All posts by beingsarahdiane

(Reverse) Culture Shock

I’ve been back in the US for a week now. My family picked me up at the airport in Dallas. My parents met me inside the building and my brother waited with his dog (my niece, Alleigh) outside. I was happy to see them all and happy to be off the plane and be able to walk freely and stretch my legs. Until the heat hit me, and then I was happy to be in an air conditioned car. Our first stop was for ice cream and our second stop was to get me a fishing license, then we went to a state park and camped for a few days. I drowned several worms and caught no fish, but it was fun. We played cards and horseshoes. I was struggling pretty badly with jet lag, and my brother took it upon himself to keep me awake each day.
Not counting jet lag, I believe there is something about me that makes travelling easier than it might be for others. I always hear about “culture shock,” but when I arrived in Uganda, I didn’t feel a strong sense of culture shock. It was more like mild surprise. Of course, there were things that were different and things that took time to get accustomed to, but I never felt real anxiety about my unfamiliar surroundings. The fact that I was staying with a couple from North America probably made things easier.
I attended church this morning in my hometown church. I’m probably not on their member lists anymore since I spent 5 years away at 2 universities, but I’ve considered it my church since high school. It’s a conservative church in a conservative area. The last church I went to before this morning was Watoto Church. My church here is slightly different. For instance, there’s space between people. The worship team sang, standing still on the stage with their mic stands. Some people worshipped quietly where they stood. Half the congregation looked half-asleep. There was no one shouting, clapping, or dancing. There were no elderly choir members running down the stairs and off the stage to run around the front of the church in sheer joy. In fact, there is no choir. Cue the mild culture surprise.
Today was a ministry fair, where they had videos made and booths set up outside the sanctuary to make everyone in the body aware of the different ministries our church is involved in. It did my heart good to hear about the prison ministry and the juvenile detention center ministry, as well as the involvement different church members have in Africa. The guest speaker today was a guy from South Africa whose ministry is planting churches all over the continent. They showed pictures of people from my church teaching and discipling people in Uganda and in other African countries. My mom leaned over to me and asked if seeing all those images was making me homesick. I smiled. Yes.

Things I miss about Uganda:
Friends
Watoto
Watoto farms
Feeling good about work
Pineapple
Good bananas
Stoney Tangawizi

Difficult things:
I’m at a turning point in my life. I have no idea where I will live next or what I will be doing.
Answering everyone’s favorite question: “So, what will you do next?” (See above)

Things I’m enjoying here:
Family
Friends
Pets
Mexican food
Iced tea
Strawberries
Cheap ice cream
Driving

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Last Few Days

I’m fairly sure when I leave Uganda in a few days, I will be leaving a fair sized chunk of my heart here.
Today was my last day on a Watoto farm. I started at Buloba in the feed mill that the guys are putting together, then moved to Lubbe where the machines are putting the finishing touches on the dam. The farm manager, Sam, asked me if I was sick or angry when he saw my face, but I’m just sad.
The rest of my week will be spent in the church office working on some things on the computer and attending a meeting or two. In 5 days I will be home with my family, assuming no problems with my travel arrangements.
I asked my mom if they would come visit me if I were to move to Africa. She said not to make any decisions right now because I’m emotional about leaving.
Darn right I’m emotional about leaving. I love this place and this ministry. I love what Watoto does and I’ve seen how they are always taking steps to improve.
Plus, they’ve combined loving and positively impacting the lives of orphaned children for Jesus with farming, and I don’t know how it gets any better.

I don’t know what to say, but here are 600 words anyway.

I feel like I should write a blog post, but there’s a slight problem.
I don’t know what to say.
That’s not a rare occurrence. There are lots of times when I need time to figure out what to say and how to say it.
I’ll just ramble and maybe something worth sharing will come out of it.
My time on this internship in Uganda is almost over. My last two weeks here have begun. The team I am travelling back home with has arrived and gotten to work. There is plenty to keep me busy – the equipment for our first poultry barn is being set up, the feed mill is being put together, there is corn to dry, planting is going on at the vegetable farm, we’re still working on the dam, and there is still work I can do on the computer.
I’m excited to see my family and friends when I get back– of course. What kind of a daughter/sister/granddaughter/niece/cousin/friend would I be if I wasn’t? But I’m not excited to leave here.
I’ve had a very comfortable time in Uganda. I’ve stayed in a modern house in a nice part of town with power and WiFi (most of the time) and a washing machine and exceptional food and a couple of amazing Canadians and a beautiful Ugandan friend and several lovely short-term guests who have come through. That isn’t why I’m not excited to leave.
This morning, I was thinking about leaving and going back to the US. I know that God doesn’t need me to accomplish the work He is doing in Africa, but I am sad to leave.
I met a guy last week who said that usually, you can leave Africa, but Africa never really leaves you. The people here are amazing. At any given moment you can see a person who has next to nothing and is happier than a rich guy in his mansion. Why? Is it because he doesn’t know what he’s missing? No – if that were true, the rich guy would be happy. It’s because happiness isn’t about how nice your stuff is or what your 401k looks like.
I’m looking forward to a lot of things when I get back to the US – like time with people I love, playing with the family dog(s), driving, eating Mexican food, cooking without worrying about using up someone else’s groceries, iced tea, and tap water I can drink. I’m not looking forward to hearing pointless complaints, associated now with the trendy “first world problems” caption. I’m not looking forward to going back to a job market where everything is about salary and benefits.
I wish I could pick up my family and friends and move them here, but that isn’t likely to happen.
I have a feeling the next season of my life will be a time to learn contentment. I have gotten to live in Uganda for 3+ months and work with a ministry I absolutely love that’s doing amazing work. I have learned a lot here, about agriculture, and about working in both ministry and business. Soon, I will need to return to the US and get a job. I don’t have a problem with working, but it’s going to be hard to leave this environment and this ministry. I hope I can support Watoto from the US and I hope that I get to come back to Uganda. I also hope that I have grown from being here, and that I will be better able to love (all) people unconditionally. You can only give that kind of love to people if you are loving God.
Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Quote of the day: “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing” – C.S. Lewis

5 Ways My Time in Uganda is like The Wizard of Oz

5. The Gatekeeper.
I am staying in a walled, gated compound with a security guard. The guard always has to peep out to see who is at the gate before he lets them in, and it always reminds me of this:
 The Gatekeeper
4. Musical.
Nearly everyone here is good at singing, and people break into song wherever they happen to be – just because they feel like singing.
3. The Welcoming Committee
Most people here are so warm and welcoming! And I didn’t even drop a house on any wicked witches.
2. The Emerald City (or Country)
Everything is so beautiful and green here!
1. I’m not in Kansas anymore (or Texas…or Oklahoma…)
Most of the time I feel very comfortable and at home here, and I sometimes forget I am in Africa – not North America. Sometimes, though, I have those moments of realization: “I’m not in Texas anymore!”
I neglected to bring my ruby slippers with me. Oops!
Note: No one was melted in the writing of this blog post. 

Lubbe Dam!

In my last post, I mentioned that a guy named Linton was flying from Australia to help Watoto get started building a dam to hold irrigation water at the vegetable farm (Lubbe). Linton has built 4 dams before, and this is a great way for Watoto to keep moving toward self-sustainability with the ability to produce vegetables during the dry season.

Dam Plan

Linton started with a topographical map of the farm and he got an engineer friend in Australia to come up with a plan, then after raising thousands of dollars overnight, Linton bought a plane ticket and flew to Uganda to build a dam. He arrived last Friday afternoon and found an excited Watoto Agriculture team waiting for him. Linton stayed at Randy and Judy’s house where I am staying, and I was practically his shadow for the last week.

 

On Saturday morning, we got started surveying and hammering wooden stakes into the ground to plan out this dam that will cover about 20 acres when it fills up. We used a laser level to find the lowest point on the farm and we staked out the embankment, the berm, the borrow pit, the standing water level, and the spillway. Most of the land where the dam will be is lying empty at the moment. There was rice planted on most of it a year ago, but the only plants harmed for this dam were in an unfortunate patch of Ntula (African eggplant) that happen to be growing right where the dam wall is being built.

Unfortunate Ntula

The vegetable farm is surrounded by some hills and mountains. We needed to know just how large the catchment actually is for this dam, and to find that out Linton decided it was necessary to climb one of the mountains nearby. On Monday morning, a group of us set off up a mountain in our rubber boots we were wearing to walk through the swampland below.

There’s a reason there aren’t any fat people in Ugandan villages. That was hard work, but it was fun.

Watoto sent over their excavator, a bulldozer (Caterpillar D5), and a roller to start on this dam. The operators were Richard, Kasim (AKA Kim), and Busulwa (AKA Bus). It didn’t take long for the people in charge to realize that the D5 was not big enough and a second bulldozer was needed, so they hired Michael to come with his D7 and help move some dirt. Now it’s looking like a D8 will be on site soon as well! The machinery spent about as much time broken down as it did working for the first couple of days, but they have been working steadily now. Bus even let me drive the roller a little bit.  ; )

It takes usually about an hour to get to the vegetable farm from Kampala in the morning, and about 2 hours to get back because of traffic and/or car trouble. Alex picked Linton and me up every morning and we would make the trip to the farm. Tuesday evening the car overheated and we stopped at a village well to get some water. Linton did the pumping, and he said it was a workout!

The whole process of dam building was entirely new to me. Linton and I shared many exchanges that went like this:

Me: Linton, can I ask a dumb question?

Linton: I love dumb questions!

Me: Oh, good! I’ll be your best friend.

When I think of irrigation, I think of a water well – a borehole. It doesn’t rain enough where I’m from to collect enough water for anything bigger than a houseplant, but Uganda has rainy seasons when it rains more than they can use at once and dry seasons when it is difficult to grow anything. (Even still, Uganda during the dry season is a lush, green, tropical oasis compared to dry and dusty west Texas.)
2013-08-03 16.22.55 After the surveying was mostly finished, the machine operators got started moving dirt to make the embankment and creating the spillway where the water will be directed into a Eucalyptus forest if the dam should ever overflow. The dam wall will be 3 meters high and 3 meters wide at the top (that’s about 10 feet, for all you Americans) and about 24 meters wide at the base. Richard dug a trench with the excavator and filled it with clay to give the wall a strong core, and the bulldozers got busy pushing soil to build the wall. After a week’s work, they have mostly finished the spillway and about 50 meters of the wall’s length. There is a lot to do yet, but everyone was pleased with the progress.

Lubbe Dam Team Feast After the guys finished work yesterday, Linton threw a thank-you party for them at the farm manager’s house. He bought meat and potatoes and sodas (those are Cokes, for all you Texans), and the farm manager’s wife happily cooked for everyone. Everyone was happy with the work that had been accomplished, as well as with the roasted beef and pork.

Linton left for Australia today. He has to get back and water his own crops from his 100-acre dam on his 1,000-acre vegetable farm, but he’ll be back to Uganda, and everyone knows it. The new irrigation ability from this dam will bless Watoto Agriculture for years to come, but I feel sure God has more plans for Linton and Watoto.

Life & Work Lately

Watoto Agriculture has done a lot in quite a short time. They’ve established a goat farm with about 120 mature does to provide milk for Watoto babies. They’ve established a 200 acre crop and vegetable farm, which will most likely go into all irrigated vegetable production in the near future, when the land they are procuring up north is ready to go. The laying hens will soon be laying and the feed mill will soon be milling.

Another reason Watoto is awesome: Today in the Sustainability office I got serenaded by a Watoto staff member – for no reason other than he just wanted to sing and I must have looked like I wanted to listen.

Back to agriculture. There are some things the busy Agriculture team just hasn’t had time to do, but now they have an extra mzungu here (me), wandering around Kampala and surrounding areas having the time of her life, and wanting to help out in any way she can.

Some days I do more observing than helping. Like yesterday – I spent the day at the feed mill in Buloba, where they were drying the first batch of corn from this season’s harvest. I had never been around a running grain dryer before, so I mainly watched and took pictures.

Something else I am working on is to write operational manuals for each farm: gathering information and getting it all in one place so farm managers have something consistent to reference and staff members know what is expected of them. Of course, some of these things are still being set up and there is a lot we don’t know yet, but I have spent the last week researching things like poultry mites and following smarter people around, peppering them with questions about the farms.

Today, a recent friend of Watoto’s is making his second trip to Uganda from Australia. Linton came here in June to see what Watoto is doing, and he got so excited about the whole WCCM vision and Agriculture’s part in it. He is a farmer growing irrigated horticultural crops, and he is coming to help Watoto get started on a 20-acre dam at the vegetable farm. He found someone in Australia to engineer the dam for free, then he raised thousands of dollars overnight to finance it. I get to hang out with him while he’s here and help stake it out. It should be fun, and a learning experience, considering there probably isn’t enough water where I’m from to fill a 20-acre dam.

Being here with people – Ugandans and foreigners – who have the same vision and are using their skills and resources to accomplish Watoto’s mission of rebuilding the country and raising young leaders has got me thinking. How many people do I know who could contribute to efforts like this? How many teachers and professors do I know who could teach their skills? How many business people do I know who could work on WCCM’s Sustainability project? Linton is coming here a second time already. He’s averaging one trip per month, so far. Watoto is a huge ministry, and the whole idea is to care for the kids holistically. That means we are providing them a safe and nurturing place to live, guidance, food, medical care, education, and opportunities.

No matter what you do or what stage of life you’re in – there’s a place for you to help at Watoto.

Are you a farmer? COME – we need you.

Are you a medical professional? COME – 2,600 kids need you.

Are you a businessman? COME – you can help this ministry sustain itself.

Can you build or fix things? COME – stuff here always breaks!

Are you good at managing people and getting things done efficiently? COME – efficiency is largely a new idea here.

Are you an engineer or an architect? COME – you have valuable skills!

Are you gifted in organization and administration? COME – the workforce in this country is made up mostly of young and inexperienced people who could learn much from someone like you!

Are you a good communicator? COME – this ministry needs people all over the world telling its story.

Are you a parent? COME – Thousands of orphans need loving care.

Can you be a conduit for the love of God to others? COME – this entire country needs that!

Ok, the entire world needs that, but you have to start somewhere. Start right where you are, but you seriously need to see what Watoto is doing. I don’t know how you could ever regret it.

Internship Course Over, Internship Goes On

The last time I was on American soil was exactly 2 months ago – May 17. I am in the middle of my 9th week in Uganda, and I love it. Still. This internship is awesome. It was like, “Hey Sarah, why don’t you travel to Uganda and do work you love with this amazing ministry? It’s paid for!” (The words in bold print describe some of the things that contribute to its awesomeness.)

It was almost easy to forget that I was actually doing this to complete a requirement for my master’s degree and I’m getting class credit. I enrolled in a summer term internship course to get that credit, and my assignments for the course were due this past Monday. I had to submit a 5-10 page report and a 30-50 slide PowerPoint presentation about my internship experience. The requirements were pretty simple, but I realized last week that I did not have everything I needed for the presentation.

I was supposed to include at least 5 pictures of myself in the PowerPoint among all the photos of my experience here. As I took inventory of my photos, I found I did not have enough pictures that included me. Luckily, I spent Thursday of last week at two of the farms, so while I was out, I got my picture taken a few times. That’s why it would appear that I dress the same every day, if you looked at the slide show. Here are those pictures.

 

18' diameter grain bins, nearly 30' tall at the peak I helped build this fence! (A little)

 

Grain Bin Door With a goat kid at Watoto's dairy goat farm

 Anyway, I finished the report and the slides and submitted them, and that’s the last thing I had to do to get my master’s degree. Now it’s up to OSU to confer the degree and mail the diploma!

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of desk work. My last post was about the challenges of finding input suppliers across cultures, and those difficulties still hold true. It has been further evidence of the truth of the old Mzungu adage: “Everything is harder here and it takes longer.”

Another project I’ve started is to research possibilities for Watoto Sustainability to expand into the production of foods for disaster or famine relief. We want to find out if dehydrated foods are a good potential business enterprise. The objective would be to help food crisis victims as well as help sustain Watoto Child Care Ministry.

Various organizations procure food and distribute it in areas experiencing a food crisis. Some try to purchase as much of the food as possible from developing countries to avoid further depressing the market there by importing the food from wealthy countries. Uganda truly is “the pearl of Africa,” and the excellent conditions for farming here make it a great place to purchase good food. Watoto could potentially become an excellent supplier of nutritious foods for food crisis relief efforts! I find this project very interesting, but it also involves a lot of time sitting and staring at a computer.

Ag Trade Show

I did get to do something different last week, though! On Friday, I got to go to an annual agricultural trade show in Jinja. I was very impressed with the show, which lasts for a week. Vendors, government entities, and NGO’s begin preparing months before by planting demonstration plots. There were seed companies, equipment companies, and livestock breeders there.

NARO's Books

 

Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization had a large area where they displayed their new machines, information about plant varieties they have bred, and books.

 

DSC01615

 

Heifer International had a booth where they were demonstrating and promoting, among
other things, a project they have in Uganda developing biogas for cooking and lighting.

 

 

 

Non-agricultural vendors were there too. Basically anywhere a crowd gathers here, there are people selling cokes, juice, food, and crafts. This leads to another highlight of the trade show: there were two vendors there (I never saw them, but I heard them) who played music like an ice cream truck plays. What songs do they play? One played Fur Elise. The other played My Heart Will Go On, of Titanic fame. A similar vendor makes its way around the neighborhood where I’m staying, playing a Christmas song about Santa Claus.

A few weeks ago, I said that church at Watoto reminds me of the student section at a major Texas Tech football game, because of how excited everyone is. The trade show reminded me of those football games in a different way.

I remember waiting in line to get into the stadium the day the Texas Tech Red Raiders beat the University of Texas Longhorns with a last-second touchdown in 2008. There was so much excitement before the game and there were so many people there, the line to get in was ridiculously crowded. When they opened the gates, the crowd compressed and pushed forward. Personal space was a happy memory. Walking in crowded areas here reminds me of that. I do not know what it was like all last week at the trade show, but on Friday when I went, there were what seemed like a billion school children there. In Uganda, walking existing is a contact sport.  People don’t wait in lines for their turn or walk respectfully around others in a crowd. Mzungus, including me, are surprised when they get in line somewhere and people step in front of them. People squeeze and shove their way wherever they want to go, because that’s the way things are done here.

That makes a lot of sense, too, when you observe traffic on the roads. The general rules for traffic are:

1) If there is room for your vehicle, you may go. 2) If there is almost room for your vehicle, you may go. 3) If there is not room but you see a driver who looks like they might move for you, you may go. 4) If there are no drivers who look like they would move out of your way, squeeze in anyway.

DSC01716

Before we left Jinja on Friday, we stopped and ate Chinese food at Ling Ling’s. The last time I ate at Ling Ling’s, I was on a church-planting trip with my home church in 2006. My mom and I went on that trip together, and the team went to Ling Ling’s on her birthday. (Too bad she doesn’t like Chinese food…) This past Saturday was her birthday, which means I have eaten at Ling Ling’s two times – 7 years less 1 day apart. It was still good. = )

 

Soybeans. No, SOYBEANS.

The past couple of weeks have been the most major learning experience I have had here, so far. For weeks I bounced around among three farms and the ministry office, asking questions, listening, and trying to learn. I did learn a lot – but I felt scattered. I had nothing on which to focus my energy.

I finally started on a project. My goal was to find potential suppliers of agricultural inputs. I started with a list of about 50 products (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, vet supplies, and feed), who the current supplier was, and what Watoto Ag is currently paying for the product. Where else could we get them, and for how much?

Where do you start? I have yet to see a Ugandan phone book, but I figured the best place to start was the World Wide Web. Generally, I’m pretty good with Google, probably because of the practice I’ve gotten through my weird compulsion to learn the answer to any question that pops into my head.

First of all, dealing with Ugandan businesses is totally different from dealing with people within the ministry or with western businesses.

I started searching and collecting business names, phone numbers, locations, and email addresses. Some of them had web sites.

Some of those websites were not very helpful at all.

Marketing here is very different from in North America. Websites here are generally only good for getting locations and phone numbers. Sometimes.

I started calling phone numbers.

Some of the phone numbers were outdated. Others were correct, but the person I spoke to could not understand what I was saying. The connection was fine and we were both speaking English – but I had one of the most confusing phone conversations of my life the other day trying to find out what this guy charged for soybeans.

[“Soybeans. “

“Be clear. What are you asking about?”

“SOYBEANS.”

“I do not know what you are saying. What do you want?”

“SOY. SOYA. SOYBEANS.”]

He finally understood I wanted soybeans and gave me a price nearly three times the amount we’ve been paying.

And so it went.

Surely, I thought, emailing must be better. Accents don’t cause trouble in emails like they do in spoken English.

I started emailing the companies that had email addresses listed.

None of them replied.

I started wondering if there was a problem with my email account. Maybe mail from my Oklahoma State University email address was being filtered to spam folders. Then I got a reply from a UK company I had contacted about another issue, and I started wondering if there was a problem with my approach. Maybe you have to write emails completely differently when you cross cultures? I meant to send respectful and concise messages inquiring about specific products, but maybe I came across as demanding or rude. Maybe my “Texan accent” was transported through cyberspace and the recipients of the emails are staring at the words, uncertain of my questions.

I asked Alex about this. Should I change my approach? Take a course in writing emails to Ugandans? He was not surprised that no one responded to me, simply because there’s a good chance they don’t check their email. That doesn’t make any sense to me.

  1. There’s an internet café on pretty much every corner here. Everyone and their mother-in-laws have cell phones. Seeing someone walking or riding a Boda Boda while talking on the phone is just as common here as seeing someone talking on the phone and driving in the US. Telecommunications is a huge industry here.
  2. These people run businesses, and those businesses depend on selling products. They provided email addresses for business purposes, obviously to help them sell their products. Then they don’t check the email.

I can’t make anyone check their email, but I was confident that I could go talk to them face to face to get the answers to my questions.

I gave Alex my list of companies and asked him where they were. We spent all day last Thursday, the 4th of July, driving around the spider web of crowded roads that is Kampala, and walking into office buildings and shops.

Some of the locations were wrong.

Of the 10 places we actually found, I made real progress with four.

At one place, we made accidental progress. I had a name and address for a chemical company. We drove down the correct road until we saw a sign for a company with the exact same address. Not the same business. It was a seed company. We parked and went inside to ask about the chemical company, but the girl knew nothing of it. So we stayed and asked about their vegetable seeds.

One of the companies was located in an office building. I had an address and a room number, so we parked and went in. The security guard made us sign in before we went up the stairs to find Room 2. We found it, but there was nothing in sight with the name of the company we were looking for. Signs for a bus company were plastered on the wall. We asked the guy behind the desk if we were in the right place, and he looked at us incredulously, like “Of course this is the right place. Why would you question that?”

Another company was in a different office building. We went inside, and asked at the front desk where we might find that company. They were confused – had never heard of that company.

“I have an address and a phone number for _______________ company, located here under the name of Mr. ________ ________. He doesn’t have an office here?”

“Oh, ________, yeah we know him!” and they led us to his office.

He wasn’t there.

Business hours are extremely flexible here. At three of the places we found last Thursday, the addresses and phone numbers were correct, but no one was in.

Accents cause the same trouble talking in person as they do on the phone. I’m lucky I have Alex driving me around, because there were many times when he had to translate my English into English.

When you travel, you have to keep an open mind. If you are so sure that the way you do things is right and everyone else needs to adapt to your way, you will end up extremely frustrated and bitter. I couldn’t make business owners update their phone listings, or make them answer their email, but I can treat them with respect when I finally get to talk to them.

Moral of the story:

If you want a cross cultural experience that doesn’t involve eating grasshoppers or something, try being a mzungu looking for potential suppliers and price ranges for 50 products in Sub Saharan Africa!

Sunday #6

Watoto Church is an awesome experience. People line up outside waiting for the doors to open. Hundreds of people attend each service, and they very efficiently empty the sanctuary from one side and fill it up again from the other for the next service. Inside, we claim our seats (you can forget about personal space) and wait for the service to begin. The worship team welcomes the crowd and begins singing with grins on their faces like they’ve just won the lottery. No microphone stands here – they hold their mics and dance around the stage. Actually, the atmosphere reminds me of the student section at Texas Tech football games: just as loud and crazy with all the excitement, except subtract the drunk people and add in a bunch of people praising God and dancing and clapping (with rhythm) to the music. In some churches, this behavior is looked down upon. People who act like that in church must be trying to attract attention to themselves, people say. Let me tell you – in Watoto Church, no one cares. They are there to worship God. After a few songs, one of the church leaders gets up and says, “Ok, Church – now it’s time for us to-” [congregation shouts “Give!”] They collect the tithes and offerings while the worship team continues singing their hearts out and dancing around.

The preacher was a guest speaker. Every sermon I’ve heard here has been great. Convicting, encouraging, great for helping the church body refocus on what really matters. The sermon from Sunday #6 of my Mzungu Summer was particularly powerful.

Statistically, Uganda is one of the poorest nations in the world. A large portion of the population lives on $2 or less per day. Of course, not everyone is poor. There are some very wealthy people here as well, but there are very few places in Uganda where you can escape reminders of the poverty around you.

The sermon I heard was about living a productive and effective Christian life, and it focused on three main points: being selfless, being willing to sacrifice, and being extravagantly generous. He said we need to give until it hurts. He talked about the parable of the good Samaritan and the story of Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac. He talked about the sacrifices made by the Uganda martyrs, for whom Martyrs’ Day was celebrated earlier this month. He talked about the Macedonian church that Paul praised in 2 Corinthians 8, who gave beyond their abilities in the midst of poverty.

Thousands of people heard this sermon. Thousands of people in one of the poorest countries in the world were told to be extravagantly generous and to give until it stretches their abilities.

I looked around. Having grown up attending various churches in the United States, I expected to see hundreds of stone-faced people waiting for the “giving” sermon to end. There is a much greater tendency in developed countries like the US to be doubtful of messages like this. They have seen too many television evangelists promising miracles in return for checks in the mail. Or they are saving up money to redecorate their house or buy a new car and they just can’t spare anything right now.

Two caveats.  #1. I don’t mean to insult Christians in developed countries or insinuate that it’s bad to redecorate your house. I will be back in the US soon enough and I look forward to decorating wherever I live next. Not everyone in the US is miserly and unwilling to give, and some people truly are extravagantly generous. The truth is, though, that it is much easier to become materialistic and stingy when you are blessed with so much. It’s easier to want to hold on to whatever you have with a tight fist. #2. Not all giving happens in dollars or shillings. You have talents and expertise that many other people do not have. You have time. (Don’t tell me you don’t have time – you have 24 hours in each day just like everyone else on the planet. How do you use it?)

With those disclaimers out of the way, I want to point out that what I expected to see is in the audience was very different from what I saw. The congregation was smiling and nodding, saying “Amen” and interacting with the preacher when he asked questions. Some of them live on very little, but they thank God for what they have and they are not afraid to give until it hurts.

I pray that wherever I go and however much I have, God will teach me to be extravagantly generous – giving more than I think I can and trusting Him to provide for my needs.  After all, everything belongs to Him anyway.

 

Corrupt Traffic Cops and a Scared Mzungu

Last week, I had momentary doubts about the guy who is driving me around while I’m in Uganda. Alex and I had the pleasure of being stopped by a traffic cop when we were driving from the goat farm to the poultry farm. There was really no reason to stop us, and besides, no one in Uganda really obeys traffic laws anyway, but the cop came up to the passenger side window and began talking to Alex across me. He asked to see Alex’s driver’s license. Alex told him he had forgotten it, and the cop threatened to write a ticket for 100,000 Ugandan shillings (about $40). The trouble with that is, he couldn’t write out a proper ticket unless he was looking at a driver’s license, so that was an empty threat. The cop asked Alex to get out of the car, and Alex told him he wouldn’t. Next, the cop began speaking his local language so that I wouldn’t be able to understand him. Alex told him, “I don’t speak your language. I speak English.” Finally, he asked where we were coming from and where we were going. Immediately after learning that we work with Watoto and we were coming from one of the children’s villages, he said simply, “You go.” And we went.
The entire time he was speaking with the cop, Alex was acting bored and borderline-disrespectful. That was unsettling to me, because where I come from, you say “Yes, Sir” and you show respect to law enforcement. I was wondering if the cop was going to detain us, and why Alex was being rude, but after we were on our way he explained to me that most of the traffic cops here are corrupt and are just looking for bribes. I had heard of corrupt cops here before, but I hadn’t realized that it was so extremely common. Corrupt cops are the norm here. Once you have given them your license, they can hold it until you pay them what they want. The cop spoke another language and asked Alex to get out of the car so that he could get a bribe without a mzungu (me) witnessing it. I didn’t really need another reason to be thankful that I don’t have to drive myself around while I’m here, but I got one in that experience. After a few minutes had passed, I wasn’t scared anymore, and the whole situation seemed kind of funny.