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Thursday, after official business was finished, we made the round trip to Mbale and back to deliver James to school – about 4-5 hours driving.

In our telling of the story of this small boy’s misadventures, there are many things which most readers can read between the lines. Some of these things will be guesswork, some experience with life, and some will be familiar themes from our own lives which we project onto this tale. I am choosing to leave them between the lines, to tell you the facts as I heard of them and then experienced them. I will leave you to your own conclusions as to why he runs, how he got so far from home, what God was accomplishing by literally herding his “freedom” down a specific and focused funnel into the arms of a powerful advocating organization that knows Uganda and its people and their cultural needs better than we do.

Here, in brief, are the remainder of the facts of the story:

  • When the police picked him off the street, they placed him legally into the custody of Retrak Uganda. This meant that Retrak could not release him to anyone else’s custody without legal authorizations from the ranking government officials in that area, which in this case included both Jinja and its suburb Bugembe.
    • The result of this was that even if we could have been present when they appeared at Alfred’s home last Saturday, we would not have received custody of James then. They were only trying to establish the relationship connections, which is one of their priority missions with runaways. When they knocked on the door, they had no idea what they would find because James was leading them down alleys and around unfamiliar corners, and he could not tell them, but could only

      Alfred with James, the deaf boy, in the early days on Buvuma Island when we first met him.

      show them. We, Gail and I, and then separately Alfred, had to appear before certain officials, be interviewed even by Retrak to determine if we were suitable and safe for James, if James had a true relationship with us, etc.

  • They appeared on Saturday a week ago, then returned with James to Kampala, which precipitated a series of phone calls back and forth between each of us and Retrak attempting to sort all this out, determine the procedure that would be followed, etc. By Sunday night, we had realized that it was not a simple matter of them handing him back to us, but a process of application, evaluation, and approval by Retrak and by government authorities. James is now in “the system.”
  • Retrak, in fulfilling its mission to reconnect runaways with their clans and families, will in short order be visiting, evaluating, and counseling as needed:
    • the deaf school staff where James is currently boarding,
    • Alfred’s family as the primary caregiver during the holidays,
    • James’ clan members (uncles and grandmother) on Buvuma Island,
    • Perhaps James’ father, who has a history of alcoholism, neglect, and abuse with James, and, we recently heard, is now perhaps under arrest in the islands for some infraction of the law,
    • And even perhaps, James’ mother, who we now hear from Alfred and the uncles on the island, is not dead as we were originally told but remarried and living in Mbale, where James’ school is located (unverified).
  • James is on two years probation for running away. One of the officials that we met with on Thursday was the Chief Probation Officer in Jinja who talked with all of us, the three personnel from Retrak, Alfred, who was required to fill out a multi-page form of personal information about who he is and what his relationship with James is, Gail and I briefly as part of the group, and James himself. The officer, after interviewing us and reviewing the case, announced to the group that now, “James is mine!” Then he instructed Alfred that he would have to report monthly to him for two years on behalf of James.
  • Because we had obligations in Kawango, a town way out in the bush about 150 km north of Jinja, to teach a group of leaders for the week (over 155 were in attendance), and because it was apparent that we would not simply be picking James up from Retrak on Monday, Alfred and I sadly made our way north without resolving the matter, while Gail went to minister with her friend Irene in Mukono (a suburb of Kampala), and we waited in anticipation all week long for the details to be ironed out.
  • Finally, through many phone calls, it was agreed that Retrak, with James, would pick Gail up on Thursday and drive to meet us in Jinja, where they had appointments with the Probation Office in Jinja and later that day with the local magistrate in Bugembe, who had to stamp the papers before James could be released into our custody again. Friday was Good Friday, and so everything had to be finished by Thursday as offices were closed for the holiday on Friday.
    • I informed my host that we had to cut the meeting short by one day in Kawango to take care of an emergency. The stage was now set – all that was required was patience and some endurance – it was a hard week with this reunion with James dangling over us.
  • Last year with James.

    Everyone agreed that James should be immediately returned to the school on Thursday. Originally, Retrak had assigned one of their people to go with us and to begin the investigation of the school that very day. However, another child in their care was very sick back in Kampala and had to be transported to her home area hospital, so their personnel was scattered and their vehicles already in use for that emergency. We don’t much understand what all that was about, but it meant that we would be taking James back to school by ourselves, and it meant that God was whispering to us again through circumstances that He was in the middle of all this and that we could relax and trust Him – the place they were taking the sick child was far to the north, a place called Gulu (See https://meadeinternational.org/2018/05/22/ever-louder-whispers/).

On Thursday, we converged from different directions on the parking lot of the Probation Department in Jinja. When the three Retrak employees emerged from the vehicle, I tried to greet them politely, but I only had eyes for James. I didn’t know how he was going to react to seeing me again after a year and all these escapades. When he saw me, I opened my arms, and he smiled joyfully and rushed to embrace me. We hugged and hugged as if there were no others standing witness. I learned later from the social worker from Retrak that this was a crucial moment for all of us – he needed to see that we were truly bonded to James and not just some well-meaning foreigners. James’ hugs and my tears told the story to him, and he relaxed and knew that he was witnessing something real and amazing – it was for him perhaps one of the moments of restoration that they have dedicated their lives to achieve for these children.

They told us that they had taken James to a deaf church to try and interview him to find out who he was and where he was from. James declared with not the slightest hesitation that his parents were white. They couldn’t believe him and chided him that this was impossible because his skin was black, but James never backed off – his parents were white! None of this made any sense to them until that moment in the parking lot.

 

James’ white parents delivered James to school on Thursday where he is now safe and happy to be back home. We arrived back at our guesthouse late that night after one of the longest and sweetest days in our memory.

Part 3 will finish the tale, filling in some of the significant details.

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We are here tonight…

Long story short so you don’t have to wait for the end of our telling of it: we have James, he is back in school, he is happy and well.

The saga of James continues. After he ran away from Alfred’s home where he was staying for the two month school holiday in December and January, it seemed the earth had swallowed him. Alfred had many leads, but always to other deaf boys. The street children in Jinja who agreed to help him could produce no meaningful leads on James in the whole time between January and February – many rumors, but no solid sightings or leads after the first few weeks.

After Gail and I arrived in Uganda toward the end of March, we pursued the only credible information that we’d had in all that time. It was reported that a deaf charcoal seller, a man who travels about the region selling charcoal for the cooking grills that every Ugandan uses, had a new deaf boy working with him as an assistant. There was a specific place in Jinja where this man stayed while in the area. Alfred repeatedly went there, and we also accompanied him, with the hope of any glimpse of James, and every time he was told by the people there that the man was there only minutes ago but he had just missed him. In Uganda this could mean hours, half a day, and so on. Alfred repeated this scenario many times, always missing the man by “minutes.”

Finally, after our second week of teaching, as I related in a previous post, an organization from Kampala named Retrak suddenly showed up at Alfred’s house in Bugembe with James. We were out completing errands in Jinja, and Alfred’s phone was not working. Unable to establish any legal claim to James with only Alfred’s wife, they waited a bit for us to return, then, unable to connect with us, they left and returned to Kampala with James in tow, a journey of 2-3 hours by vehicle. Over the last week by phone, we have reconstructed as much of story as we could.

It seems that early in January James migrated with a group of street children all the way on foot from Jinja to

First Contact – the folks from Retrak met Gail in Mukono (suburb of Kampala) and then drove her and James to meet with us in Jinja as we returned from a teaching stint.

Kampala, a walk that would have taken them five to six days unless vehicles offered them rides, which apparently often happens. We are told that this is common for these children, and James has proven it to us by his habit of constantly wandering off on adventures. When he ran from Alfred, it was clear that he had planned it because, as you know if you have read the recent posts, this was the second time he ran during this holiday, the first time to Buvuma Island and his old stomping grounds, and Alfred was attempting to watch him closely.

Now I can’t imagine what it was like for James to walk to Kampala, traveling by night, sleeping rarely, we are told, with these other street children by the side of the road, and begging as they went. Kampala, of course, is a virtual Mecca for beggars, which explains the pilgrimage James made, if he understood any of it – and perhaps it was only a grand adventure with new friends.

This story is from the Retrak people who returned James to us, not from James himself. I don’t know if we will ever get the whole truth of how he got to Kampala and why he went from him. He is still a very new communicator, and his language is mostly concrete words for things he uses and needs rather than abstract concepts like where, why, and how.

When James disappeared in January and we were despairing of ever finding him again, Gail and I went into a period of prayer and fasting toward the middle to the end of January. It was during that time that I wrote in my journal this prayer:

“This child is alone and needs an advocate who is able to walk in his shoes. Please send him an intervention, a fallen tree across his path, a landslide that turns him aside and returns him to the path of life….Draw him forth, O Lord, even as Moses was drawn forth from the Nile River that his steps might be set on a path that he could otherwise never choose for himself.” When I prayed this, I was sitting in Fort Worth, Texas, referencing more biblical ideas than anything else. But the Lord spoke to me after I wrote this last phrase that the Nile River I had just mentioned is the very same River Nile that James has lived by his entire life – the great Nile River flows out of Lake Victoria, and Jinja is known as the “source of the Nile.” James had to cross over the Nile River on the new bridge at Jinja at the very beginning of his long journey to even get to Kampala. (It seems to me that groanings which are too deep to be uttered and are spoken for us by the Spirit (Rom. 8:28) often result in truths that we cannot discern until after they have been spoken but which verify to our faith the Voice of the One speaking.)

The following is what seemed to be the Voice of the Lord reassuring us during that time:

  • “The covering I have provided for James through your hand is not finished or complete. Trust Me in this.”
  • “He is mine and I claim him…. Upon this declaration, I have proclaimed a warrant to the spiritual forces of wickedness which bind him, demanding the release of James….Trust Me in this.” This was a very unusual thing for me to hear. Something legal was being done for James in the spiritual realm – Gail and I rested on this word also by faith.
  • There were a series of scriptures accompanying these perceptions that seemed to have the theme of return from captivity: Eze. 39:28 says, “Then they shall know that I am their God, Who sent them into captivity but also brought them back to their own land and left none of them captive any longer. And I will not hide My face from them anymore….” Yes, in context this applies to Israel. Still, this is what I wrote in my journal as I waited before the Lord, in reference to James.
  • Then I was assured, “The journey that James is on is necessary to his calling and development as My instrument. He will return when My purpose has been completed. Then My Name will be lifted up in the testimony of his life. I am the Father of the fatherless, the orphan, and the destitute.”

At the reunion after hugs. James has grown some. He is interacting with the Retrak workers with whom he has made a strong bond.

James was then begging with the street children in Kampala. The police who monitor these activities noticed that James was different – he did not know how to beg like the others, but his methods were more crafty, sneaking up, grabbing and running. Of course, this is the survivor wild-child that we met on Buvuma Island five years ago, a boy who has never been taught what property is, has never had any, and who doesn’t even know the concept of stealing as a moral issue, but only that familiar existence of hunger and survival, and the seemingly pervasive African worldview of fear and power. The police arrested him around January 15.

James is about13 years old now. The police do not generally handle such a child with punishment, so they immediately placed him with a charitable agency in Kampala that has a mission to return runaways to their families. This was Retrak. The very dedicated and fine people of this non-profit organization held James securely all this time since January, cared for him, and sought to trace his identity so that they could restore him to his people. In short, they became a focused advocate for him. But he was apparently only one of two deaf children they have ever worked with, and the clues to where he belonged were very few, and James was unable to lead them to his tangled roots or along his twisted path. We marvel at God’s protective grace and His specific answers to our prayers!

How they came to discover he was from the Jinja area is the rest of the story… (See Part 2).

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.

 

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).