Archive for November, 2015

Is that Your Pig or Mine?

Is that your pig or mine? This is a question which never seems to be asked in Uganda. Animals are everywhere and no one seems to be watching them – operative term, seems. With a widespread distrust of police, where the victim of the crime might just as well fall under suspicion as the actual criminal, Ugandan culture seems to step in to solve the problem of theft. (Note: I refer to daylight theft only. When the lights go out, the rules change and would require a separate article. I acknowledge that these comments are seminal observations, and that research would have to be done to further develop this topic for accuracy.)

This is most obviously manifested in the way livestock is handled. There is livestock everywhere in Uganda. I see chickens in the stores and homes, domestic turkeys everywhere, ducks waddling in the lanes, cows wandering here and there, goats and sheep tied along the side of the road to graze all day or wandering along the roads trailing the broken tethers which they have chewed through, half a dozen goats asleep in the road itself, and pigs ranging their snuffling ways through the forests, pastures and yards.

Piglet snuffling by the trail.

Piglet snuffling by the trail.

I have asked different Ugandans repeatedly why these various animals are just let loose to roam everywhere, why they are not secured in a yard or pen, or why they are not stolen from the side of the road. A chicken is not worth a lot to the average Ugandan, but a pig is worth a great deal, a cow a virtual fortune. Yet there they all are, wandering free, untended by unconcerned owners everywhere from the city residential areas (and sometimes even the stores) to the rural villages.

The common answer is that everyone knows whose pig that is, or, everyone knows who owns that chicken or cow. Really? I don’t know. The Ugandan making this statement isn’t from that village, and surely he doesn’t know. We are just two of the many strangers traveling this road at that very moment, the roads being always crowded with people of all ages and stripes going both directions. So really? Everyone knows who owns that isolated young goat tied to that bush right at the edge of the road? The reasoning seems to be that since everyone knows whose pigs those are, no one will steal them. But they are unbranded and unmarked for ownership in any way.

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My favorite “cow picture” from Uganda.

I think something else is going on. Ugandans live in community rather than as individuals like in the West. I have observed that everyone in the community has developed the innate ability to watch everything in their own community as if it is community property. This does not take the amount of effort it would take in the West. For me to accomplish such a thing in my own neighborhood in Texas, I would have to leave whatever I was doing in my home or yard, surreptitiously peek out from the side of my window or doorway, and watch some suspicious character literally “from the shadows.” This wouldn’t be the case in Uganda. There each member of the community seems to have developed an instinctive “stranger-danger” sense that goes off like radar, allowing them to go effortlessly about their business with one eye subconsciously peeled for any sign of trouble.

A lone sheep tied along the road to graze.

A lone sheep tied along the road to graze.

So, my feeling is that if anyone tried to scoop up someone else’s livestock and walk away with it, they would be quickly confronted, not by one courageous hero as in the U.S., but by many angry citizens emerging from every direction from the houses and fields around, and that very quickly a mob would form like a swarm of bees whose nest has been kicked, and the would-be thief would then be beaten or even killed.

This community mob mentality substitutes for the lack of police presence in a society where the police seem to sit by the road in one place waiting until after a crime is committed and officially reported before they will even move, and where the concept of “crime prevention” is not even known except in the passive sense of barred windows. I have witnessed the mob in action twice in Uganda. The first was in the middle of a crowded public thoroughfare at a bus stop – a boda boda man (motorcycle taxi driver) had apparently cheated a Ugandan woman in her taxi fare, and she shrieked some mysterious phrase at which the crowd at the bus was instantly galvanized. I watched the offender suddenly turn and run for his life with a crowd of no less than fifty men and women chasing after him. He was caught and beaten right there by the side of the road.

A turkey walking freely on the sidewalk in the city of Jinja.

A turkey walking freely on the sidewalk in the city of Jinja.

The second time I saw mob justice was with a drunk man who was causing a violent disruption in a restaurant in the main village on Buvuma island. Within seconds, the merchants from the surrounding stores had grabbed the man and dragged him out to the street where they beat him. I noticed that they did not mean to hurt him, but to make a point to him – they beat him only with the flats of their fists. Then one of the men caned him with a flimsy stick, capable of making more noise than damage. He then forced the drunk man to carry bricks from one pile to another as a penalty for his behavior. The drunk man was uninjured but humbled.

I had a discussion with some Ugandans just a few weeks ago about some men who had killed an eighteen year old boy in an argument over some fish he had caught. Not only were they not arrested and tried, but the reason was that the father of the boy went to the police and begged for their release since they were relatives! In trying to make any sense of this, I asked how many people these criminals would have to kill before the police would step in and punish them. The answer was that if they killed again, the mob would kill the offenders before the police were called.

So, at a primitive outsider’s level, I begin to understand why the pigs and the goats wander free and are perfectly safe from thievery during daylight hours. They apparently know their way home at night and return to their proper places each evening, or if tied, they are collected by their owners and secured. When the community is watching, the community protects them. “Neighborhood Watch” is not a concept that needs to be taught in Uganda, at least during the day.


God’s Sense of Humor

Yesterday was Sunday. Normally, I am invited to speak at one of the churches where I will teach a church-planting course the following week. However, for one reason or another, that did not happen this time in Mbale, so we were left to ourselves to find a church for worship. We needed the rest anyway. So during breakfast Alfred called a friend who had moved to Mbale to ask for a recommendation for a church to visit.

His friend was on a business trip at that moment and was traveling to Nairobi in Kenya. But he did recommend his church and said he would call someone at the church to expect us. This person called Alfred and they made arrangements to meet up so we could find the church.

After much trial and error, phone-calling back and forth, and bumping along nearly washed-out dirt roads through the back sides of neighborhoods, we finally did arrive at a church. We were welcomed enthusiastically and were put in chairs right in the front row, while everyone else sat on benches, and all this during the pastor’s sermon. This seemed odd to me since we had been given a time to arrive and were fairly on time, but one can’t really predict a Ugandan church’s order of service, and they generally run much longer than American churches.

This proved to be the case because after the sermon, there was a season of choir, praise and worship, and giving, after which the bishop gave another sermon. Typically the leaders sit to the side at the front, and there was an austere looking older man along with an equally austere looking woman and a somewhat cheerful-looking older woman seated there. I took these people to be the bishop and two elders. I thought to myself that women elders in Uganda were unusual, but this reflected the changing attitude of the Ugandan church toward women which tends to be in flux these days.

Gail sits with Pastor Joy waiting for the baptistery to be free.

Gail sits with Pastor Joy waiting for the baptistery to be free.

We were asked to introduce ourselves, and so we explained who we were, what we were doing in Uganda and how we had come to their church this morning. After that the bishop was invited to speak the second sermon of the morning. She arose and came to the pulpit. It was the cheerful-looking woman who was the bishop! I continue to adjust my inner chauvinist in my work in Uganda. It was natural to assume the man was the bishop, but this is just good old conditioning. I had not met a female bishop before, so I was surprised. I was happy to see it, though chagrined to catch myself as just another hung-up American. I have been aware for many years of Paul’s revolutionary statement in Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The bishop, Pastor Joy, then announced the most amazing thing. She had been approached by Pastor Enoch from one of her churches about the possibility of holding a church-planting seminar in their building with a musungu from America. She had not been able to host it because of scheduling, but she was aware that this training was going on among the churches that she oversees this week. She was just now putting together that we were the very ones.

Pastor Joy asks me to "bless the water" before the baptisms commence,

Pastor Joy asks me to “bless the water” before the baptisms commence,

Imagine our surprise to attend a very random church for worship on Sunday, only to discover that, among all the churches we could have chosen in this large city of Mbale, we have arrived at the sister church under the same overseer as our host for tomorrow’s conference, Pastor Enoch, who is a good friend of mine. And that this overseer was expecting us in her area though she herself had never met us.

The humor of this “coincidence” was underlined further by Pastor Joy’s sermon. Alfred and I laughed continually through her message and looked at each other repeatedly in astonishment as she preached to me my own teaching during a part of the CP seminar and frequently even used the same words! We are apparently kindred spirits and share a similar theological perspective on the church. This also was further emphasized when she unexpectedly asked Gail, my wife, to come up to the podium and speak the blessing prayer over the people at the end of her sermon.

The new believers are baptized in the borrowed baptistery of a sister church.

The new believers are baptized in the borrowed baptistery of a sister church.

Afterward, they invited us to attend a baptism service, hosted by a neighboring church with a baptistery, where thirty new believers of varying ages were baptized. I have not witnessed a baptism before in Uganda because none of the churches can afford baptisteries, so transporting everyone to a water source large enough to baptize becomes arduous and expensive.

Our brief church visit for worship had turned into a day of celebration with the Body of Christ. Not only did I sense His smile behind all of this, but I think I even heard his laughter.

James and the First Good-Bye

Today we arrived at the deaf school in Mbale, Uganda, where we put James, the ten year-old deaf boy we rescued from the islands. It was an interesting visit. James has become very familiar with his new home and was off playing when we arrived. You may remember that this boy had never been in a classroom or had any language to speak of except pointing and gesturing until we brought him off the isolated island in Lake Victoria where he has been living among his clan as a virtual orphan. We escorted James to the Makhai Primary School just in June of this year. So he’s now had four months of schooling, and we needed to see how he was progressing.

Sitting at Catherine's house, talking about James and his progress.

Sitting at Catherine’s house, talking about James and his progress.

You may also remember that James has lived “on his own” most of his life with no one to love him and has ranged freely as he chose for five years. So this habit of ranging freely is still very much in control, though he has a loving teacher who has “adopted” him so that he always comes home to her and her small family of three other children who live at the school. This wandering has caused much trouble with the neighbors and with the school. His teacher-mother, Catherine, told us today that once when he had a strong disagreement with another deaf child in the dormitory, he left in the night. He was finally found considerably up the highway asleep on the porch of a storefront. This, actually, is quite normal for James, while horrifying to the rest of us.

Today the other deaf children went to tell him we had arrived to visit him – me, his musungu father and Alfred his Ugandan father. But when he saw them coming, he eluded them because he wanted to continue playing. Finally, Catherine had to go and find him, and thirty minutes later, they arrived at the door of her small home in the teachers’ compound. She has dressed him in a very bright fuchsia shirt on his casual days out of uniform (today was Saturday), so that she can easily find him from the distance. Such is the nature his continual wandering far afield.

Alfred checks James for insect infections which he was covered with when we rescued him in June - he had been sleeping outside. No problems this time!

Alfred checks James for insect infections which he was covered with when we rescued him in June – he had been sleeping outside. No problems this time!

He was pleased to see us, though he was very shy of my wife Gail, whom he has not met before. He showed Alfred his feet, free of infections, and his new burn scar on his shoulder from a hot tea spill. He proudly showed me his study books where he or a helper has drawn various pictures (airplane, bus, car, etc.), and he has learned the signs for these words. He would show me the picture then demonstrate the sign. It is uncanny how he knows that Alfred cares after his physical condition, while I focus on his mental and emotional health.

I’m not sure that the fact that he is deaf and we are not has yet penetrated his worldview. He signed to us freely, and probably wondered why we did not sign back to him. Sadly, Gail, who knows how to sign, tried to sign to him, but he would not respond much because he doesn’t know her. There are many reasons such a boy would not quickly trust a stranger.

But did you hear what I said? He is signing, carrying on conversations, expressing things he has never been able to express before, both sending and receiving actual language! He has grown rapidly in this area and again has shown us how intelligent he is.

When we first found him, he had a serious challenge sharing anything with other children – he was very territorial

and protective of anything that could remotely be considered something of his own. But today, I brought him red licorice twizzlers, and without prompting of any kind, he called his friends and shared out his twizzlers among them, making sure even the smallest of those present had one to herself. This change in his behavior was very gratifying to witness.

James reaches back to grip my hand during photo opp.with his deaf teacher - a significant change of touch boundaries between us.

James reaches back to grip my hand during photo opp.with his deaf teacher – a significant change of touch boundaries between us.

Before James arrived, I asked Catherine why she was willing to help James so much – frankly, I was blunt because I wanted to hear her motives for taking on a handful like James. She is a recent widow with three children of her own, one who cannot be more than three years old. She said that James is an orphan like she was, and she can’t bear to think of him not having any mother to love him. She said in her extended family in the village and among her own children, James is already considered to be one of the family members – a brother, in fact. The sacrifice this demonstrates is more than most of us can even imagine.

When we left, James became sullen and stubborn, not wanting us to leave. Gail phrased it well when she noted that James does not do “good-byes.” I think of the baggage he carries about good-byes – his mother first at age five, then his father two years later. I think of our visit to the island this trip and how we were there for seven days teaching the leaders, and how his uncles, who have loosely been his clan care-givers for the last few years, sat in my classes, and how in that week not a single one of them asked after James or mentioned him in any way. As we pulled away in the car, fighting back the tears again as we did last June when we first brought him to the school that would become his new home, we waved to him. He stood alone, away from the other children, unwilling to be comforted in this moment of

James struggles with our good-bye; Catherine tries to comfort him.

James struggles with our good-bye; Catherine tries to comfort him.

loss even by Catherine, pulling away angrily from her touch.

And then hope rose in me. He gave a small wave to us. It was not much, but it was the first good-bye from James, a boy who is slowly, painfully finding his heart under layers of callouses and scar tissue.

[If you want to catch up on the previous stories about James, type “James” into the search feature at the top of the page.]

Signs and Wonders in Uganda

Here is an interesting personal testimony from an overseer in Uganda with whom I worked last week. These kinds of things seem strange to Americans, but they are actually quite common here. I have learned to ask how people first met Christ when I start working with them because almost everyone here has a unique and fascinating perspective and experience with Him.

This man was formerly the assistant to a certain high placed official. He had a good job, and was rising in his culture. Then, for some unexplained reason, he began to develop a strange physical ailment – a hole spontaneously formed in his scalp and enlarged and enlarged over a short period of time until it was about 1.5 to 2 inches across. This hole was through the skin and the bone so that his brain tissue was actually exposed and visible.

He felt weak and generally could not work. His employer had great sympathy for him because he was a valued employee. He sent him to every specialist they could find in Uganda for treatment. However, most said that they could not see how he was walking around, and that they had never seen anything like it. Their prognosis for him was dire, and, of course, terminal within a short time.

As his quality of life deteriorated, he pursued any option that was presented to him. He wore a special hat that covered the opening and protected it somewhat. Nothing he found could help, and no one knew how to treat this strange ailment.

Finally, he was drawn to a certain place in the city of Tororo where there is a church and a mission training school in a compound. He was not a believer, and had never been much around evangelical Christians (“born-agains” in Uganda). He didn’t really have business there and wasn’t sure why he was there at all, but he became curious as he wandered into the compound and heard the church service being conducted. He approached the door of the building, and as he stepped through the door he became aware that his hat was gone from his head. He stopped to look back for it, but he could not find it anywhere. Then he entered the building and stood with the other people who were standing and singing.

He told me that almost immediately he reached up and touched his skull. The hole was gone. He felt nothing but smooth skin in its place. He couldn’t believe it, and when the others sat down, he remained standing. The people came to him and prayed with him. He quickly responded to the good news they told him about God’s love through Jesus Christ. That moment he became a believer.

When the people emptied out after the service, he was afraid to leave, thinking his healing would leave if he left that place. So he stayed there in his seat for a long time, pondering the meaning of what had just happened to him and thinking about his life. Much later, he realized he couldn’t live in this church building for the rest of his life and so he timidly exited the building. Of course, he had been healed by the Great Physician, and so the only thing he was missing when he stepped outside was his hat, which he never found.

What can you say to such a report? I heard it from the mouth of the man himself. He said he still has all the papers predicting his doom from the various physicians and examinations he endured. Now he preaches this same good news that he heard in the church to others and plants churches. He is not afraid to ask for big things from God, and, according to the reports, unusual wonders follow him in his ministry (

Not the least of these wonders was the thick pile of papers he showed me, each one with the picture and vital information of an orphan that he provides schooling for through his brick-making business. He makes one massive brick production a year out behind his house, sells his bricks, and pays all their school fees and expenses, as well as the costs for his own large family. The rest of the time, he seeks more orphans to help, preaches the gospel, and oversees the churches he has planted.

I think the phrase to best describe this is, “The kingdom of God has come near you.” I suspect that when he crosses over and sees Jesus as He really is, one of the first things Jesus will say to him will be, “Look, here’s your hat. I’ve been keeping it for you.”

Lifting Them Up

It’s the custom here in Uganda that when a person performs well in church, they are rewarded by the people coming forward one by one with a small bit of money. So if the youth choir sings a song, a woman will rise and approach them, pressing a coin into one of their hands. If a sermon is particularly stirring or funny, someone may approach and press a thousand shilling note (currently about thirty cents) into the speaker’s hand. Good singers may have up to five people giving them small amounts. This is a way of saying, “Weybaley!” (“Well done”), or “Jeybaley” (“You have done a good job”). It is giving honor and encouragement to the person on the stage.

I was teaching church-planting at a place called Kaliro. The people seemed exceptionally sharp and were asking good questions, giving accurate and thoughtful answers. I was talking about the Hindu practice of wearing a colored dot of paint on their forehead and was explaining that the different colors represented different gods that they worshiped, and that they have many, many gods in India. A man raised his hand with a question and asked me, “Does the wearing of make-up by our women, coloring their lips and eyes and such and wearing earrings and other jewelry then indicate that they are worshiping false gods?”

Now this was not an example of the smart questions they had been asking. Even his somewhat smug “A-ha, I’ve finally got you!” expression toward the women around him told me that this pastor was asking his question with a clear agenda. He was not asking for information but rather making a point to all the women present, as if he had been warning them for years about the evils of make-up, and now finally, he had a musungu from the west to back him up.

I try not to fall into these little traps when they occur. This question pointed to the age-old struggle of women everywhere to rise to some measure of equality and respect in their cultures. Africa is no different in this respect that many other third world areas – the men are large and in charge and they intend to keep it that way. In the villages everywhere I go, the women still kneel in greeting to pastors, fathers, leaders, and well, me, to admit it uncomfortably. In fairness, they also will kneel to honor their mothers, though this is more rare.

Uganda though is making a great effort in this regard, requiring female members of parliament from every district, posting public awareness campaigns about educating girls as well as boys (“Educate the Girl Child”), and I see the beginnings of an organized effort to stop domestic abuse in the rise of various women’s rights and women’s ministry organizations.

I briefly spoke to the biblical passage in 1 Peter 3 that he was referencing. I talked about spirituality and not being overly caught up in outward adornment, but to concentrate on developing spiritual qualities. But then, I said that I was sure the make-up he was referring to did not worship false gods, at which he was visibly deflated. I said in most cultures the men and women attempt to make themselves attractive for the opposite sex so that they can attract a mate. I noted how young men and women will choose certain clothes and even haircuts that will make them attractive, and how even in the animal world, the males of many species are especially garish with bright feathers, eye-catching colors, etc. I said I thought the make-up was more about sex than it was about worship, and that even the muslim women, who are supposed to be modest, make sure that their face and head coverings are bright, many-colored, and often arrayed with shiny beads or spangles that glint in the sun. They don’t do this for worship, but for sexual attraction, for beauty. I complimented the women on their beauty, their wonderfully creative hairdos that are popular in Africa, and their pretty clothing. And I encouraged them to be beautiful also for the Lord by strengthening their spirits toward Him, for He is the true Husband. I said it is a matter of what you concentrate on in your life.

Now at first when a musungu talks frankly about sex and romance, Ugandans are surprised and their eyes get big. But then they laugh, just like in the U.S. I talked about how we want to make ourselves attractive for our spouses or our fiances, or prospective suiters, and so we use these things to accent our good qualities. I was not particularly favoring make-up in my explanation, but merely pointing out its purpose.

Now something happened that has not ever happened to me before. As I talked, women began to come forward and place small amounts of money on the table in front of me where my Bible and teaching notebook rested. I was at first surprised, but then realized the significance of their actions. I began to laugh and they laughed with me, even most of the men. I finally pointed to my small pile of cash and quipped that perhaps if I kept talking on this subject, I would be able to purchase enough petrol (gas) to drive back to Jinja after the conference. Now everyone was laughing.

I laughed, but it was a gripping moment for me. It tells me that women here in Uganda desperately need encouragement, and they need real men who will love them with the love of Christ. Many have been physically abused, many have even been cast away as young children just because they are not boys and have been raised as orphans. I know women here who have been stabbed by raging step-fathers who tried to kill them when they were children, knowing that they would not be punished – women who bear these spiritual and emotional scars and who even suffer physically from such injuries many years later.

Many are continually downcast, afraid to look up except to steal a glance when I am not looking directly at them. Many of them do not believe they have stature or gifts or even value. I am broken when I see such a person. I am broken when I see Christian pastors and men perpetuate these systems. I know these abusive customs are slowly changing, but I yearn for Christ to come and restore us all to what we can be, and to heal us from what we are and from what others have made us to be.


The other day at a church-planting conference in Mayuge (Mi-yu-gee), I ran across an instrument that I’ve never seen before in Uganda. It is called a dungu. It’s a stringed instrument made from cowhide and wood, and it can be tuned like a guitar. The strings on the smaller instruments were made from fishline, and the strings for the very large one were made from tightly wound fishnet string.

When I saw these instruments, I thought immediately of David’s lyre in the Bible and about his excellent musical ability. His skill was so great that he could soothe King Saul’s demonic rages with his music. And he must have used a very similar instrument to these dungus.

I didn’t get to hear anyone play the smaller ones, but they used the huge one during their worship. It sounded like an ancient base fiddle. One boy sat at the strings and plunked them while another sat at the opposite end and beat on the hollow base with a stick as if on a drum. The effect was quite nice. Here are some pictures for you to appreciate. Perhaps you will have the same back-in-time-on-the-time-machine flashes that I did.

Here are three dungu's of varying size from tiny to medium.

Here are three dungus of varying size from tiny to medium.













Here is the large dungu. A real work of art, sounds like a base fiddle.

Here is the large dungu. A real work of art, sounds like a base fiddle.









One boy plays the dungu strings while the other thumps the back end with a stick for a deep drum beat.

One boy plays the dungu strings while the other thumps the back end with a stick for a deep drum beat.