Uganda ISB June 2016


"On the 4th June this year it was my privilege to participate in an International Scripture Blitz to Uganda  as part of a team of 9 Gideons; 7 from the USA, one from Taiwan and myself from the UK.  Uganda sits on the Equator, a beautifully green country with a  near perfect climate. The population is about  38 million and most of them live on less than £6.00 per week. Poverty is rife, particularly in rural areas, corruption and bad governance have kept the country, at least outside the  capital,  Kampala,  in conditions that have not changed in  a 100 years. Grass huts with mud walls, dusty red earth roads, barefoot children, unemployed youths  lounging around  shops and open air markets selling fruit, sweet bananas the local staple, maize vegetables, firewood and the ubiquitous Coca Cola. Ten  million of them do not have access to clean water, women carrying  faded yellow water carriers on their heads  are to be seen everywhere. There are about 10 different ethnic groupings, 9 vernacular languages and whilst English, the official language, is widely spoken it is made difficult by the  strong local accent. 

Entebbe Airport, adjacent to the large UN Regional Peacekeeping Centre, is built on a promontory surrounded by Lake Victoria, African’s largest body of water. The smaller appropriately named  Lake Albert, lies in to north and our work areas were to be the towns of Masindi and Hoima close to its eastern shores.  A six hour drive took us to Masindi, where we could see the hills  of the Democratic Republic of Congo  on the far side of the lake and where we met with our Gideon brothers from Uganda. Some had travelled from Kampala to be with us for the week and to join with Gideons from the Masindi and Hoima branches. We had hoped to distribute as many as 125000 copies of God’s Word, mostly in schools, but some arrangements had been made at other public  institutions .  We learned that the school term had been delayed by a week for fear  of violent unrest following the presidential elections and was due to start on the Monday following our arrival, we also learned that  Thursday was to be a public holiday and that schools would be closed. This meant we had to make use of every minute available to us when we could work.

 Our brothers in Uganda had given of their time and  their livelihood responsibilities  to guide us. transport us and share in the distribution and it is thanks to our many Friends and their generous gifts that we were able to purchase and ship the  1250 boxes, each containing 100 copies of the New Testament Psalms and Proverbs, that would be distributed during the week. We Gideons from overseas, who are fortunate enough to have better incomes than our Ugandan counterparts, were able to assist with fuel, hotel and refreshment costs throughout the week.

Sunday Service

Halfway through our 6 hour coach journey to Masindi  it occurred to me that I had left my one and only formal jacket in the wardrobe at  the hotel near Entebbe Airport. I had hung it in a wardrobe to straighten out the creases. I also learned that I am due to speak, tomorrow, Sunday morning,  at three church services commencing at 630am and am expected to wear a jacket as I make my presentation about the work of the Gideons worldwide. One of our team had yet to arrive due to flight delays and a local Gideons was due to meet him at the airport. We phoned him and asked if he might call at the hotel and pick up my jacket en route and it duly arrived, along with the last of our team  members, in the nick of time, about 1130pm, looking  even more  creased than before.   

Sunday morning at 615am I am  waiting on the veranda for my local Gideon, Rufus (that's not his name but it's as close as I can get) to take me to All Saints Church Masindi. A short journey to a long bungalow type building with a corrugated iron roof. There were only two other cars in the rutted patch of ground of a car park but inside the church was packed. We were escorted to the front to sit sideways on a low platform facing the choir opposite, on rows of green plastic chairs. This service was to be in the local language Runoyo and I was to have an interpreter. The second service immediately following was to be in English and the third again Runoyo. 

I tried to estimate the size of the congregation by counting the number of pews and the number in each pew, I came to about 800 plus at least another 200 on the platform and countless children wandering about. At the changeover of congregations , which happened very quickly,  another 1000 or so replaced the first and perhaps half that many at the third.

The first service commenced, minutes later a teenage girl came passed us and literally threw herself face down on the floor, her head on the communion cushion and remained there lifeless for the better part of the service. Eventually she turned over and began to extract a bible from a cloth bag she had with her. The bible had no front  or back and all the pages were brown. The most shocking thing were her hands,  almost no fingers and back of the hands white and leprous . I passed a Personal Worker Testament to my Gideon friend and asked him to give it to her. Before we left we were invited into the vestry for a lengthy round of hand shaking and the girl was there, she held out her hand to me and of course I took it.

Another notable event occurred about halfway through the second service. A young man appeared and threw a Hallmark gift bag on the floor by my feet. The bag was pink with a white bow and a chicken poked it's head out of the top. It looked at me and clucked a few times, I  looked back at it and said nothing. I wasn't about to get involved in conversation with a chicken. After a while it consoled itself by pecking at my shoe while I tried to remain dignified. Somebody came picked it up and carried of down the aisle shouting as he went. The same space by my feet was occupied at various times by bags of popcorn,  bunches of bananas and other assorted goods.  These were held up before the congregation with much excitement and it turned out that  they were part of the morning offering and were being auctioned off there and then. I could have bought the talkative chicken had I known. When I returned to the hotel and told my story to my fellow Gideons  one responded that he had had a goat in his service.

Our Days in Hoima

Our days in Hoima  commenced  at 0730 , we gathered to pray and have discussions about the day. We were divided into teams and off I went with Apollo in his big, rugged Toyota Land cruiser. Michael, a Hoima Gideon, sits in the front and I occupy a small back seat. Most of the back seating  is folded down, to make way for our store of  Scripture. The roads are impossible and I am frequently buried under an avalanche of boxes when the vehicle lurches forward or sideways.  Suddenly, in the middle of the bush, a school appears. Michael jumps out and heads for the long bungalow with many doors. I jump out, lift the tailgate and grab a sample youth testament and follow him. By now he is in the headmasters office, a box room, bare walls apart from old  hand written posters, broken chairs, dog eared exercise books and an ancient desk with a faded Ugandan flag on it.

"You are most welcome"

"I am Michael from The Gideons International"

"Yes please, you are most welcome"

From then on the conversation takes place in Runyoro and the kind of English I don't understand but basically Michael is saying "Please get all the children  from P4 upwards together so we can present them with the Scriptures" At this point I give the headmaster the sample I have in my hand.

"Yes please" says the headmaster.

We are handed  the visitors book (every time, every school) and he goes off to muster the entire school. They usually congregate under a shady tree, there we take it in turns to speak, in no particular order. Michael explains that we are Gideons and that we are going to give them good news. I tell them I have come all the way from England to give them the news that God loves them and that they are all special in His eyes, Apollo warns the girls not to get involved with the boys but say pure and be guided by the Bible. (He has two daughters). We then hand out the Scripture and give 5 full Bibles for the staff rooms etc. With a final wave and a "We are most grateful" we jump aboard and bounce off down red earth track to the next.

The Holy Spirit’s Leading

I was deeply moved by the children I met in Uganda. They were without exception polite, obedient joyful and charming in every way. In spite of the poor conditions in which they live,  without shoes,  clothes even textbooks and pens, they wore the most beautiful smiles  and were a joy to be with. I felt the  Holy Spirit speaking to me as  a faced each group of children.  These were not just a bunch of school kids. They were, every one, a special unique creation of God,  so loved by Him that He died for each one of them.  How precious is each one to Him. I found myself telling them how  much He loves them, every one for Himself, because there is no one else in the whole world just like  each one of them.  I would say the He would have them love Him as He loves them and that the Scripture that they had received, as they read it, would explain the depth of God’s love for them.  

As we left Uganda at the conclusion of our time there we had distributed over 81,000 Scriptures but it is better to say that we spoke to 81,000 precious special individuals and  gave them the good news of the Gospel so that each one may  be brought into God’s Kingdom. I went to Uganda to tell the people there about God’s love for them but I came away with  a new understanding of God’s love for all of us. It was easy to  love those little ones in Uganda, it’s not so easy to love the hard cynical  and arrogant  people in our own country, but I realise that God does,  and they are just as special to Him.  I know I must love them too. My desire and effort to reach the people here in my own home must be as great as that which we put into reaching the lost in Uganda.  Thank you children!" "


John Coldwell

Zone  3 Trustee