Poverty of material, not of spirit

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.

My friend Moses shares photos from an iPad to a curious crowd near the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

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?

Shared Sorrow

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 the 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.

After the Mountaintop

Luke 9:28-37

In the referenced Luke passage, Jesus’ appearance changes and he becomes glorious. It is called the transfiguration. Several apostles, including Peter, John and James, went up the mountain with Jesus to pray. It would become a great spiritual experience that would strengthen their faith in the days to come.

Who doesn’t like a so-called “mountaintop experience” where your faith and joy are expanded?


I am reliving the mountaintop experiences I enjoyed in Africa for five months earlier this year. My relationships and my travels were wonderful and God-inspired. I give thanks day after day for the blessings, thrills and love I received.

But after the peak period, we must descend the mountain, as Jesus did. The writer in Luke says, “…when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him.” The wonder of those moments on the summit was replaced by the chaotic events of everyday life.

Let’s call it “the big letdown.”

That is where I find myself today.

The memories remain, the people are in my heart, but life at home proceeds at a different pace with little or no fanfare.

I know that this time now is important for the days and weeks ahead. I must plan, persevere and produce before I can return to my work in Africa. I don’t feel the rush of excitement that was present during those great events. I must be intentional about keeping my focus as I grieve those days gone by.

Faith sustains me. It is the constant that existed yesterday and today, and will continue through tomorrow.

I don’t know that we can predict when we will have those mountaintop experiences. Through focus, prayer and preparation, we can be ready to enjoy the moments God gives us to strengthen our spiritual life, whenever they occur. They can be like the wonderful days on the top of the hill, or the quieter ones that occupy me today.

Breaking Bread

What I enjoy most about living in Uganda is building relationships. I’ve become adept at the local language and try to engage just about everyone I meet in conversation. It usually works out well.

Walked into a restaurant today for bite of lunch. Afterwards as I further scanned the menu, I innocently asked if they served impunu, or pork, which can be delicious. The man behind the counter laughed as the waitress explained, “we are Muslims. We don’t eat pork.” Salaam alaykum, I said, apologizing profusely.

Apologies accepted. Smiles exchanged. More conversation. Then I left a tip.

Even though there is a language barrier and perhaps a history of mistrust, there is so much that we can share as fellow travelers. We laugh, we cry, we love others. I choose to look for those common goals, dreams, and wishes that we share rather than exploit our differences.

I love it here. I love the people. I love our shared lives in this place.

Pass the matoke, please….

A Strange Story

Rolling into my driveway after choir practice and there was a block party for some departing neighbors. Went over to chat with guys I haven’t seen since returning from Africa. “Where’ve you been, you anti-social or something?,” I was asked.

I may be but let me explain. It’s like I’m still re-entering society as a “one percenter” after living three months in Africa at the opposite end of the wealth spectrum. I have been deeply touched by my African adventure. The simple lifestyle I embraced and enjoyed are at odds with the American experience of acquisition and advancement. It’s been a slow process to get my groove back in the USA.

pat batwa

I paid my respects to the departing couple, made small talk with others before sitting with another neighbor at the gathering. It was a momentary respite as we shared our faith journeys under the stars.

I can’t be sure but I’d be surprised if others in our midst were praising The Lord and professing gratitude. For a few moments I was as comfortable as I could be. Fellowship with the holy spirit and like-minded friends has sustained me for many months. They hear and understand my story.

My audience of interested listeners is just not that large. Yet. I must make opportunities to reach out and tell my story–God’s story–of the beautiful people and wonderful land in Africa and the change in my heart.

Reflections of Africa

More meaningful to me than the video that I shot for three months were the relationships I made while in Uganda. I was blessed with the company, affection and protection of God’s people there.

As I waited for my delayed luggage to arrive, I had a chance meeting with a retired bishop who would later turn out to be one of my best resources for learning and working with the Batwa Pygmies hundreds of miles away. Bishop Enoch Kayeeye is revered by the Batwa, and who would give up his own seat for this muzungu.

Then there was Barnabas, who was among those who came to fetch me at the airport in February. He became my close friend. A dead-ringer for actor Jamie Foxx, he is good at everything he does, has a great sense of humor, and is a devoted follower of Jesus.

I friended the Rev. David Rurihoona on Facebook before meeting him in April in Kabale. He opened his house to me for two visits and the time spent with him and his family was wonderful. He is a prayer warrior who exists to serve others in Christ.

Through all the adventure and petty annoyances (aka rats), my fellowship with these friends and the Holy Spirit kept me focused and centered.

Things I’ve Learned in Africa

Recently passed the half-way point of my video ministry trip to Bwindi, Uganda. I have adapted well, shot some nice video, have eaten just about everything put in front of me, have met scores of friendly people.

When I return to the states at the end of May, I will have some new habits, some of which may be life-changing. Let’s see:

I don’t need a hot shower every day. I don’t stink as bad as I thought I would. So unless I have a public appearance or a bad hair day, I may not shower.


I don’t need clean underwear every day. Doing laundry in the jungle is tough. Washing clothes isn’t that hard, but DRYING them is. I brought with me about 8 packs of underwear and > 10 pairs of socks. I’ve been wearing each for three days or more. Started when my luggage was delayed in London. If it don’t stink, it says out of the sink.

Watch what I drink. A special treat here is a cold soda in the afternoon. Not exactly ice cold, but a cold Coke hits the spot. Hours later, I struggle to sleep. Is caffeine keeping me awake? I rarely drink cokes at home and will resume that practice.

Watch when I drink. Over a late supper, I’m drinking water. I drink more when I pop my daily anti-malaria pill. Hours later, I make more late-night trips than Boris Karloff. Reduce late-evening water consumption.

Overdose on patience. I’ve learned about “Africa time.” I’m a patient person but I’ve needed a megadose of patience here. Starting times for meetings, rehearsals slip by 30-45 minutes. Then meetings don’t end due to extended visitations. Enjoy the moment. Don’t worry, be happy.

Relate to everything. From the industrious ant to the comical red-tailed monkey, every creature has its place. Appreciate everything and everyone.

Flexibility is strong suit. Whatever I have planned for the day or the moment, be flexible. Something else could come up and steal the day. I was told on Monday by the hospital chaplain that I would deliver the homily at morning devotions today. I meditated on the scripture verses, prepared my reflection….then watched as another young man stood up to deliver his homily. I’m up again on Sunday, resurrection day.

My lessons are incomplete. There’s sure to be more in the next six weeks.

Saturday Night Excitement

A group of medical students dropped by to stay at the guest house tonight. Two are from Stanford, another from Canada, serving six weeks residency at public hospital in Kampala. They drove here to trek with the mountain gorillas, successfully. They were staying at one of the resplendent lodges nearby but left….due to mice in the rooms.

One of the girls was telling me about this on the patio before dinner and said they just had to leave. Of course, I had plenty of discretion NOT to mention the rodent infestation underway in my room. I walked in my quarters, turned on the light, and saw the critter climb the wall near my bed to his exit near the ceiling.

After dinner, I walked in again to get my head lamp, and the rat ran up the wall again. I told the manager, and he vowed to get the rat tonight, while I went to (my first) choir practice.

One of the guests shrieked when a lizard crawled from her pants while she was in the loo. I remarked to her that, heck, this is rural Uganda. There’s a lot to like about lizards. They help keep insects under control.

So imagine: the manager and two others in my room, waiting, chasing and clubbing at the critter, and rearranging the room in the mayhem, while in the adjacent dining room, the guests were cheerfully oblivious to what was going on next door, chatting up the staff doctors about the vagaries of clinical care in the jungle.

I find the scene so deliciously funny, so typically African. Great fun tonight.

And the mouse/rat lives on. For now….