All posts by Megan Murobayashi

Justice, Peace, and Forgiveness

Over the past five weeks our team has been working hard to put a documentary together on Uganda. Coming into the project I didn’t know what we would find but as we listened more to the people we interviewed in Uganda, observed everyday life, and immersed ourselves in the culture, we found three themes to be very relevant to the people in Uganda affected by the 22 year civil war.

Peace
is not just the absence of war. It is when the physical needs are satisfied and there is cooperation from both sides to work for the betterment of the people. In large part, peace also refers to the inner peace of individuals. To not hold a grudge against another and to learn to forgive is essential to peace.

Forgiveness,
in turn, is essential to peace because if we cannot forgive, how can we ask to be forgiven. And if we cannot forgive, we cannot learn to love our brothers and sisters or make a meaningful collaboration for peace.

Justice
requires truth. In finding the truth, forgiveness must be given to establish an honest relationship to work for peace. Justice is not “an eye-for-an eye” but is composed of an element of grace for those affected and an understanding that will hold the right people accountable, in the right way, for their actions.

Burdens and Blessings

I was once told “The greatest vocation is where your greatest joy meets the world’s deepest sorrow.” The search for my vocation has been and continues to be a long, unpredictable journey. A big part that has shaped what I want to do are my experiences in Burma, Cambodia, and now, Uganda. Burma was where I was introduced to the developing world. I first traveled there with my home church when I was fifteen. We spent lots of time with orphans that our church sponsored and cared for and I simply fell in love with them. It was the first time I had stepped outside of my home bubble, the first time I had been surrounded by poverty, the first time I put real faces and relationships to the people in that world. 

This was the beginning of what I like to call my blessed burden.

After that experience I couldn’t look at the world the same way. I experienced a similar culture shock as the culture shock I’m experiencing now as I’m adjusting back from Uganda. Returning from Uganda has refreshed this “burden.” Simple everyday experiences bring me back to my children and friends in Burma, to the beggars in Cambodia, to the people in IDP camps in Uganda.

I often think I’m crazy because I start thinking in terms of people in the developing world and how my actions would be interpreted by them, but more importantly how my actions would affect them. There aren’t a whole lot of people that understand it. (i.e. For instance, I think to myself “If I get this cute $25 skirt, that money could be spent on 50 meals for kids in Burma. “Megan, if you spend less time on Facebook and Netflix, the black holes of your time, and more time working on inVisible Hearts fundraising you can offer your kiddies much more than what you’re offering now.”) 

It is also when I deny these daily realizations that I fall into hypocrisy and I am burdened with frustration. How can I claim love for my kids, for the people in the developing world, when I don’t always choose to make that sacrifice.

I think one of the greatest sacrifices one can make is one’s life. Uganda has played a large part in solidifying what I have been thinking for a while now, that is, wanting to dedicate my life to the poor. 

As much as the people I’ve met weigh on my mind, I feel it has been a blessed burden because I find much joy in the “sacrifice.” I have found my vocation.

Words and Action

In my first blog post I wrote about the conditioning that a lot of people have succumbed to and the negative associations they have with the word “Africa. When I left for Uganda, I was in search of what often doesn’t get as much publicity– the resilience of the human spirit despite the poor surrounding circumstances that seem to plague Africa.

This was no more prominently displayed than in Angelina Atyam, affectionately called Mama Angelina. Her daughter, along with 30 other girls from the same boarding school, were abducted by rebels from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in October 1996. She says “I remember waking up. I screamed. I screamed like a lunatic.  I thought of my daughter. I said a brief prayer. A neighbor led us in another prayer.” As the weeks went by, parents would gather together to pray. The message of forgiveness became real as they recited the Lord’s Prayer.

“Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses…”

Silence fell upon the next line, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Obviously, forgiveness would be difficult to offer to the people who stole your children, raped them, abused them, and forced them to become soldiers that steal, mutilate, and kill. But the power of Mama Angelina’s faith helped her reconcile the tragedy that befell her family and community. 

Recognizing the forgiveness of Christ in her life, she was able to transfer that forgiveness to the rebels who had kidnapped her daughter. After this, she raised her voice, calling for the return of the girls and recognition of the crisis from the international community. The rebels made a proposal: they would give Mama Angelina her daughter back if she quit raising her voice. She said she would only if they released all of the children. But when the rebels refused, she refused their offer also.

In the meantime, Mama Angelina founded the Concerned Parents Association (CPA) and became an international advocate for the children abducted by the LRA, speaking to the UN Security Council in 2005, among other advocacy efforts. 

When our team interviewed her, I was so impressed. She exudes a special type of inner peace that is not found in many and the words she spoke were so genuine and unique. (She’s quite the quotable lady.) 

But what inspired me was not her eloquent statements but the background of knowing that her words are supported by action. It’s easy to talk nice peace and forgiveness fluff but to witness a woman that practices peace and forgiveness after raw, deeply painful experiences, was powerfully moving.

 

This and That: Part 1

It is

so

weird

to return to having everything.

Once the 35 hour travel day back to the U.S. was over and I got back to my room at Creighton, I was immediately thrust back into a luxury world. There I was in a beautiful apartment that is nicer than the hotels we stayed at in Uganda. A large refrigerator (that worked because I had electricity), a bed (with no dead bugs in it), a closet (full of clean, in tact, clothes), a shower (with running, hot, clean water) were waiting for me when I walked through the door.

It is difficult for me to coherently explain the effects of culture shock. Because one of my goals for this blog is to illustrate the differences between life here and life there, and I am failing to adequately articulate why I am overwhelmed, I’ll just show you what we were immersed in for two weeks and what I have just been dropped back into. 

Marie Claire and Normality

My definition of normal has been skewed. Everything here is so raw and real. Here, it is normal for a woman to have an average of seven children but ultimately have only two survive. Here, it is normal for children to walk all the way from their villages to town just to go to school everyday. Here, it is normal for people to spend most of their day walking to find water under the blistering African sun. In a week, I will go back to what I’ve considered normal for most of nineteen years– clean tap water, a good education, cars and a whole family.

On the way here, I picked up a Marie Claire magazine at the airport to read on the trip. The fashion industry reminds me of this change in normality. Fashion is constantly changing. One may think bright vivid eye liner colors like hot pink and bright blue are awful colors to be applied, until it shows up on some runway then in the next week, it’s the hottest trend. (In fact, it’s this summer’s trend, or so I’m told by the magazine.)

I am in Africa. What is normal here is awful. Grass huts for homes, a handful of paved roads, scarce clean water, a terrible government, and the absence of all the luxuries I have at home.  In a week I’ll be surrounded by the normal, the familiar, the luxurious (i.e. laundry machines, showers…with hot water, shoes, medicine, at least a ten dollar bill in my wallet). Facebook, Netflix, work, and school will be placed at my feet and the American complacency will head my way telling me that yes, Africa is awful, but it’s too filled with unbearable problems to be overcome.

Dr. O’Keefe mentioned a phrase that has rung through my head on this trip. “Poverty tourist.” Although the main purpose of the trip is academic, we are all witness to this reality and in some way, we are all changed by this experience. I don’t think that anyone here has the heart (or lack thereof) to be a poverty tourist and witness Uganda and just walk away viewing the world the exact same way as they had before. Although we may be told that Africa doesn’t matter, I don’t think it will be the reality we hold within us.

When I return to the U.S., what is normal to me will change. But I hope, and feel free to keep me accountable, that my recognition of reality will not.

I refuse to wear hot pink eyeliner.

Reality

I have no metaphors this time. This is reality.

 

Yesterday (May 24, 2011) we went to a former IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) Camp. When we first got there, we were shown a memorial for 121 people that were massacred at the site by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). I got chills as they described how people were burned alive and/or shot to death at the very site. There were over a hundred people at this camp when we arrived and we all broke up into three groups to have group interviews with them. After the interviews, the people were able to ask us questions. They all broke my heart. In our group, one man asked if we could take back the orphans to America so they can have a better life. Another asked for funds to pay for education, another for health centers and medicine. Another described other groups that had visited who said they would return and help but never did. They asked whether we would be one of those types of groups. A stab in the heart to say the least.

 

It has been discussed within our group that people in the developing world have an impression that Americans can afford anything, any time. Although we clearly can’t, I can see how they get that impression. We are so incredibly blessed to travel, and to travel in the way that we do. I particularly have seven sets of clothes, all of which are clean, tear free, and stain free. We donate things that are unfathomable to get in a place like this like toys, new clothes, and money.

 

I am perpetually ashamed here.

 

After the interviews, there was a brief celebration with dance and music. Then the donations that we brought from the U.S. were taken out. A crazy crowd basically attacked the single suitcase of measly donations. There was definitely not enough to go around and disappointment set in and the cries of children started to erupt.

 

As heartbreaking as this was to witness, the next thing that happened pained me so.

 

I saw a mother holding her child who couldn’t have been more than a year old. Loving children, I smiled and “aww”ed as I looked upon the face of the child and held her head in my hand. A man standing nearby (I assume it was her father) informed me that the child was ill. She has malaria. All I could stupidly do was frown and say “ohh.” Then he asked “can you help?” I don’t remember what I said exactly but it was something useless and unproductive. I essentially did nothing. I offered that I would keep in touch with camp leaders to try and establish some kind of funding through inVisible Hearts.

 

My prayer has often been “let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God,” a quote by the founder of World Vision. Who knew that I would be the very one to break his heart by doing nothing. I had $200 in shillings in my backpack. In wanting to avoid another scene like the kind that just erupted over the donations, I didn’t pull anything out. It didn’t cross my mind to offer to do anything. I looked at the face of God and did nothing. How disgusting.

 

So now, in trying to actually practice what I preach, I am, and want to offer all of you an opportunity to do something. Network Against Malaria is a non-profit that raises money to buy bed nets that protect against malaria in Uganda by selling unique bracelets, earrings, and necklaces.

Doing something about a problem does not have to be earth shaking. Even the small things help.

Bugs and Joy

These past few days have been a whirlwind of an adventure. Landing in Uganda was such a thrill, especially getting off the plane and inhaling the smell of what my heart has come to associate with joy– the smokey must and body odor of the third world. Normally this would not be the least bit delightful to me but it brought back good memories of the joy I witnessed in Burma and Cambodia.

The drive from Entebee to Lira was seven hours, which was a lot of time to soak in the surroundings. The diversity of Uganda is what struck me the most. The city was bustling, with dirt filled streets and stores that were oddly advertisements as well. (Buildings were covered in red paint and the white Coca Cola logo was plastered on. Pictures will come when I get back). People were dressed in anything from suits and dresses to traditional clothing to rags. As we drove through the rural areas, I got to see the beauty of Africa. The land is just a vast beautiful jungle with the sky stretching farther than that. The houses that we passed were mud huts but we did also pass some tin slums.

We finally got to the hotel in Lira. We are in the middle of nowhere and we wandered around the neighborhood and met the most beautiful children. We are definitely in Africa. As much as we look like spectacles to the locals, the people here are also different from what we’re used to seeing in the US. Skinny, dirt covered children were dressed in raggedy, filthy, torn clothes and wandered down the dirt roads carved out through the bushes.

Our group started taking pictures of the neighborhood children and immediately sparks flew and joy flew out from their faces. They LOVED seeing themselves in our cameras and had so much fun making faces and posing with us. Even though they have very little, their joy was infectious. It was a lovely moment where two cultures collided.

Another observation that I’ve had (that many of us have had) of Africa is that there are SO MANY BUGS. I have never seen so many bugs in my life. We are in a sense like bugs ourselves. We fly around looking like strange creatures in a different world, observing what we see. (It never ceases to amaze me how backwards my life in the US is.) As a bug you can see things in a magnified vision, making the big things like poverty much more obvious than a TV screen presents in the states. But you also are put in a natural environment where you can see things for what they are. There have been multiple moments in the few days I’ve been here where such great moments have presented themselves.

Among them was an African dance party. The hotel booked a local dance troupe to perform for us, which was great. But afterwards, someone turned up the music and everyone got up and danced together.

This is a moment where the strange pale bugs from the US got squashed. In a carefree moment, the division between bugs and Africans disappeared and we all just became human.

There are SO many more moments to blog about but there are not enough hours in a day to do so when you’re in Africa. So I’ll leave you with a “Stay tuned for next time” list to look forward to. (Google these things. It’s awesome)

Interviews with Mama Angelina, the Concerned Parents Association (CPA), and Rachele Secondary School. (A woman whose daughter was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and started the CPA. The school provided education to child soldiers who escaped the LRA.)

 

 

“And herein lies a sobering truth: I am free when I am out of control, when I get out of the way and let those walls come down.” –Gary Smith

Bullets and Change

It has finally hit me.

I am going to Uganda.

After months of talking about going to Uganda, the moment has finally come for me to actually go. I am terrified. I am terrified because, like the sound of a fired bullet, the realization has hit my senses that I will never be the same again after what is heading my way actually hits me.

I am going on a trip halfway across the world to a strange land, with people I don’t know very well, to learn more about the Ugandan church, and to make a documentary– a task I am only now learning, three days before we leave.

As we are only mere hours away from lifting off to fly to Uganda, time is just flying as I triple check my bag to make sure that I have everything that I need. I am checking my mind to see that my sanity is still there and that this is not just part of a dramatic Hollywood movie. I am mentally “preparing” (as much as one can prepare for a trip like this) for what I might experience. I don’t have very specific expectations for this trip only because I want to be open to whatever I experience there. I just know that I will be changed.

I am only human. When the bullet finally hits me, blood and guts will fly. I am only reading about the history of Uganda and the church’s role in it and my heart breaks. I cannot imagine what it will feel like when I get there and meet people who fully understand the experience. But in being blown away, I’m sure it will hurt.

After this present phase of terror and the initial shock, an expectation that  that I have for myself is that I do something with the experience. That I am so marked and changed by it that I come back dying to share it with other people. I do not want this to be a failed trip in that I do not share it with other people. In this sense, I am grateful that we are making a documentary. As a generally soft spoken person, it’s useful for me to use such visual aids to convey certain experiences.

I’ve heard it said “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” I hope to view this encounter with an openness that will allow me to forever be changed and to never forget.

Let the bullet fly. 

Alarms and Africa

Today I awoke to the sound of my cell phone alarm. As a college student who loves sleep, I grudgingly turned it off and got out of bed. I have grown to hate the sound of that ring, not because the musical tone is annoying but because I am conditioned to associate that sound with the rude awakening from blissful sleep.

When people in the U.S. hear the word “Africa,” they experience a similar aversion. “Africa” triggers images of disease, poverty and dying children. It is the rude awakening from blissful ignorance and complacency.

Uganda is a place with a long history and while the people of Uganda may suffer from the above stereotypes, I don’t believe that that is all that defines them and  am excited to look beyond the stereotypes and find out what Uganda actually is. I refuse to hit the “snooze” and go back to sleep, ignoring reality.

I was interested in taking this backpack journalism course because I love to get thrown into new experiences, even if it means getting slapped around a bit after seeing the raw realities of the world. In my own experiences traveling to other third world countries like Burma and Cambodia I have been a witness to absolute poverty but also absolute joy in the midst of it.

Waking up is the hardest part. Waking up requires becoming aware of reality. Waking up is acknowledging your ignorance. Waking up requires visible action. But waking up gives us the joy of living life free of dull apathy.

While I expect to hear of past suffering and see present struggles in Uganda, I know that there is power and resilience in the human spirit and this is what I am most looking forward to seeing in whatever way, shape, or form it comes in.

It’s time for the morning to begin.