“March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” Not in Gulu, Uganda! March comes in hot and goes out hot here, typically. March is the latter part of the dry season. Since Gulu is so close to the equator and basically a tropical climate, there are only two seasons—wet season and dry season. Over this last week of March, we have had some rain and cooler temperatures. I never thought I would look forward to driving in the mud; but in this area, the cooler temperatures the rain brings are most welcomed. We have a bedside clock in our room that shows the temperature in Fahrenheit. For most of March, we were sleeping in a bedroom that was in the 90s. We do not have air conditioning; but fortunately, we own fans! We have a fan on a stand that sits at the foot of our bed and a ceiling fan. Most nights, we only run the stand fan because the ceiling fan makes a click, click, click sound. But we’ve had a few nights that Sandra said she could handle the click, click, click for a little more air stirring. You know it’s hot sleeping when your pillowcase and sheet below you is wet with sweat. Of course, that’s only on my side; Sandra does not sweat. Not only is there no spooning going on, I don’t even want to have my own legs touching.
One of the worst things about the dry season is the red dust. It gets into everything…including your eyes, ears and nose! We are always dusting and wiping down our computers and the furniture. Christine mops the floors every single morning except Sundays; and just a couple of hours later, you have red dust on the bottom of your clean socks. The aforementioned stand fan that sits at the foot of our bed gets dust on the blades and must be cleaned every few days. We must also wash the mosquito net covering our bed because there is a big, red dust ring right where the fan blows. About now, some of you are wondering, “Why are you doing this? You’re 66 years old! You’ve worked hard; God has blessed you with a great family, great friends, great church and a great deal of material things. Sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor.” The simple answer is that we cannot be disobedient to God’s command, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19). About now, some may be thinking, “Well, after hearing about sleeping on sweaty sheets and red dust everywhere, I’m sure glad He didn’t call me,” or maybe, “Not everyone is called to foreign missions,” or more specifically, “I am not called to foreign missions.” Are you sure about that? Where in the Bible is missions ever identified as an optional program in the church?
“Now, we know that each of us has different gifts, different skills, different passions, and different callings from God. God has gifted you and me in different ways. This was undoubtedly the case with the disciples. Peter and Paul had different callings. James and John had different callings. However, each follower of Christ in the New Testament, regardless of his or her calling, was intended to take up the mantle of proclaiming the gospel to the ends of the earth. That’s the reason why he gave each of them his Spirit and why he gave them all the same plan: make disciples of all nations.” (Excerpts in the last two paragraphs are from Chapter Four of Radical by David Platt) By the way, He gave us the same Spirit and the same plan. The heat and the red dust and any other inconveniences we face do not compare to the inexplicable joy of being exactly where God has called us to be at this time in our lives.
Onen Santo started with us the first of March as Property Manager of Abaana’s Hope. Santo and his wife, Beatrice, have been a Godsend. They came highly recommended by missionaries we greatly respect, so we set up a lunch meeting where I asked them to pray about being a part of the Abaana’s Hope vision. They went home and felt led to fast for three days and earnestly pray for God’s direction. Santo said God gave him two dreams during the fast that confirmed this calling. Some of you will get to meet them later this year and I’ll leave it to Santo to share this with you. The more we are around Santo and Beatrice and the more we learn about them from others, just confirms that God greatly gifted Abaana’s Hope in sending them to us. Sandra and I realize that even after being here for several months, we know very little about the Ugandan and specifically about the Acholi culture. We are learning, but our missionary friends from Mobile, Alabama, Keith and Lisa Coggin have been here over 10 years and they admit they are still learning about this culture. The Acholi people that we have come to know are mostly humble, soft-speaking, polite people who will not tell you if you’ve done or said something that’s offensive. I made it a point to ask Santo to please let me know when (not if) I do or say anything offensive or just inappropriate. He is already becoming very valuable in guiding us with decisions that are more in tune with the Acholi culture. I have included a picture of Santo, Beatrice, 5-year old Patience and 5-month old Jubilee so you will have faces to associate with them as you pray.
Ok, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer about our chickens. We are out of the broiler business. One of the broilers got a virus and died. I told Peter to bury it but Dako (or maybe a lion) got to it first. Everything was gone but the feathers and quite a few of them were gone! Before another virus got to the other three, we (Christine) killed them and put them in the freezer. I keep encouraging Sandra to learn to kill chickens because we may have some in Greystone when we return home and not have Christine around. Actually, this was Russ’s (my golfing and fishing buddy in Alabama) idea, and I like it. I don’t remember seeing anything in the subdivision covenant about chickens. Oh yes, we still have Carmila and her eight baby chicks. Someday, we’ll be eating our own eggs. Oops, after writing this a week earlier, an eagle swooped down and got one of our baby chicks. Life can be tough in Africa! Now, we have seven baby chicks.
Sandra and I were privileged to go to our first Ugandan wedding in early March. The couple getting married is from the church we attend, and we mentioned to Christine that we were going to this wedding. She said, “I will go! I’ve never been to a born-again wedding.” She is Catholic and has been to many Catholic weddings but never a non-Catholic wedding. I guess an invitation is not required. The groom passed the invitations out at the previous Sunday service and Melody was here and got one so we rationalized that Christine could use Melody’s invitation. The invitation stated the wedding would begin at 10:00 am. About 8:00, I received a text message from Nate Wright, our pastor, saying the wedding would not likely start before 11:00. So, Christine, Lillian, Sandra and I arrived at 10:50. The church was decorated nicely and it was ready for the wedding, but there were only about 15 people milling around. Clearly, the majority of the wedding gathering knew something we didn’t know. About 11:20, the groom and his entourage showed up and about noon, the bride and her family and friends showed up. Christine whispered, “Catholics start their weddings on time (and shook her head unapprovingly).” The service was very meaningful, but there were a few things different from Mandi and Bill’s wedding (and every other wedding we’ve ever attended). For starters, the bride is escorted down the aisle by the best lady (yes, they call her best lady, not maid of honor) and the best man escorts the groom down the aisle. The best lady and the bride sit in two chairs on one side of the church and the best man and the groom sit on the other. Our pastor, Nate, leads in the service and a friend named Kenneth is the Master of Ceremonies. MC at a wedding? Yes, Kenneth is using English to describe the events as they happen to the few muzungus (white people) and other non-Lua speaking attendees. He also translates Nate’s English wedding sermon in Lua and basically tells everyone what will happen next. At one point the bride and groom come together and sit across from one another. The best lady begins cutting a cake that will be fed to the entire congregation…by the bride and groom. While there is a lull, Kenneth lets everyone know that the best lady is now “organizing” the cake and family members of the bride would sing—lots of songs. If a family member knows the song, they might just get out of their seats and go up, grab a microphone and join in. After the best lady got the cake organized, she gives the bride a piece and she gets down on her knees in front of the groom and serves him a piece of cake. I whisper to Sandra, “You won’t see many American brides do that at their weddings.” But after the bride does this, the groom then gets down on his knees and serves her. Actually, it was a beautiful expression of having a servant heart toward your spouse. After that, the bride and best lady go down one aisle while the groom and best man go down the other aisle serving the congregation cake. I noticed some of the little boys in front of us got cake from both and were giggling about their coup.
Following the two-hour wedding (did I mention there was lots of singing?), there was a reception at the groom’s uncle’s village. This was about two miles from the church and the only vehicles were Nate’s van and our Land Cruiser, so Nate and I shuttled most of the crowd to the reception while a few walked. I had an appointment with Santo at 4:30 that afternoon and thought with a 10:00 wedding, I would have plenty of time to meet him. Wrong! It would have been rude for us to leave without eating the meal, and they were still cooking when we arrived. About 4:00, I texted Santo and told him we were at a wedding reception and could not make the meeting. I’m sure he knows enough about Ugandan weddings to understand. They sat us (Nate, Sandra and I, the only muzungus at the reception) in seats of honor by the wedding party. Kenneth was a great MC, telling which relative would speak next and keeping the program going with singing and dancing. There was one dance the groom, best man and one or two other men did that was pretty cool. They pretended to have a spear in their right hand and a shield on the left arm and danced forward and thrust the spear and danced backward, then forward again. I’ve just gotta learn that one for the next wedding! We ended up leaving about 6:00 with things still going strong. We’ve heard some wedding celebrations here go on for a couple of days.
We are now in the seventh week of our discipleship training held each Saturday at 10:00 am on the front porch of the caretaker building at Abaana’s Hope. This discipleship training started with one 7 weeks ago and has had as many as ten. It has been such a blessing to see people growing in God’s Word. I had thought we would use the Multiply materials, but the two associate pastors, Dennis and Martin, along with Nate, developed a great 13-week Discipleship Program that covers such basic things as prayer, Bible study, baptism, the Trinity, witnessing, eternal security, etc. We had it printed and bound in a workbook in the Acholi language. The Sunday afternoon Bible studies at Abaana’s Hope are also a wonderful blessing. There are a large number of children and now a few women are joining the men for the adult Bible study. I have posted a few pictures of this too. If you recall the picture of the children’s Bible story time I posted in the January Update, there were about 10 then. Now, there are over 50!
I love hearing the adults sing the praise songs in Lua. I cannot understand the words but I can understand the hearts and see the faces. It is a long, bumpy drive out to the property and back on Saturday mornings and again on Sunday afternoons after the workweek and Sunday morning worship, but totally worth it! We are so appreciative for the commitment of Dennis and Martin to lead these. Santo and Beatrice have also joined us a few Sunday afternoons, and Santo has led the Bible study three times and Beatrice has led the music some as well. She has a beautiful voice and is an amazing translator. She is so quick and doesn’t appear to even think about which words to use and adds the same strong emphasis the speaker does to make a point. Santo is also leading a brief time of prayer and Bible devotion before each workday begins for any of our workers who want to participate. The workday begins at 7:30, so they usually start about 7:10…totally his idea.
Things at Abaana’s Hope are shaping up nicely. The front half of the property has the roads outlined so it is much easier to see and imagine where certain buildings will sit. The construction crew, led by Darrell Hobbs, has dug out and started pouring the foundations for the first Family Group Home and will pour the Medical Clinic’s foundation in early April. It was so heart-warming to actually stand on spots where orphans and vulnerable children will find a safe haven some day soon. I have attached a picture of the first Family Home foundation for you to visualize with us dozens of children of various ages with no mom, dad or responsible relative or friend to care for them, living in a safe environment with food, clothing, housing, schooling, medical care and learning how to become disciple-making Christ-followers themselves.
We have moved the Medical Clinic from the original place on the Master Site Plan to the front entrance of the property, which makes it more accessible for the surrounding community and provides for better security. If you would like to see a copy of the Master Site Plan, you may access it on our website: www.fourcorners.org. In addition to our staff and workers, we plan to offer medical care to the local village people for a price of about 3,000 shillings (about $1). Dr. Melody Sherwood, Darrell, Pam, Sandra and I went to visit a children’s village called Otino Waa, in Lira, Uganda in late February that has a very nice Medical Clinic sitting on the main road and open to the community there. Bob and Carol Higgins, the founders of Otino Waa showed us their clinic and shared things they liked and even told us things they would change if rebuilding it. This gave Melody and Darrell some great ideas in designing our clinic. We have also had the maize (corn) grinder installed at our Grist Mill. We still have the huller to be installed but we can now grind our own maize for the posho our 60-plus employees eat every working day. I have attached a couple of these pictures for you.
The end of March brings hope for the harvest! We are planting seeds of beans, maize, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, onions, eggplant, watermelons, sweet melons (like our honeydew melons), peas, g-nuts (peanuts) and a variety of fruit trees. The Bible makes reference to the harvest in Genesis and Revelation and in between. Following the flood, God said, ”I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Never will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:21-22) Then Jesus says in John 4:35, “Lift up your eyes and see that the fields are white for harvest.” In Luke 10:2, He says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” We have been sent into His harvest and remain here because of your prayers. Thank you so much and please do not cease!
The end of March, this year, also brings Easter! Sandra and I got the sweetest email of encouragement from one of the members of the Board of Directors at Four Corners Ministries, Dr. Lisa Plaisance. I asked for her permission to share a portion of that email with you—“I have been reading and praying over Christ’s passion. It is so hard to imagine the adversity Christ underwent for us. In His adversity, I see a common theme of ‘the greatest Christian challenge…to praise God in the flames of adversity.’ This is the very thing Christ did for us on His journey to the cross. He did not face adversity; He was in the flames of it. Yet in all His suffering, He kept his focus on God always giving Him praise. I know life in Uganda has challenges I could not even begin to imagine but I want to encourage you to continue God’s work with praise and thanksgiving, as we know we will soon be celebrating His resurrection and victory over sin and death! Praise God. He has risen!”
Dear family and friends, remember this life…with all its hurts, pain, suffering, tribulation, persecution and adversity…is not our final destination. Please pray that we will continue God’s work with praise and thanksgiving. We love you!
All glory to Him,
Royce and Sandra