Tuesday 24 April 2012

Many hands make light work!

Have you ever created multiple tropical-fruit gardens with goat-proof fences?  Have you ever dug the foundations for a row of shops?  Have you ever run a sports day for a hundred African children?  Have you ever bought, killed, prepared and cooked a cockerel for important guests?  Have you ever stood on a hilltop public roadside and watched over forty elephants lumbering through the bush all around you?

Only two weeks ago most members of St Andrew’s St Baptist Church Cambridge would have answered “no” to these questions.  Yet in the last fortnight an intrepid team of six from our home church have done all these things – and more, whilst visiting us here in Kasese.
The team of six included our Minister Rev Dave Morris, his wife Judy (a retired PE-teacher) and their daughter Helen (a Master’s graduate of Theology); Andrew Thomason (a Cambridge Mathematician), his wife Chris (a physiotherapist), and Lynette Ongeri (a pharmacologist).   More important than their diverse ages and professional backgrounds, however, were the things they had in common:  all committed Christians with a genuine love for their Ugandan brothers and sisters in Christ, all prepared to work hard in a difficult climate and to learn new skills from others, and always (well, mostly!) prepared to see the funny side of different situations and to suspend English conceptions of timing, hygiene, or health & safety, and go with the flow of life in Kasese.

The visit started with a quick Swahili lesson from our teacher, leading to the creation of an amusing new dialect – Yorkshire Swahili!  Following some familiarisation around town the team got stuck into work and re-planted the fruit garden at Alpha School – which worked well as the delayed rains have meant that April is planting season here.  The first weekend provided the opportunity to take our visitors to Queen Elizabeth National Park where they particularly enjoyed seeing hippos from the car, on a boat-trip and even right outside our hostel.  The highlight however, was on our drive home, when, puzzled that we’d seen no elephants inside the park, we pulled off the main road to a small viewing pavilion to get a good view over Lake George and spotted five different groups of elephants lumbering through the bush and converging for what looked like a grand elephant conference!  With the light gently fading over the mountains and the evening peace only disturbed by the chatter of birds and the odd trumpeting elephant it was a serene half-hour that we will all treasure.

Sunday saw us all worshipping together at Kasese Central Baptist Church (KCBC).  Although heavy rain delayed the service by 1.5hrs it did not dampen the warmth of the welcome our visitors received, or the liveliness of the singing.  Our Cambridge church had hand-crafted a wooden cross from their old pews and a banner with the 2012 church text (Ephesians 6:14-15), which Rev Dave Morris presented at the start of his sermon.  We often struggle with church here, juggling supervising Sam with trying to discern meaning from a stream of Swahili, but on this Sunday, so soon after Easter, we were reminded of the power of the worldwide fellowship of Christ’s church, and that his enduring love knows no boundaries of race or culture. 

Anyone who has heard any of Dave Morris’ excellent sermons will know that golf is often alluded to, so we were glad that some friends offered him and Judy the opportunity to have a game on Kilembe Mines Golf course – with the Rwenzori mountains towering above them and pigs and goats grazing around them it must have been an unusual game!

The real hard work started on Monday with the team and members of the church creating six small fruit gardens from scratch at KCBC, which will be given to six families from the church to look after.  Each small garden is 5-foot square and comprises a banana stem and a papaya seedling, complete with compost and mulch, all taken from our own garden.  Most of the labour was then in fencing the six plots with pole, reed and string fencing to keep out goats.  With so many people working together as a team – digging holes, chopping reeds, treating poles with used-oil, gathering stones and tying hundreds of knots, it was finished by Tuesday afternoon.  By now the team were adjusting to the climate, bonding well with the local church and also managing to produce excellent evening meals from produce they bought each day in the market.  Therefore on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning (after an early start for Women’s prayer-meeting) we stepped up a gear and helped the church dig out the foundation trenches for a row of five small shops-to-rent which should provide much needed income for the church.  It soon became obvious that the best way to work was in pairs with one breaking soil with a hoe and the other shovelling it out with a spade, which enabled some great conversations and lively banter between locals and visitors!  Nonetheless, trench-digging under an African sun is exhausting work so we were quite relieved that torrential rain prevented further work on Wednesday afternoon.

Thursday saw Judy take centre-stage and use her years of PE-teaching experience to run a sports-day at Alpha School.  Much fun was had by all with balloons and balls seemingly all over the place and it was great to see the young, underpaid and often under-enthused teachers really getting into it and goading their teams to “be serious” and “run faster”.  In the afternoon the team witnessed some local building as Alfonse demonstrated the principles of brick-laying Kasese-style in the corners of the foundations.  Thursday evening saw the team presented with the instructions for their “team challenge” on Friday – to host Alfonse and Alice for a proper Ugandan feast.

Friday started early with me helping Andrew to purchase, kill, pluck and prepare the biggest cockerel we could find in Kasese market – a challenge which he rose to admirably, having honed his chopping skills on hundreds of reeds.  Bethan then took the team off to Kiburara bible college, where Dave and Helen taught the first and second year trainee pastors.  On their return the kitchen become a flurry of activity with Chris and Lynette doing an excellent job of leading the chopping of many vegetables, and boiling/frying of beans, cabbage, rice and chicken stew, while Bethan taught David how to make steamed matoke.  Somehow as well as these five main dishes the team also produced some amazing chocolate brownie.  We enjoyed a good feast and it was a joy for us to eat in our own home without slaving over the cooking ourselves.  More importantly it was lovely to be able to host Alice and Alfonse and to collectively thank them for being the inspirational leaders and great friends that they always are to whoever they meet.  There was laughter all-round and serious speculation that Andrew and Alfonse might actually be brothers!

The final weekend brought the long journey back to Kampala, but before the team headed for the airport they were able to experience the massive contrasts between city and provincial living.  We enjoyed playing pool, eating pizza, worshipping in English, and witnessing the magnificent display of traditional dancing at the Ndere Cultural centre; but it was also pleasing to hear from the team that those will be the experiences soonest forgotten, while memories of the fellowship, warmth, sincerity and good humour of the people of Kasese, and in particular Alfonse and his family, will stay with them for ever.  

Thank you to St Andrew’s Street Baptist  Church Cambridge for being such a supportive home church; for all your hard-work and fun and laughter – and for playing with Sam, cooking, washing-up and bringing us cheese and chocolate.  We look forward to being with you all again soon back in Cambridge!

Prayer Requests:

Thanks that the church visit was so successful and that everyone got home safely and in good health.

Thanks that as brothers and sisters in Christ we are all part of one body – his church – and for the fellowship and love that can bring to people everywhere.

That the relationship between St A’s and KCBC will continue to be a positive one which provides benefit to both churches and glory to God.

For Pastor Alfonse as he juggles the many demands of his job on a negligible income, for his health and for his family.