Thursday, July 3, 2008
I have deliberately not written about the churches I have visited around Kampala, in order that I could process and contextualize the experiences rather than just reacting. Even now, I am still mulling over what I have seen and heard. I must say that I am grateful to have not only been to various churches and services, but also to attend an Church of Uganda (Anglican) wedding and baptism.
For the most part, I have been a visitor and observer at church services. Where I have been able to use my gifts was at Wakisa Ministries. This ministry is a 16-bed residential home for teenage girls who are pregnant. It is run by the widow of an Anglican Priest, who is also a a Mother's Union trustee. Vivian is an incredible woman whose goal is to help girls grow in faith and maturity. Through Wakisa Ministries, girls experience a time of love hope rather than a time of shame.
I was asked to lead bible studies – which I did three times a week while in Kampala. After meeting the young women and introducing myself I realized that an interactive approach would be best. So I prayed and prepared simple studies with a basic format of retelling the story, a brief teaching, a longer activity for the girls including time for presenting, and a brief closing teaching. The sessions ended or began with singing and prayer. All but this last part was translated into Luganda.
The first session, in which I had the girls act out Mary and Elizabeth's meeting while they were pregnant was truly special. Not only had these girls never been a part of this format of bible study, but it may have been the first time that blessing was spoken about their own expectant children. There was much nervous laughter and broad smiles as the “older” Elizabeth greeted, welcomed and blessed the “younger” Mary. In a country where age is one of the most significant factors in determining respect, authority and hierarchy, the upsidedown-ness of the biblical story was clearly apparent to the girls.
From there we looked at Jesus birth, Jesus' temptation, Jairus' daughter/Hemorrhaging Women healings. For the last couple of sessions, I asked for ideas of specific stories – so then we looked at Cain and Abel, David and Goliath and the Prodigal Son parable. We used drama, drawing, collage, lectio divina and in one case the girls taught the story as they might if they were Sunday School teachers. These studies were a delight. I saw the girls increase in confidence in their own reading of scriptures and their ability to share their learnings with others.
I was asked how I came up with the different activities for the studies – I'm really not sure. What I do know is that I really love helping other people, especially women who are marginalized (homeless, prisoners, pregnant) to grow in their faith. My husband calls it a gift, I see it as part of my calling. Exercising my calling across cultures was a gift. Thank you Wakisa for the opportunity to work with your girls.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Once I got there, I was the guest of Nebbi Diocese of Uganda. This diocese borders Congo and is poor. With the price of fuel increasing so, the gas tanks run around empty and the bishop took a credit note to the gas station on his last trip to the capital to ensure cash for the return. This diocese is also rich - in beauty, natural resources and human spirit.
I woke in the morning to fresh air and green rolling hills. The first day my host (Rev. Jane, one of three female priests of the diocese) and I spent 2.5 hours at the retreat center, walking around the 9 small stone buildings that make a prayer hike.
With little notice, I was asked to preach to the pastor's wives conference happening. In the region there are 34 parishes, each with one priest and about 10 churches. Twenty-One of the wives of these parish priests had gathered, some with their youngest children in tow to fellowship, pray and encourage one another. The talk, originally to be at 8pm started at 10pm. I finished in half an hour to allow for a little business before the power went off, as it does every night around 11pm. I was asked to lead the devotions the next morning upon finishing.
The next day I led devotions for the women at the local training center (in tailoring and catering) then lead the devotions for the pastor's wives. it was a busy morning. The rest of the time in the region was spent visiting - people, programs, homes, churches, and markets.
I am so glad I was able to get this perspective and see village life in action. There is a simpleness to the routine of life, but the reality of fetching water and dependence on the land leads to a life always on the edge. The community life supports and sustains as a matter of necessity. Most of the pastor's here farm/garden every morning. Indeed, even the bishop's wife was out in her "garden" for many hours while I was there.
Having grown up a city-girl, the closest experience I connect this time with was Summer Camp - yet even there we had no dependence on land for food. But, the spirit felt the same -- for me Christian camping was a time of intense experiences, close friendships being built and deep spiritual growth. I can say the same for my time in Nebbi.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Life here can be hard. There are things I take for granted that are not available – the phone for example. Even land lines are pre-paid if they are not paid up you can't call.
Then there are the mosquitoes – its bad enough that these insects exist at all – but here the night time ones carry malaria. Every morning I examine my children for new bites. Tonight after dealing with 24+ hours of diarrhea in the kids, I found several new bites on my son's back. There is no way to keep these creatures off him.
Today was one of those days I wanted life not to be such a struggle. I was tired from being up at night with sick kids, at the doctor with sick kids who are sick but thankfully not sick with an exotic tropical disease.
I had wanted to go to the grocery store, but between the doctors, the road work and the errand which took the vehicle away for three hours instead of the expected one -- there was no grocery trip today. This means breakfast and lunch will be a bit sparse tomorrow.
In the big scheme, these are little inconveniences. But when these little things all happen together, in a country far from home, with family and friends far away – I needed some soul support.
At times like these – I turn to music. Norah Jones is one my favorites - “if it were any other day, this wouldn't get the best of me, but today I'm not so strong, so lay me down with a sad song...don't bend me or I will break, find me somewhere between my dreams...I will still feel it later on, but for now I'd rather be asleep”. Her mellow music normalizes my feelings – only then can I hear the words of hope in scripture.
The order is important – it follows the pattern of the psalms – staring with lament and turning to praise.
The feelings I am experiencing now are important too. Being uncomfortable and experiencing the rough edge of like is most people in this world's every day. In the States I am busy but comfortable. Being here pushes me to the edge of my ability to cope. The longer I am here, the less reserves I find in myself. Yet, when all the societal supports are stripped away, the Lord is my strength.
[Note – I wrote this blog some days ago and have just now been able to post it. Today has been a better day – the kids are both napping, their dad is coming back to Kampala after having been in The DR Congo for ten days and I was able to volunteer at Wakisa Ministries this morning.]
Thursday, June 12, 2008
For starters, cars drive on the left here. This means that all my road safety and driving instincts are off. Even if I keep repeating "stay left" over and over again in my mind, I look right at every intersection first. I need a renewing of the mind and a retraining of my habits. Not only do cars drive on the left, but there are many obstacles such as large animals on the roads that I don't normally find in the States. In addition, lanes are optional and many roads are not actually wide enough for two cars. As I said, driving is an experience. What makes it spiritual, is both the praying one does and the lessons one learns in the process.
Today I saw a Ugandan truck, driving backwards downhill towards a round-a-bout that had the words "I trust in God" on its front window. Indeed, driving here is a act of trusting in God. Road safety and traveling mercies are key and non-perfunctory prayer requests here.
Here are my top five driving lessons so far:
1 Be sure you have 4 wheel drive. There are several dirt roads I use that people in the States who want to go off roading would pay to drive on. Vehicles often have one wheel doing air-time, four wheel drive is not a luxury here. In spiritual terms, all parts of my life need to be engaged, there is no coasting.
2. Pay attention to the present and future more than the past. Looking in the rear view mirror is not as critical as looking next to the car for bikes, motorcycles, cows, goats, pedestrians etc.. Looking ahead is also important, as speed bumps and potholes are a plenty. Looking back isn't as important since that is what horns are for.
3. It is good to follow the lead of some vehicles. If a car or truck swerves for an unknown reason, I had probably do the same. There is likely something on the road that I can't see but would be best to avoid, like a pothole. However, it is is a taxi (here a taxi is a 15-passenger van) that swerves, it is most likely to pick up a person, it is best not to follow suite.
4. Keep the window cracked if possible. While there is a temptation to close the windows and turn up the air-conditioning, this isolates the driver from critical information. Keeping the window open allows for a connection with the sounds of the street that inform the ears, helping focus the eyes.
5. $20 and ten strong men will get you out of a ditch. A few days ago, I drove too cautiously, keeping a little too far left on a narrow road. My wheels expanded the informal drainage ditch. In less than half an hour, with much discussion and some negotiation on the cost of help, the jeep was lifted the two feet up and half a foot to the right, to be back on the road. The cost - my pride and 30,000 Shillings.
Friday, June 6, 2008
“We match!” is a cry of delight from my two year-old. She likes to find matches between almost anything, colour of clothes, content of plates, even the shape clothes pins. If I am wearing buttons and she is wearing buttons, we match. If I have my hair in a ponytail and she also does, we match. Matching is important to her.
Matching is also important for my son. This trip we have introduced the Memory Game – you know the one where you turn over a pair at a time trying to find a match. The winner is the one who finds the most matches. The game is fun, doesn’t take much space, and builds memory skills. It is a game that builds on something most of us want to do – find matches with others.
Going to a new place, the first thing I noticed was all the differences. The smells of sewage and burning garbage, the sight of 15-passenger taxis careening down narrow and cratered muddy dirt roads avoiding cows wandering in packs, and the sounds of the Muslim call to prayer mingled with blaring American Christian church music from the Pentecostal assembly in a nearby shack. However, as I have been in Uganda now for more than a week, I am also finding matches.
I have been blessed by conversations with women from various walks of life - priests, mothers, pregnant teenagers, ministry leaders, female theological students and household workers. These women share the challenges that I find in my own life – ensuring our family eats well, planning education for our children, balancing demands at work or school with family and personal commitments, trying to reduce commuting time, and following their sense of calling. The solutions to these challenges are different here. For example many children of middle class and upward families end up at boarding schools. Many women here still rise before dawn to prepare the day’s meals, wash clothes, clean floors and other household tasks. Others employ ‘helpers’ (usually young women, often extended family members) to do this.
My kids have asked why they don’t match in skin tone with the majority of those they see around them. At the same time they have seen beyond skin color and their new housing arrangements. The neighbour’s three-year old daughter is missed when she doesn’t come over to play. The five-month old baby daughter of our hosts has become my daughter’s best friend.
She’s right. We match – if not in color, culture or language, then at least in hopes and dreams.