My Personal Success

Beginning year six in East Africa. From an inauspicious start, I’ve managed to take root here, make friends, learn languages, find success.

What is success? Making a long putt for par? Closing a deal with a sought-after client? Raising upstanding children? Before we can answer the contemporary question of “what does success look like?” we must first define it.

Personal or professional

I’ve had a lifelong conflict trying to balance my personal life with my professional goals. My first career as a TV sportscaster-producer took me to more (TV) markets than Joe Carcione (The Green Grocer)! I was chasing the dream I had since pre-teens. The multiple daily deadlines, ever-changing challenges. It was exhilarating and exhausting. I moved a lot in nine years, bouncing from here and there to move up the ladder, in prestige and pay, until I ran out of gas.

After a transition period of about 18 months, I was selected for a state civil service job in San Francisco. I was plucked out of an overnight cable news shift in Los Angeles–300 miles from my home–and never looked back.

That first year I began to achieve a professional-personal balance in my life. I commuted to The City from my mother’s East Bay home. Took public transit every single day, without fail. Made friends, had fun, started my run as a public information officer. After a year I was back in the state capital, sleeping at home, commuting to work on Light Rail, and training for my first of four marathons.

Spiritual success

After my son was born it was time to get him baptized, as generations of forebears did with their young progeny. A Christian community was found with activities, suppers and prayers. I had grown up a generation earlier in the church rectory where we hosted such events. This was a back-to-the-future moment. It felt familiar. And friendly.

More state jobs meant more pay and responsibilities. Soon I was cycling 25 miles to work, achieving fitness while sharpening my sword. We found a new church which was about to undertake a profound step in faith to embrace debt and build a wonderful worship center for the community. I was all-in.

As my career and family grew, so did my spiritual gifts. I became a regular worship leader as a member of the choir, a performing sketch artist on designated Sundays and a participant and contributor in an ecumenical revival movement. I found time–no, made time–to enjoy God’s great outdoors with a cadre of friends on our cool road bikes.

From where I sit now those were the greatest of days. My son completed university and was focused on his next steps. I was climbing some of the great hills and mountains from the coastal range to the Sierra Nevada.

Yet that still, small voice inside me said it was time for more.

Across the pond

From my days in the rectory and hours in the pews, I always had this sense of a higher calling. Summoning me from child’s play, from the cubicle farm, the rat race. An opportunity was born in the fall of 2011, just weeks after I retired from my state career. I could visit a secondary school in South Sudan with my video cameras. That meant making critical connections, getting a passport, and crossing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. I didn’t have far to go. The school was founded by retired educators and friends at my church in Cameron Park. A new door was opened, a new life beckoned.

This journey has not been difficult. Traveling 10,000 miles to Africa has unfolded naturally, easily. Almost as if it was preordained. I first arrived on this continent without knowing a single person. In Christian communities where I landed in South Sudan, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, I was welcomed by brothers and sisters who knew the Lord as I did. They grew up in strong communities where hospitality is a cultural norm.

I have stepped toward them, learning their languages, sharing my faith and humor and wealth. I have been rewarded with their friendships, smiles and love.

Answer the question!

So what is success? I’ve missed more par putts than I’ve made, but I’ve cycled and traveled a road few peers have followed. While I worked. While I worshipped. While I helped raise an outstanding young man.

Success is a balanced life: Love and laughter, pain and forgiveness, selfishness and selflessness. It is making money and making amends. Structure and spontaneity. Climbing the challenging peaks and coasting home. Remembering friends and loved ones, and making new ones on the other side of the world.

The Simplest Pleasure

Just returned from a 40-minute walk around Ft. Portal in western Uganda. I greeted everyone I encountered in the local language. I was met with smiles, surprise, conversation. It was a thrill. The simplest of pleasures. And it never gets old.

One word triggers it all. Hello. Orrirota. Agandi. Wabukire. Habari. Bonjour. With a simple, friendly greeting, we can open doors to new relationships and possibilities. We can engage a neighbour in conversation, share a bit of ourselves, learn something. It costs nothing but a few moments of time but the rewards are gratifying.

pat batwa seated classic

I’ve found my life’s work in Africa. What is it exactly? If it’s nothing but greeting people and lifting spirits, that’s more than enough for me. I support entrepreneurs and students through my charity, Team in Faith. There are plenty of bonuses in helping others.

Throughout each day, I get many opportunities to greet people who, on the outside, are not at all like me. Can there be a bigger difference between a middle-class white guy and my black brothers and sisters here?

Racial and socio-economic differences aside, we have so much to share. Good humour, stories about work and projects, events of the day. I know I missed daily opportunities to acknowledge people over the years in California. So I do my best to greet others here in their language every chance I get.

Two of my most important relationships on this continent were launched with that one word.

My first visit to Uganda was in 2013. I flew from Los Angeles to London, and had but an hour to make a connection to Entebbe. I made it somehow, but my bags did not make the transfer. I would have to spend two extra days in town awaiting them.

bp enoch

During my stay over at the Namirembe Guest House in Kampala, I was sitting outside after breakfast when I recognised a man in bishop’s purple shirt and collar approaching. I stood to greet him (photo above). From my one-word introduction to Bishop Enoch Kayeeye, we shared phone numbers and would later meet at the other end of the country to begin our ministry work together that continues to this day.

In 2014, I was in Kampala preparing to fly home the following day. I was directed to the African Craft Village where I could get some souvenirs to bring home to friends. I stopped in several shops, but when I went to another to ask for the time, my greeting of “hello” led to much more.

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That’s where I met Evelyn, a shop owner (above). She gave me the time of day, and asked about what I was doing in Uganda. Among other things, I mentioned I had an empako, or nickname which is used in her Batooro culture. When I told her my empako, Apuuli, she told me hers, Akiiki. Twenty minutes later I left with a bag of shirts to pack, and a spirit lifted by the exchange.

Today’s contentious world needs a lot fewer words and more interpersonal relationships. Hiding behind a computer firewall typing insults at strangers online is inflammatory and destructive.

Take a walk outside. Look a stranger in the eye and say “hello.” Believe me, It could change your life and make your day.

Shared Sorrow

The women come. They walk. They sit. For hours. Honoring the dead.

Last week I witnessed a beautiful cultural spectacle in Uganda. A community leader, and a friend, was killed in a bus accident. The sudden tragic loss of the Rev. Canon Enos Komunda shocked and mobilized the community,

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Above, Bishop Dan Zoreka looks out over mourners gathered outside home of late Enos Komunda

I arrived at the family home with my wife hours after receiving news of his death. By then there were several hundred women and men sitting quietly inside and outside the home, in a vigil of support.

Hundreds more were preparing for the funeral service and burial the next day. They would come on foot from their villages and homes, a trip that would take hours, to participate in this community send off. Committees were formed to provide chairs, tents and food for the huge crowd.

Life in Uganda is simple and hard. There are few distractions to daily subsistence living. The people value family, community, fellowship, sharing sorrows. It is something to behold.

Make Straight My Path

Our village church is up the hill from where we sit. A vertical hike to get there, actually. A piece of cake for the locals. More of a struggle for this muzungu. Maybe my high center of gravity (my head!) is what makes these walks a challenge.

There are several paths to get to the small, mud-walled, dirt floor church. Due to wrangling over the land, the landowners have cut off access to the more foot-friendly route.

Last week, with Evelyn effortlessly leading up front, we climbed a steep narrow path to church. Rains this week made it impassable today so we tried the last remaining, but technically difficult trail.

Most church-goers I know have easy access to Sunday services. Driving in air-conditioned comfort on smooth roads, walking nice sidewalks. There are very few physical obstacles to attending church in my old hometown area in Northern California. Countless spiritual ones, I’m sure.

In SW Uganda and throughout East Africa, women, children and some men will walk many kilometers, up and down steep paths to praise the Lord. Of course there are the man-made obstacles to attending but the physical barriers are simply surmounted.

Today, after climbing and descending steep, narrow pitches to attend worship services with my African wife and friends, we learned that the route we took today may soon be blocked, as part of this land dispute.

Once again, obstacles of our own creation could keep me from worshipping with my neighbors. A shame. Hopefully the power of the spirit will prevail.

As the popular Christian song says, “God will make a way where there seems to be no way…”

God’s Green Acres

Awakened overnight with messages buzzing on my ubiquitous iPhone. Evelyn is anxious about her interview with US Embassy for her tourist visa in the morning. She’s checking her list and preparing supporting documents. She’s ready. I’m anxious too.

But there are other messages demanding my attention. Seems the Giants won their Opening Day game, and tied a record in the process with back-to-back-to-back home runs. Wow. Great news. And a sign from God.

Several years ago I attended a weekend retreat. It was billed as a spiritual revival. I was ready for it but a bit apprehensive.

After arriving at the center in Jackson, the candidates, as we were called, went to bed in silence.

The next morning, as I woke up, I prayed that God show me a sign that I was in the right place, that I was where he wanted me to be. I stepped outside my room into the cool, clear March morning.

As I took a short, slow walk around the building, I suddenly stopped, having experienced the sign that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

I looked across a grassy field to a pristine baseball diamond, laid out neatly in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. It was immaculate, grass neatly trimmed, bright green under the rising sun, awaiting determined young players. It was like a scene out of “Field of Dreams.”

My heart soared. As a lifelong fan who spent hours and hours each year watching and reading about baseball, I got the unmistakeable feeling that I was home, in a familiar, comforting place. I could relax through the weekend and absorb everything that God intended to show me.

As I watched the clip this morning (it’s 0315) I smiled and felt that same feeling. God’s got this, and his hand is on me. I have been reflecting for 40 minutes.

It’s real for me. God knows me deeply. He built me to enjoy sports, to relax and find comfort in them in the fury of domestic disorder.

I think Evelyn will pass her interview because that’s God’s plan, just like every step I’ve taken in my life to put me here, in Africa, with this incredible, gorgeous wife!!

God is good. Let’s play ball. Get on that plane, Evelyn. We’re going places!

African Wedding Memories

This week has been a whirlwind.

My introduction and wedding seem like a long time ago. Last week’s initiation to the Tooro culture and Evelyn’s family was festive and fun. The wedding went without a hitch.

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The events were followed by a road trip-honeymoon accompanied by my brother and his wife from Napa.

Our stops included a
* two-day safari at Queen Elizabeth National Park,
* a visit to see two new beneficiary groups of Team in Faith and our partner ACER,
* a long jaunt and overnight at Bwindi Gorilla Haven as the inaugural guests,
* an epic drive and traffic jam on the way to Entebbe to drop Tom and Stephanie at the airport.

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As we rest and relax, God is here, with us, blessing us, loving us. Evelyn and I are very happy and excited about our next steps. The journey together continues….

Joy to the World

Joy to the World the Lord has come. Let earth receive her king!

One of the things that has transformed me in recent years is the feeling of joy. In the past I felt inadequate or not worthy of such an expression. As I have grown, walking forward faithfully, I have experienced authentic joy.

For a season in my life, I was a very good mountain cyclist. There was a lot of joy descending Sierra passes that my buddies and I just climbed. I would shout to the Lord my joy and happiness. How great that feeling. And that was mine. I worked hard. I earned every bit of that.

As I found my work in Africa, a joy resonated from within me that has been impossible to contain. Being in the presence of God and beautiful people has given me a glimpse of heaven. There is joy and happiness, punctuated by poverty and pain, almost every day.

Today, with Evelyn in my life, there is a feeling of an everlasting joy with the most unlikely but perfect life mate.

I am happy. I feel joy. The Lord lives here.

May you experience the joy that comes from fellowship with the Lord and others.

Home Away From Home

Have been back in the USA for about five weeks after half a year in Africa. Working most days each week but finding time for recreation. Have introduced my Team in Faith organization.

It feels different. This is no longer my home.

edh county

My heart and mind are with the people of Uganda. Beautiful people. Grace-filled people. Loving brothers and sisters.

My life in Northern California is quite comfortable. Paved roads. Easy wifi access. Big screen TVs. Unusually dry weather. But something is missing.

Relationships here are usually appointment-driven. Let’s meet! Where, what time? It is unusual, for me at least, to engage many people while on the go. We are belted-in in our motorized steel vehicles. We might see a friend as we pass at 10 miles above the speed limit. Encountering people on the streets here just doesn’t happen. Ten thousand miles away, though, it is a way of life.

Everyone in Sub-Saharan Africa is outside waiting to greet you. The village homes in Uganda are small and it is typical to sit outside and watch the world pass by. As I walk the 500 metres to the vocational college each day, I meet and greet a dozen people or more, surprising many with my local language skills. Even in the small town of Kabale, I will pass many people who may look at me with curiosity. An exchange can form a friendship. This most basic human interaction is really what sets apart my life there from what I experience here.

I met one of my Ugandan friends in an LA suburb last weekend. Far from from his homeland, he and his wife live in an apartment complex. He studies for hours each day, waiting for his chance at a medical residency. His social life is very quiet behind closed doors, a far cry from the life he loved and left.

In recent years I have been fortunate to travel a lot and visit many countries in Europe and Africa. The different cultures are beautiful and fun to explore. America, for many in Africa and elsewhere, is a dream destination…a veritable Disneyland of opportunities and entertainment.

BGH village church

We enjoy a standard of living unmatched by any culture in the history of the world. Most of the world can only dream of this.

I prayed for the chance to experience life like most of my brothers and sisters. God honored that. I’ve been fortunate to live Uganda for most of the past three years.

I am at home now.

A Conversation with God

“Hi, God. You around?”

“Hello, Patrick. Top of the morning to you. I’m here. How things are going for you? Are you with me or trying to do things by yourself?”

“Yeah, well, I think my faith in you is being tested again.”

“Why is that? Have I not fulfilled my promises to you?”

“No. No. I know you are here with me in Uganda. You sent me here. You’ve made provision for me here. It’s just, well…I don’t know…”

“Come on. Tell me what’s on your heart.”

“You know, I’ve done the best I can. You’ve put me in challenging situations from the start. I haven’t complained about any of that.”

“So what’s the problem again?”

“I’m lonely.”

“Lonely? But I am right here. Every minute. Every day. 24/7.”

“It’s not you. It’s me. Somehow, in someway, I get distracted. I lose sight of you. Then I find myself all by myself. I get anxious, I look for you…but I don’t find you right away.”

“Haha. Where do you look for me?”

“I try to focus on my work. I try to pray harder. I retreat to a quiet place.”

“That’s where you find me? Are you sure?”

“No, that’s not where I find you. There’s an emptiness in my stomach. I am lost. ‘Kobuzire,’ as the people say here. ‘You are lost!’ I don’t feel as confident, or as powerful as before.”

“Patrick..I agree with you that your faith is unsettled at the moment. Don’t worry about ‘why’ or what you’ve done to create your discomfort. Look for me. I am near. A friend who calls or visits and lifts your spirit, that’s me. With friends and strangers, I am with you. You are with me.”

“But sometimes I feel I’d rather just be alone. I’m an introvert, you know.”

“You’re a ‘people person,’ Patrick. That’s why you are well-liked and successful here. Stay with that. Trust in me. I am with you always. I don’t want to see you struggle. I have given you life and skills. I have made a way for you.”

“You make it sound so easy, God.”

“It’s not ‘easy,’ Patrick. Simple, yes; easy, no.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re most welcome. I’m always here.”

This Just In…

Headline: Episcopal Church approves gay marriages in churches.

Old news.

The Episcopal Church has been moving that direction for decades. I won’t leave it. Too much wonderful tradition, rich liturgy and experience that set me on my way. We’re a large family. I don’t agree with everything in my family, but I won’t leave it.

I’m ambivalent about the gay issue. It is not a way of life I would choose or how God created me. Instead I must deal with my own sin, selfishness, and lust.

I am not aware of any pecking order of sins but I would place murder and the hate that is racism at the top of the list. To take someone’s life or to hate a brother or sister created in the image of God because of the color of their skin is abhorrent to me. Historically, men of faith in the South, members of the KKK, Christians, killed and terrorized our brothers and sisters while corrupting God’s word and world. Appalling to me. Thank God for William Wilberforce.

In response I give away a lifestyle that millions here can only dream of, to live in community with my brothers and sisters of different mothers in Uganda. Love lives here.

There is no place I’d rather be.

Finding Fellowship

In the wake of the horrible shooting at the Charleston, SC, church, I reflected on a church visit in the home office of the Confederacy, South Carolina.

Several years ago my family and I vacationed with my wife’s sister and bro-in-law not too far from Hilton Head, in their home state of SC.

I remember getting up to go to an Episcopal Church one Sunday morning, alone. After a short drive, I entered a small, attractive church.

As I remember, not one member of the congregation spoke to me. Was it because I was dressed like I was on holiday? Even afterward when I greeted the vicar, I barely got a “harrumph.” It was a stifling experience. I am remembering now just how chilling that felt.

Today, halfway around the world from home, I’ve attended church services where, as the only white person in the congregation, I was moved through the packed congregation to a seat in the second row. The worship was vibrant and fun. After the Easter Sunday service I took tea with the visiting bishop.

My point to this anecdote is that in the South, the culture appears set. Outsiders or visitors, like this Californian, who try to break through into a closed-knit community, are looked at with suspicion. There was not much warmth.

I get looked at a lot when I visit an Anglican Church in Uganda. There is curiosity, but there is love and fellowship. I feel the Lord’s presence. I feel at home.

I Saw Water Flowing

Homily
10 May 2015
Ezek 47:1-12
St. Augustine Chapel, Kabale, Uganda

About a year and a half ago, a pastor friend of mine in California sent me an invitation. He was leading a mission trip to Amman, Jordan, to support Christian workers helping refugees from the violence and destruction in Syria.

In his note to me he said, “come share with me in the suffering of others.”

I accepted his invitation and joined a team of six doctors and pastors to visit and support Syrian refugees who fled to neighbouring Jordan. We met them in small unfurnished apartments, sitting on the floor. We heard their stories of bombs and fighting near their homes and businesses and how they escaped.

It was a powerful experience for me, but God was present, strengthening us and healing them. Most of the refugee families are Muslim but we asked if we could pray for them. Almost all agreed. We called upon the Prince of Peace, Jesus, to help end the horrible destruction being done to their country.

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When our time in Jordan ended, and the others went home, Pastor John and I crossed over to Israel. It was my first visit and I was excited about a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

From the border we drove through the Judean countryside. It was a place of refuge for David, who was hiding from Saul. Jesus spent his 40 days in the nearby wilderness.

Before long we got our first glimpse of the Dead Sea, an isolated body of water located between the eastern mountains of Israel and the smaller Judaean hills. The Jordan River is the only major water source flowing into the Dead Sea. There is no outlet.

It lies in a beautiful, stark, valley with no trees or vegetation, like a desert. Its surface is 430 meters below sea level, making it the lowest place on Earth. It is nearly 10 times saltier than the ocean. In Hebrew it is called “Sea of Salt.” The water is a harsh environment in which animals and fish cannot flourish…and that is how it got its name.

In our OT lesson, the prophet Ezekiel writes about the hope of a present God in a barren land. These verses use the imagery of water and describe something of a paradise in a land that was hostile to life.

“I saw water flowing,” he says. “Flowing from the sides of the temple.” At first the water came to his ankles….and as he walked further, the water was up to his waist. Then it was too deep to cross except by swimming.

“And where the water flowed….there was new life.”

Verse 8: He said to me: “this water flows through the land to the east and down in to the Jordan Valley and to the Dead Sea. When it flows into the Dead Sea, it replaces the salt water of that sea with fresh water. Wherever the stream flows, there will be all kinds of animals and fish. The stream wiil make the water of the Dead Sea fresh, and wherever it flows, it will bring life.”

This is beautiful imagery of the nature of God. Nourishing us to bear fruit in our season. Even if we sit here and think that life is bleak, these words can lift our spirits.

As we look at our surroundings in Uganda, Kabale District, what do we see? What colors do we see? Primarily green…plants and trees showcasing life.

There are abundant rains to satisfy and sunshine to speed growth. Imagine, then, a life in exile. The promise of the Lord a memory as conquerors now rule.

This is the life and vision of refugees even today, like those from Syria whom I met. The colors of life they see, unfortunately are like the dry, brown, desolate Dead Sea area.

No trees or plants. Just a large body of salty water. A deslote, barren land. Brown and inhospitable.

Can there be a greater contrast? The brown, lifeless land of the desert and Dead Sea or the greenery of Uganda…productive land to cultivate. Plentiful rains and water. Trees with deep roots by streams. The biblical poets and psalmists write about this often. It is what God created for us here in SW Uganda.

Ezekiel’s vision for his people showed promise of a transformation…from death to life….from brown to green…using the symbol of water. Making the impossible possible.

My brothers and sisters, that is what you and I must share…with the lost…with refugees fleeing a war zone with their lives…with our hurting friends and neighbours: that there is a new life, an abundant life of living water in Christ that is theirs for the asking.

It is poetic, actually. Can any of us come up with more beautiful language to describe how our loving Father will restore life in our spirts, souls, our bodies?

Uganda is beautiful land of green hills. But other parts of the world are dry, thirsty, and in conflict.

The news shows us battles in many nations: Birundi, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria.

People caught in the middle of those conflicts are like exiles in their own land. Oh, that the Prince of Peace would descend upon those nations with his living water…rushing from the temple.

And where the water flows, there is new life. That is the promise.
That is the nature of God. His faithfulness can do far more than we can ask or imagine.

Someday, man’s inhumanity to man must fade….swallowed by springs of living water. God’s light will overcome the darkness of our hearts.

The water…rushing from God’s temple to the empty land, transforming the Dead Sea is the hope we need, the hope we have.

The green hills of Uganda, the smiles and songs we see and hear each day show us the peace which passes understanding.

Mukama is in control. He’s got this. Those are the words we must share with our troubled brothers and sisters from Syria….and with our friends and neighbors.

There is new life…abundant life to be had. That is God’s promise to us.

Amen.

Choose Blessings!

Homily delivered 7 May 2015
St. Augustine’s Chapel, Kabale, Uganda

1 Peter 2: 11-end

A general theme I find in the readings of these morning devotions is of blessings. What must we do to receive blessings from God? How should we treat our neighbors? We’re aware of the rules, the 10 commandments. We strive to lead a godly life.

This reading from first Peter gets right to it: as God’s people in this world, avoid the lusts and the bodily passions which tempt us. How easy will that be for us?

For some of us it will be very difficult. Bodily passions are felt by all. But the writer tells that these passions war against our soul.

Is this who God has called us to be? Fornicators and adulterers? No. We are his chosen people. We have a higher calling than the pagans or heathen…who know no better or who cannot control themselves.

I ask myself in certain situations: Is God’s blessing present in this behavior? Is this who God created me to be? Am I behaving in his image?

We can test ourselves through the fruits of the spirit, which the apostle Paul describes in Galatians 5. They include:

Love
Joy
Peace
Patience
Kindness
Goodness
Faithfulness
Humility
Self Control

These are blessings, the fruits, of a healthy life…of healthy relationships, where there is light and life.

In 1 John 1:5 God is light, and there is no darkness at all in him. If you are in the Lord, there is no hiding, no secrets, no sneaking around. There is light and life. And freedom.

As God’s chosen people, we are the light of the world. If not us, in this room, then who? We can set an example for others!

Verse 12 today, Your conduct among the heathen should be so good that when they accuse you of being evildoers, they will have to recognize your good deeds and so praise God on the Day of his coming.

At home, a few years ago, a group of neighbours and I would meet on Sunday afternoons to play basketball. A lot of fun and very competitive. Afterwards, we’d sit around and talk. Occasionally the conversation turned to God. Not all my friends are believers, and a couple are very skeptical, or doubtful.

But rather than remain quiet, which I might have done earlier to avoid any confrontation, I stood up, and tried to explain the nature of God, as forgiving and loving—as Jesus—not the church.

I think we’re called to do that. I think we are special people.

15For God wants you to silence the ignorant talk of foolish people by the good things you do. 16Live as free people; do not, however, use your freedom to cover up any evil, but live as God’s slaves.

This doesn’t mean your lives will be boring. They will be enriched and blessed! Can you handle that?

The world tempts us with great pleasures. God promises us his blessings:

19God will bless you for this, if you endure the pain of undeserved suffering because you are conscious of his will. 20For what credit is there if you endure the beatings you deserve for having done wrong? But if you endure suffering even when you have done right, God will bless you for it. 21It was to this that God called you, for Christ himself suffered for you and left you an example, so that you would follow in his steps.

Be strong, my brothers and sisters. Encourage one another. Dont take the easy road. Look for the road less traveled.

24Christ himself carried our sins in his body to the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. It is by his wounds that you have been healed. 25You were like sheep that had lost their way, but now you have been brought back to follow the Shepherd and Keeper of your souls.

My friends, you have a choice. Choose blessings!

Morning Devotions

Every place I’ve visited has a morning assembly for prayers and songs. At the Bwindi Community Hospital, staff and guests gather each morning for worship and a short homily.

In Kabale, at the Vocational Training College, students and administrators sing praises before a speaker reflects on scripture verses.

Today, the speaker failed to show. So what next? Dismiss the students to their classes? Heavens, no! The worship shall continue.

Africa, as you can image, has great worship. There is singing and dancing, drums, claps, howls and whistles of joy. As we waited for the speaker, more students stepped forward to join the worship leaders.

The result was a fabulous jam of music and praise. It went on and on..with great enthusiasm that touches the heart. My smiles were punctuated by tears. It was loud. It was wonderful.

Everyone had the songs etched in their heart. No music sheets or overhead screens, but unabashed voices, praising harmonically.

Every tribe and culture has its own worship style. You feel it here. It is ecstatic. It is fun.

Tomorrow I step up as speaker as the dancing stops. I shall be on time. Scripture is Matt 13:54-end. A Prophet Without Honor. Kind of hits close to home for me.

Sometimes I allow myself a sentimental moment to look back. Kind of amazing what I’ve given up to get here.

Before I get too carried away though, my vision returns to the spectacular scene the Lord has set before me. I cannot spare any time looking back. It is all ahead of me. Oh, how blessed I am.

The Years Get Better

Watching the clock wind down the final hours of 2014 and am amazed at what I’ve seen, where I’ve been and the relationships made.

A year ago at this time, a pastor friend of mine invited me to join him to “share in the pain of others,” as he put it. I was part of a team of three doctors, three pastors and two others who flew to Amman, Jordan, to meet refugee families from Syria. An immense tragedy. These bewildered families probably won’t ever return to their homes. The conflict in Syria will go on indefinitely and their homes are likely already reduced to rubble.

I took cameras with me to record the small-group sessions, but was told pretty quickly not to publish photos or videos for fear the Syrian secret police would harm the subjects or their families. It was stirring for me to be present, to hear stories of survival. Our team was also blessed by the hospitality by a Palestine family. The night I was to leave the region, after the rest of our group had departed, I stopped by the home again. I was fed, had tea, then given a cot to catch a few hours of sleep before my overnight flight.

palestians

Two months later I was off to Uganda again. I imagined how my trip this year could surpass the wonderful experience I had in 2013. As events unfolded and unfolded, the trip far exceeded my expectations. It was longer, lasting five-and-a-half months. I visited more towns and villages, was a guest in more African homes, made more friends and learned more languages.

The generosity of my friend and host, Bishop Enoch Kayeeye, was a daily blessing. He provided me unbelievable access to Batwa communities in Southwestern Uganda. I accompanied him on his daily activities, was frequently asked to address a class or small group. I prayed over his dying brother in the family home, the first muzungu ever in the home or village.

On our second try we were admitted to the Democratic Republic of Congo. I saw a fascinating land of beautiful people, underfunded education and health care projects, and great opportunity. Am sure the possibilities are great for our return to DRC in 2015.

Near the end of my time I visited Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, for a second stay with an after-school program for HIV/AIDS orphans. It was managed by an American friend, Phil, who towered over the youngsters but greeted, taught and teased them with his fluent Swahili. I want to be like Phil when I grow up and make such a connection with people here.

Most of my time was spent in Bwindi, Uganda, where a number of people handled my care and feeding. I am blessed by these African friends and love them very much. All of the people I met have great aspirations for what they would like to achieve in life…obtain a university education, start a small business. The odds are stacked against them but they remain positive and joyful.

As we turn the page on another year, I dedicate my life to help them reach their goals in 2015 and beyond. In order to do that, I have established Team in Faith (teaminfaith.org), a public charity raising funds for education, health care and evangelism projects I’ve witnessed in Uganda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Please take a look.

After the Mountaintop

Luke 9:28-37

In the referenced Luke passage, Jesus’ appearance changes and he becomes glorious. It is called the transfiguration. Several apostles, including Peter, John and James, went up the mountain with Jesus to pray. It would become a great spiritual experience that would strengthen their faith in the days to come.

Who doesn’t like a so-called “mountaintop experience” where your faith and joy are expanded?

mountaintop

I am reliving the mountaintop experiences I enjoyed in Africa for five months earlier this year. My relationships and my travels were wonderful and God-inspired. I give thanks day after day for the blessings, thrills and love I received.

But after the peak period, we must descend the mountain, as Jesus did. The writer in Luke says, “…when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him.” The wonder of those moments on the summit was replaced by the chaotic events of everyday life.

Let’s call it “the big letdown.”

That is where I find myself today.

The memories remain, the people are in my heart, but life at home proceeds at a different pace with little or no fanfare.

I know that this time now is important for the days and weeks ahead. I must plan, persevere and produce before I can return to my work in Africa. I don’t feel the rush of excitement that was present during those great events. I must be intentional about keeping my focus as I grieve those days gone by.

Faith sustains me. It is the constant that existed yesterday and today, and will continue through tomorrow.

I don’t know that we can predict when we will have those mountaintop experiences. Through focus, prayer and preparation, we can be ready to enjoy the moments God gives us to strengthen our spiritual life, whenever they occur. They can be like the wonderful days on the top of the hill, or the quieter ones that occupy me today.

Uganda is My Family

Been back from Uganda for about five weeks. I’m homesick.

I had a wonderful time in the Pearl of Africa. For more than five months, I enjoyed adventure, friendships and a sense of being in a place where I am loved, welcomed and appreciated. Kind of like being in the living room at a family gathering.

kida meal

Nothing was better than being invited into a home, to share a meal and time together. I felt honored to be in the midst of those with a gift of hospitality. Shared times, shared stories, laughs and food. Families do that. I’m fortunate to be considered a member of several African families.

What is it about this place that attracts me so much? Well, people are real, they’re authentic. No one puts on airs. If they want to impress their guests, they do so by extending a hand in friendship.

I learned a lot through these visits and meals. There’s sharing, there’s support, good conversation. My Rukiga improved and my appetite grew to appreciate the African diet.

The holiday season here at home is about to begin. Families will gather for their annual Thanksgiving or Christmas party. Memories will be made.

This year, you’ll have to excuse me if I seem to go through the motions. My heart will be elsewhere, longing to share precious moments with my family in Uganda.

Homily: from Butembo, DRC

Homily at Anglican Cathedral, Diocese of North Kivu, Butembo, Democratic Republic of Congo
10 August 2014

Delivered with Swahili translator

Habari ya asabushi..(Good morning)

Bwana asifiwue…(Praise God)

I would like begin by thanking Bishop (Adolphe) Muhindo for giving me the opportunity to speak with you today.

I would also like to thank my friend Bishop Enoch Kayeeye for his support and fellowship in the past year and vision in bringing me to the Diocese of North Kivu.

I bring greetings in the name of Christ Jesus from the Diocese of Northern California, USA.

I come here today from Bwindi, Uganda, where I’ve served as a video volunteer since March.

My first visit to Uganda was last year. When I arrived I knew no one.

However, as a Christian man I knew that I would meet other Christians and have instant fellowship.

I feel the same with you today. Even though we have never met, we have a life in common in Jesus Christ. Therefore we are brothers and sisters and friends in Christ.

Bwana asifiwue.

In today’s Gospel, we hear the familiar story about Jesus walking on water.

But unlike in the other accounts, the writer in Matthew adds an exchange between Jesus and Peter.

When Peter sees Jesus, he wants to join him. Jesus calls Peter.

Peter stands for a while, then panics as he sinks.

What happened? Jesus says, “Oh you of little faith! Why did you doubt?”

Isn’t that what happens to us when our faith fails us? We sink!

And it can happen a lot. Our faith is often weak. When we lose faith we lose confidence in the Lord.

Peter must have lost confidence. We never read of him trying to walk on water again.

When we lose faith, or our confidence in the Lord, how can we get it back?

The answer, I think, is sitting right next to you.

It is in fellowship, and in prayer, and in scripture, and in worship together than we can be restored and regain our faith.

My faith has sustained me in Africa.

I had no idea I would ever visit Uganda once, let alone twice.

I never in my dreams expected to be standing here at the Anglican cathedral in Butembo.

Bishop Kayeeye and I often discuss how things happen in God’s time. This appears to be my time.

I was baptized as an infant, and later confirmed by a bishop when I was in secondary school.

I was called to follow Christ and serve others.

But it wasn’t my time.

For more than 20 years, it wasn’t my time.

But when my son was born in the hospital, more than 23 years ago, I was in the delivery room and saw the miracle of life.

I think at that time I was born again, too.

It marked the beginning of my time.

I rejoined the church and began to give OF myself instead of taking FOR myself.

God has heard and answered my prayers. It has been his faithfulness to me, and the encouragement and fellowship of Bishop Enoch that has brought me here.

Bishop Kayeeye has shared his experiences of God at work in the Congo and Uganda..and they have inspired me.

I have been blessed to get a glimpse of God’s great plan here..

It is written that Faith without works is dead.

For three days here, I have personally seen examples of God at work throughout the Diocese of North Kivu.

I’ve traveled with your diocesan secretary, Rev. Everest.

I’ve met with Charlotte and Fagan from Africa International Christian Ministries.

The works underway around Butembo and Beni shout to everyone God is alive and working in North Kivu and your faith is strong.

There are primary and secondary schools that are teaching young students…there are new churches, well built, that will soon welcome worshippers.

And there are health services provided by this diocese that serve the local communities.

And slowly, but surely, in God’s time, with the help of God’s people, these missions of God will be fulfilled.

It is their faith which drives Bishop Muhindo and Bishop Kayeeye to serve you, the people of God.

It is your faith which leads you to arise each morning and deal with significant challenges with the hope of a new day.

It is our faith which tells us that that the new day is coming…for all of God’s people.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote….in chapter 29, starting at verse 11….

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.

Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

My friends, like Jesus to Peter in the boat, God calls us to step out in faith and follow him.

And whether conditions are beautiful or terrible, he will be there.

With the support and fellowship of our brothers and sisters in Christ, let us grow our faith and serve others in his name.

Asante Sana.

Amina….

Homily from 6 July 2014

Rom 12:4-8

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously, if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

All of us, as God’s children, have been blessed with memory, reason and skill. We have talents.

Here at BCH we can see aba kazi and aba shija with gifts and talents at work. From the nurses, to the clinical officers, doctors, administrators, and the rest of the team, you have gifts that compliment each other…and serve the community…

Mukama asiimwe

Paul mentions encouragement as a gift….if your gift is to encourage, then give encouragement.

The world we live in can be a wonderful place. It is also a difficult place. As I am here with you in Kanungu District, I see the struggles, and the hardships. But believe me that even in America there are those who are very unhappy…despite many blessings and wealth. Material things are present….but a spiritual life, a life of faith that is in alignment with our Lord Jesus Christ is absent.

Helping each other, encouraging each other through prayer and conversation, turns a dark day bright. We need that. And we, as God’s people, are blessed in ways that others are not.

The other day, as I was preparing this message, I got a call from a friend in Kabale. She asked what I was doing..then suggested a few things that really opened my eyes. It was a great encouragement. And I felt that mukama directed her to speak to me and lift my spirit.

Isn’t that how he works? We may sometimes expect wonders to fall from the sky. But God uses people are his messengers that surround and support us. God himself, and the Holy Spirit also work within us to direct us and correct us. We are blessed because of that.

The apostle Paul, wrote an encouraging letter to Ephesians while in prison. Imagine being in prison. A lonely difficult place to be. But Paul was not discouraged. He writes: “As a prisoner for the Lord… I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

You know, we sometimes find that we can hardly forgive ourselves..let alone forgive others. but we are called to do so.

We have one Lord, one faith, one baptism. God the father dwells in all of us, as in his holy temple.

I am beginning my fourth month in Bwindi.

Nimpurrira nshemerirwe mononga.

I give thanks to God throughout every day. For the people I meet…for the thrill of communicating in Rukiga. For the friends I have here who support me, encourage me and keep me from trouble. For the spiritual pleasures I enjoy each day. I feel alive in Christ…and I thank each of you.

Mukama asiimwe! Mukama nakukoZESA. Praise God. God uses you!

In one of the great stories of the OT which I believe illustrates forgiveness and encouragement, Joseph is sold by his brothers and winds up with Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials. The Lord was with Joseph, so he prospered.

But he angered his master’s wife and wound up in prison. Still, the Lord was with him and gave him success in whatever he did.

Joseph lay in prison for more than two years. One day, Pharaoh was disturbed by a dream, and Joseph was summoned. “I cannot interpret the dream,” Joseph said, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.

Joseph interpreted the dream to mean seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. He was put in charge of the storages. And the famine came.

During that time Joseph’s brothers, who sold him, went to Egypt to buy grain, where they met Joseph but didn’t recognize him.

At the end Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. Don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me, he tells them, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.

God’s faithfulness to Joseph, and his plan, is described in this story. Joseph surely could have been bitter, but he is loving to his brothers and his father. The story is an encouragement to us. When we don’t understand the difficulties in our lives, sometimes God is using them for greater things.

Mukama nimarungi!

I am a video volunteer in Bwindi, I try to pitch in where I can. I take photos for the hospital and nursing school; shoot and edit video. I’ve also worked on projects from Kabale to Ft. Portal. It’s enjoyable work.

But where I find the most satisfaction is simply being present with people. I don’t have to DO anything. After all, I am a human being, not a human doing.

When I walk the one and a half kilometers from my house to the hospital, I greet everyone I can with my Primary 3-level Rukiga. The responses are many, from the doctorate-level language speakers. They are patient with this muzungu…and appreciate my efforts.

They encourage me. (9:00)

I came to Africa to meet the Batwa and live in Uganda. Yet along the way I have discovered my own spiritual gifts that have otherwise gone unnoticed or untapped.

In addition to the spiritual gifts that Paul writes about in Romans, there is the “fruit of the spirit” he describes in his letter to the Galatians. He says, ch. 5 v 22….The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

In encouraging one another, putting others above ourselves, we are demonstrating those fruits. For how can you encourage another without kindness, gentleness, love and peace?

Volunteers, when they roll up their sleeves, and take part in the life of the community, can be a blessing to others. The amazing thing is that in being a blessing, you are blessed in return by God. And then our response is to serve God in thanksgiving…not to serve him in hopes of being rewarded.

As a pastor friend once told me, “we are blessed to be a blessing…”

God is willing to grant us his great promises…to be partakers of the divine nature.

In 2 Peter 1, we are encouraged to “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

My brothers and sisters, be a blessing to others, your family, friends and colleagues. Show your love in the fruit of the Spirit. In return, you too will be blessed.

Breaking Bread

What I enjoy most about living in Uganda is building relationships. I’ve become adept at the local language and try to engage just about everyone I meet in conversation. It usually works out well.

Walked into a restaurant today for bite of lunch. Afterwards as I further scanned the menu, I innocently asked if they served impunu, or pork, which can be delicious. The man behind the counter laughed as the waitress explained, “we are Muslims. We don’t eat pork.” Salaam alaykum, I said, apologizing profusely.

Apologies accepted. Smiles exchanged. More conversation. Then I left a tip.

Even though there is a language barrier and perhaps a history of mistrust, there is so much that we can share as fellow travelers. We laugh, we cry, we love others. I choose to look for those common goals, dreams, and wishes that we share rather than exploit our differences.

I love it here. I love the people. I love our shared lives in this place.

Pass the matoke, please….