Mzungu Memoirs

Hope for Uganda

After all of the hype over the Ugandan warlord at the top of the International Criminal Court list, I felt compelled to share some positive news of things happening here in Uganda.  Yes, Uganda has endured a dark past; however, the future has much hope.

Just this last weekend, I was invited to a 10-year anniversary for Youth Revival Movement International (YRMi).  The movement was started by Isaac, who was previously a Muslim.  While in school, he was sponsored by Agnes Kabatesi, the ministry leader contact for our eMi Project Trip, Family Style” last June.

Isaac, mentored by Agnes and introduced to God, made several deals with God about passing exams and continuing to the next grade level, later committing his life to Christ.  Seeing rampant sin and darkness among Ugandan university students, Isaac saw the need for change.  He saw a vision of a dark valley beneath an upper road riddled with holes where students were being pushed through the holes.  In 2002, he started YRMi to lead a wave of change within the youth of Uganda and revival within their country.

YRMi, now 10 years running, leads regional missions, university campus conferences, fellowships, worship nights, school outreach and school dance/drama competitions.  Isaac invited me to be a guest of honor at their annual National Youth Revival Awards at Makerere University last summer.  Students from all over the region competed in dance, drama, singing and Bible memory.  I gave a short sermon encouraging the youth of their God-given talents.  At the end of the competition, I handed out certificates, trophies and a goat and cow for the top two schools.

Devoid of goats and cows, this weekend’s YRMi anniversary celebration included a university student choir, introductions, a Kampala primary school choir, descriptions of the YRMi movement, pastor speeches, a keynote pastor speech, and several songs from a Ugandan female singer performer.

In just 10 years of existence, YRMi has led conferences at universities in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.  With Uganda having the second youngest population in the world (49% below the age of 15) and the second highest fertility rate, YRMi is strategically poised to impact the future generation of Uganda, if not the continent or the world.  One of the pastors speaking noted that the future president or Minister of Commerce could come from those impacted by YRMi.

There is much hope here in Uganda.

The hope of the righteous is gladness, but the expectation of the wicked perishes. – Proverbs 10:28

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Kony Who?

Many of you, along with 70 million of your closest friends, have probably viewed the Kony 2012 video developed by Invisible Children, a San-Diego based charity.  Garnering a large support base and raising awareness of Ugandan history, the video is unfortunately about 10-15 years too late.  Although well addressing a serious issue, the video only scratches the surface of the complexity of broader regional issues.

Despite Rush Limbaugh’s claims of the Lord’s Resistance Army involving Christians fighting Muslims in Sudan, the LRA in reality acts diametrically opposite to that of the Lord Jesus.

The Lord’s Resistance Army, now led by the messianic psychopath Joseph Kony, had the initial intention of overthrowing the Ugandan government.  Enlisting child soldiers, raping women, burning villages, and spreading terror has been their method for three decades.  Between LRA child soldiering and Ugandan government IDP camps, Northern Uganda was ravaged for about 30 years up until about 2007.  During my first trip to Uganda in 2004, we discovered the LRA had fired an RPG into a loaded bus with 14 passengers about 30 miles from where we were located, killing all the occupants.  A previous blog First Mzungus in the Village – 10 Apr 2011 describes some stories I heard of the LRA’s terror while on a recent project trip.

By 2007, the LRA had been pushed into Sudan, DR Congo and the Central African Republic.

Recent news of 100 US troops in Uganda, the Hollywood movie “Machine Gun Preacher” and now the Kony 2012 video have catapulted this issue into at least United States media.  Previously, 30 years of strife in Uganda barely made a paragraph in major newspapers.  But now, the discovery of oil reserves in Uganda, potentially the size of Saudi Arabia’s, seems to have turned heads in Washington.

Child soldiering is a serious problem all over the world, not just in Uganda’s recent past.  With regards to total numbers, the worst is Myanmar, where the predominantly Christian Karen ethnic group is suffering a genocide.  Other places that come to mind are the DR Congo (1994-2006) and Afghanistan.  Other recent hotspots include Sierra Leone, Liberia and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was happening in North Korea.

I wholeheartedly agree that Joseph Kony is a complete madman that has committed heinous atrocities against humanity.  Talk about someone who needs Jesus.  But then again, I need Jesus too.

There are a lot more regional (Central African) political issues beyond just getting rid of one “bad guy”. Some leaders are trying to become regional power brokers, the DR Congo had its first election in over 40 years in 2006, South Sudan is the newest country in the world right now, Chad is still dealing with Christian vs. Muslim strife, North Africa has been a volatile cocktail over the past two years, and the recent civil war in the DR Congo featured armies from seven other African countries fighting over natural resources and money.

Africa is way more complex than most of us see or understand.

Several of you have asked for our opinions since we live in Uganda.  All I can say is Kony has not been in Uganda for at least six years and the Ugandan military that the Kony 2012 video encourages to support has been known for its own brutality and would have to operate in potentially three other countries.

I have worked with several organizations who are serving in Northern Uganda to rebuild and rehabilitate the scars left from three decades of war.  We also know several at our church who live in Kampala working with organizations serving in the north.  There are a lot of good things happening here.

I hope that helps shed what little light I know on a very complex issue.

This world is fallen and poisoned with sin.  It does not fully show the Glory of God, only glimpses.  When I have preached or been asked to share or encourage people on project trips, I often struggle with the thought, “How do I, born into a society of privilege and wealth, actually offer any encouragement to people who have endured so much pain, whether through extreme poverty, wars, witnessing the murder of family, relocation, oppression, or so much more?”  What I keep going back to is the passage in Romans 8.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:35-39

Some helpful links:

Some reflections and thoughts on the KONY 2012 video from the MISSIONS 101 blog of Training Leaders International:  MISSIONS 101 Blog

Perspective of an Acholi man who survived the LRA war in Northern Uganda.  Written by Kilama Dennis, Academic Registrar at Africa Renewal Christian College.  Kony 2012: A Survivor’s Perspective  Interestingly, this college was founded by Pastor Peter Kasirivu, who I worked with for my first Uganda eMi project in 2004.

Ugandan responses to the video:  Many Ugandans frustrated, suspicious of Kony 2012 Video

Another blog on the Training Leaders International MISSIONS 101 blog about Invisible Children and social media:  MISSIONS 101 Blog2

Reviews on charitable organizations:  Charity Navigator

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Beacon of Light

One word, “Congo”, often conjures thoughts of a dark, mysterious place.  Belgian occupation, King Leopold II’s greed and tyranny, human atrocities, independence, Mobutu, Western vs. Soviet, corruption, Rwandan exodus, genocide, multi-nation proxy civil war, worst human development index.  Many descriptions and books have been written to attempt explaining the history and current despair of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (or DRC).

We have known sarcasm and insults, endured blows morning, noon and night, because we were ‘niggers’…  We have seen our lands despoiled under the terms of what was supposedly the law of the land but which only recognised the right of the strongest.  We have seen that the law is quite different for a white than for a black:  accommodating for the former, cruel and inhuman for the latter.  We have seen the terrible suffering of those banished to remote regions because of their political opinions or religious beliefs; exiled within their own country, their fate was truly worse than death itself…And finally, who can forget the volleys of gunfire in which so many of our brothers perished, the cells where the authorities threw those who would not submit to a rule where justice meant oppression and exploitation.  – DRC Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba on Congo Independence Day 30 June 1960.

My wife, Heather, spent her first two years in the DRC, which was named Zaire at the time.  Her parents, Ken & Elaine Dodd, were vocational missionaries with the Presbyterian Church and stationed near Mbuji Mayi, in the south central Kazai province.  In 1975, political turmoil under Mobutu’s brutal dictatorship forced them to leave Zaire before their intended duration of service.

Seen as a pro-Western defense against Soviet ambitions, The United States, France and Belgium sent support to Zaire.  Mobutu, on the CIA payroll, was given a command aircraft with its own Air Force crew.  Funneling Congolese public monies into his own personal overseas accounts, Mobutu amassed enormous wealth, becoming one of the world’s richest men.  In the 1980’s, his fortune was estimated to total $5 billion, including a villa on the French Riviera, a massive estate in Portugal, a Swiss chalet, a vast apartment in Paris, nine buildings in Brussels, and properties in Spain, Italy, Cote d-Ivoire, Senegal, Morocco and Brazil.

After fifteen years of the power you have exercised alone, we find ourselves divided into two absolutely distinct camps.  On one side, a few scandalously rich persons.  On the other, the mass of people suffering the darkest misery. – A group of fifteen parliamentarian’s 51-page indictment of Mobutu’s rule, arguing that he was the root cause of Zaire’s difficulties and demanding open elections in 1980.

Mobutu’s 32-year raping of Zaire did not come to an end until 1997.

With the end of Mobutu’s rule, many hoped the Congolese people would see the benefit of the country’s vast natural resources.  Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse.  Mass rapes by HIV-infected soldiers, looted schools and hospitals, ten-year old child soldiers with AK-47s, the Hutu militia responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide fleeing into the Congo, the Rwandan army carrying out a counter-genocide and a proxy civil war with troops from Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Chad.  The post-Mobutu chaos and lawlessness created a feeding frenzy for the Congo’s immense natural resources, like vultures fighting over a carcass.

The civil war raged in the DR Congo up until around 2005, leaving in its wake a staggering 5.4 million dead.  This is the largest war-related death toll anywhere on earth since World War II.

Most descriptions of the DR Congo tend to rotate around words like ‘dark’, ‘despair’, ‘darkness’ or ‘hopelessness’.  The DR Congo currently ranks last in the human development index of all countries.

A group of 13 Congolese Christians felt they had to do something about the state of their country.  They wondered where the church had been through all of this and what they were going to do about it.  A night of intense prayer ten years ago birthed the concept of the Congo Initiative.  These Christians feel called to transform hearts as a means to transform their country.

A moment of great challenges is also a moment of great opportunities.  The economic, social and political environments in the DRC provide challenges as well as opportunities for a pioneering yet innovative organization. – from Congo Initiative literature.

The Congo Initiative vision includes six areas of focus:  1. A Christian university, Universite’ Chretienne Bilingue du Congo (UCBC), 2. A Center for Development and Partnership (community transformation, skills training, business development), 3. A Center for Church Renewal and Global Mission, 4. A Center for Professional Development, 5. A Holistic Family Center (family rehabilitation), and 6. A Center for the Creative Arts and Vocational Training.

The Congo Initiative has been blessed with 85 acres of land on the outskirts of Beni in the North Kivu Province.  Late in 2007, UCBC began classes in the first completed building.  The years of corruption and war have left the city of Beni with no power, limited water and one paved road through the middle of the city.  The limited infrastructure creates challenges in the development of a university campus.  The Congo Initiative applied to eMi for design services to seek design solutions to their campus development challenges.

Our team of ten traveled from Kampala, Uganda to Beni, DR Congo to develop a campus master plan, and present potential solutions for power supply, water supply, and wastewater treatment.  From left to right: Patrick Aylard – eMi team leader & civil engineer; Mark Boktor – electrical engineer from Alexandria, VA who grew up in Egypt; Me; Paul Berg – civil engineer from Corvallis, OR; Tim Ellis – environmental engineering professor from Iowa State University; Erland Mowinckel – civil engineering intern on his 2nd eMi EA internship from Mariposa, CA; Brittany Coulbert – eMi EA Office Manager; Bob Gresham – electrical engineer from Lakewood, CO who is also the chairman of the eMi Board; Elisabeth van Overbeeke – eMi EA intern architect from Toronto, Ontario and Eileen Gresham – team mom and women’s ministry.  The Congolese pictured are part of the Congo Initiative ministry.

The transition from Uganda into the DRC seemed fairly abrupt, after a 2.5 hour border crossing through three separate immigration stations spread over about two kilometers.  Leaving pavement, electricity, city water and fairly reliable mobile phone service behind, we ventured into the DR Congo we had only read about.  Passed off to Congolese ministry drivers, we immediately felt the transition.  Feeling more like a rally race in vehicles not equipped for rally races, we sped over rough dirt, sand and gravel roads with the horn in almost constant use.  Crossing several rough wooden bridges, our van slid on the muddy slats coming within two feet of the unprotected sides.  About halfway through our 2.5 hour trip to Beni through mostly virgin tropical forests, we stopped in a small trading village when one of the drivers was starting to get carsick…and, later, within about ten minutes of our destination, one of our team members was throwing up out the window of the van (fortunately seated next to a window).

Our first two days with the ministry were spent listening to the history and vision of the Congo Initiative, touring the property and asking many questions to better understand and create an architectural program for developing a campus master plan.  I think we are still trying to figure out the complexity of their vision.  With a current student body of 340, they have plans to grow to a university of 3,000 students, with half of those living on campus.  Other programs include a three-stream secondary school, two-stream primary school, child care, recreation sports fields, and faculty and staff housing.

The ministry also feels strongly about the desire to be good stewards of the land and resources God has given to all of us.  Our team was asked to speak to the student body one day about sustainability and stewardship.  Patrick Aylard, Paul Berg and myself spoke about the Biblical framework of sustainability, water resource management and sustainable architecture.  Congo Initiative is considering solar power, hydroelectric power, composting toilets, biogas, food production on campus and other methods to reduce their energy consumption.

Despite holding a PhD from Trinity University in Chicago, Illinois, Dr. David Kasali, along with his wife, Dr. Kaswera Kasali, felt called to return to their home in the DR Congo to transform society through the Gospel and Christian education of future leaders.  Currently president of the university, his vision and leadership is contagious and Spirit led.

Eileen, our team mom, had the opportunity to minister to several local Congolese women, bringing gifts of love from women of her Colorado church and Mothers Of PreSchoolers (MOPS) group.  I am often amazed at how God selects our team members and knits us together for His purpose.

Our final presentation to some 30 Congolese board members, professors, university staff and international staff, began with worship and praise, then a meal together.  These project trips often involve working late nights, pressure to finish drawings and PowerPoint presentations at the last minute, sickness and other spiritual warfare.  But, often, the most enjoyable part of the project is the ministry seeing their God-given vision taking form and color on the wall in front of them.  As I began speaking to present the architectural campus master plan, I shared from 1 Cor 12, seeing our ministry partnership as a beautiful expression of the body of Christ where God gets to use our talents for His glory.

I think the most significant thing that impacted me was the hope, vision and excitement for the future I could see in the young university students despite their bleak and dark surroundings.  I think of the UCBC University as a beacon of light in a dark place.  The hope of Christ can penetrate any darkness.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16

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Life without Daddy

For the better part of the past two weeks, Robert has been gone on an eMi project trip.  It is something he does at least once, sometimes twice, a year, and is a major part of his ministry with eMi.  His latest trip was to master plan a university campus in the Democratic Republic of Congo, just west of Uganda.

While Robert was gone, Caleb and I were left to hold down the fort, something we have done many times over the years.  With Robert’s frequent travel, one would assume we are with familiar with functioning as 2/3 of the family, but each trip and absence brings its own challenges and circumstances.

The biggest difference between this project trip and previous ones was that we were not able to replace the absence of Robert with the presence of my mother.  Since Caleb was born, we have either traveled to visit her or she has come to visit us while Robert has been gone.  My mother’s presence is a great blessing and makes the transition to single parenthood a little more manageable.  But plane tickets to Uganda are a little more expensive than tickets to Colorado, and it just isn’t feasible.

Still, even though my mother could not come to stay with us, our eMi family here took very good care of us.  We were invited to dinner by several other eMi families.  Between dinner invitations, eating out twice and ordering pizza in, I only had to cook a couple of times while Robert was gone.  It was really nice as it just isn’t as much fun to cook when Robert isn’t around to appreciate my efforts.

Caleb and I managed to stay busy with our normal routine of activities.  The biggest challenge of our daily routine was transportation.  Without Robert here to shuttle us around on the boda, we had to walk or catch rides with friends.  I really missed Robert and the boda the days I would walk Caleb down to school and then have to climb up the hill all the way to the eMi office.  It is probably only half a mile, but with my computer on my back it sure felt a lot further than that.  And of course, I would have to walk to pick Caleb up from school as well, but we only had to climb half way up the hill to get to the road to our house which is fairly flat.  Caleb did a really good job of mostly not complaining.  It was always a nice bonus when we could catch a ride with someone.

I did have a bit of a parenting challenge while Robert was away.  Caleb was invited to spend the night at a school friend’s house.  I agreed to it before I really had a chance to think about what I was agreeing to.  I was uneasy about it all week as I barely know the parents, as in I have seen the mother occasionally at school but have never really talked with her and I have only met the father once.  I decided that I would feel better if I just knew where he was going, so I asked to tag along when Caleb and his friend were taken home on Friday (Robert had been to the friend’s house but I hadn’t). Feeling better but still nervous, I asked for prayers at a woman’s Bible study where I was after leaving Caleb at his friend’s house.

After Bible study, one of the ladies who attends called to encourage me in my role as the ultimate protector of my child. It spurred me into calling to check on Caleb and make sure he was OK. When I called the mobile number of the friend’s mom, I found out that she wasn’t even home with the boys, but she said she had “10 people at the house” and gave me the number for the home phone. When I called the house and talked to Caleb, I could tell something wasn’t quite right. I asked him if he wanted me to come get him and he said “yes”. So I called the lady who had called me after Bible study, and she gave me a ride to go get Caleb.

After we had picked him up, the friend’s mother called me I thought to make sure that Caleb had actually left with someone he was supposed to leave with. But she was calling to tell me that I was “impolite” for picking up my son. I may have burned a few cultural bridges, but my son’s safety and well-being is a little more important than being polite and culturally correct.  The hardest part about the whole thing was that I had to make the call to go get Caleb on my own without being able to discuss the situation with Robert.

Aside from that incident, things were pretty quiet for us here on the home front.  I could tell Caleb was starting to miss Robert when he started coming home with more disciplinary marks during the second week.  But I was starting to miss him myself.  I thought I was doing okay until someone at the office asked if I was ready to have Robert home to which I responded without an emphatic “yes!”  After that, things seemed to go downhill in the “missing” department, but fortunately we only had a couple more days to go.

Caleb and I know there are times that we have to share Robert with the world.  It is just part being an eMi family.  But it sure is nice when he comes home to us.

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Why do you say that?

One of Caleb’s favorite questions lately has been “why do you say that?”.  It is his wordy way of asking the typical childhood question of “why?”.  What can I say?  The kid has a flair for the flamboyant.  Actually, I kind of like the phrase as it can be used for a lot of the things we hear around here.  While English is the national language in Uganda, it is definitely not the English spoken in the States.  It is more like British English with an African flair.

Some examples of Ugandan English:

“I need to go now now.”     Translation: “I need to go immediately.” (Caleb’s personal favorite)

“Can you come pick me?”     Translation: “Can you come get me (pick me up)?

“I am coming.”     Translation:  “I’m on my way.”

“We go.”     Translation:  “Let’s go.”

“You are smart!”     Translation: “You are looking very nice.”

“My back is paining me.”     Translation: “My back hurts.”

“You are lost.”     Translation: “I haven’t seen you in a while.”

“Can you bring the balance?”     Translation:  “Can I have my change?”

“They have knocked me.”     Translation:  “They crashed into me.”

“I need to make a short call.”     Translation:  “I need to pee.”

“I need to make a long call.”     Translation: I’ll let you figure that one out on your own.

So if you hear us using some strange phrases when we return to the States, please forgive us.  We are just speaking “Ugandan”.

“The LORD said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’   — Genesis 11: 6-7

 

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How Does Your Garden Grow?

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

— popular English nursery rhyme

So, how is your garden growing these days?  Probably not so well this time of year.  Neither is mine, but not quite for the same reasons as yours.  Those of you further away from the equator are dealing with the long, cold nights of winter and maybe a little snow that makes the environment less hospitable towards growing plants.  For those of us who get 12 hours of sunlight year round, that’s not the problem.  Our problem right now is that it is Dry Season.  And while it does still rain during Dry Season, it is little and far between, leaving my garden a hot, dust and very dry place.  But during the months of Rainy Season I was able to capture (with the help Robert’s photographic prowess) some of the wonderful things my garden is capable of producing.

When we first arrived, there wasn’t much to my garden (i.e. in our compound) except some drying grass and a little bitty lemon or orange tree (it was inside the cage of twigs Caleb is watering in the picture to the right, the cage is to protect the tree from the dogs).  We’re not exactly sure which kind of tree it is as I’ve heard it called both by different people.    I guess we will have and wait to see what kind of fruit it bears, which will probably be long after we are gone.  It has since grown large enough as to no longer require the cage.  There is a lovely tree with pretty yellow flowers just outside our compound wall that overhangs our yard quite a bit.  Unfortunately, it was covered in a thick layer of Kampala dust when we got here, so we had to assume the leaves were green underneath the brown.

Not long after we moved in but before Rainy Season really began, our neighbor Maggie gave us some clippings from plants in her yard.  The guard stuck what looked like random branches in the ground in various locations along the compound wall.  I was really rather skeptical that they would grow, but they did.  Quite nicely, I might add.  We have three Birds of Paradise plants, one of which has bloomed twice, and a good size Angel Trump with beautiful pink blooms.  There was another Angel Trump that unfortunately didn’t do as well, I think because it was in the constant shade of the tree just outside the wall.  So I had it removed and have since replaced it with something else.

Maggie also brought us some little Bougainvillea plants she purchase at a local nursery.  She actually had to do that twice as a couple of them didn’t take the first time.  These plants provide function as well as form.  They grow up along ropes secured to the razor wire that runs along the top of the wall, and when they reach the top they send out runners that trace their way through the razor wire.  These runners help to obscure the unsightly razor wire with some greenery.  They also provide additional deterrent to would-be intruders as they themselves have thorns.  So far, two of our Bougainvillea have made it to the top of the wall and have been putting out runners that have begun to bloom quite prolifically, even in Dry Season.  One is a pretty creamy white color and the other is a pinky peachy color, depending on the age of the bloom I think.

I have added a few touches of my own to our little compound garden.  After admiring the Hibiscus blooms I kept seeing around town, I decided I wanted one of my own.  Robert found me a red one at a local nursery not far from the house, and I was thrilled to discover when it bloomed that it is actually a double Hibiscus which is my favorite.  I also had our guard plant the Poinsettia a friend had given me for Christmas where the Angel Trump had been dug up.  It seems to like its shady spot much better than the previous occupant, although it is a little hard to tell as it too is in a little twig cage of its own to protect it from the dogs.

I also tried my hand at a little herb garden, although the only herb I have been able to grow is basil.  But boy, did it grow.  We had so many basil plants we gave some to Maggie as well as the office herb garden which has rosemary and mint as well.  We also had a couple of rouge tomato plants spring up from the compost soil Maggie had given us for the herb garden.  Unfortunately, quite a few of the tomatoes became infected with something, but I was still able to get maybe a dozen tomatoes off the plants which we enjoyed over the course of a couple of weeks.

Right now, my garden isn’t doing much.  But I look forward to the day when the rains will return and my sleeping plants will awaken again and burst forth into loveliness.

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Signs Too

After some serious blogs the last couple of weeks, we thought a fun blog was in order.  We have found even more great signs here in Uganda.  Some signs are ambitious, cute, sumptuous or flamin.  Others are for mathematicians or zebras.  There are signs announcing the existence of emergencies, guaranteeing smiles or warning of changing priorities.  We hope these bring a smile to your face.

I might clarify that this sign is advertising flavors of ice cream, but it is humorous on many levels.

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Pray for Uganda

Some time ago, Stella, one of our Ugandan office staff, was sick for a day or two.  While riding a matatu (Ugandan public van transportation) to a clinic, she recognized a young boy from her neighborhood in the matatu with a man she did not recognize.  The boy’s face was troubling to Stella.  She spoke up, noting that she knew the boy and did not recognize the man with him.  At the next stop, the man was forced out of the matatu, rescuing the boy from his captor.  Stella called his parents, who came to pick their son.  Come to find out, the boy had been abducted to be sold for child sacrifice.  We thank God for the timeliness of Stella’s presence on a matatu she would normally not be riding.

We want our blogs to share our experiences here in Uganda, but more importantly, paint a picture as best we can of the beauty, culture, strengths and struggles of the country in which we serve.  We want to be ambassadors for this beautiful, yet struggling, developing nation of Uganda.  There are some issues facing Uganda today that we feel can make use of the power of prayer and calling of God’s angels to reinforce the fierce spiritual warfare waging here in Uganda.

Child sacrifice has resurfaced in the last 3-5 years.  As the economy grows and subsequent affluence increases, a strange attraction to child sacrifice has been reborn.  We have heard of some paying a witch doctor to sacrifice a child and bury the remains on their building site in hopes of the act blessing their building project.

The recent decades of civil war, refugee camps and the AIDS pandemic have taken a toll on Northern Uganda.  Led by the messianic psychopath Joseph Kony, the ironically named Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was bent on overthrowing the government of Uganda.  That agenda somehow was exercised through child soldiering, raping of women, burning villages, killing livestock, forcing of sex slaves, and child sacrifice.  The years of strife left many orphans in their wake.

Education of child suffering has grown through news, documentaries and movies like Invisible Children, which I have referenced in a past blog.  Subsequently, many NGOs and aid organizations have made focused efforts on relief, refugees, orphanages, child sponsorship, and adoption programs.  I recently heard there are only 23 government-approved orphanages in Uganda, despite the existence of probably well over 500 orphanages in the country.  Some ¾ or more of children in orphanages have one or both parents still living.  Rather than reintegrate these children back into families or villages, they stay institutionalized because child sponsorship has become big business.  I encourage those considering support of orphanages or child sponsorship to do their research and stay connected with the ministry.  A Welsh couple from our church is striving to reintegrate children as much as possible.  You can read more about them at www.rileysinuganda.blogspot.com

Oil has been discovered in the Lake Albert area of northern Uganda.  Many Ugandans are hopeful of the economic boom, jobs, industry development and national income it will bring.  However, oil and other natural resources have not always proved beneficial to the local people.  Oil in Nigeria, Angola, Gabon, Libya and Sudan have fueled corruption and often funded the armament of civil wars or genocides.  Diamonds in Sierra Leone; rubber, cobalt and diamonds in DR Congo; cocoa and gold in Ghana, diamonds in Angola, etc.  The proxy war in DR Congo fought by troops from Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Angola and Zimbabwe…but no Congolese troops.  Did I forget to mention the DR Congo is rich in resources of gold, diamonds and coltan?  Name a resource and often there has been a civil war that has erupted over the scramble for that resource.

‘Nyama tembo kula hawezi kumaliza’ – ‘You never finish eating the meat of an elephant’, a Swahili proverb often cited in eastern DR Congo that speaks to the feeding frenzy of natural resources.

It is interesting to note that the LRA ravaged Northern Uganda for decades, largely unnoticed by the West.  However, with the discovery of oil reserves potentially comparable to Saudi Arabia, the US now feels compelled to assist in the elimination of the LRA, specifically Joseph Kony.

Yes, there are wars, droughts, famines, and everyday violence that plague Africa.  However, at the core is the failure of African leaders to provide effective government.  Few countries have experienced wise leadership.  South Africa and Botswana have risen as effective multi-party democracies with effective checks and balances.  But, for the most part, Africa has suffered tremendously at the hands of its ruling elite, bent on holding power and some even diverting national funds for self-enrichment.  Martin Meredith’s book, “The Fate of Africa”, beautifully describes the residue of colonial rule, excitement for independence, bane of corruption, resiliency of Africans and other issues affecting the African continent for the last 50 years.

A report prepared for the African Union in 2002 estimated that corruption costs Africa $148 billion annually – more than a quarter of the continent’s entire gross domestic product.

We see so much potential here in Uganda.  We hear stories of young leaders with much promise.  Fertile land, year-round growing seasons and plentiful rainfall bless the land.  Christian missionaries in the late 1800’s willingly died as martyrs, leaving a legacy of Christianity I believe still felt today.  Just yesterday, I discovered our next door neighbor spent a night last week at Namboole Stadium with some 12,000 other Ugandans to celebrate 50 years of independence and pray for Uganda.

Please pray for Uganda, specifically for:

  • Protection for vulnerable children.
  • NGOs and Ugandan organizations that partner with Uganda, not profit from Uganda.
  • The discovery of oil in Uganda to be a blessing, not an opportunity for more corruption.
  • Wise effective leadership.
  • Warriors and angels to fight spiritual warfare.

 

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”  — 1 Peter 5:8-9

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Hard Lessons

We’ve learned some hard lessons the last couple of weeks.  It all started when we discovered Caleb’s Savings Can (piggy bank) was missing.  Since giving Caleb an allowance, we have encouraged him to tuck part of it away in his Savings Can.  Lest you think this is just some rusty old can we gave him, it is actually a can with a removable lid and slit for dropping in coins.  It is decorated with images of Caleb’s current favorite thing, Disney’s Cars.  Caleb has been quite diligent in tucking things away in his Savings Can, saving above and beyond the 100 shillings we have asked him to contribute each week.  He is particularly fond of collecting and “saving” the shiny coins.  I’m not so sure it is as much a “savings can” as a “collection.”

When we discovered the Can was missing, we tried hard not to jump to conclusions but I almost immediately suspected that it had been taken and I think Robert did as well.  We hoped it had merely been misplaced, but I think both of us knew that it would not be found even after a thorough search of Caleb’s room.  Caleb often has friends over to play and is quite free with his toys and possessions, including his wallet and his Savings Can.  We suspect that one of these friends decided he needed the Can and its contents more than Caleb did as we have not seen him since before the discovery of the missing can.

As suspected, the Can has not been found even after tearing Caleb’s room apart to look for it, leaving us with the difficult task of moving forward and learning from this experience.  We have approached it as a family and have taken shared responsibility for the loss of the Can and its contents.  Robert and I felt that it wasn’t fair to ask Caleb to shoulder the entire burden of the loss himself.  Not knowing the exact amount in the Can, Robert estimated it was probably somewhere around 20,000 shillings (did I mention that Caleb really likes those shiny coins?).  We decided to replace the can for him and give him 10,000 shillings to replace some of what he had lost.  It wasn’t all of what he had lost, but it was at least a start.

I have spoken in the past about the program I am involved with where we teach local ladies to make cards and then buy the finished product from them to sell in the west.  Currently, I am in charge of the cash box for this program which has a lot of coins in it, including some nice shiny ones.  I let Caleb pick out some coins to refill his Savings Can.  I, of course, repaid the cash box with paper money from my wallet, and I thought I had explained to Caleb what we were doing, trading equal amounts of paper money for coins.  Apparently, I didn’t do a very good job of explaining as Caleb decided to help himself to some of the coins and put them in his own wallet without putting money back into the cash box.  We discovered this a few days later and had another hard lesson in honesty.  I am proud to say that with some patient encouragement, Caleb was very honest and came clean of his crime.

I think things have now been set right.  We were able to find another Savings Can similar to the original.  It is slightly bigger than the first one, but it still has Caleb’s hero Lightning McQueen on it and he is happily tucking away his shiny coins again.  The Can now resides in Robert’s and my bedroom as does Caleb’s wallet as friends are not allowed to go in our room.  There have been a few additional rules put into place since the incident as well, most notably that friends are not allowed in the house unescorted.

As I mentioned, we have not seen the young man we suspect of taking the Can since before discovering it was missing.  I approach the possibility of his return with mixed emotions.  On one hand, I don’t really want to see him again because he has wronged someone I love and caused us so much trouble.  But on the other hand, I do hope that he comes back so that I can tell him that I forgive him even though I think what he did was wrong.  And so I can inquire about why he did this and help him see the potential for a dark and dangerous future.  I’m sad for him and I hope something better for his life.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” – Luke 6:37

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Capoeira Lesson

Last weekend, Caleb and some of his friends received an impromptu Capoeira (African martial arts) lesson in our front yard from Richard Obonyo, a friend of our neighbor.  Richard is studying mechanical engineering, but takes time out to teach Capoeira to street kids as an outreach ministry, instilling discipline and self-control into his young pupils.  Because his grades where so impressive in secondary school, Richard received a government scholarship to attend university here in Kampala.  Orphaned at 13, he feels a huge amount of family responsibility and works odd jobs to help with school fees for his younger siblings.  He also has a passion for the arts, performing and assisting backstage with the local amateur acting club, which is how our neighbor met him.  In short, Richard is an amazing young man, mature beyond his 22 years.

As I mentioned above, Capoeira is an Africanized form of martial arts.  From what I have read on-line, it was actually started in Brazil by African slaves for defense.  Its methods were powerful and sneaky with the results often brutal and sometimes deadly.  Capoeira is composed of stealthy movements where participants collapse to the ground, use cartwheels, flips, and other movements to avoid strikes and injury by opponents.  Participants use kicks and sweeps in order to strike their opponent.

I’m not really sure how Capoeira made its way back across the ocean to Uganda, but what is practiced here is more of a dance or game than it is about fighting.  Participants gather in a circle with two contestants in the middle.  Those in the circle sing, clap and play musical instruments such as the adeudeu (a stringed instrument) and drums.  The tempo of the music dictates the speed of the movements of the contestants in the middle.  The contestants begin with a movement called the Ginga, a movement in a crouched position where the weight is shift from one leg to the other, mirroring each other almost as in a dance.  Once the rhythm has been established, the contestants move into a series of offensive and defensive movements against each other.

Richard started out the lesson by having the kids sit in a circle and explaining to them how Capoeira is practiced, emphasizing that it is to be used in self-defense never as a means of aggression.  He emphasized the disciplinary and self-control aspects of the practice.  Then he got them up on their feet and taught them some of the basic moves.  He started out with the Ginga.  Once the kids had “mastered” that, he moved on to a couple of kicks.   He also included a defensive crouching movement which sent most of the kids to the ground, literally.  He finished with cartwheels and a movement that reminded me of a toddler trying to learn how to do a cartwheel.

After the lesson for the kids, Richard did a demonstration for us that was unlike any other martial arts I have ever seen before.  The kids were quite impressed as well, and I think they really enjoyed the lesson.  They spent some time afterwards practicing some of their newly learned “moves.”  It was a great way to kill some time and exert some energy on a Saturday afternoon.

 

“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” – 2 Timothy 1:7

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