At the church where I am currently teaching in Bugembe, Uganda, I have been watching an ancient art unfold before my eyes. Just outside the door of the rented building where the church meets, they are constructing a room as an add-on to the building next door. I watched the builder pile up a large number of tree limbs of various sizes, then begin to weave them together into a rough “wall” on the side of one of the rooms.

After finishing the branch and twig construction, he had a see-through partition criss-crossed with tree and bush-branches. He nailed the larger uprights at the bottom, but all the others were held in place by weaving them in-and-out with each other, into a lattice-like pattern.

Then he piled up a generous helping of red mud on the ground in front of the building, added a little water, and began kneading it with a large- bladed hoe. Later, on a break in my lessons, I looked out the door to check on his progress, and he was busy gathering up handfuls of the red mud and tossing them onto the top of a beach ball-shaped lump of mud over near the stick and branch wall. He would scoop up a large handful, and hurl it about ten feet to land perfectly with an audible splat on top of this large mud ball.

Today when I went to preach at this same church, I noticed that the branch lattice partition was no longer visible, having been completely covered in red mud, now hand-smoothed into a rough kind of plaster. Now it was drying and hardening on the wall.

So this ancient art of mud-wattle construction, which is a common inexpensive form of construction here in the villages of Uganda today, has been used in Africa and other parts of the world for thousands of years. However, though I have seen many mud-wattle huts and more than a few mud-wattle church buildings here in Uganda, I hadn’t ever been privileged to watch the fascinating process from beginning to end to see how it was done.

It was amusing to me to observe this artisan, the descendent of hundreds of generations of builders before him, right in the middle of a scene that could easily be right out of the Bible, pause suddenly, wipe his hands off hurriedly on his pants, reach into his pocket to pull out his cell phone and carry on a spirited conversation for a few minutes before going back to work throwing history around with his bare and mud-stained hands.

This is the Uganda of 2013, a juxtaposition of old and new, primitive and modern, ancient and yet technologically 21st century. I am humbled to be here serving in such a wonderful place.

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