Mwasuze Mutya (‘Good Morning’ Plural Form)

27 02 2010

In the month since I have arrived in Uganda, this is all I have really learned how to say. I find myself speaking Spanish more to my colleagues Greg & Paloma whenever I can. I guess I have been lazy to start Luganda lessons. I have a great translator who goes out with me to the villages and most people have a working knowledge of English so I haven’t been motivated to start… yet.

One of the things I have come to appreciate about Uganda is the friendliness of most people. There are several children who wave and say hello to me every afternoon as I round the last corner on the hill before my house. The boda boda drivers are always friendly to me… because they want my business. The lady that I buy breakfast from every morning is very nice and asks how the food was the day before. And then there are the many people who want to sell me anything from electric fly swatters (looks like a toy tennis racquet but highly effective to zap the mosquitos at night) to sugar canes.

So it makes me want to be friendly back each time. I get the curious smiles and children following me especially when I go to the villages. Who can blame them, they don’t really see a Chinese American very often. Last Sunday was a great example. I spoke at a church in one of the villages called Takijunge and as we pulled up to the church, two little girls with beautiful braids and their shy smiles stood at the door waiting for us. I had just bought some chapatti (kind of like tortillas) for breakfast and asked if they would like some. I handed one to each of the girls and the response was so Ugandan. Many of the children and women in the villages will bow down to you out of respect when greeting you or receiving something. So these precious children bowed down to receive the chapatti, smiled and slowly ate them. Honestly, the first time this happened to me I was like “no, no please get up!” but since that time I have learned that it is how they show respect to you.

This type of greeting has been frequent especially when we have been doing our case intakes. After our legal educations where we teach the community about how to protect their rights, we invite those participants who may have been victims of property grabbing to stay and talk with us. The first legal ed I conducted, we had over twenty women patiently wait to talk with our staff. Every time they greeted one of my colleagues, they bent down and bowed in respect. I really want to figure out some way to honor them back. You see, these women are the courageous ones. I look forward to talking to these women because their faces light up when we teach them what the law says about property rights. They feel empowered and a sense of hope. As they wait to talk to one of us, I can only imagine what they’re thinking. Perhaps they have been a victim of property grabbing and this is their last option before sleeping on the streets. Or they haven’t had a meal in a few days and came to the legal ed because someone invited them. Whatever the case, I am beginning to understand a little more when Jesus said that he had compassion on the multitudes because they had been with him for several days and had nothing to eat. I think my favorite moments so far in the legal education have been watching my colleagues minister to the women who come for legal advice. Sometimes we are able to take on their case, other times we are not and we have to refer them to one of our legal aid partners. But everytime we hope to treat these women with the same respect that they greet us with. Some believe in God, others don’t. But we want to close each conversation with them by praying. We pray for hope, we pray for the opportunity for their land to be restored, we pray for peace and we pray for many other things. So while it is a case intake situation, it is so much more. It is a counseling session, it is a time of encouragement, it is the hopes that International Justice Mission can bring relief to a victim and secure justice for them.

Below are a few pictures of our legal educations.

Kaye (my translator) and I polling the participants to see what they know about Ugandan law

Here’s a great picture taken by our communications fellow Laura. Pictured from L – R are Jesse Rudy (aka my boss), Pastor Diana and myself. Pastor Diana helped me mobilize this recent legal education and was instrumental in inviting many community leaders. I love her heart for her community and desire to advocate for the rights of widows and orphans.

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International Justice Mission + Uganda + Me = 2010

29 09 2009

The Boston Red Sox, Arizona Cardinals, Golden State Warriors, and Chicago Cubs. Professional sports team with a common theme. They were all long shots. Granted the Cubs have not won a World Series since the 1900‘s, the Cardinals came close and my Warriors can’t keep good players, but the fact remains that these teams share a common theme of being underdogs in some ways and long shots in others.

I happen to resonate with long shots and being an underdog. If you asked me a year ago what I would be doing, I would have told you that I would be enjoying my job as a youth pastor in Texas spending time mentoring and discipling students. If you asked me what I thought of Africa and the country of Uganda, I would have had compassion and told you I would pray for the people serving there. Honestly, Uganda was the farthest thing on my mind. The thought of an AIDS pandemic and extreme poverty caused me to file these situations as someone else’s problem. I rationalized that I was doing my part by praying and giving financially to people and organizations serving there to alleviate the poverty.

A few years ago I became acquainted with an organization called International Justice Mission (IJM). IJM is a human rights organization founded in 1997 by Gary Haugen to combat the injustice going on throughout the world such as slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of oppression. You can read more about what IJM is about right here.

My view of the world started changing back in the summer of 2008. That August my church hosted a Willowcreek Leadership Summit and one of the keynote speakers was the president of IJM – Gary Haugen. Gary shared his story of working for the US State Department and how he came to start IJM. He shared a childhood story of his family frequently going on hikes. On one particular hike to Mt. McKinley, he was not feeling like making the journey to the top with the rest of the family. About halfway up they stopped at a visitor’s center. The center was great with pictures of the mountain top and a lookout point to see the summit. He decided to stay back while his brothers and father continued to the summit. He shared his regret of staying back and related that even though he could see the summit, he missed out on the adventure. Sometimes our lives as Christ followers can be like staying at the visitor’s center. We have opportunities to follow Christ passionately and serve whole-heartedly yet we often stay back because of fear, uncertainty or we just don’t feel like it. Gary shared that in the journey of following Christ many of us miss out on the adventure. He challenged those attending that Jesus didn’t come to save us so that we could be safe, He came to save us so that we can be brave. He concluded his session with a question: “What brave thing are you doing for Christ?” I, of course, started to rationalize that he wasn’t talking about me. Heck, I was doing my part. I was being brave. I was working with high school students and in Texas. God didn’t buy that excuse. He started putting long shot dreams in my head and ideas that I would never want to do. I started thinking about working overseas. I didn’t know what country but the thoughts started coming into mind. Yet Africa was still not on my radar. I was thinking more of Latin America or Asia.

Months past and then around March I decided it was time to do something. I had no plan, no clue and no logical reason why I should resign my job. But I did it. Shortly after I resigned, I had lunch with some dear friends and they asked me: “Ray what do you want to do and where do you want to serve?” I responded “I don’t know, but here are some organizations that I would like to look into”. I rattled off a bunch of great organizations and then I said IJM. The husband immediately got excited and said that his former college roommate had just moved to Uganda to become the field director of the IJM office there. He asked if I would like to get connected with him and I said yeah.

I was able to visit Uganda and the IJM field office in July and in late August I submitted my application to become a Church and Community Relation fellow for 2010 in Uganda. Long story short, IJM has offered me the fellowship and I accepted today. I was the underdog and long shot in a lot of ways. I was the one who would be the last one to volunteer to live in a country thousands of miles away and without pay. I was the one who would be the first to recommend someone else more qualified.

Yet I find myself filled with excitement and joy with the prospect of being able to learn more about a continent, a country and a culture steeped in tradition. Long shots do pay off. I’ll share more about what I’ll be doing and how you can help support and pray for me at a later post, but I want to close by encouraging you to pray about your journey with Christ. What sort of adventures is He putting in front of you? It could be completely out of your comfort zone in another country or in your backyard. Maybe it’s time to pray about being a long shot.

By the way, don’t write the Warriors out. One day… one day they will reign victorious as NBA champs.





The Pearl of Africa

26 07 2009

It’s fitting that I’m listening to Africa by Toto as I blog this entry. My thoughts are scattered as I try to give a fair and accurate picture of my time here in Uganda. It was a short visit (just two weeks) but in the brief time I have made new friends, been inspired by the culture of this country, appreciated the simplicity of just being alive (see bodas), and have started to see why so many people are passionate about Africa.

  • Church: I believe the church is the hope of the world in which Christ has commissioned us to proclaim the whole gospel for His fame and renown. I got to see the church in action through its partnership with IJM and also visiting some houses of worship. I worshipped at St. Francis Anglican and Watoto today and was blessed by the messages of both. I was moved by the prayers of its leaders in wanting justice and relief in eastern Uganda where there is a famine, peace amongst wars and the desire to raise up a new generation of leaders through its children. See Watoto and what they’re doing. Pretty amazing.
  • Children: I have seen some of the most beautiful children. They’re cute and adorable wanting to follow a “mzungu” around. They hold your hand, want to be hugged and have the biggest smiles.

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  • Justice: I will try not to use this word flippantly. It’s hard to define and it comes in various forms. The form of justice I saw was through the eyes of IJM and victim relief for widows and orphans. They have a fantastic team here in Uganda and I got to hear some of their stories of how God brought them here to write the wrongs and be a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves. Thank you Jamie & Sara, Grace, Nina, Kaye, Alice and Suhanya. Lawyers can have fun!

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  • The Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven: Jamie introduced me to Roxanne this weekend and I have to share her story. I was moved by what she has done and is doing by living out James 1:27 and caring for Waswah. Roxanne works with Samaritan’s Purse caring for widows and orphans and I asked her how she met Waswah who is six. She saw him on the side of the road in a village where she was working about two years ago. He was on the brink of death, severely malnourished, and his feet were covered with sores. Both his parents died of AIDS and seven of his nine aunts/uncles have succumbed to this awful disease. His grandmother had been looking after him but did not have the means or money to feed him. So Roxanne took it upon herself and asked to be the legal guardian. The grandmother has been very supportive of this and other relatives have helped out getting the proper documentation to make things go smoothly for Roxanne. Today, Waswah is healthy and adorable. He is soft spoken but is very intelligent. He has a very acute awareness of right and wrong and would rather be reading or doing more productive things than watching a video. Thank you Roxanne for making the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven for Waswah.
  • Beauty: I will just let the pictures below speak for themselves.
  • The Simple Life: I’m kind of reluctant to go back to the States because I don’t want to lose this feeling of appreciating the simple things I take for granted. I’ve been very surprised about my capacity to adapt (I’m a clean freak).
  • Bodas are a means to get from point A to B albeit a scary way. Is there something wrong when the driver wears a helmet and the passenger doesn’t?

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  • I’m not scared to use the tap water to brush my teeth although I prefer bottled.
  • The mosquito net over my bed is a reminder to appreciate my health and to take my malarone. I feel like bubble boy but with mesh when I’m sleeping.
  • AC is for wimps and those who can actually afford it. I don’t have AC in my room and have actually enjoyed the fan. Ask me again when I return to hades, I mean Texas in August.
  • Walking and exploring Kampala has been fun. Carry backpack in the front.
  • I have enough dirt on my clothes and body to fill a jar.
  • People: By far the warmest people I have met. Sure they call me Mzungu, but they are caring and truly take the time to talk to you.

I’ll close with a quote from one of the brilliant theologians of the 21st century who is passionate about Africa. I think you will want to buy a plane ticket after reading this.

“I genuinely see myself as a traveling salesman. I think that’s what I do. I sell songs door-to-door on tour. I sell ideas like debt relief, and like all salesmen, I’m a bit of an opportunist and I see Africa as great opportunity. And I don’t just mean this in terms of doing business with Africa for America or Europe, which I do. I mean it’s an opportunity for us in the West to show our values, because a lot people are not sure we have any — to show what we are made of, to see a continent in crisis and demonstrate what we can do.” – Bono

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The best way to spend three hours in Uganda

25 07 2009

I joined some of the IJM staff this morning to go learn about a ministry started a few years ago by some guys at Cornerstone (some adults passionate to serve the least and last). Godwin (one of the leaders) took us to the slums just above the hills of the taxi park. To refresh your memory, the taxi park was where I was almost pick-pocketed so I was sure I wore my backpack in the front. Again, just a surreal experience walking in such congestion. But we walked past safely and after some turns and up a hill we encountered one of the slums (Godwin called it the ghetto) where they help minister to street children. And believe me it was the ghetto. You can smell the sewage in the drains on either side of the street, many children are barefooted and wearing tattered clothing, and families are just trying to make it selling vegetables, household goods, food or whatever they can find. That’s the thing I love about Ugandans here. They’re very entrepreneurial They have resolve, little money, but they make it happen.

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(These are the tin cans the children recycle to turn into oil lanterns)

These street children are orphans. Some have gone to school, others have not and all been surviving on the streets for years by themselves, some as young as eight years old. They pass their time collecting tins to recycle into oil lanterns, find food in the garbage piles, sleep when they can (sometimes huddled together in the park until the cops kick them out), and to escape the painful life of surviving on the streets, they get high daily on aviation oil. They pour the oil into rags and inhale it much like you would through spray paint cans or glue. But the oil has a greater effect of getting you high. They get the oil by befriending some of the local mechanics or pay for it. It’s a vicious cycle. They have enough shillings to buy the oil but not food.

I met these children and immediately saw the bottles of oil and rags stuffed in their pockets. Godwin and the other guys try to confiscate as many as they can and have been educating them on the dangers of inhaling as well as AIDS awareness. I saw the emptiness in their eyes as they were fully dilated from the high. But then I saw hope. Behind the high, the conditions they were living in and the ragged clothes, I saw hope. I saw children wanting to be held and loved. They latched on and held my hand or came under my arm wanting to be hugged. They did the same to Grace, Suhani, Kaye and Jamie who were with me. They were excited to see visitors (Mzungus – fair skin ones) and greeted us. But we made it past the differences and heard ‘Mzungus’ as we walked up the hill to the soccer field where we were to have some fellowship and futbol. Godwin and his friends have been building a relationship with these street children for the last two years and you can tell these children trust them calling them ‘uncle’. After some encouraging words, some songs and a message it was off to futbol.

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(Grace and her new friends as we walk up to the soccer field)

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(Pastor Kaye and some beautiful children)

Now I was excited to play futbol since it’s what they do here. And I figured there was no way they could play since they were still high. Oh I was so wrong… Godwin told me that futbol is the common denominator to reach these children and it also serves a purpose by getting their bodies to burn off the high. I decided to play defense and one of the plays came my way with a ten year old dribbling the ball at me. So I attacked trying to get the ball and next thing I know I’m flat on my back with a nice dirt burn on my elbow and the ball past me with the ten year old looking at me thinking “silly Mzungu”. But that was when I saw how these street children care for one another. They all ran up to me helping me up, dusting the dirt off and looking at my wound asking if I was okay. They hugged me and the ten year old was so apologetic and hugged me as well. I told him no need to apologize and that I was fine. A quick high five and I was back in the game. Interestingly, the same thing happened to Jamie and while they helped him up, he quickly got the ball and continued playing hoping to score a goal. It didn’t happen.

We didn’t have money to give to these children, but I gave some to Godwin so that they can buy them lunch after futbol. Godwin and his friends give them vouchers every Saturday so they can have a hot meal. I managed to snap some shots of the morning. It was a beautiful picture. Jamie, Kaye and I playing soccer, Grace was playing duck duck goose and Suhani was getting a guitar lesson from one of the former street kids. This was truly the best way to spend three hours in Uganda.

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(Suhani talking to one of the children)

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(Grace playing duck duck goose with the children)

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(Jamie in the far corner trying to be a savvy soccer player)

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meandsoccerkid(The ten year old who schooled me in soccer)





International Justice Mission

23 07 2009

In the midst of all my sightseeing and fun, I have really come to Uganda with the purpose to visit an NGO called International Justice Mission (IJM). IJM is a human rights organization founded in 1997 by Gary Haugen to combat the injustice going on throughout the world such as slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of oppression. The Uganda office was established back in 2002 to work with widows and orphans who are being oppressed by having their property illegally seized from them. This is a major occurrence in Uganda with widows and orphans. Under Ugandan Laws of Succession, there are clear and definite guidelines on how a person’s belongings are to be shared after a person dies. However, often these laws are not respected. It may be because people think cultural customary practices should be applied instead. Or that people are greedy and seek to take advantage of those who are vulnerable. This happens to be the situation with many widows and orphans in Uganda. When a husband dies, often you will hear of extended family taking away possessions or evicting the widow of her own home. With no home, no land, and no husband, the widow has no way to care for her family. This unfair practice of illegally taking widow and orphan’s inheritance rights is called property grabbing. This begins a downward spiral of poverty for the widow and orphan who have to fend for themselves on the streets. It may sound simple to alleviate the problem, but you have to work with government, police, and a culture that is not trusting of officials. Also widows have been afraid to contact the police for fear of retribution and physical violence.

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One of the IJM’s lawyers (Nina) teaching church leaders on Will writing

I’ve been following along with IJM’s legal team and church and community relations coordinator as they work in the Mukono district of Uganda to educate the community, the church and widows of their legal rights. I spent one day listening and watching case intakes as widows came to share their stories about how they were being mistreated. One woman shared her story of what happened shortly after her husband died. They had owned some property where they were renting it out to tenants. The land was divided between them and another owner. When that owner found out that the husband was deceased, he began to evict the tenants. Subsequently he tore down the building where they lived (he doesn’t legally own the building) and started to build a new structure. She is hoping to seek restitution for the loss of her building. If her case is taken, IJM will send their investigative team and lawyers to pursue the crime and work with police officials to arrest the perpetrators (destruction of property and theft is punishable up to five and ten years in prison respectively). IJM’s main emphasis is victim relief and another case they are working on in the office may involve the relief of 27 victims of property grabbing. I’ve been impressed with the Uganda office on how they work with people. The care they bring and the level of professionalism as an office staff is encouraging to see. IJM works with the victim from start to finish and they have an after care department that works with clients to make sure they get re-established into normal everyday life. This is especially important for those that are former slaves and unwilling prostitutes. The best part of IJM is that all the work is done pro-bono!

I don’t know what my role maybe with IJM. I have more discussions and meetings in the coming days with them. But I’m just trying to live and serve the best possible way I know how utilizing the gifts and talents God has given me. I also know that IJM as an organization is doing their role in fulfilling some of the duties of a Christ-follower. To loose the chains of injustice, to set the oppress free, to care for widows and orphans, to defend the cause of the needy and to do what is right (Psalm 82:3-4; Isaiah 1:17, 58:6-10; Micah 6:8; James 1:27). I also know that this is the role of the church. I love the church (the church that I grew up in and the church I served as a pastor are making great strides in understanding what it means to care for people locally and globally) and though it is not perfect, it is the legacy Christ has left us with to build His Kingdom. There’s much more to do and to get a better understanding of how the gospel can be fulfilled, check this book out.