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It was Fun while it Lasted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Animal Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jane

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

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

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

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

Jane, coming for dinner.

 

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

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

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

Typical Crested Crane from Uganda

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

Welcome Back to Uganda, Bob and Gail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More to come…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking by Funk or by Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chickens and Mango Trees

[From Gail]

Church meeting under a mango tree.

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

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

Sunday School class dancing for the church service.

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

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

Preaching on the Prodigal Son.

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

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

A bountiful gratitude for the preaching.

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

The Joy of Teaching

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

Gail getting down with the students under the mango tree…

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

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

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

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

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