Archive for October, 2017

A quiet evening with James and Faith – James is drawing in his exercise book and Faith is copying words into hers.

The evening of our time together at Gail’s friend Irene’s home after audiology screening was a very sweet time. We had survived the painful episode with James, and he finally knew we were not going to leave him there alone among strangers once again. I hope he learns to trust us for our love for him, but it must be very hard for him to understand our ways and the reasons we do things, and why we keep disappearing for months and he only sees Alfred. He is a boy stuck in his own head and his own wounded heart. Time and consistency on our part will heal, I hope.

After we all came down from the shock and began to settle in for the evening, we were assigned our sleeping areas – James, Faith, and the two men – Alfred, who had accompanied us to be with James and Faith at the screening, and Godfrey, our replacement driver while Alfred and his wife wait for their baby to come – all together in the little dormitory Irene uses for the many children she helps and are now at school; and Gail and Bob in the guest bedroom in the house. Then dinner, then sitting around chatting and enjoying each other’s company – a quiet and friendly evening.

Gail repairs a tear in Faith’s dress.

During the visiting time after dinner, the door popped open and James and Faith came in with their new story books and plopped down around the table to draw. Gail spent her time sewing up a tear in one of Faith’s dresses, and I quietly worked on the computer. It was a perfect evening, a pretty little tableau of family at peace. I only noticed it in retrospect the next morning as I thought, “What a wonderful and quiet family evening that was!”

The two children fully occupied themselves, and whereas they had been busily dragging us around the market earlier in the day, investigating one wonder after another, now they were settled comfortably “around the hearth,” James copying a picture from his book with his pencil, and Faith copying words from her book with hers. This family scene lasted maybe an hour and a half, each of us comfortable in the others’ company.

James has drawn a picture that appears in his story book about Abraham. You can see he wrote the word Abraham on the picture. Should I be this proud? How far this boy has come!

James has probably never had an evening like that in an actual house. Just chew on that for a minute…

It was a measure of his trust of us that he wanted to draw in front of us and obviously wanted us to comment on his artwork (the next day he actually laid his head in my lap and went to sleep, so this little boy is gradually learning to be loved). He is becoming quite the little artist, and I’m wondering what he could do with color pencils or inks, though it might be difficult to hang onto such things in a school setting where so much is shared between the students. His lettering is still quite rough, but he was copying words from the book and adding them to his picture. One day, we hope to be able to converse in writing at least, though Gail is always gamely trying with her American “signs,” at least 50% of which are different in Uganda.

(l to r) Irene, James, Faith, Gail, Alfred, and Godfrey gathered on Irene’s small porch.

The evening was, on the one hand, a peaceful and contented family group learning to sit with each other quietly and just resting in the security of mutual support – nothing that would ever draw any attention in its simplicity and ordinariness. On the other hand, considering who these people are, and who they have been, and perhaps who they will one day be, it was a triumphant victory to be celebrated and shouted from the housetops!

Thank you, thank you, Irene. I will treasure that evening as the high point so far of my adventures with James, and now also with Faith.

Our journey to Kampala to have the hearing of the two deaf children, James and Faith, evaluated required a long journey from Mbale. This was especially hard for them, both active and inexperienced children from the village (see Part 1) cooped up in the vehicle for hours at a time. Two sad incidents occurred among all the fun and excitement of the three day trip away from Kavule Deaf School. The first was, as I explained in Part 1 of this story, that neither child qualified for any kind of hearing devices or aids since their deafness was nearly complete according to the screening tests.

James and Faith enjoying a relaxing evening at the home of Gail’s friend Irene.

The second incident was more disturbing, and I find it difficult to write about because of both the pain of relating it and the way it affected me personally. We decided to break the trip up into sections so that the children would not get too tired being in the vehicle for such long periods, and so that we could catch up on “care” items for them – clothing, shoes, supplies, etc. Our plan, then, included a stay-over in Bugembe (near Jinja) the first night with the children staying with Alfred and Julie. Alfred related that they were up at 5:30 the next morning, standing in their bedroom demanding attention and, of course, food. Alfred, showing wisdom beyond his years, invited them to join him and Julie in their morning prayer time. He said the two of them knelt dutifully and folded their hands, even though James, for sure, has never had enough language to receive even basic spiritual training. We really don’t know what’s going on inside his head during such times, but he has become an agreeably cooperative young boy over the last two years, and we are hoping to reach his spirit anyway before we will one day have access to his mind for such concepts as God and spirituality.

James, happy to have his picture taken when we first met him on Buvuma Island.

The second day, after the screening in Kampala, we planned to stay at the home of one of Gail’s friends in Mukono, a suburb of Kampala, and it was here that the incident happened. We had been to the market for shoes and clothes, and it was coming up on 5:30 pm when we pulled into Irene’s compound after a long, long day of many adventures in the city. I’m not certain even now what cues we mistakenly gave to James as we disembarked from the vehicle. Perhaps it was our gathering of his and Faith’s plastic bags containing their meager belongings, but not getting our own bags from the back. We began to lead the children up to greet Irene, Gail introducing Faith to her at her door, and I leading James in that direction.

I got about halfway to her door when I became aware that James was resisting me. I looked down at him, and as he stared at the house, he began a high-pitched keening from deep inside his chest, as if emanating up from his heart. I stopped and turned to him, and to my astonishment tears were running down his face – this little hard-hearted street child of two years ago who never shed a tear back then, but glared at us crossly and once even threw rocks and dirt at me when he became angry. I fell to my knees and motioned, “James, what’s wrong?” The sound of his utter despair continued to rise in volume as he stood frozen in place, refusing to make eye contact, staring ahead blankly.

The night we dropped James at his new school in Mbale after rescuing him from the islands. He has realized we are leaving him among strangers. This was a terrible moment for all three of us.

It took me, in my adult insensitivity, a minute to figure out what was happening right in front of me as this small boy was melting down. Then it came to me like a slideshow of tragic photos – the time we dropped him at his first school after rescuing him from the island and traveling across 150 km of southern Uganda in the vehicle, took him into Mbale to purchase his school supplies and new clothes and shoes, etc., the first city he had ever seen. Then we had to leave him there among strangers in a foreign place, and Alfred and I were near tears as we drove away into the evening, knowing that this was the best thing for him but that he could not understand, which was why he stood alone, glowering at us with my cap perched on his head, the poor and inadequate love offering I gave him just before I turned away from him and climbed into the car to leave him there.

Then I remembered moving him from that school to the new school at Kavule where he is now, away from the friends he had made and his first teachers ever in his life whom he had now adjusted to, and the teacher Catherine whose little family he had bonded with, and how we had again left him among strangers in a yet another foreign place, and had again driven away from him as he stood motionless and glared after us, unwilling to show anything but anger.

Of course James was reliving his abandonments, not just the “necessary” ones by us, but the time his mother left him when he was five because she couldn’t deal with his deafness on the one hand and her drunken husband on the other. Then, he relived the abandonment two years later on Buvuma Island when his father left him among the clan and disappeared almost for good, except for a brief alcoholic and abusive reunion just before we rescued him. We found him on Buvuma, virtually living by himself at age ten, without language except what gestures his bright little mind had invented to make himself understood–the boy with the scars on his back and face from the “canings” he received as early as age three when they judged him as “rebellious” because he wouldn’t obey them, only later discovering that he was deaf.

In those horrifying moments this week in Mukono, as I realized he thought we were abandoning him yet again, I replayed what I knew he had suffered, which he was telling us by the despairing sound of his grief and fear, the best a small deaf boy could do in the circumstances, echoed now by Faith who had seen by now that something was terribly wrong, and who began to cry reflexively also next to a baffled Gail and Irene. This tableau, even down to the time of day, was all too familiar to James. We had unwittingly set him up for it.

I threw my arms around James, and hugged him and began to tell him we were not leaving him, knowing that he could not hear me. I pulled back from him and gestured that we all were staying here tonight, that no one was leaving him, that “James, James, we are not leaving you. You are safe. You are safe. We love you. No one is leaving you….” But he could not hear me, and could not understand my words.

I took him to the back of the car and opened up the gate and pulled out our suitcase and our personal bags to show him we were staying here with him. Slowly, he began to respond, hugging me back, letting me hold him as the stiffness bled out of his little frame.

James knows abandonment.

James will see abandonment for many years to come where there is none in the unthinking actions of the people around him. This wound is deep and flows through the roots of his little being like a river of pain, not understood, misunderstood, owned personally, and turned into personal beliefs not about deeply flawed parents and weak and selfish clan leaders who did not acknowledge his personhood and value, but beliefs about James, himself, and his tiny broken identity – “ALONE,” “WORTHY ONLY OF ABANDONMENT,” “THROWN AWAY.”

I want to reach into this child’s shattered heart and piece it back together. In my own selfish way, I want to bring him home with me and nurture him back to life, even though I know that he needs to stay in his culture and be African. In place of the sewage of the world he has known, I want to give him the river of life flowing out of him. I don’t want to wait years until he can understand and receive – I want it NOW.

I also know abandonment, and remember it well, a small boy crying on the floor of the backseat of our car as we returned from the father and son Cub Scout banquet, which I attended with my mother. According to the Book, all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose. I know that’s why James came into the hall where I was teaching three years ago on Buvuma Island, and I know that my heart which has been mostly healed read his pain without knowing his story – it had a familiar ring. I know what I’m supposed to do. I pray for the years and the means to do it.

And yes, before you remind me, I know only Christ can ever be the river that heals James, but maybe I can be the hand that leads him there.

Picking up James and Faith from the director’s office before she knew she was coming with us – hence the sad look.

What an exhausting and interesting three days we have just finished. Exhausting because we are just a tad on the other side of the hill and have spent this time in the presence of the exuberant James and Faith, 12 and 8 years old respectively, and interesting because, you guessed it, ….James and Faith. These two deaf children have rarely been out of the village, and certainly never to a city as large as Kampala. We have learned some Ugandan sign language though. We can now say in perfect deaf Ugandan, “BUY ME THIS, NO BUY ME THIS, NO, WAIT, THIS, THIS AND THIS.”

In addition to these valuable insights, we have never, either one of us, ever witnessed a faster switch from, “This is the exact thing I want,” to receiving it, losing all interest in it, and demanding some other shiny or bright-colored object. At one point James insisted on receiving a “math set” which is a small metal box with a compass, etc. for math studies.  At his level he doesn’t have math (he is far behind his age group – see previous posts for his history) and doesn’t even know what math is, but knows a pretty box when he sees it. In fairness, it must have been astonishing to these children to witness the lavish excess that is available to any shopper in the city. We sought the fairer prices in the local outdoor market rather than in the stores, hoping that it might be a more familiar environment to them, but it seemed to me a bad case of Disneyland-itis for both of them even there.

A thoughtful James as he contemplates one of his drawings – he has become quite the artist.

Our values clashed horrendously as Gail and I sought quality shoes and clothes that might actually last them through our next visit in April, while they sought Minnie Mouse T’s with holes, or football shorts with small tears or split seams; we sought sneakers that would endure the hard labor of their rowdy recesses while they sought the used and recycled sneakers, painted with black spray-paint to hide the flaws, paint which will probably come off in the first sprinkle of rain the rainy season of which we are right now in!! I picked a wonderfully masculine pair of “air-” somethings in near-perfect condition and with cool spiffy colors for James, which any American kid would lo-o-ove  to have on their feet, but James would have nothing to do with them, gesturing emphatically by scissoring his hands back and forth and then a firm, double thumbs down – no, he had to have the old black spray-painted cast-offs across the street where they couldn’t even find a pair that fit him. I’m not going to admit to you who won that scrappy little brawl.

I can totally visualize him traipsing into class next Monday, leaving black-paint-run-off footprints behind him as it drizzles outside just about the same time as I am warming up my “Parenting” Conference in Soroti. (Note to my own children and grandchildren: No eye-rolling!). We managed to get them outfitted for the rest of this term, but I fear we will be back at it next trip. We returned them late today to their deaf school in Kavule outside of Mbale after some car-problem delays and an array of errands as we passed through Jinja on our return trip. Long day, tired old couple…’nuff said.

Faith in her Minnie Mouse T and her new dress underneath it. They both were desperately in need of new clothing and were down to basic school uniforms as their only remaining options.

Two sadder notes among all the hilarity of both children gesturing wildly and pointing from the middle of the rear car seat where they were firmly strapped in between Gail and me. Riotous gesturing broke out every time we passed anything remotely edible, any roadside shop with any kind of object that could be construed to be round like a soccer ball, or anything even distantly police-related (don’t understand that one, but I hope we are not unknowingly harboring a midget criminal hiding out from the law at the deaf school–I don’t think so, though: James is a very convincing twelve year old boy).

Sad note number one: The reason for our long trip of three days. We took the two children into the Kampala Audiology and Speech Center for a screening of their hearing levels, which neither child had ever had. Alfred and I had discovered that James could actually hear some higher range sounds when we were backing up the vehicle one time on Buvuma Island, and it was making that beeping noise – James was sitting there in the back seat saying very clearly, “Beep beep beep beep” right along with the car. We were, of course, stunned, and began to test him, and sure enough, there was some hearing there in the very high, loud range, which made us all hopeful that he might be a candidate for a hearing aid or implant device. I sat in the session with him and was encouraged to see him raise his hand repeatedly as the doctor played a variety of sounds into his headphones for his ears, and also through two different bone resonance tests. His tests, however, were negative for significant hearing of any kind. The doctor, who was extremely kind and professionally efficient by the way, told us that the best we could ever expect with a hearing aid is the possibility that he might be able to hear a loud car horn on the street or something of that nature.

James mugging with Faith in front of the Kampala Audiology and Speech Office in Kampala.

Faith was tested next and Gail sat in on that session. Faith also raised her hand repeatedly, but the doctor explained that all they were “hearing” were the vibrations from the sounds, not the sounds themselves, and even I could tell that when the same sound was applied at a lesser volume, James could not hear it. Unfortunately, Faith also could not be helped by a hearing aid. She told us that both children were now too old to develop speech because that part of the brain had atrophied from lack of usage, which our friend Michelle in the States had also told us would probably be the case.

Returning them to the Kavule School for the Deaf at the end of the journey. We sit and chat with the Director of the School, Samuel.

We were saddened by this news, but not surprised. The doctor strongly encouraged us to keep them in school, telling us that it would change both their lives if they had sign language and an education, and that this was the best gift we could give them.

Thank you all for praying for these two children, as I know many of you knew we were taking them in for screening. It is comforting to know that we have been led to the right track with James, and, now that Faith is also onboard, that she can also be redeemed from the very serious suffering that disabilities cause in Uganda’s poverty-laden society.

There is still a long road ahead of them – this adventure has again shown us what bright and eager children they both are. And, I must add, it was truly comforting to see how happy they were to return to the school and their safe, enclosed environment that they now consider their home, surrounded by their friends who have also become their family.

Part 2  and the second “sad note” in our next post.

We Are Watched

Here we sit outside chatting after dinner, our rented vehicle in the background, our host to the right, our new driver Godfrey all in white at center (while Alfred sits at home with his wife awaiting his new baby due anytime now).

From Gail –

We had a few days early last week to recuperate and sleep a little later after the intensive five day Bible Institute in Tororo last week. It was a nice break.  Wednesday night we were invited to a friend’s home for dinner. It is always a treat to accept a chance for hospitality and fellowship in a private home where we get to share how the people actually live. Most often we are not in a town or village long enough to be invited. Our schedule is packed from morning to bedtime. When we arrived at their home around 5 pm, there were several of our friends there and some new faces as well. A nice group.

This was our second week in Tororo, and we finished our stay here with a three day Parenting Seminar. I think it went well. We were also invited to dinner on Saturday night with the host pastor and his wife after the seminar ended that afternoon.  Then Sunday morning we made a very early start to drive to Mbale where Bob preached and I met with 25 ladies in the afternoon.

An odd thing happened at the Wednesday night supper – a sort of clashing of cultures that provided some humor and emphasized to us that we can rarely let down our hair while we are here. We had finished a delicious typical Ugandan meal of rice, beans, matoki (a kind of banana that is only eaten cooked), chicken, beef, and greens.  We were having some good conversation, and our hostess brought in some nice bananas that served for us as a sort of dessert, though in our experience, the Ugandans never have dessert, so perhaps a nod to musungu customs.


A close friend helps set the table for dinner.

Bob decided he wanted one, but I just wanted a bite since we have them for breakfast most mornings and I get a bit tired of them after a while.  He broke off almost half of the banana for me, but it was more than I wanted, so he broke it in half again and handed it to me.  All of a sudden, there was a flurry of talk among the Ugandans, making vivid the expression, “The natives are restless.” Their enthusiastic discussion was not in English, and maybe there was even a little bit of laughter in among all the Japadola flying about. What was happening, what had we missed?

These folks love us well and we never doubt it, so we were sure they would tell us what was going on, though sometimes we are left in the dark when we are with a less familiar group and this sort of thing happens. So when we asked, here is what they told us:

Our banana exchange had been closely watched by everyone in the room. They tell us often that they watch the way we interact as married musungus and enjoy seeing a “true Christian marriage” in action, and they see our marriage as a model, which puts us under a serious spiritual responsibility to them. Most of the time, though, we are just “us,” take us or leave us.

More chatting – we enjoyed the evening until dark, listening to a testimony of how a new friend met Christ after her anti-Christian husband became a Christian to her and everyone else’s surprise, and how she resisted and watched him for “evidence” until she finally knew it was real.

In this instance, they couldn’t believe Bob was breaking off a piece of banana for me. It is the woman in Uganda that always serves the man. Bob’s action caused them to wonder, “What does it mean? Was Gail too weak to do it for herself??” They thought that was hilarious. Finally, when they shared the joke, Bob explained that I only wanted a small bite of his banana; he tried to give me half, but I only wanted a little, so he broke off the small piece for me.  Not a big thing, just a husband-and-wife private exchange without earth-shaking spiritual implications.

Only, of course, it was not private at all. We are a curiosity to them, something to be watched and studied. It is hard for me to always keep that in mind. We are just being us – a married couple of 48 years (rare in Uganda, apparently), comfortable with each other, and doing things for each other without really thinking about it.

Guess I better remember to pay better attention! Who knows what we might be modeling with whatever we do next! I wonder if the men will be breaking off portions of their bananas for their wives next time we come. I hope they have picked up some of the things we actually try to model.

Teaching Parenting on Buvuma Island in Lake Victoria to pastors and church leaders.

Last Spring while we were here in Uganda, I was asked to prepare a three-day conference on Parenting the next time I would come, a subject I have taught much on over the years. The material I prepared looked so promising that, when I arrived here in September, I taught “Christian Parenting, How to Raise Up a Generation Mighty in Spirit” at the five- day Lake Victoria Bible Institute on Buvuma Island, and have been requested to teach it in Soroti for a five day as well two weeks from now. Apparently, this is a subject the Ugandan Christians are much concerned with, as they watch their younger generation pulled away from their city churches by steamy pop music videos that foster all manner of sexual misbehavior and local TV that runs continual heavy doses of, well, steamy pop music videos that…. The decidedly unwholesome influences that are dominating American youth are also taking the young people of Africa by storm, and even more so.

We are still here in Tororo, teaching a conference on Parenting for three days.

I have been shocked again by how enthusiastically the here receiving the information I am teaching about godly child discipline. I guess they get almost no teaching on this subject, and what they get is mostly cultural or traditional, not particularly Christian. The comments range from private thank-you’s delivered quietly by earnest moms and dads who desperately need a Christian approach to parenting, clutching our hands in gratitude, to public testimonials from pastors during the question and answer times about how helpful it is to them and how much Uganda needs to hear this message. Again, I feel somewhat overwhelmed by this outpouring.

But even more exciting has been the response of certain students in the classes to the material. I always blend stories into my teaching to make it practical and applicable, and during the teaching on Buvuma, I told several unplanned stories about honoring parents and children who forgave their imperfect parents for mistreatment during their childhood. I rarely try to think of these stories ahead of time, but just allow the Spirit to bring them to mind at the appropriate moments to emphasize a point here and there. To be honest, I don’t much remember which stories I have told after I am done teaching since they are not part of my notes.

This is the church on the island where the Institute takes place. This time we hosted up to 140 students, the highest attendance ever from the island, the mainland and outlying islands.

On the last day of the teaching during the lunchtime, Gail and I were sitting outside the church building in the shade of banana trees and cassava bushes when a student asked if he could speak to us. He sat down and told us the following testimony. He said he was badly mistreated by his parents growing up, to the extent of beatings and deprivations that left their scars on him when he finally left home. He said that he was going to get married when he was 25, but just before the marriage, he realized how bitter he was toward his parents and their marriage. He said the bitterness overcame him, and indeed had done so many times before and since, and he decided then that he would break off his marriage plans, which he did, and that he would never get married. He was now 34, a pastor, and until this conference, had no plans ever to get married.

Gail and I sit in the shade of banana trees and casava bushes, eating our lunch.

I did not ask what the nature of his injuries were with his parents, but it was not hard to fill in the gaps, knowing that this culture is full of “caning” (beating children with thin rods), rejections, abandonments, drunken abuses that include kicking children (testified to even today at the parenting conference I am currently teaching in Tororo), etc. I have seen the physical scars left by caning on children, meaning that children are sometime caned to the point of blood, leaving permanent scars on their bodies.

This young pastor said that he sat in the conference, knowing that he would never have children and wondered why God brought him to this training. Then he told us how he had been deeply touched by the teaching about  forgiveness and honoring parents, how the Holy Spirit had convicted him, and how, difficult though it was, he had bowed his head right there in his seat and prayed to forgive his parents. He wanted us to know that a heavy burden had lifted off his shoulders as he prayed, and that God had healed him of deep hatred and painful bitterness. He just wanted to thank us for sacrificing to come and love the Ugandans, and that he knew that God had sent us. He also said, now with this freedom he is experiencing, he can accept and embrace the idea of marriage and leave the conference excited about the possibilities.

More teaching…

We were stunned – deeply touched, but stunned. Any comments about forgiveness had been worked into an illustration, for it was not in my notes. Again, as has happened so often here, I have prepared and taught a particular subject, organizing my notes into a teachable and orderly presentation while all along God has been about His redemptive business in the hearts of the students who will sit under the teaching – and I might include the heart of the teacher.

It did not surprise us so much, then, when the bishop later told us of an additional testimony he had received from another pastor of deep spiritual healing during the conference of crippling bitterness against his parents also.

Mission work is full of surprises. We give our gift by faith, which to us is a simple offering, while God, with a grin, I’m sure, multiplies beyond any ability of ours threefold, tenfold, and a hundredfold.

Not Just an American Disease

This seems to be the trip that we will remember for diabetes. Two of our associates are now diagnosed with diabetes. This is serious enough in the US, but in Uganda it is a serious matter indeed. One doesn’t really know how sick he is until he discovers he can’t be cured by a short trip to the doctor and a regimen of miracle drugs. No such relief comes with the diagnosis of diabetes.

Bob preached this morning in the church where the three day conference will be held end of this week.

Mr. A (name changed to protect his identity) is our close friend and partner in ministry here. He was in the hospital when we arrived. We had heard this news before we arrived and were expecting him to be on the mend by the time we were ready for our usual ministry together. However, it was not to be so. We visited him in the hospital during our first week, traveling out into the bush far from town to find a small private hospital ministering to the locals. He lay there in the bed in a ward with ten other patients, unable to walk by himself, and only able to sit up to with difficulty to greet us. His worried wife hovered nearby.

We visited a bit, trying to determine the nature of his illness, and were told that he has diabetes (type 2, we assume, since insulin is not involved). We prayed for him and left to make the journey back to town with heavy hearts for his suffering. They are working, of course, on his diet to get his sugar levels to come down into a functional range. But we knew, as we drove away, that this will require an entire lifestyle change for him and his family, and we wondered how he would weather it.

We knew a pastor in another country where we worked in missions who was diagnosed with diabetes, and the memory does not give us much comfort. He was unable to deal with the lifestyle changes required to manage his sugar problems, and perhaps because of lack of education, he failed to acknowledge the seriousness of his condition. He refused to change. He died about a year after his diagnosis, apparently of a heart attack. We know by now that heart issues often accompany diabetes,  and the treatment for both go hand in hand. The sadness of watching his family suffer the loss of their husband and father, and their ensuing struggle to restructure their whole life to find financial stability in the wake of his loss hung over us gloomily as we drove away from the hospital in Uganda.

Our friend here is an ebullient little man who has planted many churches across his section of Uganda, which is how I met him. We were traveling together and struck up a conversation, and he asked us to include his group of churches in our ministry. We have worked with him ever since. He is full of energy and always sits with Gail during the meetings, watching over her, and making sure she is comfortable. He is forever urging us to eat more when the food is served and is insistent that we pause to eat in the morning when the tea and gnuts (a nut exactly like the peanut only smaller) are served for breakfast. “Bob?” he will say, and as I turn to him, he is invariably holding up my tea-cup or pointing at the bowl of nuts, “Tea is ready.” If I am busy, and don’t immediately sit for tea, I will always hear shortly, “Bob?…”

We missed him much this time during the training. It just wasn’t the same without his extremely dry sense of humor, always delivered with a total deadpan face, held perfectly 1…2…3…, then followed by a tiny knowing smile. One doesn’t know how important someone is to them until they are absent.

We are very concerned that he will be able to adjust and that he will take the warnings from the doctor seriously about his diet. Mr. A is a small, thin man. His sugar issues have nothing to do with his weight, as is the case with so many. His diet is rice, beans, greens, a little chicken or goat or beef, and some fruit when they can get it. He lives far out in the bush with no access to sugary drinks or foods that Americans are accustomed to. Even visualizing how he should change this natural and organic diet to adjust his sugar levels is a mystery to me. I’ve got some serious reading to do.

We visited him at his home about two weeks later. We took him a glucose meter so that he would not be required to make the arduous trip to the hospital every week to have his sugar level tested. I’m not sure how he was making the journey because even when we saw him, he was still lying on his pallet in his house, was just barely walking with the support of a stick, and could not ride the back of a boda boda (motorcycle), which is the primary form of taxi here. Yet somehow he had returned just that day from the distant hospital. The diet seems to be working little by little, but his blood sugar has still not fully returned to normal.

Our other associate has been diagnosed for a longer time, but, because we are not so close, we did not know. This trip though, when we found him, his legs were swollen, painful, and propped up. His wife told us he had diabetes. While he lives in a city and has much more access to medical treatment than Mr. A, his situation is still serious.

We pray for them, and are looking for ways to help that will work in this environment where ready medical interventions are not always accessible or affordable. But we are on a learning curve. So far, all I’ve discovered is that cinnamon helps lower both blood pressure and blood sugar. Who knew? [NOTE: Only sprinkle on foods and drinks, and do NOT take in large doses – do some research on how to use cinnamon properly. Improper use can be dangerous.] When we get home to the US, it will be time to do some serious research. In the meantime, we pray they both will do what they must to adjust their lifestyles. Mr. A, for certain, must face that his situation is not going to go away with some drugs, as those in his village are used to doing. He must face the reality of this disease. His learning curve will be much bigger than ours and much harder.

[If anyone has advice about controlling diabetes, please message us on Facebook™ or comment below this post, or send us an email – email not listed here to prevent spam.]

A World So Far Away

From Gail

We have finished a five day Institute on Christian History and are resting up.

When we first arrived in Bugembe, we were so happy to see Alfred and Julie, our good friends. It is always nice to see friendly faces to help us get back to this new-all-over-again-to-us culture.

Julie and I had been in touch by email a few times while we were in the U.S. She has a ministry in the local prison in Bugembe.  She goes every Sunday morning from 8:30 to 9:30 and shares with whatever prisoners come to the meeting. They consider her their “Pastor” and seem to enjoy the services. Julie asked me to come and minister with her and I gladly accepted.

We passed through several locked doors and then went outside to an open courtyard. We climbed several steps to a cement stage of some kind that took up about one third of the courtyard. About 50 male prisoners were expectantly standing and waiting on the stage for the service to begin.

I was feeling quite nervous – I had thought I would be talking to the women prisoners, so I was surprised that no women had gathered. This was my first time to visit a prison for the purpose of speaking, and, in fact, I had only been in a prison setting 3 times ever, one in the U.S., and now twice in Uganda. Another woman regularly ministers with Julie, and they opened the service with prayer and some worship music. Finally three women prisoners arrived but they sat directly behind us.

All of this was so new and strange. We were all up on the “stage” together, the men were standing, but when I started to speak, they had no seats, so they sat down on the stage in front of me. The women sat on the only three chairs, but directly behind me while I was speaking, so it was impossible to have eye contact easily.

I had picked Psalm 139 to share, which I normally share with women. We are all “fearfully and wonderfully made.” God knows all about each of us, and He is always with us. This always flows well with women and is a message they especially need to hear. Surprise indeed as I retooled these now familiar words to the needs of the men! Of course the words of the Bible are for anyone and everyone, so it was really only my own mindset that had to shift.

I have taught this beautiful psalm several times here in Uganda and it is one of my favorites. Each time I have shared it, the message comes out in a different way – an emphasis on a different section of the psalm. It was true again that Sunday, and I pray that it spoke to the men. Julie was my translator, and, though we have not worked together before, we were a smooth-running team.

After speaking, Julie opened the floor for questions. The men asked not about the lesson, but questions about their lives, something about the judges who sentenced them. I was way in over my head, but gave it a game try anyway. I have no idea even now what I said to them.

I was still in shock that I was speaking in a prison to male prisoners when I had predisposed myself so thoroughly to talk to women. It gets surreal when you assume something is going to be a certain way, and then, when you step into the actual event, it’s nothing like what you prepared for. I’m certainly not afraid to talk to men, and have on many occasions. In this case, reality trumped my pre-conceived notions of what the meeting would be like. It became even more peculiar when the women sat behind me, and I had to swivel back and forth front to back while I was speaking.

As to the women’s questions, they asked to speak privately to me because they didn’t want to speak in front of the men. I mentally prepared myself for some significant spiritual ministry with these hurting women, but when we pulled aside privately to hear their important question, they asked for money for food, pretty much as if I hadn’t spoken at all.

It was a humbling experience for me. These forgotten and marginalized people seem to live at the daily level of need and gut-level survival, not at the level where abstract concepts have any impact. I realized as I left the prison that as far as the life I live every day, I had just visited a whole other world. It’s a world which exists side by side with the one I live in, yet so far away. And I have no experience at all with that world – a great deal of sympathy for them, yes, but no experience…and maybe a little dismay, if I’m being honest.

From Seat-mate to Friend

We are in Tororo teaching a five day Institute on Christian History.

Report from Gail:

I recently spent several days with my friend, Irene, who lives in Mukono, Uganda, near Kampala. She is the Director of Prison Fellowship Ministry in Uganda. She and I met on an airplane the very first time I went to Uganda. I was taking a ten day vacation from work to join Bob in ministry. It is a long trip from the US to Uganda and I was a bit overwhelmed at the all the travel involved.

Irene and I sat next to each other and we talked and slept and talked some more. It was a ten hour plane ride. When we got off the plane we had to go through customs; she was in the line for Ugandans and I was in the line for Others.

We had exchanged mail addresses and began to correspond and get to know each other. On some of my vacation trips, we would stop by to see Irene and her son, Dickson, who also works for the ministry. We have built a friendship over time.

On recent trips, I have gone and stayed with Irene for a few days. I have a big need to understand the Ugandan culture, especially Ugandan women since that is who I minister to most of the time. Irene and I have had some great conversations. It is nice to have a mentor.

Irene has many facets to her ministry. She visits the prisons to minister to the prisoners; she brings medical teams to help with those needs and a very large part of her life is spent providing a safe haven for 18 children whose mothers are incarcerated and don’t have a place to grow and be fed and loved and sent to school to get an education. The feeding and school fees are quite large and Irene depends on the Lord to provide these necessities, mostly through donations. It is a walk of faith.

I was able to visit Irene one time when the children were home on holiday and about to go back to school. I helped them get things ready to take to school-bags of sugar, soap for washing clothes and washing bodies, pens and pencils and many other things. Irene and Dickson and I shopped for these supplies that every Ugandan child who boards at school must have. I was able to do some devotions with the kids at night, and after their chores we played card games. I had a couple of games that my grandkids had taught me, and I passed them on to the children. We had great fun.

My next trip, the kids were in school so I didn’t see them. But, I was able to go to the prison where their mothers are incarcerated.  I was able to talk some with the mother and tell them how much I enjoyed knowing their children and how much the mothers were missed. The same visit we went back a second time to the prison for a celebration time. It was quite interesting.

This trip the children were also in school, so I missed them again.  But we did go back to the prison. The reason for this trip was that Irene was bringing a lawyer to meet one of the mothers so that she could make an appeal to the court. While the inmate talked to her lawyer, I was able to talk to two of the other mothers. They both spoke English, so we could actually talk. They spoke of their plans for when they get out and their dreams for the future. One of the women had become a Christian in the prison and began to minister to the other women. Now she is the pastor of the women in the prison. Both these women only have two years left on their sentence. I asked the pastor if she would come back to continue ministering after she got out – she enthusiastically said she certainly would!

On our way back to Kampala, the lawyer was very hopeful that he could help the mother that he counseled with that day. It was encouraging news because her term was fifty years, and for a crime she only observed. But the police scooped her up in the arrests, and she was given the same term as the actual criminals, even though she was only a by-stander. Sadly, this is not an unusual tale.