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Africa Inland Mission

Hey! We aren’t behind on blogging this week! We have spent the last 2 weeks at the center, and it is really good to be home. We even got some projects started this week! This is particularly exciting for our American selves, because most of the work we have done thus far does not have a concrete outcome. Much of the “work” we do centers on just being with the people here.

The culture here is very relational, and we have made many friends; particularly with the staff. Many of the workers here speak English quite well and this certainly helps. Never the less, just being does not come all that easily, especially when I am looking for a concrete task to complete. So we learn new habits and ways to be. Sitting and talking is what I do for my work, but this kind is different. There is often no object to the conversation, and most of these talks are not explicitly about the gospel. This makes it hard to consider myself a “productive missionary” (whatever that is). Even so, these conversations are wonderful. Even the times when we don’t explicitly cover the gospel, it is possible to see the way Christ is moving in this place or in a specific person. The relational culture provides an excellent picture of the body of Christ.

Last week Emmy talked about the body of Christ, and I’m going to do it again. Here in Africa we meet so many different people with different views on everything. On the flip side, praise God because, when you meet a Christian there is a common thread of Christ that ties together all of these different perspectives. This common belief unites us with strangers in a strange and exciting way. Unity in the spirit allows us to speak our hearts to others. Even better, Unity allows others to see our hearts. Growing in the Spirit goes beyond the limits of language. We can talk to the mother of a child with Autism and tell her honestly that there is nothing apart from the love of Jesus to help her son.

So many times this is not what she wants to hear. Bazungu (white people) represent money and medicine in the villages. For many of these children neither of those things will help, but mothers still come for miles with their children and expect help. For these mothers all we have to offer is Christ. We cannot fix their problems. We can only be with them. We offer them encouragement and love. These intangible gifts are certainly not what the majority of the people are looking for, but they are the only gifts of consequence. The unifying belief in Christ allows us to confidently share the good news, and best of all, it allows the hearer to understand.

I am concerned that this post is a little on the heavy/confusing side, so I will end with a short story.

 

Ugandan Transportation and Teleportation: Is there a difference?

Ugandan taxis defy the laws of mathematics, physics, space, time, and often man. To begin with, An 8 passenger van is modified to legally carry 14. This misunderstanding of the manufacturer’s intentions is compounded further as the conductor continually stops to add more and more passengers until the vehicle contains 20 souls (22 if you count chickens). The conductor himself will gladly offer his own seat which serves as his base when he is not jutting 78% of his body out the window to scan for passengers to fill the remaining air volume in the cabin. Of course, this means that when he gives the “down periscope” order to his exposed limbs and trunk; he will sit in your lap.

Once the seething clump of souls in the taxi reaches critical mass, the supposedly diesel fueled, nuclear reactor, under the hood turns over and the driver snaps the reins. Sadly there is no scientific instrument sensitive enough to measure the interval between full stop and full speed. Suffice to say that time probably does not pass. In any case, the speedometer on the dash now reads 80. There are no clearly marked units but one assumes meters per second.

The speed is exhilarating until the casual human sardine looks out the window. Certain death and gruesome carnage are perpetually imminent. The boda boda (2 passenger dirt bikes that carry anywhere from 1 to 4 people, or 2 people and 3 goats) drivers scatter like schools of fish fleeing a shark. The driver uses his horn to announce his presence on the road and attract passengers. However, it seems unlikely that the sound of the beep will reach the intended target before the taxi. Never the less, the driver relentless taps out an indecipherable rhythm on his steering wheel.

Overtaking and slower vehicle takes significant mathematical calculations and a generous helping of bravery. Every taxi is painted the same and it seems that they repaint their taxis by rubbing up against other vehicles at high speed, passing just close enough to scrape off at microscopic layer of paint.

Suddenly the taxi collides with an oncoming lorry at speeds that would make an interstellar shuttle blush. Thankfully, travel near the speed of light converts the mass of the taxi and its 36 passengers into a highly energized plasma. The taxi passes through the lorry unharmed, but a little disoriented. Arrival is a rather sudden affair.

The transition from traveling at the speed of a bullet fired from a space ship traveling at the speed of light which has been fired from another space ship traveling at twice the speed of light; to zero takes a negative amount of time. The bones of the passengers re-congeal into their proper shape and their organs slow their bouncing. After their eye sight returns they are surprised to find that they have arrived at their destination 4 minutes before they left. Unless they were traveling in Kampala, then they were in traffic and often find that their infant children are now grandparents.

It’s exhilarating.

-A.B.

Oh dearie me… We have left too long between updates again. Nothing for it but to sum up!

The short short version is that last Friday, July 19th Emmy and I, along with our team, traveled to Karamoja with 2 of AIM’s long term missionaries (Linda Byler and JP). There we worked with children who have special needs, specifically visiting the outlying villages and hosting a Bible Club (VBS) for children who were able to attend. Then we came back to Kampala to see our team off on the evening of the 30th. After we said bye, we said hi to Emily (not the Emily I am married to, a different one) who will be at ACHERU until February of next year. Then we came back to our home in Uganda at ACHERU and finished out the week.

Short and sweet.

The short, but much longer version, goes something like this:

Friday the 19th – Sunday the 21st

We left ACHERU around 1 in the afternoon and loaded into Linda and J’s Land Cruisers. The goodbyes were tearful and difficult for all involved. Emmy and I would be returning to the center, but we knew that many of the Ugandan patients would be back at home by our return. For the team, this was the final goodbye to many brothers and sisters that they love deeply. For me, the tears on both sides of the parting, muzungu and Ugandan alike, testify to the unifying power of Christ and the powerful bond that is formed when any of his followers live together for a time. Mukama Malungi (God is good).

Though Uganda is not a large country, traveling often involves a hefty investment of time. While our final destination was the village of Kangole in the Napak District of the Karamoja region, we would stop to spend the night in Soroti. On Saturday morning we departed from the Starlight Inn in Soroti and prepared for the kilometers of unpaved road ahead of us. But low and behold, the Ugandan Road Authority has been hard at work! Much of the road was paved and the parts that were not had been graded recently! Even so, the drive still took around three hours. On our arrival we met our local contact (Anna who is one of the only local advocates for children with special needs) then went straight to the school and took in the traditional music competition. Different schools performed dances and played traditional instruments in the early regional stages of a national competition.

Music fest- Singing and acting portion

Music fest- Singing and acting portion

After about 2 hours of pretty awesome music we decided we needed to pitch our tents before dark and stepped out to do so. Half of us stayed at the local Church of Uganda and the other half stayed with Anna in her family compound. At the Church we pitched out tents in the classroom building (the tents acted more like mosquito nets than actual shelters). Those who stayed at Anna’s either slept in her home, in a tent under a newly constructed shelter, or were Ethan and slept in a Hammock under the eaves of Anna’s front porch. Both accommodations were extremely adequate and even had places for us to shower. At Anna’s there was a shower stall near the toilets and at the Church of Uganda there was a tree that shielded us from view. To wrap up the night about 6 or 7 young girls sang a few welcoming songs with all of our names in them!

On Sunday we were up at 7 for the Church service at the Church of Uganda. An excellent youth choir led the worship and one of the elders gave a good sermon on the importance of effective service to God. Around 10 the service concluded and we walked back to Anna’s compound for lunch and a relaxing time with the children there.  We returned to the church for the 3 pm fellowship time and were blessed to meet the very active ladies group headed by the widow of the previous pastor of the church. After fellowship we met with the reverend and his wife at their home. There we learned that though they have not been able to have any biological children, they have raised 18 orphans and put them through school.

Monday the 22nd

On Monday we visited all of the local government officials for introductions and announcements of our intent in the district. This is an important activity when any group visits a new area in Uganda. So much of the information available at the local level comes from word of mouth that a face to face introduction is well worth the time it takes. We took the afternoon to prepare for our Bible Club and village visits over the next few days.

Tuesday the 23rd – Friday the 26th

These days consisted mainly of two activities. For the most part, we spent our mornings in the villages and our afternoons at the church doing the Bible Club.

Village visits:

Possible TB of the spine

Possible TB of the spine

We visited several villages over the course of the week. Some were in walking distance and others were actually a 20 minute drive, or so, away. In each village we saw various types of physical and mental disabilities. Many of the maladies (Clubfoot, Cerebral Palsey, burn contractures, Osteomyelitis, paralysis, Tuberculosis of the spine, hunchback, and cataracts) we had seen before at ACHERU, so the team was able to offer some insight to the parents. Though for the most part this insight was a bit discouraging as most of the treatments were out of reach for the villagers; both geographically and financially. Even so, the team was able to offer some small exercises to those who were able. Most importantly, we offered prayer and shared the hope of a savior who will heal every wound and wipe away every tear. In the end this is the only help worth giving, and this must be our assurance in a place where there is no other help to offer.

In one village we found that the younger generation had all left to seek food and work in the distant cities because the crops had failed all across Karamoja. The people told us that about 20 villagers had already died because of hunger. The few that were left were mostly the very young children and the older elders. One of these elders told us about his younger days as a cattle raider and his experiences under Idi Amin’s Tyranny.

For a long time the Karamojong were semi nomadic herdsmen. They followed the grass through the seasons and many owned hundreds of cows. As Uganda grew the grazing land was limited and the Karamojong were no longer able to travel as they had done. They developed a tradition of raiding cattle from neighboring villages. During these raids many men were killed and over time, the region gained a reputation for near constant unrest. Guns came in from Sudan and other sources. Most any one might have a gun, and murder became common. During the reign of Amin there was a push to modernize the dress of the Karamajong who still wore skins. He gathered more than a thousand of them to one placed and murdered them. The man we spoke to was present at the scene and fled for his life. He was oddly emotionless, except when he spoke about the raiding, then you could see the pride he felt.

The experienced man

The experienced man

Around 2000 the government stepped in and disarmed the Karamajong. The army now holds the majority of the herdsmen cows at a central corral. This is designed to prevent raiding, but it also makes owning the cows somewhat difficult. In a strange way, the loss of the raiding and the loss of the cows have stripped the identity from the many in the adult generations of the Karamajong. Their land is not especially fertile, and many of the adults were never educated. Alcoholism is quite common and a cup of the fermented sorghum mash only costs about a quarter and may be the only thing a person can get to fill their stomach. Clearly this a place of much suffering. Unfortunately, this means that children with special needs are often on the bottom of the pile.

Bible Club:

Three afternoons around 2 or 3 PM about thirty deaf children and 15 or so other children would join us at the church for a bible club. We had chosen the story of Joseph and the coat of many colors for our theme for the week. Each day we started out with songs. We sang some of the songs that we knew the sign language to, and the children shared some of their songs with us. Learning a song with no verbal words in sign language is a great experience. After signing our team shared the story of Joseph and acted out the events as the story was translated into Ugandan sign language and Karamajong. After the skit we moved into craft time. Each craft was carefully constructed by the children and they really seemed to treasure them. Finally we had fun activity to close out the day. We played capture the flag and Ultimate Frisbee with the older children and sharks and minnows with the younger ones. Ultimate Frisbee reached levels of intensity that are not often seen in the states, and we were playing on gravel. Luckily no one had much more than a scratch at the end of the week.

Paulo

Paulo

We usually walked the children home and were thus able to meet some of the parents. At the end of the week one of the mothers gave the team a chicken as a thank you. That was a new experience for me personally. It was a blessing for us as a team to see the way the children came together and helped one another. Many of the children without disabilities mocked the disabled children, but they went ignored for the most part. Some of the other children actually ended up helping the children with special needs. One of the highlights of the whole Bible Club was the last day when Paulo (a young boy with moderately severe autism) came to the Club.He is non verbal and often spends whole days inside because he requires such constant attention. The other children, especially the deaf children, really stepped up and included him in all of the activities. Paulo is quite social and all of the attention actually served to calm his rocking, he actually sat still for longer than I had ever seen him sit when we visited his home.

 

We have many dreams for the development of Karamoja, but I think the best thing to pray for would be that the peace of Christ would flood the hearts of the people in the region. Without a significant heart change, much of the aid that comes to the area only serves to foster dependence. With leaders like the reverend and his wife (and their many children) I have a firm belief that prayer is all that is needed to open the door for the word of God to change this community. Please continue to pray with us.

Saturday July 27-30th

We left Kangole around 8 AM on the 27th and due to car trouble passed through the town again around 11 AM after a route change due to our need for a mechanic and reports of impassable roads ahead. Later that evening we reached our debrief campsite… at the foot of a beautiful waterfall. I would try to describe it, but that just won’t work. There are pictures, even then, I just don’t know. We spent Saturday night and all day Sunday at the falls. We climbed and we swam. It was very refreshing. On Monday morning we gave Linda’s car a rolling start down the mountain, popped the clutch and were on our way.

We arrived at Matoke Inn (AIM guest house in Kampala) just in time for dinner on Monday the 29th. The team scheduled to leave at 11:59 PM on Tuesday. As we said our goodbyes and celebrated my birthday a day early we all reflected on our trip. We realized that though many of us had changed over the course of the last six weeks, most of our families and friends would likely still expect our pre-Africa selves to return. This is not any kind of evil or sin on their part, but all the same, the team agreed that we did not want to lose any of the growth we had experienced. As far as I know none of the teams families or friends will read this, but as a heads up for our communities at home: This place is different. The people are different, and when we return to you we will have been changed, not only by the differences of the culture, but because God has worked in each of our hearts. I have seen the most timid members of our group preach powerful messages to not just strangers, but to their friends. It is then my prayer that the changes wrought in all of us would be for the benefit of our churches and homes, and that our churches and homes would receive whoever we are on our return. The book of Philemon comes to mind as I write this.

Perhaps the reason that he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good – not longer as a slave, as a dear brother.

Philemon 1:15-16a

In Christ,

-A.B.

Birthday Boy!

Birthday Boy!

May 14, 2013 9:53 pm

Today marks a rather momentous change in Emmy and I’s lives. Lord willing, we just finished school. Moreover, a month from today we depart for Uganda. As I said, this is a day of change. As we look forward to building relationships with the people we will meet, we have started the lengthy goodbye process here in Jackson.

In an effort to prepare ourselves for the culture shock and shock in general Emmy and I have begun to pray specifically for people on our team and those whose names we do not yet know. We cannot be sure what the future will bring. We know though that it will be different from the lives we live today, but different is a wide word. Accepting the changes that God has in store for us will not always be easy. I know that I have felt the stress of leaving our home here in Jackson, and I have actively avoided the impending stress of leaving our family in Edwardsville.

But, something has begun to occur to me more and more regularly as our trip approaches. The changes that happen in our lives are a part of the plan, yes. However, they are not the plan. Our lives are not the end goal of God’s cosmic design. The fame of his name and the glory of his son Jesus Christ, are the end game. In this cosmic plan, we play such a small part. After all, the conclusion has been set from the foundations of the earth. If we do not go to Uganda, God’s name will still be great and mighty. His son will return to Earth in glory, over the new creation.

Then we go, not because it is necessary to make the name of God great. We go because the name of God is great. We go because, for us, not going is not safe. I know a thing or two about safety. I am notoriously uncomfortable on roller coasters, but what if roller coasters are not the preeminent danger facing me. In fact, I am pretty sure that they are not. The most virile threat on my radar is a life of spiritual tepidity. It seems that staying in safe places, physically, does not mean that safety eternally.

So we are going. We are going with the goal of increasing God’s fame. We go knowing that he is so very great that our own words will never convey the truth. In the end, we go because it has been commanded. For our own good, and the good of those who have not heard the name of Jesus. We go to tell and then to pray that the Spirit would come and complete the work we are incapable of completing.

-A.B.