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July 2016

FROM LAND MINES TO FIELDS OF LIFE; With A Vision A nation is Transformed


I am acutely aware that this piece of land which I am daring to stand on was a land mine trap, just over a decade ago. I am in Lira, northern Uganda, where Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army caused bloody violent havoc across this beautiful landscape. Kony would kidnap children of 7 or 8 years of age and train them to be killers, some of them hacking their own families and villages to death. These were killing fields.

Today I bask in the vibrancy of life, hope and education that is buzzing around me. I stand and take in the panorama. Girls preparing for the Ugandan National Netball Finals to my left. Boys playing volleyball to my right. Away in the distance, under a tree, hundreds are lining up to donate blood. Everywhere else people are walking, running, laughing.

This is Dara High School. There are 800 pupils (an exaggeration - it is actually 798!). They all board even those from near by though there are some from as far away as South Sudan. With my family, the Headmaster Edward gives us a tour of the dormitories, the kitchen, the pastor’s office, the Science laboratory, the classrooms. And as we walk around I am taken by the pulse of goodness in the former Killing Fields. Today these are Fields Of Life!

The name Dara comes from its founders David and Rachel Opiokello. Rachel is with me as I take it all in. Jennifer Ayugi is also with me. She was Principal of the school across the road; Truth Primary and Nursery. Jennifer now works for Fields of Life. The school is called Truth after Trevor and Ruth Stevenson, founders of Fields Of Life. The wonderful buzz of another 700 children too. Rachel and Jennifer are inspirational people. They argue about which of them is the maddest of the two. Their visions are mad BUT I am standing firmly on the ground of their fulfilment. 

When Trevor Stevenson had the mad vision of Fields of Life, building schools across East Africa, starting in Uganda, Rachel had the mad idea of going north. Why should it only be children around Kampala who get this education? Lira was a dangerous, indeed out of bounds place, when Rachel pressed Trevor to think about it. When the school started they shipped the children off into town every night to protect them from threats made by Kony! Mad!

When Jennifer Ayugi became Principal of the Primary she phoned Rachel one day in Kenya and told her she needed to start a Nursery. Rachel told her she was and and that it couldn’t be done. I have to, was Jennifer’s response. If I get fifty children signed up in a week will you agree to starting it, she begged Rachel. OK! A week later she had 100 children. It was mad to think that they could resource this. Today, the colourful Nursery building is brimming over with the innocent wonder of young children learning! 

The verse on the Dara High School sign is Proverbs 29: 18 - “Without a vision the people perish.” As I walked around these campuses teeming with life in all its fulness, hope and education I could not help finish that proverb with a second half - “When there is a vision the nation is transformed.” 

Rachel told me that she and her husband were studying at Bible College just before the Dara idea. Her teacher asked them to write down their vision. As I listened to Rachel whose eyes twinkle with the Spirit Of God I couldn’t help but think that it was the writing down that sparked the life I find so exciting as I look around these schools. Write it down. Spell it out. Take it from your soul, onto the page and into reality. 



There are times when I hear a song and it sums up absolutely the musical sounds that most tickles my soul at that given moment in time. It is so utterly beautiful to my ears that it seems to be part of me. It soothes, it heals, it inspires, it pushes me on to deeper things. It touches my heart in what in ordinary terms might be called a sorbet, a cleansing between that busy hard chapter of life, and what the next vocational challenge is. In spiritual terms it is a sabbath, time to take out of the hand to the plough strain and just rest the soul in God, via a melody and some words. 

Romantica is that sound for me. As soon as I press play on Shadowlands, and Let The Light Go Through You begins, I sink into something like a hot soul bath and my entire being relaxes into refreshment. Ben Kyle’s voice has a sacred connection. With the rest of his Romantica mates on board, there are these sweet harmonies and the gentlest instrumentation. The pedal steel - oh my! It is like heading off into a Minnesota forest and retreat with God.

Of course it helps that Kyle’s lyrics are acutely aware of my need for sorbet and sabbath. The album title Shadowlands is a nod to his fellow Belfast spiritual writer CS Lewis. Kyle shows Lewis-esque spiritual insight and wisdom that makes him like a sage for the 21st Century soul that gets cluttered up with stuff. He never preaches and rarely prophesies about specific events but my goodness few songwriters have the innate ability to convey the struggles of those of us seeking to find God in the madness of culture and religion.

Take Harder to Hear my song of the first half of 2016: -


Its getting harder to hear my heart these days

Harder to hear my heart these days

There’s so much culture in the way


Oh somebody save me

Somebody save me

I don’t want to be cool

Somebody shine a light

somebody shine a light on this soul tonight

I don’t wanna be right


It’s getting harder to hear from God these days

Harder to hear from God

There’s so much religion in the way

So much superstition in the way


What a song… and the next song Give Your Heart a Shelter just continues the soul soak…


Sometimes the night and the darkness know better

In the heartache is when we find the heart breaks through


It is a pastoral gem.

Not all the songs are as spiritually weighty but all shine a light in songs of touring, family, life in St Pauls and childhood in Belfast. The last song gives a smile in the heart for that childhood. A follow up to the utterly wonderful National Side, from their America album, it has him cycling to the sweetie store for bon bons and a Shandy Bass! Remember it well! 

All in all this one is chasing everything else released this year to the top of the Albums of 2016 lists. Ryan Adams meets Head and The Heart. Ben Kyle is a secret gem. Romantica give his songs the fuller or just full enough sound to make that soul soak sweet, sweet, sweet!

IT'S A MIRACLE - WATER IS LIFE - Reflections on Watching a Bore Hole Drill in Uganda

Bore Hole Uganda

“It is a miracle,” a woman said to my wife. It is not everyday that you get to see a miracle but today we were the blessed ones. Charles was the miracle worker. I asked him what it was a like to give communities a miracle almost everyday. He smiled but there was no irony. “We have a wonderful job. To do what we do and the impact it has is a joy.”

The miracle is clean water. A man sitting beside my wife a little later said. “Water is life. You can live without food. BUT without clean water, there is disease and death.” 

Charles works for Fields Of Life and gets to bring water, the miracle of life, to communities all over Uganda. Today we are in the hills of Kassanda. It’s the sixteenth miracle that Charles, along with Washington, Isaac and Dennis have brought to that area in recent weeks.

We got to see the dirty water. People coming for water to ponds that they share with cows and pigs. The water was diseased enough to begin with. Now, even worse, the hills of Kassanda had seen recent gold finds. Companies are swamping the area, panning for gold in the soil. Once they have panned they are pouring mercury back into the streams; the water being used by locals. 

These miracles of bore wells, that Fields Of Life are bringing across the hills, are changing lives and transforming communities. The new hope being built is tangible. 

We were welcomed by parents and children and staff at Kiryamenyu Primary School. They had put flowers right down our path to their brand new Well. They sang to us, danced and lavished us with gifts of fruits some of which we already love, like Avocado, and others that we had never seen, like the huge and heavy Jack Fruit! For a poor community this was not much they said. There was an intake of breath when I told them that in Belfast an Avocado costs 5000 shillings! 

The gratitude was something to behold. For me the best part of the speeches was “before the bore hole was given to us absenteeism was very high due to water born diseases like typhoid, cholera, dysentery, bilharzia etc which affected children’s performance and drop out was high. Girls in their monthly period could not attend school due to lack of water at school. This is all now reduced.”

Water is a miracle. It is life. It is hope. I envied Charles his job. And yet, as I see the tent that he and his team sleep under and realise that they are away from home for long stretches, this is hard work. Yet, Ugandans are never frightened of hard work, especially when they end up as miracles!

As I spoke to the community at Kiryamenyu I was aware that I was quoting Martin Luther to a Catholic parish! Luther said that every time we wash our faces we should remember our baptism, the old life gone and the new life begun. Following Jesus for us was providing them the resources to get water. 

Fellow Northern Irishman Ross McQueen has been in Uganda for some six weeks researching his dissertation on the socialising aspects of the Water Well. One of the things he has learned and been sharing with Fields Of Life has been the maintenance of them. It is one thing to dig a borehole and move on. It is another thing that the boreal is still working in three years time. Training the community in how to use the Wells is vital. 

So, I asked the community in Kiryamenyu that every time they used the water from the Well that they remembered their baptism and that they follow Jesus in making sure the Well is maintained and used for the good of the entire community.

I know I will never use water as complacently ever again. I will attempt to remember my baptism and what that means. I will also remember these communities and the miracle that they now have. I will also remember that drill and the water spurting out of the ground in Kagaba, bringing new life and hope!