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My Introduction to Africa
In 1997 as I was planning my second trip to Mizoram, Rev. Rod Forrest asked me to drop past his office at Glad Tidings Church in Vancouver. He showed me a great picture of smiling African boys. He explained to me that these were Hutu and Tutsi lads from a village school in Rwanda, then went on to tell me the amazing story of this school and its founder, Pastor Leonard. I was hooked even before he asked me if I would stop in Rwanda, on the way to Mizoram and video Pastor Leonard’s story. I jumped at the chance.
My first stop was at the African Children’s choir guesthouse in Kampala. I asked if it was safe to walk around the area. It was, so off I went. As I walked I was greeted with the word Muzunga which I decided must mean hello. So as I walked along I said Muzunga to everyone. When I got back to the guest house I mentioned that I had learned how to say hello in Swahali. The reaction was a laugh and the explanation that Muzunga means white man.
The next morning the school superintendent took me to one of their schools. The kids were attentive, but rather listless and showed little emotion. After lunch we went to a second school. I was amazed at the difference. When the teacher asked a question they would jump up to give the answer. I asked the superintendent about this difference. Her first answer was it is Monday. Then she went on to explain that these were street kids and that they had little, or nothing, to eat since school on Friday. Until they ate the lunch.which the school provided, they had no energy.
The next day was spent at the African Children’s Choir training center. I heard many of the children’s stories. One that hit me particularly hard was of two Rwandan sisters, only 4 and 7. I saw them again six months later, this time performing in Canada. The oldest told me that the first day the arrived in North America they were in a swimming pool in LA. The youngest asked her sister if this was heaven.
When the youngest was just 2 and her older sister 5, they witnessed their parents being killed in the genocide and ran into the jungle. There the oldest one managed to hide and keep her sister alive for over a month before being found and brought to Uganda.
The third day was spent on the choir’s farm about 100 km north of Kampala. The story of the farm is very interesting. The area the farm is located in had been the base of Idi Amin’s tribe. When Obote overthrew the Amin dictatorship his troops killed all of Amin’s tribe, leaving a vacancy, in an area about 100 km square. Once democracy was achieved in Uganda the new government began to re-populate this fertile area. As part of this the African Children’s choir was given a large farm area.
An Irish Pastor who had been raised on a mixed farm was hired, on a five year contract, to develop this farm. He was just finishing this contract at the time of my visit and I must say he had done a marvelous job. There was over a hundred head of milk cows, ten thousand chickens, one thousand large goats, which produced both meat and milk and a good number of meat rabbits. They were also producing a great variety of vegetables and fruit. The farm was feeding over 8000 orphans, plus they were selling many farm products through local markets.
Every Thursday local farmers were invited to an open house on the farm. They received agricultural education, brought livestock for breeding and were given cuttings to plant on their own farms. It was a marvelous operation and a great example what a person, sold out to God, can accomplish. During his time on this farm he had passed his knowledge on to those ‘who were to continue the work.
It was the fifth day of a fantastic building bee. Thirty Irishman, five from a brick laying company and the rest helpers, were building a five room school. They were to be in Uganda for two weeks and had been promised that as soon as the building was finished, the rest of the time would be spent at the Victoria game reserve. They were almost finished all the walls and the roof was started. Their aim was to finish in one week and the way they were going I am sure they made it. Mind you it was a typical African school, no glass windows and a dirt floor and all the materials were in place before they arrived. Never the less it was quite a feat.
I had a chance to interview a good number of choir members, some of whom I had seen perform in Canada. It was remarkable experience.
This choir is again an example of what one dedicated servant can achieve. The founder Ray Barnett was himself an orphan, a foundling abandoned on the door step of an Irish home. You can find the story at www.africanchildrenschoir.com
I spent the next day with the Watoto Choir, again a choir of orphans who tour the world raising money and awareness for their operations in Africa. The founders Canadians Gary and Marilyn Skinner came to Uganda several years before with a magnificent dream. I visited them in 1997, 1998 and again in2013 and have watched that dream become more than reality. Their dream was to build 20 villages for orphans, each with 20 houses. When I arrived in 1997 they were building the 20th house in the first village. Each house housed 8 children and a house mother. Gary described that his dream was to construct 20 of these villages and to support the children right through to University.
In 1998 I just saw them shortly when I visited their mega church in Kampala. This church sat 2500 and they had 5 packed services every Sunday. Gary’s energy was unbelievable.
I managed to get back in 2013 and found their dream had become much more that reality.
They had their 20 villages, some much larger than 20 houses, they had elementary schools in each village and both a trade school and University. What an operation! They also had an expanding farm and were coming close to being self sufficient.
Gary explained that in charity work there are 4 levels, all of which need to be addressed. First there is the crisis level where immediate help is needed to save lives. Next there is the development level where the situation is stabilized. This should progress to a self-sustainable level and finally into a giving level, aimed at helping others.
Watoto is the only organization where I have experienced all levels operating at the same time. We visited a large home full on unwanted babies, many of whom had literally been found in garbage dumps. Here they were cared for until they were old enough to go to a Watoto village. Next several farms designed to make the whole operations self sustaining, Then the well equipped trade school where hundreds were learning practical trades. Our guide was a young lawyer, an orphan who had been raised in a Watoto village and then received his law degree at the Watoto University.
Shortly before we arrived they had had a two weeks drive a raise money for outreach. The parishioners from the seven Watoto churches donated over two million dollars, all of which was given to other churches around the world. Watoto is truly operating on all four levels.
What a legacy! Great work Marilyn and Gary. Dare to dream. If you don’t have a dream how are you going to make your dream come true?
The Watoto model is now being copied in many parts of Africa. Please visit www.watoto.com and be inspired.
Coming back to 1997. Gary dropped me at the Makerere Theological College where I was to meet Rod Forrest, who had just arrived from Canada. Rod wasn’t there yet and I got talking to a student who had an interesting testimony. I set the camera up and started to shoot his testimony when two men came up and suggested I come into the college with them. I said I would come in as soon as I finished shooting the testimony. Just as I finished Rod arrived and said we must leave immediately as I needed to have pictures taking for the visa to Rwanda.
We went to a local photographer who shot them on polaroid. I guess he had never shot a white face before. He had to take four, before he got the exposure right. Then we headed for Rwanda.
Before I go on I must finish the story of the Makerere College. When we got back to Kampala after Rwanda I was to shoot some video of the college. When I met the principal I realized he was one of the men I met as I was shooting the testimony, with the student. His first remark was “When I first met you I was pissed off. I expected you to drop that student like a hot potato and come with me. However I have been observing you since. You treat the street sweeper and the student exactly as you treat me. You are the first Muzunga I have seen that does this and you are the first Muzunga I feel I can fully trust.” I laughed and told him it was an undeserved compliment, if I had realized that he was the college principal I would have done just that. We had a good laugh then got down to work.
On the way to Rwanda we made a short stop at the Canadian mission family, the Wardropers. Jim was an engineer who was using his skills to find ways of suppling safe drinking water, to thousands. Another example of what God can do through a dedicated servant.
We arrived at a hotel in Kigali, Rwanda mid afternoon. While we were checking in we were approached by a couple of lads looking for a handout. We had brought piles of toothbrushes with us and gave each of them one. They thanked us and went outside. When we got to our room we looked out and the two boys were sitting on the curb looking at their gifts and wondering what they were. I grabbed another toothbrush and some tooth paste and went down and demonstrated. We then watched them for three blocks, happily brushing their teeth all the way.
We had been invited to Pastor Leo’s homed for dinner. Pastor Leo has the biggest church in Kigali. We arrived at 6 o’clock and Pastor Leo met us at the door and said, “I will greet you later, you must see this.” He rushed us in the living room to see the 6 o’clock news. We witnessed 30,000 Hutus and Tutsis on their knees praying for reconciliation. I was back in Rwanda exactly one year later and witnessed the effects of that prayer. More on this later.
We spent several days in Kigali, it was the first time I had experienced a war torn city not yet rebuilt. It was devastating. What hit me the hardest was a compound; maybe three square blocks, which our guide Antoine told us housed almost 100,000 inmates. They had been imprisoned there for over three years following the genocide. The stench from it was horrific. When I think of it I still feel nauseated. By this time I had learned quite a bit about the genocide and how if a Hutu refused to go with the killers, as they slaughtered Tutsis, they were killed themselves. I told Antoine, “There has been too much killing, now is the time for forgiveness and reconciliation”. His answer was, “First we need justice and then forgiveness.” Three weeks later he witnessed the public shooting of 20 of the Hutu leaders. He emailed me and said, “You are right, I have seen what we call justice and the only answer is forgiveness and reconciliation.” Antione has lead a forgiveness movement ever since.
During our ten days in Rwanda Ilearned more about the power of forgiveness than I have the rest of my life. In 1997 things were still pretty raw in Rwanda with the whole country still reeling from the tragedy of 1994, where almost 1,000,000 people lost their lives, mostly hacked to death with machetes. The first wave was Hutus killing Tutsis or moderate Hustus, who refused to be part killing mobs. Next it was the Tutsi armies coming from outside Rwanda who took revenge.
It was an extremely tense time and many times I had AK47s pointed at me, often by very nervous teen aged soldiers,
However there were many high points on this first visit as well. We heard many stories of both bravery and forgiveness which will stay with me forever. Many Hutus risked and lost their lives trying to protect their Tutsi friends and neighbors. After the genocide there were many, many almost unbelievable stories of forgiveness and reconciliation.
I believe God is going to use Rwanda as an example to the rest of the world. I witnessed the radical transformation during my two later trips.
Antoine, who was the representative of African Enterprise, had written a book about the genocide. One of the chapters was about his own experience. He and his family, which consisted of five children and his wife, are Tutsi. When the trouble started he could hear his Hutu neighbors talking of how they were going out on raids killing Tutsis. Then he heard them discussing him and his family and they left to get the militia. Antoine’s first reaction was to arm himself to die fighting, like a man, for his family. However he heard God say, “I don’t want you to die fighting as a man, die as a Christian. He opened his gate and knelt down, ready to die. As the militia were arriving in one direction, the Tutsi army arrived in the other. There was a battle right in front of his house. The Tutsis won and he and his family were saved.
I arrived at Antoine’s for tea. Another man was there and after he left Antoine told me this was the neighbor in his book.
Another highlight during our stay in Kigali was a visit to Pastor Leo’s church. In 1997 it was just a huge leaking tent., capable of holding almost 3000 people. It was pouring rain and people kept trying to find dry spots. However this did not dampen the joyful spirt. Everyone was singing, clapping, laughing and dancing. When collection time came they all danced to the front with the tithings. When I came home I told our church that our worship was as pale as our skins. Every North American should visit Africa once just to experience unfettered joy.
Our last day in Rwanda was spent going to the village where Pastor Leonard had a church and school. It turned out to be quite day! First you need to know the story of Pastor Leonard.
A short lesson in history. Up till two or three hundred years ago Rwanda was heavy jungle mainly populate by gorillas and Twa, a short, quite light race often called pygmies.
Then the Hutu, a race of farmers moved into the area from the west while the Tutsi, a very tall, warrior race of cattle men, moved in from the east. The Twa were pushed back into the dense jungles and the Tutsis quickly dominated the Hutus.
The Tutsis made the Hutu serfs who supplied them with fruit and vegetables. During this period many tribes were seeking to enlarge their territory and the Tutsi not only dominated the Hutu but also protected them, as they were an asset. The first colonial power was Germany. I know little of this period. After the first world war Belgium took over. Rwanda was made up of about 84% Hutu, 15% Tutsi and 1% Twa. Belgium used the Tutsis to control the Hutus and everyone had to carry a card showing their tribe.
During Belgium’s reign Hutu were not allowed to own land nor to have more than an elementary education. There had been much inter marriage between the Hutu and the Tutsi. Belgium came up with many unique ways of classifying tribe. If you are interested just google tribal relations in Rwanda.
When Belgium granted Rwanda independence, in the late fifties. The majority Hutus raised up against the minority Tutsis, who either fled the country, or banded together in towns where they could defend themselves.
With Hutus in power the rules reversed. Now it was the Tutsis who were not allowed to own land or receive higher education.
Pastor Leonard was just entering his teens when his family fled to Uganda. He grew up, became a pastor and formed a Tutsi church in Uganda.
Being a warrior race many the expelled Tutsis became members of the armies in the countries they fled to. In the late 1980s many of these soldiers banded together and entered Rwanda by force. They forced a change in government. I believe they tried to be somewhat fair, dividing power between the tribes.
However Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The population is around 9,000,000 in an area about the size of Vancouver Island. The Tutsis began to return and demanded the ancestral land back. The Hutus had now farmed that land for over thirty years and tensions rose.
Once the government changed Pastor Leonard brought his congregation of five hundred back to his home village and established a Tutsi church there.
In early 1994 the presidents of both Burundi and Rwanda were returning from an African leaders meeting when their plane was shot down as it approached the Kigali airport. All hell broke loose. Within hours Hutu militants had seized the government and the media outlets and the genocide was underway. Over the next 4 months almost a million Rwandans were dead.
The Hutu in the village Pastor Leonard lived rounded up his congregation, of 500 took them to a large pit near the village and slaughtered them. When Pastor Leonard’s time to die came the Hutu leader said, “I want to kill this one myself, he is the leader.” He swung his machete but somehow the blade turned and he hit his arm and broke it. Pastor Leonard fell into the pit and another body fell over him. There were 500 bodies in that pit. These included 50 members of Pastor Leonard’s family.
The next day a nearby Catholic Bishop had a vision. In the vision he saw the pit full of bodies. He recognized the mountain behind and went to the pit. He was praying over the bodies when Pastor Leonard called out for help. He dug him out of the pile and hid him in his home for several days then smuggled him in Tanzania.
As soon as the Tutsi army took control of this village, Pastor Leonard returned and put a sign on his church – Hutus are welcome, there are no Tutsis left. He set up a school mainly for Hutu orphans whose parents had died in the revenge killings, plus a few Tutsi children who had been hidden by Hutu families.
This is the story that took me to Rwanda. The smiling lads is Rod’s pictures were from this school.
The day is one that will live in my mind forever. About half way to the village a scooter cut in front of the vehicle we were in. Pastor Leo was driving, however instead of slowing he sped up, narrowly missing the scooter. At the first intersection he made a sliding turn into an army outpost. He sped through it yelling out the window in Swahali . Then back onto the main road and he drove like a madman to the next army checkpoint. We were told to get out and walk quickly ahead and the vehicle would follow. We walked past armed soldiers, many in their teens, all looking nervous. I prayed that none would mistakenly pull a trigger of the gun he was pointing at us. When the car caught up it contained a soldier with an AK47, who accompanied us to the village. This was all confusing and it was a year later before I realized what was happening.
When we arrived at the school the soldier, who had accompanied us, laid his gun down and asked if he could teach a class. Before the war he had been a teacher and was missing it. We only stayed a couple hours. We gave out the toothbrushes and other items we had brought. I will never forget the joy these few things brought. It brought tears to my eyes as I realized that such simple things could bring such joy to children who had witnessed so much horror. Many of them would have seen their parents brutally butchered.
Then several outside kids turned up. They were lead by a boy who had the air of authority. When they left we were told it was time to get out as this boy lead a large band of desperate kids and they might be back to take what we had brought. We jumped into our car while the compound went in to lock down. Our solder stayed back to defend it if necessary.
We had two adventures on the way back to Kigali. The first as we passed a very unique town about a ½ kilometer below our road. I wanted a picture and I was told to take it quickly because it wasn’t safe to stay in the area. I just got out and started setting up the tripod when suddenly we were surrounded by about 20 men. I jumped back in the car and we left in a hurry. It had been a very tense day and the weather was hot. Within 20 kilometers everyone in the car fell asleep, including Pastor Leo who was driving. He awoke just as the car was about to go over a high cliff.
He jerked the wheel back and we were heading toward the cliff on the other side. On the high side of the road there was a foot wide strip of grass and then a concrete ditch and then the mountain. I was sure we were going to hit that ditch and then get thrown across the road and over the cliff. It seemed we were doomed. Somehow the car straightened out before hitting the ditch and Pastor Leo got it under control. Whew!
That night I had a dream. In this dream it was like I was in front of the car looking straight at the oncoming left wheel. The grass strip was soaked from a recent rain and as the tire came off the road it sank into this grass. It hit the side of the concrete ditch which forced the wheel to turn straight and get back onto the road. I believe this was God’s way of showing me why we hadn’t been killed. Rod, who was with us, e-mailed Glad Tidings church that night reporting that God responds to very short prayers. As he woke up and saw the situation he just said, “Wow” and suddenly the car was going straight down the road.
It was a year later, when Pastor Leo was visiting Vancouver, I learned about the reason behind the earlier incident with the scooter. The afternoon before the same scooter had pulled out in front of three different cars. When they slowed up men with automatic weapons jumped up from the ditch. They killed everyone in the cars and took their belongings. A total on twenty people had been killed this way. Pastor Leo had heard about this and responded accordingly. God had saved us from death twice that day.
Our next stop was Rakai, south east of Kampala. Many people believe AIDS started in the Rakai district. Glad Tidings Church has a long history caring for people in the area.
Several years before our visit AIDS had devastated the area and literally hundreds of orphans were on their own, trying to survive in the bush. A traveling evangelist was passing through the area and found a large abandoned house and started caring for twenty of these orphans. The government heard of his work and sent an agent to see it. The community heard about this and assumed this meant the government was going to help.
This brought many more orphans to the site. The government agent congratulated the missionary for his work and left. The problem was instead of 20 orphans at the house there were now almost 500.
Glad Tidings Church heard about the problem and in one service they raised several thousand dollars and the Rakai project was under way.
Glad Tidings teamed up with other agencies particularly World Vision and by the time of our first visit half of the children had been adopted out. There was a school of 500 with about 250 orphans living in the complex.
The very enterprising project manager had teamed up with a huge chicken operation in Kampala, plus another company supplying slurpees (flavored and sweetened water frozen in a plastic tube kids could suck on). The orphans could buy them, a few at a time, on a daily basis, then peddle them to the locals and buses passing through. We found that we could set up an orphan with their own business for $30.00 and within a couple of weeks after we got home there were another thirty young businesses started.
I visited Rakai again a year later and found most doing well and the whole economy had improved so much the World Vision was finished their work in Rakai and were moving to other more needy projects. I videoed a wonderful closing ceremony where over one hundred orphans were given the essentials, to start their own household. World Vision had literally worked themselves out of job and the area was now almost self sufficient. This should be the aim of every charity.
By 1998 the Rakai project had been going for about 10 years. The district had gone from being the poorest district in all of Uganda to being one of the best. Farming had improved greatly, the government had built decent roads to move the produce, several schools had been established and they had a small but well staffed and well stocked medical clinic. It is amazing what can happen when people get some hope.
Antoine met me at the airport as I flew there from Uganda. He was with the Anglican Primate of Rwanda, Archbishop Kolini. Archbishop Kolini was leaving on the plane I came in on to attend a meeting of African Bishops, as they prepared for the upcoming Lambeth conference. The main topic of discussion was the apostasy, especially concerning homosexuality, in the North American Anglican church. Archbishop Kolini told a story.
A homosexual Afro American was attending a conference in Uganda and made friends with a fellow attendee. He treated this fellow to a couple meals and took him to a show.
Then he asked him what he thought about being gay. The fellow answered that he was very gay. Encouraged, the Afro American came on to him. The fellow said, “listen man you’re talking queer, not gay. If you touch me again you’re dead man.” Terrible how the English language has been polluted. We are certainly living in an era when good is called bad and bad is called good.
The first thing I noticed on arrival in Rwanda was the contrast from the year before. Everything seemed tense and dangerous in 1997, one year later it was the opposite. Peace and reconciliation had descended on Rwanda.
Our accommodation in Rwanda was at a Presbyterian guest house. Like most places in Africa it had a wall and gates. The gates were locked at night but opened at 6:00am. I made a habit of going for a walk at 6:00 every morning and greeting everyone I met. Without exception the greeting was returned, with a friendly smile. When I got home I tried the same thing in downtown Vancouver with very different results.
About the third day I was finding it so peaceful I was finding it hard to get my head around the fact that Rwanda had experienced the terrible genocide, four years before. Several people had suggested that I go to a church, where the bodies of Tutsis had been left where they died, as a monument to the tragedy. I had not wanted to see it. However now I felt maybe I should and arranged for a driver to take me there. Before leaving I wanted to shoot some footage at a nearby school.
Myself and the driver were walking down a hill toward the school and about 30 students were3 coming up the hill toward us. I thought that would make a good shot and brought the camera up to film. Suddenly there was no on there. The kids had thought the camera was a gun and flung themselves into the brambles on both sides of the road. They came out embarrassed. Many were bleeding from the thorns. I turned to the driver and told him I didn’t need to go to the church, the trauma, still haunting these kids, brought the horror of the genocide to me, in a very vivid way.
World Vision had paid my airfare in exchange for my videoing the celebration in Rakai and peace and reconciliation conferences in Rwanda and Uganda.
These conferences were lead by Arthur and Molly Rouner, a retired American pastor, his wife and Tekle Salassie from Ethiopia. Tekle was suffering from malaria. This was the first time I had seen the effects of this devastating disease. I had no idea at the time that malaria was to become a major part of my life.
The Rwanda conference had about twenty attendees, all of whom had lost family and loved ones, during the genocide. Right from the start two young men stood out for me.
When they came in they sat as far as possible from each other and I noticed as introductions were being made they avoided looking at other.
During the first two days of the conference Arthur had each member tell their story of the genocide. He was a genius at drawing out their story in a non-confrontational way. For most of them this was the first time they had verbalized the horrors they had experienced.
The two young men’s stories revealed that one was Hutu and the other Tutsi. They had been raised as next door neighbors and had always been best buddies. Their families were the best of friends. When the 1994 genocide hit they were both away at a university out of the country. Their families turned on each other. The last two left alive were their older brothers whose bodies were found side by side, with their machetes still in their hands. These two attendees had not seen each other again until they came to the conference.
Tekle, still weak and sweating profusely from the malaria, took the third day. We were arranged around a low table, with a rough cross on it. Tekle acted out the event of Christ’s torture and crucifixion in a way I had never experienced. You literally felt every stroke of the whips and the agony of the nails, first as they pierced the flesh, then as they took his weight of the cross. As I tried to video I couldn’t see the viewfinder because of the tears streaming down my face. At 2:00 pm it came to a climax as Jesus said, “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.” Everyone in the room fell on their knees around the cross and cried for a ½ hour.
I was wearing a T-shirt and had a pair of glasses hanging on the neck. As we got up from the cross the two young men grabbed me and we all hugged so tight that both lenses popped out of their frames. When I returned home people asked me if it wasn’t dangerous in Rwanda and I said. “One can be hugged to death.”
After that we washed each others feet and were literally bathed in warmth of true forgiveness and reconciliation. From that moment in time these two young men were once again “best buddies” with a love that conquers all horrors.
I came to the conclusion that there is no hurt so bad that it can’t be forgiven.
On Sunday morning I attended Pastor Leo’s church which now had walls and a roof. In the afternoon Antoine took me to a church which had lost no members during the genocide. The Hutu militia had arrived to find the church packed, they ordered the Tutsi to go to one side and the Hutu to the other. However every Hutu in the congregation went with the Tutsis. The militia leader ordered his men to kill them all, every soldier refused to fire and the congregation were all saved!
On my last day in Rwanda, Antoine and his wife took me to a High Anglican wedding outside of Kigali. It was a formal, solemn and dignified experience. I was to attend two more weddings in Uganda before leaving for home. Each had a very different flavor.
Life is full of privileges.
During my first trip I had been paying my own expenses much of the time in Uganda, so I had an idea of costs. However in Rwanda Glad Tidings were paying the bills. When preparing for the second trip I based my money needs of Ugandan costs and was shocked to find that almost everything in Rwanda cost three times more, than in Uganda. Therefore I was quickly running out of cash before leaving Rwanda. I figured I could use a credit card to buy my ticket back to Kampala so I cashed enough travelers cheques to pay the guesthouse. This would leave me $200.00, in travelers cheques, which I felt would be enough to cover my share of costs for my time in Uganda.
We got to the airport an hour and a half before departure, only to find they wouldn’t take credit cards, nor cash travelers cheques. We drove back to the nearest bank. I had to give the clerk my passport which she took into the back and after a wait, came back with the cash. We jumped in the car and started back to the airport and I suddenly remembered that my passport was still at the bank. We did a u-turn and got the passport, by this time it was almost time for the plane to leave. Just before the airport a truck in front of us broke an axel. We managed to get around him before the traffic jam formed. We arrived at the airport ten minute after flight time but the plane was still there, although the steps had been rolled away. They called the pilot and the door opened and a rope ladder came down. I had made it, however, now I was flat broke.
I had had breakfast with Rod Forrest that morning and as he had an out of town meeting, He was not sure if he would be flying to Uganda that day, or the next. However when I git into the plane there he was. I shouted, “Halleluiah” as I knew Rod would lend me some money. The plane lands at Entebbe, which in about 30 km from Kampala and I would have had no money to pay for a taxi. Once again God was looking after me.
When I got back to Kampala I was again in a Presbyterian Guest House. This was the base for many missionaries working all over east Africa. It seemed I would meet a very interesting person at every meal. I did a story on a woman and daughter team from Oregon. The husband couldn’t take the African heat so he stayed home and raised money for their ministry. God had told the woman to teach tithing in poor villages. At first she argued that they had nothing. He said that they had stock and vegetable produce. She obeyed and was amazed to find that any village that began to tithe prospered. You can truly not out give God.
Right across the street from the guest house was a large complex, which housed young people with physical handicaps. The matron was a very tall Masai lady who believed in tough love. She explained to me that there was no welfare system in Uganda and the only hope for these handicapped people was to excel in school. She drove them hard but excel they did.
I found myself spending a lot of time with a grade 12 student who had a large head, but shrunken body. He needed high marks in sciences to get accepted in University and was having problems with physics, which is my favorite subject. We hit the books together for several evenings. The exam was just before I was to leave. I waited for him after school to see how he made out. When I asked him about the exam, he grinned, gave me two thumbs up and proclaimed in a loud deep voice, “I aced it man, I aced it”. That proclamation was worth the effort. My hope is that he realized his dreams and became a scientist.
The summer Olympics were coming up and the Kenya long distance Olympic team was in Kampala to train. They ran past our guesthouse just after six every morning and I would join them. They were running for hours, but I would only keep up with them for a few minutes every morning. Coincidently earlier we had been in Colorado where the US team was doing the same thing. When I watched the Olympics I recognized faces from both teams.
One of my jobs in Uganda was to video the marriage of the African Children’s choir trainer and an evangelist with Glad Tidings. I had met them both the previous year while they were courting. What a delightful musical experience it was, plus the feast that followed was fantastic.
I was at another interesting wedding, invited by a couple staying at the guest house. It was between a theological student and a girl he had lead to Christ. Her family were non-believers and turned their back, on their daughter, when she became a Christian. However they did come to the wedding and during the afternoon the two families reconciled. This took place by the two families taking turns telling the other their family history, though song. The couple who had invited me knew the language and translated much of the songs to me. It was truly unique and very touching.
My other main job was with the Rouners and Tekle videoing a two day peace conference, between five warring African tribes. These tribes had a tradition of raiding each other to take cattle. In the old days it was with arrows and spears, now it was with AK47s and rocket launches. The negotiations were intense but I was again impressed with Arthur’s ability to draw out the differences, in a non threatening way.
One of the participants was a huge man who seemed very uncomfortable in clothes. His face was painted and he had bones in both his nose and ears. It was before digital cameras but my video camera allowed me to shoot stills, which stayed of the screen for 7 seconds. This fascinated this man and he posed for picture after picture, thrilled with the results. One to the other leaders pulled me to the side and warned me that this chap had set an ambush, just the week before, killing 500 men from another of the participating tribes.
Every leader got their chance to state their position and possible solutions to the ongoing conflicts. Only two women spoke but they both impressed me. One was the first lady of Uganda and she gave a great talk on Biblical forgiveness and reconciliation. The other was a mother who represented the mothers of Uganda. She expressed the frustration of mothers who were losing their sons in the perpetual conflicts.
At the end of the conference we were each asked to say a few words about our experience at the conference. I suggested that the next time they should leave many of the men home and bring more women, as the women’s presentations made a great deal of sense.
The immediate reaction was some hostile looks, however, at dinner later several of the leaders came and thanked me for the comments.
The Rouners founded a charity called the Pilgrims Centre. It is worth googling their names. Their work in Africa has touched tens of thousands of lives.
Uganda had experienced a terrible AIDS crisis, but now has probably done better than any other country to bring it under control. While I was watching TV in Uganda at least three times the first lady appeared and pointed her finger at the audience and stated, “If you screw around you die. You don’t need any more education than that.” Shocking, direct and effective.
I watched coverage of a large AIDS conference in Toronto and every time a Ugandan got up to speak of their successes, they were booed down. People refuse to hear truth and the world suffers for it. Pity!
I learned much during those two trips to Africa, maybe the most important was that my preconceived ideas of Africa were all wrong. I came home with the feeling that Africa was improving steadily, in many ways, while North America is on a downward spiral.
God has blessed North America greatly but, like the Jews in the Old Testament, when they prospered, they turned from God and they had to be punished, before they would turn back. I constantly hear North Americans looking for revival, however,I see little movement toward forgiveness, repentance and holiness. These are the building blocks of revival. If we truly want revival we must pray to God and TURN FROM OUR WICKED, WICKED WAYS, He will hear our prayers and heal our land.