It’s a Christmas season like no other I’ve spent. And it’s come on the heels of two Christmas seasons that I’ll never forget.
Christmas 2017 finds me back in California after spending the the previous two in the villages of Uganda.
Holiday lights shine on homes nearby. Traffic backs up near shopping centers. The parking lots look pretty full as bargain-hunters make their pilgrimage to buy toys and gifts for loved ones. It’s a commercial tradition that begins earlier each year.
I am working at a big retailer. It’s a first for me to see the Christmas shopping scene up close.
Crowds come early. The aisles of toys, neatly prepared at the start of the day, are turned into busy avenues of decision-making before the popular attention-grabbers run out.
Parents discretely peak at their wish-lists. Kids often join them in the search for holiday cheer. Young ones play with whatever they can get their hands on then discard it wherever they may. This cultural exercise occurs hour after hour, day after day until it’s time to move on to the next secular holiday.
Ten thousand miles away it was a much calmer scene in the days before the savior’s birth.
While Christmas carols could occasionally be heard over the radio, decorated trees were few. In the homes where I stayed in 2015 and 2016 there were no gifts exchanged. The Ugandans I knew were not awaiting Santa Claus.
Fellowship and community are cultural mainstays in Africa. The celebration of the baby Jesus takes place in the form of worship, family gatherings and feasts.
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 or imagined obstacles, 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 impact my 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…”
You’re about to turn the page to 2016. Before you do so, you can make some last-minute charitable contributions that will lower your tax bill and win praise from your accountant, life mate or significant other.
With our partner organization in Kasese, Uganda, Action for Community Empowerment and Rehabilitation (ACER), Team in Faith supports women farmers through micro-finance loans. They build their small farms and businesses and support their families.
We can do a lot more to build sustainable communities with your help. Make a donation at Teaminfaith.Org
Abraham is a bright young man in medical school in Ishacka, Uganda. He is doing very well but the tuition costs are a huge burden for his peasant parents.
Abraham will make an excellent doctor. Help him complete his medical school studies. Make a tax-deductible gift today at Teaminfaith.Org
AICM College of Science & Technology in Kabale, Uganda, needs new monitors for its ICT lab. We can add nine monitors, keyboard and mice for $2300.
Students in modern Africa must be competitive. They need up-to-date computers and software. Help them with a tax-deductible donation at Teaminfaith.Org
My friends, your donation can lift lives and raise hopes quickly. Take advantage of tax deductions at the 11th hour. Donate today…and please tell a friend.
Wishing you a happy, healthy and safe New Year 2016.
Christmas in Africa. A heckuva lot different from any other I’ve spent. So much day-to-day existence it’s hard for me to see trappings of the season. A few decorated trees. Strains of “Joy To the World” heard now and again.
Am here in Kabale, Uganda, with my adopted family. Sons, daughters and grandchildren expected here over next few days. It’ll be noisy, perhaps chaotic…just like home in USA.
Been invited to a Christmas Day service at a small village church near Bwindi Gorilla Haven, our hotel project. Dirt floors, mud walls, loads of spirit and energy make up the worship space. I expect this to be a highlight event!
Got a card yesterday from my son, Dan, that made my day. Takes a bit of planning to get a card or gift here or there. Plan on two weeks.
My faith keeps me company this Christmas. So many memories and traditions that I’ve followed for decades.
This year am surrounded by friends and the unfamiliar, pleased with a playlist of Christmas carols.
Nohiri nungi. Merry Christmas.
Obusingye bube naiwe omu mwaka. Peace be with you in the new yea (Rukiga)
Krismasi. Amani na iwe nanyi katika mwaka mpya. Merry Christmas. Peace be with you in the new year. (Swahili)
A life on the road in ministry for others is a life of adventure. There are people to meet, places to go and, in Uganda at least, beautiful animals to see.
My mission with Team in Faith has taken me to Africa four times since 2012, with another trip just a few weeks off. My relational ministry style has been a blessing to many as I have brought gifts from the Holy Spirit in addition to practical items, like computers, smart phones and money for school fees.
The wonderful thing about it is that by being a blessing to others, we receive abundant blessings. As a pastor friend put it, “we are blessed to be a blessing (to others)…”
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship. 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, please and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2 NIV
Leaving home, friends and colleagues, for months at a time, doesn’t come without a cost. Relationships are broken, communication is distant. The reality is by losing myself in my work and mission, I lose others, too.
Great satisfaction comes when you see lives transformed. In Kasese, Uganda, this year, Team in Faith awarded a grant of $1,000 to four women’s micro-finance groups. The money was to be shared among members for small business loans, family expenses, school fees. Two months later, more than 100 people showed up (photo above) to thank Team in Faith for its support of their livelihoods, with songs, dances, testimonies.
My return to California has been met with a much cooler response. Busy, distracted lives separate me from friends and family. It’s a price I pay for my work on the other side.
When Jesus called his first disciples, he saw two brothers, Peter and Andrew. They were fishermen, casting a net into the lake. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”
Whoa! How do you think that went at home? “You quit your job for what??”
Their faith in the Lord turned their lives upside down. The world has never been the same.
I thought I was managing well early on. Focused on sports as a youngster. Got myself educated, practiced journalism. Read sports on TV for a time. Thought I was on my way.
That was before I learned it’s one thing to ask God to bless your plans. It is another to have him show you his. They’re already blessed.
Decades after my TV sports career ended, I’m happier and more focused than ever. Not without trials or doubt but through faith I am being taught some valuable lessons.
One of God’s greatest disciplines is that of patience. Our quest for instant gratification is humbled when we get a glimpse of the eternal timepiece.
God’s time meets our expectations.
In Ecclesiastes 3, the writer says “everything that happens in this world happens at the time God chooses.” He has set the right time for everything.
Why wait until my sixth decade to find this peace that passes understanding? Couldn’t he help me out 20-30 years ago?
Today, in Kabale, Uganda, I accompanied Bishop Enoch to a funeral. I was not looking forward to the event. Funerals here are usually very long, four- hour affairs in which one is seated throughout.
We drove a short distance to where the funeral service would be held. Shade tents and chairs were set, but few people were about. The deceased’s brother, known as “The Professor,” was nowhere to be found. We waited about 45 minutes before returning home for lunch. We’ll try again later.
After lunch, I was anxious about going back. It will be too long, I fretted.
Off we went.
My worldly view of things is not God’s view of things. I may have been anxious but God had other plans. I entered a small house and sat with nearly a dozen women, mourners and supporters for about 15 minutes. I greeted them with my Rukiga, to which they responded.
A bit later we went to meet “The Professor,” to negotiate the order of the service. He spoke very good English, greeted me with interest and asked where I was from. Turns out he has been to Sacramento on several occasions.
We all headed to the tents where several hundred people awaited us. I took a seat in the second row; the only muzungu in the crowd, a distinction I appreciate and to which I am accustomed.
Fellowship and understanding were the order of my day from God’s view. Whereas I was apprehensive at first, it turned out to be a blessed time for me, joining those in attendance.
I never expected to have such a rich life of experiences in Africa but this is not my life. God’s plan for me is to see and experience, share and grow with his people halfway around the world from home.
My friends, I am completing my fifth month in Kabale, Uganda, where I volunteer at AICM’s Vocational Training College. In a country where more than 80 percent of college-age kids are unemployed, learning marketable skills to create a job or find work is necessary.
The college has an ICT program to train computer science students. However, the machines are more than 10 years old. They are slow. They cannot run modern programs. Students here risk falling further behind their counterparts around the globe.
Team in Faith, a public charity helping education projects in Uganda, is asking for your support to purchase a network computer to accommodate nine terminals. This system will run the latest software and help train people who can hit the ground running with practical experience. We have received a good quote, which is listed below.
Would you please consider a gift to help us purchase these items and make the Vocational Training College the ICT leader in SW Uganda.
Donate at teaminfaith.net. Your gift is tax-deductible in the US and I promise it will make an immediate impact. Thank you.
Thanks to you, Team in Faith is establishing its presence in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Team in Faith is based in Kabale, Uganda, where it supports education, health care and evangelism projects in the region.
In five months, TIF has been privileged to support students, schools, churches and others through grants in aid. A big hug to our friends and donors for your support. Your tax-deductible contributions are helping to affect lives in Uganda.
Among its activities since March, Team in Faith has issued grants
* supporting 30 HIV-AIDS orphans in Kasese with school supplies for their primary school studies
* funding radio broadcasts of the good news of Jesus Christ across five countries
* supporting Kitojo Integrated Development Association’s (KIDA) hospital activities in Kabarole District in Western Uganda
* supporting university-level students in Kenya
* for uniforms for St. John’s Karusandara Orphans Primary School near Kasese
Extreme poverty affects many families in this region. Money for basic necessities, like food and water, is very tight, so affording school fees for young students is a challenge.
Team in Faith joins existing organisations that serve these marginalised populations. One of our main partners is African International Christian Ministry, or AICM. It conducts community outreach, and operates a vocational training college. More than 10,000 alumni have built careers over the past 30 years. Today, young men and women learn skills with which they can become ready to join the work force, or create new jobs as entrepreneurs.
Among the programs at the college is an ICT class that teaches students computer skills. Technology is a leading industry throughout the world. Africans deserve and want the chance to learn alongside their western colleagues with equipment that meets today’s demands.
Students and schools here can no longer use aging equipment. With advances in technology in this competitive world, new computers are needed as a platform for training eager young minds.
To meet this demand, Team in Faith embarks on this campaign:
* Upgrade the 10-year-old computers at the ICT lab. We aim to raise $5,000 for two powerful servers, with which to network the classroom with the latest softwares. These would help build a web hosting business, teaching students the latest in network management.
* In order to keep the computers running, TIF will raise an additional $7000 for solar panels, batteries and inverters with which to supplement the municipal power.
From this platform, the campus can become wireless enabling students, faculty and community guests to enjoy first-rate Internet services, like the ones we take for granted.
You know the value of education and practical experience. You know that up-to-date computers are needed in today’s world. Would you please make a tax-deductible donation to help see this project to completion.
Make a monthly donation of $100 for one year at teaminfaith.net. As a team, we can build brighter futures for the talented young men and women from Uganda, South Sudan and DRCongo who study at AICM.
I believe that the eternal worship in heaven will be like worship in Africa…unbridled joy, dancing, voices and languages familiar and foreign. What an experience to enjoy singers at All Saints’ Church (Anglican) in Kabale, Uganda…
Webale munonga. Mukama asiimwe. Thank you very much. Praise God.
Amazina gangye nibanyeta Patrick Hill… My name is Patrick Hill.
Ndikwegw’orukiga… I am learning Rukiga.
Ninduga California USA omuri America. I am from California, in the USA
Nkija hanu omwaka oguwire. Neshemerirwe munoga. I was here last year. I am very happy.
Ndenda kusima munywani wangye Enoch Kayeeye ahabw’omugisha ogu kugamba nimwe akasheshe aka. Mukama asiimwe munonga. I want to thank my friend, Enoch Kayeeye, for giving me the opportunity to speak with you today. Praise God.
Ndikutura omuri Kabale kandi ndabasa kumara emyaka eshatu. Ndikukora na AICM. I am living in Kabale where I am working with AICM.
AICM eyejesize abaana emyoga okumara emyaaka makumi ashatu. AICM has trained young people with skills they can use for a better life for more than 30 years.
Abaana barikurenga omumutwaro bashomire ahi-tendekyero eri.
More than 10,000 young men and women have graduated from the vocational college
Obutegyeki bwa Bishop Kayeeye nokwikiriza kweye kututeire omu mwanya murungyi.
The leadership of Bishop Kayeeye and the faithfulness of Mukama has put us in a strong position today.
Nshemerwirwe munonga okukora na AICM. I am happy to be at AICM.
Mukama asiimwe. Praise God.
Ogu ni interpreter wangye….Robina….Agandi, nyabo…Here is my interpreter, Robina. Good morning…
Our theme for today is “living by faith.”
We are using a part of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 4, beginning at verse 13.
Our life together is a wonderful experience…but not without troubles, pain or suffering.
As Paul writes, despite our troubles, we are not destroyed.
We experience hardships; families and friends experience loss.
Through our faith, we know and believe that God who raised Jesus to life, will also raise us up.
In Romans 4, Paul argues that Abraham was justified by works…and he had something to boast about.
But not before God.
For it is not through the law, or through works that Abraham and his offspring received the promise.
It was through faith, credited as righteousness…The promise comes by faith.
Faith is how we come to know God.
It is the instrument by which we are made right by God.
God honors faith…and our great faith honors God.
I am now in my fourth month in Kabale.
I feel comfortable here, surrounded by Christian believers.
It is like I am with my family.
God is present here in Kabale and Uganda, and wherever you may be listening.
He is present in my life.
He hears my prayers…and answers them quickly and loudly.
But there have been times when my faith has weakened.
When I have not received messages or encouragement from home.
When my efforts to help AICM and others goes slower than I would like.
My weakened faith has left me lonely at times.
Of course, I turn to Jesus in prayer and hope for relief and restoration.
The wonder of Jesus is that he hears us and sends messengers to encourage us and to love us.
I shared my recent faith struggle with one of my best friends in Uganda.
And she shared with me the word of the Lord which has lifted me ever since. I reflect on it daily.
2 Chronicles 20: 15, 17
In second Chronicles, Judah is facing attack by Moabites and Ammonites, and others.
King Jehosaphat pleads to God, “we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do.”
Then God answered.
In our lives today, we worry about many things.
Our minds magnify our troubles and our weakness grows.
But the Lord is faithful. He knows our concerns. He hears our cries.
In the face of the great army against Judah, and in the face of the trials and troubles in our own lives, the Lord answers.
Through friends, neighbours or whoever he chooses.
This is what he said to them in Judah:
“Don’t be afraid or discouraged…the battle is not yours, but God’s.”
“You will not have to fight your battles. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you.”
My brothers and sisters, have you heard more encouraging words?
Words of faith. Trust. Belief in God’s promise.
We can stand up to our spiritual enemies.
We can face our problems, our struggles in this world.
The advantage will be ours….but we must have faith and trust in the Lord.
So do what you do. Pray. Reflect. Take your position. Stand firm. The Lord will deliver you.
For this reason, we never become discouraged, Paul writes.
We grow older…our physical being gradually decays yet our spiritual being is renewed day after day.
Our faith can grow each day…through prayer, fellowship and the word of God.
The small, temporary problems will fade…revealing eternal glory…much greater than the trouble.
Let me introduce you to several students I’ve met on behalf of Team in Faith, who have stories worthy of your consideration and support.
Chris is a 12-year-old boy. He is physically challenged and cannot sit properly without support. He cannot stand nor crawl on his own. Thankfully, he is mentally alert and speaks well. He is capable of learning, given an opportunity.
ACER (Action for Community Empowerment and Rehabilitation), a Team in Faith project, in Kabale, Uganda, conducted an assessment on him and found out that he is suitable to join school. He can feed himself and has potential to learn.
He is interested in joining other children at school. Unfortunately, the demands to support him in school are too many for his parents to meet as they are poor and illiterate. ACER has given him support in terms of a wheelchair, basins and bedding materials. He now lacks school fees and facilitation to pay the caretaker while at school.
His parents, through ACER, are seeking assistance to have him fully supported in school.
ACER has identified one person willing to take care of him and an appropriate school with special needs education facilities has been identified.
The support needed to pay for annual school fees ($180), scholastic materials ($60) and a caretaker ($480) total $720.
Would you make a donation to support Chris’ education? Contributions to support Chris and other projects can be made at teaminfaith.net.
Isaiah, 29, above, is blind man supporting three children. At the age of 13, his parents died. At the time of their deaths, Isaiah was in elementary school (Primary Two). He continued to Primary Four but dropped out due to lack of school fees.
In 2004 at the age of 18 Isaiah got married to Jesca Biira and they produced three children named Masika Mackline 10, Muhindo Ednus 8 and Biira Marylyn 6 years respectively. Isaiah and Jesca lived together until 2012 when he got in an accident. Shortly after his accident, Jesca divorced him and went back to her parents leaving Isaiah to look after their three children.
He cannot do any physical work to support his children. His elder brother, a father of 8, is taking care of him plus his children in an environment of absolute poverty. Through ACER Isaiah is appealing to all people of goodwill to help him get his children educated. He is willing to join any school that can suit his physical condition to learn.
ACER identified annual school fees and scholastic materials of $540 for the three children. Contributions are needed and welcome through Team in Faith.
Deborah Awut, above, is one of the pioneers from Hope & Resurrection Secondary School in South Sudan. While a student, she used to sing to help motivate other young girls who took their education for granted.
She is now at university in Nairobi, Kenya, where she is in her third year seeking a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce, majoring in accounting and finance. The fighting in her native country has sent the exchange rate for South Sudan currency soaring making it difficult for her to raise fees for tuition and accommodate.
She has been an excellent student, achieving an Ordinary Diploma in business management at Marist International University. It was then on to the main campus of Catholic University of East Africa where she did Advanced Diploma work in Business Management. Now with two semesters to go and the end in sight, she needs fees for tuition and boarding.
Earlier this year, Team in Faith sent $1000 to partially cover her $3000 bill. With your help we can see Deborah graduate with a degree and a very bright future.
With your tax-deductible contribution, you can help Deborah, Chris and Isaiah toward a better life, a self-sufficient life, and life of accomplishment.
For the second time in a year, I was a guest on “Voice of Kigezi” radio, representing African International Christian Ministry of Kabale. The Sunday morning program is broadcast to five countries in sub-Saharan Africa, reaching a potential audience of more than 10 million listeners.
Mwebale munonga. Mukama asiimwe. (Thank you very much. Praise God)
Amazina gangye ndi Patrick Hill (My name is Patrick Hill)
Ninduga California USA omuri America. (I come from California USA in America)
Nkija hanu omwaka oguwire. Neshemwerwire munonga. (I was here last year. I feel very happy)
Nakunda Mukama. Nyine omwana w’omowjo. (I love the Lord. I have a grown son)
Ndenda kusima munywani wangye Bishop Enoch Kayeeye ahabw’omugisha ogu kugamba ninwe akasheshe aka. Mukama asiimwe munonga. (I want to thank my good friend Bishop Enoch Kayeeye for this opportunity to speak to you this morning. Praise the Lord)
Ndikutura omuri Kabale kandi ndabasa kumara emyaka eshatu. Ndikukora na AICM. (I am living in Kabale and hope to stay for three years while working with AICM)
Ogu ni interpreter wangye…Patience….Agandi, nyabo…. (Here is my interpreter, Patience. Good day..)
Ndikwegw’orukiga. (I am 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.
Among the appointed readings today is Psalm 51, verses 1-13, a lamentation of David.
David cries for mercy from God for what has happened. He confesses his sins and seeks forgiveness.
David had just been rebuked by his friend Nathan for killing Uriah the Hittite in order to take his wife, Bathseba.
In this famous story, found in 2 Samuel 11, David schemes against Uriah..and sends him into the front lines of a battle where he is killed.
David has relations with Bathsheba, who bears him a son. But his actions displeased the Lord.
The Lord struck the child ill…and after seven days, it died.
In our lives today we can sometimes get involved in activities not been seen by our friends and neighbours, yet God sees all things.
Our attitudes and pride may prevent us from confessing our sins.
So it is left to another. A family member or a friend to confront us.
That is what Nathan did to David.
Nathan told David a story, of two men in a certain town, one rich, and one poor.
The rich man had a large number of sheep and cattle.
The poor man had one little ewe lamb. It ate and slept in his arms like a daughter.
A traveler came to the rich man, Nathan said.
The rich man did not take one of his own sheep or cattle to feed the traveler.
Instead he took the ewe from the poor man and prepared it for the traveler.
At hearing this story, David was outraged. “Surely this man must die because he had no pity,” he said.
Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”
The Lord God of Israel anointed you king over Israel, delivered you from Saul.
Yet you despise the Lord by doing what is evil in his sight.
“I have sinned against the Lord,” David told Nathan.
“You are not going to die, the Lord has taken away your sin,” Nathan replied.
“But the son born to you will die.”
In Psalm 51, David cries mercy and forgiveness:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love.
according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.
So you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean, wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness, let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in my a pure heart O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.
David’s salvation seems complete in verse 13 when he says “I will teach
transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.”
Throughout, David speaks to God with intimate language. He writes many psalms. Surely he knows the Lord.
The Lord knows David’s heart. He hears his prayers. Despite his sin, he is beloved.
David returns to Bathsheba who bears him a son, Solomon.
David would have many conquests after the incident.
In our lives today, sin is destructive.
It can destroy relationships, marriages, families.
But turning to God with a repentant heart can bring healing, as it did to David.
This is my third visit to Uganda in three years. I am very happy to be here.
When I arrived two years ago I knew no one. But I was not alone.
My relationship with God provided me a fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
And I was fortunate to find Christian communities where I also had instant fellowship.
And for those listening to me now, while we may never meet….
we have a relationship through our love of Jesus Christ. We are in fact brothers and sisters in the Lord.
From school fees for primary, secondary and university students; to support for single mothers, the stories and appeals I hear are very personal. As much as I’d like to help them all, I can’t.
Team in Faith, a public charity I established after returning from Uganda in September, 2014, exists to support education, health care and evangelism projects throughout Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. They are those I have personally visited and recommend.
After a 35-hour journey, which included two missed flights, I finally arrived in Kampala. My first stop after leaving the Ugandan capital was Kasese, about a five-hour drive to the southwest. I stopped at a friend’s house where I was once again welcomed by his family.
Cleous and his wife, Becky (above), operate Action for Community Empowerment and Rehabilitation (ACER), a project to support HIV/AIDS orphans and mothers. The board of directors of Team in Faith has approved grants of nearly $2,000 that will help young students get school supplies and support women’s micro-finance projects.
While in Kasese, Abraham, (above) a bright, soft-spoken medical university student, told me of the tough financial road he has ahead of him to complete his studies. Three semesters of tuition, plus boarding fees, for the next three years are outside the reach of his peasant parents.
Abraham’s total bill of about $8,000 would be a fraction of what a US student could expect to pay for his or her medical degree. He is focusing on gynecology to help women in Uganda deliver births safely, which is far from a sure thing.
From Kasese I traveled past the magnificent Queen Elizabeth National Park, a destination savannah for safari adventurers. My driver and I have tossed bananas for giant elephants in the past. Lions are often lounging in trees before or after meal time, I’ve been told.
After four hours I reached Bwindi, where for the past two years I have volunteered in the Communications Office at the Bwindi Community Hospital. My lodging was a kilometer or two away near the boundary of the Impenetrable Forest.
A friend I met last year is now estranged from her husband and heading for divorce. In the middle is their three-year-old son. She appealed to me for help with nursery school fees, which would cost about $80 per semester.
The culture here does not reward the efforts of single mothers. I vowed to help her. Maybe you will help me do so.
After nearly ten days of travel and crossing 11 time zones, I reached my home in Kabale. I stay with my friend, Bishop Enoch Kayeeye, and his wife, Phoebe, at their family compound. I have my own room and join them for meals.
For more than 30 years, the bishop has served marginalized communities like the Batwa Pygmies in Uganda and neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. He has bought land, built schools, medical clinics, and housing for them.
His foundation, which includes the African International Christian Ministry (AICM), operates a Vocational Training College. It helps students and budding entrepreneurs gain critical skills in accounting, catering, IT, masonry, woodworking, tailoring and other trades.
I’ve been so impressed by the bishop’s work and vision that I’ve signed up for three years to help with marketing and fundraising. The student body here tops 300. Their enthusiasm at the morning devotions each day is really inspiring.
Every dollar, or Uganda shilling, is carefully accounted for and spent to support facilities, curriculum and supplies, and hire qualified instructors. School fees and donations help pay much of the expenses but more is needed. While I am here we’ll explore grants and tap the 10,000 alumni working in Uganda and elsewhere to help “pay it forward” to support the college.
Building self sufficiency is the best path to success here in Uganda and for more than 30 years AICM has set a standard.
My friends, I know that this message joins others you receive that require your attention and financial support. I am here to do my best among a people in a land that I love. You helped send me here.
In a small way or a big way, I ask you to help those here who have great aspirations, but lack finances, to succeed. Make a donation at teaminfaith.net. Tell a friend, or an army of friends, to do the same. I will personally see to it that the funds are used for education and other projects and that an accounting is made.
Sundays are the best days in Kampala. The headache-inducing traffic jams the other six days in the capital city are not present this day. It is easy and fast to get around. A relief.
Today was my first Sunday back in Uganda. Worship day. I took a Matatu (taxi) about 10 miles to downtown Kampala to attend Watoto church, an uptempo church of the word that reminds me of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago and an Assemblies of God meeting. Lots of energy, great worship…and a time clock that keeps the service at about 1:45, because they must clear the house to get the next group of enthused worshippers in their place.
I visited Watoto last year. A friend took me today. As we were walking through a small village to get to the taxi stand, a mother was outside, washing her crying two-year-old. The child wouldn’t stop and the mother, after glancing at me, told the child (in Luganda), “If you are not quiet, the muzungu will take you!” At that, the child stopped crying immediately!
It has been warm here, in the 80s with humidity. It wants to rain, but hasn’t. The heat hasn’t stopped mosquitoes seeking my sweet, muzungu blood. Fortunately, I packed a couple of bed nets to keep them mostly away. I can hear their whine (and cry) as they probe for weaknesses in the mesh. The deadly anopheles mosquito flies quietly and at night. So far have not met up with them.
It is good to be back. I feel comfortable and supported by many friends. I have been meeting people in town as a “mule” to deliver gifts and items on their behalf. On Tuesday, a Ugandan friend I met three years ago in South Sudan will come pick me and drive me to his home in Kasese. I’ve enjoyed his family’s hospitality the past two years. We will also discuss some projects of his, from supporting scholarships from primary school students to women’s micro-finance projects. Then it will be to Bwindi for a couple of days before settling four hours further south in Kabale.
Had to rely on patience and faith to get me here. My reliable driver was late in collecting me Tuesday morning. As a result I missed the 6 a.m. flight out of Sacramento. An agent put me on a 6:20 a.m. flight to Houston that would connect to Newark where I would pick up my scheduled itinerary.
It was snowing with freezing rain in Newark. That flight was delayed three hours as we joined a lineup of jets for de-icing. When we arrived in Brussels, five of us had 20 minutes to make the next flight to Uganda. Nope. So we were rerouted through Istanbul, Turkey, which looked pretty nice near the Mediterranean and Black seas. Wheels down in Uganda at 3:45 a.m. about five hours behind schedule.
Before I left, I wired $10,000 to my account in Uganda on behalf of Team in Faith to be used for grants and gifts, ranging from church roofs in Congo to materials for primary schools. It will be a powerful experience for me to make these grants on behalf of TIF and the generous gifts of donors.
God is here, the holy spirit is present in all my activities. Am blessed and thankful to be in this position.
Mukama nimarungi. Good is good.
Ebiro byona. All the time.
15 February 2015
Faith Episcopal Church
This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
I first want to thank Fr. Sean for the opportunity to speak to you today. I’ve been to this lectern before, usually to tell jokes. Today, though, it’s different. I want to share with you how this member of Faith Church has become a son of Africa.
I will return to Uganda in a little over two weeks. My spirit is soaring, my heart is pounding. I cannot wait to get back there.
Agandi. Barakwetoha? Olikuzahe? Olikukoraki? Hello. What’s your name? Where are you going? What are you doing?
These simple Rukiga greetings unlocked a world of relationships and friends last year. The joy I feel during this basic human exchange with my brothers and sisters thrills me. Their response, to see and hear a muzungu brother speaking their language, is one of delight and surprise.
I have built relationships with dozens of friends throughout the country, upon whom I rely on transportation, shelter, companionship. It is the foundation of what I do there.
Like you I usually make my own plans, act on my ideas. I have hopes and dreams. In the end, though, our lives belong to God. And we live in God’s time.
In today’s Gospel, we heard about Jesus’ mountaintop experience, his transfiguration. We heard how his clothes became dazzling white. Peter, James and John witnessed this. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
There are other Gospel stories about Jesus healing the sick, then directing them to tell no one. These stories are early in his ministry. It was not his 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 elementary school. I was called to follow Christ and serve others.
But it wasn’t my time. For 10, 15 and more than 20 years I was dormant. When our son Dan was born almost 24 years ago, that changed everything. It was the dawn of my time.
Responding to the Call
Leaving home as a volunteer isn’t for everyone, and even when you think you are ready, you may still have to wait. God’s time. In the old testament book Ecclesiastes, it is written, For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
This is my season, my time.
At Faith Church, we have examples of those were ready to respond to God’s call.
Jim and Mary Higbee, who helped found Hope and Resurrection Secondary School in South Sudan, became missionaries for the Episcopal Church following their working careers.
What an example for all of us. And an example for me.
But don’t misunderstand—-you don’t have to be at or near retirement to do this.
Amy Daust, in her 20s, not far removed from the J-Crew, set off to become a leader at YWAM—Youth With a Mission, which has projects around the globe.
Faith Church….this place is a great incubator!
The past two years, I’ve gone to Bwindi, in Southwest Uganda, site of the Bwindi Community Hospital. Many of you know that it was founded by Dr. Scott and Carol Kellermann, of Grass Valley.
For many years Dr. Kellermann and the hospital have been supported by Faith Church. What I’ve seen is a wonderful operation, one of the best private hospitals in the country.
There is a 120-bed, brick and mortar hospital, a two-story administrative and office building. There is a Waiting Mother’s Hostel for pregnant mothers, to assure safe deliveries and post-natal care, and a brand-new nursing school.
Last year, the Missions Team granted $500 to Buy-A-Net, a Canadian partner of the hospital, for mosquito nets to be distributed in nearby communities. Our support has helped reduce the incidence of malaria by up to 40 percent in three years!
Let me also say thank you for the church’s Easter offering last year. It enabled me to stay two extra months and make a five day trip to the Congo to see all kinds of education, health care and evangelism projects. I even got stung at a honey bee project…while wearing the protective headgear and clothing. My hands were exposed.
This year, however, I will be moving four hours south, to Kabale, near the Rwandan border. I will join my friend, my mentor and pastor, Bishop Enoch Kayeeye. For 30 years, his foundation has trained workers at his vocational school.
He has been a saint to the Batwa Pygmies in the region. Last year I joined him at several Batwa settlements in Uganda and the neighboring Congo where meals, education and shelter were provided.
He has a room for me at his compound, meals every day while I’m there. I am truly blessed. He gives me great access to places and situations where no white person has been before.
Years ago God showed Enoch a vision of how to serve those marginalized in the region. He has done incredible work. I have been blessed to see a glimpse of the that vision…and am committed to help where I can.
He served as a bishop in the Diocese of North Kivu, in the Congo. He retired to Kabale but travels a great deal and has earned the ear of the president.
He and I had a chance meeting two years ago. Or did we? You prayed for my safety and well-being. I prayed that God would put his people in my path. He did over and over again.
My luggage was delayed from London. I was cooling my heals at an Anglican Guest House in Kampala when this African man approached me. Being a PK myself, I instantly identified the bishop’s outfit, blue blazer, fuchsia shirt, collar.
We spoke and exchanged phone numbers. I would knock on his door a month later, about 700 kilometers in Kabale. A coincidence? That’s not how I roll.
When I first went to Uganda, my plan was to focus on the Batwa Pygmies, the indigenous people of the Impenetrable Forest. In 1992, the government evicted them from the forest, which was declared a World Heritage Site and national park to protect the mountain gorilla.
They had no title to land and were given no compensation. As a result they became refugees in their own country.
They are delightful people, some of whom I call friends. I am godfather to Brenda, daughter of Eliphaz.
I’ve gone to Uganda as a videographer to document the Batwa, and to help the hospital’s communication staff. I’ve enjoyed that work and have shot great footage. What has actually happened though is more wonderful.
When I arrived two years ago, I knew no one. I traveled alone, but I was never lonely. I knew there were Christian communities in place there where I would find instant fellowship.
Once there, I discovered once again it is not what I do that defines me. But who I am. I’m not a human doing….I am a human being.
Share your Gifts!
Folks…I am not an engineer….I am not a doctor, nurse or medical professional. I measure twice, cut once and still can’t get it right.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, writes in chapter 12,
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to 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 to lead, do it diligently
it it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
I have gifts that I love to share. I like these people. I like to listen and encourage them. If I shot not one frame of video, nor one photo, my trips would still be successful. For I have made a connection…with people…far different from me.
You know our brothers and sisters around the world are just like us. Not only in Africa, but in a Middle East nation like Jordan where I also visited last year.
Their children go to school. The girls gather on one side talking about the boys…..while the boys are talking about the girls and the Premier League.
They don’t look like us on the outside, but they are just like us on the inside. They bleed, they cry, they laugh.
They have aspirations just like everyone in this room. Go to university. Start a small business. The difference though, is that for most of them they have no chance.
I will be helping Bishop Kayeeye on many projects in which he’s involved. From the Vocational School a few hundred yards from the home, to trying to put roofs on church buildings in the Congo.
We went there together in August to see some of the projects. He showed me three unfinished church buildings, brick structures. something of an upgrade in recent years. But no roofs. Worship services are held there. If it rains, which is common, then worshippers huddle under tarps, umbrellas or whatever they can find.
I asked him how much would it cost to put a roof on one of these churches? He said THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS? Three thousand dollars? Um, for us, that is nothing.
Committed to Serve
Since my return in September, I’ve launched a new 501(c)(3) charity called TEAM IN FAITH. I want to raise money to help the various projects I’ve seen help people in the sub-Saharan Africa nations become self-sufficient.
I met with Bishop Beisner of our diocese, and he was the first to write a check to Team in Faith for the church roofs project.
I would love to help build at least one if not two roofs…for these buildings…for these people…for our God.
What people like the Higbees, and Amy, and Fr. Kent, the Shepards, Matt Batkin, Kim Furnari, and all who support J-Crew and Sunday School classes are doing are sharing their gifts, and listening to the call of the Lord.
Any of us can do that. Make quiet time, read scripture, contemplate and pray. Share your gifts.
Not all of us are called to go Africa. There is certainly plenty of work to do here in our backyard. In Placerville. At Loaves and Fishes. In South Los Angeles. Anywhere with SSP.
My friends, my experience at Faith Church has equipped me…and God has called me. This is my time.
Tuta onana tena Mungu aki penda. (We will see each other when the Lord is willing)
Africa’s Children-Africa’s Future (AC-AF.com), an organization in Tanzania I visited the past two years, announced it will cease operations at the end of the year. I am heartbroken to think of the loss this will mean to the young students, many of whom are orphaned by HIV/AIDS, in Dar es Salaam.
They learned and laughed with Phil, a Swahili-speaking American from Boston, and others, and enjoyed the programs and services sponsored by the organization.
It is only by the grace of God that I have all the advantages over the poor and unfortunate in the world. I sit here in the wealthiest land the world has ever known. Today, like many other days since my return in September, I weep over a lifetime of failures to serve others. I think of the beautiful, innocent faces of all ages I met this year throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. I see them suffer in silence, without complaint. Africa has had a profound impact on me.
I ask, no, plead, that Mukama (God) return me to Africa to be in fellowship with my brothers and sisters there.
I have taken steps to help them but I need others with empathy and a commitment to make a difference. A new charity, teaminfaith.org, is under my direction. With it, I will raise funds to support education and health care projects that will lift the lives of many in Uganda, DRCongo and South Sudan. Please help me.
I will return to Africa next year. I will redouble my efforts.