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We Can Take Only Two????

Off the Grid till Sept. 24.

[From Bob] We will be off the grid now until Sept. 24, out in the lake on Buvuma Island – no internet, little electricity, and iffy phone service. This will be our last communique until then.

[From Gail] We have now been in Uganda for a week. We have adjusted to the time change and the schedule. It has been somewhat restful for me, but Bob is working hard every day on his lesson plans and power point presentation for the Lake Victoria Bible Institute,which starts on Monday, and other various studies he will teach during the rest of the trip. We have to get pens, handouts printed, attendance records ready, etc.  etc., not to mention finalizing lesson plans. He is teaching a unit on Parenting – How to raise children who are Mighty in Spirit – for the first time this trip. Today we leave for Buvuma Island in Lake Victoria.

Just when we got it organized, time to move!

You will remember from out last post that we arranged our guesthouse room with so many suitcases, and we have it just like we want it and can , for the most part, find what we want, when we want it. That has now come crashing to a halt as we have repacked everything.

Today we will travel to the island by ferry, always an interesting experience. But in order to fit all the equipment we will need into the back of our minivan, things will have to be left behind in storage here in Bugembe until we get back to the mainland on Sept. 24.

I think I am a typical woman, and I try not to be too high maintenance, but there are some things I just NEED. So my process has been to decide what those things are and to leave behind the things that are just extras. Instead of having my own suitcase, we will be sharing a single bag. Wow. I am a “what do I feel like wearing today” person and I sometimes change clothes until it feels right for that day. I recognize that as an effect of privilege and I need to work on that because most of the world is not in the same mode.  We are grateful for the privilege that God has given us, but it often blinds us to the realities around us, which is not healthy or useful. I hope our awareness of this is growing and that we are learning to see with His eyes – the privilege of heaven has never blinded Him to the way things really are. So, back to my subject – I can select only a few things from all our “stuff” and be content with them.

I began to boil our many suitcases down to just three. We can do this. It takes cooperation and insight and plain old guessing what the needs will be. Then, just as I congratulated myself for my precise selections, Bob said, “Only two.” Oh well, back to work.

All of this is just stuff, the real thing we will bring to the Lake Victoria Bible Institute is the relationship with Christ we can share to edify and teach the many pastors who come together from far off islands to learn and be encouraged. I pray we can keep this in the front of our minds as we prepare. This is why we are here. This is great fun!

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Worker sifting out detritus from the wheat grain in the new mill.

I have a friend here in Uganda who has begun a milling business. Private industry in Uganda is always fascinating to see up close because it is gives such insight into the daily lives of the people. Since the economy for the average citizen is still largely agricultural, most grains and corn-related produce must be milled before it can be used. He has started slowly and expanded with his profits, which is the best way to build a business, and he is now moving to a larger space and improving the quality and capacity of his operation, so things are going well.

The siftings fall onto the floor to be later shoveled into another pile and later mixed.

Americans like to large-scale such operations, but Ugandans often don’t have that luxury due to cost. Labor remains cheap with unemployment as high as 45%, with most of that group unable to get any kind of employment other than day jobs, so the reality is that it’s simply more cost effective for the small businessman to do much of the labor by hand because the pay is cheap.

We entered the rough brick building that he is moving into to find a large mostly empty space with huge piles of milled grains waiting to be mixed sitting here and there on the dirt floor. He has not yet moved his milling machines to this location. Other than sacks full of unmilled grain lining two walls, the room was otherwise empty except for one woman sifting a grainy mix into a finer mix.

Her hands fly back and forth over the grain to push it through the screen but pause every now and then to pluck a rock or piece of wood from the mix.

The worker was pouring the unsifted grain onto the top of a primitive looking boxed screen, then using her hands to sift the material through the screen onto a pile on the floor underneath. She was removing rocks, trash, and anything that didn’t qualify as “grain” from the mix.

The current best seasonal profit seems to be for animal feeds. The bags we saw are full of leftover grain husks from a beer brewery which makes wheat beer. These husks are a throwaway byproduct of the beer factory, which has used all they are going to use to make their beer, then sells the remains to local mills like this one.

My friend will sift the leftover wheat husks, then mix it with maize flour (ground corn) and other nutrients like silverfish, small fish from Lake Victoria that grow by the billions in the deep waters of the lake. Once mixed together, he will mill all of this together into a grainy product that will be used to feed livestock – pigs, chickens, turkeys, and cattle.

Large pile of milled maize (corn) waiting to be mixed in with the wheat grain.

My friend hopes eventually to be able, after building the business up enough, to support his family from this mill, and have money left to invest in his ministry. It is hard work, takes a lot of focus and planning, and faces an uncertain African economy, but he is closer to his goal each time I come to Uganda.

Adventures All Over Again

We are NOW here.

The next adventure has begun. We arrived Wednesday night In Entebbe, Uganda, after about 34 hours in transit –

an unusually efficient schedule since this trip has taken as much as 42 hours in the past. We stayed at a hotel in Entebbe until Alfred and David picked us up on Thursday morning.

Traffic to Bugembe (a suburb of Jinja) was terrible, as always. We arrived around 6:30 pm after almost the whole day doing several errands in Kampala and traveling to Bugembe. We fell asleep almost immediately, falling unconscious on the bed amid the chaos of stacked and unsorted luggage. We woke up around 9:30 pm, pushed the bags against the walls so we could walk to the bathroom, and fell into bed again for the night. After about 12 hours of sleep, we were ready to “go” on Friday morning. The first order of business was to collect the bags we’d stored with a very nice woman that always helps us with storage of the many things we don’t need to carry back and forth each trip – a pile that grows a little each time we come. Adding that to the luggage we brought for ten weeks doubled the chaos in our guesthouse lodgings. YIKES!!

After two days of sorting and organization…

Now the reality of life here in Uganda sets in. There are now eight suitcases in our room – we brought six with us this time to cover the ten weeks we will be here, and we keep two semi-retired bags here for storage. “Semi-retired,” of course, means “no longer viable for travel but usable for storage.” Bob says that’s a metaphor for us – two semi-retired bags on the edge of no longer viable for travel.

Chaotically arranged around the suitcases are boxes of bottled water, a folding table, a white board, boxes of student handouts, boxes of student books for note-taking, two laptops, a portable printer, a generator for use in the field, electrical equipment – a voltage regulator to prevent damage to our devices by surges and, because guesthouses often lack enough outlets, a multiple-outlet extension bar or two, suction hooks for the wall  to create a “closet” and “towel-rack” to hang our clothes and towels – these  are often not available in Ugandan guesthouses – and a small pathway to walk through it all! There is a lot of sorting to be done, “little by little” or mpolampola in the Lugandan language. That’s pronounced mm-poluhmm’-poluh’ – the double accent is almost impossible for our English ears to pick up.

Phone calls from various pastors where we will be ministering have also kept our phone ringing as it is time to get the details of our schedule organized and the people mobilized to come and chairs to be rented and food for lunch to be purchased and…and…

After we ran our errands to collect even more “stuff” we needed in Jinja, we drove to a neighboring town to visit one of our bishop friends who is in the hospital. He is being treated for the advanced effects of diabetes and has been very ill. He will not be able to attend and help oversee the Bible Institute on Buvuma Island next week. We will miss him very much. He always sits by me in the front row and makes sure we break for tea in the morning and lunch instead of standing and answering questions for people through the breaks. He is an important part of that ministry on Buvuma.

…we still can’t find anything…”Where did I put that…”

As overwhelmed as I feel when I look around our room, I am very excited to see what God has in store for us. Bob and I are both working on our lessons to be shared in various venues.  As always, I am a bit nervous – a reluctant but willing teacher.

Those are my thoughts for today. Thank you all for your support and prayers. It encourages me that you are with us even as you are so far away. God is good! Please remember in prayer our friend the bishop, who is now on the way to Kampala for further testing.

James and a New Ripple

[For those of you who are new followers, you can catch up on the James stories under the menu “James.”]

The “James” followers among you may be wondering about James and his progress at the deaf school. We picked him up from the Kavule School for the Deaf about 3 weeks ago. The children were released two weeks early for their usual holiday which would normally be through the month of May. However, the drought-induced famine in Uganda has caused many food shortages, and one of these was at the school – they simply couldn’t feed the children, so they sent them home in April, two weeks earlier than the normal end of term.

As the Lord would have it, we happened to be in the area and could pick him up and transfer him to his holiday home, the family who have virtually adopted him since his arrival in this region 18 months ago. He stays with Catherine, a teacher whom he bonded with when he first arrived, and it is obvious that he considers her and her 3 sons to be his family. He is always overjoyed to see them.

My evaluation of James after about 18 months of schooling? We were presented with his grade report and had an opportunity to see some of his work. Remember, this boy had no formal language at age ten, having been deaf since birth, abandoned by his mother at five and his father at seven, misunderstood and barely cared for by his clan on Buvuma Island out in Lake Victoria. He had never sat in a classroom when we found him. Now he is beginning to write sentences, his sign language has advanced to approximately 2nd grade level, and his grades in most subjects are strong and improving. He sits willingly through all his classes now and participates in class. He is liked and respected by his classmates.

This boy, now about twelve (of course, we have no way to tell his real age), is a different boy from the one we “rescued.” He runs to greet us with warm hugs. He smiles and laughs, and he even is beginning to warm up to Gail who is a bit behind the curve with him since she was not yet with me full-time when Alfred and I met James. His teacher tells us that he is learning so rapidly that he will be transformed (her word) by next Christmas. The headmaster continues to tell us that he will be a leader among the students in time.

One new ripple in the James saga: Due to the generosity of a new sponsor, we have rescued another deaf child. Her name is Faith (not her real name). She is seven and is a special friend of James. He watches out for her in a big brotherly way, and they are close friends. We have been aware of her for several visits now, but had learned late last year that her family was unable to continue paying her school fees, so she had been returned to her family in a town about 1.5 hours away without plans at that time to continue to send her to school.

Alfred with James and Faith.

However, her family returned Faith to the school because they know it is not good for her to stay home without any education among family members who can’t communicate with her except with gestures, even though they love her. Her mother died of AIDS two years ago, and so she is cared for by her disabled grandparents and her grandaunt. Though she returned to the school, the family could not pay the fees, so the school has been “absorbing” her costs as they do with many of the deaf children they take in.

Even as we arrived to pick up James and found Faith there at the school, the headmaster told us that the family requested that they please try to find some alternative to sending her home since they could not feed her because of the famine – they already have many other children to feed. At our request Catherine agreed to keep Faith also for this holiday, and we agreed to transport her, but we could not do so without “official authorization” from the family in writing, signed by a government official. As it turned out, our next week of scheduled teaching was in the same town where the family lived. We were able to meet her grandparents and the other children at their homestead outside the town and collect the signed document we needed. So now they know us and we know them, and all that is very good.

After our week of teaching, we returned to the school for Faith. She was very glad to see us – she was the last deaf child remaining at the school, the other students all having left for holiday, and I’m sure she was feeling alone and abandoned. We moved her to Catherine’s where she reunited with James. At first she was timid around the new “family,” and sad to have to say good-bye to us – we knew all of this swirl of activity, being picked up by musungus, driven in a car, dropped at some stranger’s home instead of at her own family, etc., had to be overwhelming to her, especially since we were unable to explain it to her – what confusion would go through the mind of a small deaf girl who has been bounced around quite a bit in the last two years? However, we have also learned to trust Catherine and her family.

Our trust was borne out when we had a brief opportunity the next morning to stop by to check on her and drop off some replacement shoes for both James and Faith. She was happily playing when we arrived, and she smiled and greeted us, and was perfectly adjusted, it seemed to us, to her new surroundings. Instead of being sad and sullen when we departed this time, as she had the day before, she hugged us and waved good-bye happily when it was time to leave.

So Faith is now part of the Meade International family through the gifts of her sponsor, and she will have an opportunity to flourish in the light instead of wilt in the shadows of Ugandan society, which is the fate of so many African deaf children.

(Please pray for Kavule Deaf School. The headmaster has shared with me that they are facing repeated food shortages for the foreseeable future. They need sponsors for unpaid students and help with their food budget. Hopefully, the food prices will come back down as the rains return, but this will take time. If you desire to help in some way, please contact us through the Comments section, or directly at bob@meadeinternational.org).

A few more briefs from the last 8 weeks:

  • We were leading a one-day meeting in a place called Busia, way out in the bush. I had been asked to come and teach the day. There were about 80 people there from the deep villages – this is the place I have mentioned before where they have not seen a white this far back in thirty years or more. At lunchtime the leader came before the group as we were being escorted out to the table, and announced, “And now another preacher will preach to you.” I was quite surprised. Usually when they have the opportunity to sit under a musungu, they don’t mix the meeting with multiple speakers. I was only about half finished, but I looked at Gail and shrugged, “Oh well.” We ate lunch, and were then led back to the church building. I wondered who we would be sitting under for the afternoon and what his subject would be and if the translation would be clear enough for us to follow it. When we re-entered and it became obvious that I was expected to continue the teaching, I finally asked, foolish man that I am, who the other preacher was and when he would speak. He told me that he was referring to “lunch” – I had taught them, and now they would be taught by another preacher – the lunch. It was a joke, but when no one laughed, I had taken him quite seriously, silly musungu!
  • The children in Bugembe all sing the same song to us when they see us. It is apparent that there is some little doggerel taught here in the schools that all the children learn to sing “at” the musungus. It only occurs in Bugembe that I have noticed, and so, I surmise, it is the brainchild of some local poet or minstrel. Ugandan children all seem to think “Bye-bye” means Hello in English, so all small children across Uganda will call out, “Bye-bye, musungu,” and I am used to hearing that. However, the singsong verse of Bugembe is new to me. I asked Alfred what it meant since it was in Lusoga rather than English, so he paused the car along the road and listened carefully. Then he laughed. I suspected some subtle mockery of the musungu, or perhaps the standard request for money. He said, though, that the children are singing, “Bye-bye, musungu, bye-bye; biscuits and guavas, biscuits and guavas, bye-bye, musungu, bye-bye.” Alfred looked as perplexed as we were. Makes as much sense, I guess, as “Hickory-dickory-dock…” in our culture.
  • The Holy Spirit is His usual walk-along companion with us here. I know a certain man who was struggling mightily with personal issues, but I didn’t know him well. One day the Spirit put an urgency on me to seek him out to speak with him and try to comfort him if I could. He lived at some distance, but I had a small blank spot in the program, so I asked Alfred to call him to see if I could come to him. He invited us quite happily. When I met with him shortly after that, I was able to counsel him in some key areas, pray with him and answer some difficult spiritual questions he was wrestling with. At the end of our conversation, as we were saying our good-byes, he shared that he had been praying for several weeks for someone he could talk to about these things. In his position, it was difficult to share such issues with locals, and so he felt quite isolated and alone, even hopeless, but he prayed nevertheless. He was thanking God for sending me because I was someone he could open up to since I was not one of his neighbors or associates. Oddly, only yesterday Gail had exactly the same experience with a young woman who had no one she could talk to about deeply personal issues and had also been praying that God would send someone. If we have done nothing else this entire trip, those two brief encounters of following the Spirit and speaking in His voice to two of His suffering children make this entire eight weeks well worth it.

 

Many of our experiences here in Uganda don’t warrant an entire post – they can be described in a brief “short,” or a snippet. So here are some brushes with the culture and the Spirit, and some impressions as they have passed through on our journeys.

  • In one place we were driving up and down a certain rural road visiting church-plants and interviewing pastors. On our way toward one end of road, we passed a police check-point stopping vehicles coming the other direction. We knew we would face them later that day as we returned that way, and, because these stops can sometimes be unpleasant, especially if you are a musungu who can pay a fine, we braced ourselves. Indeed, as we approached, the policeman waved for us to stop. Alfred pulled up, but then the strangest thing happened, which has certainly never happened before. The policeman did not even approach the vehicle, but peered in and saw me in the front seat and Gail in back. Then he asked, “Born again?” Alfred, caught off guard by the strange question, hesitantly answered, “Yes.” The policeman waved us to continue on our way. We still are wondering what that was about, but we are not complaining.
  • Gail and I had the oddest realization and burst into laughter shortly after we arrived in March. Many years ago when we said the grace before meals, the standing joke we always heard was, “We’re all hungry. This is not the time to pray for the missionaries in Africa.” God, You’re so funny – I guess the joke’s on us. Please, pray for us!
  • We interviewed one pastor in a church-plant who seemed perfectly normal in every way during our discussion.  Then as we asked if God had demonstrated Himself to the church in any way, the pastor rolled up the sleeve of his left arm. Then he folded his forearm back across his elbow until it hung completely backward at the joint. We were astonished to see that he had no bones in his upper arm between his shoulder and his elbow. He was an active military man serving as pastor, and he had been shot with a machine gun – the bone in his upper arm had been shattered and subsequently removed. As they prayed for him, he regained the use of his muscles and now is able to move his fingers, and though the usage is not 100%, his hand is usable. He did not have any pain from this demonstration, and he performed this bizarre maneuver with his arm it just as he must do repeatedly when he preaches and shares about the power of God to heal.
  • Life is hard in Uganda. We noticed an unpleasant reminder of this during our lunches at the Bible Seminar in Tororo. For lunch we always moved out of the building to a shaded area nearby, and each day we were joined for lunch by several ducks and a chicken, who waited for food to be dropped, then darted in to seize the prize of some rice, a vegetable or some posho. One of the ducks was a mother with 8 very young fuzzy ducklings. She was training them to forage, and we had an enjoyable time watching these tiny yellow creatures dashing around and even over our feet to catch little pieces of food. I’m not sure they didn’t get more than I did from my plate because I seemed to be quite clumsy and was “dropping” quite a lot. I said 8 ducklings, but when we met them the next day, there were only 7. Then on the next day, only 6. I asked about this and they told me that it is hard to raise chicks because there are snakes, hawks, and also dogs and cats. This mama duck came to symbolize for me what we always hear from the people when we come, and even this trip have heard – the death of a child one week, the death of a mother, the death over Christmas of a close friend here who was just a little older than we are, 2 children in Soroti who were taken to the hospital with malaria, and even this week a friend who was in the hospital for malaria and typhus at the same time. No, it’s not easy to live here.

We traveled back from Soroti to Jinja yesterday and today, and managed to fit in church-plant visits and some shoe buying for some deaf children – more on that later.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned that there is a drought in Uganda causing a famine in many parts of the country. There has been much less rain during the last year and the crops have been hurt badly in what is known as the “Bread Basket of Africa,” one of the most fertile and productive countries on the continent. While we were in Soroti – and even now as I am writing this evening – the rains have begun, and people are rejoicing all over Uganda. An aside to all of this has occurred, having something to do with a combination of the season of the year, the sudden rains and the white ant population.

After the first two or three serious dousings we experienced in Soroti, a variety of ant called white ants suddenly emerged from the earth everywhere, mating (?), flying around on large white wings four to five times the length of their bodies, and then molting their wings all over the ground. We walked out of our guesthouse to go to our meeting and found the entryway, the veranda, and the grounds covered with these wings from which the ants derive their name “white ants” – the ants are actually black, as near as I can tell. We also found a small boy collecting the ants in a bucket, some with wings and some without – he did not care which, but collected them all.

White ant wings in the foyer, on the veranda and covering the ground.

We watched him briefly and then began asking questions of the gatekeeper. This kind of ant will suddenly emerge by the millions all over Uganda, shortly thereafter losing their large wings, and the people collect them and…did you guess it? They fry them and eat them. I am told they have a very sweet taste that is much sought after by Africans as a seasonal delicacy.

Tonight as Gail and I went out to the market to collect our dinner from the street vendors, the first thing we saw was a large bin full of something. I couldn’t make it out in the near darkness, so I shone my flashlight on the bin – fried white ants on sale for 1000 shillings per cup (about 30 cents). I asked them if I could take a picture, and they allowed me to photograph their little stand, for which I paid them a small amount.

I would have gladly tried a bite or two, since we are, after all, in Africa. But Alfred intervened and said they would need to be re-fried at home before I should eat them because of sanitary conditions – musungu stomachs often clash with the unfamiliar bacteria of Africa, so everything has to be cleaned and cooked hot to kill the bacteria. I did not get my taste-test of white ants tonight, but maybe Alfred will bring us some from home tomorrow. Everyone from Soroti to where we are tonight in Bugembe is talking about the white ants, and children are out everywhere gathering them in bags and buckets by many different methods, then selling them in the markets. Tonight in the market it was very common to see roasted meat sticks, fried chicken, and fried white ants set out side-by-side on the vendors’ stands.

Wings covering the driveway and lawn.

I guess I’ve never been here during the right seasonal conditions before because, though I’ve heard about the white ants, I’ve never seen them or the many millions of fallen white wings covering the ground everywhere. Enjoy the pictures I’ve included of this unusual phenomenon. And if you ever get a chance to taste this delicacy, well, I can’t really recommend it…yet!

 

 

 

What Dreams May Come… Part 2

To continue illustrating how God seems to speak more directly to Christians in Uganda, though no less mysteriously, here’s a tale that one of the students on Buvuma Island told me during the Bible Institute in March. I first came to Buvuma Island three years ago and noted the many pastors who had no Bible training. It seemed like God had prepared me during an entire lifetime for just such a work, and on my first visit to the island I committed in my heart to teach these much neglected leaders if it were possible; and the Lake Victoria Bible Institute was born. The following is a background story.

Preached in a village church-plant today under a mango tree – 60-70 new believers present after 8 months. One came to receive Christ and many came for prayer ministry. Exciting! Gail led a women’s meeting in the late afternoon with 30 women at another church. Tomorrow we move back to Mbale to settle James and Hope, two deaf children, for their school holiday  – more on this tomorrow.

The student who told me this story used to live in Kampala, but one day, much like Abraham, he was told to move to Buvuma to strengthen the work of the young churches there. He came in obedience and attached himself to one of the churches on the island where he now serves as an elder. During the training last month, he asked to speak with me when I had a moment, and at the end of one of the  days, we stood near a large termite nest in the shade of the trees, and he told me his story.

Three years ago an apostle of some kind came to visit the island. My student had little information about him, but I can surmise from what I know that he would be a church-planter, a traveling preacher, and a teacher who would be respected as having some level of authority. He prayed through the churches on the island and preached for some time. One of the results of his ministry there was to instruct the leaders to undertake a 92 day fast, the seemingly random number given to him by the Lord. He said that after the fast was completed, another teacher would come to share the Word of God with them and to lift them to another level.

There is a certain mountain on the island that is considered a holy place and is used for prayer retreats and prayer vigils. This is where many of the leaders retired to fast, pray and seek His face. 92 days is about three months, and so the leaders came and went, back and forth to the mountain, all the time fasting and praying during this season.

The man who shared this with me told me that they came to the end of that period of fasting and returned to their lifestyles. Exactly one week later I showed up to teach the first leader training “institute” in the central village of Kitamiru, and this elder was present and somewhat astonished. He had hesitated all this time to tell me this story because he didn’t at first know me, but now, he said, since I have come many times, he has seen what I have taught the leaders in this three years:

Intro to Church Planting
Hermeneutics - Principles of Bible Interpretation,
Hearing the Voice of God,
The Doctrine of Soteriology,
Walking in the Spirit,
Discovering and Using Your Spiritual Gifts,
Principles of a Godly Marriage,
Church History 1 - NT to Middle Ages,
Church History 2 - Middle Ages to Present,
Christian Leadership Principles,
Christian Stewardship Principles,
And this March - Homiletics - How to Preach a Biblical Sermon.

Now, he explained, he has come to know and trust me, and he felt it was time to share this story with me.

I confess, I hardly know how to respond. I remember so clearly that before I even left the U.S. for my third trip to Uganda, God told me, “Look to the water,” and I had no idea what He meant. But as that trip unfolded, and Gail joined me for the final two weeks, by strange circumstances we found ourselves being escorted to Buvuma Island out in Lake Victoria, and we gained a vision there for training this isolated people group that we were seeing for the first time. It has always seemed in retrospect that God wanted me to come specifically to Buvuma Island. When I am there, I never doubt that I am in the right place. Now that Gail is with me full-time, she knows it too.

Following Jesus is indeed mysterious, and with this information, we know that He has gone ahead of us to Buvuma Island. It seems impossible to doubt His purpose. I am struck with the sudden realization that all of life is really like this, but we simply don’t often have the opportunity to hear the story or discover His footprints ahead of us. But…He is always there regardless.