Martin's Newsletter from Uganda - Easter 2009
Hello from Mbale! Let me wish you a very blessed and special Easter, wherever you are. I understand that, for many of you in the UK, the last few weeks have seen some more spring-like weather. It has been the very opposite here with the arrival of violent thunderstorms, very heavy rains, falling temperatures and even a hailstorm. However, the rain is certainly very welcome and somewhat overdue and everywhere you can see people planting their crops as fast as they are able.
The start of the rainy season will result in some changes as to how I do ministry here as the afternoon rains mean that people are unwilling or unable to move around so much and many of the minor roads to more remote areas will become increasingly impassable. However, over the last few weeks, and prior to the arrival of the rains, I have had little difficulty in moving around.
It has been my privilege recently to be able to visit a number of renowned boarding schools in different parts of eastern Uganda. Around the 1900’s, the Church Missionary Society founded a small number of large schools in Uganda. Many of these schools are still running, although they are now government owned under the patronage of the Church of Uganda. The missionaries tended to establish the schools in the middle of nowhere so that the children would not be distracted by the excitements of town life. It has been a great pleasure for me to visit four of these schools and speak and minister to the children at their Sunday services.
Each of the schools and the visits themselves has been quite different and yet, in each one, God graciously visited the services and, as a result, a number of young men and women decided to make a commitment to follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. A time of praise and worship is never a half-hearted affair in Uganda and, although my all-time favourite introduction by a worship leader remains “Let’s work up a sweat for the Lord”, I experienced the most energetic session ever at ‘Bukedi College’ where the worship team really gave it their all.
Apart from my visits to the schools, I have continued to preach and teach at a number of churches around Mbale. In particular, I have been continuing to support Pastor Philip at the church in Namabasa, where the church has been meeting three evenings a week for the last six weeks or so for a time of worship, teaching and prayer. Moses Okotel and I have been sharing the teaching slot and it has been an interesting time. Amongst a number of subjects, we carried out some teaching on blessings and curses. Whilst curses may seem a medieval superstition to some people, there is a lot spoken about them in the Bible. It has been wonderful to see that, as a result of this teaching; people have repented and broken the curses that have been operating in their lives. Some amazing testimonies have emerged since, particularly of various physical healings and restored relationships.
In fact, as a result of the dramatic results that we saw at the church in Namabasa, we decided to repeat the teaching on blessings and curses at the fellowship at the church in Mooni. Once again, we have seen the power of God in setting people free from some of the things that are holding them back from experiencing the life in all its fullness that Jesus promises us. Whilst the things that God is doing in the lives of people are obviously wonderful for them, the testimonies have also been a great encouragement to the others in the churches. God is so good!
Those of you who have been reading my newsletters for a while may recall that I have on occasions mentioned the Christian retreat centre in Jinja on the River Nile. A few months ago, they asked me whether I could visit them once a month to just check over the work done by their bookkeeper. In return for a morning’s work in the office, they provide me with free meals and accommodation at the centre for two days. They even reimburse me with my travelling expenses. This is working out to be so beneficial for both the centre and for me and it allows me to have a very welcome break each month completely away from everything else in Mbale.
Ministry can be very spiritually exhausting and I am still taking care to try and ensure that I am continuing to receive from God as I give out to others. Also, I continue to go down to the nursery school run by ‘Child of Hope’ in the Namatala slum on a Wednesday morning. A morning spent playing with sixty children is physically very tough but it also never fails to boost my spirit. The simplicity of just loving the children and having a great deal of fun with them is a wonderful tonic.
Of course, there is no escaping the fact that daily life for the children in the nursery is horribly difficult. The poverty they have to face is quite overwhelming. Over the last decade, the Ugandan government has received thousands of millions of dollars in overseas aid and, even in the two years that I have lived here in Mbale, the development that is taking place is very noticeable. However, it seems that life just continues to get tougher and tougher for the very poorest.
In the Namatala, most residents have to pay rent for their mud houses. As Namatala itself starts to develop, the monthly rents have risen to 5,000–15,000 Ugandan Shillings (£1.67-£5.00). Finding this money is a big problem for many families and ‘Child of Hope’ has had to step in to assist some of the parents of the nursery children with their rent payments. There is no compunction on the part of some landlords in throwing a whole family onto the streets.
Whilst the rents are not in themselves large, it is obviously much better for the esteem and self-worth of the parents if they can continue to support their families without relying on handouts. Bearing this in mind, I was asked by Moses some months ago whether I would be prepared to spend a couple of hours a week in helping some of the parents set up some small businesses in Namatala.
Over the last few months, I have been able to help five of the parents start a small business that has helped them to continue to meet their rent payments and to support their children. There have been many challenges in getting these businesses off the ground and, as of now, four months after starting, two of the businesses are flourishing, two are just about surviving and one has failed. A further eight very needy families have been identified and I will also be helping them with some basic business training and assistance with starting a small business over the next month or so.
God bless you,