Back to Uganda

Beth and I are headed back to Uganda. Crazy!

We have had the honor of getting to know the people and work of Kibo Group up close and personal. I spend a significant amount of my time working for them figuring out how to tell the story of Kibo Group to more people. We have been able to visit Uganda twice. I count it a privilege to get to work with people who are trying to solve big problems around the world.

So, I am taking a little business trip. I will be making videos, taking pictures, having meetings, and learning more about how Kibo fulfills our mission. Beth is coming along to help out. Its a bit surreal actually. The last two times we have gone have been with big groups, one of which we were leading. There was a lot of work to make sure everybody was ready, I had to get shots and buy power adapters, and it was all new. This time we just went on and booked some tickets. It’s still a really big deal! We are going halfway around the world to a totally different culture and place to learn and bring back a few stories. I am blessed.

If you want to know more about Kibo Group check out and find us on facebook. 

A post about Kibo

This is going to show up on the blog in a few weeks, but i thought i would test it out here. -Ben


Three years ago my wife and I moved to Tulsa for an internship  at Garnett Church of Christ through GPS Tulsa. We were a bit old for internships, but it seemed like it would be an adventure.
The first day of our internship Bobby and Candice showed up at church, along with some people from Water4 and we started digging a well in the front yard. This is how we were introduced to Kibo Group. Three years, two trips to Jinja, hours of conversation with Greg, Ronald, Bobby, Roy, Candice, Abraham, Rachel and Clint later I’m all in. I believe in what Kibo is doing, and want to be a part of it.

It’s hard to summarize in just a few paragraphs all the elements that draw me to Kibo, but a thread that seems to connect them is that Kibo acknowledges and even embraces complexity. I’m a big fan of simple solutions (I think egg beaters are genious, and I also think this food processor needs one less button), but sometimes we make things too simple. Our simple solutions don’t solve complex problems.

We can look at people in need and think their problems are simple. We see they don’t have money, food, water, shoes, or education. If we are feeling generous it seems easy enough to provide those things. Or, if we are feeling a bit cynical, or a little judgmental we say that person should just get a job, or just buy some shoes, or just go back to school. Both of these responses ignore the complexity of the situation.

Instead we have to let go of our assumptions, ask questions, try to understand how people can solve their own problems, understand what we should not do, understand how we can help, listen to people, and be patient. Perhaps above all be patient and willing to accept slow solutions.

These things are not easy. They force us to think deeply, and to accept that we can’t solve everybody’s problems through the strength of our minds and hands. They make us realize we might not be able to take a quick glance at the world and understand it. And slowly we see the complexity.

I have had the opportunity to observe Kibo, first from the outside and now from the inside, I am convinced that Kibo is trying to understand and embrace the complexity. The process is slow, imperfect, and sometimes boring, but it is also deep, fulfilling, and empowering. For my part I am honored to play a small role in an amazing group of people acting redemptively in the lives of people around them.

The elephant incident.

One of the things we were able to do at the end of our trip was go on Safari. We rented a van & driver/guide who drove us around the park. Ojok was our driver & we really had a great time with him. He was able to take us right to where the lions were on our first drive & we saw lions again on our second drive. (Murchison Fall National Park has tons of animals & we were easily able to see giraffes, elephants, hippos, SO many species of birds, etc. But the lions tend to be a bit more mysterious, and harder to find. Having a driver or guide who talks to the other drivers & guides & can get you to the precise location in the very large park (over 1,000 square miles!) is really valuable.

I mentioned the elephant incident briefly in my last post, and have since learned that his company was really concerned after hearing about the “incident.” Now I’m thinking that maybe we were experiencing more of an adventure than we even knew at the time!

Here’s what I remember…There was an elephant sort of behind a tree on the left side of the road that we were able to get pretty close to in the van. We knew there were other elephants just around the corner on the right side of the road. But as we advanced, the elephant walked toward us, and out into the road facing the van. That’s when Ojok started beating his arm on the side of the van & told us to do the same. We did that for a little bit & then slowly started backing up the van, making sure the elephant wasn’t going to see that as us retreating & just start coming after us. Then Ojok navigated a pretty amazing 8-point about face turn in the road & we drove off in the other direction.

Well here, watch for yourself…

An adventure for sure! ūüôā

Thoughts on our trip

One of our teammates from last year’s trip recently asked us these questions. Spending 10 days in a completely different place is sort of hard to sum up nicely in a normal “How was your trip” conversation. So in an attempt to share about our trip, I’m going to answer Jo’s questions. I know what you really want are pictures, but this will have to do as a start…. ūüôā


What were the key moments when you had opportunities to minister to others? (Ugandans, Candice and Bobby and team members) 

This is surprisingly hard to answer. I suppose that this time, we were able to minister to Bobby & Candice (Americans living in Jinja, working with Kibo) by bringing them some “comforts of home” like crushed red pepper flakes & contact solution. When you’re living somewhere like Jinja you might only get one or two options on the kind of contact solution you can pick up at the corner store. And if it’s not the kind that you prefer, then when someone is coming from “the land of plenty” where you can find 15 different types of contact solution in every corner store, then that might be something you’d request too. We also brought things like good, quality scissors & dry erase markers for the Kibo employees to use in their offices. You can find these things there…but they might not last as long, or they might be really expensive. ¬†Bobby & Candice also ordered some things online & had them shipped to us. Us packing them in our luggage was much cheaper than shipping something from to Uganda. So we were able to minister to Bobby & Candice in that way, by bringing them some “comforts of home”.

We also really saw our role this time as facilitators for the rest of our team. We helped coordinate the pre-trip meetings, we kept track of the group money & paid for meals, etc. It was fun to see the change the group went through from first impressions & being a bit overwhelmed by the smells & sights & sounds, to falling in love with this place, in the same way we have.

Is it strange that I am having the hardest time knowing when I might have ministered to Ugandans?  I feel like they did much more ministering to me than the other way around.


What were the key moments when others ministered to you? 

Bobby & Candice (& Rachel!-another Kibo staffer) took care of so many details for our trip that it made it easy for us to just show up & go where they had arranged for us to go. And Ida (one of the Ugandan Kibo staff) was very transparent about parts of her life & marriage. Hearing part of her story & seeing redemption there & seeing the way she gives & gives to others was really encouraging to me.


What went unexpectedly wrong? 

Hardly anything! When we arrived back in Tulsa, one of our trunks of coffee wasn’t on the baggage carousel with all the others…but we were able to find it before we left the airport. Most of the rest of the team had flight delays on the way back & got home much later than planned…but we all got home.

One afternoon a few of the girls were sort of stranded by the driver at an orphanage. There was some miscommunication & the driver thought he was supposed to wait for them somewhere else. They ended up having to find their own transportation (personal taxi motor bikes) back to meet up with the rest of the group. It was a bit more of an adventure than they had planned for that afternoon, but I think they all actually enjoyed it!


What went surprisingly right?

Lives were changed! And we made it through the Murchison part of our trip “on our own”, just Ben & I in charge-no Bobby & Candice to help us navigate things. This means that we successfully got the group to the game park (a several hour drive), into the park (with fees), across the ferry at the appropriate times, to the lodge, and back to the airport. AND along the way, I did not lose any of the group money, we had no vehicle issues, and we saw 4 lions & experienced a minor confrontation with a rather large elephant & lived to tell about it. Success in my book! (Big Thanks to our driver, Ojok, who was really, really helpful with all of those things.)


What are some things you learned about yourself?

I was reminded that I am naturally a “rescuer”. I want everyone to have very low anxiety & be happy. So it was stretching for me to not have all the answers. Or even if I did have some information about what was coming up next, to not share that all the time & allow people to work through some of their anxieties.



And…here we go…

The house is bought, the bags are (mostly) packed, the final wal-mart run has been made. Its time to go to Uganda.

It has truly been a crazy last few days. We really did buy a house just 4 days ago. I think “house owner” has not really set in yet (partly¬†because¬†really we are just %5 owner…the bank still owns a lot of this house!). It is exciting though to be able to look around know we are here long term, that we can do projects that might take a year or more to finish and know that we will be here to see them through. So…its all exciting, but i have not had time to really process the whole thing. Oh…a huge thank you to all the people who helped us move. You made our lives easy that day and we are really thankful!

In the mean time…we are laving for Uganda in the morning. We talk about Uganda and our¬†involvement¬†with Kibo Group a lot on this blog, so just search through the Uganda category¬†if you want to catch up. As we prepare for this trip there are lots of things going through my mind: I am excited to get to share Jinja and the work that Kibo does with new people who have never been there before. At the same time I am a bit nervous about being the¬†facilitator of this trip, and supposedly the leaders of the group. In the end I want those of us that are going, and those who we will be seeing in Jinja to learn and grow from these next few days, and for God to be glorified through this trip.

We will write a lot more about this when we get back, and we may do some updates while we travel (no promises…), until then we hope that you will pray for our journey.

Fundraising Update!

***Finished! Thanks to the generosity of our church and friends and family we are essentially done. Thanks for the help!***

We only need about $2,000 to finish out our fundraising for this trip! (We started needing $6,400…we are so close!)

This is basically the cost of 1 of our plane tickets.

Here’s how that $6,400 breaks down, in case you’re interested:

  • Plane Ticket: $2000 each
  • In Country Expenses (food, lodging, transportation, safari): $1200 each
  • Total Needed: $6,400 ($3,200 each)
  • Total Received: $4,400
  • Total Still Needed: $2,000

If you would like to help out the details are on the  Kibo page. Just put Ben and Beth in the purpose line of the paypal form, or your check or whatever.


Ebola in Uganda

Many of you have asked us about the Ebola outbreak in Uganda, and how that will impact our trip.

I think it is safe to say that some people might read a headline that says “Ebola Outbreak In Uganda” and make some assumptions that look something like the¬†The Black Death of 1348 to 1350, which may have killed off something like a quarter or half of the worlds population. So, this is a good chance for you to use your “find out the rest of the story, challenge your¬†assumptions, get the context, etc” skills that I’m always talking about.

Ebola is of course a serious thing…its sort of bad to get Ebola after all. So, as we plan our trip to Jinja, Uganda we will take¬†seriously any developments that come about.¬†¬†It is our intention (in this case and in life in general) to live a life of wisdom, but not a life of fear.

So, at this point there are 20 confirmed cases of Ebola which are in a small geographic area, and confined to a single family. The outbreak is not in the same area of the country at Jinja. There are 6 more suspected cases which are still confined to the same geographic area. The World Health Organization, The Center for Disease  Control, and the Ugandan government are all actively working to contain the outbreak, and at this point have not issued any travel warnings for Uganda. The world has a lot of motivation to contain outbreaks like this quickly, and it our expectation that this outbreak will be done by the time we are in Jinja.

We are of course in touch with Kibo staff in Uganda, and we trust them completely to give us good advice as we prepare for our trip, and we will continue to seek wise counsel and pray for wisdom.

Update (August 8, 2012):

Just a quick update to this post. As of now the Ebola outbreak is basically considered contained. An August 3rd update from the WHO puts the current numbers at 53 suspected cases, 16 deaths, and there is an extensive list of people who had contact with cases who are being monitored.

There were reports that the outbreak had skipped to a different region of Uganda, however, “So far all samples from other districts have tested negative for Ebola”, so it appears that the outbreak remains isolated to a small area of the country.

Back to Africa

This picture was taken one year ago:

Two wide-eyed Americans, armed with passports, a few shots, prayers & curiosity. Headed into a land & a people that were unfamiliar.

We returned with a good supply of African (& European) dust in our backpacks, stories of new experiences, pictures & memories of a trip that has forever changed us.

And apparently once was not enough. We are headed back. In just 2 months we will return to Ugandan soil, fresh pineapples & bananas, dusty streets filled with a perfume of exhaust & burning trash, & friends who will smile huge smiles & hug us with love & welcoming arms.

We made a short video to explain the trip & why we are going back. You can watch it here:

Trip to Jinja-QuickTime H.264 from Ben West on Vimeo.

And we need help. We have about $2000 so far! And we need $5000 more. Would you consider joining us? Gifts can be made directly to Kibo Group here:¬†¬†Just be sure to mark “Ben & Beth West” on your donation.

We’d love to sit down with you (or skype!) & tell you more about this trip, tell you some stories, ask you some questions. Don’t be shy! Let us know when a good time would be & we’ll set something up!

Back to Uganda

I got an email today. This is what it said:

Shown below is the e-ticket flight confirmation for Beth’s flight. The paid invoice is attached.

So, the question of course is where is this flight to?

Right here:

We are going back to Uganda (just for a little while, don’t worry mom, we’re not moving there…although one person at church did give Beth money to help pay for our trip “to help you get home, not to help you get there”).

It was not that long ago that we in Uganda last, and in the last year Uganda has been in the spotlight (at least on facebook), our friends from Jinja had an epic trip across America, and we have just been living life. It seems crazy to me that we are going to have the honor of visiting a far away place again so soon.

Last time we went to Uganda was very much about learning. We had meet people who worked for Kibo, and it seemed that for us all roads lead to Jinja. We wanted to go talk with people who live in a village and face big hard issues of poverty and who live in towns and face hard issues of broken systems. We wanted to meet the people who have joy and see¬†communities¬†working to solve the problems they face. We wanted to try and understand a little bit of their lives, to visit the Church in Uganda and see God’s people in a different place and context. We wanted to¬†experience and see how Kibo Group works “with communities in East Africa to reach their full potential, tackling poverty and injustice.”

We got to do this. The ripples from our trip continued once we got home. From our group one person is now living and working in Kampala, Uganda and two are working to support Kibo through their business Full Cup. All of us continue to be advocates for Kibo and sustainable development not only  in Uganda but in our own towns and lives. We all  saw and learned a lot. And we still have a lot to see and learn.

For my part, I feel like I have been able to speak with people about Africa in general, and development in Uganda with a unique perspective, and hopefully challenge them with some new ideas because of my experience last year. And I think I have been able to be a small help to Kibo Group as they work to communicate what they do.

When we got back one of the things that we were sure about is that it is important for other people to get to go and visit Jinja, to go and learn like we were able to. Kibo Group sees it as important, strategic, and core to what they do to have people come and experience Jinja, and we thought we could help make that happen for a few more people. So we committed to helping organize another trip. Our plan was facilitate the preparation, wave goodbye at the airport, and come back a few days later to pick them up and hear their stores. In the end though the staff of Kibo felt that it was important for us to be part of the trip so we could be part of what happens in Jinja in whatever roll they need.

So, now we have plain tickets.

Of course this time around is much different, we are not just going along for the ride, but actively planning the ride. And I’ll fully confess I am excited, nervous,¬†overwhelmed¬†and stressed out about the whole thing, and not acting in confidence that God has¬†prepared us for the adventure we are undertaking. So, here is some good’ol online¬†transparency¬†for the whole world to see.

There is a lot to this. I am confident that what we are doing is important. That the long term fruit will be real and significant. But…

  • Soon we will start fundraising, and I worry about how much it is costing us to go. I’m tired of asking people to fund parts of ¬†the work we do. Only a year ago a lot of you reading this helped us do this for the first time.
  • We are trying to challenge the people going on this trip to think in new ways about missions, poverty, and development, these are ideas that I am only starting to understand, how can I invite people into these new ideas that i am just starting to grasp?
  • There are plenty of people in our group older, wiser, and more¬†experienced¬†then us. How can we be leaders to them?
  • I have never done anything like this, the biggest thing I have ever lead and organized is¬†probably a weekend camping trip or something like that. Trip to Africa on the other side of the world? Not so much.
  • oh, and that house we rent and live in? It might get sold soon so we will have to move. (sound familiar?)

So, here we are, on the edge of another adventure where we have to trust God to equip us, our community to support us, and the people around us to be open to what God will do through us.

I can’t say its a simple place to be in, but I am not sure there is a better place….