Ok, so there are around 2.4 billion things that I'm excited about right now. And I seriously feel like I need to pinch myself just to make sure this is all real. Here's a taste.
STORY - It happens next week! Can't wait. Around 1,700 pastors, communicators, church leaders, writers, speakers, etc will converge for two days to learn and be inspired by an amazing line up of storytellers - people like Dave Gibbons, Ed Young, Donald Miller, Nancy Beach, Mike Foster, Stacy Spencer, Chris Seay, and others. The first day happens on Wednesday, October 28th at the beautiful Paramount Theater in downtown Aurora. The next day will be workshops (sold out!) happening at The Orchard. Honored to host and be a part of STORY!
CULTIVATE - Seriously, Chicagoland is the place to be in October. Cultivate is a highly interactive, conversational, collaborative un-conference that's all about church communication. It's happening the day before STORY. And the lineup of facilitators is just sick. Wow.
DAVE GIBBONS - We are honored to have Dave speak at The Orchard's gatherings the weekend following STORY. Not only is Dave a good friend, but he's someone God has used to impact my life in some pretty significant ways. I'm thrilled that our church community gets to hear and learn from him!
THE NEW & IMPROVED....ORCHARD - The Orchard has had an extreme makeover! Through the amazing "pro bono" generosity of fellow Orchard tribal members, Dawn & Keith Baldwin (Aspire One), we have a new logo and amazzzing new website that will go live later THIS WEEK. I'll talk more about this in a later post... STAY TUNED!
LOVE.SERVE.GIVE. - It's The Orchard's GLOCAL outreach opportunities this winter. More about this later as well... But just know that we are going to have some amazing opportunities to bring beauty and hope to people locally in our city and globally in places like Uganda, Thailand, and El Salvador.
ORCHARD ART INITIATIVE - Too much to type, but The Orchard is turning into an art gallery starting this month. Our campus will be filled with art from local artists. Huge dream come true, but only the beginning...
Ok, there's more, but I my fingers hurt and I need to study. OUT.
Beauty. Sometimes it's obvious, isn't it?
This photo was taken a few months ago while on a visit to Uganda. It's the home of a man named Moses. He's the father of a young boy sponsored through Compassion.
Even looking back now, as I type this, it's hard to put into words what we saw and experienced that day as we walked through this urban neighborhood of Kampala. Poverty, disease, suffering, unclean water....you name it. I've spent time in other poverty stricken areas around the world, but on this day in particular, I realized that I had forgotten just how bad it really is.
Which is why I think my mind struggled to make sense of what happened next.
As we were standing in the middle of this "mess" saying our goodbyes, my focus was immediately interrupted by the sound of a little girl giggling, laughing, and trying really hard to get our attention. And as I turned around to see who the culprit was, I was completely taken back by the presence of this beautiful little girl.
It's hard to explain what I felt at that moment, but it was as though my mind immediately went TILT. Not just because she looked like she had just walked out of a suburban mall somewhere in middle America. No, it was everything! Her smile. Her laughter. Her silliness. Her life!
It was almost like looking at a puzzle piece that had been placed on the wrong puzzle. This piece didn't fit!
It was beauty...in the midst of utter brokenness.
For the rest of the trip, I referred to this little girl as "Julia" in my conversations with people. I called her that because she reminded me so much of my five year old daughter by the same name. The way she made me smile and laugh was just like my little "Juju" makes me smile and laugh at home.
I was reminded of something in regards to beauty that day. Something that I think is important as we become people who not only recognize obvious beauty, but who also learn to seek out beauty in this broken world.Sometimes we find beauty. And other times.....beauty finds us. But either way, our eyes have to be open.
Open our eyes Lord. May we be more aware of Your beauty - even in the midst of brokenness. Amen.
I’ve been home from Uganda for about a week now. The jet lag has finally subsided and my stomach is [almost] back to normal. But my dreams... Man, my dreams continue to take me back to those faces. The faces of children who have absolutely nothing.....but who don’t even seem to know it.
What’s the deal with those smiles?
See, I lose mine so easily sometimes. Like when I’m out driving around in my car with the moonroof open, feeling the heat of the sun as it beats down on the graphite leather of my new sedan.....and suddenly someone cuts me off and I have to hit my breaks a little harder than usual.
Boom! Smile gone.
What the hell?
The Internet is slow today. My coffee isn’t hot. Someone criticized me.
Jesus help me. Because I saw more of you in these children....who had nothing....than I sometimes see in myself....who has everything.
“I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus in Matthew 18
Wow, what a trip this has been. My brain is overloaded and my heart is overwhelmed. Yet at the same time, I have a huge amount of hope and encouragement as I’ve witnessed God healing and restoring hearts in Uganda.
Case in point: TANITA.
Tanita is 14 years old and has a fascinating story.
In 2002, Tanita’s father died. Shortly after his death, Tanita began experiencing unusual, physical symptoms which eventually led to her being admitted into a hospital where she ultimately tested positive for HIV.
Today, we had the privilege of meeting Tanita and hearing her story on our visit to the Luwero Child Development Center.
Hearing Tanita’s story was tough. She cried as she began to share about her father and her disease.
So did we.
And yet, beneath the surface of all the pain and sadness was an amazing amount of hope, determination, and thanksgiving for how God is working in her life through the ministry of Compassion International.
Here’s a part of Tanita’s story in her own words:
Tanita is one of 8 children at this particular project who has tested positive and is being treated for HIV. Altogether, they are currently helping 56 people impacted by the disease - children, caregivers, and siblings. And overall, the project currently has 238 children enrolled as Compassion helps with education support, shelter renovations, Bible distribution, food relief, income generating projects, and more.
I’m seriously blown away by Compassion’s work here in Uganda. More on that later. But if you currently sponsor a child through Compassion, you need to know that EVERY dime you give makes a difference. And every letter you write, inspires and empowers. I've seen it. And to say I'm impressed would be the understatement of the week.
More later. I'm exhausted.
Compassion International’s mission is to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name.
Spiritual poverty. Economic poverty. Social poverty. And physical poverty.
So their reach is to the poorest of the poor. The poorest neighborhoods and villages - and then to the poorest who live in those places.
That’s where we’ve been today.
by children and moms who are not just poor - but many of whom are also
HIV positive and infected with Malaria. Including several children
who, as a result, probably won’t live to be older than two or three
And so now I’m back in my air conditioned hotel room trying to figure out how in the hell to process it all...
...while I stare at my dirty shoes.
Shoes that cost more than most of these people will make in three or four months.
If they’re lucky.
To be honest, it’s just overwhelming. Confusing. And more than anything, it’s a painful reminder that our world, is in fact, broken.
That’s all for now.
No need to comment words of “encouragement” or promises from the scriptures, or anything else that so many of us want to offer after reading a post like this. I know all that. And I know there’s hope. I’ve seen a good bit of it today - even in the midst of the mess.
But for now, I just need to feel it.
Then after that.....I’ll go clean my shoes and blog some hope.
Yesterday we had the privilege of spending a day at the Mawangala Child Development Center located 13km northwest of Iganga, Uganda. And let me tell you......this is quite a place.
It’s home to approximately 50,000 residents whose homes are (typically) constructed of dirt floors, adobe walls, and if they’re lucky - tin roofs. HIV/AIDS, typhoid, malaria, and trachoma are just a few of the common health challenges that these children and families are threatened by. But the good news is that Compassion has been working there for a little under a year now and already lives are being transformed.
One of Compassion’s team members mentioned that there is a very high likelihood that we were, in fact, the very first "white people" that most of these children had ever seen before.
Hard to imagine, isn’t it?
But here’s what was amazing... While the visit from the “white men” was obviously a really big deal to the kids and the families, what they have no idea of is how much bigger of a deal it was to me and everyone else on our team to just simply have the privilege of hugging and singing...and laughing....and loving these beautiful, beautiful children who have forever touched our hearts.
Here are some of the faces of Mawangala:
(Click for larger images)
Saturday, May 23
2:35am Uganda Time
(6:36pm, Friday, Chicago Time)
After 18+ hours spread out on three different flights, we have finally made it Uganda’s capital city of Kampala! Loved having the windows down on the ride to our hotel and just taking in the smells, the sounds, the people, the energy. Haven't had a chance to see much yet, but excited for what's ahead tomorrow and over the next few days.
Here are a few enlightened observations my flight over:
Signing off friends. Busy day tomorrow. G'nite.
Chicago to Atlanta.
Atlanta to Amsterdam.
Amsterdam to Uganda.
The journey begins tomorrow!
Here's the 411 on the trip...
Received an exciting invitation a few months ago from our friends at Compassion International to go to Uganda and experience their work there first hand. Since The Orchard already has a partnership started in Uganda, we felt like this would be a great opportunity to explore how we might be able to expand our global reach.
(Btw - if you're not familiar with Compassion, you need to be. They are making a huge impact in places all over the world. In fact, they're currently helping over a MILLION children in over 25 countries. Amazing, isn't it?)
So....keep your eye out on the blog over the next several days. I'm planning to post photos, maybe a video or two, and of course I'll probably Twitter now and then as well. Also excited to have "the real" Mike Jones accompanying me on this trip!
Uganda is eight hours ahead of Chicago time, so we should be arriving in Kampala (the capital city) sometime around noon (CST) on Friday, May 22.
Over and out.