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!

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.

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