Category: Uganda 2016


Gail and I keep saying that we are just small people serving God in Uganda, following Him as He leads. Apparently he has plans He has not yet revealed to us – big surprise! This eight weeks in Uganda has produced a series of faith leaps that leave our heads spinning. On the one hand, we ask if we are up to the task set before us. On the other hand, we ask if we have been prepared all our lives for such a time as this.

Just yesterday we completed our last meeting with our team here in Jinja before heading back home. At the end of the meeting several things were clear to us as a result of this trip:

1) In these eight weeks, we have broken into three new regions that call out to us for ministry – Bugala Island and the islands of western Lake Victoria south to the Tanzanian border, Masaka and the eight surrounding districts of southwestern Uganda, and Soroti in the northeast, which offers a gateway to all of northeastern Uganda;

2) There are several more areas of Uganda that are also calling to our team, and we have not yet had time to begin work there in the west, the northwest, and the central regions – but our team is urging us to include them in the near future, and there are even pastors from those regions who have traveled to be in our trainings who are calling for us to come there to give the ministry to their leaders;

3) Our next trip will include a change of program – we will spend a good deal of time visiting and surveying our previous work, verifying and recording actual church-plants that have resulted from the ministry to date, and evaluating how many there are, assessing where we have been most effective and why, and what further development and training each of these new church plants requires;

4) In the future of our ministry here, there will be a shift from two day church-planting conferences to three and five day Bible Institutes centered in each region that target Bible training for about 100 leaders at a time and centered around church-planting and development;

5) I have been surprised by a request from one denomination in the Eastern Lake Victoria region to consult with the denominational leaders on the development of a practical and biblical denominational manual for church development – they used the term “order document,” and I was immediately taken back in time to the several “order documents” I have helped to develop over the years of ministry in the U.S. (has God been training me for this? He seems to be saying, “Yes, Yes, and Amen,” and so I have agreed to pray about this possibility, and I may again need the help of former comrades in arms Charles Flemming and Sunny Lowe);

6) And finally, Gail is being forced by the unexpected fruit of her ministry to women to reevaluate what the Lord is doing with her part of this ministry (and again, I say, “Amen, and amen).

All of this is beyond our ability to comprehend at the moment. We return home on Tuesday, Nov. 8th. We leave with one U.S. president sitting in our own country, we are in the air for most of the U.S. election day, and we arrive on Nov. 9th with a different freshly elected leader. It is surreal for both of us. But to be honest, all of our own nation’s angst is overshadowed in our hearts by this ever-broadening call from God which we have to navigate carefully and prayerfully, hoping only to see the outpouring of His purpose through us.

Verse for the day, for us personally, for our Ugandan brothers and sisters, and for all Americans as we face this election day together:

2 Thessalonians 3:16: “Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all.”

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The Bishop Who Served The Food

One of the leaders in Uganda that God has put me with to organize my ministry is a bishop of a number of churches that he has planted over a period of many years. He has been a very good gift to our ministry. Gail and I both like this endearing man very much and recognize that the Holy Spirit put us together.

His oversight of so many churches makes him a “bishop” in their way of organizing things, or an “overseer,” as some would call him. This man is a humble servant, and he is so entirely Ugandan/African that I have learned much from him about how Africans think and how their culture works.

Clergy Food - A delicious feast for the leaders while the students eat rice and beans.

Clergy Food – A delicious feast for the leaders while the students eat rice and beans.

One of the areas where we have consistently butted heads in an entirely friendly and mutually teasing way is the matter of “clergy food.” Clergy food always appears at the lunch time during the conferences – the people get rice and beans, but the bishop and I and several of the pastors all get beans and rice and matoke (ma-tow-kee) and greens and cabbage and chicken and fish and beef. Sometimes Gail and I feel ashamed of the variety of foods we are served while all the rest of the people are getting plain rice and beans.

When I teach the church planting conferences, I teach the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. This doctrine states from scripture that all Christians are equal priests before God with direct access to Him through Christ (1 Peter 2:5, 9). The emphasis is that all Christians are equal before God, and that the New Testament does not teach classes of Christians in the church. In other words, Jesus spoke nothing about a clergy caste of leaders in the church who are above the rest of the Christians and who hold most of the privileges and all the responsibilities for ministry. Rather, the apostles spoke of churches organized under leaders who would train them to do the work of the ministry and build them up so that they could do it. Jesus said those who would be great in the Kingdom of God would be the servants of all. So we teach a clergy-free church with servant-leadership where every church member has gifts, ministries and callings, not just some special group of leaders within the church.

Gail and I often feel somewhat compromised when, right after I have spent an hour expounding this teaching to the church leaders, we sit down to lunch and are fed great and glorious piles of wonderful clergy food while all around us they are fed only rice and beans. The bishop and I have discussed this many times, each taking the opposite side of the argument and each enjoying the gentle and loving nature of the debate.

The bishop’s position is that Uganda has cultural hospitality customs that must be adhered to so that the host is required to serve special food to the guests as a way of honoring them. I have always known there was a hole in this argument, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. This time at lunch on the first day of the conference, we found ourselves sitting near the rest of the crowd with their rice and beans, and we were served delicious fried fish, greens, cabbage, etc., etc.

That first night we prayed about this, and I finally found the flaw in the bishop’s argument which I had subconsciously sensed: most of the people at the conference were also guests of this church. Very few of them were members of the host church. So if the host is required to honor the “guest” with special food, then isn’t he obligated to honor each guest in the same manner?

The next day, I asked the bishop if we could continue our discussion as we ate our lunch. At that moment he was in the act of guiding the servers as they set the clergy feast in front of us. He sat down and smiled and said, “Yes, but you will not persuade me to be un-Ugandan,” which was his dry-wit way of engaging the battle.

I responded with the insight from the previous night, “You teach me that correct hospitality is to honor the guest with special food. I acknowledge this wonderful principle and thank you for teaching me this.” I paused. Then I said, “But I have one question for you. Aren’t most of the people gathered for this conference guests of this church? Most have come from churches in other villages to receive this teaching, and they are not members of the hosting church. So shouldn’t we honor all of them who are guests equally?”

This fine man is a very serious Christian and a very serious Ugandan as well. I admire the passion of a man who will travel by boat from island to island, planting churches among people who have no access to churches because of their isolation. Here is how this very seriously committed Christian leader responded to my question. He held my eyes for a moment with a shocked look of realization dawning on his face. Then, without word or hesitation, he grabbed a bowl of fish in one hand and a bowl of greens in the other, rose from his seat and personally began serving the other people. He did this until all the clergy food was equally distributed.

It is said that actions speak louder than words. This unassuming man, whom I love dearly, has now shouted the gospel of Jesus Christ to the sky in front of me. He has shown me by his immediate silent service that his concept of hospitality has suddenly expanded to include all the believers and not just the musungus. His instant obedience to the truth, when he finally saw it, honored Gail and me more than the clergy food ever could have.

Famine

Alfred, who has driven us everywhere and translated for me in many places, gave me a perspective that is uniquely African while we were visiting his home village. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that it is uniquely third-world, a perspective that is foreign to the western point of view where plenty and abundant plenty is assumed.

We came to his village to introduce Julie, his fiancé, to his parents. His father is older, maybe in his eighties, and has been quite sick for some years, often bed-ridden. We had visited this place a year ago, and he had prayed to receive Christ during that visit – now, I was glad to see him up and walking around, though very slowly and carefully. The visit with Julie went well, and it was when we were driving away on a narrow dirt track through beautiful, tall sugar cane fields that Alfred made his remark.

The villages across Uganda historically plant small farms and raise most of their food locally, so the region is typically dotted with tiny homesteads all growing some crop that crowds right up to the house, with a small place carved out for the house to sit. This pattern is now changing. Large industrial farm corporations are buying up the land or renting it to grow cash crops that will be exported for profit. Sugar cane is the crop that surrounds Alfred’s village, and there are places where the sugar cane fields cover the land as far on both sides of the road as you can see, extending to the horizon and beyond. Tea is another large operation consuming many hundreds of acres. I have spoken in other posts about palm oil farming and how the small farmers are moved off the land so that palm trees can be planted.

His remark startled me as I was admiring the tall stalks of sugar cane now crowding in from all sides of the village where his parents live. He said that he is concerned about famine in his village. I turned from my fascination with the sugar cane crop and asked him what he meant. He explained to me that if all the land is used for cash crops like cane, the people will not have any room to grow their own food. They will have to travel to the distant city market to buy food instead of picking it from the field or buying it at a local village market.

He explained that the scarcity of local food will drive up the prices. These very poor people who have always lived literally “off the land” will not be able to afford the prices that they will find in the big town and city markets.

He said this year will be a bad one. Not only has the area of land available for private farming been greatly reduced by these large farming corporations, but there has been little rain. We are in the rainy season now, and, in truth, we have not had more than ten days of rain in the last seven weeks. These small farmers rely on the rainy season, as farmers do everywhere, to grow their crops… no, more accurately, to grow their food. This combination of less usable land and little rain are joining to create a potential famine soon in Africa.

But Alfred is worried about his own village. He has forced me to look beyond the surface of his culture to the heart. I confess, I have never worried about famine in my life – I have never thought about it inasmuch as it might touch me or my own food supply down at Krogers. It is humbling indeed to shake the hands of these generous and loving people, then get in my rented vehicle and drive away admiring the vast green fields spreading out around me, only to be suddenly dropped into reality by the very real concerns of my friend about the futures of those same people I just prayed with, not even knowing what I was really looking at.

Written by Gail:

The people of Uganda are very welcoming and friendly, even when we can’t speak more than a “hello, how are you?”  We all smile at each other and laugh after jokes are translated one way or the other. We all really do want to communicate and get to know each other.  It’s wonderful when someone has some English and off we go with a conversation.

I grip their hands together and fling them to the sky! Everyone laughs hilariously!

I grip their hands together and fling them to the sky! Everyone laughs hilariously!

The many children are always watching us. Some dare to come near, others are too afraid of our strangeness. Usually by the end of a day of teaching, they are bold enough to come around. Then we have some fun and laugh and shake hands. I can teach them some numbers, some English alphabet, I can hold all our hands together in front of us and jump as a group then fling our arms to the sky, which they love to do, and I can pass out the blue painter’s tape when Bob is finished using it to hold down his various projector and computer wires during the training – all the children are fascinated by the tape and wear it on their faces like decorations.

She studied me with an intensity worthy of Sherlock Holmes.

She studied me with an intensity worthy of Sherlock Holmes.

But I am experiencing a very big problem. And it seems there is nothing I can do about it. We had to take a ferry to Bugala Island and were told to go to the waiting area until time to board the ferry. There was a very large step up to the area and I had a little trouble negotiating it. We took our Kindles and sat on the front bench reading. I looked up from my book and saw a small girl climbing up the step. After scooting onto the platform on her hands and knees, she stood up and looked straight at me. I smiled at her and gave a small wave as I usually do with children, but she just stood there, staring at me, transfixed by this sudden confrontation with a musungu.  She stood there for a really long time, not moving at all, so I waved again and then went back to reading my book. I looked up after a few minutes and she was still there, but then she had turned around to leave. She looked back at me, I smiled and gave her a small wave, and she smiled and waved back and left.  Hmmm, I thought, not a very successful encounter, and I returned to my book.

I don't think I'm blending in very well in Uganda.

I don’t think I’m blending in very well in Uganda.

It must not have been the best book in the world because I looked up again. Now there was an even smaller boy, maybe age two, struggling to climb the step, and he was really concentrating on conquering that mountain. He finally had victory and stood proudly at the top, but then he looked up and saw me. I tried the small smile and small wave, and he burst into such a screechingly loud scream that I could hardly believe it. And he didn’t stop; he just got louder, as if someone was twisting his ear. Finally, his father rescued him and sat him where he couldn’t see me. His parents were laughing hysterically, but I was a little horrified. Then his mother decided he needed aversion therapy and brought him to sit on the bench right next to me and Bob. I thought the boy was being tortured, he was crying so hard. The mother finally moved to seats behind us, but he could still see me and didn’t like it. I felt terrible, but there was nothing I could do… finally it was time to board the ferry and I never saw the boy again. I know he was happy!

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If this was my only disastrous baby run-in I would be OK.  But not one baby in Uganda has let me come anywhere near them. Not ONE!  My grandmother-gene has withered  to a new low. The babies are so cute, and I just want to smile at them, but, no dice. Even today, a mother with a small boy and a baby came to the meeting. The small boy smiled back at me, the baby shrank away into his mother’s shoulder.  She brought him to me and gently put him on my lap. He looked at me for about 5 seconds, and the screaming began.

I can’t believe this is happening…grandkids of mine, watch out. I will be smiling and waving at you very soon. I sure hope you don’t scream and run away! You I might chase…

tomali-3

Tomali sits in the front row, the seat of honor at all the Institutes.

You may remember Tomali (Tom’-uh-lee) from previous posts. He is the forty-year old mentally challenged man from the village of Kitamiru on Buvuma Island. He is a complete innocent who greets us every time we come to lead the five day Bible Institute as if we have not been gone for the last four to six  months. He always just picks up where we left off. He likes especially to ride in the vehicle, though sometimes he is done after only about fifteen yards, and other times he rides all the way to his home down the road a ways. Often he rides the 3/4 miles to his home, then gets out and immediately walks back to the village. He rides just for the joy of the ride.

He also knows I am usually good for a chapatti and a soda. His teeth never grew in, or so I have been told, but he manages to gobble down lots of food with the rest of the crowd without a problem.

Tomali likes to sit in on the training sessions, at least for a while. We usually accord him a front row seat as a place of honor, and at times he will stand and copy the prayer style of the church leaders with strings of meaningless words that cause much amusement, and he also likes to help lead the music. After sitting in the teaching a while, he will get bored and will jump up and wave good-bye and run out, especially if it is near 3 pm which is his daily bath time. How he knows it is near 3 pm no one can figure out.

When we first met, he would string long sentences of complete gibberish together that baffled Alfred as we tried to understand what he wanted to say. Of course, I couldn’t tell it was gibberish – sounded normal to me. The last two trips have shown some remarkable shifts in Tomali’s speaking ability that are beyond my understanding. Alfred tells me he is beginning to make sense; that is, he is using actual Lusoga words and stringing sentences together. None of us can figure out how this is suddenly happening. In every other respect he remains the same guileless child he has always been.

Tomali helps with the teaching.

Tomali helps with the teaching.

One of Tomali’s favorite games is to borrow a cell phone. Then he mimics with uncanny  accuracy the phone-talking style of the different church leaders, especially the bishops, standing off to the side, talking loudly into the phone as if on some serious business. Fortunately, he has no idea how to dial a phone, and he must think that everyone else hears nothing at all on their phones just as he does.

On this trip I decided to surprise him with a cell phone of his own. I rummaged through a drawer in my desk at home and found on old Palm phone, which I took with me to Uganda and gave to Tomali at the first opportunity. He was thrilled to receive his own phone, and we were equally thrilled not to be pestered to loan him our phones for him to carry out his long conversations with. Alfred told me that, at least when on the phone, he’s still talking meaningless gibberish, but with occasional words like musungu thrown in.

To show what a fine heart Tomali has, let me tell you about an incident that happen

Tomali on the phone with Alfred, his close friend, encouraging him.

Tomali on the phone with Alfred, his close friend, encouraging him.

ed with his new phone. Tomali was sitting in the front row. I needed one of the bishops for something, and so I asked the students if someone could please find the bishops for me. No one made any move to go out and locate them. I was about to repeat my request when Tomali jumped up from his seat, pulled out his phone and dashed to the door of the building. There he stood, urgently calling the bishops on his phone, explaining in unknown tongues that the musungu needed them to come. At least this is my assumption from the timing and his urgent demeanor, and, of course, the generous sprinkling of “musungu” in among the rest of the words. When no one else made a move to help the musungu find the bishops, Tomali leapt forward to solve the problem.

And even stranger yet, one of the bishops soon walked through the door to help me.  And Tomali even managed this with a phone that had no battery.

When we visit Buvuma Island out in Lake Victoria, we stay at a certain guesthouse. We stay there because they have come to know us, and it is adequate to our needs and our budget. I, Bob, have stayed there repeatedly now over a period of three years, and Gail has visited at least once previous to this trip. Now the island is beginning to see the far edge of investment and development as large and small investors are both establishing enterprises on the island. A company called Bittico, that produces palm oil, is taking up much land to grow palm trees, and they will bring infrastructure to the island that moves them toward the 21st, or at least the 20th, century – water pumping stations, electricity, and perhaps some improvements in the ferry and the road system. Another investor is a small operation that has bought up some acreage near the ferry site to grow hibiscus, which is used for medicines, and even a quite pleasant tasting juice drink.

The other noticeable development is in the area of tourism. This has been slow to come since the infrastructure has been very low profile and the guesthouses very few. But a new guesthouse has been built and is now open on the top of a high hill that commands a wonderful view of the lake and the surrounding islands to the west. It is called Palm Resort Buvuma. They have chosen a fine location and have installed a very attractive little campus.

I became aware recently of their website – yes, they even have a website – and was quite impressed with its professional quality. I poked around through the many pictures and a few tidbits and stories about Buvuma Island for an hour one night. It was very well put together, and it gives a good representation of the site for the guesthouse, the view of the lake, and the amenities.

The view of Lake Victoria and surrounding islands from the Palm Resort Guesthouse on Buvuma Island.

The view of Lake Victoria and surrounding islands from the Palm Resort Guesthouse on Buvuma Island.

This hill where they have positioned their guesthouse is the very hill where Alfred and I would go every night while on Buvuma island so that I could get a cell phone signal strong enough to reach home in the U.S. and talk to Gail. I have never been able to get service down near the guesthouse by the lakeside where we normally stay. The building where we have usually taught the Lake Buvuma Bible Institute sits directly at the bottom of this hill. The students would come out from the classes at day’s end and stand around chatting with each other. Then, every evening, as soon as Alfred and I had the car packed up with our teaching paraphernalia, they would watch us  drive up this small rocky and winding road to the top of the high hill behind the building. They found out in time, of course, why we were going up there. Then one day I discovered that they had renamed the hill – they were calling it “Bob and Gail Hill,” and this is the name by which our Institute students identify this prominent landmark now. What a blessing! I think we should get a plaque installed. The site of the Palm Resort Guesthouse is only a stone’s throw from the exact place where I stood each evening to call home to Gail.

Also, as the Palm Resort opens for customers, there is another new guesthouse being built down at the lakeside at Kitamiru, the main village of the island. This area is one of the traditional landing sites for the fishing boats of the island, and has undoubtedly been in use for centuries, but the view will never equal that of the Palm Resort. Things are beginning to change on this island, and no one is sure how it will affect the lives of the locals.

All in all, the introduction of these guesthouses, and especially the Palm Resort, which sits in such a lovely setting, will draw tourists, who will in turn draw business, which will in turn improve the lives of the population and raise the standard of living. We are able to watch the slow process as we return every four months, and it is a rare opportunity to watch progress (we hope) advance step by step right in front of us.

I heartily recommend that you check out the Palm Resort website and its beautiful pictures and interesting articles, and get a different perspective of Buvuma Island – www.palmresortbuvuma.com.

Tower of Babel

We have had a strange and wonderful training week at Tororo in Uganda this last few days, Monday to Friday, which we are now in the middle of. Tororo is our second Bible Institute similar to what God has developed on Buvuma Island each time we come to Uganda. This five day Bible training ministry is powerful in equipping the growing Ugandan church and preparing it for the near future when Ugandan churches will learn to steward their finances successfully and, shortly after, begin sending out missionaries of their own.

to-inst-2

The very fine church building at Asignet near Tororo. This building was built by South Korean Christians doing missionary work in Uganda. It is one of the finest buildings we have been able to use for a training.

Last week was topped off after two church-planting meetings, one on the island of Bugala in Western Uganda, and one in Masaka, a nearby city, by requests from both locations for the Bible Institute ministry. The second request was punctuated by a meeting with a number of area bishops formally making the request to bring this ministry to their area churches. That would mean that I would continue to do church-planting trainings, but that I would also teach multiple five day Bible Institutes. My head is spinning. This doesn’t even include the request from Bugembe for the same thing.

The Institute this week in Tororo became more exciting than usual when we realized that we had three distinct language groups in the room, rather than the normal English plus local dialect. We discovered that we had those who could follow the English, those who spoke only Japadola, the language from this district, and another group that struggled in each of those so needed a translation into Luganda, the language we are used to in Jinja and which is regarded as the national language.

The Tororo Bible Institute on the second day.

The Tororo Bible Institute on the second day. It’s a bit hard to see, but there are two translators assisting me.

In trying to resolve this, we had Alfred translating in Luganda on one side, a large middle group listening to my English, and a group on the other side receiving simultaneous translation in Japadola. All through this process, I was thinking that finally I understood what the story of the Tower of Babel is about when the languages were suddenly confused, and everyone found themselves speaking a different language. I got a tiny little taste of the confusion spoken about in that story.

This is actually not that unusual – I’ve heard before of missionaries working with multiple translators simultaneously. However, this is the first time I’ve experienced it.

Meanwhile, the attendance has climbed to a high today of 105 church members and leaders at the Institute. The translators and I are all a little hoarse from talking above the babble. I hope to have the rhythm of it by the end of the week.

We are teaching on marriage this week, and I am told to expect more and more couples to show up as the week goes on because the word is spreading by word of mouth about the principles Gail and I are giving them. Marriage is under attack in Uganda just like in the US, so these principles of strengthening their marriages are extremely timely and valuable to them:

  1. Christians Have Christian Marriages.
  2. Marriage is A Covenant.
  3. Marriage Has A Spiritual Purpose.
  4. Marriage Practices The Blessing.
  5. Marriage is based on God’s Love.
  6. Sexuality Has A Spiritual Purpose.
  7. Family Has A Spiritual Purpose.
  8. Marriage Requires A Spiritual Relationship with Each Other.
  9. A Husband is A Spiritual Man.
  10.  A Wife is A Spiritual Woman.

We’re covering Sexuality tomorrow. Pray for us. PLEASE!!

Threads – Can You See Them?

Posted by Gail Meade:

Looking at Psalm 139, I was studying and trying to decide what to teach in the women’s meetings while I am in Uganda this Fall. I read and reread the entire Psalm.  Verse 13 really resonated, but in a way that I have never noticed before:  “…You did weave me in my mother’s womb.” WEAVE. I am not a seamstress or a cloth-maker. Weaving involves taking many separate threads and combining them to make cloth. Each thread is unique; many are the same color; some have variations of that color. The many kinds of cloth produced is amazing. How does that pertain to ME?

God began toimg_2506 give me a picture so I could understand what He was saying to me. Here is what I saw. God takes threads from all the family who have gone before me and uses those to create the cloth of Gail. Maybe He took a blue and a green thread from my mother and a green and a yellow thread from my dad; maybe orange and brown from Mom’s parents and purple and black from Dad’s; a few from his grandparents, a few from her grandparents. It goes back many generations. We are all related. All of the threads are unique and the combinations are endless. Just as there are millions of kinds of cloth, so are people unique and different in so many ways. We can look at photos and say, “Look, there are eyes like mine, there is where my ears came from, but where did I get my nose?” I can trace my hair color, my height, my build across the generations.

Yet God saw me beforehand as He wove together all those threads. He knew me before I was born and knows me still. I see my heritage in my brother and sister, but we are all three different. The threads are woven in different manners and we are seen, each of us, for ourselves. It is a wonder!gidnharp2015

In fact, that is what the next verse says. “We are fearfully and wonderfully made.” As I look at my children, I see many characteristics from me and from Bob. I can also notice traits from our parents, all combined in different ways to make Kristyn as unique as Evan, but both from the same line: great-grandparents’, grandparents’ and parents’ threads all woven in beautiful ways.

Then I picture the seven grand-kids:  a whole new set of in-law ancestors combining to make such great young people. I hopefully waited through seven grand-kids for God to weave my curly hair thread so that it could show up  in Harper. I am thrilled, just as I am thrilled at any of the other “Gail” or “Bob” threads I see in that generation. It is a wonder and a marvel. Threads multiplied, magnified, muted, wondrous.