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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!

Welcome Back to Uganda, Bob and Gail

We have arrived in Uganda for our first trip in 2020. It’s hard to believe we have been doing this as long as we have, since 2011, and that now we actually seem to know what we’re doing…sometimes. Our time of cultural adjustment is short as muscle and brain memory kicks in – it sure is helpful to have some experience.

Already we have received several calls welcoming us to the country. One of our teachers, whom we are training for LVBI, said on the phone, “It is so good to hear your voice.” Very heart-warming! We are also greeted with a flurry of emails to “Bob and Mummy Gail” from those who have access.

One interesting point of reception for us was the guesthouse where we normally stay in Bugembe. They remember us now because we use them frequently, and they always prepare the room with special little niceties that, in the past, we had to ask for. There are two towels, not just the normal one we get everywhere else and have to go ask for the second. There is now always an extra sheet for the bed – we have found that the sheets and the mattresses never match sizes, so the sheets always come off the edges every time you move. So we have developed a strategy of requesting an extra sheet and, using two sheets on the bottom, we put them on sideways – this always allows enough tucking room so the sheets stay on the mattress, and we no longer wake up sleeping on a bare mattress in the morning. This sounds small but every little nicety is much appreciated as we’re re-acclimating to the culture.

The greatest adjustment for us each trip continues to be the temperature. We left Texas on Monday still needing a jacket, and intermittently a heavy coat the week before as the weather shifted back and forth. As a matter of fact, we read just this morning that Texas is currently experiencing a wind-chill of 20 F. We arrived here to t-shirt weather, right on the equator and the shore of Lake Victoria, so the 90+ F heat is heavy with humidity, and so are we!

That project that we raised funds for is going on at this moment and we are awaiting the results. Thanks to all who supported this need.

The country here remains green and beautiful as always, the bread-basket of Africa. However, the rainy season this year (Sept –Oct, 2019) was unusually and unhealthfully heavy, and, as the crops were badly affected, we expect to find famine in the village areas. Prices seem to be reflecting that already. Pray for these people in these difficult circumstances.

Please pray for our greatest challenge this trip: an evaluation of possibly beginning ministry to the 1.2 million Sudanese refugees clustered in refugee camps at the northern border of Uganda. We have been invited to go there to meet with the leaders of the churches in the camps in late March. We need to see what God intends by sending us in this direction, for us personally and for the future of our ministry here. Exciting times as the Holy Spirit continues to lead.

More to come…

We made our second attempt to see James on Saturday (today is Monday, and we are at the airport waiting to begin our flight home), and the road was no longer blocked by repair work, so we successfully reached the school. We spent the afternoon with James and the other sponsored children. We took them into the nearby city and updated some of their clothing needs and gave them a good lunch.

It is too easy to forget, when we return home, the needs of deaf children like these. We drove into the school yard and all the children rushed to greet us – how often do they get to see a vehicle up close or, even more unusual to them, get to ride in one. They stand staring at us as we climb out – they know we’re there for James and the other sponsored children. They seem happy and well adjusted to this school environment, and they wave and seem joyful if we give them the slightest attention.  But under the surface of it all, we wonder what life apart from this protective environment means for each of them. Deaf children in Uganda are not regarded well by most people in Uganda since no one has any idea what to do with them.

Most have families that they will go home to for the holidays in two weeks, but there is a small group, James among them, who have no one and who must stay at the school – his vacation last year resulted in four months spent as a runaway, you may remember. This year, we can’t enable any such further misadventures, and there is no one to take him, so there he stays. Another small girl has a clan, but they seem to be in disagreement about her care, so they will not be picking her up for the holidays this year. I’m sure she doesn’t know this as yet and is expecting to go home to see her family.

We were very glad to see James. We were reminded again that these children are at the bottom of the destitute of the world. We feel like our meager efforts are like trying to fill an ocean with an eye-dropper. And yet these four that we have found sponsors for could not be even in this place, happy among their peers and in school, without the help they are receiving.

James was truly happy to see us, holding my hand at times, putting his arm around me at others, reaching out to help Gail climb down from the car (that was a first – it has taken time for him to warm up to her). We hugged good-bye, and he was comfortable enough with his circumstances to ask in signs what I took to mean, “You’re coming back, right?” When I nodded yes and smile, he was satisfied. And he stood happily with his friends waving as we drove off.

Now there is another request. Another deaf girl has been left at the school, her family too chronically ill to care for her. She is in effect an orphan because of this, and she is also on the list of those who will be staying at the school during the holiday. If anyone would like to volunteer to help this eight-year-old child, we would need about $40.00 per month. You can email us or contact us through the comments following this post and we will get back to you.

Walking by Funk or by Faith

Vehicle loaded up to the brim for 10 weeks of travel, passengers included…

We were sorely disappointed yesterday to miss visiting with our deaf boy James at his school by just “this much….”

We were returning from our final church-planting meetings in the Gulu region, four days of intensive teaching. We loaded up the vehicle and left town by 9:15 and by 3 pm were rolling up the dirt road to his school. But as we rounded a turn in the road, we saw large piles of dirt blocking the road to any further progress.

They often do this when they are preparing to grade a dirt road, removing the potholes and water damage of the last year so the road can continue to be used by vehicles. We don’t know how long the road will remain blocked since road work is an on-again-off-again proposition here. It could be finished and open within a few days or it could be more than a week that the road sits there closed to anything but foot traffic.

After 8.5 hours on the road, we rolled into Bugembe last night. One week to go…and then home…

We thought of walking the remaining distance to the school, but there was no way to park and secure the vehicle, and we were exhausted from the week and from the long day’s travel. Also we still had two and a half hours to go to Jinja for the night. We nearly cried as we were forced to turn around just a kilometer or so short of the school, but there seemed little else we could do.

We are now in Bugembe (suburb to Jinja) getting ready for the final week of training our Ugandan teachers for the Institute. We are planning to make another attempt to see him next weekend and perhaps to find access by another road when we have more time to explore possibilities. It seems impossible to think of going home without seeing James.

This has been a hard trip for us and a hard year for James. Alfred keeps up with him, and the reports are that he is settling back into the school routine after missing so much in the Spring. If you are reading this at the time of posting, please pray that God will open a way for us to see him next weekend and that our faith will replace our “funk.”

Chickens and Mango Trees

[From Gail]

Church meeting under a mango tree.

Last Sunday we were invited to a small village congregation that meets under a mango tree. There were about 50 people – many children. We were greeted so warmly that two women were dancing when we opened the car door, then each took me by an arm and escorted me to the meeting area where our chairs were waiting for us.

There was a good worship time, after which some of the children presented a song and dance. The dance steps were very complex and it was obvious they had put in a lot of work together practicing. Then one of the youth ministers came and sang another song with the dancing choir behind him. Finally, there was a special song from a young husband and wife that had our names woven into it as a welcome – “We welcome you, Bob and Gail, We love you, Bob and Gail…” etc.  Very heart-warming!

Sunday School class dancing for the church service.

This was the same group that, last trip when we were here (April), the children would line the side of the road as we departed from the church where we were teaching every day – their school was near there – and they would chant as we drove by, “Bob and Gail, Bob and Gail, Bob and Gail.” Again, ver-r-r-ry heart-warming!

Bob preached a great sermon on the prodigal son and his brother that, just serendipitously, had an exact application for that specific congregation. It seems they had been on a certain piece of land under another mango tree last year, but they were chased away from it to this new location by an “elder brother,” the unsympathetic, non-evangelical variety of church in the area that is attempting to persecute these new “born-again” churches that are popping up all over this area – over 500 baptisms just a few months ago. So Bob processed that unpleasant experience of tribulation with them in light of the two brothers and encouraged them not to be bitter or angry but just to love their persecutors. He pointed out that, of the two brothers – the one that sinned greatly and was repentant, and the one who had never sinned but was now upset about the attention his younger brother was getting from the father – it was the “righteous” elder brother who was now standing outside the house of his father jealous and angry. (Bob says to mention that this was not his own original insight, but a good one anyway!)

Preaching on the Prodigal Son.

We had a time for people to come forward for prayer afterward. One came up to be introduced to Christ, and about ten came for prayer for sickness or other requests. At the end of the service, people wanted to bless us and thank us for coming. They gave us three more chickens to add to our collection, which is, in reality, Alfred’s chicken collection. The pastor of this congregation is teaching them hospitality and gratitude toward visitors.

Unfortunately, we have no way to raise those chickens for ourselves. I can only imagine arriving at the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport with a flock of clucking, complaining chickens in tow. If we were able to keep all the chickens we have been given in this generous place over the last two years, our daughter-in-law would probably have a full-blown chicken ranch in her back yard by now.

A bountiful gratitude for the preaching.

BTW, Bob’s and my Christian birthday is today [written the last Sunday in October when we still didn’t have internet] – it is exactly 48 years since we received Christ in Airway Heights, Texas, near Spokane, Washington, where Bob was stationed in the USAF in 1971. I was almost 8 months pregnant with Kristyn, our first child. What a wild ride it has been! And now we are in Africa!

The Joy of Teaching

Thursday night – We have finally come forth from close to total blackout since last Saturday. We disappeared into Kaberamaido for several days of ministry, and there was normally no electricity in the entire district during all that time, and certainly no networks available for internet. We have felt like we were in the dark ages, literally. The cause seemed to be lots and lots of rain putting down power poles all over the region, other infrastructure problems, and, according to the people, no one really knows why, but it is often that way with power coming on for only short periods, then going off again. We occasionally got a little light but never any internet. Fortunately, the guesthouse had some solar here and there, so we had dim light at least most of the time at night. We are discovering how dependent we muzungus are on electricity generally and light specifically. It is always startling to discover that most of the world doesn’t enjoy the simple luxury of a light next to the bed or in the bathroom, having light to eat your dinner by at night, or even being able to read yourself to sleep.

Gail getting down with the students under the mango tree…

Tonight we have come to Gulu for four days of meetings in the outlying village areas of Oyam and Omoro. We drove through Oyam just to check it out today on the way in and the roads were classically African, one spot having a water-filled pothole that surely is a world record. To cross it would have required a ferry or a bridge. We had to turn around and go around. Mind you, this was a pothole! It ate up the entire roadbed. The rains here have been constant and heavy, with temperatures that I have never experienced in Uganda, and we didn’t bring jackets. I’m enjoying it, but Gail is cold much of the time. Global warming? No, of course not – it doesn’t exist.

We had a great meeting in Kaberamaido, teaching Soteriology – the doctrine of Salvation. We had a different kind of electricity going off throughout the meetings as lights were going off in people’s eyes – you could see the connections being made. It was truly exciting. No one has apparently ever dealt this thoroughly with the subject with them before. It is part of my commitment to give them some systematic theology, and it seemed mundane when I prepared it, but that is not how they received it. At the end of the meeting, people were coming up and enthusiastically shaking my hand, saying thank you, thank you, thank you.

Apparently, there is much struggle and controversy in the region over grace versus works. The argument was, “If you teach people grace, they think it permits them to sin, so you can never teach that doctrine to the church!” Other challenging ideas were salvation apart from works, and on and on with biblical teachings most of us in the US take for granted. This led to some very deep and interesting discussions as they processed the ideas and the concept of just teaching what the Bible says without playing Holy Spirit for their people. Even the idea of allowing God to convict His own people of sin instead of preaching the law to them was eye-opening.

We are in Gulu tonight, preparing to visit new areas tomorrow where we will be teaching next week.

While all that was going on inside, Gail had the ladies outside under the mango tree, teaching them how to hear God for themselves. When she was finished, they cried out, “You’re now leaving us, after teaching us only this much?” Apparently, Gail is warming to the task of teaching a little. She has always said it is not her ministry and that she is better one on one. But she was telling me that she has to look each one in the eye as she is teaching, involve each one in the class, and at the end has to hug each one personally. She left them clamoring for more. I think she’s got it!

[From Gail]

  • I am very blessed to be able to meet so many beautiful Ugandan women. There are several that I have come to

    Here for a week. Teaching Insights on God’s Will MT, then Church History WTF. Bob preached in a church-plant under a mango tree this morning. 1 came for salvation, 8 for healing prayer.

    know well. I was able to spend a few days with my friend Irene who works in the Prison Fellowship Ministry. It is hard work and a great part of it is to care for and provide support for children of prisoners that have no family they can live with. She just added a set of brothers that have never been to school. There are now 24 children. She truly has a mother’s heart.  We sometimes get to minister together, but this time the ministry was to each other. It was a wonderful time studying the scripture and praying for each other. What an encouragement. Two women from different worlds, yet citizens of the same “far country,” sharing the same Lord. God is amazing!

  • Bob had an interesting interaction with a small boy recently. This boy had never seen a white person and did not know how to react. He was brave enough and had enough curiosity to finally reach out and touch Bob…and then he looked down at his hand…and, walking away, in plain view of everyone, deliberately smelled his fingers to see if he could figure out this strange being, if perhaps he smelled differently and had left any unusual scent on his hand! We have since laughed and laughed at this unique reaction! Good thing Bob had showered that morning!
  • We finished a fine week in Masaka. Because people often come late and need to register and get a book and a pen to take notes, I sit in the back by the door. It is the area that mothers with babies and small children sit on mats on the floor. Sometimes the whole back of a church building is covered with mats and sleeping babies. It is the three and four-year-olds that I love to interact with, when they let me. This week, Charity decided to be brave and come and shake my hand,  and I began to play a game with her. I would shake her hand and then shake her arm up and down. She would giggle and not let go. Again and again. What had I created!!?? But she was so cute!! Soon two other young girls came over and wanted to touch my hand. Suddenly, I was shaking hands with three beautiful little girls at once. One of them never even smiled, but just solemnly looked into my eyes and would not let go. Such a contact, I don’t know what to make of it. It made my heart happy! These small moments are everything about why we are here.

Can you tell I miss my grandchildren? We were able to video-chat with our son tonight for a few minutes. Sweet water for thirsty travelers to carry us another week along.