Share Your Gifts

Homily
15 February 2015
Faith Episcopal Church
Podcast version

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.

New Assignment
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.

The Batwa
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)

Life in the Familiar

The drive to Bwindi was the final segment of my 28-hour journey from California to Uganda. Jumbo jets gave way to a prop plane and finally to a four-door sedan. The 40k road to my home was long but not as rough as I remembered.

The green hills and countryside were beautiful. Women, men and children walked along the road, stepping to the side to avoid two or four-wheeled vehicles.

kihihi trip

A year ago, my head was spinning. Everything was new: the people, the language, my routine.

So much is familiar now. It is as if I’ve been away for three weeks…rather than 10 months. My comfort level is high. I am delighted to be back among friends.

As my time here unfolds, I seek new experiences among the familiar. I will visit new communities and revisit others. I will greet friends, and try to remember the names of new faces. I will eat everything put in front of me.

I am in a safe place, aware of my surroundings. I am expectant of a great stay in Uganda and Africa in 2014.

I Am Patrick’s iPhone

I am Patrick’s iPhone, though I must admit I am not much of a phone these days.

Patrick packed me off to a place called Bwindi in southwestern Uganda in the middle of Africa. So while I’m not being used as the phone I claim to be, I have been plenty busy.

It’s not my fault Patrick and others in North America pay onerous contract fees to use my phone features. I understand there are added costs when you use me outside the USA. In Africa and elsewhere it’s a pay-as-you-go scheme which doesn’t seem as expensive.

Me and Patrick, in Munich, during our six-week international trip in 2012...

Me and Patrick, in Munich, during our six-week international trip in 2012…

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Nevertheless, Patrick is getting a bang for all my smart-phone features available on wifi. The first is the HD camera. In nearly three months on the road, he’s take more than 750 photos on just me alone. I heard him say he had seven other HD cameras at his disposal for this project. None are as versatile as I am. For instance, can a Canon G12 or GoPro camera instantly upload images to share with a waiting world? What’s the point of storing GBs of photos if no one can see them? That’s what social media helps us to do.

I do video pretty well, too. My HD resolution can stand the test and works well in his Final Cut Pro productions. Even I enjoy his YouTube uploads of his video shorts.

My creators helped build a whole new industry when my older cousins were manufactured. Applications, or Apps, redirected users from visiting websites. Now there are millions of apps…though only 100 under my watch. Among Patrick’s favorites are the social media kings Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

He also uses banking apps–even from this jungle setting–to pay his bills electronically, transfer funds, make stock trades. I don’t ask any questions about those transactions. Pat’s always on the go and needs to fund these activities. It’s all well and good. He keeps my battery charged.

We’ve encountered some difficulty with the wifi network at Bwindi Community Hospital. Understandably, managers here want to limit access to the Internet during business hours. But my guy is a communications fiend and needs unfettered access to help sing praises of the good work being done here. He and I think the communications group should get an exemption from the restrictions.

At the nearby Batwa Development Program there is also a wifi network which is not so closely regulated. So from there we can upload videos to YouTube and catch up with with outstanding Words With Friends games to, hopefully he says, deliver “punishing setbacks” to his opponents. Whatever…

Well, even though I haven’t made one call on this trip I’m happy to be contributing in a big way. And I know this: He likes me! He really likes me!

I am Patrick’s iPhone…and I approved this message!