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.

IMG_0055

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)

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.

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.

Uganda is My Family

Been back from Uganda for about five weeks. I’m homesick.

I had a wonderful time in the Pearl of Africa. For more than five months, I enjoyed adventure, friendships and a sense of being in a place where I am loved, welcomed and appreciated. Kind of like being in the living room at a family gathering.

kida meal

Nothing was better than being invited into a home, to share a meal and time together. I felt honored to be in the midst of those with a gift of hospitality. Shared times, shared stories, laughs and food. Families do that. I’m fortunate to be considered a member of several African families.

What is it about this place that attracts me so much? Well, people are real, they’re authentic. No one puts on airs. If they want to impress their guests, they do so by extending a hand in friendship.

I learned a lot through these visits and meals. There’s sharing, there’s support, good conversation. My Rukiga improved and my appetite grew to appreciate the African diet.

The holiday season here at home is about to begin. Families will gather for their annual Thanksgiving or Christmas party. Memories will be made.

This year, you’ll have to excuse me if I seem to go through the motions. My heart will be elsewhere, longing to share precious moments with my family in Uganda.

My friend, the bishop…

Our meeting a year ago was providential. My luggage was delayed a couple of days and I had to remain in Kampala at the Namirembe Guest House.

During my extended stay, I encountered a man dressed in a blue blazer, purple shirt and collar. Being a PK with years of experience in the church, I recognized the Anglican bishop and stood up to greet him, Bishop Enoch Kayeeye. Phone numbers were exchanged and within a month, I found myself outside his compound in Kabale, hundreds of kilometers away near the Rwandan border.

I returned to Kabale this year in April to see my friend and discuss projects we could perform together…

Our relationship has grown to be one of mutual friendship and support. He is a great visionary, with a wonderful family and history of serving others in DRC (Congo) and Uganda.

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.

License to Live

Errand day in Southwest Uganda. Am short on shillings so I must travel 40km to Kihihi, home of the lifeblood of cash–an ATM machine. Need a couple of passport photos and a haircut. If lucky, I’ll knock out those chores, buy my driver a rolex (not THAT, but a couple of scrambled eggs rolled in a chapati, like a tortilla), and get back to Bwindi before lunch.

Everything is pretty cheap here in rural Uganda. There are a number of neighborhood markets, selling wash soap, biscuits (cookies), sodas, sandals, produce. I like to spoil the aba kazi (women) in the Communications Office with biscuits, a somosa or donut. Keeps them happy.

Call Johnson, one of my favorites, a soft-spoken but loyal boda (motorbike) driver for the the one hour-plus ride over unpaved roads to our destination.

johnson plate

Fairly early in today’s journey, I hear a metallic sound hitting the ground. I don’t turn figuring we ran over something. Foreshadowing.

I arrived here in March during the “rainy season.” I saw more rain in the first 6-8 weeks than my Northern California home has seen in two years (20 inches). Traveling during the rainy months is difficult, as the dirt roads get wasted. Most are not engineered properly so water flows down the streets, carving huge channels. Oh, and climbing a hill in a small car is always exciting.

I miss the rainy season.

Since mid-May, the rain has given way to the dry season. Days and nights are mostly clear, the roads firm. But the dust is plentiful, overwhelming, a health concern.

When cars, trucks or bodas drive by, they kick up a cloud of dust that will envelop anyone walking. If I don’t take a handkerchief while I walk to cover my face, I’m asking for trouble in the form of sinus infection or worse.

On our ride to Kihihi today we encounter a couple of large trucks that throw up blinding dust in our way. Nevertheless, it went pretty well. Once we parked in front of the bank, we noticed the license plate of the boda was missing. Wait. Was that the metallic sound hitting the ground that I heard?

OK, so will that be a problem? I go to the bank, to the photo place next door while Johnson gets a temporary permit. Meantime, power is out in the town at 11 a.m. so the photo place cannot print my photos, and the barber’s clippers won’t operate.

We walk to the roadside rolex place, order a couple and relax.

After the meal, we climb on the boda and head home. Being the faithful optimist that I am, I feel confident that we can find the AWOL plate, so long as no one picked it and tossed it.

About 20km to go to Bwindi, we stop in Butogota where Johnson chats with boda drivers waiting under a shade tree. He explains his issue, some of them nod and exclaim before we move on. Still I’m fairly certain we will get a…the phone rings.

Johnson reverses course as someone has found the plate and is holding it. We double back three minutes, meet Enoch, a store owner who shows the plate. He found it, notified someone, who may have notified someone else who notified Johnson. I was trying to learn the exact sequence but this Primary-4 level speaker had some difficulty keeping up with the advanced-level local Rukiga.

Nevertheless, it was nothing short of a miracle, I believe, that we recovered the plate. It was all fairly easy. Given my proclivity to thank the Lord for anything and everything, we assigned the credit to Mukama.

The Lord has been so faithful to me during these five months. He hears my every call and complaint. Answers come quickly.

I am blessed. I love my life here with these people, speaking in their tongue, having never felt so free and authentic. Things always work out.

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…

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!

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.