Category: Uganda Feb.-Mar. 2014


A Life Defined by Need

Do you remember the story of Luwaida from my adventures last September-October in Uganda? She was the tiny 80 year old lady whom we shared Christ with who wasn’t really interested in Christ but who would always ask for something as we pulled away from our visits, things like meat, sugar, and soap. I always try to check on her when I come through Jinja, and last time I was here, I assigned the new church plant at Naminya, the village where she lives, to watch over her, love her and minister to her needs.

Well, yesterday it was time to check in on Luwaida again, but I was unable to accompany Samuel and his two men on this particular visit. But I sent her a care package “from the musungu” – soap of both body and clothes types, sugar, beans, rice, and cooking oil, all staples which I’m sure she can use.

When she saw the men approaching, she immediately recognized them from the church plant, and pastor Samuel from previous visits. She looked around, asking if the musungu also was here. They explained that I was unable to come this time, but that I had sent her a gift and they gave the package to her. She was so overwhelmed that she started laughing again, just as she had last Fall. She asked if the musungu thought of her after all this time and loved her so much that he would send such gifts. Samuel said that the musungu did indeed think of her and love her, but that Jesus loved her even more, as she could see from the gifts which were brought to her in His Name.

The two young men who have successfully gotten her to come to church a few times, though walking even that short distance is difficult for her, began to share Christ with her again. When they asked her this time if she wanted to receive Christ, instead of dismissing it as she has in the past, she said through her laughing and smiling, “When you love me like this, I cannot fail to believe what you are telling me. I am in your hands.” And she prayed to receive Jesus Christ into her life.

It has been my prayer that if our little community there in Naminya will just love Luwaida consistently, perhaps her heart would soften and she would come to know Him personally. Here’s the thing about Luwaida. Her life if totally defined by need. Every moment of every day is spent either moving to fill some need or recovering from moving to fill some need. Each day she has to fetch water from the spring, some distance from her home, she has to cook her meager food supply, she has to bathe…in short, she has to accomplish all the things it takes to stay healthy and alive with a body that is becoming increasingly difficult and uncooperative.

As far as I know, she is alone. We observe no family visitors, no adult children stopping by to check on her, no extended family so common in Uganda to absorb her into their community to care for her. She is alone. She lives a life defined by her needs. She has lived a good day when she is fed and has gotten through without injuring herself in some manner. Each day is the same as the one before, defined by whatever it will take to survive it and successfully make to her bed one more time.

My heart goes out to Luwaida. I am glad she has received the Savior. But my ability to minister to her needs from afar is very limited because she needs so much, yet those needs are all small, though legion.

Samuel told me that as they said their good-byes, she thanked them, continuing to smile and laugh in disbelief. Then she mentioned that once again, she has been without meat for a long time.

I really should have thought of that. Tomorrow, my last day here, I will see what God wants to do about it…

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God of the Impossible

I have learned a valuable lesson (among many) during this mission to Uganda. I knew it in the back of my mind previously, but I’ve failed to apply it consistently until this trip. I have learned to ask the pastors and the Christians I meet and share ministry with to tell me how they first met Jesus Christ.

Yesterday my team ministered to a very small church plant in the town of Bujiri near the eastern side of Uganda. This was the last stop on our four city tour of Eastern Uganda – Tororo (two villages on opposite sides), Mbale, Busia, and finally Bujiri on the way back to Jinja. This was not a normal church-planting meeting like all the others. Here the leaders of this small church insisted on meeting with me after I preached last Sunday and begged me to come and teach them – “We are so ignorant. We need teaching. We know nothing. Please come and teach us.” How do you say “No” to that? So I added a day of teaching to our normal planned itinerary and spent the day with thirty Ugandan believers, going over the doctrines of salvation and sanctification. It was a sweet time as they soaked up the scriptures the Holy Spirit showed me to give them.

I took the opportunity at one point during a break to ask the pastor how he had met the Lord. This very gaunt and serious man, who obviously has the gift of service and who did not cease serving and shepherding his flock as they gathered to listen and learn the whole time I was there, told me this story.

He was in the hospital lying in his deathbed. He was in the final stages of AIDS, swept up like so many thousands who have died in this terrible plague across Africa. He had finally come to that point in the disease’s progress where there was nothing else they could do for him, and he lay waiting to die. Some Christians came through his ward, pausing and praying at each bed for the many patients with their various illnesses. When they came to him, they shared the love of Christ with him and asked him if he wanted to receive Christ. He said yes. They prayed with him and then moved on. He had made his peace with God, and now there was nothing more but to wait for the end, which for the first time, he was able to see as maybe a beginning instead.

He didn’t die. He improved to his own surprise and to the doctors’. Eventually, weak and fragile, he was improved enough to be released from the hospital. He did what he could to follow Christ, finding a church, beginning to pray and to discover what it means to be a disciple of Christ. One night as he was praying, some months later, he heard the Lord tell him that he was healed. He knew this was impossible with AIDS and didn’t really know what to think about it, but he continued praying and following.

Soon after this, it was time to report to the doctors to have his regular checkup on the progress of the disease. When they tested his blood, they couldn’t believe that there was no sign of AIDS remaining to be found in his body. He understood then what he had heard that night in prayer.

Eventually, as he continued to grow, he surrendered to God’s call as a pastor, and we were meeting in the church he planted in the town of Busia just this last January. On Sunday I preached to a crowd of about 25, many who have received Christ under his ministry since January. [Note for future readers: this article was written on March 29, 2014].

I think asking how a person met Christ might just be a pretty rewarding question. Every time I ask it, I walk away with nuggets of gold that strengthen my faith and motivate me to serve Him all the more earnestly! I discover afresh the footprints of the Savior tracking across my path, and I know again with confidence that if He sends me to a place, He Himself has gone before me.

I have never liked the chicken gizzard, so God sends me to Africa. In Uganda the gizzard is not only a delicacy but also a source of much cultural baggage.

I am told you have to clean a gizzard correctly and that all people don’t know how to do that. This information does little to convert me. The extra cleaning has to do with the function of the organ – it takes in and holds small rocks and sand swallowed by the chicken and used to grind up seeds and certain other hard foods that it eats. So the hard and muscular gizzard is the true stomach of the chicken and performs this grinding function.

There are many ideas about why the gizzard is so important in much of Africa, but I am unable to find definitive expert commentary. Its status seems to me to be one of superstition. All the observations in the following list of examples are traditional, meaning that in 2014 these practices are changing. They seems to be the residue from a strongly patriarchal society and thought by many to be methods by which women were kept in a subservient role. It’s tempting to adopt such a point of view because Uganda, and Africa in general, is doing much to challenge its anti-feminine traditions. But truthfully, superstition arises for many reasons, and it is hard for me make that call from my comfortably 2014 western point of view.

Here are some ways the gizzard is regarded in Uganda and much of Africa traditionally, though today perhaps in most areas only the elderly would adhere to them:

  •  It is taboo for women to eat chicken, period, and a list of other foods as well. These foods are considered the purview of the men.
  •  If a woman prepares chicken, she is expected to give the gizzard to a male of any age, usually someone close to her or well-respected by her – sort of an early version of a Valentine’s card, maybe?
  •  The gizzard supposedly symbolizes honor. Because of this, when chicken is served to a group of men, the gizzard is placed in the bowl of the elder, leader, or most respected member present.
  •  If a man purchases a chicken at the market and examines it upon receipt only to find that the gizzard is missing, he will throw down the chicken and walk away, declaring, “This chicken is not for me!” The same is true of a leader or elder being served chicken without the gizzard during a meal – he gets up from the table, declares, “This chicken is not for me!” and walks away.

These superstitions may not be entirely about keeping the women down. It is thought by some that the gizzard symbolized not the fertility of the women but the sexual prowess of the man, and therefore it would be appropriate that only the men would eat it. Another thought is that since the gizzard is one of the toughest tissues of the chicken and is capable of digesting even stones, it was given to the shaman or the eldest in the group to symbolize his power and position – his ability to crush evil and enemies. It certainly accomplishes that purpose in a group of men where only one man can receive the single gizzard – the one receiving it would be recognized and honored as the leader among all the others present, though it is reported that arguments and even violence have occasionally broken out over the proper handling of the gizzard.

It is also thought by some that the gizzard has traditionally held a strong place in the sacrifice rituals of ancestor worship throughout Africa. These rituals are exclusively carried out by men, and so perhaps the gizzard superstition even has some spiritual/religious heritage hidden in the darkness of the past.

As for being simply a tool of some patriarchal strategy, one scholarly comment I found in my research says this:

I also found out that the gizzard issue is linked to the “ntangri” ritual that is performed by the men [ancestor worship]. But it is not exclusively a patriarchal matter. Even in matriarchal societies, the gizzard is still eaten by men. It should also be noted that women who have reached their menopause can eat the gizzard in some Bamenda Grassfields societies [Cameroon]. (http://sheytatah.blogspot.com/2010/10/gizzards-symbolize-honour-in-cameroon.html – see comments)

So perhaps using the gizzard to repress women is an oversimplification. All this is very culturally complex, just as are many superstitions even in the west. In the meantime, I still don’t care much for gizzards, but in Africa if I find one in my bowl with the other chicken parts, I will bravely accept the compliment and eat mine with as much of a smile as I can muster. If there is no gizzard, of course, my other option would be to throw down my food and declare, “This chicken is not for me.” But then I would go hungry.

I had a very interesting meeting with a pastor the other day in Mbale that once again assured me that the Holy Spirit is with us as our team ministers. We were doing a church planting conference in his church in a village back up away from the city on the lower slopes of the large mountain that overshadows Mbale. He had invited us to come “see” his home, which means to sit for tea and is an honor.

We sat in his mud-wattle construction home and chatted with him and his wife about a variety of subjects.  Then he left the room and went out into the yard for a few minutes. When he returned, he was carrying a chicken with its claws tied together to keep it from squirming. I recognized immediately what was about to happen. He said, “We are so happy to have you here. Thank you for coming to minister to us and for loving us. I want to give this to you.” Of course, this is a valuable gift in this culture because every chicken means a potential meal for the family.

I told him that I very much appreciated the gift and that he was being very generous to me. However, I explained, I have no way to deal with a live chicken. I live in a guesthouse room, I have no implements to kill it or prepare it or eat it. I asked him if he would please find a needy person in his area and give the chicken to them in my name as if from me. We discussed this a little back and forth, and he seemed satisfied. I really didn’t want to offend him, but even if I had taken the chicken, I would have had to give it away. This has happened before and I handle it a little differently each time depending on the situation. He smiled and left with the chicken.

He soon reappeared and was still smiling to himself. We chatted a bit more, and then he said, “Pastor, I saw in a dream last night that I was giving you a chicken to thank you for your work. It seemed like a good idea. However, I also saw that you did not take it. I did not know what it meant until just now.”

 

Thanks, Lord, You always seem to go ahead and guard behind.

This trip to Uganda has been “haunted” by a series of minor attacks which by themselves amount to little, but added together measure up to a lot of distraction, disruption and annoyance. Missionaries come to recognize this dynamic in Africa and Asia as the hand of the Enemy resisting us. Frequently, it is like a swarm of mosquitoes or gnats buzz-bombing you constantly.

The computer shut down for no understandable reason in the middle of the slide presentation, then was fine immediately after lunch; then the projector inexplicably ceased to function in the middle of the afternoon session, then worked fine when I returned to the guesthouse where I am staying. Note that I have never had a single problem with any of this equipment before. Simultaneously, all of our families are under attack – my wife in Texas had the fence suddenly blown down; the driver’s family back in Jinja was suddenly evicted from their apartment and had to move to new living quarters; my other team member’s wife became so sick that she had to travel all the way to Kampala (100 miles) to the hospital to see a specialist; and the mother of the pastor where we were teaching went into the hospital with typhoid the second day of the conference. On top of all that, my typically very healthy grandson back in Texas, who is sixteen, even has pneumonia right now as I write this.

Finally, the car, which has performed wonderfully till now, developed a terrible noise in one of the wheels and had to be driven an hour back down the mountain to a mechanic in the city, where fortunately, the small problem was repaired quickly but expensively. This was the first day of the two day conference, and I was carrying four pastors to this conference when the problem first developed. At one point just as we entered the village, the noise became so loud that we even stopped the car on the tiny rural road we were negotiating to examine the wheel. Unable to see anything that could be causing such screeching, I asked the pastors to pray over this wheel and suggested to them that they include spiritual warfare in their prayer because of all the attacks we were under.

These things all occurred within a span of five days, something new each day. There are other small annoyances added to all this that I won’t take time to list, but let me confess that it has been trying to all of us. Something doesn’t want us in Mbale and Tororo and is resisting our presence.

On the second day of the conference in Mbale, as we drove the two hours to the conference location outside the city, we prayed long and loud that God would intervene on our behalf. During this time, the Spirit directed me finally to Romans 8:28 – “All things work together for good to them who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” I felt that we should claim this verse for all of these attacks, and we began to implore the Lord to show us the good that will come from all these negative things.

That afternoon, after we closed out the conference and were chatting with the pastor, he said to me, “I was amazed when you stopped the car yesterday and asked us to pray against Satan. I was astounded because you had never been to this village before, yet you stopped directly in front of the witch doctor’s house, and we all got out in the road right there in front of his home and prayed to bind the enemy. This witch doctor has troubled the church much and is very famous in this region. People come to him from far away to receive his magic. It was very wonderful to see the Holy Spirit speak to you in this way before you had even arrived at our church for the first time.”

Okay. So I’ll take that as the beginning of the good that comes out of all this! Amini (Amen), as they say here! Come on, Lord, show me some more!!

I questioned the pastor further about this witch doctor, and he said that since the church came to this village seven years ago, his power has decreased a great deal, but when he was in his full strength, many people died from his curses. But now his wife is having dreams about Jesus Christ on the cross, and she comes to the church members to ask them what the dreams mean. So one sees the strategy of the Spirit in this situation. If you have your armor on (Ephesians 6:10ff), please pray for this deceived little man who serves the enemy of our souls and for his wife that they will come to know Jesus as Savior. They live in the village of Busambe in the mountainous region outside of Mbale.

Raising the Dead

Here’s a story I heard last Sunday from a woman over lunch. I find it highly instructive of the kinds of lives these people have lived. We were sitting is one of the African mud-wall and thatch-roof huts so common to this region. It was the second time during this trip that I have been invited into one of these structures, and they are quite comfortable and cool inside.

There very hut we had lunch in; the story teller stands second from the left

There very hut we had lunch in; the story teller stands second from the left

This very gregarious woman said that during the civil war when the current regime under President Museveni took control of the government, there were so many rebel groups passing through this area just next to the Kenyan border in East Uganda that the entire population of the area had to flee en masse across the border and live for several years in Kenya. This was very difficult because food was hard to find and it was difficult to find anyone to take them in. This woman was around 14 years old at the time.

She told me that the group she was with were Christians and that they would spread out in the Kenyan countryside and preach the gospel to anyone who would listen. Many converts were won during this time. When they returned to their homes finally, these young people were passionately on fire for the Lord. She was about 16 by then.

She described an incident where she and one of her teen-age companions climbed into trees one late afternoon to gain an elevation from which their voices would carry throughout the surrounding area. This was a particular season in Uganda when certain religious groups would clean up the graves in the cemeteries, removing weeds and debris. This practice had to do with worshiping their ancestors, and so the preaching was aimed at these unbelievers working around the graves in several scattered burial sites around this wooded area. So, comfortably perched in her tree, she began to shout out the gospel message in the local dialect, and her friend in a tree some distance away shouted out the message in Swahili, telling these people that they needed to worship the one true God and not their ancestors, etc. Doesn’t this sound just like the kind of stunt teen-agers would pull?

The village where we ate lunch.

The village where we ate lunch.

Unfortunately for the young evangelists, there was an army barracks nearby with soldiers posted to quell the rebel incursions for the new government. They heard this shouting in the early evening, but since they didn’t speak the local dialect, they didn’t understand that it was preaching, so they thought that somehow it involved the rebels they were trying to catch. They immediately took up their arms and went on patrol into the woods hoping to catch a rebel. What they found instead was a girl sitting in a tree shouting into the oncoming night in words they couldn’t fully understand. Some of the soldiers said she must be demonized. Others thought she was calling to the rebels. Others understood some of her words and tried to explain to their leaders that this loud shouting was some kind of preaching. She said she looked down and saw a long column of armed soldiers coming through the forest to surround her tree and it intimidated her for a moment.

However, she was pretty worked up by then (I would think she was on an adrenaline high), and so when they ordered her to come down from the tree, she began to preach down at them, telling them they needed to get saved and confess their sins, etc. Finally, though, they insisted that she come down, and when they had her, they interrogated her about the rebels, where were they, why was she calling them, etc. Some of the soldiers could communicate with her, and she kept saying that she was not with any rebels, there weren’t any rebels around, and that she and her friends were just preaching the gospel to the people in this area. The soldiers took her with them and continued their patrol. Fortunately, her friend had seen the soldiers coming through the woods and had shimmied down his tree and run for his life down the hill toward the nearby river. She wasn’t sure how much trouble she was in or what exactly was happening. But she trusted the Lord to solve the problem.

As they advanced through the woods, they came upon one of these small cemeteries. There at one of the graves was a boy she knew, about her age, working to clean the area around his family’s burial site. The boy saw the soldiers and was immediately so overcome with trembling that he could hardly stand up because his limbs were shaking so violently. When he saw her, he recognized a friend from school and  relaxed a little, but not much. The soldiers terrified him. He thought he was going to die. He could hardly speak. The armed soldiers surrounded him and began to question him – what are you doing here in the evening, do you know where the rebels are, and other questions.

Finally, they asked, “Why are you trembling so much? What are you afraid of?” The boy could hardly speak, but finally he gestured with a wildly shaking hand to the grave he was working on and stammered out, “I have just come from this grave.” The soldiers who understood him burst out laughing, and then began to translate the story for the other soldiers, saying that they had just found Lazarus and then repeating what the boy had said. Soon all the soldiers were laughing out loud, and calling out things like, “Lazarus, come forth!”  “Surely, he stinks!” and so on.

Finally, when they stopped laughing, they decided there were no rebels here and they let both of the young people go. The woman sharing the story told me that this boy was so terrified for his life that he soon after prayed to receive Christ and became a believer. She then pointed out the door of the hut we were sitting in and said, “And there he is now walking past.” We saw a man from the church where we had been teaching that morning walking past our hut and talking with the other workers who were preparing the food for lunch.

This story speaks for itself in so many ways about Uganda and its people: their experiences – so different from a typical American’s, their will to survive, their passion, their sense of humor, their courage and their matter-of-factness about their struggles, much of their heart-break, and a great deal about their joy in living.

“Musungu, Musungu!”

The children of Mella near Tororo

The children of Mella near Tororo

Musungu, musungu,” the children along the side of the roads yell as we drive into the villages and towns all over Uganda. It is thought even by most Ugandans that this means white person. This same  pattern of greeting is repeated throughout Uganda, though perhaps they are not so excited to see one of us in the capital where they are more used to seeing musungus.

The greeting is offered by nearly every child under twelve that I see and even some of the older, cooler teens. They love to wave at me to see if they can get me to wave back. When I would sit on the porch of the guesthouse on Buvuma Island, the children 100 yards away and across the road and through the thin tree line would gather and point, and then I would hear the distant call, trying to get my attention, and of course, I would always wave – they acted like this just made their day!

The church at Mella near Tororo

Today I was in thevillage of Mella, outside the city of Tororo. We were very far back off the road and could look a half mile across the little valley and see into Kenya. Because of its isolation, they seldom see musungus in Mella. So the children were somewhat fascinated with me, staring at me, looking away in fright if I made eye-contact, even running away if I glanced at them, then, like small forest animals sneaking back to pick up a few dropped crumbs at a picnic, they would quickly return to stand in a group and stare. I finally approached the braver one from this group and taught him to greet me with a high five. Then I had them. They all wanted to learn and to practice slapping five with the musungu, even the little girl who previously led the panicked flight away from me every time I looked at her.

Looking East into Kenya from Mella

Looking East into Kenya from Mella

The term musungu is not even completely understood by most Ugandans who use it to refer to any white person. When I first asked about it, I was told that it simply meant white. I was fairly uncomfortable with that, being an American who grew up during the civil rights revolution of the 1960’s. But then it was explained that it is a term of respect, rather than simplya term of color. It is even used occasionally of a Ugandan who has become a successful businessperson or public figure. In that context it would be our equivalent to Sir or Ma’am, or maybe even the British Your Lordship, Your Ladyship (American genes again not feeling real comfortable with that).

But then, last fall I had a conversation with my new friend Pastor Moses Kivunike, who is a statesman and elder of the church. He set me straight on the origin of the term musungu. He said that when the white men first came to the shores of Africa, they were very curious about all the new and exotic things they were seeing. They were always going here and there busily writing notes, drawing diagrams of plants and animals, creating maps of the regions, exploring, discovering, and always with great hustle and bustle, loaded with many packs of luggage and equipment in great caravans, and generally raising the dust everywhere they went. Africans had never seen such a people, always asking questions, hungry to discover new things, rushing here, rushing there, operating on Western schedules with timepieces. Moses explained that the original Swahili term from which musungu is derived meant a person who is always rushing about asking questions and organizing explorations. The literal meaning may be something like one who always runs to and fro, from one thing to another, in a rapid and curious manner.

The mountain around which lies the city of Tororo

The mountain around which lies the city of Tororo

Eventually, since it was applied to the white race who operated on such a different cultural framework from anything they had every observed, the term came to be slang for white person, which is how most Africans now use it. But the word certainly has a rich and deep heritage, and I am much more comfortable with its application to me now that I understand its background and lack of racial implications.

And when it comes right down to it, though the truth is that it is more a reaction of curiosity than real greeting, sort of like trying to get the chimps at the zoo to entertain you by making faces back at you, I enjoy hearing the high-pitched cries of the children, and seeing them running alongside the road as we pass, waving and yelling to me. I feel popular, I wave back, I laugh, and I smile. We are all enjoying ourselves!

Frankly, I wish we could train that sophisticated generation of American children back at home to get as excited as these African children at simply seeing a passing stranger.  I wish we could train the children of my neighborhood back in Texas to run alongside my car as I pull in my driveway, yelling a greeting of some kind at me. Musungu would be fine, and I would feel just as gratified and popular in the US as I do here everywhere I go. Maybe I’ll teach my seven grandchildren to run out yelling, “Musungu,” when they see me coming.

I kid, of course. No granddad is as blessed as I am with wonderful and loving grandchildren. They actually smile when they see me, and run to me and say, “Pa, how are you?” and they all, from the littlest 2 year old to the 16 year old High School Junior want to hug me every time they see me. It just doesn’t get better than that, whether I am the alien musungu visiting an African village or the misty-eyed grandpa getting loved on by his grand-kids.

My room in the guesthouse where we are staying in Tororo

My room in the guesthouse where we are staying in Tororo

Beautiful little girl came up and sat beside me at the water's edge. Grandpa's delight...

Beautiful little girl came up and sat beside me at the water’s edge. Grandpa’s delight…

Through the church window - Village of Kasari B

Through the church window – Village of Kasari B

Amazing cloud formation near Jinja

Amazing cloud formation near Jinja

Village Rainstorm

VillageRainstorm

Gotta be a Hobbit Tree - Buvuma Island
Gotta be a Hobbit Tree – Buvuma Island

Plenary Session, Stork Convention, Kiyindi, Uganda

Plenary Session, Stork Convention, Kiyindi, Uganda

Young lady carrying full bottle of water on her head as if it is nothing - Uganda's Got Talent!

Sunset on Buvuma Island
Furniture Delivery, Uganda Style

Furniture Delivery, Uganda Style

Sunset on Buvuma Island
African Princess gliding across the savannah

African Princess gliding across the savannah

Dirt duck finds Life Purpose during rainstorm

Dirt duck finds Life Purpose during rainstorm

Island Ferry - only way to the island. I wish I could say it looks smaller than it is...

Island Ferry – only way to the island. I wish I could say it looks smaller than it is…

And the winner is…. Favorite picture yet. She’s using my discarded teaching tape to enhance her natural beauty