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.
- Have fun.
- Don’t get hurt.
Today I got hurt.
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!
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.
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.
I 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?
- Have fun.
- Don’t get hurt.
One out of two isn’t that bad. Hmm. Maybe Tammie will grade on a curve.
Sister 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” 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.
Tonight 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
Today 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).
Three 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.
When 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!
After 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!
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.
Lunch 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.
After 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.
The 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).
Today 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.