Thursday 25 September 2014

Solar Project - Completed

Last week I submitted the 30 page evaluation of the solar project which I've been working on with Isaiah, assisted by electrician Amisi, for over two years. We spent July and August travelling around all the project churches gathering data and conducting interviews of church pastors, church members, children who've attended the solar-lit homework clubs and locally elected community leaders.   Obviously some churches have done better than others, but on the whole we've been overwhelmed by the success of this project, not only in development terms through providing a community light source, reducing local dependence on kerosene, and providing income from phone charging; but even more so through its success as a missionary project bringing communities into their churches and helping those churches to reach out into their communities.

The whole evaluation is too long to include here, although if you want a copy then please email me at and I'll send it to you.  However, here is the "summary of achievements" page.  I offer a huge thank you to all who helped implement this project, and to those of you whose generosity helped fund it through BMS World Mission.  It has been so popular that Isaiah will be raising a proposal to extend it to another few churches in 2015, after we've left.

Summary of Achievements:

Despite these considerable challenges, this project has delivered successes in all five of its stated objectives.  Details for each church will follow, but as a whole the project has led directly to increased use of churches during weekdays for homework clubs, phone charging, and early morning and/or evening fellowships.  Although statistical evidence of educational impact is hard to obtain, the evidence of those interviewed is that providing free lighting for doing homework has caused the individuals who used it to improve their educational performance and save money on kerosene.  Over 7,800 mobile phones have been charged in these churches providing cost and time savings to those who previously struggled to charge their phones much further away.  This phone-charging has raised a total of over 2.1 Million Ugandan Shillings (£500) income for these churches, which is a huge amount of money for places where average Sunday collections often total only 3,000 Shs (£0.75).  The money has been used in different ways, which include: support to pastors, income for project supervisors, construction of church buildings or latrines, saving for replacing batteries or other project equipment, church furniture or musical instruments, transport for pastors or members to do evangelism or receive further training (including BMS’ Sunday school training programme), supporting a church nursery-school, hospitality to visitors (including ourselves), support for the sick/condolences for the bereaved, and investment in other income generating projects, including animal breeding, cabbage planting and bee-keeping.  The most exciting achievement of this project, however, is also the hardest to quantify and that is its missionary aspect.  Church membership has grown in all of the solar project churches, by an average of 88%, which is substantially higher than in other KBA churches without solar projects (which averaged 10% growth from Feb 2013 to Jun 2014).  Furthermore, this growth not only consists of Baptist churches attracting lapsed Catholics, bored Anglicans or other denomination-drifters.  It includes people of Muslim backgrounds, Jehovah’s Witnesses or of no faith at all; people who had never heard the Gospel before but have now thanks to charging their phone, doing their homework, seeing a strange new light in a dark place, or being touched by the compassion of receiving solar-funded “first aid” or condolences from a stranger.  God works in mysterious ways, and it is not for us to scientifically apportion credit for the workings of his grace in reaching new believers.  However, there is no doubt in our minds that the faithful evangelism of the dedicated pastors and members of most of these 8 churches has been significantly assisted by the outreach opportunities and income provided by this project.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Paying it Forward.

Have you seen “Pay it Forward”?  - If not then try looking up this Hollywood dramatization of the book by Catherine Ryan Hide, filmed in 2000.  The basic premise of the film is that the world will become a  better place if we pay our gratitude forwards, to others, even those we haven’t met.
Of course, it’s not an entirely new idea.  You might argue that a well-educated professional is already “paying forward” their gratitude to the state which supplied the services they depended upon to achieve success and prosperity (good education, health-care, decent roads, access to justice etc).  Their higher-rate income taxes will fund opportunities for the next generation to enjoy the same benefits.

But the principle of paying it forward is much older than that and can be found in the Bible.  Surely it underlies the whole concept of tithing? – Showing our gratitude for all the blessings we’ve had in life, by passing on a tenth of them in service of the God from whom all blessings flow.  However, for many of us who grew up going to ancient Anglican churches, the idea of tithing lost its appeal because it seemed people were being asked to sacrifice their income to pay for astronomic heating bills, fixing decrepit lead-roofs, Bishops’ palaces and the pensions of retired clergy.  Whilst some of these may be necessary, they don’t always sit well with the teachings of Jesus, the radical yet humble carpenter and preacher from Nazareth. 

Jesus himself criticised the Pharisees who obsessed about the legalistic details of tithing everything right down to their herbs  - “mint, dill and cumin”, but neglected “justice, mercy and faithfulness” Matt. 23.23.  Instead he drew our attention to the poor widow who gave “all that she had” (Luke 21.1-4).   Having grown up in a comfortable home in a rich country I’ve sometimes struggled with this verse, as well as wondering about what the widow did the following day? 

As a development worker I read books by Economists who tell us that people generally make decisions based on their rational self-interest.  To me it seems common sense that this is simplistic because people don’t always act rationally.  Furthermore, as a Christian, I know that this isn’t always true because I keep seeing people sacrifice their own interests in favour of others. 

This week I have been astounded and profoundly challenged by an example of this.  As many of you know, we started a Daycare for the vulnerable toddlers of Acholi Quarter, which is still running 9 months after its official funding finished, but which faces an increasingly unlikely future as its running costs (about £150 per month) currently far exceed its income from parental contributions. 

Some of you also know that Pastor Alfonse has been doing an excellent project with street children in Kasese.  With very few resources he has been helping these young boys to fry G-nits (pea-nuts) and sell them around town and also to farm a hired plot in order to sell beans and tomatoes.  Every week the boys meet to pool their earnings and then decide how to use them.  They’ve amazed us before with their generosity to each other, supporting a boy to resettle to his familial village, or chipping in for expensive medical bills for another. 

This week, however, Pr Aflonse announced at the monthly Development Committee meeting that the street boys had sold some crops and had decided to give 20,000 Shillings (£5) to Daycare.  He explained that many of them had previously lived in Acholi Quarter, before finding themselves on the streets, and they wanted to help the next generation of young children growing up there.

Let’s be clear about this.  We’re talking about children aged 8 – 15 who sleep in storm-drains, under bridges or trees or against the side of buildings, who eat whatever they can, and who rarely own more than the tattered clothes on their backs.  People with no social status, little or no education, and often with no family.  They haven’t just been moved into a shiny orphanage in Jinja and they haven’t been given Child-Sponsorship from a big American church.  They haven’t really been given anything.  Rather Pastor Alfonse has shown them respect, love, compassion, an excellent personal example, and the means to start making an income through their own hard-work.  But despite the countless things they could do for themselves with this small income, they chose to pay some of it forward to help other vulnerable children 5 – 10 years younger than themselves.

Is this an isolated case?  No it isn’t.  The three women at Jambo Café work long hours for a very modest income.  They all have their own children with school fees to pay, and yet as well as tithing their profits to the church they are also pooling their tips to give to other women who want to start their own businesses.  They are grateful that they were given an opportunity to start their own business (thanks to many of you!), and are paying that forward by helping other women.

Of course, £5 from the street boys will not keep Daycare running for more than a day, but that isn’t the point.  Jesus’ Ministry made it abundantly clear that whatever we can give or do on our own is never enough, and yet when we give freely and whole-heartedly it can still have a massive impact – an obvious example being the little boy who gave up his tuna sandwiches (well 5 loaves and 2 fish to be precise….), which fed five thousand.

I realise that charity fatigue is a growing problem, and many are tired of endless requests to send money to Africa or yet another place afflicted by war or flooding.  But paying it forward isn’t just about money.  It’s more personal than that.

I challenge all of us to look back over the last ten or twenty years and think about which people really made a difference to our lives.  Then think about what it was they did which made our lives better.  Now think of a way to provide that same benefit to someone else.  It might be financial – for example my Dad has spent 16 years using his garden model railway to raise money for Marie Curie Cancer care after their excellent nurses cared for my Mum in her last days.  So by all means do pay your taxes, and give your tithes – to whichever causes you believe in.  But it might well not be financial.  It might be the volunteer scout leader, music-teacher or sports coach who inspired you, the person who cared for your children to give you a break, the person who gave lifts in their car or who helped your elderly (grand)parents.  It might be someone who encouraged or mentored you when others doubted your abilities.  Whatever it was, the best way to repay that kindness is to pay it forward and do the same – or something even more wonderful – for others.

Of course, if the thing that most transformed your life was someone sharing the Gospel with you then that is no exception.  Find someone else whose life has gone astray and show them the Good News, preferably with actions as well as words.

The street children of Kasese have profoundly challenged me, and I’m thinking about how to respond to it.  Meanwhile I’m passing on that challenge to all of us.

Thursday 4 September 2014

Jambo’s Biggest Order… with more good news to come!

Today I spent the afternoon at Jambo Café with all three ladies (Eliza, Alice and Moreen).  I had been called in to help with the gigantic order of a three-tiered ‘Give-Away’ cake with six smaller cakes as part of a nine-cake set selling for £75, a phenomenal sale for Jambo. (A give-away is just that: the woman’s family gives the daughter to the man’s family and it is a precursor to a wedding, which may happen any time in the future).   The first thing to note is that I had a wonderful time with the three ladies chatting and laughing and working like clockwork together.  The reason that this was so wonderful was that, for those of you who remember, not too long ago the atmosphere in Jambo was particularly icy as two of the women were not speaking to each other.  Praise the Lord, those relationships have been healed and Jambo is now a friendly and warm place to be!

While we were working on the cake icing, a man phoned Alice’s phone and she handed it to me saying “You talk to him, it’s Tony!” I cringed.  I hate talking to Ugandans on the phone as I struggle to grasp what is being said, and I don’t know a Tony!  Alice shoved the phone in my face and I started to find out who Tony was and what he wanted.  It turns out that Tony runs a tour company called Speke Ugandan Holidays ( and is trying to organise a coffee-farm tour that he can put on his itinerary to take his tourists to a coffee farm, talk with a coffee farmer and find out about the whole coffee business.  Tony said he had read my blog and seen that there is a wonderful café with a good testimony (he’s also a Christian) and that he would like to bring his tourists to Jambo for lunch after the coffee tour!   This is an answer to prayer because business has not been so good recently as a lot of ex-pats who have been living here for the last year or two have now gone.  And if one tour company is getting Jambo on its radar then we hope that others will follow.  This was our aim for Jambo’s business side: that tour companies would bring their clients to Jambo as they travel through the country visiting Uganda’s beautiful National Parks.

After this good news we continued with the cake, which came on nicely with the chosen colours of blue and yellow (we can only get garish food colours here, and bold colours are very popular so this is perfectly normal!).  I used this opportunity to teach the women some new icing piping techniques.  I am by no means a professional cake decorator but I’ve iced a few cakes in my time, including our wedding cake, so I have a few creative tips to share.  The only downer was when the person who had ordered the cake came to see it and, despite liking what we were doing, reminded Alice that she had also ordered red to be on the cake!  So we started to pipe red flowers dotted around the side but Deb Benn, our colleague who was looking after my boys, called me to say that Jonah needed me to come back as he is not feeling well and was having a melt-down!  However, it was so lovely to spend a joyful few hours working and laughing with the Jambo ladies and I am grateful for your prayers for the ladies’ healed relationships.

Finally, I am trying to organise lunchtime ‘life-seminars’ at Jambo every week in October with a different speaker each week.  Subjects to be discussed are: family planning (a hot topic in Uganda!), financial planning (which many people don’t manage), sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV and AIDS) and women’s health.  Each seminar will end with a short discussion of God’s view on each subject and how to put advice into practice.  Please pray for this endeavour as it takes some organising and we really want Ugandans to come and learn things that aren’t taught in schools, are rarely talked about in churches and are generally not even discussed in families.