I find it difficult to be in charge when I am in the Ugandan culture. I prefer to observe and follow when I’m the foreigner. At our children’s home our team understands I don’t want to push American ways onto them so we work together well and I can lead without taking charge. I appreciate what makes them uniquely Ugandan and I don’t believe our American ways are superior. For example, beginning our activities two hours late only upsets me if I allow it. I took my cue from the others, and no one seemed to even notice the time had passed. If it doesn’t annoy them it won’t annoy me. The last thing I would want is to offend anyone here so I do things like wear long skirts, respect the pastor’s chair, try to speak their language, and make an effort with greetings.
When it comes to decisions about how to proceed with a structure for the day in their culture, I must be so careful. They want to defer to me out of respect, but they do have expectations and have made special preparations for us. My missions pastor, Omar Garcia, taught us before I ever came to Uganda we must not be simply flexible, but fluid. After ten voyages to this country, I know exactly why that is an important way to operate here.
It was clear they wished to have our activities inside the church, and their pastor was prepared to participate. Sure, why not. I have some experience with local pastors so I wasn’t sure what colors he would add to our program, but I have my ways of making detours so I was ready to keep our agenda on its course. I also knew not to write a firm plan and order it by time. I knew I would have to flow with the local ways of running a program. He was a kind, gentle man and allowed us every inch to proceed as we intended. I was relieved. They are so proud of their microphone system. It was a very small space and I could easily speak to a crowd like that without one, but I didn’t want to be rude.
We began naturally with welcomes, and introductions. We were so careful not to over use the name of Kirabo Seeds so a heavy shadow was not cast upon the glory and magnificence of Jesus Christ who is the leader of this work we do in Uganda. We prepared the children not to even mention Kirabo Seeds when they gave their testimonies because we wanted them to think only of what God has been done in their lives.
The first to speak was Peter. He is our eldest boy, 13 and he just completed his second term in school as number one in his class. He stood with the microphone and using excellent English translated by Uncle Robert, he gave a long list of what he is thankful for that God has done in his life. He thanked God for improving in school, and for knowing more about the bible every day. Then he shared from memory his favorite verse: Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” (It’s my favorite verse as well.)
Little Lawrence took the microphone next and with all of his six year old confidence spoke of thanking God for food, home, Uncles and Aunties who love him, food to eat and protection from accidents. Desire spoke next with a clear voice, and a smiley cheeky expression about how he thanks God for the people who came that day, his friends in America, bibles and his Uncles and Aunties. This little boy has so much confidence and curiosity about everything he can experience in life. Angela finished the testimonies wearing a beautiful pink dress, her first words were, “Praise the Lord people.” She was thankful for jjajjas, sponsors, medical care and that God helped her improve in her studies. She said, “ I started with getting 40s and now I get 90s” and the crowd cheered. Scores in school are highly esteemed here. She shared two verses she loves from memory, John 4:6 and Matthew 4:4.
One year ago these children didn’t know how to be students or speak English, and here they stood with their own ideas using English in front of their village members. It was a wonderful experience for all. We invited the children to go with Phiona and Kiah outside under the trees on hand woven mats to enjoy the bible devotions with our children.
It was remarkable how many children gathered. They weren’t necessarily told in advance we would be there. Kenny, Phiona’s brother, gave Jack and others drumming lessons while we waited. Jack is hooked, thank goodness we already have a big drum at home, or he would beg me to use a suitcase to haul one home. The drums beckoned the children leading them by their curiosity and when they saw us we welcomed them. By the end of the afternoon there must have been two hundred children gathered.
Kiah and Phiona directed our children to lead the devotion time with these children. They sang songs, and shared stories about their lives. We asked serendipity questions to get them talking and familiar with one another. Angela lead them in a bible devotion. They shared story books with them too. Hours went by and two hundred children sat riveted with the new activities. I know it is rare for children to be given focus and deferential treatment here. They are taught in school under a strict and rigid system where learning is hard not fun. At home they work hard and get to play with one another but it is rare for anyone to teach them or entertain them. That is a job for their imaginations. So when we gave them this special attention I could see they were thrilled to be fed in a way they’ve been starving.
If I learned anything so far this trip it is that our children can easily pick up and go to an area where they come from, bang the drum, wait for the children, and give them a Sunday school lesson. Could there be a better way for them to spend a Saturday afternoon? If we truly intend to raise leaders in this country is it ever too soon to begin practicing those skills? I don’t think so.
We debriefed yesterday about their experience with the children in the village. All of them loved sharing and leading. Phiona cautioned them not to be full of pride but to remain humble and allow God to flow through them. Our children were dismayed to see the children fighting, arguing, and pushing for food. Our children served all of the adults their meal and took theirs last. Phiona praised them for their self control. The truth is, one year ago they behaved the same way. These improvements in character are evidence of God working in their lives. I couldn’t be more thankful or astonished with their progress.
The children finished their day with a balloon game. What a disaster! To explain to two hundred children who are unaccustomed to structure and rules how to play a simple game was a task only Phiona could manage. They passed out balloons which caused a frenzy. No one knew how to blow them up! Oivey. After their mouths and hands had been all over them guess who had to help? We did. I could only hope prayers would prevent germs from doing their jobs. Eventually Phiona controlled the situation, got the balloons tied around their legs and they began to run like gazelles darting and dashing to stomp out each others balloons. It didn’t matter who won, no one even noticed, all that mattered was they were having the best time of their lives. It was our great pleasure to give this day to the children.
We had a completely separate experience inside the church with the adults. I’ll share more about that tomorrow. We had a big surprise for them that caused them to dance and holler! Thank you for following our adventure here in Uganda.