Monthly Archives: May 2013

“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword (perhaps, machete?). They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy.” – Hebrews 11:37-38

I was able to sit down with Samuel on Monday (20th) for a couple hours and listen to his story.  This was his first day back from his home in North / Central Uganda after his father’s funeral.  Samuel’s father, a believer, was murdered in a machete attack.  For the previous story about Samuel and his father, click the word, Relationships.

As I approached Samuel that warm Monday morning, Samuel was seated and reading a book in the shade of some pine trees, in a blue plastic chair, similar to the plastic ones we’ve bought at Wal-Mart in the States.

Drawing closer, it was evident that he looked very tired.  His smile was missing and when he did cheer up briefly for the pleasantries of the initial greetings, it seemed to be with effort.  If you have gone through a tragic loss and resulting funeral, I’m sure you can relate.

Samuel stretched out his hand for a normal Ugandan greeting, which is a Western handshake, quickly changing to a “brother” handshake (where the thumbs interlock, hands elevate while the elbows drop), back to Western handshake, back to “brother” handshake, back to Western handshake.

I quickly debated in my mind whether to dispense with the handshake altogether and just hug Samuel as most Westerners would do during this serious and sobering time.  I had hugged Samuel after he had received the news of his father’s murder when he dropped by our house, prior to his leaving for his home.  That hug was natural and sincere from me, but seemed very unnatural and perhaps a bit uncomfortable to him.  Even his co-worker, knowing the gravity of the situation, only extended his forearm at that time (another cultural practice when one’s hands are dirty from working).  So I decided this time a warm handshake would be best.  It seemed to work fine, but on my end it seemed sorely lacking.

Samuel offered me his chair – the only one around – by saying, “Please,” and extending the chair to me, to which I politely refused.  The nearby threshold of the guardhouse door was elevated enough from the ground to make a relatively comfortable, although dirty seat.

Samuel gathered some photos from a very worn and torn envelope, and held them in his hand.

Just to quickly fill you in, the good news is that the outlook for Samuel’s mother is very good.  It seems she will survive.  The photos he held out for me were photos of his mother at the hospital, wearing bandages over the deep cuts from the machete attack:  one across her back right shoulder, dropping down to her side; another across her head; and a third across her lower back.  Deep wounds, the perpetrators intended to leave no survivors.

After formalities, greetings, and the photos Samuel shared his honesty in questioning, “Why?” but quickly gave testimony to his trust in God’s sovereignty from the Bible through this horrific event.  He chatted for a few minutes about his faith and God’s nature.

He eventually moved into the facts of the story as he knew them.  He said the local people know who carried out the murder (and his mother is witness, too, since she survived).  The man (we’ll call him the ringleader) who developed the ghastly plan and carried out the brutal murder, allegedly convinced the ringleader’s brother to get involved in the attack.  They also hired a third person.  This ringleader apparently had been raised on this land and wasn’t happy that Samuel’s parents purchased it and built a house on it.   Apparently land disputes, especially north of here in Jinja can be violent.  According to Samuel, it turns out the murder was over land.

The ringleader was quite serious with his scheme to kill Samuel’s parents.  In an attempt to succeed in his plan, he visited a local witchdoctor to gain power to take the two lives.

Samuel showed me photos of where the machetes hit the walls.

I asked what seemed to me to be the obvious question, “Did they catch these guys?”

Samuel recounts that while he was at home last week, the villagers found and cornered the ringleader.  The villagers called Samuel on their cell phone (amazing how technology has gotten into third world countries) and asked if they could “finish him (the ringleader).”  Samuel, being a Christian, chose instead to let justice be worked out patiently and orderly through the established governmental system.

This is a step of faith for Samuel, as you will soon see.  Samuel then calls the police to notify them that villagers have cornered the alleged ringleader and asks the police to go get this guy.  The police then ask Samuel for money to purchase 4 liters of gas for their police car, otherwise they can’t go.

I couldn’t believe what I just heard.  I clarified and restated what Samuel had just told me.  Samuel said, yes, he had to purchase the gas for the police car.

So they get in the police car and go after the ringleader.  The leader from the village, who has the ringleader cornered, calls Samuel back on the cell phone about carrying out revenge.  This leader wants Samuel to give the OK to kill the ringleader.  In fact, one clan wants to fight another clan.  Samuel and other family members insist that this not happen. He is insistent that justice should be served through the proper channels.

As Samuel and the police close in to within a couple kilometers or so, from the cornered ringleader, the man who is leading the villagers to corner the ringleader, gets mad at Samuel and convinces enough of the villagers to let the ringleader go free.  So, he escapes.  Unbelievable.

Thankfully Samuel says, they eventually find and catch up with the alleged ringleader, put him in jail, along with his brother and the witchdoctor.  The hired help, on the other hand, apparently fled and has not been captured.

It’s not uncommon in Uganda (even in Jinja) for villagers or community groups to catch a suspect and beat him or her, even more rarely kill them, as they are being dragged to the police station.  I am told by others living here, that often the police will sort things out according to who offers the police the most money.  So the community turns to their own twisted form of justice.

The burden the family of a murdered loved one has to go through in this country with police and the funeral is different and surprising.  For example, the family, if they do not have funds for the funeral, begs or borrows money (permanently) from friends.  According to Samuel, the price of the funeral including related costs like travel and food (not including hospital expenses for his mom) totaled more than $3 million Ugandan shillings (about $1,200 USD).  I have no way of verifying this amount.

I am divided as to whether I should have shared that amount.  I am not asking for money.  First, I talked to other missionaries about how I should respond.  There isn’t a clear answer.  Money has a way of sending relief, but also causing tension and relationship problems, similar to how winning a large lottery brings initial relief and pleasure, but hassles and problems quickly arise with relatives and friends who want part of the money.

Additionally, money is not the ultimate answer to problems.  I’m learning this lesson being a missionary.  I could write pages about this lesson alone.  God is the answer to our problems.  Where He provides money, it is sweet.  When He doesn’t answer with money, shouldn’t our response to God saying, “No” be contentment and ultimate satisfaction in Him?

Again, I have no way of validating the amount or ensuring that if someone did want to give that the money would get to the appropriate place.  I trust Samuel, I just do not know.  I’m trying to be as upfront and honest as I can be.

Samuel spoke of many things during the brief couple hours I was with him.  We talked of his responsibilities as a pastor, his future, his family, his faith, his world contrasted with my world, etc.

As this week progressed, Samuel seems to be doing a bit better – at least on the outside.  His smile has returned, although not as big and lasting as it was when we first arrived.  Each day I leave the house I see Samuel reading his Bible or a Christian book.  We chat and talk.

But what shines through?  Samuel’s faith in Jesus Christ!  Wow.

To be honest, I get a bit choked up seeing, hearing and witnessing Samuel’s faith, commitment and determination to his Lord and Savior when that same Savior allowed a test of faith – his father slain by the sword (or machete, as it may be).  God is receiving glory, granted it’s only been two weeks Saturday.

I asked Samuel if he has forgiven the attackers.  He said he thinks he has, but he said he could not face them.  It’s difficult, as I think anyone could imagine.

When I think of faith, too often I am reminded of the faith that results in positive outcomes:

Hebrews 11 tells us, “(Men and women) through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouth of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  Women received their dead raised to life again.” (vs. 33-35a)

Those are awesome!  Much more difficult and challenging are the following verses:

“And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  Still others had trials of mockings and scourgings, yes and of chains and judgment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword (perhaps, machete?).  They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy.” (vs 35b-38a)

Week 3

Perhaps this week I should title the blog, “Jinja Honeymoon, Week 3.”  Early in the week the kids were sitting with me in the living area of the house where we are staying.  I adjusted my voice to a serious tone, which they noticed immediately.  “I’ll ask a question and I want Joshua to answer first.  You need to be very honest with me.”

“Given what you’ve seen so far, do you think you can stay here in Uganda until the end of 2014?”

Joshua immediately broke my tension, “Oh, yeah.  It’s not like I thought it would be.  Staying here doesn’t seem like a problem at all.”  The girls’ answers were similar.

His answer includes the experiences of living out of suitcases for four weeks, killing numerous insects and a small rodent in the house, adjusting to dirt and lack of cleanliness, the change of food, culture, showers, power and heat.

Obviously we all miss our family and friends, for sure.  And while his answer was quite encouraging, I tend to be quite the skeptic.  So I’m willing to give it more time.  I mentioned how the next months may be challenging at times with various difficulties and that it’s usually at that time that North Carolina will tug on us.  But I praise God for His preparing us and the kids for this transition.

This past week I have been quite encouraged to see how other children in various settings have responded to our teens.  Alexis and Brittany babysat a young 3-year old adopted son (Jeremiah) of one of our team members while the child’s mother (Anna) and Michelle went out for a coffee and Anna showed Michelle the market – the market is an experience of a life time!

Joshua threw Frisbee and football with the caretaker’s son, Timothy, here this week.

Joshua and Timothy throw Frisbee and football with each other.  The frame in the foreground is a table being built for the house where we are staying

Joshua and Timothy (R) throw Frisbee and football with each other. The frame in the foreground is a dining table being built for the house where we are staying

Both kids really enjoyed that time together.  Timothy had such a big smile.  Later in the week when Joshua returned from town with Michelle and the girls, Timothy’s younger brother, Steven, age 3, came up to Joshua, bent both knees, lowered his head and held out his hand.  This three year-old honored Joshua out of respect.  Someone, probably Steven’s father, Moses, had taught him a powerful way to show respect.  Although the gesture was not necessary, it is evident relationships are starting to form.

At church today an eleven year-old local girl, Christine, came up to Alexis, knelt down next to her and put her head in Alexis’ lap as the congregation sat during one of the prayers.  Christine stayed with Alexis during the service, at times both arms around Alexis, playing with her necklace, hands and hair, and sitting in her lap.  At the end of the service I look over and Brittany is holding Anna, who will be three in July.  Anna is our teammates, Chris and Jane Sperling’s only daughter.

So the children seem to be fitting in and adjusting well.  Again, I praise God for His goodness in making the preparations.  Yesterday they enjoyed some video chat time on Gmail with some friends from back in Marion.

Other transitions continue to happen as well.  Michelle is starting to cook more.  We have eaten in local restaurants more than usual during the first few weeks while we adjust and settle.  At home our meals have consisted of the following:

Breakfast is easy – fresh pineapple, mango, papaya and / or banana and bread with some jam and / or eggs and water, juice or coffee.  Water has to be bottled or boiled.  Lunch consists mainly of sandwiches – usually groundnut (peanut butter) and jelly sandwiches, fruit or leftovers from the night before.  Supper has been rice with various sauces or beans, pasta, fresh vegetables or something like fried cabbage dressed up with hot dogs.  Michelle treated us to mango salsa, fresh avocado dip (from the tree in the backyard) and chips a couple nights ago – thanks to recipes from our teammate, Tamara Boone.

The variety of foods and number of prepared foods do not exist here like the States.  Items differ in price and can be expensive, while others are similar or cheaper than the US.

A snapshot of Main Street, downtown Jinja.

A snapshot of Main Street, downtown Jinja.

We have started language training, learning Luganda.  I was able to find a downloadable DVD from Amazon before leaving the States.  It seems the family is picking up the language quickly, and enjoying it.  They like the Lugandan word for toast, which consists of two words meaning “bread” and “fire.”

Josh started school back two weeks ago.  Since he was out of school for our transition here, he will be working through the summer and into the fall.

Today, the power went out from 4:30 am until after we returned from church.  Power outages really haven’t been bad since we arrived.  And today, I drove the Boones vehicle to church, without an accident – dodging potholes, botas (motorcycles), pedestrians, bicycles, all the while driving on the left side of the road, which was a challenge.  I am thankful nothing significant happened.

Tomorrow our girls will be going with Anna, our Equip Uganda team member from Oregon, to visit three or four Childrens’ ministries.  They are looking for a place to volunteer their time.  Half the population in Uganda is fifteen (15) years-old or less.

Tomorrow Samuel returns here (see Samuel’s story by clicking on the word, Relationships), and I look forward to seeing and listening to him.  I continue work (more about that in a future post), language training, learning the culture and visiting different places, like our Farming God’s Way project this Friday outside Jinja.

“Weraba.” (Pronounced “Wehr ah bah” Luganda for “Good-bye”).  All the best (and the best is Jesus!)


Note:  Italicized words represent an update to the original story, which was first published yesterday on Sunday, May 12th.

As we settle into Ugandan life, we are being intentional in getting to know the culture and the people first.  We are going through language training and the family is doing great with it.  The Ugandan people love it when the “mzungus” (mah ‘zoon goos) or white people speak their language.  It’s a sign of respect.

From (L): Owen (age 7); Given (age 5); Samuel (age 28); and Mark (well into his 40's)

From (L): Owen (age 7); Given (age 5); Samuel (age 28); and Mark (well into his 40’s)

Samuel is standing in the back on the left, behind Brittany.

One of the people I want to introduce to you is Samuel.  He would appreciate your prayers for a very tragic situation, which I will share with you later.  Samuel’s photograph is in our latest newsletter, which was just sent out.  At the time, I had not engaged Samuel in conversation.  He is the daytime gatekeeper for the house where we stay.  He always carries a smile, a warm Ugandan handshake and has joyfully greeted us as we come and go.  When I say he smiles, he really smiles!  Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit God has gifted Samuel with.  It is immediately evident.

Yesterday (Saturday) morning with Mother’s Day around the corner I took an early trip into town on a boda (a small sized motorcycle) to purchase some cinnamon rolls for the family.  One restaurant in Jinja, owned by an Aussie, makes the rolls fresh each morning, although closed on Sundays.  I decided to purchase a roll for Samuel, too, and offered it to him when I returned.  The rolls are made from yeast bread and are served warm with light syrup.  They are similar to cinnabons in the States, just softer, but not as sweet.  The smile on his face was worth more than the money.  As he took the roll, he gratefully said, “Please” as many Ugandans do, instead of saying “Thank you.”

Later in the day I asked him if he enjoyed the roll.  He said he had never had one and that it was very good.

We spoke of the cost of the rolls, $3,000 shillings each (a mere $1.20 US).  Samuel said some Ugandans in a factory may work an entire ten or twelve hour day for $3,000 shillings.  I didn’t realize I was giving him such a luxury.  A day’s wage for a cinnamon roll?  Wow.

As the day drifted along, I was intentional in chatting more with Samuel and learning more about Ugandan culture.  I asked Samuel about his parents.  They live north of Jinja, about 180 – 200 km (120 miles)Both parents are Christians.  As we chatted Samuel watched the gate and I occasionally assisted Luke, a mason, in building a fire pit for our landlord.

“Do you get to see your parents often?” I asked.

“Yes, fairly often,” he replied.

We moved on to other subjects.  As the Ugandan sun heated the yard where we stood, Samuel asked me questions about the Bible.  I later found out he is a pastor and has a deep love for God’s word.  He enjoys masking the fact that he is a pastor by asking others innocent questions about the Bible.  The first couple days after we moved in, I noticed him engaging two Mormon ladies from the Mormon church next door in discussion about God and the Scriptures.

I asked him about that discussion.  He said he talked to them randomly, but intentionally for almost two weeks.  He said they told him God has a body.  Samuel, not to be beguiled by Mormon theology, asked the ladies, “God has body?  So what color is God’s skin?”  We laughed.  He said they could not give an answer.

He told me when the ladies found out he was a pastor of a born again church, they got quite upset.  He politely chuckled, as he clearly enjoyed finding more out about their errant doctrines and challenging them on those.

As we left on Saturday, we exchanged good-byes and Samuel said, “See you on Monday.”  Little did we know life would change dramatically within a matter of hours.

When we returned from church today, we got word that Samuel’s father was murdered in a machete attack at his home, apparently in his sleep Saturday night, and his mother was in critical condition.  She is in the local hospital and in a coma.  The outlook is bleak and she is not expected to make it She was struck in the head and across the chest and left for dead.  Central and northern Uganda can be very violent.  This seems senseless and Samuel says he does not know why.  His parents were building a new home in the city and this was their first or second night there.  We were surprised and somewhat in shock.  I felt numb – this man of joy losing his father and now possibly his mother that way.  The Ugandan man who broke the news to us (his name is Moses), works here for our landlord, too.  Moses who is also a believer said, “This is terrible, but it is life.”

I paused to reflect on those words – the frailty of life, life is a vapor and it’s gone.  For the believer, it’s like Paul writes, “a gain.”  Samuel is not concerned about his parents, they are believers.

I am not concerned about Samuel’s faith.  It’s strong.  He reads his Bible daily, the fruit of the Holy Spirit is evident, he loves Jesus and he memorizes large sections of Scripture.  On Monday, Samuel told me, “I know from Psalms 139 and the prophet Jeremiah that God knew about this.  God knew, but it will forever impact my life.”   With the overwhelming emotions at that point, Samuel had to sit down and cry.  As he was leaving, Samuel asked if we would pray, which we did.  I told him his brothers and sisters in the States and Canada were praying for him, too.  He is much appreciative.

He is encouraged that his American, Canadian and European brothers and sisters in Christ are praying for him and his family.  Pray for their faith.  Pray that this tragedy would result in advancement of God’s Kingdom.  Pray for perseverance, comfort and peace.  Pray as God leads you to pray for our brother in Christ.

Update:  Samuel came by to see us on Monday before leaving to go to the town where his mom lives.  He brought his two sons (in the picture above).  It was evident he was still in shock.  He said his two sons cried when he broke the news to them because they were close to their grandparents.  Samuel’s wife and daughter were in the town where his father was killed, but lived elsewhere in the town. 

Michelle and I have unfortunately had to learn too quickly about some Ugandan culture around death, funerals and grieving.  Death is a way of life here, and many times is senseless.  Samuel lives in Masese slum where our team members (and Katie Davis) serve.  As the oldest child, he will be responsible for his father’s funeral, his mother’s hospital bills, handling the affairs of the family, and apparently providing food for the visitors who come visit (a Ugandan cultural norm that seems strange to Westerners). 

Life here in Jinja, is much harder than in the States, Canada or Europe.  We knew that coming in, and we are sobered by the work of evil.  This is why Paul and John write the following:

10Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 12Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them.”  Jesus said, “By this (love) all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Rom 12:10-13; John 13:35