue

Nowhere to move!!

Result! Tim squeezes out!
The whole journey was a squeeze. Squeezing through a tight stairwell to find a way to stand. Squeezing between so many people to find a place to stand at the railing on deck. There were no seats left. There was no room to move! While happily relieved to be on the ferry, the thought did cross our minds that this ferry was seriously overloaded and it was no idle check to see where the lifejackets were stored! But we survived, and we even managed maandazis and chai in our squeezed vertical positions.
Three and half hours is long time to stand up ..
the girls get the books out on the ground!
Phil squeezes through the stairwell
Hot on deck ... but see the Coca-Cola truck?
Three and half hours later, we squeezed our way through the scrum, managed to get Louisa down the ladder with us amidst the pushing throngs of passengers! And we came off with the cow.

You can just Phil making his way down the ladder

Louisa walks warily past the cow!
It was a really productive and encouraging trip albeit rather a squeezed and busy time!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The "Very Bad Week"

We are now on Day 15 of "The Flooded Basement." With our squeegee mop and old towels, it has been a case of as fast as we mop, water rises again. It all started on November 26, the day that Mendriad and Hosea left. That was the beginning of a Very Bad Week. The heavy rains created havoc for us not only inside the house, but also getting out of our house with our driveway washed away one day, a tree down outside our house another day, and a power line hanging across the road (duck or buzz). Power was out for three days and nights (not a good thing for our freezer), and with the constant rain, the sun was not charging our solar lights, so when our candles ran out one evening, (and all lights, computers, phones and kindles etc. were dead) we felt rather like we were giving up, but unable to do anything we were supposed to be doing, in the end just went to bed at half past eight! We were so delighted when it finally came back on, but the delight was short-lived as after a few hours it was gone again. Mopping water in the dark isn't particularly fun. Mopping every few hours isn't particularly fun and the repetitive squeezing of sodden towels makes ones hands and thumb muscles rather sore. But one good thing about the flooding was the water drowned the snake we found one morning (I wasn't sure that snakes could drown?)
Then Louisa was pretty sick with a high fever and aches and pains, and when she wasn't improving, I took her to the clinic and she was told it was malaria. Despondent to get more tablets (after the recent amoeba sickness and vile tablets) Louisa then rallied herself with the hopeful thought that it would great in heaven as she will never be sick! But then the next night I stumbled out of bed in the dark (why can you never find a torch in these situations?) when Louisa was panicking with a bout of croup out of the blue. It was all rather worrying especially for Louisa and also Amisadai watching, but a steam bucket and a towel saved the day (yes - we managed to find them, despite the overuse of buckets and towels at the time). But I felt sick and by breakfast was throwing up and lying down in between moppings while Tim invigilated his end of term exam at the Bible College.

I got better, Louisa improved and after four days went back to school.  But then at some point in this crazy saga of a week, my computer came to a very sad end. With a smashed screen, it proved to be unusable which was very gutting and added to other rather expensive problems (which has led to the unhappy end of hot showers). But as I was wiping away my frustrated tears, a man arrived to "sort out" our flooding problems downstairs. But any hope that that help was at hand was quickly dashed. After surveying the damage and the lay of the land, he asked me (Tim was out) for Tim's hammer. I gave it to him (I've no idea why I did ... it was not a wise move). I followed him into Tim's flooded study and watched as he bent down and then raised the hammer to the tiles. I shrieked loudly. I belted out in Swahili to STOP! Rather taken aback, he stopped. When I asked him what he was doing, he replied that he thought he would bash a hole in the wall near the floor and drain the water out (well, words to that effect!). I struggled to explain why I didn't think this wasn't a good idea. But he was trying to explain to me why it was. In the end I convinced him to wait until Tim got home. I can laugh about this now, but at the time I felt like crying! I was never so glad to hear Tim come home! I ran outside and frantically and rather madly told him to hurry as a man was trying to knock a hole in the wall. He hurried.
Trying an alternative solution - digging outside rather than bashing inside
Into the chaos, Phil Norris arrived. He brought Christmas pudding and couscous and chocolate and various other things which cheered us all up immensely! I was making every effort to be positive and with electricity actually on that morning on, I planned a stuffed baked Tilapia (fish) with roast potatoes for his welcome meal. But it was not to be. I unstuffed the poor fish and chopped it into pieces and fried it on the gas ring. The "roasties" were likewise chopped up and fried. And eventually we had a candlelit meal. I think it was three evenings before Phil went to bed without a candle. And then it was on and off which made for some interesting half-baked breads and cakes.
Phil pitches in with the mopping
On Phil's first day with us we went to visit the stoves group and were horrified to see that the deluge of rains had resulted in a river which, carrying the debris and rubbish, had run smack-bang straight through the middle of our new kiln built just the week before. Needless to say, it was destroyed. Gutting.
Surveying the damage
The path of the floods
On Phil's second day with us, we went to Gold Crest Hotel to have a nice coffee and charge everything up and take a short break from the routine mopping. We also met with Assistant Bishop Mbuke and was great to chat to him about the work going on in Mwanza and hopes for the future.

In it all we knew that despite all that was happening to mess up, slow down, de-motivate and discourage us, we are here with work to do! And we so appreciated all the kind words and prayers that encouraged us and kept us going! Thank you!

Small things seem like big things when everything hits at the same time, but really, all these things were small problems. And they seem even smaller when we look around. The rains that came were devastating to many others. Children (and some adults) lost their lives in the gushing waters and many people (including Mama Minja) had far worse problems in their homes. So we know we have much to be thankful for ... including the opportunity we have to live and work here!

We try to give you a taste of life here, so I figured you should really get a taste of this week! But it isn't all bad (today we noticed a significant reduction in water levels downstairs and the electricity is significantly better now) and in the next blog I'll let you know about some of the good things going, as we persevere!