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.
Beginning year six in East Africa. From an inauspicious start, I’ve managed to take root here, make friends, learn languages, find success.
What is success? Making a long putt for par? Closing a deal with a sought-after client? Raising upstanding children? Before we can answer the contemporary question of “what does success look like?” we must first define it.
Personal or professional
I’ve had a lifelong conflict trying to balance my personal life with my professional goals. My first career as a TV sportscaster-producer took me to more (TV) markets than Joe Carcione (The Green Grocer)! I was chasing the dream I had since pre-teens. The multiple daily deadlines, ever-changing challenges. It was exhilarating and exhausting. I moved a lot in nine years, bouncing from here and there to move up the ladder, in prestige and pay, until I ran out of gas.
After a transition period of about 18 months, I was selected for a state civil service job in San Francisco. I was plucked out of an overnight cable news shift in Los Angeles–300 miles from my home–and never looked back.
That first year I began to achieve a professional-personal balance in my life. I commuted to The City from my mother’s East Bay home. Took public transit every single day, without fail. Made friends, had fun, started my run as a public information officer. After a year I was back in the state capital, sleeping at home, commuting to work on Light Rail, and training for my first of four marathons.
After my son was born it was time to get him baptized, as generations of forebears did with their young progeny. A Christian community was found with activities, suppers and prayers. I had grown up a generation earlier in the church rectory where we hosted such events. This was a back-to-the-future moment. It felt familiar. And friendly.
More state jobs meant more pay and responsibilities. Soon I was cycling 25 miles to work, achieving fitness while sharpening my sword. We found a new church which was about to undertake a profound step in faith to embrace debt and build a wonderful worship center for the community. I was all-in.
As my career and family grew, so did my spiritual gifts. I became a regular worship leader as a member of the choir, a performing sketch artist on designated Sundays and a participant and contributor in an ecumenical revival movement. I found time–no, made time–to enjoy God’s great outdoors with a cadre of friends on our cool road bikes.
From where I sit now those were the greatest of days. My son completed university and was focused on his next steps. I was climbing some of the great hills and mountains from the coastal range to the Sierra Nevada.
Yet that still, small voice inside me said it was time for more.
Across the pond
From my days in the rectory and hours in the pews, I always had this sense of a higher calling. Summoning me from child’s play, from the cubicle farm, the rat race. An opportunity was born in the fall of 2011, just weeks after I retired from my state career. I could visit a secondary school in South Sudan with my video cameras. That meant making critical connections, getting a passport, and crossing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. I didn’t have far to go. The school was founded by retired educators and friends at my church in Cameron Park. A new door was opened, a new life beckoned.
This journey has not been difficult. Traveling 10,000 miles to Africa has unfolded naturally, easily. Almost as if it was preordained. I first arrived on this continent without knowing a single person. In Christian communities where I landed in South Sudan, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, I was welcomed by brothers and sisters who knew the Lord as I did. They grew up in strong communities where hospitality is a cultural norm.
I have stepped toward them, learning their languages, sharing my faith and humor and wealth. I have been rewarded with their friendships, smiles and love.
Answer the question!
So what is success? I’ve missed more par putts than I’ve made, but I’ve cycled and traveled a road few peers have followed. While I worked. While I worshipped. While I helped raise an outstanding young man.
Success is a balanced life: Love and laughter, pain and forgiveness, selfishness and selflessness. It is making money and making amends. Structure and spontaneity. Climbing the challenging peaks and coasting home. Remembering friends and loved ones, and making new ones on the other side of the world.
Just returned from a 40-minute walk around Ft. Portal in western Uganda. I greeted everyone I encountered in the local language. I was met with smiles, surprise, conversation. It was a thrill. The simplest of pleasures. And it never gets old.
One word triggers it all. Hello. Orrirota. Agandi. Wabukire. Habari. Bonjour. With a simple, friendly greeting, we can open doors to new relationships and possibilities. We can engage a neighbour in conversation, share a bit of ourselves, learn something. It costs nothing but a few moments of time but the rewards are gratifying.
I’ve found my life’s work in Africa. What is it exactly? If it’s nothing but greeting people and lifting spirits, that’s more than enough for me. I support entrepreneurs and students through my charity, Team in Faith. There are plenty of bonuses in helping others.
Throughout each day, I get many opportunities to greet people who, on the outside, are not at all like me. Can there be a bigger difference between a middle-class white guy and my black brothers and sisters here?
Racial and socio-economic differences aside, we have so much to share. Good humour, stories about work and projects, events of the day. I know I missed daily opportunities to acknowledge people over the years in California. So I do my best to greet others here in their language every chance I get.
Two of my most important relationships on this continent were launched with that one word.
My first visit to Uganda was in 2013. I flew from Los Angeles to London, and had but an hour to make a connection to Entebbe. I made it somehow, but my bags did not make the transfer. I would have to spend two extra days in town awaiting them.
During my stay over at the Namirembe Guest House in Kampala, I was sitting outside after breakfast when I recognised a man in bishop’s purple shirt and collar approaching. I stood to greet him (photo above). From my one-word introduction to Bishop Enoch Kayeeye, we shared phone numbers and would later meet at the other end of the country to begin our ministry work together that continues to this day.
In 2014, I was in Kampala preparing to fly home the following day. I was directed to the African Craft Village where I could get some souvenirs to bring home to friends. I stopped in several shops, but when I went to another to ask for the time, my greeting of “hello” led to much more.
That’s where I met Evelyn, a shop owner (above). She gave me the time of day, and asked about what I was doing in Uganda. Among other things, I mentioned I had an empako, or nickname which is used in her Batooro culture. When I told her my empako, Apuuli, she told me hers, Akiiki. Twenty minutes later I left with a bag of shirts to pack, and a spirit lifted by the exchange.
Today’s contentious world needs a lot fewer words and more interpersonal relationships. Hiding behind a computer firewall typing insults at strangers online is inflammatory and destructive.
Take a walk outside. Look a stranger in the eye and say “hello.” Believe me, It could change your life and make your day.
The women come. They walk. They sit. For hours. Honoring the dead.
Last week I witnessed a beautiful cultural spectacle in Uganda. A community leader, and a friend, was killed in a bus accident. The sudden tragic loss of the Rev. Canon Enos Komunda shocked and mobilized the community,
Above, Bishop Dan Zoreka looks out over mourners gathered outside home of late Enos Komunda
I arrived at the family home with my wife hours after receiving news of his death. By then there were several hundred women and men sitting quietly inside and outside the home, in a vigil of support.
Hundreds more were preparing for the funeral service and burial the next day. They would come on foot from their villages and homes, a trip that would take hours, to participate in this community send off. Committees were formed to provide chairs, tents and food for the huge crowd.
Life in Uganda is simple and hard. There are few distractions to daily subsistence living. The people value family, community, fellowship, sharing sorrows. It is something to behold.
My introduction and wedding seem like a long time ago. Last week’s initiation to the Tooro culture and Evelyn’s family was festive and fun. The wedding went without a hitch.
The events were followed by a road trip-honeymoon accompanied by my brother and his wife from Napa.
Our stops included a
* two-day safari at Queen Elizabeth National Park,
* a visit to see two new beneficiary groups of Team in Faith and our partner ACER,
* a long jaunt and overnight at Bwindi Gorilla Haven as the inaugural guests,
* an epic drive and traffic jam on the way to Entebbe to drop Tom and Stephanie at the airport.
As we rest and relax, God is here, with us, blessing us, loving us. Evelyn and I are very happy and excited about our next steps. The journey together continues….
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)
Have been back in the USA for about five weeks after half a year in Africa. Working most days each week but finding time for recreation. Have introduced my Team in Faith organization.
It feels different. This is no longer my home.
My heart and mind are with the people of Uganda. Beautiful people. Grace-filled people. Loving brothers and sisters.
My life in Northern California is quite comfortable. Paved roads. Easy wifi access. Big screen TVs. Unusually dry weather. But something is missing.
Relationships here are usually appointment-driven. Let’s meet! Where, what time? It is unusual, for me at least, to engage many people while on the go. We are belted-in in our motorized steel vehicles. We might see a friend as we pass at 10 miles above the speed limit. Encountering people on the streets here just doesn’t happen. Ten thousand miles away, though, it is a way of life.
Everyone in Sub-Saharan Africa is outside waiting to greet you. The village homes in Uganda are small and it is typical to sit outside and watch the world pass by. As I walk the 500 metres to the vocational college each day, I meet and greet a dozen people or more, surprising many with my local language skills. Even in the small town of Kabale, I will pass many people who may look at me with curiosity. An exchange can form a friendship. This most basic human interaction is really what sets apart my life there from what I experience here.
I met one of my Ugandan friends in an LA suburb last weekend. Far from from his homeland, he and his wife live in an apartment complex. He studies for hours each day, waiting for his chance at a medical residency. His social life is very quiet behind closed doors, a far cry from the life he loved and left.
In recent years I have been fortunate to travel a lot and visit many countries in Europe and Africa. The different cultures are beautiful and fun to explore. America, for many in Africa and elsewhere, is a dream destination…a veritable Disneyland of opportunities and entertainment.
We enjoy a standard of living unmatched by any culture in the history of the world. Most of the world can only dream of this.
I prayed for the chance to experience life like most of my brothers and sisters. God honored that. I’ve been fortunate to live Uganda for most of the past three years.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
Every place I’ve visited has a morning assembly for prayers and songs. At the Bwindi Community Hospital, staff and guests gather each morning for worship and a short homily.
In Kabale, at the Vocational Training College, students and administrators sing praises before a speaker reflects on scripture verses.
Today, the speaker failed to show. So what next? Dismiss the students to their classes? Heavens, no! The worship shall continue.
Africa, as you can image, has great worship. There is singing and dancing, drums, claps, howls and whistles of joy. As we waited for the speaker, more students stepped forward to join the worship leaders.
The result was a fabulous jam of music and praise. It went on and on..with great enthusiasm that touches the heart. My smiles were punctuated by tears. It was loud. It was wonderful.
Everyone had the songs etched in their heart. No music sheets or overhead screens, but unabashed voices, praising harmonically.
Every tribe and culture has its own worship style. You feel it here. It is ecstatic. It is fun.
Tomorrow I step up as speaker as the dancing stops. I shall be on time. Scripture is Matt 13:54-end. A Prophet Without Honor. Kind of hits close to home for me.
Sometimes I allow myself a sentimental moment to look back. Kind of amazing what I’ve given up to get here.
Before I get too carried away though, my vision returns to the spectacular scene the Lord has set before me. I cannot spare any time looking back. It is all ahead of me. Oh, how blessed I am.
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.
Been back from Uganda for about five weeks. I’m homesick.
I had a wonderful time in the Pearl of Africa. For more than five months, I enjoyed adventure, friendships and a sense of being in a place where I am loved, welcomed and appreciated. Kind of like being in the living room at a family gathering.
Nothing was better than being invited into a home, to share a meal and time together. I felt honored to be in the midst of those with a gift of hospitality. Shared times, shared stories, laughs and food. Families do that. I’m fortunate to be considered a member of several African families.
What is it about this place that attracts me so much? Well, people are real, they’re authentic. No one puts on airs. If they want to impress their guests, they do so by extending a hand in friendship.
I learned a lot through these visits and meals. There’s sharing, there’s support, good conversation. My Rukiga improved and my appetite grew to appreciate the African diet.
The holiday season here at home is about to begin. Families will gather for their annual Thanksgiving or Christmas party. Memories will be made.
This year, you’ll have to excuse me if I seem to go through the motions. My heart will be elsewhere, longing to share precious moments with my family in Uganda.