Supervision selfies

One of my favorite things about being a lecturer is supervising our students in their block placement churches, or senior internships. It’s so fun to see them out of the confines of the school and to see how they’re engaging in ministry. Of course, sometimes this comes with hardship, but that makes for great teachable moments and opportunities for exhortation.

Today I went to a university chapel to supervise Barnabas, one of the MDiv students. I know the chaplain there, so we all spent a good amount of time catching up and talking about Barnabas’s time there. At the end, Barnabas asked to take a photo, which I thought was sweet.

Imagine my surprise when I received a copy of another of the photos from one of his classmates! It turns out that the class has been uploading photos with their supervisors to their group chat in WhatsApp. I guess I’m honored to have joined the gallery!

Rain, rain go away

I’ve been hearing that the rain in Mukono, and in Uganda generally, has been too much. The rainy seasons often bring mudslides, so news of those was not new.

But friends. In my first week here, it rained every day, often several times a day. The ground is beyond saturated. There is one corner I need to navigate to leave the Honors College, and it is absolutely a swamp. It rarely sees the sun, so who knows when it will dry.

The BBC explained that this is because of the Indian Ocean Diople, similar to El Niño. This article is from 2 December, and the graphic notes that Uganda had 9 deaths due to the rain then; a newspaper headline two days ago said the death toll was up to 25.

Farmers are seeing their crops obliterated. This hurts the farmers and their families because they will have nothing to harvest and nothing to sell. This, of course, will also inflate food prices for the foreseeable future, so the impact will be long-lasting and will affect the entire population.

The last few days, we have actually had sun most of the time, thanks be to God. But the rain continues to wreak havoc. Today’s paper posted an article that a roads worker was killed by a flash-flood on Entebbe Road. The death toll from flooding and mudslides continues to rise. A student in Tanzania texted me Wednesday that his family narrowly survived when their roof collapsed from the rain there.

Road construction is happening everywhere, even on campus. However, the rain has obviously had an impact; traffic is all but impossible with torn-up roads being further deteriorated by rain. We use this space behind the Bishop Tucker building to gather for discipleship and before and after chapel services. Well, we used to. I’m sure we will again, though it won’t be at the beginning of the January semester.

The plan had been to pave sections of campus, to include the parking lot at Bishop Tucker, and to level the ground and add pavers. Obviously, that’s been put on hold. The roped-off bit is exposed pipe that’s being repaired.

Please do pray that the rain go away. I’ve asked God to send it to South Africa or Australia… surely He can send it to a place that needs it terribly.

Good to be home

After seven months in the US, I was more than a little concerned about how my reentry to Uganda would be. I’d become pretty Americanized; I even learned that I could run errands at night (something I wouldn’t dream of doing in Uganda)!

Thankfully, my reentry has been incredibly smooth. Even while we were leaving the airport, everything felt very normal, even if I was sufficiently exhausted from little sleep on the airplane that I slept most of the way home over roads that have been ravaged by construction and rain.

I switched to driving on the left easily, though I am still confusing the turn signal and windshield wipers sometimes. I very much miss Waze. Google Maps knows many shortcuts, for which I’m grateful, but I cannot tell you how much I miss real-time reporting of traffic jams. That would have kept me from sitting on Jinja Road for over an hour on Thursday, in one spot, just because. One newspaper has even started a hashtag: #KlaTrafficFrustrations and it is so appropriate. We have always talked about the jam, but now it is beyond epic: I will visit a student in a couple days, and I would normally allow 25-30 minutes to get to his church. He told me to allow 90.

It’s a bit hard to adjust back to a cash-based society. Yes, many merchants accept debit cards, but there are still instances of debit card numbers being stolen, so I try to not make this a habit. It’s also much easier to budget when one is operating from cash.

Most of all, though, it is so good to see people, especially supervising my students. I love seeing them in the field and hearing about their ministries. At one parish, I happened to meet two of our graduates who have been posted there, and it was a delightful reunion.

Thank you for your prayers as I traveled back to Uganda, and please continue to pray for us as we wrap up the holidays and prepare for the students to return in January.

Aerial tour of UCU

I recently saw this posted on Facebook; it’s a fabulous aerial tour of UCU, showing how beautiful the campus is. As I watched the first time, I was struck at not only how gorgeous the environment is, but of the memories it evoked, both from being a student, and a member of staff.

Please enjoy! I wish I could narrate it for you!

Being ssenga

I bear several titles in Uganda; Reverend, Archdeacon, Auntie, and sometimes Mama. The latter two sometimes come from my students, who sometimes see me as a parent (and it’s an incredible honor, though I feel my age!).

Over the last few years, I’ve grown closer with a couple of the women students, and at different times, two have stayed with me. We’ve had many long conversations and shared several times in prayer, all of which have been precious to me.

Last year, Esther became engaged to one of her classmates, David. I was thrilled for both of them, and hoped to be invited to the introduction and wedding. Esther did me one better: she asked me to be a ssenga, or auntie, for the introduction. The ssenga is the paternal aunt, and since I’m certain that Esther has paternal aunts, I’m not quite sure how she was able to bestow this honor on me. The ssenga has a number of responsibilities culturally, and I think I fulfilled none of them.

In Uganda, there are two ceremonies. First is the introduction, which also doubles as the cultural marriage when it is registered with the government. The introduction is when the bride introduces her groom to the community, and the groom brings the dowry and other gifts for the family. While this is enough for a legal marriage, Christians then go to be wedded in church. Esther and David had their introduction on a Saturday, and the wedding on a Sunday. Though exhausting, I think that’s the way I’d do it; I’m not sure I could handle being married yet not being able to live as though I’m married.

I love the concept of the introduction and how the whole community is involved. Of course, it’s a very long day: both the bride and groom have emcees to carry the day along. The bride’s side sends out several iterations of ladies (often beginning with young girls) from which the groom’s side is to “find” the bride. She is not among them, obviously, and they are given gifts as they go back.

I think this was the third set of ladies who went out, and this was their second costume change. The gomesi were gorgeous, and velvet. I’m not sure how they survived in the heat. The men are very smart in their kanzu. The groom’s emcee is in the blue blazer, and he did a fabulous job of keeping the function moving along.

Finally, the bride comes with much pomp and circumstance with her aunties. She walks around the venue a couple times to much ululating from the crowd. When I asked Esther how many people would attend, she casually replied, “About a thousand.” As near as I could tell, that’s nearly how many people were there.

Here comes the bride! Isn’t she stunning? With all the embellishments, that gomesi had to weigh nearly ten pounds, and the sash was another two or three.

Then the bride and aunties kneel for some of the speeches and prayers. When the groom’s emcee asked the bride’s emcee to ask the priest to bless the lunch, he asked, “Which one? There are like a thousand here.” And it was true.

FYI: the bottom of that gazebo was glass. It was hot, and I was sweating. It’s a miracle I didn’t slip right off there, especially since I’m not sure the woman to my left was supposed to be there.

This is when the groom’s entourage brought the gifts for the dowry, and had he not brought all that the families had agreed to, there would have been trouble in paradise. Thankfully, that was not the case.

One of the things the ssenga is to do is to “find” the groom (he had been sitting in the back) and present him to the bride. I didn’t fully realize that this was my duty, and when another woman came and took the little basket I was holding, I chose to not make a scene.

I wish I had. When it came time to pin the corsage on David, since I didn’t have it, Esther took it and pinned it on David herself. The emcee was quite surprised, and recovered nicely by exclaiming, “Esther! You have taught us something new today!” David said to me a bit later, “Reverend, I thought it would be you [to pin the corsage].” I am utterly heartbroken about that.

They have been found! The best man, Saul, is one of David and Esther’s classmates.

We had another gomesi change, but I don’t have pictures of that because the person who had my phone completely depleted the battery taking many photos. Since the function was running late, we opted to remove one gomesi change and moved to the last costume change for the presentation of other gifts. For this, we were seated on a mat in front of the gazebo, and as people brought gifts, we’d rise to our knees to greet and shake hands.

Esther’s cousin Rose and I in our last costume change for the receiving of the non-dowry gifts. I would completely misspell the name of the outfit (mushanana?), but it comes from Western Uganda.

The church wedding was the next day, and I was honored to serve as part of the officiating team. My role was quite small, but clergy have the best seat in the house.

And they’re wedded!

In addition to having the privilege of serving as ssenga and an officiant, most of the groomsmen were David and Esther’s classmates, so I rather felt that my children had come home from university.

Since this is the dot-com generation, photos of the functions were flying around WhatsApp, and I received several photos of myself from students who were in Mukono, as they were unable to attend. That was a riot. Yet the fact that they wanted to show me that they had seen me blessed me tremendously.