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Crossing the Equator

One of the unexpected events of our trip across Uganda comes from the unique places we pass through. Sometimes we stop to investigate, but mostly we just slow down and snap a few pictures. One of the places we stopped on our way to Masaka in southwestern Uganda was the small town of Kayabwe, which is the exact spot where the road crosses the equator.

I often forget, living in Texas, how hot it gets in Uganda. When we arrived here a few weeks ago, we came from an undecided Texas weather pattern, typical of Texas winter, where one day is 70›F and everyone is wearing shorts, and the next day it’s 42›F and windy. When we passed through Amsterdam on our way to Uganda, they were still in the throes of winter, everyone wearing parkas and layers of warm clothing. But when we arrived in Uganda, it was its normal tropical 85-95›F with high humidity due to its proximity to Lake Victoria. This combines to make the ambient temperature hot, hot, hot.

On Buvuma Island, in particular, it was so hot that to be in the guesthouse rooms was like sitting in a sauna. There is no air conditioning in such a situation, and the doors and windows must remain closed tight because it is gnat season, and the small gnats, lake flies, and mosquitoes swarm by the millions to any source of light. We arrived at our rooms almost at dark each day, so there was no opportunity to cool them off with the comfortable evening air or the breeze we get up on top of the hill where we stay. The temperature each night reminds us that we are on the equator.

Though every bed in every guesthouse in Uganda sports heavy winter-quality blankets on the beds, we strip them off and rarely can even stand a single sheet over us. We don’t understand the heavy blankets, and the staff always seems confused when we hand it to them and tell them we won’t need it. Do Ugandans sleep under these thick, heavy blankets in this heat? Alfred says he doesn’t use them, so we are continually mystified by this practice.

When we stopped at Kayabwe along the road south to Masaka, the locals have turned it into a tourist attraction with clearly marked “equator” signs, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Of course, Buvuma Island is directly on the equator also, I think, but the people there are blissfully unaware of it, and there is seldom what you could call tourist traffic there.

So we disembarked from the vehicle to stretch our legs, look and the exhibits and get a quick drink of something cool. The place is full of tourist buses which make their regular stops here with tourists traveling to the south and west to visit the animal parks where the authentic African animals are roaming free on the protected savannah. Near the south border with Rwanda, the famous gorilla preserve is situated, and though it is pricey to visit it, there is no lack of visitors. All of these people make the stop along the road at the Equator.

We stood on the display for pictures, shaking hands across the painted line marking the equator, one of us in the northern hemisphere and one of us in the southern. There is also a display where you can pour water on a circular pan and watch it circle the pan in the opposite direction than we are accustomed to seeing in the north.

Very seldom do we take an opportunity to do touristy things in Uganda because there is so much work to be done. But this was very congruent with our schedule and route. Gail is happy finally to have this adventure checked on her bucket list.

 

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JAMES IS FOUND!

We are jumping for joy, but wondering how to get to him.

We hope this is not premature, but we have just received word that James is found. We have few details as yet, but while we were out today doing errands, several members from an organization in Kampala showed up at Alfred’s house with James – apparently, he directed them to Alfred’s house. Alfred’s wife, Julie, tried to call Alfred but his phone has been malfunctioning a great deal – it is likely that at that exact moment we were either in the phone store in Jinja replacing his phone or trying to find the rumored deaf charcoal peddler who has  been seen traveling with a deaf boy of about James’ description.

This as yet mysterious organization couldn’t release James to Julie without some paperwork demonstrating that he actually belongs with us. Julie didn’t have the paperwork. Finally, unable to find Alfred, they returned to Kampala with James! So close, and yet so far! At this time, we are not sure who the organization is, but Alfred has been in touch with them by phone and will tell us the whole story tomorrow.

Earlier this week the police picked James up in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, about three hours by car from where we are and from where James ran away. Discerning that he was a special needs child and an indigent, underage beggar, they turned him over to this organization who has been trying to trace James’ background ever since. Finally, dots were connected, police alerts confirmed as being about James, and they came to Jinja to find us. Once they got to Jinja, the little rascal actually led them straight to Alfred’s house.

So we are trying to reconfigure our program to meet with them to pick him up. It is now 11 pm here, and we are scheduled to leave tomorrow morning at 10:30 to travel 150 km to the north to meet with over 100 pastors far out in the bush. Fortunately, by God’s hand, Gail is going at the same time tomorrow to Mukono, a close suburb of Kampala. It is probable that she will be able to meet with these people and take delivery of our little missing friend. We have not yet assessed how to shift our program this week…

I’m thinking we won’t get much sleep tonight – too much dancing around the room, praying he will not have any inclination or opportunity to run away again, hoping he has had enough, and making plans to collect him at the earliest opportunity. More later as we know the facts.

Our gratitude to everyone for your love and prayers. We’re not quite there yet, so please keep praying him into our hands.

A Sad Update

We had to pick up a generator in Kampala, so after a very hectic day, we arrived, completed our business, and were in a hotel by 7:30 pm.

We are back on the mainland and back on the grid.

This is probably the worst post I will ever have to write, though maybe “saddest” is the better term. I apologize ahead for the length. I write to inform my readers that the deaf boy, James, whom many of you have followed with great interest and generosity, has run away. I hesitated to write about it earlier until I returned to Uganda and could assess the situation directly. Now, after a year, we are back, and this is the sad, but hopefully unfinished, story of that event.

At the school’s Christmas break (two months) it was necessary to find a place for James. James is a bit of a wild child, having grown up on the street. At other holidays, there have been discipline issues at times, which in Uganda means that some adult has ended up “caning” him, which is to spank him with a thin cane or stick from a nearby bush. This seems to be the go-to for almost all child discipline issues here and is commonly called “caning” or “beating.”

On top of that, here is a boy who has had no language or meaningful teaching of any kind until the last three years in school. He has no concept of property ownership or boundaries – if he sees an open door, he walks in; if he sees something he likes, he picks it up. He is probably 13 now and has been schooled a little, has limited language with his signs, and can read some and write some. It is very difficult to determine what he understands and what he doesn’t, and, frankly, what he doesn’t choose to understand. He is intelligent, street-wise, and, well, 13 years old.

Last picture we have of James.

Does he understand what stealing is? We have no idea. Frequently, his discipline issues have involved thievery, which, for context, is one of the ways he survived alone for so long, though he had some relatives who vaguely “looked after” him, but unfortunately most often with the result of further caning. I’m pretty sure caning a child who does not really know why he is being caned is ineffective discipline and only causes enmity which seems to be James’ current view of his relatives whenever he sees them.

Our hope was that as he gained language in a controlled school environment, he would slowly come to understand that the world is not his own personal oyster, nor are all these people his enemies to defeat with guile. I fear that we are not far enough along this track to solve the many related problems.

This Christmas holiday of 2018, Alfred, our employee and partner in Meade International, offered to take James for the holiday break. Alfred and James have a strong bond and it seemed a perfect fit.

During his stay with Alfred, James managed to create only a few “incidents” in the neighborhood around Alfred’s home in Bugembe. He seemed to develop relationships with the neighbor children well enough, because, as we have seen from the beginning, James is full of leadership potential, and this has been repeatedly confirmed at his school. Most of the difficulties involved either normal mischief or thievery, and Alfred and I spent a good deal of email time discussing strategies to deal with him, including finding deaf people who knew signs who could help communicate important concepts to him, like “Quit stealing, for goodness sake!” In all this time, stealing has never come up at the school teacher conferences, with us, at least, and whenever we would give James something like candy or treats, he immediately would begin sharing them among his friends – in fact, he has been the most naturally generous child I have ever met.

At the end of December, James suddenly and inexplicably disappeared from Alfred’s home. Alfred, justifiably frantic, put out every form of lost child alert he could think of, including radio announcements and police reports, though generally, the people avoid involving the police here as much as possible. Nothing solid came back to him, except many false leads of deaf boys here and deaf boys there, which he spent much time tracking down only to find it was not James. Then finally, he received a call from the church leaders on Buvuma Island, out in Lake Victoria, where we first found James. James was there.

Somehow, without obvious funds or normal language skills or even well-developed signs, James had made his way

One of our first pictures of James.

to the island. We have no way to know how he accomplished this because of the language difficulties and because of James, himself. Alfred rented a vehicle, went to Buvuma and retrieved him, finding that he had been beaten at least once, probably for theft – James was happy to see him and ran and embraced him as if all was well. When they got back home, Alfred engaged the help of a deaf man to communicate with him, but James just smiled and laughed, and gave no explanations. He is thirteen, after all, which, considering his difficult life, is probably more like 35 in a 13 year old body.

All seemed well for a week or so. Alfred watched him closely, and kept him close. However, during a Sunday morning walk to church, James slipped away again – Alfred describes it as looking away for a moment, then looking back and he was gone. Alfred realizes in reconstructing events that James was probably planning this “escape.”

Since the second week of January, Alfred has not seen James, though he has done everything he could think of to find him. He even went into the city, Jinja, at night, a matter of ten miles or so, and formed “relationships” with the street children there, showing them James’ picture. Among those children, there were many “sightings” of James coming and going, and Alfred continued for a month going at 4:00 a.m. and other night hours to meet with the children, offer rewards for information, etc., etc.

The strongest possibility in all this time is a report of a deaf charcoal peddler who travels around the region selling charcoal to households, and who has recently been seen with a deaf boy of James’ description assisting him. Unfortunately, after many attempts to find this man, Alfred only misses him by minutes every time – “he was just there a short time ago” – and we, ourselves, experienced this same dynamic with him in Jinja several times while trying to find the charcoal man.

James mugging for the camera with Faith.

Please pray for James and his return to us and to the school. James seemed to love the school and was always happy to return there to his many friends when we would take him out for a little adventure. So why run away? I think, but cannot prove, that he did not understand that moving to Alfred’s house was only for a holiday. There was no way to explain such an abstract idea to a boy who had never known holidays, and he has been moved and abandoned and alone so much of his life that it is impossible to know what he was thinking. Perhaps he thought school was finished for him and, after a few weeks, decided to strike out on his own as he has always done.

We just don’t know. Pray against child abuse, child trafficking, and all the horrible things we are forced daily to push aside so that we can persevere in the hope of recovering him. Our hearts are broken. We write this with tears. Please, cry out to God on James behalf.

Big Developments

Off the Grid till April 6 on Buvuma Island.

[PLEASE NOTE: We will be out of touch for the next seven days as we minister on Buvuma Island out in Lake Victoria where we do not have internet access due to its isolation.]

[From both Bob and Gail] – Hello from Uganda. It has been almost a year since we left here. We are so glad to be back. We are a year older and a little slower to get into the routines of adventure, but we are excitedly looking forward to these next ten weeks.

This past year has been eventful for us. Bob had shoulder surgery with a long recovery, which is why we missed our usual Fall trip in 2018 – the doctor said no way was he ready to travel to Uganda, so we had to cancel our Autumn plans; we sold our home of 26 years and moved in with our son and his family while we were looking for a house, which took us several months longer than we hoped; we finally bought a smaller house, moved in on the Tuesday before we were scheduled to leave for Uganda, spent only six days in our new home, packed for the trip while at the same time moving belongings and endless streams of boxes into the house, then got on the plane to come here. [Whew! I’m tired just writing it all down, let along having just done it!]

Our flight here was the usual 40+ hours of mostly uneventful travel, which we largely slept through. Our Ugandan assistant, Alfred, picked us up at the airport hotel on Wednesday morning, March 27, and the Ugandan odyssey began almost immediately.

Our first stop was in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, right next to the airport – it sounds close, but it takes about three hours on a good day to get there from the airport through the dense, chaotic traffic – this is why Alfred drives and we do not. Our purpose in Kampala involved something we have always tried to avoid in Uganda assiduously – going to a bunch of government offices.

We were applying for NGO status – Non-Government Organization (Non-Profit Corporation in the U.S.) – and the paperwork was in the very final stages after working diligently for three months, Alfred here in Uganda (many trips back and forth to said government offices from his home three hours away in the Jinja area), and us in the U.S. completing, editing, and emailing all the forms and documents required. During this process, Bob both learned and taught Alfred how to use Google Docs to co-write documents from 12,000 miles apart. Thank you, Evan (our son).

When we arrived, we had the forms all ready for signatures. We sat in the hot car in the middle of Kampala signing the many forms to submit, and Alfred dashed off with forms in hand. We ourselves strategically continued to avoid the actual offices in order to circumvent the “musungu effect” on the overall costs.

We are a bit in shock and awe that what we thought was going to be a long, laborious, and expensive process turned out to be a surprise as Alfred came back to the car with our certificate of NGO in his hands after only one additional back-and-forth to the car and fee. We are proud to announce that we are now registered and certified in Uganda as Lake Victoria Bible Institutes Limited, a charitable organization dedicated to teaching believers to plant new churches and training the leaders to lead their people. LVBI Ltd is a separate entity from Meade International, our non-profit U.S. organization. As M.I. we will continue to be the logistical and sending organ of the ministry, gathering the funding to carry out the mission, designing and preparing all the curriculum materials, and providing all the supplies that go into these mission endeavors. LVBI Ltd will include Ugandans in the leadership and training here on the ground where the actual teaching takes place in the village churches that are raised up. We hope and pray that many years after M.I. has faded from the scene, LVBI Ltd will continue its training mission.

A final note from Gail:

I did not have many opportunities to chat with fellow travelers until we reached Amsterdam, the half-way point. While in the restroom at the airport, I met an African woman, and we began a conversation. She told me she was from Uganda (!) but currently staying in Washington D.C. She inquired about what we were doing in Uganda, and I told her about our ministry. I asked where she was from in Uganda…“GULU!”

You may remember from our last trip a year ago that every day God whispered “Gulu” to us, first with the inner voice of the Spirit to both of us simultaneously as we were still at the airport and hardly conscious of where the city of Gulu even was. Then we would hear the word “Gulu” each day in news reports, see it in newspaper articles, or meet random friends of a friend who were from Gulu themselves. More than halfway through the trip, after more than five weeks of this incessant “Gulu-ing,” someone approached us at a meeting with an earnest invitation to bring our ministry to his area. What was his area, we asked. Of course, it was Gulu. We accepted the invitation and we are actually teaching a church-planting conference in the Gulu area in May. (For the details of this adventure, see “Ever Louder Whispers,” https://meadeinternational.org/2018/05/22/ever-louder-whispers/).

I had to laugh when this nice stranger in the airport told me she was from Gulu. I love it when God teases me! Yes, Lord, we heard Your Voice. We are going to Gulu. Meet You there!

The Day After

Packing now like crazy, separating what stays and what goes home on Monday with us and are we under our weight limit…

 

[From Gail]

The graduation of the Lake Victoria Bible Institutes at Buvuma Island was a perfect end to a very busy trip.  Seeing all the students smiling and laughing and so proud of themselves. They were so cohesive and together – they had conquered the three days of testing. Even those who did not pass were in fine spirits and even came to us and made a point of thanking us profusely because we had given them every chance. When the three plus hours of speeches and dignitaries and certificates of the graduation and delicious food were finished, we walked back up Bob and Gail hill to our guesthouse, the Buvuma Palm Resort, to the visual symphony of a magnificent sunset over the lake. It was a fine day. We were proud of the students and proud of ourselves. We were exhausted. Ten glorious weeks in Uganda had passed.

Of course, the next morning was a bit of a let-down after all the highs and anticipation.

More pix of the testing. Students concentrating on the written test.

As we were packing up to catch the ferry, a knock came on the door. It was one of our students, in fact one of the three with the highest results on the exams. We know him well and he is a fine young man. He asked to speak to Bob. The gist of the conversation was that he was feeling that God had something more for him. He wanted to be teaching people and serving. Did Bob have any advice or help to offer?  They talked awhile and Bob made some suggestions and told him to rest and wait on the Lord to show him a path forward. This was a significant meeting and development for reasons I am not at liberty to divulge at this time.

Students cramming for the tests on the break between tests.

As Bob and I talked later, Bob indeed did have some ideas of a way forward. Bob and I began praying about many things and how it could really benefit the Kingdom, Meade International ministry, and the young man. We both felt a peace about this. (We had lots of time to talk because of ferry problems…again!) All of that was so uplifting, to see God working right in front of us. We shall see what will come from this!

Then we left to catch the ferry.  For the first time ever, we did not get boarded on the first ferry – a group of political figures arrived at the last minute and bumped us from the long line of vehicles. Ironically, they were on the island at the invitation of Bishop Wakko to attend and speak at our graduation ceremony the previous day.  (“Attention, Bob and Gail! Perk up and listen – this kind of thing doesn’t happen unless I have something for you.”)

Oral Exam, Bishop Waako translating.

So we were STILL sitting at the ferry station waiting another two hours) when another one of our graduated students approached us and asked to see Bob. He has a small store at the ferry landing and has planted five churches in the region from the training of the Institute. We went over to greet him. As we sat in his small shop, he confessed he had been prompted by the Spirit to pray for Bob’s shoulder (rotator cuff injury, surgery scheduled for July) but had not obeyed because of the flurry of activity at the ceremony, and maybe a little fear, though this man is in every way a peer and has no reason to fear us (it’s an African thing, though). Now he was feeling heavily convicted to do it before we left Buvuma and Uganda. So we were blessed to have him pray for Bob.

The students gathered for a pre-picture; alfred first row this end, kneeling.

Then our student said he had something else to tell us. Apparently his churches have a desire to help support our ministry. The way they want to do this is to donate food to the lunch budget for our training each time we come to the island. This is always our biggest expense in ministry here – feeding the students at our seminars.  I don’t think I can properly express how huge and overwhelming this offer of support is to us. As fruit of the Stewardship Teaching, they are not asking for more ministry, but instead want to join in and partner with us for their own people, Ugandan to Ugandan. In fact, they had already gathered food for us to take this very day: avocados, mangoes, bananas and corn. Our friend said that next time we come, they will begin to gather food a month ahead and we can pick it up when we get off the ferry.  Hopefully, this will feed the many students during the conference, saving a tremendous expense. Wow! The second blessing of the day.  I am feeling very blessed and loved.

Students under the tent, with crowd of 200 – families and guests – in background. This event, I was told was the first of its kind on Buvuma, so it drew some attention.

I was sitting in the ferry waiting area, yes, still waiting, when two young Ugandan men whom I did not know sat down next to me and began to talk to me. They wanted to know if we were evangelists or missionaries. Why were we here on Buvuma Island? I explained what we do and some facts about the ministry. It turned out that these two men were schoolteachers and have a school very near Jinja. They were on Buvuma to have a meeting with some of the pastors and to talk about the needs that they had in their churches and communities – I think perhaps to start a school, desperately needed on Buvuma, but they didn’t commit to that.  They were wondering if there was a way to partner with them in some way.

The reason we got bumped off the first ferry – Big trucks are coming to Buvuma now because it is growing. The roads are still the tiny broken dirt roads, so I’m not sure how they do it. But this little ferry will soon have to be replaced. Our car is behind the big truck with the arrow.

I explained how big our organization is: Bob, Gail, Alfred and Mosaic Ft. Worth.  I introduced Bob to the two men, and they had a long conversation about many things. At the end of that conversation, they asked if they could become students at the Institute.  Of course, Bob said yes! I have no idea what God has in mind with this “chance” meeting while waiting for the ferry.

I am so encouraged by the three different things that God put in our pathway today – day of travel over tortuous broken roads when you expect nothing but tiredness at the end of day. It will take time to sort it all out. But now, it was a great “day after” and stands equal to any of the other days we have had here in Uganda. I am glad I experienced it all.

The two certificates we offered at the Institute: Discipleship on the Left, Graduation on the Right. (Click to Enlarge)

It was a national holiday today and the ferries were packed with people going home for celebrations. As is true with anywhere in the world, the “important” people get to be first in line for their cars to get on the ferry and the rest of us wait for the next one. To be fair, when some of the “important ” people and those in charge realized they had not included the missionaries on the first ferry, they apologized profusely to Alfred and said they would make it right next time. Honestly, we are no different than anyone else and we would have missed some of the blessings of the day if we had left sooner. It all works together for good to those He loves and who are called according to His purpose!

Back to town from the Island. Coming home on Monday.

We have now completed the first official graduation of students from a course of study at the Lake Victoria Bible Institutes, Buvuma Section. We issued 20 Certificates of Graduation and nine Certificates of Discipleship for a total of 29 student certificates. When I started the Institute program in 2014, I did not know…well, a lot of things.

    • I did not know how the pastors and leaders of Ugandan churches would respond to the opportunity I was suggesting to them – to train them in basic biblical churchmanship, theology and life application.
    • I did not know even the idea of giving exams in Uganda for certificates. I did not know until I stood up to give my small portion of the many talks and speeches shared at the ceremony yesterday that the reason for the examination was not for me to be certain they had grasped the information, but rather for the students to demonstrate to themselves that they had learned this material. I realized as I stood and gazed proudly across at them sitting in their robes and graduation hats that these students when I first met them had felt beaten down, isolated and neglected by their circumstances. But now this program has lifted them to a new level. Gail and I needed them to discover that truth for themselves, and somehow, the exams accomplished that. Through the difficult rite of passage represented by the testing, the certificate became much more than a piece of paper to these students. The hard-earned certificate became a symbol of over 200 hours of classroom study that, according to their own testimonies, has effectively changed many of their paths as church leaders and believers. I did not know at first why God required these tests, but I do now –the students needed them.

      Gail passes out and monitors the written exams.

    • I did not know that so many would stick with the program year after year, coming together for a week at a time to receive the training over three and a half years. We have over 250 students registered in the program, but there is a strong core of about 120 who are committed and who show up every time we come.  The fewest hours registered for any of these graduates was 210 hours of class time, and the highest was 270, which represents being present at every single session since I first began with a two-day church planting conference in 2014.
    • I did not know that when I finished my first teaching on the island in 2014 and a man stood up in the back of the class and begged me through an interpreter, “Please, we have no teaching. Please come and teach us….” that the Institute program that we developed in response to that request would in such a short amount of time expand across Uganda to nine centers from west to east, and south to north. Truly, this heart-cry was a request which no teacher could deny, and it has changed my life and theirs.

Bob administers the oral exams.

  • I did not know that every time we come to Uganda the Lord would open new doors for other centers until we have so many requests that we can’t cover them all. The first time it happened, He whispered, “Look to the water,” before I had even left the US and before I even knew there were any people living in the islands of the lake, let alone 250,000 of them. That gentle little whisper is what led me to Buvuma Island the first time. And that still, small Voice still speaks today, repeatedly opening up new frontiers.
  • I did not know at the beginning that God would raise up indigenous Ugandan teachers to carry this Institute ministry forward when I one day can no longer come. Yet, in this graduating group alone, there are at least three and maybe four who will form the core of just such a group over the next two years, gifted teachers who can carry this ministry.

    The students took these tests very seriously.

All of these things collided in my mind and heart as I sat through the ceremony on the island in the front row, in front of OUR students who were about to receive their certificates. As I listened to the many speeches from guest pastors and  local government leaders exhorting them to take their teaching and apply it in their churches, I reflected on the three preceding days of examinations. This had been a grueling ordeal for them because they fear evaluation, especially testing. We gave eight separate written exams to those who could read English, and eight separate oral exams to those who could not read English or could not read at all but still managed to study and prepare for the exams. I was able to use the exam process occasionally to re-teach as needed, often branching from a difficult concept that all the students were still struggling with to teach the concept one more time, followed by more penetrating questions to make sure they had it.

The graduates proudly march in, led by no other than the ever-popular Mama Gail, dressed in the robe they insisted she wear for the ceremony.

I thought of one student from Tuesday’s oral Stewardship exam who couldn’t answer a question about the difference between Law and Grace, which is very difficult for many to grasp since most native church teaching can be quite legalistic. I led him and the other students back through this teaching. I will never forget this student’s final response to my question, “Why, then, if we are free from the Law, would a Christian ever give a sacrificial tithe to the Lord, since it is not required by Law?” The light finally glistened in his eyes as he said without further prompting, “Because we love Him so much.” Finally, he “got” grace. Finally, he understood. My eyes teared up and chills danced along my spine. What did it matter that we were in the middle of exams, and this was “old” information that I had previously taught? He finally “got” it, and it was the exam that brought him to that point! I passed him for the Stewardship exam without further questioning.

Though we had three students who passed with honors, getting 100% on half of their tests and high scores on the others, we did have several who could not academically pass the exams. We had previously decided that the exams would be a positive learning experience as much as possible for all the students, and so we were perplexed how to deal with these students supportively while still holding them accountable for the material. And though I offered a Discipleship Certificate to those who chose not to take the exam and those who could not pass it, most wanted the Graduation Certificate which required exams – they did not want to fail. On the spot, Gail (and the Lord, I am certain) suggested an intensive final interview where she would ask them what they had learned at the Institute classes and how they were applying it in their lives and churches. Doing this, we were surprised to uncover even more newly planted churches that they had neglected to tell us about, and to our further delight, the students revealed a flood of practical applications of all the teaching going on in the island churches that we had not yet heard about. The interviews resulted in passing more students who obviously knew the material in a practical sense, if not an academic one. This has instructed us and opened up a new and very valid testing mechanism that we will now develop for the future.

My head was swimming with all the things the students and I had gone through together over 3 and a half years that brought us to this moment. Finally, I stood with other community leaders to present the certificates and joyfully handed over to these proud, joyous islanders their own certificates, reflecting their own, personal levels of achievement, each certificate personalized for the classes they had each attended.

All this time as I sat there, I heard the Lord chuckling in the background. You see, when it came time many years ago for me to attend the graduation ceremonies for both my own degrees back in the States, for foolish reasons of a much younger man that I can’t even remember now and would never repeat from my current perspective, I shunned both ceremonies and waited to receive my diplomas in the mail. I have no idea what had gotten into me – I just can’t remember – but I regret these two decisions to this day. But now, here I was, dressed in the finery that the student leaders required of me for their ceremony, the very kind of gowns I had previously shunned, getting ready to hand out graduation certificates to each of my students and celebrating with each one as their family and friends gathered around them to be photographed.

I spoke briefly but pointedly about the students’ need to “teach others also” from 2 Tim. 2:2. I also told them that Ugandan churches were on the verge of entering the mainstream of church history by sending missionaries of their own, a development I predict will occur within ten years.

I’m pretty sure the Lord set me up for this, one of his time-warping cosmic jokes, gently chiding me for my foolishness so many years ago in missing my own moments of celebration. I was truly humbled to be repeatedly called “the Professor” by students, speakers, and guests alike, and God restored in me that which was lost by the folly of my youth.

There are many things I just didn’t know back then before all this started. It is the custom in Uganda to refer to someone who speaks into your life as a spiritual “father,” not as a title but conversationally.  God has somehow transformed the overly shy fatherless boy that I know so well from the inside out into the spiritual “father” of a people. I am humbled, deeply, quietly… resolutely.

And, I don’t know what extraordinary surprises are next – even today, a travel day returning from the island, was full of them (see “Mama” Gail’s post on the graduation – “The Day After,” coming next).

Back to town for the day and night.

We headed out early this morning to make the journey to the ferry to take us to our last meeting on Buvuma Island. The road has been under major reconstruction for years now and they seem to be nearing the happy point. The happy point here in Uganda, according to my reckoning of local road construction, is that point when the inconvenience and delays caused by the work is finally surpassed by the improved quality of the driving surface of the road.

They haven’t actually paved anything yet, but the surface is smooth and wide (it will be a major highway most of the way to the ferry stop when it is done) as opposed to its former state of narrow and full of barely navigable gullies, washouts and potholes. We used to take an arduous cross-country short-cut down valleys, through several swamps, and along very narrow tracks just to avoid having to spend so much time on this terrible road, but now it is finally quicker than the short-cut and a lot more pleasant.  So…happy point!

The ferry we might have taken today if it had been where it was supposed to be.

This applies only to the latter part of the roadbed, because they haven’t yet touched the first half, and it is worse every time we drive it, so, I guess if I am honest, it’s still a hard-to-win combination. Still, with the improved back half, the trip only takes an hour for what used to be at least two.

After traveling across all that this morning, we arrived at the ferry station to an empty dock. The ferry was gone. The officer there explained that it was suddenly called to Kome Island for some “emergency” (?) and might be back tonight for service Monday morning, heavy emphasis on the “might.” She kindly gave us her number and told us we could call her this evening to see if the ferry had returned.

So, back to town and the guesthouse for a much needed Sabbath rest, which we have now taken and have enjoyed immensely.

A restaurant we found on our unexpected Sabbath. A great day of much needed rest! God always seems to know what we need…

The officer has now told us that the ferry did indeed return this evening and that the cars and trucks that didn’t get to go today will be lining up early to get a place tomorrow morning. So we will be leaving the guesthouse in Jinja at 4 am to reach there by 5 am to get in line for the 7:30 a.m. ferry. Hope we make it.

So we will be concluding our day of rest by going to bed early, which isn’t so bad, either.

James Update Spring 2018

We traveled back from Soroti to Jinja today, and completed errands in preparation for a five-day return to Buvuma Island tomorrow through Thrusday. Note: Off the grid.

[Note: We are off the grid for the next 5 days, on Buvuma Island out in Lake Victoria. We are testing and graduating our first 27 graduates from the Buvuma Island Section of Lake Victoria Bible Institutes.]

[This is an update on James, the deaf child we pulled from the streets of the island in Lake Victoria and moved to the deaf school in Mbale several years ago – see the “James” thread].

James spent two days with us this trip while we were in his area in Mbale. He stayed overnight with us in the hotel, sleeping in Alfred’s room since the two of them seem to have a close bond. This little boy who has evidenced so much anger and rejection at times in the last several years seems now to be a well-adjusted and happy child. The attention he gets from the other children and the teachers and directors at the school seem to be doing him a lot of good.

We had a little scare with him over the Christmas holiday when he was put with the family that normally kept him on the holidays. Up till then the mother of this little family had done a good job, since she is professionally a teacher of the deaf and understands their issues. However, she did not inform us that she was planning to enter schooling during this holiday and left him at her village under the care of others who were not familiar with his need for a tight rein (he has been on his own for many years without discipline and tended to wander freely on the island, getting into mischief without any language or communication abilities that might have otherwise transferred some social skills to a normally hearing child). Those who were then left in charge of him at the village failed to understand these needs and as a result failed to monitor his behaviors, only becoming alarmed and angry when he reverted to his old behaviors of wandering through people’s homes at will when no one was guiding him.

James sketched me as I preached, and no, those are not elf ears, those are my glasses. This from a boy who never touched a pencil and paper, I think, until two years ago.

This produced an unpleasant and unnecessarily “physical” confrontation, and Alfred actually had to go rescue him over the holiday and return him to the school. Now, unfortunately, the school is the only option for him during the holiday breaks in the school year. So he was glad to get “off-campus” for a day or two and see the big city of Mbale with us. Also, we enjoyed having him along. He is obedient and kind, always sharing the things we give him with other children. We had a wonderful time with him with no troubles of any kind, all former signs of willfulness being gone, it seems.

He has a serious interest in drawing, so we brought him some colored pencils. He spent his time sketching various things and seems to have the eye for a detail of an artist (of course, time will tell). During our Sunday morning church service, he sketched such things as the preacher – me – and Gail’s journal and Bible sitting on the table (an odd choice for a small child to even notice, let alone sketch in his book), the clock on the back wall, etc. Like I said, he seems to have an “eye.”

When we parted ways and Alfred drove off with him to go back to school, there was none of the previous sadness or acting out at our departure. I think he knows now that we will return and that we are not abandoning him – see https://meadeinternational.org/2017/10/21/the-grand-adventure-or-to-oz-and-back-with-james-and-faith-part-2/ for the painful telling of that part of the adventure. Oh, how I look forward to the day when James can talk to us fluently enough to have real relational conversation!

Somehow James has picked up the Ugandan custom of glaring dolefully at the camera when being photographed.

We did not get to visit with Faith this trip, our second deaf child at Kavule Parents School for the Deaf. It was school holiday break, and she was home with her family in Soroti, just as it should be. Still, we missed seeing her. All school reports are that she is doing well, though she needed a new blanket, which we have provided.

On that note though, we did run across another ten year old deaf girl living with her mother who has had no schooling up to now. She does not share the crisis condition in which we found James because her mother, though very poor, cares well for her. But the mother has no resources to put her into school. As a result of this, the child is growing up with no formal language but “family signs,” no education of any kind, and very little interaction with the world outside her home – a “back-yard child.” This is the time to get her into schooling or soon she will be beyond the ability to adapt to such changes in a healthy manner.

Unless Alfred can make him laugh…

So Gail and I are again praying about adding to our small brood of school-children we are overseeing with school fees, though with deaf children the needs are a bit more involved since they must board at the school. The mother has requested our help and has now shown that she is sincere by visiting the school and meeting with the director. But, she says, she cannot afford the fees. So we are seeking a sponsor. In a short time, this lovely child will be like the older deaf children even at the school who simply have never been able to develop the brain “wiring” to be educated. They are able to socially interact well, but their future is very limited because they were rescued and brought to the school too late to be able to adapt to the schoolroom environment. If we can go forward with this girl now, she has a good chance to learn language and be educated, as has been proven by James, who was virtually a street child when we brought him.

James shares a rare “night-out” for dinner with his adoptive family in Mbale.

This would amount to about $35.00 per month in her case, considering the positive ability of the family to share in some of the more basic expenses and to keep her on the holidays. If anyone is interested in rescuing this life (yes, I am reaching now for the heart strings, but I am telling you the truth), we would love to discuss this further with you by email or phone. Please contact us through the comments section of this website. As usual, Meade International will oversee the schooling for the sponsor, giving regular reports, and our local representative, Pastor Alfred, will be physically present as needed to monitor the situation.