SAMS is happy to report that Richard and Catherine arrived to serve at Uganda Christian University last week, after a year of delays. Praise be to God! – Communications Coordinator Kate Ulrich
Dear friends –
At last we are in Uganda, all three of us.
Your prayers have carried us over a couple of substantial hiccups and bumps in the road. We have so many people to whom to extend special thanks, starting with our friends Dan and Ann who bailed us out ‘above and beyond’ when we missed our first flight. Dan drove us to and from Dulles twice, and they put us up in their guest room and provided us with two delicious meals and the loan of their car for the last minute tasks of our last morning before departure. Our travel agent who worked the miracle of reticketing us for only a modest change fee. Our friends Phil and Linda, who purchased our car. Our friends Arnold in Montreal and Franklin in Uganda who assisted us in so many ways with rescheduling our Ugandan arrangements. The many people whose services we relied upon to store, ship, and receive donations who were consistently helpful. Our leasing agent Janice who gave us a day’s grace on our move-out. Vanessa at UCU housing who was unfailingly gracious and helpful. Our SAMS missionary colleagues here at UCU, who also went above and beyond. In the several chaotic moments of this relocation, we were blessed by the kindness, grace – and in Dan’s case, strong shoulders – of others. We could not have done this by ourselves – and, in fact, we humbly confess that we didn’t.
Sunday, around 2:00 pm East Africa Time, our KLM flight crossed above the Egyptian coastline above El Alamain, and we entered African air space. Our route ran west of the Nile, over desert, over scrub, and over savannah, and continued over forest as darkness fell. Upon arrival at Entebbe we cleared immigration without issues, and having been both vaccinated and possessing four day old negative PCR tests, we were not quarantined. Instead we headed off to a lovely Entebbe hotel that generous Ugandan friends had arranged for us, and fell into dreamless sleep.
Uganda is in a second round of COVID lockdown, with a 6 am to 7 pm curfew. Personal travel is sharply restricted, and there are police checkpoints everywhere. Tourists must hire a tour operator driver for travel to their destinations. Fortunately – again with the invaluable help of our Uganda friends – we knew one of the best from our 2018 trip, so we had a joyous reunion with our safari driver Robert who took us through a much quieter Kampala than we could have imagined to get to our final destination – the Uganda Christian University campus in Mukono.
Our dog, Trooper, who had a separate flight schedule, was met by the animal expediter’s Ugandan handler and kenneled overnight and, as is his practice, he made friends with the handler’s staff, wagged his tail at everyone, and when let out of his cage, he instantly began to stalk and follow his nose like few dogs they have seen. They delivered him here before we could get here, so our SAMS colleague Jessica Hughes took him. He was delightful company for her and barked at the monkeys from her screened porch. He was overwhelmed by the time Jessica brought him to meet us.
Here at the corner of the UCU campus called Tech Park, Jessica’s warm welcome was echoed by SAMS colleague, next door neighbor, and trove of information Mary, along with our Ugandan neighbors here in little duplex units. One of those neighbors – Immaculate (Ugandan Christian names are wondrous) – made a dinner of simply outstanding matooke (I did not know it could be so), greens, and beef heart. The little children were intimidated by Trooper, who gaily wagged his tail at them. But one, Ebenezer, who will soon be four, told his mother, while hiding behind her legs, that Trooper is his friend. We were also welcomed by a couple of power outages (and it gets cavernously dark if they occur at night) and the shutdown of campus wifi. We are hard by the campus fence, so we hear the voices of the neighborhood across the road (and will hear the noises from a nearby bar when the COVID lockdown comes to an end).
Our UCU hosts set us up with essential furniture and kitchen supplies in our small apartment and delivered the missing bag when it arrived from Amsterdam. We are just beginning to learn our way around the shops of Mukono to purchase such random necessities as Uganda cell phones, a shower curtain, plastic chairs for our patio dining area, and a tea kettle. We have rediscovered that Uganda has simply the most delicious pineapple in the world. We learned how the water heater operates, and the location of the potable water tap about a hundred metres away where we carry our jerry cans. We have been awakened on our first morning by a crackling African thunderstorm (which prompted Trooper to leap onto the bed between us, and on our second morning by the calling of a bird so loud it must have been right under our window. Then come the roosters and the stirring of the people who live across the road outside the campus fence.
It is the morning of a new day. In faith, Richard and Catherine
Naye ye obutayagala kuwangulukuka, n’agamba Yesu nti, “ Muliraanwa wange ye ani? ”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
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.
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.
Naye ekisuubirwa ekirabika si kusuubira, kubanga ani asuubira ky’alabako? Naye bwe tusuubira kye tutalabako, tukirindirira n’okugumiikiriza.
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
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.