The American ideal of exceptionalism lies in tatters for the world to see.
This land of the free and the brave we sing about? There is no freedom here, not when fear and resentment, paramilitary weapons plus the lies and endless rhetoric from the mouthy king of division has Americans at each other’s throats.
It was a hate-filled spectacle as thousands of white males swarmed their US Capitol, out of a perverted sense of duty, to pummel and kill their brothers so to hang on to the bleached version of America they believe is solely theirs.
America is in denial. It has utterly failed to reckon with its irredeemable racism. More than four hundred years of cruelty and murder of African Americans on our shores has yet to abate, despite repeated scenes of the unwarranted deaths of our neighbors in the streets at the hands of those sworn to protect all of us. The self-proclaimed “law and order” president could hardly be bothered to comment on the death of George Floyd, a seminal event in 2020 that demanded the attention of most everyone else in the world.
A much-ballyhooed wall project to keep brown-skinned ghosts from invading the US seems more a monument to racism and fear of the stranger than a deterrent.
In the ultimate irony, conservative, evangelical Christians have lifted up our 45th president, bestowing their title of “greatest ever” upon him. The savior, the influential Jesus Christ, said the first and greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The second, he said, is like it: “love your neighbor as yourself.” A lot has been lost in the translation by our pious neighbors and friends.
On November 3, the incumbent president was taken to the woodshed by the American people. The wide margin of victory was earned in cities with heavy black voter participation: Detroit, Philadelphia and Atlanta. Key swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia went blue in a big way to put the new team over the top.
What a defeat for the thin-skinned, fearful white majority who ushered in a nationalist president who also lost the popular vote in 2016. Oh, how they supported the Muslim ban, marched and chanted anti-semitic taunts in Charlottesville. To disqualify black voters in those states was the apparent motive of those who continue to shout about “irregularities” and voter fraud, none of which has surfaced in any significant amount.
The emasculated white American male had a friend in the president who promised to fight for those forgotten ones. He played a mean zero-sum game, which is a lousy deal for our republic. Every hard-won advance by our black, brown or Asian brothers and sisters was framed as a loss for light-skinned under-achievers. A rising economic tide will only raise those vessels which aren’t sabotaged by bigots and racists.
Desperately fighting to stave off a humiliating loss at the hands of enlightened voters of all colors, the president exhorted supporters to “fight much harder. … because you’ll never take back our country with weakness.” Translation: the other party will try to pry open the door to full participation by Africans, Mexicans, Asians and others…and in the zero-sum affair that must not prevail. The implication was to do whatever it takes. Video shows enraged Americans beating a public-serving police officer with flags and whatever else they could muster. Blue lives matter no more than black ones when you’re egged on into a violent frenzy.
For more than 200 years we’ve yearned to live free and seek the mythical American Dream, where everyone <wink> is given the opportunity to achieve their goals and dreams. How many more decades will it take for America to finally realize its creed that all men are created equal?
Poverty is commonplace throughout East Africa. However, I am talking about economic or material poverty, not a poverty of spirit, fellowship or joy. That is what has encouraged me and attracted me to Uganda and the region. Despite crushing poverty the people are beautiful, hospitable, friendly. They will be honored to serve you the fruits of their labor and their land: rice and beans, cooked matooke (bananas) and maybe even a chicken if they have it.
The very best days that I’ve had were when I was deep in the village with little or no power, no wifi or reliable phone service. Slept at a lodge under construction. Nothing fancy…a bed and a wooden patio overlooking the Impenetrable Forest. Just to be outside under the stars, sharing with friends everything I had and what I know about the cosmos. I miss those days.
In the capital city of Kampala and nearby Entebbe there are neighborhoods that are prospering, with well-made houses and gated security. Not far from these nice western-style homes are dozens of mud-walled and dirt-floored shelters that children call home. It is a blight and hard on the eyes. Looking deeper, though, you can see joy and hear songs of laughter despite the absence of any worldly possessions.
To me we have so much to learn about a life of simplicity. What is truly important?
Last month I completed probably the most challenging of all my trips to Africa.
I travelled halfway around the world with my daughter, 21-month old Divine. Mommy stayed behind while I set out for what was to be a three-week trip.
A few days before we left, I sent a 500-pound shipment of solar supplies and LED lights to Uganda. The plan was to meet up with it over there and take it for installation at a village primary school.
As it turned out traveling with a toddler in her terrible two’s was really one of the easiest parts. I met up with delays and bureaucracy which tested my patience and my faith.
I’ve traveled to East Africa each year since 2012.
At my church outside Sacramento, we had a couple of retired teachers who helped found a secondary school in South Sudan. I was a video producer with lots of equipment and eager to see the world.
A few conversations and it was all set up. I joined the NGO team from Virginia as a video guy to get clips and stories to share with donors and sponsors on the great work they and the Lord were doing to educate Dinka boys and girls.
When I returned home, one of the first people I saw was a doctor friend who was visiting our church to talk about his medical mission in Uganda. I met him several years earlier. He spoke about bringing health care from the West to some of the poorest people in the world…the Batwa Pygmies.
I was excited to see Doctor Scott…and told him I had just returned from Sudan. What he started as a field medical clinic, with drip lines hanging from tree branches, and treating long lines of patients with malaria, pneumonia and other preventable diseases had turned into an international effort.
With help from individuals and Rotary International, a private hospital was built, with an administration building and nursing mothers hostel. After hearing so much about it I told Doctor Scott I was ready to visit. He said, sure. Let’s talk about it.
Years in the making
I grew up in a church family. I come from two generations of Episcopal clergy.
I was active in the church as a youngster: in the choir, the youth group. Decades later I was still active in my local church as an adult.
The difference was the prayers, the psalms, the hymns that I said and sang for so many years became part of me.
After a while you don’t need the song sheets; the words and music are in your heart. You learn to know pretty much where to turn to find scripture.
And when you see examples of Godly men and women in your life, like Doctor Scott, my father and mother, and other forebears, well, you want to be like them and keep that train running.
The point I want to make is that by the time I went to Africa in 2012, I was prepared. I had spent years and years learning about the Lord, and learning to love my neighbor..wherever they are. It was high time to live the Gospel.
Now, I never thought that I would visit Africa, let alone visit five countries there and marry one of their daughters. It wasn’t my plan.
All of it, however, was God’s plan.
I eased into these trips, in South Sudan and Uganda. We’ve all heard the saying: “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” My relationship with God and his people at church landed me right in the heart of one of the greatest mission fields on earth. I hardly broke a sweat.
After that first trip, I would sit outside at night, and while I flossed my teeth under the stars, I asked the Lord to send me back. I wanted to meet more of my brothers and sisters in Africa. I wanted their stories and lifestyles to be seared into my soul.
Simple life, hard life
We have a lifestyle in the west unmatched in history. We have housing with toilets, showers, HD TVs, computers, electricity. And on and on. Most of the world does NOT live like us.
Life is much more difficult in developing countries. Most people don’t have savings accounts let alone 401(k)s. They don’t drive to the supermarket, fill carts with groceries and pay for it all on a bank card.
Over there, it’s a simple life but it’s hard. Throughout East Africa, families plant crops—from beans, to potatoes to vegetables—to grow their food. Anything extra they can sell.
In the villages, people build their own houses, using sticks and mud as walls.
The people I saw there had very little in the way of material possessions. They have no capital. They may own land, for their houses and gardens, goats and cows. They walk wherever they are going. They might get a ride on a lorry, or small truck, or motorcycle.
What they have in abundance, however, is joy. They worship the Lord. Everybody knows the songs, even the harmonies. They jump and shout and praise. It’s like being in heaven. People of many colors and voices and languages. I’m sure that’s what heaven will be like!
Ugandans are social beings. They don’t sit inside their houses. They are outside and greet those who pass by. They have big extended families and lots of celebrations and feasts, for introductions and weddings, thanksgivings, even funerals.
Contrast that to what we know about life in America. Many times we don’t even know our neighbors. We have cars, smart phones, vacations and debt. More stress and less happiness.
We have everything they don’t have. And they have something a lot of us crave…community, love of the Lord and joy.
I tell you, I was attracted to all of that like a moth to the light.
In these last seven years, I have FINALLY been in alignment with God’s plan for my life. I have felt authentic, the REAL Patrick. A human BEING instead of a human DOING.
I don’t need to put up facades or walls in front of my personality. I want to love my neighbors. And laugh with them. And speak their languages and eat their food.
I lived among them. I lived in their homes. I’m not a doctor, I’m not a teacher or an engineer. Yet I learned I had a lot to share.
In Romans 12, 6-8 NIV, Paul writes, “we have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy; if it is serving, then serve, if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
God has given me every provision for my life and work in Africa. I had the time to do this work. I raised some money, and started a charity, to help support this work. And, perhaps most importantly, God put his people in my path. There are many over there who LOVE ME.
Can we all agree there is nothing better than being loved?
I am so blessed and so grateful to God. That’s why I do this.
Failure not an option
So why did I have such a hard time of it in May?
This trip involved more logistical planning and dealing with third-parties, like airlines, airports and bureaucracies.
All that led to delays. And I and got caught up in my frustration and lost sight of the Lord.
I figured on three weeks in Uganda: to get the shipment, get the solar-powered LED lights installed, visit some projects and friends. What I didn’t expect was to wait an extra 10 days just for the shipment to arrive.
There was the unexpected week of wrangling with the airport. Duties—or taxes—would be paid on our supplies before they would release it to us.
It also meant updating my account with the Uganda Revenue Authority, through which the fees would be paid.
I had to visit the Revenue people three or four times that week. Each day that passed without getting the shipment put me closer to my departure date.
As it turned out, by the time I was to leave for home—May 23— I did not yet have possession of the shipment.
I could not leave without installing the solar systems. My trip would have been a waste of time. So I postponed and rebooked my return trip which was costly. Missed another 10 days of work.
Surely you could understand that I was getting stressed and annoyed?
When everything cleared—the day AFTER I was to leave, I made my final stop at the Revenue Authority office. I got the documents needed, gave them to my brother-in-law, Richard, who took them to the airport to haggle with the authorities. I went to guest house to wait.
He showed up later with the boxed shipment in the truck. We set out for our four-and-a-half hour drive to our staging area and began final preparations for installation.
In the end, it all turned out GREAT. The solar panels were mounted on the roofs of the classrooms and a girls dormitory. The batteries and switch boxes were affixed to the walls inside and the amazing LED light strips came to life.
They were so bright and so beautiful.
Lights in the classrooms will help add another three hours to learning time each day for these young village children—as they did the first night.
By the way, Uganda straddles the equator in Africa. Sunrise and sunset times are pretty consistent throughout the year. In Seattle, where I live, the sun rises before 5:30 in the morning in early summer and sets after 9 at night. In Uganda, it rises around 7 a.m. and sets around 7 p.m. all year long.
As I mentioned, God has always put the right people in my path, from bishops and clergy, to Evelyn’s wonderful family.
Evelyn’s three younger brothers and I are pretty close. They speak very good English while I try to amuse them with my passable Rutooro. We laugh a lot. I rely on them for my transport and housing and other needs while I’m there.
I left my daughter Divine with my wife’s sister and mother. She was surrounded by young cousins on Easter break from the moment she arrived at the family compound. It turned into something like a summer camp experience for her. She was enjoying it there, singing familiar songs, eating the food, learning how to behave.
Our home is too quiet these days!
This story helps illustrate a point that a dear friend made to me in 2011 before my first trip to Africa. At that time I was having a problem getting my US passport. After six months I was still having issues. I complained to Barbara.
In words I have reflected upon many times over the past seven years she said, “if you cannot handle these annoying hurdles then you are NOT ready to do God’s work in the field.”
Gumisiriza, munywani wangye. Patience, the spirit tells me. Persevere and use your resources.
Let go and let God! Just stay out of the way. These are God’s trips, not mine.
In the end it is so simple: Don’t ask God to bless your plans. Ask him to show you his. They’re already blessed!
There are sure signs of Spring. After long months of dormancy, life awakens. Days are getting longer, temperatures inching higher, Trees are budding and pollen counts are rising. Doors are opening once again.
As I share the word of my return to Uganda next week my spirits soar with the joy and appreciation that others express. I am excited about reclaiming the divine call on my life.
Meeting village woman near Butembo, DRC.
I have had conversations with friends from Uganda, South Sudan and DR Congo this week. I’m hoping to meet with all of them, if to do nothing more than share fellowship and dream big dreams.
God set this path before me and for several years I walked well on this journey. It was the most fulfilling time of my life. The past two years, however, as I’ve been abroad in the USA, I have felt estranged from my vocation.
My African experience began in 2012 and has allowed me to use all my skills and instincts. Nothing else compares to the thrill of serving the Lord, meeting his people, speaking their language, sharing a meal. This has moved me so deeply that I found a charity, Team in Faith, to raise money for the neediest people and projects I encounter.
A neighbor friend gives me the business.
We work to lift lives and raise hopes of women, orphans and vulnerable children, and students of all ages. The needs are always there…from a dozen flat-screen monitors and keyboards for a vocational college training more than 500 IT and other entrepreneurs, to 18 beds and mattresses for a new children’s ward at a fine village hospital. These projects will impact lives immediately. Supporting and encouraging them are my life’s work.
I look forward to sharing the highlights of this great opportunity. Please be generous and support us at teaminfaith.org.
When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar.
Everywhere there was civil order, for the arm of the Roman law was long. Everywhere there was stability, in government and in society, for the centurions saw that it was so.
But everywhere there was something else, too. There was oppression — for those who were not the friends of Tiberius Caesar. There was the tax gatherer to take the grain from the fields and the flax from the spindle to feed the legions or to fill the hungry treasury from which divine Caesar gave largess to the people. There was the impressor to find recruits for the circuses. There were executioners to quiet those whom the Emperor proscribed. What was a man for but to serve Caesar?
There was the persecution of men who dared think differently, who heard strange voices or read strange manuscripts. There was enslavement of men whose tribes came not from Rome, disdain for those who did not have the familiar visage. And most of all, there was everywhere a contempt for human life. What, to the strong, was one man more or less in a crowded world?
Then, of a sudden, there was a light in the world, and a man from Galilee saying, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.
And the voice from Galilee, which would defy Caesar, offered a new Kingdom in which each man could walk upright and bow to none but his God. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. And he sent this gospel of the Kingdom of Man into the uttermost ends of the earth.
So the light came into the world and the men who lived in darkness were afraid, and they tried to lower a curtain so that man would still believe salvation lay with the leaders.
But it came to pass for a while in divers places that the truth did set man free, although the men of darkness were offended and they tried to put out the light. The voice said, Haste ye. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you, for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.
Along the road to Damascus the light shone brightly. But afterward Paul of Tarsus, too, was sore afraid. He feared that other Caesars, other prophets, might one day persuade men that man was nothing save a servant unto them, that men might yield up their birthright from God for pottage and walk no more in freedom.
Then might it come to pass that darkness would settle again over the lands and there would be a burning of books and men would think only of what they should eat and what they should wear, and would give heed only to new Caesars and to false prophets. Then might it come to pass that men would not look upward to see even a winter’s star in the East, and once more, there would be no light at all in the darkness.
And so Paul, the apostle of the Son of Man, spoke to his brethren, the Galatians, the words he would have us remember afterward in each of the years of his Lord:
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled
again with the yoke of bondage.
This editorial was written in 1949 by the late Vermont Royster and has been published annually since.
After six years of growing relationships and other-worldly experiences in Africa, I am planted back in the USA. Am recreating the simplicity of life that fed me on the other side of the planet. Fortunately, I have a lot of Africa here with me.
Am happy to have my lovely companion and wife, Evelyn Akiiki, with me. Together we are raising Divine Camilla, now one year old.
We live along Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard in Seattle. Our neighborhood is wonderfully diverse and looks a lot like those places we left behind in Uganda. Somalis and Ethiopians are our neighbors, A Vietnamese woman cuts my hair just right. An African-American pastor leads the nearby neighborhood church.
Ours is a bilingual home. Evelyn is frequently on WhatsApp catching up with news from family members and friends in Uganda. Her conversations in Rutooro or Luganda are conducted too quickly for me to keep pace. We’ll trade greetings in her dialect each day, whether we’re standing side by side or conversing via iPhones. The baby babbles in an attempt to mimic both tongues of the her parents. She gets a daily earful in Mom and Dad’s native languages.
Divine is a walking dynamo, driven by curiosity to get into everything. She and Mom slow down and sit on the floor at meal time, sharing potatoes, rice, millet porridge, vegetables and anything else we’re eating. It’s a beautiful thing to see a healthy baby with an adventurous appetite.
For all the joys Evelyn brings to my life, her love of the Lord and her grasp of appropriate scripture lifts my spirits time and again. It is what really attracted me to her. We share fellowship with the Holy Spirit throughout each day and night.
We thank God for the provision made for us here in America and for what has been built for Team in Faith and ourselves in Africa.
I have been through one of the worst six-month-long experiences, relating to exercise, in my life. Given my schedule, lack of opportunity and multitude of excuses I have not had a regular exercise regimen. As a result I feel my muscles, mind and spirit have atrophied.
I recently moved into a brand-new apartment building. I was thrilled to see that it had a fully-equipped gym. But it would not open for two weeks! That ended today. 😀
I am determined to resume a healthy lifestyle that has lifted me through life‘s ups and downs. Having physical and mental fitness feeds my spiritual health.
It’s a Christmas season like no other I’ve spent. And it’s come on the heels of two Christmas seasons that I’ll never forget.
Christmas 2017 finds me back in California after spending the the previous two in the villages of Uganda.
Holiday lights shine on homes nearby. Traffic backs up near shopping centers. The parking lots look pretty full as bargain-hunters make their pilgrimage to buy toys and gifts for loved ones. It’s a commercial tradition that begins earlier each year.
I am working at a big retailer. It’s a first for me to see the Christmas shopping scene up close.
Crowds come early. The aisles of toys, neatly prepared at the start of the day, are turned into busy avenues of decision-making before the popular attention-grabbers run out.
Parents discretely peak at their wish-lists. Kids often join them in the search for holiday cheer. Young ones play with whatever they can get their hands on then discard it wherever they may. This cultural exercise occurs hour after hour, day after day until it’s time to move on to the next secular holiday.
Ten thousand miles away it was a much calmer scene in the days before the savior’s birth.
While Christmas carols could occasionally be heard over the radio, decorated trees were few. In the homes where I stayed in 2015 and 2016 there were no gifts exchanged. The Ugandans I knew were not awaiting Santa Claus.
Fellowship and community are cultural mainstays in Africa. The celebration of the baby Jesus takes place in the form of worship, family gatherings and feasts.
There is no time like right now to make a great decision. One that will improve your life, lift your spirits, and put you on a pathway to success.
I’ve done that by resigning my job as a morning news producer in the 22nd largest market in the U.S.
For just about anybody else, this would have been a dream job. Great station, great support, lots of fancy tech tools, great team of anchors, reporters, editors, video journalists.
Problem was, it was not for me.
I Was A TV News Producer
When I arrived at the station in June, I had not produced a TV news program for nearly 30 years. To say the industry has changed in the past three decades is like saying civility is dead in D.C. Pretty obvious.
Many layers of jobs have been eliminated in the newsroom. Fewer eyeballs are on the television these days as more are staring into their iPhones and iPads for personalized news and amusing animal videos.
It takes experience and knowledge to coordinate so many sources, while keeping an eye on updates to breaking news stories like hurricanes, earthquakes and Donald Trump tweets. For someone living in the African bush and out of the business for as long as I have been, gaining command over all these elements would take many months. In retrospect, I should have gone to a smaller market to update and refresh my game. Walking into the big leagues was a big-time mistake.
Must Know What I Don’t Know
It was an uphill battle from the moment I sat down. So much to learn, including trying to know what all I didn’t know. I’ve learned things in the past 10 days that would have been helpful to me three months ago. At this level, one is expected to have been around the block a time or two with the technology and to feature social media. For me, in Africa, having electricity was a luxury most days.
TV news remains a dynamic, exciting, fast-paced job. I no longer live and breath it. I don’t need or even want constant updates. My attention is elsewhere.
After more than 22 years in a state-run cubicle farm, I set out to find my life’s work in the mission fields of Africa. Never have I felt more focused or secure in my calling. It revealed the authentic person I am, one without walls or defenses. I discovered my voice and my passion. When I returned to the US in April, I thought I might want to stay stateside for a time and make a living again.
I could not master producing programs of breaking and trivial news, to engage audiences at an early hour. What I love to do instead is build relationships with strangers, speak their language, listen to their stories, and enjoy fellowship over a meal. What I found out in the past three months is there’s no time for that in the newsroom.
My Life’s Work
I have much to share with the ambitious but poor people in Uganda and East Africa. They have great dreams for careers in many professional fields, from accounting, to IT, to business administration. They have no family capital or resources to help pay for tuition or tools. I’ve done all I can through my charity, teaminfaith.org, to provide opportunities that impact the neediest of students.
As I walk out of the newsroom for the last time again, I will leave an operation that’s in very good hands. Energetic, driven, experienced men and women striving to be leaders in the community.
I’m no longer working to help a corporation’s bottom line. Instead I’m devoted to helping lift lives and raise hopes of African families with real-life issues. They are humble, lovely, wonderful people. Life in Uganda is simple, but hard. It’s real life for me. It is time to return and get back to real work.
I’m going to Disneyland! Not the fabled amusement park but something much bigger: America!
A pastor friend and global mission worker characterised the USA as such to me. It’s a good line, with a lot of truth.
Compared to East Africa and Uganda, my home for the past two years, flying 20 hours to get to the US is like flying to see the Magic Kingdom. With relatively smooth roads, non-stop fleets of late-model cars, endless assortment of food and snacks, beautiful homes and residents, all under gorgeous Spring skies.
We thank our forebears in America for building such a magnificent country. We have infrastructure and transportation systems here. We have public education, we have drinking water out of the tap. We have energy and limitless entertainment. It’s a comfortable life. In the fast lane.
Greeting one of my favorite people. A spirited neighbor. She loves us.
It’s a far cry from the quality of life in the villages, small towns or cities of Uganda.
Where I’ve lived in Kisoro District of SW Uganda, there is no power. There are few very cars. There is no industry. There are people walking at all hours of the day. People—mostly women—hard at work as subsistence farmers…ekeing out a living…growing vegetables in their gardens.
It’s a simple life…but it’s not easy.
There’s no glamor here in the village. There are few thrills beyond gatherings of extended families and shared experiences. Night is for sleeping and tomorrow demands more of the same labor-intensive effort.
The pace is slow here in the village, overlooking the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Well-heeled tourists come and go in Land Rovers bound for four-star accommodations and appointments with the mountain gorilla.
Residents here look up and gaze into the vehicles at the visitors. Lives are not so adventurous, not so exciting.
They live as their ancestors did, cultivating in rhythm with the rains and without. It’s not a destination here but a way of life.
As I return to the many conveniences of modern living, I find that I very much miss the simplicity and the sounds of a village life. People on foot always pass, and we can share a wave and a greeting. Some locals bring us irish potatoes or a chicken for our supper. Drums and voices carry a long way over the regions.
There is community here, worship on Sundays, visits and meals shared.
If Disneyland is “the happiest place on earth” then here in Ryarutagara is one of the simplest.
Beginning year six in East Africa. From an inauspicious start, I’ve managed to take root here, make friends, learn languages, find success.
What is success? Making a long putt for par? Closing a deal with a sought-after client? Raising upstanding children? Before we can answer the contemporary question of “what does success look like?” we must first define it.
Personal or professional
I’ve had a lifelong conflict trying to balance my personal life with my professional goals. My first career as a TV sportscaster-producer took me to more (TV) markets than Joe Carcione (The Green Grocer)! I was chasing the dream I had since pre-teens. The multiple daily deadlines, ever-changing challenges. It was exhilarating and exhausting. I moved a lot in nine years, bouncing from here and there to move up the ladder, in prestige and pay, until I ran out of gas.
After a transition period of about 18 months, I was selected for a state civil service job in San Francisco. I was plucked out of an overnight cable news shift in Los Angeles–300 miles from my home–and never looked back.
That first year I began to achieve a professional-personal balance in my life. I commuted to The City from my mother’s East Bay home. Took public transit every single day, without fail. Made friends, had fun, started my run as a public information officer. After a year I was back in the state capital, sleeping at home, commuting to work on Light Rail, and training for my first of four marathons.
After my son was born it was time to get him baptized, as generations of forebears did with their young progeny. A Christian community was found with activities, suppers and prayers. I had grown up a generation earlier in the church rectory where we hosted such events. This was a back-to-the-future moment. It felt familiar. And friendly.
More state jobs meant more pay and responsibilities. Soon I was cycling 25 miles to work, achieving fitness while sharpening my sword. We found a new church which was about to undertake a profound step in faith to embrace debt and build a wonderful worship center for the community. I was all-in.
As my career and family grew, so did my spiritual gifts. I became a regular worship leader as a member of the choir, a performing sketch artist on designated Sundays and a participant and contributor in an ecumenical revival movement. I found time–no, made time–to enjoy God’s great outdoors with a cadre of friends on our cool road bikes.
From where I sit now those were the greatest of days. My son completed university and was focused on his next steps. I was climbing some of the great hills and mountains from the coastal range to the Sierra Nevada.
Yet that still, small voice inside me said it was time for more.
Across the pond
From my days in the rectory and hours in the pews, I always had this sense of a higher calling. Summoning me from child’s play, from the cubicle farm, the rat race. An opportunity was born in the fall of 2011, just weeks after I retired from my state career. I could visit a secondary school in South Sudan with my video cameras. That meant making critical connections, getting a passport, and crossing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. I didn’t have far to go. The school was founded by retired educators and friends at my church in Cameron Park. A new door was opened, a new life beckoned.
This journey has not been difficult. Traveling 10,000 miles to Africa has unfolded naturally, easily. Almost as if it was preordained. I first arrived on this continent without knowing a single person. In Christian communities where I landed in South Sudan, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, I was welcomed by brothers and sisters who knew the Lord as I did. They grew up in strong communities where hospitality is a cultural norm.
I have stepped toward them, learning their languages, sharing my faith and humor and wealth. I have been rewarded with their friendships, smiles and love.
Answer the question!
So what is success? I’ve missed more par putts than I’ve made, but I’ve cycled and traveled a road few peers have followed. While I worked. While I worshipped. While I helped raise an outstanding young man.
Success is a balanced life: Love and laughter, pain and forgiveness, selfishness and selflessness. It is making money and making amends. Structure and spontaneity. Climbing the challenging peaks and coasting home. Remembering friends and loved ones, and making new ones on the other side of the world.
Many years ago a great mentor of mine, now deceased, told me why he never owned a television.
He said “why would I invite unsavory characters into my home?” The motion picture industry, maybe in cahoots with NRA, has fed us never ending spectacle of sex and violence…for decades and decades. Is it any wonder why our culture is so violent!
Today’s popular social media platform Facebook, to me, is becoming a day-care center for ignorant and uneducated voices to shout any unsubstantiated fact as fact. Trump is a genius. He’s figured this out, while other respectable men and women watch…and complain. He’s a media creation, now with a legion of anti-social followers.
So I think back to what my old headmaster, the Rev Peter Farmer, told me in Gualala some years back. The chatter on Facebook disturbs me. Do I want to continue to be a member of this community? I choose to be discreet or silent in my political rants on FB while others fuel the flames of hyper-partisanship.
Like with the TV, maybe I turn off the computer and quiet the vacuous voices and violent images and focus on relationships that edify me and which I treasure. I’ve posted my share of lunch item shots and silly cats playing.
It’s been child’s play. Now is the time for me to leave the kids table and join the adults.
Just returned from a 40-minute walk around Ft. Portal in western Uganda. I greeted everyone I encountered in the local language. I was met with smiles, surprise, conversation. It was a thrill. The simplest of pleasures. And it never gets old.
One word triggers it all. Hello. Orrirota. Agandi. Wabukire. Habari. Bonjour. With a simple, friendly greeting, we can open doors to new relationships and possibilities. We can engage a neighbour in conversation, share a bit of ourselves, learn something. It costs nothing but a few moments of time but the rewards are gratifying.
I’ve found my life’s work in Africa. What is it exactly? If it’s nothing but greeting people and lifting spirits, that’s more than enough for me. I support entrepreneurs and students through my charity, Team in Faith. There are plenty of bonuses in helping others.
Throughout each day, I get many opportunities to greet people who, on the outside, are not at all like me. Can there be a bigger difference between a middle-class white guy and my black brothers and sisters here?
Racial and socio-economic differences aside, we have so much to share. Good humour, stories about work and projects, events of the day. I know I missed daily opportunities to acknowledge people over the years in California. So I do my best to greet others here in their language every chance I get.
Two of my most important relationships on this continent were launched with that one word.
My first visit to Uganda was in 2013. I flew from Los Angeles to London, and had but an hour to make a connection to Entebbe. I made it somehow, but my bags did not make the transfer. I would have to spend two extra days in town awaiting them.
During my stay over at the Namirembe Guest House in Kampala, I was sitting outside after breakfast when I recognised a man in bishop’s purple shirt and collar approaching. I stood to greet him (photo above). From my one-word introduction to Bishop Enoch Kayeeye, we shared phone numbers and would later meet at the other end of the country to begin our ministry work together that continues to this day.
In 2014, I was in Kampala preparing to fly home the following day. I was directed to the African Craft Village where I could get some souvenirs to bring home to friends. I stopped in several shops, but when I went to another to ask for the time, my greeting of “hello” led to much more.
That’s where I met Evelyn, a shop owner (above). She gave me the time of day, and asked about what I was doing in Uganda. Among other things, I mentioned I had an empako, or nickname which is used in her Batooro culture. When I told her my empako, Apuuli, she told me hers, Akiiki. Twenty minutes later I left with a bag of shirts to pack, and a spirit lifted by the exchange.
Today’s contentious world needs a lot fewer words and more interpersonal relationships. Hiding behind a computer firewall typing insults at strangers online is inflammatory and destructive.
Take a walk outside. Look a stranger in the eye and say “hello.” Believe me, It could change your life and make your day.
The women come. They walk. They sit. For hours. Honoring the dead.
Last week I witnessed a beautiful cultural spectacle in Uganda. A community leader, and a friend, was killed in a bus accident. The sudden tragic loss of the Rev. Canon Enos Komunda shocked and mobilized the community,
Above, Bishop Dan Zoreka looks out over mourners gathered outside home of late Enos Komunda
I arrived at the family home with my wife hours after receiving news of his death. By then there were several hundred women and men sitting quietly inside and outside the home, in a vigil of support.
Hundreds more were preparing for the funeral service and burial the next day. They would come on foot from their villages and homes, a trip that would take hours, to participate in this community send off. Committees were formed to provide chairs, tents and food for the huge crowd.
Life in Uganda is simple and hard. There are few distractions to daily subsistence living. The people value family, community, fellowship, sharing sorrows. It is something to behold.
Our village church is up the hill from where we sit. A vertical hike to get there, actually. A piece of cake for the locals. More of a struggle for this muzungu. Maybe my high center of gravity (my head!) is what makes these walks a challenge.
There are several paths to get to the small, mud-walled, dirt floor church. Due to wrangling over the land, the landowners have cut off access to the more foot-friendly route.
Last week, with Evelyn effortlessly leading up front, we climbed a steep narrow path to church. Rains this week made it impassable today so we tried the last remaining, but technically difficult trail.
Most church-goers I know have easy access to Sunday services. Driving in air-conditioned comfort on smooth roads, walking nice sidewalks. There are very few physical obstacles to attending church in my old hometown area in Northern California. Countless spiritual or imagined obstacles, I’m sure.
In SW Uganda and throughout East Africa, women, children and some men will walk many kilometers, up and down steep paths to praise the Lord. Of course there are the man-made obstacles to attending but the physical barriers are simply surmounted.
Today, after climbing and descending steep, narrow pitches to attend worship services with my African wife and friends, we learned that the route we took today may soon be blocked, as part of this land dispute.
Once again, obstacles of our own creation could impact my worshipping with my neighbors. A shame. Hopefully the power of the spirit will prevail.
As the popular Christian song says, “God will make a way where there seems to be no way…”
Awakened overnight with messages buzzing on my ubiquitous iPhone. Evelyn is anxious about her interview with US Embassy for her tourist visa in the morning. She’s checking her list and preparing supporting documents. She’s ready. I’m anxious too.
But there are other messages demanding my attention. Seems the Giants won their Opening Day game, and tied a record in the process with back-to-back-to-back home runs. Wow. Great news. And a sign from God.
Several years ago I attended a weekend retreat. It was billed as a spiritual revival. I was ready for it but a bit apprehensive.
After arriving at the center in Jackson, the candidates, as we were called, went to bed in silence.
The next morning, as I woke up, I prayed that God show me a sign that I was in the right place, that I was where he wanted me to be. I stepped outside my room into the cool, clear March morning.
As I took a short, slow walk around the building, I suddenly stopped, having experienced the sign that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
I looked across a grassy field to a pristine baseball diamond, laid out neatly in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. It was immaculate, grass neatly trimmed, bright green under the rising sun, awaiting determined young players. It was like a scene out of “Field of Dreams.”
My heart soared. As a lifelong fan who spent hours and hours each year watching and reading about baseball, I got the unmistakeable feeling that I was home, in a familiar, comforting place. I could relax through the weekend and absorb everything that God intended to show me.
As I watched the clip this morning (it’s 0315) I smiled and felt that same feeling. God’s got this, and his hand is on me. I have been reflecting for 40 minutes.
It’s real for me. God knows me deeply. He built me to enjoy sports, to relax and find comfort in them in the fury of domestic disorder.
I pray Evelyn will pass her interview because I believe that’s God’s plan, just like every step I’ve taken in my life to put me here, in Africa, with this incredible, gorgeous wife!!
God is good. Let’s play ball. Get to that plane, Evelyn. We’re going places!
My introduction and wedding seem like a long time ago. Last week’s initiation to the Tooro culture and Evelyn’s family was festive and fun. The wedding went without a hitch.
The events were followed by a road trip-honeymoon accompanied by my brother and his wife from Napa.
Our stops included a
* two-day safari at Queen Elizabeth National Park,
* a visit to see two new beneficiary groups of Team in Faith and our partner ACER,
* a long jaunt and overnight at Bwindi Gorilla Haven as the inaugural guests,
* an epic drive and traffic jam on the way to Entebbe to drop Tom and Stephanie at the airport.
As we rest and relax, God is here, with us, blessing us, loving us. Evelyn and I are very happy and excited about our next steps. The journey together continues….
You’re about to turn the page to 2016. Before you do so, you can make some last-minute charitable contributions that will lower your tax bill and win praise from your accountant, life mate or significant other.
With our partner organization in Kasese, Uganda, Action for Community Empowerment and Rehabilitation (ACER), Team in Faith supports women farmers through micro-finance loans. They build their small farms and businesses and support their families.
We can do a lot more to build sustainable communities with your help. Make a donation at Teaminfaith.Org
Abraham is a bright young man in medical school in Ishacka, Uganda. He is doing very well but the tuition costs are a huge burden for his peasant parents.
Abraham will make an excellent doctor. Help him complete his medical school studies. Make a tax-deductible gift today at Teaminfaith.Org
AICM College of Science & Technology in Kabale, Uganda, needs new monitors for its ICT lab. We can add nine monitors, keyboard and mice for $2300.
Students in modern Africa must be competitive. They need up-to-date computers and software. Help them with a tax-deductible donation at Teaminfaith.Org
My friends, your donation can lift lives and raise hopes quickly. Take advantage of tax deductions at the 11th hour. Donate today…and please tell a friend.
Wishing you a happy, healthy and safe New Year 2016.
Joy to the World the Lord has come. Let earth receive her king!
One of the things that has transformed me in recent years is the feeling of joy. In the past I felt inadequate or not worthy of such an expression. As I have grown, walking forward faithfully, I have experienced authentic joy.
For a season in my life, I was a very good mountain cyclist. There was a lot of joy descending Sierra passes that my buddies and I just climbed. I would shout to the Lord my joy and happiness. How great that feeling. And that was mine. I worked hard. I earned every bit of that.
As I found my work in Africa, a joy resonated from within me that has been impossible to contain. Being in the presence of God and beautiful people has given me a glimpse of heaven. There is joy and happiness, punctuated by poverty and pain, almost every day.
Today, with Evelyn in my life, there is a feeling of an everlasting joy with the most unlikely but perfect life mate.
I am happy. I feel joy. The Lord lives here.
May you experience the joy that comes from fellowship with the Lord and others.