Sheep Shearing

It’s been over a month since we returned from Uganda. The jet lag has cleared (it took a week for me to feel like I was on West Coast time again) and we have begun sorting through our experience there. Mike, one of our crew, put together a short video. (you can view it here) and is working on a longer version. It really was a wonderful experience. We have already begun thinking about the next trip (probably in a couple of years). We’ll make the full report to our congregation after worship on June 14th.

I was back in the office for only three weeks (just long enough to almost catch up on my work) before I left again. I spent the first full week in April attending the Washington State University’s Sheep Shearing School in Moses Lake, Washington. They started the school about 40 years back in response to a lack of knowledgeable sheep shearers in the area. Back then they imported their instructors from New Zealand and other far flung corners of the world. Our instructors (and they were excellent instructors) were a bit more local, hailing from Washington, Oregon and Idaho. They made it look easy. In fact, if you watch someone shear a sheep, it most always looks easy (take a look at this youtube).

It’s not as easy as it looks.

IMG_0919Most of my classmates (15 others) were a bit younger than I am. They were, on the whole, probably a bit more fit than I am as well. In the end we learned that, while brute strength can be helpful, it’s technique that wins the day. A really good professional shearer can shear a sheep in under 2 minutes. I’m not that fast (I think I’m under 10 minutes now…but I’m improving).

It was a great week. I met some really great folks. I learned a lot about shearing and about sheep in general. I can shear my own sheep now (and I did the week after the class) and have even sheared some for other people (although I don’t think I’ll give up my day job and go pro with this). It took me about a week for my body to feel normal again, but it was a blast and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Below are some before and after pictures of one of our sheep.

Shearing Day 04 16 15 (47)

Purl and I on Shearing Day

Other farm news….

We’re raising turkeys again. We’ve got four (2 broad breasted whites, 1 Narragansett, and 1 Bourbon Red) that will be ready to live outside in about a week (the new electric poultry netting arrives tomorrow). We also made the decision to raise a few chickens for the table. The ones we have are a hybrid, but not the kind you normally find in your local grocery. They’ll be ready for the freezer in about a month. I am currently not impressed with what you find in the grocery, so I’m excited about how ours will turn out.
More sheep seem to be in our future as well. But that’s another story….

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Saying Goodbye and Coming Home

March 14, 2015

Posted by Mike Starosciak

Uganda Team 2015 last day

Last day with our Ugandan hosts. Left-Right, back row: Mike Starosciak, Rev. John Mulindabigwe, Rev. Spencer Parks, Emily, Rick Lee, MaryKay West. Front row: Jolly Mulindabigwe, Kathryn Hill.

Our last morning in Uganda began with our first little shot of rain. Rain is welcome here as they are worried about drought, and welcome for us as it reminds us of home. After breakfast we stopped in at the local Partners in Mission (PIM) retreat center and stopped to do a little shopping.

We left Pastor John’s house in Mbarara around noon for the drive to the Entebbe airport. We made a couple extra stops and arrived around 8pm for our 11:30pm flight. Saying goodbye after an intense two weeks was emotional. We had an intense and wonderful experience. There was back-breaking work, cultural exchange, spiritual growth, and making new friends. It is hard to say goodbye but good to be headed home to friends and family. There is, “no place like home.”

Our last day, or days really, looks something like this: from breakfast at 8am Saturday we wind up at the airport for an 11:30pm flight. (It’s still Saturday.) The first leg to Amsterdam is about eight plus hours, a three hour layover, another eight plus hours to Atlanta, a three hour layover, and finally a five plus hour flight to Portland arriving at 7:30pm on Sunday. From breakfast to Portland 46 hours; that is one long day.

Thanks to the miracle of wi-fi in the Entebbe airport, I am writing this as we wait to depart. This is the last planned blog entry for the trip. On behalf of the Uganda Mission Trip team, we thank you for all your prayers and generous financial support. We all stayed healthy throughout our journey and had a very rich experience. And on behalf of the staffs of the Kamwenge School and the local PIM West Africa office, they send you at FPC in Portland warm greetings from their hearts and thank God in the hope that we and others might return.

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Lions! Elephants! Wart Hogs!

Thursday March 12, 2015

Posted by Kathryn Hill

We had an EARLY start this morning. Up at 4 am, packed and in the van a little after 5 am to go to Queen Elizabeth National Park and Conservancy. MaryKay commented this was the only time on the road that we didn’t see people walking, bicycles and bodabodas. As Spencer said: the hard work is behind us so today is a “fun” day. And was it ever. We arrived at the park around 6 am. There was a snafu about our admission tickets and after1 hour of negotiating on Rev John’s part, we were allowed in to pay the entrance fee. We then met our guide Robert who took us on a 3-hour tour of the savannah. We arrived as early as we did in order to have a chance at seeing lions. We were not disappointed. Towards the end of the 3rd hour we were able to observe a female lion stalking an antelope and then make a chase for it. The antelope was too quick for the lion…at least this time. The cactus trees I saw intrigued me. I’ve seen large cactus in the southwest part of the United States but never as large as trees.

Elephant pair at Queen Eliz ParkWe had a nice relaxing lunch at one of the lodges in the park and then headed down to the water front (Lake Edward) for a 2-hour boat ride with our guide Sam. We were treated to elephants, crocodiles, water buffalo, wart hogs, hippos, more antelope and a dozen or so species of birds. Upon leaving the park, we saw a dozen monkeys up in a tree. It was an extraordinary trip and something I will never forget.

I have developed a love/hate relationship with our van. We are fortunate to have our driver Apollo and a van at our disposal to transport us but it is dusty, hot (no air conditioning), windy due to the open windows and the seats are uncomfortable. We have spent l-o-n-g hours in that van. Today our 3-hour ride back to Mbarara included an hour or so stretch with pot holes like I’ve never seen and in places the road was simply missing. We bounce around in there like kernels of corn in a hot-air popcorn popper.

However, during the ride we were treated to some absolutely beautiful vistas. At one point there were hillsides full of tea estates with rows of plants that would remind you of vineyards in the Willamette Valley.

Tomorrow we are going to the refugee camp. It will be a very different day than today.


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Finding Hope in a Refugee Camp

Friday, March 13, 2015

Posted by Rick Lee

Mike and Rick slept like angels last night. Spencer’s allergies attacked him at about 3:00 a.m. and he spent the rest of the night blowing and wiping his nose. Rick and MK gave him various medications and Jolly gave him a steamed eucalyptus treatment. We think he will survive.

Sarah had told us that a trip to the refugee camp could be emotionally draining. And yesterday had been a long and tiring day. So, last night, we discussed the possibility of skipping the visit to the refugee camp. John assured us the travel distance was shorter, the roads were good, and the visit would be short. So we agreed to go.

I am very happy we did and feel a little guilty that we even thought for a minute about skipping that visit.

The roads were good; the travel distance was shorter. When we arrived, we went straight to the community church, where we met Pastor Silas. And we also learned that some choirs had gathered and some congregants had gathered to join us in fellowship. We were led to the front of the church, and the various groups began singing and dancing. A group from the Congo sang and danced; a choir from Rwanda sang. They were stunning.

Singing at Refugee CampPastor Silas spoke a few words and then each of us were called upon to stand and speak–telling everyone who we were, what we did, and something about the trip.

Now, a little about the camp, Camp Nakivale.   It was not what I imagined. It is an area of about 40 square miles around a lake. (This is a rough guess from memory on some of these numbers, we can give you more precise numbers later.) In Uganda, refugees are welcome at the center. They go to an intake center, but after some degree of processing, each family is given a tarp and some land. For you historians, think of the reconstruction plans after our civil war that would have called for taking the land of the plantations, and giving each freed slave family forty acres and a mule. Except, you get 1/4 acre, rather than forty. And you don’t get a mule, you get a tarp. After that, each family tries to make a go of it. (These families probably get further assistance, but who knows how much).

As a result, you might want to think of the camp as a refugee “community” as opposed to a camp. At this camp, everyone is free to leave–there are no barbed wire fences surrounding the camp–although there are barbed wire fences surrounding the intake center. Some folks have managed to make a go of it and some have started a small store, others have managed to get a bicycle or a botabota.

But don’t be mistaken, this is not a rose garden. The community had a concentration of houses that were small and ramshackle by Ugandan standards.   It was the greatest concentration of poverty that we have seen.

The community had a primary school. It appeared to be fairly large, perhaps about 1/2 the size of Beverly Cleary school (Fernwood). But, in that school were 2600 students. That was not a typo, 2600 students in a school smaller than one where Portlanders complain about overcrowding when there are less than 400 students.   And while the bulk of those students may be from the Congo, there are people from eight countries speaking as many as twenty languages. No problem, right?

And after primary school, nothing. Pastor Silas spoke passionately of the need for a secondary school or a vocational school. He has been working in the refugee community for fourteen years and remains hopeful.

Once again, it was hard to fathom exactly what we had to offer, but our presence seemed to mean so much to them. When it was my turn to speak, I told them that I enjoyed the presence of the children, and that I missed my son and my daughter. I told everyone that I hoped to return. I then said that I hoped to bring my son and daughter with me. The congregation applauded the notion that some young folks might come visit.

Before I left, I told Ally a little bit about this refugee camp, what Sarah had told us, and what we might see. She told me: “Daddy, you can’t cry while you are there, you absolutely cannot cry. They cannot see you cry.”

Sweetheart, I didn’t cry.

Because we were greeted with song and dance.

Because we were treated with gracious hospitality.

Because we were treated with Christian love.

Because we were told that while life was hard, with much hard work, there was reason for hope.

There was simply no need to cry.

Please think of these folks over here and keep them in your prayers. It just might make a difference.

See you soon.


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Soccer, music, dancing, speeches, travel

March 11, 2015

Posted by Spencer Parks

Tuesday was our last full day at the school. We made pretty good progress on the house we’ve been helping with. A lot of the roof is on and we began to “pour” the floor in one of the rooms at the end of the day. The day concluded with a soccer match between the boys and the girls. It was supposed to be a friendly game between our girls and another team, but the other team never showed. The kids really love the new soccer equipment we brought. Actually the day really concluded with a celebration. We were given a sendoff party by the teaching staff. It was complete with great food (goat was the main course), music, dancing and, of course, speeches. The presented us with gifts made at the school, prayed over us a good bit, and wished us well in our journeys. We had a great time, but it really was sad to think that we’d be leaving so soon.

Today (Wednesday) was another travel day. We first visited a local hospital, and then stopped by the school to say our final “good-byes.” I will miss all these folks. They really have become a very special part of my life.

Kamwenge Uganda landscapeWhat can you say about travel? In Uganda it’s most often long, very bumpy and, at this time of the year, dusty. The morning was spent on dirt roads traveling through the Kibale National Forest. It was very pretty and we did manage to spot one baboon. It’s the main road from Kamwenge to Fort Portal. We drove through tea plantations as well. We ate lunch in Fort Portal (I was surprised, but they do a pretty mean burger and fries there) and then headed to Kasese where we’ll spend the night.

Tomorrow we’ll visit Queen Elizabeth National Park. I think we’re all excited about seeing wildlife. I also think we’re excited about seeing the end of our time here. It’s been a great experience, but we all miss home and the people we love and left there. The next two days will be pretty packed and I’m sure will be a great way to cap off our time here. I suspect that tomorrow you’ll hear about lions, hippos, and elephants. Tonight we’ll all try and get a good night’s sleep as we’ve got an early start for the morning (4:45).

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People We’ll Remember

Uganda Blog, March 10, 2015

by MaryKay West

Kamwenge Secondary and Vocational School aka KSVS. In past blog posts, we’ve hopefully given you a flavor of our experiences since arriving in Uganda. The sights and sounds, the exciting progress being made at KSVS, the progress on the housing we are building, and the events we have participated in. The big picture if you will. Now I’d like you to meet some of the individuals at KSVS – the folks we have spent time with and who are becoming our friends. They are just a few of the hundreds of individuals that create KSVS and the surrounding community.

The Toddler at the Well – Brief and tenuous at best, our connection to this toddler will live on in his little brain – hopefully not in the form of nightmares! Saturday evening after graduation, we walked with Halima for about an hour. There is a very small village east of the school, and also the well from which KSVS used to draw water. We walked off the main red dirt road a couple hundred yards down to the well, which is also a social hub. Lots of young people laughing and talking, and hanging around. As we stood talking, we heard sobbing. We looked up the path a few yards and there stood a bare-bottomed little boy, crying his heart out. I’m quite sure the unexpected sight of five whites, or muzungus, which he had never seen before, scared the bejeebers out of him! Halima went over, picked him up, and began to sooth him. We smiled and waved, but when we left a few minutes later, he still looked very suspicious and a bit scared. We had a good laugh with Halima about it!

Halima – Perhaps some of you know my daughter Anna. An outsized and bright personality in a tall, athletic body! Halima is Anna’s double – except for the beautiful brown skin, the body which is barely five feet tall, the lovely braided hair, and the very slim boyish figure. She is funny, smart, candid, and outspoken. Halima walks like a jock, has been a primary school teacher here for about four years, and she coaches the girl’s soccer team. She was delighted with the soccer stuff we brought – 50 Timbers “Ball Kid” t-shirts, pinnies, cones, a couple balls, a few pair of cleats, and some hand pumps. Halima patiently answers our questions, and I notice she often includes some bit of social commentary in her responses. A number of times she has commented, “The Uganda education system is fake.” I’ve come to learn that “fake” means “bad” or “not good.” She wishes for more time and more latitude to be creative in what they teach. Sounds like a familiar teacher lament, doesn’t it?

Ruth – Ruth has been at KSVS for about five months; she’s been a nurse for about seven years, and had heard of Reverend John and KSVS, so she sought out a job here. Ruth is a very dark round-faced woman with a bit of a matronly figure – she just looks comforting! Kathryn has spent quite a bit of time with Ruth – seeing patients from the surrounding village, attending to a few minor injuries at the school, and sharing information about health education and the supplies Kathryn brought. Caring, compassionate, resourceful, and knowledgeable, Kathryn seems really impressed with the level of Ruth’s care with very few resources. The clinic has a waiting room and an office/exam room, and two very small bedrooms. The exam room has a patient table, a small desk and two small cupboards. Kathryn brought a large suitcase stuffed with supplies – gauze pads, band aids, alcohol wipes, suture scissors, tweezers, tape, hydrogen peroxide, simple over the counter medicines, exam gloves, Ace bandages, condoms and cycle beads.  Kathryn says Ruth is also an incredibly joyful person – she literally dances in a circle when she is happy!

Alan – A tough nut to crack, and a bit of a grump! His English is somewhat rudimentary but he and Rick have found their ways to communicate. Alan is rather muscular and slightly stocky, he has a very small mustache and he’s quite dark. A handsome guy, especially when his face lights up with a smile. Like when he’s watching soccer with Rick! It can be a bit frustrating to work with Alan – he has a certain way he wants to do things, even if it may not be the easiest way. But as we continue to tell ourselves, this is not our jobsite. Alan is a 2014 graduate of the carpentry program. He lives in the village east of the school and is now employed by KSVS. In addition to working with us at the job site, he also spends time at the carpentry shop building door and window frames.

Beth Teacher at KSVS Primary SchoolBeth – Extraordinarily patient and really a master at what she does, Beth is the head teacher of the primary school aka Good Shepherd Kindergarten. She teaches everything from English to the Baby class up to math to the P-5 students. She organizes an agenda and goals for the year, both for the students and the school as a whole. Spencer credits her with much of the growth of the primary school. Beth has been here at least five years – she is married and her husband lives in Mbarara. Beth has a quiet, gentle way about her and a wonderful smile. Her eyes are understanding and she is an extremely affirming person.

Urban – Urban is the “Menucha Ernie” of KSVS, except he’s skinny, in his early 20s, doesn’t wear glasses, and looks a bit like Bob Marley – without the dreadlocks! Urban knows every nook and cranny of KSVS, he can fix anything, and he’s in charge of the generator that runs the pump for the well and provides electricity for a couple hours in the morning and in the evening. Urban has a gentleness about him and he’s a sharing person; he’s bright with a very inquisitive mind. He graduated on Saturday and it’s been a long road; he’s had to persist in the face of many personal challenges. It is so apparent that KSVS has become a second family to Urban – Reverend John calls him another son.

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Construction Progress

Construction of Teachers House Progressing

Monday, March 9, 2015

Posted by Mike Starosciak

It seemed hotter than normal today driving out to the school in the morning. We had been keeping an eye on our project over the weekend. Even though we didn’t do any work this weekend, because of the graduation on Saturday and worship on Sunday, we arrived Monday morning with new roof trusses in place over two of the three units.

There is still much to do before these are ready for their first occupants, but having walls plus a roof is much better than just walls. The rainy season will soon be here and a roof means everything. The units will also have running water and toilets and, when electricity makes its way to the campus, there will be lights. Cooking will likely still be done outside as is their tradition.

After lunch we split up for a while. Spencer, MaryKay, and Kathryn went down to a fifth-grade class to help out. Spencer pulled out a guitar that he left here three years ago and shared in some songs with the 20 or so students.

We have been thinking about everyone at FPC in the mornings when we use the Lent devotional guide prepared by Zane Buxton. In the evenings, we have been studying Exodus. Tonight, Pharaoh increased the burden on the children of Israel by making them work in the hot sun laying bricks made without clay. This has new meaning to the five of us….



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