UGANDA DIARIES

THE GLORIOUS STORY OF A NEW SCHOOL IN KARAMOJA, UGANDA

Komoret 1

A year ago this week, I visited Karamoja in north eastern Uganda with Trevor Stevenson, the founder of Fields of Life. 

This week I watched with joy, and not a little jealousy, as Trevor went back to Karamoja to open Komoret Primary School. It was another glorious story in Trevor’s emotional journey with Fields of Life in East Africa.

Karamoja is quite a place. When we drove into it, it was hot and the rivers were dry. The vegetation was brown and wispy, maybe not barren but seriously undeveloped. The murram roads were rough. There were few signs of civilisation. The mountains separating Uganda from Kenya were beautiful but a little stern too. 

The children looked thin and there was evidence of little pot bellies. The clothes looked poor and ragged. Even the dogs looked beyond scrawny. MP Esther Davinia Anyakun, from nearby Nakapiripirit, told me that the first time she visited Karomoret, where we were, she wept. This was the poorest place I had ever been.

The Karamojong have been a little cut off from the rest of Uganda, partly to do with geographic isolation but also to their stubborn desire to remain as they have been. Though they now wear western clothes, over the top is still the traditional shawl blanket. The men all carry a stick, sign of the warrior and the fact that keeping cattle and indeed cattle rustling is part of the DNA.

Kampala’s world famous Ndere Cultural Dancers portray the Karamojong as a rough violent people, even in the act of romancing! My Ugandan friends joke about a common phrase “We are not waiting around for Karamoja to catch up!”

As we drove in I could not help but think that this was as close as I was going to get to the American wild west of two hundred years ago. I really felt that I was seeing the Ugandan frontier.

We were there for for the ground breaking of a new Fields of Life funded Nursery and Primary School in Karomoret. During the ground breaking ceremony, MP Esther called on this nomadic herding people to come down off the mountains permanently to get their children an education. Only 20% of Karomojong children are registered for schools! There will need to be a cultural change if children used to looking after cattle are to learn the long term advantages of sitting at a desk. 

That was a year ago. This week Trevor travelled back to Karamoja for the opening of the school. After a ten hour journey from Kampala the Fields of Life entourage stayed the night in a hotel before the 45 minute journey for the 9am opening. Prompt in Uganda can mean within the next few hours!

Trevor soon realised that the new desks had not arrived for the classrooms. Trevor’s Church, Crinken Church of Ireland in Bray, County Wicklow had paid for them, so he had an even more vested interest. The desks finally arrived at 10 and the Fields of Life team filled one classroom with desks. The children, though, did not want to go into classroom. They were very nervous. Local leaders eventually got them to go in and asked them to sit down.  

Trevor was flabbergasted. They sat everywhere, on top of desk on the seat and in every possible way that you could sit. Backwards. Forwards. Sideways. Trevor suddenly realised that these kids had never seen furniture before, never mind sit at a desk. This was their very first time ever to sit in such a way. They gradually began to relax a little and smiles began to appear. Trevor has twenty five years full of school openings but this one was very unique.

Komoret4

The guest of honour finally arrived, just after 12! He is the Deputy Speaker of Parliament. There were many other important people, a few of who were actually important! The speeches lasted over three hours. There were fourteen of them! 

As Trevor got up to give his speech, the alumni came and flanked him on either side. At that point it was difficult to hold his emotions. These were his children. They all call him Uncle T. He had watched them coming to Fields of Life Schools, many getting sponsored. Now grown up and graduated they had taken their roles in Ugandan society. 

This was the harvest of the harvest. The children, many of them sponsored whose lives were transformed by the opportunity to go to a school near their homes, have grown up and decided to do for the children of Karamoja what they had gifted to them! Trevor grew up a farmer. This is the kind of harvest way beyond farming!

Then Trevor looked around at the little ones in Komoret. He imagined the possibility of God’s kingdom breaking through in this neglected out of the way place, lives changed, communities transformed and hope built. as the three aims of Fields of Life read. 

It was a very special day for Komoret, for Uganda, for Fields of Life and for Trevor Stevenson. Yet again, with yet another tear in his eye, he gave God the glory! 

Komoret 3

 


AFRICA RISING (KEEPING MY EYES ON YOU)

Levixone

In my connections with Fields Of Life and travelling to Uganda I have met so many incredible people, doing amazing things, against the odds. Even when they find themselves rising above the odds they seem to give back more than they have ever been given.

This poem is about all of them but the verses focus on two Fields Of Life alumni. Levixone and Josephine have come through Fields of Life schools. Levixone is a pop star. He has been East Africa Gospel Singer of the Year for five years running. Yet, he still lives and ministers in the Kosovo slum that he grew up in. He showed me the pool table that he used to sleep under at night. 

Josephine came to Fitzroy last year and when she said she had nine children I couldn't believe it. Yet, in January and then again in July I got to go to her little home and meet those children. What an amazing joy that was. Josephine is not rich. She works to get by but feels God's call to love and becomes a guardian to nine orphans. She met one under a Kampala bridge.

So many more do so many heroic things. Forgive me for choosing these two...

 

Make the crowd all turn the replay

This stage my bro is a long long way

From that pool table you used to stay

But still your living there in Kosovo 

It's your place and you’re not leaving

The homeless boy now building homes

Until you gift all your people believing

 

You said you had nine children

I knew that couldn’t possibly be

The saw the line of tiny coloured shoes

And the bunk beds all stacked in three

You found them below the bridge at night

You could not leave them out there

You give more than you’ve been given

To make Kampala more kingdom fair

 

Africa rising

It’s not surprising

I’m keeping me eyes on you

Africa rising

I am surmising

I’m keeping my eyes on you

 

Your acts of kindness

A stronger currency

Love your neighbour

With a weightier urgency

Our souls impoverished

Oh how you inspire us

The simplicity of holiness

In almost innocent trust

 

Africa rising

It’s not surprising

I’m keeping me eyes on you

Africa rising

I am surmising

I’m keeping my eyes on you


SHOULD WE NOT JUST SEND THE MONEY... INSTEAD OF WASTING IT ON THIS TRIP?

Angus

On Friday night Janice got the shakes. She’s a city girl and jokes that she gets the shakes when she passes Lisburn on the M1. We ended up in the heart of Armagh, at the Markethill Mart, kindly invited as guests of Laurence and June Andrews to the 6th Annual Big BBQ. As well as an amazing meal you could bid at the auction for a cow or a few lambs or a Massey Ferguson Fleece! We were far from home.

Angus Wilson and local businessmen put on this auction and meal every couple years to raise money to Water Wells in East Africa, through Water For Life, past of Fields of Life. On Friday night Gerry Kelly asked him about what they do at the BBQs and Angus’s answered wit a story that preached wonderfully what I have been trying to convince people of for many years.

Angus is on the Fields Of Life Board and for some years has been taking annual trips of five or six businessmen to Uganda to see the work of Fields Of Life. Many of those businessmen were in the room on Friday night. They probably bid for the cow!

On Angus’s very first trip, on the way to the airport, one of the businessmen asked Angus would it not be far more helpful to send the cost of their trips to help the people of Uganda. Why should they waste this money on this kind of trip? Angus, like a sage, said he would answer that question on the way home! It was a great question. £10,000 to go and be a sight seer when it could have built two water wells. How would Angus answer?

I have no idea whether Angus gave the businessmen an answer on the way home or not. They probably didn’t need one. On Friday night it was declared that the businessmen who have gone on Angus’s trips have already raised £480,000 and would break the half million pound mark on the evening. Any businessman would agree that that is some return on a £10,000 investment!

I have argued the question Angus was asked many times. I am always trying to convince the sceptics of the value of visiting, seeing for yourself. It changes your life and that changes your giving. Your giving in time, energy and money. Visiting is never a waste of money. 

When we were taking teams to South Africa I remember one of my students asking a local minister Rev Dr Spiwo Xapile if there was anything we could leave with him before we headed home. Maybe some money? Maybe a gift? What would be helpful? 

“Don’t leave us any money,” he answered. “Leave us your heart.” 

That is the key to Angus’s success. That is the answer to the businessman’s question. When you visit developing countries across the world, with an open mind, then it is likely that you will have your heart captured. What you will give a place and people that you have experienced and shaken hands with will be immeasurably more than the cost of a trip to research and engage. The money you pay is not for a plane ticket, accommodation or food. It is the price of giving away your heart. That can change everything inside yourself and across the world.

I was in awe of Angus’s work. He would probably say that he doesn’t do very much. He enjoys the trips. What he is doing though is not easily calculated. Not even the £500,00 plus he has raised can estimate what he has been doing for the people of East Africa. If he asks you to go, don’t think for a moment that it is money that could be better used. The answer will be obvious when you get home.


SHALOM - HOW WAS YOUR SABBATICAL?

Stocki FOL Muyenga

How was your sabbatical?

As I return to Belfast and Fitzroy this week, I am thinking that I might get asked this question a time or two. So, how was it? Well, the quick response is… awesome!

The official sabbatical was six weeks in Uganda. The last four weeks have been holiday. There were many times in many places during those six weeks in Uganda when I sat back and gave God thanks for the ridiculously lavish privilege of spending six weeks in Africa. Imagine that. Now, back in the day, I have spent more than six weeks in Cape Town, when we were taking three teams a summer of Chaplaincy Students. Uganda, though, is different. It is real Africa. Right in there. Murram roads. Mud huts with thatched roofs. Bod Bodas. Very few muzungus!

I felt that we settled in, particularly in Kampala. We were able to have coffee and lunch with people, walk on our own to shop and go for meals out. Now to be fair, that was all about our little patch of Muyenga. We had the privilege of staying in both the Fields of Life apartments, on the Shalom compound where their offices are. Indeed, for the last two weeks, through the kindness of Scott and Anne Brown, we walked up past all three floors of the Fields of Life offices to get to our apartment. I loved looking in and saying hi, and getting distracted with conversations with some member of staff. It was also a rest from all those stairs! We cannot thank Ednar Nyakaisiki and her team enough for how they welcomed us in!

As I shaped Fields Of Life founder Trevor Stevenson’s memoir, I sat in Shalom typing about when he and his wife Ruth first drove through the gates. They both felt a peace, hence Shalom. How right they were. Our time here was the proof of that feeling and the name - Shalom!

Within a few hundred yards of the gates of Shalom there is everything you needed. Cafes, restaurants and a grocery store. Finding Holy Crepe in the last couple of days was a bonus, sadly better late than never! If we’d walked a little further, my girls could have bought fashion and fabric. For that they would call Bosco who became our driver and took us wherever we needed. My two frustrations, one that came from the other, was that not feeling confident to drive in the mad traffic of Kampala which resulted in the vast majority of city remaining estranged to us. If we were going to live there longer we would have needed to learn how to drive!

Living above the Fields of Life offices was such a joy. We got to know the staff better, though when the women change their hairstyles they throw me and with one or two of the men are still a struggle to put name and face together! My girls got to do a little work in the office and on the field. We became a little part of the everyday running of the NGO and that helped us all to feel more orientated to what Fields of Life is all about.

So too with Fitzroy’s work in Onialeku, Arua. Janice, Jasmine and I got an extra week before our Fitzroy team arrived. That helped solidify friendships and gave us a chance to have almost ordinary days on the school site as opposed to the mad festive time we have with a team in. Janice and I got to think about what we do and why and how to develop it. We also got down time in Uganda after the team left. Reflecting in the environment of the Fields Of Life offices about the team’s impact, which was again very helpful.

Of course I got to be a writer for six weeks. Though on my last sabbatical in 2005 I had the spectacular title of Writer In Residence at Regent College Vancouver, this time I felt like a writer. I think it was The Times that used to have a little weekend series called How Do You Write? I loved reading about the places and routines of famous writers. For six weeks in Africa I was a writer. Oh my. I loved every minute. Let us hope the book is worthy.

As always on vacation, but perhaps more in ten weeks away, the Holy Spirit gave me a hard time. In that kind of space where there is intensity of family together, and also the space to reflect, the Spirit loves to expose my foibles, quirks and weaknesses and failings. I am not sure whether any healing was done but various dark sides have been pointed out!

The best thing of all is having that kind of time with my wife and daughters. Africa is the one place that we can all go together and all be in our happy place at the same time. Where everyone’s a winner is a great place to enjoy one another’s gifts.

As the real world beckons, I am a little fearful. I have emptied the hood. Emptied it! I haven’t thought about what I do in Belfast and Fitzroy since mid June. I have been relieved to have been out of the deep rooted divisions and rifts across our society. I have not missed the vicious debate. I have enjoyed being outside the shallow judgments. 

As I return I do not know what to think. I am prepared for reverse culture shock. I am starting to pray that maybe I will find my place in it all, if that is still God’s 10:10 for me. I hope I am fresher for the fight, more wise as the serpent and more gentle as the dove. That verse has been lingering around my soul the entire time (there is always one!). How it will be made flesh… I will wait and see… still not sure that I am ready for what it might look like!

Thank you who followed the trip on the blog or other social media. I appreciate it. In answer to the question. It was a privileged sabbatical. I don’t take it for granted. I am grateful… and I miss Shalom! 


MY SABBATICAL IN UGANDA, WRITING A MEMOIR

Stocki Last Day

I have experienced the hand of God, a Godless financial scandal, bombs, terrorists, plane crashes and potential Ebola. I have driven the roads of Uganda’s former killing fields, escaping the violent LRA by that sleight hand of God. I have then crossed borders to other killing fields, the recent history of Rwanda, as well as the current atrocities in Burundi, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have heard the celebrations as an Irish President visited a poor Ugandan village, have traveled in a seventeen vehicle convoy with the President of Burundi and even been part of a visit by that President to Northern Ireland. 

In all of this drama, almost too much for one Hollywood blockbuster I have peered into the life of a very ordinary humble man from County Wicklow as he tumbled and stumbled the next step in following Jesus. While slaloming all of the above, he set in motion a Christian NGO that has built 120 schools and drilled well over 700 boreholes, touching the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in East Africa.

For six weeks I feel that I have been living in the middle of someone else’s life. Almost every day, I have been reading someone’s story. I do not mean that I am reading a holiday biography, like the Paul Simon one I hope to read next week. I have been writing a memoir. That is a much more intense experience than reading one. 

In January I travelled to Uganda with Trevor Stevenson, the founder of Fields Of Life. We celebrated 25 years of that organisation with a huge party in Mukono. We visited historic sites in Fields of Life as well as some of the current work. As we drove thousands of miles I listened as Trevor shared his story. It was like an unofficial audiobook! 

I then started reading Trevor’s Memoirs. Many of the pages were so familiar, as I had seen that tree or met that person or heard Trevor narrate that humorous or tragic story. My job was to take Trevor’s memoir and, with my knowledge of Fields of Life, shape it into a book that you would want to read. I wanted to take that drama and make it flow, not just for dramatic effect but for something so much deeper.

So, I took six weeks sabbatical in Uganda with my family, to do the writing part. I want the story of how God guided one very willing human to leave his comfort zone, and with a passion for Jesus and compassion for the people of East Africa, help bring God’s Kingdom on earth. I long that it is a resource to discipleship and mission. If anyone is considering spending short or long term time in Africa generally, or East Africa particularly, then I want this book to help orientate to the culture, warn about the pitfalls and inspire to the potential.  

My six weeks are up. What a gift it has been to write in so many fun locations, two different apartments at Shalom in Muyenga, Kampala, The Fitzroy Room at Onialkeu School/Church in Arua, The Hotel Delambiance in Arua, the poolside and the balcony of our room at Serena Resort. I even worked on the text as we travelled on the Arua-Kampala Road.

I feel at the end of this phase. I finished my reshaping last night. Today, two days before our sabbatical is over, I am scanning through the first draft. I suppose it is not technically the first draft as I have been working off Trevor’s draft. I am not sure how he will react to my severe editing, reshaping and in one or two chapters rewriting! I hope that maybe tomorrow I will be sending this draft, first to Trevor, then to a few other Fields of Life folk. We will look at the accuracy of facts and I will seek Trevor to elaborate, go deeper and add a couple of chapters. We will need real professional editors after that!

My hope is that by year’s end you will be reading the story that I have had the privilege of living in. I believe that if we can get it right, it will be a  real resource to many spiritual lives… and a gripping read too!


THE KILLER WE TAKE FOR GRANTED, EVERYDAY - WATER!

Water - Onialeku well

Water? Is there anything in the developed world that we take for granted more? Washed hands and face and teeth. That boiled kettle. Cup of tea. Minutes after we waken up. Without even thinking. We are not even aware that the same process for people in East Africa might takes hours, cause them to miss school, lead them to being raped by humans, or eaten by animals. Even when they make it safely home and use the water for drinking, in their cooking, the very water itself can kill! 

Often the water, gathered at polluted often stagnant pools, breeds mosquitoes, which bring malaria. Infectious diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera and malaria. These are some of the top killers in Africa. Deaths that our children never have to even think about because of that clean water coming out of taps all across our houses.

I am currently on sabbatical in Uganda. I am shaping the memoirs of Trevor Stevenson, founder of Fields of Life. Today, I am writing about Fields of Life’s water drilling, a miraculous life saving work. I am inspired by the hundreds and hundreds of bore holes across the poorest areas of East Africa that have given women and children back the hours they carried water, so that they could do more productive things for their families. I am writing about the clean water that makes for healthier children who can attend to school without constant sickness causing absenteeism or high drop out rates.

I am asking myself, and all of you Soul Surmise readers, to stop today and give thanks for that tap… in your bathroom, kitchen… even garden. I am asking that you stop and give thanks for the clean water that flows forth. I am asking that you then think of those less off than yourself and give just a little money every month to change someone’s life.

Apparently Martin Luther asked his congregations to remember their baptism, every time they washed their faces. Remembering the new life we have in Jesus means action. Will African children know we have been baptised by how we love them, our neighbour, with the key to life? At the bottom of this poem you can save lives for just £4 per month! 

 

Turn on the tap

And wash your face

Remember your baptism

Jesus grace

Fill your glass

Bow and pray

Give thanks 

For blessings every day

 

No tap to turn

Her broken cup dry

Holding her belly ache

To her brother’s cry

Look in her soul

by her yearning eyes

Is she asking us

Are we baptised

 

She will walk and walk for miles

And then walk all the miles back

She will carry what she can carry

Until her little back breaks

For miles and miles

 

If your neighbour had no water

Would you give their children yours

I know you would for sure

So who is your neighbour?

Who is our neighbour?

Who is my neighbour?

 

Turn on the tap

And wash your face

Remember your baptism

Jesus grace.

for £4 per month... save lives with Fields Of Life... HERE!


MUTUAL MISSION, FELLOWSHIP AND DISCIPLESHIP IN UGANDA

UGANDA 2418

How do you measure the success of a short term mission team? In the first two weeks of July my wife Janice and I were leading my 14th short term mission team, our third in Uganda. There were 24 of us, from our church Fitzroy, back in Belfast. We had an age range from teens to 60s. We were working in a Primary School, that Fitzroy had funded the building of, on the edge of Arua, on the very edge of north western Uganda. 

For some of us it was our second, third and fourth trip to Onialeku Primary School. We know staff and pupils. Our Church sponsors 70 of the children. It is like the other half of our church family. This was part of our reasoning for the project. We did not want to be sending money, and Fitzroy gives generously, to projects that we knew nothing about. We didn’t want to be just the giver. We wanted to partner in a way that we would receive. We wanted mutual mission, mutual fellowship and mutual discipleship.

We were on site at Onialeku for nine days. Well, a hastily called council election did give us a day off where we visited another school and two other projects in the Arua area. The visit to the other school, Wandi Progressive Secondary School was so that we could visit three of our Onialeku alumni who we now continue to sponsor through secondary school. 

Anyway, on site at Onialeku we did a wide variety of activities. Some of our teachers took classes, bringing a different angle into teaching English, the national language in Uganda. We had a Children’s Bible club every morning, we taught an I Am Girl course that helps with sexual health education, there was a Christianity Explored Course, we taught knitting, guitar and played board games and lego as well as sport and just hanging out. We also encouraged our teachers.

It is hard to know what you achieve in a week. Some would say, not much. I do not believe that. I hear the children shouting back at me the things we have shared over these last years. They soak up the entire experience. Indeed the entire experience might be more important than the specifics. After all Janice always tells us that turning up is enough!

During the trip, two comments from Africans caught my attention and encouraged my heart. Lydia, a Kenyan and Biblica Rep for East Africa, who spent a few days with us, told me that these children would never ever forget the puppet show version of parable for the House On the Rock. In his closing speech, Pastor David, overseer of the school and our partnership, mentioned how our team reached everyone in the school. 

That is one of the ways that I judge our impact. A school community in Uganda, and indeed anywhere, has a myriad of members. As I, as an overseeing leader, watched this week I was proud of how our team greeted and loved every single player on that campus. The cooks, ululating every time we drove on site, the old man who cleans the ground around the gate and blew us out on a traditional instrument, the guys building the wash room, to every teacher and child. Not one was given less importance. 

As I put it, in a humorous poem for the final night concert:

 

"As I looked across the playground

Watched each one of you in your spot

Leaving the lavish love of Jesus

Whether you knew it or not.”

 

That moves us seamlessly into the other thing that I judge the success of the team on. That every member of the team finds their place and gives their all. This year’s team was the most varied team in age, personality, experience and gifting that I had ever been on. The thrill for me on the last day was knowing that not one of them felt like a spare part, that everyone of them found their spot, their role, and lived nine days of “life in all its fulness”… the verse that the children of Onialeku shout at me endlessly… “10:10… Amen!”

I did talk about mutual mission, fellowship and discipleship. Again, I am encouraged. Our team have been WhatsApping their initial feelings, arriving home. I am confident that a team who gave their all, to all of those that they were with, will have been impacted spiritually, and in so many other ways, by the experience. I believe that the transformative God at the heart of our giving, will be the same transformative God in own hearts. I know that the Spirit is making a mark on mine… but that might be for another blog!


YOU HAD A DREAM... AND INVITED US IN

Bish and me laughing

Tomorrow morning 21 Fitzers will join Janice, Jasmine and I in Uganda. We are here to cradle and care for one man's dream.

On Wednesday morning, we will travel to Arua, to a school that we funded through Fields of Life. The school was the dream of an Elim Bishop, Isaac Aswa. As he watched the children run around his Church, he asked God what he could do for them? He decided to give them a school. We were honoured to partner with that school, Onialeku Primary and Nursery School.

In 2015 the first Fitzroy team got to be there for the Opening of the school. For a week I sat with Bishop Isaac under a mango tree. He taught me a lot. He inspired me. He was a man of great faith, resilience, imagination and great compassion for his people. He didn't just talk about his love for them, he took action and transformed lives and his community.

Before we got back to see him in 2016, Bishop Isaac had passed away. I wrote this poem.

On Wednesday we travel north to see his dream. Better still, we go to look after it and develop it. I cannot wait to show thirteen new people that dream, and welcome another ten back again. 

We are in for fun and laughter and love and hopefulness. I pray we learn as much as I did in 2015, under that mango tree. I pray we live the dream... 

 

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

And saw 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 for it

This dream will go on… and on…

Playtime Onialeku

 


KNITTING, WRITING AND FACE PAINTING - THE STOCKIES' WEEK IN ARUA

Janice teaching knitting

It is the last day of June. The Stockies are thrilled that we will be spending the entire month of July in Uganda! Even better Janice, Jasmine and I have been here, in Uganda, for the 12 days already.

So, what have we been up to on the Sabbatical of a lifetime. Well, this week we were up in Arua, 310 miles north of Kampala. This is where our Church Fitzroy in Belfast, partner with a school, Onialkeu Primary and Nursery School. We are now back in Kampala to rest and get ready for a team coming in from Fitzroy this week. We will head back up to Arua for another 10 days.

It was great this week to be in Arua before the team arrives. It was less mad than when 24 muzungus (white people) will set off a frenzy-like Festival. This week, I was able to walk round the school, as normal as it is possible for a muzungu to do. Every lunch time I dandered over to sit with the teachers, just to chat and have a laugh. The children treated us a little more shyly than they will next week, though choruses of “Ya Ya, Ya Ya, Ya Ya Toure” that they sing to me filled the air… or… shouts of “10:10”, after my favourite verse from John.

Janice was the centre of the community this week. She was running what could only be described as a Knitting Camp. Every day from 9am until 5pm, and indeed afterwards, there were 30 widows in the Church building, beside the school, feverishly learning to knit. With her very very limited Lugbara and their very limited English, the most amazing week of learning went on. The warmth and laughter was palpable. 

When Janice has been teaching knitting at the school over the last three years Mama Agnes, the late Bishop Isaac’s wife, has asked her to do something with the widows. Being there for an extra week was the opportunity for it to happen. I am not sure Janice thought it would last for eight hours a day but she was in her space. Her deepest gladness was meeting this deep need in Arua. She even preached the word on Friday afternoon. Skilfully, and with resourceful Bible knowledge, she led us through some of the female difference makers in Scripture.

Me, well as you know I am here to help write Trevor Stevenson, founder of Fields Of Life’s, memoir. So, I had the privilege of sitting with Pastor’s Joel and David in their office, typing away. I found it particularly helpful to be shaping Trevor’s chapter about starting Dara High School and Truth Primary School, in Lira, during the time of Joseph Kony. To be in the north, thinking about the north… My office in Fitzroy is called the Onialeku Room and so I got to sit in what Pastor David calls The Fitzroy Room for a week. Wow!

Stocki Writing in Fitzroy Room

I also, of course, had a few opportunities to preach. Every morning with the widows. Widows can be thrown out of the house and family when their husband dies. They are very marginalised and can suffer severe poverty as a result. It was wonderful to share the Good News of how precious they are, created, loved and redeemed by God. 

There was also School Chapel. The School has a service every Thursday at 12. They sing, like only they can sing, and I got to preach to a cram packed Church. I also then shared in the Staff devotions on Friday afternoon. 

While we did all of this, our daughter Jasmine ran a ad hoc Nursery for the little children, hanging around their mothers and grandmothers. She also face painted half of the nursery children, though the queue was long and a little unruly! 

Jazz Face Painting

Again, the most wonderful part was being blending into the everyday, getting involved in the conversations, meeting people, settling into the hotel that the team will stay in next week, buying a few supplies. So, as you can tell, it was a busy week but in every way, refreshing, encouraging and inspirational.

We will now rest for two days and make final plans in the Fields of Life office for the team arriving on Tuesday. At Christmas we raised enough money in the craft sale to buy ten sewing machines for the school. Six have arrived and are ready to go with us on Wednesday morning! Back up that road for more wonder and fun. We are excited… but tomorrow will really be a day of rest.


HARRIET THREW A BALL

Harriet's Ball

This sabbatical has thrown up a question, that has become a daily meditation. Caught between the wealth of my life back in Belfast and the poverty of my neighbourhood here in Arua, I am asking - What is ENOUGH? This short poem might have been where this meditation began, though it was not fixed in my thoughts at the time.

Harriet threw a ball

A tennis ball

Yellow and small.

The children screamed

And turned

All their attention

On the sky

To a tiny little yellow dot

In expansive African blue

Their eager eyes fixed

Their enthusiastic hands raised

Their energetic feet on springs

 

Harriet threw a ball

Like a compact bundle of ultimate desire 

The children screamed

 

Harriet might as well have thrown

An Iphone X into the air

That tennis ball was just the same.