UGANDA DIARIES

LIFE IN ALL ITS EXTRAVAGANT WONDER (KLA to ARUA)

HUTS


WEST NILE RHYTHMS 'N TEARS

West Nile huts

Sun shines across hillocked green

West Nile beauty uniquely pervading

Signal pocked masts blight the horizon

Alien rhythm and unwelcomed invading 

Women lining the road to Nebbi

Cassava baskets filled with nourishment

When Jesus said, “Worry not about tomorrow”

Is this the perfect balance he meant.

 

The western rhythms 

They hypnotise us

Customise us

Conform our feet

Yes our rhythms

They can seduce us

Even reduce us

To an off beat.

 

Then between Arua and Nebbi

We climb over another rise

See the land laid out forever

Under mesmerising African skies

It seems like everything is possible

No need for a crammed up schedule

Maybe the more empty are the days

The more chance of a life that’s full.

 

These African rhythms

Can untangle the knots

To soothe our thoughts

And sense the Spirit move

Yes their rhythms

They come and find us

And realign us

To a soul chilled groove.

 

When I cross the bridge at Pakwach

There is always a tear in my eye

Joy in the coming

Sorrow in the going

The hello or goodbye!


WHAT WE DID... ON OUR MISSION TRIP TO UGANDA 2019

Jazz Parachute

So why would I even think about being in Uganda on the week that my dreams were fulfilled of a British Open at Royal Portrush?!

Well, it is the VIPs! VIPs in a British Open sense are all those famous rich people that everyone on Facebook got a selfie with. For me the VIPS in my life are the children on a school play ground on the edge of Arua, west Nile, Uganda. 

In the eyes of the world, even the rest of Uganda, Onialeku is no important place. These children are the least important people. Unless of course we read Matthew 25. Among the least important in the world’s eyes is where Jesus is. Who Jesus is, in fact.

Around 2012 when we were deciding to extend our Church Halls at a cost of £750,000 I heard how my friend Alain had built a school in Uganda for £75,000. The accountant’s son in me worked out the tithe thing and before long Fitzroy were in partnership with Fields of Life to fund a building for Onialeku Primary School.

The cold blooded financial deal turns into the warmest hearted of relationships. Since 2015 when we sent a Youth Team to open the school we have been there every July. 

It has been a real learning curve for me, reading theology about mission, which has changed vastly over these last twenty years, to understanding Uganda and attempting to find the rhythms of another context so that by somehow syncopating our rhythm into that rhythm that there might be mutual sharing and learning. Five years in and we are still attempting to blend those rhythms better.

Every team is different, with different gifts to contribute. Last year we had a few teachers who partnered in the classrooms. This year was the first year we had a handyman who built four classroom shelves and fixed a few dangerous plugs among other things. Someone else took on a painting project that painted the outside of the school and freshened it up beautifully. Both projects involved teachers and locals in the work.

The rest of the team continued the general schedule of the last two years. We again rolled out the very informative I Am Girl programme. This is a Sex and Hygiene education programme. We also took the P7s who had done the course last year to share about some extra identity issues.

Sport and games filled the playground. The sound of children having so much fun playing with a parachute and ball or learning skittles for the first time. It was joyous! Afternoons were spent playing puzzles and lego and more games. Knitting has been a staple part of the programme since we first arrived. Classes full as always! 

This was all wrapped around some Bible teaching. The mornings were spent doing a Kids Bible Club, with puppet shows and songs, three times - for nursery, P1-P4 and then P5-7. This year we did a short discipleship course, the fruit of Jesus teaching. On the last morning we then did a craft of five fruit with the lessons written on, that they could wear in a fruit basket on their heads. They wore that basket all day long!

In the afternoons we did the same discipleship course with the teachers, unpacking the lessons with wider biblical teaching. This proved a wonderful avenue for fellowship and some questions were fascinating and tricky to answer. The teachers got real fruit rather than a basket of cardboard cut outs!

This is obviously only the programme. It ran smoothly. However, that is not the point of the trip. We have been very influenced by English missional theologian Sam Wells who points out that Jesus spent only a few days of his life “fixing” us but 90% just “being with” us before he did anything at all. 

It is in the “being with” that the incarnational grace of God begins to flow. In those moments we share our lives, our faith, our struggles and our hopes. In those moments we exchange dignity, hope and empowerment, the three word motto at the new cafe Borderlands that we discovered and enjoyed.

We are heading home now (Team gone - Stockies still in Kampala for a few days) to ponder and surmise what we learned. How the very different rhythms of West Nile might interrupt our western infected rhythms? What their faith teaches us? 

For me best of all is marvelling at the image of God stamped humanity that we had the privilege of loving and being loved by. I see Jacqueline smile as I find her face in the crowd, Rachel go all shy and Jonathan and I point at each other across that playground. 

The wonder of these children. It is why I would rather be taking selfies with them than Rory or Tiger, Tommy or Shane. 

God was on to something when he invited us to love who the world define as the least. Right there we encounter God and “the least of these” don’t so much benefit from our condescension as smash to pieces our misplaced arrogance! Thank you VIPS of Onialeku Nursery and Primary School!


FEEL THE SILENCE

 

WHEN A WIND COMES OUT OF NOWHERE...

Flight Diverted

We have many little hiccups leading up to our 2019 Fitzroy team to Uganda. When we boarded in Dublin for Addis Ababa and the connecting flight to Entebbe, I uttered the famous last words, "Nothing to think about now for 10 hours..." The flight was to touch down briefly in Madrid but a storm sent us off to spend a few very dull hours on the runway in Barcelona before flying back to Madrid. We were now 8 hours overdue and missing our Entebbe connection. This is my sobering meditation on such a day...

 

You can have your destination planned

And know exactly how you are getting there

Dates and times all on your ticket

“Nothing more to think about until you arrive”

Famous last words

Like certainty, 

Or ‘nothing can go wrong’

And “we have it under control”.

 

“Sometimes a wind comes out of nowhere

And knocks you off your feet”

As Bruce Cockburn sings it

It can send you off course

Divert you to somewhere off your map

Towards worry

Anger

Frustration 

And weariness.

 

That wind and where it blows you

Cannot be eradicated

Or erased

God will not shift the weather patterns of the world

For your own self indulgence

Life is not the wind that blows

But how we respond when it does.

 

“Worry,” said the Master

“Adds nothing to your circumstances but worry”

“Surmise,” he went on,

“The Uganda Cranes as the fly

Or the sunflowers as the decorate a field

No toiling or spinning

But utterly beautiful.”

“Trust,” he teaches

“Brings a peace beyond understanding”

 

The breeze of the Spirit

Where it blows, no one knows

And so it is with all of those born of the Spirit of God 

Certainty gives way

To faith

And faith was the lesson of today.


COULD MY MOTHER-IN-LAW AND GREAT UNCLE BE TO BLAME FOR MY LOVE FOR AFRICA?

Stockies and Ednar

Next week I will be heading to Uganda for the fifth summer in a row. I have already written two blogs about how this partnership with a school in Arua was formed, first from my side of the connection and another about where it all began in Uganda.

I often wonder if this journey for Janice, myself and our daughters began a long time earlier. Could it be that I have a mother-in-law and a great uncle that I barely remember, and who died when I was in my early teens, to blame for this deep love for East Africa.

It was in my first trip to Uganda in 2015 that I considered their holy crime. I looked around at my wife and daughters and realised that Africa is where they come alive. My mother-in-law, Anne Gordon, who passed away in 2009, came into my mind. She loved Africa, though to be fair, it was the countries further south that she had visited and prayed for. Along with my father-in-law Bryan they headed up the Irish department of Africa Evangelical Fellowship which later submerged into SIM. 

I think Anne would like to have spent more time than she did in Africa and I believe the prayed that Janice would have a love for the continent too. I couldn’t help but think she’d be pretty pleased that not only had her prayers covered her daughter but now her son-in-law was now drawn in and her granddaughters were smitten too! 

My Dad’s Uncle Tommy never moved far from Ahoghill and Galgorm, just outside Ballymena. From what I am told he was a prayer warrior and one time when he was ill the missionary Helen Roseveare told him was the most prayed for white man in the Congo because the Congo knew of wee Tommy’s prayers. It struck me one afternoon in our Primary School in Onaileku that I was less than ten miles form the Congo border. Tommy would be pretty pleased too!

Perhaps the prayers of those who go before us mark our trail. Whatever, I will be remembering these two saints in our lives as I walk around that school playground in Onialeku, perhaps our family's favourite couple of acres in the world. 


INVITED INTO A DREAM... HOW OUR UGANDAN PROJECT BEGAN...

Stocki and Bishop Isaac

Bishop Isaac was a leader. He was a Church leader; Elim. He was a community leader. I don’t mean leader in the sense of he has a position of leadership. I mean he led. This man took his people from where they were to somewhere else. 

In August 2015, I sat with this man, small in stature, huge in faith, frail in body but robust in soul, under a tree in Arua, West Nile, Uganda and basked in the rays of his spiritual maturity and missional vision. 

He told me that me that in 2008 he had been speaking to the children in Church. As he was sharing with them he asked God, “What can I do for them?” Onialuku is a poor part of Arua, up on the north west fringes of Uganda, feeling cut off. There were few resources to come up with any pie in the sky dreams.

Bishop Isaac sensed God answered him by telling him to start a school. Now that was a dream. In Uganda you don’t just put your name down for a school place when your child reaches their third or fourth birthdays. As parents or community leaders you need to actively start a school, close enough for your young children to get to. 

So with some parents Bishop Isaac did just that. They started a class in the Church. Then they built a make shift school beside the Church building. 

By 2015, when I got to the chair under the tree, Bishop Isaac’s dream had been hit out of the park of Arua dreams. With the school developing and growing Bishop Isaac had connected with Fields Of Life and Fields Of Life had connected them with Fitzroy. 

As Bishop Isaac and I looked up after he shared the story of his dream, we were gazing right into the bricks and mortar of a dream come true. Right there in front of us was a brand new school just a few feet away. 

Now the children of this community had a place to grow and learn and be equipped to take their place in the development of their nation. It was one of those very thin places between how earth is and what heaven is and how the two can merge. If we dream. If we dream in God.  Bishop Isaac taught me that… and more.

Bishop Isaac sadly passed away just six months after our time under the tree. I miss him very much, especially when I am sitting under our tree. I thank Bishop Isaac for inviting us into his dream and I thank God for miraculously connecting a tiny community in a marginalised place in Africa with a Church in South Belfast. 

Bishop… I miss you very much. Thank you for inviting us into your dream. We will continue to care for it!

 

You had a dream

And it wasn't about you

It was about the children

Who couldn't dare to dream

You dreamed for them

For their future and the nation’s

And now the children grow in a field of dreams.

 

You had a dream

You got to see it through

We weep at your death

But smile at your dream

For the dream lives after you

God’s dream built on earth

Onialeku as it is in heaven.

 

You had a dream

And you invited us in

We sat under a tree

You envisioned and inspired

And I felt the dreams 

They flew and floated and fell

I was soaked by their blessing.

 

You had a dream

You were dreaming in God

And you carried it into being

And now you leave it down

So we will lift it up

We will cradle it and care

This dream will go on… and on…

 


HOW I CONNECTED IN UGANDA

Onialeku School

(Two weeks today I will be flying to Uganda for another Mission Trip with a team from Fitzroy. The next five or six weeks will see many Ugandan blogs. Here's an opener. How Fitzroy ended up there is the first place)

I went along because I felt it was the right thing to do. It was a Fields Of Life event in Fitzroy and at the time Claire Nichol was working for them and so I thought it was be a pastoral gesture to drop in.

My good friend Alain Emerson got up to speak. I knew his story. I could have got up and told it. Alain with his wife Lindsay took their church to Uganda to build a school with Fields of Life. During the trip Lindsay started getting headaches and sadly a brain tumour took her young life the following April. In her memory they built a high school called Light For All for £75,000.

£75,000! What?! The one thing Alain said that I didn’t know. About a week before our Church Session had decided to extend our halls to a budget of £750,000. It only took an accountant’s son a second to work out tithe. I was flabbergasted. Could we really build a school somewhere in the world for a tenth of what we were spending on ourselves. We must!

Session jumped at the idea. They had tithed a building project before. Of course, tithing a building means that you have to raise 10% more than you would have or you would be 10% short of your payment! 

There was no preference for Uganda. Fields of Life was just the place that I got the idea. We had no idea that it would be our destination too. We interview various Christian development charities. Richard Spratt told us about a school in Arua, right on the north west edge of Uganda and our committee were immediately convinced.

It took a year or two, to raise the money and make sure all was in order in Arua but in 2015 I had the privilege of opening Onialeku Primary School, or its brand new building at least! A joy of my life! 

In my speech that afternoon in August 2015 I made clear to our partners in Uganda that we in Fitzroy were not Americans. We don’t print money. This was a huge cost for us and there would not be anymore coming.

I have now said that in 2016, 2017 and 2018! We have put in a well, built a fence and last year a girls wash room so that girls do not have to miss school during their time of the month. As well as all of that we have gifted text books, many other things during teams that have gone every summer. Beyond that we sponsor almost 70 of the children.

That is a lot more than £75,000. Almost twice as much.

There is a reason for that. It is the reason that I had long hoped for a partnership in the developing world, long before that night when Alain Emerson shared the cost of Light For All. 

Fitzroy is renowned as a generous congregation but I was concerned that we were sending a lot of money into the developing world without any connection. I felt that that it would be much more challenging and inspirational to be connected to a community where we not only throw money but hurt when they hurt, rejoice when they rejoice. 

So, it has been. The reason that Fitzroy are so delighted to continue giving to Onialeku is that we feel that personal connection. Not only have over 30 of us now visited Onialeku but everyone has been drawn in, knitting, helping with crafts, sponsoring. 

Of course, we need to be careful that we don’t help until it hurts. We do not want our school to become dependent. Thankfully they have not an attitude towards that. However, we have one more building project to complete and then we will look at different ways to help. We want to upgrade the Nursery School building and our two thirds of the way there!

We continue to learn from our Ugandan partners. We gain more than we give. We are rich in shillings (the Ugandan currency) and Onialeku is rich in faith, resilience and initiative. This is a mutual partnership in mission. I am so glad I dropped in on that Fields of Life event in Fitzroy!


JONNY FITCH - AFRICA (WAVING AT YOU) - Single Launched

Fitch Africa Waving

This morning in Fitzroy we launched a single. Africa (Waving At You) by Jonny Fitch. It's a co write between myself and the very talented Jonny and is now available on Bandcamp!

I wrote the lyric on the 12 hour bus journey from Arua to Kampala on our first trip to Uganda in 2015. The waving was my way in, as on that journey every mile or two Ugandan children were waving at us, waving at them.

More serious is my prayer. It is basically that hope that, as Uganda and Africa develops, it doesn't get the bad habits of our wealth. Unaccountable wealth is over rated. Africans have riches in many more important things that I hope don't get squeezed out with decadence and greed.

The last lines might not be the best I have ever written but, when I shared them with my brothers and sisters in Onialeku Primary School at its opening in August 2015, they became my favourite!

Jonny has turned it into the catchiest of songs and added the "My name is not Muzungu" line. He has added that African sound of exuberance and the children you hear are the children of Onialeku Primary School in Arua, West Nile, Uganda. 

All proceeds from the sale of the song go towards a new building for the Nursery School in Onialeku. Feel free to donate more than the pound you are asked for!

 

buy the Africa (Waving At You) at jonnyfitch.bandcamp.com

 

Africa, I am waving at you

And you always wave back and smile

Roads teeming with fascination

Red dust mile after red dust mile.

 

Africa, I am staring at you

All the wildlife through the trees

Elephants under the mangos

The smell of your welcoming breeze.

 

Africa, I am singing with you

Your joyful songs of being free

Ubuntu, what a great refrain

Without you, I can’t be me.

 

Africa, I am praying for you

Water and education and health

That you don’t get all our poverty

With justice, peace and wealth. 

 

My name is not muzungu

We may have a different skin

But all of our blood is red

The same grace colour

That Jesus bled.

 


MENSTRUAL HYGIENE DAY, FIELDS OF LIFE & MANCHESTER CITY

Hygiene Day Ednar

Today, across the world, is Menstrual Hygiene Day. It will no doubt pass many of us by but it shouldn't. For my friends working in schools with Fields of Life in East Africa this is a major day. 

Something that we in the west find hard to talk about openly is a world justice issue for millions. This summer, like the last two summers, Fitzroy’s Team to Onialeku Primary School will teach a programme called I am Girl which will educate the girls and indeed boys in the school about this very natural process, helping them with their hygiene thus enabling them to not miss school once a month, further aiding their education to take their place in the building of their nation.

Indeed, we believe so much that the girls' education should not be hampered by the natural process of menstruation that we funded a separate washroom for girls so that they could come to school confident that their hygiene could be taken care of.

As the Menstrual Hygiene Day website points out, “More than half of girls lose confidence during puberty with the onset of menstruation marking the lowest point in confidence. One of the key reasons is a lack of information. Education about menstruation changes fear to confidence.”

Poverty is balanced against women. Days like today’s Menstrual Hygiene Day are a contribution to a fairer and more just world. So my Fields Of Life colleagues in Kampala, we stand with you. We will come in a few weeks and work alongside you.

Forgive me for sounding as if this is just an African or Asian issue. It is an issue very much alive closer to home. There is stigma and what is called 'period poverty' right here in the UK and Ireland.

Indeed, three female footballers started the On The Ball Campaign. It is estimated that one in ten girls and young women in the UK are unable to access sanitary products. 

My team Manchester City, often vilified in the media, were one of the first clubs to respond. On The Ball said: "We are thrilled to have Manchester City backing the On The Ball campaign by providing free period products. The Premier League is known worldwide so to have teams like Man City on board with the campaign is excellent and shows that football can be forward-thinking and an effective platform for change."

So, on Menstrual Hygiene Day, let's raise the awareness. Let's help however we can. Onialeku Primary School in Arua, Uganda, we will be showering you with sanitary pads very soon!