Category: Uganda 2015


Is that Your Pig or Mine?

Is that your pig or mine? This is a question which never seems to be asked in Uganda. Animals are everywhere and no one seems to be watching them – operative term, seems. With a widespread distrust of police, where the victim of the crime might just as well fall under suspicion as the actual criminal, Ugandan culture seems to step in to solve the problem of theft. (Note: I refer to daylight theft only. When the lights go out, the rules change and would require a separate article. I acknowledge that these comments are seminal observations, and that research would have to be done to further develop this topic for accuracy.)

This is most obviously manifested in the way livestock is handled. There is livestock everywhere in Uganda. I see chickens in the stores and homes, domestic turkeys everywhere, ducks waddling in the lanes, cows wandering here and there, goats and sheep tied along the side of the road to graze all day or wandering along the roads trailing the broken tethers which they have chewed through, half a dozen goats asleep in the road itself, and pigs ranging their snuffling ways through the forests, pastures and yards.

Piglet snuffling by the trail.

Piglet snuffling by the trail.

I have asked different Ugandans repeatedly why these various animals are just let loose to roam everywhere, why they are not secured in a yard or pen, or why they are not stolen from the side of the road. A chicken is not worth a lot to the average Ugandan, but a pig is worth a great deal, a cow a virtual fortune. Yet there they all are, wandering free, untended by unconcerned owners everywhere from the city residential areas (and sometimes even the stores) to the rural villages.

The common answer is that everyone knows whose pig that is, or, everyone knows who owns that chicken or cow. Really? I don’t know. The Ugandan making this statement isn’t from that village, and surely he doesn’t know. We are just two of the many strangers traveling this road at that very moment, the roads being always crowded with people of all ages and stripes going both directions. So really? Everyone knows who owns that isolated young goat tied to that bush right at the edge of the road? The reasoning seems to be that since everyone knows whose pigs those are, no one will steal them. But they are unbranded and unmarked for ownership in any way.

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My favorite “cow picture” from Uganda.

I think something else is going on. Ugandans live in community rather than as individuals like in the West. I have observed that everyone in the community has developed the innate ability to watch everything in their own community as if it is community property. This does not take the amount of effort it would take in the West. For me to accomplish such a thing in my own neighborhood in Texas, I would have to leave whatever I was doing in my home or yard, surreptitiously peek out from the side of my window or doorway, and watch some suspicious character literally “from the shadows.” This wouldn’t be the case in Uganda. There each member of the community seems to have developed an instinctive “stranger-danger” sense that goes off like radar, allowing them to go effortlessly about their business with one eye subconsciously peeled for any sign of trouble.

A lone sheep tied along the road to graze.

A lone sheep tied along the road to graze.

So, my feeling is that if anyone tried to scoop up someone else’s livestock and walk away with it, they would be quickly confronted, not by one courageous hero as in the U.S., but by many angry citizens emerging from every direction from the houses and fields around, and that very quickly a mob would form like a swarm of bees whose nest has been kicked, and the would-be thief would then be beaten or even killed.

This community mob mentality substitutes for the lack of police presence in a society where the police seem to sit by the road in one place waiting until after a crime is committed and officially reported before they will even move, and where the concept of “crime prevention” is not even known except in the passive sense of barred windows. I have witnessed the mob in action twice in Uganda. The first was in the middle of a crowded public thoroughfare at a bus stop – a boda boda man (motorcycle taxi driver) had apparently cheated a Ugandan woman in her taxi fare, and she shrieked some mysterious phrase at which the crowd at the bus was instantly galvanized. I watched the offender suddenly turn and run for his life with a crowd of no less than fifty men and women chasing after him. He was caught and beaten right there by the side of the road.

A turkey walking freely on the sidewalk in the city of Jinja.

A turkey walking freely on the sidewalk in the city of Jinja.

The second time I saw mob justice was with a drunk man who was causing a violent disruption in a restaurant in the main village on Buvuma island. Within seconds, the merchants from the surrounding stores had grabbed the man and dragged him out to the street where they beat him. I noticed that they did not mean to hurt him, but to make a point to him – they beat him only with the flats of their fists. Then one of the men caned him with a flimsy stick, capable of making more noise than damage. He then forced the drunk man to carry bricks from one pile to another as a penalty for his behavior. The drunk man was uninjured but humbled.

I had a discussion with some Ugandans just a few weeks ago about some men who had killed an eighteen year old boy in an argument over some fish he had caught. Not only were they not arrested and tried, but the reason was that the father of the boy went to the police and begged for their release since they were relatives! In trying to make any sense of this, I asked how many people these criminals would have to kill before the police would step in and punish them. The answer was that if they killed again, the mob would kill the offenders before the police were called.

So, at a primitive outsider’s level, I begin to understand why the pigs and the goats wander free and are perfectly safe from thievery during daylight hours. They apparently know their way home at night and return to their proper places each evening, or if tied, they are collected by their owners and secured. When the community is watching, the community protects them. “Neighborhood Watch” is not a concept that needs to be taught in Uganda, at least during the day.

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God’s Sense of Humor

Yesterday was Sunday. Normally, I am invited to speak at one of the churches where I will teach a church-planting course the following week. However, for one reason or another, that did not happen this time in Mbale, so we were left to ourselves to find a church for worship. We needed the rest anyway. So during breakfast Alfred called a friend who had moved to Mbale to ask for a recommendation for a church to visit.

His friend was on a business trip at that moment and was traveling to Nairobi in Kenya. But he did recommend his church and said he would call someone at the church to expect us. This person called Alfred and they made arrangements to meet up so we could find the church.

After much trial and error, phone-calling back and forth, and bumping along nearly washed-out dirt roads through the back sides of neighborhoods, we finally did arrive at a church. We were welcomed enthusiastically and were put in chairs right in the front row, while everyone else sat on benches, and all this during the pastor’s sermon. This seemed odd to me since we had been given a time to arrive and were fairly on time, but one can’t really predict a Ugandan church’s order of service, and they generally run much longer than American churches.

This proved to be the case because after the sermon, there was a season of choir, praise and worship, and giving, after which the bishop gave another sermon. Typically the leaders sit to the side at the front, and there was an austere looking older man along with an equally austere looking woman and a somewhat cheerful-looking older woman seated there. I took these people to be the bishop and two elders. I thought to myself that women elders in Uganda were unusual, but this reflected the changing attitude of the Ugandan church toward women which tends to be in flux these days.

Gail sits with Pastor Joy waiting for the baptistery to be free.

Gail sits with Pastor Joy waiting for the baptistery to be free.

We were asked to introduce ourselves, and so we explained who we were, what we were doing in Uganda and how we had come to their church this morning. After that the bishop was invited to speak the second sermon of the morning. She arose and came to the pulpit. It was the cheerful-looking woman who was the bishop! I continue to adjust my inner chauvinist in my work in Uganda. It was natural to assume the man was the bishop, but this is just good old conditioning. I had not met a female bishop before, so I was surprised. I was happy to see it, though chagrined to catch myself as just another hung-up American. I have been aware for many years of Paul’s revolutionary statement in Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The bishop, Pastor Joy, then announced the most amazing thing. She had been approached by Pastor Enoch from one of her churches about the possibility of holding a church-planting seminar in their building with a musungu from America. She had not been able to host it because of scheduling, but she was aware that this training was going on among the churches that she oversees this week. She was just now putting together that we were the very ones.

Pastor Joy asks me to "bless the water" before the baptisms commence,

Pastor Joy asks me to “bless the water” before the baptisms commence,

Imagine our surprise to attend a very random church for worship on Sunday, only to discover that, among all the churches we could have chosen in this large city of Mbale, we have arrived at the sister church under the same overseer as our host for tomorrow’s conference, Pastor Enoch, who is a good friend of mine. And that this overseer was expecting us in her area though she herself had never met us.

The humor of this “coincidence” was underlined further by Pastor Joy’s sermon. Alfred and I laughed continually through her message and looked at each other repeatedly in astonishment as she preached to me my own teaching during a part of the CP seminar and frequently even used the same words! We are apparently kindred spirits and share a similar theological perspective on the church. This also was further emphasized when she unexpectedly asked Gail, my wife, to come up to the podium and speak the blessing prayer over the people at the end of her sermon.

The new believers are baptized in the borrowed baptistery of a sister church.

The new believers are baptized in the borrowed baptistery of a sister church.

Afterward, they invited us to attend a baptism service, hosted by a neighboring church with a baptistery, where thirty new believers of varying ages were baptized. I have not witnessed a baptism before in Uganda because none of the churches can afford baptisteries, so transporting everyone to a water source large enough to baptize becomes arduous and expensive.

Our brief church visit for worship had turned into a day of celebration with the Body of Christ. Not only did I sense His smile behind all of this, but I think I even heard his laughter.

Signs and Wonders in Uganda

Here is an interesting personal testimony from an overseer in Uganda with whom I worked last week. These kinds of things seem strange to Americans, but they are actually quite common here. I have learned to ask how people first met Christ when I start working with them because almost everyone here has a unique and fascinating perspective and experience with Him.

This man was formerly the assistant to a certain high placed official. He had a good job, and was rising in his culture. Then, for some unexplained reason, he began to develop a strange physical ailment – a hole spontaneously formed in his scalp and enlarged and enlarged over a short period of time until it was about 1.5 to 2 inches across. This hole was through the skin and the bone so that his brain tissue was actually exposed and visible.

He felt weak and generally could not work. His employer had great sympathy for him because he was a valued employee. He sent him to every specialist they could find in Uganda for treatment. However, most said that they could not see how he was walking around, and that they had never seen anything like it. Their prognosis for him was dire, and, of course, terminal within a short time.

As his quality of life deteriorated, he pursued any option that was presented to him. He wore a special hat that covered the opening and protected it somewhat. Nothing he found could help, and no one knew how to treat this strange ailment.

Finally, he was drawn to a certain place in the city of Tororo where there is a church and a mission training school in a compound. He was not a believer, and had never been much around evangelical Christians (“born-agains” in Uganda). He didn’t really have business there and wasn’t sure why he was there at all, but he became curious as he wandered into the compound and heard the church service being conducted. He approached the door of the building, and as he stepped through the door he became aware that his hat was gone from his head. He stopped to look back for it, but he could not find it anywhere. Then he entered the building and stood with the other people who were standing and singing.

He told me that almost immediately he reached up and touched his skull. The hole was gone. He felt nothing but smooth skin in its place. He couldn’t believe it, and when the others sat down, he remained standing. The people came to him and prayed with him. He quickly responded to the good news they told him about God’s love through Jesus Christ. That moment he became a believer.

When the people emptied out after the service, he was afraid to leave, thinking his healing would leave if he left that place. So he stayed there in his seat for a long time, pondering the meaning of what had just happened to him and thinking about his life. Much later, he realized he couldn’t live in this church building for the rest of his life and so he timidly exited the building. Of course, he had been healed by the Great Physician, and so the only thing he was missing when he stepped outside was his hat, which he never found.

What can you say to such a report? I heard it from the mouth of the man himself. He said he still has all the papers predicting his doom from the various physicians and examinations he endured. Now he preaches this same good news that he heard in the church to others and plants churches. He is not afraid to ask for big things from God, and, according to the reports, unusual wonders follow him in his ministry (https://meadeinternational.org/2014/11/08/church-planting-in-africa/).

Not the least of these wonders was the thick pile of papers he showed me, each one with the picture and vital information of an orphan that he provides schooling for through his brick-making business. He makes one massive brick production a year out behind his house, sells his bricks, and pays all their school fees and expenses, as well as the costs for his own large family. The rest of the time, he seeks more orphans to help, preaches the gospel, and oversees the churches he has planted.

I think the phrase to best describe this is, “The kingdom of God has come near you.” I suspect that when he crosses over and sees Jesus as He really is, one of the first things Jesus will say to him will be, “Look, here’s your hat. I’ve been keeping it for you.”

Lifting Them Up

It’s the custom here in Uganda that when a person performs well in church, they are rewarded by the people coming forward one by one with a small bit of money. So if the youth choir sings a song, a woman will rise and approach them, pressing a coin into one of their hands. If a sermon is particularly stirring or funny, someone may approach and press a thousand shilling note (currently about thirty cents) into the speaker’s hand. Good singers may have up to five people giving them small amounts. This is a way of saying, “Weybaley!” (“Well done”), or “Jeybaley” (“You have done a good job”). It is giving honor and encouragement to the person on the stage.

I was teaching church-planting at a place called Kaliro. The people seemed exceptionally sharp and were asking good questions, giving accurate and thoughtful answers. I was talking about the Hindu practice of wearing a colored dot of paint on their forehead and was explaining that the different colors represented different gods that they worshiped, and that they have many, many gods in India. A man raised his hand with a question and asked me, “Does the wearing of make-up by our women, coloring their lips and eyes and such and wearing earrings and other jewelry then indicate that they are worshiping false gods?”

Now this was not an example of the smart questions they had been asking. Even his somewhat smug “A-ha, I’ve finally got you!” expression toward the women around him told me that this pastor was asking his question with a clear agenda. He was not asking for information but rather making a point to all the women present, as if he had been warning them for years about the evils of make-up, and now finally, he had a musungu from the west to back him up.

I try not to fall into these little traps when they occur. This question pointed to the age-old struggle of women everywhere to rise to some measure of equality and respect in their cultures. Africa is no different in this respect that many other third world areas – the men are large and in charge and they intend to keep it that way. In the villages everywhere I go, the women still kneel in greeting to pastors, fathers, leaders, and well, me, to admit it uncomfortably. In fairness, they also will kneel to honor their mothers, though this is more rare.

Uganda though is making a great effort in this regard, requiring female members of parliament from every district, posting public awareness campaigns about educating girls as well as boys (“Educate the Girl Child”), and I see the beginnings of an organized effort to stop domestic abuse in the rise of various women’s rights and women’s ministry organizations.

I briefly spoke to the biblical passage in 1 Peter 3 that he was referencing. I talked about spirituality and not being overly caught up in outward adornment, but to concentrate on developing spiritual qualities. But then, I said that I was sure the make-up he was referring to did not worship false gods, at which he was visibly deflated. I said in most cultures the men and women attempt to make themselves attractive for the opposite sex so that they can attract a mate. I noted how young men and women will choose certain clothes and even haircuts that will make them attractive, and how even in the animal world, the males of many species are especially garish with bright feathers, eye-catching colors, etc. I said I thought the make-up was more about sex than it was about worship, and that even the muslim women, who are supposed to be modest, make sure that their face and head coverings are bright, many-colored, and often arrayed with shiny beads or spangles that glint in the sun. They don’t do this for worship, but for sexual attraction, for beauty. I complimented the women on their beauty, their wonderfully creative hairdos that are popular in Africa, and their pretty clothing. And I encouraged them to be beautiful also for the Lord by strengthening their spirits toward Him, for He is the true Husband. I said it is a matter of what you concentrate on in your life.

Now at first when a musungu talks frankly about sex and romance, Ugandans are surprised and their eyes get big. But then they laugh, just like in the U.S. I talked about how we want to make ourselves attractive for our spouses or our fiances, or prospective suiters, and so we use these things to accent our good qualities. I was not particularly favoring make-up in my explanation, but merely pointing out its purpose.

Now something happened that has not ever happened to me before. As I talked, women began to come forward and place small amounts of money on the table in front of me where my Bible and teaching notebook rested. I was at first surprised, but then realized the significance of their actions. I began to laugh and they laughed with me, even most of the men. I finally pointed to my small pile of cash and quipped that perhaps if I kept talking on this subject, I would be able to purchase enough petrol (gas) to drive back to Jinja after the conference. Now everyone was laughing.

I laughed, but it was a gripping moment for me. It tells me that women here in Uganda desperately need encouragement, and they need real men who will love them with the love of Christ. Many have been physically abused, many have even been cast away as young children just because they are not boys and have been raised as orphans. I know women here who have been stabbed by raging step-fathers who tried to kill them when they were children, knowing that they would not be punished – women who bear these spiritual and emotional scars and who even suffer physically from such injuries many years later.

Many are continually downcast, afraid to look up except to steal a glance when I am not looking directly at them. Many of them do not believe they have stature or gifts or even value. I am broken when I see such a person. I am broken when I see Christian pastors and men perpetuate these systems. I know these abusive customs are slowly changing, but I yearn for Christ to come and restore us all to what we can be, and to heal us from what we are and from what others have made us to be.

Dungu

The other day at a church-planting conference in Mayuge (Mi-yu-gee), I ran across an instrument that I’ve never seen before in Uganda. It is called a dungu. It’s a stringed instrument made from cowhide and wood, and it can be tuned like a guitar. The strings on the smaller instruments were made from fishline, and the strings for the very large one were made from tightly wound fishnet string.

When I saw these instruments, I thought immediately of David’s lyre in the Bible and about his excellent musical ability. His skill was so great that he could soothe King Saul’s demonic rages with his music. And he must have used a very similar instrument to these dungus.

I didn’t get to hear anyone play the smaller ones, but they used the huge one during their worship. It sounded like an ancient base fiddle. One boy sat at the strings and plunked them while another sat at the opposite end and beat on the hollow base with a stick as if on a drum. The effect was quite nice. Here are some pictures for you to appreciate. Perhaps you will have the same back-in-time-on-the-time-machine flashes that I did.

Here are three dungu's of varying size from tiny to medium.

Here are three dungus of varying size from tiny to medium.

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Tuners

 

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Here is the large dungu. A real work of art, sounds like a base fiddle.

Here is the large dungu. A real work of art, sounds like a base fiddle.

 

 

 

 

Tuners

 

 

 

One boy plays the dungu strings while the other thumps the back end with a stick for a deep drum beat.

One boy plays the dungu strings while the other thumps the back end with a stick for a deep drum beat.

 

 

 

 

 

Buvuma Update

NOTE: I depart for Kenya tomorrow morning. I would appreciate prayer as I break this new ground.

The Buvuma Island Ministry two weeks ago, apart from the politics, was very good. Though the attendance was a bit down because of the election the following week, we had around 88 total in attendance by the end of the week. We usually top out above 100. Of course, we experienced quite a bit of chaos in the preparation days before we arrived, losing all the money for a day and finally finding it that night – very scary – then losing my driver and the car for an entire day and being confined to the guesthouse while I should have been carrying out last minute administrative errands in Jinja. Thank you to all of you who prayed for me during that time.

Highlights from the Buvuma Island Ministry:

  • Here is the latest on the “crazy” man, Moses, from the village that we prayed for a year ago.
    • https://meadeinternational.org/2014/11/04/village-justice-meets-crazy/
    • https://meadeinternational.org/2014/11/05/village-justice-meets-crazy-part-ii/
    • You may remember that he was a permanent daily fixture in the village, but the day after we prayed for healing and a return to his right mind, he disappeared, and I haven’t seen him since. Reports from this trip indicate that he has been seen on the other side of the island in the village where his clan comes from and his father lives. He is reported to be about 70-80% returned to his right mind, has quit drinking as far as anyone can tell, and employs himself carrying water for the villagers there. So we know that within 24 hours of praying for him, he went home, apparently for the first time in years, and seems to be in a process of restoration. I will try to investigate his situation further and pray for that last 20% sometime in the near future. But anyway…PTL!
  • As we gathered for the five day Lake Victoria Bible Institute, the construction workers at a building site for a new hospital noticed the clusters of our pastors walking by frequently. They approached a group of pastors with a request. They reported that as they have dug into the base of the prominent hill that dominates the area to prepare for the hospital’s foundation, they have been repeatedly plagued by demonic activity. They said they asked the Muslims to help them, but the Muslims couldn’t do anything. So they were coming to the Christians for help.
    • They reported that they sleep in a building right at the site where they are digging. At night, they have heard voices from the darkness saying, “You are damaging our land. You must go away. You are trespassing.” Then they report that they feel “pulling” at their clothes, trying to pull them out of the building, and they have even seen some kind of manifestation they describe as a “celestial being” standing in the doorway and trying to pull them out.
    • We were told by one of the pastors that this area is historically the site of much witchcraft and demonic activity, and that in the days before the churches came to the island, there were many disappearances of people trying to cross this particular high hill. Needless to say, we sent a delegation of pastors to pray at the building site. Unfortunately, the political activity has prevented the bishop from ever following up to get the end of the story. So, maybe next trip…
    • Incidentally, while this story sounds very strange to Westerners, just yesterday on the Ugandan TV Evening News, there was a report with videos of a secondary school somewhere in Uganda where the students have been suddenly plagued by demonic attacks. This supposedly began when the head teacher consulted a witch doctor for some reason.
  • The ministry was fruitful and added some new dynamics this trip. The pastors prayed for each other’s needs at the end of each meeting, and a variety of healings took place. Notably, after being prayed for, a man whose eyes had become so bad that he was unable to read his Bible stood up and clearly read to the group several verses from the Bible; a man with a bad toothache reported the cessation of all symptoms; a serious long-term stomach issue disappeared, etc. (Luke 10:9) Again, PTL!
  • I got the husk of a g-nut they had served me with tea caught in my throat early in the week and had a hard time clearing my throat during the lesson. After that, all the g-nuts they served me with my tea were served husk-free – a lot of work for someone. What kindness and sensitivity these people have.
  • On the other hand, none of the pastor-uncles of James, the deaf boy we rescued from the island last trip, even so much as asked after him or his welfare the entire week, again underlining his desperate need of rescue.
  • An older lady came up to me after one of the trainings and asked me to pray for her. I asked her what she wanted prayer for, and she said she wanted me to pray that God would enable her to read – she had never learned, and didn’t particularly want to spend the effort to learn, but just wanted God to give her the ability. I prayed that she would want to learn from a teacher and that God would send a teacher to her – not what she was asking. But as I finished the prayer, a pastor who was sitting nearby said that he worked as a teacher and would gladly teach her to read if she would study – so prayer answered even before I finished the prayer. Don’t know if she took him up on it though. We do have to be willing to receive…
  • As I was teaching about spirituality and both the value and danger of religious ritual in their personal relationship with God, I suddenly found myself saying, “Ritual must serve you, you must not serve ritual.” The point being that ritual can lead you into intimacy with Christ, but it is not a replacement for intimacy with Christ, or a religious end in itself that never proceeds to personal relationship. I didn’t know I knew that. So God taught me something that day as well, as He often does.

All in all, a very good week.

Political Blues

Some of you are probably wondering how the trip to Buvuma Island went last week. I returned late Saturday to the mainland. I was glad to be out of the fray. Party elections concluded yesterday in Uganda, which is like our nomination system, except the candidates are determined here by popular vote in each district across Uganda. And politics here are quite different (and from another era) than what we are used to in the U.S. – very boisterous, often violent, usually contested, and sometimes terminal as one candidate or another is murdered on the sly by the other candidate. Alfred told me that about ten MP’s (Members of Parliament) died last year under “suspicious” circumstances related to poisoning. Another Ugandan told me that last year a winning candidate was actually beaten to death by a mob just after the election.

In the midst of all this national fervor, we arrived at the island on Sunday and settled in, getting ready for the training at the Lake Victoria Bible Institute as the week of training three times a year has come to be called. It sounds grand, but in truth consists of one teacher, me, and about 60-100 students from the islands. We always have a good time.

This time as I arrived, I noticed a lot of people driving up and down the dirt roads, and the guesthouse was unusually full of loud, and raucously-laughing-late-into-the-night guests. These people were “politicos,” people brought to the island to promote a particular candidate. It happens that the guesthouse on Buvuma is owned by an MP. So he typically hires all these people and sends them to the island to promote him for the election. They stay free at the guesthouse, the manager explained to us with a sour expression, and because they stay free, they tend to abuse their privileges by partying and general disorder and messiness. So we spent the week climbing over stacked equipment – audio speakers, tarps, and various gear – and sometimes pushing through milling crowds just to get in and out of the building every day.

The Christian Candidate for MP, Proscovia (orange dress), giving a speech to people at a market center. I am told, though unconfirmed, that she lost the election and must run as an independent on her own funds if she chooses to continue.

The Christian Candidate for MP, Proscovia (orange dress), giving a speech to people at a market center. I am told, though unconfirmed, that she lost the election and must run as an independent on her own funds if she chooses to continue.

In addition to all this, many pastors here get very wrapped up in the elections, campaigning for one candidate or another. Our attendance suffered because of this, and many were in and out through the week. And you could probably guess that if any group gathers anywhere during this time, they will be targeted by various candidates who want to interrupt the meeting to speak to the crowd. On one day, I noticed two distracted looking men whom I had not seen before sitting toward the back. They were not together, but both looked monumentally uninterested in the training. I thought to myself that it was strange that they would come to the training if they cared so little about it. Later, Alfred explained to me that they were not pastors but candidates hoping to speak to my group, so they just wandered in and sat down, hoping for a chance. When I did not give them such an opportunity, they finally got up and wandered out, and I didn’t see them again.

So our week was spiced up by the constant activity of campaigning and speechifying; trucks roaring up and down the roads full of men brought in from the mainland either to guard the polling places during the voting on Monday, or to masquerade as local citizens and illegally vote for the candidate who hired them, a common political trick; candidates dropping by to have a chat with the musungu who ended up asking for a contribution to their campaign, as if I, a U.S. citizen, could risk deportation by providing U.S. funds for a particular candidate in a Ugandan election, unless, of course, I gave to the winning candidate who would then use their influence in my favor; and a Christian candidate who dropped by for prayer, which was a good thing.

All in all, it was an challenging and chaotic week. I was relieved to be back on the mainland, though if you read my previous post, you know I didn’t exactly escape the effects of the elections by returning from Buvuma. To those of you who know me personally, if I ever plan a training mission during election week in Uganda again, just shoot me…

Still A Ways To Go…

It is a mistake ever to come to Uganda to do ministry during the elections. However, not having been warned of this, that is the very mistake I made this trip. Elections for the party nominations were held today. I had to cancel the meeting that we were in because of local violence, even though we were way back off the main roads, deep into the agricultural country that snugs up against the northern shore of Lake Victoria.

Every district had party elections today, and there are reports of widespread violence resulting from voting “irregularities” from across the country. In my case, I was leading a church-planting conference in a small church with about 35 people present. Suddenly, there was a commotion outside, and, right in the middle of my teaching on 1 Peter 2:9, the group jumped up and ran outside to see what was happening. I said, “Well, I guess we’ll take a five or ten minute break,” but there was only Alfred left to hear me, and even he was looking out the window.

Here is what happened. The first wave of chaos was a large crowd of people running down the road, apparently chasing someone. The road was a good fifty yards from the church, so it was possible for the church people to stand back and watch the action without becoming part of it – or so they thought. The crowd surged back and forth along this road for a bit, then seemed to break apart into small groups.

I was told that a group of youths had been hired by one of the candidates to disrupt the voting at the polling station just up the road from the church. This group had run up and grabbed the ballot box and the ballots and run away with it. Then they checked their candidate’s name on all the ballots, stuffed the box with false votes, and boldly returned the box. At this point, the crowd had started to chase them, and that was what we were seeing.

About fifteen minutes after all this had settled down, there was another commotion down the road, and the group at the church ran up to the road to see what was happening. Suddenly they turned in terror and came streaming back to the church, pushing into the building like a panicked mob. At first, I couldn’t see what the problem was from inside the building, but then I saw three large young men carrying sticks – I would describe them as young toughs – running behind the church crowd, obviously chasing them. They charged right up to the church door and would have burst into the building, except that I stepped into the doorway and made eye-contact.

The men stopped, shocked to meet a musungu face-to-face in such a situation and so far from the city. I informed them that this was a church, and that they would not be allowed to enter in the name of Jesus Christ. Now I know what you’re thinking…but I am not quite as crazy as I seem though I guess I don’t really expect you to believe that. The law here in Uganda carries very heavy penalties for harming a musungu in any way – this has to do with foreign trade and all the economic and social benefits musungus bring to Uganda. Violence against a musungu is a line the people simply don’t cross. Besides my confidence in their cultural respect toward musungus, there were many children who had crowded into the building, and, I have to admit, I just could not allow harm to come to these children. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

As I look back on it, when I confronted them, the men were stunned out of their intentions, and their “attack” lost all its momentum. The men backed up, waved their sticks and shouted some angry Lusoga, more at the crowd than at me, and, in fact, they refused to look at me. Then the pastors in the group emerged and began to argue with them and rebuke them for attacking a church. The angry young men were chasing the youths who had stolen the ballot box and who had run into the nearest large crowd to escape. When our crowd turned in panic and ran toward the church building, it drew these vigilantes like a magnet to the retreating crowd. The guilty boys used this opportunity to slip away leaving the crowd of church people to absorb their blame.

I ended the meeting at that point and advised the people to return to their homes, and that being gathered in any kind of a crowd right then in that environment was just not safe. And Alfred tells me that he would expect the chaos to increase as the election draws to a close at the end of today. So we wended our way back the two hours to Bugembe where I am staying. Tomorrow after things have settled down, I will return and finish the conference.

This is politics in Uganda – not what we Americans are used to, full of violence and sadly, much corruption. I’m wondering how the national elections will go in the Spring of 2016 if this is how the party-nomination elections are handled. I now have a whole new appreciation for the process of debates and the organized and peaceful balloting process we have achieved in the U.S.

I have been told that Uganda has never had a peaceful transition of power at the presidential level. Pray for this emerging democracy. They still have a ways to go…