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Written by Gail:

The people of Uganda are very welcoming and friendly, even when we can’t speak more than a “hello, how are you?”  We all smile at each other and laugh after jokes are translated one way or the other. We all really do want to communicate and get to know each other.  It’s wonderful when someone has some English and off we go with a conversation.

I grip their hands together and fling them to the sky! Everyone laughs hilariously!

I grip their hands together and fling them to the sky! Everyone laughs hilariously!

The many children are always watching us. Some dare to come near, others are too afraid of our strangeness. Usually by the end of a day of teaching, they are bold enough to come around. Then we have some fun and laugh and shake hands. I can teach them some numbers, some English alphabet, I can hold all our hands together in front of us and jump as a group then fling our arms to the sky, which they love to do, and I can pass out the blue painter’s tape when Bob is finished using it to hold down his various projector and computer wires during the training – all the children are fascinated by the tape and wear it on their faces like decorations.

She studied me with an intensity worthy of Sherlock Holmes.

She studied me with an intensity worthy of Sherlock Holmes.

But I am experiencing a very big problem. And it seems there is nothing I can do about it. We had to take a ferry to Bugala Island and were told to go to the waiting area until time to board the ferry. There was a very large step up to the area and I had a little trouble negotiating it. We took our Kindles and sat on the front bench reading. I looked up from my book and saw a small girl climbing up the step. After scooting onto the platform on her hands and knees, she stood up and looked straight at me. I smiled at her and gave a small wave as I usually do with children, but she just stood there, staring at me, transfixed by this sudden confrontation with a musungu.  She stood there for a really long time, not moving at all, so I waved again and then went back to reading my book. I looked up after a few minutes and she was still there, but then she had turned around to leave. She looked back at me, I smiled and gave her a small wave, and she smiled and waved back and left.  Hmmm, I thought, not a very successful encounter, and I returned to my book.

I don't think I'm blending in very well in Uganda.

I don’t think I’m blending in very well in Uganda.

It must not have been the best book in the world because I looked up again. Now there was an even smaller boy, maybe age two, struggling to climb the step, and he was really concentrating on conquering that mountain. He finally had victory and stood proudly at the top, but then he looked up and saw me. I tried the small smile and small wave, and he burst into such a screechingly loud scream that I could hardly believe it. And he didn’t stop; he just got louder, as if someone was twisting his ear. Finally, his father rescued him and sat him where he couldn’t see me. His parents were laughing hysterically, but I was a little horrified. Then his mother decided he needed aversion therapy and brought him to sit on the bench right next to me and Bob. I thought the boy was being tortured, he was crying so hard. The mother finally moved to seats behind us, but he could still see me and didn’t like it. I felt terrible, but there was nothing I could do… finally it was time to board the ferry and I never saw the boy again. I know he was happy!



If this was my only disastrous baby run-in I would be OK.  But not one baby in Uganda has let me come anywhere near them. Not ONE!  My grandmother-gene has withered  to a new low. The babies are so cute, and I just want to smile at them, but, no dice. Even today, a mother with a small boy and a baby came to the meeting. The small boy smiled back at me, the baby shrank away into his mother’s shoulder.  She brought him to me and gently put him on my lap. He looked at me for about 5 seconds, and the screaming began.

I can’t believe this is happening…grandkids of mine, watch out. I will be smiling and waving at you very soon. I sure hope you don’t scream and run away! You I might chase…


Tomali sits in the front row, the seat of honor at all the Institutes.

You may remember Tomali (Tom’-uh-lee) from previous posts. He is the forty-year old mentally challenged man from the village of Kitamiru on Buvuma Island. He is a complete innocent who greets us every time we come to lead the five day Bible Institute as if we have not been gone for the last four to six  months. He always just picks up where we left off. He likes especially to ride in the vehicle, though sometimes he is done after only about fifteen yards, and other times he rides all the way to his home down the road a ways. Often he rides the 3/4 miles to his home, then gets out and immediately walks back to the village. He rides just for the joy of the ride.

He also knows I am usually good for a chapatti and a soda. His teeth never grew in, or so I have been told, but he manages to gobble down lots of food with the rest of the crowd without a problem.

Tomali likes to sit in on the training sessions, at least for a while. We usually accord him a front row seat as a place of honor, and at times he will stand and copy the prayer style of the church leaders with strings of meaningless words that cause much amusement, and he also likes to help lead the music. After sitting in the teaching a while, he will get bored and will jump up and wave good-bye and run out, especially if it is near 3 pm which is his daily bath time. How he knows it is near 3 pm no one can figure out.

When we first met, he would string long sentences of complete gibberish together that baffled Alfred as we tried to understand what he wanted to say. Of course, I couldn’t tell it was gibberish – sounded normal to me. The last two trips have shown some remarkable shifts in Tomali’s speaking ability that are beyond my understanding. Alfred tells me he is beginning to make sense; that is, he is using actual Lusoga words and stringing sentences together. None of us can figure out how this is suddenly happening. In every other respect he remains the same guileless child he has always been.

Tomali helps with the teaching.

Tomali helps with the teaching.

One of Tomali’s favorite games is to borrow a cell phone. Then he mimics with uncanny  accuracy the phone-talking style of the different church leaders, especially the bishops, standing off to the side, talking loudly into the phone as if on some serious business. Fortunately, he has no idea how to dial a phone, and he must think that everyone else hears nothing at all on their phones just as he does.

On this trip I decided to surprise him with a cell phone of his own. I rummaged through a drawer in my desk at home and found on old Palm phone, which I took with me to Uganda and gave to Tomali at the first opportunity. He was thrilled to receive his own phone, and we were equally thrilled not to be pestered to loan him our phones for him to carry out his long conversations with. Alfred told me that, at least when on the phone, he’s still talking meaningless gibberish, but with occasional words like musungu thrown in.

To show what a fine heart Tomali has, let me tell you about an incident that happen

Tomali on the phone with Alfred, his close friend, encouraging him.

Tomali on the phone with Alfred, his close friend, encouraging him.

ed with his new phone. Tomali was sitting in the front row. I needed one of the bishops for something, and so I asked the students if someone could please find the bishops for me. No one made any move to go out and locate them. I was about to repeat my request when Tomali jumped up from his seat, pulled out his phone and dashed to the door of the building. There he stood, urgently calling the bishops on his phone, explaining in unknown tongues that the musungu needed them to come. At least this is my assumption from the timing and his urgent demeanor, and, of course, the generous sprinkling of “musungu” in among the rest of the words. When no one else made a move to help the musungu find the bishops, Tomali leapt forward to solve the problem.

And even stranger yet, one of the bishops soon walked through the door to help me.  And Tomali even managed this with a phone that had no battery.

When we visit Buvuma Island out in Lake Victoria, we stay at a certain guesthouse. We stay there because they have come to know us, and it is adequate to our needs and our budget. I, Bob, have stayed there repeatedly now over a period of three years, and Gail has visited at least once previous to this trip. Now the island is beginning to see the far edge of investment and development as large and small investors are both establishing enterprises on the island. A company called Bittico, that produces palm oil, is taking up much land to grow palm trees, and they will bring infrastructure to the island that moves them toward the 21st, or at least the 20th, century – water pumping stations, electricity, and perhaps some improvements in the ferry and the road system. Another investor is a small operation that has bought up some acreage near the ferry site to grow hibiscus, which is used for medicines, and even a quite pleasant tasting juice drink.

The other noticeable development is in the area of tourism. This has been slow to come since the infrastructure has been very low profile and the guesthouses very few. But a new guesthouse has been built and is now open on the top of a high hill that commands a wonderful view of the lake and the surrounding islands to the west. It is called Palm Resort Buvuma. They have chosen a fine location and have installed a very attractive little campus.

I became aware recently of their website – yes, they even have a website – and was quite impressed with its professional quality. I poked around through the many pictures and a few tidbits and stories about Buvuma Island for an hour one night. It was very well put together, and it gives a good representation of the site for the guesthouse, the view of the lake, and the amenities.

The view of Lake Victoria and surrounding islands from the Palm Resort Guesthouse on Buvuma Island.

The view of Lake Victoria and surrounding islands from the Palm Resort Guesthouse on Buvuma Island.

This hill where they have positioned their guesthouse is the very hill where Alfred and I would go every night while on Buvuma island so that I could get a cell phone signal strong enough to reach home in the U.S. and talk to Gail. I have never been able to get service down near the guesthouse by the lakeside where we normally stay. The building where we have usually taught the Lake Buvuma Bible Institute sits directly at the bottom of this hill. The students would come out from the classes at day’s end and stand around chatting with each other. Then, every evening, as soon as Alfred and I had the car packed up with our teaching paraphernalia, they would watch us  drive up this small rocky and winding road to the top of the high hill behind the building. They found out in time, of course, why we were going up there. Then one day I discovered that they had renamed the hill – they were calling it “Bob and Gail Hill,” and this is the name by which our Institute students identify this prominent landmark now. What a blessing! I think we should get a plaque installed. The site of the Palm Resort Guesthouse is only a stone’s throw from the exact place where I stood each evening to call home to Gail.

Also, as the Palm Resort opens for customers, there is another new guesthouse being built down at the lakeside at Kitamiru, the main village of the island. This area is one of the traditional landing sites for the fishing boats of the island, and has undoubtedly been in use for centuries, but the view will never equal that of the Palm Resort. Things are beginning to change on this island, and no one is sure how it will affect the lives of the locals.

All in all, the introduction of these guesthouses, and especially the Palm Resort, which sits in such a lovely setting, will draw tourists, who will in turn draw business, which will in turn improve the lives of the population and raise the standard of living. We are able to watch the slow process as we return every four months, and it is a rare opportunity to watch progress (we hope) advance step by step right in front of us.

I heartily recommend that you check out the Palm Resort website and its beautiful pictures and interesting articles, and get a different perspective of Buvuma Island –

Tower of Babel

We have had a strange and wonderful training week at Tororo in Uganda this last few days, Monday to Friday, which we are now in the middle of. Tororo is our second Bible Institute similar to what God has developed on Buvuma Island each time we come to Uganda. This five day Bible training ministry is powerful in equipping the growing Ugandan church and preparing it for the near future when Ugandan churches will learn to steward their finances successfully and, shortly after, begin sending out missionaries of their own.


The very fine church building at Asignet near Tororo. This building was built by South Korean Christians doing missionary work in Uganda. It is one of the finest buildings we have been able to use for a training.

Last week was topped off after two church-planting meetings, one on the island of Bugala in Western Uganda, and one in Masaka, a nearby city, by requests from both locations for the Bible Institute ministry. The second request was punctuated by a meeting with a number of area bishops formally making the request to bring this ministry to their area churches. That would mean that I would continue to do church-planting trainings, but that I would also teach multiple five day Bible Institutes. My head is spinning. This doesn’t even include the request from Bugembe for the same thing.

The Institute this week in Tororo became more exciting than usual when we realized that we had three distinct language groups in the room, rather than the normal English plus local dialect. We discovered that we had those who could follow the English, those who spoke only Japadola, the language from this district, and another group that struggled in each of those so needed a translation into Luganda, the language we are used to in Jinja and which is regarded as the national language.

The Tororo Bible Institute on the second day.

The Tororo Bible Institute on the second day. It’s a bit hard to see, but there are two translators assisting me.

In trying to resolve this, we had Alfred translating in Luganda on one side, a large middle group listening to my English, and a group on the other side receiving simultaneous translation in Japadola. All through this process, I was thinking that finally I understood what the story of the Tower of Babel is about when the languages were suddenly confused, and everyone found themselves speaking a different language. I got a tiny little taste of the confusion spoken about in that story.

This is actually not that unusual – I’ve heard before of missionaries working with multiple translators simultaneously. However, this is the first time I’ve experienced it.

Meanwhile, the attendance has climbed to a high today of 105 church members and leaders at the Institute. The translators and I are all a little hoarse from talking above the babble. I hope to have the rhythm of it by the end of the week.

We are teaching on marriage this week, and I am told to expect more and more couples to show up as the week goes on because the word is spreading by word of mouth about the principles Gail and I are giving them. Marriage is under attack in Uganda just like in the US, so these principles of strengthening their marriages are extremely timely and valuable to them:

  1. Christians Have Christian Marriages.
  2. Marriage is A Covenant.
  3. Marriage Has A Spiritual Purpose.
  4. Marriage Practices The Blessing.
  5. Marriage is based on God’s Love.
  6. Sexuality Has A Spiritual Purpose.
  7. Family Has A Spiritual Purpose.
  8. Marriage Requires A Spiritual Relationship with Each Other.
  9. A Husband is A Spiritual Man.
  10.  A Wife is A Spiritual Woman.

We’re covering Sexuality tomorrow. Pray for us. PLEASE!!

Threads – Can You See Them?

Posted by Gail Meade:

Looking at Psalm 139, I was studying and trying to decide what to teach in the women’s meetings while I am in Uganda this Fall. I read and reread the entire Psalm.  Verse 13 really resonated, but in a way that I have never noticed before:  “…You did weave me in my mother’s womb.” WEAVE. I am not a seamstress or a cloth-maker. Weaving involves taking many separate threads and combining them to make cloth. Each thread is unique; many are the same color; some have variations of that color. The many kinds of cloth produced is amazing. How does that pertain to ME?

God began toimg_2506 give me a picture so I could understand what He was saying to me. Here is what I saw. God takes threads from all the family who have gone before me and uses those to create the cloth of Gail. Maybe He took a blue and a green thread from my mother and a green and a yellow thread from my dad; maybe orange and brown from Mom’s parents and purple and black from Dad’s; a few from his grandparents, a few from her grandparents. It goes back many generations. We are all related. All of the threads are unique and the combinations are endless. Just as there are millions of kinds of cloth, so are people unique and different in so many ways. We can look at photos and say, “Look, there are eyes like mine, there is where my ears came from, but where did I get my nose?” I can trace my hair color, my height, my build across the generations.

Yet God saw me beforehand as He wove together all those threads. He knew me before I was born and knows me still. I see my heritage in my brother and sister, but we are all three different. The threads are woven in different manners and we are seen, each of us, for ourselves. It is a wonder!gidnharp2015

In fact, that is what the next verse says. “We are fearfully and wonderfully made.” As I look at my children, I see many characteristics from me and from Bob. I can also notice traits from our parents, all combined in different ways to make Kristyn as unique as Evan, but both from the same line: great-grandparents’, grandparents’ and parents’ threads all woven in beautiful ways.

Then I picture the seven grand-kids:  a whole new set of in-law ancestors combining to make such great young people. I hopefully waited through seven grand-kids for God to weave my curly hair thread so that it could show up  in Harper. I am thrilled, just as I am thrilled at any of the other “Gail” or “Bob” threads I see in that generation. It is a wonder and a marvel. Threads multiplied, magnified, muted, wondrous.

I Was Amused…

The recording of the birth date in Uganda is still a bit of a Western custom. Most of the children and youth are now recorded, but anyone back in the villages, like on Buvuma Island or any one of a thousand small communities spread through the bush that runs away from the cities all the way to the borders, may not have their birth date recorded. If a person is over 40 years old, they come from a time when Uganda was still in civil war, and western customs were still very foreign. Their documents will say, ” DOB January 1, 1974, or some other year.” Most of these people were somehow all born on the same day, vying for the prize perhaps of being the first birth of the New Year.

This issue has become more serious now that Uganda is registering everyone with a national ID card. This card requires the DOB, of course. Few Ugandans seem to care much about their birthday, and it seems that few celebrate it, unlike the much-anticipated and sometimes expensive birthday parties Americans will throw to celebrate even the birthdays of small children who are too young even to know what’s happening. Americans like their birthdays and celebrate annually in proportion to their “like,” but the Africans I know seem hardly to notice theirs, and the dates seem to pass by with maybe just a brief nod.

Recently we have started to register our Bible Institute students so we can prepare a graduation transcript, and the issue of birth date comes up repeatedly. Again, many of them put down January 1, and some cannot even tell you their age. One man, who looks to be in his thirties, has been 30 now for three years. Every time the subject comes up he says the same thing. I think he is either counting decades instead of years or refusing to get old, but the truth is, he doesn’t know.

When we registered a certain musee (moo-zay’), which means an elderly gentleman, he put down an interesting DOB. This pastor is the original man who evangelized Buvuma Island many years ago. Most of the older pastors were led to Christ by this one man, and he is largely responsible for the existence of many of the churches on Buvuma today. He was a busy pastor and never married until about 2 years ago – I had the honor of performing the ceremony. He is at least 90 and said that he wanted to spend his last years enjoying some family.

The subject of his DOB had never come up until now. So when we registered him at the Institute this time, he wrote down January 1, 1950, and this is apparently his official birth date recorded on his ID card. Gail and I were both born in 1949. So this musee is claiming to be one year younger than we are. We looked at him, trying to decide if we should challenge the year of birth for a man who is easily 2-3 decades older than we are. Finally, we let it go.

I was amused.  My wife? Not so much…

The addition of the palm oil industrial activity to Bulaga Island has injected money into the local economy, has actually paved some of the main road, mostly where the trucks go in and out of the processing areas, and has brought the solar power station and even water pump stations that are beginning to provide primitive plumbing. I noticed on Buvuma that they are right now installing a water pump station that will affect the water supply along the main road through the island. This is Bittico already influencing the development of better infrastructure on the second island they will occupy.

The other change that has impacted Bugala and clearly paints the future of Buvuma Island is the tourist industry. Several nice hotels have been built on Bugala near the water and white sand beaches have emerged from the former overgrowth at the edge of the lake. I asked if the white sand had been imported, and they told me that, no, it was already there, but no one was interested in beaches until the musungu came. So now there are many beach areas that have been cleaned up and debris removed, parks installed adjoining the beaches, a golf course even reaching up the hill from the water in one area, and nice, small musungu-style hotels built along the new beaches.

The clash of this beach area with the more typical Ugandan culture of the village that sits atop the ridge above it was startling to us. It was like moving between two worlds. There is even a third ferry from Kampala that has begun delivering musungus directly from the Entebbe International Airport area to this new tourist enclave on Bugala. Many musungus arrive, spend a week in the small hotels and then leave without ever exploring beyond this one isolated little beach area on what is a huge and fascinating island.

This type of development has caused the cost of everything to rise. We paid higher rates here for rooms in the guesthouse than anywhere I’ve been, and even the food from the street vendors is three or four times as expensive as normal.

On the spiritual side, the bishop I worked with says he has 77 churches covering 88 islands strung out across the lake from this large island in the north to islands many miles away near the Tanzanian border on the south. These distant islands are extremely isolated, reachable only by expensive motorboat trips, and even the bishop himself finds it difficult to minister to these islands because of the cost of hiring a boat and the amount of time it takes to get there. Many have no church at all.

The Christians from these islands, some of whom boated in for our church-planting class on Monday and Tuesday this week, represent a population that is largely unreached. They have no Bible training, few Bibles, and almost no one goes among them to minister. With more islands than churches, they can be classified as an unreached people group.

I’m recruiting. I need young, passionate-for-Christ men and women who can teach the scripture, evangelize, and help plant churches in such difficult places where there are few comforts of civilization. I will gladly train them. There is enough work to do in these islands and the ones around Buvuma island that several entire lifetimes could be absorbed in ministering to them.

If you’re out there hearing the call from God, please get in touch with me through this website.

We have returned from our trip to a second island in Lake Victoria. Always before I have been told that there is only one island with a ferry, but now I discover a second which has a much more up to date style ferry. It is Bugala Island on the west side of the lake. It is roughly the same land mass as Buvuma Island, but strung out in a series of narrow strips rather than one large mass with several hills as Buvuma.

The Bugala Island Ferry - larger and more ship-like than the Buvuma ferry. The way of the future for Buvuma, I think. Industrialization will cause much upgraded infrastructure.

The Bugala Island Ferry – larger and more ship-like than the Buvuma ferry. The way of the future for Buvuma, I think. Industrialization will cause much upgraded infrastructure..

We stayed in the main town, named Kalangala. It was a small village about 20 miles from the ferry dock. We arrived in the dark after taking the last ferry of the day. The first thing we noticed was that they had electricity that was not generator driven. In the daylight the next day we passed the large solar power installation, with maybe 300 or more solar panels all tilted toward the equatorial sun generating power. This is the source of the island’s electricity.

We also noticed the lack of houses along the main road, which is very different from Buvuma Island, where there are multiple homes along the road from thatched huts to one room wood or brick structures to larger homes with plastered and painted walls. But on Bugala Island, most of the people have been displaced by the palm oil industry, and now huge groves of palm trees grow to the horizon and beyond for much of the way, replacing the homes that once occupied the land.

The people have either left the island or moved into the villages. I am told that the palm oil company, Bittico, has determined that both Buvuma and Bugala will be bought up and the land used for palm oil growth. Bugala is far ahead of the development on Buvuma and gives me a picture of what is in store for Buvuma Island in the future. Much of the agriculture will be replaced with palm trees, oil refining plants will be built and will employ many of the people, and squatters, which applies to most of the people living on and farming the land now, will be moved off the land they are currently using and will move to the villages instead of operating a homestead many miles from the population centers.

Church Planting conference on Bugala Island. Some of these people traveled many miles over the water by motorboat to get here for the conference.

Church Planting conference on Bugala Island. Some of these people traveled many miles over the water by motorboat to get here for the conference.

The landlords who own the land in many cases, I am told, moved out years ago during the tze-tze fly epidemics of the early 1900’s. Their families have historically collected rents from the people now living on their land, while they themselves live off the proceeds in Kampala or some other city. But now most have sold their land to Bittico, as they previously did on Bugala Island, and so the current occupants are slowly being pushed off, by law receiving some compensation, but still leaving their homes of many generations.

So the trip to Bugala Island has been very instructive in that it shows the future changes that will come to Buvuma. The industrial development may even soon cause the construction of an airport on Bugala Island, which will be the first in the lake. Such future changes on Buvuma Island will restructure the simple lives of the islanders forever, just as it already has on Bugala Island.

(To Be Continued in “Another Island, Another Ferry – Part 2”)