Love Me More

Humble Prayer

I don’t know if anyone can understand what it means to be a Christian if they don’t relate to this song. Every single line in it tells the story of the gospel. If you aren’t amazed that God would want anything to do with you, if you haven’t wondered why God didn’t just leave you in your sin, if you think you’ve never called God’s love “a lie,” then how can you possibly comprehend how far down God has to reach in order to rescue you from the dominion of darkness and transfer you into the Kingdom of the Son He loves (Col 1:13)?

If we want to honor God with our lives, then we approach others in the gratitude and humility that comes from knowing that we have done nothing to earn God’s love. And we approach God with our faces bowed very, very low.


I can’t believe that you still want me
After everything I’ve done.
I can’t believe that you still want me to be with you.

I was sure that you would leave me
With the mess that I had made.
I was sure that you would take away your love.

But I was wrong and you’re still here.
And your love, it carries all my fear.
There’s nothing I can say,
There’s nothing I can do
To make you love me more.

You’re the only one who loves me
Just the way I am.
You’re the only one who loves me so perfectly.

And even when I told you
never call on me again.
Even when I called your love a lie.

But I was wrong and you’re still here.
And your love, it carries all my fear.
There’s nothing I can say,
There’s nothing I can do
To make you love me more.

Love Me More
New Map of the World, Paul Colman Trio, 2002

But the amazing thing is that God did reach down that far to save us. He sent His one and only Son into the world, so that we might live through him (1 John 4:9), that He might be the payment for all our rebellion and sin. He made His who knew no sin to be sin for us — literally to become a curse on our behalf — so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

There’s no greater truth, no more important story, and nothing more significant to which you could be called than citizenship in His kingdom and member in His family. But there’s nothing you can do to earn that calling; it is the gift of God. Receive that gift in humility and gratitude, knowing that the price He paid to extend it is literally unfathomable.

I find this song to be a reminder of that amazing love — God’s amazing love. I hope you will too.


Image credit:
1) Humble prayer – Keith Kettenring
Posted in Psalms, Music and Worship | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Uganda Travel Log: The Journey Home

Location: Kampala, Uganda to Brussels, Belgium to Chicago, USA
Monday-Tuesday, May 29-30, 2017

Flights to Uganda

The day has finally come. After being away from home for 15 days, today we embark on the 2-day journey home. First, we’ll drive across Kampala, down the peninsula to Entebbe International Airport. That will take awhile in typical Kampala traffic. Next, we enjoy the time-consuming procedures associated with international travel. Then, a quick hop south to Kigali, Rwanda (not shown on the map due to scale problems, but there’s a zoom-in below). Then, we’ll fly north across the bulk of Africa and the Mediterranean, to northern Europe (Brussels). There, we’ll lay over for a couple hours, then hop across the northern Atlantic to O’hare. Then through customs, back to Trinity in vans, grab my car, and drive home. The total trip will be about 30 hours. Ugh. Here’s how it played out…

It took awhile to get to Entebbe, but not nearly as long as we feared it would, so we had time to stop at a beach resort there to chill for a bit before heading to the airport. Entebbe is a peninsula jutting out into Lake Victoria (the largest lake in Africa), so I enjoyed a beach, fruity drinks, some sugar cane to chew (first time for that), and a good book (getting a head start on some of my theology reading for the fall).

Entebbe Beach Entebbe Beach 2

After a relaxing couple of hours on the beach, we packed up and headed to the airport. Two things that I found particularly interesting while getting there…

Where we’re doing, we DO need roads

First, I got a glimpse of the new Entebbe-Kampala Expressway.

It’s not finished yet, so we didn’t drive on it. But we drove under an overpass, and I looked up some pictures of it since I love that sort of thing (and wanted to share them with you). This project promises to be extremely significant and beneficial for Uganda. It’s a direct shunt of modern road (similar to what you might see in the US) which will connect the Entebbe International Airport to Kampala, the capitol and largest city in the nation. It then loops up around the NW side of the city to serve as a bypass around the crazy traffic normally experienced there. It’s almost done, and I think it’s going to be a game changer when it’s finally done! Yes, they’ll get to move freight and people more efficiently on this one road. But I think it will also give them the bug. I suspect people will begin to demand more once they get a taste of this kind of road. We’ll see.

I believe this is the actual underpass we drove through, which caught my attention:

entebbe-kampala-expressway

Also, here’s a site with some great pictures of the work in progress.

And here’s a picture of normal traffic in Kampala. So, I’m thinking words like “expressway” and “bypass” could become fast favorites among the Ugandan people.

Traffic in Kampala

Airport Security

Second, I was a bit astonished at how much security we went through to get home.

First, on our approach to the Entebbe airport, we literally had to disembark the bus at a gate on the road outside the airport. We then walked through metal detectors and were wanded on the road, while a soldier drove the bus through a vehicle security checkpoint. While we watched the bus drive by, I had nightmares about their dragging all our luggage off the bus and going through it, but they didn’t (thank God!). We then piled back onto the bus and proceeded to the airport.

After we finally got to the airport, we went through metal detectors and passed our luggage through scanners to get into the building. Then we checked our luggage. Then we went through another security checkpoint, where they scanned us and our carry-on bags, and asked us “where are you going?” questions while scrutinizing our passports. We hung out in the concourse until our gate was announced, then we went through another security checkpoint to get to the gate. Then they scrutinized our passports again before letting us on the plane.

When we touched down in Brussels, we disembarked the plane with no issues. Our layover there was a couple of hours, so it provided us with the opportunity to have a bite to eat and jump online to check in with family (though it was the middle of the night back home). But before we boarded the flight from Brussels to the US, we went through another set of “why are you going to the US?” and “where have you been?” questions to get our passports approved. Then of course, we went through customs in the US.

By my count, we went through 8 distinct security checkpoints between Kampala, Brussels and Chicago. Do you feel safe?

Travel Mercies

Okay, enough of that. Let me rewind and share a couple things about the travel itself…

Hop to KigaliFirst, we didn’t fly straight from Kampala to Brussels. We made a quick stop in Kigali, Rwanda, about 50 miles SW of Entebbe. When we got there, those heading for Europe (or on to the US) stayed on the plane while some disembarked, others boarded, and still others vacuumed and cleaned literally around our feet. My first time remaining on a plane while it turned over. Interesting. The entire exercise (depart + fly + land + turn over + take off again) took about about 90 minutes, and then we were on our way straight north to Brussels — about a 9 hour trip.

I was all excited to get an aisle seat, since we were in economy, and back there, anything that assists with legroom is key. But I was less excited when a not-at-all-concerned-about-the-person-behind-her African woman sat down in the seat in front of me, and — even before we had pulled away from the terminal —, reclined her seat as far back as it would go. Not a good sign. In fact, no matter what was happening, whether she was sleeping, eating, talking to the lady next to her, or up out of her seat walking around or in the restroom, she had that seat fully reclined for the … entire … trip. The flight attendants literally had to tell her to un-recline it for both take off and landing. So, all my pandas were sad … and the result was that I was pretty much eating my knees for a 9 hour flight. No laptop … that won’t fit. No way for my legs to be straight … they don’t fit. Hard to eat … cause that doesn’t fit. So, I sat legs-crossed in the seat for the entire flight overnight. Translation, zero sleep, and most of me was sore. International + economy + large (tall or wide, and I’m both) = miserable. It’s an equation I’ve been sadly aware of for many years now. But God is good, and we eventually made it to Brussels — two reasonably interesting movies, two reasonably tasty meals later and several hours of audiobook later.

Jeff StarbucksWhen I could barely stand up to disembark the plane in Brussels, I decided it was time to move to the adult table. First priority, that Starbucks over there. Oh yeah! Second priority, get through the passport check line the second it opens (which the team didn’t want to do for whatever reason, so I got through in 5 minutes, while they stood in line for a half hour). And third, while the team makes its way through the line, pay United whatever it takes to get into Economy Plus … while sipping Starbucks. Pandas’ moods = restored!

And that was the best money I’ve spent in a while. So, after a quick-but-tasty European breakfast in the concourse and yet another lesson in currency exchange for my young travel companions, I gleefully boarded the next flight, and we were off to Chicago. Another 8 hours, but this time I was in an aisle seat in Economy plus with nobody sitting next to me. Hey, Mr. Guy-in-front-of-me, go ahead and lean back until your heart’s content! Both my knees AND my laptop are good to go!

Another movie, some TV shows I ripped onto my laptop, some journaling, and a bunch of reading later… touch down in Chicago! Honestly, I almost kissed the ground.

Home, Sweet Home … but not for the fruit

Going through customs was easy. I was introduced to the new automated passport scanner ATM-like machines that weren’t there last time I came through (2009?). They literally scan your passport, and give you a “receipt” that you’re approved. I talked to a customs agent, but the conversation seemed VERY perfunctory. He was most interested in the nifty “receipt” from the ATM. Weird. And nobody even so much as glanced at my “port entry” sheet. The most interesting thing in the customs line was this adorable little beagle (wish I could have taken a picture!) who was sniffing out… not bombs, not drugs, but fruit. LOL. beagleI watched this little guy sniff out two bananas in two peoples’ backpacks. Then he came over while we were waiting for our checked luggage at the carousel, he found a bag there that security pulled off the belt and hauled away. We take bananas VERY seriously in this country!

Once out on the curb, we waited for at least 3 minutes for the TIU vans to arrive. We threw in the luggage, and headed back to school.

Once there, we said tearful goodbyes, and headed for home — dropping off one of my teammates and swinging through Chick-Fil-A drive-thru on the way, of course.

Then, home at last!

Then, family hugs and kisses.

Then, shower.

Then, bed.

Pictures, stories and unpacking in the morning. But for now, there’s no place like home!


Image credit:
1) Entebbe-Kampala Expressway – Pearlvibe
2) Beagle – Dogtime
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Uganda Travel Log: Day 12 – Church, Debrief and Dancing

Location: Kampala and Ndere, Uganda
Sunday, May 28, 2017

Watoto Church Service

Unbelievably, we leave tomorrow to fly back to the States. Although there were moments on this trip when I felt like we’d been in Uganda for months, not days, now suddenly it seems impossible that the trip is almost over. But the truth is that I’m very anxious to return home to my family, church, and the rest of life.

But before I do… It’s Sunday. Time for church.

Church

watoto church logoWe had breakfast as usual at the hotel, and then headed into town (Kampala) to attend the 10am service at Watoto Church. Watoto the largest church in Uganda, frequently referred to as the Willow Creek of East Africa. It’s a large (even by US standards) multi-site church, which means in 12 locations, mostly clustered around Kampala (the capital of and largest city in Uganda). It was a pretty modern place, set in a large theater-like auditorium in the middle of the city. There wasn’t much to distinguish it from the outside, but inside, it looked much like a megachurch in the US to look… lights, big stage, auditorium seating, fancy computer equipment, giant screens, etc.

I liked the people on stage. I enjoyed the music. It was in English, but I didn’t recognize a single song. The worship leader and pastor were both winsome and engaging. I liked the sermon — it was about covenant relationship in the context of the family. Josh Mugabi (the speaker) talked about the covenants that should exist between husbands and wives (Malachi 2:13-14), parents and children (Ephesians 6:1-4) and brothers and sisters (Proverbs 17:17; c.f. Genesis 4). I appreciated his message, although there were definitely times when he was using the word “blessing” that I wondered how the congregation was defining the word. I had flashes of concern that, although Pastor Josh never explicitly said this, if someone in the audience was predisposed to a prosperity gospel view of the universe, they could have read that into his message. That said, for those who already have a healthy theology of blessing, it was a great sermon. All up, I think God attends Watoto — the first and most significant criteria for the health of a church —, plus I really enjoy and profited from being there.

Uganda Hotel Coffee HutAfter church, we had a beautiful lunch back at the hotel. That was followed by some free time, which many used to play cards, but I used to journal and write, and then spend a couple hours hauled up in the hotel’s coffee bar to debrief as a team.

And a Show

After that, we snagged a light snack, and headed back into town for a show at the Ndere Cultural Center (also on Facebook). It was a great show, and very interesting. Musical styles from around East Africa. Lots of drums and dancing and crazy feats of balancing things on the dancers’ heads. My favorite / the most astounding thing I saw was a group of men playing these large drums that were balanced on their heads while they danced around the stage. Also women with 4 or 5 jars stacked in a tower, balanced on their heads while they violently danced around the stage. It was amazing. And the drum circles were amazing to. It was a great time, and gave us some interesting cultural insights. I’m really glad we went.

 

At the end — and this was my favorite part — the entire audience was invited up onto the stage to dance with together with the performers. This was a) for fun, and b) to demonstrate racial, ethnic, and national unity. See, we can all dance together!

My second favorite part of the show was the MC. The guy was really fun, and impressive too. The dancers could dance, but when this guy asked where you were from, it seemed like no matter where it was, he was able to speak a few words of the language there or talk intelligently about a current event or make fun of a cultural norm, or whatever. He was really great. All in all a good show. I promise I’ll post the name as soon as I get it. It’s worth checking out.

The show was over 3.5 hours long, and took us pretty late into the evening. We stopped back by Java House, but I don’t think we got there until after 10, and they closed at 11. I stumbled into bed at about 11:30 looking forward to flying out the next day.

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Uganda Travel Log: Day 11 – Tyranny and Tourism

Location: Kampala (Mengo and Bugolobi districts), Uganda
Saturday, May 27, 2017

Uganda Team at Mengo Palace

Today was a day of tourism and relaxation. We ate breakfast at the hotel — which, by the way, is as standardized here (the Namirembe Guest House) as it was at the JENGA guest house in Mbale. Breakfast here consists of hard-boiled eggs, bread to toast, mango juice (not like the stuff in more rural areas, I’m sad to say; I think it’s watered down to make it stretch), coffee (soooo strong), African tea (yum!), fruit, and these muffins that remind me of a semi-sweet cornbread. Might actually be semi-sweet cornbread, since they grow a lot of maze and sugar cane, and while I’m no gourmet chef, it seems like that gets you a long way toward “semi-sweet cornbread.” But I digress. The secret to breakfast at Namirembe is the “spanish omelet.” I heard another guest request one, so I tried it too. It’s simple: a couple of eggs, scrambled, with a few pieces of bell pepper stirred in, then … “omleted” (told you I wasn’t a chef). But it was really good!

After breakfast, we piled in the bus and headed into town. One of our number was sick, so our group leader (Amanda) took her to the doctor. Kira, another student who has been on this trip 3-4 times before, led the expedition into town. Thought you might appreciate a view of traffic in Kampala. Note the absolute lack of signs, lines, lights, signals, etc.

Traffic in Kampala

We started by visiting Mengo Palace (also called Lubiri Palace) on the outskirts of Kampala. The palace is technically located in Mengo, adjacent to Kampala proper. The palace was built by Mwanga II, the 31st king (or “Kabaka”) of Buganda, in 1885. He conducts some official business, but will not live there, because so much killing has occurred on that site (keep reading, I’ll get to that), and the Baganda are suspicious about such things.

Mengo PalaceBTW, “the Buganda” is how locals refer to the people of Uganda. There is a pattern of prefixes used in the local language to construct words related to nationality. Uganda = nation; Baganda = people; Luganda = language, etc. The Buganda is the largest, most powerful tribe in Uganda, and the reason for the country’s name, but there are also the Batooro, Banyoro, Bakiga, Bafumbira, and many others. Note the “Ba-” prefix. Each of those too are subject to the same construction. The Batooro people form the sub-nation of Utooro and likely speak the language Latooro. Etc. I’m a Muzungu (“white person”). So, “my people” are collectively referred to as Bazungu as well. You get the idea.

Okay, back to our tour…

King Mwanga II of Buganda

King Mwanga II of Buganda

There is a bunch of history at Mengo Palace – kings who overthrown and their successors tortured and killed tens of thousands of people out of paranoia and fear as they labored desperately to hold on to power. Mwanga II, who built and lived initially in the palace, is the same king who tried to wipe out Christianity and the original Catholic and Anglican missionaries. We visited the Okuzimba museum honoring them a few days ago.

So, Mwango builds this palace, gets all uppity, has a bunch of Christians killed, and creates huge problems for himself. He has a long, sorted history with the British, who were in colonization mode concerning all of East Africa, as well as the East India Trading Company. He was deposed twice, brokered power with the British multiple times (bleeding power from the Buganda to hand it to Britain to keep himself “in power”), was imprisoned and escaped multiple times, led rebellions, declared war on Britain once, etc. Colorful guy.

Milton Obote

Milton Obote, Prime Minister

Eventually, the Brits kicked him out for good and placed his 5th son by his 4th (of 16) wives, Daudi Chwa II, on the throne. His reign was comparably unremarkable, but he was succeeded by Mutesa II, whose reign was anything but. During Mutesa’s reign as king, the British floated the idea of federating the East India Company. Mutesa, and the Buganda, hated that idea, fearing it would bring them under white control, as had occurred elsewhere (e.g. Kenya). So, they rebelled, demanding independence for the Buganda kingdom from the Ugandan nation. Instead, in 1962, Uganda became an independent nation from Britain under the leadership of Milton Obote, as executive Prime Minister. Under the country’s new constitution, the Kingdom of Buganda became a semi-autonomous tribal region in a new Ugandan federation. And the post of colonial “Governor General” was abolished and replaced by a non-executive President, a post first held by the King.

These two men — Mutesa as king and president, and Obote as Prime Minister, who is the true head of the government — quickly came to be at odds on a great many issues. The conflict came to a head in 1966 when Obote was implicated in a gold smuggling plot, together with Idi Amin, then deputy commander of the Ugandan armed forces. When Parliament demanded Obote be investigated and Amin be fired, Obote suspended the constitution and declared himself President, disregarding the King and allocating to himself almost unlimited power under a series of emergency rulings. When I was listening to the guide describe this, scene after scene from Star Wars came to mind. I kept looking around for Anakin Skywalker.

Mengo Torture ChamberUltimately, Obote’s and Amin’s forces attacked the palace, captured it and sent Mutesa into exile. Over the next couple of decades, 25,000 people were then tortured and killed on the grounds of the palace. Here is a picture of the torture chamber (started out as a weapons armory). People were herded into this main long hallway area. There are five 20x20ft (or so) rooms to the left, each of which used to be closed off by a steel door. Imagine this room with about a foot of standing water in the main hallway. In order to torture or kill those in the chamber, the water could be electrified at various levels of intensity. Our tour guide said that they would torture people by turning the juice on low for 30 min at a time, shocking them in a way they couldn’t escape, letting them rest for an unpredictable (but short) length of time, then cranking the juice back on. Then, when they were done for the day, they’d herd them into the rooms on the left, lock the doors, and let the crowd thin by suffocation, before the let them back in the water for more torture. Highly disturbing.

In the end, the nation established a new constitution in 1997. They started out with a more balanced system, but the President now has nearly unlimited power (the current guy —Yoweri Museveni — is effectively a dictator, who has been in power for over 30 years and ignores much of the constitution). The King is a very influential figurehead, who appoints a very weak parliament. And the people are frustrated, because they (of course) want more ability to directly affect their own lives.

Idi Amin

Idi Amin

As fascinating as it was at the palace, I think I was the only one on our team who was really into it. Everyone else is (much!) younger, and they don’t remember who Idi Amin (or his buddy Muammar Gaddafi) was. To them, it’s theoretical. To me, it’s actual history. The other thing they seemed to struggle to grasp is that this kind of bloody transition of power is normal. Heartbreaking, but normal. It’s us in the US … who peacefully transition between leaders every few years and whose leaders actually respect the constitution to some degree … we’re the weird ones. It’s the US who is radically unusual in all of history, not Uganda. In most of the world and in most of history, the guy with the biggest stick is in charge. Period. And he typically, frequently, and with impunity kills lots and lots of people with smaller sticks. Sad, but nonetheless true. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

So, anyway, moving on…

After we left the palace, we ran around town a bit. We exchanged more money for a few team members, then came back to the hotel for lunch (an amazing Mongolian BBQ; SO good!), and then went shopping in a local (rather touristy) marketplace in the afternoon.

At the market, the shop owners were a bit pushy and aggressive, but they were nothing like those I encountered in Israel. There were no prices on anything, so you always have to ask what the store owners want for whatever you’re looking at. Then, you haggle your guts out, until you land on a final price. Our guide recommended that we start the wrangling by cutting the stated price in half right out of the gate. I’m not the best at this game, but I did end up getting got 3 dresses, 3 shirts, and a bunch of other smaller souvenirs for less than $100, so I don’t think I did too badly. It helps that the exchange rate is ~3,500 UGX (Uganda Shillings) to 1 USD. To give you a frame of reference, the average Ugandan salary this year is about 45M UGX (~$13k), a gallon of gas costs about 14,000 UGX (~$4) (1), and a loaf of bread costs about 3,000 UGX ($0.85) (2).

Having done our souvenir shopping for the trip, we spent the rest of the afternoon at a resort in Bugolobi (a district in Kampala). We swam, some folks played cards, and generally relaxed on a beautiful afternoon. Check this out…

 

And after that, it was dinner at everybody’s favorite place to eat in Uganda (*wink*): Café Java. Then we retired back to the guest house for cards and then sleep. All in all, it was a very interesting, educational, and fun day.


Image Credit:
1) Mwanga – Alchetron
2) Obote – Black Post
3) Amin – Watchdog Uganda

(1) – Average Salary Survey
(2) – Numbeo
Posted in News, Politics and Culture, Travel | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Uganda Travel Log: Day 10 – Traveling Cross Country

Location: Mbale to Mukono to Kampala, Uganda
Friday, May 26, 2017

Scenic Uganda

Today, we leave MBale. We got up early, enjoyed breakfast at the guest house, packed everything onto the bus, then walked next door to the JENGA main office to participate in the first few hours of their all-day staff meeting. The local JENGA team meets every Friday morning to fast and pray and worship together, and once a month, they expand this time together into an all-day training and planning session. In addition to prayer and praise, they use this time to learn and grow personally and to advance the ministry.

This month, the topic is leadership. After some prayer and worship time, Vincent (one of the leaders of the ministry) presented concrete steps to becoming a better leader. It was a very interesting a valuable session. He focused on two aspects of leadership which I agree are essential: vision-casting and influence. Then Amanda (our team leader) presented on the characteristics of a successful leader. When it was time for our team to leave (around lunch time), we gathered to pray for one another as a formal means for the JENGA team to send the US team back out from Mbale to return home after a week of ministry together. It was such a wonderful time of prayer. The JENGA team encircled us, laid hands on us, and prayed. Then we switched places. Then we hugged, some wept and everyone thanked God for one another. It was touching … and extremely encouraging. One of my favorite parts of the trip.

Before we left, we had the opportunity to do some shopping – buying items which support the various ministries and peoples around the Mbale area. I bought a tote bag for Faith (can’t have enough of those) and was especially excited about buying coffee, so picked up a couple of bags of that. Yum. Can’t wait to crack those puppies open!

Aiden, one of the JENGA volunteers (and who seemed to be the “unofficial official” photographer of the group) also took this fantastic group picture of us as we were gathering up preparing to leave…

Group Picture at JENGA

After we left JENGA, we stopped in town for some traditional Ugandan lunch (I think I’m gonna be okay leaving matoke and chipati behind), and then basically spent the rest of the day in the car traveling west. We drove back to Mukoto to drop off our Ugandan friends from UCU, which was another tearful goodbye, then we forged ahead to Kampala, where we’ll be staying the remainder of the trip to rest, share, shop, be tourists, and otherwise begin the transition back to our lives in the US. On the bus, driving out from Mbale, the Ugandan students gave a farewell address of sorts. They went around the circle describing something they appreciate about each of the American team members. It was very well done and very moving, and contributed strongly to the tearful nature of our mutual goodbyes.

Here’s a map of our route today, for the interested. Look for the gray dashed line in the SE quadrant of the country. Now that I see the image embedded, it’s not as bold and obvious as I would have liked, but it’ll do. Sorry about that.

uganda map 1

I find stuff like this fascinating. Note, for example, how big Lake Victoria is and that it is the head of the Nile River (at Jinja). From there, the Nile flows north (very unusual) up to Egypt and empties into the Mediterranean Sea. Also note that where we were in Mbale is just on the other side of the mountains from Kenya (the border runs right through the mountains in which we were routinely adventuring). In fact, at one point on the trip, we passed a crowd of pilgrims from Kenya on their way to visit the Okuzimba shrine (where the Christian missionaries were martyred, and which we toured last Friday).

Also on the bus, Mandy, one of the Ugandans from UCU, taught us a new card game that I really like. This actually took place on the bus ride to Mbale, but I thought I’d share it today, since this entry is fairly short.

matatuThe game is called “Matatu.” It’s very similar to Uno, but it’s played with a deck of poker cards. It’s a little spicier than Uno, tho, and I really liked it. You deal each player 5 cards, then flip a card from the deck to determine the end-game card. Whatever suite comes up for that card, the 7 of that suite ends the game. Just like Uno, you must play the same suite or number. Aces are wild, twos are draw two, threes are draw three, eights are skips, and jacks are reverses. If I play a two card, you must draw two, unless you have a two as well. If you play your two on top of mine, then it “chains.” This can be done up to all four 2’s or 3’s. When you get down to 2 cards, you must say “warning” and when you get down to 1 card, you must say “card.” If someone says either of these before you do, you have to draw 5 cards. If a person runs out of cards, the other players keep playing until the end-game card is played. When it is, everyone counts their cards, and lowest score wins. Cards count as follows: A = 50, 2 = 20, J = 11, Q = 12, K = 15, and other cards are face value.

In case you’re interested, a version of Matatu exists for Apple and Android devices.

On the way across country, we stopped at a gas station for snacks. The good news is: snacks and shared. The bad news is: everyone got sugar snacks, including me — except one of the Ugandans who invested in Pringles, but didn’t share. It was horrible. I’ve eaten so badly on this trip, and this was like asking for a diabetic coma! I seriously doubt there was a single cheeseburger’s worth of actual nutrients shared among the 17 of us. Sad panda.

Cafe JavaBut a few hours later, we stopped at Café Java again for dinner, which was fantastic. Again, I had vegetables and grilled chicken. YES! I love this place. So many options, all good food. Good coffee. Clean restrooms. Etc.

We finally got back to the hotel we stayed at the first night after we arrived – the Namirembe Guest House – about 10pm. Of course, everyone wanted to play cards, so we did for a while. But they slept on the bus ride far more than I did (thank God for audiobooks), so I was pretty wiped. And I thank God I fell asleep easily again, even though we had transitioned to a new place.


Image credit:
1) Group picture – Aiden Patrick
2) Matatu – Google Play store
3) Others are mine
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Uganda Travel Log: Day 9 – Really busy but really good

Location: Mbale, Uganda
Thursday, May 25, 2017

Kids Running Around

Prologue to the Day

I gotta admit, I was pretty grumpy today. Sadly. I got somewhat frustrated yesterday with the way we organized the hike to the waterfall, and I didn’t handle it the way I should have. So, instead of directly engaging the people involved and getting over it (you know, actually handling it in a biblical way), I let grumpiness fester, and it made today a lot harder than it needed to be. Sigh.

Grumpy DwarfOne of the casualties of my bad mood is that I also don’t have any pictures for today. The truth is, though, that the opportunity for pictures today was limited anyway. My grumpiness just didn’t help, though. So sorry, friends.

At any rate, we started the day with breakfast at the house, as usual. But I realize that I have never described what that really means, so here goes… Typical breakfast this week, including this morning, has been: hard-boiled eggs (with white yokes — which I guess is a byproduct of what they feed their chickens here), pineapple and mango (amazing pineapple and mango), sweet white bread, wheat bread, peanut butter, strawberry jam, butter, coffee, tea, and mango juice. YUM!

Playing with the Kids at Namatala

playing soccer

After breakfast, we left early for the Namatala slums. This is where half of us attended church (and some preached) on Sunday. Today, we played games with a couple hundred kids while their moms worshipped together at one of the local churches. These women are primarily involved in the brewing industry — which we talked about yesterday. That means that they are in fact somewhat shunned by “proper” Ugandan society, because brewing is generally a disrespected profession. The way people talked about it, it seemed like it might carry a stigma similar even to something like prostitution. Very interesting, and very sad.

At any rate, we played and played with the kids. It was really hot – probably the hottest day of the whole trip – and the sun was beating down on us. And of course we had to dress “appropriately,” which means jeans for guys and skirts for girls; proper Bazungu (that’s us white folk) do not show leg in public in Uganda. But, even given all that, we had a blast.

As a result of the sun, attire and kids, we got pretty dirty and extremely sweaty – especially Mike, who was tackled repeatedly by friendly, fun-loving kids. Children came up to me in droves, wanting to jump on me or hang on me or rub the hair on my arms (which was clearly very foreign / strange to them) or make my watch beep. It was a ton of fun, and I felt like we really served the kids. Another of our team members, Rebecca, led us in a skit of the story of David and Goliath (see 1 Samuel 17), which was super fun. Four kids played David and his 3 sheep. Mike played Goliath. Zack played God. And I played a terrified Israelite, cowering in a corner with Taylor, my fellow soldier. And the rest of the team played Philistines. After the skit, we taught them a song, then they taught us a song. And then, it was games, games, games out in the courtyard … including an epic game of Duck-Duck-Goose.

While we were outside playing, a number of the women from our team were inside the church with local JENGA volunteers, praying and worshipping with the moms from Namatala. I don’t know much about what went on inside, except that women who feel doubly-outcast — both by the society at large because of their professions and by Christians who think they are cursed because of their circumstances — were able to come together to worship the Lord without judgment or fear. That is awesome.

But whatever was happening inside, our playtime outside was truly wonderful. We had so much fun, and I think we made the kids feel loved. A couple of children in particular really touched my heart, including a tiny little guy who was just wondering around among other kids – to slow to catch the bubbles older kids were blowing and popping (we brought a case of bubble bottles, which the kids loved). So, I flew him around a bit like superman to catch the bubbles, and ended up spending time just holding him, and then one child after another on my lap or in my arms. I was naturally drawn to the ones who weren’t either able or willing to run around crazy playing sports with the Americans (most of the American team are athletes at TIU).

Sustainable Coffee Ministry

coffeeNext on the agenda, the team planned to travel back up the mountain to tour a church involved with JENGA in growing and selling coffee. Part of their development ministry is to focus on sustainability. They have intentionally designed their business practices to generate revenue in the hands of the local farmers. Typically in the past most of the profit from growing coffee (or other crops) was eaten up by greedy 3rd party middle-men. As a result, the farmers largely gave up growing many of the crops that could be profitable. JENGA is a very fair “middle-man,” paying top wages and setting strict limits on what they are willing to make in the process (especially since they exist to serve the people here, so whatever they made would just go back into them anyway). As a result, small farming businesses have begun to flourish again, and increasing wealth is flowing into the communities here on the outskirts of Mbale.

I was already grumpy and considering sitting our the trip up the mountain, but when the team transferred out of the bus into two smaller jeeps, I knew for sure I should stay behind. I thought I could use the opportunity to give myself a time out, but I also remembered the trip up the mountain in one of those jeeps the day before. I had a vision of spending 90 min getting up the mountain, bouncing violently the entire time, then being at the church for an hour, then spending a bunch of time driving back down … accompanied of course by more bouncing. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Plus, like I said, I needed some downtime. So, I journaled and read, got a shower, played some cards with our tour guide, etc. And as it turns out, my predictions were pretty accurate, and by the time the team returned, I was feeling much better … so I was glad I didn’t go.

Hospital Ministry

When the team returned, they freshened up quickly, and we all headed back into town to visit a local government hospital. Once there, we broke into teams, each led by a local JENGA volunteers. We fanned out into the various wards of the hospital simply praying with people there. My team consisted of Zack (one of our team from America who just graduated from TIU with a Christian Ministries degree) and Joel (the local JENGA team leader). Joel led us into the general ward, on the men’s side, and we talked with patient after patient, praying for them and offering words of encouragement. More than once, God brought specific verses to my mind for individual people that seemed to be “out of nowhere,” which blessed me, and hopefully them as well. One thing about the situation that was a little new / strange / unfamiliar to me was that we were specifically praying for healing. There is definitely a pervasive dependence here on God to meet the needs of the people, which I think is really great, and something we in America desperately need to cultivate. But that can also quickly become an expectation that God will give us what we want Him to give us. Yes, sometimes He does, but that does not constitute “faithfulness.” And God is in no way obligated by anything outside Himself — His own character and qualities. It’s a misnomer, and bad theology, to say that God is faithful because he gave me what I asked for. God is faithful because He said He would always provide what we need (what He wants us to have), and never fails to give exactly what He said He would. So, I’m all about healing prayer, and I’m all about expecting great things … being open to great things from God. But that’s not the same as demanding that God bless me on my terms or respond to my desires the way I want Him to.

Many I’ve met in Uganda are probably in danger of the pitfalls on the opposite end of the spectrum from many of us in America (and I am just as susceptible to either end of this spectrum, depending on the day, as anyone else), but we shouldn’t forget there are dangers on both ends. We must be discerning. We must be grounded in the Word. We must listen to the voice of the Church and the Tradition. And we must listen to the Spirit of God who dwells in us. As we pray, as we ask, we validate in God’s Word, verify with God’s people, and listen closely to God’s Spirit. And then, we can ask whatever we will in His name, and it will be given to us (Matthew 18:19 and 21:22; Mark 11:24; John 14:13 and 15:7; etc.).

At any rate, visiting the hospital was such a great thing. Our team leader, Joel, was fantastic! I loved his style. We met so many wonderful people and prayed for them, including one Muslim and one pagan, who don’t believe in Jesus but were willing to let us pray. It was wonderful!

Dinner Out at a New Place

And after we left the hospital, we had dinner in town. We were originally planning to go back to the resort where we ate on Sunday, but there was another event there, so we decided to head to a different resort. It was a beautiful place, and the weather was perfect — a nice cool breeze and the bugs weren’t too bad. I definitely imagined 120 degree blazing heat when this trip first came up, but boy was I wrong. In fact, the weather has bounced between 70 and 80 pretty much every day, maybe dipping down as low as the low 60’s at night. Gorgeous! For dinner, I had some really tasty tropical chicken kabobs (with pineapple and veggies, and some fantastic sauce, over rice). And we ended up talking about theology and the fundamental nature of the universe at our table, so it was the best night ever. It was really nice.

And I guess that about sums it up for day 9. Tomorrow we leave Mbale, and begin our transition home, through Kampala, where we’ll do some touristy stuff. See you tomorrow.


Image credit:
1) Kids running around – WebMD
2) Grumpy dwarf – Tophdimgs.com
3) Playing soccer (I used this explicitly because I didn’t take the picture) – Pintrest
4) Coffee – Bright and Early Coffee
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Uganda Travel Log: Day 8 – Water, Water Everywhere

Location: Mbale and Kapchorwa, Uganda
Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Waterfall 1

Living Water

We started the day (after our classic breakfast at the guest house, of course) at the JENGA office, next door to the guest house, in prayer and praise. It was such an amazing experience, with some pronounced differences between the way a prayer meeting would work in my church or many others I’ve been to in the US. First, they opened in worship, and African worship is definitely not the same as Western European / Caucasian worship. Drums led, plus one guitar, and very repetitive lyrics proclaiming God’s greatness in general and sufficiency in our lives particularly.

But the other difference that stands out is the way they pray… First, they cry out to the Lord. So much prayer in my experience is perfunctory and half-hearted, but you could never say that about the prayer circles I’ve experienced here. Second, a group of people all prays at the same time. So, everyone talks over each other calling out individually to God, but in a concofiny of community. That may sound weird, and it was very difficult for me to focus in that environment at first, but as the week went on, it got easier. And there really is beauty to it! Third, they blend their prayer and their worship. It’s hard to separate where worship ends and prayer begins. You’re singing and chanting and the drums are going, and you suddenly realize that everyone’s praying. And then when some point everyone just seems to know prayer is ended, and the group transitions back to singing. It is such an interesting experience.

After a couple hours at JENGA, we headed into town, dropped off orders for lunch, and went to visit the Musoto slums (the 2nd largest slum in E. Uganda).

Drinking Water

One occupation which is prolific throughout the poorest areas of Uganda is brewing. Especially among women (many single mothers), what essentially boils down to distilling moonshine is a means of generating at least a small amount of income and feeding their children, even if mostly in a black/gray market context. Technically, much of the brewing that goes on is illegal, but the government looks the other way in light of how devastating it would be to truly crack down on it. Even still, there exists a constant threat of being suddenly invaded and shut down … a point which was emphatically made to us as we toured one of the brewing areas in Musoto.

One of the horrific byproducts of the brewing industry is the waste it produces – a horribly-smelling black sludge that is essentially burn’t carbon goo. Because the locals don’t know what to do with it and have no means to properly dispose of it, the typical approach to it is to dig a really big hole in the middle of the village and just keep dumping it in there. They use a little of it to fertilize crops, but the majority becomes a foul-smelling lake. Over time, it represents a significant contaminant to everything there (food, water, etc.), and the smell certainly reinforces the impression of severe poverty to anyone walking in from the outside.

One extremely fascinating thing about our visit… The two Ugandan students with us from UCU are both environmental engineers and had a half-dozen ideas on how to better dispose of this waste, even to the point of making it an exportable resource. They talked about making charcoal brickets out of it to be used for fire, so that the Ugandans could stop cutting down trees. They talked about starting a shipping business that could put it in barrels and ship it all over the region to be used as fertilizer, or even disposed of in a central less-populated area. In fact, they stayed behind while we toured and talked to some of the village elders about it. I absolutely loved seeing that. After we left Musoto, we also talked about whether God might be calling them to Mbale to come and work on / provide leadership for such projects. Wouldn’t that be amazing!?

And that brings us to one of the main reasons we visited — to see one of the bore holes JENGA has helped to build throughout the most impoverished regions of Mbale. I believe they said they’ve provided about 25 such water pumps. Basically, they partner with the locals to provide money and equipment, then work together to dig down about 100 feet to the fresh water table, and build a well and pump. The bore hole we visited in this particular part of Musoto provides fresh drinking water every day to about 300 people.

Before these pumps were built or when they are broken, the locals (who don’t know this is a really bad idea) get their drinking water from the local streams and rivers — the same ones where the sewage goes, where people dump their garbage, where cows and other animals do their business, etc. Therefore, the overall level of disease has plummeted in these areas as a result of the installation of these bore holes. And they are owned and operated by locals. Praise the Lord!

boreholeBTW, we were strictly forbidden from taking pictures in the slums. That totally makes sense, because we didn’t want to treat these people like spectacles. They’re people, just like you and me. And I wouldn’t want some foreigner coming into my home and taking pictures of me in positions that perhaps I wouldn’t want to share with the whole world. So I totally agree, but the net effect is that I don’t have any pictures to share. Here’s a picture of a similar bore hole and pump, though.

Falling Water

After Musoto, we went back into town, where lunch was waiting for us. We then snarfed lunch on the bus, en route up the mountain to see Sipi Falls in Kapchorwa on Mount Elbon.

After a very bumpy hour-or-so drive up, we arrived at a resort / lodge which the launching place for hikes of various levels of difficulty up into the mountains to see the waterfalls. We chose to be driven up to the top, and hike back down past three falls. We hiked for about 2 hours, through mountainside farms. It was extremely beautiful and very interesting.

Here are the falls we saw, and a few pictures of each other and of a number of scenic vistas. It’s so beautiful here.

Waterfall 4 Waterfall 5 Waterfall 3 Waterfall 2
Scenic Uganda 1 Scenic Uganda 2

I also learned some interesting facts about the farming in this region. For example, Ugandans in the mountain overcrop, planting potatoes or banana trees with the coffee trees. The banana tree leaves shade the smaller coffee trees in dry season, and the potatoes don’t need much sun so they can cover the ground around the base of the trees. Fascinating! Also, our guide talked about how the coffee is organic. Instead of pesticides, the local chameleon eats the insects that would normally threaten the coffee beans. I love that. I also saw my first unroasted coffee bean. The beans themselves are light green. They have to be removed from a red husk which looks from the outside like some kind of berry. They are then washed for a day, dried and roasted, and that’s what creates the black, hard beans we’re used to. Here’s a picture I found online (I didn’t take one myself, sadly).

Raw Coffee Beans

It was such a good day; I feel like we experienced so much. Amazingly, tomorrow is our last full day in Mbale. See you then.


Image credit:
1) Bore hole – Kimbuta Development
2) Raw coffee beans – Yukiba
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