Baptism in Uganda

One of my favorite services here in Uganda is our baptism/wedding service. We have a huge gathering of all four churches together. There are usually over 200 adults and around that many children. We sing all the best Swahili songs. The church choirs sing specials. We have preaching, then the baptisms, then the weddings. We finish with a meal, complete with cake.

This last week, I made 19 recipes of my favorite white cake. Most of that was in the form of cupcakes for the kids. Of the 190 cupcakes we took with us, we had 6 leftover! My kids were impressed that I’d guessed so well. 😉

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Twenty-two people were baptized today. One of them was the man who got saved a couple weeks ago. He was obviously nervous as he entered the water. He gripped the side, every step deliberate. 

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James baptized him, but the man clung to the side with one hand the whole time. Everyone noticed. The church leaders standing nearby started calling to him that his hand hadn’t gotten wet. He looked up at them, puzzled. So Zizi said it again, “Your hand didn’t get wet.”

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So the man dunked his hand under the water. Problem solved. Everyone cheered and laughed.

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I guess they were worried it would only count if all the parts got wet.

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We took food and medicine out to the church folks this last week (over a half-ton of it! We carried as much as our vehicle could safely hold.). We weren’t able to get all the doses of malaria medicine we needed so we had to take more today. Many of the adults were visibly ailing from malaria. Several were so sick they missed the service. We’ve taken 170 adult doses and 80 children’s. Given how many are sick, it feels like a drop in the bucket in the face of all that is needed.

Visiting the Afflicted

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I found my quiet seat prizes as promised and gave them out today. Hands down, the very favoritest are the matchbox cars we give to the boys. Today, the big brother that got the prize shared it with his little brother. The boy played with it and entertained younger children with it for almost the whole church service.

Church attendance was down today. Many people were home sick with flu (head colds from the dry season) or malaria. The harvest was poor last month. Many are suffering from sickness brought on by malnutrition. These are issues we deal with here on a regular basis. 

When Jesus ministered here on earth, he met people’s physical needs as well as their spiritual needs. Sometimes, in order for people to hear the message we are seeking to share with them, we have to remove the obstacles that are preventing them from hearing. If they are hungry, they need food. If they are sick, they need medicine. 

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We asked for a show of hands in the service at Isanja for how many were sick. Every adult there raised their hand. These people live with deprivation on a daily basis, but for the last year, it’s been much worse. The rains didn’t come as they should have and people in the district died of starvation from the famine that ensued. Christians around the world and the entire country of Uganda were moved to help. They brought food to the people in the districts that needed it most.

The rain came for the rainy season earlier this year but it ended too early. The crops didn’t yield as they normally do. The people in the district are facing famine and starvation for the second time in a year.

We have been getting a list of needed medication to take out to them this next week. We’re also going to be taking food and soap out on a regular basis for a while. If we don’t meet the physical needs, they won’t even be around for us to meet the spiritual ones.

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As for meeting spiritual needs, James was able to sit with a man from Isanja, lead him to the Lord, and give encouragement to all the men in the church! They were all listening intently to everything that was said, not only by James, but also by some of the other church leaders. One man is from another village where we’ve wanted to start a church for a long time. Some from that village have walked to either Ngarama or Isanja for church but it’s a long walk to either place. With four churches already, we’ve struggled to know how to take on something else. It appears God is opening doors for us!

The Harsh Realities of Life

This morning I got up and gave my children a hug. I snuggled them, kissed them, told them I loved them. My children are happy. My children are healthy. My children are alive. I pray every day they stay that way, though this is entirely outside my control.

This morning we got a message that an 8 month old baby of one of our church members died yesterday afternoon of a mysterious illness. They baby was taken to the hospital but there was nothing they could do for the baby. It had gotten too sick, too fast. 

This afternoon James preached a funeral for a baby.

No one ever wants to attend a funeral for a child, but here in Uganda, it’s far more up close and personal. Here, you go to the home of the individual that died. Their body is lying in a casket (or wrapped in a blanket or cloth) in a room in the family’s home. The women sit together with the woman of the house who suffered the loss.

The rest of the people sit outside the house on benches or on the ground.

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Today, they brought the casket outside and placed it on a small bench that was still bigger than the casket. The women had made a shroud and the men made a small cross with the child’s name.

We sang hymns in Swahili, some of my favorite hymns, actually. Then James preached. They gave a short eulogy and took up an offering. Taking an offering is often the only way the family can afford to pay for the expenses of the funeral.

Then several men came forward and took up the casket and we all walked to the graveyard.

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They said a few words at the gravesite and we sang another hymn. Then they buried the baby. The father and mother put the first dirt into the ground. They finished by marking the site with the cross they’d made.

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It’s raw. It’s personal. It’s harsh. It’s the way they’ve done every funeral I’ve ever been to here.

Tonight I came home from church and hugged my healthy children once again. Days like this help keep a person from taking anything for granted.

How’s Africa? — The Trade Fair

One of our first experiences in African culture was at the Trade Fair. We hadn’t been in Uganda long when they held one in our town in the local football stadium. Vendors from all over East Africa came to sell their wares. They even had carnival rides — if you were brave enough to try them out!

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Ever since, we’ve eagerly anticipated the Trade Fair coming to town. We start seeing banners and posters for it about a month beforehand. A couple days before it arrives, you can see people out in the stadium setting up tents and stages.

The Trade Fair was in town last week. James and I got to go one afternoon.

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Some of the booths sell hair care products, others household goods, Still others sell bulk food items or specialty products you can’t get at other times. Still others are food vendors where you can get goat on a stick and chips for only a couple dollars.

My favorite part are the vendors selling African crafts. I love shopping in these tents, choosing things I think my family or friends in America would like, and then haggling over the price until we reach an agreement. I’ve gotten pretty good at haggling over the years, especially as I’ve learned the real cost of items and the “mzungu price”. We’ve been back to the Trade Fair often enough that we’ve started to recognize the vendors who come regularly and they recognize us. 

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A dream of mine is to get a booth at the Trade Fair where we can hand out tracts and share the gospel with people, but we haven’t ever been able to figure out how or where to sign up for it ahead of time. This remains a goal for the future.

MISSION: Uganda Blog Post 06-29-2017

Greetings! My wife, Anna’s, blog posts pretty well sum up the chaos and confusion of international travel. They are worth reading if you want a more detailed view of what missionaries deal with just getting back to the field. It’s a madhouse!

The last month before the big trip is intensely stressful. We spent a lot of time getting packed, re-packed, re-re-packed, and so forth until Anna got us drilled down to the maximum amount of luggage allowed, and a couple extra pieces. Having done this before, we are both well aware of all the many, many things that can go wrong. You wind up lying awake worrying about the pending disaster that could be yours for the low, low price of just 8 plane tickets!

Thank you all so much for praying! This trip went very smoothly. We managed to get all our luggage to Chicago by train, then from there by plane to Uganda with nothing lost, stolen, or damaged. I am amazed by how well it all went. The good people of Northwest Bible Baptist Church in Elgin, IL went above and beyond the call of duty, helping us get from the train station to the college where we would be staying over the weekend, then from there to the airport on Monday to begin our long journey to Uganda. The ticket agents with Delta were awesome. They only charged us for three of our overweight bags. I was anticipating much more, but with one act of kindness, they saved us a lot of money. The TSA in Chicago, as always, were professional and helpful. They opened everything I expected they would, but zip tied all the bins, and taped everything well.

Ssemuko brought us our new and improved Land Cruiser. I had saved enough money to be able to get a new engine put in, the 4WD fixed, and a myriad of other things repaired or replaced. It looks like a new car. Drives like one, too! Thank you everyone who helped with this unavoidable, necessary expense.

We are finally plugged back in, over jet lag, and living in a clean house. I have at last done all the many maintenance tasks that needed doing after our return, and we are settling back into the work well. It is such a blessing to be back, and busy with the ministry once again.

The week we got back, our female dog was in heat, and as a consequence, our male dog was more aggressive than normal. He attacked our youngest son, Gaelin, and tore his upper lip badly enough to need a skin graft. Thank God we live in Mbarara where all the doctors are! We got him to Mayanja Memorial Hospital right away, and the plastic surgeon came immediately to see him. We had him in the next morning to be operated on. He is healing, and the skin graft looks great. Pray for his recovery.

I have listed our goals in the last letter, so I won’t repeat those. I have the money needed to drill at least one well (and have been in touch with a man who drills village wells), buy a motorcycle to aid in getting a new church started among the Burundians, and buy some medicine and food.

Upon my return to our churches, I discovered that they are filled beyond capacity every Sunday and are in terrible condition. I would like to repair all our existing sanctuaries and keep those as a classroom for Sunday School, and build a new, larger sanctuary for each church. This would be a simple building without running water or electricity, padded pews, or carpet. In order to keep growing, this has to happen. Each church except Sangano needs its own baptistry and better toilets. In order to baptize properly, and get through the dry seasons alive, it has to happen. They all need water storage tanks. In order to avoid disease and privation, it must happen.

If I can do this, it will allow us to have Sunday School for the children, and church for the adults at the same time. This would allow us to be more efficient with our time. It would also allow me to do baptisms at each church. Please pray about helping us with this. It is expensive, but compared to the hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars churches spend in America for their buildings, it’s a really good deal.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Each church will need approximately $15,000 for the new larger sanctuary.

A baptistry will cost $250 to construct.

The water reclamation tanks and guttering I mentioned before will cost $1500 each.

A new toilet with places for 4 (2 men and 2 women) will cost $2000.

Cost of repairs to the old buildings, including new metal doors and windows, will be approximately $5000 each.

Now, cast your gaze on even the simplest of your church buildings, and consider the numerous luxuries you enjoy, and the vast cost of your structures compared to these. It is not unreasonable. Please pray about helping us.

I’m going to work with what I have for now, and spend what has been given on the things for which they were given. They will be a blessing to many.

God bless you! Thank you for praying! Thank you for helping!