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….

See the Light…Be the Light

Homily shared with staff at KIDA hospital near Ft. Portal, Uganda…

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
(Genesis 1:1-4 NIV)

Enyonyozi ziri ahi guru! (Stars in the sky)

One of my favorite things about Uganda is the night sky. I enjoy looking at the enyonyozi ziri ahi guru!

Along with Okwezi. And Mars and Venus and Sirius and Orien. Beautiful night lights, all of which I can see from my house in California at night.

sunrise ft portal

Those heavenly bodies closest to us on earth reflect the light of the sun. Okwezi, as you know, does not produce its own light. It reflects the light from the sun, about 93 million miles away.

The nine planets in our solar system, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, Pluto all reflect light from the sun. That is why we can see them with our own eyes or though field glasses or telescopes.

The rest of the lights we see in the sky, millions of them, produce their own light, like our sun. We see stars and their light from far away. The most distant light we can see in the clear night sky began its journey to earth when Jesus walked the earth or even much earlier.

Jesus early ministry included his famous sermon on the mount. In the beatitudes, he tells those assembled and us: “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.” (Matt 5:13-16)

The light we show in our lives and in spirit comes from Jesus Christ. Like Okwezi, we reflect the light from another source. Jesus, who lives in us, is the way, the truth and the life. And the source of the light. And when we are well, that light shines for others to see.

The sun is at the center of our solar system. All planets including earth orbit around the sun. But there are days, sometimes long stretches, where we do not see the sun or its direct light. It is obscured by clouds.

I believe the same can be true of the light in our lives. Sometimes we encounter troubled or difficult people and the light that is within us is lessened. Obstacles and hardship are bound to appear but they need not rob us of the joy that a life in Christ brings us.

In those same beatitudes, Jesus says “blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:11-12)

In times of trouble the light is dimmed, but not extinguished. I saw living examples of that earlier this year when I was in Jordan meeting with Syrian refugee families. The children that I saw were beautiful. I could see in their eyes a hope for the future, although their present was clearly miserable. Away from home, living in small, expensive apartments, traumatized by travel and destruction.

The spirit of the Lord that lives in us will burn forever. It lightens our hearts, it brings light to relationships, and to the work we do. Encouraging words that you share with a friend or a work colleague and fuel the flame of the holy spirit that lives within us.

Like the lights in night sky, we reflect the light from the source of the light, which is God, the father, the son and the Holy Spirit.

As Christ taught the multitudes on the hillside centuries ago, “..let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.”

That is a life worth living. Mukama asiimwe! (Praise the Lord!)

Signs of Faith

2 May 2014

Agandi ba sebo na ba nyabo…(Good morning ladies and gentlemen)

Baranyeta Patrick…(My name is Patrick)

Nemshemerwirwe kubaleba…(Nice to see you all)

Ninduga California, the Golden State, in USA (I am from California….)

Ninye omukazi, nomwana w’omwojo (I have a wife and a son)

Ndakola a BCH, Nursing School, a BDH a video…(I am working at the hospital, the nursing school and BDP with video)

Nindenda kugabana nimwe amurukiga evizoba…(I will speak in rukiga for the next few minutes…)

Just kidding…

Some of us, if not all of us, profess to be Christian, followers of Jesus Christ and the Gospel.

We may believe that in our hearts. But how would others know that about us? I have no visible signs on my body or scars that show my faith in Jesus.

The apostle Paul writes about the fruits of the spirit in his letter to the Galatians. Perhaps we display kindness or love for one another. Otherwise, how would anyone know we live a life in Christ?

I know many of you here are sportsmen and women. And I am a big sports fan myself.

Sports fans typically show their allegiances by wearing team colors, jerseys or caps. They mark their fellowship with the team in outstanding ways. Team followers form powerful groups.

I could be wearing this Uganda football jersey in Los Angeles, New York, Lagos or Nairobi. If you, or your parents or grandparents saw me in any of those cities wearing this jersey we could have an instant fellowship. We could share a love of Uganda, its football team, and sports. We could talk at length.

At home, I occasionally wear baseball caps. I could go into any city in the US and if I saw another fan with a ball cap, a total stranger, strike up a conversation about baseball. We may not support the same team, like if I wore an Arsenal jersey and you liked Manchester United, but there is still fellowship, which we can identify, because we outwardly mark ourselves.

When I arrived here last year, I knew no one. However, I knew that Christ was at the center of your work in this hospital so I joined a new community of believers and supporters. I got comfortable quickly. The same is true this year.

I am surrounded by fellow believers. We share our faith, we share our lives, we encourage one another. I witness your compassion to the patients who line up here every day.

Paul wrote about our fellowship in his letter to the Colossians 3:12-17 NIV

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Now who here wouldn’t want to be in a community like that, or to share the joys and benefits. Mukama asiimwe! Praise the Lord.

Fellowship in Christ is a powerful and formidable thing. All of us here have opportunities to share that fellowship with one another and those we meet. How many times have I let opportunities walk right past me.

God has marked us as his own in this world. We don’t need a Giants cap, an Arsenal or Uganda jersey to let all know what we believe. Let us step out in faith to share his kingdom in this place, this country and this world.

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Amina…

The Ultimate Boo-Yah!

It is the ultimate boo-yah! Celebrating Good Friday and Easter on the same day.

The phrase made popular by ESPN illustrates the fanaticism of sports fans, who agonize over their team at one moment before celebrating it at the next.

Today is April 18, 2014, Good Friday. It is a solemn day for Christians worldwide who remember the trial, pain and execution of Jesus Christ on the cross.

In Bwindi, Uganda, it is near the end of the week and there is an exodus of hospital staff and residents from the community. They are heading home for a holiday. It should be a quiet weekend in these parts.

To commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus and to celebrate his resurrection, a joint service will be held this evening in the hospital chapel. Good Friday. Easter. Back to back.

Boo! Yah!

We can’t experience the resurrection without first going to the cross. There we contemplate our own humanity, our sin, our rejection of God. For those who take the process seriously, it can be painful. Fortunately, they get Holy Saturday to respite and vigil in preparation for Easter Sunday.

Today in Bwindi, we get the intermission but it will be quick.

When the curtain rises, hearts will lift, the songs will be joyous, tears turn to smiles. One man gives his life for others. There is no greater love than this.

It’s more than a game. It’s God’s love for us.

Yah!

April 8 Homily

Muriregye ba sebo na ba nyabo…(Good morning, gentlemen and ladies)

Baranyeta Patrick…(My name is Patrick)

Mukama asiimwe! (Praise the Lord!)

Ndikwegw’orukiga (By the way I’m learning Rukiga)

I would like to deliver this message entirely in Rukiga. The Lord has blessed me in many ways…but speaking Rukiga is not yet one of them. And Rev. Bugaba said I did not have all day to tell my story.

I am very happy to be back in Bwindi and to worship with you. When I drove here from Kihihi a few days ago, I felt as if I had been gone for three weeks, instead of 10 months. I feel very comfortable here in Bwindi.

Nimpurirra nshemerirwe mononga. (I feel very happy)’

IMG_5910

Let me begin my story by saying I have been in the church my whole life. My father was a reverend in the Anglican Church in the US. As a boy I was active in the church, as an acolyte and in the choir. God marked me as one of his own.

As I grew older, into my 20s, God was not as important in my life. I was too busy building a career and supporting a wife.

It would last until my son, Dan, was born. A divine gift..another life not my own to care for and love. It was then God returned front and center into my life.

It is by God’s grace that I am standing here. My life’s plan did not include a trip to Africa until two years ago, when I went to South Sudan. I was in my mid-50s.
Right now, Bwindi is where I want to be.

For a change, I am living in the present, the here-and-now.

It hasn’t always been this way.

Paul tells us in Chapter 12 of Romans: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is…his good pleasing and perfect will!

For most of my adult life I chased the American dream. That is a me-first proposition: Get a good education, take steps to further career, promote to better jobs, and gain new skills. God was not first in my life.

As young people beginning your careers I am sure you know what I mean.

In America, the work I did was how I defined myself and how society defined me. I was a TV sportscaster, a news producer, a civil servant worker. Only on Sunday would anyone call me a “child of God.”

On the “other side,” you meet someone and the first thing you ask is “what do you do?” You make a judgment of that person. Is he or she a doctor, a nurse, an administrator, or an athlete? It is as if we are human doings…rather than human beings.

Defining myself by what I do is a road to frustration.

Though prayer and scripture, I have been transformed. In the past, I would ask the Lord to bless my plans. See…God…I have this great idea. Would you bless it for me?

Today my priorities have changed. I do not seek to be first in my life. The old Patrick is falling away. Instead I am born again. I turn to God. I seek to be in alignment with God’s long-held plan for me. For if it is God’s plan it is already blessed. Because of that, I am more fulfilled and happy than ever.

It would not be my plan to travel to Uganda. Twice! My vision is small and limited. But the Lord removed the scales from my eyes. His plan for you and me is magnificent.

As the writer in 2 Peter put it: “… 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. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” (2 Peter 1:5-10 ESV)

I have a new focus: I am being directed and corrected by the Holy Spirit, with whom I have constant fellowship. I serve the Lord out of gratitude, in thanks for his faithfulness. I share my life with you and am interested in your lives…and those of others half a world away from home.

Earlier this year I traveled with a team of pastors, and doctors from Northern California to Amman, Jordan, where, as the lead pastor put it, we would “share in the pain of others.”

For a week we fellowshipped with refugees from Syria. We met with families in their apartments. Doctors examined adults and children, reviewed their prescriptions. These people have suffered greatly and have left their country with little more than the clothes on their backs. This is a humanitarian disaster.

Despite the hardship, and chaos that I witnessed, the spirit of Jesus was there…in our presence, in our prayers for our Muslim brothers and sisters. These people may not have a home, but they have hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, whom they know as the prophet Issa in the Qu’ran.

Mukama asiimwe! (Praise the Lord)

Hope is what I see and experience in abundance at BCH. The sick are being comforted and made well by your medical delivery system. Your operations continue to have an impact in Buhoma, Kanungu and beyond.

Let me close now with this prayer: Heavenly Father, breathe your holy spirit on Bwindi Community Hospital. Bless the men and women who serve BCH with compassion for others. Multiply their efforts, Lord, to restore health to those who suffer or ache this day.

Mukama nimarungi! Ebiro biyona (God is good!! All the time)

Throttle Up…

I lost my mother recently. A longtime family friend emailed me today and asked how I was and whether I was accepting of Cam’s sudden demise.

I feel pretty good but I think the loss is significant in ways I can’t yet explain. Unlike my father, David, with whom we had time to make our peace, this unexpected event really blindsided me, us. It represents closure, my parents are gone. Time is fleeting, time to be bold.

I had decided, through prayer, to double down, or throttle up, on my foreign mission work in 2014. It’s already happening with my trip to Jordan in January. Sent my Passport to DC today, to the Ugandan embassy, seeking visa for return trip. Amazingly, thanks to blessings from above, and naturally occurring relationships, it will be bigger and more productive than last year.

I’ve always had God in my life, always had dreams, always confident even if a bit timid or reticent. Now I am in alignment with his plans. I am ready, willing, able and determined. Throttle up.

Network of Friends

Road trips halfway around the world. Supporting volunteers, NGOs and foundations in far off places through video production. My goal is to produce marketing videos for fundraising. In recent years I’ve crossed the Atlantic Ocean three times and been in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and Europe.

My eyes and cameras have witnessed and recorded interesting, cool scenes.

Patrick with John and Eldon in the Judean wilderness

Patrick with John and Eldon in the Judean wilderness

Relationships and friendships born from these voyages are satisfying rewards. I thank God for the many opportunities. I like sharing with fellow citizens of the world. The hospitality and warmth I receive in return is a blessing. I feel ecstatic.

In a foreign land I am vulnerable. I don’t know the local language. I must rely on others for food, and transportation. Humility goes a long way in these parts. It’s OK…I can do this. I love this.

Friends are essential for survival. Making new acquaintances in the field is a joy to me. What starts as a walk ends as a dance. Let the music play on and on.

Outbound to the Holy Land 18 Jan 2014

I am bouncing off the walls. So excited to be going to Amman, Jordan, with Pastor John Ramey and six other pastors, doctors and a civil engineer to meet and fellowship with Syrian refugees there.

IMG_6193

After a week, I will pilgrimage to Jerusalem to see vistas Jesus, Peter, Paul and Pilate laid eyes on. I expect to be felled by emotion.

God continues to amaze me. I never would have predicted any of the events of the past two years. I’ll be making my third trip across the Atlantic since May 2012, after never having crossed the pond before then. And a return to Uganda is planned for late March. I’m blessed and grateful.

Praise God. Mukama asiimwe!

Pray for rain.

Wholly Discontented

I made an appointment to meet a pastor friend today to discuss my spiritual aches and pains in the wake of my mind-blowing, three-month mission trip to Africa. I shared with him how things seem different since my return, from relationships to corporate worship. There seems to be a gulf, or distance, between me and the people and things that were formerly so close to my heart.

IMG_5668

I shared with him how I think and pray constantly of my next trip abroad, to renew beautiful relationships with selfless servants in Uganda. I’ve kept up the email chatter back and forth across the continents and the ocean. They await me there. They ask me when I will return. Sounds good. Amazingly, there are even more opportunities for good video ministry work there. I recently met a friend of my mother’s at her church in Montclair, California. She helps support a mission in Uganda which battles poverty and the scourge of HIV/AIDS. There is mutual interest in how I can help her organization.

Once again, a video ministry opportunity opens up before me from my own sphere of influence.

Today I wanted to sort out with Pastor John the sense of conflict that it is inherent in my soul. Do I go, as I’m called to do, and as I want to do, to far off lands for mission and service? Or do I stay in my secure, ungated community, on the proverbial treadmill, living a life of quiet desperation? Obviously, there is no question for the answer is obvious.

Pastor John clapped his hands and praised the Lord for what he called my “holy discontent.”

We agreed that it marks a healthy process wherein my faith is tested and courage is summoned. It’s not unusual for us to be in conflict with the Lord. It’s in our DNA.

A Strange Story

Rolling into my driveway after choir practice and there was a block party for some departing neighbors. Went over to chat with guys I haven’t seen since returning from Africa. “Where’ve you been, you anti-social or something?,” I was asked.

I may be but let me explain. It’s like I’m still re-entering society as a “one percenter” after living three months in Africa at the opposite end of the wealth spectrum. I have been deeply touched by my African adventure. The simple lifestyle I embraced and enjoyed are at odds with the American experience of acquisition and advancement. It’s been a slow process to get my groove back in the USA.

pat batwa

I paid my respects to the departing couple, made small talk with others before sitting with another neighbor at the gathering. It was a momentary respite as we shared our faith journeys under the stars.

I can’t be sure but I’d be surprised if others in our midst were praising The Lord and professing gratitude. For a few moments I was as comfortable as I could be. Fellowship with the holy spirit and like-minded friends has sustained me for many months. They hear and understand my story.

My audience of interested listeners is just not that large. Yet. I must make opportunities to reach out and tell my story–God’s story–of the beautiful people and wonderful land in Africa and the change in my heart.

The Pleasure of Being

For most of my adult life I have chased a dream. That meant taking steps to further my career, to promote into higher paying jobs, and gain new skills.

What I did was how I defined myself and how society defined me. I was a sportscaster, a news producer, a state worker.

All that is too narrow a definition for me.

Since I stepped off the career ladder, I have been transformed. I cannot be defined by what I do because that has all changed.

I have new focus: I am being. I am a world citizen. I am sharing my life and interested in the lives of others half a world away.

cleous family

I think of the selfless servants I met, joining others far from home, in austere conditions. I laughed and worked with them and I loved it.

My self interest is not important or relevant in Africa. Simply being is enough under those conditions.

It is my happiness.

The Invisible Man

My first day back in the West didn’t turn out too well.

The day started out fine. I awoke in Entebbe about 4 a.m. anticipating my long flight to London, preceded by an unpredictable trip to the business office at the airport.

But it ended in loneliness, as if I didn’t exist.

image

Joseph, my Ugandan driver, arrived about 25 minutes before our agreed upon departure time of 6 a.m. He told me he had trouble sleeping…he was concerned about getting me to the airport on time.

Joseph impressed me. He would have gone to any length, short of giving up his life, for me to complete my business and check in successfully and on time this morning. Then again, he may very well have given it all for me.

The flight out of Africa was smooth, uncrowded, a piece of cake.

Once I got on the ground at Heathrow, the obstacles came fast and furious. I called my friend, Rob, with whom I’d be staying, at work. He was incredulous over the fact that I arrived. “We weren’t expecting you until Friday.”

Really? A half dozen or more email were sent back and forth. They weren’t ready for the American invasion so I told him I’d get lodging for the night.

Got my bags, but they were both bulky and heavy, and difficult to transport along with my two handhelds through the Heathrow labyrinth. Why would that surprise me?

Trying to walk London streets at rush hour with about 100 lbs. of luggage became an ordeal. My mission was more difficult as I had no reservation for a room. I hailed a taxi, who recommended a hotel near Paddington Station.

At 5 p.m. commuters are out in force, so travel was slow. The hotel was booked. A Hilton Hotel was suggested, a two-block walk…not a simple task with the anvil-like baggage I was pulling. It was hard work for this mzungu, just in from the jungles. I stopped frequently before I was told, again, “we’re booked.”

A second taxi ride dropped me in an area close to Rob’s house, a fact that should win me some points.

The small hotel had a double room…upstairs. I lugged my weighty western excess up the stairs then set out for a supper.

There was a classic British pub nearby. Football was on the tele. Beer was flowing, food served. I had a beer, sat down, reviewed the menu…and waited. A second beer (hey, a long day!). Watched the game. Forty minutes passed without a waitress stopping by. I left.

A pizza oven nearby was full of young urban professionals. It was busy and I sat near the kitchen and waited. Gave it fifteen minutes without a look. Time to go.

After receiving care and feeding from those who struggle to provide for themselves, my inability to get a room, as expected, or consummate a dinner deal confused me.

Hardship suddenly showed up alongside, a stunning contrast to the glorious months just past. How do people see me now? Do I appear different? Am I here before you or am I invisible?

Safe in the Jungle

A robust wifi in the middle of Africa helps make the world a smaller place but not a safer place.

It was disturbing to read about the explosions and carnage at the Boston Marathon from here. One of America’s premier sporting events was forever stained by the evil visited on the unsuspecting near the finish line.

Knee-jerk reaction will certainly point to foreign nationals bent on our destruction. Given the numbing polarization of the country, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find that this is a home-grown act. Either way, there is precedent.

It is yet another reminder that no matter how safe we may think we are, in gated communities, with security systems, evil and danger are around us. In February, I left California to serve as a video missionary in Uganda. Among my concerns were my own safety. In two months in Bwindi and urban areas, I have not felt insecure. Back at home, though, another example of the violence around us, no matter the probability.

I am confident that law enforcement will identify the assailant(s). We must also do our part to be vigilant in this dangerous time.

For now, six and a half weeks from returning to the US, the thunder rumbles, the rain falls, the birds chirp, and, yes, the rats run through my room, but I am safe in the jungle.

African Easter Homily

John 20: 1-18

The Lord is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
The Lord is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Christo Azookire (Christ is Risen!) ah zo SHEAR ay
Azookire buzima (He is Risen indeed!)

easter preacher

This week starts my seventh week in Uganda. I am half-way through my time here.

When I arrived in mid-February, I had traveled half way around the world, leaving every comfort of home, and the people I love.

I traveled by myself…but I was not alone.

God in the father, son and Holy Spirit, has accompanied me every step of this trip. From the planning, to my placement in the guest house. His work is glorified in my very presence here with you this morning.

God sent people ahead of me, to welcome me, to comfort me, to direct me. Mukama Asiimwe!

On this, one of the great feast days in the Christian calendar, we celebrate Christ’s triumph over death.

His resurrection opened heaven’s doors for us…for us to transform our lives from sin and selfishness…to service and love and obedience to God.

On that first day of the week, when Mary first arrived at the tomb, and the two disciples moments later, they asked, “Where is Jesus?”

We have asked that many times ourselves.

We can’t get to this day of celebration without first going to the cross.
Last week, we read of Jesus final days. We relived those heartbreaking and difficult stories.
Stories that implicate us in his death, by our rejection of him. Stories that we’ve heard and read for years that stain our consciousness. Stories that leave us trembling, like the beautiful old hymn, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

And you and I, citizens of this fallen world, know what it took to nail Jesus on that cross. Like Peter, we denied him. We lost sight of him. Where is our Jesus?

It wasn’t Peter’s intention to deny Jesus. Far from it. He pledged his loyalty. But Jesus knew about our human nature, our condition, our weakness.

Peter was with a circle of people sitting around the fire…trying to keep warm. Trying to fit in. Trying to belong to a new community of strangers.

In a similar situation, I would do the same, wouldn’t you? I have done the same, haven’t you? I have compromised my principles, I have defied my own statements of loyalty, I have turned from God and Christ. Where is my Jesus?

But Jesus took all of that. He took the world’s selfishness and sin with him on the cross.

When Peter met Jesus’ eyes that moment when the cock crowed, he was convicted by the truth of his weakness. And he wept bitterly.

If we could step out of ourselves, and look at our behavior and rejection of him, we might weep as well.

Our sin is a giant obstacle that stands in the way of our relationship with him. We cannot move it. God can…and will….when we confess and ask him into our hearts.

Jesus was the good shepherd. He was also a threat to authority. He was a threat to the established way of life. He upset the Jewish leaders. He drove the sellers and money-changers from the temple. He healed on the Sabbath. His teachings were hard for the rich young man.
But Jesus said: “God didn’t send his son to the world to condemn the world but to save it.” And that was a hard lesson…a new covenant…
For people in authority, the rulers and powers, and people everywhere, who seek to serve themselves before they serve others, in the end, Jesus had to die.

On that first day of the week, the angels rolled the stone away. They rolled it away from the front of Jesus’ tomb. It is rolled away from our lives. Will we walk in? What will we see?

We have new life and we rejoice at this fact. Jesus’ resurrection is one of the great stories..in fact it’s our life-saver. CHRISTO AZOOKIRE. ah zoo SHEAR ay

Mary went to the tomb on that first day of the week. We expect she would have remained outside and grieved the death of her Lord. For what could she do? She could not remove the stone. But when she arrived, the stone had been rolled aside.
This was upsetting to her. So she immediately turned to tell the other disciples.
Peter and another, ran to the tomb. The younger one arrived first, but did not enter. Peter went right in and saw the linen lying on the ground. He saw a separate cloth that had wrapped around Jesus head. Where is Jesus?

They saw…and they believed he was alive….and they left.

Jesus appeared to Mary on that first resurrection morning. But she did not recognize him at first.
We often encounter God but we do not know it. Like Mary, we are emotional, we are distracted, we are blind. Like Mary, we don’t expect to see Jesus.
It is afterwards, when we look back, we can say in astonishment–the Lord lives, today. I was with him.
But we don’t know it at the time. We look back and know that he was present with us.
In the form of a friend who visited us. In the form of one who helped us. In the form of a stranger who crossed our path and smiled with us.
Yes, today, Jesus is risen with us, this morning.

He is here among us at BCH. He is here next to us.

Turn to your neighbor. Look into their face. What do you see?

Say to them, the Lord is RISEN. In ME. He is in YOU.

Christo azookire! ah zo SHEAR ay

Azookire buzima!

It Is About Time

Aba shija, aba kazi…Munywani…orire ota.

Ndi Patrick.

Good morning

In John, chapter 7, we’ve been reading about The Festival of the Booths, or Feast of Tabernacles. It is a week-long fall festival commemorating the 40-year journey of the Israelites in the wilderness.

Up to this point in his ministry, Jesus had displayed his power, had performed miracles and healings and yet had frequently said, “tell no one.”

His followers urged him to attend and be bold in public. But Jesus refused, saying, “it’s not my time.”

He said he was not ready to go public, or go big.

In America there is a saying, “go big or go home!”

After his brothers went to the festival in Jerusalem, he changed his mind and later went.

The Cicada is an inch-long insect that lies dormant underground for 13 years.

They don’t bite or sting and are not dangerous. They exist in only one place..the Eastern US.

The females lay eggs in twigs, which hatch in six weeks and fall to the ground, where they burrow into the soil.

At the end of 13 years, for 13-year varieties, or 17 years for 17-year cicadas, they come up out of the earth over the course of a few weeks, as many as a million per acre.

The males make a chirping sound that fills the air…you can rarely here anything else.

This dormant insect waits and waits….until it is its time.

Many of us were baptized or called to Christ at a young age.

Yet we still act reluctantly..as if it is not our time.

What are we waiting for?

I was baptized as an infant, later confirmed by a bishop when I was in secondary school. I was called to follow Christ and serve others.

But t wasn’t my time. For 10, 15 and more than 20 years it wasn’t my time. Like the Cicada, I lay dormant.

But when my son was born in the hospital, almost 22 years ago, I was in the delivery room, and saw that 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 take FOR myself.

I’ve been in Bwindi a little more than a week and I see the work and effort that many of you do to serve your brothers and sisters who urgently need health care.

Perhaps it’s an obvious question:

Is this your time to serve in the manner that The Lord intended?

When Jesus spoke, it caused a division among the people.

The Pharisees had heard about Jesus provocative statements at the festival of the booths and sent their police in a scheme to find out more.

Can you imagine the Pharisees and what they were doing? They were threatened by this pastor and wanted to put a stop to it.

Isn’t that what powerful people do? Isn’t that what some of us do when confronted with things we don’t like?

We try to discredit our rivals. I believe we can all relate to the Pharisees and what they were thinking. Would we do the same if someone threatened our empire?

In the end–and I don’t want to ruin the rest of the story for you–but the Pharisees get their way.

Jesus is destroyed.

But neither death nor the Pharisees were any match for God and his plan for Jesus. It was his time

Follow up to last Friday’s devotion by Canon Charles. Do you remember he asked us about the gifts that we give to our friends?

I have a very good friend. His name is Marc. We sing in our church choir together. I am a tenor, he is a bass. We ride bicycles together through the Sierra Nevada mountains in Northern California, marveling at the beauty of creation.

He works in a restaurant. But he wants to serve injured warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

He has tried for four years to leave the restaurant and build a career helping others.

But it wasn’t his time.

Some of his friends, including me, have prayed for him to find this work.

But it wasn’t his time.

This weekend, I got a message from Marc that he accepted a job where he will organize activities to help wounded soldiers rebuild their lives. He will be in Texas when I get back.

God heard our prayers and decided it was Marc’s time.

Makama asiimwe

Man on a Mission

Arriving at Bwindi in a splendidly roomy van, I was ferried to my home for the next three months in a conveyance unattainable to most in this region.

And that will be typical of about everything I do here. From my carbon footprint, to electronic gadgets, to bags of underwear and socks, I got and brought a lot.

Did I mention electronics?

I will admit I am the poster boy of western excess on this trip. iHave just about iEverything Apple makes, from laptop to iPad to iPhone. Each of those devices has its own iCamera.

Great. I brought six other HD cameras.

I don’t know exactly what I will see while in Uganda but I hope I don’t miss anything. It’s expensive to fly across the Atlantic and 11 time zones. It’s my second trip to Africa in nine months and I am very fortunate to have this opportunity to document health care and education here.

My communications colleague at the Bwindi Commmunity Hospital looks at me in amazement. Look at all this stuff. I start to justify. The laptop is my portable video editing device, the iPhone is a handy HD camera, iPad is great for social media.

Yes, a bit of excess for these parts. But I will use them all.

I’m a man on a mission.

Flight of Faith

“I’m sorry, Mr. Hill, the flight has now closed.”

What? Did I hear that correctly? I missed my flight to Entebbe?

My heart sank. My anger combusted in a second. I turned to face a representative, who asked what I needed.

“I just missed my fucking flight,” I muttered, bewildered by my immediate options.

“Sir, stop swearing or you won’t get any help,” she said. Fair enough. I just lost my cool. Actually, for an interminable moment, I lost my faith.

Obstacles and inconveniences are a part of life. They slow us down but don’t necessarily stop us. Most can be surmounted. Our desire and ability to get past them shows God our fitness to serve him. Will we get sidetracked, lost or demonstrate resourcefulness to continue?

For months I have been living in the spirit and dealing with obstacles related to my video ministry trip. Stay calm, stay focused, and stay the course. it will all work out. To whom much has been given, much is expected.

I slumped at the customer service desk where an angel took my boarding pass, worked the computer and the phone.

God, I can’t miss this flight. What will I do? I just showed just how weak I am. Faced with a looming dilemma, my faith failed me. Yet God showed his steadfast faithfulness to me.

The angel was conversing with important people and got me back on the flight to Entebbe.

I had to go through security again, and did so pretty quickly. Then had to run around to find the gate while the message board still indicated the flight was “closing.”

Rushed to the gate and heard, “Mr. Hill?” One more check of ticket and passport and it was off to the jetway.

Now we’ve been sitting here for nearly 40 minutes as crews try to remove six bags from an individual who will not be on the flight.

Looks like I made this flight in plenty of time.

But my bags didn’t.

Once on the ground in Uganda, I discovered that my bags didn’t make the plane. Really? Despite the 45-minute delay they didn’t get on?

Another obstacle in my path.

Failure is an option

Just days to go before my three-month-long adventure in Uganda. Many there are awaiting my arrival. My equipment is checked and in good working order. My physical, emotional and spiritual states shout that I’m “good to go.”

However, failure is an option.

If this trip centers around me, I’m toast. It is no news to my friends and associates that I am clumsy, ham-handed, at times arrogant and awkward. If I exhibit those all-too-familiar traits, I won’t be successful.

Fortunately, I am determined to avoid those snares of self-centeredness.

Sunset in Akot, South Sudan...May 2012

Since my trip last summer to South Sudan, I have relied on the fellowship of the Holy Spirit as my companion and guide. I have been blessed daily with affirmations, or kisses, from God, as a friend calls them. My call to leave every secure comfort of home and travel alone to the heart of sub-Saharan Africa is a giant step in faith. The planning and arrangements have unfolded smoothly because of my steady focus on the mission and God’s faithfulness to me.

When the spirit of the Lord is present, it is an indescribably beautiful experience. It’s as if one’s reason for being has been defined. I find that life in the spirit is sometimes so intense that we choose to turn away and go back to our selfish lives. But when we lose the light, we are at loss and struggle once again to become holy, or wholly of God.

I feel God’s powerful presence at work in me at this time: encouraging, leading, correcting, directing. I hope and pray throughout each day that I can stay right where I am and complete the work he’s set before me.

This is God’s trip, after all, not mine.