This is Personal

From school fees for primary, secondary and university students; to support for single mothers, the stories and appeals I hear are very personal. As much as I’d like to help them all, I can’t.

Team in Faith, a public charity I established after returning from Uganda in September, 2014, exists to support education, health care and evangelism projects throughout Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. They are those I have personally visited and recommend.

After a 35-hour journey, which included two missed flights, I finally arrived in Kampala. My first stop after leaving the Ugandan capital was Kasese, about a five-hour drive to the southwest. I stopped at a friend’s house where I was once again welcomed by his family.

becky

Cleous and his wife, Becky (above), operate Action for Community Empowerment and Rehabilitation (ACER), a project to support HIV/AIDS orphans and mothers. The board of directors of Team in Faith has approved grants of nearly $2,000 that will help young students get school supplies and support women’s micro-finance projects.

abraham

While in Kasese, Abraham, (above) a bright, soft-spoken medical university student, told me of the tough financial road he has ahead of him to complete his studies. Three semesters of tuition, plus boarding fees, for the next three years are outside the reach of his peasant parents.

Abraham’s total bill of about $8,000 would be a fraction of what a US student could expect to pay for his or her medical degree. He is focusing on gynecology to help women in Uganda deliver births safely, which is far from a sure thing.

From Kasese I traveled past the magnificent Queen Elizabeth National Park, a destination savannah for safari adventurers. My driver and I have tossed bananas for giant elephants in the past. Lions are often lounging in trees before or after meal time, I’ve been told.

queen eliz

After four hours I reached Bwindi, where for the past two years I have volunteered in the Communications Office at the Bwindi Community Hospital. My lodging was a kilometer or two away near the boundary of the Impenetrable Forest.

A friend I met last year is now estranged from her husband and heading for divorce. In the middle is their three-year-old son. She appealed to me for help with nursery school fees, which would cost about $80 per semester.

The culture here does not reward the efforts of single mothers. I vowed to help her. Maybe you will help me do so.

After nearly ten days of travel and crossing 11 time zones, I reached my home in Kabale. I stay with my friend, Bishop Enoch Kayeeye, and his wife, Phoebe, at their family compound. I have my own room and join them for meals.

phoebenoch

For more than 30 years, the bishop has served marginalized communities like the Batwa Pygmies in Uganda and neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. He has bought land, built schools, medical clinics, and housing for them.

His foundation, which includes the African International Christian Ministry (AICM), operates a Vocational Training College. It helps students and budding entrepreneurs gain critical skills in accounting, catering, IT, masonry, woodworking, tailoring and other trades.

I’ve been so impressed by the bishop’s work and vision that I’ve signed up for three years to help with marketing and fundraising. The student body here tops 300. Their enthusiasm at the morning devotions each day is really inspiring.

Every dollar, or Uganda shilling, is carefully accounted for and spent to support facilities, curriculum and supplies, and hire qualified instructors. School fees and donations help pay much of the expenses but more is needed. While I am here we’ll explore grants and tap the 10,000 alumni working in Uganda and elsewhere to help “pay it forward” to support the college.

Building self sufficiency is the best path to success here in Uganda and for more than 30 years AICM has set a standard.

My friends, I know that this message joins others you receive that require your attention and financial support. I am here to do my best among a people in a land that I love. You helped send me here.

In a small way or a big way, I ask you to help those here who have great aspirations, but lack finances, to succeed. Make a donation at teaminfaith.net. Tell a friend, or an army of friends, to do the same. I will personally see to it that the funds are used for education and other projects and that an accounting is made.

Webale munonga. Thank you very much.

Patrick Hill

Sunday in Kampala

Sundays are the best days in Kampala. The headache-inducing traffic jams the other six days in the capital city are not present this day. It is easy and fast to get around. A relief.

Today was my first Sunday back in Uganda. Worship day. I took a Matatu (taxi) about 10 miles to downtown Kampala to attend Watoto church, an uptempo church of the word that reminds me of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago and an Assemblies of God meeting. Lots of energy, great worship…and a time clock that keeps the service at about 1:45, because they must clear the house to get the next group of enthused worshippers in their place.

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I visited Watoto last year. A friend took me today. As we were walking through a small village to get to the taxi stand, a mother was outside, washing her crying two-year-old. The child wouldn’t stop and the mother, after glancing at me, told the child (in Luganda), “If you are not quiet, the muzungu will take you!” At that, the child stopped crying immediately!

It has been warm here, in the 80s with humidity. It wants to rain, but hasn’t. The heat hasn’t stopped mosquitoes seeking my sweet, muzungu blood. Fortunately, I packed a couple of bed nets to keep them mostly away. I can hear their whine (and cry) as they probe for weaknesses in the mesh. The deadly anopheles mosquito flies quietly and at night. So far have not met up with them.

It is good to be back. I feel comfortable and supported by many friends. I have been meeting people in town as a “mule” to deliver gifts and items on their behalf. On Tuesday, a Ugandan friend I met three years ago in South Sudan will come pick me and drive me to his home in Kasese. I’ve enjoyed his family’s hospitality the past two years. We will also discuss some projects of his, from supporting scholarships from primary school students to women’s micro-finance projects. Then it will be to Bwindi for a couple of days before settling four hours further south in Kabale.

Had to rely on patience and faith to get me here. My reliable driver was late in collecting me Tuesday morning. As a result I missed the 6 a.m. flight out of Sacramento. An agent put me on a 6:20 a.m. flight to Houston that would connect to Newark where I would pick up my scheduled itinerary.

It was snowing with freezing rain in Newark. That flight was delayed three hours as we joined a lineup of jets for de-icing. When we arrived in Brussels, five of us had 20 minutes to make the next flight to Uganda. Nope. So we were rerouted through Istanbul, Turkey, which looked pretty nice near the Mediterranean and Black seas. Wheels down in Uganda at 3:45 a.m. about five hours behind schedule.

Before I left, I wired $10,000 to my account in Uganda on behalf of Team in Faith to be used for grants and gifts, ranging from church roofs in Congo to materials for primary schools. It will be a powerful experience for me to make these grants on behalf of TIF and the generous gifts of donors.

God is here, the holy spirit is present in all my activities. Am blessed and thankful to be in this position.

Mukama nimarungi. Good is good.
Ebiro byona. All the time.

Support education and health care projects in Uganda at teaminfaith.net

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)

My Life’s Work

I received some sad news this morning.

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.

phil dar

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.

pat dar kids

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.

This is my life’s work.

Extended Family

The child’s shrill cry of “muzungu” heralded our trip down the hill, alerting others below that a pale-faced visitor was approaching.

I can’t believe Cleous drove the Toyota sedan up the steep, uneven path to begin with. It’s not like it has four-wheel drive. Still he pressed on as we lurched and rocked toward an appointment to meet his father at his compound. We parked because ahead was clearly just a footpath. Fortunately he chose discretion. As we got out of the car, we immediately were surrounded by a dozen children, half clothed and barefoot, interested in us.

This was their stomping grounds, as it was for Cleous a generation earlier. As we marched up the hill, the boys were in quick pursuit.

Patrick poses with Cleous' father and extended family.

Patrick poses with Cleous’ father and extended family.

In my second trip to Africa in nine months, I have made a point to accept and welcome each and every situation that comes my way. From sampling food, to standing amid a group of strangers, I believe I was sent here to see and experience all I can. Try it, you’ll like it, is my cry.

At his home, a tight, recently built structure on the outskirts of the town center, I was given a private room, overlooking the latrines and bathroom. Not a good idea to open the window.

I am very much a muzungu, at least in my definition. Somewhat clumsy in social situations, trying to find the correct or clever thing to say, whether in Rukiga or Lukonzo. Spoiler alert: I keep my iPhone handy with my growing list of appropriate phrases. I go along with everything. I eat everything on my plate. Even ask for seconds of obushera, a sorghum porridge, which is definitely not delicious.

As a spoiled westerner, sure, I prefer a nice flush toilet. In South Sudan, I eschewed the hole in the floor, for a raised seat, when arriving for the morning constitution. There was no such luxury in Kasese. Last year I was concerned about my aim and dropping my waste within my waistband. However, with my newfound serenity about these things I crouched to let it fly. Successfully, and on target, I might add. OK, enough about that…though I really could go on.

As we climbed toward the house, I noticed long glances as I walked past neighbors and their homes. We arrived, entered the front room and sat on comfortable chairs, with food awaiting beneath netting on the table. Though we had just come from his in-laws house and their feast, Cleous advised that it would be disrespectful not to sample the fare before us.

His father, Vincent, arrived for introductions. He has a serious mien. He’s now a peasant farmer having had a career in the public sector. Then the extended family showed up and filled the room. More introductions were made, and after rehearsing my line for at least 45 minutes, I managed, “Wasibire,” or good afternoon, in Lukonzo. Smiles and laughter. Did I say something wrong?, I would later ask my host. No, he said. There were surprised and pleased to hear me say that.

More friends and more introductions. Then gifts. An uncle presented me with his handmade walking stick. We assembled for some photos. Africans, I notice, are not keen on mugging for the cameras as their American counterparts. These are proud people in the photos.

So it’s time to return to the car and Kasese. Bags of fruit and vegetables were carried by members of our entourage down the hill.

At the car, it was time for another round of goodbyes. The children smiled for a photo by Cleous. As they were focusing on him, I managed a profile shot of their grinning faces.

When I mentioned that I would also like to take a photo–permissions are required in most settings–they quickly split.

In the car with the windows down to enjoy the soft sunshine and warm air. I can see and hear the children running alongside and behind us. We’re picking up speed as we nose toward the main road. They gallop after us, shouting after the visiting passenger.

In or Out?

Walking into Faith Church after my first international sojourn, the first person I saw in the sanctuary was Scott Kellermann. This unexpected meeting with the missionary doc and friend would begin conversations to open the door to the next chapter of my video ministry abroad.

A return to Africa has been on my mind ever since I left Nairobi, Kenya, for London last June. Since the July encounter, Scott and I met several times to discuss a trip to the Bwindi compound, with hospital and school, to live and learn about the lives of the Batwa pygmies in the African jungle. As Scott and I sat down to talk, he looked me in the eye and agreed that once you’ve been to Africa, it gets into your soul and you got to go back.

scott and pat

What is it about the place that tugs on you? As simply as I can put it, to survive is to succeed. Depending where you are in sub-Saharan Africa, everything is hard. Transportation and potable water are two things we take for granted at home. They are not easily accessible. In Africa, as a visitor, your focus is on making it through the day. Putting on airs, or building phony facades is not necessary, for where are you going, or who are you trying to impress? Parts of you begin to get stripped away leaving only the essential you in this environment. That is what I love about Africa. I begin to see what kind of man I really am.

Scott has been encouraging and challenging. The lives and history of the Batwa his foundation serves is compelling. The government of Uganda forced them out of their ancestral home in the Impenetrable Forest to make a refuge for the mountain gorillas. The pygmies are now a nomadic tribe with no land of their own, no modern skills. There’s a need, he says, to get their story recorded before the elders leave us.

How exciting to capture scenes and accounts of an ancient life on video. Every day I think and dream of stories, anticipate production challenges. But I also wonder whether I’m good enough or serious enough to see this through.

It would be easy and stress-free to stay put. It’s a long and expensive trip. I’ll leave home for three months which burdens my family. But what can I gain from agonizing about these issues or emotions? I’d lose focus on the things I need to do before I leave. The thrill, adventure and communion with the Holy Spirit far outweigh my worldly worries.

Through prayer, I’ve given God all my concerns for this upcoming trip. His peace and direction have come quickly, soothing my spirit. What a feeling. What a God. What an opportunity he’s presented me.

I’m all in.

I can’t wait to tell my new friends in Uganda my story of God’s faithfulness.

The Gift of Education

Volunteers who visit Hope and Resurrection Secondary School, in Atiaba, South Sudan, are sometimes pressed into duties outside their typical routine. Tom Valiquett is a pharmaceutical scientist who joined a team from Virginia on a mission trip in 2012. He found himself at the head of a classroom, but had the credentials to make it work.

Learn how you can help educate a child, educate a nation

Thrilling Adventure

Ditched my companions in Firenze today and got on a train back to Northern Italy to see the birthplace of my bike. Yes, going to see the Wilier factory in Rossano Veneto, which will be a thrill. Exchanged emails with a contact there who said he’d show me around the factory for 30 minutes or so. I brought some riding gear (shoes, jersey, shorts, pedals) in backpack in hopes I can ride one of their top-of-the-line bikes. Meanwhile, the others are off to Serena, in the heart of Tuscany…so everyone’s happy!

I’ve been gone for more than a month and have enjoyed being away from the US. Life is certainly simpler over here. Cars are smaller, toilets more efficient: two buttons, for no. 1 (less water) and no. 2 (hearty flow). We’ve used the trains to perfection, without missing a start or connection, including today. Men and women dress well when they’re out and about and, other than the French youth, are typically quiet.

As I’m writing this, a two-year-old is screaming nonstop with her parents powerless to stop her. I remind myself that my kid would never show me up like that. Leaving Sacramento for Atlanta I was seated a row behind TWO screeching kids and their oblivious parents. Guess my run of good travel luck was about to run out.

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Looking at the train’s marketing magazine beside me with Matt Damon on the cover. It’s in Italian so I can’t comprehend everything that’s discussed, but I do imagine I’m Jason Bourne on the streets of South Sudan, Paris, London and Firenze. Throughout our European jaunt, I’ve frequently found myself, or made myself, separated from the others. I prefer to walk and tour at my own pace. As I wander alone at Versailles or on the streets, I pretend that I’m Bourne or Leon Panetta, tasked with finding an individual in a city, teeming with smoking teens.

I prefer not to be a tourist. It’s too hard. I’d rather not compete with the crowds and be herded through museums and other exhibits. I would prefer to reside in a place or community with a job to do, ilike we did in South Sudan. Not that there’s much to see there.

I’ve been blessed throughout this trip, with safe travels, remarkable experiences and happenings. God has been very faithful to me, answering every prayer, and being present at all times. I could not have asked for anything more.

Finding My Space

I truly feel myself
When I’m by myself
My trip to Rossano
From Firenze
Tested me in every way…
Trust my instincts, decisions

Of course I thank the Lord
For preparing my way
For bringing people
Into my path

My language and
Communication skills
Were on notice
And served me well

I never felt threatened
Or even lonely
Though I travelled alone
God’s presence was
My constant shadow

I really like this lifestyle
I don’t miss the USA
And all its trappings
I like freedom of movement
Without cars and Big Oil

Planes and trains
And dreaming of bikes
Brought me to these far off
Continents

I’m not a tourist
That is too hard
I am a world citizen
Who enjoys a variety
Of experiences

I’ve had great moments
And a few I regret
The person within
Relates well to all
Black, white, yellow and other
Whether we speak the same
Language or not

Our relationship is defined
By the eyes and what’s
In the heart
It’s been all good for me

Been away a long while
Next week I head for home
Weeks of wonderment
Will be boiled down to days,
Hours, minutes

I give thanks again
And again
I’ve turned many pages in my life
These past five weeks
Quickly, with anticipation
To see what God
Will write next

19 June 2012

Nearing the End

June 22

Today we leave Bologna, Italy, and board a train and head to Innsbruck where we’ll have six minutes to catch another train to our final destination near Garmish, Germany. It will be in Edelweiss country, in the Alps. Everyone who knows it says it will be spectacular.

It’s our last stop before we head back to US on Tuesday. We’ve been many places and seen spectacular things. South Sudan was wonderful and is at the top.

What I’ve enjoyed most, what I’ll remember and what my heart will deeply long for is the incredible presence of God throughout this journey.

I couldn’t have done very much on my own without him. My ham-handed, stubborn approach would have been a recipe for failure. But not to worry.

I’ve never felt alone, even when I was alone. God prepared people along the way–every day–for me. Maybe he knew I’d need him with his “A” game to get me through all of this.

My faith has grown these five weeks: so rich and deep and constant. I felt God’s call to see and document the world I’ve never seen before I left. It has been affirmed again and again and my faith has grown from there.

When I return home, I’ll have memories, photos and videos to enjoy and share with others.

But the greatest treasure is one I’ll work hard, and pray hard, to keep:  my relationship with the father, son and Holy Spirit. 

No matter where I walk, he will be with me always. Through faith, I will drop what I must and join him.

South Sudan Diary May 31-June 5: The Last Days

THURSDAY

Drove to Abundant Life Primary School in the morning to meet with Abraham Maker, a former Hope & Resurrection student, now teaching young students. Received a warm welcome from headmaster and staff. Abraham presented me with with my Dinka name: Patrick Majok, named for a black and white steer or cow, a prized possession.

Shot video of Abraham in classroom with young students learning multiplication tables. Very eager students under his care.

Returned to clinic to pick up Elizabeth and head to Atiaba. She will stay the night at the school with Marcellina. Packed up my mosquito net, as I now have several beds with nets from which to choose for sleep.

Another rugged ride to school, in time to have interview with Marcellina and lunch with the chicken Jennifer we enjoyed the past few days. Broth and meat were nice additions to the rice. Vultures and a couple of brown eagles were aware of the food and were loitering in the area. With teacher Dennis’ help, we prepared a plate with a piece of chicken, placed it on the ground. Within seconds the vultures crept closer, but we shoo’ed then away. Then the eagle flew in and snatched the treat with ease. Got it on camera.

Think often of where I am–in the middle of Africa. Usually when I travel a long ways, there is opportunity for recreation. I’ve jumped rope with Dr. Clarke several days. But not much time is spent rejuvenating; no time is spent poolside. There are absolutely no creature comforts in South Sudan. It’s not like a getaway trip to do a little 9-5 church work. You are “all in” here, make or break, 24/7. There is no cooling off place in these parts. Jennifer comments constantly about her grumpiness or pressure she feels. Yet there is no intentional effort to diffuse it.

Recreation must be what you make of it: a nap, a book, a conversation. I remember the garden setting of Tamambo in Nairobi, a beautiful, oasis in the huge Kenyan city. It reminds me, again, of a previous Caribbean holiday with Dad and Tom.
I know my time is growing short here and that a reunion with Rob in London beckons. I know that I will miss this school and the clinic and the faraway place it has taken my heart. Life will again envelope me and my feelings will begin to fade for South Sudan and this  adventure.

SATURDAY

Said our goodbyes at Akot Medical Clinic and set out for the school at Atiaba. Taped a few standups with Jennifer. Drove off to Rumbek, which took barely an hour. First stop,was Governor’s House, where we met with governor of Lakes State. Jennifer led conversation and told him about the progress at the school, and made several requests, including access to top students in the region, a storage container and other items.

From there we went to Pan Door, a catholic Guest House run by Italian missionaries, one of which was from Lake Maggiore. Facility had restaurant, private rooms with flush toilets. Met Arnold of the staff, who engaged me by speaking in French.
Ran errands with Cleous, including trip for a battery in Rumbek’s market area. Stood at corner with Jen and EB for 15-20 minutes. Was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. We really stood out, but tried not to, as some amazing characters passed back and front before us. Reminded me of a Star Wars bar scene.

For dinner we went to Akot’s Tukul compound. He was joined by Ben G, another government associate. Had beverages and dinner (finger food) served to us. Akot’s father later showed up, who stayed with Jen in Virginia several years ago. I was anxious to leave when wind whipped up, threatening rain, some made hasty departure.
A cold Tusker beer was enjoyed before bed

SUNDAY

Arose for breakfast and worship with Loreto Catholic Secondary School for girls. Wonderful service, deacon from Cameroon was great homilist. Afterwards met with charming students.

Left Pan Door for African Expeditions, or Afex, and safari-like setting. Disappointed with trash on my porch, but otherwise OK. Received visit from Akot, Priscilla, Deborah and a former student named Daniel who arrived wearing a blue Oakridge shirt. Took picture and was really amazed.

Had nice buffet supper with pork chops, greens. Had a couple of fine Bells Ugandan beers with the ladies before bed.

MONDAY

Slept OK, but up early. Listened to music. Met for breakfast and were visited again by Akot and another friend/associate. Checked out of room and waited at ALS room for flight to arrive.

Walked 40 yards to airport to begin bag check, boarding process. Went smoothly for us. An inbound student from Virginia, Joel, who will join Clarke at Akot clinic, arrived from Nairobi. He was hung up with immigration officer attempting to extort another $100, just as we experienced. Jen tried to help but to no avail. He paid a “tax” of $50 and we said our farewells.

Flights on Beechcraft plane back to Nairobi were pleasant enough. Took photos of cumulonimbus and terrain. Met at airport by driver Patrick, Maker and Angelina at about 5:30. Decision made to go directly to Kenyatta Airport for supper and flight to London.

Checked my duffel bag with tripods, along with laptop and camera to Virginia with the ladies. Felt relieved and unencumbered. On escalator to departure level, I saw profile of man. I got off, walked around and asked, “Jock Boyer?” It was he! Had a great conversation and photos with he and his wife, Kimberly. It was an incredible moment for me, another example of God’s presence in my heart. I was truly excited. Later, when we went to coffee shop for dinner, took photos with several Team Rwanda cyclists.

Bought a few African souvenirs, put them in camera bag with Jen for safe keeping. Boarded 777 to London and set off on time. Impossible to sleep despite two Ambien. Maybe got 2 hrs.

TUESDAY

Took photos of France’s Mediterranean coastline under darkness, which was cool. Arrived early. Got to a fork in the road, where connecting flights went one direction and passport control, customs went another. More photos, prayers, hugs and kisses with Jennifer and Elizabeth and our final goodbyes.

Sailed through security and customs quite quickly. Got to airport waiting entrance, where Immediately spied Matt “Today Show” Lauer arriving. Intercepted him briefly for a photo. Great get!

I waited for a bit, then called Rob’s cell and left a message that I was ready for pickup. He arrived about 90 minutes later, saying my instructions said “5:55 p.m.” DOH!
Made some tourist rounds, saw refurbished Wembly Stadium, took photo crossing Abbey Road. Met Frances, daughters Emily, Anna and Isobel. Picked up a few things and visited nearby friend for some snacks, wine, pleasantries. It was fun. Watched French Open match between Tsonga-Djokovic. Back home, called Virginia et all for 20 minutes, declined dinner and went to bed. Asleep quickly.

South Sudan Diary May 26-30: Dynamic Changes

SATURDAY

A relaxed day today with a later start to H&R school. School not in session so the only ones present were Anthony, the headmaster, and the Ugandan teachers. Shot a Dinka language lesson with Fr. Paul, a tour introduction with Anthony. Helped Tom with classroom cleanup and rearranging pavilion seating. Lunch of rice, beans and goat meat. Skies threatened in early afternoon.

By departure at 3:30 p.m. winds picked up. Four of us in the back of truck when skies opened. Quite a thrill, reminding me of an earlier Caribbean vacation with my father and brother in 1972. Everything drenched–needed to wash shirt, pants, socks anyway.

Darryl allowed me to use his phone to call home. Talked with Virginia who updated me on her security plans. She had not heard from Dan on the occasion of his birthday. Ugandan teachers joined me on phone with birthday song for Dan. Interesting time back at the clinic, meeting Billy White, retired Army now evangelizing in Africa. Clarke, the resident doctor from Charleston, quite engaging as well.

SUNDAY

Lengthy worship at Akot cathedral. Bishop Isaac presiding over worship service. Ran 2.5 hours. Singing, clapping, drums, preaching in Dinka and English. Youth entered from rear of church. Afterwards, some socializing. Took photos of kids, swarmed by them when displaying shots. Rest day at clinic. Most of team went to full immersion baptism.

WEDNESDAY

Said goodbye to five of our team who left for home. Paul+, Tom, Darryl, Karen and Emily all provided warm friendship and encouragement for me. Tom did several stints as a teacher and was a “jack of all trades.” I will surely miss him and the others. The dynamic changes as the team is reduced to three.

Walked to Atiaba market (1/2 mile) with student Elizabeth. Visited her Tukul, members of extended family. Will walk with her on Friday. Jennifer and EB shopped for some items from each of three vendors, spending about 20 South Sudanese pounds. After lunch, students performed a celebratory dance, with pounding drums. Very good to videotape.

After school there was a soccer match at the nearby pitch. Start of game was held up because ball was caught in a tree. Lulu Trees are not cut because they produce a fruit which is ground into a cosmetic paste, so there are living impediments on the field–and they are in play. Before match, all players and the referee came to greet EB and me. Somewhat hard to shoot a game while standing on sideline. Missed first goal, left shortly thereafter. Drove back to clinic, surviving the rough road. With five members of team having left, there were fewer “backseat drivers” critiquing my efforts.

South Sudan Diary May 23-25: On the Ground

WEDNESDAY
Left Nairobi early Wednesday morning, after a day touring parts of the city. Went to an elephant orphanage, enjoyed a fabulous lunch on a former coffee plantation. Reminded me of a outdoor garden restaurant like you would find in the Caribbean.

Leaving Kenya wasn’t as difficult as I feared. While there was plenty of “hurry up and wait,” we made a successful passage. Arriving in Rumbek, South Sudan, after a refueling stop in Lokichoggio, we were hustled by local gendarmes. They attempted to extort another 160 pounds each for our visas, despite the fact that all fees were paid in DC.

We were greeted with wonderful warm welcome when we arrived at the Hope & Resurrection School in Atiaba. Took video of song-filled ceremony.

THURSDAY
Thursday was a long day. After breakfast of oatmeal and powdered milk, we went to the school for chapel. Everywhere we go we get seats up front and are treated like special guests. Lots of video shot at the school. We had a late morning tea in the teacher’s lounge. After lunch, school was dismissed to attend funeral for local soldier in Sudan Civil War.

Once again we got the best seats in the house, before a crowd of 2000+. We were allowed to see and photograph the casket. Then we sat through a dozen or more speakers, who used mostly Dinka to communicate to their brothers and sisters. Only when a plate offering was collected from us were we able to buy our way back to the school.

It was warmer today, and I jumped rope when we got back to school. Rope is about finished as I untangled it constantly, sweating profusely. Recharged batteries before and after dinner. Shared meal with Baptist group serving at another school. Combined our evening worship with song and reflection.

FRIDAY
Woke up to damp bedding. Very humid overnight and this morning. Perspired greatly but had plenty of electrolyte drink and felt good throughout. Another long day at the school. We had tire trouble early and arrived at the school late so we missed morning devotion.

Shot one interview with Abraham using the iPhone. Turned out well, I think. Got lots of video from the classroom, with the Ugandan staff teachers and Tom Valiquett from our team.

Thunder was in the distance in the morning. After lunch, lightning, thunder and downpours interrupted afternoon classes. Allowed for restful moments. Worked with Darryl to resolve power generator issue, at least temporarily.

Learned today that when Darryl leaves with first group next week, I, as the remaining male, will be responsible for driving to and from school. It may be challenging, with right-hand drive and very difficult roads.

Today is son Dan’s 21st birthday. Called his cell to sing “Happy Birthday,” joined by enthusiastic Ugandan teachers…

Countdown to Fulfillment

Faith has been described as belief in the things not seen. After years of anticipation, I leave for my video ministry trip to South Sudan in a matter of hours.

The excitement is constant. I whittle my checklist several times a day. It’s a far cry from how I’ve typically conducted my business–at the last minute. For this trip, I’ve been doing a little bit each day for weeks, getting shots, organizing travel docs, packing my luggage…so I won’t have a big panic attack as the airport shuttle arrives.

Earlier this week a friend asked me about this upcoming adventure, which will have me out of the country for six weeks. “Do you consider this trip as a signal of big change in your life,” I was asked.

No, I responded. This opportunity fulfills my destiny in life.

Years ago, I took a swing at sportscasting, my original love. Then it was more than two decades in a state cubicle farm, moving paper from here to there, creating talking points and reassuring taxpayers that all was well.

I enjoyed those work experiences at times, made great friends along the way. Inside me, though, there was a constant sense of greater work ahead.

Forty years ago, my father, brother and I spent a month in a church rectory on the island of Antigua, in the Caribbean Sea. We had a beautiful, secure home, with plumbing, and electricity. In the community around us, residents had corrugated tin roofs over their heads, carried buckets to a common well to get their water. The youth played soccer on a rock-strewn pitch. As a young teenager, it was my first exposure to a different way of life from what I enjoyed in the opulent US. It was also a foreshadowing of what awaits me next week.

My TV career fueled an interest in writing and video production. Over the years, as Apple improved its product line and made desktop publishing and non-linear video production accessible and easy, I polished skills and awaited the call.

A first opportunity came as newsletter editor for my local bishop. I produced a monthly newsletter for nearly ten years, while juggling a full-time job with my role as a new father, husband, Little League coach, and executor. More skills and contacts were developed, then placed on hold in anticipation.

Years of service with my local church put me in relationship with wonderful, selfless individuals, who served others as missionaries, instructors, pastors and cheap labor. I watched the mission trips affect lives. I participated for the first time and felt a renewed sense of purpose. I worshipped with a couple who sought missionary work in retirement. Their prayers were answered as God led them to South Sudan and elsewhere.

Their experience and my interest made for an easy match. An introduction was made to the organization that founded and operates a secondary school in South Sudan. They could use what I possess. In December 2011, my call was confirmed.

It’s hard to be in the moment on the journey. We just want to see where we’re going and not get tripped. Looking back, I can see many instances where a still, quiet voice inside me, or a friend beside me, nudged me in a direction that set me on this path. I say daily prayers for guidance and quiet confidence.

My journey has been long, with distractions and failures along the way. My compass has been influenced by prayer and loyal friends. They’ve encouraged me to regain my footing and find my voice. I am being fulfilled.