Archive for May, 2017


James and a New Ripple

[For those of you who are new followers, you can catch up on the James stories under the menu “James.”]

The “James” followers among you may be wondering about James and his progress at the deaf school. We picked him up from the Kavule School for the Deaf about 3 weeks ago. The children were released two weeks early for their usual holiday which would normally be through the month of May. However, the drought-induced famine in Uganda has caused many food shortages, and one of these was at the school – they simply couldn’t feed the children, so they sent them home in April, two weeks earlier than the normal end of term.

As the Lord would have it, we happened to be in the area and could pick him up and transfer him to his holiday home, the family who have virtually adopted him since his arrival in this region 18 months ago. He stays with Catherine, a teacher whom he bonded with when he first arrived, and it is obvious that he considers her and her 3 sons to be his family. He is always overjoyed to see them.

My evaluation of James after about 18 months of schooling? We were presented with his grade report and had an opportunity to see some of his work. Remember, this boy had no formal language at age ten, having been deaf since birth, abandoned by his mother at five and his father at seven, misunderstood and barely cared for by his clan on Buvuma Island out in Lake Victoria. He had never sat in a classroom when we found him. Now he is beginning to write sentences, his sign language has advanced to approximately 2nd grade level, and his grades in most subjects are strong and improving. He sits willingly through all his classes now and participates in class. He is liked and respected by his classmates.

This boy, now about twelve (of course, we have no way to tell his real age), is a different boy from the one we “rescued.” He runs to greet us with warm hugs. He smiles and laughs, and he even is beginning to warm up to Gail who is a bit behind the curve with him since she was not yet with me full-time when Alfred and I met James. His teacher tells us that he is learning so rapidly that he will be transformed (her word) by next Christmas. The headmaster continues to tell us that he will be a leader among the students in time.

One new ripple in the James saga: Due to the generosity of a new sponsor, we have rescued another deaf child. Her name is Faith (not her real name). She is seven and is a special friend of James. He watches out for her in a big brotherly way, and they are close friends. We have been aware of her for several visits now, but had learned late last year that her family was unable to continue paying her school fees, so she had been returned to her family in a town about 1.5 hours away without plans at that time to continue to send her to school.

Alfred with James and Faith.

However, her family returned Faith to the school because they know it is not good for her to stay home without any education among family members who can’t communicate with her except with gestures, even though they love her. Her mother died of AIDS two years ago, and so she is cared for by her disabled grandparents and her grandaunt. Though she returned to the school, the family could not pay the fees, so the school has been “absorbing” her costs as they do with many of the deaf children they take in.

Even as we arrived to pick up James and found Faith there at the school, the headmaster told us that the family requested that they please try to find some alternative to sending her home since they could not feed her because of the famine – they already have many other children to feed. At our request Catherine agreed to keep Faith also for this holiday, and we agreed to transport her, but we could not do so without “official authorization” from the family in writing, signed by a government official. As it turned out, our next week of scheduled teaching was in the same town where the family lived. We were able to meet her grandparents and the other children at their homestead outside the town and collect the signed document we needed. So now they know us and we know them, and all that is very good.

After our week of teaching, we returned to the school for Faith. She was very glad to see us – she was the last deaf child remaining at the school, the other students all having left for holiday, and I’m sure she was feeling alone and abandoned. We moved her to Catherine’s where she reunited with James. At first she was timid around the new “family,” and sad to have to say good-bye to us – we knew all of this swirl of activity, being picked up by musungus, driven in a car, dropped at some stranger’s home instead of at her own family, etc., had to be overwhelming to her, especially since we were unable to explain it to her – what confusion would go through the mind of a small deaf girl who has been bounced around quite a bit in the last two years? However, we have also learned to trust Catherine and her family.

Our trust was borne out when we had a brief opportunity the next morning to stop by to check on her and drop off some replacement shoes for both James and Faith. She was happily playing when we arrived, and she smiled and greeted us, and was perfectly adjusted, it seemed to us, to her new surroundings. Instead of being sad and sullen when we departed this time, as she had the day before, she hugged us and waved good-bye happily when it was time to leave.

So Faith is now part of the Meade International family through the gifts of her sponsor, and she will have an opportunity to flourish in the light instead of wilt in the shadows of Ugandan society, which is the fate of so many African deaf children.

(Please pray for Kavule Deaf School. The headmaster has shared with me that they are facing repeated food shortages for the foreseeable future. They need sponsors for unpaid students and help with their food budget. Hopefully, the food prices will come back down as the rains return, but this will take time. If you desire to help in some way, please contact us through the Comments section, or directly at bob@meadeinternational.org).

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A few more briefs from the last 8 weeks:

  • We were leading a one-day meeting in a place called Busia, way out in the bush. I had been asked to come and teach the day. There were about 80 people there from the deep villages – this is the place I have mentioned before where they have not seen a white this far back in thirty years or more. At lunchtime the leader came before the group as we were being escorted out to the table, and announced, “And now another preacher will preach to you.” I was quite surprised. Usually when they have the opportunity to sit under a musungu, they don’t mix the meeting with multiple speakers. I was only about half finished, but I looked at Gail and shrugged, “Oh well.” We ate lunch, and were then led back to the church building. I wondered who we would be sitting under for the afternoon and what his subject would be and if the translation would be clear enough for us to follow it. When we re-entered and it became obvious that I was expected to continue the teaching, I finally asked, foolish man that I am, who the other preacher was and when he would speak. He told me that he was referring to “lunch” – I had taught them, and now they would be taught by another preacher – the lunch. It was a joke, but when no one laughed, I had taken him quite seriously, silly musungu!
  • The children in Bugembe all sing the same song to us when they see us. It is apparent that there is some little doggerel taught here in the schools that all the children learn to sing “at” the musungus. It only occurs in Bugembe that I have noticed, and so, I surmise, it is the brainchild of some local poet or minstrel. Ugandan children all seem to think “Bye-bye” means Hello in English, so all small children across Uganda will call out, “Bye-bye, musungu,” and I am used to hearing that. However, the singsong verse of Bugembe is new to me. I asked Alfred what it meant since it was in Lusoga rather than English, so he paused the car along the road and listened carefully. Then he laughed. I suspected some subtle mockery of the musungu, or perhaps the standard request for money. He said, though, that the children are singing, “Bye-bye, musungu, bye-bye; biscuits and guavas, biscuits and guavas, bye-bye, musungu, bye-bye.” Alfred looked as perplexed as we were. Makes as much sense, I guess, as “Hickory-dickory-dock…” in our culture.
  • The Holy Spirit is His usual walk-along companion with us here. I know a certain man who was struggling mightily with personal issues, but I didn’t know him well. One day the Spirit put an urgency on me to seek him out to speak with him and try to comfort him if I could. He lived at some distance, but I had a small blank spot in the program, so I asked Alfred to call him to see if I could come to him. He invited us quite happily. When I met with him shortly after that, I was able to counsel him in some key areas, pray with him and answer some difficult spiritual questions he was wrestling with. At the end of our conversation, as we were saying our good-byes, he shared that he had been praying for several weeks for someone he could talk to about these things. In his position, it was difficult to share such issues with locals, and so he felt quite isolated and alone, even hopeless, but he prayed nevertheless. He was thanking God for sending me because I was someone he could open up to since I was not one of his neighbors or associates. Oddly, only yesterday Gail had exactly the same experience with a young woman who had no one she could talk to about deeply personal issues and had also been praying that God would send someone. If we have done nothing else this entire trip, those two brief encounters of following the Spirit and speaking in His voice to two of His suffering children make this entire eight weeks well worth it.

 

Many of our experiences here in Uganda don’t warrant an entire post – they can be described in a brief “short,” or a snippet. So here are some brushes with the culture and the Spirit, and some impressions as they have passed through on our journeys.

  • In one place we were driving up and down a certain rural road visiting church-plants and interviewing pastors. On our way toward one end of road, we passed a police check-point stopping vehicles coming the other direction. We knew we would face them later that day as we returned that way, and, because these stops can sometimes be unpleasant, especially if you are a musungu who can pay a fine, we braced ourselves. Indeed, as we approached, the policeman waved for us to stop. Alfred pulled up, but then the strangest thing happened, which has certainly never happened before. The policeman did not even approach the vehicle, but peered in and saw me in the front seat and Gail in back. Then he asked, “Born again?” Alfred, caught off guard by the strange question, hesitantly answered, “Yes.” The policeman waved us to continue on our way. We still are wondering what that was about, but we are not complaining.
  • Gail and I had the oddest realization and burst into laughter shortly after we arrived in March. Many years ago when we said the grace before meals, the standing joke we always heard was, “We’re all hungry. This is not the time to pray for the missionaries in Africa.” God, You’re so funny – I guess the joke’s on us. Please, pray for us!
  • We interviewed one pastor in a church-plant who seemed perfectly normal in every way during our discussion.  Then as we asked if God had demonstrated Himself to the church in any way, the pastor rolled up the sleeve of his left arm. Then he folded his forearm back across his elbow until it hung completely backward at the joint. We were astonished to see that he had no bones in his upper arm between his shoulder and his elbow. He was an active military man serving as pastor, and he had been shot with a machine gun – the bone in his upper arm had been shattered and subsequently removed. As they prayed for him, he regained the use of his muscles and now is able to move his fingers, and though the usage is not 100%, his hand is usable. He did not have any pain from this demonstration, and he performed this bizarre maneuver with his arm it just as he must do repeatedly when he preaches and shares about the power of God to heal.
  • Life is hard in Uganda. We noticed an unpleasant reminder of this during our lunches at the Bible Seminar in Tororo. For lunch we always moved out of the building to a shaded area nearby, and each day we were joined for lunch by several ducks and a chicken, who waited for food to be dropped, then darted in to seize the prize of some rice, a vegetable or some posho. One of the ducks was a mother with 8 very young fuzzy ducklings. She was training them to forage, and we had an enjoyable time watching these tiny yellow creatures dashing around and even over our feet to catch little pieces of food. I’m not sure they didn’t get more than I did from my plate because I seemed to be quite clumsy and was “dropping” quite a lot. I said 8 ducklings, but when we met them the next day, there were only 7. Then on the next day, only 6. I asked about this and they told me that it is hard to raise chicks because there are snakes, hawks, and also dogs and cats. This mama duck came to symbolize for me what we always hear from the people when we come, and even this trip have heard – the death of a child one week, the death of a mother, the death over Christmas of a close friend here who was just a little older than we are, 2 children in Soroti who were taken to the hospital with malaria, and even this week a friend who was in the hospital for malaria and typhus at the same time. No, it’s not easy to live here.

We traveled back from Soroti to Jinja yesterday and today, and managed to fit in church-plant visits and some shoe buying for some deaf children – more on that later.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned that there is a drought in Uganda causing a famine in many parts of the country. There has been much less rain during the last year and the crops have been hurt badly in what is known as the “Bread Basket of Africa,” one of the most fertile and productive countries on the continent. While we were in Soroti – and even now as I am writing this evening – the rains have begun, and people are rejoicing all over Uganda. An aside to all of this has occurred, having something to do with a combination of the season of the year, the sudden rains and the white ant population.

After the first two or three serious dousings we experienced in Soroti, a variety of ant called white ants suddenly emerged from the earth everywhere, mating (?), flying around on large white wings four to five times the length of their bodies, and then molting their wings all over the ground. We walked out of our guesthouse to go to our meeting and found the entryway, the veranda, and the grounds covered with these wings from which the ants derive their name “white ants” – the ants are actually black, as near as I can tell. We also found a small boy collecting the ants in a bucket, some with wings and some without – he did not care which, but collected them all.

White ant wings in the foyer, on the veranda and covering the ground.

We watched him briefly and then began asking questions of the gatekeeper. This kind of ant will suddenly emerge by the millions all over Uganda, shortly thereafter losing their large wings, and the people collect them and…did you guess it? They fry them and eat them. I am told they have a very sweet taste that is much sought after by Africans as a seasonal delicacy.

Tonight as Gail and I went out to the market to collect our dinner from the street vendors, the first thing we saw was a large bin full of something. I couldn’t make it out in the near darkness, so I shone my flashlight on the bin – fried white ants on sale for 1000 shillings per cup (about 30 cents). I asked them if I could take a picture, and they allowed me to photograph their little stand, for which I paid them a small amount.

I would have gladly tried a bite or two, since we are, after all, in Africa. But Alfred intervened and said they would need to be re-fried at home before I should eat them because of sanitary conditions – musungu stomachs often clash with the unfamiliar bacteria of Africa, so everything has to be cleaned and cooked hot to kill the bacteria. I did not get my taste-test of white ants tonight, but maybe Alfred will bring us some from home tomorrow. Everyone from Soroti to where we are tonight in Bugembe is talking about the white ants, and children are out everywhere gathering them in bags and buckets by many different methods, then selling them in the markets. Tonight in the market it was very common to see roasted meat sticks, fried chicken, and fried white ants set out side-by-side on the vendors’ stands.

Wings covering the driveway and lawn.

I guess I’ve never been here during the right seasonal conditions before because, though I’ve heard about the white ants, I’ve never seen them or the many millions of fallen white wings covering the ground everywhere. Enjoy the pictures I’ve included of this unusual phenomenon. And if you ever get a chance to taste this delicacy, well, I can’t really recommend it…yet!