Discovering Ugandan Neighbors around Our Dinner Table

Discovering Ugandan Neighbors around Our Dinner Table

Easter dinner with Ugandan friends, 2017
Naye ye obutayagala kuwangulukuka, n’agamba Yesu nti, “ Muliraanwa wange ye ani? ”
 
[Lukka 10:29]

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
 
[Luke 10:29]
  
Dear friends –
 
Like anyone preparing for service in mission, we inevitably get asked why we’ve chosen the destination where we’re planning to serve. It’s a natural question. It challenges us to explain how our call was received. It is also a question that challenges us to explain why we’re heading to someplace so far away when there are so many ways to serve closer to home.
 
As is the case for many missionary candidates, what some friends see as a “choice” is not so much a plan that originated with us as it is a decision to accept an invitation from the Lord. Explaining that can involve a whole different level of unpacking, depending upon where the inquiring friend stands in terms of his or her faith. No, the heavens did not part, and no God’s voice did not resonate from the clouds. God spoke to us as he so often speaks – in a still small voice that a believer must listen for among all the sounds that fill the spaces in ordinary life.
 
In our case, God’s invitation to serve at Uganda Christian University came through Ugandans, and resulted from the network of friendships we had cultivated by opening our home to students from UCU.  Some years ago, the Law Faculty at UCU began training and fielding teams of law students to qualify and then to compete in a prestigious international moot court competitions held every April in Washington DC. Because of our involvement with our parish’s mission and outreach committee, we volunteered to host a couple of the visiting Ugandan students, an offer that evolved into a (mostly) annual event during the years UCU qualified and sent a team. Each year we made new friends, and nurtured those friendships through email and social media correspondence as they graduated from university, worked their way through Uganda’s Law Development Centre, and began their careers. A couple of years ago, a friend who had himself served as a missionary professor at UCU called us, and in the course of a conversation asked “Have you ever considered serving at UCU yourselves?”
 
His question did not immediately lead us to answer “yes”, but it did lead us to a long period of discernment to test the idea whether we were motivated to serve, and whether we were equipped to serve in a way that would contribute to UCU’s mission to educate the rising generation of East African leaders. In thinking back on this discernment process of now nearly two years, and pondering the question “Why Uganda?”, I found myself returning again and again to one of Scripture’s most familiar stories – the story Jesus provides in answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?”
 
Consider that story. The Samaritan passing along the road has never met the man accosted by robbers who is lying alongside that road. They are not neighbors in the sense of two people who greet each other from gate to gate across a lane on which they each live. They are strangers. And yet the man who the world now calls “The Good Samaritan” responds to the man left beaten on the side of the road as his neighbor. 

The Christian call to hospitality encourages us to see strangers in a new light, as neighbors, people deserving of our attention and care. Accepting the stranger as a neighbor transforms our unquestioning acceptance of the familiar, and helps us to see the world as God sees it. A world where neighbors can come from a place half a world away, as they sit at your dinner table. A neighborhood at once vast and yet surprisingly small, where there is valuable work to be done, where one is invited to participate in that work, though the work may take place half a world away.
 
No doubt there are people who make a decision to go someplace and to serve there, whether the “someplace” may be in the homeless shelter in their own city, or an orphanage in the foothills of the Himalayas. Catherine and I respect and honor those decisions. In our case – and in the case of many who are called to serve in mission – the decision to serve is a response to an invitation to serve that God offered through friends in an unexpected way. There is no one answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” Rather, in a broken world, the God we acclaim invites us to see neighbors whom we may not previously have considered, whether they may be reached via a bus ride downtown, or by a flight across the world to the heart of Africa. There is so much work to be done.
 
Though we did not recognize it at the time, we met our neighbors from Uganda at our dinner table here in Washington DC.

In faith,
Richard and Catherine

Still in The Waiting Room for Uganda

But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

[Romans 8:23a-24]

Naye ekisuubirwa ekirabika si kusuubira, kubanga ani asuubira ky’alabako?  Naye bwe tusuubira kye tutalabako, tukirindirira n’okugumiikiriza.

[Abaruumi 8:23a-24]

Dear Friends –

Our last (and as it happens, the first) newsletter was titled “In the Waiting Room for Uganda”. We’re still in that waiting room. Like so many people in so many ways, adapting to a life of sustained uncertainty as we wait out COVID-19, and its transformative effect on our plans.

We had anticipated beginning our lives in Uganda by now. In that storyline, we would be making a home out of a faculty apartment somewhere on the Uganda Christian University campus. We imagine that we would have been choosing among furnishings for the apartment between chairs and table sets that might be floating around the aftermarket of UCU faculty members and expat missionaries in Mukono or Kampala or even as far as Jinja. We might have decided to commission the making of a bed from one of the many furniture craftsmen in Mukono Town who set their products made from handsome African woods in the hard-pack lots in front of their shops along Lower Bishop Tucker Road, or along the A-109 or one of its side streets. Catherine would be checking which vendors in front of which groceries offered the best produce, and we might even have gutted and cleaned our first chicken from the market.

We would be getting more and more familiar with the walks to and from town, down and then back up Bishop Tucker Road, with its mix of ulcerated macadam, mud, and craters for puddles. Most certainly we would have returned home at least once from such a trip splashed with bright red clay mud courtesy of a passing truck. We would have plugged holes in our screens. We would have been familiarizing ourselves with the news announcers on NTV Uganda, along with BBC, Al-Jazeera, and CNN International. We would have been guided to sleep by the nighttime songs of birds we had not yet seen, and awakened by the splendid sunrises over Mukono’s hills, and the dawn call to prayer from the Mosque down the hill and just past the markets on the Jinja Road.

That is a future we can envision, but it is not ours yet. Uganda is still closed to foreign entry. The principal international airport at Entebbe on the other side of Kampala is open only to pre-arranged charters. There is still an early evening curfew that the Uganda National Police enforce in blunt and uncompromising ways. Gatherings larger than ten are not permitted, and churches, schools, and amusements remain closed. Just as here in America, Zoom has largely replaced face-to-face gatherings, and “Isaac, you are still on mute” is as familiar a watch word as it is on this continent. This month, UCU will observe the transition from the administration of Vice Chancellor Rev Dr John Senyonyi (who has become our friend) to that of Vice Chancellor-designate Prof. Aaron Mushengyezi, but sadly without the pomp and circumstance from academic tradition that UCU honors like universities anywhere in the world – a tradition that at least at UCU expresses in ceremony the university’s vision to be “a centre of excellence in the heart of Africa”.

Then, out of the blue in the midst of waiting, Richard was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the beginning of June. It was detected at a very early stage, before spreading beyond the prostate. Our first months of retirement in June and July wound up dedicated to the tasks of selecting among treatment options, choosing laparascopic surgery, scheduling and having the surgery, and now recovering from the surgery. Laparascopy is a miracle procedure, an improvement on prior surgical techniques, even so for the first few days, in Richard’s words, “it feels like taking a fence post in the gut”. He’s slowly and steadily on the road back, and adding incremental distance to his morning and evening walks.

The juxtaposition of remaining in a waiting mode in a time of uncertainty, combined with an unwelcome cancer diagnosis, plus the inconveniences of surgery with a couple of complications has driven home for us a lesson worth learning and holding onto. Gratitude and hope are not sentiments. They are disciplines. Yes, it is frustrating to live in our small “it was meant to be temporary” apartment in Silver Spring. It is frustrating not yet to be able to begin the adventure toward which we have oriented our lives. But Richard’s prostate cancer was discovered here, the surgery was performed here by an expert in the procedure, and his recovery is taking place here – where we live within a walking distance of a drug store for the various supplies upon which we have been relying. And he’s cancer free with no follow-up treatment indicated, which will allow us to head to Uganda when the country finally opens.

 A scene from a quiet afternoon on the UCU campus. Much more tranquil than Lower Bishop Tucker Road!

So in this time of waiting, we give thanks. And in this time of uncertainty and frustration, we embrace hope. Not as mere sentiments, but as our anchors. We continue to receive affirmations for our call to serve at UCU. We continue to see the Lord’s hand in this adventure, and continue to see him pointing toward the road that lies ahead. We continue to receive support and encouragement from you, our friends, in a multitude of meaningful ways. In one sense, we’re still in that waiting room, but in another that is equally real, we’re on our journey – to the heart of Africa. Thank you for being with us on that journey. 

In faith,
Richard and Catherine

PS: We want to celebrate and offer our congratulations to Dr Roselyn Karagonjo-Segawa on her appointment to chair Uganda’s Leadership Code Tribunal. As Dean of the Faculty of Law, Dean Roselyn was to have become our supervisor once we began our work at UCU, and over a couple of years of correspondence as we have been preparing to serve at UCU, Dean Roselyn has also become our friend. She now has a very important job with the Government. The Leadership Code Tribunal is mandated by Uganda’s Constitution to enforce the Leadership Code, including receiving, examining and adjudicating any breach of the code, and to make formal recommendations on disciplinary actions to be taken against a Government officer under its jurisdiction. And it was characteristic of Dean Roselyn’s generous heart that she set up a Zoom call for us to meet her designated successor as Dean before she left UCU. Prayers and blessings, Roselyn, as you take on this important role. https://ucu.ac.ug/component/content/article/83-updates/171-former-ucu-law-dean-sworn-in-as-chairperson-leadership-code-tribunal?Itemid=437

Called to Serve at Uganda Christian University

Called to Serve at Uganda Christian University

We’re beginning our SAMS blog with these photos from our October trip to Uganda to show the place to which we have been called to serve and that we look forward to as our next home: Uganda Christian University in Mukono, Uganda. 

While in Uganda in October, Catherine and I each accepted invitations from the Faculty of Law at Uganda Christian University to join them in their mission to educate Uganda’s next generation of leaders – me to participate in growing the natural resources and environmental component of the Law School’s curriculum, and Catherine to serve as an administrator with the John Sentamu Institute for Human Rights Law. We will live on campus, and participate in the academic, social, and spiritual life of an institution committed to serving as a “centre of excellence in the heart of Africa”, and to equipping “students for productive, holistic lives of Christian faith and service”. You will learn more about UCU at www.ucu.ac.ug.

We’re very, very excited about this opportunity. It was not something we ever planned. It came about through an invitation to consider the idea over a year ago that we kept exploring. It came about because we opened our home to some talented, inspiring young students from Uganda and have maintained our friendships with them, and those relationships came to the attention of the university.  It came about because we received the encouragement and support of certain friends as we gave thought and prayer toward taking this step. It came about because the God that we believe in is capable of of offering surprises bigger than we can ask or imagine. With UCU’s invitation, we are being given an opportunity to put our two lifetimes to work, to serve the mission of “equipping students for productive, holistic lives of Christian faith and service”. Why would we respond with any other answer but ‘yes’?

So, while in the words of the Jimmy Cliff song, we have “many rivers to cross” to return to Uganda, returning there is now our journey. We will be deeply grateful for your support, whether in contribution, pledge or prayer.

 
 
The Bishop Tucker Building at UCU