Sunday, March 11, 2007

Message from Uganda

Last night my wife and I went to hear Felix. He was a Ugandan citizen that works for Northwest Medical Teams. This is a mission organization based in Portland, Oregon that seeks to provide safe water and medical aid to different parts of the world. Their organization seeks to employ the citizens of the country they are working within. Felix is in charge of a contingent that works within Northern Uganda. They have been dramatically effected by the civil war, malaria, and HIV/AIDS. They are doing amazing work but he said two things that I wanted to bring to you all.

The first was hope...

Through his own testimony it was clear that at one time, he had been hopeless. He said it is something that almost no one in America could understand. When the civil war began more than 20 years ago the rebels bolstered their forces by kidnapping thousands of children and young men to become soldiers. They would come into an area at night and take the children and then immediately force them to kill someone (sometimes their own relatives). The rebels told them that now no one would take them back, their only place they belong is with the rebles. If the children ever showed hesitation or fear, the rebels just killed them. It's a hopeless situation when it looks like there's no way out and no one that would take you even if you could escape.

Fearing the rebels, regular citizens left their farms and headed to refugee camps where the government military could protect them. In these camps the people live in huts with dirt floors, mud walls, and thatch roofs. There is no electricty or sewer. Most camps have 30,000 to 50,000 people in them. The lack of sanitation is a big problem and their water sources are often contaminated. In Uganda, Felix said most camps are fed by springs...people get water there, bathe there, cattle drink there--you can see the problems. Because it took so long to scoop water from a spring into a bucket, the springs were also the places that rebels often attacked.

This is one place where Felix says they help instill hope. Northwest Medical Teams has helped build systems that keep the water safe to drink, make filling buckets quick (so it's harder for rebels to snatch you) and provides a place for livestock to drink. It has really helped with disease and the wellbeing of the people.

The second thing he said that caused me to stop was forgiveness.

He said that most are willing to forgive and reconcile with the rebels if they can make peace. I was blown away by that. He said he knew it might be hard to understand but they have seen war for over 20 years and life in the camps is close to hopeless. In the camps there are no jobs, no way to provide for your family. Survival is dependant on others providing aid. It's a very bleak, barely subsisting way of life from day to day and this is the only way that many of his people have known. The thought of returning and farming again brings great hope for them. They would like nothing better than to secure peace, forgive, and move forward. That is really amazing to me.

Felix came here to share a message with us from his people. He said thank you, thank you, thank you! It brings his people hope to know someone else cares about them from another part of the world.

I left feeling encouraged but overwhelmed at the same time. I was left thinking "what can I do?" I'll unpack those thoughts in an upcoming post.

God's grace and peace to you and your family,

First Steps on the Journey

A pilgrimage is a long journey or a search to discover great moral significance. If you’ve come to the place, as I did, where you ask yourself “is this really what life is all about?” I invite you to read further.

My story is actually a happy one. I had a wonderful childhood and I had great parents. Unlike many I’ve heard from, in my family there was no abuse, no divorce, no drugs or alcohol problems, and we all really loved each other. I crossed the line of faith and accepted Christ as a second grader. I was decent student and an athlete throughout school and went to the University of Houston. They had a great track and field program and many of my teammates were Olympic medal winners. I met my future wife at U of H and really had a great experience.

As a decathlete, the competition is ten events: 100 meters, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 meters, high hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and the 1,500 meters. In each event, the time, height, or distance you achieved had a corresponding point value that was located in a scoring table. The points from all ten events get added up and the total score determines the winner. When I left school and went to the work world I took that mentality with me. I just substituted money for points. I reasoned that the better I did, the more valuable I was, then the more I would get paid. My wife and I started out without much, but over a period of a few years I had started making quite a bit of money. I soon discovered that age old question of “how much is enough?” It soon left me wondering if this is what it was all about. I sure didn’t feel significant…more like a mouse on an exercise wheel.

At this point in my life, my wife became a Christ follower and I make a new commitment to the local church. I learned and experienced a great deal from my church in Houston. I started attending a Sunday school class, a small group, and began to give back by working with elementary aged kids. This new commitment culminated in a powerful experience in which Dr. Bruce Wilkinson challenged us to become everything that God wanted us to become. I took that challenge and haven’t looked back since! I still feel like I’m on a pilgrimage. I’m learning, and growing, and changing to become what God created me to be. I’ll be adding more of my own pilgrimage over time and would love to hear from you…I’d like to hear your story or hear from you as you interact with what you’ve read here.

May God’s peace and mercy be upon you and your family,