Category Archives: Uganda 2016

Day 4 – What?!?!

This’ll just be a piece of Day 4 but I promise, it is memorable. Actually, it’s a bit brutal so I don’t recommend this video for the faint of heart. It was truly unbelievable when it happened and I’m still a little grossed about by what we saw. Look, I’m a hunter and I’ve seen my fair share of the animal kingdom that saddens, astounds and amazes. Yet nothing I’d ever seen before prepared me for this one.

Day 4 was our one full day of “sightseeing” in Queen Elizabeth National Park. We were out looking for wildlife and we saw it, to say the least. I’ll post some pics of the other highlights in another post and let this one stand on it’s own.

We were driving through a grassland section of the park when our guide, Robert, stopped and turned around because he saw a group of Ugandan Kob acting strange. He wondering if they saw or sensed something we didn’t. Turns out there was a leopard in a tree that was just hanging out in a branch. Beautiful. Majestic. Magnificent!

And then the leopard got of the tree…and this is what we watched.

Again, not for the weak stomached. You have been warned.

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Uganda isn’t that far away, is it?

“It really isn’t that difficult of a journey. Just a few flights to get there and a couple of van rides. You’ll be fine!” I lied to my wife and our traveling companions. “You won’t even notice how long you’re sitting in an uncomfortable seat across three continents. It’ll just fly by.

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Still smiling after hours and hours of travel

I know it’s a sin to lie but what if the lie is intentionally offered in love? That’s good right? I’m still on the side of good?

Days 1, 2 and 3 were full of travel. We left Detroit just before 2 pm on Wednesday and arrived in our hotel in Kampala at 1:00 am on Friday. So, yeah,  it was a substantial trip. I’m not complaining…much.

Actually, I’m probably the least adaptable in our outstanding group this year. The other four are adept travelers who seem to roll with the punches and for that I am eternally grateful. Like any group, one naysayer or Debbie-downer has the potential to bring everyone into a state of frustration. I can proudly say our group is laughing at potential adversity and seems so well suited for an experience like this one.

We departed from Detroit, though one of our group members, Jamie Morris, flew in the day before from Phoenix so he gets the medal for longest trip. Good on you, Mr. Morris.

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Jamie and Andrew looking impressed.

The rest of our group includes Kurt and Pete Guter from Williamston, MI, and my wife, Rachell. Our common bond is the connection to the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project (https://www.nyakaschool.org). Last year I led a much larger group of individuals from The Peoples Church of East Lansing, the congregation I pastor, (http://thepeopleschurch.com) to visit Nyaka. Having a smaller team was already providing for a different experience. It is just easier to manage a small group of five versus more than a dozen individuals. More bags, more personalities, more potential pitfalls, and just more…everything can be more of a challenge. Additionally, the trip last year did not include any couples or family members. It is a very different thing to travel with and share accommodations with one’s spouse than it is a friend or stranger. That said, last year’s group went from strangers to friends quite quickly in the course of two weeks in Uganda.

We flew from Detroit to Newark, enjoyed a short layover in New Jersey, and then proceeded from NJ to Amsterdam on a Delta International flight. All in all it was an uneventful, quiet, and tiring trip. Does anyone REALLY get any rest on an airplane? I think Pete nailed it when she said, “I never really slept, I just passed out from time to time.” Yep, that about sums it up.

That would have been enough of a trip to tire anyone out but we still had two flights to go. So, after a couple hours in the Schipohl Airport in Amsterdam (one of my favorite airports in the world, by the way. Who doesn’t love stroopwafel?),img_5152 we flew nine hours to Kiwali, Rwanda. Our stop in Rwanda was short enough to forbid us from leaving the plane, but long enough to make you want to leave the plane.

 

After that, our final flight took us to Entebbe, Uganda, sight of the infamous international highjacking incident and subsequent raid that was highlighted in the movie “The Last King of Scotland.” Honestly, that is what I have learned most about people’s perceptions of Uganda. Whenever I have talked about Uganda, the majority of people know it related to Edi Amin’s brutal dictatorship, the Entebbe Airport Raid, or “The Book of Mormon.” None of those are great associations for this incredible country and it is such a shame.uganda-04 This developing nation is beautiful in land, people, and spirit. It faces many of the problems experienced by other developing countries (unemployment, poverty, pollution, corruption, and instability), yet it has thrived in the past decade due in large part to a coordinated effort by the government and people to improve the education, infrastructure, and investment into the nation. Granted, my interpretation is biased though I stand by the reality of and improving forecast for Uganda.img_5238

Upon arrival, we passed through customs and met our congenial hosts from Bic Tours, the preferred tourist company for Nyaka and the same organization that guided my previous trip (http://www.bic-tours.com). Our host/driver/guide, Kasozi Robert, was with us the entire trip. He was knowledgeable, approachable, and exceedingly helpful. We were spoiled by his leadership, enthusiasm and willingness to introduce us to his blessed country.

The night we arrived, we were shuttled off an hour away from the airport to the Hotel Africana in Kampala, the capital city of 4 million people. We were all so exhausted at this point, that we simply escaped to our rooms and immediately fell fast asleep. As you can see, this was our first mosquito net of the trip…though definitely not the last. img_5153There is something oddly charming about sleeping in a canopied bed, even if it is a netting designed to prevent you from getting malaria. Still, magical…in that non-malaria kind of a way.

We were able to enjoy the hotel’s patchy wi-fi to Facetime our children who were staying with Rachell’s parents in Bay City, MI. They had just finished the Thanksgiving feast when we again realized, “We just missed Thanksgiving!” We spent the entire Thanksgiving holiday in the skies above Europe and Africa. Not exactly turkey and stuffing but it’ll certainly be a memorable Thanksgiving for our family. The children were happy and enjoying life with the grandparents, which was a win for all of us.

We woke up Friday morning around 7:30 feeling surprisingly refreshed, considering we had lost most of a day and our internal clocks were so out of whack. God bless, Jamie Morris…he actually got up early and went for a run in the hotel gym. I’m shamed and inspired…but mostly just shamed. Well done, sir.

We all met up for a splendid breakfast of local fuits, hot drinks, and eggs. From there, we were reintroduced to Nyaka staff we who set our schedule, encouraged our visit, and gave us an overview of the next 8 days. img_5157Today (Friday) and tomorrow we will visit Queen Elizabeth National Park and then arrive in Nyaka on Sunday night, ready to work with the schools when they open again on Monday morning. The end of the week we will head back to Kampala for the world premier of “Cornerstone,” a documentary about Nyaka. The premier will be attended by donors, politicians, and local dignitaries who are supporting the efforts of this amazing organization. It is humbling to be a part of the event.

The drive today was around 9 hours in an eight passenger safari van. We made a stop at the equator and did the requisite “equator experiments,” watching water drain one way in the northern hemisphere, the opposite way in the south, and straight dow on the actual equator. It never gets old. The science behind it? No idea, I’m just a minister. Magic, probably?

We then hopped back in the van and journeyed on another 6ish hours to our destination. Sooooo much driving…

It should be noted that the infrastructure in Uganda, the road system in particular, is not ideal. Some roads are smooth and easy but the majority are dirt and full of bumps, washed out caverns, obstacles, and any number of other challenges. Because of this reality, you are constantly being bounced around the van and the driver is doing his absolute best to make sure we arrive safely. It’s an adventure, to be sure, but not impossible. Just very, very uncomfortable.

Our first full day ended at the Enganzi Game Lodge (http://kabiza.com/kabiza-wilderness-safaris/enganzi-game-lodge-queen-elizabeth-park/), on the border of Queen Elizabeth National Park. We were each given a gorgeous yurt overlooking a majestic valley. Before we hiked down to our home for the night, we were provided with a lovely welcome from the lodge and a curious warning.

img_5237“At the base of this hill are small farms on the border of the national park. Because this is harvest time, the elephants try to get into the farms and cause great damage to the crops. As a deterrent to the elephants, the farmers will stay out all night banging drums, yelling, and firing guns into the air to scare the elephants when they get too close. Do not be alarmed when you hear these things tonight.”

Fantastic.

End of Day 3 (insert gunshots, shouts of warning, and a continuous drum beat throughout the African night).

What a trip…

 

My head is spinning. So much to process and so little time to sit and put it all together. This has been an outstanding past two weeks. Without hesitation or qualification, I can happily say our trip to Uganda to partner with the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project was an overwhelming success. For 11 days, I traveled with my wife, Rachell, Kurt and Pete Guter, Jamie Morris, and executive director and founder of Nyaka, Twesigye Jackson Kaguri.img_6075 This was my second trip in the past two years to work with Nyaka in Uganda. The Peoples Church has supported this outstanding organization for nearly a decade, with the support beginning before I arrived in East Lansing as their pastor.

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Over the next few days I will post a rundown of each day on the trip. Until then, here is a brief list of highlights:

 

  • Visited 3 schools and interacted with over 500 students and dozens of faculty and staff.
  • Toured the Mummy Drayton Clinic
  • Explored the two libraries and support facilities established by Nyaka.
  • Assisted in the construction of a grandmother house that was paid for by generous members of The Peoples Church in honor of Dr. Curt Liechty, a friend and congregant who visited Nyaka in 2015 shortly before his unexpected passing.
  • Attended the world premier of the independent film, “Cornerstone,” a groundbreaking documentary exploring the history, founding, and continuing excellence of Nyaka.
  • Preached and spoke to each school for their devotional period
  • Keynoted the local Rotary club meeting in Kihihiimg_5969
  • Took a day to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park, where we saw all manner of wildlife.
  • Crossed the equator four times – twice by car and twice by boat
  • Ate incredible Ugandan food with even better people in all parts of the country.

There is so much more to this past trip but this gives a good start. I’ll take a look at each day and include photos and video for each day of the trip. Until then, thank you for your prayers while we were away and please know how much the children of Nyaka appreciate your continuing support. Peace be with you and thanks for reading.

On our way to Uganda…

And so the journey begins…ug-lgflag

We leave for the Pearl of Africa this morning and will return on December 3. I’ll be doing my best to blog while away with pics and updates of the trip. Until then, please pray for our safe journey to the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project.

This is my second trip to work with, visit, support, and advocate on behalf of this outstanding organization. There are few international non-profits that do as much good with the limited resources they have at their disposal. I would encourage you to give generously to this project. To my Peoples Church people, THANK YOU for all you have done for the children, teachers, grandmothers, and communities who benefit from your good work. It is an honor to have our congregation be such an active participant with Nyaka and I am so happy to see this relationship continue, grow, and flourish.

Peace be with my fellow travelers and please remember us in your prayers as we journey to the center of the African continent! uganda-04

 

We’re leaving the country

My wife, Rachell and I are leaving.

Some people just make threats. We follow through. Later, U.S.A.

 

Yep, on Wednesday morning, we are embarking on a 30+ hour journey to Kampala, Uganda…and we’re staying until December 3.

 

No, we’re not permanently abandoning our county of origin. This is a work/mission/tourist/vacation excursion as part of our ongoing partnership with the Nyaka Aids Orphans Project (more on that tomorrow!). We have been planning this for the past few months and we are extremely excited for this amazing opportunity. It promises to be an exceptional time spent working, learning, growing, and experiencing my favorite African nation.

 

But what about those who have, are in the process of, and plan to leave from one country to another in the past, present and future?

 

Forgive my overly simplistic approach to the nuanced and complicated notion of immigration from one636035188213974932-627964414_giphy-2 place to another but I am struck by the magnitude of any person who “went.”

 

Very, rarely does one simply choose to go to another country…and the reasons, process, and risks are far from universal for each immigrant, refugee, asylum seeker, or traveler.

 

Some are forced to leave by war, poverty, political instability, and fear.

 

Some are encouraged to leave by work, family, religious liberty, or broken relationships.

 

Some are escaping and some are hiding.

 

Some are longing to return home and some are leaving behind a long to be forgotten past.

 

Some want adventure.

 

Some want love.

 

Many, many want hope.

 

By virtue of my place in this great American experiment, I am the product of generations before me who “left.” While I’d like to assume I understand their reasons and experiences, the reality of my narrative is one shrouded in mystery and wonder. Why would my foremothers and fathers leave Scotland, Australia, Germany and France? Did they want to be here? Did they long to be here? If the choice was available, would they have returned home?

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Rachell and I have experienced an incredible amount of privilege in our lives that has translated to opportunity. We have had choices at nearly every turn of our lives apart and together. We were then and are now able to “decide” to stay or go. And that is a rare position to be in…the realm of opportunity…especially when the vast majority in our world do not live with such extravagant prospects.

 

So why is immigration discussed, debated, and imagined in such myopic, narrow terms? I don’t believe I’m speaking anecdotally on this one, though my own experiences do shape these thoughts.

 

No two immigrant stories are the same…especially not the many faceted travel logs in the Old and New Testaments. Each person, each family, experienced good, bad, and indifferent events that led, called, encouraged, and forced them to go.

 

So, let’s stop viewing immigration through such a narrow lens.

 

I’m utterly intrigued to hear Ugandan perspectives on American election politics, especially as they relate to immigration. Though I would pose the same question to my American, Scottish, German, Indian, Aram and Latino friends as well – what comes next in this discussion?

 

I hope you’ll follow our journey over the next couple of weeks as we travel across Uganda. Pray for our family who will remain behind and pray for a safe, eventful, and glorious adventure for Rachell and me!