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 orw’akashatu. (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 friendship, love and care shown to me by the Communications staff, Aida, Josline and Janefer. Josline, you are right. I really am a delicate muzungu.

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 consume 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 kubasisira…(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…

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.

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.

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.

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…

Greetings from Uganda!

Am in my third week here and enjoying every minute. It is amazing to me how comfortable I feel. Familiarity really helps. Am taking some formal Rukiga lessons and have moments where I can riff pretty well….then I forget the simplest responses. Oh, to be human.

Spent weekend in Kabale visiting my friend, an incredible servant and host, Bishop Enoch Kayeeye. I have my own room, with a key, and an invitation to use as often as I like. Move books and clothes here, he says. “You are family.” Wow!

We are planning a week in DRC in early June to visit the Batwa. Should be a great experience.

Life in Bwindi is good. I live in a great house. Well, it is Dr. Scott and Carol Kellermann’s house located in the forest. I will use it until they arrive for the dedication of the Uganda Nursing School-Bwindi next month. The president and prime minister are invited. Hope to get a selfie with Ugandan President Museveni. When Scott departs I’ll return.

I love it here more than I thought. I am blessed each day. I am right where God wants me. Am very happy. An incredible time in my life. While I would love to share this with my mother, Cam, I do feel her presence nearby. She is with me.

Mukama nimarungi….ebiro byona. God is good…all the time.

April 8 Homily

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

Baranyeta Patrick…(My name is Patrick)

Mukama asiimwe! (Praise the Lord!)

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

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

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

Nimpurirra nshemerirwe mononga. (I feel very happy)’

IMG_5910

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

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

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

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

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

It hasn’t always been this way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the writer in 2 Peter put it: “… make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” (2 Peter 1:5-10 ESV)

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

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

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

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

Mukama asiimwe! (Praise the Lord)

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

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

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

Wholly Discontented

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

IMG_5668

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections of Africa

More meaningful to me than the video that I shot for three months were the relationships I made while in Uganda. I was blessed with the company, affection and protection of God’s people there.

As I waited for my delayed luggage to arrive, I had a chance meeting with a retired bishop who would later turn out to be one of my best resources for learning and working with the Batwa Pygmies hundreds of miles away. Bishop Enoch Kayeeye is revered by the Batwa, and who would give up his own seat for this muzungu.
IMG_6127

Then there was Barnabas, who was among those who came to fetch me at the airport in February. He became my close friend. A dead-ringer for actor Jamie Foxx, he is good at everything he does, has a great sense of humor, and is a devoted follower of Jesus.
IMG_5802

I friended the Rev. David Rurihoona on Facebook before meeting him in April in Kabale. He opened his house to me for two visits and the time spent with him and his family was wonderful. He is a prayer warrior who exists to serve others in Christ.
IMG_5703

Through all the adventure and petty annoyances (aka rats), my fellowship with these friends and the Holy Spirit kept me focused and centered.

The Pleasure of Being

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

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

All that is too narrow a definition for me.

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

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

cleous family

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

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

It is my happiness.

The Invisible Man

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

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

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

image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here and Now

As the hour of my departure from Bwindi grows near, I am already aware of what I will miss when I am gone. The loss will impact all my senses.

IMG_5910

Among of the things I like most about being in another country are the sounds, particularly the languages. In Uganda I’ve been exposed to no fewer than four different tongues. Locally, the local Rukiga (ru CHEE ga) language is prevalent, even though English is the official state language. I have learned a few simple phrases, using my ubiquitous iPhone to store responses to typical encounters. At morning devotions, some speakers will default to Rukiga. I may not understand a thing, but I admire their passion for the Lord.

From my room in the guest house, I hear conversations and laughter among the staff. It’s reassuring to me. Fellowship is good. When I traveled to Kasese, the local language was Lukonzo. I made a few entries on my electronic notepad so I could hold my own when greeted. Swahili is spoken throughout East Africa, particularly Kenya, and is used by soldiers here. Other Ugandan dialects help identify from which district the speaker hails.

No matter if I visited north or south of Bwindi, the menu was the same. Rice, beans, matoke (cooked plantain), posho (maize meal), irish potatoes. I’ve eaten everything put in front of me for the past three months. We’ve been served local, fresh fruit each day. The pineapples have been great. I want them regularly on my plate when I return.

Before I arrived I imagined the sounds I would hear from the winged and walking beasts. Bird calls, morning and night dominate. The red-tailed monkey makes a clicking sound when near, and a racket when bounding along the roof. Haven’t heard any gorilla grunts…was unwilling to pay for that privilege. I failed to anticipate the rodents.

The daily thunderstorm portends intense rain pounding on the metal roof. Conversations are muted through the rainy season. I’m fascinated by the downpours and stop what I’m doing to watch as they are so atypical of my California experience.

children

The women of Africa have to be among the most hard-working in the world. With babies wrapped to their backs, they cultivate the fields. They fetch the water. They collect wood for the fire. They transport almost everything atop their heads, with perfect balance and grace and, frequently, no shoes. It’s an iconic image of Africa…and one that never gets old.

I close my eyes and imagine I am anywhere. My ears and heart betray that indifference. This is the here and now of Uganda.