Monthly Archives: June 2011

A Weekend Retreat

Last weekend, Ryan and I headed down to the southwest corner of Uganda to spend a few days at one of Uganda’s most famed destinations – Lake Bunyonyi.

Everyone had said told me a must-see in Uganda, but when Friday night rolled around, the last thing I wanted to do was get on an eight-hour overnight bus like we had planned. Work had been hectic the last few weeks, I was worn out, and just plain tired of living in a third-world country. We had booked with the same bus company that resulted in my not-so-fun transportation experience while going to Rwanda in December, so I was extra sure that this bus ride would not be fun. with a great burst of maturity, I threw an internal hissy-fit – I am tired of traveling on smelly taxis, dangerous motorcycles, and rickety busses, tired of smelly public bathrooms holes in the ground… If I have to travel eight hours, I want to do it in my own car with a stop at Panera for lunch and Starbucks for 4 pm pick-me-up coffee like I could in America.

So, come Saturday morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I had survived the bus trip and actually made it to Lake Bunyonyi, which was true to the words spoken to me – it really is a beautiful place. The deepest lake in Uganda, second deepest lake in Africa, and third deepest lake in the world, its pristine water averages over 500 metres deep. The lake was created after a volcanic reaction stopped up the river, flooding mountain valleys until the water reached almost to the tops of the mountains, forming a haphazard assortment of what look like small islands but are really more accurately mountain peaks rising out of the lake.

Ryan and I stayed out in the middle of the lake at a small island retreat known for its commitment to ecotourism, local food, and all that green stuff. Our geodome looked out over the lake, and it is by far the most peaceful place I have been to in Uganda. I had the recurring (and slightly freaky) feeling that if the whole world collapsed into nuclear war, I could remain on this island in the middle of a deep lake in the middle of nowhere without ever knowing about it.

We slept a lot (there’s not much to do after 7 pm on an island with no electricity), read a lot (well, I finished the last 600 pages of Jane Eyre. Ryan looked at a picture book of National Parks), played a lot of games (including an epic game of checkers that lasted more than an hour – I didn’t think it was possible for checkers to take that long), went hiking, canoeing, exploring – just like how a Hanson family vacation should be.

It was especially fun to travel and hike around that area because, surprise surprise, it reminded us a lot of Papua New Guinea. I’ve been saying that ever since I got to Uganda, but finally I was with someone who was saying it, too. Kabale looked like Kundiawa, the road to Bunyonyi looked like Banz, the return trip to Kampala looked like the Kassam Pass. It was definitely colder, like the highlands of Papua New Guinea, which was a welcome change from the humid smog of Kampala.

The best part? The three-day trip cost a total of $75 for each of us. So next time you’re in Uganda, or WW3 breaks out and you need a place to retreat,  I highly recommend Lake Bunyonyi.

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A Dad of All Trades

Meet my dad.

This was us probably 20 years ago. I sure loved him a lot then, and I love him even more now. So for Father’s Day, I decided to highlight five of the most meaningful roles my dad has played in my life.

Theology Teacher

My dad has either been a teacher or a student of theology for as long as I can remember. In the early days, I remember him studying Biblical languages, Greek and Hebrew flashcards strewn across the living room (I still remember the definition and proper pronunciation of koinonea after his mnemonic device of ‘coin-oh-knee-ah’ ). When I got older and spent most of my time at boarding school, we spent many an hour on the phone, me racing home with steam shooting out of my ears from the last bit of heresy I was certain I had heard in my religious studies class, hastily dialing the numbers, praying that the phone lines between the Eastern and Western highlands were working that day — “Daddy, they said in class today that you can LOSE your salvation, is that true? I don’t believe it!” He always had a way of setting me straight, with rock-solid biblical evidence, even managing to graciously suggest to me that maybe these various people I was arguing with weren’t as heretical as I thought.

As I learned how to discuss theological issues more graciously and articulately, the best thing he ever passed on to me was this – “The person who controls the definitions, controls the argument.” It sounds simple, but it revolutionized the way I formed theological assumptions, arguments and conclusions.

Sports Instructor

For every sport I played, my dad had one solid piece of advice: “Bend your knees, watch the ball, and follow through.” Soccer, tennis, basketball, volleyball, you name it… this mantra works. And I never touch a ball without those words going through my head. As a family, we can’t play a single sports game without getting some form of advice from my dad – and as much as it can irritate me in the moment, usually he’s right. So while I’m not a star in any sport, I have a decent grasp on most games, which is a very good skill to have.

Father of the Princess

It’s true, I’ve been a princess ever since I was born. As a premature baby, my dad nicknamed me Princeselina, because I was a tiny tiny princess just like Thumbelina. As the only girl in my family, there have many been times when I have milked that nickname for all its worth (although I like to think that as I grow older, I tend to assert my alter-princess-ego a little less than I used to). But my dad has always treated me like a princess – from the father-daughter dates we had over Chinese food when I was little, to the rich conversations we have as two adults now, I have always felt cherished and loved by my dad, who still calls me Princess at least once in every conversation we have.

Life Coach

I think my dad and I could brainstorm future life plans forever. While my mom just wants to get to the decision stage of the process (a quality I respect very much about her), my dad and I are happy to ponder all the options for a while. He patiently bears with me through all my hare-brained plans, processing the pros and cons of each one… “You want to start up an organic bakery in Turkey? Well, that could be interesting. Of course your other idea of being a professor of anthropology in Central Asia would be really good as well.”  It’s always affirming to talk to my dad, because for every permutation of a five-year plan that I have, I know he has just as many ideas floating around in his head as well!  

 Astronaut

Okay. So my dad isn’t really an astronaut. But because he worked at NASA for nine years, people often assume he was an astronaut. And I don’t always let them know otherwise. It was cool having a dad who worked at NASA, especially when that meant he I got to see the Clean Room and eat astronaut ice cream during Take Your Daughter to Work Day. He was a great astronaut NASA employee, but still decided to sacrifice that and serve somewhere meaningful, in an area that fit his passion and calling perfectly. From my astronaut-turned-missionary dad, I learned that 1) full-time ministry isn’t just something for people who couldn’t make it successfully in the business field, and 2) it is always worthwhile to give up what the world deems valuable (stability, job security, financial gain), in order to gain what God deems valuable (a life in full service to Him). And that, in my opinion, is quite a legacy.

So here’s to you, Daddy – I love you!

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Football Fever

We Go, We Go, Uganda Cranes We Go!

It’s our time we go! No matter what we go!

We have to score we go! We have to win we go!

A few months ago, Ray asked if we wanted to go a Uganda Cranes football match (yes, it’s football, not soccer here) that was scheduled for last weekend. I love soccer/football/whatever you call the kicking-ball sport, and it’s sort of Uganda’s national athletic pastime, so I thought going to a game in the big stadium would be a fun, cultural experience. I typically get bored at professional sports games, though, so I had all sorts of plans for leisurely wandering the stadium, finding the Uganda equivalent of Cracker Jacks, buying a token pendant or two. I even thought of bringing a few card games to play while we watched.

Obviously, I had never been to a Uganda Cranes football match, especially not one that determined whether or not they qualify for next years’ African Cup of Nations. The last time that Uganda came this close to qualifying was 1974 – 34 years ago. It was, to put it underwhelmingly, a pretty big deal.

Even in Kampala, the atmosphere that day was electric. I’m used to that in Kampala, but mostly it’s a result of elections, riots, police tanks bearing down on the city, etc. Now Kampala was wired not on tension and fear, but excitement and eager anticipation. Vuvuzelas blared out of every open car window and taxi door. Boda drivers, street vendors, even business men were all wearing Uganda Cranes jerseys, and the Ugandan Cranes cheer (We Go, We Go!) had suddenly become everyone’s ringtone and car horn tune.

We left for the stadium (about 10 kilometres away), two hours before the match, just because traffic was so ridiculous. When we arrived at the stadium an hour later, they were closing the main gate because the stadium was already getting full. We made through the rear gate, to find an already packed stadium. There was not one seat left in the place.

So first, imagine a 40,000 person stadium filled up with 10,000 extra people. Now arm each of those people with a vuvezela, whistle, horn (that sometime manage to blare all at the same time) and a big gourd (yes, gourd), of banana beer (Uganda’s most popular form of alcohol) – and you begin to get a picture. It was CRAZY. My eardrums will never be the same, I think.

We finally found some standing room way up at the top, next to some lovely drunk village guys who were armed with water bottles that were sprayed everywhere when the Cranes made a goal. Thankfully, they made not one, but two goals that day, easily beating their opponents, Guinea Bissau. I was happy that Uganda won, not only because I love Uganda, but also because I was just relieved to be in a crowd of 50,000 drunk exuberant people, instead of 50,000 mad people.

These are our happy-but-uncertain-if-this-is-a-good-idea faces

 I think the riot police stationed around the field were probably relieved about this, too.

I’m not sure how quickly I’ll jump at the chance to go to the next qualifying match vs. Kenya, but I am glad we had the experience – and I’m especially glad we got out of the experience alive.

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Back to the Bay

It is my great pleasure to announce — I have a plan for next year! Not only am I relieved to have a plan, period, but I am thrilled to have a plan I am incredibly thankful and excited for. At the end of August I’ll begin a 9-month fellowship at Trinity Forum Academy (TFA), a residential leadership program for 12 young Christian scholars and professionals.

TFA is a little bit hard to explain, because it is so multi-faceted  (which is why I love it) – but  basically it’s a holistic program that incorporates applied theology and philosophy, cultural engagement, and hospitality-based service. In addition, each Fellow completes a graduate-level research thesis within his or her specific academic area of interest. I think of it as 1/4 seminary, 1/4 grad school, 1/4 service, and 1/4  just living life in community – a combination designed to help the 12 of us figure out exactly what it means to redeem culture and be ambassadors of Christ wherever we find ourselves (phew! that was a mouthful).

Maybe I’ll just let you read what TFA says about itself –  from the Trinity Forum Academy website:

 The vision of the Academy is to cultivate a generation of faithful leaders who are together able to thoughtfully engage the most critical issues faced by our culture.

Our mission is to prepare young leaders for life as a Christian calling in the world of today. To this end, we prayerfully pursue three goals: to help our Fellows know Jesus and His way more deeply, know themselves and their callings more clearly, and know the world of today, its opportunities and challenges, more discerningly.

Trinity Forum Academy envisions a future in which its alumni have faithful influence across all sectors of society. Individually their lives and careers demonstrate creativity, compassion and excellence that reflect their commitment to Christ and to community.

In many ways, I think this will be a perfect next step for me. I am extremely excited for the opportunity to further discover my calling and place in the Kingdom, to refine my ideas and passions, and study how faith can impact society, all within the rich context of community.

I have loved my time in Uganda with IJM – I love going to work and knowing that each day I contribute to the pursuit of justice, albeit in very small ways – but I have also sorely missed the academic environment of rich (and sometimes heated) discussion, stimulating lectures, classic books, etc.  I am really excited to return to academic life within an Christian community that specifically looks at the most pressing issues of our times through the lens of ethics and theology (I’m already drooling over the summer reading list, which includes King’s Cross, by Tim Keller and Keep in Step with the Spirit, by J.I. Packer, among others).

In addition to all these reasons, I am also excited because in some ways, it will be a homecoming for me. Ten years after I left Maryland, I am headed back for a year of life on the Chesapeake Bay. This time around, I’ll be living on the Eastern Shore  – a part of Maryland that always fascinated and intrigued me growing up.  I’ll be right on the water, living in a old farmhouse with the 12 other TFA Fellows, working 8-10 hours a week at Osprey Point, a conference/retreat centre on site that hosts organizations like IJM for staff retreats and such.

It is BEAUTIFUL.

It’s been a while since I’ve called that part of the world home, but I’m happy to be headed back to Maryland blue crabs (which, apparently, can be caught directly off of the Osprey Point pier), back to a land rich with colonial history, back to living within an hour of family (I’m talking about you, Grandma!), back to weekend trips to DC and picnics on the Capitol Mall.

Anyway, I’ll stop jabbering now, but I hope you can sense and share in my excitement. I’ll touch down to the States on August 12th and do a whirlwind trip of visiting family and friends before starting the program on August 27th.

Of course, there’s a downside to all of this –  I only have 10 weeks left of life in Uganda. A few weeks ago I was eager to begin the next step, but now that I have less than three months in this wild messy city with these beautiful people I love, time has transformed into something incredibly precious and all too fleeting.  It’s decidedly painful to think about the impending goodbyes I must say, but I’d rather have heart-wrenching goodbyes than an apathetic departure. It means my heart is at home here – it’s full here, and happy – which is a fact for which I am incredibly thankful. So although Kampala won’t be home forever, for now, this is still where I belong.

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