In 2006, I had the opportunity to visit South Africa and ever since I returned, I've wanted to make my way back. Five years later, I have been given the incredible opportunity to co-lead a team of fifteen to Uganda where we will be facilitating a marriage and family conference. This trip is a testimony of God's faithfulness in fulfilling promises- a tangible mix of passion, desire, patience and trust.

It is my story of my heart for Africa. It is God's story of hope, healing and restoration to a broken land. And I invite you into the journey...this is a story involving US.

It is the Uganda Story.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Day 6 (8/10/11)

What was today’s high point?

As soon as we brought out the bubbles at the Children’s Village, I knew it was going to be a good day. One of my favorite moments today was being surrounded (mobbed, really) by a huge group of adorable children, giggling and jumping to catch the bubbles I was blowing. They kept crowding closer and soon, my skirt was covered in spilled bubble juice. All of a sudden, one little one snuck up behind me and started playing with my hair. I don’t know if he was fascinated with a hair on a mono (Ugandan for “white person”) or if he was just trying to give me a new style; either way, dirty little hands were messing up my hair as I tried to blow bubbles. It was a scene of pure joy and sweet innocence.

What was today’s low point?

Most of today was spent preparing for the conference, which starts on Friday. The conference schedule went through about three revisions, and I know we’ll have more in the next forty-eight hours. Our team was running around taking care of last-minute details, finishing up PowerPoint slides and practicing presentations. There were several times when miscommunication resulted in repeated changes, and basically our entire conference schedule looks different than how we originally planned. Our team is incredibly flexible and gracious with one another and with the local Ugandan staff, and I am constantly amazed at their ability to be cooperative and positive. The low points of today were those nagging annoyances and inconveniences, but thankfully those came and went quickly.

Day 7 (8/11/11)

For what moment today am I most grateful?

We spent the majority of our time today working with the staff of Children of the Nations (COTN), since they are partnering with us to host this conference. My team took turns training them in everything from how to facilitate a small group discussion to how to interpret the Myers-Briggs personality assessment. I am so enjoying getting to know the staff- amazing, God-fearing men and women who do not hesitate to present themselves as desperate for the Lord. During the training today, there were moments when I saw a new picture of the “body” of Christ, coming together in all of its different parts and functions, to work together as one with one purpose.

For what moment today am I least grateful?

I struggled with some doubts and fears today, which usually looks like thoughts racing around in my head and a million “what if?” scenarios. It took some time before I could bring myself back around to the present and to what I know to be true. I’m least grateful for those few moments today when my fears took over and allowed my mind to be distracted and unfocused.

Day 8 (8/12/11)

When did I give and receive the most love today?

Every morning, we have a devotion time with the rest of the COTN staff. I can already tell that I am going to miss this time dearly when I return home. We spend time singing, sharing Scripture and encouraging one another with truths and messages that God has given each of us. This morning, we were focusing specifically on praying for the conference, which starts tonight. As we were singing, I asked God to give me a word to share with others. Just as the music ended, God told me, “I am going to give you a new story.” I was overwhelmed. But it gets better.

God isn’t just writing a new story for me; He’s asking me to live out of that new story. I am no longer, “Alair, who has gone through _______ and God loves me.” I am, “Alair, whom God loves.” I also believe that God is going to write new stories for the men and women coming to the conference today- new stories of restoration, redemption, healing, hope and joy. What a moment of love this was today.

When did I give and receive the least love today?

I don’t know if there was a specific moment today when I wasn’t receiving love. Rather, I was convicted about my ability to give love to others unselfishly and willingly. The theme of our conference is “Imago Dei,” which means “image of God.” Tonight’s main message was how each of us has been created in unique and special ways to display God’s image. If we live with this understanding, then the way that we interact and live with others will inevitably change. I’m slowly realizing how oftentimes I can be so self-focused that I may recognize God’s image in others yet fall short of serving others before myself.

Day 9 (8/13/11)

When did I feel most alive today?

We spent all day at the conference and it was amazing! Part of the conference involved offering four workshops on various topics, and participants could choose two to attend. I co-facilitated one workshop on raising and disciplining children, and this just confirmed how much I enjoy teaching and leading group discussions. My part of the workshop focused on how God acts and loves as a parent, and I used the story of the prodigal son to illuminate God as a parent who runs toward us and meets us with unconditional love. This was astounding for many of the people in the workshop, who had a really difficult time understanding how parents can respond in love when their children are disobedient and rebellious. I believe that God wanted to shake up their concept of parenting and discipline, and hopefully they walked away knowing how much Father God loves them as well as how they can best love their children.

When did I feel life draining out of me?

Another part of the conference involved small group time, where participants were assigned to a small group of peers that they met with throughout the conference in order to discuss what they had learned. I had the privilege of co-leading a small group with an amazing Ugandan woman named Sylvia, and we had a large group of about 25 participants. Normally, I love leading group discussions and hearing how God is moving in the lives of others. But today, I was surprised to find that I felt drained after group time and very resistant to meet with my group. This may have been due to the size of the group or the fact that discussion time took longer because almost everything needed to be translated. However, I think a big part of why this was draining is that our group discussions weren’t able to go deep and I didn’t have the opportunity to really press in and hear how God was moving. I realized that surface conversation drains the life out of me, so small group time was difficulty.

Day 10 (8/14/11)

When did I have the greatest sense of belonging to myself, others, God and the universe?

We had an incredible last day of our conference! We addressed several issues within marriage and family that are rarely discussed in Ugandan culture, and I see this conference as the catalyst to continued dialogue and learning amongst Ugandan couples, families and churches. My moment of greatest belonging came after the conference had finished. I was saying goodbye to my small group participants and fellow coaches and was walking to get some dinner when I felt a tug on my shirt. A young girl with a baby on her back had stopped me and simply said, “I need to talk to you.” We stepped aside and she shared her heartbreaking story of how she got pregnant, was abandoned by the father’s child and had been shunned by her family because she kept the child. She had gone to my workshop on raising children and was so worried that her young baby would grow up deprived of a father. Pastor Scott and I talked with her at length, reminding her of her value and worth as a daughter of God and encouraging her that God would provide godly men to speak into her child’s life. At the end of our time, she let Scott and I take turns holding her precious baby and praying for them. God is always in the business of rewriting stories and making all things new…

When did I have the least sense of belonging?

As the conference was winding down, I was feeling exhausted. My mind wasn’t as fully present as I would have liked for several reasons, so I felt somewhat disconnected from my team and what was being shared at the conference. It’s easy for me to get caught up in the planning and organizing and facilitating that I miss being present with God, myself and others. At those moments, I feel distant and separated from others. There have been several moments this trip where I’ve experienced this feeling, so I’m seeing this as a further invitation from God to continue working on being present and setting aside my own worries and fears.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Chapter 9: The Story Unfolds

“Yahweh, you examine me and know me…” – Psalm 139:1

Over the past few weeks, I’ve started a new practice at the end of each day called “The Prayer of Examen.” Never heard of it? Here’s how Richard Foster describes this ritual:

“So what is the prayer of Examin? It has two basic aspects, like the two sides of a door. The first is an examen of consciousness through which we discover how God has been present to us throughout the day and how we have responded to his loving presence. The second aspect is an examen of conscience in which we uncover those areas that need cleansing, purifying and healing.”

As much as I would love to share with you every detail of this journey, that’s not realistically possible. So, to give you a glimpse into each day, I’ll share with you my Prayers of Examen for each day of the trip. At the end of each day, I’ll respond to two different questions (one for consciousness and one for conscience) based on what happened that day and how God has been moving in my heart. I hope this gives you a deeper insight into what this incredible journey has been like for me…

Day 1 (8/5/11)

For what moment today am I most grateful?

When I think of how I felt today, the phrase “cared for” kept coming into my mind over and over again. My wonderful mom helped drive my team to the airport and we had so many people there to send us off. A 15-hour flight was actually enjoyable because of three amazing meals, constant refills of tea and cookies and an endless list of movies to watch on my personal TV screen. As superficial as this might sound, I felt able to rest and transition from my regular schedule of life into a whole new experience. It also gave me a new level of gratitude and appreciation for all of those who supported me and made this trip possible.

For what moment today am I least grateful?

As soon as I boarded the flight, I could feel my body release all of the tension, adrenaline and stress I had been holding for the last few weeks…and I got sick. Nothing major- just an annoying sore throat and cold. It was definitely a reminder of how hard I had been working over the past few weeks to prepare for this trip and now my body was letting down. I felt frustrated and anxious that my sickness would take away from this whole experience, and I’m praying that God would show me how to recover from my sickness while at the same time remain present with others.

Day 2 (8/6/11)

When did I give and receive the most love today?

I gave and received the most love today when I was relaxing with my team in Dubai. We walked around an enormous mall (puts American shopping to shame, although there wasn’t an Anthropologie anywhere) and watched a great water show in front of the world’s largest building. I felt relaxed and rested, and enjoyed getting to know my team members better. Ramadan is happening while we are here in Dubai, which means that everyone fasts during the day and eats after dark. We couldn’t eat until after sunset, and it was so interesting to participate in a cultural and religious ceremony enforced by law.

When did I give and receive the least love today?

I was still feeling sick today and there were several times when I wasn’t present with my team because I was worried about my illness. I was mainly worried that I wouldn’t feel better by the time we get to Uganda and that I will miss out on a life-changing experience because I’m sick. There’s also a little shame in that I let myself get sick by not taking better care of myself. But, in the midst of this, there is an invitation from God to trust him with my health and that he will make this trip whatever he wants it to be…which is always what is best for me.

Day 3 (8/7/11)

When did I feel most alive today?

We arrived in Northern Uganda! We were picked up at the airport by Jimmy, an incredibly joyful, kind man who has a twinkle in his eye when he looks at you. He works for COTN (the organization partnering with us) and he took us to our hotel. While we waited for dinner, a few of us sat outside talking with Jimmy and listening to the heartache and suffering that Uganda has experienced the past few years. As I sat outside with a cool breeze, a warm cup of Africa tea and dear friends, I was overwhelmed with this thought: “God, you brought me back. I was so afraid I would never return, yet you are faithful.”

When did I most feel life draining out of me?

Since I don’t know the majority of my team that well, I can tell that some of my insecurities came up today. “Do they like me?” “Am I funny enough?” “Do they think I’m a good leader?” Again, when I have these worries and fears, I’m not fully present with them and I’m just living inside my head. When I’m not being fully authentic, that is when life drains out of me. But, we had an incredible team meeting after dinner and talked about this transition from travel to being in Uganda. We acknowledged anything we still needed to relinquish to God before moving on with our trip and spent time thanking God for all he has done so far. After this, my insecurities disappeared. Funny how that works.

Day 4 (8/8/11)

When today did I have the greatest sense of belonging to myself, others, God and the universe?

Today made my soul glad. I think the greatest sense of belonging I experienced today was our welcome at the COTN Children’s Village. There are close to 60 orphans who live at this lovely village, cared for by “aunties” and “uncles” who create new families for these little ones since they have lost their own parents. As we drove up to the village, I was humbled and excited all at the same time: children running up to our van yelling, jumping and waving palm fronds to greet us. They had prepared songs and dances for us, and as I sat outside under the African setting sun, I was struck by an incredible thought: This is what heaven looks like. My picture of heaven is a place of singing and dancing and rejoicing, after all the pain and suffering and hunger have gone forever. My co-leader Derek and I spoke briefly and thanked the children, and then we all had the chance to dance with them…something my heart longed for as soon as I stepped foot into the village. Today, my soul is glad.

When did I have the least sense of belonging?

When we first arrived at our guest home today, we had a similar greeting by the COTN staff that we will be working with for the next few weeks. Some members of my team had already met the staff from years past, so I felt somewhat out of place. It’s hard for me to be in places when others are so comfortable and I feel awkward. I keep reminding myself that I want to be present, regardless of whether I feel joyful, disoriented, excited or exhausted. That’s all part of the trip, and I wouldn’t want to disregard any of that.

Day 5 (8/9/11)

When was I happiest today?

There are moments in life that you try to freeze and take in all the detail you can, because you want to try and remember it forever. We went back to the Children’s Village today and handed out tennis balls for the children. These children have experienced so much grief, loss and trauma so we’re going to be doing various play therapy activities with them to help them work through their trauma and feel more empowered. Some of this involves learning basic motor skills, such as calling someone’s name and then tossing a tennis ball to him/her. We were working with one little, little girl named Patty and she had been struggling over the past few days to get the tennis-ball-name-game down. The sun was shining through the clouds as warm rain started to fall, children and chickens were running everywhere, and all of a sudden I heard Patty yell, “Alair!” and toss me the tennis ball. I froze the moment in my mind- a little bit of healing and joy from a bright yellow toy.

When was I saddest?

Our morning activity for today was a visit to the memorial site of Barlonyo. In February of 2004, rebel terrorists stormed into Barlonyo and brutally tortured and killed over 300 innocent men, women and children. The mass grave stands as a circular cement walkway over 200 feet wide, surrounded by dirt roads, thatched huts and hungry children. It was an incredibly sobering experience, knowing that we were standing in a place where so much horror and destruction had occurred less than ten years ago. I felt my heart sink within me as I spent time with adults and children who witnessed the massacre and escaped in the smoke when huts were set on fire. Uganda has a long history of war and heartache and suffering, and my hope is that God will use our team to help others experience healing and restoration.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Chapter 8: Ready

We leave in just over 24 hours and there is still so much to do, yet God has done so much already. Honestly, my head is a bit foggy so this post will be a bit shorter than usual...but I have to share how God has been preparing me for this adventure.

Over the past few weeks, I've faced a lot of spiritual, emotional and physical weariness, mostly through busyness and a lot of the usual "lies" coming back into my mind. Lies that I'm not a qualified leader, that I'm not enough, that I can't trust God, and lies that others don't believe in me. I also realized that I was focusing so much on what I don't have going into this trip that my passion and enthusiasm was drained from me.

This past Sunday, my church was holding our monthly prayer gathering and they were going to be praying for our trip specifically. I went with my co-leader Derek and was completely overwhelmed, humbled, encouraged and loved. I want to share a bit about what happened that night...

In Exodus 17, the Israelites are fighting the Amalekites, and Moses goes up to the top of a hill to watch. He holds up his hands and the Israelites win; he lowers them and they lose. But he's not alone: Aaron and Hur are with him. When Moses' arms grow weary and tired, Aaron and Hur stand on either side of him and hold up his hands for as long as needed.

As a reminder of what Moses experienced in the passage above, Derek and I were asked to sit while some of our dear friends knelt next to us and held up our arms. Before the prayers even started, I was crying and I couldn't even wipe my nose! One of the pastors from our sister church in Malawi was visiting, and he prayed an incredible prayer over us. As he prayed, he spoke against every lie I had believed that week, even to the point of using exact words that are part of some of my most familiar lies. I hadn't shared any of this with him, yet he spoke God's specific truth that I needed to hear. And then he prayed this...

"Lord, because Alair has you, and you have her, than she has everything. God, you are writing a story and we are the ink. Thank you that when the ink is the darkest, that is when the story is the clearest."

God is writing The Uganda Story, and each one of you who has prayed, supported and encouraged me- you are the ink. There is a beautiful, sacred and powerful story that is about to unfold and I cannot wait to share it with you.

much love,

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Chapter 7: Thanking the 30 (part 2)

Melissa. Melissa and I met at church and I love her passion for life. She uses her creativity with art and movement to inspire and encourage others. Even though we haven't seen each other in years, I value her friendship and generosity.

Sarah. Sarah is the sister-in-law of my good friend Joy and Sarah
and I have actually never met! We've basically gotten to know each other through our Joy, and we both adore Cafe 222 here in San Diego. How amazing that Sarah was gracious enough to give and I
hope we can actually meet some day!

Robyn. Robyn and I worked together at San Diego Hospice, and we had the incredible/humbling/challenging/exhausting task of co-leading a therapy group of 4-6 year olds. If that doesn't bring two people together, I don't know what does! She taught me so much and I wish we could do groups again!

(right). McKenna and I met a year ago when I was a
guide on a backpacking trip for incoming Point Loma students. I clearly remember the day that McKenna and I hiked together and shared stories about pretty much everything. She is a sweet friend and I miss our lunches in the cafeteria!

Andy & Courtney. They are two of my best friends, and they feel like family. They have walked with me through so much and have been some of the clearest examples to me of God's love, grace and faithfulness.
And they're just hilarious!

Jacob. Like many others on this list, Jacob and I grew up going to church and youth group together. Jacob shared with me, "My reason for giving? God blessed me immensely lately, I'm very grateful and I want to share the love!"

Dave and Christina. I've known Christina for several years and Dave was "married into" the friendship. They have been some of my biggest cheerleaders, no matter what God is doing in my life. They love kids, soccer, having me over for "crazy lady" yoga videos and their puggle, Patience.

Sarah. Sarah and I have known each other since high school. She was my first true friend after I switched high schools and she has been a faithful friend ever since.

Greg & Jen. Greg and I went to Bethel Seminary together and
after Greg & Jen got married, we realized that their new apartment is about 5 blocks away from mine! Greg & Jen volunteered with Flood's pre-marital classes and have a heart for seeing individuals and couples pursue health and wholeness.

Sarah. Sarah is one of those friends that has seen me at my very worst and my very best, and has loved me through it all. We've been backpacking buddies for several years and I love exploring the outdoors with her!

Kaitlin. Like Robyn, Kaitlin and I worked together at San Diego Hospice and recently
volunteered together at Camp Erin, a camp for bereaved kids. I always looked forward to working with Kaitlin, co-leading a group or facilitating art therapy for patients. She has a great sense of humor, sharp wit and a full heart of compassion for others.

Gary & Leora. Last but certainly not least, these two have such a special place in my heart. My mom is a special member of the "30" because she supported me by paying for all of my shots and medication...and yes, she researched malaria to know exactly what will happen to me if I get it. My mom is one of my biggest fans, and while it's hard for her to plug "Uganda" into Google Earth and see just how far I am, she has always told me to follow Jesus wherever he takes me.
Gary is my mom's boyfriend, and loves me like I'm his daughter. He has always told me, "Race your own race, Alair," and I know he's also in the stands for that race, cheering me on. I love his honesty, his heart and the way he can make friends with anyone.

What incredible people I have in my life. Thank you all again!!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Chapter 7: Thanking the 30

"Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Over the past several days, I have experienced genuine community like never before. More than the numbers and dollar signs, your participation in the "One Week...One Month" Challenge showed me that God is faithful, that God is alive in your hearts and that true community can exist.

To all who have supported my upcoming trip to Uganda: thank you. With all the humility, sincerity and authenticity I have, I am truly grateful that you have partnered with me and made this story your own. To the 30 who joined the "One Week...One Month" Challenge, I wanted to recognize your support and who you are in my life...

Jen. Jen and I have been friends since junior high, and some of our first memories involved mission trips to Mexico. Jen and her husband Jason decided to support me "because we fully believe that God has called and gifted you specifically for this time in Uganda. Since we can't join you in serving together this is a way in which we can join in the work that God is doing and will do in and through you." Jen is currently on a short-term mission trip in Lebanon, and you can follow her team at .

Sarah. Jen, Sarah and I actually grew up going to church together and have spent countless hours together on mission trips to Mexico. Sarah has always had a compassionate heart and desire to serve others, no matter who they are.

Linda. Linda was the first of 30 to give! We've been roommates for over 2 years and friends for longer, and she has been cheering me on since Day 1. I've traveled with Linda to Ireland, Colorado, and Yosemite, and I cannot ever repay her for getting me hooked on Harry Potter.

Tasha. Tasha and I spent 7 months together in a spiritual formation group and she has spoken truth into my life like few have. She is a yoga extraordinaire, exudes a sweet spirit and has become a dear friend.

Jamie. Jamie and I worked together at Point Loma for a summer and became friends quickly. She could always make me laugh with a story about one of her tour groups or phone calls, and how I needed that! Jamie shared with me, "Like many, I have a passion for missions, and I like to help whenever I can! Nothing exciting, just understanding the power of community."

Michelle. This girl has a heart for mission work unlike any other! She's currently living in Japan, teaching English and living out the Gospel. Michelle and I also spent a lot of time in youth group together and I was always encouraged by her genuine care and concern for other countries.

April. April and I met through my brother- April was in the same
discipleship program as my brother. Even though we've only seen each other twice, we clicked and have been friends ever since! April and her friend Amy have a really cool business creating some amazing clothing and artwork all by hand!

Adam & Emily. Both Adam and Emily have become good friends, real fast. They're the kind of people you meet once and think, "We're going to be friends." In fact, that's what Emily and I said when we met! I'm so grateful to have their support (and friendship) in my life.

Liz (left). Like Tasha, Liz and I journeyed together through the same seven-month spiritual formation group and she graciously opened her home to our whole group. We instantly bonded over our love for the John Muir Trail and all things nature. I love her wisdom and gentle spirit.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chapter 6: Overwhelmed

It was about 24 hours ago that I announced the "One Week...One Month" Challenge, where I asked for 30 people to commit to giving $50 to raise the remainder of my support.

Since that time, you have given half of the money I need. You said yes and I am overwhelmed.

One of the 30 who said "yes" is Wil Dyer, a good friend from Flood Church who just boarded a plane this evening for Malawi, Africa. Wil and his team will be hosting the first Flood Church Human Rights Initiative, a conference addressing issues such as poverty, domestic violence and child abuse. Wil shared with me:

"I have decided to give to friends that are going on missions that either ask me or are clearly in need. There wasn't necessarily any direct invitation, but what prompted me to give was simply a desire to see God glorified!"

You can follow Wil's trip at .

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Chapter 5: One Week...One Month

As I wrote in the previous blog, I'm getting ready to leave for Uganda in about a month, but I need to raise all my support in one week. That's about $1,500 in 7 days. I need your help.

So, I'm starting the "One Week...One Month" challenge where I am asking you, dear friends and supporters to partner with me in this last week of support-raising before I leave next month. That means I need 30 friends to give $50 in the next week. Will you be one of the 30? If so, simply email me with a "yes" at and I'll give you more details.

Then, I want to feature all of you on this blog and share a bit about what encouraged you to give. Maybe you have a personal story about Africa, or how you wanted to support the growth of marriages and families, or maybe you can't even explain it but something prompted you to give. We are in this together and I want to share this with you.