Uganda Reflection: I love being a dark-skinned, brown, black man!

Uganda Reflection:

(The Picture of above is with Pastor Joel Bukenya, a man a greatly admire and respect!)

Uganda Reflection: I love being a dark-skinned, brown, black man!

Uganda had a wonderful way of surprising me continuously. One of the most pleasant surprises that I experienced was the healing of my skin condition. The condition of being black in the States. The condition of having dark-skin in America.

Now, when I say healing, I simply mean that I can say this with confidence “I love being a dark-skinned, brown, black man!” Being dark is an incredible blessing!

You see, while in Uganda, I was afforded the opportunity to step away from the negative imagery of blackness in the States. And I was granted the gift of embracing the loveliness of being dark-skinned.

My experience in Uganda shed light on an inner conflict.

In the States

In the States, at the subconscious level, there is always a war going on within me about my darkness- my blackness. It is not a war that overtly hampers my daily life but nonetheless it is a struggle.

In the States I fight against falling prey to the negative stereotypes. The ones that our media portrays of black people- especially of black men. All around me there are tokens of expression that say black equals less than, ignorant, threatening, and dangerous. I know, of course this is not true, but the messages are relentless.

In the States I fight myself about my own skin color. The question I sometimes ask is this: Am I black enough?

There are often times where I have not felt black enough for other black people. In particular, among those who are of my own skin color, I have been cited as too white. Or better yet, “You sound white.” What does that mean? And what does that mean about what makes a black person black?

Does it go beyond the skin color?

Conversely, among white people, sometimes I am too black. This is rare, though. In some cases my blackness comes as a liability, a threat, and an unwelcomed feature. Seeing past my character, there have been some who have made judgments solely on my skin color.

But in the same breath, some white people, also don’t think I am black enough. They quote me as not, “being like other black people”, or, “You are not really black”. They relegate me to having the Oreo Syndrome. You know, black on the outside, white on the inside. As an “Oreo” I wouldn’t be classified as one “those” black people- the ones that we see on television or hear on the radio. This further perpetuates the negative image.

To make it a little more complicated, let’s throw in one more thing.  In the States there is also an awkwardness I have because of my ethnic heritage as well. I am a Jamaica-born man who was raised in South Florida. Due to this complexity I have also run into multiple issues because of the cultural differences of my blackness.

But, like I said, these issues are not detrimental to my daily life. It is mostly an inward conflict. The damage this inner angst has caused has primarily affected my identity. The chief problem is that I cannot fully appreciate my dark skin as I would like to.

However, Uganda, changed a lot of that. Being in Africa was a freeing experience! There, my blackness was honored, appreciated, and normal. I loved that!

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In Uganda

In Uganda, from my first step, I entered into a whole new worldview of my darkness.

For starters, it was the most incredible feeling to be engulfed in sea of dark-skinned people. It was the first time in a very long time where I was a part of the majority. And I don’t mean Atlanta majority- I mean er’ body was black. Like 99.79 percent.

Everywhere we went there were all shades of dark skin.  Consequently, I quickly became comfortable in my own skin. In fact it made me wonder, is this how white people feel on a daily to basis in the States? Comfortable? Relaxed? At home?

I’m not gonna lie. It was kind of nice to just melt away in the crowd for a few minutes, hours, days, weeks. Just to be one of the many black people. Normal. Not a minority. Not an aberration.

Although I did like that feeling, the real healing came from living and doing life with my Ugandan brothers and sisters.

In Uganda I experienced almost the complete opposite of my inner battle in the States.

In Uganda my brothers and sisters took my blackness as an automatic commonality. It was a positive thing. Right away they said, “Welcome home”. There was so much meaning in that. I cannot begin to tell you how much that meant.

There is a holistic wave of peace and wholeness that a black person feels when they return to Africa. Especially when they return home for the first time.

Coming home feels good.

I was at home. I felt at home. I truly belonged.

I did not have to work for it. I did not have to prove anything. I was dark-skinned and that was good enough.

What made this even more delightful was that my Ugandan family gave me a Ugandan name. In fact they gave me two names- there will be more about that in another post. It was more than just an expression of mere kindness. It was a reminder that I was a part of something bigger and grander.

In Uganda I was floored by the character of black people everywhere I went. This place did not follow the protocol of Western media. Everywhere I went, both in the Christian community and other communities, I was greeted by people who dismantled the American stereotype of black people- in particular black men.

In Ugandan I experienced hospitality so wonderful that I could cry. There were black angels everywhere. Almost everywhere we went people were so kind, so open, so giving and so loving.

People were incredibly welcoming. And they were so gracious and loving to foreigners- those who looked different than themselves. My teammates on my trip were all white but they were treated so well. People gave them their babies to hold, their homes to live in, and their hearts share, even without knowing them.

I’m sure if we looked further in to the fabric of Ugandan culture we would see some of the negatives but I was too overwhelmed by the goodness to notice it.

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In particular, the black men that I met in Kampala and Jinja were of full of utmost integrity and humility. They had such incredible character. The men I met were men who thought way beyond themselves. In their hearts and in their actions they were concerned about generations. Their minds were on the well-being and prosperity of their nation and their children’s children’s children. Their hands, work, and actions matched what they believed. They lived far above and greater than the pettiness of today!

These men were true fathers. Not only were they fathers to their own biological children but they were fathers to the fatherless. Their scope of family and togetherness was unrivaled. And the wisdom that the possessed was akin to the lineage of Solomon.

As a man who grew up without my father, my heart was beyond filled with joy and admiration. These men are my heroes.

Day after day I grew to love my skin color more and more because these men and women were living a life that I aspired to live.

All in all I left Uganda proud! I was proud to be black. I was proud to be a Christ-follower. Although my primary identity is a son of God and Christ-follower, it was definitely a nice bonus to enjoy my skin color too!

It was such a blessing to be around great people. In general it was great to know that there are men and women of God doing great things across the seas. But it was extra special, in this particular time of my life, to see that these people were ones with dark skin. They were people, people with my skin color, that were peeling away the stereotypes, prejudices, and misconceptions that pervade throughout many societies.

There is so much more I can say on the subject but I will stop here for now. I am very grateful for this healing and blessing. It was so simple and yet so profound.

Questions of the Day

Are you comfortable in your own skin? Do like all the features that God gave you?

Let me know your thoughts. Let share our experiences.

I love you friends. Thanks for taking the time to hear my thoughts.

Friar Francis

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Uganda: Day 1

Uganda: Day 1 

Hey Friends,

I am so glad you are joining me on this journey of reflection. Webale Nyo! (“Thanks so much” in Luganda). Welcome to Day 1!

New Years 2014!

As you can tell from the video, we arrived on New Years Eve and jumped into the heart of New Year’s Celebration in Uganda. It’s crazy to think that I spent New Year’s Eve in two different countries and continents, shifting from the Netherlands in the morning to Uganda at Night.  And it was even more baffling to think that my first two few weeks of 2014 was to be spent in the continent of Africa!

Now let me tell you, New Year’s in Uganda is the real deal.  Everywhere we went there was a party or some sort of celebration! It was crazy to see how packed the streets were. Every corner was flooded with people. The atmosphere of the night and early morning was electric. It was such a sight to behold. One could not help but be excited.

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I am in Uganda… How Surreal is that?

Although excitement and celebration were not short supply all around me, I found myself quiet, reflective, and inward. It wasn’t that I was tuning out the festivities. Rather, I was tuning into something deep within my heart. God had truly answered the desire of my heart. I was finally in Uganda. I  was finally in Africa.

That moment was inexplicably surreal.

Ever since I was little kid I have dreamt of that moment. And there I was, sitting in a vehicle with Americans and Ugandans driving from Entebbe to Kampala. I felt like a little kid. My senses were easily overloaded. The best I could do was sit there- and take it in. Deep within my heart I just kept on saying, ” Thank You God, Thank You God”.

Due to the fact that we came in late and that the roads were inconceivably congested, we had to forego our original plan of going to a New Year’s celebration at a stadium. Many Ugandans gather together, pray, and worship by the thousands in these stadiums. They come in unity from all over the region and from various denominations in hopes of ringing in the New Year with style- Holy Spirit style. Included in the celebration is much dancing and praising!  Although we missed that particular opportunity, we had several opportunities to experience something similar later on.

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Mosquito Net

I don’t know why this bugged me out, pun unintended, but the fact the were sleeping in Malaria nets tripped me out! It was another level of surrealness to me. Many realities were made real to me in that simple moment. I am was going to bed in Kampla, Uganda that night.

Question of the day:

What has been one of your surreal moments in your life? Either with travel or with life in general?

Here are some random Pics from Day One:

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That’s all for now. Join me for the next post. Enjoy your weekend friends!

Friar Francis

I am back!!!

I am back!!!

Hey Friends and Family,

I am finally back home!

Embracing the bittersweet feeling

It is something of a bittersweet feeling to be back home. A recent Facebook post sums up my feelings on this conundrum quite well. I said this:

” … My heart is full … To say this moment is bittersweet is to take hold of an inadequate term and claim as the whole truth … The truth is that I will fully miss Uganda and I am fully excited to return home and live more vibrantly … (Sigh)…”

My heart has been grafted to my family in Uganda and it will be evident in the way I will now love and live with my family and friends in the States. I have learned so much and I have experienced a lifetime’s worth of joys and wonders during my time in the Pearl of Africa. I am more than ready to share that with you guys.

So…. How was it? What was your experience like in Uganda?

Yes, my friends. This has been the running question of the last few days.

Curious minds want to know.

And this guy wants to answer those questions.

So, I have decided to utilize my blog as my place and space to answer these questions. In the next few days I will begin my attempt to give reflection(s) on my journey/our journey in East Africa. I say slash “our journey” because I went with a team. There were seven of us travelling with Forgotten Song. I, however, will primarily be writing from my personal perspective.

To give myself frame work, I will try to blog about each particular day’s events, highlights, and lessons. In between these I will write stand-alone essays, reflections, thoughts, and lessons that were profound to me.

Bear with me though. Some of this may turn out disorganized and messy. But that makes it more authentic to me. And I think you will appreciate it.

I also want this to be interactive. So please, please talk to me. Whether it is through this blog, phone calls, meeting up with me, or through some other media outlet. Although, i don’t drink coffee, let’s meet for coffee and chat!

You can also join me on Instagram and Facebook. My name is Friar Francis on there as well.

On many of my posts I will be asking questions in hopes for answers and dialogue. I want to learn from your experiences as well. This is my gift to you. This is your gift to me.

To begin with the dialogue. Here is the questions of the day:

What has been one of the most profound trips/experiences of your life? Why? 

I am answering this question through this blog. Maybe you should the same. What’s YOUR answer to this question?

Thank You SO SO SO SO Much!!!!

The last thing I want to say in this post is this: Thank You soooooooooooooooooo Much friends and family!!!

There were so many of you that made this trip/adventure/experience-of-a-lifetime-possible. You gave me your encouragement, your gifts, your time, your money, your kind words, and much much more. I am from the bottom of the bottom of my heart grateful.

Throughout my time of blogging in the next few weeks I want to make shout outs to you all. Today I want to start with Little Voice Talks.

Little Voice Talks is one of my dear blog friends. Although we have never met in person I am greatly honored to know her. She may not know it but she has been a great source of encouragement for this trip – and life in general.

I will never forget these words, “Donated. Go for your life. Do God’s will. I’m proud of you even if we’ve never met xx”. We have never met in person but she gave of her words, time, love, finances, and faith in order to see me advance in my life. Words can not express my gratitude!

Those words along with prior messages have been encouraging down to the core!

I thank God for you “Little Voice Talks”! I pray God’s richest blessings over your life. May you and your family receive a bounty of grace, peace, prosperity, and joy today!

Please check out her blog  here. Give her a shout out and encouragement. She is blessing to so many!!!

I love you all dearly!!!

Remember that you are greatly loved,

Friar Francis

Layover in Amsterdam

Layover Amsterdam

Hey Friends,

Just wanted to let you know that I arrived safely in Amsterdam. We spent the day there yesterday and now we are headed this morning to Uganda!!!

I won’t have the regular access to internet until I am heading back home. So for now, have a great time until we chat again.

I love you dearly!

Friar Francis

Uganda Update #1: I Need Your Help

Hey Friends and Family,

Here is a little update on Uganda and my Fundraising efforts:

Trip Update

                So it is official, my tickets have been purchased, and I will be going to Uganda December 29th and returning to Northwest Arkansas on January 14th. My schedule will be packed from beginning to end. Words cannot express the excitement and anticipation that is welling up inside of me.

The updated itinerary is as follows:

  • Layover in Amsterdam on the departure leg of the trip
  • Ugandan New Year’s Celebration with thousands of people in a stadium
  • Meetings concerning chicken farms and their future locations. (Poultry Project)
  • Hands on learning experience on sustainable development
  • Two to three Speaking engagements
  • Delivering disability and athletic equipment to Ekisa Orphanage
  • Touring other orphanages and Champions Academy
  • Dance Therapy Session
  • Home visits
  • Safari
  • Eat grasshoppers, especially since they will be in season
  • Visit Oasis Uganda and Dave Caswell (Anti-traffiking organization)

Fundraising Update

I have great news, I have gotten all the funds I need for the sports and disability equipment! A big thanks to Nelson D. for his gift (I know you wanted to be anonymous but I am really grateful for your gift).  In addition to this, while playing league volleyball, I mentioned my Uganda trip to my friend Julia Roe. And now, the Yvonne Richardson Community Center has agreed to donate soccer balls, athletic uniforms, and other equipment. #Winning! These items will go to the orphanages we will visit.

So far I have raised $1000 towards the trip. Thank you so much Brett and Alyson Haynes, Dennis and Linda Peterson, my mom (Joan Clarke) and Barnabas Prep for my paycheck! I am very grateful for your support.

However, I need your help for the rest. Por favor! I have $2300 left to raise. If I can get 23 people to donate $100 each or 46 people to do $50 each I will be set for my trip. Technically, my deadline for all of my funds is due on December 17th. If you can help in any way possible I would greatly appreciate it! If you cannot help financially, then you can help in three other ways:

  1. You can pray for me and/or send some inspiration my way.
  2. You can direct me to other people who may be able help out financially.
  3. You can journey with me through social media.

I want you to be a part of the trip as much as possible. I am planning to take lots of photos, blog, journal, and bring back African art.  I have even joined Instagram recently in order to share with you in that way too.

Here are the ways you can send me gifts/donations:

Paypal. This the best and preferred way. My paypal account is linked to these emails- garyfrancis@fuller.edu or friarfrancis12@gmail.com. Click here to use this method.

Gofundme.com. You can use this link for this method. The only setback to this options is that  GofundMe takes out %7.9 cut for using their site.

Mail me or email me.  My address is as follows 3005 W Dorothy Jeanne St Apt 7 , Fayetteville, AR 72704.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Thanks you all for always being fantastic people in my life. I hope you are enjoying a sensational holiday and Christmas season thus far!

Kansas City Visit

Hey Friends,

I am heading to Kansas City tomorrow! It will be a quick four-day jaunt to the city that has been making waves on social media.  Hopefully this trip will give me a glimpse of  what makes Kansas City so great.

Day One…  The  Richards, George White, and myself will visit L’Arche Heartland. This is  a community that is comprised of five separate homes and a day service academy where core member (persons with disabilities) and assistants (persons who serve as care providers) live and share their lives.

The mission of this community is to:

  • Make known the gifts of people with developmental disabilities, revealed through mutual transforming relationships.
  • Foster an environment in community that responds to the changing needs of our members, while being faithful to the core values of our founding story.
  • Engage in our diverse cultures, working together toward a more human society.

These are core values shared by New Heights Church and Camp Barnabas, two communities that are looking to champion disability . Ben, Heather, Ethan, George and myself approach this trip as a learning and participation experience. In particular, the Richards and myself are looking to grasp wisdom and vision for a community/movement here in Northwest Arkansas.

For more about L’Arche check it out here.

Day Two… I will visit Jerusalem Farm. Jerusalem Farm is a Catholic Intentional community located in Kansas City, Missouri, built on the four cornerstones of Prayer, Community, Service and Simplicity. They strive to transform their lives and the lives of those around them through service retreat experiences, sustainable living and home repair. My greatest desire in visiting this community is to glean ideas of sustainable development.

Day Three … This day will mostly consist of hanging out with friends. Soooo, Barnabas friends and Fuller friends, if you are around let’s hang out! I also plan to visit IHOP and check out some of the hidden treasures of KC.

DAy Four … I will meet up with the Richards and head back to Barnabas Prep. Before that I hope to visit a local church. I need your help on this one. Does anyone have any great suggestions?

And… of course, I will spend the last wee hours hanging out with friends!

I will try to give you an update on some of the events and experiences of this trip as I go along.

Have a warm evening friends,

Friar Francis

Quick Update: I am Going to Uganda

Uganda Updatw

Hey Friends,

The following is a little dialogue between you and me. It will give you a little update on my upcoming trip to Uganda:

Our Conversation

ME: Wow! Well, there is a lot going on in my life here in Northwest Arkansas. There are so many things I could share with you but let me tell you the most recent.

You: Whoa! What’s going on?

Me: I am…

You: You are???…

Me: I am … As you may already know, via Facebook, heading to Uganda.

You: What!?!?!

Me: Yeah, it’s kinda crazy. I wasn’t really planning this at the beginning of the year, but here I am ready to jump into this adventure. It’s nuts because I have always wanted to go to an African nation but it never seemed to work out.  I had thought of doing disability stuff with Joni and Friends for my Graduate Practicum, but essentially the timing never worked out. It looks like the time has come now though!

You: Wow, that’s crazy man! When are you planning to go?

Me: So, yeah, I leave around December 27 and I will be there for a little over two weeks! I am travelling with a small team connected with an organization called Forgotten Song. Forgotten Song is an organization that does self-sustainable projects in war-torn countries. (Check out the hyperlinks)

You: What will you do there? Where will you be?

Me: Well, I have quite a few objectives that I would like to accomplish on this trip but I will just list four for now.

1. I want to visit, participate, and learn from orphanages in Kampala and Jinja. In particular I will spend time at Ekisa, a home to over 20 kids with special needs. This home is connected to 99 balloons– an organization that you should check out!
2. I will glean, participate, and learn some of the best practices for self-sustainability projects and businesses. Two initiatives that I will focus on are a poultry project and a chocolate business.
3. I want to learn from and share life with my Ugandan brothers and sisters.

Here are some items on my itinerary:

– Visit orphanages, churches, schools, and organization connected with disability and/or marginalized people groups.
– Spend time with Ugandan host families.
–  Speak at churches and other organizations.
– Put on a dance therapy session.
– Attend a New Year’s stadium celebration.
– Shadow Ugandan Pastors and leaders.
– Provide at least two orphanages with volleyball, soccer, and other athletic equipment. Put on a small volleyball clinic (Maybe).
– Eat grasshoppers. A friend told me that I must do this!
– I will update you with other info when I have more time. This is just a quick synopsis.

Another thing to note, is that this trip will also be a means to cast vision for future events in my life and our community.

Ok, that’s what I have so far to say. Let’s chat soon!
Remember that you are greatly loved!
Friar Francis

Tales from a Travel Agent

This is what happens behind the scenes:

On the second call I ever had at MrBeaches I found myself in a compromising situation. I went to the bathroom with my headset on. Dear God, why do I do these things?

I said to myself, “It would be hilarious if I actually got a call while I was on the throne”. Little did I know that it would be a self-fulfilling prophesy.

It wouldn’t be much of an issue if it weren’t for the fact that we have soft phone lines. So, that means I could ONLY pick up my calls at my computer! If I could pick up with my headset, then I could at least take part of the call with the comfort of doing ‘business’ in the oval office.

Ring.Ring.Ring.

I had to quickly flush, zip up, and wash my hands. I dashed around the corner and and toggled with door to get inside. I was a little frazzled but i would not let it show. I acted cool as a cucumber as I entered the office space.

I took a deep breath. Calmed my nerves. Pressed ‘receive call’ and said, “This is Gary. How may I help you!”

Let’s put it this way. I now log out if need to use the restroom.

Friar Francis in Fayetteville

Hey Friends!

Just wanted to give ya an update on my journey now that I have settled into Fayetteville.  Some of you have asked me to keep a blog to chronicle  my time here in Fayetteville. So, here it is!

Here is a little bit of what I have been up to:

– June 12 was the sad and exciting day that I left the beautiful state of California.

– My first stop was Lakeland, Florida.  I hung out with my best friend Anthony, Grandma Shirley, and some other old and new friends from the Covenant Center.

– A week later I found myself in my hometown of Miramar Florida. I had a pleasant time with my family.  Some of the highlights of the 2 weeks were: celebrating my cousin Troy’s graduation (He got his MBA), visiting Granny’s gravesite as a family and doing a full fledged family photo shoot!

– On July first the big day had finally arrived! I moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas.

– I have been stay with my really good friends Ben and Heather Richards and there baby Ethan.

– The first two weeks were filled with adjustments, random job opportunities, interviews for full time jobs, meeting new people, and other miscellanous exploits.

– Missouri was my next stop. I went to Camp Barnabas for a week! Even after not being there for three years, my time at camp was incredibly wonderful! There is no place like it!

– After camp I returned home. The very next day I started my new job. It’s actually the second of two jobs. I am working as a Beach Master at MrBeaches Travel Agency. Or in laymans terms- I am working as a travel agent at an incredible travel agency!

– My other job is involved at New Heights Church! I helping launch a Disabilities ministry!

So much has happened. And with the passing time I have also seen how much I miss you guys and gals!

Let’s catch up really soon.

Friar Francis

Before I went to Fayetteville I about three weeks

As far as work is concerned I am