Archive for September, 2017

The guesthouse we stayed in on Buvuma Island, painted inside and out to cover earthquake damage repairs.

Continuing the tale from our last post, we arrived at the guesthouse on Buvuma Island in Lake Victoria on Saturday afternoon to find the always- promised three precious hours of evening electricity unavailable because of generator repair issues. We were invited to use our own generator, which proved to be too small for the load and blew a seal – there we were without lights OR a generator to run our own program on Monday.

But, all is darkest before the dawn, or even before bedtime in this case –

The view from our room each morning.

we got a replacement generator even before we entered the church I was scheduled to preach at the next morning. I casually mentioned to the hosting pastor that we were working on generator issues, and he graciously promised us the use of one of the generators he uses in his little shop near the ferry landing before we had walked the thirty steps from the vehicle to the church doorway. We ended up using his generous generator all week for the training – a truly fine kingdom provision.

Now for the rest of the tale about the guesthouse.  About the same time on Sunday that the guesthouse manager finally arrived from the mainland with his repaired generator, to his consternation so did a troupe of workers with a large truck and many bags of cement and cans of paint. The owner of the guesthouse, who does not live on the island had scheduled major renovation work for this week on the guesthouse, but failed to inform his manager, who spent the afternoon on the phone with his boss clarifying what all these workmen were doing there.

Huge cracks left in the walls after the earthquake.

Well, about a year ago, the island experienced a severe earthquake. The walls of the guesthouse took a beating with large cracks up the walls and across the ceilings, some sections offset from each other along the crack line by as much as 1/8   to 1/4 inch. The crew began tearing into the walls with hand tools, sometimes removing only the plaster, other times completely cutting through the walls, brick and all. Within hours of their arrival, there was debris piled in the hallways and dust hovering throughout the building and even penetrating the closed door of our room and coating everything we had left exposed. This went on all week and was still going on when we left on the following Saturday. We would leave to go to our conference in the morning, return about 6 pm, and spend 30 minutes “un-dusting” our room every day.

The benefit to the guesthouse of all this chaos is that it gets a hugely needed face-lift with every surface, I hope, painted freshly inside and out, which was desperately needed, by the way, even without an earthquake to

BEFORE -This was a crack all the way through the plaster and brick that they dug out by hand

motivate them. The building had fallen into a sad state of brokenness and despair that even seemed to touch the three person staff, no longer the friendly greeters that they once were, but recently somewhat hopelessly sullen as if the future of their jobs was slowly disappearing before their eyes. Now, I expect, they will perk up as business gradually returns to the refurbished hostel.

AFTER – The same crack now filled with new cement.

The benefit to us is that our traditional Buvuma roost will receive the attention that will make for more pleasant stays in the future. I have to admit, even we were getting a little depressed in that broken-down, “go-ahead-hit-me-again” atmosphere oozing from the pores of the place the last few times we’ve stayed there. Unfortunately, there is only one other choice on Buvuma Island at the moment – a new guesthouse up on the top of a hill overlooking the lake – and they have captured the corporate business from the local palm-oil developer who is planning big things for Buvuma (see previous posts on that subject) and is willing to pay corporate rates to the guesthouse. We stayed there last time with a great discount that the bishop wangled for us, but this time the rate was 2 ½  times higher with no grace, so we returned to our old haunt as described here.

The pictures tell the tale, so I will stop here and let you read the captions.

This repair was all the way through outside and inside. A little paint and no one will ever know it happened…




Too Much Light Only Leads to Darkness

We returned from Buvuma Island out in Lake Victoria tired and ready for some amenities. I am utterly embarrassed that I am so dependent on electricity. Standing in our guesthouse room on the island with no electric light, depending on the little rays that filter in through the window, trying to brush my teeth with the thin beam of the morning sun trying to scrape through the small, very smoggy bathroom window, trying to get my shoelaces through the right holes in the dimness, eating breakfast while brushing each piece to see if anything I may not want in my mouth is sticking to it (banana peel, paper, dirt, etc.), I realize that I am simply an electricity addict, or at least a light addict.

It’s not like we didn’t get any electricity at all on Buvuma – we were supposed to get generator power from 7pm to 10 pm every night at the guesthouse. But on Saturday night a week and a half ago, the first night on the island, the guesthouse generator was out for repairs. The manager who runs the guesthouse invited us to use our own generator, the one we use for our presentations during the Institute. You probably can feel where this is going. BAD IDEA, Bob, but what I know about generators I have learned in the last three years, and most of it is still over my head, electrically speaking.

The guesthouse we stayed in on Buvuma Island.

The lights did go on throughout the whole building, and then, as if to tempt fate, so did our little electric iron for a brief moment while I attempted to deal with some packing wrinkles in my Sunday outfit. All of a sudden, total darkness! I found out later that we “blew a seal” on our small generator. Now we had no lights at all and no generator. I learned from this that irons are a no-no electrically speaking, when dealing with generators. Early to bed, early to rise, makes Bob a grumpy guy.  I’ve always considered myself a night person, but I need light to do anything I want to do after the sun goes down, so  maybe I’m just a “light person.”

The next day, Sunday, the manager’s promised repaired generator appeared at the guesthouse. However, it turned out to be an on-and-off sort of affair. Some nights it cut out at 9:15 and did not turn back on. Others it would go off for twenty minutes, then come back on, sometimes two or three times. Most of the time it flickered from bright to dim continuously.

Have I mentioned that we are currently dealing with our American sense of privilege and trying to dump the arrogance that privilege breeds in our attitudes so that we can serve among these people with authenticity? This “spiritual assignment” arises from a series at our church, Mosaic Fort Worth, just before we left for Africa. It sensitized us to the amount of unearned privilege Americans enjoy, and especially American whites. The electricity thing is just one more area that has convicted me about the life I lead back in the States and the amount of privilege I take for granted every day.

Most Ugandans in the cities and towns here live with regular blackouts that last hours at a minimum and occasionally days. In the thousands of villages, shanty towns, agricultural centers, and out on the island, they are not wired at all – no electrical infrastructure. The people live without electric light all the time except for an occasional generator in a shop or bar or solar light panels which give power for brief periods. Living with darkness is normal to this culture.

I confess that we both were relieved to be back where there is infrastructure on the mainland in Bugembe where mostly the lights are on when needed. I struggle between a strong desire to serve this people-group on the island and the totally selfish desire to have access to mere light, the miracle of electricity. Should I care about this as much as my emotional system seems to? I confess also that I can’t even find the right questions to ask myself about this issue, to ponder it and extrapolate some changes in perception or self-perception. That’s how privileged we are! I can’t even come up with ways to deconstruct the vast privilege in which I live or write meaningful questions for this post.

I want to challenge myself to live without light for a while so that I can truly appreciate it for what it is and what it adds to my life when I have it. I want to challenge my current privileged ability – and apparently my deep emotional “need” – to have light always at my fingertips. Our culture even has a virtual plethora of flashlights – to the point where some stores give them away free as marketing campaigns. But such abundance of light is not available in such cheap profusion here in Uganda, and “torches,” as they call them, are even a bit of a luxury, so much so that I don’t see many among the people at night.

These people have made peace with the darkness, just as their ancestors have done for centuries. In contrast, we westerners even live in a historical time of privilege, being a generation that will likely never lack light, even though my own mother remembered living “pre-electric” out on the farm in Idaho as a child.

I think I have a lot to consider…and again, I am humbled by it. I also seem to be in a bit of darkness about how to proceed.

Of Hospitals, Healing and Humbling

Gail is ministering in Mukono with a prison ministry this week.

Yesterday, Monday, I have to say was a long, hard day, even in light of having returned from Buvuma Island out in Lake Victoria to the amenities of internet, etc.,  on the mainland. Buvuma was hard this time, but Monday was harder. We returned with a man whose face has been greatly deformed by a fire ten years ago when he was about 20. He lost his right eye, the right half of his nose and upper lip, and has bad scarring (I will not include pictures here, as they are sobering).

We traveled to Corsu Rehabilitation Hospital in Entebbe (near the capital, Kampala) which has a facial reconstruction unit. Because of Monday travel, which is always more difficult for some reason, we spent about seven hours in the car going and returning, finally arriving around 9:30 pm back in Jinja. The traffic was bumper to bumper through most of Kampala and half the time was spent just getting in and out of Kampala. But that wasn’t what made the trip difficult because that is normal in Kampala.

We sat in the hospital waiting to see the two doctors from the facial rehabilitation unit who would evaluate our friend for reconstructive surgery. He is a village man, meaning that the only time in his life he has left the island was to go to the hospital ten years ago when he was so badly burned. This was his second trip off the island. He is a farmer and so lives out a subsistence living in a lakeside village on Buvuma, which is deep poverty even by Ugandan standards. He has a partial education, but the trauma of his injuries has washed most of that away – it is fairly evident from his somewhat limited responses that he still suffers severe PTSD from the accident that took his face, suffering short-term memory difficulties that will make it hard even to follow the doctor’s instructions.

On top of all this, his mouth is a wreck, suffering severe dental abnormalities that may have originated congenitally but were severely exacerbated by the fire. The dentist must see many severe dental situations in his work every day, but it was evident that even he was shocked by the severity of what he was looking at. So we spent the day getting a plan hatched for plastic surgery to reconstruct his face (minimum two to three surgeries, each requiring three weeks in the hospital), and then dental cleaning and evaluation. The two processes of plastic surgery and dental reconstruction must be carried out in tandem due to the way the jaw and gum structure support the structure of the face.

However, even all this was not what made the day difficult.

I was moved to tears repeatedly by seeing the parade of small children passing by us for treatment of various horrors they had experienced. One small three year old girl was working on walking between parallel bars because both legs were in casts, either from surgery or accident. The father was trying to entice her to take one step after another with some Fanta orange soda. Even then, she did not want to move her feet.

Another little boy had some kind of facial tumor that disfigured the left side of his face, causing it to expand and hang down like a huge jowl.  Another four year old boy had more terrible burns than our friend, having thick burn scars over most of his face and scalp. Numerous cleft palate children passed through the reception area, and countless missing limbs, deformed hands and feet, and tiny newborns, wrapped tightly so that we could not discern the problems that caused the confused young mothers with fear in their eyes to clutch them so tightly, saying eloquently, this is not the way it is supposed to be.

It was extraordinary to watch these little children, who live with their troubles as their normal, everyday life, running and playing and chattering to their families just like the ones we are used to seeing, just like children are supposed to be. But, oh, what a difficult journey they will have accomplished before they even reach their teens. How old will their eyes be by the time their little bodies even reach twelve?

I am glad for places of healing like Corsu Hospital in Entebbe. We are deeply affected by having gone there and spent the time we did. May it give us the gift of walking more humbly and gratefully each day. May it challenge our sense of privilege from which we draw our attitudes and choices every day because we do not have to climb the mountains these little ones will conquer just to be able to experience the freedom of walking on a public street without being stared at or despised for their infirmities.

We Can Take Only Two????

Off the Grid till Sept. 24.

[From Bob] We will be off the grid now until Sept. 24, out in the lake on Buvuma Island – no internet, little electricity, and iffy phone service. This will be our last communique until then.

[From Gail] We have now been in Uganda for a week. We have adjusted to the time change and the schedule. It has been somewhat restful for me, but Bob is working hard every day on his lesson plans and power point presentation for the Lake Victoria Bible Institute,which starts on Monday, and other various studies he will teach during the rest of the trip. We have to get pens, handouts printed, attendance records ready, etc.  etc., not to mention finalizing lesson plans. He is teaching a unit on Parenting – How to raise children who are Mighty in Spirit – for the first time this trip. Today we leave for Buvuma Island in Lake Victoria.

Just when we got it organized, time to move!

You will remember from out last post that we arranged our guesthouse room with so many suitcases, and we have it just like we want it and can , for the most part, find what we want, when we want it. That has now come crashing to a halt as we have repacked everything.

Today we will travel to the island by ferry, always an interesting experience. But in order to fit all the equipment we will need into the back of our minivan, things will have to be left behind in storage here in Bugembe until we get back to the mainland on Sept. 24.

I think I am a typical woman, and I try not to be too high maintenance, but there are some things I just NEED. So my process has been to decide what those things are and to leave behind the things that are just extras. Instead of having my own suitcase, we will be sharing a single bag. Wow. I am a “what do I feel like wearing today” person and I sometimes change clothes until it feels right for that day. I recognize that as an effect of privilege and I need to work on that because most of the world is not in the same mode.  We are grateful for the privilege that God has given us, but it often blinds us to the realities around us, which is not healthy or useful. I hope our awareness of this is growing and that we are learning to see with His eyes – the privilege of heaven has never blinded Him to the way things really are. So, back to my subject – I can select only a few things from all our “stuff” and be content with them.

I began to boil our many suitcases down to just three. We can do this. It takes cooperation and insight and plain old guessing what the needs will be. Then, just as I congratulated myself for my precise selections, Bob said, “Only two.” Oh well, back to work.

All of this is just stuff, the real thing we will bring to the Lake Victoria Bible Institute is the relationship with Christ we can share to edify and teach the many pastors who come together from far off islands to learn and be encouraged. I pray we can keep this in the front of our minds as we prepare. This is why we are here. This is great fun!

Worker sifting out detritus from the wheat grain in the new mill.

I have a friend here in Uganda who has begun a milling business. Private industry in Uganda is always fascinating to see up close because it is gives such insight into the daily lives of the people. Since the economy for the average citizen is still largely agricultural, most grains and corn-related produce must be milled before it can be used. He has started slowly and expanded with his profits, which is the best way to build a business, and he is now moving to a larger space and improving the quality and capacity of his operation, so things are going well.

The siftings fall onto the floor to be later shoveled into another pile and later mixed.

Americans like to large-scale such operations, but Ugandans often don’t have that luxury due to cost. Labor remains cheap with unemployment as high as 45%, with most of that group unable to get any kind of employment other than day jobs, so the reality is that it’s simply more cost effective for the small businessman to do much of the labor by hand because the pay is cheap.

We entered the rough brick building that he is moving into to find a large mostly empty space with huge piles of milled grains waiting to be mixed sitting here and there on the dirt floor. He has not yet moved his milling machines to this location. Other than sacks full of unmilled grain lining two walls, the room was otherwise empty except for one woman sifting a grainy mix into a finer mix.

Her hands fly back and forth over the grain to push it through the screen but pause every now and then to pluck a rock or piece of wood from the mix.

The worker was pouring the unsifted grain onto the top of a primitive looking boxed screen, then using her hands to sift the material through the screen onto a pile on the floor underneath. She was removing rocks, trash, and anything that didn’t qualify as “grain” from the mix.

The current best seasonal profit seems to be for animal feeds. The bags we saw are full of leftover grain husks from a beer brewery which makes wheat beer. These husks are a throwaway byproduct of the beer factory, which has used all they are going to use to make their beer, then sells the remains to local mills like this one.

My friend will sift the leftover wheat husks, then mix it with maize flour (ground corn) and other nutrients like silverfish, small fish from Lake Victoria that grow by the billions in the deep waters of the lake. Once mixed together, he will mill all of this together into a grainy product that will be used to feed livestock – pigs, chickens, turkeys, and cattle.

Large pile of milled maize (corn) waiting to be mixed in with the wheat grain.

My friend hopes eventually to be able, after building the business up enough, to support his family from this mill, and have money left to invest in his ministry. It is hard work, takes a lot of focus and planning, and faces an uncertain African economy, but he is closer to his goal each time I come to Uganda.

Adventures All Over Again

We are NOW here.

The next adventure has begun. We arrived Wednesday night In Entebbe, Uganda, after about 34 hours in transit –

an unusually efficient schedule since this trip has taken as much as 42 hours in the past. We stayed at a hotel in Entebbe until Alfred and David picked us up on Thursday morning.

Traffic to Bugembe (a suburb of Jinja) was terrible, as always. We arrived around 6:30 pm after almost the whole day doing several errands in Kampala and traveling to Bugembe. We fell asleep almost immediately, falling unconscious on the bed amid the chaos of stacked and unsorted luggage. We woke up around 9:30 pm, pushed the bags against the walls so we could walk to the bathroom, and fell into bed again for the night. After about 12 hours of sleep, we were ready to “go” on Friday morning. The first order of business was to collect the bags we’d stored with a very nice woman that always helps us with storage of the many things we don’t need to carry back and forth each trip – a pile that grows a little each time we come. Adding that to the luggage we brought for ten weeks doubled the chaos in our guesthouse lodgings. YIKES!!

After two days of sorting and organization…

Now the reality of life here in Uganda sets in. There are now eight suitcases in our room – we brought six with us this time to cover the ten weeks we will be here, and we keep two semi-retired bags here for storage. “Semi-retired,” of course, means “no longer viable for travel but usable for storage.” Bob says that’s a metaphor for us – two semi-retired bags on the edge of no longer viable for travel.

Chaotically arranged around the suitcases are boxes of bottled water, a folding table, a white board, boxes of student handouts, boxes of student books for note-taking, two laptops, a portable printer, a generator for use in the field, electrical equipment – a voltage regulator to prevent damage to our devices by surges and, because guesthouses often lack enough outlets, a multiple-outlet extension bar or two, suction hooks for the wall  to create a “closet” and “towel-rack” to hang our clothes and towels – these  are often not available in Ugandan guesthouses – and a small pathway to walk through it all! There is a lot of sorting to be done, “little by little” or mpolampola in the Lugandan language. That’s pronounced mm-poluhmm’-poluh’ – the double accent is almost impossible for our English ears to pick up.

Phone calls from various pastors where we will be ministering have also kept our phone ringing as it is time to get the details of our schedule organized and the people mobilized to come and chairs to be rented and food for lunch to be purchased and…and…

After we ran our errands to collect even more “stuff” we needed in Jinja, we drove to a neighboring town to visit one of our bishop friends who is in the hospital. He is being treated for the advanced effects of diabetes and has been very ill. He will not be able to attend and help oversee the Bible Institute on Buvuma Island next week. We will miss him very much. He always sits by me in the front row and makes sure we break for tea in the morning and lunch instead of standing and answering questions for people through the breaks. He is an important part of that ministry on Buvuma.

…we still can’t find anything…”Where did I put that…”

As overwhelmed as I feel when I look around our room, I am very excited to see what God has in store for us. Bob and I are both working on our lessons to be shared in various venues.  As always, I am a bit nervous – a reluctant but willing teacher.

Those are my thoughts for today. Thank you all for your support and prayers. It encourages me that you are with us even as you are so far away. God is good! Please remember in prayer our friend the bishop, who is now on the way to Kampala for further testing.