Of course, a lot happened in the second half of our three week mission trip, and we certainly valued your prayers for us as a team. The mission was most successful - despite some unexpected developments at the end. First, I should recap some, however.
Our team consisted of Pastor John Pickett of University Presbyterian Church, Las Cruces, NM; Barry McWilliams (myself); Don MacDonald (a Navigator) along with two laymen, Tim Plinsky and Terry Dawson from Tulsa, Oklahoma. This was my second trip, Don's third, and Tim and Terry's first. (Terry is an African-American - so it was kind of a pilgrimage to the land of his ancestors - as such he created quite a stir especially with the school children - he was even given an African name by the Governor of Kanungu District.)
As you know, we arrived in Uganda on March 5th after a two day trip from Chicago, an overnight flight to London a day trip into London (to see Westminster Abbey and Trafalgar Square) and another all night flight to Entebbe. [Actually I left on Sunday and spent Sunday night with my brother's family in Madison, Wisconsin.]
Our first venue was an Arch-Deacon's conference at Lweza Conference Center near Kajjansi attended by about 40 selected A-D's from central Uganda March 5th-8th for the Church of Uganda. John Pickett taught on Leadership and Peace-making, and I on Stewardship. (more on our talks) The rest of the team ministered in a couple of area churches. Since the Arch-Deacons came from a variety of tribes, and all knew English, we didn't need translators for this conference. It was a good introduction for me to the Church of Uganda (Anglican) and I found they have a dignified way of conducting business including a nice custom of giving a formal thanksgiving for a speaker's talk. The Archbishop himself closed the conference and it was well received! We all preached in local Churches that Sunday. I spoke at Kajjansi and encouraged Pastor Francis and his wife, Josephine.
Sunday afternoon we traveled to Mukono where we stayed with the new Bishop Paul Lucinda, Tim, Terry and I in the guesthouse. John, Don and I did a Layleader's Conference for Mukono Diocese for about 150 clergy and laity of that Diocese on March 10th and 11th at the Nakanyonyi Conference Center about 10 miles from Mukono. Our start was delayed by a flat tire. Our focus here was on Leadership, Evangelism and Discipling. Terry and Tim did school evangelism in the area - at one public school, Tim had a hundred responses to an invitation to accept Christ. The conference was also well received and the Diocese' leaders have a major evangelism effort underway in their numerous parishes for which you can continue to pray. Bishop Paul Lucinda has put together a staff of bright young evangelicals and Mukono has a prospering community. We ate Tilapa (a fish) for dinner several nights at a local restaurant, once in the dark.
March 12th we made an 11.5 hour journey to Kinkiizi in the SW corner of Uganda close to both Rwanda and Zaire. I crossed the Equator for the first time, and enjoyed tremendously the change of scenery as we passed through papyrus filled valleys and the Mpanga forest to Masaka, then past herds of cattle on the Ankole rangelands around Mbarara and Ntungawa, then into the terraced mountainous region around Kabale; and over a high pass to Nyakatare and the lands of the Bakiga where we enjoyed the gracious hospitality of the Bishop, John Ntegyereize. We were thankful to make that trip - as our front wheel drive went out early in the journey. (Alas, the maintenance of the ACTM Matatu (taxi van) had been woefully neglected.) We had an excellent driver Ssemwauga Bondol who contributed a lot to our successful trip - pray for him that he might come to faith - he is a Muslim but has expressed an interest and accepted a Bible, but with a family it is very hard.
My stay in Kinkiizi Diocese was probably the highlight of my trip. The Rukungiri region is so beautiful and I really got to experience what life is like there. We did another Lay leader's conference for Kinkiizi Diocese around 150 clergy and laity teaching again on leadership, evangelism and discipleship - again very well received. One of my talks was on Jesus' leadership and training principles. The big brick church building (partly under construction) had a special charm with nesting swallows swooping over our heads (Psa 84:3). Tim and Terry continued to do school evangelism in the area. We visited a Pygmy settlement and Scott and Carol Kellerman's Clinic that has been undertaken for those people who have been forced out of the Jungle by the Gorilla Sanctuary and about 20 of those children are attending the Bishop's Primary School. We were able to see the work undertaken by University Presbyterian Church in Las Cruces by the advance team (who left as we arrived in Uganda) in installing a propane tank, and a surplus generator, and all sorts of stoves, sinks, computers, etc., at Kinkiizi High School. The Bishop also shared another concern with us - a program to sponsor secondary education for girls who are often forced to quit school and sometimes even marry very young to support their brother's secondary education.
While we continued the Conference, John and Rashid Luswa made a two night trip into Rwanda to find out the condition of the Church there - and found, to their sorrow, that many pastors of all persuasions had participated in the genocide in the late 90's and the churches of Rwanda need much healing. We were a bit concerned with their border crossing - but rumors of troops massing there were just rumors, and other than the wait in the Queue, the crossing was made without an problems.
Sunday it rained! Hard in the morning! I preached at the English Service and had only a handful. But the second service (which in true Ugandan fashion started over an hour late and lasted for three and a half hours) was pretty full by the time John and Terry spoke. I was particularly struck by the offering as each Parish literally danced their offerings down the aisle and before the altar - what a wonderful celebration! That afternoon we drove up to the top of Kirezi (a local mountain high point) with views as far as Rwanda, Zaire, Lake Edward and the Ruwenzori's (as well as a cell phone tower); and then had dinner with the Governor and his wife in Kanungu. Kinkiizi Province is only two years old - and church and civil authorities are working together to meet the needs of the people. Governor Kamara covets your prayers. It is hard to describe the beauty of that region - steep volcanic hills and deep valley all under cultivation - tiny brick homes scattered in the midst of plantings of Matooke, Sugar cane, and Tea. Actually densely populated , around 20,000 hardworking people live within that Diocese, 200,000 in view of Kirezi and while they have cell phones, electrical power (beyond generators and solar) is years away. Tim and Terry learned to appreciate candles and I found my wide variety of flashlights were both needed and useful.
Monday, March 17th, was another 12.5 hour travel day. We left at first light, driving down from the high lands of the Kigezi into the Western Rift valley near Lake Edward. We drove through Queen Elizabeth National Park seeing plenty Antelope, Water Buffaloes, Waterbuck and finally on a side trip to the Salt Mines of Katwe, we saw a herd of Elephants and some hippos in Lake Edward. Heading back across the Equator at Kasese with its cotton fields, we had lunch in the highland of Fort Portal at the foot of the Ruwenzori's (which hid in the clouds) and then East and North through Kyenjojo and Kibale (where we had another flat tire) and over some rather rain slick and muddy roads to Hoima in the kingdom of the Bunyoro to stay at the Kolping Guest House. (They have CNN, but only a third of the items on the menu, for which you will wait a long long time.)
Here we intended to do another Layleader's Conference for Hoima Diocese in a magnificent Brick Church, and John and Don gave their opening talks to about 50 of what was supposed to be another 150 clergy and laity (Many were delayed by rain.). But for reasons not entirely clear, whether because of suspicions concerning our intentions or internal politics, the Bishop decided to close the conference at that point. It was kind of weird having things cut off - after all ACTM had paid most of the expenses for housing and feeding the conferees - I didn't get to do any of my talks there - though John's and Don's were great talks! But since the leadership of the Diocese was divided and had insufficient time to investigate us further, it was best to do so. We did get some money back.
The Hoima Crusades in the late afternoon with the Presbyterian Team from Kampala went on - drawing large crowds despite the time limitations imposed on us by the local authorities - and Terry and Henry Krabbendam preached with good response and numerous professions of faith. We were invited by a local Pentecostal pastor to do a mini-conference at his slab-board church and we did so - we let Tim and Terry speak, while I did my Wordless Book "Balloon talk" (which I also did at the layleaders conferences) at a nearby primary school, and the rest of the team did some door-to-door evangelism in the area. The prospects for a Presbyterian church plant in the Hoima area next year are good; and we are also hopeful to work through the problems and be able to do future conferences with that Diocese of the Church of Uganda. John and Henry looked at some property.
By now we had been living out of our suitcases for almost three weeks. We had endured cold water (or no water) showers and intermittent power, washing socks and underwear in the sink (and a two day wait on the rest of the laundry), and a steady diet of Ugandan fare (one of my goals was to acquire a taste for Matooke, which I did), and a most demanding speaking schedule - John spoke over 25 times, and I, once or twice a day as well, usually with interpreters assisting us - which is itself an art! My file of assorted sermons and notes had proved sufficient to the demands of four conferences. The War in Iraq had now begun and SARS had appeared too. We were ready to head home. Thursday, March 20th we drove what seemed the worst leg of the trip - 3.5 hours from Hoima to Kampala over very rough and dusty roads mostly under construction. A celebratory dinner at Fang Fangs, some wheelin' and dealin' at the African Mall for souvenirs; a night at the Banana Village near Entebbe - a flight to London, a night of luxury at The Plaza at Hyde Park a Corus hotel with hot showers; iced drinks, and fine Italian food; a morning walk around Hyde Park, a long flight to Chicago, goodbyes; and a shorter flight to Seattle and I was home - drum and all!
I have been reflecting on all that had been accomplished. I attempted a journal and have reviewed it several times. I feel very good about the more than 350 leaders of the Church of Uganda that we had taught and encouraged. I know they will follow through on our teaching! We also made good contacts with some key leaders -- not just the Bishops, like Paul and John, but also young men like Titus and Nelson in Mukono, or Bernard and Bennett in Kinkiizi, or John in Hoima. Of the many children and others who had been touched by the Gospel and those who professed faith and now must be nurtured as new believers. Of the encouragement we had given to three different Dioceses. Our team worked so well together and John and I especially functioned so well together - it was like old times at Lake Stevens Presbyterian Church for us. I continue to feel a strong sense of unity with the Christians there, and I have increased awareness of their needs. I have many new friends. And we were able to leave funds for the Ugandan ACTM staff salaries for three months! One project that I intend to follow up on is developing my Stewardship materials for the third world - I have some good contacts including one made at Heathrow on the way home!
We really sensed the prayers of our support teams. I know you all carried us safely over those roads and renewed our strength day by day to minister. It is a strange experience to awaken in the wee hours of the morning, the Southern Cross blazing in the sky - feeling isolated and alone; yet through your prayers, I felt secure and eager for each new day's ministry.
The Lord providing, I intend to return, and will be better prepared the next time, whether it will be a year or two away. John felt our "five man team" functioned very well and was quite versatile - "what if we took in three teams and brought them together for the last venue - a church plant - just think what we could do!." I know my equipment list is right on target; and I am packing my things away carefully for future use. I hope my wife, Marianne will be able to come along next time and serve the women of Uganda in some way, and experience the beauty of Uganda and be touched by the faith and wonderful singing of Ugandan Christians.
But for now, I just want to thank those of you who gave and/or prayed for your support in getting me to Uganda and sustaining me while I was there. And I want to let you know the investment you have made among the Christians in Uganda will continue to bear much fruit in the future. Do continue to pray for them!