“So what did you do there?”
This is the question I am most frequently asked by those from town since returning who knew I was going (although not so much now since I've been home a month). I think the implication that I pick up from that query (rightly or wrongly) is that we went there to “do” something – build a church, dig a well, work at a refugee camp – otherwise a trip like ours is little more than a vacation with a benevolent spin to it. The fact is we traveled over 7,700 miles from Chetek to go meet people. As I shared in an earlier post ("GO TO AFRICA!"), last April a man from Uganda shared at our annual missions event of our fellowship and invited us to come visit him. A few weeks later a man from Nigeria coincidentally was with us and did the same and a month later a man from Liberia completed the invitational trifecta. Africa was beckoning us and while we did spend some time praying about it in retrospect we probably out-thought the matter. The real question for Refuge was, Having been invited to our neighbor's home – albeit our neighbor lived a continent and a half away and an ocean between us – would we accept the invitation and go? Eleven of us ultimately did (although three were not from our fellowship) and made that long journey to meet the neighbors on the far side of the pond.
Not one but two teams
|Muzungus in back|
Even though I've heard a few of their stories on “Africa Story-telling Day” on Palm Sunday, I cannot speak much of their journey other than it was in character much like ours – meeting strangers who were both our neighbors and brothers. They were received warmly and treated graciously and one of our young women, Sarah, has since expressed her desire to return and work in their school.
Team Uganda, led by our other male elder, Randy Waterhouse, left about the time Team Kenya/Israel was coming to the end of their venture. Even though we had been invited by Pastor John of Namutumba (who had ministered at Refuge last April), we just felt for our introductory visit to Africa that it was better to stay on a YWAM campus there. Even though we knew no one on this particular campus, we know YWAM and knew they would be used to hosting North Americans like ourselves. In retrospect, that choice was providential because this particular campus turned out to be central to all the other people we ultimately met while in-country.
|Team Uganda with Charles our host (left) and Joseph our driver (right)|
Arriving in Uganda
|Part of the welcoming crew|
|Sharing with Women of Hope|
|Charles and Susan|
|Faithful driver and Swahili tutor|
|The front gate|
We pulled up to the main building, something right out of a Dicken's novel what with a huge windowless front door and an equally huge door knocker upon it. We knocked twice, a small window slid open slightly to see who was there and then that big door was opened wide enough for us to enter a small antechamber where we signed in. And then the gate to the courtyard was opened and without so much as a “fare thee well” from the guard, we were with the prisoners. We followed a sidewalk of sorts that led to a set of stairs leading to the second level of the facility. The courtyard was full of inmates setting their wet bedding out to dry after being washed or milling about. One group began to volley with a volleyball. All of them looked in our direction. Some smiled courteously.
|The courtyard was sorta like this|
|A standard piece of worship equipment|
We learned later that not everyone on condemned row has committed a capital offense. Some, we were told, may actually be there for something as trivial as stealing a chicken. They are poor with no one on the outside to be their advocate and possibly their case has been lost somewhere very likely never to be found. And yet, as I walked up and down between these men and shared my impromptu message of hope and overcoming, they smiled or nodded their head or let out a loud, “Alleluia!” It was an odd place to find hope but Randy and I found it there in abundance.
Amazima Ministries) that is serving the children of Uganda meeting both their physical and spiritual needs. She personally has taken 13 children into her own home (one cannot legally adopt in Uganda until the age of 25) and helped sponsor 500 others. Every Saturday, a couple hundred kids show up to play on their impressive playground (built by local Ugandan boys), participate in a wonderful chapel service led by their youth pastor, Raoul, and then enjoy a wonderful lunch of rice, beans and chicken served on the bone (in Uganda, chicken is not chicken if it does not have a bone in it.) At the end of the day, each child will leave their property with a three pound bag that will contain a pound of flour, a pound of beans and a pound of rice – sundries that will help feed these children for the next seven days.
|Raoul (on right) is an amazing guy|
|Posing with Katie (does that make us posers?)|
|As the kids head for home they do so with "left-overs"|
|I want to be more like her|
Visiting our friends at Namutumba Word of Victory Church
|I take a copy of The Alert with me wherever I go|
|Loving her neighbors|
So…we met a lot of people