Thursday, September 13, 2007

Picture Updates

Over the next few days we will be adding Uganda photos to the entries in this blog. Be sure to check back for a visual account of our trip and ministry in Uganda.

We Made It Home!!

We made it home. It seemed to take forever, but the United Methodist Uganda Bible Academy teaching team arrived in Indianapolis during the very early hours on Tuesday morning. Here is a rundown of our activities between our last blog entry and our return home:

  • We put our luggage in our van for the trip to the airport. After a discussion it was decided that there would not be enough room in the van, so the luggage was moved to the roof.

  • We left the Colline Hotel in Mukono at about 1pm on Saturday.

  • We made a pit stop at the site of the new (not finished) Namboole United Methodist Church. We visited with Rev John Kiviiri for a few minutes before continuing on.

  • Bob C and Dewey wanted to attend the Futbol (soccer) game at the national stadium. The game was a part of the Africa's Cup of Nations tournament featuring Uganda vs. Niger. We had a view of the stadium from the Namboole location. Bob and Dewey were outvoted and we moved on.

  • Moses, our driver, decided that it looked like rain. So we stopped the van in downtown Kampala and took the luggage off the roof and put it back in the van.

  • Bob C, Byron and Dewey walked from that spot to exchange some money from US dollars into Ugandan Shillings.

  • The rest of the group went to the Episcopal office with the van. There they put the luggage back on top of the van and covered it with a tarp.

  • After reuniting, we filled the van with fuel and moved onto Entebbe, site of the national airport.

  • Upon arrival in Entebbe, we took the luggage down at the Golf View Inn. That lasted for only a few minutes as most of us would be sleeping in another location. Therefore, we had to put most of the luggage back on top of the van.

  • Although we were only going to be in the Golf View Inn (there was a golf course across the street) for a few hours, it was quite a bit more primitive than anything that we would stay in at home.

  • We ate dinner at a nearby resort and then said goodbye to our hosts, Moses, David and James, and returned to the Golf View.

  • At 200am we left the Golf View from Entebbe airport for our 430am flight. The airport at Entebbe is very interesting. Security was a challenge. Dewey and Jim were stopped for a time because someone was carrying a Swiss Army Knife. Our group was cleared of the crime and the knife was located and confiscated.

  • The flight from Entebbe to Cairo, Egypt took about five hours.

  • In Egypt, we had 25 hours before our connecting flight to the US. Egypt Air provided meals and a room for each of us at Le Passage Heliopolis hotel. It was by far the nicest place that we slept. We were a little uncomfortable because Egypt Air kept our passports during this time. However, when we arrived at the airport at 700am the next day, our work was easy. We had boarding passes and seat assignments already.

  • Then there was 12 hours on the 777 from Cairo to New York City. And that's where all our troubles really began. Carol and Bob L both had luggage that did not arrive from Cairo. Egypt Air will not return luggage beyond New York City. This was very frustrating. Bob L then lost his toothpaste and shaving cream to the TSA at the security checkpoint. Dewey's bag was overweight and he had to pay a fee to get it on the plane.

  • Our flight was originally scheduled for 640pm from NYC to Indianapolis (that's what it said on the tickets and itinerary anyway). When we arrived at the gate departure time was listed at 700pm, then 735, then 800, then 830. When we finally got on the plane, we had to sit on the runway for a long time. It was almost 1000pm when we finally got in the air.

  • When we arrived in Indianapolis we were all greeted by family, friends and our leader and motivator, John Elliott. We are all extremely glad to be home.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Our last day in Uganda

Today is our last day in Uganda. But it has been an eventful fortnight. Last night, Friday, there was a big closing celebration for the Academy. Bishop Wandabula attended to congratulate and encourage the participants. Each student-pastor was presented with a certificate of completion. It was truly humbling to realize how excited these men and women were to receive a simple piece of paper. The same certificate would be almost a nuisance for us at home. However, for these people it may be the only time in their lives that their accomplishments and efforts have been or will be recognized.

Jim spent some time with Noah, a young man that is special to him. He arranged for Patrick Isabiyre, one of our student- pastors, to mentor Noah. Noah's desire, and Jim's dream, is to become a United Methodist Pastor. It looks like he is well on the way.

At the close of the celebration each teacher-pastor received a gift of appreciation from Bishop Wandabula. The men received wooden plaques with scenes and sayings from Uganda. Carol was the recipient of a woven rug or mat. We were all overwhelmed that we received anything at all.

This morning we are all finishing our packing and preparing to return home. Although we have all had a wonderful time, we are really ready to get home. Today we are in a 'killing-time' mode. We got a late check out from our hotel at 100pm. But our flight from Entebbe to Cairo is not until 435am tomorrow. We are going to see some sights and spend some time in a hotel near the airport.

We will arrive in Cairo via Egypt Air tomorrow morning around 1000am. Then we have almost 24 hours in Cairo. Thankfully Egypt Air is providing us with rooms so that we will not have to spend the whole time in the airport. We hope to see some more sights in Cairo, but mostly we are planning to take it easy.

Finally, we will get to Kennedy Airport in New York on Monday evening and will arrive (if all connections go well) in Indianapolis on Monday night at 937pm.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

another day

This is Thursday, September 6, 2007. This entry is being written at 419pm. This means that most readers can read this at 1030 am on the same day. You can read it before it is written.

The last two days have been somewhat uneventful. Bob C. attended the Mukono Rotary meeting last evening. It was not like the Rotary Club in Franklin. There was no meal, and he didn't even get a flag. One of the goals of Rotary in Uganda is to bring every family up to poverty level. That amount, translated into dollars, equals $334 per month... for a family of eight. It is a different world here.

Byron and Carol are holding a meeting at the Academy this afternoon for all clergy couples. They plan to share from their experience to encourage this group that they can speak to somewhat authoritatively.

There is now only one more day of class. Many students and teachers began saying their goodbyes today. At the close of the Academy there will be a special ceremony with the Bishop in attendance. We are not sure what the ceremony will be like, but we believe that it will be long.

We got a substitute driver for our van today. Moses, our regular driver, was needed by the Bishop in Kampala. No one seems to know the new driver's name and he does not speak English. The highlight of riding with him is the speed, or rather, lack of speed with which he drives. It took us forever to get back into town today. We were being passed by trucks with heavy loads going up hills.

Finally, some thoughts on the professions of Ugandan people.

Most Ugandans barely survive. In nearly all homes there is no electricity or running water. In fact, doors seem to be optional. Often a curtain or some other piece of material divides inside from out. Many Ugandans farm. For most Americans, a Ugandan farm would be the size of nice garden at home. This is the source of much of the Ugandan diet.

Other sources of income include:

  • Charcoal. Many people make charcoal and sell it for cooking. No one cooks inside the house. Many families have an outdoor shelter, or what we would call a barbecue pit for cooking.

  • Brick-making. Bricks are made from the clay/mud that is everywhere. They are molded into a uniform shape and then allowed to dry in the sun for several days. After this they are fired in a kiln.

  • Bananas. Bananas are the main agricultural product of Uganda.

  • Sugar Cane. It is not unusual to pass a bicycle on the road loaded with sugar cane to take to market.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Lot of Things

Another good day of school was dampened at the end by several bad things. One of our students, Isaac Wandera, from Busia, learned this afternoon that his brother has died. Please be praying for Isaac and his family. Isaac will be leaving the Academy yet today to join his family at this time of grief.

In addition, several of our students are becoming ill. They are very crowded where they are staying and sickness could potentially move from person to person very quickly. Please pray also for those students that are sick to be made well, and for the others to not get ill in the first place.

One of the things that has struck us about Uganda is the greeting that we here over and over. Christians often greet each other with a 'praise God.' At home when someone gives my a 'praise the Lord,' I think that they are phony. There is none of that here, however. When I hear a 'Praise God,' I know that the praiser is completely sincere.

There is a gift shop at the Humble School. Many items in the gift shop are made here in Uganda. There are shirts and dresses, stools, jewelry, baskets and bowls. It is very interesting to see this sort of thing. The proceeds from the store go toward supporting the school.

One of the Bishop's plans for the future, as he shared with us on Sunday, is to start a children's choir based out of Humble School. This choir would travel to the US to raise support and awareness of the School and the United Methodist Church in Uganda.

Here are two stories for today:

Solomon is a young pastor from the Gulu district of Uganda. He lives in a tent with his mother and ministers in a refugee camp for children. There is a resistance movement in the north of Uganda, the Gulu area, led by the Lord's Resistance Army. One child became fascinated by a water faucet. Running water is rare in those areas of Uganda, but it is not unheard of. This boy was mesmerized by the running water and no one knew why. Finally, Solomon asked what was so interesting about the running water. The boy responded that it reminded him of how the blood used to flow in his village during the war.

In class today there was a discussion about clean and unclean foods. The students were told about the Levitical requirements and then they reviewed the Acts 10 passage in which Peter was given the freedom to eat any animals. There was then a long discussion about pork and Jewish people and Muslims. Finally, Isaac spoke up and told us that we should never eat pork because Jesus cast demons into pigs. He believed that if you ate pork, you would get the demons that were in the pig.

There are many tragic stories of hurt and loss here. There are just as many stories about superstition. Please pray for us as we try to minister here. Pray for our students that they will be able to learn and become more effective in their own ministries.

Monday, September 3, 2007

A lot of exciting things

There are a lot of different things to report on. Today was the first day of the second week of the Uganda Bible Academy. The team members from Indiana are all doing well. We are healthy and getting along famously. We bonded quickly and we are still doing well together. Other than that, let's just offer a summary of recent activities and observations.

  • Yesterday after worship one of the students brought us a jakfruit (sp?). It is a large green fruit that grows on trees. It is watermelon like in size and shape, but the texture of the rind is rough and bumpy like a walnut. It was quite a procedure to get to the meat of the fruit, but when we finally got there it looked a little like pineapple and tasted like a pineapple/ banana combination.

  • There are several clergy couples in the Academy. This is very encouraging to see men and women entering into and working in ministry together. In addition, there are some other women (young and old) who are participating.

  • One of our constant struggles is with the exchange of money. Ugandans trade in the Shilling. This is not a problem except that the current exchange rate is 1775 shillings to one US dollar. Thankfully, Byron made everyone a conversion chart. Otherwise we would be constantly scratching our heads and trying to divide everything by 1775.

  • The singing of the pastor/students in the Academy is phenomenal. We could listen to them for hours on end. They sing with such gusto and passion that we Americans could easily be ashamed of our half-hearted attempts at worship.

  • We finally had our meeting with the Bishop last night. Bishop Daniel Wandabula arrived at our hotel at 7pm with his wife and two visitors from New Jersey. After sharing with us his plans for a children's choir that would travel from Humble School, we were able to share some of our thoughts and concerns about the Academy with the Bishop. The gist of what we shared with him follows:

  1. The Humble School, as it currently stands, is not conducive to the school. The pastors are sleeping on bunk beds (three persons high) in classrooms. The bathrooms are not complete. And there is no running water in the available restrooms.

  2. There are many questions among the students about the increase in the influence of Islam. A future class on that subject would be good.

  3. Many of the students really struggle with English. There needs to be some sort of English training for them. At the very least, someone who attends the Academy could then hold a brief seminar on the content for those who cannot speak English.

  4. The schedule is too long for the student/pastors. They are in three classes each day, each lasting 2.5 hours. By they end of the day they are barely conscious. (Every student makes a great effort to stay awake, however).

There are many other thoughts and concerns that have come up regarding the Academy and the training of these pastors. Among the ideas includes a FAQ or Q&A session dealing with practical ministry issues relating to communion, baptism, practical theology, etc., and some information about United Methodist program resources and other materials from the UM Publishing House and other agencies.

The longer we are here the more it seems that there is to do. Pray that we can accomplish all that God has for us.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

A Day of Worship (but not of rest)

We got to sleep in a little bit this morning. Our van picked all of us (six pastors) up at 900am. We were on our way to church. Each pastor was to preach at a different congregation this morning. With a little bit of nerves, and much excitement, we departed.

Bob Land gave the morning message at Loving Example United Methodist Church which meets at the Humble School. He had a congregation that included all of the resident children of the school and the pastors who are staying through the weekend for the Academy. Bob was the only one who did not have an interpreter translate his message as he preached. Bob had a lot of time to spend with the people after the service as his ride was extremely late in picking him up.

Bob Coleman preached at Mount Olive UMC in Mukono. It is a congregation meeting in a rented building. The pastor of the church and his wife, Patrick and Rachel, are among the best students at the Academy. We have all been very impressed with both of them.

Byron and Carol Fritz were able the share at Nambole UMC. This is the church that we all attended last week. Attendance was down from a week ago, but worship was spirited and vital nonetheless. Nambole Church is currently meeting in a sort of lean-to. However, they have purchased property and have plans to build by this time next year. There are three or four members of the congregation who are attending our Academy in preparation for answering God's call to ministry.

Dewey Miller was the speaker at Mutungo UMC in Kampala. It is a very small church (approximately 25 people) meeting in a rented lot on an alley behind a store. This congregation is the one that is pastored by Fred, who was mentioned earlier this week in this blog. Although the congregation is small, they were very gracious and supportive.

Jim Hertel preached to the congregation at Kawala, also in Kampala. This congregation is made up mostly of refugees from Congo. The room that they meet in (25' x 25') is in what can only be described as a slum. There were 80 people at the worship service who love Jesus with all their hearts.

Currently we are awaiting the arrival of the Bishop. We had an appointment with him at 3pm. It is now 630pm and we still do not know where he is. Oh well, such is life in the UMC.

Tomorrow classes begin again at 8am with worship. That is always a highlight of the day. The school is half over and our trip is more than half over. What seemed to take forever to arrive is not flying by.

The entire mission team is having a good time. We are healthy and laughing a lot. Every day it seems that God is answering prayers. Thank you for your support and continued prayer.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

A Day Off?!?

Today, Saturday, was a day off for us. That means that the Academy was not in session. We did do some things though. Some of it was just for fun (and education) other parts were research for possible future trips. We started the day by driving to the town of Jinja. It took us about 90 minutes to get there. The ride was beautiful. We drove through a forest and past sugar cane and tea plantations.

When we got to Jinja we traveled to Bajaguli Falls. This is just a remarkable place on the River Nile. It is a long series of rapids, white water and islands. At first we just stood and watched God's beauty, and then we noticed kayakers and rafters running down the river. That made us watch even longer. No one on our team was bold enough to try it.

Upon leaving there we met up with Julius, the Jinja District Superintendent. He took us to his home and introduced us to his family. It is safe to say that his home is below standards for adequate parsonage in Indiana. It had about four rooms (very small) and a dirt floor. The walls were made from mud. He invited us in and we were able to pray that God's blessings would be on his house, his family and his ministry. Julius also took us to visit some members of his congregation. What an eye-opening experience for all of us.

Next we traveled to a vacant lot that the United Methodist Church owns. In the future it will be the site of a church building. We are exploring ways that UMs in Indiana can participate in the building of this church. It is a lovely location high on a hill overlooking Lake Victoria. We also visited with Isaac, another UM Pastor. Isaac's congregation of about 100 is losing their lease and has to move. He showed us where they are going. All they have at the new location is the start of a hole for their latrine. That hole (pit) seemed to go down forever. It made us all a little nervous when we got too close.

For lunch we traveled to the Triangle Hotel overlooking Lake Victoria. The view was breathtaking. We saw birds there that you cannot imagine. The most dramatic was probably the stork. In addition, there were dozens of fruit bats living in the palm trees between the hotel and the lake. Not all of the bats slept during the day. We saw several (and they were pretty large) flying around.

Lunch itself was interesting as well. We had a choice between talapia and chicken. Those that chose the fish were greeted with a very large, staring, smiling fish. Those who chose the chicken thought that they might be consuming some of the fruit bats from outside. The consensus was that the fish was very good, but the chicken was not.

Before we left Ninja we went to the site known as the source of the River Nile. The Nile begins at Lake Victoria. While we were there we enjoyed the cool breeze and caught a brief glimpse of a wedding. Adjacent to the Nile attraction there is a statue of Mahatma Gandhi. Apparently his ashes were sprinkled in the Nile and the statue commemorates that event.

Tomorrow we are preaching in five different churches in the area. Since we do not speak Luganda, we will have to use interpreters. This should be an interesting, but great experience. In the afternoon we are scheduled to have a conference with the Bishop. It should be a good thing as we discuss future plans and the direction of the Uganda Bible Academy.

Pray for us. We have reached the halfway point of our mission. So far everyone is in good spirits. We have all taken turns being a little sick, but so far nothing serious. Pray that God will work in us and keep us help.