Archive for July, 2014

Reality Check

In order to get to Buvuma Island in Lake Victoria, it is necessary to take the only ferry that runs in the entire lake. This is amazing to me, that considering the size of the lake, there is only one of the 52 islands that has a ferry, and that it is this particular island that is just off the coast from Jinja. We had to make an unexpected emergency run back to Jinja in the middle of our ministry on the island, which required us to use ferry1the ferry.

The ferry is a small affair, a deck that sits about 5 feet above the water with a huge engine at each corner and two sitting areas for the passengers lucky enough to be at the front of the line. They load this deck down by driving all manner of vehicles onto it – cars, pickups, vans, small petrol tankers and dump-truck sized transports filled with all kinds of materials. Commerce for this island exists only through this one access road – the ferry – and yes, it is called officially a “road” and is under the UNRA, the Uganda National Road Authority even though it over water. Once we disembark from the ferry, we are not even in Jinja – we are in the lakeside village of Kiyindi with a two and a half hour winding and bumpy ride on dirt roads, often washed out, through the hills back to Jinja. Fortunately, we have now discovered a shortcut, and we can make this journey in less than an hour and a half.

ferry2So we were seated on the ferry pulling away from Buvuma toward Kiyindi. All of us had found seats because it was the first run of the day and the traffic was light. Alfred, our driver, was seated separately from us and had a small story for us when we arrived across the water and got back into the car to disembark from Kiyindi.

Apparently, sitting opposite him was a very anxious woman. He identified her as a witch doctor or a sorceress by her behavior and by the book she was reading. He noticed that she seemed to immersed in prayer continually throughout the journey, but when he surreptitiously examined the book she was reading, he saw that it was a book of demonic prayers, called “The Kingship of Demons.” Each page was a separate prayer to a different type of demon. This woman seemed to be thumbing through the book and stopping at particular pages, at which time she would read the prayer just under her breath.

It was evident to him that perhaps she was very afraid of the water because each page seemed to be a water-related demon. He was able to read in the Luganda language, “The Demon of the Lake,” “The Demon of the Boat on the Lake,” “The King of the Lake,” ”The Demon of the Rocks of the Lake,” and very many other similar names. She would stop her page-turning long enough to mouth the prayer on a particular page. During the entire voyage of over an hour, she remained in this concentrated state, rhythmically tapping her feet together as if to emphasize her prayers.

Alfred observed that he had never seen such a book and was surprised to see it actually being used as a prayer book. But this validated his

Island Ferry - only way to the island. I wish I could say it looks smaller than it is...

Island Ferry – only way to the island. I wish I could say it looks smaller than it is…

opinion inherent in his Ugandan culture that these people, the pagan witch-doctors who vehemently oppose the Christians, even trying to tempt them into sin or place curses on them even unto death, are serious people who take their demon-worship seriously. He wondered if he should try to share Christ with her, but upon reflection, decided that interrupting what was obviously an intense devotion might not be in his best interests. After all, we were in the middle of the lake, and he, himself is not so comfortable with crossing all this water

I would observe that these typical Africans seem to know and experience something which most Americans deny even the existence of. But the average Ugandan walks closely enough to this reality that they are aware of both worlds, the Christian and the demonic, and there are some with a compromised faith who practice on both sides, attending church on Sunday to appease the Christian God, and accessing the services of the witch doctors during the week. However, most evangelical Christians (born-agains) have put off such practices, while having a healthy respect for their authenticity.

So, I’m wondering where you buy such a book. Do you walk into the local version of Barnes and Noble and ask for this book of the Demons? Do you have to be a member of a particular book club, like the History Book Club, or the Book of the Month Club – sort of a Demon of the Month Club, or a Demonic Book Club, or even a Witch Doctors Literary Society?

This all brings home to me a phenomenon I have observed about three blocks from the homes of several of the pastoral leaders I work closely with. The locals have purchased a lot and built a large, shrine-like building on it that is designed for witch-doctor gatherings, trainings, and ceremonies. I have watched this building being constructed over the last three years. Now it is complete and they are beginning to use it. Yesterday we noticed as we drove past it to drop off one of the pastors that the building had a broken window on the second story. I wondered what kind of foolish person you have to be to throw rocks at a building meant to house demon-worship. Or, perhaps, the window was broken from the inside…

Terror in Tojjwe

We were teaching our last day in Tojjwe [toadj-way] on the island of Buvuma in Lake Victoria when a women burst into the one-room church building screaming incoherently. Immediately, several men jumped up and raced out. I left the podium and stepped out the door to see what all the excitement was. There in the middle of the village rose flames thirty feeroofingbt in the air – the village was on fire! This is a constant fear and terrible danger to these villages because the houses are packed so tightly together, and the thatch roofing is made of such flammable materials that any fire can leap quickly from house to house and be totally out of control in moments.

We ran, the islanders from distant islands who had boated in to our conference and I, toward the flames to render any kind of aid we could. These people well underst1642ood what an out-of-control house fire can mean to a lakeside village like this one. I first encountered a small girl, maybe 6 or 7 running away from the flames and screaming and crying in terror. I knelt and reached for her and she ran into my arms weeping, close to hysteria. I was relieved that she was uninjured and only terribly frightened. I called for Gail, who has such a gift with the children here, to come and gather the children to safety.

This village of Tojjwe sits on the edge of the lake and has a population of over 650 with immediate suburb spurs raising the population up to around 2000. The houses are built side by side with occasional “meadows” for parking items like boats, motorcycles, goats, dogs, all manner of building materials and various village-related detritus. This entire area is inhabited by legions of ducks and chickens, all who seem to co-exist without much apparent concern about the 1648human population, which occasionally reaches out and snags one of them for dinner. These are thatch roof homes with a mixture of grass thatch on some and thick mats of a bamboo-like plant covering others. There is the occasional tin roof, but it is rare. The walls are mainly mud-wattle, but there are many wood board structures as well.

As I left Gail gathering children, I ran toward the flames with the other men, and I noticed first that there were already a large number of burning buildings with roofs going up like torches, flames jumping from one structure to the next. The only strategy I could make out in all the smoke, screaming chaos, and overwhelming heat waves was to either empty a home of its valuables – furniture, stored food, bedding, kitchen utensils, etc. – in an attempt to carry it away before the flames destroyed their house, or to climb to the roof and strip the 1640thatch off the wooden supports as fast as possible so that the flames would not be able to catch in that dry material. We ran in amid the buildings at the edge of the flames with grass thatch raining down all around us, covering the ground to a foot deep in places, smoke filling our noses and lungs, and alternately grabbed belongings to haul them back and away and then great armfuls of thatch which had to be moved back away from the blasting heat and flying sparks. Some people were throwing water from pails carried from the lake, but the fire was too hot and the water too little for this to have any effect at all. Others used the few dirt tools available to throw dirt on the advancing flames.

Of course, the wood walls went up in flames instantly, being very dry and seasoned in the equatorial sun. But I was surprised to see the mud-wattle walls also burning hotly until I realized that the heat was causing the mud to harden and crumble away from the tree-branch super-structure that was holding the mud in place. That wood, when exposed in this manner, almost exploded into flame.

1647Gradually, an organized strategy emerged of clearing a fire-break all the way around the burn-zone so the flames could not leap to another house. This was complicated by the many deep piles of grass thatch and bamboo sticks that were stacked to improve the roofs from time to time. We had to quickly carry all of this material away, throwing it to the ground thirty yards in the rear and running back for another armload.

The most harrowing incident involved a trio of men on the roof of a house trying to pull the bamboo loose and throw it down while flames advanced toward them from the opposite end of the roof-line, bamboo popping and sizzling as the flames reached it. Finally, the men leapt down defeated, and their house became another victim. At least it also became part of the fire-break, and gradually the flames were trapped with nowhere else to go and finally began to die down.

No one was injured, a miracle in itself. Twenty-eight homes were turned to ashes, and I saw many women weeping openly in the watching crowd as they saw their homes and possessions devoured. Two children playing with fire inside one of the homes, they tell me, was cause of this disaster.

As we patrolled the edge of the destruction, seeking any new threatening flames and quickly putting them out, we finally realized there was no more to do, that the danger had been contained. Our group slowly withdrew back to our church structure at the edge of the village. There we found Gail surrounded by a small and exhausted group of children, some asleep on the floor or the benches, and some sitting against her, wrapped in her arms. As the word spread, relieved mothers began to arrive to collect their children. Gradually, we returned to our church-planting conference.

I feel uniquely bonded to this village. Many of the villagers were shocked to see a musungu fighting shoulder to shoulder with them, but they did not have time to comment on it, and many were very protective of me, a total stranger joined with them by a common enemy. Many gently made sure to keep me away from the dangerous places, sometimes taking me by the hand, as is the Ugandan custom, and leading me away from the hottest spots. “No, muze‘, no, muze‘, you go here….” Muze‘ [moo-zay’] is Lusoga for “elder,” or “old one,” and is a term of great respect. It was an experience I can never forget.

We are finally back to the city of Jinja in Uganda after three weeks on Buvuma Island, Uganda, in Lake Victoria. This is the first internet we have had in all this time. Most of the time, even cell service was iffy. Theweeks went by quickly for us and the ministry kept us very busy.  Since this is the first time in weeks I have been able to post, I will post here a list of moments from the trip, many of which I will write full blogs about in days to come.

  • Often gorgeous sunsets on the island.
  • Sat across from witch doctor woman on the ferry, praying spells for water safety all the way. Must have been pretty nervous about the crossing!
  • A woman confessed her back-slidden condition in one of Gail’s women’s meetings. Gail’s response: Are you ready to get right with Him now? She was…she did.
  • Interrupted by a big fire in the village where we were teaching last Friday, pop. 650-1,000. We rushed outside to see flames 30 feet in the air. We fought the fire shoulder-to-shoulder with the villagers for an hour to stop it from spreading to the whole village, then went back to the teaching.  28 homes destroyed. Very sad. Very close.
  • A glasses ministry is in our future, so you all save those used reading glasses for donation to needy Ugandans. These islanders have the same eye problems we do, but no access to services or resources. Many are unable to read their Bibles for want of simple reading glasses.
  • I was asked to perform a wedding for an 85 year old (??) pastor who has never married, but is now taking a companion. Most of the Island pastors were present, and we had a very joyful celebration. I have never seen a more content bride as she finally got her man.
  • Unable to achieve a successful cell signal to the US to talk to Gail, I became very familiar with the “mountain” just behind our first week’s teaching location. I climbed it twice a day to get high enough to “reach out.” Fortunately, we mostly climbed it in the car, but I did climb it on foot twice.
  • As soon as Gail arrived on the island to the adulation of the islanders, I was informed by a Ugandan pastor that she is prettier than I. I already knew this, though. BTW, his low command of English phrased it, “She is better than you,” but I knew what he meant…I think.
  • A Ugandan pastor came up to us on a break, embraced both of us and said, “We love you so much. Thank you for coming,” then walked off literally cackling with joy! Very infectious laughter…
  • On that note, we had a wonderful experience of difficult testing on the island that resulted in me “seeing” the Lord seated on His throne chuckling over us – ALSO infectious laughter.
  • Deeply humbled by the last two Church Planting conferences! Two groups of over fifty each boated in from distant and isolated islands, some as far as the border of Kenya, to sit under this teaching. The cost: 8-10 hours in the boats, some arriving at midnight after hours on the water in pitch darkness. Only to be repeated on the return voyage.
  • Each boat I witnessed leaving from the beach at the end of the conferences was bailing full pails of water from the bottom of the boats by the time they had gone only twenty meters from the shore!
  • We were humbled by the islanders deep commitment to travel so far under such conditions to be with us, after we griped (just a little) about traveling the long distance to the village over such bumpy, narrow, washed-out roads. Come to find out when we did the mileage check the end of that week, the distance to the village, which seemed appallingly far, was only 3.5 miles. Wimps. Humble wimps, but wimps.
  • A lady came to us and related that the Lord showed her in a vision that I was the musungu who would take her over to America with him. Upon questioning, she revealed that she had nine children and no apparent reason to go to America. I am now punching breathing holes into my suitcase and waiting for Him to tell me…