Mzungu Memoirs

First Mzungus in the Village

Northern Uganda has endured many hardships over the past few decades.  After several dictatorial regimes, including the tyranny of Idi Amin, all but three of the last 25 years has been scarred by war waged by a group ironically called the Lord’s Resistance Army.  The LRA ravaged villages, raped women, killed men and enlisted child soldiers.  Northern Uganda is still reeling from the effects of the war that finally ended in 2008.  Broken families, destroyed villages, thousands of orphans and refugee camps that cultivated the spread of AIDS were just some of the effects left by the LRA’s terror.

I spent most of the last week in Northern Uganda serving two ministries that feel called to help heal the wounds inflicted by the LRA.  Our team consisted of Dan Untch, a structural engineering intern serving in our eMi East Africa office and myself.  Dan and I caught a public bus at one of the taxi parks in downtown Kampala, which was quite an experience.  There were several street hawkers on the bus selling everything from newspapers and bags of coffee to chapatis and cheap knockoff watches.  A few of the hawkers even rode the bus through part of downtown with us trying to make that last sale before stepping off.  After about a five hour ride, we arrived in Lira and were soon picked by our first ministry contact.

The first ministry we served was Saving Grace in Uganda, begun four years ago by an American couple, Al and Val Bransdorfer, who were living in Lira and serving in refugee camps.  They noticed many street children living in Lira.  Immediately following the murder of one of the children by a bread vendor, Al and Val opened the home they were renting to 26 children and Fred Ojok, a Ugandan man who had already been working with the street children.  In meetings with Fred, he shared with us how they are working to heal the wounds of children that may have witnessed the murder of their parents or been used as soldiers themselves.  In healing these wounds, they lead them to the Great Physician, Christ.

Dan Untch used a GPS survey equipment we have in the East Africa office to singlehandedly survey an 8-acre site in about 3 ½ hours!  I was very impressed.  It is quite an improvement from the previous generation two-person total station systems or even older generation transits of the past.  After praying over the site and a morning of surveying, we met with Fred Ojok in the afternoon to discuss the vision and architectural programming for their properties.  Over the coming weeks, I will work on developing a site master plan and architectural renderings to assist them in their fundraising efforts.

After a couple of pretty restless nights swatting mosquitoes due to a lack of nets and worrying about contracting malaria, we were picked by the second ministry we traveled to serve.  True Life Ministries International was begun by Dr. Toli Simon, one of 11 siblings who were born in a remote village on the north side of Lake Kyoga.  Having endured the regime of Idi Amin and the LRA, Dr. Simon shared stories of he and his brother running away from soldiers, hiding in trees, witnessing the murder of an uncle, then hiding in grass waiting as soldiers poked the grass to find men to kill.  Soldiers took their cattle, roasted their goats and raped their women.  Many in the area began to lose faith, yet this family held firm in their faith in God and to Romans 8.  We were told this story after I preached in the village…maybe I should back up.

Stopping in the last town before the village, Dr. Simon wanted to introduce his guests at a local primary school, who sang songs for us and wanted each of us to share some encouragement from the Word.

After hours on rough roads stopping to buy bananas or fruit from people Dr. Simon knew, we left the end of the road and began driving along a footpath, narrow enough that the small Mazda car we were driving was being scratched by brush on both sides.  We met a man who Dr. Simon knew walking along the path who was carrying a chicken.  Dr. Simon felt compelled to help his friend out and bought the live chicken, placing it under his feet as he continued driving.  A bit further on, we had to all get out of the car to lessen the load and raise the clearance in order to allow passage through a rocky section.

After 5½ hours to travel 50 miles, we finally arrived in the village as women danced, hollered and surrounded the car.  Upon exiting the car, we were escorted to special plastic chairs covered with doilies in a place of honor behind a table covered with a larger doily. They were presenting their very best for us.  Greetings and introductions of everyone present ensued, describing family connections and relating some stories of names, including a brother of Dr. Simon whose name in the local language translates to “Gospel Power.”

Dr. Simon introduced me as “a preacher of the Gospel who also happens to be an architect” and asked me to share from the Word while we were waiting for lunch.  I felt I was living Acts 1:8 “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Later finding out that Dan and I were the first mzungus (white people) that had ever been in this village made it a very unique experience.  At the end of my sermon, I used Romans 8 as an encouragement that, no matter what happens on this earth, nothing can separate us from the love of God through Christ.  After speaking, Dr. Simon was very encouraged and shared that Romans 8 has been his favorite passage and inspiration through many of the trials he and his family has endured through the years.  Pretty amazing how God works!

For lunch, we enjoyed some goat meat and liver stew, rice and cabbage.  Asking Dr. Simon about the grain storage in the village that was empty, he explained that due to recent lack of rain, the village has no food aside from the poor nutrition of cassava they have planted in the area.  Despite this, they had goat meat and rice for us when we visited.  African hospitality is very humbling.

As we were walking the site to begin the survey, an adjacent property owner began arguing about the future orphans being too close to his property where he has been building a home for the last several years.  Keep in mind that property corners, particularly in rural Africa, are trees and bushes.  Dr. Simon was very humble and sacrificial, offering to give several feet of the property intended for the school and orphanage to him to make peace and attempt to satisfy all parties.  Later discovering the potential for an orphanage, school and clinic, the village elders sat down to discuss the situation and decided to trade some land Dr. Simon owns in another area for more land behind the property being surveyed, effectively making the property about 2 ½ times the initial size.  It was amazing to witness this and made me think of Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

While Dan was surveying, I played with some of the children in the village even though we did not speak the same language.  The kids were fascinated with my pale skin, wanting to touch my hands and arms.  They pushed my shirt sleeves up, I think to verify that my skin color was not a paste and I was really dark like everyone else.

Dr. Simon, born in this remote village without roads, water or electricity, went to primary school in the nearest town, secondary school in another town, Makerere University in Kampala and holds a Doctor of Theology from Oral Roberts University in Kansas City.  Wow!  After talking with Dr. Simon about the God-printed experience regarding the land boundaries, he asked me about the strange device Dan was using for the survey.  I explained about GPS, satellites and small computers using trigonometry to calculate locations in three directions.  Then, he explained the system to the school children and villagers that had gathered in their local language.  He told me they had never seen anything like it and it was like seeing a rocket ship.

It was an amazing and impacting trip.  I pray that the use of my architectural skills will provide images and tools that empower True Life Ministries and Saving Grace as they seek to serve the people of Northern Uganda.

posted by Robert in Uncategorized and have Comments (3)

3 Responses to “First Mzungus in the Village”

  1. Greg Y says:

    Great stuff Robert. Love reading the entries and the family accounts of living in Uganda. Inspiring! Press on my friend.

  2. Okello says:

    Which village did you go to visit? Sounds like a nice story.

    • Robert says:

      Can’t remember the name, but it was south of Dokolo almost to Lake Kyoga. I asked the ministry if we were close to the lake and he said we were about 5km away.