Martin's Newsletter from Uganda - January 2009
Hello again from Uganda! And a very Happy New Year to you! I hope and pray that 2009 will be a year when our relationships with Jesus continue to grow and that we will see Him move in our lives, our families and our communities in new and powerful ways. Since my last newsletter we have, of course, celebrated Christmas and I find it very exciting that, even after two thousand years, we can still proclaim ‘Immanuel’ as we see that God is still with us today.
In Uganda, the month of December sees the end of the school year and most schools close for a break of about two months. A number of churches and other organisations take this opportunity to run week-long camps for the youth, where they can receive some good biblical teaching and spend some time worshipping, praying and just having fun together.
Moses, Bex and I had been invited to attend and minister at the Eastern Uganda Scripture Union Camp, which was being held at a secondary school near Kumi. Despite being somewhat delayed by a burst tyre, we arrived on time, although looking slightly dishevelled, for our afternoon session with several hundred youths. We had been told that we should minister on the subject of repentance and forgiveness. After an extended period of worship and some teaching on the subject, we invited the Holy Spirit to come and moved around praying for people. It was such a privilege to see God come and minister healing into these young people’s lives as they forgave those who had hurt them. Afterwards, there were many, many testimonies, but my personal favourite was the young man who happened to have a wound on his hand. As he forgave, he not only received emotional healing but the wound on his hand completely disappeared as well without even leaving a scar!
About a week later, we were invited to a similar camp in Tororo, about an hour’s drive south of Mbale, which was being run by the Anglican Church. On this occasion, the set subject was spiritual warfare and the ministry session afterwards was another powerful time. We also had the privilege of being able to spend some time counselling a number of the young people with the various issues in their lives. Finally, to complete the set, I was able to help arrange for Pastor Philip take about 30 young people from the Mustard Seed churches in Namabasa and Namatala to another youth camp that was also being held in Tororo, by the Pentecostal churches there.
It seems to be universal that people tend to find discipling the youth rather a challenging activity! I am certainly no exception, but with Uganda having the lowest average age, of fifteen years, of any country in the world, it is not a challenge that can be easily avoided! Over the last couple of weeks, I have been doing some teaching with the youth at Mooni Church of Uganda, many of whom have also returned home from school or college for a couple of months. I have been particularly focusing on trying to get them to understand what God thinks about them and who they are in Christ.
I understand that, in recent years, much of the thinking about poverty has moved away from the thought of it as just being a lack of resources, which can be fixed by handing out things. Poverty is now often seen as people having no control over their own lives or having come to believe lies about their identity and value, both of which can actually be worsened by indiscriminate handouts. In non-emergency situations, the first step must always be to help people to recover their identity as children of God, made in His image, with an important role as productive stewards in the world that He has made for them. This has to be a work of the Holy Spirit and, in my experience, the enemy always fiercely tries to resist His work in this area. But we know that if people can come to know Jesus and to hold to His teaching then they will know the truth and the truth will set them free.
I have continued to work for Moses’ charity, Child of Hope. Some months ago, Moses opened a nursery school in the very poorest part of the Namatala slum. Forty-five young children from six different Ugandan tribes come together every weekday morning to learn how to read and write, how to behave, how to play and to get along with one another, and to learn about Jesus. It has been wonderful to see the transformation in these children over the last few months. Young as they are, many of these children have also become evangelists and have taken their faith back to their homes and, as a result, some of the parents have started to attend their local church.
I had a great time with the children at their Christmas Party. I regularly visit the nursery school and the children have come to know their ‘Uncle Martin’. Often I am greeted by a dozen or so children all clamouring for me to just pick them up and hug them, again and again, something that they sadly don’t often get at home. On this occasion, I was very happy to join in and make a fool of myself in the sack race and the egg and spoon obstacle race, much to the delight of the children.
At the other end of the age scale, I also assisted with a Christmas Party for the elderly at Mooni Church of Uganda. Some months ago, I helped to set up a fund in the church to try and support a number of the older members. Within the local culture, the elderly in a family should be supported by other younger members. However, for a number of reasons, this does not always happen and I was shocked when I discovered that some of the old people in the church were not able to eat every day. We therefore set up a small fund to try and ensure that our older members were at least able to eat one meal a day and that they had a mattress and a blanket at night.
The Christmas Party was a first for the church and it involved a little bit of organisation as some of the older people needed to be collected from their homes. A rather special meal was prepared, which included the local delicacy of bamboo that is found on the higher slopes of Mount Elgon. It was a good occasion and all those who attended had a good time, as well as undoubtedly their best meal of the year. It was a privilege for me to get to know some of these older folk a bit better. Of course, most of them don’t speak any English but through an interpreter, I was able to hear more about their lives, which included colonial times before Uganda gained its independence in 1962. One elderly gentleman had even fought for the British with the King’s African Rifles during the Second World War.
My Christmas Day was a real Ugandan occasion. Although Mbale is one of the largest towns in Uganda, most local people will say that they ‘stay’ rather than ‘live’ there. Almost everyone comes from one of the surrounding villages. So, on Christmas Day, I joined the general exodus and headed out to Moses’ village to spend the day with his very extended family. After the morning service at the village church, where I ended up acquiring a baby goat called ‘Billy’, we returned to the family home for Christmas dinner. I very much enjoyed my meal of chicken, goat, potato, rice and spaghetti, despite the attempts of one of Moses’ brothers, Richard, to get me to try the local chillis. Later in the afternoon, a few of us went fishing in what was supposed to be a well-stocked fish farm owned by another of Moses’ brothers, Peter. However, somewhat frustratingly I failed to catch any fish at all!
God bless you,