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Deteriorating Situation

Please pray for the Ugandans. I warned that this might happen.

Security Alert – U. S. Embassy Kampala (March 26, 2020)

Location: Central Kampala, Uganda

Event: On March 26, 2020 Ugandan authorities used gunfire to enforce the closure of shops selling non-food goods to comply with President Museveni’s prohibition on such sales in attempts to enforce social distancing in an effort to control spread of COVID-19.  Looting of pickup trucks transporting goods has also been reported.

U.S. government personnel are advised to avoid central Kampala to the extent possible, and if travel by car through Kampala is unavoidable, ensure all doors are locked and windows fully closed.  As local businesses scale back operations, many employers and employees may find themselves in increasingly dire financial situations due to loss of income.  Some may turn to criminal activity to obtain funds to purchase food and other items.  U.S. government personnel have been informed that there could be a significant increase in crime and that criminal activity may increase, potentially easing only when the government ban on public transportation and business operations is lifted.

Email from US Embassy in Kampala, Uganda.

Health Alert: Update on Qatar Airways Flight – 5:56 AM (6 hours ago) Tuesday


Health Alert
 – U.S. Embassy Kampala (March 24, 2020)

Location:  Uganda

Event:  There are nine confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in Uganda. (Bob’s emphasis – there was 1 on Sunday.)

The Government of Uganda has announced the closure of Entebbe International Airport effective at 12:00 a.m. March 23, as well as the closure of all land borders.  No individual will be allowed to enter or depart Uganda by air, land, or water except for specific cargo vehicles which must follow strict Ministry of Health procedures.

The U.S. Embassy in Kampala has confirmed availability of seats on a commercial flight with Qatar Airways from Entebbe to Doha, Qatar on Wednesday, March 25 with an estimated departure time of 3:00 p.m.  Please contact Qatar Airways at their Uganda call center at +256 417 800 900 or at +256 417 800 903 to express interest in this flight. At this time, the call center is collecting information on those interested in the flight.  Once the flight is confirmed, Qatar Airways will contact those individuals and the flight will be posted to their website.  Once the flight is posted on the website, travelers may also book the flight online, along with onward flights from Doha.  If the call center at Qatar Airways says they are not accepting inquiries, ask to speak with a manager.

This is not a U.S. government operated or funded flight.  Availability and cancellations are controlled by Qatar Airways.  Currently, this is the only remaining way to exit Uganda following the airport closure.  The U.S. government is not evacuating U.S. citizens from Uganda.  While there is a chance an additional flight may be added depending on demand, at this time this is the only flight available.  If you need to leave Uganda, consider contacting Qatar Airways as soon as possible about this flight.

The U.S. Embassy in Uganda is making this flight information available to potentially interested U.S. citizens and is liaising with the Ugandan government to allow the plane to land at and depart from Entebbe International Airport.

The Department of State has issued a Global Level 4 Health Advisory for COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 2 Global COVID-19 Outbreak Notice.

Actions to Take:

PLEASE PRAY FOR THESE MANY PEOPLE AS WELL AS THE UGANDAN NATION, THAT GOD WILL RESTRAIN THE VIRUS.

Home

The thing about being blindsided in the middle of a conference by cancellation orders from the President of Uganda, folding up the tents and retreating back to our staging area to rethink everything the trip was about, then hearing the orders from the State Department for all Americans to return home immediately, then not being able to get tickets out, then getting tickets but for a flight before you can be ready, then getting ready, then finding out the President has closed the airport only hours after your flight is scheduled to leave…well. Wild ride!

We’re home. We can’t believe it. So many other Americans are now stranded in Uganda, trying to manage a “work-around” arranged by the US Embassy and the Ugandan government that won’t leave until tomorrow, then will have to piece together flights into the US from Qatar to get home maybe next weekend.

We have realized that we are a bit shocky – disoriented. Not thinking so clearly. Stress?…probably.

Not only did we think we were arriving at 9:50 p.m. on Monday even after the pilot’s announcement that we were arriving in the “a.m.,” but we still didn’t believe him until we landed, and they raised the window shades to morning daylight over DFW. We got all our bags, surprisingly had no screening issues, probably because we came from Uganda, one of the few places in the world without the virus until Sunday, the day we left when someone who arrived was diagnosed at the airport.

We slept for 10 hours straight when we got in.

Now we’re sitting here in our living room at 2 a.m., wide awake and looking at each other in wonder about what just happened. We are looking at 14 days voluntary quarantine in our house. We are grateful to our “Bray” family, who sent our daughter and grandson to meet us with our car at the airport and waved at us across the parking lot, grateful to our other son and daughter who filled our larder, grateful to Jesus who parted the sea, grateful to all of you who watched over us in prayer and followed our journey with interest and love.

We Made it to Dubai

We made it to Dubai. It is 11:30 pm here and our flight is at 2:30 am, but fortunately, it’s directly into DFW. This is the last checkpoint. All our carry-on bags made it through. The only remaining choke point is the thermal scan as we go through the departure gate to enter the plane. It is designed to pick out anyone with a fever. They’re only scanning US flights, I read somewhere. So once we get our selves plopped down and strapped into the seats on the plane, we are home free –or  16 hours later, at least.

We left a ton of people standing without seats in Entebbe. I still marvel that we were able to get seats. The agent who checked us in told us that they overbooked all the flights, so, of course, they were not only swamped, but they were swamped with people who had no seats and no options after midnight. I’m not sure what they’re thinking when they purposely overbook though the airlines probably weren’t expecting the government to close the airport. We literally walked through the crowd of waiting westerners to the ticket booth. Some were arguing with the airline staff loudly and belligerently – I think a flight got cancelled. There were many cancelled flights listed on the departures and arrivals board, leaving more people stranded.

The embassy in Kampala, whom I notified of our situation, sent a mass email that says they have made a deal with the government of Uganda and with Qatar Airlines to run one or two special flights into the airport on Wednesday, March 25. Of course, it will arrive empty since no one is allowed in by air, land or water. The passengers will be required to pay for tickets and be taken to Doha in Qatar where they will then have to purchase other tickets home to the US. In the meantime, they get to travel around even more in Virus Land. We spoke to some who cannot get a ticket into their own city, so they are looking for any US city, and then they’ll rent a car and drive home. That so could have been us!

Again, I can’t believe we are sitting in Dubai waiting to board a plane right into DFW, only 30 minutes from our home. This is due only to the very God Whom we are trying to make famous in Uganda! And our grateful appreciation goes out to so many of you who have had conversations with Him on our behalf during this last week.

Breaking news…We just got rounded up and walked around the airport through the Galleria-style mall that is their amazing concourse. About 250 people were lined up and ordered to walk single file past what apparently was a thermal imager – a uniformed person sitting behind a small camera-like device on a tripod. It felt like those WWII movies where the prisoners are being marched along, and some are singled out for “special treatment.” Someone close behind me was separated out and dragged off screaming down a side corridor by huge, burly guards and we’ll never see them again – I might be exaggerating a bit, but hey, I’m playing at journalism here. But I’m not so much kidding…I was actually scared…very weird experience: “Will they pick me, please don’t let them pick me….”

Now we’re back at the gate waiting for our flight which is apparently boarding in about ten minutes.

We’re getting close to being able to relax….Oh, let me post this, boarding now.

This is now becoming a bit of an adventure. We are at the Entebbe Int’l Airport waiting for our flight some 5 hours from now. When we booked this flight for Sunday, we were disappointed that it was so soon because we had so much to pack and sort and put into storage, which is usually a two day binge of hard work. With this flight we only had one day, Saturday. But the Wednesday flight we were seeking, which had originally been offered by our agent was now gone, so, finally, we took what was offered and “bit the bullet.” Saturday was a long hard day.

So  to recap, we were in the right place,  our staging and storage area Bugembe near Jinja. After cancelling the meeting we were half way through in another location, we briefly stopped  to see James and the other children, and then retreated back to Begembe, arriving early evening Friday. Late in the night, our agent rescued us from the doldrums of not having any flight during the next week by finding this flight on Emirates Airlines for Sunday afternoon. Saturday night, we were good and exhausted, and even went  to bed a little early.

Then about 11pm or so, I received a phone call from a pastor friend in one of the churches we had cancelled earlier in the week. He told me that the nightly news had just informed him that President Museveni had increased the measures against the Corona Virus by ordering all the borders closed, including the airport as of midnight Sunday. I could not believe it. We slipped in under the wire by 7 hours. If we hadn’t gotten that ticket for today, but had successfully gotten the ticket for Wednesday that we wanted, we would be stranded here for at least the next 32 days or more (again, I have no idea why he keeps setting 32 days as the restriction).

God has gone ahead of us once again to clear the way and provide, and we would have purposely chosen a different option! (“Now to Him Who is able to keep us from stumbling….”)

Additionally, this morning, though we had scheduled Alfred to come for us at 8am, I sat bolt upright at 5am. I just knew we had to leave immediately. I called him and we left for the airport by 6am. When we arrived, traveling over uncharacteristically empty roads (early Sunday morning, I think, and we have never, never made this trip in 2 and a half hours before), everything seemed relatively calm. The Airport waiting area was full, strange for 8:30 am, but all in all, it was calm. I found the last two seats and looked around – a mixed crowd, heavy on the musungus (westerners). Gail wasn’t with me. I saw that she had been stopped by a tall girl who was speaking earnestly to her. It turned out they were with a group of seven  young Spaniards who had no tickets out before the closure, so they we waiting for the offices to open in the hope of finding seats on some plane before midnight.

As the day has unfolded, I am understanding better and better the urgency of this morning. People are pouring into the airport, hoping to find a way out today. I can’t imagine what the roads are like by now. I’m glad we are not caught in it, but are sitting here peacefully waiting for our flight, tickets in hand. It is turning into a happy birthday today for Gail.

Please continue to pray as we pass along the choke points of this trip: We have to actually get on the plane to exit Uganda, and we have to get through whatever restrictions are being exercised in Dubai – once we’re on the plane in Dubai, we will know we’re getting home, because it is a direct flight to DFW – kind of unbelievable there also.

Homesickness

Actually that’s where our hearts are tonight, at the Entebbe Internatinal Airport. Our bodies will be there tomorrow.

The strange situation the world is in at this time with the Corona Virus brings many unusual emotions and perceptions to each of us that we have not experienced before. Gail and I have been in Uganda about four weeks, and because we still had so much work to do, we did not feel even the lightest twinge of homesickness. Homesickness usually hits about the second to last week when we know the end of the trip is approaching.

We did not feel any shift when the President here announced his immediate measures to protect the population, even though those measures shut down our program. We again did not feel any shift in our peace when we called each pastor and cancelled the meetings, telling them we would be back when all this is over. We didn’t feel the shift of emotion when we met the children at the deaf school in Mbale and spent some precious time with them, all too short (now James wants a hoodie – where did he even see a hoodie?). We still didn’t feel our hearts turning toward home when we headed for Jinja, knowing that we would most probably be coming home.

However, the very second the State Department announced that all Americans needed to return home now or potentially risk being stranded as the US border closed even against them in the very near future, everything for both of us shifted about 7 points on the Richter scale. Suddenly, when we couldn’t have it, we needed it! Now it was possible that we would be truly cut off from home. The phrase “You don’t truly appreciate something until you lose it” was playing loudly in the background. Suddenly, with a few words, we felt cut off from home in a way we haven’t ever felt cut off before.

We drove into Jinja late last night and after eating and settling into the guesthouse, we spent some considerable time searching for KLM flights to take us home (our tickets are with KLM and they are promising refunds, but, actually, we wanted seats.) The more we searched, the worse it became. In fact, they had a website that was supposed to help people find flights in this current crisis, and it projected 13 days into the future…not a single flight out of Uganda had any seats.

Our hearts sank. We weren’t talking much, each in their own heartsick bubble, missing our family and feeling heavy with the possibility that we couldn’t go home now when we really wanted to. I knew Gail was close to tears, and I was trying to be gentle and walking on eggs as the hours approached midnight.

So what had really changed. I remember thinking in the car as we drove those many miles that if we had to stay for the duration and weather the storm here, we would find a way, and that God must have something for us that we can’t see. There’s much joy in the center of His will, and we often experience it here. The emotional shift came when we heard the news on the internet that perhaps we won’t be able to come home at all any time soon. Emotions are funny things. When you can’t have something, that’s when suddenly it feels like death not to have it, when just before we were feeling fine, just waiting to see what God was going to do.

I confess, this is a new lesson for me personally. I stand pretty fixed on the work and focused on the future when I’m here in the midst of the ministry. I tend to get through the homesickness that might be in the back of my mind by exercising my faith and pushing forward to what He has set before us each day. Jude 20 says, “Build yourselves up on your most holy faith…,” and we try to practice that.

Somehow, though, the thought of being cut off undermined our daily dose of faith in a different way. Homesickness poured over us with a deep yearning to be close to the family during this emergency.

Fortunately, it didn’t last long. Our travel agent (and God) was working in the background and emailed us quite late that there were seats available on Emirates Airline. So we prayed and considered, and went ahead and booked them before they could slip away to some other person trying to get home.

The problem for us was that the tickets were for Sunday, tomorrow, and we are a good 4-5 hours from the airport.

After watching everything on the internet for the last couple of weeks, we realize there’s only one proper way to show our solidarity with our fellow citizens as we pack up to come home…

Needless to say, we have had a very hectic day getting everything reorganized, cleaned, sorted, repacked and delivered to storage and sorted and repacked for travel. We are here tonight now after supper, only regretting the brevity of the trip and the way it got cut off, but turning our hearts toward home. We will be home, all things going well along the journey, on Monday night.

Thanks for your prayers. He has moved on our behalf. We are now even more aware of other missionaries around the world facing this difficult situation who are sacrificing so much more than we are, and who must stay on the field away from their families and watch it all continue to unfold from afar.

We hope to see James and children this afternoon.

I have had two different Ugandans explain to me their reactions to the various bans laid down by their president regarding the Corona Virus. I believe this represents an accurate portrayal of the hardships these times will bring to the average Ugandan. I share them only because westerners would probably never think this way or have these concerns, so their statements give much insight into the different cultural realities of living in a third world area.

They both explained that it’s fine to ban church meetings and conferences and to close schools, but the markets will be the largest area of exposure and the most difficult to restrict. The typical Ugandan does not have any refrigeration to keep or store food for multiple days. It is the norm and will have to continue to be the norm for the people to go to the markets to purchase food for the family at least every two days. Not only are the funds limited so that large purchases of food are not realistic, but there is no way to keep the food in its raw state for long periods of storage.

If the bans affect the crossing of the borders, which it seems it certainly will, then the income many receive from selling their produce across the borders will disappear – Uganda is considered the “bread basket” of Africa, and much of what they raise in their gardens and fields are “cash” crops not for local consumption, but for export. Along with that, the day to day existence which depends on that income will be negatively impacted. The bans, though necessary, are putting the fear of famine and starvation into the minds of most of the average people.

Typical Ugandan Market

They explained that there is no way to shut down the markets because that is where everyone buys their daily food. Without the markets, the people will not eat.

It is difficult for westerners to relate to that. Here in Africa, starvation is always just several meals away, only a trip or two to the market away. So many factors affect the income to buy the food on the one hand, and the ability to travel to the markets where the local food is purchased on the other.

So there is much fear now in Uganda, not so much because of the virus, which has yet even to breach the border with one case. Instead, because of the difficult restrictions, either the ability to eat day to day will be limited or, on the other hand, the ability to restrict exposure to the virus from large gatherings in the markets will be difficult. Catch 22. When we are here as westerners, we have to face all new realities that are just daily life for the people we come to minister to. This troubling season seems to present a no-win situation.

Please pray for the African people.

It was Fun while it Lasted

It was fun while it lasted. Yesterday President Museveni of Uganda gave a speech which outlined the government’s further plans to prevent the spread of the Corona Virus. There are no cases in Uganda. Indeed, we seem to be in an oasis of safety here. Most of the countries at the borders have multiple cases. And it is reported that one Ugandan is now known to have the virus, but they are in Rwanda, not actually in Uganda.

In his speech he closed all the schools at any level for a minimum of 30 days. He went on to outline a number of measures and closings and bans intended to curtail the spread of the virus if it enters Uganda. The schools are closed as of Friday (tomorrow end of day), but the other closings are in effect immediately and include public gatherings, religious meetings such as prayer meetings and Sabbath meetings closed for a month, and “conferences” banned for 32 days. I am at a loss why 32 days, but that’s what the internet and the newspaper report from his speech.

This means that Lake Victoria Bible Institutes is out of business for the virtual remainder of our trip – we were scheduled to return to the US on April 29. However, now we are beginning the process of trying to change tickets and leave sooner since there is nothing to do but sit. Even unnecessary travel is discouraged, so any of the places in Uganda which it might be pleasant to visit during our down time will very likely be closed. If you have a moment while praying for your own safety where you are, please request God to show us what we should be doing if we stay, or, on the other hand, to show us to go home instead. We will be very anxious to return later in the year after all this craziness is over.

The remaining difficulties are that the Netherlands has closed it borders and we don’t know how that would affect our flight home since we connect through Amsterdam. Additionally, the US government has banned or quarantined flights from the Netherlands (which means Amsterdam), and so we are not yet certain we can come home at this time. All of these things are up in the air.

As a result, I have cancelled the last day of our current meeting, and am in discussions with the other leaders of the places we are scheduled to go about cancelling. “No public meetings” pretty much covers what we do.

The news is still fresh to us, and even the leaders here are struggling to understand the implications. I spent some time on the phone this morning discussing the cancellation of the final day of the meeting we have been holding since Monday. My perspective is that we are guests here and should adhere to the government’s requirements on us. Finally, the leader, who was resisting the idea of cancelling, who had only just heard the news from me at 7:30 a.m. when I called him and so was adjusting on the fly, said in conclusion of our discussion that we are guests here and to defy the government and hold this final day meeting could cause problems for our ministry.

My passion is to be true to God in all we do here. Romans 13:1-7 is very clear on this point:

1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.
2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.
4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.
5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.
6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.
7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. (NKJV)

This text makes it abundantly clear what our response to the President trying to protect his people should be, even if it is very inconvenient to us. I always remind others when speaking on this passage that it is written to the Roman church, in the city or Rome, under an unfriendly pagan government, one which would persecute the church in terrible ways for the next 300 years. It was not spoken by Paul to a church sitting under a friendly and tolerant government.

My point is that if we are supposed to regard and obey such a harsh government with “honor,” how much more should we respect and honor a leader like President Museveni who only has a heart to protect the people he loves and serves. This is the position of scripture that the Holy Spirit urges Christians to adopt toward their rulers. Christians, among all people, should be the most honoring and obedient to their governments, unless it prevents their worship of God.

So it looks like we will be coming home early, not because we fear the virus, but because we have little else to do. I will keep you posted.