Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A few last thoughts.

Tonight is our last night in Uganda. I have found, the last few days, that I have barely had the energy to think, much less to write, which is why I haven't posted an update in a while. I think three weeks has been about my limit, at least this time around, but I am so hoping I can come back again next year, to spend more time with these wonderful, beautiful people. It has been an adventure, to be sure. 

The past few days have been spent mostly tying up some loose ends. We delivered gifts we forgot to give to children, spent some time sightseeing, and visited the homes of some people in the community who deserve quite a bit more love and care than they receive. We met a widowed grandmother who takes care of her six orphaned grandchildren, and does not even have a mattress to sleep on, and an old man with no family left, who lives alone in a mud house, sick with breast cancer. Another elderly widow, also caring for her orphaned grandchildren (2 or 3 of them), who is hard of hearing, was recently very sick, and unable to even leave her house. But she had no one to bring her food, or water, or anything else. There are too many similar cases to count.

When you look into their eyes, so many of these people seem absolutely hopeless. It's as though you can see into their hearts, into their souls, into their dreams, and there is nothing left. It is as though they have spent all that their meager bodies and minds have provided, and nothing remains to be shown to the world. But some of them have fire. Some of them have an unconquerable spirit, and seem to know that life (and death) holds more for them. These are the ones who hold strong to a faith in Jesus Christ, the one true Lord, and find joy and peace in Him, even amidst their suffering. Or maybe they have not yet come to that place, but even so are on the very brink of discovering the new life that can be had because of His sacrifice. 

My heart weeps for those who cannot, or will not see what the Lord has placed before them. But my very soul rejoices with those who look into your eyes, and smile from their hearts, and proclaim that they are born again. For them, walls of mud and a roof are straw are simply a part of life, not a barrier set before the path to happiness. I do believe that the road to heaven is made of dirt. The dusty red kind, that stains the soles of your feet, and says to the world "I have walked the path less trodden, and shall know my brothers and sisters not by how clean their clothes, but how dirty their feet".

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"Demon Day"

Because of our itinerary, yesterday was nicknamed "Demon Day", with the first order of business being to visit the home of a local witch doctor. His eldest son, Elisha, guided us to his house and helped Pastor Robert to translate. He is in his early twenties, and is a devout Christian. He accepted Christ some years back, and is now a youth leader of sorts at True Worship Centre, the church that meets at Fountain of Hope. His father name is Emmanuel, which is rather ironic. 

He lives right next to the school, and two years ago, when Fountain was buying the property for the school (which was owned by his father), he forged documents saying that it was really he who owned the land. Luckily, or rather, unluckily, depending on how you look at it, he ran away before he was able to get any money. He did this on account of the fact that the police were after him on charges involving human sacrifice. Scary, huh? I do not know why he is now living freely back in Bukeeka. 

The tale he told of his occupation and beliefs was strange to say the least, and not altogether truthful. For the first hour or so, he told us about how he contacts the spirits (demons), and they tell him what directions to give to those who come to him. He even knows the names of many of the demons who he says belong to this area. Some of those he speaks with tell him they are the spirits of his ancestors, and he readily believes them. He is of the opinion that they can never tell a lie. He even believes that all spirits are good, and it is only some witch doctors and people that are bad. He told us that the head demon is synonymous with the Holy Spirit. 

Emmanuel (it is hard for me to refer to him by such a name), attends a local Anglican church, and professes to be a Christian. However, it is clear that he is more than a bit mixed up in his belief system, in addition to being a blatant liar. For example, when he was asked what his views are on human sacrifice, he said that no true witch doctor (one who is called to his occupation by the demons themselves) will practice human sacrifice, as the demons do not approve of death and destruction. Obviously, this is not the case, as we know that demons thrive on such things, and that he himself has been involved in human sacrifice.

There is a nearby hill, with a portion of the face being made up of a large slab of stone, upon which the local witch doctors perform their ceremonies and sacrifices. They have built shrines there for the spirits they worship. Emmanuel offered to take us up to see it, but we did not have time, and I must say that I am glad we didn't have time to go up with him, because that does not sound like a place I would like to visit.

Emmanuel told us he daily pleads with the spirits not to plague his son, Elisha, since he refuses to worship them, but Elisha told us a very different story. He said his father refuses to pay for his schooling and living expenses because he refuses to worship any being but the one true God.

The witch doctor was not to be swayed in his beliefs, try as we might, and by the end he was becoming frustrated that he could not answer our questions consistently, so we knew it was time to leave.

After lunch, we went to visit the home of a girl who, up until recently, was attending Fountain of Hope, but then dropped out because apparently the demons had told her not to go. Like most in the community, she has an interesting living situation. She is 16 years old, and both of her parents have died, so she lives with a few of her seven siblings and her grandparents. When we were at their home, her grandfather put on a wonderful show of being the perfect guardian, saying how concerned he was that she (Shamim) is not going to school or to church. Even though he and his wife are Muslim, he made it seem as though he was very accepting of Shamim's Christian faith.

But then Sarah took the girl aside to talk to her privately, since she was unwilling to speak her mind in front of the whole group. Shamim told Sarah that her grandfather does everything he can do to keep her from church on sundays, and that he is abusive, and also refuses to provide necessary items for her (I am assuming this means clothing, hygiene items, etc.). Shamim also told her that her uncle is the one who has been sending demons to her, as well as to a few of her oldest siblings. She said that one of the biggest struggles in regards to this is that they sometimes keep her from being able to read. I, along with some others in our group, wonder if perhaps this particular problem is less spiritual and more physical, if perhaps she simply has poor eyesight, or dyslexia, but there was no way for us to tell. 

The grandfather is, according to Pastor Robert, highly involved in witchcraft, so what she claims about spiritual troubles may be completely true. On the other hand, it could be a combination of both this, and being a hormonal 16 year old girl rebelling against guardians who do not know what to do with her. The plan is to move her into boarding, pray over her, and wait to see if things improve. But until she can be taken from her toxic environment, there is not much to be done.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Last sunday.

Last sunday, we attended a small church about half an hour away from Pastor and Sarah's house. They were in the middle of worship when we got there, but some stopped for a moment to welcome all of us. We were invited to sit in a place of honor, on benches up behind where the worship leaders and speakers were. There was not much about the service or the building itself that in any way resembled the church services I am used to back home. The structure was built with roughly cut planks of wood, with many gaps, and there were no doors. The people were worshipping through both song and dance, following a man and a woman who took turns leading the crowd. 

After the music was done, the pastor asked for a few members of the congregation to tell short testimonies. One woman stood, and gave thanks that her mother was still alive, even though her house had burned down a few days prior. What struck me about her story was that she did not say how sad she was that the house was gone, and then add on that she was grateful her mother was still alive. No, she said nothing about the grief that the incident must surely have caused her and her family. She simply expressed her joy that she could still worship beside her mother. 

After church, everyone slowly made their to Bukeeka to Fountain of Hope, where a large group was gathering to go down to the Nile for a mass baptism. In addition to the van that our group (plus some extras) rode down in, there were three truckloads of people who attended the baptism. In total, 162 were baptized that day. When I heard there was going to be a baptism, I figured it would be, at most 20 people. Obviously, the numbers were far greater! It was unlike any other baptism I have ever seen. Not only did people show up in great numbers, to be baptized in the Nile river (the Nile!), souls were set free in ways I had not imagined would occur. There were probably about 15 or 20 people who had demons cast out of them as a result of their baptisms. It was both frightening and powerful to watch. The acceptance of a spirit world is so ingrained in the culture in this area, that it makes it quite easy for the people to accept the ideas of heaven and hell, and those that dwell there. However, it also leaves them open to all sorts of spirits that are not of the Lord. Before the baptism, Pastor Robert even had to ask that anyone who wished to be baptized go a ways into the bush and cast off any talismans or other such items before they went into the water. All in all, it was a pretty eventful day.