Time in Uganda

Let's Get Started

OK. I think it is about time to populate this blog with accounts of the 2010 Onalaska Church of Christ / Good Shepherd Lutheran Church mission trip to Uganda. I have access to two journals and will create posts from these.

To start with, there will be day-by-day entries following the intinerary published below. Whenever I add the posts for a particular day, I'll change the color of the text in the list from gray to green. So, you'll know how far along we are.

With that, it is time to post... Updated May 15, 2010

The 2010 Trip - Day by Day

Day 1 ~ Thursday False start due to weather in La Crosse and Chicago

Day 2 ~ Friday La Crosse to Chicago and on the way to Brussels

Day 3 ~ Saturday Brussels to Kigali, Rwanda and on to Entebbe Arrive in Uganda at about 10:30 p.m.

Day 4 ~ Sunday Drive to Tororo; church service in the afternoon

Day 5 ~ Monday Bike repair service project at church and school; Visit to Aturukuku Primary School

Day 6 ~ Tuesday Visit Patewo Primary School; Lunch at Sam's mom's home; Attend service at Butaleja church

Day 7 ~ Wednesday Visit the Mbale Mission; Attend service at Kachumbala church

Day 8 ~ Thursday Visit prison near Tororo with Fabian; Women's program at Milca's

Day 9 ~ Friday Follow-up meeting at Aturukuku; Drive to Kampala

Days 10, 11, 12 ~ Saturday through Monday Visit Murchison Falls National Park and the Ziwa Rhino sanctuary; return to Kampala

Day 13 ~ Tuesday Shopping in Kampala; Depart for Brussels at 11:40 p.m.

Day 14 ~ Wednesday Brussels to Chicago to La Crosse; Home!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

World Water Day

If I had to carry water
Yellow containers.
Just for carrying water;
Loaded on bikes, carried on heads. Mostly by children.
Taken from boreholes. Or muddy ponds they call wells.
Water I would avoid. If I could.

What would my day be like
without water, save what I could carry
in yellow containers
from questionable sources?

What would yours be like?

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Entry from Eileen's journal
Entry from Jack's journal follows
Monday, January 17
We stop at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary on our way back to Kampala. Idi Amin did away with the national parks during his regime so rhinos were poached to extinction here. There are a few at the zoo in Kenya and that is it. The refuge has two from Disney and 5 from the Kenyan zoo. Three babies have been born, including the newest named Obama. His mother is American and his father Kenyan. We get to view Bella and her calf Agusta. Awesome.

Entry from Jack's journal
Monday, January 17
As Eileen tells us in her short journal entry, this is the day we traveled back to Kampala. Along the way, we went by a settlement where there must have been a water source near the road -- there were a number of people and a lot of the ubiquitous plastic yellow containers used to carry water from wells. I wrote a short meditation about this hauling of water, something completely foreign to most of us in the U.S. Following that, some more pictures from the day.

If I had to carry water
Yellow containers.
Just for carrying water;
Loaded on bikes, carried on heads. Mostly by children.
Taken from boreholes. Or muddy ponds they call wells.
Water I would avoid. If I could.

What would my day be like
without water, save what I could carry
in yellow containers
from questionable sources?

What would yours be like?

Small child, small container

They're everywhere

Sweeping at the entrance to the park

Road hazards, Ugandan style

Ankole on the road to Kampala

At the Ziwa Rhino Refuge


Know your rhinos

Lunch at the sanctuary

On the road to Kampala
Apparently, you can ride anywhere

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Where the Wild Things Are

Entry from Eileen's journal
Entry from Jack's journal follows
Sunday, January 16
Happy Birthday to my Lydia, 10 years old!! Ismael hires a soldier to ride with us through the park. I make an extensive list of animals and birds. All of us are beat up by the rough ride. My back has not felt this bad in months. I could not hold on tight enough to give myself stability on the rough roads.

As you can see, Eileen did not write much this day, but as noted in her journal entry, she kept a comprehensive list of all of the birds and animals we encountered on our trip, a list that grew significantly during the drive and river trip in Murchison Falls National Park. Here it is:

Kobe/ waterbuck
Jackson hartebeest
Water buffalo
Black and white colobus
Bushbuck [stripe on back]

Tawny eagle
Brown hornbill
Black kite
Shakra hawk
Little egret
Medium egret
Bateleur eagle
Guinea fowl
Crested crane
Rap wing
Spur-winged plover
Shadow-billed stork
Swallow tailed bee eater
Malachite kingfisher
Pied wagtail
Grey-headed kingfisher
Egyptian goose
African jacana
Grey heron
Spur-winged goose
Yellow-billed stork
Pied kingfisher
African fish eagle
Red-throated bee eater
Bolarus heron

Entry from Jack's journal
Sunday, January 16
As already noted, I did not have journal entries for the safari part of the trip. However, I did, after the trip, write a few meditations, one of which I'll share here, followed by some pictures from this amazing day in the park.

Lessons from the Kingfisher
Brightly colored, he does not exactly blend in.
Like a muzungu in Uganda.
He is what he is. And he will do kingfisher things, while standing out
in blue, red, black, brown and white ~ his kingfisher colors.
A lamp is not brought to put under a basket Matthew 5:15

And he flies where he must. To do what he needs to do.
Uganda. Murchison Falls National Park. The border with the Congo.
These mean nothing to him. And to us? Barriers.
But only if we let them be.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, ... Galatians 3:28

On Safari...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Moving On

Entry from Jack's journal
Entry from Eileen's journal follows
Saturday, January 16

We traveled up to Murchison Falls National Park on Saturday and I didn't keep journal notes on this part of the trip. So, I'll contribute a few pictures and videos to supplement Eileen's journaling of the safari experience.

On the road, north of Kampala

Leisurely lunch at Masindi

At the park entrance, north of Masindi

Colorful Kingfisher

Murchison Falls

Entry from Eileen's journal
Saturday, January 16
Day 9, January 16, 2010, eastern Uganda
How many ways are there to carry burdens?
We see women and girls with babies tied on their backs,
45-pound water jugs balanced on heads,
banana bunches on shoulders,
long canes of sugar loaded on bicycles,
arms high in the air holding kebabs of roasted goat for sale,
Genevieve serving bowls of rice, matoke, and groundnut sauce,
motorcycles hauling body-sized bags of charcoal, furniture, or a pig.

What about other burdens?
Hauling the water jugs long distances every day.
Food preparation that encompasses the entire day: digging your potatoes,
steaming mashed banana,
boiling rice after shaking and sifting away the red dust,
roasting groundnuts,
rolling out chapatti,
boiling drinking water,
picking fruit,
gathering eggs,
washing the dishes.
What about doing all your laundry by hand?
Walking everywhere?

And there are other burdens–
children with no mothers and fathers due to HIV/AIDS,
wounds but no doctors,
bad teeth,
children you can’t feed,
schools with no supplies,
prisoners with no beds,
no soap,
no salt,
no jobs,
no money,
Are these burdens to these people?

I don’t know.
If they are, I think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 11, 28, 30: “Come all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Also, Paul’s admonition in Galatians 6:2, “Carry each others burdens and you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Samuel will stay to take Milca to the lab and run other errands while the rest of us go to Murchison Falls and on a safari in Murchison National Park. Our vehicle breaks down in about three miles. Ismael, our driver, calls for help. We wait several hours. Eventually we make it to the magnificent falls. The five of us have rented, via Samuel, a cabana the next two nights. Two ugly warthogs sleep side by side outside the Red Chili Resort restaurant. “On the savannah, the vast savannah, the warthogs sleep tonight . . . !” There are two tiny, half-inch frogs in the shower.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Winding Down

Entry from Jack's journal
Entry from Eileen's journal follows

Has it Been a Week? Has it Only Been a Week?
Friday, January 15

Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you...
Mark 5:19

One should keep one’s eyes on one’s destination, not on where one stumbled.
African proverb

It has been one week since we took off from La Crosse. A short week. A long week. Our last day as missionaries, such as we are. Today we return to Aturukuku to talk with the teachers. It turns out to be a disappointing meeting in a way, but possibly an important one for the future. We talk about our desire to do things that would give the students a better experience in the classroom, ask what the teachers need to make this happen. There is discussion of needs (another rock tossed up has hit its mark) and we talk about classroom supplies - wall charts, flash cards, etc.

End of the week meeting at Aturukuku

But at some point, one of the teachers begins to discuss the view of improving the school beyond the issues of supplies. There is a lot of talk about security: the need for a fence around the entire property, improvements in the way of steel doors and shuttered windows and limiting access to rooms through the eaves which are now open. And more teachers’ quarters. There is housing for only two teachers’ families on the grounds. And becoming a boarding school.

With the exception of some limited security improvements (we have already provided support to secure the small office space where the computer and printing equipment is used), these are not things we are willing to pursue - they belong to the parents and school district in our opinion. I understand; housing means the teachers can have rent-free accommodation and this is certainly a big deal for teachers who make as little as these do. A boarding school would attract more families, especially those that could afford the extra expense involved. This would increase both the teachers’ salaries and provide funds for much needed supplies. These would, for sure, provide a better environment for teachers and students.

Eileen finally explains that, as Christians, we are particularly interested in helping those most in need, in this case, poorer families in the area whose children attend Aturukuku. She says boarding schools in the U.S. are for more affluent families. Rafael Owere Oyango who, among other things, is an expert in “education planning” was visiting the meeting at Adrian’s invitation. Adrian, the head teacher at Aturukuku, tells us that he consults with Rafael from time to time and thought he would be interested in the discussions. At this point, he speaks for the first time. “Boarding schools are for the more affluent in Uganda as well.”

What the teachers want is not wrong or bad. Being neither an educator nor a Ugandan nor a parent of a child at Aturukuku nor on the staff there, I would not presume to dictate their vision for the future of the school. But I am convinced that the issues of improving the classroom experience and being available for the children they are now serving are things we should discuss. Openly. We should offer our opinions. We must be careful to listen, but shame on us if we do not strive to work together. To ask for change and be willing to change as needed to help the children who are our focus and, I believe, a real concern of the school staff as well.

Our feeling is that the school’s ambitious plan is not consistent with our vision. I won’t say we can’t do what they are asking. But it is a plan that has elements we have decided we will not be a part of. I thought this had been made pretty clear, especially the boarding school idea, as we told the school leaders in 2008 that it was outside the scope of our work and beyond the means that we are willing to commit.

I ask the teachers about the benefits of having the duplicating equipment. It has been used to print exams. That has been helpful. I ask about other uses, printing lessons for the students, for example. One of the teachers says that they spend a lot of time and effort writing lessons on the blackboard and that having the lessons duplicated would be a great help. “Why hasn’t this been done?” The reply, “Because we don’t have paper.” This because parents, who were supposed to provide paper, have not done so. Because they expected the Americans to do this.

This makes me angry. I know that the families here do not have much and that we need to recognize that there is much already being done - there is, after all, a school and an underpaid staff who nonetheless prepare and deliver lessons as best they can. There are now over 400 students, many of whom are in class even though I know they have many responsibilities at home. But I would expect that what must be several hundred families could collectively make paper available. If this were shared amongst 200 families, I figure it would require about $1.00 a year from each. I do not share this at the meeting, because I cannot in all honesty say I know or can even imagine living in a place where the average income is under $300 per year. And the life expectancy is less than 50 years. Still… Oh well. It is clear that I have a long way to go and a lot to learn.

I ask Adrian to show us the books that were delivered last summer. We have been told that students were able to take books home during the last school session and were read by students and parents as well. However, the state of the “library” now is not good. The books are piled along one wall in a storage room at one of the on-campus teacher’s quarters. Most are still in the boxes they were shipped in. It is a sad sight. I want to cry. Or shout at Adrian, Shaban and the teachers. But I just ask, “Why? Why are they here, in boxes, inaccessible?”

Books in boxes, stored away...

School is not in session and with the security concerns, they felt it best to put the books where they could be locked up. This makes sense, but we are left wondering why the facilities at the school itself were not put to better use - the secure room where the computer and duplicating equipment are located, for example.

We are learning valuable lessons - recall the story that Shawn told us about how they arrived at a successful mission ministry in Mbale. They made a lot of mistakes. And they learned from them. We have stumbled, but need to keep our eyes on the destination. Once again I have to say we have a long way to go and much to learn.

We reconvene under the tree with very little time left to meet. Samuel has collected Milca and she is in the van, waiting to ride with us to Kampala. She has a doctor’s appointment and has been fasting since last night. It will be at least five hours to Kampala. We do need to leave, for her sake.

I did not note what we said to wrap up the meeting, but Rafael offered some closing remarks, directed to the staff:

“A library is an important addition to the school. You should take care of the books. And, Mr. headmaster and teachers, you must provide the students an opportunity to collect books and a chance to spend time reading them.” And, he went on, “You should not make Aturukuku into a boarding school.”

With that, we gather our notebooks, our backpacks, our water bottles and our thoughts and leave the field in which we had come to serve only seven days earlier.

Entry from Eileen's journal
Friday, January 15
We meet with the teachers at Aturukuku School while Samuel talks to Adrian and Shaban [why did he have to show up!!!] about the library room. The teachers have an extensive list of wants. Security keeps coming up. Finally Samuel, Adrian, Shaban, and another man introduced as Adrian’s mentor, Raphael, return. Shaban starts in. Parents quit bringing reams of paper because they figure the bazungus will provide. Which is also why the city has not done what they could. The bazungu Americans have come. Even the water and power bills are not being paid – the school has bazungu Americans. They think Adrian has received money from us that he is keeping for himself. If the school could have security and housing for the teachers, it could become a boarding school. What? WHOA! When Shaban gets to the boarding school part I figure out the agenda and interrupt, “Mr. Shaban, in our country boarding schools are for the rich.”

“Here, too,” says Raphael quickly.

“But as Christians,” I say, “we want to help the poor and orphans. Not the rich.” Raphael then tells Adrian they have a library room and books and that’s where their focus should be, using those resources. Later Samuel tells us, even though the money to create a secure room for the cycle machine was sent over a year ago, the work was not done until a week ago. What??? Why not? We have much to discuss. Bill and I definitely think we need to step away from providing for schools. Maybe offer gifts of goodwill when Samuel or Sylvia return home, but that’s it. We cannot solve all the school issues. We can provide scholarships for Bible teaching though.

Gordy trades places with me and I sit in the middle section of the van rather than the back. Now I can see out, plus the jolting is not as severe. Milca and I share a seat as we all head to Kampala. John is beside us. She is fasting to have lab work done. Our time at the school has gone longer than expected and Bill and I worry Milca has gone too long without food. Bill persuades Samuel we should stop for lunch. Earlier in the week Samuel explained that people here do not complain, just tough it out. TIO. Milca has not complained. We drop her at her sister’s and then head for Paul and Rebecca’s house. And showers. Cold water, but still, showers! Sylvia’s friend, Miriam, comes by. We met her when she visited in La Crosse. She is a lawyer and like Sylvia, very beautiful.

I am not patient.
To compensate I multi-task – depending
on circumstances, it distracts or focuses me.
I draw pictures during Gordon’s sermons,
work sudokus at the clinic,
sing through red lights.
Here in Uganda I am overwhelmed by people standing by,
leaning on buildings,
Men with elbows on knees,
mothers holding babies,
children under mango trees.

What do they wait for?
The day to pass?
A hot sun to shift,
a turn at the bore hole,
a crop to grow,
someone to buy the papayas, jackfruit, tomatoes?
Are they waiting for work?
A roof,
message of hope?

My insight?
Impatience is not African.
Waiting patiently is.
I wonder, are they waiting for me?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Jail, Bikes and Jewelry

Entry from Eileen's journal
Entry from Jack's journal follows

Thursday, January 14
Fabian and Israel are both at breakfast and sit side by side, neither looking too happy. This was not supposed to happen – we were to meet with the elders first! Bill and Jack do a good job talking to the men about their ministries and make it very clear to Israel that he wants to be above reproach. So should not handle the money. Israel explains all that he must do with the three churches and then weeps, saying he gets so discouraged. B & J try to encourage both men. I decide to stay and help Genevieve rather than go to the meeting with the elders. She and I have not connected and I do not know why – I am usually good with people. She tells me I can help with dishes.

While Genevieve sets the dishpans up in the shade I try to entertain Enoch with the bubbles I’ve brought. Of course, after chasing bubbles for a while he tips over the container. So, I try to make bubble solution. I’ve brought glycerin but there is only hand soap – no dish detergent. Later Gordy works on the solution too but we never get it right. The dinner plate-sized bubble wand breaks. I tell Enoch that Gordy is an engineer and he’ll help fix it. “I’m going to be an engineer too. I’m going to go look for the engine!” He runs across the grass.

Genevieve tells me she has a degree in marketing and has not been able to find a job. She hopes to get a masters, then a doctorate. She wants to teach. How much could she earn? Could she teach part-time at a university and afford to go to school in America? Probably not, I tell her. She tells me to find out and has many questions. I think I understand the edgy attitude she has seemed to have. Here she is wanting to further her education, have a good job, but is here waiting on all of us. Dishes take several hours. When we are done I join Milca and Ronnie in the kitchen who are singing songs of praise while steaming matooke and cooking chapatti. I pull out songs I’ve brought. Ronnie cannot read the words so I retrieve a pair of reading glasses. He is pleased that he can now read. I don’t remember how it came up but I mention that Milca and I are about the same age. Ronnie is surprised and says, “You’re an old mama!”

The men return and are pleased with their meeting with the elders. Jack and Gordy fix the bubble wand. I have a new item to add to the team packing list: an Eagle Scout. Gordy always seems to have whatever tool or skill needed. Also, he is disgustingly positive! After lunch Genevieve tells me, “We have work to do.” More dishes. The men will go to one of the prisons with Fabian. “Be prepared to preach,” Samuel tells them. “Something encouraging, to give them hope,” says Fabian. The women will not come until 4 p.m. because of work commitments I am told. I take my station in front of the two rinse pans while Enoch finds a long stick and rides it, his horse. “Are you sure it’s not a giraffe? It’s awfully long.” He decides it is, takes my hat, and rides the “giraffe” around the yard. My pasty skin needs the hat but it is such a hoot watching him. George brings a dish to wash and Genevieve sends him back for a container of ashes to scrub it with.

Katete and Esther show up around 2 p.m. to help with the cooking. Katete tosses the dry rice over and over on a large straw plate before starting it in a huge kettle. Esther and Ronnie cut up [goat?] meat and start roasting it. Other women arrive over the next couple hours, all dressed in their Sunday best. I am wearing the kitenge Bill brought me four years ago and a shortsleeved blouse, trying to stay cool. Damali does not sit with the group and I wonder why. She does not seem to want to be here.

Ronnie prepares the meal for the women's meeting

Soon we are a group of 18, move into the house’s large sitting room, and kick out the men. The women take off their shoes before entering the sitting room. I pass out the beads and photos of jewelry. Three of the women cannot see the beads so I borrow Ronnie’s glasses and get the other two pairs I’ve brought. Soon all are stringing beads. A good time. I pass out the books of the Bible bookmarks Roni Westbrook had laminated for me and explain how to affix a strand of beads. I want this to be my lead in to a discussion of Bible study. I ask them to wrap it up several times. Finally, Jackie, Israel’s wife, commands them to stop and helps me gather the materials. I give her all the leftovers so the women can meet again, then take photos of everyone wearing their jewelry. They present me with a tiny cake and manage to cut it into 24 pieces!! We share with the men and have 12 baskets left over.

Women from the Tororo Church of Christ meeting in Milca's living room

They do not have any women’s Bible studies yet so I tell them about the study Shirley and I lead and also about the support group we facilitate on Sunday morning. They have lots of questions. I pass around my Bible, tell how my dad taught me that your Bible is your workbook and should be written in. I give them all pencils and Post-it notes. I read a passage from the Bible I’ve brought and give examples of questions I’d ask. I talk to them about the importance of Bible study. I knew two of the women have finished the basic study course at Mbale and brought two Bibles with Jesus’ words in red and good concordances. I didn’t realize until the moment that Jackie wasn’t studying at Mbale until March. Two Bibles, three women, what do I do? I leave the large Bible with Jackie and do not mention the other one. I know all the women received Bibles four years ago.

Huge plates of food are served. No way would I be able to eat that amount so I ask for a small portion. All of us eat with our right hand, something they are adept at and I am not. I get rice and sauce all over myself. Damali tells me about her work as an HIV/AIDS counselor. I wish April were here to talk with her. Afterwards I ask the women what each does during a day – a couple teachers, a social worker, 5 farmers, 3-4 homemakers, and I forget the rest. An accountant? They ask me how our church takes care of people in need and many other questions. They ask about my life and are astounded. I assure them I am not the normal woman! Sicola asks, “How do you dig?” I do not understand. Finally she mentions having time to “dig” my food. I try to explain grocery stores and they are all amazed.

As they prepare to leave – it is dark out – I tell them they have two more tasks: take two items from the gift table in the next room and keep taking gifts until they are all gone. Then, sing one song with me. I ask Jackie, who leads the praise team, to pick a song. We sing Amazing Grace. When they are gone I have an idea and ask Genevieve if she has a good Bible. She does not. I give the other good Bible to her. She says she will send a gift to me and I say no, you have given all of us a gift waiting on us, cooking and cleaning! Those are gifts! She is very pleased.

The men are sitting outside in the dark admiring the stars and ask me to join them. We count shooting stars and marvel over our day. Seven prisoners accepted Christ after Jack’s message. Thank you, Lord!

Entry from Jack's journal
We Go to Jail, Take a Bike Ride and Make Jewelry
Thursday, January 14
Compared to the last 4 days, today is supposed to be a bit lower on the intensity scale. At least as far as running around the countryside goes. Israel joins us for breakfast and we talk about issues at the church. Fabian is there as well, and we are glad to see this. Bill reads some scripture regarding the role of elders in the church and we discuss how we select elders in our churches and what their roles are. I guess this is something that new churches need to come to grips with and I know the training at Mbale has provided a good basis for decisions. While the church leaders have been in training since sometime in 2006, this is just the beginning of the next phase in the growth of the church.

Later, we meet with all of the elders at the church building and go over the same teaching. In addition, we talk about dealing with money and again explain what we do in our churches. We also discuss the recommendations that Shawn and Dennis had made during our meeting yesterday. Shawn did acknowledge that a lot of what we see in the church regarding views of leadership and responsibility for finances is typical in leaders in Africa, including church leaders.

During this meeting, I excuse myself and head to the latrines across the yard from the building. They are locked. One of the elders comes and escorts me about a block to a restaurant where I can use the restroom. When I get back to the meeting, I suggest that the church consider everything - including their latrines - from a “service-to-others” point of view. I am assuming that people in the area might appreciate having access to the facilities. There may well be good reasons for locking them, but even such a simple act ought to at least be weighed with the opportunity to provide a service included in the balance.

Fabian is Sylvia’s brother and a member of the Tororo church. For years, he has, ministered to inmates in jails and prisons in the Tororo-Mbale area. He has arranged for us to go with him to the jail just north of Tororo where he visits. I
doubt it is unprecedented, but I think it is certainly unusual to have a group (the five men on the trip) of visitors from overseas make a visit. Fabian has had to make a number of calls to get approvals and to arrange a mutually acceptable date. And today is the day we go to jail…

It is a clear, sunny day and we enter the jail through an iron door, stepping into a bright, open courtyard, the ground of which is covered with drying corn and cassava. It is not the dark, sinister place of my imagination, but to call it Spartan would be to do it considerable justice. We do not see the living quarters afforded the prisoners, but I have no doubt the image darkens considerably in those places.

The jail near Tororo where Fabian ministers to the prisoners

We had provided Fabian with a small offering which he used to buy soap, something the prisoners do not get. In fact, they get very little save the bright yellow, loose fitting, short sleeve, short pant uniforms. And even these are in such short supply that a few of the men are in tattered “civies.” We are not allowed to take out cameras while inside the jail so we have no pictures from our time there.

As we walk in, 25 or so prisoners are gathered under a narrow portico, the only shade afforded them. They are singing a lively song - in Swahili - and jumping and clapping with the rhythm being pounded out on the makeshift drum one of them is playing. A number of them actually look happy. A temporary thing, is my guess. After a couple of songs, they all sit and Fabian addresses them. He has told us that he has given away the Bibles he had and that a number of the men are still without. He asks the men how many need Bibles and what language they prefer.

When we get back to the house, we all agree that some of our project funds should be used to get Fabian a supply of Bibles. I also commit the generous donation that Bob, one of my co-workers, had given me to use as needs arose. Samuel would buy the Bibles in Kampala after the rest of us departed as he was staying a few extra days and would be returning to Tororo during that time.

After this, I deliver a brief message. The topic is perseverance. What do I know of this in relation to the people who live in East Africa, much less those who find themselves in the situations these men are in? Fabian translates. He had told us to be ready for this and I prepared last night. When I was done, Fabian said I needed to issue an “altar call,” so I did. After a brief period of still silence, five young men came up. As Fabian was talking to them, a sixth joined the ranks. We gathered around them, laid our hands on their shoulders, and Fabian spoke and prayed.

Let’s be clear on this, the decision these men made had little to do with the content of my message or my riveting delivery. Fabian and a lady we met when we first came into the yard have invested a lot in teaching and encouraging these men. The lady - I do not know if she was employed by the prison or was a volunteer - told us, “All of my men are saved.” The men were prepared. Our visit was an opportunity. The Spirit led them. I was just thrilled to have been there to share the joy.

We visit a jail in Uganda

The young men who accepted the call introduced themselves. A few mentioned that they had relatively short times left on the sentences, just a few days for one, a month or so for a couple of the others. When we leave the jail building, we meet some of the staff and their families - there is housing on the grounds - in the meeting room, another large shade tree that seems to be part of any public building complex. We do take some pictures here and also decide to give out the rest of the Trane bags with the gifts that we prepared for the school teachers.

We return to Milca’s and decide to go into Tororo on some errands. We want to get a netball for Israel to take to Kachumbala to make up for our failure to have one for the girls there when we offered the boys a soccer ball. Also, I went into the post office to get stamps that I would give to the teachers at Aturukuku and we stopped in at the stationers to get some envelopes. These were so the students who had written the letters would be able to respond in the future to any communication they might get from the Harry Spence class. Finally, there is a visit to Barclay’s ATM to replenish our cash reserves. I had not one problem getting cash from ATM’s on this trip and we used machines in Kampala, Jinja, Tororo and Mbale. Gordy, on the other hand, had his card rejected several times although we were able to find machines he could use often enough to provide him the cash he needed. While we were in town, Fabian took the car to run some other errands. We waited a while for him, but after we got the cash, Samuel came up with a brilliant idea: we could get the local boda-boda (bicycle taxi) drivers to bring us back to Milca’s. Cycling in Uganda! We were on it like groundnut sauce on matoke.

Samuel quickly got the attention of three of the many drivers who seemed to be everywhere. I got on behind a slender young man and we rode off, me riding comfortably on a padded seat with my own small handlebars. He was immediately hard at pedaling the single speed bike shod only in flip-flops. I don’t think he was clipped in. I felt for this young man as he carried me and his sturdy bike on a two mile ride that included two climbs. Not big climbs, mind you, but consider his load. It was easy to tell that he was really straining on the uphill sections, but he kept at it without faltering. I was impressed and made sure that I got a picture of myself with him. He was one strong cyclist. We gave the men twice what Samuel suggested; they earned every shilling of it. And then some, if truth be told.

Gordy on the ride from Tororo to Milca's house

This was also the day that Eileen was to meet with the women of the church. They arrived in the late afternoon for a program that included making jewelry from supplies Eileen had brought with her. We men had more important things to do: go to jail, ride boda-boda’s and rest from all of that exertion. Besides, we were banned from the proceedings. For good reason, actually, so I’ll have to point you to Eileen’s journal for more details of the afternoon’s activities. I did manage to get involved in one part of the program - the cord that Eileen had for the necklaces and bracelets was so slick and stretchy that it would not hold a knot. We tried tying the two ends together with overhand knots, square knots and the occasional accidental granny knot. They would all release at the slightest pull. Then, with what must have been a flashback to an earlier life, I thought to bring the two ends together and wrap both strands around in a simple overhand knot. When pulled tightly (and you could really pull as the cord seemed to have been virtually unbreakable) the whole arrangement held tight. Amazing. I am an engineer but not one of those hands-on types. I used to be, but a long time ago I discovered the wonder and joy of working out not just understanding how things worked, but using mathematical and computer models to explain why. My hands have not been dirty since. But on this trip, I not only came up with a solution to the above-mentioned knotty problem, but was able to use my Swiss army knife and a paper clip to repair the soap-bubble wand that Eileen had given to Enoch. Miracles, pure and simple.

Solution to a knotty problem...

After the ladies had left, we enjoyed tea outside. As it got darker, the skies began to glow with uncountable stars; familiar constellations were either missing or appearing in unexpected locations. An occasional shooting star highlighted the otherwise static display of cosmic grandeur. Just another day in Africa.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Real Missionaries

Entry from Jack's journal
Entry from Eileen's journal follows

Meeting with Professionals
Wednesday, January 13
We visit the mission in Mbale to meet with Shawn and Dennis; we share some of the things we have learned at the church in Tororo and they give us some good advice concerning our relationship with them along with some suggestions as to what to do as we go forward. They claim that, having made most of the mistakes it is possible to make regarding mission work in Africa, they have come to a good understanding of what to do. I’m not sure about the “every mistake” part, but they have had remarkable success and it is always good to get some lessons.

We also see the relatively new Good News Productions International - Africa office. The facilities are first rate and the programs being made available in East Africa are impressive. We met Vince and Joy and they presented a bit about the work they have done and will be doing.

The Mbale Church of Christ

Lunch was tentatively set to be enjoyed with Shawn in Mbale, but late in the morning, we get a message from Israel, who was at the church in Kachumbala. He tells us that the church is set to prepare a meal for us and that “there is nothing I can do to stop them!” So, we take off for Kachumbala, about 12 miles NW of Mbale.

As we gather to depart, we get out a number of the Trane tote bags, these loaded with an assortment of goodies that were requested by the Mbale team members. This was at our invitation; we thought it was the very least we could do, to acquire and transport the little necessities and indulgences for this dedicated group of missionaries. It does seem that chocolate is high on most everyone’s list. As word got out that we were going to provide this service, I received a variety of additional items from family members in the States. These included dress up clothes for grandchildren, DVD’s, Bible study materials and toys. Shawn expected to reimburse us, but we had way too much fun doing this to listen to that suggestion! This transfer marked the delivery of the last of the items we had brought to give away, save a couple of soccer balls and a few extra bags. We were traveling lighter now!

As is the case everywhere we go, we are warmly greeted by the leaders at Kachumbala. The congregation is already in their small, rented church building and wait while we have a brief discussion of the program, which includes us delivering a message. There is an extended period of amplified, can’t-stay-in-your-seat singing. The choir led and the many children followed, clapping, swaying and singing. And smiling. It was as big a set of smiles as has been my pleasure to witness. Eventually, I was invited to introduce the team, but today, it was Bill’s turn to be the “big drum.” He delivered another good message that was well received, this indicated by some comments made by members after the service.

Much as it was at Butaleja, the congregation here has acquired some land upon which they plan to construct a new building and we went to see it. After passing through the small town, we entered into an area of mud huts. One of these was on the property that the church had purchased. A mother and her children (and a few others from the neighborhood) were out in front of one of the small homes. We stop and greet them. I ask Pastor William what will happen when the church starts building and he tells me they will not have to move and he expects the family to stay where they are. Israel tells me that with a well maintained roof, the basic mud, straw and stick structure could last 30 years.

We meet a family at their home - a mud hut - on the church property

Coming here and meeting the people is pretty much like throwing a rock - we land on needs. The congregation needs $150 for a year's rent. We gather and decide that we will provide this for them. The plan is to forward the funds to the Mbale mission. We talk about sending one of the leaders, probably Pastor William, to MTI for training. He says there are three that would like to go. We decide we can provide scholarships for two. We do not discuss this with them, but we will see if it is possible for us to take on all three. We encourage them to visit MTI and get information about enrolling. I hope they follow up.

The “lunch” that Israel told us about was actually planned as an after-service, after-visit-the-new-property, early dinner. And we do not eat until around 3 or 4 (I am writing this two days after the visit and everything is already a blur). You have to understand it’s a muzungu thing to take note of the actual time. We are quite hungry, but this observation is not intended as a complaint, just an offering of facts. The graciousness of the people here towards visitors is humbling and we often find ourselves deeply moved by the generosity of those who have so little. In a material sense. Compared to what is the norm for us.

We are led to a small building sporting a sign declaring it to be a nursery/day care, through a small room where bottles of water and pop are set out and into another, equally small, room that is nearly overwhelmed by the tables and chairs set up for the meal. There is a serving table to one side, a groaning board living up to this descriptive name as it is loaded with a marvelous, eclectic meal prepared by one of the congregation who has attended a cooking school. She must have gotten a really good grade. After prayer and a poem recited by a young boy in a slightly too large suit, we serve ourselves from a selection that includes vegetables, rice, beef, chicken, spaghetti Bolognese, and plates of different types of locally grown sweet potatoes. The latter come in white and yellow with flavors that verify they are of the same family as our deep orange yams. This is all finished with a fruit salad, a tasty mix of watermelon, papaya, mango and jackfruit.

Enjoying the afternoon meal at Kachumpala

After the meal, I approach Pastor William and tell him we have a gift - the $11 (about 25,000 Shillings) from five-year old Elli who wanted this to go “to a family.” William expresses his gratitude and says the church will find someone who needs this then let us know what they have done. Just now, about three weeks after the end of the trip, I received an e-mail from him, explaining that they provided the gift to an orphaned girl named Esther, who was able to buy books, a school uniform and shoes.

We leave for Tororo late in the afternoon. When we arrive at Milca’s, we have tea and not long thereafter, a full dinner. I am likely to spend nearly two weeks in a third-world country and gain weight!

I cannot emphasize too much how we are constantly taken by how graciously we are treated by our hosts. Our western view leads us to ask Samuel over and over what we can do to ease the obvious load we place on them. I know Sylvia has, behind the scenes, made some provision for us with her mom. But Samuel also reminds us over and over that it is an honor for the family to have guests and they will do nothing less than offer us the best. Graciousness. We are being taught a lesson here.

Entry from Eileen's journal
Wednesday, January 13
Heading to Mbale where the Messiah Theological Institute is located, we pass bikes laden with pineapples, bananas [350 lb-worth on one bike!], and cassava roots. One very young boy carries a yellow plastic jerry can on his head weighing around 42 pounds. Hauling water is a major occupation unless you live in a city like Kampala, Tororo, Mbale, and only then if you have running water. I ask about the banana leaves some carry. They are to keep bricks from drying too fast. Samuel tells us there are 60 types of eucalypti and over 300 types of bananas. I tell him there are over 2000 types of palms in the world.

We meet Shawn Tyler and Dennis Okoth, get a tour of the facility, and are given cold, COLD, bottles of water and soda. We learn of the plans for Livingstone University – land has already been purchased. They assure us they are willing to work with ministers we support and will help with Israel. We want to continue with scholarships. They also explain the pastor situation in this country and that Israel is not atypical. Money is important for power and leadership. However . . . they advise us on how to deal with things, that someone else besides the pastor, his wife, or family should handle the money. Israel should be accountable for what he spends outside of his salary. Also, there should be documents as to who owns the church building and land. Samuel will arrange for us to meet with the elders tomorrow and then Israel.

Samuel, Jack and Shawn at the Mbale Mission. Eileen and Dennis talk in the background.

We meet Vince and Joy Vigil of Good News Productions and see the solar-powered video machines they use. The videos are made in Nairobi and deal with topics such as sexual activity and pregnancy before marriage. Joy translates for the large deaf population during worship services. We’d planned to go to lunch with the Mbale group but a phonecall to Samuel tells us that “ a lunch worth having” is waiting in Kachumbala. We leave the many Trane bags filled with missionary requests [seasoning mixes, chocolate chips, M&Ms, gifts from family, baby items for Joy, etc.] and the group is excited. Sylvia, remember the glitter glue I just had to buy because every child needs glitter in life? Philip Shero was happy to have it for his children.

As at Butaleja, we are greeted with warbling and handshakes. This is a desperately poor area and is where OCC sent money for famine relief – purchases of rice and seeds for planting that will happen soon. Later we are shown the pathetic millet.

Lunch? No, even though it is 12:30. A children’s choir and then two men [one translating] lead songs and dances in worship. I am reminded of David’s joy before the Lord. The entire congregation joins the singing and dancing, including me. While Bill, Jack, Israel, and Samuel confer, I weave myself among the people dancing and shaking hands. This is one joyous celebration. There are people here from many church families and we are told that the three ministers in town work together. Bill does a synopsis of Romans. Later he asks if it was too much. Claudia’s brother who is a missionary in Rwanda gears his lessons for 8-year-olds so I tell Bill, “Yes. Too much.” However, I think some of the ministers here learned because I heard a few amens. The ministers would like teaching Israel tells us. We promise scholarships for two and maybe the third man later. Also, we leave a soccer ball for the boys. The girls ask, “Where’s ours?” We promise to send a netball.

It is 4 p.m. and lunch is served, created by the lady who’s been to culinary school. Oh, my goodness, was it wonderful – fried chicken, fried potatoes, sweet potatoes, greens plus peanut sauce, sodas, rice, peas, carrots, another sauce, fruit salad. After a young boy recites a poem for us we walk to where the church will build a building. They tell us, due to the drought and famine, they are months behind on their rent – $150/year. Rebels once displaced many of the people to camps and killed off the men. There are many widows and orphans. Later the team determines to give them a year’s rent. On the way back I take photos and show each person which brings grins. I hope to send photos to Israel so that he can use them as an outreach tool.

The girls at the church are still singing and dancing!

Another long day. We are exhausted, especially Bill still quite sick.