Uganda Travel Log: Day 7 – Soccer and Prison Ministry

Location: Mbale, Uganda
Tuesday, May 23, 2017

football-in-uganda1

After breakfast together at the guest house, which has become our regular practice, we put on play-in-public clothes — long pants and T-shirts, whether guys or girls — and headed out to a local government owned field. The field is essentially a very large “common area,” equivalent to something an American park district would provide, which can be reserved by local organizations or even individuals (for weddings, etc). In this case, JENGA reserves this field on a weekly basis for their local Child Rehabilitation Outreach (CRO) program. These are kids whom their helping to get off drugs or out of abusive situations. They reserve the field, meet the kids there, and just play. Mostly football (what we’d call “soccer” and various other circle games). In addition to the CRO kids, they literally walk through the main part of town on the way to the field rallying up street kids, all of whom now know that the program is in place and eagerly wait to be summoned by JENGA volunteers to a day of play.

We spent our morning joining local JENGA volunteers in just playing with the kids. We played soccer, I learned a bunch of games involving running around in circles with kids, played duck-duck-goose, let kids climb on us, etc. One of the favorite activities of many of the children was to feel my furry arms and beard. I was quite the spectacle, large furry white man that I am.

We were not permitted to take pictures of the kids, so I have none to post. But our time with the CRO kids was SO rich and SO fun, and we came home very dirty and very tired.

rolexBecause we didn’t have enough time to go out to eat for lunch — our original plan —, one of the JENGA volunteers picked up Rolex from a local street vendor, and we had that for a quick hot lunch. Rolex is a common street food consisting of fried eggs rolled in chapati, often with any variety of other ingredients cooked into the eggs or rolled into the role. The locals call it “rolex,” because if you say “rolled eggs” often enough, it turns (at least in Uganda) into “rolex.” So, we had some greasy street food to keep us running, and then headed out for prison ministry.

We planned to visit three prisons this afternoon: a men’s prison, a women’s prison, and a children’s prison. So, we broke into three teams, and dove in. I chose the men’s prison, which turned out to be way up in the mountains. We piled 7 of us into one of the JENGA off-roading jeeps and headed up the mountain. The further we went the worse the roads got, and there were some inclines involved that I didn’t think the jeep was going to be able to navigate. It took an hour and 45 minutes to reach the prison, and by the time we got there, I felt like a tossed salad, and pretty much everything hurt. I have never experienced … never imagined … anything like these roads. Many dirt roads, and where the roads were paved, they were literally stretches of road with a dozen potholes every 10 feet. There were times it was like driving on the moon. But we made it, and after a little stretching, headed into the prison.

prision ministry

As we left the guest house, I was under the impression that we would each have to share a 2-3 minute brief word of encouragement from Scripture. No problem. I wanted to encourage them to think about true freedom — a man is not free because he is not in a cell, he’s free because he is found in Christ. But about 1/3 of the way up the mountain, the JENGA volunteer looks at us and asks, “Who’s preaching?”

Jeff: *blank stare*

JENGA guy: Yes, we’d like one of you to bring the word in a 30 min message, or longer if you want.

Rest of team: *blank stare*

JENGA guy: What’s wrong? Do you want to preach for longer than that? That’s fine. We have up to an hour.

Now see, in a situation like this, it doesn’t pay to be the old guy / experienced preacher / seminary student among a group of college students, because it’s impossible for me to pawn this exciting new responsibility off onto someone else. So I volunteered.

So very interesting and exciting to be pushed this far out of my comfort zone. It’s the second time this week that I had the opportunity to preach a complete sermon essentially extemporaneously. This time I felt led to 2 Corinthians 3:17-18:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

There were probably about 75 men and 5 women in attendance. I guess it wasn’t just a male prison after all. But the women were separated from the men by a fence topped with barbed wire, so obviously not much interaction there. We preached to both sides of the fence. We arrived 30 minutes late, and they were praising God loudly and excitedly in a courtyard when we arrived. The guards greeted us in the name of the Lord, so that was cool, and they ushered us to a bench up on a raised platform / porch, which was covered by a roof. But the inmates sat in the courtyard.

We introduced ourselves quickly, and then I was up to preach. I spoke through a translator for about 25 minutes, but they weren’t terribly responsive. Neither this group nor the congregation at House of Prayer (where I taught on Sunday) were as boisterous or responsive as I expected them to be as I envisioned preaching to an African audience. Maybe that means I wasn’t very good or they didn’t like my style. Not sure. Could also just have been misaligned expectations. Who knows. But I feel like I said what God wanted me to say, so that’s the important thing.

After me, another member of our team, Zack gave a brief 15 min message as well, which actually followed up my message perfectly. That was worshipful. I called for people to give their lives to Christ, Zack, reinforced it, and then the chaplain got up and took it all the way to altar call. In the middle, a third teammate, Taylor read Psalm 139. And then the service closed. Amanda, our team leader, who went with our group to the men’s prison, felt that it had all come off well, so … woohoo.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any pictures at the prison, so I can’t share any with you. I do have a few pictures of the gorgeous high-altitude mountain vistas, but I’ll pick the best of those from the whole trip and share them toward the end.

We got down the mountain a lot quicker than we got up it. Once back to the house, we rushed into town for dinner at a local Indian restaurant. It was really good. We each ordered something, but ended up doing a lot of sharing. It was also fun explaining various foods and cultural realities to the team, many of whom were unfamiliar with them.

Uganda Indian Dinner 1 Uganda Indian Dinner 2 Uganda Indian Dinner 3

After dinner, we came back to the guest house and played cards late into the evening. We had been playing a card game called “President” the prior few nights, which Taylor had introduced to the group. It is an adaptation (simplified version) of a game I learned in college, which we called “toe jam” … along with a few other less-family-friendly names in my BC (Before Christ) days. So, just for something different, I tried to teach the team this more complicated version. I definitely felt my age doing that, because there was a tone of pushback and whining from the younger members of the team… “I can’t do it” and “It’s too hard,” etc. Sigh. Kids these days. But they eventually learned, and we had fun playing. But I seriously doubt they’ll want to stick to the “advanced” version of the game.

And with that, there was evening and there was morning, the seventh day. See you tomorrow.


Image credit:
1) Kids playing football – Pintrest
2) Rolex – Papyrus Guest House
3) Prison Ministry – The Message Church
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Uganda Travel Log: Day 6 – A Day of Rest

Location: Mbale, Uganda
Monday, May 22, 2017

Rest

Dodged a Mountain Climbing Bullet

The team went hiking up the mountain today. It’s the 17th largest mountain range in Africa, the 2nd largest in Uganda. One of our local friends swore it would be a “leisurely stroll,” but he’s British so I was skeptical. In any event, we’ve been going like crazy and I wanted a little bit of a break, so I chose not to go on the hike. That means that I missed out on a) beautiful mountain vistas, b) walking among the villages and villagers, and c) a history lesson from the guides. But in exchange, I purchased a) the most luxurious hot shower so far in Uganda, b) a trip to the local pharmacy to buy cold meds for me and two other team members, and c) a very significant block of time to journal, pray, read, listen to my novel, etc. It has been glorious!

When the team got back in the early afternoon, they were sore and bruised and covered in dirt … and I learned that my local British friend had failed to complete his sentence when describing the walk. It was a leisurely stroll … for a mountain goat.Mountain Goat There was evidently rock climbing and mud path sliding and jungle traversing … and all manner of other things that OTHER people do in the bush in the mountains of Uganda (there was evidently no trail; a guide just took them on climb-about up the mountain). So, totally dodged the bullet on that one. So glad I stayed home!

Visited CURE Hospital

After everyone had showered, we ate lunch at the guest house and then headed into town to tour the local CURE hospital, which has pioneered a life-saving pediatric brain surgery to treat hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is far more common here than in the west, because it is common that infection can go untreated and result in cerebral meningitis, which can then damage the parts of the brain which produce and regulate CSF (cerebrospinal fluid), which can then result in hydrocephalus. 1 out of every ~1,000 children suffers from this condition here at birth, and another 3-4 are diagnosed later in childhood, brought on by untreated infection. All toll, the hospital we visited conducts 100 surgeries a month to treat hydrocephalus, and trains physicians from all over the world (from 25 countries so far, including in Western Europe and AsiaPac) in new procedures to address it. They specialize in a procedure which doesn’t require a shunt, and therefore has a far greater success rate — because the shunts need to be replaced often, especially under conditions here, where it’s very difficult to properly maintain them.

Here are a few pictures of the hospital. It is interesting to see such a fusion of modern equipment in a space that feels very different from a US hospital. And I love that they are pioneering new techniques. The more Uganda can establish knowledge and goods that the world needs them to export, the better off their people’s economic condition will be. And when it’s the health and welfare of children — more than 50% of Uganda is under the age of 18 — it’s exceptionally beneficial to the society as a whole.

Cure Hospital Uganda 1 Cure Hospital Uganda 2 Cure Hospital Uganda 3 Cure Hospital Uganda 4 Cure Hospital Uganda 6

One of the most heartbreaking things about the medical conditions people face here is that they carry stigmas with them, resulting in the local people being discouraged to seek treatment. For example, if a child has hydrocephalus, he really needs to receive treatment within a matter of days. However, because parents are afraid of the claim that their sin (among Christian or Muslim neighbors) or the curse of witchcraft (among pagan neighbors) is responsible for their child’s condition. Therefore, they have a tendency to hide the fact that the child is sick and pray that God heals them behind closed doors. And then, if the child dies, the stigma grows even worse, because this tends to confirm that either God or demonic forces are punishing the family.

So, much education is required, in addition to the increasing ability of medical treatments.

Team Discussion

That night we rallied up as a team to talk about our experiences that day. Our team leader Amanda asked me to do a devotional. I felt let to Matthew 25:31ff:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31ff)

Here Jesus is commanding a lifestyle, not a particular experience. In other words, we do not obey Jesus’ command here by attending a hospital in Mbale. We obey it by a lifestyle of caring about those who are sick and weak and struggling, especially in ways that we are not. As a team, we talked about a lot of things, and ended up focusing on a topic that I know from experience Amanda feels very strongly about: that we really see people as people, not as projects or missions. Good discussion. Toward the end, Ubontu (one of our friends from UCU) commented at length about how people in Uganda are satisfied with their lives, and how we shouldn’t see them as people who are poor and need help. I sortof agree, but I also think the point also needs to be made that just because a person is satisfied doesn’t mean that they should be. Some satisfaction is quite godly, and the affluent-and-often-self-absorbed West could learn a lot about being satisfied. We’re terrible at it. But on the other hand, some satisfaction is a euphemism for complacency.

For example, it’s a great thing that Ugandan doctors were not satisfied with the higher-than-average rate of hydrocephalus among their children. That led them to do something about it, and now they’re making a difference not just in the lives of Ugandan children, but those all over the world. And when children in the slums of Uganda are malnourished or drinking from rivers (in which garbage has been dumped and cows have done their business), leading to all manner of sickness, because they don’t know any better or have nothing else to drink … They may be satisfied with that, but our role in fulfilling Jesus’ command to love those who are sick or naked or poor or weak means that we should not be. And if we can develop relationships with those people and walk with them and empower them, then I believe they’ll grow dissatisfied with those conditions as well, and together we can do something about it.

I understand what my friend Ubontu is saying — the white man can’t swoop in with all the answers and rescue the poor African. I totally agree. First, they’re people, not projects. Second, we white guys don’t have all the answers. Third, there’s no dignity in that kind of help. Forth, if the Ugandan (he has a heritage he values just like I do) doesn’t lead the charge to get himself out of the slums, then “doing it for him” is NOT really helping him in the long run … any more than the kind of social welfare in the US which allows someone to just sit around and collect a check helps that person.

But all that said, we also can’t confuse “being satisfied” with “being complacent,” on either side of the ocean.

Thank you again for keeping up with me on this journey, and for all your prayers and support. Keep it coming!


Photo credit:
1) Rest – Huffington Post
2) Mountain goat – Madator Network
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Uganda Travel Log: Day 5 – Worship and Community

Location: Mbale, Uganda, including the Namatala slums
Sunday, May 21, 2017

worship

Today is the Lord’s day, so we rose early to travel to our assigned churches. Four of us had volunteered to preach, so we broke into four teams, each preacher with one Ugandan (from UCU) and 2-3 members of the American team. Two teams went to mountain churches, and two went to slum churches.

I was assigned to the House of Prayer Church in the Namatala slums, the largest slum in Eastern Uganda. Kaylyn, Amanda (from UCU) and Donnie went with me. After having stayed up late and getting up early obsessing over the sermon I had written for Revelation 19:11-21, when we got there, I just didn’t feel like that’s what God wanted me to say. So, literally minutes before I got up to preach, I switched to Colossians 1:15-23. I don’t even really know why. I just felt like that was God’s direction. So, for the first time in my life, I preached 100% extemporaneously, using the passage itself (on my mobile phone) as my notes. Kaylyn videotaped me, and a wonderful friend from the church translated. Here are a few minutes of the video of the message…

Church at House of Prayer was pretty amazing. The service started at 9. We were told it was 9:30, so we showed up at 9:20 or so, so they were already going gangbusters when we got there. A woman (a local) was preaching when we came in. We were ushered to the front, and literally people were displaced from their white plastic yard chairs so we could sit in them. The four of us sat with the pastor and his wife, with his beautiful children running around. They were immediately gracious, and stayed that way the whole time we were there. After the first woman’s message, we sang and prayed, and they gave announcements, and sang and prayed some more. We had been there for about 90 minutes when I was finally up to preach. I preached for about 35-40 minutes, then Donnie gave a testimony for another 15 minutes. After that, Kaylyn and Amanda introduced themselves, and we had the offering. They laid baskets out and people came to the front of the church during worship, and afterwards there was some more rockus worship. The service closed at about noon. But even after we left, they were staying to watch testimonies on a TV, and were being called upon to return to the church that night at 4, and for a week-long fast … no food until dinner and dinner together with prayer at the church each night. I was awestruck.

The pastor and his wife, along with a couple other leaders, escorted us out. They were very gracious, and even asked to exchange contact information. I would love to keep in touch with their church … maybe even develop a relationship between them and our church here in the States. As we were saying our goodbyes in front of the church, I asked the pastor if we could get a picture together. He agreed, so I turned to beckon the team to gather up. But when I turned back around, he was already back inside the church, stopping what was happening, and rallying the whole body to come outside for a picture. Nooo!!! I felt so bad. No way was it my intention to disrupt and inconvenience everyone. But the Baganda are such a gracious and welcoming people. It’s truly remarkable. And at the end of the day, I wound up with this great picture…

House of Prayer Church

After church, we met at a resort near the JENGA office. Don’t remember the name. But it was beautiful there, and the weather was gorgeous. The food was really good too, with a much greater variety on the menu than we’d experienced at UCU. I had a fish curry with grilled vegetables and rice, and it was out of this world. There was the opportunity to go swimming too, but I declined. Instead, we walked back to the guest house, while some swam and others got manicures. I enjoyed just kicking back at the house and journaling.

Here are a few pictures of us at the resort…

Uganda Team at Resort 1 Uganda Team at Resort 2 Uganda Team at Resort 3

The guy to the right praising the Lord for his steak, that’s Robbie King, one of the two founding directors of JENGA. And here’s a couple pictures of the resort itself. So beautiful here…

Uganda Team at Resort 4 Uganda Team at Resort 5 Uganda Team at Resort 6

That evening, we broke up into groups and went to visit the homes of various members of the JENGA staff. Donnie and I and Amanda (from UCU) teamed up with Bex, Ruth and Rhonda (all three are longer term missionaries from the UK) and visited a women named Grace, who is the leader of children’s ministry at JENGA. She’s also one of their worship leaders. We met her children, ate a wonderful dinner, sang songs, prayed, and enjoyed some wonderful fellowship, all of us together. It was fascinating to hear everyones’ stories, and a joy to just be together in such a foreign context.

Dinner with Grace's family

Although there weren’t that many activities today, it was still a long day. So, I was happy to finally be home in bed at the end of the day. Tonight is my third night taking sleeping pills, and I seem to be sleeping much better now. Thank you for all your prayers.

Looking forward to a week of ministry and new experiences, I’ll sign off. Good night, friends.


Photo credit:
All mine, except the title image, which is from First Presbyterian in Allen
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Uganda Travel Log: Day 4 – Journey to Mbale

Location: Mukono and Mbale, Uganda
Saturday, May 20, 2017

Journey to Mbale

This morning we had nothing to do at UCU, except get packed up and head for Mbale. It was really nice not to be running to something early in the morning. Instead, we just had to be ready to go by 10am.

I came in at about 7:30 to see if breakfast was ready yet, and they had mango juice, hard boiled eggs, mango slices, and muffins laid out. So, I made myself a mostly-fruit breakfast, added a meal bar from my stash, popped my anti-malarial medication, and got ready for the day — devotions, shower, dressed, packed, etc. Around 9, I took my plate back into the breakfast room to drop it off to be washed. But instead, the servers waved me over and wanted me to eat more. And there were two more covered dishes than there had been before, so I had to check it out. First, there were fried egg and meat sticks — I have no idea what they were called, but that describes them; beef and egg, rolled in some kind of crumb batter and fried. I didn’t want to be rude, so I took a small one. Then, the second plate… He’s describing what’s in the various dishes, and coming to this last one, he says, “… and some vegetables.” No kidding, my whole world lit up. I’ve been eating nothing but carbs since I got here — that’s all Ugandans eat — so I was SO excited. Vegetables. For breakfast. How will they prepare them? What will this be like? Anticipation building as he reaches for the lid to the dish. And … vegetables … are … are … veggie samosas … fried pockets of potatoes and spices … oh, yes, and with a few peas thrown in so that they can be called “veggie.” Of course, a potato’s technically a “veggie,” right? LOL

So, after all the hype about veggies, I left with only a fried egg and meat stick. How did things go so horribly wrong?

But I digress. Back to the day…

We left campus pretty much on-time (around 10am) to drive east. The traffic was absolutely crazy, and the roads were very challenging. Mostly unpaved. Potholes everywhere. I took a few pictures to try to give you an idea of what it’s like to drive in Uganda.

Uganda Scenes 5 Uganda Scenes 1 Uganda Scenes 2 Uganda Scenes 6

I also tried to post a few pictures of the scenery and of the people we passed while traveling just to give you a window into their lives as well.

 Uganda Scenes 4 Uganda Scenes 3 Uganda Scenes 8 Uganda Scenes 7

We stopped for lunch at a place Café Java, a smallish restaurant chain in East Africa with a huge menu and fairly modern venue. It was really good. I had my first latte since leaving Chicago, and vegetables! No, real vegetables … the kind that aren’t even fried. Veggies in the wrap, and steamed veggies as a side. It was glorious.

Finally VeggiesAnother interesting thing (besides finding vegetables) that happened on the way to Mbale is that we crossed over the Nile river, which originates in Uganda’s Lake Victoria and flows north to Egypt, in the process separating East and West Uganda. We couldn’t take pictures, because we were driving across a power generating dam and one of only two bridges in the entire country across the Nile, connecting the two halves of the nation. If someone were to blow up one of those dams, it would a) be a huge blow to power generation, and b) cut off half of the country from the other. So, lots of unfriendly-looking armed guards were watching cars go by ready to take your camera or phone. So, sadly, no pictures.

Not withstanding our exemplary behavior at the Nile, we were still stopped like 6 times by heavily armed police and soldiers, who briefly inspected our van, and each time allowed us to continue. Not sure exactly what they were looking for; I guess these were just checks designed to make sure they felt good about us — that they didn’t feel we were up to any trouble.

We arrived in Mbale at about 4:45, and setup shop in Jenga’s guest house (I’m in the monkey room … which is appropriate), and rushed to change because we were already late for meeting the bible club kids in town. We freshened up (quickly), divided into groups, and went to visit the kids and play some games with them. Jenga works with over 20 churches in the area to host “bible clubs” that meet every Saturday. There are something like 3,500 kids in the program. Basically, it’s a VBS-like construct. Not Sunday school, but more of an additional program where kids from all backgrounds — not just Christians — can come to get off the street, play games, sing Jesus songs, hear Bible stories, and generally be loved on. It seems like a really great program.

My group went to Mbale Kingdom Revival Church. We walked in the door and were greeted (quite unexpectedly) by clapping and cheers. There must have been 250 kids in the packed into the single room church. We each introduced ourselves, taught them Father Abraham, complete with crazy dance moves, and learned a song from them … with similar crazy dance moves. When we were getting ready to leave, I asked if I could take a picture, and the kids started pouring out of the church to wave to us. Check this out…

Kids Saying Goodbye

These kids made my heart swell. They were so beautiful, and they were so full of fun and excitement and joy. It was humbling to see how excited they got about our presence there. And that’s really been a theme on this trip… wherever we “Mzunga” go, it has been considered an honor to the locals that we visit them, and they have welcomed us with open arms.

Side thought…

Everywhere we go, the locals here call out “Mzungu.” This word today essentially means “white person.” But it was originally coined in the 18th century when Europeans arrived on the African continent as colonizers. The term actually means “someone who roams around” or “wanderer.” Kids call this out all the time when we’re driving or walking by, and gleefully respond when we wave at them. It’s really heartwarming, and one of the most enjoyable aspects of wandering around the streets of Mbale.

Okay, that’s pretty-much it for Saturday. After kids clubs, we came back to the house and ate dinner, had a little downtime, and then hit the sack. Church comes early tomorrow, and many of us are preaching. So, our downtime was largely devoted to sermon prep.

See you tomorrow!

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Uganda Travel Log: Day 3 – Okuzimba Museum and Children Alive Ministries

Location: Mukono and Kira, Uganda
Friday, May 19, 2017

Mukono skyline

Glorious morning, UCU. Why? Because I slept! I figured it up, and between the time I left our home in Chicago and the time I went to bed last night (4 days later), I had slept a total of 14 hours. Not good. But last night, I added 8 to the total. Woohoo! Sleeping pills (and a ton of prayer — thank you, all!) are my friend. So, now I’m ready for more seeing God in new and dramatically different places. And that started with the same breakfast we’ve eaten every day. Ha! Actually, today I want to highlight a couple of random things in what will likely be an otherwise shorter-than-usual post. And at breakfast, it’s our friend the mango.

Every place I’ve traveled to has a particular food that, no matter where else you are, you just can’t reproduce. In Chicago, it’s pizza. It Israel, it’s humus. In England, it’s fish and chips. In Germany, it’s beer … a dozen things that I drool over just talking about them, because that’s “home” for me. And here in Uganda, it’s the tropical fruit, specifically the mango. mangoAin’t no Costco mango on the face of the earth that comes close to the mangoliciousness we get here for every single meal — slices for breakfast, and 100% juice drinks for every other occasion. So, a moment of stomach-growing silence, please, for our friend the mango.

Our morning today was spent visiting the Okuzimba Museum in Kira, Uganda. This is a memorial site, where a number of the original missionaries who brought Christianity to Uganda were killed.

In 1844, Muslim traders came to Uganda. In 1877, Anglican missionaries came from England. And in 1879, Catholic missionaries came from France. Of course, all three of these groups brought their pre-existing hostilities with them, and that bled over into relations between them in Uganda as well.

But in 1884, King Mutesa I (1852-84), who had invited the missionaries to come to Uganda, died. His son, King Mwanga (1884-98), then took throne and tried to wipe out Christianity, ordering the executions of many Christian missionaries, as well as some Muslims. Interestingly, it is believed this was to cover his homosexual lifestyle. To make matters worse, during this same time, Uganda experienced significant religious war. But ultimately, the Anglicans win and eventually, the Church of Uganda is formed as an archdiocese in the global Anglican communion. One of the Christians who escaped execution under Mwanga became Prime Minister of Uganda in 1927, and ultimately created the Okuzimba shrine. Eventually, a new building was built over the site and the original shrine. This is the museum we visited.

Here are a couple pictures from the museum, including a couple that are pretty gruesome. The artistry is excellent, but still gruesome.

Okuzimba Museum 1 Okuzimba Museum 2 Okuzimba Museum 3 Okuzimba Museum 4

When we got back from Kira, before lunch, we attended a global ministries lecture focused on pluralism, particularly in Uganda. Unfortunately, neither this talk nor the Muslim talk yesterday strike me as carefully considered, at least, not like the symposium was last night. So, this wasn’t really my favorite part of the day. I did however learn some interesting statistics about religious diversity in-country. Evidently, the country breaks down roughly as follows:

  • Catholic: 40% (shrinking)
  • Anglican: 32% (shrinking)
  • Islam: 14%
  • Pentecostal: 11% (growing) — This is the category for every Christian who is not Catholic or Anglican. My EFCA church, for example, would be classified “pentecostal” right alongside Assemblies of God or even more fringe pentecostal churches.
  • Pagan and other: 3%

Talking through the demographic composition of the nation was really worth the price of admission all by itself. But the icing on the cake was learning this classic Ugandan (pan-African?) saying:

Westerners have watches, Africans have time.

That’s so right, but I’ve never heard it before. Basically, it means that we in the West race around keeping schedules, but we never have time for anything, where Africans pay little attention to watches or calendars, but seem to have time for everything they intend to achieve in life. It’s a question of expectations and satisfaction. I love it. But to bring any of that home to America would require a relentless simplification of American life. Possible? I think it could be.

After the lecture, we had lunch again at Touch of Class. This place is such a gift to the UCU campus. It’s so easy and so cheap to eat there. But there are also … so many bones! I got the chicken this time, and it was 70% bones / 30% chicken. I really don’t like bones in my food, lazy American that I am! Sigh.

Children Alive Ministries Banner

We had a little downtime after lunch, which I always really appreciate, but then we hopped in the car and drove out to visit Children Alive Ministries, or CAlM (also on Facebook). This was probably my favorite activity while in Mukono. CAlM works with elementary-aged children in the local villages, helping them with school and character building. Their mission is “to empower children in urban Mukono to be community leaders by offering academic support, character development, spiritual development, and recreational and enrichment programs.” Love that!

While there, we met a significant portion of the staff, including some of the secondary-aged (High School) kids who act as “street leaders” (mentors and tutors) to the younger kids. I sat down next to one youngster named Kassim, and we hit it off right away. CAlM buddyWhat a phenomenal young man, who was assisted as a younger boy, and now mentors kids himself as an older student. I was very impressed with him, and we had a ton of fun playing games with the group!

Speaking of the group, we learned a little about the ministry, introduced ourselves, played games together and shared some refreshments. It was too brief a time, but I absolutely loved it. The volunteers there were so friendly and bubbly that it was impossible not to enjoy being together, and the work they’re doing is both important and excellent. This is definitely an organization worth supporting.

One thing I definitely noted about CAlM is that they are rural, and driving in rural Uganda is not for the faint of heart. Many roads are unpaved, but the roads leading out to where we went to meet with these folks were roads only the most technical sense of the term. In fact, at one point driving out to meet then, we literally had to pile out of the bus and go the rest of the way on foot … and even that was, frankly, a bit perilous. Culture shock!

Coming back to campus from CAlM, we went straight to dinner at … you guessed it, Touch of Class. In contrast with other meals, however, this time they had ordered for us … and it was amazing. Here’s a picture. And the diamond of the table was the giant vat of avocado.

Ugandan Dinner Vat of Avocado

Another aside worth mentioning is that the avocados here are HUGE. I have literally seen people carving up ‘cados the size of grapefruits. It’s amazing. Tropical climates are definitely the fruit’s friend.

We closed the evening out by playing Mafia in the guest house commons area. This is a game of lies and deception — a good Christian game — in which everyone playing constitutes a town. Unbeknownst to the others, some are mafia (killers), some are sheriffs (those who can take out the Mafia), some are doctors (healers, who can prevent the Mafia from killing people), and — at least the way we were playing — a donut maker, who each day of gameplay gives someone a donut … just for fun. I was random citizen #2 (i.e. nobody) twice, and one of two sheriffs in the 3rd game. Sadly, I was killed off immediately by some very perceptive mafia, so……. But that gave me extra time to text with Faith, so no worries.

Guess that about sums it up for today. However, I thought I’d share one more random note… We were walking across campus today and suddenly monkeys starting appearing everywhere, coming out of the trees to frolic around on the yard. But by the time we stopped and reached for cameras, they were heading back up into the trees and off to who-knows-where. So, there are evidently some serious monkeys handing out on campus. How cool.

Last thought, prayer requests…

  • Finally, I’ve gotten some sleep. Please praise God with me for that, and pray it continues.
  • Please also continue to pray for my family, given how long I’ll be away.
  • Pray for CAlM, and all the children they’re reaching for the gospel and helping to get a better education.
  • Lastly, we leave campus tomorrow to head to Mbale, where we’ll be involved in a number of different ministries, from preaching to hospital ministry to prison ministry to working with street kids. Please pray for the power of the gospel and for us to just be a loving presence in their lives as we go out.

God bless you. Signing off for Friday.


Image credit:
1) Mukono – The Real Uganda
2) Mango – Modern Thrill
3) CAlM – Urban Promise International
4) Velvet monkey – 123rf.com
5) Rest are mine
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Uganda Travel Log: Day 2 – A Day of Profitable Discussion

Location: Uganda Christian University; Mukono, Uganda
Thursday, May 18, 2017

Uganda Christian University

After another difficult night’s sleep — during which I repented in sack clothe and ashes for not accepting the sleep aids that other students’ offered me — I was up early at 6. Preparing for the trip, I strongly suspected that there might not be hot water in the showers, but I was lulled into a false sense of security in Kampala. This morning, reality returned. No hot water. And the water pressure is about what I imagine it would be if a hamster was running a wheel of tablespoons around to dump water through the shower head. No towels. And the no European, detachable shower head, as in Kampala. Instead, I had to huddle my 2XL bulk up against the wall under this dripping metal shower head. So, ultimately, the net effect is that after a day of walking around in the heat and the mud lathered up with bug spray, it’s very difficult to get clean. HA! Welcome to the way life is for the rest of the world. What an adventure!

Our day started with an address by a Muslim visitor to campus, whom our guide Jordan arranged through a friend to come and speak to us. His rationale was that much of ministry in Uganda is done in a Muslim context. The speaker explained the core tenants of Islam (the Five Pillars), but seemed (both to me and to some other students) to glaze over the problem of Islamic terrorism. The question was asked, but he didn’t give very satisfying answers. He emphatically stated that those who kill in Allah’s name are not “extremists,” because they are not Muslims. He stated they are disobeying the teachings of Islam. However, when asked how one knew that his interpretation of Islam was the correct one, he couldn’t answer, and he said that individual’s actions were not something that he could judge as a Muslim. I wish he had been more strongly challenged by our leadership, but I didn’t want to push him any more than I did. As it was, as a student addressing a visiting professor, I probably already asked too many pointed questions. At any rate, it was a good discussion. My big regret in all of it, is that (even as I write this several days later) we have not yet had a chance to debrief internally as a group of Christian students. Given that many among us are young people with less theological training (I’m literally double the average age of the group), I think a follow-up discussion would be healthy and helpful. One thing that concerns me in these contexts is that we, as Americans, are SO invested in being fair and open that we can fail to take a stand for Christ, and for the truth of who God really is.

Okay, moving on. After visiting with our Muslim friend, we met with the president of the university. His title is technically “Vice Regent,” because, as the Anglican University of Uganda, the Regent of the school is the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda. The vice-regent, whom we met, also studied at TEDS, and is well acquainted with our president, Dr. Dockery, and Amanda, our team leader (who is on staff at TEDS and pursuing her Ph.D. there). This was a very interesting discussion in which we talked about opening more doors of partnerships between TIU and UCU. That’s cool. I’d like to see exchanges go the other way — hosting UCU students in Chicago —, and so would, it seems, many others.

And on that topic, we then met the coordinator of the Uganda Studies Program (USP) at UCU. Undergraduates from places like TIU can come to UCU to spend a semester studying in particular programs. They currently offer emphases in Social Work and Global Health. I was thinking how interesting and valuable it’d be to offer focuses on 3rd world engineering (electrical, electronic, and industrial, specifically) and agriculture. How could you build and grow more effectively to help the under-resourced. Also global economics. But the problem with 3rd world poverty is typically with the leaders of the people, not with the availability of resources. Such seems to be the case in Uganda, like so many other places. For example, a very large oil deposit was discovered in Uganda a few years ago, but evidently the Chinese are moving in and the president is setting up lots of sweetheart deals for himself and his cronies, doing his level best to keep as much of the flow of resources produced by that oil in his own hands and the hands of his friends. It’s my understanding that he has gone so far as to proclaim to the press, “This is my oil.” As long as people at the top prevent the wealth generated by resources like oil (or in Uganda’s case, exports of fruit, clothing, etc) from flowing into the hands of the people, they will always be poor and sick and marginalized. But the human heart is just as dark here as it is anywhere else. Sigh. Come, Lord Jesus, come!

After our discussion with the president, we met for chapel and worship. Beautiful. Outdoor venue. I posted some videos to Facebook. Here’s a picture as well.

Chapel / Worship at UCU

Fantastic service. But I was tired, and found it hard to stay awake and focus, especially given the thunderous rain storm that made it very hard to hear the speaker at times and very easy to hear the rhythmic sound of rain on the roof. I might have communed a little more deeply in prayer than I had planned from time to time. One thing I definitely noticed is that, apart from the Ugandan songs we sung, every worship song sung in English was familiar to me from my time in InterVarsity in the mid-90’s. How interesting! It was actually very powerful for me to be catapulted back 25 years to where I was with the Lord back then, knowing how far and wide I’ve wandered about, and now feeling a sense of being where God has always been taking me. But God is unequivocally at work, even in wilderness wandering.

I don’t know what will come of this experience in Uganda. I certainly don’t know that somehow we’ll “end up” here, but I know that I have obeyed my Father in coming here, that He came before me, that He walks with me, and that He will be here at work among His people long after I’m gone. It was powerful to feel connected to all that.

After worship, we walked to lunch in the mud and the rain. And when we got there, there were no napkins. No way to wash your hands. I’m experiencing this as an ongoing theme in Uganda: Easy to get dirty, hard to get clean.  We ate traditional Matoke and Chapatti again. This time I ordered mine with fish. Reminded me of the fish bowl in the Philippines. In fact, the theme with meat here is that it is all bone-in, and particularly fish is very difficult to work around the bones. Probably won’t get that again, but am trying to sample the broadest variety I can get my hands on. I also admitted at lunch that I need sleeping pills (a little bit of groveling, actually), so I’m working to instigate a bidding war among those who have meds to see who has the strongest and if they’ll share with me.

After lunch, I, along with two other students who are studying for ministry at the undergrad level, went to meet with a group of theology students and shared about our programs. I was hoping to hear from them about their programs at UCU, but they were so interested in us and our programs, that we spent much more time with information flowing from us to them. Such wonderful people, and so interested in studying in the US. I often find it amazing how highly sought after America is … by everyone except Americans. Sigh. At any rate, it was a fun time. A number of them wanted my contact info, and I gave it, so we’ll see where that goes. I’d love someday to host Ugandan students in America. How fun would that be!?

Then I took a nap, and it was glorious. I probably got about 45 min in, and I was totally rejuvenated when I emerged from the room. When I did, I found almost the entire team playing Apples to Apples in the common area, so I brought in a bunch of Starbursts and Skittles to share, and joined them. When the game ended (it was almost over when I got there; they had been playing for 2 hours – FUN!), we all swapped contact info (esp Facebook) so that I could get the group photo album started, and I uploaded the team’s official picture we took on Monday before we left. About time! So, that was fun.

Then at dinner, a number of Ugandan friends from the seminary joined us. I sat with Herbert, whom I really like, and whom I would love to see be among the first to come visit in Chicago sometime. He really would love to do that, I know, but it’s about resources. So, we’ll just have to see what God does.

Lastly, we attended a symposium, hosted by the Honors College at UCU, to discuss culture, success and development. I got to present some of my theories on Kingdom Culture (based on Wolf’s work on Catholic Personality), in a small group setting, and a little bit in the larger group. It seemed to resonate well, and several Ugandans asked for my contact info. So, again who knows where / how that will go.

sleepaidI have to admit that I’m nervous to the point of scared as I turn in for this my third night in Uganda … that I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. But I had acquired sleeping pills from one of the other students (Alex, one of my 12 favorites on the trip), so now it’s all about trusting the Lord.

Good night, America. See you tomorrow.

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The End of Earthly Authority

A sermon manuscript on Revelation 19:11-21, prepared for House of Prayer Church in Mbale, Uganda. But the crazy thing is that I never preached this sermon; God changed it at the last second.

house-of-prayer

Praise God. My name is Jeff Block. I am a Masters of Divinity student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburbs of Chicago in the United States. Thank you so much for having me. It is truly an honor to bring God’s Word to you today. I believe with all my heart that God has sovereignly brought us together. And He has asked me to share with you a message of hope. Not just hope in Mbale, Uganda. Not just hope in America or in Chicago. But hope for the whole world … for everyone who puts their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. To every man, woman and child in every place in all of history, God declares in his word and so I declare to you:

Do not despair; the day is coming when Jesus will make everything right!

The Lord Jesus Christ is sovereign over this entire universe. He has declared that there will ultimately be only one Kingdom, and that He will be the only King, the only power, the only Ruler or Authority in that Kingdom. And He will bring true justice to the earth, defeating and subduing all other powers … anyone or anything that would challenge Him.

Would you pray with me, and then we’ll dig into God’s Word.

Father God, we have gathered this day to hear from you. Move in power among us and speak to our hearts. Teach us from your word that we might be instruments of your glory. Put us at rest in your presence. Whatever distractions or fears or concerns which may have followed us in here, help us to lay them aside, that we might fix our hearts and minds on you alone. Use the one who preaches to bring you glory, and to bring to this people your true word. In the glorious name of your Son Jesus we pray. Amen.

Our passage today is Revelation 19:11-22. So, if you have a Bible, please open it and follow along as I read from the English Standard Version. If you don’t have a Bible, maybe your neighbor would share with you. Again, we’re in Revelation 19:11-22.

Here the word of the Lord…

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is the Word of God. And the armies of heaven – arrayed in fine linen that is white and pure – were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and mall the birds were gorged with their flesh. (Revelation 19:11-21)

Our world is full of people and powers which claim to be true, and which make demands on our lives. But they are nothing alongside King Jesus. The Apostle John describes Jesus, riding on a white horse, as one coming to bring an end to all other powers and stand as the ultimate Ruler of all people in all the earth. We know the rider on the white horse in our passage is Jesus, because John uses images already familiar to us in the New Testament to describe Him – such as white linen (c.f. Matt 17:2), eyes of fire (c.f. Rev 1:14), sword coming from His mouth (c.f. Rev 1:16), etc. Plus, He is explicitly called the Word of God in v13 of our passage.

So, Scripture declares that Jesus will bring an end to every earthly power. He will depose every other king and conquer every opposing army. And ultimately, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:11)

What does this mean for us?

It means that in the end justice will be done, and will be seen to be done.

No matter how unjust the world may be, do not despair; the day is coming when Jesus will make everything right.

No matter how unfair or difficult life may be, do not despair; the day is coming when Jesus will make everything right.

No matter what goes wrong or who causes you pain, do not despair; the day is coming when Jesus will make everything right!

And no matter how important or impressive any person or president or king or authority may seem to be, ultimately everyone will serve the King of kings! It is Jesus who will rule. The day is coming when Jesus will make everything right.

Look at the way John describes Jesus in our passage…

Jesus is faithful and true. You don’t ever have to wonder if you can believe God’s word. He is faithful. His word does not change. It never fails. It will never return to Him without accomplishing everything which He has declared it will accomplish (Isa 55:11). He will never leave you or forsake you (Heb 13:5). He is who He says He is. He does what He says He does. He is faithful. Do not despair; the day is coming when Jesus will make everything right.

And notice that Jesus judges in righteousness. Whatever God decrees is right. He can’t be deceived. He can’t be mocked (Gal 6:7). He can’t be fooled by a deceitful neighbor or a lying enemy or a slanderous family member. His flaming eyes burn through deceit and half-truths. When he judges, his judgments are perfect (Deut 32:4). And he will make war against all those who would make war against you, His beloved child. You can trust God to fight for you (Ex 14:14)! People may get away with wicked, deceitful behavior for a little while, but in the end, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24). Do not despair; the day is coming when Jesus will make everything right.

Continuing in verse 12…

See how Jesus wears many diadems on His head? This is a symbol of His incredible power. He has a name that no one knows. This is likely intended to indicate that no one has power over Him, for they certainly do not! And His robe is dipped in blood, which could indicate all kinds of things, including that He is a great warrior. But even more importantly, this great Warrior King is also a Lamb who was slain, and by His blood He has purchased us all for God … men and women and children from every tribe and tongue and language and nation under heaven (Rev 7:9).

Looking back at the verse, in verse 15…

We already mentioned that Jesus is the Word of God, the very author of creation. The Lord Jesus Christ is God’s Word (John 1:1). He spoke the universe into existence (Ps 33:9). He is the Word who became flesh and walked among us, declaring to us in his very person the glory of God. (John 1:14). But this Word is also a sharp sword which will strike down the nations. And He will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of Almighty God. God’s wrath is being poured out against all ungodliness and unrighteousness (Rom 1:18). No one is exempt. Either you will pay the price for your sin – in full – or Jesus will. If you haven’t already done so, give your heart to Him. He came to us and died for us in order to take our justly-deserved punishment upon His strong back. Don’t leave here carrying the weight of your sin. Cast it upon the Lord. Allow Him to pay your debt for you. Because no debt will go unpaid. No evil will escape God’s judgment, and we are evil apart from God’s regenerating work in us! No wrong will fail to be set right. Even when wrongs seem to go unpunished … even when the wicked seem to be winning … do not despair; the day is coming when Jesus will make everything right.

And this next verse is probably my favorite part…

“And on his robe and on his thigh He has a name that has been written: King of kings and Lord of lords.” (:16) It has been written that every earthly authority will someday surrender entirely to Jesus. There is no president, no king, no master, no employer who will fail to answer to this King. Every kingdom, every empire in all of history … their power will come to nothing. And every person in this place is no different. If you have never trusted Jesus Christ to be your Savior and your Lord and your only way to spend eternity with God, do that right now! Because someday, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:10) You have only two choices: Bow before the King now, willingly, and give Him your heart. Or be forced to bow before Him someday by a rod of iron and a sharp sword, when unimaginable wrath is pour out upon all unrighteousness and disobedience. You cannot escape that wrath by being good or by clever deception; only by the blood of Christ! So often, it seems that the ungodly are prospering. Don’t believe it! You may see unjust leaders abusing their power. Their time is almost up! You may wonder who will hold corrupt rulers accountable. Leave all that to the Lord! Vengeance is His, and He will repay in full (Deut 32:35). But for you, make sure that YOU have submitted your whole life to Jesus. And once you do, do not despair; the day is coming when Jesus will make everything right.

Now, the rest of this passage gets pretty gruesome. The unrighteous kings of the earth and all their power are literally devoured by God’s judgment. This is explicitly contrasted with the wedding feast of the lamb, earlier in the chapter, where the people of God finally find rest reclining at the table of their Lord and King. This is the ultimate picture of Jesus making everything right … those who have been purchased by the blood of Christ dine at the table of the Lord, and those who have demanded to live life on their own terms and refused to bend the knee to their rightful King … they are consumed by the righteous wrath of God.

Then Satan, who is represented by the beast, and the false prophet, who represents all the lies that Satan has told to the people of this world … they are both cast alive into the lake of fire to be tortured forever, never again to raise evil hands or lying lips against the people of God.

So, when it seems like the unrighteous live in comfort while the people of God suffer, do not despair; the day is coming when Jesus will make everything right.

And finally, notice that there is no actual battle in this passage. In verse 14, the people of God line up behind our King, dressed like Him because we are His children. And in verse 19, the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gather to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. But there is no battle. King Jesus simply captures the beast and the false prophet and devours the kings of the earth, representing all unjust earthly authority. And in an instance, the battle is the Lord’s! And we do not lift one sword or one hand to fight. Why? Because the battle against evil and injustice was fought on the cross of Calvary! This is the Lamb who was slain but who stands now in glorious victory. Though you may not see it, it is only a matter of time before His victory is complete.

This is the legacy of the people of God … to know how the story ends. For this reason, we can have faith. I challenge you to trust the Lord. I challenge you to give your heart and life to Jesus. I challenge you to serve the King with joy, while we eagerly await His coming. We can endure hardship. We can forgive those who mistreat us. We can have faith in what we do not see. Because we know that Jesus is coming soon. And in the meantime, walk with the Lord, be patient, have courage, remain united, and do not despair; the day is coming when Jesus will make everything right.

Let’s pray…

Sovereign and almighty God, we acknowledge before you today that you are the Great King over all the earth. There is no one above you, no one beside you, no one who compares to you, no one who can even comprehend you. You are more than a Creator, more than a Savior, more than a means of escaping judgment. You are the mighty and awesome One on whose robe is written, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” We bow before you, sovereign God, and worship you in the splendor of holiness. Keep your promises to us, Father! Do not leave us or forsake us! Come quickly, Lord, to rescue your people and judge your enemies. For we know that you judge and wage war in absolute, perfect righteousness. And until that day, send us out, that we may declare your glory and your beauty and your boundless love to a world that is hurting and afraid and deathly ill. Make us instruments of your saving work, that the world may know that there is a God in Israel!

And come quickly, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.

And all God’s people said…

Amen!

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