A Quick Trip to Uganda

Tom Burger, the operations director for With Open Eyes, called me a few short weeks ago and asked about the possility of me accompanying him on a trip to two refugee camps in Uganda in April.  My thinking was that I would have all my corn planted and be at a little bit of a break in the process.  Ha ha!  I worked up until about an hour and a half before I was to be at the airport trying to get the rest of my irrigated corn planted.


But here we are, safe in Kampala.  We brought 40 more drip irrigation kits with us.  The shipment I had been waiting on from GAiNUSA is also in place.  So we will have 140 kits to work with!  We also brought over 80 Luopad packs to share with the ladies in the camps.  (That’s almost 500 individually sewn pads, if you’re keeping score!)  We have 100 Shandon Baptist t shirts to give out to some of the kids.  And we have 500 Jesus bracelets for the kids too.  Pastor Sosthen has nearly 300 kids in his church and school alone!


All of our luggage made it to us at Entebbe.  Tom said that was a first for him in Africa.  I guess I’ve been blessed so far in not having any problems.  The drip kits made it through customs without a hitch.  The only thing that didn’t make it was Pastor Simon!  He dropped his passport and couldn’t make his flight.  But he later found it and will be joining us in Kampala in the morning.  We will then drive the 3.5 hours to Kiryandongo.  The roads are good, so it should be a good day.


We will be at the Kiryandongo camp Sunday and Monday.  Then on Tuesday, we will drive north to the Rhino camp.  Still waiting on final approval to get in there.  On Thursday, we will fly on a charter flight back to Entebbe and start the journey home.

This is a followup visit for me at Kiryandongo.  Jon Ozmint and I were here last year and did training on drip irrigation.  They really mastered it and did well with it.  They ran into a water sourcing problem (dry well) that we will be looking at for correction.   There will also be a meeting of Mobile Messengers on Monday and we will encourage those pastors.

At the Rhino camp, With Open Eyes is looking to start a congregation.  I will also be looking at ways to help them with ag training and supplies.


The internet was down at the hotel this morning because it was raining!  So I am late in posting this.  We have stopped for lunch on our way to Kiryandongo.  That is Pastor Simon on the left, our driver Brian in the middle, and Tom on the right.


Women’s Luopad Project

For the better part of 2 years now, Kristin Mixson has been active in making Luopads for less fortunate women in developing areas.  What are Luopads?  They are a washable, reusable feminine hygiene pad.  GAiN USA got us started with them.  They are packaged in a kit and delivered to women all over the world.  Many women withdraw from society during their time of the month.  Schoolgirls don’t come to school and young women can’t do what they need to to care for their families.  These pads help restore dignity and are also used as an evangelistic tool in teaching women that God loves them.


How are they made?  We use templates to cut out towels and flannel and then the pieces are sewn together.  Help is needed to cut and to sew.  Or if you’d like to purchase supplies we can provide a tax deductible receipt through EDEN.  Here is what is needed:

safety pins (we use 3 per bag)
underwear, size small (we use 2 per bag)
washcloths (1 per bag)
snaps (we use Size 20 Kam snaps–they can be purchased on-line)
flannel material (used is fine)
towels (used is fine)
Over the past 2 years, the ladies working on this have produced nearly 1500 pads.  Over half of those are already in the field, having blessed over 120 women.  If you’d like to be a part of the cutting/sewing, there are some dates coming up at Shandon Baptist Church in Columbia:  February 21, March 14, April 18, May 16, late afternoon/early evening.
Below are some links to more information about the project.


Robert’s Notes on Empukani

We left Pastor Simon’s house in Namanga at the Kenya border around 3:30 Tuesday afternoon and arrived at Empukani around 6 PM. The last 2 hours of travel was on very rough dirt roads severely eroded during the rainy season and marred by dried mud holes. We crossed several bone dry creek beds, some of which were very deep and wide. It was very apparent that we would not be able to pass through these dry gulches during the rainy season that will begin in several weeks, so this trip to Empukani was very timely. There were  regular sightings and encounters in the road of herds of goats, cows, oxen, and/or donkeys, each accompanied by Maasai men. We could see huts along the road and in the distance, which were homes to these Maasai peoples. The countryside was thick with stressed vegetation in some areas and relatively open for miles in some areas, and mostly hilly, with mountains in the distance. We periodically had very brief sightings of wild African wildlife such as ostrich, impalas, gazelles, baboons, zebras, dik diks, and squido. About halfway to our destination we stopped to stretch our legs and the land cruiser filled up with DOZENS of very friendly flies. But thanks to the extended dry season, I did not see one mosquito!
As we approached the Empukani community we encountered several large groups of children that were extremely excited to see us. I learned the next day that they were walking from the schoolhouse in the community to go to their homes that were several kilometers away. When we arrived, we were greeted by Pastor Timothy and his wife, Agnes, and several other of the community members. After introductions, hand shakes and embracing each other in typical African fashion, we managed to pull away to identify the best area to pitch our tents, which we quickly completed as the sun set over the distant hills.
After setting up camp, we mingled with some of the locals as we awaited dinner. We were approached by 4 children, who bowed their heads as they had been trained to do as they approached adults, requesting acceptance to join the group. Acknowledgement was provided by placing a hand on their head. One of the With Open Eyes men, Doug, quickly produced several head lights that he had brought and he delighted them by affixing one on each forehead. The next day we met one of the Maasai men named Paul and learned that these were 4 of his 6 children.
The women set about preparing a great meal for us and we sat around a fire to enjoy our meal, fellowship, and have a time of sharing and singing.
I assure you that all of the meat was VERY fresh and had not been plucked or skinned but a few minutes before being placed in the cook pots. The fresh pineapples, bananas, mangoes, and watermelon were delightful.
Early the next morning, around daylight, before emerging from our tents, I heard voices and footsteps of the local people. From that time around 6:30AM until around 8 AM, groups of children arrived at the relatively new schoolhouse, where they attended school and played sports on the large playground that consisted of a soccer field and volleyball net. I estimated that there were at least 150 children in that field on Wednesday afternoon. They all left in time to get home before dark.
Most of Wednesday was spent with about 30 Mobile Messengers that arrived on motorcycles from around the region. Many of these pastors shared the difficulties they were having with providing for their families because of the demands of ministering to their churches and the difficulties brought on by the dry season. Several of the With Open Eyes men spoke encouragement from scripture. After several hours of sharing and praying, we broke for lunch. After lunch, Jim spent an hour discussing conservation agriculture best practices after which I shared scripture regarding seeking God with an open heart through difficult times.
We enjoyed listening to some of the Maasai men, Paul and Daniel, talk about life as a Maasai. We were very intrigued by their stories of fighting lions that attacked their flocks, and Paul’s success of killing 5 lions with spear and sword that Maasai men carry at all times and are very skilled with. Several of us practiced throwing the spears, but offered no threat to the lion population.
We spent our final night in our tents and rose early on Thursday morning to repack for the trip out of the remote community. After a good breakfast prepared by our gracious hosts, we prayed together, embraced our new friends and brothers and sisters in Christ and departed around 8:30 to travel back to Namanga. We took Pastor Simon’s wife Agnes and Daniel to her house and began the trek north to Nairobi.

God’s Handiwork


I really don’t know where to start to try to relate the last few days.  We are in Nairobi now.  On Tuesday, we had to drive 2.5 hours off-road in a Land Cruiser, through dry riverbeds to get to our destination.  The destination was not Meto as we thought, but rather Empukani, which means a dry place.  That’s how things in Africa often go….you just have to be flexible and roll with it.


Eight of us, along with our most excellent driver, Thomas, and luggage and camping gear and food and water and stuff and things……..all packed in and on top of a Land Cruiser.  And speaking of things, I’ve eaten plenty of boxed chicken lunches in my time, but never had one like this!  These guys rode at my feet for the 3 hour trip from Namanga to Empukani.  Think – no refrigeratrion!


We went there with a team from With Open Eyes to meet with and encourage a group of their Mobile Messengers.  Tom Burger, the operations director for With Open Eyes, and Pastor Benson, the Biblical training director for With Open Eyes from Nairobi, along with Brian Adams and Doug Arvin from Charlotte were the guys we went with.  Pastor Simon’s wife Agnes also went with us to help feed the team and the Messengers.

We were greeted on the road by Pastor Timothy.  He pastors the church at Empukani along with his wife Agnes.  Yes, that makes 2 Agnes’.  About 30 Mobile Messengers met with us on Wednesday.  Once we got to the church, the rolling terrain leveled out onto a beautiful plateau.  When it wasn’t cloudy, you could see Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance.  The elevation was around 5100 feet.  Just breath-taking.  The Namanga Hills are clearly visible in the picture below.  Kilimanjaro is off to the right (not visible) and much further away.  Pastor Simon and Agnes #1’s house is on the other side of these hillls in Namanga.


The church has started a health clinic with a full time doctor and a school with about 100 kids.   Brian used to play baseball at Clemson, and he brought along a bunch of equipment and taught the Mobile Messengers and the kids how to play baseball!  Agnes #1 hit a home run off the old Clemson Ace!  And we just had to introduce the kids to Clemson Tiger pride!  That’s Brian in between Robert and me.

Well, I hate to cut this short, but we’ve got an early morning tomorrow and I’m not even sure about how this internet is going to act about posting this, so I think I will stop here.


But before I do, let me share with you something that Tom shared with the pastors.  He told them that the people they are preaching the Gospel to are already the Lord’s children – they just don’t know it yet.  They were made by God and placed where they are by Him.  The pastors just need to introduce them to Him.  When is the last time you really felt like a child of God?  Do you need to examine your relationship to your Baba (Swahili for Father)?  Do you know that you are a child of God?


Words also cannot express how incredible the night sky is out in the bush.  This was the full moon on Tuesday night.  Too many stars to count.  Sorry the picture doesn’t do it justice!  Good night, Moon!

Gilgal Baptist Church

On Sunday, we traveled about 2 hours to Gilgal Baptist Church in Namanga, Tanzania.  Namanga is a border town and part is in Tanzania and part is in Kenya.  Jim and Jon Ozmint did training on the Kenyan side last year.  In the right photo above, you can see the small generator on the left that they use to power a p.a. system, an electric piano, and lights when needed.


Pastor Solomon (on the right, above) started this church not long ago.  He is a mobile messenger and moved to the area to start the church.  Pastor Simon is on his left.  The church is in a Maasai community.  We were a little late getting there and the church was already singing.  We came in and joined right in.  Robert has been keeping his singing voice under wraps!  Though we couldn’t understand all the words, there was no doubt they were singing their praise to God.

Pastor Tom Burger, from With Open Eyes, preached from God’s word.  I’m glad I didn’t have to wear a coat like Tom, because it was a tad warm in the church!  Below on the left, Pastor Simon is translating for him.  After he finished, Tom asked those that wanted to be prayed for to come forward.  The team then layed hands on those we could get to and prayed for them.

About that time, the other team from With Open Eyes pulled up.  They had gotten in really late the night before from Charlotte.  So we had to introduce them and do some more singing.  I think we finished up around 3pm!

We then went to Pastor Simon’s house and had a wonderful lunch prepared by his wife Agnes and his girls.  We took a look at the garden where Jim and Jon helped set up the drip irrigation last year.  They are getting ready to plant again.


We were also able to visit Pastor Simon’s church, Namanga Baptist Church.  It is in an area of Namanga that has several mosques.  Pastor Simon believes in getting the word out.  He also uses Facebook to share  what the church is doing.

We then journeyed back to Arusha.  The area is in the midst of a bad drought.  A lot of animals are dying and people are hungry.  It is a sad situation.  We are trying to get supplies in to distribute a number of drip irrigation kits for them to use, but have been having logistics problems.

On Monday, we went back to Gilgal and met with the Mobile Messengers of the area.  There were about 18 there.  It was a treat to meet them and spend time with them.  One of the men on the With Open Eyes team is Dr. Winston Godwin and he spent some time talking with the pastors about health issues.

We wrapped up our time in Namanga and headed back to Arusha.  As we approached Mount Meru, it started raining.  It will rain on the Arusha side of the mountain but not on the Namanga side.  But we were glad for those who got some rain.  We cleaned up a bit and went to Khan’s Barbeque again.  I felt like Robert and I couldn’t keep it a secret from the With Open Eyes crew.  We all enjoyed ourselves and ate too much!

The larger With Open Eyes team is headed to Sudan tomorrow morning.  They are delivering more motorcycles for pastors there.  The rest of us will travel to Meto, Tanzania to meet with more Mobile Messengers.  Prayers are appreciated.  We will be without communication until Thursday afternoon.  We hope to update you then!




Mount Kilimanjaro

On Saturday, Robert and I took part in a hike partway up Mount Kilimanjaro with Tom Burger and Pastor Simon Wairerah from With Open Eyes.  We had to leave our hotel at 6:30am.  We met the other guys at their lodge a little later than expected because our driver couldn’t find it.  The only marking was a sign with a K on it and then you drove into what looked like a banana farm.  But at the end of the trail was this:


It was absolutely gorgeous.  We packed up our box lunch and headed to the gate of the park.  My Carolina friends may not appreciate the picture on the left, but they’ll just have to deal with it.  On the right, is a bag from Longleaf Middle School in Columbia.  The whole school read ‘A Long Walk to Water’ last year and they asked me to come talk about my experiences in South Sudan.


We entered the park at about 10am.  Walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk.  I don’t think I’ve ever walked so far in my life.  Did I mention it was also uphill??  It was REALLY uphill!  You are walking through a rain forest as you are going up and it is really spectacular.  Huge trees.  Dense foliage.  Our guide, Ronald was great.  We finally turned around before reaching the first camp, but should have turned around sooner.  My left knee went into revolt when we started down.  Don’t think I’ve ever endured so much continuous pain in my life.  But I had no other option to get down.  There are some areas where there are steps and those were the worst part on my knee.  But I made it all the way down on my own and I feel no need to try that again!

Below are porters.  They carry climbing equipment up for people who are climbing further up the mountain.  It takes about a week to go up all the way and come back down.  The elevation is over 19,000 feet and it is the tallest peak in Africa.


On the left, above, is a Kilimanjaro impatiens.  It only grows on the mountain.  Could it be that the mountain is also a Clemson fan??

We came out of the park at about 5pm.  My knew nickname could have been ‘Hopalong,’  because there was a definite hitch in my giddy-up!  After a good round of Advil, the old knee started cooperating again.  What a day!

Field Trip and ECHO Center Tour

On Friday we were able to take part in a field trip during the morning.  We went out to a farm near Arusha were Tillers International was demonstrating some of their animal drawn equipment.  They are working to provide new tools for farmers to use with conservation agriculture.


ECHO was our host for the conference and they have a training center/tree farm/seed lab here in Arusha.  The director, Erwin Kinsey (on the right, below) is a wealth of information and it was a delight to get to spend some time with him.

Sorry for the fuzziness of this next picture.  But couldn’t resist.  Have no idea exactly what a snot apple is, but I definitely haven’t asked for any apple pie the last few days!


A group affiliated with Willow Creek Church in Chicago allowed us to tag along on their tour of the ECHO facility.  They are a great bunch of people and their director grew up in Augusta.  Small World.  They work in mostly southern Africa.  After the tour, they asked us to accompany them to dinner.  We went to Khan’s Barbeque.  If you ever find yourself in Arusha, you owe it to yourself to go eat there.  Good eats again!

As you can see we are eating outside.  The weather has been great.  Around 85 or 90 during the day and in the 60s at night.  Arusha is at a little higher elevation than some of the other locations we have been to.

End of the Ag Conference

Sorry to be so long in posting an update!  It’s been a busy few days and the internet has been a bit cantankerous!  Hopefully I can get a few things posted tonight.  We finished up the conference on Thursday.  Robert opted for a lighter lunch of crackers and a little nap.  Jim happened to meet a young woman in the LONG lunch line that works with an orphanage in western Tanzania.  We were able to get to know one another pretty well by the time we got through the line.  She is looking for some help with drip irrigation.  We have exchanged emails and will begin the process of looking into how EDEN might help.  How about that?

The conference drew to a close with the performance of a Maasai choir from Arusha.  They were so talented.

They also serenaded us as we started our banquet that evening.  We have had someimg_0793really good food this week!  I don’t think I’ve lost a pound yet!  But we are heading into the bush soon, so that may change!

A few random thoughts..

It has been a long day.  Robert and I both awoke around 3am last night and could not get back to sleep.  At least the phone didn’t ring last night!  I had forgotten what wild dreams this malaria medication can evoke.  Maybe my brain decided it had had enough and didn’t want any more of those.  I’ll spare you the details!

I had also forgotten how much energy it can take to understand folks for whom English is a second language.   I think I have more sympathy now for folks from up North who come visit down South!  But thank the Lord these folks in Africa know English.  If it was up to me knowing Swahili, we would be in trouble indeed.

I have determined that I do not like warm (actually hot!) milk with my cereal.  I do not like it here.  I do not like it there.  I do not think I would like it anywhere!

As to the conference:  what’s up with all the acronyms?  It’s like somebody exploded a case of alphabet soup up in here!  I’ve never seen so many acronyms!

On a more serious note, it was a fruitful day at the conference.  I really was affirmed about some of what we are doing with EDEN through the dialog and presentations today.  Robert and I were both able to engage some other participants and have some good discussions.  I was able to connect with an irrigation supplier here in Arusha at the small trade show that was held.  Hopefully they can help with our supplies for this area.

We made it for the morning worship this morning.  It was a little different for the worship leader to have an Aussie accent, but neat to know that we serve the same God.  And He can understand us, no matter what the accent!

Sorry I didn’t get any pictures today, but we’ve been inside the hotel all day!  I’ll try to do better tomorrow!

Arusha, Tanzania

Mount Meru

After a 24 hour journey, we finally made it to Arusha, Tanzania.  The flights were relatively uneventful.  No crying babies!  Yay!  No sleep, though.  We got in along with about 300 other tired people at about 9pm.  The visa process was something else, however.  Had to wait and wait.  Get in this line to pay.  Then that line to stamp.  Then that line to take a picture.  Then that line to fingerprint.  Finally got out!  But then……customs!  They were not happy with our drip irrigation kits.  Tried to explain we were taking them to Kenya.  Back and forth.  At one point I thought I was going to have to pay a $170 duty on them….almost as much as they are worth here!  And to do it, I would have to leave the airport, exchange money and return because they would not take US dollars.  And by this time it is 10:30 or so.

Well, it was either my charm or Robert’s boyish good looks, but we got out without a duty!  Just kidding, know it was the Lord’s favor.  But…..we got outside and our shuttle to the hotel had left us!  Oh boy!  We talked with a taxi driver and he agreed to take us (about an hour drive).  Moses was a good driver, goes to church and farms a little.  We finally stumbled into our hotel at about 12:30.

Arusha, from a hotel balcony.

I think I got about 5 hours sleep last night.  Slept like a rock until my phone rang at 3:30….some toll free number from the US.  How does that work?  Thankfully, I fell right back to sleep.  Anyway, we had to be up early for the start of the conference.  It is sponsored byt ECHO, a group who promotes agricultural development around the world.  There is a pile of people here!  It is exciting to hear about what is going on.  Not much talk of South Sudan, though.


Robert and I nearly slept through the last two sessions…..at least I did anyway!  It has been a long day.  Think we will get a bite to eat and call it an early evening!