Tuesday, November 18, 2014

America: An African Boy's Perspective Part 9

...For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore i command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land (Deuteronomy 15:11 KJV).

Today, i want to divulge into something that i have been thinking about for some good time since i came to America. The poor. We have them everywhere in Uganda and indeed Africa. In fact in Uganda, over 70% of the population lives in poverty.
My country and my people get most of the aide from the American people and government. The country has so many American organizations that are doing several things from child sponsorship to church planting. Out there, America is seen as the savior; an ally that you always want to have on your side and when it decides a thing or two, then you have to comply, because otherwise, you could end up being in trouble. So, America always tries to fix things up and this has endeared it to many a people while also generating a lot of hate towards it.
America still remains the number one dream destination for most young people around the world: a land of dreams and freedom and liberty.

It's indeed true that there's liberty and freedom here, people are free to do what they want, and they are also prevented from doing what others don't want. Coming from a farming background, i would compare it to a fertile piece of land where everything that is sown germinates and grows very well and the harvest is always plenteous, because all the necessary conditions for these are there. And this is where the problem lies; where as there are millions of people who are sowing seeds of goodness, there are also millions sowing wrong seeds and these have sprung out too and now, there seems to be a stiff competition between good and evil here than i have seen or witnessed in my entire life. Someone told me freedom always comes at a cost, how true! 

In my first blog, i talked about the abundance of things here and that made me understand why so many Americans donate to charities all around the wold. I, even talked about the birds of the air being fed here, contrary to the ones in my country that are still living in the Biblical provisions and sustenance of the Lord. However, a couple of weeks ago, i saw something that got me thinking; during service in one of our supporting churches, there was a power point presentation showing some very impoverished and neglected parts of Virginia (i think it was Virginia). It was shocking to me when i saw some bits of that clip. I kept asking my self: "is that America?". Of course i had seen the homeless people and my mother-in-law had given me a guided tour in one of the nights to places where the homeless people lived. But seeing an impoverished village was shocking.
Last week, a dear friend of mine who used to serve together with me in Uganda invited us to Milwaukee to share my story with his high school students. I am always excited to do anything to inspire others. But there was something odd about this particular school. All the students are African Americans and All the teachers are White Americans. That's another day's story. This even made me want to share my story with these young people more. I spoke to four different classes and though they are known for being naughty (i witnessed some of this), all of them were very quiet and very attentive when i talked. I looked most of them straight in their eyes, and i saw grief, broken dreams, suffering, struggling, desperation, name it. There were tears, frowns and smiles- we were connected emotionally and had something in common; our stories seemed to be acquainted with each other.
They asked me a lot of questions and my views on many things. But i will pick one that suits this discussion. One student asked me: "Have you seen poverty in America?". This student was one of those who had wet eyes, i knew what he was meaning, i knew he was probably living in poverty and i gave him my honest opinion.

That question triggered lots of thoughts in my mind: Is it time for America to start looking at itself inwardly? I mean, America and Americans send millions of dollars around the world to fight poverty and disease, etc, but is it time for it to start looking at it's own citizens that are living in poverty? Is there a way to help these people out? I feel like a big discussion needs to be started, if it has not yet been started already on how to address these issues. Surely if people here can meet the needs of the animals, they can meet the needs of its poor citizens. Sponsorship programs for children from poor villages and neighborhoods to good schools and Colleges would be a great start.
I know many organizations and churches are doing a lot in providing housing and feeding the homeless and other needy people; but i am afraid the same fate that has befallen Africa has befallen these people too -Dependency syndrome. Where people have stopped to desire to work because they know on such and such a day, in such and such a place, i can get A,B or C. I am one of those who opposes handouts and instead advocates for skills training, equipping and empowerment so that one can depend on his or her own, using his or her own God given abilities and talents.

Since this is the land of freedom and liberty, i can see several missionary opportunities here, opportunities to help change and transform lives and communities, opportunities to bridge gaps and opportunities to lift Christ's banner higher and higher. The above scripture tells us we will always have the poor and also urges us to open our hands and reach out to them, and help them in anyway that we can. Surely, the poverty in America calls for an urgent attention. Do something today.

We are in Denver en route to California, keep praying for us. Till next time, God bless you.

Monday, November 10, 2014

America: An African Boy's Perspective 8.

...Have nothing to do with irrelevant, silly myths...( 1Timothy 4:7 ESV). Many years a go growing up in one of the districts in Uganda, there was always this one night in the year when people expected the spirit of death to be passing around and taking many with it. How they determined the actual date, I don't know, but on this night, every household cradled together outside in the compound waiting for the right time to start drumming. People from a certain part would start beating their drums, jerrycans, saucepans, etc and the drumming kept going from village to village until the wee hours of the night. This was to make sure the spirit of death did not take anyone from your household. Kids would be drumming too and old people would be brought outside lest they be taken by death from inside.
Then there were sacrifices made to the spirits of the dead ancestors and relatives to appease them. Goats and bulls would be slaughtered during these ritual ceremonies and sometimes people would be smeared with the blood and the dung from these animals so that the spirits wouldn't be angry with them.
However, with time, these rituals and beliefs slowly started dying out as more and more people became Christians and decided to do away with such silly myths and fables. Today, these traditional rituals still happen in smaller pockets of traditionalists. But albeit, it's in great decline. I haven't been to any of these in the last over 15 years.

I remember one time during a live global communion service with my pastor, someone from America called and asked whether Christians should celebrate Halloween. His response was that : " I can't judge other peoples culture that I am not familiar with, but the most important thing that we always ought to have in mind is that, what does it glorify, Christ or satan?"  
I didn't know what this hullabaloo was really about until last month, while in Pennsylvania, my sister I law and her husband as well as their two kids took us for a hay ride and pump kin shopping. There in this farm, the spirit of Halloween was manifested in all the scary hangings in the trees. One of them stood out: a man hanging face down with blood streaming from his palms. This ghostly piece scared one girl who kept screaming at the sight of this thing. I kept wondering what is the reason for all this and it's importance. This was just the start. Later on I went on to see lots of scary decorations in people's compounds and lots of scary costumes in the stores. And lots of  people were in the Halloween mood. The question in my mind was that of my pastor: who is glorified in all these, Christ? Certainly not! Is there a Christian way of celebrating it? I saw on Facebook how the police had to intervene when one family took it to another level, by hanging images depicting a black family of 5 people hanging in the trees in their compound! I am certainly not in position to judge other people's culture albeit I can give my opinion and comments.

Aside from all the Halloween, today, we are journeying out to Chicago and Milwaukee and yours truly is writing this blog post from the comfort of a car seat with my beautiful wife taking care of the driving. As we started the journey, a few amazing things came to mind from our last visit out to New England. On that trip, I met some amazing and entertaining kids. I must say kids here have much cognitive development at the young age compared to their counterparts in Uganda. I think because of the availability of all these stimulants in toys and electronics. For instance, I have seen some below two year olds using iPhones more than I can to play different games. I personally touched a phone for the first time when I was 18 and it was a very huge Sony Ericsson phone! A few things from these kids that got me giggling heartily are listed below:
1. Sitting next to this 23 months old in the car, she removed her shoes and was fidgeting putting them back. I offered to help her and after I finished helping her put on her shoes, she mumbles, " good job". I couldn't help smiling back at her. After a few minutes I sneezed and this little angel goes "bless you!"  
2. While in Boston, our friends' 17 or so months old baby couldn't stop making me smile each time she blew kisses to us and me. Even in the streets, church and train station, she couldn't stop blowing kisses, much to the excitement of the onlookers. This was the youngest person to ever blow a kiss to me. Bless this little princess.
3. While in New Hampshire in a friend's house, this 16 months old beauty kept warming up to me slowly as I kept luring her with my smile. She let me carry, which was beautiful. However, later on as we were seated playing with her older sister, this little cutie ran from no where and gave me a huge hug! I almost cried, just the thought of it going through her mind and deciding I'm going to give him a big hug!

A few days ago while skyping, I was in the bathroom and my wife called me and said Ellie, the girl in number one above, was asking for me. When I joined the skyping  crew, she goes :" Uncle Ruudy, I love you!"  That started my day!
However, it hasn't all been rosy with the kids here. I got a rude awakening one day from a 4.5 year old. I was looking after him and his 2 year old cousin. The little one started littering the ground with the playing stuff they were using. I thought I should bring in some order and so, I tell the young girl, :" please, I am not going to allow you continue playing until you pick up all that stuff that you have thrown down". My 4.5 year old buddy goes : "Uncle Ruudy, you are lying. You are not the father or the mother, you are not in charge!"  If I was a mzungu (white person), my red face and cheeks would have been visible for all to see. I reported to his parents and thank God they talked to him.
That's something that I had never heard from anyone of that age my entire life.

Lastly, I must say thank you so much to all of you for answering our prayers in regards to the furniture and other house items that we so badly needed. We debated a lot on whether to send you emails asking for your little help. One of our friends, after giving us his family's contribution, encouraged us to send the list out to all of you and your responses have encouraged us to keep trusting The Lord and keep doing what He has called us to do, knowing that we have a great array of partners walking with us. May The Lord continue to bless you and provide for you and your families. Thank you so much for your seeds of love, we are proud to be walking this journey with all f you.
Peace and grace to all of you. Keep us in your prayers.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

America: an African Boy's Perspective Part 7

...that in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside your old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth...(Ephesians 4:22-24)

I was intent on writing about some other things that have occupied my mind quite a bit, but then, something came up in the last three days that got me thinking deep both inwardly and outwardly. As i kept thinking, i kept seeing the picture coming out together. Today, i am going to write about something that cuts across borders and cultures, something that we in Uganda and i bet the greater Africa, and people here each seem to be struggling with, some have the knowledge that they are struggling with it while others have no idea that it even exists. This thing is called SELF.  Some Bible translations call it the flesh.
I want to look at it not from the point of necessarily sin, but how it steadily drags us away from the Lord.

From the streets, in the restaurants, in people's homes, everywhere, you see people struggling with self. Self is the most selfish thing to ever exist. Self wants everything, and no matter how much you try to satisfy it, it just keeps asking and demanding for more. In Uganda for instance, self manifests itself in demanding for particular foods, dressing, electronic gadgets, jobs, etc. I believe it's the same here only that the degree and magnitude here is much higher; but everywhere, people are battling with self.

The above scripture is very clear, that we lay aside our old self. In my culture, when one receives Christ, then you are expected to lay aside drinking any kind of alcohol, abuse, dressing in certain ways, immorality, etc. All of us tend to look at the bigger things and not think about the smaller detail. For example, it's common to find that each time you want to pray, self will bring tens of propositions of different things you could do instead, how well you could spend your time other than doing something that will bring you closer to the Lord. One striking example is found in Matthew 26:39-41...And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as You will." And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "So, you men could not keep watch with me for one hour? Keep watching an praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
You can see that self got hold of those who were closer to the Lord. And i love the master's reminder to us to keep watching and praying...because the spirit is willing but our flesh is weak. This has always been the case ever since the fall. Our selfish self can keep us away from gathering with others, it gives us shame of the things we are not supposed to be ashamed off, it battles with us to drift from the things of the spirit, from the truth and keeps our minds set on the things that don't really matter.

One of the things self does is to try to calmly and systematically drift you away from the Lord without you ever noticing. It can be an addiction to a particular thing. For me usually, is an addiction to play FIFA Football game even when i know i shouldn't be, to others, it may be something else. I have seen people religiously standing in long lines waiting for a chance to buy their iphone 6! I keep wondering, would they be patient like that if that was a line to enter church on a Sunday morning or would some of them just give up and return back home? Self will make you buy what you absolutely don't need, go to places that you don't have to go and do things that seem right in your eyes and yet not so important in the eyes of the Lord. The enemy, satan, is right there trying to work with self, attempting to deceive the believer that you absolutely deserve everything you want. Apostle Peter tells us that: "For all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall off, But the word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word which was preached to you." 1Peter 1:24-25.
This explains why self is never satisfied and keeps asking for more and more. Because it keeps withering and as Solomon put it, "it's like chasing after the wind".

Self knows no race or economic status. In Africa, it subjects people to different yearnings compared to here, but all that you see in their eyes, is a yearning for something. I think self is our number one enemy. Examining ourselves everyday, we need to ask whether we are living lives that are pleasing to the self or to the spirit. One man that i keep admiring and someone who fought self more than all of us is Paul. Some times i ask my self what kind of man Paul was. This is what the man said: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer i who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which i now live in the flesh i live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20. Paul learned to dominate self and allowed Christ to live through him. This is a call to all of us to follow, African or Americans, to give up and deny self and allow Christ, through the Holy Spirit to live and express himself through us. Because on our own, we can not manage to dominate and repress self and all its cravings, but through Christ, our minds are renewed day by day and as a result, we are able to battle self and dominate it.

I hope this post has made sense to all of us. Grace and peace to you all.