Uganda. September 25 through October 13, 2022
We departed Malawi, where we had been for ten days, and flew to Mozambique, Ethiopia, and finally arrived in Uganda. Not a bad twelve-hour trip.
We arrived at Entebbe at 1:00 a.m. and worked our way through Covid checks and immigration. We found our bags, changed some dollars for shillings—for future reference, do that at the bank and not at the airport—and we met our host, Pastor Henry Mukisa. We rode to the Cycad guest house where we will stay until we go to the north on Thursday for nine days. Then we’ll also return for the last part of our stay.
Uganda is an interesting place. The new things clash with the ancient. There are jets, cars, and excellent roads; then there are bicycles, bare feet, and dirt trails which are washed out and difficult to maneuver and sometimes dangerous to drive. There are nice restaurants with professional staff; then there are people cooking their meals on the ground, outside, with charcoal. There are modern, well-lit stores and shops; then there are micro-vendors selling tomatoes, plastic cups, live chicken, or a recently-butchered pig. There are the well-protected, secure presidential mansion, hotels, and guesthouses; then there are thatched-roof huts and simple tin-roof brick homes which sport all the security of curtains for doors; and there’s everything in between. There is the hot, bright, unrelenting sun; then the rain makes you wonder if you should be building an ark. There are fenced-in yards that are lush and manicured with beautiful green things growing everywhere; then you see the dirt yards in the poor neighborhoods with maybe with a small garden or a fruit tree—but mostly they’re dirt.
Most of the twenty million people here do not own a car, but there are 490,000 registered autos and over two million licensed vehicles, mostly motorcycles. According to helgilibrary.com there are about four cars per one thousand people compared to the 868 cars per one thousand people in the USA. Uganda is roughly the size of South Dakota, where fewer than 900,000 people live, and 1.2 million vehicles are registered.
If you, a friend, your kid, and a few bags need to go somewhere, you ride on the back of a 250cc boxer motorcycle, referred to as a boda-boda. If you need construction materials delivered, say a pack of twenty 1”x30’ steel rods, a stack of lumber, a bed, a desk, a goat or two, or a hundred and fifty pineapples, the boda-bodas are your go-to. It is amazing what can be hauled on a motorcycle with some twine and caution thrown to the wind.
If you need to go further, you crawl into a cramped, hot minibus. They move from town-to-town or just one end of town to the other. The minibus should seat no more than twelve people; but it’s typical to see twenty people, a flock of live chickens, a few hundred bananas, and all the luggage that goes with it, and it seems to be no problem.
There is poverty here. There is violence, and a lack of value of the human life. Life itself seems to be cheap here. People work day-to-day. Some have good jobs with the government or in tourism, but the “most common wage” is $7001/year, with the average annual salary at $21,523 (averagesalary.com). There is a clear divide between those who are poor and those who are wealthy. The middle class is decidedly small. The “most common wage” earners are living hand-to-mouth, scraping by, and just barely surviving. Any hiccough in the economy, a rise in inflation, or their inability to work can have devastating effects.
When we go into the community to teach self-defense, the biggest hurdle we face is reminding them they are worth protecting. This is where our campaign of #priceless&prepared began. Young girls are undervalued and don’t feel that it’s worth fighting back against an attacker; rape is commonplace. “The prevalence of sexual violence in Uganda is startling: one in every four women reports that her first sexual experience was rape. Even more troubling, conviction rates for these crimes are low. Only nineteen convictions out of a total of 1,519 cases last year.” (rainn.org)
When we teach, we empower the girls. First, we prepare their spirits by teaching them that they are created in the image of God, that they are valuable and worth protecting. We remind them that faith and prayer are critical. We teach them how to intentionally observe body language, and remind them that the intuition in their minds is real and true. As Christians, the Holy Spirit communicates through intuition if you listen.
We teach them in groups, typically with boys and girls mixed. Sometimes there are twenty or thirty students at one time; sometimes we have three or four hundred at one time. In the big groups, we teach the same mindset and the same message, but the dynamic of the class is difficult. We demonstrate the SPEAR system, do drills, use the “SPEAR form” to do repetitive drills. The students typically learn by repetition here, and by memorization. This is not the best way to share the self-defense skills as we cannot check each person in each drill, but, with demonstrations, understanding the rules, and practicing the movements, it is the best possible scenario. The kids get it. They see the value—and they remember. We encountered many students we had taught in 2020. They all remembered and demonstrated the SPEAR—some elbows and knees—and they remembered the need for indignation.
While in Entebbe Monday through Wednesday, we taught at the Global Junior School, the SURE Secondary School, the Divine Royal’s Primary School, the Boston Secondary School. The schools totaled nearly eight hundred and fifty students at a conservative estimate.
Thursday we traveled north to Lira, Uganda. The drive is about five hours in the car. We had no stops besides petrol, but, as an improvement over the drive to Malawi, the car had air conditioning. We arrived at our destination and checked into the Days Inn—really! We found the accommodations at the hotel to be spartan at best. We found a “highly rated” restaurant, where we walked up four floors and had some suspect burgers and fries. I was feeling tired and had a headache, but I ignored it, assuming I was just tired from the stress of the travel.
We went to the conference where I was scheduled to teach for two days. I was planning on teaching about faith from Hebrews 11, and faith in action from the book of James. We were received with a joyous welcome: songs, dancing, and beautiful greetings. We were escorted to the “seats of honor” at the front of the church building, which was a 25’x50’ tin shack with tree branches holding up the structure and used corrugated tin for siding and roofing. There was no problem with lighting as the sunlight came through the hundreds of old nail holes in the roof. I delivered a message about faith, and it was well received.
During the message, I struggled to keep my train of thought. I lost my place often during the translation of the message despite Tom’s excellent translation. I was hot. Really hot. But I ignored it, as it was a hot tin shed with limited air movement and fifty or so people inside. It had a really loud PA system; I have observed that all PA systems are apparently stuck on concert volume here.
We departed the assembly and returned to the hotel, where I found my headache increasing, and my temperature spiking. Our hosts in Malawi had thoughtfully sent us with a malaria test which I used. The malaria test was inconclusive, maybe because I had to use my pocket knife to prick my skin, or maybe because I was shaking so badly that I couldn’t get the blood in the spot on the test. Regardless, the conclusion was…malaria. All the symptoms, unfortunately, matched. I had a high fever, uncontrollable shaking, and a pounding headache.
Beret took care of me as well as possible as we spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in that hotbox, generously called a hotel room. My fever broke late Friday due to effective medication, a host of people’s prayers, and the intervention of a loving God. As I lay under the rough covers on the hard full-size bed, I felt the whisper of the Holy Spirit. I was to ask Beret to lay her hands on me and pray, but I had a hard time speaking because of the violent tremors. I finally got the words out and Beret did. The tremors stopped. I slept, granted still with a headache, but I could feel my strength slowly returning. Sunday we left the room for a meal, and I declared myself to be fifty percent of the way back to normal. Monday, we happily departed the Days Inn.
We drove several hours to Nakasongola and found a guesthouse to stay in which was like the Hilton compared to our previous accommodations. We prepared for the next presentation, and then met a local pastor. He gave us directions: we had to go down a dirt road in the pouring rain, cross flooded and washed out roads until we came to a small school called the Kacunyire Primary School. We taught about forty kids and teachers in a small classroom—a generous 15’x25’—while the rain poured, tapered a bit, and finally stopped. The chickens observed the class through the doorless entrance. Many students weren’t wearing shoes, and judging by the toughness of their feet, they didn’t own them. These students were joyous and seemed thrilled to have visitors. As we prepared to depart one of the older students, a girl about twelve years old, asked me to sing a worship song. I was at a strong sixty-percent of my way back to good health. I didn’t think they would want to hear my faltering voice, so I asked her if she would sing. She led the students in a beautiful worship. I prayed with the kids, and invited God’s blessing and peace on them, and we departed.
Tuesday we were able to go to a church assembly across the road from the penitentiary. This was another tin-and-stick structure, with a concrete elevation in the front of the church that served as a stage, and another concert-volume PA system running off a generator outside. I delivered a message about faith while Beret counted five lizards and thirty people or so in attendance. We finished the message, spent time teaching the foundations of the SPEAR method which included spiritual, mental, and physical preparation. My strength was returning, and I estimated myself to be about the seventieth percentile of the way back, but Tom said I was at 105% during the training and the sermon. I was certainly tired afterwards.
We remained in Nakasongola until Wednesday, then we drove to Luweera and checked into the New Jerusalem Hotel. Beret and I happily checked into room Thirty-One, labeled Capernaum. As we were settling in, I closed the door of the bathroom. A transom window made with quarter-inch plate glass fell out of the frame above the door, struck my arm, broke in half, then shattered on the floor. It left a tiny abrasion.
We changed rooms, as there was glass shards across the tile floor. Its still surprising that my arm was not injured from the heavy glass striking it, or that I was not cut from the explosion of glass shards. Even in the physical world God protects us.
We drove to Kikyusa where I delivered a message. Afterwards, we were served a very nice meal that the church ladies had cooked on the ground in the back of the church. When they started cooking, the church building had filled with smoke from the charcoal stove mixed with the good smells of the food. I was actually hungry for the first time since the fever. We shared the meal while being observed by a large, round-eared mouse, and then I spoke again. We spent some time teach the SPEAR method and mental preparation for self-defense. This group was fun and focused, and they loved the training.
On a side note, I mentioned that I have delivered numerous messages. The expectation for the length of a sermon here in Africa is no less than an hour. A typical service starts with a worship session, which is sometimes with drums or keyboards, but always with dancing, shouting, and joy. Full services are three, four, or five hours long. I have actually become reasonably proficient at the timing. If it is a forty-five minute sermon on my sermon software, it is a hour and ten minutes with translation. I enjoy teaching here. People are excited to hear a fresh voice. I observe note taking, I hear “amens,” and I receive feedback. I am able to pause and let the Holy Spirit direct my words and guide the message. I never feel pressured to finish a service within an hour, and I love not having to worry about preparing worship songs.
Thursday we went to Agape Day and Boarding School. This is a Christian school, and the headmaster stated that it is attended by Seventh-day Adventists, Muslims, Catholics, and all stripes of Protestants. There are three hundred or more high school students packed in a space that should seat forty. They all worshiped and sang along, accompanied by an excellent drum-playing student. The drummer was impressive, to say the least. After the message about the good Samaritan, she was messing on the drums and I was inspired to dance along, which thrilled her. She doubled down on the beat; I was feeling about ninety percent well, or even better. The work of the Holy Spirit, the reception of the message, the joy of working in the gift God has given me, and the drive of the African drum filled me with energy. I felt like I was reborn. We went outside, lined up, and practiced all things self-defense. The students’ energy and focus was excellent, and their discipline was top-tier. I finished, prayed a blessing over the children, and departed with the rest of the team.
During each event, Beret and I would do a demonstration of the SPEAR techniques. I would talk about how it was never okay to hit your wife. I spoke about how men are meant to be servants and protectors. Then, with Beret’s consent and the consent of the crowd, Beret would strike a non-violent posture. I would make my body language scream, rage, and growl. Then I would throw a full-tilt hay-maker at her head. She would flawlessly execute the SPEAR, stop the punch, and rock me back on my heels. I would recover and try to tackle her again, and she would re-fire and drive me to the ground. Each demonstration was met by wild cheers from the girls, slack jaws from the boys—and some cheering—but each time, Beret was the hero. It was excellent.
Thursday concluded with a gathering at Hope of Glory Ministries where I delivered a message from James 1. Tom kept up flawlessly with the translation, and I didn’t get lost. In true African style, I went longer than they intended for me. I testified about faith and how it brought me through malaria. This church was led by Pastor Moses who was not in attendance that night, but his wife was and she ran the show capably. Numerous pastors from the surrounding communities attended the gathering. One pastor testified at the end, saying that my interpretation was bold and helpful, and it had opened his eyes more to how faith results in our work. He explained that he had recently attended Bible school and had received 93% for the test on the book of James. He declared that I was not really an American preacher, but I was clearly an African one. He said Americans don’t talk like I do, and they don’t show up after having malaria. He gave an example of one who had famously disappeared after catching malaria.
Friday, our last day in the north, started with meeting Pastor Moses, and he directed our way to the schools for the day. We started teaching at Cornerstone Community Primary School, where there were more than two hundred well-behaved 3rd–6th graders. We stood outside in the shade and told them they were loved. We talked through body language—they were pros at that. Then we started into the physical training. One beautiful young 5th/6th grader asked me if this would help stop her from being raped. I told her I believed it could, but she would have to fight with all her heart, and she would need God on her side. She agreed, and said she would fight, and they would not win.
We left that campus and went to Wobenzi Secondary School. They told us there were six hundred students, but only five hundred attended the two-hour session because the others were preparing for their exams. I focused on the mental and spiritual aspects of the demonstration, and gave a message about prayer and faith. Finally, I taught the rules and the physical fundamentals of the SPEAR. The children did well, standing outside and packed together in the sun, but the group was so large that it was difficult to verify skills and participation. The ones who did listen did well, and they were practicing the SPEAR on each other as we left.
Friday evening we had another Session at Hope of Glory with Pastor Moses. He informed me that we were the first white missionaries to ever offer their services to his church. After concluding the message about James 3 about the way we speak, we spent an hour on self-defense. The forty or so people in attendance participated in the drills, worked hard, laughed, and learned. It was a great evening.
We departed the church and headed back towards Entebbe. We drove for more than three hours for what should have been a two-hour drive. The road through Kampala and the other towns was perilous to say the least. I had faith in Henry’s driving, but I definitely questioned the boda-boda drivers, the minibuses, the overloaded and heavy trucks, and the sheer chaos that is the Uganda highway system. We arrived safely—with much rejoicing—back to the Cycad guesthouse. We slept well, relieved that the trip was over, and relieved that we had survived.
Saturday was a much-welcomed down day. We relaxed, drove to a market, and picked up some gifts and art. And we enjoyed some good, non-suspect food. Sunday we had the opportunity to share worship with Tom Mutanyo at the House of Transformation—the church that Tom leads. I preached, we taught some self defense, and we got to meet Tom’s mother, for whom we had raised funds to provide electricity in her home. She was very thankful, and it was a pleasure to meet her.
Monday was a quiet day, just downtime during the day. We did get to share at Bishop Jimmy’s church in the evening. I noticed my energy was coming back after the Malaria, and I didn’t tire as quickly as I had. We also learned that Henry’s mother was not doing well, she had heart and diabetes issues and was “in trouble.” On Tuesday morning we learned that she had passed away. We did not get to see Henry for the duration of our stay, as he had to go make arrangements for her funeral.
We spent part of the day with our friend Sam Katukani, we were invited to his two-room home, where we enjoyed some juice, conversation, and prayer with the family. We also visited Sam’s ministry office, a small, two-room rental, where he serves poor families, helping their children excel in school and life. He has plans to teach tailoring and crafting when he is able to purchase the equipment and expand his space. I am always impressed with Sam’s desire to serve, as well as his hope and faith. He is consistent and desires the best for people.
Wednesday we had lunch with Tom and his wife, Stella. We treated them to a nice place called Caramels. We enjoyed the meal with them, and went to the zoo where we walked and talked, and also saw tigers, lions, and many native species of Africa. We enjoyed the day with Tom and Stella; it was good to get to know them better in a comfortable, enjoyable way. So much of our interaction had been purely mission work. Eating together and seeing them as a couple was fun. After departing and saying our goodbyes, we finished packing and preparing for our trip home.
Thursday we went to the airport at 2:00 p.m. for our 6:40 p.m. flight. We knew there was extra screening for Ebola virus and didn’t want to miss our flight. We went through all the screening, then found out we had to have a negative covid test to get on the plane. We rushed to the onsite clinic and were able to get our tests completed in an hour. We received our documents and went back to security. We stood in line after line, and finally got into the secure area of the airport, where we relaxed for a few minutes before boarding our flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The flight was short and non-eventful. We arrived in Addis and walked down the steps onto the tarmac. Everyone had their temperatures taken as an Ebola screening measure. We bused to the terminal, went through the security checkpoints, and found our gate. We waited a short time, then boarded the plane with everyone crowding and jockeying for position. There’s a big difference between African airports, where lines are not respected at all, and western airports, where people tend to adhere to lines and zones. In African airports, people are concerned about their seats being taken, so they push and cut off people in security lines and act very rude. This is considerably different from the normal, polite African people outside the airport. As a rule-follower, I find this extremely frustrating. The flight from Addis Ababa to Toronto, Canada was long—sixteen hours in the air plus an hour-long stopover in Dublin, Ireland for fuel and flight crew change. I don’t sleep well on planes, and this flight was no exception. I tried to stay awake until it was nighttime in our home timezone, and didn’t have any trouble with that. Sleep on a plane is fifteen minutes at a time for me until my neck or butt hurts too much to sit still. Every time we fly the long flights, I really understand the role of the first-class seats which recline to beds with plenty of legroom. Maybe someday we will get to enjoy that!
When we arrived in Toronto, we were screened for Ebola, and after that the US customs folks figured out what they needed to do. They still diverted us to Chicago where additional screening was supposed to happen, but it didn’t. Because of an Air Canada error, our flight terminated in Chicago instead of Minneapolis, so we had to purchase tickets to finish our journey. We arrived in Minneapolis about 11:00 p.m. on Friday, which was forty hours after we began at the airport in Uganda. Much respect to people who travel all the time. Short trips are fine, but days in the airport system are frustrating to me. We were very glad to be back to Minneapolis. We spent the night at Sierra and Brady’s, enjoyed a great breakfast at the Hen House in downtown Minneapolis—I can strongly recommend this place, it is excellent—and then drove the four hours home.
So, as you read this, as I share the logistics, the trials, and the frustrations, don’t be distracted. We will walk through fire to do the work we are called to do for God’s kingdom. We are created in the image of God and built to love. Jesus gave everything for us. We feel we owe everything to God. Our difficulties were just that—difficulties. Little things that effectively humble us and burn off the dross. Little things to persevere through. They’re reminders that we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds; they’re opportunities to be the living sacrifices that Paul calls us to be in Romans 12. Sometimes we think mission trips are for us to grow in our Christian walk. And this is a result, frequently. The real reason for missions is the command to love our neighbor, and to go and make disciples of all nations. We teach people to protect themselves, we remind them that they are priceless, and they hear that they are created in the image of God. We love the people of Africa. We love the people of Mexico, Thailand, Brazil, Costa Rica…we love all the people of the world. If possible, we will take the message of Christ’s love to all of them. So, dear reader, remember that I love you. Even better, God loves you. Jesus, the Word made flesh, the only way to the Father, the hope of creation, the provider of our salvation, loves you. Be transformed by this knowledge. Until next time, we pray you find peace and hope, and that you find peace and hope specifically in Jesus.