Tag Archives: hope

This is Africa

We had just pulled out of my gate and were driving up the hill from my house when it happened. I live on a small residential road here in Uganda, complete with about 10 speed humps, with walled compounds towering on each side of the road but with a few open plots. We saw a small white car approaching in the opposite lane. We were the only two cars on the street. All of a sudden it darted in front of us turning right onto another road forming a T-junction just to our left. The driver basically drove through the wrong lane to get onto the road. For reference, if a car had been waiting to turn on that road he would have hit it. But if a car had been there he would have driven past us and made the turn into the proper lane.

This is the road going up from our house

This is the road going up from our house

I have seen this thing many times before but that didn’t stop me from questioning the driving skills of that other driver. Oh the frustration. My wife can attest at how many times I digress into foaming about the issues on the road. But please don’t, honey. That might be a bit embarrassing.

Note: I am sure my driving has caused many to question me.

It was a Ugandan friend, Mike, who was driving. I was riding with him so he could drop me at my destination on the way to his. Upon hearing my grumblings about the driver’s actions, he said, “This is Africa.”

It is not the first time I have heard that phrase uttered. I have heard it from Ugandans, Africans, and expatriates alike. Wanting to know his take on the phrase, I asked him what it meant. He explained that people in Uganda do whatever they want and have their own way of doing things.

It might analogous to a northerner being in Tennessee, asking for tea and getting sweat tea by default. The waiter might reply, “This is the South.” Or hearing “Hon” from someone and asking them why they call everyone that, they might reply, “This is Baltimore.” Or going to Chicago and ordering pizza and getting some cheese, tomato, and vegetable filled monstrosity and asking where your pizza is, you hear, “This is Chicago.”

However analogous to these situations, “This is Africa” is decidedly a negative comment. I have heard this phrase in reference to many things such as inefficient ways of doing things, bribes, a leader’s abuse of power, and traffic craziness (of course) among other things. It is a recognition that something might not be right or the best but “This is Africa” and that is just how it is. It is a phrase that denotes the presence of something bad but it not surprising to find it here because, “This is Africa.” The phrase even has an abbreviation: “TIA.”

Everyone seems to recognize something is amiss but nothing can be done about it because “This is Africa.” I do not like the phrase though. As true as it might seem at times, it conveys a defeatist attitude. So I avoid the phrase. But many don’t avoid it including a lot of Ugandans I know.

I want this slang to change. I want it to change meanings. I want Ugandans to say it often. However, I want it to be in response to positive things. No one says, “This is Africa” in response to a kind deed or loving response. But I want that to be the case.

This is Africa

This is Africa

This is not a blog about self-help or even Africa-help. It is a blog about gospel-help. The gospel is the only thing that can change the actions and attitudes of Africans. The good news of Jesus Christ changes lives and cultures.

There once was a rich theological heritage Africa. For example, Tertullian, who coined the phrase, ‘Trinity’, is from Africa. One of the biggest church leaders of all time, Augustine, was from Africa. Africa today needs a fresh dose of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The above issues mentioned such as traffic chaos, bribes, and abuse of power find their cure only in the gospel. Take abuse of power. You cannot give away power or be truly self-sacrificial with power if you don’t know Jesus, who having all the power in the universe sacrificed his own life for others. Bribes meet their end when people know Jesus who was generous and giving. Some traffic chaos will be lessened when people know Jesus who was obedient to the law and preached the law. These traits are respected in the West because of the large Christian influence for at least 1,500 years.

To be sure there are many wonderful things happening here. Just the other day I was driving and had to stop because of a one car jam. The small blue hatchback got its front right wheel stuck in a hole. A crowd had gathered to watch as about 10 or 15 guys helped to get the car out of the hole. Just as I was about to turn around and go another way, I saw the car lurch forward. They had gotten it out. This kind of thing, sadly, is not referred to as “This is Africa.”

My hope is that people see the gospel at work and the Spirit of God moving and they think it is supposed to happen because “This is Africa.” It might take some time, but my prayer is when people see sacrificial leadership, no bribes, or other gospel traits they will say, “This is Africa.”

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Running to Hope

Have you ever been in stop and go traffic without another car on the road? I now have. We were driving in the Kiryandongo refugee camp and Pastor James Bab would tell me to stop.

A small house in the  refugee camp

A small house in the refugee camp

He saw someone walking and he wanted to greet them. So a short drive was made longer, but also much more pleasant.

Three guys from our Mission to the World (MTW) team, Ben Church, Bert Williams, and I, went to visit the South Sudanese refugee camp in Uganda and the work Pastor James is doing there. We know Pastor James because he has studied at Westminster Theological College where MTW helps teach.

James Bab and the visiting contingent give a thumbs up on a wonderful visit

James Bab and the visiting contingent give a thumbs up on a wonderful visit

James Bab is a Presbyterian pastor who runs a school that trains pastors in South Sudan. I met him last December when He came to Uganda to attend the Westminster graduation of some fellow South Sudanese brothers. This encounter led to a meeting and an accepting of an invitation to preach at the church he planted in Kampala.

Fleeing From Fighting
Just before he was to return to South Sudan and his family, fighting broke out in South Sudan on December 15th. There were reports of a coup attempt against the president (some dispute this claim). Regardless of the precipitation of the fighting, it is clear that battle lines are now drawn along ethnic lines.

According to the stories told to us one ethnic group, the Dinkas (the tribe of the president of South Sudan), are seeking to kill another ethnic group, the Nuer. The people in Kiryandongo are mostly Nuer. They fear for their friends and family still in South Sudan and are trying to make the best of their new home.

Every day, more people come into the camp with more stories of the suffering and persecution of the Nuer. One of the most recent arrivals, Helen, got to share her story with us.

Helen is Nuer and lived in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. As soon as the fighting broke out her home became its own refugee center. She had 15+ people in the house hiding. But soon even her home wasn’t safe. She had to flee and hide in another house. When the murderous soldiers came, they wanted to demolish that house with a tank like they had done several others. They were trying to eliminate the assets of Nuer as well as eliminate any hiding places. Fortunately, someone told them it was the house of another soldier’s in-laws. So they let it stand.

Eventually she was able to flee to the compound guarded by the UN in Juba. There are UN soldiers who protect those inside. Helen was relatively safe in the compound but many are suffering inside the compound. However, there is little food, water, shelter, medicine, and other necessities available. Some murderous soldiers on the outside of the camp climb a tower and shoot into the compound and sometimes hit people.

****Warning – some of the things in the next paragraph are terrible, graphic, and not for the faint of heart

Helen’s story is tragic. But she relayed the happenings of others to us as well. Some Nuer found by the murderous soldiers were made to do unimaginable things and had unimaginable things done to them. The soldiers raped many women and even gang raped some into a coma. In a sick and twisted perversion, some sons were forced to ‘know’ their mothers. Some women were made to eat the raw flesh of some who were already dead.

****Graphic content over

These stories still make me pause and regroup. They are unsettling. But it makes their requests of us all the more amazing. More on these requests below.

These events certainly show the depravity of mankind and depths that sin will take us. Never before had I heard stories like this so fresh and real. Never before have I realized just how much we need a Savior. We need a Savior who not only hates sin but provides salvation from it. We need Jesus.

In February, I went to Rwanda and took the opportunity to visit the Genocide Memorial there. The stories between the two events are strikingly similar. Just a few days ago people were commemorating the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. I am afraid that in 20 years the same will be done for South Sudan if actions are not taken soon.

Inside the Camp
After stopping at the entrance to the camp to greet the camp director, we proceeded into the camp. There is one main road that is dirt. There are a few other roads that branch from it including smaller footpaths.

Food collection day in the camp.

Food collection day in the camp.

In mid-December 2013 there were 150 or so refugees in the camp. Less than 4 months later there are over 20,000. At first glance you might not realize this is a place that houses 20,000+ refugees. I was expecting something more densely populated. But granted, I have never been to one before. However, the drive down the road is pleasant with wonderful vistas of the mountains in the distance and greenery all around. There are huts and houses on occasion. They are rarely close to others. You can tell for sure if a house belong to a refugee because they will have tarp roofs or walls.

When refugees arrive at the camp they have to register. Then they are assigned a plot of land, given 5 poles and a tarp and bused to their new place of residence. The poles and tarp help build homes. Some refugees have opted to build mud brick homes as time and resources allow. They can also get a concrete slab and 4 logs given to them so a pit latrine can be constructed. Also there are days when food is delivered and they can go collect rice, beans, and various other food supplies.

Apart from tarp roofs and walls occasionally, the setting is very much like an African village. The scenery is quite pleasant. But the people are still in turmoil. They are grieving their family and country and they are trying to make a life in the camp.

Meeting with the Survivors

Ben and Bert listen to James and company talk about the plans for the church and its building.

Ben and Bert listen to James and company talk about the plans for the church and its building.

Pastor James first took us to see a building with only wood poles framing in place. They are working on constructing a church building. Currently they share meeting space with the local Catholic church.

We were then whisked over to that shared meeting space to have a gathering. The choir was present with their robes neatly adorned. They welcomed with a song in Nuer and followed that up with another. I didn’t understand a word but I certainly enjoyed it.

James introduced us to the people and shared a few words. Then the people gathered shared their stories with us. Helen was the first to go. The others verified her stories and told their own.

At the end I Have Decided was sung in Nuer and I sang in English. We then joined hands, Americans and Nuer, in prayer to our Heavenly Father. It was a sweet time of fellowship with a dark and heavy subject. Yet everyone there was worshipping God and giving Him glory.

The choir welcomes us with a song

The choir welcomes us with a song

It really is a testimony to me that they would have seen and experienced firsthand and still want to praise God. They have a real joy and peace that so many are longing for in this world. They have a lot to teach us, especially Westerners, on how to rejoice in suffering.

The Requests
After the stories were shared two requests were made. Several people stood to reiterate the requests and to share more about them. What they wanted was money to help get more people out of Juba and into Uganda. Specifically they want to get the widows, orphans, and sick out so they can come to the camp to receive some of the things not found in the UN compound there in Juba.

Funding to finish construction on the church building was the second request. They want to finish construction on a space for the Presbyterians to have a place to worship and offer space to the community. The current meeting space is also used by the Catholics and they use the space the majority of the time. Even the Catholics there were wanted this. It seemed to make sense.

Putting these two requests together remind me of God’s command in the book of Exodus. There, the Pharaoh is told by the Lord to let His people go so that they may go worship Him. That is what these dear brothers and sisters in Christ want. They want their people to be freed from the violence in Juba to come and worship God in Uganda. These refugees are being faithful in the midst of suffering. Praise God for their message and their testimony to God’s mercy and goodness. They are running to hope. The only hope found in Jesus Christ.

Thumbs up to praising the Lord!

Thumbs up to praising the Lord!

A family's compound in the camp.

A family’s compound in the camp.

We give a thumbs to up an encouraging meeting

We give a thumbs to up an encouraging meeting

Note the tarp covering of the house

Note the tarp covering of the house

The space where we met with the refugees.

The space where we met with the refugees.

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Wait for It…Wait for It

My brother used to say (and probably still says knowing his cheesy liners) that patience is a virtue…..of which I do not possess.   Today has taught me the value of patience.   Waiting patiently for food, meetings, and the Lord to work has been part of my learning today.

Let’s Eat Already

When we (Ben, Gordon, and I) checked into our guest house yesterday, the staff asked what time we wanted breakfast.  We told them 8:30am.  So this morning we wake up, take a shower, brush our teeth, and get ready for the day.  We head down for breakfast promptly at 8:30am.  But it is a long time coming.  We sit and wait.  It is a good thing Vianney joined us for breakfast for then we had more time with this sweet brother in Christ.  There were 5 of us at the table but only 2 cups for coffee/tea and only 2 small plates.  For the mathematically challenged, there are 3 people without cups or plates.  So we asked for more silverware and the server brought out 1 fork.  Things were getting a little crazy.  Can’t she see the discrepancy in the cup/plate to people ratio? Food was very slow in coming.  But it came and we enjoyed it. I even had my kids’ favorite, bread with butter and honey.  I now know why they enjoy it so much.  It was rather tasty.  I had 4 slices of bread like this (I know what you are thinking and you are probably right but I was hungry and it was really good).

The waiting was a little frustrating but the company was good as well as the food.  At the end of the meal I looked at the time and saw that we needed to leave soon so we could get Vianney to the bus terminal so he could catch a ride back.  We had a meeting at 11am to get to after dropping Vianney off at the terminal.  I announced we needed to leave because it was now 9:50 am (see the breakfast did take a while).  Vianney looked at me funny and checked the time.  He announced that in fact it was 8:50am.  I showed him my phone and assured him it was 9:50am.  Feeling confident he would relent, he then told me that Kigali was 1 hour behind Kampala.  Oops.  No wonder the server looked at us funny when we arrived.  No wonder the food was not ready for us.  So I learned to be patient because I might be in the wrong.

Let’s Meet Already

Knowing that the time was different we were not 1 hour early for our 11am meeting with Gerald Sseruwagi.  Instead of 1 hour early we were 1 hour late.  We did not know where the meeting place was exactly.  So we were to meet someone at a location we knew of and he would show us the rest of the way.  Only it took an hour for us to connect with him.  He was there but missed us and so went back.  We were just about to head back to the guest house when he finally was able to catch up with us.  It was frustrating but we made it.  Albeit one hour late.  The meeting was wonderful.  See below.  But I learned that sometimes the wait, senseless or not, is worth it. I just hope Gerald’s wait was worth it to him.

Our meeting was with Gerald Sseruwagi who is a Ugandan living in Rwanda.  So yes, we did leave Uganda to come to Rwanda to meet with a Uganda.  Go figure.

Gerald has an amazing story.  He became a Christian as a young boy.  His animistic father kicked him out of the house.  So he was living on the street with no home.  Some PCA missionaries started loving on him and caring for him.

Let’s Greet Already

Let me tell you more about what God has done in Gerald’s life.  Today he is the rector of a theological college in Rwanda.  He is shaping young lives and bettering the theological climate in the midst of a theological famine among pastors in Rwanda specifically and Africa in general.  Gerald has a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and a PhD.  This is not common at all.  God has taken an unwanted boy to teach others that they are wanted by God.  A boy who was not wanted by his father was wanted by God the Father.  God can take the lowest and use them for His kingdom.

During the meeting it came out that Gordon had been in Uganda in 1981 and had visited the missionaries loving on Gerald.  They may have even met but it has been 33 years ago so the details are foggy.  And let me tell you, I can’t remember 33 years ago (granted I was 2 years old then).  But here Gordon sits and sees the fruit of the work he visited 33 years ago.  What a blessing.

While hearing these stories of Gerald God pressed two things in my mind.  1) I need to take the long view as a missionary.  The work those faithful men and women did 33 years ago is now showing wonderful fruit.  God moves but not necessarily with the microwave speed I might want.  So I need to adjust my expectations on the timing of the fruit. 2) God can work in amazing ways.  God can use people who might be unwanted by society.  He can use those we deem ‘low’ for His kingdom purposes.  This is good news for someone like me.

Let’s Seat Already

It’s late and I am running out of clever headers.  But we did have a seat with Michelle.  He had to wait on us to come meet him.  But I hope he thought it was worth it.  He is a Rwandan friend of Gordon.  He is a survivor of the genocide in Rwanda that occurred in 1994.  He came back after the fighting and helped with a church plant in caring for orphans.  He has helped participate in bringing reconciliation between the tribes in Rwanda.  He is an amazing man with an amazing story.  I learned that listening to the stories of seemingly common people can be gateways into the workings of an amazing God.

Today was a full day but a very rewarding day.  We have been thoroughly blessed to meet with these wonderful men of God.  While I might not have much patience, I hope I can learn to have the patience to see God do half of the things these men are doing in me and through me.

Below are some pictures from today (and from yesterday too).

Ben, Michelle, and I give a big thumbs up

Ben, Michelle, and I give a big thumbs up

Beautiful view of the moon from our room

Beautiful view of the moon from our room

Ben, Gerald, and I give it a big thumbs up

Ben, Gerald, and I give it a big thumbs up

You can tell why they call Rwanda the land of 1,000 hills.

You can tell why they call Rwanda the land of 1,000 hills.

God has really made Uganda beautiful!!!

God has really made Uganda beautiful!!!

Vianney, Ben, and I give a hearty thumbs up to God's amazing work!

Vianney, Ben, and I give a hearty thumbs up to God’s amazing work!

Ben in Kigali.  By the way this is the usual reaction we get in Africa :)

Ben in Kigali. By the way this is the usual reaction we get in Africa 🙂

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