Thursday, January 29, 2015

Quick Update from Nairobi

A quick update –

We spent the last few weeks in Uganda, helping a community organization lay the groundwork for a community development project and children’s home. We hopefully will have more updates on this project as it comes along!

We just arrived in Nairobi a few days ago, and are working to plan with the leaders for what will be accomplished during our time here. We haven’t met with the community members yet, but we’re really excited to see them again. We will hopefully be able to gather a lot of good information, and re-launch our sponsorship and support programs on the US side really soon!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Thoughts from David

Hi everyone, this is David! I know you all hear a lot from Katie, considering that she loves to write and this is her blog and all... but an update from me is well overdue.

There is a song that plays over and over again on the radio every Christmas. Maybe you find yourself singing to it like I do, but we don't think through what we are singing, (although we could say this about most of what's on the radio these days). I hummed along with this song for years, without ever realizing what the words were saying. This Christmas, the words to this song left me particularly puzzled. Here's what they say -

But say a prayer to pray for the other ones 
At Christmastime 
It's hard, but when you're having fun 
There's a world outside your window 
And it's a world of dread and fear 
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears 

And the Christmas bells that ring there 
Are the clanging chimes of doom 
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you 
And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime 

The greatest gift they'll get this year is life 
Oh, where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow 
Do they know it's Christmastime at all? 

Here's to you, raise a glass for everyone 
Here's to them, underneath that burning sun 
Do they know it's Christmastime at all? 

-Band-Aid (Bob Geldof)

Now, to be fair, this song was written in the 1980s to raise money in response to a terrible drought and famine that was going on in the Eastern part of the continent. However, I feel like the words to this song represent a lot of the perceptions that people in the US (including myself in the past), have had about this gigantic part of the world. After all Africa (a continent, not a country) is quite large.

The past few years in life have turned a lot of the stereotypes I grew up believing about Africa completely around. The song that I mentioned talks about nothing ever growing here. It talks about no rivers flowing here. And it assumes that they don't know it's Christmastime at all. (And based on that assumption, it also indicates that there are no Christians here).

Over the past week, my experiences have been 100% opposite of the stereotypes indicated by the lyrics to this popular Christmas song. I have driven hours and hours through the greenest landscapes that I've ever seen! Up and down hills that are surrounded by trees. They are growing everywhere. You can't look outside and not see plants growing bananas, jack fruit, pineapple, sweet potato, mango, avocado, sugar cane, maize, plantain, coffee bean, rice.. And those are just the ones I have heard of.  Also there are rivers that flow here. We actually saw the Nile River. It's debatably the longest river in the world and it is beautiful. They do celebrate Christmas here. We arrived just as couple weeks after Christmas and there are still decorations up everywhere. Within the first 10 days of being here I have been to 4 different churches. Each congregation was alive with enthusiasm, engaged in the message, and excited to welcome us into the worship service with them.
Now I know it seems like I'm just bashing this catchy holiday classic, but I really just wanted to share with you that my experience has been different here. And I think you deserve to hear it.

So you may be wondering why I wanted to come here, and what my role is.

Katie spent time in Africa as we were teenagers, and she started sharing stories with me. But these stories about people and their lives there sounded different from the stereotypes that I had heard and believed as a kid. It was actually very encouraging to hear these people and their stories. They actually weren't as "different" as I had heard. And eventually it clicked inside me that They are not only just people but that they also are equally loved by God.   Now the question that I held onto wasn't "Why are they so different from us?" but it was slowly turning into a new question: "How are we the same?"
As Katie and I got older, we knew that we were both being moved towards ministry-related work. It was what we did. It was what we always found ourselves doing with others. And whether they were mission trips to other countries or serving in and around our city in St. Louis, I know that as God leads with opportunities I would need to follow.
Over the past couple of years we have had the opportunity to help start a ministry that partners with locally led community based organizations here in East Africa. We are spending time here to work with our partners. Within Under The Same Tree, Katie's role is director of programs and operations. This means that she works in collaboration with our East African partners in administration, organization, strategic planning, fundraising, and overall direction for the organization. My role in UTST is public and donor relations. While here in East Africa, I will be working to make sure that those who support Katie and I and the work being done here are as engaged and informed as possible. I will be working as hard as I can to make them feel as if they are along on this journey with us, and connected with the people that we are working with. I will also be working to try and bring in new donors and supporters. So if you and your family, friends, churches, or churches are interested in partnering with us, I'm your guy.

I came here for the first time to help with this ministry, but also because We want to tell a new story about Africa- not about depravity, darkness and helplessness, but about dignity, local innovation, a church that's alive, endless natural beauty, incredible human spirit- and in the end, I want this story to be about my friends - the friendships here that are helping me to experience what it means to be a human being - formed by the hands of God and dependent on his green earth & the loving arms of those around me. There is life here that is unknown in the US. To me the new story of Africa is how much they have here that cannot be found in the US. It is a story that I would like to see children growing up hearing.



Monday, January 12, 2015

First update!

We've completed our first week in East Africa! Although we flew into Nairobi, we immediately hopped on a bus and took a 14 hour ride to the neighboring country of Uganda, where we are spending our first few weeks. We've had a really great opportunity over the past several months to build a relationship with a Ugandan community-based organization called Care for Orphans and Community Development Uganda, because up until now, their director Sam Mugaya was living in Saint Louis, studying medicine at UMSL. I was also a student at UMSL, so I was really excited to get to know Sam last year and talk about what has been going on in Uganda. Under the Same Tree works to partner with locally led community organizations in East Africa, and so we were naturally very interested in coming to see what Sam's organization is doing. Timing worked out really well, and we were able to set things up so that we were able to come here during the same week that Sam was moving back to Uganda from Saint Louis. So this week has felt like a big homecoming for everyone, and it's been really cool to get to be a part of it.

Sam's ministry, Care for Orphans and Community Development, or CAFOCOD (as they call it), is working to support 30 orphaned children in the rural village of Kiboga, Uganda, through the help of a local church. They also run free health clinics, and are working to build a medical facility in the village of Luwero, where the people have no access to health care. We were able to help out at one of the free clinics yesterday. We set up under tents in the middle of forest of banana trees, and people walked from miles around to get to visit a doctor. Some were mothers with tiny babies on their backs, and some were elderly people over the age of 80. They sat down and waited for hours to be seen, while chatting or dancing to the music of a drum circle. The ability to take care of the health of themselves and their families was so evident, and although I am not a medical specialist by any means, it was really incredible to see what could be done with a couple of doctors, a handful of medical supplies, and two tents.

The rest of the time that we spend in Uganda, we will be getting to know the orphaned children  that this ministry cares for, gathering information and compiling media to send back to the Saint Louis based team,  and helping with strategic planning. The team of people working to make this ministry possible here truly considers one another family, and they have been quick to welcome us into the circle. We have shared so much laughter already. We are excited to see how our relationship with this ministry and the rural communities of Kiboga and Luwero grows and develops in the upcoming year!

We will be heading back to Nairobi after another week or so!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Heading Out

After a wonderfully relaxing Holiday Season, David and I are leaving on Monday to spend three months in East Africa, working with the ministries that Under the Same Tree partners with. We will spend the first couple of weeks in a town outside of Kampala, Uganda, where we will help local doctors run a free community health fair, and we will attend the groundbreaking ceremony for a clinic and orphanage/school.

When we get back to Nairobi, Kenya, we will be working on our sponsorship program for microloan recipients and their children, as well as working with them to build local food sources. We are working in partnership with a local church, and will be helping them with all of their activities in the community.

This is David's first time traveling to Africa with me, and I'm really excited to finally get to do this together. David's main role in Under the Same Tree is public relations and donor relations, and he is really looking forward to working to capturing the moments and stories that will connect people in the US with the communities we serve.

A lot of people have been asking where they can look to find updates from us over the next several weeks/months. There will be three main ways I am planning to send info out - email newsletters, this blog, and through Facebook. If you don't already receive our email newsletters but would like to, please just send your email address to

Thanks for all of the love, support and prayers!