Monday, August 24, 2009

The Dynamics of the Mission Team.

There are a number of things that come to mind when one starts talking about a mission trip to a place like Africa. Heat...mosquitoes...malaria...bad water...time differences...pit toilets...sickness...the list goes on...Each of those variables can be difficult enough to handle on its own, let alone mixed in with all of the others. And then we add the personality factor on top of all of that to shape the team dynamics! Sometimes it's good. Sometimes it's not. And sometimes it deteriorates about midway through, even with well-intentioned team members.

We were fortunate enough to have a team that meshed pretty well for the majority of the trip. Each particular group worked well together on the various projects we were scheduled to do. There was a grace or anointing to flow in the task at hand. What a blessing to watch each team member "come into his or her own" on the team.


That grace or anointing started before the team even left Roanoke. One of our team leaders, Debbie - who was with us on our first trip to Uganda, was coordinating our medical projects. What a tremendous blessing she was! I never had to worry that something was going to be missed or be half-done. Debbie oversaw each of the various projects, making sure they met the goals that had been communicated to us by Pastor Doreen. She did a great job!

Debbie was the one who resuscitated the stillborn baby that I delivered the first day were were at Life Link Medical Centre. She was incredible to watch as she overcame insurmountable odds without the benefit of even basic equipment and supplies that we take for granted here in the States.

About a week in to the trip, during a particularly terrible van ride down a REALLY rough dirt road, Debbie suffered a concussion. Her head had bounced off the inside of the van several times as it lurched down the terrible roads. Later that day she started getting headaches and nausea. For the next several days tasks like just bending over to tie her shoes or to wash a few items of clothing by hand turned into painful challenges. Still, Debbie managed to maintain a good attitude and a desire to serve.


Tracy, a first-time missionary, was in charge of the Diabetic Teaching module. Through her contacts we were blessed to have supplies donated and teaching materials available for the program. Tracy also brought a couple thousand Dum Dum lollipops to hand out to the kids. Everywhere she went she brought a comical sense of chaos as children flocked to her. It reminded me of times when I've fed pigeons or seagulls...You start out and there are only a couple, but before long you're literally swarmed with them! Kids would look at her and say, "Sweet, sweet!"

While a mission trip requires every participant to stretch outside of his or her comfort zone, this was particularly the case for Tracy, who'd never even been camping before, let alone thrust into some of the situations you encounter out in the field. What an amazing transformation we observed over the weeks we were there! I'm so proud of Tracy's persistence in overcoming things like wild warthogs grazing outside her tent, learning to squat over pit toilets that require a good aim (or you have the tell-tale splatters on your pantlegs to show your lack of skill), and wild van rides that would cause many grown men to cringe in terror (and which caused Debbie to get a concussion!)

After we'd completed all of our projects we did a game reserve trip to Murchison Falls National Park. By the end of the game reserve trip Tracy was actually dangling from the van by one hand while perched with her butt hanging outside the open window, shooting her camera at lions and elephants a dozen or so yards away. We've affectionately nicknamed her "Rambo".


Hah! I've known Natalie for quite a while at church, and I have always pictured her as a quiet-spoken mommy. Boy, did she blossom. Natalie worked with the Vision Clinic that we held. She was soooo good with that. She just slipped into the anointing and ran with it! And each night at the guesthouse she would sift through boxes of eyeglasses, sorting them, fixing them, preparing for the next days patients.

I did learn that Natalie isn't quite so quiet-spoken once you get her out of her shell. She's fun to be around and has a great personality. And her comfort-zone was stretched as well. Like Tracy, this was her first mission trip. She'd left kids and husband at home to reach out with the love of God in a way that is completely foreign to most people back home. She met each challenge head-on and overcame. I'm proud of her and her willingness to step out into the unknown for the sake of the Gospel.


This was Suzanne's second trip to Uganda, and she seemed very relaxed. She even brought her seventeen-year-old daughter with her on this trip. And, oh my goodness, what an anointing to teach! Suzanne ran the Low Vision Clinic, which targeted people who had vision problems such as glaucoma, cataracts, etc where glasses don't neccesarily help. Listening to her teach was a treat. Then she organized an entire Low Vision Classroom and testing center with various different stations that helped the people to learn techniques that would improve their quality of life.

Pastor Solomon asked Suzanne to teach the school staff the various signs to look for in the children to determine vision disorders, and then what to do to help correct those problems, such as a pupil's distance from the blackboard, etc. On the Sunday that Pastor Eddie ministered, Suzanne was asked to teach the people in the congregation things like body mechanics, diet and nutrition, etc. It was obvious that Suzanne was "in her element" every time a teaching opportunity presented itself. what a blessing she was to the people of Uganda!


At seventeen-years-old, this was Soyini's first mission trip to Africa. It was a sacrifice for her to be able to be with the team, because she learned prior to traveling that she was being kicked off of the Girl's Volleyball team - Soyi's passion and the source of future scholarships - because she was scheduled to be gone during the pre-season scrimmage game and pre-season practices. That was really tough for her.

I'm proud of Soyini and how she hadled many of the situations on the trip. She actually helped me deliver the baby the first day at the Medical Centre. She also helped Tracy with the patients she treated. Now, Soyini's a beautiful young lady, and it was just a given that the young men would be attracted to her. And, of course, they were. And being the red-blooded American girl that she is (despite African and Trinidadian roots) she was attracted right back to them! Lol! One fine young man, Vincent (a.k.a. Vine), captured her heart, and they continue to text back and forth every day.


I first met Martha earlier this year when her husband was running for Attorney General in Virginia. You know how it is when you meet someone in a particular setting, and that's the way you picture them. I'd run into Martha again back at the end of June and learned that she had previous mission trip experience. I asked her if she wanted to go to Uganda with us and she's relpied with a "Don't ask me unless you're serious" answer. I told her that I was serious, and she said she'd check her schedule. I'm so glad she did! What a blessing she's been.

Martha is a seasoned traveler, and nothing seemed to phase her. I never heard her complain about anything, and she was willing to do whatever was needed to help the team. She worked with Natalie in the Vision Clinic to help screen people and fit them with eyeglasses. Again, like Natalie, she just flowed in the anointing for what she was doing.

We're sorry that Martha was unable to take the time for the game reserve trip that we finished our trip with, but she had to head home after the projects were completed. Her presence graced all of us...and I'd still like to read her journal! (She told us that she had a page - or pages - on each team member, from first-impressions on...I'll bet it's an interesting read!)


Rocky is a mission trip "pro". This was his fourth trip to Uganda, and I'm surprised he didn't stay. He did look into property while we were there this time. Rocky was one of our two construction team members. He was in charge of designing and building the solar food dehydrator based upon locally available materials, so that it would be completely duplicatable. He'd built a prototype in his back yard before leaving home, and managed to come up with an inexpensive and easy-to-build model.

It was interesting to watch Rocky in Uganda. While back home his conversations are limited - he doesn't even have a cellphone at home, in Uganda he was a totally different person! The cellphone he bought shortly after arriving was in use constantly. He has more friends in Africa than in the United States, and many of them came to visit him on this trip, coming from as far away as Kenya. Pastor Anthony (from Kenya) rode 8 hours one-way in a 14-passenger taxi van from Kenya to come visit Rocky, and stayed in the Red Chilli dorm so he could actually spend time visiting. I think one of the high points for Rocky was the purchase of a large snake skin to take home for his wall.


The other construction team member, Tim is a second-time missionary to Uganda. He was available to help Rocky with the solar dehydrator, provide security for the ladies, and a blessing to King Solomon's Academy as he used his construction talents on things like hanging doors, fixing desks, and more.

Because of his heavy southern drawl or accent, it has been a standing joke since our first mission trip that Tim needs a translator to translate from "Southern" to English and then to Luganda (the official language of that area). This time was no different, and I'm glad that he has a sense of humor about it. I appreciated his willingness to be used in whatever project he was needed without complaint. He did however liken his role in this trip to that of trying to herd a pack of cats...were we that bad, Tim? Lol!


Joshua is a professor at Roanoke College and a native of Uganda. He went with us on our first mission trip, and we adopted him after that. He was already in Uganda when we got there this time, supposedly on vacation/family time...BUT World Bank found out that he was there and put him to work almost every day. He allowed Debbie, Rocky, and I us to use his driver and car one day before the main team arrived. That was a blessing, as Julius, his driver, took us several places we needed to go to purchase supplies and phones.

Joshua met those of us who were in the lead team at the airport when we arrived in Entebbe and even arranged with his brother to act as "tour guide" in Entebbe one day while we were there. He's been a great friend and team member. While in-country this time, Joshua came down with Malaria. After a few days of medicine he felt much better and was able to fly back in time to get ready for the start of the fall semester.

All in all we had a great group and a great trip. I appreciate each and every team member and am honored to have served alongside them!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Solar Dehydrator/Dryer Project

This was my pet project. I started studying solar dehydration and food preservation techniques for the mission field in the mid to late 1980's when my husband and I were planning on going to South Africa. Things started getting really bad in South Africa right before we were planning on heading there, so we were never able to go. Which meant that I never got a chance to put any of the information into practice.

Tim building the Solar Dehydrator

Rocky building the trays for the Solar Dehydrator

Now, 20+ years later God is allowing me to use the knowledge I learned to impact people's lives. Rocky and Tim built a simple and duplicatable solar dehydrator on top of the new school building out of locally available and inexpensive materials. I taught area residents and community leaders on how to preserve their foods using solar drying. The people were very interested, and it was encouraging to see them taking notes, drawing diagrams of the design, and asking questions.

Sandi teaching the people
Sandi teaching the people

Loading the Solar Dehydrator

We loaded the dryer with tomatoes, bananas, potatoes, and sugar cane. In trying to make the process as easy to perform as possible, and knowing that clean water and charcoal to cook with are precious commodities, I'd tried to do the potatoes without blanching/ pre-treating them. That didn't work, and I had to toss the first tray of potatoes. I tried another load that I'd soaked in water with fresh lemon juice, but had to toss that tray as well. I came to the conclusion that to do potatoes they would have to be blanched so as not to turn black. We decided to do pineapple in place of the potatoes, and also added some ripe bananas that had been pre-soaked in water with lemon juice to preserve their color better, green bananas (used to make matoke), eggplant, and green pepper. Everything has turned out great, and people are very excited. There are even plans of making goat jerky in the future.

The project will help the people to not only extend the food available during the growing seasons so that there is food available in the dry season, but will also provide a stream of income to people as well. One industrious young man is already planning on making the dryers and selling them. Smart man... Praise God! What a blessing to see how God can prepare us with skills years before the door opens to use them. I had at one point given up even being able to use my training, but God is faithful!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

A Week In Review...From Natalie's Perspective

Today is Sunday August 9th. Went to an AWESOME church service this morning! The praise team was amazing, words cannot describe their vibrance & energy during worship. Pastor preached two services back to back this morning. The church was very receptive and welcoming to all of us.

I'm going to backtrack this week...

Sunday Aug 2nd. Arrived at Entebbe airport, got our visas & bags and were greeted by the first team (consisting of Sandi, Debbie, and Rocky), Pastor Solomon and various members of Good News Church. It was dark on the way from Entebbe to Kampala, so I didn't get to see much other than the sides of the busy streets, even at 10pm! We arrived at the guest house & settled in... jet lag caused me to remain awake until 2am!

Monday Aug 3rd. Up at 6:30, only a few hours of sleep, but felt very rested. Went to breakfast and ate outside (it's so beautiful out there). Before I knew it, we were loaded up and all in a van headed to Life Link Medical Center. What busy roads! Shops and vendors line the streets... boda-bodas weaved in and out of traffic & buzzed around us, some within inches of our van. It was sensory overload as I tried to take it all in. Next thing I know, we're climbing out of the van in front of Life Link Medical Center and there are rows and rows of pew-like benches full of people waiting for us. Several people walk up to greet us. I first notice a young lady with a big smile on her face. It was very comforting to be so welcomed as each one took their time to greet us. These greeters became our interpreters (and they are just fabulous!). Since I was to help with the distribution of glasses (along with Martha Foster & Debbie Robinson) we went into a good sized room in front of the medical center and began setting up. We started matching up with our interpreters and I was happy to see that my interpreter Whitney, 15, was the same smiling face I had seen when I first arrived. :o)

Once we were set up, we got straight to work! Debbie took down patients medical history & performed exams, Martha guided patients through the eye chart exam & helped me find the one pair out of 800 pairs of glasses that were right for each individual, and Suzanne ministered to those who had additional needs. After a non-stop, full morning, we took a quick rest out back to down some chex mix & touch base with each other. I noticed a pregnant woman walking around, clearly in labor..., then we were back to it. We had steady patients receiving eye glasses all day. EVERYONE that was seen was fitted with glasses that were perfect for them! No one was turned away this entire week, ever. Once things began to wind down at the center Monday afternoon, we packed up our belongings and immediately became aware of the work still to be done. As previous blogs mention... a baby was born our first day. Before I knew it, the team had moved into the same space we had been all day with a baby clearly in distress. Everyone was working hard to get oxygen and warmth to the baby. Who knew that the plastic cups doctors give you medicine in would become an oxygen mask! Debbie moved swiftly and remained very calm, Sandi held the baby while administering oxygen, Tracey was continuously thinking on her toes through every obstacle the team faced, and Soyini had stayed by the mothers side. It was very touch and go, and I really think that had we not been there, this baby would have survived. Praise God we were!! My favorite part of the evening was hearing that baby make a cry and try to fight off the O2 mask! I was so proud to be among those that were with me all day...

Tuesday Aug 4th. Arrived at the clinic, only to see our room cleared of all the medical equipment that was brought in the night before for the baby. For a second all of our hearts dropped until we were notified that mom & baby were great! They ended up going home, no problems! Many more fit with eyeglasses. That night I emptied two boxes of glasses! I had heard that the sister of a lady who was fitted with glasses the day before had come to the clinic the next day to receive glasses... from 100 miles away! We even had folks from Rwanda coming! Let me tell you, traveling in Kampala is like nothing I have ever seen before; it was not easy for those patients to travel all that distance!

Many of the ladies who needed eyeglasses (reading glasses) were tailors & beaders unable to see to thread their needles. They were so happy to be able to do what they love with ease!! But what blessed me the most were those who needed reading glasses to read their Bibles. Once they tried their glasses on, they would reach into their bags, pull out their Bible, and see if they could read it! Right many people did that! It was awesome! And all around town there are signs, bumper stickers, banners, car decals that say "Praise God!," "Jesus Saves!", etc etc. It's awesome! I think you could stand just about anywhere from the guest house to Good News Church and see something that lifts the name of the Lord!

Wednesday Aug 5th. Refer to Monday & Tuesday... just no babies being born! I helped an extremely near-sighted boy receive a pair of glasses that allowed him to see across the street clearly! Also took our first walk up to the Good News Church. Took a few pics of the students from King Solomons Academy next door. Really enjoyed the pic of Tracey surrounded by the students when she knelt down to look at a child's workbook. ;o)

Thursday Aug 6th. Spent the morning fitting people with eyeglasses, then we moved to the church... it was so great! There, Suzanne lead us in performing various low vision tests while Tracey ran diabetic screenings. Both ladies are extremely professional, yet maintain a coolness about them that put the patients at ease! It's awesome watching everyone in their "element". God is doing amazing things through this team! My interpreter, Whitney & I got to spend some time talking about all sorts of things! She was surprised to hear that we didn't have impalas, gorillas, elephants, giraffes, zebras, lions & tigers roaming around our country! And that we drove on the right side of the road, with our steering wheels on the left! We talked about how both of our schools are set up, and how one day she'd like to become a doctor, and she even tried to help me with my Lugandan! I am so thankful for all of her hard work this week!

Friday Aug 7th. Friday was probably my favorite clinic day because we performed vision screenings for the kids at King Solomon's Academy! The kids there were so well mannered, all of them, and were very good for us. Some didn't know their alphabet, so I thought of creative ways to test their vision, by recognizing shapes & lines. I tested a three year old by pointing to a bird and asking "Is this a bird?" he sweetly nodded "yes", and then I pointed to a bug and asked "Is this a bird?" He looked at me like I was crazy & nodded no! Most of the kids were very happy to be able to read & see the board after receiving their glasses. One boy could not see more than 2-3" from in front of his face. He had to literally stand nose to nose with the blackboard to work at school. After fitting him with glasses, he was able to stand across the room, and read to the bottom of the eye chart! Friday we left the clinic around 4pm, much earlier than our previous days. We rested a bit & then met up for dinner at the guest house, where they were having a cookout! The food was great and you just can beat Ugandan coffee & tea after a nice meal!

Saturday Aug 8th. Went to Life Link, where there is a football (soccer) field. We walked around to the site of the new school (building in progress) while some of our team tested out the goodies in the solar dehydrator on top of the building. A lot of the "neighborhood" kids came by... they know Tracey has "sweeties" in her bag! (dum dum lollipops) They call us Muzungus (white people), and they call Tracey "Muzungu sweetie"! Then back to the field where the soccer, I mean football match, was beginning. I was very impressed by the talent those athletes had! They were amazing! (And the Good News team won!) There were a lot of kids around, wanting to hold my hands, touch my arm. One girl was particularly attached to me & would shoo away any other kids trying to get close, as if to say "my muzungu!". During intermission, Rocky & Sandi walked through a crowd with an interpreter and evangelized. I believe 4 people were saved and invited to come to Good News Church the next day.

We got back to the guest house & then headed out towards downtown Kampala. And I must apologize for not mentioning him earlier, but Bryan is the name of the guy that has been faithfully driving us around all week long. He is an excellent driver, and even parallel-parked in an impossible space so we would be closer to our destination. There are a lot of big buildings, many being built still. We went in what looked like the garment district in NYC... There were bolts of colorful fabrics, lace, and trim at every turn, and tailors sitting on the sides of the street with their sewing machine ready. Can't even begin to describe all of the sights & sounds!

So, now you're pretty current with some of what God's been doing through this team this week. Everyone at Good News Church appreciates us, and the support Valley Word Church gives to them. They keep telling us what a blessing we are to them, but I feel like they've been more of a blessing to me.

Monday, we will go back to Life Link Medical Center and work on training the staff there. I'm looking forward to seeing my new friends again!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

They Call Us Doctor


Hey everyone! We all send our love to those back home.

Today has been another great day. We continued the Vision Clinic and the Medical Clinic in the morning. Then in the afternoon Tracy held a Diabetic Screening Clinic, and Suzanne held a Low Vision Clinic to help those with particular vision deficiencies to learn how to compensate for them and have a better, safer quality of life.

While the afternoon clinics were in session, Debbie and I rode around with Pastors Solomon and Doreen trying to find the ever elusive suction canister that doesn't exist in Uganda. We had shipped a suction machine over in 2007 and the suction canisters somehow disappeared. When we had the incident with trying to resucitate the stillborn baby on Monday and didn't have a working suction machine, it prompted us to go in search of the items required to make it work. Now we're at the "MacGyver stage" where we're going to have to get creative and make what we need.

It's been very interesting working in the Medical Centre this trip. We were informed this time that Tracy and I were to assess, diagnose, and treat the patients ourselves...not just in support of the facility doctor (who was sick the day we got there). That would be OK if we were doctors, but we aren't. Tracy is an RN, and I'm an LPN. We explained that we are NOT doctors, but nurses. That didn't seem to phase them at all. As far as the people here are concerned the muzungu's from the United States should know how to do everything.

They call us "doctor"...

Despite being informed that we are only nurses, the staff kept calling us "Doctor". If there are any nurses reading this who have the crazy desire to go on to medical school to become a physician, I challenge you to come to Africa first and work in a small hospital. It will either hook you for life or scare you away!

In the last four days I have assessed, diagnosed, ordered lab work on (when the tiny lab had the reagents to do the tests I've tried to order), and treated patients with malaria, syphyllis, fungal infections, complaints of ulcers, hypertension, and a myriad of aches and pains. Of those who were previously on medications for things like diabetes or high blood pressure, many do not take their medications regularly and are therefore not well regulated. It has challenged my LPN nursing skills to the max, and given me repeated excuses for a hastily prayed, "Oh, God! Help me to figure out what's wrong with this person and how to treat it!"

I have to say, I've never had a desire to go on to even RN school, let alone Med School. I'll let someone else have the headache of deciding what's wrong with someone and how to "Fix it"! One thing that I was grateful for was the fact that Tracy brought her Nursing Drug Handbook. I've spent a lot of time in it in the last few days. Which antibiotic works best for such-and-such? Can the 6-month pregnant lady have this particular medication? What's the right dose of this particular drug for a 2-year-old weighing 13kg?

In the end, I accurately diagnosed and treated a great number of people (with the diagnosis being confirmed by the few lab tests I have available to me) with serious conditions. I'm following up on a couple people whose blood pressure was elevated. I have the great choice of starting them on either nifedipine or atenolol. I'm not a doctor, hello! I'm not trained in the specifics of WHY a particular medication is prescibed and WHICH ONE to prescribe. I have gotten good at what to give for Syphyllis, skin infections, and malaria. But I'll be glad when I can go back to being Sandi Bird, LPN.

Anyway, it's late and I'm tired. I'll write about the solar dehydrator project another time...

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Thoughts To All The Medical People Following Our Trip...

Here in Uganda we are all becoming more acquainted. We have had many new and interesting experiences many of which will never be spoke of again. Day one in the hospital was one of those experiences.

For all those medical folks that are following the blogs; we had a baby born at quiting time. Sandi delivered him then yelled for me STAT! He was a meconium baby at less than 6lbs. He had an APGAR of 1 at 1min, 5min and a 3 at 10 min. We had no suction, no warmer and no O2. At 10 min someone found an O2 tank but then Tracy had to figure out how to put a cracked regulator on it.

All my NRP training came back in a rush. To make a long long story short, by the time we left (only because there was nothing else we could do) he had a good HR, decent color but not yet crying and his temp was 95. Fast forward to the next morning he was crying and eating like any good baby should. What a miracle! This was not the team building experience that we expected. We were able to shed a lot of tears together. Both of frustration at our weaknesses and in joy for his survival. The team is cement now.

We have shared a lot of laughs since then. Mostly at Tim and his sense of humor and timing. As of today (Wednesday) we have seen 127 people in the eye clinic and unknown numbers of people in the medical clinic. All with a story. A lot of people want glasses to be able to read their Bible, that is their number one complaint. Some of the faces of these people will be with me for a long time. I took pictures of some of them. The old people with a mouth full of teeth and the biggest brightest smiles and those with no teeth smiling as well. All happy to see again. What a profound feeling. Well that's all for now. I turn into a pumpkin very soon.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

And Unto Us A Child Is Born...

Yesterday (Monday) was Day 1 for our Vision Clinic and our Free Medical Clinic. The vision screening and eyeglass fitting have been slow going, but those workers saw patients all day long for two days so far. I've heard some of the stories about how the people are reacting when they can finally see after being unable to see well for so long.

There was a woman who came in because she was in labor. The staff could not reach the midwife who normally is there at night. That left me to deliver the baby...Keep in mind, I'm just an LPN. and though I've been present at several births, I've never delivered a human baby (Kittens and puppies, yes...not people). I had been monitoring fetal heart tones as the labor progressed. The mom was having strong contractions less than 1 minute apart.

The baby was still pretty high up and the head hadn't yet engaged. I could barely feel the baby's head the last time I checked to see if the woman was fully dilated, so it wasn't really close to time for delivery. But then we lost fetal heart tones. I had a couple other people check her, but they were unable to hear anything either. At this point the labor had stopped being effective. The contractions had weakened. Not good when you can't hear a heartbeat!

The water broke as I checked her the last time. Still very weak contractions. Time was critical. The staff nurse started their equivalent of a pitocin drip which, under the conditions of any rural Ugandan medical center is pretty mind-blowing. There is no such thing as sterile technique. They vent the plastic bottle by stabbing it in several places, then they add the medication to it by just stabbing through the side of the plastic bottle with a syringe needle and squirt.

Mom was fully dilated and the head was coming down the birth canal. It was time for mom to push and for the baby to be born. I felt a sense of dread, as I still had not been able to hear the fetal heart tones. As the head crowned and the baby came out, I grabbed its lifeless body, holding back tears. I yelled for Debbie, "Stat!" and she came around the corner immediately.

The staff finally found an ambu bag, but there were no infant or pediatric masks. The ET tubes we shipped in 2007 were no longer anywhere to be found...they must be wherever the tray of various sized laryngoscopes disappeared to from that same shipment...

I pumped the ambu bag, just to blow air into the nose and mouth. Then Debbie fashioned an infant sized O2 mask out of a plastic medicine cup and O2 tubing. the suction machine we'd sent previously had been used and was missing pieces...important pieces, like the suction canister. We rigged it to use anyway...I won't say how, and got the baby's lungs cleaned out a bit. By this time the baby had a heart beat and gasping respirations. We had to leave just after 7pm and had to leave the baby in the care of its mom and staff, so our hearts were very burdened.

Pastor Solomon told us that, even in the big hospitals, nurses will just lay the baby on the bed next to the mom and observe it. they don't do any heroic lifesaving procedures. This morning when we got there we entered the room where momma and baby had been, and the bed was empty. My heart just sank..."Where's the baby?" We were told that the baby was in the ward on the other end of the building. He'd come back to life with a will to live! The sounds of his crying were like music to our ears. All I can do is praise God for the miracle!

Soyini got to help me deliver the baby, along with Tracy.

Me holding my first delivery...

The Main Team Has Arrived!

Wow, what a blur the last few days have been!

The main team arrived on Sunday night. It was so great to see everyone and have my "flcok" all in one place. Those who know me know that I have a "mother hen" instinct. I'd called back to the States several times to check on everyone, but once they were on the plane there was nothing else I could do but wait for them to show up. We have several first-timers on our team this year, and I just wanted to make sure they didn't have any problems.

As we waited at the airport for them most of the passengers came out and we still had not seen our group. I was getting a little antsy. Was there a problem with immigration? Maybe it was a baggage issue? Whatever it was, all I could do is stand there and wait. After what seemed like a maddeningly long time, we saw the first of our group round the corner. Praise God! There had been a baggage issue with Sue and Stacey's checked luggage. It had been resolved and the team was free to leave. Yay!

We had Brian's 14-passenger van and Pastor Solomon's 7-passenger vehicle to carry everyone and their luggage. We all piled in and went down to what Rocky has dubbed as the "Kampala IHOP" where we had burgers and finally ended up at the Guesthouse at midnight. There was a little bit of a hassle getting everyone checked in, but I persisted in getting everyone in the same building. We made arrangements with Pastor Solomon to be picked up at 10am the next morning, and trudged up stairs to bed.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Divine Connections

2009-07-31 23:00 Kampala Time, 16:00 Roanoke Time.

Today has been productive. The Word says that the steps of a righteous man are ordered of God, and we wholeheartedly agree with that!

Step One...This morning at breakfast Debbie began talking with a missions group from Brooklyn Tabernacle. They just finished up a medical clinic here in Kampala, and most of the group will return home Saturday. One family, however, (Roger & Olga and their son David) will be continuing on through Massai Country holding additional medical clinics. Apparently BT sends out medical teams on a very regular basis.

Olga, a Physician's Assistant, had the responsibility of organizing and overseeing the entire Medical Clinic project. She shared with us some of what she'd done and allowed us to view some of the photographs. Somehow the topic turned to nebulizer (breathing treatment) machines. We'd brought machines and circuits with us, but had been unable to bring any albuterol (a breathing medication) with us. We'd hoped to buy it here, but we've been told that it's difficult to obtain in Uganda. Olga generously offered to give our team a box of the medication for our Free Clinic days. Praise God! What a blessing!

Another Step...I had been told of a man who dehydrates food on an island in Lake Victoria. Since the Solar Drying project is my "pet project", I was very interested in meeting someone locally who had already done what we are wanting to do.

By Pastor Solomon's request, our project has a two-fold purpose. It has both socio- and economic purposes. By socio- I'm referring to the aspect that will help the individual families preserve their own food, extend the use of the foods from their growing seasons, and provide a community activity that can be an actual "communal" activity. By economic I'm referring to the income potential that is opened up by the marketing and distribution of the dried food product being produced.

This afternoon I had a 1-1/2 hour meeting with Mr. Ephraim Muwanga, the Project Coordinator for the jali ORGANIC Development Project. I won't go into great detail about what that is, except to say that it is a 14-year, 5-Component project, with it's initial focus being the Agro-Development Project. The Project is being conducted on the island of Busi in Lake Victoria. There is no electricity or modern conveniences on Busi. Many of the people still use lake water for drinking purposes. :-{

The end purpose of the jali Project is that the residents of that area will be self-sufficient through sales from their organic food dehydration plant. The plant provides jobs to the local residents and will provide money for health and education services and for providing clean water. All without having to beg for help from outside sources.

I wanted to meet with Mr. Muwanga because he originally started with solar drying, before switching to a commercial bio-mass-powered dryer for efficiency. He had done months worth of research across Uganda observing other organizations' dehydration methods, which products were best suited, etc. I don't believe in re-inventing the wheel if it's already been invented, so I wanted to pick his brain.

Admittedly, much of what he shared was not applicable to our project at this time due to differences in financial backing...he had investors...we had a challenge raising money just to get here. (It seems to me there has to be SOMEONE out there who'd like to help an impoverished community in a third world country become empowered to not only feed themselves better, but to be able to provide financial support for themselves as well.)

Anyway, I gained some tremendous insight into not only Mr. Mugawa's project, but into how to help Pastor Solomon develop a realistic plan for the Bulenga community to establish a similar project, albeit most likely on a smaller scale. We're thinking in the right direction at least.
This afternoon we went to the mall (yes, a real mall) and bought a couple cell phones and a few other items. we finished the day with the traditional Namirembe Guesthouse Friday Night BarBQue: All you can eat Goat, Pork, and Chicken...and various veggies, desert, and a soft drink. It was delicious. Just like we remembered it from last trip. And only $7.50 USD.

Last night there were no mosquitoes, but tonight I think I was on THEIR menu. I've been bit by more in the last hour than I saw in my whole last trip...I guess I use the mosquito net tonight...yay... :-(

Gonna close. Good night to everyone!

Thoughts From Debbie...

I am very happy to be in Uganda again. There are many things that I had forgotten about being outside a major city, mainly the pollution. Everyone has to dispose of their own garbage and most burn it. It causes a nasty sinus response. God sent a nice breeze today to take it away so that we were able to breathe easier and see the beauty of the city more clearly from the guest house. We have seen more of Kampala this trip that all of the last trip. The people dress differently in the city, especially the women. There were many who were dressed much like the women in the US. We have also seen far more international travelers. I think it might be the high tourist season.

Plans are coming along well for the projects and we have made contacts with some wonderful people. The schedule for the health projects is set. Ms Doreen is such a wonderful woman of God, she knew what she wanted and how it would work with the school schedule. I think it will be a success.

I must say that Joshua has been instrumental in the success of the trip thus far. He met us at the airport with his nieces bringing us roses. I felt like a rock star. Then revived us with dinner and conversation. I really appreciate all he has done for us and with us.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Safe Arrival and Hitting the Ground Running

2009-07-30 It's 9:17 pm Kampala time. (2:17 Roanoke time) I'm sitting in the open-air tiki hut coffee bar at Namirembe Guesthouse, looking out over the city of Kampala. (NOT a Starbucks-type coffee bar. Just plain coffee and bottled sodas.) It's been a great day today. Very productive. But let me backtrack just a bit.

Our two 8-hour long flights were both good. KLM takes good care of their passengers. The only mishap was that something went wrong with the system that runs the toilets on one whole half of the plane, so they were out of order for over half the flight. My only prayer was that the OTHER half of the toilets would stay working! With over 200 passengers and over 4 hours left to our destination it would have been a BIT of a problem if they were ALL out of order. We were still a good 3+ hours from Europe, so there was nowhere to do an emergency landing to change out planes.

As we got closer to Uganda it hit me again how that even if it comes in bits and pieces at times, God DOES still give us the desires of our heart. I felt like I did 2-1/2 years ago when we FIRST came to Uganda...For 25-years it's been a burning passion of mine to go full-time into missions. That door has to open soon...hope deferred makes the heart faint.

We landed at around 8pm last night. Immigration registration took much less time that it might have. All of our luggage showed up, and Joshua was there to pick us up, accompanied by his twin nieces, Ruth & Naomi, bearing bouquets of long-stem roses. Our baggage wouldn't have fit in Joshua's car, so he'd called the guesthouse to send their van for us. The driver arrived in normal "Uganda time" fashion (5min = "oh, maybe an hour or whenever the traffic clears or I decide to get there") and we made our way the hour long ride to Namirembe. Well, we did stop to grab a bite to eat...a Chinese restaurant that Joshua knew of...yummy!

Today Rocky went to scout out availability of supplies for the solar dryer. He's waiting on a call back from a local contact, so we still don't have anything definite there. While Rocky was on a mission to find supplies, Debbie and I were with Pastors Solomon and Doreen Mwesige.
We stopped at a local pharmacy that caters to travelers, and I went "malaria medicine shopping". I hadn't taken anything prophylactically (sp?) due to no insurance and the expensive nature of the medication back home, but here it is cheap (but good quality - mine was Swiss-made), readily available, and requires no prescription. You just walk in and tell them what you want; they show you your available options, and you pay them. I got two-months worth of mefloquine for 39,000 UgSh ($19.50 USD).

After that we headed to the hospital to do the scheduling for each of our particular projects and to meet with the medical staff to determine what types of patients we will be treating next week. "Missions medicine" is a LOT different than practicing medicine in the States. What that means for us is that we as nurses and a respiratory therapist will actually be diagnosing and treating particular diseases like malaria under the guidelines set out by their doctor. We will also be teaching their staff about nutritional factors in healthcare, wound care management, and certain other areas of expertise in which they have not had training.

As we got closer to the hospital, I hardly recognized the area around Life Link Medical Centre due to the growth the area has experienced. The hospital has electricity now, a big improvement from our last mission there. There is still no running water, however. Water must be purchased every day in big Jerry cans. There is a fenced area around the front of the building now for security. They've made some changes in the rooms and now there are actual privacy curtains between the ward beds, a private injection room, and a LOCKED pharmacy room. It was so exciting to see the changes that had been made!

Then we went to the school, which I didn't recognize at first either. The house for which we sent money to purchase to provide additional classroom space (Our 2008 Project) is just a few feet from the back of the long brick building that was already in place on the last visit. It's really big and has allowed the school to expand and add a large number of children.

Next door to King Solomon's Academy and Good News Church, on the left, there is now a High School in what used to be a small row of huts. On the other side of the High School is the huge structure that is being built to house the school, much of which is currently in thatch or open-board walled structures with dirt floors and termite eaten support posts. The new building is approx 160-feet long, 40-ish feet wide, and will eventually be four-stories high. Once completed, the new facility will include flush toilets for the boys and girls on each story and a separate kitchen building. (I'm uploading pictures of the completed first story.)

The top of the completed first story is where we decided that we will build the prototype of the solar dryer and where I'll teach the people how to dehydrate their foods to preserve them for later consumption.

Before we left the compound we got to spend time with some of the school kids. They are great! You can't help but fall in love with them. They get great pleasure gathering around, rubbing our very light-toned arms, chanting "Muzungu! Muzungu!", and giggling loudly. Lol! (For those who don't know Luganda, the language of the area, "muzungu" means "white man".)

We made a stop at the Pastors' house to meet their youngest daughter, Shanna, and were treated to an endless glass of fresh squeezed passion fruit juice. The Mwesige's are a wonderful couple who have such a heart to serve the people to whom they've been sent. They have been given a tremendous vision for the ministries over which they preside (Good News Church, Life Link Medical Centre, and King Solomon's Academy.)

During our recent 2009 FCCI International Ministers/Missions Conference in Roanoke, one of the speakers challenged us to, instead of looking at what we DON'T have, to look at what we do have in our hands to work with and begin thanking God for working with us with what we have. As we are faithful with that, God will begin to bless it and cause it to prosper and grow into what He has called us to eventually step into. Pastors Solomon and Doreen are great examples of that. They started with pretty much nothing, but began to use what they did have and thank God for it. It has grown into a work that touches multiple thousands of people on a regular basis.

When God has someone with a willing heart and an obedient spirit who is not willing to accept failure as an end result, He can change the world!

Well, gotta go for now. More tomorrow...

Happy Anniversary, Pastors Eddie and Debbie Crabtree! We love you!

And Happy 25th Birthday to my Baby Girl, Zipporah! I love you! Thanks for willingly sacrificing "Mom Time" so that I can be here sharing the love of God with the people here. That's good seed in good ground and every seed produces a harvest!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

On Our Way...Sort Of!

Well, the lead (consisting of me, Chris, and Rocky) are on our least sort of. We're sitting on an Airbus A330-200, ready to make the first of two 8-hour flights that will carry us to Uganda. We started to taxi a while ago, then the plane stopped. We're parked here right now. Apparently there is a weather front somewhere off the coast...approx an hour out if I understood correctly. We're all just waiting until the "coast is clear" so we can take off.

I heard a few people grumbling about the delay. It brought to mind those who tragically passed away earlier this year off the South American coast in a storm. I'm sure that if they could give us advice right now, they'd tell us the delay is so much better than a possible alternative...

Anyway, once we get started we're expecting a great flight... We're leaving!!! Yay!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

What's Happening With Life Link of Southwest Virginia?

I wanted to update everyone on whats going on at Life Link...


Our new website has been up for a few weeks, Check us out on the Web:

Uganda 2009:

The team is gearing up for our upcoming trip, July 31-August 16, 2009. We are excited to be returning to Uganda and have a couple new team members with us this time.

Luganda Language Classes:

This past Thursday night five of the 2009 missionaries started Luganda Language classes at Roanoke College. They are being taught by Professor Joshua Rubongoya, a past and present team member. Classes are being held every two weeks and are $10 each. Even if you aren't going to Uganda with us this year, come on out and join us!

Upcoming Fundraisers:

Saturday, April 11th 11am-1pm Hot dog lunch during the Valley Word Church Easter Egg Hunt.

Sunday, April 12th immediately following Easter Sunrise Service there will be a breakfast fundraiser. Come on out and join us!

Saturday, May 2nd we will be having a yard sale at Valley Word. Donations of items are welcome. We can use some volunteer help to man the sale as well.

We can still accept new team members if anyone is interested in traveling with us in August. Contact Debbie Robinson or me (540-819-8389)...

Blessings to you all!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

February 2009 Uganda trip

This mission trip to Jinja, Uganda was awesome in many ways. Much good was accomplished in spite of the challenges we faced. Several team members suffered illness. One lady became sick on the flight over and as she recovered, another caught it and the bug passed on through the team. I thank God that my health was preserved throughout the entire trip. One night, one of the nurses collapsed and hit her head. She was out of commission for several days. On another night we got the news that the father of one of the team members had experienced two heart attacks back here in the US. With the news of the plane crash in New York, (and another one while we were away), it would have been easy to become discouraged. In fact, Fedex lost our passports before the trip and they were found just in time for us to go. Pastor Rick said that after some 40 trips to Uganda, he has never encountered so much spiritual opposition to a mission trip. One thing that I know for sure is that when the devil tries so hard to come against a mission trip, it is because he knows that it has the potential to accomplish great things for the kingdom of God. It is because of this that I remained in faith that I was in the right place at the right time. We persevered and and thousands of lives were touched because of our work. Many hundreds of people gave their lives to Jesus. Thousands of people received medical treatment. Many people received eyeglasses and shoes as well.

More work was accomplished on the school. The school is a 5 year project, but by comparing the photos from last year with this years pictures, you can really see the progress. I spent some of the time painting, while some others were laying tile. The building was a movie theater built in the 1920's. I found an old ticket stub in a crack in the wall and discovered that the place used to be called "New Town Talkies"! One of the walls is collapsing and the engineers are having that wall torn down so it can be rebuilt. The old stage was on that wall so I was unfortunate enough to be given the assignment of dismantling it. I say unfortunate because the boards were filthy and spiders were crawling all over the place. There were also giant roaches, lizards, and bats flying around in there. I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie! I thought I was going to find a skeleton under there at any moment. I did find one of my helpers under there after he accidentally stepped on the trapdoor. My friend and I were taking a break, and one of the locals was walking behind me when I heard a loud bang. I turned around and he was gone. After a moment of confusion I heard someone yelling from under the stage! HELP! He landed on a pile of debris and I count it as a miracle that he was not hurt. Thank God that he didn't land on a nail or something. We removed all the boards and the beams from underneath. Because of the loss of trees in Africa, lumber is very expensive, so we salvaged all the wood, removing the nails and storing it to be reused later.

Aside from doing manual labor, I went with the medical team twice. Mission Link brings medicine, medical equipment, eyeglasses etc to Africa. At night we would fill plastic bags with medicine and pack everything up for the next day. The medical team would head out each morning to a different village and set up a clinic. People would come from miles away to be seen by the doctors.

While the crowds were waiting to see the doctors, pastor Jackie Carver would preach the gospel to them. With the help of microphones and speakers, the good news could be heard from afar, as well as some Ugandan praise and worship music. After a patient saw the doctor, they were led over to us so we could talk to them one on one. We asked them if they were saved and if not we led them in a prayer of salvation then we took down their information so local pastors could follow up with them later. We were able to lead many people to the Lord this way, as well as praying with them for their needs. At another clinic I attended, my translator and I travelled from hut to hut for most of the day sharing Jesus and praying with people. For me, the evangelism was the highlight of the trip and I look forward to meeting those people again in heaven.

On Sunday, I was sent to preach at Basaana baptist church right on lake Victoria. The pastor of Basaana is pastor Timothy, a giant man with a giant vision. Pastor Timothy has personally planted over 60 churches on the islands of the lake and in Kenya. Pastor Timothy's father was killed by Idi Amin, and he was even jailed himself. He used to be a boxer but now he builds boats. I was truly honored to have met him, let alone to preach in his church.

Despite the challenges we faced before and during this trip, I am eternally grateful for the experiences, the memories, and the relationships created. I thank God for all those who sponsored me and made this trip possible. This being my third trip to Uganda, it is plain to see that Uganda is a part of me and I am anxious for my next opportunity to return. I hope to be back there by August 2009. Let me end this story by inviting you to come to Uganda. I believe everyone should go at least once, and I know firsthand that you will fall in love with the Ugandans, and you will be blessed too.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

School and Clinic Progressive Report From Pastor Solomon

This is an update from Pastor Solomon regarding King Solomon's Academy and Life Link Medical Centre:

The new year started well with the school opening for the first school term, we were blessed to have new desks for the upper classes, small chairs for the nursery kids and their tables, the kids are enjoying this new development, we were also able to pay the teachers salaries now they are very motivated to do their job.

Can you compare on the attachments the pictures of the type of desks we have been using and the ones we now have, also the carpenters busy working, this is also a way of helping the economy when we put people to work and pay them.

As kids came back we noticed that most were sickly and we have been attending a lot to their medical challenges, thank God for our Doctors that have done a great job.

We have also employed two more teachers to handle the candidate class, we are very happy to have Primary seven and we are very thankful for the support that has come from our kids sponsors that has made it possible for us to help these little ones that deserve a chance in life.

One young boy aged 10 by the names of Joel Kimera reported to school two weeks late, we call him the dancing boy at school and he is easily noticed, two weeks late was too much for the teachers and his fellow kids. When he finally reported to school, we all wanted to know why he started late, his answer was, I was mending shoes and saving the money to help buy the school requirements because I don’t have a sponsor.

Joel was making a few cents a day trying to raise $10, his story was told to the rest of the kids and those with sponsors were the most grateful for the support that keeps them in school.

We thank you very much for touching lives and impacting the next generation.

Here are the kids on their new seats in the new setting.

Life Link Clinic.

The community have continued to receive quality service from our Doctors and staff . I’m happy to report that the District of Wakiso has donated a Fridge to handle vaccines, this helps them remain in the right temperature. The first day we used the fridge using the this Fridge on 11th Feb we had 109 kids.

We have continued to do immunization for free every Wednesday, and lots of kids are coming in.

We have also added on one more Doctor, so we have one Doctor and a supporting nurse during the day and another doctor and a mid wife working at night.

Here are of the pictures of the baby minutes after being born and another little kid being taken care of.

The mother of this baby came to church Sunday 15th Feb attended the morning service and almost delivered in church, very poor and abandoned by her husband without a coin, we rushed her to the Life Link and our Staff took care of her and a baby boy was born. The baby was very big and would have needed surgery but thank God for the situation was handled well, we will in the future need a room where major surgery can be done because of the need we are faced with, can you imagine referring such a patient to a bigger Hospital without an Ambulance, and most patients don’t have cars to run them to a referral Hospital in case of an emergency. All in all we thank God because we are able to give a service to the people who would have died if our Clinic was not there.

After this lady had given birth, she told us that if it had not been a Sunday, she was going to give birth in her house because she didn’t have the money to take her to Hospital, and seeing what our Midwife went through helping her deliver and the size of the baby, she would have been a gone case.

We thank God for the work of ministry through health care, education and the Church because lives are being touched.

I will send you a report on the church. We have one more Witchdoctor who handed to us his tools yesterday and we will put them on fire on Sunday when all the believers are there. I will send those pictures in my next weeks church report.

Thanks for your support.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Midweek Update

We're working on getting the total trip cost figured up for the upcoming trip to Uganda in August 2009. Once we hear back from the travel agency and one of our Ugandan contacts we'll update everyone. This year's trip will be 2 weeks long and the team will have an opportunity to do an overnight on a game reserve too. The staff of Life Link Medical Center, Bulenga Province, Kampala, Uganda are already excited about our group coming back, and we're believing for God to do some great things while we're there.

Please commit to keeping our team and trip in your prayers, as the groundwork is laid long before the team ever steps onto the plane to head to Uganda. Some things that you can keep in your prayers include:

  1. All of God and none of us...
  2. Open doors of utterance for the gospel while we are there and for the team to speak the Word with boldness.
  3. That the Word of God would be confirmed with "Signs Following"
  4. Wisdom for all of us who are in leadership on this trip and that we would hear the voice of the Holy Spirit clearly and obey Him. (I know that seems like a "no-brainer", but we're all human!)
  5. The health and safety of the team.
  6. The finances for each team member. Each team member is responsible for
    raising his or her own funds (all tax deductible, of course.) We expect
    the cost per team member to be at least $3000 due to the high cost of
    airfare to Africa.
  7. That there would be no spirit of strife or division among our team. That we would be clothed in humility and have, as a friend of mine says, a "Gumby" attitude toward the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

That's a start...In my next blog I'll share some scriptures you can pray over our team and trip. Be blessed! Thanks for your prayers

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Uganda 2009...Coming Soon!

Well, we've had our initial planning meeting for this year's trip to Uganda! It will be the first two weeks of August, and you're invited! We have a number of medical projects in the works. We're also collecting old (or even new if anyone wants to donate new ones) eyeglasses to take with us, so please keep that in mind. Anyone wishing to make a cash donation, please email for donation information. All contributions are tax deductible and checks can be made to Life Link of Southwest Virginia, a 501(c)3 humanitarian medical organization through which our team will be working.

More information coming soon!