Thursday 19 January 2012

New Year, New Youth, New Hope.

January is the hottest and driest month in Uganda with daytime temperatures usually exceeding 30c and so little rainfall that the grass turns brown and the leaves fall off many of the trees.  It is also the long school holidays before the start of a new academic year in February, and a month when people who went back to their home villages to see their relatives for Christmas and the new-year slowly trickle back into town.  January is therefore also the best time of year for Youth Work, when young Ugandans who are scattered throughout various boarding schools, colleges and universities during term-time are all gathered in their home districts, along with their peers who have fallen out of education – normally for lack of money to pay fees.

From the 9-16th Jan therefore there was a massive attendance of over two hundred youths from all across Kasese District at a Baptist Youth Conference held at Nyabagando Secondary School (which is so close to the border with DR Congo that it uses a Congolese mobile phone signal).  Our contribution to this conference was ably assisted by the BMS Uganda “Action Team” (Gap-year programme) of Alice, Gemima, Ian and James who travelled down from their work in Masaka to join us for a week.  Aged 18-22 they mixed easily with the youth at the conference and did a great job of preaching to the whole conference, running devotions every morning in huge groups of over fifty, and helping out with evening sports and games.  (To see their blog go to ).  Most Ugandan boarding schools are not comparable with the well-equipped and expensive schools which educate a wealthy elite in Britain.  For people from remote villages and small towns in rural Uganda going to a boarding school is often the only way to access secondary education.  Keeping fees affordable for ordinary Ugandans means these schools crowd pupils into triple-tier bunks in concrete dormitories, which are shared with rats, bats and insects, and provide pit-latrines, an inadequate water-supply and very basic food.
Such issues however, did not concern the young Ugandans who flocked to the conference to enjoy fellowship, bible-teaching, and inevitably with youth events anywhere in the world, the chance to socialise with members of the opposite sex away from their parents for a week!  Worship sessions were ear-splittingly loud thanks to the PA System, with jubilant singing and frenzied dancing to match.  Although rarely in tune, such enthusiastic worship was wonderful to experience, and a far-cry from the tepid variety often found in the UK.

Bethan and I were both asked to preach to the conference and given topics to speak on.  Bethan’s was “Accepting Christ as your personal saviour” and mine was “How to grow in Christ” – not necessarily the easiest topics with which to engage young people for a 2-hour slot.  We worked hard on preparing our talks, trying to keep in mind that we wouldn’t have wanted to sit though two-hour sermons when we were teenagers, and that any complicated words or concepts might well be lost during translation into Lukhongo.  Luckily Ugandan time-tables usually get delayed so a talk of about 40 minutes, which is  translated and which starts an hour late should finish neatly at the end of a 2-hour slot!
Bethan’s talk took a practical angle of looking at how accepting Christ as your saviour means following his will in your life – for example with regards to behaviour, friendships, relationships, work-ethic and career choices.  Mine used an every-day item as a metaphor:  I took in a large pumpkin from our garden and a tiny pumpkin seed and invited the conference to contribute suggestions as to how the one would grow into the other.  I then used the answers – space/good soil, daily watering, exposure to sunlight, removal of weeds and protection from predators, to explore things that help/hinder us from growing with Christ; including daily prayer/bible reading, hiding our faith or sharing it with others, identifying our own struggles and sins (weeds) and seeking God’s help in dealing with them, growing a thick-skin, and seeking protection and comfort in fellowship with others. As Jesus preached to a predominantly agricultural society, the Gospels are full of helpful parables related to sowing, growing, bearing fruit, and dealing with weeds.  The reception to our talks was encouraging.  We’re not Pastors and we wouldn’t particularly  call ourselves evangelists, but we were both young Christians not so long ago and it was pleasing to think that we might have helped some young Ugandan Christians to learn from some of the lessons that we learned growing up, and even to avoid repeating some of the mistakes we made. 

On our way back to Kasese after the conference we took the Action Team to QENP and camped overnight.  On returning from dinner at the lodge along the pitch-black mile-long track back to the campsite we caught something glowing a large shadowy figure in the car headlights – it was an adult male lion, its eyes glowing at us.  It walked only metres past the car and so we turned and followed it until we lost it passing right among the buildings used as park-staff quarters.  Unfortunately photographing animals at night through car windows is almost impossible, but the scene will be etched on our memories for a long-time.  Needless to say we were all quite excited as we turned into our tents and we made sure to build up a very big blazing campfire before doing so!

Prayer Requests:
Please pray for the young Ugandan Christians who came to the youth conference – and also for those who couldn’t make it: 

As the new academic year approaches please pray for those who are struggling to afford school fees, stationery, text-books and uniforms.
Please pray for those students who may be picked on for their faith, or for other reasons in those big school dormitories.

Please pray for teachers, Pastors, youth leaders and others who will exercise influence over impressionable young people during the coming term.  May they teach them sound principles – and lead them by example.