Wednesday, 19 January 2011

This and That

Uganda continues to enthrall me with all the mysteries of stepping into a culture I don’t know. I feel like each day is welcoming me to come out and greet it with wonder, and so I do. But with a wonderful sense of peace walking through the unknowns, which is only Him teaching me to rest inside His faithful heart which knows this place with as much intimacy as I don’t. I live in wonder of Him, really.

Jinja Town
This week has found us wandering through the colourful, dusty market in Jinja, the nearest town, many a day in search of items as we set up Gabi’s house in preparation for the girls arriving. The market is an area the size of a city block or two, and packed out with makeshift stalls set up in something resembling rows in the dirt. The smells that greet you at the market range from mouth-watering to stomach-churning, and you must watch where you place your feet in the dirt. You can find almost anything you can imagine in the claustrophobia and chaos of the market—from rice, fruit, and veggies (some with names I’ve never even heard before) to toothpaste, pots and pans (with no lids), shoes, home-sewn sheets, and buckets full of grasshoppers… which they eat like a tasty little pop-in-your-mouth snack…  I always want to take photos of the market and the magic of all of its cramped and overflowing stalls but I already feel so conspicuous just being “mzungu”, and haven’t gotten quite bold enough yet :) If we show any interest in anything on the stands, we are swarmed by people trying to sell their wares. For some strange reason, they call us “Mama” when they address us.

The shop names in Jinja continue to delight me. Yesterday we saw two electrical shops and they were named “Care of Hope Electrical Centre” and “Faith Electrical Shop”. Hehe. They just seem such mismatched concepts :) I’ve seen another something along the lines of “Jesus is Lord Clothing” :) Uganda is full of such signs—the back of nearly every Coaster (mini-bus) says something about God’s goodness. I should think it would be really comforting,  but I don’t find it so. It feels a bit like empty words splashed across everything this way…

On Sunday we went to our first church service. The first Sunday we were here, Gabi was a bit under-the-weather so we stayed home to rest. This Sunday we went along with a missionary friend of Gabi’s, Katie Davis, an awesome American girl no older than I am who has adopted 13 awesome Ugandan girls (who wrap our hearts around their pinky fingers! On Sunday morning, Katie’s 4-year-old Grace plopped herself in my lap, leaned against my chest, and started singing, “This is my friend, this is my friend, this is my friend” :) Oh!!), to a mainly mzungu church run by American missionaries, so Gabi could see some friends there. The chairs were set up in the garden, under tall, shady trees, and out in the beautiful open Ugandan air and I thought, “Mmm, I could get used to this!” until I discovered that the MASSIVE palace-like structure we were sat in the yard of was the pastor’s house…. I could hardly concentrate on worship then, and I chided myself for being judgmental, but it disturbs me so much that, anyone, let alone Christian missionaries representing Jesus, could live in such a place in the midst of such poverty, when just down the road the very people they’ve been sent to serve are living in disheveled shacks of every description. Even living in an ordinary house in Uganda you’re better off than most of the homes I’ve seen. It just upset me so much. I realize that I don’t actually know the situation—I’m just a visitor one Sunday and the pastor and family weren’t even there, but back in America on furlough, and when Katie and I were discussing it afterwards (and she finds it equally frustrating, but appreciates that it’s an English-speaking church) she said that they explain that they need it in order to host mission teams once a year and I obviously don’t know all that that entails. But without knowing the full details, I just felt sickened by the disparity between this gated palace of the missionaries’ and the reality of the people outside those gates…

Nonetheless, the pastor speaking, another American, gave a great sermon and afterwards the whole church was introduced to a young Ugandan man whom had just come to give his life to Christ. I am so thankful for the way He works through us in spite of us!

Last night we found our way to a Muslim hospital in town where a group of missionaries were having a Bible Study, strangely enough. Most of these people Gabi knew from previous times in Uganda, and I’d met a few from church or around town and been drawn to them immediately. I love missionaries! It was a beautiful thing to sit in the middle of that run-down hospital courtyard with all of these strangers from all these far distances, drawn to this country for a common purpose—to serve Him. As we sang some worship before having a teaching from The Word, patients and staff were drawn out by the music and sat with us on nearby benches.  You could hear sick people being violently violently violently ill in a room off the courtyard, and nurses and doctors rushed by at various times, and yet there was such a beautiful sense of peace, sense of community, sense of fellowship with this group of strangers (most of them American). Such an honest and genuine desiring after this God Whom has so captivated each of our hearts. If you don’t already know and support a (genuine, humbly seeking Christ) missionary, I encourage you to get out there and find one. He teaches me so much through such recklessly abandoned souls.

Racham Business
Yesterday we found ourselves back in the presence of The Chairman, seeking his good favour over Racham Ministries, and his stamp and signature on the forms to be registered as a Community-based Organisation in Uganda. Knowing his importance in the region, and having heard from other missionaries the difficulties the officials give Westerners coming in to Uganda to start ministries, it was a bit nerve-wracking to sit in his “office” (a dingy, dusty stationery store on a crazy market street) and wait as he looked over the constitution and contemplated signing and stamping the form before him. To our surprise (though, why should we be surprised with such a God as ours?), not only did he stamp and sign it with a smile and no questions asked, but he waived our offer of payment—as they normally require 2,000 to 10,000 shillings for this service (about $1 to $5), something similar to what we would call a bribe, I guess, but so ingrained in the culture that it’s just like an accompanying fee. Isaac, the Ugandan social worker friend of ours, couldn’t believe he didn’t require any money. He’s never seen him do that before :) Thank You for Your favour, Lord :)

Isaac took us around to another “LC”, local council member, in our own little village to get another signature (it pays to know someone who knows everyone :)) and it was surreal to me the way this business works. We went to the home of the LC, a dirt enclosure with chickens wandering in and out through the open door. They brought out 3 plastic chairs for us to sit on in the red dust and all the family members around came out to shake our hands and make us welcome, their clothing ripped and caked with dirt and dust. I find Ugandans so friendly and kind, so welcoming. What a different world, what a different world…

On the house front, God is coming through with needed funds just as quickly as we run out in preparing the place for the girls (the kitchen is nearly finished so the immediate construction needs will be out of the way, but we need to get beds for the girls, pay the salaries of various staff, pay the administration fees to get the paperwork done, plus all the little extras which pop up!…). The other day it was a random donation from Gabi’s friend, whose fiancée is on the Ugandan board of directors. And, one couple in America Gabi knows whom have been unemployed for a long while have just found a job and are giving their whole first month’s salary to God and supporting various ministries with it—Racham will be one of them! Keep praying for this practical need, friends! And praising for how He comes through too.

Ugandan Wildlife… in our room
The last few nights I have woken in the darkness to the sound of scratching and scrambling by some little creature about our room. I didn’t feel too apprehensive about what African wildlife we may be dealing with, just curious, and the curiosity kept me from sleep. I wondered if it could be the shy little gecko who often visits our bathroom walls but I thought he would have to be getting mighty bold to come into the bedroom! This morning my curiosity was assuaged when I opened my suitcase to find clothes for the day and had the quickest little brown mouse I have ever seen jump out at me and scurry away! Needless to say, I will be zipping my suitcase closed from now on…

Far worse than that, last night I reached my hand into the toothbrush cup to get out my toothbrush and the toothpaste, and THE MOST GINORMOUS cockroach greeted me, and crawled up my hand!!!! Ugh…. It was massive, and with antennae as long as its entire body or longer, just to complete the hugeness. It was disgusting!! Goodness, it was huge. But I strangely feel as if I took it in stride more so than I would expect, and same with the mouse. It’s just part of the life here, so I just accept it and move on. But oh my goodness—moral of the story? Cockroaches in Africa are MASSIVE.

And She Rode Side-Saddle
I am SO thankful for “my” internet cafe in Jinja where I’m able to go a few times a week so far and send emails, touch base with Facebook, and upload photos! It’s run by the nicest Ugandan ladies and situated right off the main street. Because Gabi has a personal modem on her computer, I tend to need more time there than she does, so have managed a few afternoons there on my own—even getting some writing done and sent out to editors—and then making my way back out to our little village on my own after they close. Now, I LOVE the boda-boda, which are just ordinary, rather well-used motorbikes used as taxis (You wouldn’t believe all they fit on ordinary motorbikes here. Today we passed another boda-boda carrying a whole sofa and two chairs tied on behind the driver! Another day I’d seen a family of 5 crowded on the back of one boda!), but I have only ever ridden on them with Gabi, and taken the coaster—a mini-bus taxi—when I’m on my own. Since there have always been two of us riding behind one guy, I have only ever ridden astride, despite the fact that the Ugandan way is for ladies to ride only “side-saddle”. For some reason, the thought of riding with both legs to one side has frightened me from day one! Just… such an unstable way to ride on the back of a little, fast-moving motorbike and I was a bit nervous about it. But culturally, it’s not appropriate to ride astride without a reason for it. So… today, for the first time, I breathed a prayer, and politely perched myself on the back of a boda-boda… side-saddle!

It WAS precarious-feeling, as if you truly are perched, and you must use your whole body to maintain balance, especially around the roundabouts :) But the breeze on the back of the boda wiped away the burn of the blazing afternoon heat, and as the beautiful Ugandan landscape passed by with the goats and cows roaming freely about the ditches, I closed my eyes and smiled at the feeling of freedom and wonder at this strange world I find myself in and this huge God Who put me here.

He spoke to me of trust in the experience. Of taking a deep breath, hopping on behind Him, and letting Him carry me away. Letting go and trusting Him often feels precarious, whether it means following Him to a new culture and new country, or following Him into a whole new level of self-awareness or emotional healing or relational vulnerability—either way, it’s following Him into a whole new world where you must rely on Him and not yourself. It’s surrender. And it’s scary. But it’s beautiful and freeing… and I don’t want anything less.

Oh Uganda, the lessons you have to teach me of His heart :)


Gabi Dickinson said...

I don't feel the signs are empty words at all. The faith of these people compares to nothing we have ever known or met with for them their faith permeates their every day life in EVERY way. From their shops to their cars...

Gabi Dickinson said...

But I do like your boda lesson.
Mmm surrender. My favourite.

julee said...

Oh Leah...I love your stories! Some of them I can relate the market (and the smells) from being in Guatemala. I'm just so thankful I've never seen a cockroach while there....not that there aren't any I'm sure!!
I'm praying for you sweetie!! What a life changing experience you are having!! God is good! Love you.

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