Category: Uganda 2020


Email from US Embassy in Kampala, Uganda.

Health Alert: Update on Qatar Airways Flight – 5:56 AM (6 hours ago) Tuesday


Health Alert
 – U.S. Embassy Kampala (March 24, 2020)

Location:  Uganda

Event:  There are nine confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in Uganda. (Bob’s emphasis – there was 1 on Sunday.)

The Government of Uganda has announced the closure of Entebbe International Airport effective at 12:00 a.m. March 23, as well as the closure of all land borders.  No individual will be allowed to enter or depart Uganda by air, land, or water except for specific cargo vehicles which must follow strict Ministry of Health procedures.

The U.S. Embassy in Kampala has confirmed availability of seats on a commercial flight with Qatar Airways from Entebbe to Doha, Qatar on Wednesday, March 25 with an estimated departure time of 3:00 p.m.  Please contact Qatar Airways at their Uganda call center at +256 417 800 900 or at +256 417 800 903 to express interest in this flight. At this time, the call center is collecting information on those interested in the flight.  Once the flight is confirmed, Qatar Airways will contact those individuals and the flight will be posted to their website.  Once the flight is posted on the website, travelers may also book the flight online, along with onward flights from Doha.  If the call center at Qatar Airways says they are not accepting inquiries, ask to speak with a manager.

This is not a U.S. government operated or funded flight.  Availability and cancellations are controlled by Qatar Airways.  Currently, this is the only remaining way to exit Uganda following the airport closure.  The U.S. government is not evacuating U.S. citizens from Uganda.  While there is a chance an additional flight may be added depending on demand, at this time this is the only flight available.  If you need to leave Uganda, consider contacting Qatar Airways as soon as possible about this flight.

The U.S. Embassy in Uganda is making this flight information available to potentially interested U.S. citizens and is liaising with the Ugandan government to allow the plane to land at and depart from Entebbe International Airport.

The Department of State has issued a Global Level 4 Health Advisory for COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 2 Global COVID-19 Outbreak Notice.

Actions to Take:

PLEASE PRAY FOR THESE MANY PEOPLE AS WELL AS THE UGANDAN NATION, THAT GOD WILL RESTRAIN THE VIRUS.

We Made it to Dubai

We made it to Dubai. It is 11:30 pm here and our flight is at 2:30 am, but fortunately, it’s directly into DFW. This is the last checkpoint. All our carry-on bags made it through. The only remaining choke point is the thermal scan as we go through the departure gate to enter the plane. It is designed to pick out anyone with a fever. They’re only scanning US flights, I read somewhere. So once we get our selves plopped down and strapped into the seats on the plane, we are home free –or  16 hours later, at least.

We left a ton of people standing without seats in Entebbe. I still marvel that we were able to get seats. The agent who checked us in told us that they overbooked all the flights, so, of course, they were not only swamped, but they were swamped with people who had no seats and no options after midnight. I’m not sure what they’re thinking when they purposely overbook though the airlines probably weren’t expecting the government to close the airport. We literally walked through the crowd of waiting westerners to the ticket booth. Some were arguing with the airline staff loudly and belligerently – I think a flight got cancelled. There were many cancelled flights listed on the departures and arrivals board, leaving more people stranded.

The embassy in Kampala, whom I notified of our situation, sent a mass email that says they have made a deal with the government of Uganda and with Qatar Airlines to run one or two special flights into the airport on Wednesday, March 25. Of course, it will arrive empty since no one is allowed in by air, land or water. The passengers will be required to pay for tickets and be taken to Doha in Qatar where they will then have to purchase other tickets home to the US. In the meantime, they get to travel around even more in Virus Land. We spoke to some who cannot get a ticket into their own city, so they are looking for any US city, and then they’ll rent a car and drive home. That so could have been us!

Again, I can’t believe we are sitting in Dubai waiting to board a plane right into DFW, only 30 minutes from our home. This is due only to the very God Whom we are trying to make famous in Uganda! And our grateful appreciation goes out to so many of you who have had conversations with Him on our behalf during this last week.

Breaking news…We just got rounded up and walked around the airport through the Galleria-style mall that is their amazing concourse. About 250 people were lined up and ordered to walk single file past what apparently was a thermal imager – a uniformed person sitting behind a small camera-like device on a tripod. It felt like those WWII movies where the prisoners are being marched along, and some are singled out for “special treatment.” Someone close behind me was separated out and dragged off screaming down a side corridor by huge, burly guards and we’ll never see them again – I might be exaggerating a bit, but hey, I’m playing at journalism here. But I’m not so much kidding…I was actually scared…very weird experience: “Will they pick me, please don’t let them pick me….”

Now we’re back at the gate waiting for our flight which is apparently boarding in about ten minutes.

We’re getting close to being able to relax….Oh, let me post this, boarding now.

This is now becoming a bit of an adventure. We are at the Entebbe Int’l Airport waiting for our flight some 5 hours from now. When we booked this flight for Sunday, we were disappointed that it was so soon because we had so much to pack and sort and put into storage, which is usually a two day binge of hard work. With this flight we only had one day, Saturday. But the Wednesday flight we were seeking, which had originally been offered by our agent was now gone, so, finally, we took what was offered and “bit the bullet.” Saturday was a long hard day.

So  to recap, we were in the right place,  our staging and storage area Bugembe near Jinja. After cancelling the meeting we were half way through in another location, we briefly stopped  to see James and the other children, and then retreated back to Begembe, arriving early evening Friday. Late in the night, our agent rescued us from the doldrums of not having any flight during the next week by finding this flight on Emirates Airlines for Sunday afternoon. Saturday night, we were good and exhausted, and even went  to bed a little early.

Then about 11pm or so, I received a phone call from a pastor friend in one of the churches we had cancelled earlier in the week. He told me that the nightly news had just informed him that President Museveni had increased the measures against the Corona Virus by ordering all the borders closed, including the airport as of midnight Sunday. I could not believe it. We slipped in under the wire by 7 hours. If we hadn’t gotten that ticket for today, but had successfully gotten the ticket for Wednesday that we wanted, we would be stranded here for at least the next 32 days or more (again, I have no idea why he keeps setting 32 days as the restriction).

God has gone ahead of us once again to clear the way and provide, and we would have purposely chosen a different option! (“Now to Him Who is able to keep us from stumbling….”)

Additionally, this morning, though we had scheduled Alfred to come for us at 8am, I sat bolt upright at 5am. I just knew we had to leave immediately. I called him and we left for the airport by 6am. When we arrived, traveling over uncharacteristically empty roads (early Sunday morning, I think, and we have never, never made this trip in 2 and a half hours before), everything seemed relatively calm. The Airport waiting area was full, strange for 8:30 am, but all in all, it was calm. I found the last two seats and looked around – a mixed crowd, heavy on the musungus (westerners). Gail wasn’t with me. I saw that she had been stopped by a tall girl who was speaking earnestly to her. It turned out they were with a group of seven  young Spaniards who had no tickets out before the closure, so they we waiting for the offices to open in the hope of finding seats on some plane before midnight.

As the day has unfolded, I am understanding better and better the urgency of this morning. People are pouring into the airport, hoping to find a way out today. I can’t imagine what the roads are like by now. I’m glad we are not caught in it, but are sitting here peacefully waiting for our flight, tickets in hand. It is turning into a happy birthday today for Gail.

Please continue to pray as we pass along the choke points of this trip: We have to actually get on the plane to exit Uganda, and we have to get through whatever restrictions are being exercised in Dubai – once we’re on the plane in Dubai, we will know we’re getting home, because it is a direct flight to DFW – kind of unbelievable there also.

Homesickness

Actually that’s where our hearts are tonight, at the Entebbe Internatinal Airport. Our bodies will be there tomorrow.

The strange situation the world is in at this time with the Corona Virus brings many unusual emotions and perceptions to each of us that we have not experienced before. Gail and I have been in Uganda about four weeks, and because we still had so much work to do, we did not feel even the lightest twinge of homesickness. Homesickness usually hits about the second to last week when we know the end of the trip is approaching.

We did not feel any shift when the President here announced his immediate measures to protect the population, even though those measures shut down our program. We again did not feel any shift in our peace when we called each pastor and cancelled the meetings, telling them we would be back when all this is over. We didn’t feel the shift of emotion when we met the children at the deaf school in Mbale and spent some precious time with them, all too short (now James wants a hoodie – where did he even see a hoodie?). We still didn’t feel our hearts turning toward home when we headed for Jinja, knowing that we would most probably be coming home.

However, the very second the State Department announced that all Americans needed to return home now or potentially risk being stranded as the US border closed even against them in the very near future, everything for both of us shifted about 7 points on the Richter scale. Suddenly, when we couldn’t have it, we needed it! Now it was possible that we would be truly cut off from home. The phrase “You don’t truly appreciate something until you lose it” was playing loudly in the background. Suddenly, with a few words, we felt cut off from home in a way we haven’t ever felt cut off before.

We drove into Jinja late last night and after eating and settling into the guesthouse, we spent some considerable time searching for KLM flights to take us home (our tickets are with KLM and they are promising refunds, but, actually, we wanted seats.) The more we searched, the worse it became. In fact, they had a website that was supposed to help people find flights in this current crisis, and it projected 13 days into the future…not a single flight out of Uganda had any seats.

Our hearts sank. We weren’t talking much, each in their own heartsick bubble, missing our family and feeling heavy with the possibility that we couldn’t go home now when we really wanted to. I knew Gail was close to tears, and I was trying to be gentle and walking on eggs as the hours approached midnight.

So what had really changed. I remember thinking in the car as we drove those many miles that if we had to stay for the duration and weather the storm here, we would find a way, and that God must have something for us that we can’t see. There’s much joy in the center of His will, and we often experience it here. The emotional shift came when we heard the news on the internet that perhaps we won’t be able to come home at all any time soon. Emotions are funny things. When you can’t have something, that’s when suddenly it feels like death not to have it, when just before we were feeling fine, just waiting to see what God was going to do.

I confess, this is a new lesson for me personally. I stand pretty fixed on the work and focused on the future when I’m here in the midst of the ministry. I tend to get through the homesickness that might be in the back of my mind by exercising my faith and pushing forward to what He has set before us each day. Jude 20 says, “Build yourselves up on your most holy faith…,” and we try to practice that.

Somehow, though, the thought of being cut off undermined our daily dose of faith in a different way. Homesickness poured over us with a deep yearning to be close to the family during this emergency.

Fortunately, it didn’t last long. Our travel agent (and God) was working in the background and emailed us quite late that there were seats available on Emirates Airline. So we prayed and considered, and went ahead and booked them before they could slip away to some other person trying to get home.

The problem for us was that the tickets were for Sunday, tomorrow, and we are a good 4-5 hours from the airport.

After watching everything on the internet for the last couple of weeks, we realize there’s only one proper way to show our solidarity with our fellow citizens as we pack up to come home…

Needless to say, we have had a very hectic day getting everything reorganized, cleaned, sorted, repacked and delivered to storage and sorted and repacked for travel. We are here tonight now after supper, only regretting the brevity of the trip and the way it got cut off, but turning our hearts toward home. We will be home, all things going well along the journey, on Monday night.

Thanks for your prayers. He has moved on our behalf. We are now even more aware of other missionaries around the world facing this difficult situation who are sacrificing so much more than we are, and who must stay on the field away from their families and watch it all continue to unfold from afar.

We hope to see James and children this afternoon.

I have had two different Ugandans explain to me their reactions to the various bans laid down by their president regarding the Corona Virus. I believe this represents an accurate portrayal of the hardships these times will bring to the average Ugandan. I share them only because westerners would probably never think this way or have these concerns, so their statements give much insight into the different cultural realities of living in a third world area.

They both explained that it’s fine to ban church meetings and conferences and to close schools, but the markets will be the largest area of exposure and the most difficult to restrict. The typical Ugandan does not have any refrigeration to keep or store food for multiple days. It is the norm and will have to continue to be the norm for the people to go to the markets to purchase food for the family at least every two days. Not only are the funds limited so that large purchases of food are not realistic, but there is no way to keep the food in its raw state for long periods of storage.

If the bans affect the crossing of the borders, which it seems it certainly will, then the income many receive from selling their produce across the borders will disappear – Uganda is considered the “bread basket” of Africa, and much of what they raise in their gardens and fields are “cash” crops not for local consumption, but for export. Along with that, the day to day existence which depends on that income will be negatively impacted. The bans, though necessary, are putting the fear of famine and starvation into the minds of most of the average people.

Typical Ugandan Market

They explained that there is no way to shut down the markets because that is where everyone buys their daily food. Without the markets, the people will not eat.

It is difficult for westerners to relate to that. Here in Africa, starvation is always just several meals away, only a trip or two to the market away. So many factors affect the income to buy the food on the one hand, and the ability to travel to the markets where the local food is purchased on the other.

So there is much fear now in Uganda, not so much because of the virus, which has yet even to breach the border with one case. Instead, because of the difficult restrictions, either the ability to eat day to day will be limited or, on the other hand, the ability to restrict exposure to the virus from large gatherings in the markets will be difficult. Catch 22. When we are here as westerners, we have to face all new realities that are just daily life for the people we come to minister to. This troubling season seems to present a no-win situation.

Please pray for the African people.

It was Fun while it Lasted

It was fun while it lasted. Yesterday President Museveni of Uganda gave a speech which outlined the government’s further plans to prevent the spread of the Corona Virus. There are no cases in Uganda. Indeed, we seem to be in an oasis of safety here. Most of the countries at the borders have multiple cases. And it is reported that one Ugandan is now known to have the virus, but they are in Rwanda, not actually in Uganda.

In his speech he closed all the schools at any level for a minimum of 30 days. He went on to outline a number of measures and closings and bans intended to curtail the spread of the virus if it enters Uganda. The schools are closed as of Friday (tomorrow end of day), but the other closings are in effect immediately and include public gatherings, religious meetings such as prayer meetings and Sabbath meetings closed for a month, and “conferences” banned for 32 days. I am at a loss why 32 days, but that’s what the internet and the newspaper report from his speech.

This means that Lake Victoria Bible Institutes is out of business for the virtual remainder of our trip – we were scheduled to return to the US on April 29. However, now we are beginning the process of trying to change tickets and leave sooner since there is nothing to do but sit. Even unnecessary travel is discouraged, so any of the places in Uganda which it might be pleasant to visit during our down time will very likely be closed. If you have a moment while praying for your own safety where you are, please request God to show us what we should be doing if we stay, or, on the other hand, to show us to go home instead. We will be very anxious to return later in the year after all this craziness is over.

The remaining difficulties are that the Netherlands has closed it borders and we don’t know how that would affect our flight home since we connect through Amsterdam. Additionally, the US government has banned or quarantined flights from the Netherlands (which means Amsterdam), and so we are not yet certain we can come home at this time. All of these things are up in the air.

As a result, I have cancelled the last day of our current meeting, and am in discussions with the other leaders of the places we are scheduled to go about cancelling. “No public meetings” pretty much covers what we do.

The news is still fresh to us, and even the leaders here are struggling to understand the implications. I spent some time on the phone this morning discussing the cancellation of the final day of the meeting we have been holding since Monday. My perspective is that we are guests here and should adhere to the government’s requirements on us. Finally, the leader, who was resisting the idea of cancelling, who had only just heard the news from me at 7:30 a.m. when I called him and so was adjusting on the fly, said in conclusion of our discussion that we are guests here and to defy the government and hold this final day meeting could cause problems for our ministry.

My passion is to be true to God in all we do here. Romans 13:1-7 is very clear on this point:

1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.
2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.
4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.
5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.
6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.
7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. (NKJV)

This text makes it abundantly clear what our response to the President trying to protect his people should be, even if it is very inconvenient to us. I always remind others when speaking on this passage that it is written to the Roman church, in the city or Rome, under an unfriendly pagan government, one which would persecute the church in terrible ways for the next 300 years. It was not spoken by Paul to a church sitting under a friendly and tolerant government.

My point is that if we are supposed to regard and obey such a harsh government with “honor,” how much more should we respect and honor a leader like President Museveni who only has a heart to protect the people he loves and serves. This is the position of scripture that the Holy Spirit urges Christians to adopt toward their rulers. Christians, among all people, should be the most honoring and obedient to their governments, unless it prevents their worship of God.

So it looks like we will be coming home early, not because we fear the virus, but because we have little else to do. I will keep you posted.

Another Animal Story

If you have been following me for any time at all, you notice I love the animals here. Someone needs to. When we were teaching in Masaka last week in the southwest arm of Uganda, Gail and I were assigned a separate bathroom from the crowd. We’re not sure why, but they always do it this way. It is a Ugandan bathroom-outhouse, so I think the point is privacy. It is up a hill from the training site, past the home of the church member who owns the bathroom, and there, at the back edge of the property is the bathroom. There is a small jerry can of water mounted on a stick frame to wash your hands and even some soft leaves gathered inside to use as t.p.

I usually accompany Gail up the hill. There is a large, raised agricultural storage building in front of the home – it is raised to keep out the rats, I think. There are always goats tied underneath the building to the pilings, and this time there were three of them watching us as we walked past. I always greet the goats – I’m pretty sure both the goats and the people think, “Crazy musungu!” I like goats, but this little story is not about them.

Every time we have come to this place, and then made the journey up the hill to the bathroom, I have found a pigsty positioned behind the house just a little away from the bathroom. So while I’m waiting protectively for Gail, I wander over and talk to the pigs. Now no one is around – we are out of view of all the people, and there is only open farmland beyond the property, and Gail is preoccupied – so this is not soooo crazy a thing, at least to me.  Pigs are very intelligent creatures. I have read that they are smarter even than dogs and can be trained to do a number of things. Yes, when you see them, they are covered with mud and not so pretty, and I certainly wouldn’t want to touch one because they are very dirty generally. However, I have found that, given the right circumstances, you can have a conversation with a pig.

I’m sure the pigs here only speak the local dialect, which in this place is Luganda, but as with most intelligent creatures, the words are not the only way they communicate. Usually in this sty, there has been one large pig, and because of his size and apparent age, I would guess his status is pre-bacon. This time though, when I walked over to investigate on the first day of the conference, I found an enlarged sty with two chambers, and a small pig in each one. These two definitely have a long way to go, in pig years, until they are in the pre-pork-chop stage of development.

The first day, since they did not recognize me, it was obvious that they were a bit disturbed to see me. They both retreated to the far wall of their muddy sties, and snorting nervously, observed me from a distance. So I spoke a greeting, leaned on the rail a bit and told them I wasn’t here to harm them. The second day, when I approached

them during our lunchtime run up the hill, they were no long afraid – they both came to the rail, looked up and me, and snorted communicatively the whole time. Is it possible they recognized me from the day before? I don’t know, but their demeanor was entirely more relaxed and friendly than the first time I met them. Maybe they just thought I would feed them.

Each day, they became a little friendlier, even responding just to my voice of greeting, “Hello, pigs,” before they even saw me. Finally, on the last day, Thursday, I came to the rail and they were both, separately excited to see me. How do I know this? Well, given the evidence, that’s what I concluded, and so I was honored. They both continued their quiet questioning grunts throughout the “interview,” and finally, each one separately, actually climbed up on the rail with their front feet, raising their snouts as high as they could, and looking up at my face with intelligent brown eyes. You know, a pig isn’t really built for climbing, so this behavior was not something I have seen before. We apparently had really connected!

I couldnt get Gail to cooperate, so the other pig took the pictures. I told you they were intelligent.

I spoke gentle words to them – yes, even Gail thinks I may be a bit off because of this behavior – and I generally encouraged them in what must be an unfortunately short and difficult life. Then I said good-bye. I’m sure they will be sold to market before I return, and next time there will be a different pig or pigs in the pigsties. Life is transient for all creatures of the earth.

The animals always teach me something, though, downtrodden and short-lived as they are. In this day of Corona Virus fears of having even minor contact with the human beings around us, and we are reduced to fist bumps instead to the friendly Ugandan handshakes, these pigs taught me that joy can and should be found in the smallest things of this world…if we will just stop and smell the pigsties.

Jane

We have just completed a very busy training week, and we are trying to work a little Sabbath rest into some light errands getting ready for our trip to Masaka, Uganda, tomorrow.

One of our students told me an interesting story this week. I found it unusual because it involves an animal, and I do like animal stories. In Uganda the animals are for utilitarian purposes – to be eaten, to guard the house, to catch rats, etc. Most Ugandans don’t seem to keep pets, and many treat the animals around them like a necessary but bothersome part of the scenery. The idea of having a relationship with an animal seems foreign here, at least as far as I have observed.

This is strange to me, an American, who has always had relationships with animals and have found them to be an important and fulfilling part of life. Since childhood I have had personal relationships with many cats, dogs, ducks, chickens, hamsters, domestic rats, gerbils, rabbits, birds of various stripes, a few snakes, lizards and horned toads, frogs, and even a number of turtles and fish. I have treasured over the years even my brief encounters with creatures in the wild – squirrels, birds, tropical fish, sea turtles, deer, otters, marmots, woodchucks, a skunk, and even a bear here and there. Because of this experience with those who share the world with us, I have a great deal of sympathy with the seemingly oppressed masses of critters here in Uganda.

It surprised me, then for this student to tell me that he was down by the lake some years back and found a small bird chick with a broken leg. He told me how he brought it back to his home, carefully splinted its leg, and fed it until it was well and could walk. Now, six years later, this wild bird is a member of the family, staying in the trees at night, but coming when called, mixing in freely with the chickens, even seeming to know it name, which is Jane, and acting a bit the part of the guard for the home, crying out loudly when a stranger approaches the house. This is an unusual occurrence in this area of the world, I think.

Jane, coming for dinner.

 

Now the really amazing part of this story is that this tiny bird grew up into a crested crane which happens to be the national bird of Uganda. The national football team is named after this bird – the Cranes. These birds are beautiful creatures in the wild. You can see the picture of Jane I have included here and I’m sure you’ll agree with me. They tend to be shy around humanity, and I see them flying overhead every now and then.

The closest I personally have ever come to a crested crane was after spending probably the worst night I’ve spend in Uganda. Because of a disco that broadcast its music from the top of its building into the community until 5:30 a.m. directly next door to our guesthouse, we did not get much sleep. I remember being so relieved when finally the loudspeakers went silent at 5:30, and I drifted off to get a few hours of sleep before I had to teach, only to be awakened rudely at 6:00 when they turned the loud music on again!

Alfred and I crawled to our vehicle and drove to the other end of the village to get away from the awful loud music. I remember we parked and hunkered down in our seats to try and sleep. I looked up through the windshield and there, perched on top of the edge of the building in front of us was a crested crane peering curiously down at us. I was frightfully tired, but even so, I couldn’t miss the beauty of this bird looking down at me.

Typical Crested Crane from Uganda

My student told me that Jane is somewhat famous in their region. They often get visitors to their plot who have come with the specific request to see Jane.  I’m sure no one else has a domesticated crested crane. If we get time in this busy trip, maybe we’ll try to make a stop down that way. I would sure like to meet Jane for myself!