We arrived in Entebbe, Uganda, last Tuesday, spent the night in a local hotel, then met our Ugandan partner, Alfred, who drove us to Bugembe where we have spent the week staging our supplies and equipment for the upcoming ten-week trip. Bugembe is a suburb town of the city of Jinja, which is an ideal city to buy supplies and most of what we need while we’re here. As we spend the next weeks crisscrossing Uganda, carrying out our itinerant teaching ministry, Lake Victoria Bible Institutes, we will pass through Jinja repeatedly, ending here in November just before we return home to the U.S.

Everything has been normal and predictable and familiar to both of us by now – we know the places to eat, the pharmacies, the groceries and the stationery stores to shop in, where to buy water, student books, and pens, where to get airtime for our phones and our internet hotspot, and where to exchange our funds for Ugandan shillings at the rate of 3,650 shillings per dollar. The biggest ripple before this afternoon was that we couldn’t find paper clips, and finally found them only after checking in five different stationery shops. I guess they were having a run on paper clips for some reason. And the ones we finally found are enormous – I joked with the clerk that I could tie my cow to a tree with these clips (how would he know I don’t have a cow?).

So as we carefully planned our first week-long venture on Buvuma Island in Lake Victoria, a week of isolation out in the villages, no internet, email, or Google-everything, we were at the very end of our careful packing for the vehicle trip to Buvuma – with this suitcase for this, that tote for that, and these suitcases in storage. Everything was cataloged, organized and ready. We knew where everything was, and we were ready. Then the phone rang at 2:30 pm.

One of our students was calling from Buvuma Island. He told us that the ferry to the island was out for repairs and had been for a week, and would be until the end of this next week, the week we are scheduled to be on the island. He said he apologized for waiting to call, he didn’t know why he waited since he had known about it for a week, but anyway, he was now calling to tell us this “oh-by-the-way” piece of information. Now understand here, the only vehicle access to this island is by ferry, so, no ferry, no vehicle to the island.

WHAT? WHAT??!!!

We followed up with a call to our student committee on the island that is preparing for the Institute on Monday. Yes, they knew about it, but they didn’t want to call and tell us because…yadda, yadda, yadda. FULL PANIC MODE.  Our schedule called for us to put the supplies we were not taking to the island into storage just about 3 hours from now and have everything else, generators and all, ready for loading early tomorrow morning. But that plan was based on having a vehicle to haul us to the island. There followed a long three-way discussion of options between us and Alfred, with Alfred on the phone most of the time to the various islanders, trying to figure out alternatives.

Alternative 1 – Postpone the meeting until the following week, and substitute that week’s plans for this week instead – it just so happens that our calendar schedule would easily implement that switch.

Main drawbacks:  1) We have a large number of students coming by boat from the other islands who have been mobilized at some expense and will begin their journeys either Sunday afternoon, or early Monday morning. With typically difficult-to-impossible phone service between here and there, we have to make 40 to 80 phone calls to reschedule the meeting, or they will travel all the way to Buvuma only to find out we are not there. Over and over again through the afternoon, we lamented:  if only we had more notice of this, we could probably adjust, but late Saturday afternoon, the day before? Easy for us to cancel the meeting, but not so easy for all of our students to find out before Monday.  2) There is a serious cultural “face” issue here. These hardy islanders travel many miles in sometimes leaky wooden motorboats loaded beyond safe capacity, even in the dark of night, to attend our trainings. We have witnessed this. So here is our witness:  these musungu missionaries, who follow Jesus by faith, they say, canceled the meeting just because the ferry was out of service, when we have traveled so far to get here for their training without ever once using the ferry? Uh-h—h….

Alternative 2 – Strip down our luggage to something we could carry by hand, put our generator, whiteboard, all non-essential items into storage here, and take a boat to the island with only enough items to do the training and get through the week. Alfred is out, anyway, because his wife Julie is due to give birth last week and is still bravely holding on. So we have hired a back-up driver who is now traveling in to meet us in Bugembe.

Main drawbacks: 1) No car on the island with no driver. We tried to explore this several times through the afternoon, but there were no cars for rent  – cars with drivers to taxi us, yes, but cars to rent and keep for the week, no. So basically, this option puts us on Buvuma without wheels, just the tender leather on the bottoms of our feet.  We would have to cancel our driver, and send him back home. 2) We would have to rent a generator there, and we have not had great luck with rented equipment on Buvuma previously. 3) We have never ridden the boats out to the island before and have always taken the ferry with our vehicle. We have been warned away by several, suggesting that the boats are not “optimum” (my word) for musungus. One time, we were on Buvuma when the ferry went down for repairs, and we had to make an unexpected run back to the mainland. We were actually bravely striding across the field toward the water’s edge at the boat landing to take a motorboat when the Chief of Police for the islands, who happens to have his office right there on the other side of the road, came running out to us, saying surely, we could not be planning to take a motorboat to the mainland. He insisted that we wait while he calls the ferry office to see if the ferry was back in service yet. Fortunately, it had a just been released and was arriving at the ferry dock in an hour. Considering his attitude toward us taking the motorboat option, we felt like we’d dodged a bullet. Now we are facing the same firing squad again.

Oh what to do? 3:30 looms. It’s time to go quiet before the Lord and see what He has to say. Here’s the thing, though. All three of us, even Alfred, a Ugandan himself and who is not even going to the island this time, do not think we should take the boat to the island option. But we’ll pray about it.

Thirty minutes later, journals in hand, Bibles open, we meet back up to compare notes. We have all heard separately and convincingly that this is His mission, and we should persevere and take the boat.

Having heard the Voice, we then spent a grueling, equatorial heat-sweaty hour-and-a-half unpacking and repacking everything down to one suitcase and two backpacks worth of “stuff” for the week, then loading all the rest into the vehicle and taking it to storage.

As we say, the rest will be history….We’re off the grid on the island until next Saturday, when hopefully ferry service will be restored and we will get picked up and driven back to Jinja. I’ll tell you the rest of the adventure then.

Advertisements