Where is Your Water Source?
It’s a question we ask when we visit a village for the first time. A long walk to the bore hole means a rough morning for a child who fetches water before school. It adds another layer of complexity when a family wants to build a home with brick. It means laundry day is truly an entire day. It might be the difference between life and death - literally.
Today the answer was vague waving and pointing gestures in direction of the horizon. Some said “it is there” but we really couldn’t understand where or how far. So we asked if they would show us and the children eagerly agreed. They formed an excited parade and were joined by more than a few adults as we walked along. Muzungu in the neighborhood? Such a rare thing! Everyone was curious and wanted to see what was happening. We hiked through the bush for a long time. Maybe 30 minutes but I really don’t know exactly - it was hot, there was no shade, no relief from the sun. I could feel the heat from the ground through the soles of my sturdy shoes and wondered, not for the first time, about all those around me who were barefoot. Finally, we arrived. I came through the bush into a clearing and before me was what you see in these pictures.
This was no bore hole. It was basically a huge mud pit, really the size of a small pond. The children had run ahead to the opposite side and believe it or not, were singing as we came into the open. It was at once an unbelievably beautiful and tragic scene. The picturesque trees, the children in their bright tribal colors, lined side by side and singing a local folk song simply because they were happy in the moment. It was certainly breathtaking, and I instinctively lifted my camera to take pictures.
And then suddenly I stopped because I realized, to my horror, they were sharing this water with their animals. I saw the goats and the cattle standing on the water’s edge. They were drinking from it, bathing in it, and there was pretty clear evidence they were doing the rest of their business there as well. At once a beautiful and tragic scene.
Not long ago I was showing a friend some pictures of Uganda. When we came to these I told her the same story and explained that the people in this village were sharing this water with the animals because it’s the only water available for miles. She looked at me and said “But they’re used to it, right? So, they won’t get sick from it?” I was shocked that she thought this. I hoped my face didn’t betray me as I patiently explained that no, they weren’t immune and yes, were definitely getting sick. Certainly, a Ugandan in a village can drink from a bore hole, (a well), that pumps clear water from the depths of the earth. You and I could probably do that too, just as our pioneer ancestors did. But no, they can’t share a water source like this with their animals and remain healthy.
Inside I was screaming. Let’s set aside what might be inherent racism in her sentiments and give her the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it was just plain ignorance or naivete - after all, she’s never traveled outside of her comfortable surroundings, has never been any place you couldn’t rely on the water coming from the faucet. But still I wondered - how could anyone think that a human being - an infant, a toddler, an elderly person with a chronic condition, or for that matter anyone at all - how could anyone remain healthy in such an environment? In fact, these are exactly the types of water sources that contribute to the high infant and child mortality rates in Uganda. How could my friend not understand this?
I wanted to cry. We have so much education yet to do.
Give Love the Upper Hand
When we arrive in a village we’re often met by scores of excited children. Sometimes there’s an organized greeting - a song and dance, occasionally there’s a drum—thanking God for our friendship and for bringing us safely together. This is quintessentially African and one of my favorite things. There are handshakes and hugs and lots of laughter as we muzungu try to say hello in the local dialect. Ugandans pass a greeting back and forth repeatedly, so this can go on for a long time.
Eventually we’re guided to the cool shade of a tree or inside a mud structure where chairs have been set out for us. There is most definitely a seating hierarchy to be observed. Visitors get a place of honor in the front. There’s no getting around this and try as I may to sit in the back with the women and children, I get shoo shoo’d to the front every time. The Bishop (if he’s moving about with us), pastors, vicar, evangelists, lay leaders—they know instinctively the places they should take. It’s with fascination that I’ve watched this choreography—someone gives up a pretty good seat to someone else if that someone else is a higher rank.
There’s a line in a Kenny Chesney song that says, “all we’re really given is the sunshine and our name”. It comes to mind as we gather in these villages because nowhere is this sentiment more true than in Uganda. I look around and wonder ‘which one of these hardworking, joy-filled people is the headmaster? Who is the local councilman?’ I can’t guess, I must wait for the speeches to begin. At home, I could probably distinguish the plumber from the politician. I’d know the homeless from the well fed. But in many of the places we visit in Uganda, the enormous challenges of everyday living are the great equalizer.
Eventually the presentations begin. Everyone is given a chance to speak, starting at the bottom of the pecking order and ending with us, the visitors. I’m always surprised when the local politician stands because it’s always the person I least expected. I guess my American brain is still waiting for some suit to walk in. The women lay leaders are often very young mothers, and the teachers are soft-spoken but carry a dignity about them that commands attention. Yes, I get it Kenny. We come into this world empty handed but for the talents God has given us and our access to His creation. For some of us this never changes. These faithful have taken their gifts and used them for His glory, even though for many, all they have is the sunshine and their name.
If Uganda has taught me anything, it’s about love. It’s that, without question, every person on this planet is God’s precious child who deserves their own, individual opportunity to live, thrive, and love. It sounds ridiculous that I had to go all the way to Uganda to understand this, but I mean I have really, truly learned this lesson—it’s not just something one says because we learned it in church. Whether in a village in Uganda or in my neighborhood at home, Uganda has taught me to love everyone plain and simple. No matter who they are, what they look like, how they live, how they may have offended me, or what my opinions are. And out of love comes service. That’s it, no caveat. Kenny has another line in the same song that says, “always give love the upper hand”. I don’t know if Kenny has ever been to Uganda, but it sure does sound like he’s spent some time out in there in the world.
The little girl in this picture is Rita. She lives in Kakiika and attends school at Hope Lutheran. I first met Rita when she was about 4 years old and in the nursery class. The next time I saw her she’d moved up to P1 or 2, and if she’s been able to continue attending school uninterrupted, by now she will be in P4 or 5. I’ve developed a certain affection for Rita and it’s been my delight to see her each time we visit.
The regal woman standing beside Rita is her grandmother. She looks resplendent in her traditional Ugandan dress, doesn’t she? To appropriate our southern expression, I consider Rita’s grandmother to be a Steel Magnolia. She’s the matriarch and strength of her family. You see, Rita’s father passed away a few years ago, leaving her mother alone with two small children and limited options. The work she found was on the other side of the country, so she has left Rita and her little brother in the care of their grandmother and traveled far away to earn a livelihood. Without hesitation, Rita’s grandmother took the children into her home and has given them a love for Jesus and a sense of family and community responsibility. She makes sure they attend school and worship, and that they visit and spend time with their extended family. She very intentionally sets their eyes on a future. She may live in a village in Central Uganda, in a grass and mud hut, far off the electrical grid, without running water or Wi-Fi, but she is no different than me, or any other woman right here in my own neighborhood. The women I know in my office, my gym, or the ones I run into in Java Jive are preoccupied with the same concerns. We raised our families in the same way, with the same priorities. We think about, pray about, and hope for the same things for our children. We are all Steel Magnolias.
It doesn’t matter where we live.
To see women dressed this way is a common, every day sight in Uganda but this day in 2017 was, indeed, a special day. We were celebrating the dedication of the new school buildings at Kakiika. Praise God the community now has two beautiful, multi-purpose buildings for classrooms, worship, office space, and long-term plans for a clinic and possible commercial endeavors for sustainable income.
As you read this diary entry, Resurrection has a team in Uganda. On this visit, we’ll have the joy of celebrating another school dedication, this time at Lukonda. This faithful community has worked very hard to realize this project and RLC has walked alongside and supported in a partnership that began with the very first team sent in 2011. There are now three beautiful, permanent buildings on a multi-purpose campus, and Lukonda has similar long-term objectives as Kakiika. Once again, we Praise God for this bounty and we can’t wait to tell you stories about this happy, happy day!
Chicken Soup for the Soul
It was mid-afternoon and we were nearing the end of our visit in Kakiika. The team was enjoying a meal that a few of us had clumsily tried to help Violet and Mariah prepare in the cooking hut. (I could devote an entire diary entry to the art of cutting vegetables into tiny pieces while holding them in one’s hand!) We were sitting on tree stumps and felled logs to the side of the hut, a little out of sight, the courageous among us eating Ugandan style with our fingers. The children had eaten their porridge earlier in the day and we muzungu felt conspicuous with our dinner. The scent from our cooking fires had been wafting across the school grounds all afternoon and it was clear to everyone that we had meat.
Alas, the children found us. As they often did, they just hung about watching us eat. In Uganda, the finest morsels of food are given to a visitor. In many households if there happens to be meat at a meal, a serving is often set aside just in case a visitor arrives at the door. And in Ugandan culture, it’s completely natural that the adults would enjoy the meat and the children would have none, their bellies filled instead with starchy foods like rice or beans. This pecking order is somewhat contrary to American culture. We’re a society of helicopter parents and tiger moms so we knew these kids were hungry. The larger the crowd of onlookers grew, the more uncomfortable we became. But there were probably 200 children in Kakiika that day and we had but one pot of chicken soup, a small portion of matoke, and maybe a little rice and turnip greens.
Sadly, this is not a fishes and loaves story. I’d love to tell you that we lined them up and the pot never emptied until the very last child had eaten his fill. But that’s not what happened. Of course we shared. We tried to pull aside the smallest children, or the ones who looked like they most needed the protein. But we quickly realized it was a fool’s errand. Like a viral game of telephone, word spread we were giving away our food and suddenly the crowd doubled with expectant faces and we had nothing left to offer. The food was gone and there were still dozens of them standing in front of us, and dozens more running toward the little mob scene we’d unwittingly created. What had we done?
A few minutes later Violet cheerfully shooed the kids away as we cleared up our mess and began organizing our departure. If there was disappointment among them it was soon forgotten in the excitement of activity. Like all happy and inquisitive children, they became interested in the next thing—peering at the American-ness of our supplies on the bus, enjoying last minute hugs and piggy back rides, belting out another sing-along, and maybe a few more jump shots on the net ball court.
Oh yes these are happy children. They find such joy in our visits that they can easily forget their hunger and live completely in the moment, grateful for the gift of our friendship and giving God the glory that He’s brought all of us together. Ours is truly a mission of presence. We cannot feed all those children every day, and nor should we try. Bringing them food and taking care of them is what our nurturing heart wants, but it doesn’t best serve our friends in Uganda. Our presence and long-term partnership is what’s needed. Walking alongside of them in faith and ministry, lifting them in prayer and investing in sincere friendship, and yes, adding support to their initiatives when we can provide financial or tactical resources. That’s how we best serve this ministry.
And in so doing we also receive. In our daily living, we often feel weighed down with personal burdens. I think about our friends in Uganda and it reminds me to look around at the joy God delivers me every day. The constant gift I carry from this ministry is the reminder to slow down, appreciate everyone, look outward rather than inward, (that’s a big one!), realign priorities, and be grateful. It’s the most precious souvenir I have from Uganda and I’m so thankful to those children for giving it to me.
Just a Little Fish Fry
Warned in advance that we would experience this incredible meal, our lunch on the first day was Tilapia and Nile Beer. We sat at a table, banquet style, looking at Lake Victoria, watching water taxis and the other boats. We spent this time getting to know one another and about this country that we would call home for the next 10 days. I learned about Fred and Violet and the work of the Lutheran Church of Uganda. But mostly I learned that eating one large fried fish with head and eyes still attached is great and messy - and community building – just like eating crabs back home. There is something about eating where your hands are the utensils that quickly moves you from formal to casual.
Lord God, you blessed our meal with a wonderful catch of fish and people to share it with. Once, so long ago, you blessed the disciples with an incredible catch of fish, you blessed a little boys meager lunch, you blessed the disciples with fish from an early morning fire – bless us Lord. Be with us as we move to serve. Cast your net over us, drawing us always to you.
A Ugandan Learning Experience
One of the many joys that I have experienced when visiting Uganda was the eagerness that the Lutheran Church of Uganda (LCU) has to share their faith in Jesus with their NEIGHBORs.
On each of the mission trips, Resurrection would sponsor the showing of the “Jesus Film” in the villages and churches. On one of the mission trips, the team was asked to visit the different local homes within walking distance to the Kakiika school. We were asked to invite the households to the film showing that evening and offer to pray with and for the family. Teams of three were sent out, two mission team members and a translator.
For me, it was a ‘leaving your comfort zone’ experience. A teammate and I visited three or four homes, inviting families to the film and offering to pray for the family with the translator’s help. One of the visits was to an elderly man who was preparing a morsel of food over a charcoal fire in a thatched roof, dirt floor hut with see-through walls. He welcomed us and thanked us for the invite and the prayer that we offered. The faith story continues for this elderly man, but that is a story for another time.
Each home that we visited, whether non-Christian, Christian, or Muslim, welcomed us with a place to sit (usually near the entrance to their home) and a willingness to hear the invite and the offer of prayer. The family would usually ask questions about where we were from and why we were in their small, remote village. Some of the smaller children hugged their parents tightly, not knowing what to make of these ‘white faces’ visiting their home.
After visiting the homes, the teams met and together began to walk back to the Kakiika school. Needless to say, I was relieved that the visits had ended. However Fred, our Ugandan host, was not yet ready to return. He saw a group of men playing cards under a huge shady tree and said, “Let us visit those men and share the Gospel message.” Inwardly I said, “REALLY?” But we went and I heard Fred, a layperson like myself, eagerly share his faith with men that he had not previously met.
Fred invited them to the Jesus Film that night. I’m not sure if any of the men actually attended. What does matter is that Fred was eager and joyful in his witness. He knew that only the Spirit could move the men under the tree. Fred was simply sharing a joyful message that he was excited about and leaving the results to God.
I have learned a lot from my Ugandan brothers and sisters. When God provides those faith sharing opportunities, I pray that I will be ready with a Gospel witness to share Jesus with my NEIGHBOR.
A Journey Toward Uganda
My journey to Uganda began several years prior to our team’s 2013 trip in July. In 2006, I began working with a close-knit team of sixth grade teachers at West Lake. The science teacher and I first connected through a love of science and next through our Christian faith. One thing I appreciated about her was her willingness to share life stories during science classes which helped make learning come alive. Her track scholarship, her Uganda mission trip, her home built from the ground up all played specific and memorable parts to show how life and science connect. However, the more she spoke about Uganda, the more I dared to dream about going one day myself. As a member of Resurrection since 1997, Pastor Paul had begun traveling on mission trips there, so Uganda felt distantly familiar.
By the end of that school year, my teacher friend gifted me with a well-loved and slightly ragged copy of “Jesus Calling.” She explained that this book had been to Uganda and back more than a few times. The first time was with a friend who became a missionary and carried it back and forth with her. That friend gave her the book which she packed carefully for her first mission trip a couple of years later. Now she was giving the book to me. She really felt I would go one day. She told me, “Pray, trust, hope, and wait –I just believe if it’s this firmly stuck in your heart, you’ll go too one day.” One thing she shared through the years after that was, trust God to show you what He wants you to find wherever you go, whatever it is, He’ll use it to change not just your life, but others as well.
Those were the years our kids were in elementary and middle school and eventually high school. I talked to my family about it only occasionally, and waited for the perfect timing. The perfect timing though, never appeared because life kept getting in the way. As the years rolled by, I realized there was no “perfect timing.” Instead, I continued to pray, trust, hope and then I waited till the tug on my heart to go was stronger than the tug on my heart to continue waiting.
Your journey may feel like it’s a decision made by you, but hand it over to God. Talk to and listen to past teammate’s stories. Pray for guidance. Trust that God has a mighty plan. Place your hope in His answer. Wait till He moves you. Regardless of whether you have a heart for taking this journey either now or in the future, we ask that you support future teams however you feel led. As my dear friend once told me, “Pray, trust, hope, and wait, He’s got big plans for that journey.” No worn out copy of “Jesus Calling” required.
Welcome to the Hotel Katikomu
There’s a hotel in Kayunga Town that’s become a favorite. The proprietor—a man named Ronald—is usually the first person we see when our bus pulls up. The lighted blue sign emblazoned with the hotel name and a Pepsi logo is the first welcoming beacon, and Ronald’s huge smile is the second. I’ve always assumed Ronald lives in the hotel because he’s up before the guests and never turns in until well past dinner.
In a country where most folks amble about, content with the slow pace of life, Ronald’s a paradox. He darts from here to there, overseeing the kitchen or reception or housekeeping. He’s rather remarkable.
The hotel is wonderful, too. My favorite time here is early morning. There’s no central air in Uganda so my window is open when I sleep. Often what wakes me is the pre-dawn call to worship. There’s a significant Muslim population in Uganda and in many towns you’ll hear this throughout the day. If my room is at the back of the hotel, I can lay under the mosquito netting and listen for the sounds of the kitchen to swing into motion. I’ll hear the women start to gossip with each other as they arrive for work. A man’s voice—it sounds like he’s brought water to them. Laughter. Always lots of laughter. Eventually the smell of the cooking fire wafts through the window and I know they day has begun. Sometimes I hear chickens clucking about. One thing I can count on is the eggs are definitely free range. Eventually the rooster crows. If the call to prayer doesn’t wake me, the rooster usually does!
If my room is in the front of the hotel, I can watch neighbors coming and going from the bore hole with their jerry cans, fetching water for the morning. Small children arrive in pairs or with an older sibling—likely sent on this important errand by their mother. There are women in colorful dresses who carry a baby on their back and the water on their head. Sometimes you’ll see an industrious young boy with a bicycle who will strap several cans to the back and sides of the bike. Once full of water, a jerry can is 40 pounds. I’m always amazed watching those thin legs pedal away on a bike weighted down with three or four of these!
But the best view from Hotel Katikomu is from any room along the side. Because from the side, on the upper floors, you can see into the trading center. And that’s where all the action is. Kayunga Town is a medium sized trading center so you can get just about any product or service you might need here. Groceries, electronics, office supplies—you’ll even have a few choices. You can have your car fixed or visit the hair salon. In fact, one year all of us girls did that! In Kayunga Town, from morning to evening you’ll hear a woman’s voice on a public address. She talks from the moment the sun rises until it sets. I think she may take a break for a mid-day meal but otherwise, she’s a ubiquitous sound, broadcasting from somewhere in the trading center. I once asked my Ugandan friend, Violet, what she was saying and it turns out it is just public announcements: a lost child, an opportunity for a women’s group gathering, a town council meeting, a sale at the grocer. She’s a modern Town Crier. I always forget about this woman and then, when I wake that first morning at the hotel, there she is, like an old friend greeting me after a long absence.
The Great Harvest
The Produce Market in Kampala. Wow! The streets spilled out with the abundance of people, vegetables, and fruit. Amazing colors, shapes, and smells surrounded us as we so carefully maneuvered the narrow pathways through the vendors’ wares. The streets were narrow and crowded with traffic – all in the wrong direction. Stalls piled with the luscious fresh food spilled out – the observer couldn’t tell where one stall ended and the next began. So many people were anxious to assist us – Violet and Fred negotiated the purchase of a number of items for us to take on the journey: mangoes, watermelon, pineapples, and passion fruit.
As I watched this unfold, I could not help but think of the harvest hymns and more importantly the great harvest that God desires. You know, the one where all of his children – the multitudes, throngs, and myriads – the every ethnos, every nation, every tongue – gather to bow before Him and sing the songs of praise and adoration.
Lord God, in this nation of Uganda I pray for your Pentecost – your Spirit of Wind and Fire to stir hearts so that the Name of Jesus is known by all.
The Brick Makers
Do you believe that our prayers are answered – even before they have been asked? In the village of Luconda, two young men were making bricks. Its what they do – 500 bricks a day. They used dirt from termite hills mixing it with heavy red clay dirt –loosening, working, and making it into mud. Dancing up and down in the mud mixture, it was the energy of their bodies that stirred it to just the right consistency. A board was cleared and then a 2-brick mold was placed on top. Two at a time, four handfuls of clay thrown into each mold, then shook and rattled – a bit more clay if needed. Tap, tap, tap, and out came 2 bricks - 2 men, 2 molds, 4 bricks in total, and only 496 more to make on this day.
Carefully they are laid in rows, covered to regulate the drying process, and built into a stack where the heat of fire will cure them. 500 bricks a day. Who has hired them and why are they doing this?
You see, these bricks will build a school for the children of this village. A school that does not yet have a funding partner, but a school that will be built to the glory of God and for the Christian education of His children. These bricks are being prepared because these 2 young men and this village know that God who hears their prayers will answer them and they want to be ready.
Lord, grant me the faith to believe that indeed You hear our prayers and are answering them. Give me the courage to act in that faith.
The Hosanna Parade
It had been a very long, very dusty day. Six hours on the bus, navigating deeply rutted dirt roads, dodging clouds of dust – a very long day. We finally arrived at the location we would call ‘home’ in Amudat. It was about 6:00 pm and we needed to purchase food for dinner and prepare it. We had hardly begun to figure this out when back onto the bus to go meet with the people at Nabokotom, Pastor Moses’ congregation. They had been waiting for us all day! This mission site was about 5 miles from where we were staying – so off we went as daylight was fading – another adventure.
Imagine our surprise as the bus pulled into an area and there is a wall of extremely tall people singing and jumping (higher than I have seen and only through the pictures of National Geographic). These are the Pokot and they are leading us to their church with a hosanna parade! Suddenly no longer tired we are beyond amazed. Singing and jumping – leading the bus forward – a picture that words cannot paint. We spent about 30 minutes with them, singing, sharing, and getting to know one another. And when it came time to go, half of them got onto the bus and rode with us till it was their stop. And wonder of wonders – the music didn’t stop. They sang the entire time, psalms of praise and thanksgiving filled with harmonies, tones, and shades of beautiful depth.
We Americans all sat in amazed silence. God, who on this very long bus day that was filled with bumps and dust, blessed us with new friends, music, and a renewed spirit. Thank you God for the refreshment that comes always in your people, your Word, and in music. Thank you in every way for this Hosanna Parade.