Hello from Mbale! I hope that all is well with you and that you are having a good summer?
I am aware that many of you will have been following the news of the terrible food crisis in East Africa. Uganda has escaped the worst of it but the economic situation here is still very difficult. Apparently, the Ugandan Shilling is now the weakest currency in the world and the inflation rate for food costs is up to around 42%. The prices in the shops are often increasing on a weekly basis now.
All of this makes life very difficult for the local people. Interestingly, I have noticed that the very poorest are coping relatively better with the difficult economic conditions than those who were previously slightly better off. I think that this is because the very poorest are used to living in a permanent state of crisis and have long established mechanisms for surviving without having any money. Still, it is extremely hard for everyone, particularly those living in the slums.
However, the current difficult situation does at least provide more opportunities to share and show the love of God. Of course, you can’t sit down and tell a mother of eight hungry children about the love of God without also addressing the obvious physical need. The use of resources here has always been a bit of a balancing act between investing in projects that are going to lead to long term development and improvements in people’s lives and in addressing short term emergency needs.
I was recently approached by a lady in the slum who had broken her elbow a day or two previously. She was in incredible pain and the arm had swollen to about twice its normal size. She didn’t have the money to be able to obtain medical treatment. I helped her to get the arm set and put in plaster as well as obtain some painkillers for which she was very grateful. In an ideal world, I would love to put all my resources into development projects but such immediate needs cannot be ignored and indeed it is a privilege and a pleasure to be able to help someone who is in such a bad condition.
One development project that continues to go on very well is the income generating project in the Namatala slum. About fifty ladies have now benefited from this scheme and we now also have four ladies whom we have trained in the making of children’s dresses. It is so inspiring to see these ladies succeed when they have to struggle with the most unbelievable challenging circumstances. For the last two and a half years, one of the ladies, Maria, who makes small cakes for sale to schoolchildren, has been putting aside some savings every week. Finally, she had enough to enable her to build her own small brick house on her own small plot of land. For a widowed lady, who is not in the best of health, to manage to do this is such a wonderful achievement. I felt so privileged and honoured that she asked me to oversee and manage the building of her new house for her and her children.
On a rather larger scale, I continue to oversee and manage the construction of the school building in Namatala. We have been working on the first floor, which when complete will add another five classrooms to the school. The most challenging part of this role continues to be dealing with all the various contractors and workmen who we need to bring onto the site. A meeting that I expect to take ten minutes often ends up lasting three hours as we have to settle every issue from proposed alterations to the architect’s plans to what the men expect to be provided for lunch! Still, I learnt a lot from managing the building of the ground floor and things have run much smoother this time around.
An added challenge in the midst of all this building work was that I managed to herniate one of the discs in my spine. I think that all those journeys sitting on the back of a motorcycle whilst bouncing up and down on terrible roads finally caught up on my body. However, thankfully, with careful management, this has not overly disrupted me, although sitting down is still a little bit of a problem.
This limitation has meant that long journeys out of town have not been possible for a while, which has actually been helpful, from a ministry point of view, in getting me to focus in on the small number of churches in and just outside town that I have been working with over the last few years. It has been a season when local Christians have very much needed to be encouraged and I have tailored much of my preaching in churches over the last few months to that end.
On the teaching front, I was recently requested to provide a serious of teaching sessions on the subject of money. Now, as anyone who has spent any period of time in Africa will be aware, an African uses and manages money in a very different way from a European. Both parties can find the other’s approach to money extremely mystifying and frustrating. This made trying to do the teaching somewhat interesting but I did my best to combine practical financial teaching with sound biblical truth. However, I’m not sure that there was a total meeting of minds on the subject!
I have also continued to be involved in a number of different youth events and conferences. I had one particularly great day with the teenagers from Pastor Philip’s church in Namabasa where we let them decide on the programme for the day. Some fascinating topics of discussion arose and I think that we all learnt something. I had hired a big tent for the day for us to meet in. About half an hour after we had all left in the evening, a sizeable tree, which it turned out had been completely eaten away inside by termites, fell without warning and demolished half the tent. We all felt that the hand of God’s protection had been especially upon us on that day.
One of the young ladies that I have been doing some discipling with has just completed her diploma in social work and social administration at Kumi University. The graduation ceremony is due later this year, which will need to be followed by a party for her and her extended family. She has done extremely well and will be the first person from her clan to graduate from university. It has been fascinating to watch her grow over the last three years and especially to see her make her Christian faith her own. I still feel so privileged to see the work that God does in the lives of people.
God bless you,