Archive for October, 2016

Our James

Report of Fall 2016 Trip:

James runs after the new football we brought for the school.

James runs after the new football we brought for the school. (UPDATE: I forgot to tell you he is the one in the orange shirt in my original post.)

This last Saturday we were able to visit James, our little twelve year old deaf boy that we have placed in a deaf school in Mbale (See previous posts under the menu “James”). It was encouraging to see the children who were playing on the football field run to get James as soon as the car came into view along the little dirt road leading from the main highway. They have come to recognize the car and know it is us even though we only show up once every four months or so. I don’t think they get that many visitors. As last time, James greeted both Alfred and me with a big hug.


James bounces on his new mattress. His was torn and so we brought a new one for him at the headmaster’s request. That’s Hope in the foreground.

His school report? The wild boy is finally settling into classes and staying through the class periods. He is beginning to write. The headmaster says he has changed greatly in the last few months. He has relaxed and become one of the group. One day, the director tells us, he will be a leader in the school. I would say that he tells all the visiting parents that except I have seen the same quality in James – he is a natural leader; other children easily follow him, and he has that independent style of interacting that shows he knows it without being arrogant – it is just the way he carries himself.

The little girl, Hope, who seems always to be near James, was also overjoyed to see us. She seems to have adopted us as significant “somethings.” Who can tell, really, what is going on inside her. We can’t talk to her in any depth, though Gail has sign language and made a valiant effort to spend time with her and love on her. We have to be careful, though. The last trip, I was a little too friendly to Hope and James became immediately jealous. The very least thing we want to do in our visits is create problems between James and the other children. So Gail made a point to separate with Hope and get to know her a little. This is no problem for James because he doesn’t really know Gail, and he seems to have no idea what to do with her. His relationship has always been with Alfred and me. When we first brought Gail to the school, he was sort of polite, but very stand-offish; this trip he was “tolerant” of Gail, but that’s all he was ready to give.

“Hope” is the name the school has given this sweet little girl. She is a bottomless pit of need for love. We just wanted to scoop her up and tell her she is loved, but of course, that was not possible because all the children are equally needy. She is very responsive to hugs, though. She was rescued from a village where no one wanted her because of her deafness. I don’t think anyone knows her real name, and she certainly doesn’t, since she has been deaf since birth, we assume.

We also brought the teacher, Catherine, whom James bonded with so well at the first school to visit with him. She prepared some special food for him, and they shared it with Hope, the two of them sitting in the Headmaster’s area eating and making signs at each other all through their lunch. Perhaps, having been abandoned by his own mother at five, he can only handle one adult female relationship at a time, and to be honest, the musungu woman may just be too much at this time.

The little girl in the black dress at the very center had never seen and musungu before and was horrified and worried that we had been in some terrible accident. We allow them to rub our skin to see that we were not in pain.

The little girl in the black dress at the very center had never seen and musungu before and was horrified and worried that we had been in some terrible accident. We allow them to rub our skin to see that we were not in pain.


We forget that what we see when we travel around, meeting so many different Ugandans, is not necessarily what the children see. One of the little girls brought us to this reality very quickly, and showed us even why the small babies often react to us with fear and crying when they see us (see Gail’s earlier post). We were standing with a group of them, talking through Gail’s interpretation. By the horrified and agonized expression of sympathy and compassion on this child’s face, and her frantic signs, we realized she thought we had both been in some terrible accident where our skin had been removed, and this white skin was what was left from the injuries. She was afraid we were in great pain; she was almost in tears. It was touching, and we realized that this child had no experience at all with musungus.

Hope and James waving good-bye. James is smiling...Hope not so much.

Hope and James waving good-bye. James is smiling…Hope not so much.

We tried to explain our differences to the children, but the concept of, “No, we were born this way, we are just different,” was pretty hard to get across. So we allowed them to touch the skin of our arms, and rub it to see that we were not in pain or injured. This girl was amazed to touch our skin and see that it was healthy. When I took off my hat to show that I even had this weird white stuff on my head, they all insisted on rubbing my head to make sure I was not in pain.

When we left, both Hope and James waved, James smiling and Hope with that look that made us want to turn the vehicle around and stay forever just to prevent her experiencing more abandonment. But they are happy children. They are safe. And we are satisfied for now. But since James is partially hearing, we must figure out when and how to transport him to Kampala and have his hearing tested. We are praying about this important piece that has yet to fit into the puzzle of our James.


Alfred, who has driven us everywhere and translated for me in many places, gave me a perspective that is uniquely African while we were visiting his home village. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that it is uniquely third-world, a perspective that is foreign to the western point of view where plenty and abundant plenty is assumed.

We came to his village to introduce Julie, his fiancé, to his parents. His father is older, maybe in his eighties, and has been quite sick for some years, often bed-ridden. We had visited this place a year ago, and he had prayed to receive Christ during that visit – now, I was glad to see him up and walking around, though very slowly and carefully. The visit with Julie went well, and it was when we were driving away on a narrow dirt track through beautiful, tall sugar cane fields that Alfred made his remark.

The villages across Uganda historically plant small farms and raise most of their food locally, so the region is typically dotted with tiny homesteads all growing some crop that crowds right up to the house, with a small place carved out for the house to sit. This pattern is now changing. Large industrial farm corporations are buying up the land or renting it to grow cash crops that will be exported for profit. Sugar cane is the crop that surrounds Alfred’s village, and there are places where the sugar cane fields cover the land as far on both sides of the road as you can see, extending to the horizon and beyond. Tea is another large operation consuming many hundreds of acres. I have spoken in other posts about palm oil farming and how the small farmers are moved off the land so that palm trees can be planted.

His remark startled me as I was admiring the tall stalks of sugar cane now crowding in from all sides of the village where his parents live. He said that he is concerned about famine in his village. I turned from my fascination with the sugar cane crop and asked him what he meant. He explained to me that if all the land is used for cash crops like cane, the people will not have any room to grow their own food. They will have to travel to the distant city market to buy food instead of picking it from the field or buying it at a local village market.

He explained that the scarcity of local food will drive up the prices. These very poor people who have always lived literally “off the land” will not be able to afford the prices that they will find in the big town and city markets.

He said this year will be a bad one. Not only has the area of land available for private farming been greatly reduced by these large farming corporations, but there has been little rain. We are in the rainy season now, and, in truth, we have not had more than ten days of rain in the last seven weeks. These small farmers rely on the rainy season, as farmers do everywhere, to grow their crops… no, more accurately, to grow their food. This combination of less usable land and little rain are joining to create a potential famine soon in Africa.

But Alfred is worried about his own village. He has forced me to look beyond the surface of his culture to the heart. I confess, I have never worried about famine in my life – I have never thought about it inasmuch as it might touch me or my own food supply down at Krogers. It is humbling indeed to shake the hands of these generous and loving people, then get in my rented vehicle and drive away admiring the vast green fields spreading out around me, only to be suddenly dropped into reality by the very real concerns of my friend about the futures of those same people I just prayed with, not even knowing what I was really looking at.

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…