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.
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