The Years Get Better

Watching the clock wind down the final hours of 2014 and am amazed at what I’ve seen, where I’ve been and the relationships made.

A year ago at this time, a pastor friend of mine invited me to join him to “share in the pain of others,” as he put it. I was part of a team of three doctors, three pastors and two others who flew to Amman, Jordan, to meet refugee families from Syria. An immense tragedy. These bewildered families probably won’t ever return to their homes. The conflict in Syria will go on indefinitely and their homes are likely already reduced to rubble.

I took cameras with me to record the small-group sessions, but was told pretty quickly not to publish photos or videos for fear the Syrian secret police would harm the subjects or their families. It was stirring for me to be present, to hear stories of survival. Our team was also blessed by the hospitality by a Palestine family. The night I was to leave the region, after the rest of our group had departed, I stopped by the home again. I was fed, had tea, then given a cot to catch a few hours of sleep before my overnight flight.

palestians

Two months later I was off to Uganda again. I imagined how my trip this year could surpass the wonderful experience I had in 2013. As events unfolded and unfolded, the trip far exceeded my expectations. It was longer, lasting five-and-a-half months. I visited more towns and villages, was a guest in more African homes, made more friends and learned more languages.

The generosity of my friend and host, Bishop Enoch Kayeeye, was a daily blessing. He provided me unbelievable access to Batwa communities in Southwestern Uganda. I accompanied him on his daily activities, was frequently asked to address a class or small group. I prayed over his dying brother in the family home, the first muzungu ever in the home or village.

On our second try we were admitted to the Democratic Republic of Congo. I saw a fascinating land of beautiful people, underfunded education and health care projects, and great opportunity. Am sure the possibilities are great for our return to DRC in 2015.

Near the end of my time I visited Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, for a second stay with an after-school program for HIV/AIDS orphans. It was managed by an American friend, Phil, who towered over the youngsters but greeted, taught and teased them with his fluent Swahili. I want to be like Phil when I grow up and make such a connection with people here.

Most of my time was spent in Bwindi, Uganda, where a number of people handled my care and feeding. I am blessed by these African friends and love them very much. All of the people I met have great aspirations for what they would like to achieve in life…obtain a university education, start a small business. The odds are stacked against them but they remain positive and joyful.

As we turn the page on another year, I dedicate my life to help them reach their goals in 2015 and beyond. In order to do that, I have established Team in Faith (teaminfaith.org), a public charity raising funds for education, health care and evangelism projects I’ve witnessed in Uganda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Please take a look.

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.

The Ultimate Boo-Yah!

It is the ultimate boo-yah! Celebrating Good Friday and Easter on the same day.

The phrase made popular by ESPN illustrates the fanaticism of sports fans, who agonize over their team at one moment before celebrating it at the next.

Today is April 18, 2014, Good Friday. It is a solemn day for Christians worldwide who remember the trial, pain and execution of Jesus Christ on the cross.

In Bwindi, Uganda, it is near the end of the week and there is an exodus of hospital staff and residents from the community. They are heading home for a holiday. It should be a quiet weekend in these parts.

To commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus and to celebrate his resurrection, a joint service will be held this evening in the hospital chapel. Good Friday. Easter. Back to back.

Boo! Yah!

We can’t experience the resurrection without first going to the cross. There we contemplate our own humanity, our sin, our rejection of God. For those who take the process seriously, it can be painful. Fortunately, they get Holy Saturday to respite and vigil in preparation for Easter Sunday.

Today in Bwindi, we get the intermission but it will be quick.

When the curtain rises, hearts will lift, the songs will be joyous, tears turn to smiles. One man gives his life for others. There is no greater love than this.

It’s more than a game. It’s God’s love for us.

Yah!

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)

Bwindi Postscript

Left Bwindi, aka Kellermann-ville, yesterday for Entebbe. Await flight today to Tanzania for more video work and a new chapter of experiences.
Before I left, Bwindi Guest House manager Denis told me I was “best guest” he ever had, due undoubtedly to my patience and humor during endless rodent infestation. Hahaha…

Why the long faces…

Every day a half-dozen young men, each with long faces, queue up on this bench, awaiting a date with the surgeon…for their circumcisions.

the bench

It is a good health practice, supported by Bwindi Community Hospital, to help them avoid the HIV/AIDS plague.

I find it a fascinating scene. The anxious young men, fumbling through literature, flashing a nervous smile.

My colleague in communications needled me and said “…maybe you should stop there for a touchup…”

Maybe not….

African Easter Homily

John 20: 1-18

The Lord is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
The Lord is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Christo Azookire (Christ is Risen!) ah zo SHEAR ay
Azookire buzima (He is Risen indeed!)

easter preacher

This week starts my seventh week in Uganda. I am half-way through my time here.

When I arrived in mid-February, I had traveled half way around the world, leaving every comfort of home, and the people I love.

I traveled by myself…but I was not alone.

God in the father, son and Holy Spirit, has accompanied me every step of this trip. From the planning, to my placement in the guest house. His work is glorified in my very presence here with you this morning.

God sent people ahead of me, to welcome me, to comfort me, to direct me. Mukama Asiimwe!

On this, one of the great feast days in the Christian calendar, we celebrate Christ’s triumph over death.

His resurrection opened heaven’s doors for us…for us to transform our lives from sin and selfishness…to service and love and obedience to God.

On that first day of the week, when Mary first arrived at the tomb, and the two disciples moments later, they asked, “Where is Jesus?”

We have asked that many times ourselves.

We can’t get to this day of celebration without first going to the cross.
Last week, we read of Jesus final days. We relived those heartbreaking and difficult stories.
Stories that implicate us in his death, by our rejection of him. Stories that we’ve heard and read for years that stain our consciousness. Stories that leave us trembling, like the beautiful old hymn, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

And you and I, citizens of this fallen world, know what it took to nail Jesus on that cross. Like Peter, we denied him. We lost sight of him. Where is our Jesus?

It wasn’t Peter’s intention to deny Jesus. Far from it. He pledged his loyalty. But Jesus knew about our human nature, our condition, our weakness.

Peter was with a circle of people sitting around the fire…trying to keep warm. Trying to fit in. Trying to belong to a new community of strangers.

In a similar situation, I would do the same, wouldn’t you? I have done the same, haven’t you? I have compromised my principles, I have defied my own statements of loyalty, I have turned from God and Christ. Where is my Jesus?

But Jesus took all of that. He took the world’s selfishness and sin with him on the cross.

When Peter met Jesus’ eyes that moment when the cock crowed, he was convicted by the truth of his weakness. And he wept bitterly.

If we could step out of ourselves, and look at our behavior and rejection of him, we might weep as well.

Our sin is a giant obstacle that stands in the way of our relationship with him. We cannot move it. God can…and will….when we confess and ask him into our hearts.

Jesus was the good shepherd. He was also a threat to authority. He was a threat to the established way of life. He upset the Jewish leaders. He drove the sellers and money-changers from the temple. He healed on the Sabbath. His teachings were hard for the rich young man.
But Jesus said: “God didn’t send his son to the world to condemn the world but to save it.” And that was a hard lesson…a new covenant…
For people in authority, the rulers and powers, and people everywhere, who seek to serve themselves before they serve others, in the end, Jesus had to die.

On that first day of the week, the angels rolled the stone away. They rolled it away from the front of Jesus’ tomb. It is rolled away from our lives. Will we walk in? What will we see?

We have new life and we rejoice at this fact. Jesus’ resurrection is one of the great stories..in fact it’s our life-saver. CHRISTO AZOOKIRE. ah zoo SHEAR ay

Mary went to the tomb on that first day of the week. We expect she would have remained outside and grieved the death of her Lord. For what could she do? She could not remove the stone. But when she arrived, the stone had been rolled aside.
This was upsetting to her. So she immediately turned to tell the other disciples.
Peter and another, ran to the tomb. The younger one arrived first, but did not enter. Peter went right in and saw the linen lying on the ground. He saw a separate cloth that had wrapped around Jesus head. Where is Jesus?

They saw…and they believed he was alive….and they left.

Jesus appeared to Mary on that first resurrection morning. But she did not recognize him at first.
We often encounter God but we do not know it. Like Mary, we are emotional, we are distracted, we are blind. Like Mary, we don’t expect to see Jesus.
It is afterwards, when we look back, we can say in astonishment–the Lord lives, today. I was with him.
But we don’t know it at the time. We look back and know that he was present with us.
In the form of a friend who visited us. In the form of one who helped us. In the form of a stranger who crossed our path and smiled with us.
Yes, today, Jesus is risen with us, this morning.

He is here among us at BCH. He is here next to us.

Turn to your neighbor. Look into their face. What do you see?

Say to them, the Lord is RISEN. In ME. He is in YOU.

Christo azookire! ah zo SHEAR ay

Azookire buzima!

House Call

If you happen to get sick in the middle of Africa, it’s good to be miserable within 50 meters of the finest private hospital in Uganda.

BCH sign

Felt some chills which were followed by a nice fever on Sunday night. I excused myself from a dinner engagement and headed to bed. Monday dawned with a warm forehead and general misery. The guest house manager summoned a doctor who, hang on to your hat, made a house call.

She took vitals, asked questions, then lowered the boom. “We need to test you for malaria.”

I had all the hallmarks: fever, lethargy, loss of appetite. I’m all for an authentic African experience but isn’t that taking it a bit too far?

Got to see the hospital workings up close and personal and was relieved when blood smear came back NEGATIVE.

So a bit of a setback as I’ve been shuffling around like an octogenarian with an appetite of a six-year-old.

But I feel better today. My head is clear. I have some video editing to do. The mosquitoes can wait.

Week Three Begins

It is about 2:20 p.m. on Tuesday. We’ve had a couple of heavy thunderstorms already today. I’ve finished lunch and I’m sitting on the balcony overlooking the out-patient clinic at the hospital here. A baby is crying. Is it hungry or in some other kind of distress? Every day the patients line up to be seen.

The Bwindi Community Hospital is very critical to the local and nearby communities. Residents come from miles around to get health care. I spend most my days here observing the activities and meeting people who will help me get the video work I need. Other days I spend about a mile from here where outreach activities to the Batwa Pygmies is conducted.

The needs are great, the staff is busy and attentive. It really is something to witness.

I’m settling in, with the guest house staff and routine, and my colleagues. Most of the time things go well. Other times I get distracted, lose my place and dwell on my loneliness. But that wave passes and all is well again.

The hospital chaplain asked me to lead morning devotions on Monday. A friend said he wanted me to preach at his church, but first he must ask the pastor. Can’t believe this is God’s plan for me.

Like everything in Africa, it is hard here. But it is also beautiful, difficult, wonderful and poor. Infrastructure is virtually non-existent. I have water, a flush toilet at my disposal. Most here don’t have anything close.

I’ve shot some good video so far and I’m just getting started. I will travel next week to see a Ugandan teacher I met last year in South Sudan. I will stay with him and his family for two nights and then return. After Easter I plan to go to Rwanda for a couple of nights to visit a former Carmel High and York School cycling star.

I’m healthy, eating everything in front of me, which is starches and plantains, mostly.

Man on a Mission

Arriving at Bwindi in a splendidly roomy van, I was ferried to my home for the next three months in a conveyance unattainable to most in this region.

And that will be typical of about everything I do here. From my carbon footprint, to electronic gadgets, to bags of underwear and socks, I got and brought a lot.

Did I mention electronics?

I will admit I am the poster boy of western excess on this trip. iHave just about iEverything Apple makes, from laptop to iPad to iPhone. Each of those devices has its own iCamera.

Great. I brought six other HD cameras.

I don’t know exactly what I will see while in Uganda but I hope I don’t miss anything. It’s expensive to fly across the Atlantic and 11 time zones. It’s my second trip to Africa in nine months and I am very fortunate to have this opportunity to document health care and education here.

My communications colleague at the Bwindi Commmunity Hospital looks at me in amazement. Look at all this stuff. I start to justify. The laptop is my portable video editing device, the iPhone is a handy HD camera, iPad is great for social media.

Yes, a bit of excess for these parts. But I will use them all.

I’m a man on a mission.

Real-Life Drama

It’s Saturday morning and business as usual. Morning devotions were held at 8 a.m. Doctors and nurses made their rounds. Administrators were on duty. This visitor sat on the balcony and watched the activities of the day unfold.

The balcony at the Bwindi Community Hospital administration building overlooks the grounds. From a strategic seat looking north, you can see the main hospital wing, an outside meeting area, and a volleyball court. A women’s nursing school, under construction, is beyond the trees in the distance.

Looking up from my ubiquitous iDevice, a real-life drama unfolds before my eyes. A woman drops to her knees. Maybe she fainted or was overcome by pain or something. She bowed her head. Then the baby cried.

In an instant, staff surrounds her with privacy screens. Nurses and others rush to support the mother and newborn. A gurney arrived. Health care at the hospital responded on the double. It was impressive to watch.

After the mother was moved inside, a second child was born–her second set of twins, I was told.

Outside in the sunlight, the comings and goings never slowed. Real life goes on.

It’s All There…If You Know Where to Look

Truth is revealed in many ways and sometimes from the unlikeliest sources.

One of my former bosses, a TV news director in Monterey, Calif., once bellowed a comment across the newsroom I’ve always remembered: “It’s all there, if you know where to look.” What he was referring to was the obvious. It’s right in front of you. Sometimes it blinds us. Open your eyes or your mind and you will find what you’re looking for. It’s right where it’s always been.

As I count down the days to my second African sojourn in 10 months, many incredible stories and and video opportunities await me near the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and among the lives of the Batwa Pygmies.

Education and health care are of primary focus. The Batwa Development Program (BDP) provides education for Batwa children. Batwa women are trained to knit and tailor clothing.

The Batwa and their neighbors receive health care visits to their communities by the Bwindi Community Hospital (BCH) and BDP. They learn about the importance of pre-natal care, hygiene, clean water, sanitation and nutrition.

From our experience it will be like going back in time. Supporting the Kellermann Foundation through the BDP and BCH can improve the lives of the Batwa.

I will document and report the work that’s being done. I hope and pray that I know where to look because everything awaits me there.