My Uganda Journal 2014, Part III

23July-HippoHillCamp (8)PART III

Along with 26 other pilgrims I went to Uganda July 15-29, 2014. One of them is my good friend, J-Jeff Reither who invited me to join his congregation: The Church of St. Anne’s in Hamel, MN on this very special mission trip.

These were my daily reflections:

 21 July – Sidelined But Not Out

IMG_0300Today was another work day. Since my arm was still hurting me, I decided to go with Emily (from my small group) and Chris to help in the Mayire Health Center for the day (the rest of the group was carrying large stones at the work site at Our Lady of Guadalupe). I had mixed feelings about ‘not working,’ but the decision not to carry those large stones was later confirmed as a good choice by J-Jeff who told me he would have been worried about me the whole time because they were heavy.

IMG_0319I enjoyed the health clinic. They handle a lot of malaria treatment and deliver somewhere between 20-30 babies per month in addition to hosting an occasional dentist and part-time counselor.  Our day was pretty slow, but a few women came in for prenatal check-ups, and a couple of students came in who were feeling sick. Emily is a pediatric nurse, so it was she who really shined throughout the day. Chris is interested in medicine as a potential career path. Me, being the clumsy mzungu who hurt his arm a couple days ago was interested in the rest of the work this little health center provided for the community.

IMG_0323Nurse Angela was our host. She not only showed us around but let us help – showing us how to record the patient’s data, and Emily was invited to participate in the check-ups. Angela is hoping to return to school for a further nursing degree in the next couple of years, and is planning her wedding with her fiancé for once she completes school.

IMG_0326It rained a bit in the afternoon, and the group did laundry out on the patio. It was a good bonding moment. A week ago many of us were strangers, now our group of both men and women were scrubbing their delicates by hand next to each other and laughing. I thought I was particularly good at washing socks! While it was raining, the cloud cover meant no well water, so water was filled in Jerry cans from some other source – I’m not sure where that water came from; while we were doing our laundry the sisters sent some of the workers to retrieve the water for us – nothing comes easy here.

After laundry, a few of us walked through town to a well that runs on solar power. This well provides the water (while it is sunny) for the St. Kizito school up on top of the hill.

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IMG_0335IMG_0338IMG_0329Tomorrow we head out for three days to Queen Elizabeth National Park. I’m taking a break to write now while I pack up.

The rain has stopped and the lush green colors are extraordinary.

If there has been a day I’ve been a little homesick it has been today – Mia’s birthday. I hope she had a good day. It is also Sister Monica’s birthday today (she is making Mia a dress). We are going to have a party for her – so at least I’ll still have cake! Happy Birthday Mia. Your Papa loves you.

22 July – The Long Drive Out West

Today we drove from St. Kizito school to the Hippo Hill lodging area in Queen Elizabeth National Park. We left around 9:30 a.m. with an estimated time of arrival around 5:00 p.m. Our true arrival time was closer to 8:00 p.m. It was a long arduous drive, but not without its merits.

IMG_0355 IMG_0357 IMG_0358 IMG_0362We stopped at the equator for some food, souvenirs, and pictures.

We took brief breaks  at gas stations to buy snacks and use questionable bathrooms.  IMG_0364 IMG_0368 IMG_0371We also took a brief respite at Lake Mburo National Park and saw a herd of zebras. The last hour of our drive was very bumpy and uncomfortable, but we saw our first elephant – so all is forgiven. Tomorrow we take our safari. I’m so excited.

23July-HippoHilHutThe place where we are staying is very nice. There is a large pavilion where we gathered for dinner, and we have cabins with running water and our own bathrooms!  My roommates are Frank (from my small group) and  J-Jeff. We were told not to go outside at night – the hippos come out and are dangerous. I’ve been humming the Hippo song (from camp) quietly to myself…

In the beginning God made the seas.

God made the forests and the trees.

God made the mountains way up high.

Above it all God placed the sky.

God’s fingerprints are everywhere,

just to show how much God cares.

In between God had lots of fun,

Made a hippo that weighs a ton!

 Hip Hip Hippototmous.

Hip Hip Horray, God made all of us!

Hip Hip Hippototmous.

Hip Hip Horray, God made all of us!

 It is such a silly, goofy song, but I think I’ll still stay inside tonight :).

23 July – Safari

 We woke up a couple times last night hearing some snorting – could it have been the hippos???

IMG_3263 IMG_3267After an early morning wake up of 5:30 a.m. – we ate breakfast and started our safari.    J-Jeff and I got pictures with a happy birthday sign he had taken Sister Monica’s birthday party so we could each take pics with elephants in the background (Mia’s birthday was the 21st, Becca’s was the 22nd).

IMG_0393We saw so much in only a few hours:

A leopardDSCN0343

Eight Lions (ask Sister Salome sometime about the “bed & breakfast”)
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Many kobs and bison and kobs

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Over forty elephants! Wow!!!

23July-Safari-Elephants (12)

23July-Safari-Elephants (3)

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warthogs

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and hippos!!!

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After our return to camp, we had lunch and then a hike down to one of the crater lakes. People could purchase a small plot to harvest the salt from the water. The conditions were horrible. The salt level in the water was so high that it burned the skin, but people had to wade waist seep in it to trudge up the salt from the mud below. Life is a real challenge here.

We had a good small group tonight processing what we had seen – both on safari and at the crater lake. We also started the conversation about what happens when we head back to the United States after all the things we have experienced. Tomorrow is the long drive back to St. Kizito in Bethany.

24 July – Driving is Hell

IMG_3303Today we drove back to St. Kizito. On the way out of the park we saw eight more elephants.  We also ran across some baboons that stopped us in the road for a few minutes, but after that brief engagement it was another grueling nine hours until we were back on the St. Kizito campus. The last two or three hours were particularly uncomfortable for me. My arm hurt. My legs didn’t quite fit. My back ached. I felt miserable while realizing that since I sat in the front of the bus, I had more room than most. The infrastructure in Uganda is interesting – mostly it is dirt roads, but there is one major thoroughfare between urban centers. There is rarely a posted speed limit; speed is controlled primarily by speed bumps. Sometimes those speed bumps come as one large mound to traverse, other times four to six little bumps are in the way. In any case, it seems that the speed bumps are spread out just far enough for uncomfortable passengers to start finding a way to doze off only to be jarred awake again…

Driving is hell.

IMG_0359Mityana was amazing at night. The motorcycles (boda boda) darted every which way. Lanes were created for vehicles that appeared to have no room to proceed. Yet we managed. Richard, our driver was wonderful. When people would pass by us or see us in our bus they were cheerful and would wave. The children shouted, “mzungu, mzungu, mzungu!”  That cheer never gets old – even when the ride in the bus has long lost its novelty.

We came back to our dining area at St. Kizito’s to a nice chicken meal and drinks that were waiting for us. A bottle was set close to the edge of the table. As someone was talking and backed into the table, the bottle fell from the edge. IMG_0344Instinctively, I grabbed for it (but with my bad arm). As I clutched the falling bottle I felt two things: a sharp pain from my fingers to my shoulder, followed by sweet, sweet relief. My self-diagnosis of my arm is that somehow I had popped my elbow both out and now back into joint. The muscles are still a little sore but my arm feels lie I’ve regained its full range of motion.

Driving might be hell, but tonight I’m going to sleep well. It was worth it. I think I’m going to be OK. Thanks be to God.

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“But who do you say Jesus is” sermon on Matt 16:13-18

question-mark.28/24/2014
sermon on Matt 16:13-18
“But who do you say Jesus is?”

St. Michael’s Lutheran Church
New Canaan, CT

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“Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer” sermon on Matt 15:21-28 (the onion sermon)

onion8/17/2014
sermon on Matt 15:21-18
“Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer”
(the onion sermon)

St. Michael’s Lutheran Church
New Canaan, CT

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My Uganda Journal 2014, Part II

 

IMG_0251PART II

Along with 26 other pilgrims I went to Uganda July 15-29, 2014. One of them is my good friend, J-Jeff Reither who invited me to join his congregation: The Church of St. Anne’s in Hamel, MN on this very special mission trip.

These were my daily reflections:

19 July – Don’t Get Hurt!

When I left for Uganda Tammie gave me very specific directions.

  1. Have fun.
  2. Don’t get hurt.

Today I got hurt.

19July-EggBag (8)We got started early at work today – up, dressed and ready to go in our dining area to start making “American Breakfast” for all 500 girls at St. Kizito and 250 for the kids at Our Lady of Guadalupe. We made omelet in a bag – two eggs, chopped peppers, diced tomatoes and salt. We put together two assembly lines, with zip lock bag holders, egg crackers, onion and tomato scoopers, salters and mixers (the mixers squished everything together, pushed the air out of the bags and zip locked them shut.)  Another group took the bags outside to a large kettle on a fire to cook.  I had a load of fun as an egg cracker. To make it interesting every once and a while I attempted to crack an egg and get it into the bag one handed. By the end of the assembly time my record was doing this successfully thirty-six times in a row. The sticky floor reflected that effort!

19July-EggBag (43)Once the food was cooked we formed another assembly line outside where we handed out the bags for the girls to take and eat. Unlike the giveaway of two days ago, this effort was calm and orderly.     After it appeared that everyone in line had gone through, several of us walked around looking for those who had yet to eat. I handed one girl a breakfast bag, she responded, “Thanks Mzungu.”

J-Jeff and I got a real kick out of that.

The ditch and my arm (taken the next day)

The ditch and my arm (taken the next day)

It was nearing 11:30, and we still had yet to deliver the breakfast bags to Our Lady of Guadalupe.  As we had done on our walks over to the other school thus far, J-Jeff and I pulled up the rear of our group. While walking and talking, I suddenly slipped on some loose gravel on a downgrade and fell. HARD. I lost my balance and the fall happened so quickly that I could regain balance and then rolled down part of the hill until I hit the ditch. J-Jeff and I laughed hard about it. I got up and we started walking, but I wasn’t walking it off as I hoped.

My right arm hurt. Uh oh.

IMG_0269I tried to participate in the activities planned that afternoon to get ready for the Library dedication tomorrow, but it was getting worse. When I told Sister Salome about it she sent me and one of the students named Malfred, who would accompany me to the dispensary – a small health center at the bottom of the hill behind St. Kizito.  I had fun talking with Malfred and getting to know him, he did a nice job of distracting my thoughts away from my arm. When I got checked out at the dispensary the nurse gave me an ace bandage. I had the feeling that whether I had sprained my elbow or had a compound fracture, the treatment would be the same: an ace bandage. Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a little (OK, maybe more than a little) injury prone. Typically I get hurt by taking some unnecessary risk.  What frustrated me about this injury was that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I simply couldn’t walk straight without falling. Urgh.

What were Tammie’s directions again?

  1. Have fun.
  2. Don’t get hurt.

One out of two isn’t that bad. Hmm. Maybe Tammie will grade on a curve.

IMG_4595Sister Cecilia was very concerned for me. She took me aside after dinner and massaged my arm with an herbal ointment. She was able to get my arm to straighten out and I began to feel that maybe I was not as hurt as I thought, but I’m still concerned about what happens the rest of our time here and how I will negotiate this injury. She taught me something.

“Webele”

“Webele” is the Uganda word for “thank you.”  (I want to remember this one!)  Hurting myself has given way to gratitude; which might be a good thing. Throughout the evening when the girls at St. Kizito have seen me, they ask, “G-Geoff, how is your arm?” That’s a long way from, “Thanks Mzungu” I heard this morning. There is a lesson in being cared for by the people you came to help.  Sister Cecilia taught me that too. :)

19 July (evening) Choir Practice

If I didn’t mention it yet, the girls here at St. Kizito have amazing singing voices. Worship is wonderful as 500 voices lift harmonies and rhythms that seem angelic.  I have never heard anything quite like it.

IMG_4558Tonight as others were getting ready for bed J-Jeff and I went out for a walk around the campus and were drawn into the chapel by the singing echoing out the open doors.  We decided to go inside and sit in the back pew of their choir practice. We came to learn that each grade takes a week to be the choir and lead the singing. It was after 10 PM when we left. The time and dedication devoted to this art is truly inspiring.

It reminded me of a non-biblical proverb I heard long ago:

The afterlife is spent in the worship and devotion to God. To believers it is pure heaven.    To unbelievers it is pure hell.

To be with these girls in their voices of faith-filled beauty, I wondered how anyone  be among them and go on unbelieving.

This is a special community.

20 July – Dedication Day

IMG_0277Today is the day of dedicating the new library at Our Lady of Guadalupe. After a nice breakfast and yet another arm massage from Sister Cecilia, we were on our way by 9:00.  J-Jeff and I got to the part of the road where I fell yesterday, we stopped and took a picture (featured above), and shared yet another Worship was at 10:00. Father Woody had worked with Father Cyril the last several days so he could lead mass in Uganda.

Father Cyril translated The homily for him, and work with him on his delivery. He did a wonderful job. I’m hoping to keep a copy of the homily (we had a copy of it in English in order to follow along as he preached it).

IMG_0274Three large tents sat on the hill to accommodate the people that had gathered for the dedication.  Over 1000 guests participated. Two large tents were set up parallel to one another with a large open space in the middle, and the smaller tent was set up on the end of that open space serving as a place for the altar pulpit and chairs behind it. We sat on the side.

 

IMG_0278When it was time for the offering all of us were invited to bring things to carry up to the altar where they would be received by Father Cyril, Father Woody and Father Belden. The offering procession was led by traditional dancers. Two of our number (Kevin and Emily), were invited to dance along with them to the delight of everyone gathered. I carried a pineapple. Other gifts brought forward were live chickens, baskets of food, and a large branch full of bananas!

IMG_0279After worship was over we walked down to the school for ribbon-cutting at the library and photos with each of the classes of students, their parents, and the staff. To our surprise, the plaque that was unveiled on the building named each of the people in our group as participants in the day – what an unexpected and humbling honor!

 

IMG_0293There I was, etched among my fellow pilgrims:

Pastor Geoff Sinibaldo.

The afternoon turned into a great party with dancing singing and a dance off between the young people from each of the classes.

IMG_0295Lunch was my low point of the day as our group was sequestered to another room for a “special meal.”  On Saturday local men had slaughtered a cow that was to be used for the lunch today. I was looking forward to using that time to interact with others, but we were stuck in our own room during that meal. The sisters served us a local delicacy which was chicken, rice, potato and broth, wrapped and sealed in banana leaves and boiled.

IMG_0286After lunch our delegation started off the disco with a lively rendition of the chicken dance. Is this what Ugandans think American dancing is? If so, we were amazing! Even if it is, they were much better than us!

After the dancing got going, we split into two groups as the younger people stayed at the disco and the rest of us went to dedicate a nearby well.  An earlier group had brought a television crew to chronicle the construction of this well in a mixed Catholic/Muslim Village, so our role was not only to give thanks to God for the well (which we did) but also to chronicle it working on video.

IMG_0298The video footage taken would later be sent to the PBS station in La Crosse, WI so they could complete the documentary they had started while in Uganda. It was a small but great celebration. We learned that some people walk over 5 miles to come get freshwater from this well. We also saw the mucky puddle in which they used to get their water.

We take water for granted. We let it run freely from faucets, we take showers for too long, and we throw half-filled bottles of water away.  We forget how precious it is, and how central it is to life.

Maybe we would take baptism and our faith more seriously if we made the connection that without water we would die, and without clean water we would be sick. Yet at the font a promise is given in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that both claims us into new life and makes us clean. Jesus promised,

“I will give you living water.” (John 4).

IMG_0275Today was an exhausting day. Today was a good day.  As I tuck in my mosquito net around my mattress, and rub my aching arm, I hope to fall asleep giving thanks to God for what is happening in this community, and for the opportunity to be here as it happens. Webele.

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My Uganda Journal 2014, Part I

12Along with 26 other pilgrims I went to Uganda July 15-29, 2014. These were my daily reflections:

15 July – Anxiety, Airplanes and Arrival

The last week or so has been interesting: time in both Banff National Park in Alberta and Glacier National Park in Montana, family camp at Luther Crest Bible Camp in Alexandria, Minnesota and getting ready for my trip to Uganda.

I left Luther Crest Sunday morning in order to make it to church at St. Anne’s in Hamel (our friends J-Jeff and Laura Reither’s parish that is running this trip). J-Jeff is the organizer and primary leader of our trip. He’s also one of my closest friends over the last 20 years, and I am happy to be experiencing this adventure with him.  Another of my closest friends – Brian Scott, went on this trip in 2012; and he was kind enough to drive me to Hamel on his way back home to Red Wing. I’m glad we had that drive in the car together as we talked about what was to come. Once we arrived, Brian stayed at St. Anne’s for worship with me too. When I get back in two weeks, Tammie is going to pick me up at the airport, and we’ll go back to Brian and Larissa’s house to debrief and spend the night.

It is a good thing to have good friends.

7Since Sunday (yesterday), I have been observing the anxiety in the group as twenty-seven of us come together. For some, that anxiety is manifest by the constant talking and chatter about “what if” questions that pervade conversations. For others it is the reverse – a pulling back, coy kind aloofness that gives every appearance of remaining cool under pressure, but quite obviously is anything but calm and collected.  I have noticed fidgety behavior by another set of travelers, constantly checking passports, boarding passes, and other items in carry-on luggage. I am sure I’ve embodied all of these “types” at some point already, but I think the way I have handled the unknowns of this trip so far has been to ignore the details.   I am still not that familiar with the itinerary; perhaps because I didn’t make any of the planning meetings other than hearing about them afterwards from J-Jeff, but I think it is more than that. Another excuse could be the business of an already full schedule this summer, but again – I can more than handle logistics like that. Maybe I wasn’t sure it was really going to happen, or since I knew J-Jeff was leading this trip I didn’t have to worry. Maybe since I’m the only non-Catholic along I am already embracing a role as an outsider to the group. Perhaps some greater reflection will happen as time goes on; but what has helped me get engaged and cast my own anxiety aside is jumping into camp-counselor mode. J-Jeff has assigned us into four small groups, both he and I, along with the two priests: Father Woody Pace and Father Corey Belden will serve as the small group leaders. Once the group was assembled I turned that leadership role on – not taking into account the things or behavior in others that might annoy me normally. My role as a leader on this trip is to keep things positive, make sure people are included or don’t pull back, and yes, familiarize myself with what we are doing, when and why. Once we get there I’m sure I’ll feel better…

IMG_0182…The flights were L-O-N-G !!!  Holy buckets – we traveled for over twenty-six hours to get here. I’m not sure if it is Monday or Tuesday anymore.  I am however, grateful to be at the Ulrika Mother House of the nuns who will be our hosts at the two schools these coming weeks. I am fortunate enough to have a single room – which is great for winding down after those long flights. (I’m tucked under my mosquito net as I write.)

14I helped some of the others get through customs once we landed in Entebbe. Camp counselor mode is actively running! Sister Salome met us once we got through customs. “You are most welcome” she told each of us we were greeted with a warm hug. We each received a sign the girls at St. Kizito made for us, with our names, and that same message, “You are most welcome to Uganda.” I like that phrase.  It is extreme hospitality all the way.  We have arrived. Thanks be to God!

16- July – Mzungus on the loose!

IMG_0190We arrived at Bethany and St. Kizito to a warm welcome of the whole school assembled on the lawn. Traditional dancers escorted us in alongside cheers. We each introduced ourselves to the group.

For years when Jeff and I are together – he is J-Jeff and I am G-Geoff. Our kids only know us by those names. He’s a natural at thanking everyone for their hospitality and sharing our excitement to be among them – which was received well.  After we got settled a little bit – we have two large dormitories – one for men and one for women (the priests will each have their own room!); we took our first walk to the other school where we will both dedicate the library and help build the science lab:  Our Lady of Guadalupe.

IMG_4446Children filled our walk. When one would see us they started shouting, “Mzungu! Mzungu! Mzungu!” which as far as I can tell doesn’t just mean “white person,” it also seems to be  a term of endearment; because often when Mzungus come, they bring treats! We had tootsie rolls and other trinkets to give away. They were received well, but I started to wonder what it means that the “Mzungu” come to bring stuff. We are doing that –       we brought supplies, clothes, candy, money, even ourselves to help this community. It will be an interesting discovery over  the next couple of weeks to see if we are perceived as partners or as saviors. It will also be interesting to see how we perceive ourselves. I hope we can be partners, equals, each contributing for the greater good, rather than getting caught in the classic power dynamics of privilege. I remember Randy Nelson at Luther Seminary telling our group as we travelled to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, “leave behind your backpack of privilege.” I hope to do that. I’ll share that with my small group tonight too. We are here to learn as much as teach, receive as much as give, listen as much as we speak,. Perhaps “Mzungu” can mean that too. I hope so.  When the kids come running shouting that term, it does bring a smile to your face.

17 July – Giving and Seeing

IMG_2261Today was a hard day’s work at Our Lady of Guadalupe. The science lab is already outlined by a brick wall at knee height.  The building will be built into a hill so that both the upper and lower floors will walk out at ground level.  At the lower floor side were piles of bricks. Three large rooms will fill the lower level. The center of each room contained a large dirt pile, about my height at its peak, and below the bricks in the corners.

IMG_0220Our job would be to move the bricks to the back of the lower level into the hill’s retaining wall. e lined up in teams and started throwing bricks. The last person on the line stacked them neatly for the bricklayer crew.

Once we completed the brick tossing/restacking task (which took a couple of hours) our next job was to level the dirt in rooms. Garden hoes  were our only tool to complete this task and it was long and arduous in the hot sun.  We stopped around 1:30, and then we played with some of the school kids until we ate at 2:00. As a group we were both hungry and tired.

After lunch came the big giveaway. As part of our luggage each of us brought a large plastic container called a tote, containing items we would donate. Some of them would be used to bring medical supplies to a health clinic later on, the rest contained clothes, shoes, toothbrushes, etc. for the giveaway that would take place that afternoon. Sister Salome told the local villagers that we had brought items to give to them. Already by our lunch break, they began to fill the fill the hillside.

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The porch of the new library was divided into several areas – t-shirts for boys, dresses for girls, shoes, toothbrushes and a few other items. The school also runs a program that gives away five-hundred hard-boiled eggs twice a week to the local kids to make sure they are getting protein in their diet. Sister Salome decided there would be an egg station as part of the giveaway as well.  I ran the toothbrush line along with some of our high school boys.

IMG_5943It didn’t take me long to figure out there were not enough items to give to the people there – especially shoes. Soon enough we were out of everything. I watched how people in our group took it emotionally as they too discovered that reality. J-Jeff later told me the giveaway is always the best day and the worst day; since people would have to cope with not having enough. I figured it out soon enough that I realized we could have brought ten times as many things and we still wouldn’t have enough for everybody, which was both sobering and in a weird way – reassuring. We didn’t pack or plan poorly – the needs were just that great. But the people there didn’t seem to mind. They were happy to see us, saying, “webele” (“thank you”) with large smiles.

With my small group we talked about our day and about the abundance we are so used to experiencing. We also talked through the difference between relief and development – the idea that relief is necessary, because the needs were great; but development was needed to change the situation that made relief so necessary. My observation so far is that the people we have encountered in Uganda are hard-working, grateful, and realistic about their expectations. We have much to learn.

Worship was at the end of the day today. We read Jesus’ words, “Come to me all who are weary and carrying burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28). How fitting.

18 July – Perspective

IMG_0229We drove two hours today to Kambaala to see a health clinic run by Father Ponce, a classmate of Father Woody’s from seminary.  The people who worked in this health clinic were overwhelmed with gratitude for our visit, and long introductions and speeches were included as part of a day’s worth of “webele.”  At the end of the day a few in our group were a little put off by how over the top it all seemed, but to those we visited, today was a big deal. We were the first Americans to visit. The totes we brought full of supplies will really help their efforts.

IMG_0230One of them said, “just think what we can do once we have electricity!” It wasn’t a sarcastic complaint one of us would have made, but real optimism and confidence that they really were making a difference. This health center serves about 5,500 people. Eight out of ten patients who come for treatment first present symptoms of malaria. Since St. Michael’s participated in the ELCA Malaria Campaign last fall this was of key interest to me.  After lunch we were given a tour of the grounds, including a new pump well at the bottom of the hill that will serve the community with clean water. A little can go a long way.

At the end of our day Father Ponce invited us into his family home, where we met his mother and several of his ten siblings. It was both an honor for us to be there as much as it was for him to host us.

IMG_0241As we processed our outing at the end of the day once back at St. Kizito, we talked about how our trip fit into the other pilgrimages that have taken place since 2001. We tend to think of “our” accomplishments when it comes to ministry and/or mission, but there is always a context of relationships that set us side by side with others.  Perhaps another group will return to Kambala, and maybe that group will not include any of us on that trip. That detail won’t matter; because the visit will be about continuing the relationship of those who first came and saw the work being done, who brought supplies to help support it, who visited the pump well, and who sat in Father Ponce’s house as friends. Continuing those relationships and making new ones is just as (or perhaps even more) important than how many bricks we stack or rooms we complete. I’m remembering that fish story in Luke 5, where the fishermen have to call another boat over to help lift the nets because the load is too heavy for anyone to lift it alone. This is the mission we share – to help lift each other’s nets after we encounter Jesus.

 

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Coming back from Uganda, “Jesus is Abundance,” a sermon on Matt 14:13-21

148/03/2014

Back from Uganda, a sermon on Matt 14:13-21

“Jesus is Abundance”

St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, New Canaan, CT

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Gangs, Gaza and the Gospel (An epistle to the churches of the New England Synod, ELCA from Bishop Jim Hazelwood)

Jim.bishopy.
 
This letter was waiting for me in my inbox from Bishop Jim Hazelwood when I returned from Uganda last week. I believe it is written from the perspective of relationship, not the polarized politics that feed our hungry news-cycles. Even still, these issues are complicated, and I ask for your prayers for our ongoing discernment, for all those who suffer at the hands of others, for courage for those who can help, and for those whom we have elected to office, to make sound and good decisions, especially those with whom we disagree. We can make a collective difference if we are willing to try. Peace be with you all.
-PGS

 “GANGS, GAZA AND THE GOSPEL”

(A Letter to the New England Synod from Bishop Jim Hazelwood – July 16, 2014)

 “I am weary with my moaning;  every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.  My eyes waste away because of grief; they grow weak because of all my foes.”(Psalm 6: 6 & 7)

 What other response can one have in these days of suffering?  I listen to the news and think of our brothers and sisters in our companion synods in Palestine and Honduras.

 Today, in Gaza a short-lived cease-fire ended, with death and destruction.  I was just in Israel and the West Bank in November, eating lunch with Munther and Mona.  I worshipped with Palestinian Christians in our Lutheran congregations, walked the streets of Jerusalem, and witnessed the pain, hypocrisy, and injustice of a people longing for peace.

 Yesterday, as a nation, we deported 50 women and children back to Honduras.  The humanitarian crisis on our southern border grows every day, as children flee the gang violence that is consuming Central America.  It is a violence rooted in drugs and profit.  In 2012, I slept in a humble cabin in the mountains in Honduras near the Nicaraguan border, worshipped with Dagoberto, and worked alongside our sisters and brothers to build a church where the Good News of the Prince of Peace is being proclaimed today.

 The New England Synod has a deep relationship with these two parts of the world.  We are in companion relationship with the Lutheran Church in the Holy Land (ELCJHL), and in Honduras, with both Lutherans and Episcopalians.  As we watch, read, and hear the news about two difficult and complex issues in our society – Immigration and the Middle East, I wonder: what can we do?

 These issues are riddled with complexities that are not simply distant, but quite connected to our own lives.  The dynamics of the Middle East involve how we invest our money in foreign and domestic companies, how we buy our food in the grocery store, as well as our attitudes toward those who are a part of the Jewish and Islamic faith traditions.  The issues of immigration are tied to our U.S. drug use culture, our desire for products and services to remain inexpensive, and our misunderstanding of people whose racial make-up may be different than our own.

 The complexity of these parts of the world come home in our congregations when we have debates over how to invest our endowment funds, minister to the parents of drug addicted children, and enjoy our hotel rooms being cleaned for us on Cape Cod.  The world is not far away, it is here.

 What can we do?

-         I invite your congregation to include, in your prayers and petitions, our brothers and sisters in Israel, Palestine and Honduras.  Pray for an end to violence; pray for a fair treatment of all people; pray for understanding, and pray for the reign of God.

-         Educate yourselves on both of these matters, by seeking out thoughtful perspectives that deepen your God-given compassion.  Avoid the extremes in the media who seek to establish a preconceived agenda.

-         Consider including information in your congregation bulletin or newsletter.  Below are some links to resources.

-         Consider joining me in making a financial contribution to support the Augusta Victoria Hospital in West Jerusalem, and the Lutheran Disaster Relief for Unaccompanied Children.

-         Realize that in a global society such as ours, everything is connected to everything.  How we live our lives here in the U.S. impacts the children walking in the streets all over the world.

Let God, whose compassion runs so deep for us that the tears of an ancient Psalm resulted in the action of the extraordinarily generous gift of Jesus, move us to acts of compassion. 

 

-BJH, 7/16/2014

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