Memoirs of Mzungus

Always wondered what ROWAN is really doing on the ground? Read the experiences and travel tales of past interns.

Smiling woman with two kids

Unending Smiles – by Joy Janszen, 2012

Unmistakable smiles. Unconditional love. Unwavering strength. Unselfish servant hood. Unbreakable relationships. Unending fellowship with each other and with Jesus Himself. Unified hearts, spirits and lives. This is Mawanga.

I can’t seem to find the words to adequately describe my experience in Mawanga but I will try. My vision of the village and what I imagined it would be, didn’t quite meet up to what I experienced. I was stretched, challenged, humbled, strengthened, loved on, embraced, shown grace, mercy, and so much more that I could ever imagined.

From the first steps on the beautiful dirt, to the tears I left behind, I know one thing is for sure…God is moving among the people there. For me to catch a glimpse of His work was such a privilege and honor.

I have so many stories from the village. Journey with me to the remote village in eastern Uganda….We would be welcomed by friendly animals such as the cows, goats, chickens, lizards, the loud birds, and the lovely rats that paid a nightly visit as I dosed off the sleep… but that’s just the beginning.

Then we would meet the individuals that make up the Mawanga community – and listen to the testimonies of the hundreds of lives ROWAN is impacting; which include a group of about 30-50 of the most beautiful and strong widows I have every met. Not to mention, 100 plus orphans who are being ministered to throughout the week and the amazing local ROWAN staff who give their time sacrificially every day. They serve, love, and empower the people of Mawanga with the ability and vision that God gives to them.

We would go together on a motorcycle within the 30 villages that ROWAN reaches to sit and encourage people living with HIV in their homes, we would prepare the garden for planting dozens of passion fruit trees, we would visit the adult literacy class that serves 80 community members weekly and learn patience from the widows that make bead necklaces out of paper! After this long day, we would barely even notice the rats as we fall fast asleep under our mosquito nets!

One of my most memorable experiences was meeting all the secondary students (high school) and hearing about their dreams and goals! In addition, I got to teach songs to the young children, and walk around the land that we believe the Lord will give us one day for a school. But even with all of these incredible memories and, I had found something even greater. I realized that the more time I spent in Mawanga, the more I got to SEE Jesus.

From the preparation state I was encouraged to go with an openness of the heart, soul, and mind. I was challenged to OPEN my eyes and SEE. So many times we can go watch and look from afar, but when you are aware and you stop to SEE what is right in front of you, it changes everything.

Each time I went to Mawanga, I wanted to see what Jesus wanted me to see. I prayed that He would show me who to see with spiritual eyes, who needs to be loved, touched, and given value and hope. I desired to see beyond what I could physically see. I can’t tell you how that changed me. I saw Jesus do so many things… I saw how He is bringing tangible HOPE to people. I saw how he reaches down and carries the weary. I saw how he supports and provides for the widows. I saw how he is restoring relationships, bringing community and fellowship into a place that has been so desperate for it. I saw how he has brought smiles of joy back on the faces of so many who have felt helpless in the past.

I realized that when I was willing to go where he called me, he welcomed me into a family that loves radically and unconditionally. I saw how Jesus is healing, making all things new, and drawing each person to Himself. I saw how alive Jesus is and dwelling there in Mawanga. I saw how much more Jesus’ love is for me.

I cannot think of a more beautiful place to have spent my time. There is life, freedom, and HOPE rising! I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have come alongside ROWAN and everyone involved! I am looking forward to many more moments in the village as I plan to go back in April. Time to head back to my second home.

Smiling woman

They Call Me Abua – by Aubrey Ford, 2011

A small glimpse into my 2011 internship with ROWAN

When Kelsey asked me to guest blog about my summer internship with ROWAN I was suddenly overwhelmed with amount of stories and moments I wanted to share. I had no idea how to describe on paper what was felt and experienced so fully in the heart. However, I want to share with you guys a glimpse of my journey to and from Mawanga and my hope is that it inspires you to be apart of the ROWAN family and GO.

I was born with a heartbeat for social justice and that part of me came alive in high school when a teacher mentored me towards a better comprehension of so many human rights violations occurring in the world every single day. During that time I learned about the evils happening in Uganda and the only thing to follow was activism.

I was blessed with incredible parents that let me sleep in New York City parks, skip school to lobby in DC, and rescue ride in vans with total strangers so we could spread the need for change with resilient hope. The end goal for so many of us was to go to Uganda and be in person with the people we were fighting for.

Little did I know that goal was not the end, but the beautiful beginning of something I now carry with me every day.

When Kelsey accepted me to come along as an intern there were no words to describe how excited I was to finally go meet and help them. Oh how naive I was! Naive to think that I would show up and change their lives, when the exact opposite happened. I arrived in Mawanga and without hesitation the people welcomed me to their table, into their lives, and they called me Abua. It was my life that was changed and I traveled home a few months later knowing so much more grace, love, healing, joy, and feeling fiercely alive!

There are so many reasons why I left that special village changed, but one thing I will always carry with me is how we began and ended our day as a family. We would wake up to find that Pastor Paul and Mama had already been up before the sun praying for the day ahead and preparing breakfast. We would drag ourselves out of bed and meet them at their humble breakfast table and this definitely-NOT-a-morning-person would begin her day with popcorn, a sense of full presence, and a vision for the day ahead. Then we would be sent out and our job as interns for the summer was to collect stories, observe, gather information, and brainstorm self-sustainable programs that would practically empower and support the orphans and widows.

For me, the absolute best part of our job was to love the orphans and the only gift we had to give them was our time. So the majority of our day was spent breaking the language barrier with dance and trying to play soccer in our skirts. When that golden African sun came up we were apart of their day-to-day routines and when the sun went down I had never slept so well in my entire life. We worked hard all day and slept hard all through the night. Well, expect for one night when a spider bit Kelsey on the face and I crashed a boda-boda in the village center.

I can’t paint a picture of the entire summer being blissful and perfect. No matter the scale, every day there was something challenging that came our way, but we would learn from what was thrown at us and our own mistakes as a team.

The end of our day was always book-ended back at the table as a family with tired bones, heavy eyes, bug spray in our pockets, and potently smelling like wet-wipes. I remember so clearly how we would spend that time sharing about our day, reflecting with so much gratefulness, and in stitches at Pastor Paul’s hilarious little stories that can bring even the groggiest of interns into eye watering laughter.

For me the internship was everything I hoped for and more because of the orphans’ infectious joy and that humble little table in Mawanga, Uganda.

Wherever you are in life I hope that you have a table where you gather with your family; and if you don’t I hope that you that you seek or create one! So that you can be filled up, challenged, loved and then sent out into your day/life/dreams/moments feeling fully known and fully loved!

Maybe you did not spend years dreaming about Uganda and maybe it is not a journey you need to take to discover yourself. However, wherever you are in life I hope that you always always always take the chance to bring yourself, just as you are, to gather around the ROWAN table. If you have the chance to GO I hope you say “YES!” to visiting Mawanga to become apart of this beautiful family!


Experience of a Lifetime – by Christine Elsas, 2010

Interning with ROWAN has been the experience of a life time and I would not trade it for anything! Here is a little about my experience…So, Village life is quite the experience, you have lots of friends: chickens, cows, goats and dogs that roam the dirt roads you walk upon; Frogs that sit next to your bucket of water as you bathe; mosquitoes who want to remind you when dusk is approaching; lizards that line the walls and ceiling of your bedroom; rats that scurry about below the foot of your bed, get on your mosquito nets, and onto your feet as you try to sleep; hundreds of loud birds nesting in the tree right above where you sleep to assure you when the sun is rising; and of course cockroaches that sit happily awaiting to wish you a good morning. Haha, good thing little creatures do not bother me too much.

Village life is also very hard: children are half-dressed in filthy clothes with holes throughout them, big bellies and orange hair accompany the malnourished ones; people are not able to provide for the basic needs of food, clean water, or a storm proof/ rain proof shelter; witch doctors and muslims with multiple wives destroy many families; spirits that will convince people to drink blood, have people bury people thinking they are dead when they are only sleeping and rape that spreads sexual diseases, especially HIV AIDS; Every person in the villages knows a friend or family member who has been affected by AIDS; orphans, widows, and widowers can be found hopeless. These people are desperate.

BUT…Village life is experiencing a revival that I believe is going to spread like wild fire! When there is desperation, there is need. When people need God, God can move. They need Him literally for their daily bread; they depend on Him for restoration in their souls; they long for Him to change their heartlessness to full joy and compassion in the midst of their own suffering.

Brothers and Sisters, these people have seen who they were and what there life was like before receiving the grace of God through repentance and belief of Jesus being their personal Savior. They have experienced spiritual warfare as I have never seen. They know how Satan was taunting and controlling them and their families before Jesus came into their lives. These people have been RADICALLY changed. These people truly BELIEVE our God, the God of the Universe, the God of every tribe, tongue and nation, that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life!

I had the honor and priviledge to participate in an African Wedding! My first Christian African Wedding…all I can say is “THAT was a wedding!” TIA (This is Africa) time is when the wedding begins. Whenever the bride is ready and arrives. Could be noon, could be 5 p.m., no one really knows. And talk about a celebration! They hoot and holler, the laugh and dance, they blast music and have quite a ceremony.

Home Visits (Mon-Wed) – Orphans and Widows infected or affected by AIDS around the village and surrounding villages. On my first visit, two people accepted Christ as their personal Savior while me and Christopher where talking with them, one was a Muslim with three wives! Met, observed and learned about the ROWAN programs, Literacy class for widows, bead making, pineapple & coffee growing. Cleaned the ROWAN office building and reorganized it.

While I was there, ROWAN had its first staff board meeting ever held for ROWAN where about 7 of us gathered and unified with job descriptions, success stories, devotional, prayer and song, future ideas for ROWAN, etc.

We held the first AIDS awareness/fellowship time going through questions that the widows/widowers may wonder/feel such as:   How do you feel about yourself now that you have HIV? (answers included: Worry, Feel as though may die at anytime, give up on life, sell belongings, lose of dignity, suspicious that people are always talking about you) What do others think about you? (That you are a fornicator, they call us as a Grave moving, they despise you and stop respecting you)

We participated in the ROWAN Saturday orphans program filled with devotions, Bible study, singing, dancing, drama, games (soccer tourney: oh yeah!), breakfast and lunch, and other such events.

Above all of these incredible experiences, I fell in love with the Jesus in these people. The relationships, their stories, the actual truth of the gospel lived out in each of these people. That is what I especially gained from this internship.

And there is Pastor Paul: The founder of ROWAN. He has been beaten, falsely accused, put in jail…it is no mistake that his name is Paul. He truly is the modern day Paul. He has authority in so many ways. He can speak of forgiveness because he has forgiven those who plotted against his life (people who even had befreinded and helped supporting them financially to get them through school). He can care for the lost and forgotten orphans and widows because he once found an orphan, locked in a hut, had been given alcohol for food, no sunlight, no haircut for a year. This child had jiggers throughout his whole body. Pastor Paul took him into his own house to raise him and even cut the jiggers out one by one.

He has authority to do what he is doing because he has always been doing it. He started meeting with widows under a mango tree several times a week to bring them into community, fellowship, and friendship. He has 8 children of his own and could very easily have gone to live a “better” life for his family but has chosen to stay in the village with his people. His passion, his desires, his dreams, his drive all stems from one thing: His love for Jesus Christ who some years earlier had radically changed his own life. His own children have told me the radical difference between the dad before he knew Jesus and the dad he is now!

There are more and more testimonies I have from this experience that have blown my mind. All that I experienced would be too long to write here. I just want to always remember, we serve an all-powerful, all-loving God. Amen Jesus! We have a Spirit inside of us that is more powerful than the Spirit that is in the world: May I start living like I believe that!

Woman sitting under a wall with graffiti

All is right in God’s world – by Megan Fabry, 2006, Communications Director

If I had to distill all of the education the village of Mawanga gave me down to one basic lesson, I would say I came away with this: Despite the fact that so much appears to be very wrong with this world, all is very right with God’s world.

Below are a few of my journal entries from 2005-2006.

I went to my first church service today. I didn’t realize how big of a deal church is here. It is the one excuse during the week to get dressed up and everyone really takes advantage of that. It was more like attending a wedding, really. It was very formal, very planned out. I feel like I should have brought some kind of prom dress so that I could’ve fit in better.

The congregation stared at me the whole time, and I attempted to blend in as best I could. The music was my favorite part: the drums, Elijah’s sweet piano playing, the chanting, the clapping, the stomping, the kids dancing. If Mzungus had church services like these, I think I’d enjoy them more. Oh, despite all that’s wrong with my westernized world, all is so right with this whole world.

Edith taught me how to weave a mat with palm leaves today. Everyone laughed at my obvious lack of adeptness, but I’m sure that in a few days I’ll be able to prove my mat-weaving skills. In return for the kind instruction, I taught Edith the English alphabet. She was fascinated by it and was thrilled to be able to keep the notebook and pen I gave her. It takes so little around here to bring a sense of hope and renewal. All I did was teach her the alphabet, and her smile could have lit up the entire village. Oh, despite all that’s wrong with this illiterate world, all is so right with this simple world.

I can’t get over the strange infiltration of Mzungu-ness that has somehow seeped back into the bush here. This morning I was walking through rows of maize, through the back bush trails, and there was an Afrikaan man going out to his plot of land, carrying a massive radio on his shoulder and a shovel in his hand. You’d think that the radio would be playing some sort of Afrikaan-y, tribal music, but it wasn’t. Instead, Justin Timberlake was blasting out of that thing. Seriously, Justin Timberlake was singing his Cry Me a River love songs out in the middle of the bush. If Justin Timberlake can be so many places at once, I really should be able to believe that God is omnipresent! Oh, despite all that’s wrong with this pop-culture world, all is so right with this rural world.

Pastor Paul and his family are teaching me a song in Lugandan. My favorite part is singing the “Chibumba Murungi!” because it sounds so cool and African-y. I asked Paul to translate it for me, and he said that it’s talking about God’s love–asking God to pour it out onto his children so much that it pours out of Him the way a ton of water chugs out of a bottle. Paul laughed as he was explaining it to me, but I was bowled over by the brilliant imagery. I could not think of a better, more relevant metaphor.

Water is such a precious commodity here, and the work and time it takes to get it is great. The people use these massive plastic bottles called “Jerry cans” to carry it to and from the waterhole. I’m not strong enough to actually pick the bottles up, so whenever I take a bath, I have to kick the bottle over and let the water sort of fall out on its own. Just like the song says, the water chugs out and makes a “glunk, glunk” noise. I never would have been able to think on my own that God’s love is capable of being poured out like this. Oh, although there’s so much I know I do not understand with this world, all seems very understandable in my world.

I met the widows today. They came over to Paul’s house and we all sat under a Mango tree and tried to talk to one another. Elijah was kind enough to translate for me, and I wrote down snippets of their stories. I kept asking them what their respective ages were, but each one laughed at me. None of them really knows what age she is. What’s age, anyway? Numbers and measurements are laughable things out here. Oh, despite all that’s wrong with this mathematical world, all is so right with this rounded world.

Today I awoke to routine. The mornings are spent waiting for breakfast, for popcorn, pineapple, and posho. I tried to get Edith to let me help, but she absolutely refuses. Her happiness lies in her ability to be hospitable to me, and I think it’s my duty, at this point, to let her do whatever she wishes. She, like every other African female here, is the complete mistress of the household –everything runs smoothly because of her (I’m realizing more and more each day that Africa is carried entirely upon the backs of its women).

The morning continues: Muhamaddi washes the dishes and stares at my window, waiting for me to come out. I always spend these early hours sneaking a peek through my window, watching the routine happen without me. The kids wake up bouncing off the walls. Phillipo hops on his bike and goes to the waterhole to get water. The girls are already giggling and helping their mother prepare food.

The village is awake as soon as the sun comes up, and it’s amazing how both quiet and loud the energy is. Birds create the backdrop of symphonic sound, and the human tasks create the melody. I feel like a simple harmony, a Mzungu-y back-up vocal; but I know that to them, my mere presence is a great addition–a cymbal crash at the end of their sad song. Oh, despite all that’s wrong with this symphonic world, all is so right with this wonderful world.

I’m developing a routine. I walk with the kids once in mid-morning and once at dusk. They are teaching me the language. I’ve learned how to say, “Bye, Enduba!” which means “Goodbye, Sun!” We say it whenever we take a walk at dusk. They are starting to look forward to these times and are coming to expect them. Every morning at around ten o’ clock, I put on a little bit of Mzungu-y mascara (as if I’m actually back home), groom myself, make myself presentable and head out to the dirt road.

The kids are already there, waiting for me, giggling. I smile at them, take as many as I can by the hand; and we begin our walk back into the bush, where the rice paddies and the furthest waterhold is. I listen to my music and sing the songs out to them, making funny dance moves, yodeling at the top of my lungs, acting funny and strange. They love it. I let the kids listen to the music, but I have to be careful because many of them haven’t ever heard anything like it; so they can become quite frightened by it. One child started to cry after I put the headphones into his ears. It makes sense, though: beauty is painful to listen to. Oh, despite all that’s wrong with this painful world, all is so right with this beautiful world.

I met the orphans today. We made balloon animals together. There were about twenty of them, and they all sat under the mango tree while I attempted to make sorry-looking giraffes and snakes. I had a hard time telling if they were at all entertained, for they are all very shy. I tried to learn each of their names and a bit of their stories. Tabitha and Esther had lost their dad to AIDS only a months earlier. I’m not sure if they have AIDS as well, and I don’t think Paul knows either. How many balloon animals do you think it took for them to smile? Not even one. I want to be the least of these when I grow up. I want to be the least of these, just like the orphans are. Oh, despite all that’s wrong with my world, all is so right with God’s world.