Saturday, December 27, 2014

December Newsletter

Due to technical difficulties with the server I usually use to send out our newsletters, this month's update is being hosted on the blog.

Welcome to Katie and David's December/2014 Wrap-Up Newsletter!

It's been a really good year. Challenging, stretching, occasionally chaotic, sure. But we have been shown so much goodness and love throughout this year. I have learned so much - about being flexible, being patient, handling anxiety, choosing to live with peace in my heart, and being thankful for the small things. I specifically remember a week in which we had been living on granola bars for a few too many days, and some friends invited us over for a home-cooked meal. I melted with gratitude. We have been wrapped up with the love of others this year, and I'm really thankful.

This year we have moved out of our apartment and spend most of the year living in a popup camper and with friends in order to cut down on living expenses. We celebrated our second wedding anniversary. I visited our partners in Kenya. We left our paid jobs to focus on working for Under the Same Tree, and were able to work with friends to put on some really incredible fundraisers and events. The support base of UTST has grown, and in our first year of active fundraising, we have been able to raise nearly $10,000 for communities in East Africa. I'm really amazed!

Here's a brief summary on where we have been and where we are going - 

About a year and a half ago, I had the opportunity to collaborate with some wonderful friends in East Africa to start an organization that is focused on partnering with locally-led initiatives, and works to connect them with the resources that they need to thrive. (I know I've said this a thousand times, but for the sake of new newsletter subscribers, bear with me ;). ) Several years ago I was able to spend some time volunteering in East Africa. I found it to be a place absolutely bursting with passionate people and vibrant churches who wanted to make a difference in the lives of their communities who struggled with poverty, disease, and illiteracy. And what has lingered in my heart for so long is this - local people and local organizations in East Africa are brimming with potential to bring about transformation in their communities. They understand the problems, and they know what the solutions are.  All that they are lacking is a few resources. So we worked together to found Under the Same Tree, and began to partner with African led community-based organizations that work in association with local churches.

Our first partnership is based in the vast urban slums of Nairobi, Kenya. We are working alongside a church and community-based organization there to implement a microfinance program to help families step out of the cycle of extreme poverty. Parents are trained in small business skills, and provided with start-up capital to start or expand a small business. This often looks like small food stands, running stalls in local marketplaces, or small barbershops. While the parents are working towards self-sufficiency, we try to find people to sponsor their children's health and nutrition expenses. In the end, we transfer responsibility for the family's needs back to the parents, bringing the program full circle. We are also working in Nairobi to implement new food sources through community-led urban gardening. I was able to spend some time with our partners in Nairobi this past May, and help begin to get this process started. Now we get to see it grow!

We also have a relatively new opportunity to get to know a rural Ugandan community in collaboration with a local community based organization that focuses on the provision of health services and care for orphans. The organization currently cares for 30 orphans who are being hosted in the homes of families, and they are seeking to build a boarding school where the children can reside permanently.

In 2015, David and I will be spending the months of January, February, and March with our partners in Kenya, and will be making a couple of field-visits to Uganda. We will be helping with the administration of programs there, but equally as important, we will be getting to know the local communities on a personal level. We will be gathering with groups and listening to their vision for their community and how they see that playing out, and working with them to identify and build on local resources. We will be working with our church partnerships in their weekly activities. We will be gathering as much information and stories as possible to help connect people in the US with people there - so that we can learn from each other and grow together.

Then, when we return to the US this Spring, we get to work hard to engage individuals, student groups, churches, local businesses and more with the stories and ongoing work in East Africa. We are planning on spending some time later in 2015 visiting friends and family in various parts of the US, and working to expand UTST's support base to several more states.

We depart on January 5th for East Africa, which is soon. We are depending on support from individuals and churches who love us to make this work financially possible for us. If you have considered supporting us before, now is a really great time to start :)  -!staff-support/ch7s

We are looking forward to another good year in 2015. Thank you for walking alongside us.

Monday, December 22, 2014

We are not cool.

This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately.,35083/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=SocialMarketing&utm_campaign=LinkPreview:NA:InFocus

This is the concept of serving others just to draw attention to ourselves, or make ourselves look good. Of using service or missions as an excuse to travel the world... and worse, the notion that Westerners are the only ones who can solve the world's problems. The assumption that we are the only ones who can make a difference, or that our way of living is best for everyone else. The labeling of all who do not look like white America as "needy," or "the least of these." When we do that, we assume that we are not least.. that somehow we must be more?

It makes me really sad, and reluctant to share stories and photos the work that I have the opportunity to be a part of in East Africa because I am afraid of it being perceived this way.

I have had the opportunity to work with people from both sides of the world to start an organization (Under the Same Tree) whose mission is to partner with locally led initiatives and community based organizations in East Africa, and help to insure they have the resources that they need to thrive. This plays out on the ground level to provide poverty alleviation to families, wellness for children, and care for orphans. We are about highlighting strengths, sharing life together as a global community, breaking down false perceptions, and improving the quality of life for all that we work with. For Christians, this means truly becoming a global body, because there are actually more Christians in Africa than there are in the US!

And as for me, I'm trying not to let articles like these discourage me from sharing my photos and stories. But know this - I am not amazing. I do not believe that Westerners are the ones bearing the solutions to the world's problems. I do not believe that the people we work  with in East Africa are incapable and needy. No, they blow me away with their resourcefulness and ingenuity. We get to partner with this. I am continually blessed beyond measure by the love I receive from my friends in East Africa. They adopt me every time I'm around. I get to share that with you.

Know that our service in East Africa is not just a meet and greet and leave type of thing. We are, God willing, in this for the long term. We will get to see babies grow up and lives lived out. Side by side.

I know I can't change stereotypes. But I want to value very highly the lives that come alongside mine, no matter where or who they are. I want that to be what you see in pictures and stories as we head out to East Africa next month.

A few weeks ago, David asked me if we were cool, Are we the cool kids? I laughed a lot and said no. Maybe we are a little unconventional. We like running around outside. We like to laugh and have fun. We like to sing. We enjoy each other. We love Jesus and his creation. We enjoy our friends. We are happy. We are really loved. We are willing to live outside of the norm.

Here is what we are not - 

We are not cool, we are not hip or trendy... sorry about that, friends. We are not amazing. We are not idealistic, I used to be, but not anymore. Contrary to popular jokes, we are not hippies. We don't have it all together. We are not rich. We are not perfect. We do not live in the absence of fear, stress, or worry. We are learning to depend on others for our needs.

Those are my thoughts. Merry Christmas. :)