Monday 23 December 2013

Happy Christmas from Hertfordshire!

This is a quick post to wish you all a very Happy Christmas from the four of us.  We are currently enjoying 4 weeks of much needed leave and family time with our families and friends all over south east England.  The boys are loving spending time with their cousins (two of whom they've been meeting for the first time) and going to exciting museums and playgrounds, and are getting used to having to wear lots of layers.  Bethan and I have been enjoying eating cheese and other English delicacies, catching up with family and friends and also enjoying time to ourselves while others have the boys - especially a delicious meal out in London on our 8th wedding anniversary.

While we're loving being back in England, it is also a confusing place at Christmas time, especially for the boys as the following conversation we had in the car with Sam demonstrates:

Bethan:  "How many days is it now to Christmas Sam?"
Sam:   "2 days"
Bethan:  "Are you excited about Christmas? it's Jesus' Birthday!
Sam:  "Is he coming?!"
Bethan:  "No he won't be there, although you can talk to him if you want to."
Sam:  "Is Santa Claus coming?"
Bethan:  "No Sam, Santa isn't real.  He's just a story."
Sam:  "But I saw him last week at his grotto.......

Prayer Requests:

We're extremely grateful that we've had this wonderful opportunity to come home, to take a break from all the challenges of our life and work in Uganda, and to enjoy time with our families.  But we're also conscious that Alfonse and our other local colleagues don't have the luxury of time away from the many demands upon them.  Please pray that they can also be refreshed and recharged by the joy of Christmas.

Please pray for Alfonse's ministry with the street children of Kasese, he's planning a big meal and time of fellowship with them on Christmas day.

Please pray for the people of neighbouring South Sudan, which is spiralling into chaos, and for the all the British and other foreign nationals who've been rapidly evacuated this week and now face so much uncertainty, the collapse of much of their work and the likely loss of most of their belongings.

Friday 29 November 2013

News and prayer requests from Kasese

I realise I haven't written on this blog for about 3 months.  It's been a busy time full of ups and downs.  Highlights have included a fantastic short visit by my brother and sister in October, and seeing the solar project really work better than I'd dared hope for (we've now installed them in 6 churches (see pictures gallery), and they're having a real impact, which I'll write more about next year. 

There have been plenty of challenges too, especially in Congo Quarter where the agricultural project following the severe flooding has run into multiple and overlapping problems including greed (people selling their seeds rather than planting them), laziness (people not watering their crops with the pumps provided), goats (an ever present menace here, especially when their owners don't tether or supervise them), and more misfortune with a section of river flooding again and wiping out some of the best crops.  Its not all bad news there though, as some farmers have worked hard and have some very good crops coming and we continue to have good meetings with the community leaders.

Last week the two BMS interns from Gulu, Dan and Henry, came down with BMS colleague Alex Vickers and two of his Ugandan colleagues Genesis and Amos for a joint development training programme along with Kasese intern Natalie, and myself.  We had a great few days working through some discussion material sent by BMS and visiting the projects here, with Genesis and Alex offering their agricultural expertise and general wisdom to the challenges in Congo Quarter.  At the end of the week we took the interns camping in QENP while Alex, Genesis and Amos headed back to Kampala and then onto Gulu. Despite some pretty heavy rain and muddy roads we had a good trip in the park, driving right past a hyena being scared off by a leopard only feet away from the car in the pitch black about 0.5km from our tents!  However, at the same time Genesis and Amos were on a far less exciting bus journey from Kampala back up to Gulu on a badly maintained road that we used to frequent back in 2008.  Their bus blew a tyre at high speed and rolled 3 times.  A few people were killed and many injured and Genesis and Amos walked out of it with some cuts and bruises but nothing more serious.  This was a stark reminder of why we pray before we travel, and why we've spent 2 years asking you to pray for us and our colleagues as we travel. It was also chilling to think that the future of all the excellent work that Alex has done in northern Uganda lies in the hands of talented and passionate individuals like Genesis and Amos, who regularly dice with death in Uganda's scarily fast buses.

If we needed any more reminders about the vulnerability of our local partners, two days ago Pastor Alfonse was beaten up, kicked in the ribs and had his phone stolen.  This attack was conducted by a group of Muslim men who are annoyed about the Baptisms at KCBC on Sunday where one of the candidates for Baptism is of Muslim origin.   If you've ever met Pr Alfonse you'll know that he's not one of those provocative preachers who likes to stir up trouble with other faith groups. Far from it. He's a man who treats all people with love and respect.  It so happens that his exemplary living and the work he does with street children in particular is drawing people to him, and through him to Christ, who shines through everything he does.  Some of these young people happen to come from polygamous Muslim families where they may have more than thirty siblings and consequently don't necessarily get much love or attention from their fathers.   

I won't say more about this now, but I leave with you a number of prayer requests for the busy week we have ahead of us:

1.  Thank God that Amos and Genesis survived the bus crash and pray for their continued protection as they do such great work up in Gulu, northern Uganda.  Pray also for those killed or more seriously injured and their families.
2.  Pray for Pr Alfonse and for his protection in all the work he does here in Kasese, and for a less aggressive response by some members of the local Muslim community.
3.  Pray for the 6 people being Baptised at KCBC this Sunday, one of whom is Amisi, the electrician who's installed all the solar projects and has really grown in his faith and confidence this year.
4.  Pray that the Baptism (the 1st we've seen in over 2 years), and surrounding week of evangelism  is a positive event for the whole community, which reaches out to others rather than antagonising them.
5.  Pray for the 20 people from Acholi Quarter who are graduating from the final BMS funded skills training course on Tuesday, pray that the important guests we've invited turn up, and for the Development Committee as we continue to work to find some form of sustainability for the work in Acholi Quarter now that the BMS funding is finishing.
6.  Pray for Jonah's "dependents pass" and passport, still stuck in Uganda's immigration department, without which we'll struggle to fly home next week!  Our applications were submitted back in March and the other 3 of us have our permits, but Jonah's file was "lost" by immigration.
7.  Pray for safe travels and good health for us as we embark on our 4,000 mile journey next week from equatorial Uganda to some welcome R&R in a British winter - Jonah's first ever winter!

Thursday 28 November 2013

Deaf children leading a choir and Thanksgiving at Jambo! - By Bethan

At the end of term (next week) our integrated choir has a performance to the parents and various 'esteemed guests'.  Moreen and I have been preparing the choir for this performance all year and are so pleased with their results.  Granted they don't sing like the Jackson 5 but at least they look as though they enjoy singing and a tune is vaguely recognisable.  The things that I have loved about leading this choir most are seeing Moreen take the lead and come into her own as a choir leader and a precious moment last week when the children were asked if they wanted to come and lead the group in a rapping improvisation that we had been playing with in our warm-ups.  It has got to the point where this warm-up has become part of the performance program!  But more than that: the deaf children have been taking turns at leading the choir and the children follow them as seriously (and with as much fun) as with the hearing children!  I was so proud to see Moreen revelling in being the leader of the choir and the deaf children growing in their confidence as they realised that 40 hearing children were following their every move!  I also love how the children (hearing and deaf together) are enjoying signing their songs and learning more and more how to communicate with each other across the hearing/non-hearing barrier.
  The hearing children love to sign too.

 The choir prepares to begin rehearsals.

 Moreen in her element leading the choir.
In a second part of my blog this week I'm going to tell you that Jambo cafe had its first 'function' today and it went so well.  It looked as though only two people would come for the Thanksgiving dinner we wanted to prepare for our resident Americans.  However, a last minute American regular came and remembered that it was indeed Thanksgiving day and joined the celebrations along with his Ugandan mate.  A three course meal was prepared all afternoon and would cost a whopping great big £10 (most average single course meals in nice restaurants can be bought for around £3).  The started was tomato soup and bread roll, followed by African chicken stew, peas in soup (a Ugandan specialty), roast sweet and Irish potatoes, pumpkin puree and of course 'stuffing'.  This feast was rounded off with homemade fresh pumpkin pie with ice-cream.  The diners had a great fill, shared what they were thankful for (which, thankfully, included Jambo café!) and had a great time together despite not being with their families on this special day.  Alice and Eliza worked from 7.30am up until beyond 7.30pm every day this week so I believe they deserved every shilling of the profit today's function will have brought them.  It's still a busy week ahead, though, with a birthday cake made today, a double-tier graduation cake due on Saturday, a large anniversary cake due on Sunday and a triple-tier graduation cake due for Acholi Quarter's Skill Centre on Tuesday!  But at least they will get paid handsomely this week.
 The group tucks in to their main course.

 The best pumpkin pie in Kasese!

 The feast laid out ready.
I'm so sorry the pictures are not straight - goodness knows how to work this blog to rotate them!

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Update on Alpha - By Bethan

I want to update you on our first Alpha session at Jambo!  We had Alphonse leading, Alice waitressing and cooking, Natalie (our BMS intern), Noeline and myself plus an American boy and a German girl.  We discussed the first session of the Alpha course, which is 'Who is Jesus' discussing questions such as 'is he who he says he is?' and 'was he God or man or both?'.  The discussion that followed the talk by Alphonse encompassed everything from "was Jesus a prophet and do we have prophets today" and "did Jesus do miracles and do we also have miracles today" to "if Jesus existed do we also believe that Buddha and Mohamed existed and what does that mean with regards to faith?"  We all came to the conclusion, from our different backgrounds of long-held faiths to enquiring minds, that Jesus did exist and probably was who he said he was (fully man and fully God).  The next step is taking the leap of faith that is aptly named because we can only prove things so far before finally saying to God "okay, I'll leap across this canyon and believe in you fully regardless of facts and figures because you are bigger than human understanding!"

At a post-Alpha social gathering that most of the group went to (not me - I had to get back for kids' bath-time!) with some other people, the content was discussed further with the others who had not been and they decided that they want to come next week so we hope numbers will be up.

I have to say, as someone who has been a Christian for many years, it is refreshing to come back to the simple question of "Did Jesus exist?" because I take it for granted sometimes and I should never do that especially when trying to talk to people who are questioning me about my faith and don't have those basic assumptions to work from.

A little update on Israel Emmanuel too: he is keeping strong and growing very handsome indeed.  Noeline was getting a bit run down with him crying a lot at night but I showed her the best trick every breastfeeding mum should learn: to feed him whilst lying down and even asleep!  Now she is resting much more at night.  As if having a two-week old baby is not enough, she is now doing assessments for her tailoring course with a business exam coming up soon too.  Graduation is on 3rd December so we hope to see her graduate - maybe even top of the class!  Thanks for all your prayers for her.  She has also had some orders from the UK that are keeping her busy and helping her become financially secure... at least for now.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Alpha Course at Jambo! - By Bethan

We are starting an Alpha Course at Jambo! café on Sunday afternoon (10th Nov) running every Sunday until Christmas.  Please pray for good attendance and open minds as people come and explore life, the universe and everything.

Sunday 27 October 2013

baby Israel Emmanuel

Noeline asked our family to give Israel his other name (there are no family names or tribal names that she has so the baby gets two or three given names only).  We suggested a couple to her because of their meanings and from those she chose Emmanuel: "God with us".  We wanted her to know that God is with her and Israel and to always remember that fact throughout good or bad times.
Noeline and baby Israel Emmanuel

Israel Emmanuel

My first born Samuel with Israel

Friday 25 October 2013

Mama Israel. The story of Noeline's birth- by Bethan

Noeline’s labour pains were rumbling along quietly all day (24th October) and started strongly at 10pm in the evening.  I sat with her in her room after I had put the kids to bed and tried to ramble on about all sorts of different subjects to take her mind off the growing contraction pains she was having.  She seemed most comfortable sitting or lying on the concrete floor, which made me think of all the comforts I had during labour: the bouncing ball, the pillows and hot baths… Her contractions continued every five minutes for the next few hours, getting stronger each time until, at 2.30am it was clear that Noeline couldn’t handle the pain anymore and I wasn’t able to cope with her in pain on my own either!  I gave Jonah-B a top-up feed in his sleep so he wouldn’t wake up for Gareth when I was out then took Noeline to the Alleluia clinic.   As I rumbled over the speed humps and toppled over the pot-holes in the pitch black with Noeline wincing at every bump I began to wish I had tried to find the clinic beforehand!  Noeline and I had assumed that the other one knew where it was!  To get lost and turn around at this point would be not only difficult and uncomfortable but soul-destroying for Noeline.

We found the clinic and banged on the gate for what seemed like an eternity.  I parked the car in the compound and the guard woke up the midwife on duty.  He was called Nelson and led us through a room where he turned the light on and two women with recently new-born babies looked round grumpily wondering why they had been disturbed.  We arrived in the next room that was small and had a pot-holed concrete floor, scuffed walls and a sink with no water in the taps, two clinical beds and a cupboard crammed in it.  Noeline climbed uncomfortably onto one of the beds and Nelson said to me “make her some tea with sugar” I looked for the tea machine… unlikely!  I saw that Noeline had packed a hot-water flask and a tea-bag with sugar.  I then remembered the cup that she thrust at me before leaving the house that I assumed she was returning to the house and I felt awful: I had forgotten her mug that means now she couldn’t have a drink during labour!  Nelson sighed and begrudgingly asked one of the other women for her mug and I made some sweet tea.  Noeline settled down to continue labour after being told that she had “2 cm”.  My heart sank: only 2 cm!  But then Nelson said “no, I mean 2cm remaining!  She’s at 8cm!”  Brilliant!  Not long now!  Nelson said to us “I need your rubber gloves, plastic sheet, cotton sheet and kitenge (African material) plus cord ties, razor and gauze.”  I was stunned.  You mean she was supposed to bring all of those things herself?!  Thankfully Noeline knows the system and had packed everything she needed, including a large plastic basin for washing afterwards!

When it was time to push, Nelson told Noeline to get in a supine position on the plastic sheet  ready for delivering and… everything stopped and became eerily calm!  Her contractions completely stopped and we just sat waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.  3.30am. Nelson said the baby should be here by 4.  I won’t go into details but every time Nelson tried to do something as an intervention he didn’t tell Noeline what he was doing so I had to interrupt him and explain to a scared Noeline what he was about to do each time.  “Get me a needle from that cupboard and pass me the small vial of oxytocin” Nelson said to me so quietly that I had to ask three times what he meant for me to do!  After the injection Noeline’s contractions began again and she started to push.  There was still no sign of any pain-killers, not even gas and air!  At 4.30am she was still pushing.  At 5am she was still pushing.  The baby was stuck in the U-bend!  I said to Nelson that in the UK we sometimes change position during labour to try to let gravity help the baby down but Nelson just laughed as if we British people have our funny ways!  At 5.30 the pushing was getting harder for Noeline: she was exhausted and losing hope that she would even see her baby.  I was concerned the baby was getting too tired and weak but Nelson didn’t seem fazed as he started talking about how Jesus can be of any race or nationality he wants because he is beyond human perception and Noeline kept pushing and pushing.  “Get some clinical gloves on and hold this kitenge open ready to catch the baby” Nelson told me.  I nervously waited with my gloves on, mopping Noeline’s brow as she fought against her exhaustion.  “Now push down on Noeline’s belly when she pushes to help her since she is now so tired.” Nelson instructed.  I tried my best!  Eventually, at 6am, a baby’s head appeared and, shortly after, a baby boy was laid on Noeline’s tummy.  “Get for me a cord-tie and razor for the baby’s cord from Noeline’s mother’s kit.  Also a suture kit and another needle and syringe from that cupboard” said Nelson.  I now knew where everything was in the room and quickly set him up for tying the cord and helping Noeline.

After doing what needed to be done, Nelson told Noeline to stand up off the bench.  “Now wash your hands and breasts” said the nurse who had just come on day-shift.  “Let me find some water.”  She looked around and found nothing.  “Here, use your cup of tea” she concluded.  So she poured the sugary tea over Noeline’s hands and she washed with it!  Does tea have antiseptic qualities that I haven’t heard of before?  Am I missing something?  The nurse rooted through Noeline’s bag to find various plastic and cotton sheets and made her a bed in the next room.  We went through, I was holding the baby wrapped in three or four pieces of old bed-sheet that Noeline had brought with her for this purpose.  She sat down and we figured out together how to get little baby attached for a breast-feed.  Poor Noeline was exhausted and overwhelmed but overall in good spirits. I brought out some chocolate and cake I had for her to get her energy back.  Later that day she had so many visitors that she had hardly had time to sleep or rest, but in Ugandan culture it is rude to turn visitors away so she bore it with her usual pleasantness although behind the exterior there were tears of an overflow of emotion waiting to be released!

Thursday 24 October 2013

Noeline in labour!

I'm just putting a short message up in case anyone sees this before she gives birth to pray for her labour this evening, which started gradually during the day!

Monday 14 October 2013

Some Thoughts that are going around Bethan's brain!

Have you ever read the Beatitudes (Mt 5 or Lk 6) and thought “Oh dear, I am in the wrong category”?  I have been reading the book of Luke recently where chapter 6 verses 20 – 35 have been really challenging me.   “Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God”.  Well I’m not physically poor, especially not in comparison to my Ugandan friends.  You could interpret the meaning to be “blessed are you who are [spiritually] poor” and then we Westerners might have a leg to stand on!  The next verse is this: “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.  Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”  But I’m not hungry and I’m not sad so where does that leave me when it comes to the blessings and Kingdom of God?  In our weekly Bible study that we have with other Westerners at our home, we have been studying the book of James.  What I read there challenged me even further with recommendations that in order to follow Christ we need to “consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (1:2) or that we should be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger” (1:19).  Or even that “faith without deeds is dead” in 2:26!  So when I reached 4:9 “Grieve, mourn and wail.  Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom” I thought why on earth would I want to do that, and why is James telling me to do so?  The next verse, 4:10 says “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.”  That is exactly the type of topsy-turvy Gospel that the Beatitudes teaches so I went back to the passage I had been reading in Luke and decided that I am not a lost cause just because I am not sad or hungry.  Instead, if I put together James’ advice to “grieve, mourn and wail” and Jesus’ instruction that “blessed are you who weep” I may be on to something.  If I am perfectly happy and content but there are others in the world who are weeping and hungry, I should be coming alongside them in their sadness and hunger.  I should be putting myself in their position to empathise and help them.  If someone is hungry but I am not, I should be helping to feed them.  If someone is crying and I am perfectly happy I should be weeping with them in their sorrow.  If someone is humble and I am proud I should be humbling myself even lower than them to serve them.  By living in this way – a way the world tells us is a bit crazy! – God will lift me up and those blessings from the Beatitudes are suddenly a lot more attainable and make a lot more sense.

So why am I writing this blog post?  Well it’s mostly for my own benefit of working things out for myself by physically writing them!  But also, here in Uganda we come across a variety of needs and requests and if we look carefully in the Bible there is advice for everything, even though often it seems to be different to how we, as humans, want to deal with things.  For example when someone asks to borrow money Jesus tells us in Luke 6:35 to “lend to them without expecting to get anything back”.  That is not what we learn in our culture where we expect every penny within a certain time-frame, perhaps with interest.  When we put this piece of Jesus’ teaching together with the African culture where if you have more resources than someone else you are expected to share them without expecting anything back and without asking questions then we really have to go against our cultural grain!  So I’m sharing my small insight into these Biblical teachings because they challenge our decision making wherever we live and whatever or whoever we come across in life, but they also give clear instructions on how to live, which makes life easier really, rather than having to figure things out for ourselves!

Thursday 26 September 2013

Noeline's Creations - By Bethan

I first met 19 year old Noeline two years ago on the road as I was carrying Sam on my back.  She and her two school friends stopped and wanted to greet Sam, who willingly obliged by waving and giving high fives.  From that day on I have bumped into Noeline in town every couple of months or so and have kept a very loose friendship with her.  I found out that she had to leave school before completing her final year because of lack of school fees and a not altogether supportive home-life (she lived with her sister and her sister's husband as her mum stays in a village with Noeline's Uncle a few hours' drive away).  I also found out that she loves designing clothes and would love to be a tailor.  "Where do you live?" I asked.  "Acholi Quarter" she replied.  "Well it just so happens that there is one more tailoring course being offered for free there" I said and she applied.  I didn't see her for a while and then I heard some sad news: Noeline was pregnant.  She dropped out of the tailoring course because she was so ashamed.  I managed to find her in town and counsel her so that she re-joined the course and tried to catch up.  I also found out that she was living on her own in a rented room but she had no source of income and was behind in the rent.  No one was helping her beyond giving her the odd hundred shillings (2p - enough to buy a banana) here and there and she was really depressed.  I talked with Gareth and decided that this was one of those moments in life where we had to step up and go beyond what we would ordinarily do.  We knew that Noeline had potential in life and had felt a need to keep track of her since we met that random day two years ago.  We asked Noeline if she would like to come and live with us (we have a room adjacent to the house) and we would help her out with food if she wasn't eating and also pay for her medical fees for giving birth (normal birth costs up to £50 and C-sections can cost up to £100).  She is due to give birth around the same time as my sister-in-law so it's as though I am keeping up with new niece/nephew by following Noeline's progress!
So, as time has gone on, Noeline has become part of our family.  Sammy loves to go and knock for her and tell her all his tales (he can go on for hours about what stones should be used for or how a car should have a spare wheel!) and Jonah loves to have cuddles with her.  I have enjoyed sharing sewing expertise with her (I share my creative ideas then she teaches me technique to do them properly!) and together we have come up with a lot of new sewing ideas for her to sell both in town and back in the UK.  This is what this blog is for.  Her latest creations are children's sleeping bags for spring/summer and autumn, made from African material with a long zip up the front.  The bags are long and can be used up to age 3 if required!  The summer ones are a single piece of cotton and the autumn and spring ones are lined for extra warmth.  A summer bag is £6.50 and the autumn/spring bags are £9.00.  Jonah is modelling his for you in the following picture as an example.  You can choose a rough colour scheme and Noeline will try to match your choice with the vast array of colourful materials available here in Uganda.

Noeline also makes a variety of purses (£4.50) and is expanding to handbags (price depends on style) very soon.  Her purses have a zipped compartment for coins, pockets for notes and space for 9 credit cards and fold together with Velcro.  Choose your colour scheme and Noeline will try to match it.
Please email me or reply to this blog if you would like to buy something from Noeline.  We are coming back to the UK for a holiday on December 6th so I can bring things back and they can be posted in time for Christmas!

Monday 16 September 2013

Rwanda with Music as Therapy - By Bethan

Last month I received an invitation to go to Kamembe in south-west Rwanda to offer advice to Music as Therapy International (a UK-based charity) who are considering starting a project very similar to the CBO I run in Gulu; Music for Peaceful Minds (see MPM blog  Gareth and I decided that we would drive down there en famille and stop on the way at a lake we have been longing to visit.  Lake Bunyoni is a tranquil, restful place where the water is clean enough for swimming and there are no crocs or hippos.  People move around on dug-out canoes and go from island to island going about their business of fishing or tourism or just going to school.  One of the islands used to be a leper colony and is now the lake’s primary and secondary school and one of the islands (only a few metres squared) used to be called ‘Punishment island’ where pregnant unmarried girls were sent with no way of getting food or shelter.  If they were ‘lucky’ they would be rescued by a man who didn’t have enough money to buy a wife in the usual way.

So we spent two days floating about on canoes and enjoying wearing trousers and jumpers because the weather was so beautifully cool.  Then we picked up my MPM art counsellor, Vince, from the border town of Kabale and carried on to Rwanda.  As we crossed the border it was as if order suddenly came out of nowhere.  The hills were sectioned with terracing and each crop had its own boundaried area in which to grow.  The roads were being built with hundreds of diggers that Sam was thrilled to watch and the roads became so windy that we began to get dizzy as we drove!  We drove through the capital, Kigali, and continued for what we thought would be a few hours to Kamembe.  Several hours later, just as it was getting dark and we had spent an interminable amount of time driving through the biggest forest we have ever seen, we arrived in Kamembe.  But the next day we saw beautiful Lake Kivu and ate dinner watching the sun setting over Congo and felt relaxed again.

I met with Nicky, Caroline and Jane from Music as Therapy International and the following day we presented a variety of themes at a family day for a special needs centre.  Some of the themes that we taught included how to interact and communicate with their disabled children, how to do certain music therapy techniques at home and at the school and to encourage the parents to continue to support their disabled children.  It was also hoped that these parents would inform other parents of disabled children of their rights and responsibilities and advocate for their children.

It was a fascinating two days in the Rwandan special needs schools where things seem to be more organised than in Uganda yet the following still happens: if you beat a cow drum children will start dancing!  We enjoyed learning the Rwandan tribal dance and playing games with the children and staff.  I was even able to use my Swahili with the staff because they are so close to the Congo border that many of them can speak it.

We dreaded the two-day mammoth car journey back home but it went much quicker this time, since we knew where we were going and knew the roads a little better.  We got caught up in a political rally on the way home and the motorbike drivers were doing acrobatics on their bikes. I held my breath wondering when the next pot-hole or hair-pin bend would make them fall to their deaths.  After an over-night stay in Kabale where we made the most of our last night of blankets we travelled back home to Kasese where everything was as it had been and life picked up from where it had left off a week ago!

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Church Team visit from ST Andrew's Street Baptist Chrch, Cambridge

Last month we had a 2 week visit from a team of 5 from our home church in Cambridge.  The team was lead by Chris Shore, one of our Deacons who spent his early childhood in Uganda while his parents were missionaries, but had never returned since then!  We all had a good time together and they did some really useful work.  This article from the BMS website tells their story:

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Flood Recovery in Congo Quarter, more ebbs & flows:

If you’ve ever made a sandcastle on the beach and then tried to fill its moat you’ll know that sand does not retain water.  Indeed on a hot day the surface sand on a beach can drain and dry out between each tide.  For beach picnics and sunbathing this is great, but when the expanse of sand in question is covering farm plots 1,000 miles inland in western Uganda, it poses a problem.

If you read my “D-Day” blog article (6/6/13), you’ll know that I’m referring to the massive floods which devastated parts of Kasese in early May and the ensuing dilemmas about how best to help the community of Congo Quarter where the Nyamwamba river destroyed last season’s crops, turned about 1/3 of their farmland into re-routed river, and covered most of the rest of their land in sand, 1m deep in places.  Traditional African rain-fed agriculture is doomed to fail in sandy soil which drains faster than it rains.

After two months of research, consulting experts, thinking, praying, a bit of practical experimentation and another written proposal, I’m glad to be able to tell you that we’ve started a project that will help the 340 residents of Congo Quarter to re-plant their land this season and to get the best out of their sandy soil.  Part of this is about applying some of the improved farming methods with which BMS colleague Alex Vickers has achieved great success with farmers in Gulu, northern Uganda (see; notably crop selection, targeted digging, crop spacing, using natural fertilisers, and mulching.  However, the crux of this project is about turning a problem into an asset.  In this case the river Nyamwamba.  Although the river is responsible for so much agricultural destruction, it can also become a source of salvation by providing enough water to irrigate the sandy soil between rains .  Using rivers to irrigate crops is not new.  The success of the ancient Egyptians is probably attributable to their success in harnessing the waters of the Nile, but irrigation is not widespread in Uganda.  Moreover the geography of Congo Quarter makes it difficult to employ fixed irrigation:  farm plots are higher than the river, there are uneven slopes, any ditches would have to be lined to retain water, and the inherent instability of the braided weave river means that it could re-route itself again next season so any irrigation ditches or fixed pumps could be either completely flooded or left dry.  The solution had to be a pump which can lift water 2m from river to bank, push it 100m along a hose to peoples’ plots, be easily set up anywhere along the river bank and not require expensive fuel or non-existent electricity or working-animals to operate. 

Following helpful discussions on Skype with Richard Cansdale, a retired British water engineer who worked extensively with “Rower” pumps in Nigeria and Bangladesh in the 1970s and 80s, we then discovered a newer version of much the same design right here in East Africa; Kickstart’s “Moneymaker Hip Pump”, manufactured and used widely in Kenya and Tanzania and also sold in Uganda and Rwanda.  When combined with an exact list of 42 households in Congo Quarter and the size of plot available for them to farm, compiled by local leaders, this was enough to submit a project proposal to BMS.  I’d like to offer a big thank you to all of you who contributed to the BMS Disaster Relief Fund following our earlier posts about the Kasese Floods.  They come up trumps with a quick grant of £1,250 with which to deliver this project during this planting season, which has just started.  Then all I had to do was make 3 different measuring ropes for accurate crop spacing, purchase a large quantity of seeds of different types and weigh and subdivide them into ¼ acre bags, produce a training sheet and translate it into Swahili (a first for me) and get hold of, and test, the 6 pumps and hoses.  With assistance from the ever helpful Isaiah, we got these jobs done and went to Congo Quarter last Thursday to deliver the pumps and the training.

We delivered the training on the banks of the river with as much practical demonstration as possible.  Holes were dug to reveal the good soil beneath the sand in which to add manure and plant seeds, measuring ropes were used to space hole intervals, and grasses were used to demonstrate mulching.  We rigged up 2 hip pumps by the river, one with longer (100m) and one with shorter (50m) hoses so everyone could try using them.  Pr Alex translated for me and the elected Local Chairmen (LC1 & LC2) were very helpful in the practical demonstrations and dealing with questions and queries, so it was all going well with people amazed at the water pressure generated by simple hand pumps and their potential for irrigating their land.  Pr Alfonse was also with us and as we started to discuss moving from the training to the seed distribution a heated argument arose, mostly in Lukhongo, which I don’t understand.  I must confess that my immediate reaction was to wonder why Alfonse seemed to be provoking trouble during an amicable and successful day.  However, I’ve known Alfonse long enough to know that he’s rarely wrong, has an aptitude for sniffing out discrepancies of which I’m often blissfully unaware, and has the real Christian gift of advocating for the voiceless.  We agreed to postpone the seed distribution until the following week.

There seemed to be two threads to the argument:  One was over the fact that some people had already cleared their land ready for planting, as they had been requested to do by the LC1, while others hadn’t, probably waiting to see with their own eyes the project they’d heard about before committing their labour.  This was easily resolved.  Having seen the pumps in action they know for sure that we are “serious” – a big deal here in Uganda.  They then had a few days to get to work on their land.  The other issue is harder.  The list of names and dimensions of plots we were given was signed and stamped by the LC1, LC2 and LC3, who in Uganda’s highly decentralised system of government, are the locally-elected officials for Congo Quarter at sub-parish, parish and sub-county level.  It is difficult to get a document more official than that, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee its integrity.  One of the local landowners was “proving stubborn” about sharing some of his land with those who had lost their entire plots to the new riverbed as had been previously agreed, and another was alleging that the LC1 and LC2 had put “their people” on the list at the expense of other residents.  Land ownership is complex in Africa, highly politicised, and best not interfered with by white people who have a shameful track record regarding African land.  I had to trust that Pastor Alex and Isaiah could mediate between the local officials and their community members and to pray that God would ensure that a new list could be produced which was honest, accurate and endorsed by everyone involved. 

Thankfully I got the call last night that these issues had been resolved and so we headed back into Congo Quarter today with a big box of seeds for tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and okra, specially selected as locally popular and suitable for sandy soil.  It was wonderful to see a hive of activity with plots that had been cleared in the last few days and other people working hard at digging theirs.  It turned out that there was nothing quite as sinister as had been insinuated last week.  There was some confusion over plots that had been listed under the name of one spouse rather than the other, or accidentally under both names, and also over some plots that were held by people who reside outside Congo Quarter, but have always farmed there.  Suffice to say that it all got cleared up to everyone’s satisfaction and we distributed seeds to 28 households today with the promise to return for another 10 once they’ve prepared their land.

Prayer Requests:

1.      Give thanks for the BMS Disaster Relief Fund and all who contributed to it so that a swift grant was available to help the people in Congo Quarter who have suffered so much.

2.      Give thanks for the clever and affordable practical technologies such as “Kickstart’s” pumps and the chain of websites, conversations, and emails which lead me to them.

3.      Pray for wisdom, commitment and integrity for the local leaders and pastors who have the day-to-day responsibility for making this project work by ensuring equitable access to the pumps, encouraging farmers to use the methods we’ve suggested, and helping the elderly or sick to get their plots cleared and planted in time.

4.      Pray that this project will enable the people of Congo Quarter to regain their farming livelihoods and provide for their families, and that in doing so they fulfil Isaiah 12.3-4 (NIV):

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 
In that day you will say “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done and proclaim that his name is exalted."

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Another 'what a night' exactly one week later! - By Bethan

Last Friday we spent time at the clinic with Jonah (see previous blog post).  Not wanting to be outdone by his second-born, this Friday was Gareth's turn!  Gareth spent from 6pm until 11.30pm on a drip in the clinic because he had had bad diarrhoea and got himself dehydrated.  A mixture of a viral infection (gastroenteritis-type thing) and a worm called giardia worked together to give him all this trouble.  I, apparently, have the giardia worm too.  I worked it out when the Dr said that the worm on its own only causes massive wind ... and I remembered the previous night when I was rolling around in bed trying to get an enormous amount of trapped wind out! ... but the worm together with a virus caused Gareth too much hassle.  It is suspected that he caught this virus from the food prepared at the seven-hour 'fundraising' event he had been to the previous week.  Not washing hands is the main suspect, and food sitting around for hours before eating it.
Always looking for the positive in life, we noticed that as I sat with him in the clinic watching Michael McIntyre on my laptop and the boys were being babysat by our visiting church team, this was the first time we had been out on our own in months!  It was our first uninterrupted conversation since a friend babysat for us in May!
Gareth is now on the mend and just needs feeding up so that he has enough excess to lose next time he gets sick!  We also must mention our wonderful Dr George who runs the local clinic and looks after us so well.

Friday 26 July 2013

Oh what a night! - By Bethan

Oh what a night!  And unfortunately I don't mean late September back in '63.

Just before midnight last night I took Jonah's temperature, which had been up and down in the last three days getting us through a whole bottle of calpol.  It was more than 38 degrees.  I stripped him off and went back to him twenty minutes later to find it had gone up to 39.  Beginning to panic and with only one more dose of nurofen left at my disposal before I overdosed him, I prayed that God would bring down Jonah's temperature.  I brought him into bed with us and lay his hot little body in between me and Gareth, taking his temperature every five minutes as he fitfully slept.  39.4 ... 39.6 ... 39.8 ... 40!  I packed my handbag and Gareth stuffed all the money he had in it in case I had to take Jonah somewhere for medical help.  I gave Jonah the last dose of nurofen he could have in this 24 hour block and prayed some more.  Now 1 am I began patting him with a wet flannel and fanning him with a paper.  His temperature fluttered between 38 and 39.8 for the rest of the night but I didn't take him anywhere because driving in the night and waiting in waiting rooms full of mosquitoes may have added more problems than we had.  I brought up the name of our Ugandan doctor on my mobile phone and waited for the daylight, mopping Jonah the whole time whilst grabbing an hour's nap at 3 am.
At the crack of dawn (heralded by Samuel shouting "it's light time again!") I phoned our doctor, who used to work in another town during the week but by the grace of God now works full time in Kasese town and was ready to see Jonah at 8.30 this morning with his calm bedside manner and intelligent medical advice, chatting about Wimbledon heroes past and present!  He took some blood from Jonah's 'foot-thumb' (big toe!) and tested it for infections.  No malaria but a probable virus.  Doctor George gave us a full 45 minute consultation helping us understand exactly what he was looking for in Jonah, what we should do if this that or the other happened, and told us to phone him tomorrow night for a follow-up.  Jonah has some anti-biotics in case he has  a bacterial infection but it is probably a virus that will clear up in a couple of days of its own accord.  With all our local friends and some from the UK praying for Jonah he only had one dose of calpol today and his temperature has stayed around a steady 38; cool by comparison.  Please keep praying for him and praise God for the return of such a good doctor in town, Dr George.  We feel so much more confident now in any other medical emergencies that may arise.

Monday 8 July 2013

My School. By Samuel.

I started school in February.  Can you believe that just at the point when mum and dad were wondering how are they going to manage all their work plus look after Jonah and me, a day-care and nursery opened up on our doorstep!  I'm not exaggerating either: it's a stone's throw from our front gate!  School starts at 8am so daddy gets me breakfast then at 7.55 mummy emerges, somehow fully dressed, she puts my red tartan uniform and sun-cream on me and takes me to school.
When I get to school I always hug my teachers - I'm so happy to see them!  I have a teacher called Happiness!  At least I thought she was called that.  It turns out her name is Agginess (Agnes).  Then my friends all start shouting "Sam-well!  Sam-well!" and I jump up and down and spin, laughing!
Then the teachers say "go to class!" and we all sit down at small tables and look at the blackboard.  We have been learning letters and numbers and we do colouring too.  I call it "shedding" because mummy says I have a dodgy Ugandan accent and what I really mean is "shading"!
When we're not in class I like driving the pink car with yellow wheels around the school.  The school is really a house so the building is small.  We have 32 children and I'm the only white one but that doesn't bother me.  There are twin Indian boys too.  The only difference between me and my friends is that I use a spoon and a table when I eat.  The other children eat with their hands whilst sitting on the floor but because they make such a mess the teachers take their clothes off and they eat in their pants so their uniforms don't get dirty!  We usually eat matooke (boiled plantain) and beans but on Fridays we have meat pilau!  After lunch, at 1pm, mummy or daddy comes to pick me up.  The other children stay until 5pm!  What a long day!
Yesterday we had sports day.  I ran really fast when the teacher said "you run fast!" and she said I was the winner!  But then they made me sit down and rest in the shed (shade!) because they said I was a funny red colour and they were concerned about me!  Later, daddy told them that white people change colour when they get hot; they were so surprised!
Last week was Joram's birthday and he had a party at school.  I stayed into the afternoon so I could join in the party.  The teacher told mummy to pick me up at 2.30pm but when she came with Jonah we were just sitting around in a circle on plastic chairs waiting.  The teachers kept telling us to sit and wait, and I knew there was cake because I saw mummy's friends at Jambo! making it!  So I sat for a while.  But after half an hour or so (on top of the 1 1/2 hours I had waited before mum even arrived!) I got bored.  The teachers were putting up balloons and banners and putting lace tablecloths on the 'head table'.  I started playing 'tag' with some friends on the opposite side of the circle until suddenly six of us children were wrestling in the middle of the circle!  Mummy gave me a 'look' but she said she understood that of course three year olds can't be expected to sit down for three hours (it was now 3.30) with nothing to do so she wasn't too harsh on me.  She was also trying to stop Jonah from being overwhelmed by my school friends!
Eventually, one of the teachers stood up and said "welcome to all you children and adults.  We are going to celebrate the birthdays of Christian and Joram.  Our agenda will begin with a prayer and then we will introduce their friends on the top table, then we will eat the cake and drink sodas, then after a thanksgiving prayer the party will be over and we will go home."
Lunch ended at 1pm for us children.  In the end the party began at 3.50 and ended at 4pm.  It's a good job, since the children waited almost three hours for a ten minute cake fest, that Jambo's cakes are so delicious!

Thursday 27 June 2013

Life in the Mountains

The Bakhongo are predominantly a mountain people, found either side of the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with the mighty snow-capped Rwenzori Mountain range as the heart of their ancestral lands.  If you’re going to work with the Bakhongo, it really makes sense that you get into the mountains.  Back in March, Alfonse and I spent 3 or 4 days on a big road-trip around Kasese District visiting most of the 36 Baptist Churches and Preaching Points in the Association.  This involved spending a huge amount of time and diesel in low-range gears and 4WD in the Landcruiser, and a fair amount of time, and copious bottles of water, in 2-leg-drive on foot.  Although it was wonderful to breathe fresh and cool air, to see the beautiful mountain views and to meet and greet so many wonderful people in these churches, some of whom had never been visited by a Mzungu before, or even by the leadership of their Baptist Association; those weren’t the main purposes of the trip.  We came back with pages of notes about the challenges faced by these small and often remote communities:  The list of issues they face is considerable but can perhaps be summed up in 3 words:  Food, Energy and Access – with the latter including physical access to water, firewood, schools, healthcare, markets, legal justice and all the other amenities which are often at least 2 hours walk away, if not more.

As missionaries with access to moderate resources and time there’s not much we can do about the lack of physical infrastructure or the appalling state of the mountain roads.  I’m not an agriculturalist and it would take years of dedicated and specialist work with mountain farmers to implement different techniques for farming on such steep slopes, so we decided our focus would be on providing energy, and on forms of energy that also generate income which the churches can then use to help address some of their other challenges.  Three months and many hours of research and proposal writing down the line, I’m delighted to be able to write that BMS has sent funding for solar projects (like the one we piloted at Kahokya) for 7 more village Baptist churches, and charcoal briquette making projects (like the one piloted in Acholi Quarter) for another 14 Baptist churches.  My challenge over the next 6-12 months is to implement them all!

With my innate wariness, verging on paranoia, of getting stuck on a mountain in heavy rains (which you’d understand if you’d seen the flooding in May or ever slithered a car through Ugandan mud), I decided we’d better start with the most inaccessible churches while it’s still so hot and dry.  Last weekend myself, electrician Amisi, and the ever-trusty Isaiah headed to Kantare Baptist Church to do the first solar installation.  We left Kasese about 8am and drove 60km, mostly on tarmac roads, to Kathasenda Baptist Church where we parked the car and met Pastor Michael and 3 members of his church.  From there we loaded a 60W solar panel in a welded frame, 2 heavy batteries, a wooden control box, various other bits of equipment, 2 coils of wire, a heavy bag of tools, our own clothes, nets and camp-bedding, and about 10 litres of water onto our backs, heads or shoulders and started walking up to Kantare.  On my previous visit with Alfonse we’d taken the longer shallower route up and the shorter but insanely steep route down.  This time the young guy we were following lead us directly up the steepest route for a gruelling 1.5 hour climb.  On arrival at the church we got straight to work bolting the control box to the wall (by punching holes through the mud and then putting U-bolts around the eucalyptus poles which frame the church), bolting the panel in its frame to the roof and then wiring the lights. 

Although we’d carried plenty of water as there is no piped water in Kantare, you never take your own food to an African village.  We were given “breakfast” of coffee and bread at 1.30pm, and lunch of beans and rice at 3.30pm, with a final evening meal at 10.30pm just as were all 3 starting to fall asleep!  The habit of saying grace has lapsed across much of Britain, but I’m always so thankful when I get fed in a Ugandan village, partly because you never know just how much labour or expense has gone into gathering and preparing the ingredients involved (eg someone carrying a sack of rice on their head up a mountain), but also because you never know what you’ll get or at what time, or even whether what you’re eating is in fact your only meal for the rest of the day, or just something to “push you” until a later meal.   Fortunately the hyper metabolism of my youth is gradually slowing with age!

The inevitable crowd of spectators grew through the afternoon as children returned from school (down in the valley, so they climb the mountain daily), and adults from tending their coffee-plots or other crops.  By the time we had the lights working there was an atmosphere of tangible excitement.  The wonders of LED technology mean that two 3W light-bulbs inside the church and another one outside over the door are enough to provide more light than anyone was previously used to with kerosene lamps.  Unfortunately12V phone-charging is proving more problematic.  Just as the first chargers at Kahokya caused us trouble, the same has happened at Kantare.  Cheap Chinese made chargers of the type you plug into a car cigarette lighter are easy to buy here.  Kasese has almost a dozen shops which sell them, and you always test them first in the shop, where they always work.  Sadly they have a habit of not working for much longer after that.  By the time we left on Sunday afternoon there was only one charger still working at Kantare of the four we had taken up with us, which was even more annoying as this time I’d bought more expensive ones on the mistaken logic that they might be more reliable.  Having just preached a sermon which included suggestions of some of the ways that the church could use the income from phone-charging to improve their ministry and serve their community, it was then embarrassing to leave them with only one working charger – and therefore to have to commit ourselves to climb up there again fairly soon to fit some more!  I know I shouldn’t rant about shoddy Chinese manufacturing, but I will because it really annoys me, especially here in Africa where alternatives are not easily available, and where the people who can least afford it are so often ripped off with poor-quality products.  We are considering getting small inverters and then using standard phone chargers at 220V, but that also poses other challenges and more expense.

Ironically although Pastor Michael runs Kantare Baptist Church at the top of the mountain he lives near Kathasenda at the bottom, while his brother Pastor Moses, who is establishing Mailo Kumi Baptist Church and belatedly finishing his secondary education down in the valley, lives near the top of the mountain.  Having carried stuff with us to sleep in the church, we were invited to stay at Pastor Moses’ house, so at about 9.30;pm we gave up fiddling with the annoying Chinese chargers and slithered our way down the steep slope in the dark for about 15 minutes.  Pastor Michael and some others had stayed in the church so the lights were still on, a gratifying white glow which we could see from hundreds of meters down the track, and a fitting reminder of Matthew 5.14-16. 

After all our labours we “slept like lizards” to quote Isaiah, although Pastor Moses woke us in the dark at 6.30 to pray with us before he headed down the mountain to his church.  I confess I barely woke up for this and slept on until the sun shone through the window after 7.  As I blundered out of the house to use the latrine, which offered an amazing view over an almost sheer drop, it was easy to revel in the beauty of the morning with the cool mountain breeze, amazing views, and the clean-toned sounds of Congolese-style guitar playing reverberating off the slopes from a big church down in the valley.  But then I saw an old woman with a hoe on an opposite slope digging away at her crops which seem to defy gravity as they cling to the mountainside.  Then another woman walked past with a 22l jerry-can on her head carrying water up from the small spring half-an-hour down the mountain, and it was not yet 7.30am.  It is easy to romanticise a brief trip into the mountains before returning to my usual world of hot water on tap, a reasonable electricity supply and a car and good roads with which to get to anywhere I need.  However, the reality for those Bakhongo who live up in the mountains is that life is hard work; everything they grow has to be coaxed out of the mountainsides with huge effort and considerable risk, and everything they buy, sell or use has to be carried long distances on steep slopes.  When things go wrong there is no help available other than prayer, and they often feel forgotten and neglected by most of the outside world.

The Bakhongo don’t dance like the Acholi or run like the Karamajong, they may not have the political skills of the Buganda or the cow-herding prowess of the Ankole, but they are a tough people, and I for one have a huge respect for them!

Prayer Requests: 

Give thanks for the BMS funding for the solar and charcoal projects.

Give thanks for the electrical skills of Amisi Kathaliko on which this solar project depends.

Pray that the system at Kantare will keep working reliably and that we can find a practical and affordable solution for the phone-charging, not only for Kantare, but for all 7 Baptist Churches.

Pray for Pastor Michael and his ministry in the mountains.

Pray for our safety as we keep travelling to rural villages by car and on foot.

Thursday 6 June 2013

Development, Dependency, Discipleship, Disaster-relief, Democracy, & other Dilemmas:

As Christians we are called to care for those in need around us.  If true discipleship means living as much as possible to the example set by Christ on earth, then tithing is a bare minimum, and our generosity to those less fortunate than ourselves should extend to the point where we are making real sacrifices, be they of our resources, our time, or both, for others.  If you open the concordance or index at the back of any bible and look for the words “poor, hungry, justice, widows or orphans” you will find hundreds of references and instructions, from the laws of gleaning, Sabbath and Jubilee found in Exodus and Deuteronomy right through almost all of the prophets, the proverbs, the Gospels and the New Testament Epistles.  (Incidentally, you will find many more references to these issues of social justice in the bible than you will to issues of sexuality, despite our apparent 21st century obsession with discussing them).

The bible is many things to many people, but there can be no serious denying that it is, amongst other things, a manifesto for a fairer world and a call for God’s people to play their part in making it so.  But how does this work in practice?  Feeding the five thousand on a hilltop with a few loaves and fishes was a wonderful miracle, and one might argue that the World Food Programme achieves a similar feat (although with significantly more resources) on a daily basis in refugee camps all over the world.  Yet it is also clear that this “hand-out” approach to giving has many flaws, the biggest being that it encourages dependency, which also fosters helplessness and despair.  There are parts of the world where people have been living off food hand-outs for generations and know no other way of living.  This isn’t good for them and it isn’t good for the donors who’ve spent a fortune feeding them.

As a development worker dependency is the thing I’m always seeking to avoid.  Whether this is with regard to planning projects to help communities, or dealing with the continuous individual requests for help with school-fees, medical-bills, or a street-kid begging for a small coin, we have to remember that we are only in Uganda for a short period of time and so allowing people to become dependent on BMS or on us individually is harmful in the long-term.  This tends to mean that we put most of our efforts into projects which aim to have a sustainable impact, even if the projects themselves won’t last indefinitely.  As for the other requests we try to think about the alternatives that the person asking us has and whether or not they have already pursued them, and to what extent the request is a real emergency (which medical requests often are), or something routine which will come round and round again (like termly school fees).

In the neatly defined world of academia there is a distinction between responding to emergencies, or disaster relief – which often involves hand-outs;  and development, which is more long-term and aims to help people help themselves, to avoid dependency, and to achieve sustainability.  Yet in practise it isn’t so simple.  Our work in Acholi Quarter, where we are striving to seek sustainability and sometimes have to refuse requests for help which would only encourage dependency, is overlapping with the flooding situation in neighbouring Congo Quarter and the edges of Acholi Quarter, afflicted by a natural disaster. 

You may have read about some small relief work that we did handing out blankets to those who had been driven from their homes by the floods (paid for by BMS and ourselves), and then a week later giving some jerry-cans, cups and plates to many of the same households (funded by US Baptist NGO World Venture).  With larger and better resourced NGOs such as World Vision and The Red Cross feeding those affected in temporary camps at two primary schools, these gifts were the best things we could give that would be of benefit both in the camps and afterwards on their return to their homes.  At the end of May the camps suddenly closed, because there were two suspected cholera cases and the camps were in schools which needed to re-open for the new term so the temporary residents were given 2 days’ worth of food and sent on their way quickly in order to avert a potential cholera outbreak.

Yesterday I went with fellow BMS worker Alex Vickers and his Acholi colleague Genesis to visit Congo Quarter again.  Alex is a soil scientist and Genesis is an agriculturalist and between them they are working wonders with the farmers up in Gulu who have recently reclaimed their land after the 2008 peace which followed two decades of brutal civil war in northern Uganda.  We wanted to investigate how the farm plots in Congo-Quarter have been affected by the flooding in order to see how we could help the farmers to replant next season (which starts in August/September) and regain their livelihoods – their crops for this season were ruined.  Much of the farm land in Congo Quarter is lying underneath between 6 inches and 3 feet of sand deposited by the swollen river as it carved out new routes straight through their community.  With a geologist’s flair, Alex stood in one of the now dry extra river beds and was able to look at all the layers and see not only what had been deposited in the recent flood, but also that the areas must have been flooded a few times before in the last century or so and that at one time the river probably flowed through there permanently.  In other words the people of Congo Quarter are living somewhere which is inherently unstable and liable to flood again.  But where else can they live?  As recent migrants from the war torn DR Congo they arrived with nothing and settled on the only land available to them, where a river provided fertile soil to grow cops and try to make a living in their new country.  Now that soil is buried and their crops have been destroyed.  The good news is that Alex and Genesis have come up with suggestions about how they can mitigate this damage and be able to plant a reasonable crop next season.  We will be working on a proposal to the BMS Relief Fund to help them achieve this, once we’ve got back the test results from the soil samples Alex has taken.

The bad news is that anything we plant in September won’t be harvested until January or February and in the meantime they have nothing.  Their children are being chased away from their schools because they can’t pay their fees and they are struggling to feed themselves.  In Roman occupied Palestine, Jesus and his followers would probably have sold everything they had and shared it with them, although given that there are around 400 people in Congo Quarter even that wouldn’t be simple.  I’m an ordinary human-being though and quite attached to my laptop and my DVD collection, and our boys are very attached to their books and toys so we’re not very keen on giving all our stuff away.  Furthermore, Uganda isn’t occupied by Romans or ruled by King Herod, it is (at least on paper) a modern democratic republic.  Yesterday Pastor Alfonse and I were encouraging the local leader in Congo Quarter to make written representations through the many layers of local government about the plight of his community which seems to have been missed out by the government and NGO aid still going to the people who were flooded in Kilembe.  On paper Uganda was one of the first Sub-Saharan African countries to achieve Universal Primary Education (UPE), but in practice it still isn’t free because even government funded schools charge various supplementary fees, and as there still aren’t enough government schools many children go to cheap private schools run by churches and other charities.  For people who’ve just lost all their crops, none of these schools are now affordable.

So the dilemma is this:  Do we recognise that the people in Congo Quarter are suffering and need help now and try and find some resources to do this?  Even If we can do this how would it affect our efforts to stop putting external resources into neighbouring Acholi Quarter (some of which was also flooded) as we try and encourage them to be more self-sufficient, especially as residents of Congo Quarter go to the church in Acholi Quarter, so the boundaries are blurred?  Even if we could find the resources to help feed 400 people in Congo Quarter how would we organise this?  If helping them becomes a full-time job then what about the long-term development projects which need our focus and energy if they are to succeed?   Or do we help campaign that the Government of Uganda lives up to its fine words and its worthy constitution, and takes better care of those who depend on it?  This is further complicated in Congo Quarter because many of the Congolese residents there may not officially be Ugandan citizens.  As Christians we are called to speak up for the poor and marginalised, and foreigners can at times have an effective voice, but sometimes British people perceived to be interfering in the internal governance of a former British colony can be resented and counter-productive. There can be no doubt at all, given past experience, that any interaction with local government will be extremely slow and frustrating.  Yet if people give up on government and outsiders continually step in to do what the Ugandan government should be doing then where does that leave Uganda as a democracy, especially when Uganda’s economy is consistently growing while the economies of most donor nations are in recession?

The easiest response is to identify the many potential flaws in each possible course of action and then use them as a reason for doing none of them, but that is clearly not the right thing to do.  This article is not a request for money, although donations to BMS are always put to good use, nor is it a request for answers because there are no simple answers here.  It probably is a request for prayer, because we definitely need more wisdom and guidance from the one who created this world in which we live.  Anyway, now I’ve expressed these thoughts online it’s probably time to go and act on some of them, so bye for now!