My friend, the bishop…

Our meeting a year ago was providential. My luggage was delayed a couple of days and I had to remain in Kampala at the Namirembe Guest House.

During my extended stay, I encountered a man dressed in a blue blazer, purple shirt and collar. Being a PK with years of experience in the church, I recognized the Anglican bishop and stood up to greet him, Bishop Enoch Kayeeye. Phone numbers were exchanged and within a month, I found myself outside his compound in Kabale, hundreds of kilometers away near the Rwandan border.

I returned to Kabale this year in April to see my friend and discuss projects we could perform together…

Our relationship has grown to be one of mutual friendship and support. He is a great visionary, with a wonderful family and history of serving others in DRC (Congo) and Uganda.

Homily: This is Heaven

Homily 31 August 2014
BCH Chapel

Neshemelirwe kubaleba (Nice to see all of you)

Nimpurirra neshemelirwe Uganda mononga. (I feel very happy in Uganda)

Ndikuza muka orwakashatu. (I go home on Wednesday)

Mwebare mononga, muribanywani bangye. (Thank you, friends)

When I came to Bwindi for the first time last year, I did not know anyone. But I expected God’s people to be waiting for me.

As a Christian man I knew that I would meet other Christians and have instant fellowship. That is exactly what happened. I met many of you last year. We had a common life in Jesus Christ. We became brothers and sisters and friends in Christ.
I was comfortable and at ease.

When I went home and planned for this year, I wondered how God would improve that trip. Well, for more than five months, I have had wonderful fun and adventure. The Holy Spirit has been my constant companion. Mukama asiimwe.

My experience this year has surpassed last year. I’ve met more people, shared more fellowship, been to more villages and homes.
Mukama has richly blessed me. How can I thank him enough? By devoting myself more fully to him and his plan for me.

In today’s lesson, Paul writes to the Romans with instructions and encouragement.
Passages like the one we heard are so wonderful, so valuable, because they are just as relevant today as they were in Paul’s time.

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

The work and fellowship I witness here at BCH is wonderful. Many of you work selflessly to serve others in sometimes difficult situations.

The reputation of this hospital is great. The communities here know it. Important people in Kampala know it. Supporters around the world know it. The hospital is not the buildings, or the surgical theatre. It is you–the caring, dedicated staff.

With your help, I have learned many life lessons in Uganda.

Paul writes: Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Throughout my travels this year in Uganda, Congo and Tanzania I see the daily struggles of life. It is a fact of life here.

Through all the difficulty, there is the joy of hope Paul mentions.

I walked alongside a group of women carrying large, heavy packs on their backs, up a steep mountain road outside Butembo in Congo.

The women where chatting, singing..expressing joy…they even had patience enough to exchange greetings with this muzungu. No complaints from any of them. Just grace and power and faith.

The African hospitality that I’ve enjoyed is one of the great blessings I’ve received. Here, the door is always open.

I visited a friend and his family in Kasese after returning from Congo. One morning I got up for breakfast, and there was a friend of the family at the table who ate with us. Two neighbours also stepped inside open door to visit and say hello.

It was a pleasant experience to witness this fellowship. It is also quite different from my neighbourhood in California, where we have two locks on the doors to keep everyone OUT.

If I were to write a thank you letter to God, I would thank him for surrounding me with friendly, supportive people. His people.

I want to thank him for the Bible study fellowship and counsel of Rev. Bugaba and others. It enriched me..and I got to observe and learn from many faithful people here like Peace, my munywani wangye Barnabas, Dr. Cornelius.

I want to thank God for his faithfulness to me, for sticking by me even though I haven’t always been with him.

For it wasn’t my plan to come to Uganda even once, let alone twice. It wasn’t my plan to visit the DRC. It wasn’t my plan to stand at the Anglican cathedral in Butembo and preach to the congregation, with a Swahili translator.

It wasn’t my plan to visit Tanzania two times to support an organisation that reaches children orphaned by HIV.

No it was God’s plan and his patience with me. Webale, mukama.

I want to thank God for matching my time with his time. My first try to enter the Democratic Republic of Congo ended in failure. I could not get a visa at the border. It wasn’t the time for me to go.

Earlier this month, though, it was my time, and the trip was wonderful and successful.

I want to thank God for the gift of communication. With the help of my friend, Joel, I have improved as a Rukiga speaker. While not fluent, I am willing to engage anyone and it has been such a blessing. People young and old, men and women, respond to me as I try to express greetings. It is the most joyful part of my experience. Mwebale, for your patience as I struggled at times.

Obusingye nine neiwe. 

God showed me many things in Africa.

He showed me that life can be difficult. That day-to-day activities we take for granted in America by lifting a finger can take half a day here: collecting water, gathering wood to build a fire for cooking and heating.

He showed me that grace trumps any hardship. He showed me women who work as hard as any in the world have a spirit of joy and happiness despite their labors.

He showed me that people who look different from me on the outside are THE SAME as me on the inside.

Here in Africa, God showed me a vision of heaven. I saw worship. It was awesome. The music, the dancing, the singing. I am sure it is what heaven will be like.

It will not be in English only. But beautiful voices and worship from God’s people everywhere, in languages I cannot understand. What I saw here was wonderful and fantastic. It was love. It was God.

Webale, mukama. Webale munonga.

My friends, it breaks my heart to leave at this time. But my visa expires in a few days and the Ugandan government says I must leave.
Sharing my life with you has been some of the best days of my life.

But I have been reminded that people at home miss me, too. They want to see me and hear my stories.

And I will tell them..of God’s presence here among his beautiful people.

Ndaze kubasisiire (I will miss you all)

Ndaze kugaruka (I will return)

Ndabakunda mononga. (I love you all)

Tuta onana tena Mungu aki penda. (We will see each other when the Lord is willing)

Amina.

End Times…

Taking my last lap here in Uganda after five-plus glorious months. I thought that I might take a deep breath, rest and relax.

Nope.

The month of August has been a whirlwind. I have been traveling throughout and have landed in my bed in Bwindi only seven nights. Started with a five-day trip to DRC. A dynamic African nation with wonderful people…and some new friends.

On the way back, I stopped in Kasese, Uganda, to reunite with Cleous and his family and experience more African hospitality. Visited some interesting projects involving women and micro-financing.

Joined by widow of bishop's brother and her extended family.

Joined by widow of bishop’s brother and her extended family.

Then a week in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where Swahili is the prevailing language. Joined ac-af.com again to videotape children’s activities and interviews. I was here last year. Beautiful young people.

Re-entered Kabale to rejoin Bishop Kayeeye and his family. After I arrived on Monday, Phoebe and I drove out to his village where the bishop is constructing a lodge. We inspected the pace of the project, which was impressive. Then we went a short distance to visit the bishop’s brother’s widow and family.

These are the moments on this trip that I cherish. I sit with family in their home and am simply present. There is conversation. I offer some greetings in Rukiga, accept their thanks.

I was first in this home in April when bishop, Phoebe and I visited his then-ailing brother. Bishop and I knelt at his bedside and I was asked to offer prayers. Powerful, beautiful experience.

I returned in July with some nurses to assist the dying man. Within 24 hours, he was gone. Then a huge African funeral. Very, very impressive.

On this day, though, many children, neighbours and extended family gathered around to greet us as we entered. I enjoy to be among these people, who are loving…and curious about me. I come in peace and love…they are gentle. It all works.

I got a text message. Bright, a 14-year-old HIV-positive boy I met, has died. So sad. A brave young man who suffered all his life, through no fault of his own. Yet it is also a glorious thing…for the Lord has called him home to enjoy a life where their is neither suffering nor sighing but light eternal.

Bishop Kayeeye leads funeral for 14-year-old Bright...

Bishop Kayeeye leads funeral for 14-year-old Bright…

Yesterday was the funeral. The chapel was packed with 300+ inside, and another couple of hundred or so outside. The community gathered to pay respects for Bright, his family and caregivers. Prayers, songs, a small casket.

It is an amazing and wonderful thing how God has planned this trip, these adventures, these relationships. I feel so fortunate to have met every person, to have shared every smile and laugh, and to exchange greetings in their local language to their amazement. So much fun. Never have I felt fear or trepidation. I have walked into every situation knowing God is with me and directing my steps.

It never gets old. These blessings, experiences and friendships will flourish until I return home next week.

Then I can rest.

The Door is Open…

Here in Africa, the door is always open.

Am in Kasese staying with Cleous and his family. We met in 2012 when I made my first trip to Africa. He is a vice principal at a top secondary school in South Sudan. Like many of the other faculty, he was trained and lives in Uganda. He is home for the month on leave.

I join him, his wife, Becky, twin boys Peter and Paul, and daughter Jennifer in their smart, modern home. The three children are under four years. It is a great experience to share life with an African family. The hospitality is wonderful. Feel at home? I can do that!

Today at breakfast, we were joined by a friend, who ate with us. Two others stepped through the open door to visit and say hello.

I gave them my best Rukiga greetings. Um, not so impressive here in Kasese, where they don’t speak the neighbouring dialect. But those with the ear for the language were amused, if not impressed, with this muzungu’s efforts at learning the local tongue.

This is how relationships flourish.


It must be like America in earlier times. When neighbours greeted each other, knew each others’ families, knew each others’ health. They come and sit at the table and partake of whatever meal happens to be in progress. It is a pleasant experience and quite different from my neighborhood in California, where the front doors are double-locked.

A month ago, I was in Kabale, with my friend Bishop Enoch Kayeeye and his family. It was a time of grief, as the bishop lost his brother after a long illness. Their door was open.

Friends and well-wishers poured through for a couple of days. The bishop was away at the village, preparing for the weekend funeral. I stayed behind at the house. I would sit in the front room, and watch and greet the parade of people drop by. The community was amazing. The love. The shared lives.

An open-door policy in our hearts allows friends and visitors to join us and be welcome. Yes, it takes some time to get used to intrusions, but time and practice makes for an easy conversion.

Even in Africa, people have programs for the day, things to accomplish. They may not have a 45-minute commute through jammed, paved roadways, but there are responsibilities and chores. It is lovely, really, to share a moment in this busy world of ours.

The door is open…

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….

It’s God’s Time

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
 Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV

It is our human condition to seek instant gratification. Whether we want a job, a car, or a relationship, we usually want it NOW. We may pray to God to ask for his favor in blessing our wish, but his answer usually comes in his time, not ours, as the prophet tells us.

I recently returned from 10 days in Kampala where I completed some unfinished business. In June, I traveled to the DRC border outside Kasese with my friend, Bishop Kayeeye, his wife, my assistant Barnabas and our driver. At the border, the Congolese officials denied my entry, saying visas are no longer issued there and that I should obtain one in Kampala.

IMG_9881

It was a shock and disappointment. None of us knew about the change in policy. I felt the trip was a waste of time and money. The bishop went on to meet the appointments he had made while I returned home.

However, events conspired against him. There were several prominent deaths requiring his presence at funerals, which led to postponement of his scheduled meetings. So my absence turned out to be something of a blessing as we would not have completed our mission as planned. The bishop said it was God showing us that this wasn’t the time to be in DRC.

In Kampala, we systematically obtained permission and introductory letters from the Diocese of North Kivu in DRC. With all the paperwork in order, I applied for and received my visa.

This appears to be the time.

When I was a young man, I cooked up plans for myself and my career. Then I asked the Lord to bless them. While some progress was made they were never fulfilled. It was not God’s plan for me.

Does this sound familiar to you? Do you struggle with your need for instant gratification and God’s timing and plan? For some things we want we may have to wait. It could be a day, a week, a year, or decades.

I’m now in my sixth decade. I have learned a lot and now strive to put myself in alignment with God’s long-held plan for me. Finally, I am doing work that brings me great satisfaction and I am more fulfilled than anytime in my life.

It’s not my time. It’s God’s time.

License to Live

Errand day in Southwest Uganda. Am short on shillings so I must travel 40km to Kihihi, home of the lifeblood of cash–an ATM machine. Need a couple of passport photos and a haircut. If lucky, I’ll knock out those chores, buy my driver a rolex (not THAT, but a couple of scrambled eggs rolled in a chapati, like a tortilla), and get back to Bwindi before lunch.

Everything is pretty cheap here in rural Uganda. There are a number of neighborhood markets, selling wash soap, biscuits (cookies), sodas, sandals, produce. I like to spoil the aba kazi (women) in the Communications Office with biscuits, a somosa or donut. Keeps them happy.

Call Johnson, one of my favorites, a soft-spoken but loyal boda (motorbike) driver for the the one hour-plus ride over unpaved roads to our destination.

johnson plate

Fairly early in today’s journey, I hear a metallic sound hitting the ground. I don’t turn figuring we ran over something. Foreshadowing.

I arrived here in March during the “rainy season.” I saw more rain in the first 6-8 weeks than my Northern California home has seen in two years (20 inches). Traveling during the rainy months is difficult, as the dirt roads get wasted. Most are not engineered properly so water flows down the streets, carving huge channels. Oh, and climbing a hill in a small car is always exciting.

I miss the rainy season.

Since mid-May, the rain has given way to the dry season. Days and nights are mostly clear, the roads firm. But the dust is plentiful, overwhelming, a health concern.

When cars, trucks or bodas drive by, they kick up a cloud of dust that will envelop anyone walking. If I don’t take a handkerchief while I walk to cover my face, I’m asking for trouble in the form of sinus infection or worse.

On our ride to Kihihi today we encounter a couple of large trucks that throw up blinding dust in our way. Nevertheless, it went pretty well. Once we parked in front of the bank, we noticed the license plate of the boda was missing. Wait. Was that the metallic sound hitting the ground that I heard?

OK, so will that be a problem? I go to the bank, to the photo place next door while Johnson gets a temporary permit. Meantime, power is out in the town at 11 a.m. so the photo place cannot print my photos, and the barber’s clippers won’t operate.

We walk to the roadside rolex place, order a couple and relax.

After the meal, we climb on the boda and head home. Being the faithful optimist that I am, I feel confident that we can find the AWOL plate, so long as no one picked it and tossed it.

About 20km to go to Bwindi, we stop in Butogota where Johnson chats with boda drivers waiting under a shade tree. He explains his issue, some of them nod and exclaim before we move on. Still I’m fairly certain we will get a…the phone rings.

Johnson reverses course as someone has found the plate and is holding it. We double back three minutes, meet Enoch, a store owner who shows the plate. He found it, notified someone, who may have notified someone else who notified Johnson. I was trying to learn the exact sequence but this Primary-4 level speaker had some difficulty keeping up with the advanced-level local Rukiga.

Nevertheless, it was nothing short of a miracle, I believe, that we recovered the plate. It was all fairly easy. Given my proclivity to thank the Lord for anything and everything, we assigned the credit to Mukama.

The Lord has been so faithful to me during these five months. He hears my every call and complaint. Answers come quickly.

I am blessed. I love my life here with these people, speaking in their tongue, having never felt so free and authentic. Things always work out.

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….

My Typical Day in Bwindi

My activities in Uganda are pretty routine and are punctuated by periodic travel 4-6 hours from Bwindi where I experience new things, and see beautiful vistas and people.

My day begins near the Impenetrable Forest. I stay in a one-room cabin built for Scott and Carol Kellermann years ago. I awake around 6 a.m. to familiar music on the iPad. When I step outside on the deck facing the forest to get to the sink and toilet, I often see Venus rising over the hill. It’s always beautiful, just like when I see it rise over the Sierra foothills at home. Time to sh*t-shower-shave (not necessarily in that order) and head down for breakfast.

Getting here to there
When I arrived in March, I would call for a boda boda (motorbike) to pick me and take me the 2k or so down to the Guest House for my morning meal. In the past six weeks weeks, though, I have rented a bicycle and have ridden the mostly downhill road to get there. As you can imagine, it is quite a spectacle at 7:10 a.m. for local Ugandans to see and hear a muzungu cyclist riding by. Most are on foot heading to school, work or home. I make a point to holler a greeting (“Agandi, sebo…agandi, nyabo…orrirota) of hello or good morning to each sir or ma’am I encounter. The responses are loud and true as many now recognize me, though some mumble as I pass.

By about 7:20 I am at the GH, where I park the bike and head to the nearby hospital for a quick fix of wifi to catch up with overnight email, if any, and maybe an NBA or MLB score. Last year we had pretty good wifi at the GH but it has been out of service pretty much since I arrived so we improvise. After about 10 minutes I return for breakfast. It starts with a plate of fruit: slice of pineapple, watermelon and a banana. Then Moses or Evelyn will come by to take our order for eggs. Fried, scrambled or Spanish Omelette are our choices. Paul and Barbara a couple of Episcopal missionaries, are at the table going through the same routine as I just described. They live next door to me up near the forest.

Lately there have been a number of other volunteers and guests who are staying at the GH. It is nice to meet people coming and going through Bwindi. They may stay for a couple of days, or longer; trek with the gorillas, and eat the three squares that we get. In addition to the eggs, we often get enkumba, a delicious hot, chocolate brown, millet porridge. I was introduced to it by Bishop Kayeeye while staying with him in Kabale. Very nutritious. When we’re out of that, we sometimes get what we call “muzungu porridge,” which is like oatmeal and, like me, very white.

Prayer time
I hurry through breakfast to get down to the hospital for morning devotions at 8 a.m. It is the one meeting at the Bwindi Community Hospital (BCH) that begins on time. Staff and patients assemble outside the outpatient clinic. There are drums and singing as we worship to begin the day. After a song and a prayer, someone will stand and deliver a homily of 7-12 minutes or so. I spoke yesterday for the third time this year. I introduce myself in local Rukiga language, try to add a few new phrases to show friends and others that I’m learning more and more, then revert to English the rest of the way. Most of the speakers preach in English though a few will talk in Rukiga. Fine by me. The word of God is accessible to all in any language.

There is a concept here we call “African time” which refers to the incessant time slippage of appointments, events, etc. A meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. may not begin before 10:30 as people arrive slowly. This happens throughout the day and is frustrating for some westerners, like me. After a while, though, I breath deep and remember “TIA…” this is Africa. Deal with it, Hill.

Fun with Rukiga
After devotions, around 8:30 a.m., staff leaves for work stations or medical wards. The communications team heads upstairs to the office. I follow them in, where I hold court for a while, practicing some Rukiga, reviving decades-old jokes to a new audience.

By 9 a.m. I head next door to the IT lab where I charge my devices and review video for about two hours. Then it’s time to move. Most days I’ll head back to the GH where I pick up my bike and ride uphill to the Batwa Development Program (BDP) offices. There I will hold court once again, practicing my Primary-2-level Rukiga with doctorate-level speakers. It is a lot of fun as they grill me and put me through my paces. Surviving that, I go find Joel, my irrepressible friend and Rukiga teacher. We try to be serious about learning the language. Most time I will give him a phrase to translate for me so I can add it to my Notepad on my iPhone and drop it on some unsuspecting citizen. It’s working pretty well. I’ve spoken extended Rukiga at morning devotions before hospital staff in Bwindi and Ft. Portal. I introduced myself in Rukiga on a radio program broadcast to five African nations from Kabale, and wowed the crowd following a baptism at a local church.

By 1:30 p.m., it’s time for lunch and I’ll announce to anyone who will listen, in the office or on the street: Ninkuza aha Mokeye House curya shamushana! (I am going to Monkey House to have lunch!)

After lunch I may spend the afternoon up top at the BDP for good, unrestricted Internet or return to BCH and the communications office. As evening approaches, the communications team of Aida, Josline and now Kayla from Bakersfield, CA, will decide whether to go to the gorilla lodges in the evening to visit with trekkers, tourists who could be potential visitors and donors. I tag along once a week or so. These are beautiful resorts located near the impoverished homesites in Bwindi. While there we can relax, have a soda or a beer, enjoy the surroundings. On Tuesdays I usually stay after work to join others in a Bible study class (currently, Acts).

Dinner is not before 7 p.m. Afterwards, I hire a boda to drive me in total darkness to my house where I wind down, meet with the night watchmen, show them my knowledge of the stars above, when clear. On moonlit nights, the sky is so dark, the stars so many. Then I retire to rest before another day in Africa.

I love being here with these wonderful people very much.

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!)

Real-Life Spectacle

Life can be brutal at times. 

Over the weekend, I was unnerved by the sight of an insect in my bathroom in Kabale. Am staying with my friend Bishop Enoch Kayeeye where he has given me a private room for as often as I’d like. Somehow the bug found its way inside.

big bug

I was heading to the dining table for lunch when I encountered Daos, a young man who greeted me warmly. After exchange of pleasantries in Rukiga, I mentioned that there was an intimidating species in my bathroom. Would he mind capturing it for me and removing it. I added that, as a muzungu, I did not have a lot of experience handling bugs. Yeah, prefer not to do that. Ecch.

Ever the gentleman, Daos cheerfully agreed to do my dirty work. He followed me inside and quickly plucked the grasshopper. We walked outside and talked about how grasshoppers are a seasonal item on the Ugandan menu. Many have told me how delicious they are as a fried treat. Taste like popcorn, I’m told. Not available now, though. Must wait until November. I imagined the photo opp of the fried, flying bug headed into my pie hole. What a sensation that would cause.

After a few minutes of conversation, Daos dropped the dazed denizen. It took a moment and made two hops. The last two of its life. For in an instant, out of nowhere, a small, sparrow-like bird swooped in and snatched it in its beak and flew off. What a real-life spectacle! 

That grasshopper never had it so good as in my bathroom.

Right Place, Right Time

It started in my waist before everything went dark. A heavy rush of light-headedness before I hit the deck.

I was in the outpatient clinic for a malaria screen after experiencing low-grade fevers for a couple of days. My weekend getaway to Mbarara was a bust as Saturday and half of Sunday were spent watching Premier League football matches. I was bed-bound with a bug and stared at the screen instead of seeing the area.

A finger stick to get a blood sample to analyze. Then I keel over like that.

BCH sign

Instantly, Joseph, my nearby night watchman, who was in the clinic, was at my side lifting me to my feet along with Moses, the clinical technician. A gurney was brought, and I laid down for a heads up tour of the hospital corridors.

Bwindi Community Hospital is one of Uganda’s top hospitals. Its staff is experienced and prepared. That a muzungu fainted after losing a drop or two of his own blood did not necessarily constitute an emergency but the response was professional and swift.

My vital signs before and after the incident were normal. The message seems to be to slow down and rest when you can, even on weekends. I’ve been as active as I can be, diving into every opportunity with great expectations. Even teams with the lead call time out.

Like I said last year, if you’re going to have a health issue in Africa, have it at the hospital.

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…

First World Trouble

Been in Uganda more than a month now. Adapting well to the new reality: poor transport over moonscape roads, intermittent wifi, scarce power at times to charge my Apple family of devices.

Now add inability to access lifeblood of cash.

Even here in Bwindi there is a need for currency. I need Ugandan shillings to support the bevy of boda drivers I rely on for quick lifts from my home to the guest house for one of my three squares. More is needed for airtime for my Ugandan cellphone used for chats and texts of plans and schedules. I talk too much it appears.

Saturday morning, Paul and I set out for Kihihi to visit the Stanbic Bank ATM to get large sums of shillings ($100 = 250,000 UGS). Paul is one-half of an Episcopal missionary couple that arrived about the time I did. He and wife, Barbara, have 30-years experience in Africa and elsewhere as long-term workers. They’ll be here for three years!

I arranged for a lift in a hospital vehicle, a Toyota Landcruiser that easily handled the unpaved surface. We got to within 5 miles of Kihihi where we were disgorged and piled onto a boda for the rest of the trip.

It was hardly smooth sailing. Two muzungus behind the driver who took a safari-like shortcut through the brush to get us to our destination.

Arrived safely at the ATM, a familiar spot that I’ve visited several times in the past year. OK, let’s get going then get on our way.

NOT!

UNABLE TO COMPLETE TRANSACTION shouted the computer screen. Paul tried his Visa card after me and got the same result. We tried other cards, same result. There would be no cash from Stanbic.

My driver friend, Chris, lives in Kihihi, so I summoned him with a call and directed him to take Paul and me to Kunungu where there were two more banks to ply our plastic.

Forty minutes later we were face-to-face with the fact that neither of of the two banks accepted Visa cards. WTF? Visa, the biggest card company of them all, left me with my hands in my empty pockets.

In this land of subsistence living, a couple of Americans frustrated in their attempts to get cash is hardly noteworthy. But it points out the vast cultural differences between guests and hosts.

Residents here work and scrape for any advantage over the daily demand for food, water, heat. Guests, like me, do the best we can under austere conditions but continually look for conveniences of home…

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!