12-06 Martin's Newsletter from Uganda - June 2012
Hello once again from Mbale. I hope that all is well with you? I have had an interesting first few months of the year here. As usual, it is never very easy to quite know what is coming up next.
The year started with me heavily involved with a week-long outreach event that was being run by a church in a rural village outside of Mbale. The daily programme started each afternoon with plenty of praise and worship. I would then go on to the platform at around 5.30pm to provide the gospel message. The village was quite a dark place. It seemed that nearly every small group of huts had its own shrine to some local spirit or other. Therefore, unsurprisingly, there was initially some considerable resistance to the church programme.
However, it also seemed that the local people were starved of entertainment and, even on the first day, a crowd of some hundreds came to see what was going on. The first couple of days were really quite tough but by the middle of the week, people began to respond positively and started to come forward to ask for prayer or to make a commitment. This ministry time would go on for some hours and it seemed to be a regular theme that about half an hour after it got dark the generator would run out of fuel leaving us all in darkness praying for people who we could barely see. However, over all, the week was felt to be a big success and we increasingly saw the power of God at work in many lives.
The first couple of months of the year were generally quite tough, due to the heat. The temperatures would regularly get up to above 40C, there had been no rain for some months and there was a thin layer of red dust on anything and everybody. However, despite the conditions, the work and ministry continued to go on well and I continued to be heavily involved with ministry in my usual churches.
In addition, due to the continued success and progress of the income generating project in the Namatala slum, I took on another lady called Susan to help Betty and myself with the work. It was a bit of a baptism of fire for her as the heat made moving around the slum extremely difficult. For one reason or another, the slum always feels much hotter than anywhere else. However, I feel a lot happier now that the two ladies can move together as a pair around the community.
Unfortunately, the drought inevitably led to a severe shortage of water in Namatala. Some of the mothers that we are working with had to start getting up at about 3am each morning to go and look for water. In the circumstances, it was equally inevitable that people would start to get their water from the heavily polluted river and soon we had a full scale cholera outbreak in the slum. This led to the Ugandan Ministry of Health, the Red Cross and even Medecins Sans Frontieres descending upon Namatala. All the local food vendors were shut down, posters appeared everywhere stressing the importance of washing hands with soap, and water purification tablets were distributed. Sadly, there were quite a few cases and a number of deaths and the outbreak took some weeks to subside.
Despite the start of the year being so hectic, I had felt particularly challenged at that time to start spending more time in prayer and so I also started to get up earlier and to seek more of God. This also led me to decide to attend a week-long course towards the end of February at the retreat centre in Jinja. The course was a ‘Father Heart School’ that was led by a team from the UK and from the Netherlands. It was such a special week, full of good teaching and it was especially great to be the one being ministered to rather than the other way around. God really spoke to me in a very exciting and special way. It was also good to spend time with the other delegates who were a mixture of local Ugandans and foreign missionaries. It was a great week, although it went all too quickly.
The timing of this week away was also perfect for me as, on my return, I temporarily took on a new role as Pastor of the church in Namabasa. This church, which now has around 150 members, most of whom are relatively new Christians, is led by Pastor Philip, with whom I have been closely working for a few years. Philip and his wife were going away for about six weeks and he and the church elders had decided to invite me to come and look after the church in his absence.
Although I have been ministering at this church for quite a while, I have not had a formal leadership role there and this was another new learning experience. Unsurprisingly, there were some challenges along the way but the church members were very gracious towards me and I greatly enjoyed it.
During my very brief tenure, I particularly enjoyed the pastoral side of things and was able to visit quite a lot of homes to pray for the sick, to dedicate new born babies and to deal with various family issues. However, the biggest challenge came one weekend when one of the elders lost his wife on the Saturday. In addition to attending to the grieving family, I was responsible for making the burial arrangements.
When someone dies in Uganda, the whole community is involved and I knew that we could expect to have at least a thousand people attending the burial, which would last all day and need to include a meal for all the guests. Having lived in Uganda for a while, I am sadly quite familiar with burials. However, this was my first time to be the one arranging matters and I was determined to do everything properly. It was quite a draining day but we gave our sister Dinah a good Christian burial and fulfilled all of the obligations expected by society as well. The local community were pleased and, much more importantly, so were the family.
Back in Namatala, the children have been doing well at school. The New Year saw them all move up to the next school year meaning that an extra classroom was required. As we have not yet been able to complete the first floor, we constructed a temporary classroom, which we hope will only be needed this year and which is now being used by one of the classes in the nursery school. We have also added a small solar system so that we can have some power and lighting in the main school building. This is also to help us to restart showing cartoons to the nursery children, which they love so much.
During the school holidays in May, we were able to do some good, although rather intensive, building works on the school. We wanted to add the concrete slab that separates the first floor and the proposed second floor. With the help of seven hundred bags of cement, more than thirty workers and a rather large cement mixer we managed to get the work done and the first floor is now structurally complete. We are now looking forward to adding the doors and windows and doing some rendering and plastering before the end of the year.
God bless you,