Words can be used to describe about anything. Pictures can be taken of almost any material thing. But neither can do justice to an experience.
When one looks at a picture, one sees a taste of an event. When one hears or reads words, one can sense an adventure. But when one experiences, one sees, one hears, one feels.
I can’t make you feel, but I’ll try to help you see and hear, if you’d be willing to spend the next few minutes with me in Uganda. :)
Kampala is busy enough, and with the pedestrians…. Well, you see.
We’ve made it to Jinja. You were good, you didn’t complain about the roads too awful much, even though the potholes don’t give you more than a 2-foot long break at best. Now, we’ve begun to cruise through an area full of poverty. You may not have seen it like this before. The children are running around, happy as can be, in no more than two plastic bags around their waist. Those that have a jerry can (5-gallon jug) carry their family’s water for a miles a day. Some are lucky enough to find an old jerry can that has holes in it. They cut the side out of it, and are taking turns dragging it around with another in it—their own sled. But they’re hungry. They’re malnourished. And they’re only 6, but they’ve already lived 1/6 of their expected life span. This is the slums of Ripon. We’re on our way to the island. I tell you, you better watch yourself. This isn’t the worst yet.
But it’s pretty close.
Since we took the SHIM (Shepard’s Heart International Ministries) boat, we don’t have to face the horrors you’ve only heard about. We have a small space bubble, and we have room enough for all the things we wish to transport. Were we to take the public, well, you’d likely have 3 other people with you in your space bubble, 5 in a 2-seat area, chickens and goats and babies all over, and the scorching heat. That’s why we have umbrellas. Even with the sunscreen you lathered on, we still tell you to wear your baseball cap and duck under an umbrella—if you don’t, we can’t help a lobster with anything but aloe.
We told you at Ripon that you weren’t allowed to touch the water because it was diseased and if you waded in it, you could get many boils. Not pretty. But the water didn’t look too bad there. Welcome to Lingira. Again you are carried out of the boat to the shore by a Kanyama (“strong man”), but this time that would have been your choice even if you didn’t know the dangers of the waters. The green slime abounds on the dirty sand and the plants that manage to live in it, are waxy looking—showing even they don’t soak the water unless necessary. It behooves you to think: this is the water the people drink. This water is their life, in essence. No other water source is available.
Time to trek to the missions building. The children of Lingira village have flocked to you. You are the new mzungu (“white man”) on the island. And you hear that name a lot. If you don’t have suitcases in your hands (which you don’t now, the kanyamas are taking it for you), each hand will likely have three little ones clinging to it until a fourth coms and knocks one out.
Alright, you’re thinking. We’re actually to the place of mission. Hold on a second. Yes, this is our mission base. But places to do ministry are all around you! You saw that child in the sewer earlier. The men running up and down the streets of Kampala. The lady sitting next to you on the plane. The man behind the ticket counter at the airport. The cabby driver. Your family. Here is where we reach out to the people of the islands. But, from here, we pray for those who can reach those in America.
After a “good” night sleeping in your “bed”, you’re not totally ready for the day to ensue, but here we go. You discovered your “mattress” was merely 3 inches of foam and some fabric. No support, no firmness. When you saw the netting, you were informed if you didn’t have it, you were likely to get malaria from the mosquitoes.
Now, we won’t say too much on what you do, because we don’t even know what you’d be doing if you actually were to accompany me home. But we’ll go with what I’d do, and therefore take you with me to do.
You’re informed there will be about 50 children to come soon. We’re gonna sing some songs, tell a story and play a game or two. You had no idea what to expect. The songs we sang you’ve never heard the like of. More vigorous and lively praise songs than you’ve ever heard! “OH OH OH OH Yesu JAGALA! OH OH OH Jesu jaGALA!!” (“OH OH OH OH Jesus loves me! OH OH OH Jesus Loves me!!”) Clapping and dancing are automatic and the amount of energy there is unmatchable. And when Mrs. Peterson gets out the flannel board and tells the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho, the children gather as close as they can to the pictures to see. A Ugandan lady interprets for us, and the children are mesmerized by the story. They love it!
Now it’s time for the object lesson/game. I set up a bunch of boxes and stand in the middle. You join the legion of children marching around Jericho. Rehab (a.k.a., I) take pictures and act as though this is the most paralyzing event of my life! The kids don’t exactly get the whole, “Be quiet, for the Lord says so!” idea, but they definitely yell loud enough on the 7th round. “AAHHAHAHHHHHHHAHAHHA!!!” Yes, indeed, they were laughing during this process—I think it was a success.
After the kids have left, it’s time for a little walk around the island! Ruthie, a lady in charge of hospitality, offers to take you to the top of the “mountain”, or great big hill you see in the middle. The climb up is uneventful, and the view is breathtaking.
After another boat ride, you’re back on the mainland. You drive past the same you saw coming, and the life that takes place on the road boggles your mind. The men sitting under the tree, the women graciously walking down the street with bananas on their heads, the children running with bicycle tires and sticks and the police officers patrolling the roads are so full of life. You feel their eyes as they stare at you. You’re a celebrity! Like my dad likes to say, “If you’re lonely, I’ve got a solution! Come to Uganda—everyone there calls you ‘friend’!”
This is pretty fast-paced. You tell yourself everything flies when you’re having fun. You step on the airplane and glance one last time at the palm trees and the banana trees that strangle the red dirt and the green grass of the Ugandan terrain. With a wave, the plane takes off, and you notice how your physical perspective now matches your emotional perspective—you see much, much more to the Earth and it’s Creator.
This world is more than America. It’s bigger than this.