Thursday, 27 May 2010

Wrapping up time 'goals'

Well, I have two weeks and a day(ish) left here, so in case you're interested, here's a few things I'm doing/hope to do before I go:

White water rafting in Jinja this weekend (a birthday present from my parents! It'll only be about 2 weeks early, which is allowed, right?

A friend's impromptu wedding (they got engaged about three weeks ago) next Saturday, for which I'm getting a dress made, and it stops above the knee (scandalous!) because my Ugandan friend is very western minded and he's marrying a mzungu (white girl) so I've calculated that showing some knee should be allowed. And it's a new dress and I want to wear it!

Hopefully visiting an HIV ministry on the Ssesse Islands on Lake Victoria - a small ministry with a clinic and outreaches to many of the very, very poor fishing communities on the Islands. Also a possible tour of a big Mild May HIV lab in Kampala.

Having my last week in the lab, which will be choc-a-block full of things, as we're trying to clear up a back log of DNA PCR tests while I also hop over to one of the other labs to get some last minute experience in stool samples (yes, you did read that right).

Trying to meet with as many people as possible while I'm still in Mbarara (one more week!). I don't think I'm going to be able to see everyone I want to, which is sad, but I'm going to have to do my best to see as many people as possible. It may mean very late nights from too much socialising, but there are so many wonderful people here, and some I've invested a lot of myself into.

Take my last class here ever, with the four girls from the discipleship course. I will miss them a lot, and I'm very sad to be leaving them, especially only two thirds through their course! But we've almost finished all of our material, and there's an intern here from America who will be taking over the last few classes.

And finally..

Try and pack up a year's worth of my life into two suitcases, and at least one by tuesday so it can hitch a lift to Kampala! There's no way I'm going to get everything in, so people here may benefit a lot from my inability to pack well..

Monday, 24 May 2010

Identifying the wolves

I realised in my last post I talked about false prophets but didn't talk about how to identify them. It's mainly because, though we have been taught a lot about it over the last few weeks, I didn't really know how to explain it. Here's my attempt now:

1 John 2: 20But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.[d] 21I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. 23No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.


1 John 4:  1Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,3but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

Essentially, 'Preach Jesus', but I couldn't think of a way to put it until I stumbled across this quote by Mark Driscoll:

"Jesus’ name should be spoken repeatedly throughout a sermon so that it is clear which God you are speaking of. Jesus should be the hero of every sermon, the answer to every question, and the hope for every person."

When a teacher centralises anything or anybody over Jesus (and this could be himself or, harder to identify as false teaching, the Holy Spirit) then he does not have the Spirit of God or the Father and is a false prophet and a wolf in sheep's clothing. We are constantly watching out for them here and one of the central aim's of AIM's work here is to teach the people of Mbarara how to spot liars and know God for who He really is.

(I found a great article on 1 John 4 that beautifully explains this concept. It's a bit long, but well worth a read.)

Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Man of God in Uganda

I'm trying to think through all of the things I've learned about Africa whilst being here that have come on slowly so I've never thought to write about them. One of these would definitely be the awareness people have of the spiritual world here - Satan masquerades as many different types of spirits, including ancestors, fairies, good and evil spirits and, the thing that scares me most, the Holy Spirit. In the western world, the spirit world is hiding from sight, to fool us into thinking there's no danger. Here, there is plenty of danger, but people can become completely enslaved either trying to please the spiritual world or seek fulfilment in it.

This kind of worldview permeates the Church entirely. There is a huge emphasis on the Holy Spirit in many churches, so much so that Jesus is overlooked if not forgotten. One of the members of our team has been 'scouting out' the pentecostal conferences that go on, and has experienced the power of Satan masquerading as the Holy Spirit, causing people to vomit and fit among other things. These spirits are often summoned by 'Men of God' who behave like Old Testament prophets, promising blessings if people give them money or act a certain way. I'm pretty sure they think they're 'summoning' the Holy Spirit, but when they don't invoke Him in the name of Jesus, it is Satan who comes to fool them instead. These preachers call on the HS in their own name, asking Him to place into their hands all of the blessings He has for the people, so that people have to come to him to receive from God. I wonder if they realise they're removing the need for a Messiah, because with a Man of God who can access the blessings of God and give them to any he chooses, why would we need Jesus?

A lot of this is based in the power traditional religion and culture have over Christianity here - just like culture has in the West, but in far different ways. For example, if you need a miracle, you could either go to a witch doctor, who would give you an item to wear that was enchanted and would cause your miracle to happen, or you could go to the Man of God, who would bless an item (in the most recent case it was hankies) which you would then wear and God would bless you with your miracle. Who needs Jesus, when you can have a Saviour Handkerchief?

I'm joking around, but it does make me so sad to see people hungry for God being fooled and scammed by charismatic men who enjoy having power over people and reaping monetary rewards. There's a scam used by church leaders called 'sowing blessings', where people are expected to give what they have in order for God to bless them hundredfold afterwards. Nobody is telling them that with Jesus, those blessings are free! God has made available membership of the Kingdom of Heaven, a whole new life, and everything we could possibly need, to anyone who will come to Him, but these 'Men of God' stand in front of Jesus, hiding Him from sight yet using His name, and hold out their hands and charge people money for empty promises.

I'll explain some of the ways words are used in these kinds of churches, to give you a better idea of how these kinds of things go on:

  • Teaching: This is when someone opens the Bible and explains its words and meaning. 
  • Preaching/Man of God (these things go hand in hand): In the kinds of churches I'm talking about, preaching happens 90% more than teaching, and is very distinct from it. A blessed man, often called an Apostle or Bishop though always called a 'Man of God' takes words from the Bible and prophesies from them. This man is required in order for people to receive blessings, it's almost as if he has to 'activate' the words of the Bible for them to come true. There is much emphasis on the Old Testament, in fact he is very similar in role to the OT prophet. An example would be a preacher reading from an OT prophet about how God will bless Israel with riches/rich harvest/various other blessings and He will then 'activate' them by giving a certain time span (either the end of the evening, week, month or year usually) by which point people will have received their (generally non-specific) miracle. You would think they would be put to rout immediately when these things don't happen, however they tell people that their receipt of the miracle depends on the amount of faith they have, so the preacher escapes blame if nothing happens.
    • These false prophets are essentially the High Priests of old - God must speak through them as the normal people are too unclean for Him to communicate with them. In this way, the death of Jesus loses its meaning - He died to bring us back into relationship with God, but this relationship is nonexistent and unnecessary when the Man of God is around.
  • Holy Spirit: By far the most emphasised member of the Trinity. He conveys blessings from Jesus to earth, and the Man of God is in constant communion with Him. If He wants to say anything, He tells the Man of God who will communicate it to the crowd. He makes His presence felt physically, often through people shaking, vomiting or falling over, and He causes people to speak in tongues. This is the best way to pray, as God does not pay as much attention to normal speech.
    • It is often taught that it is via communion with the Holy Spirit that our sins are forgiven i.e. without Jesus. The most recent Man of God told the people they were all sinful and going to Hell, but they would be absolutely fine if they could just learn to speak in tongues.

We need to blanket the Church in Uganda with prayer. Pray that it will seek Him for Himself and not for earthly blessings, that Biblically trained church leaders will rise up and guide these sheep that have gone astray, and that people will read their Bibles in order to find Jesus and nothing else. People need to experience the REAL Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth who will rout out these false preachers and point people back to Jesus. Please join me in praying for the church in this nation, so that His Name will be made known again!

Monday, 10 May 2010

A Ugandan wedding

I had the privilege of attending a Ugandan give away and wedding this weekend. I was invited by my old landlord, and it was their son that was getting married. I thought I'd share some pictures (if they load) so you can see what one looks like.

A Ugandan wedding consists of three ceremonies (these can be condensed into two to save money but that didn't happen in this case). There is the introduction, where the bride and groom's families meet officially for the first time, but every communication is made through a mediator. This is when the bride price is set (usually a number of cows) that the groom's family must gift to the bride's family. For this family this happened back in December. The next one is the giveaway, which is the traditional wedding, and it is when the bride is given to the groom's family. A large number of people stop here and live as a married couple until they can organise a church wedding, but this family had it the day before the church wedding. They all consist mostly of entertainment and speeches. The giveaway is hosted by the bride's family and the wedding is hosted by the groom's family, so each side bears the weight of the cost.

This is the groom's family and friends waiting to be invited into the giveaway ceremony. We waited about an hour in total (told to delay 1 hour before leaving and then another 5 mins when we arrived at the location) and had to pair up and enter in a line all together. This meant our journey was much longer than necessary, as we had to keep stopping and waiting for more people so we could all enter together. We each had a rose pinned on us as our invitation to enter the ceremony.

These are some of the dancers we watched while waiting for the bride to enter. There were two dance groups and many, many costume changes! Behind them is the bride's family, and to the right is the tent of honour, where the bride and her entourage came to sit after they arrived.

This is the bride and her bridesmaids as they enter the ceremony. They missed most of it, arriving 3 hours after us (we arrived three hours after it started). They had waiting in the house just next to where everything was going on, and had to be invited into the ceremony as well. I think she actually looked more beautiful at the giveaway in this outfit than in her white dress the next day. The great photo was taken by Deborah, the groom's 13 year old sister. It's much less conspicuous to send a little girl to stand right in front of the important people and take pictures!

This was after the church wedding, which was pretty much the same as a British Anglican wedding (it took place in the Anglican Cathedral), and was very pretty. I don't think I've ever seen so many bridesmaids and groomsmen though!

After 5 hours (!) of driving around town taking photos and eating dinner, the bridal party arrived at the reception. The first thing they did was to cut the ribbon and walk through the archway, symbolising unlocking the door of their first home and entering together. The little girl the white dress next to the groom is NOT the bride, she's the flower girl! I didn't have the best angle to catch the bride in the photo, see if you can spot her.

They then walked down a white carpet to their chosen song, while we cheered and waved and they waved back.

Before they arrived there was lots of waiting around, with the reception starting at around 4 rather than 1 as planned (apparently a lot of weddings are actually surprisingly well timed and would usually only start an hour or so late, so this was a surprise). We watched dancers and listened to speeches while waiting for the bride and groom to arrive. After they did, we had more dancing and more speeches, as well as the cake cutting. My jobs were ushering people in (they were very happy when I greeted them in orunyankore - I had been practicing!) and spraying silly string at the bride and groom as they cut the cake!

One of the most interesting parts of the reception was after the cake cutting, when the bride and groom fed each other a piece of cake and some soda (it was a Christian wedding which here means no alcohol). This represented how they would care for each other and support each other. Isn't that lovely?

Unfortunately, as it had run on so late, a lot of people left before the reception ended. This was understandable, as there was a lot of waiting around and speeches introducing everyone and everyone who had come! I admit I would have left early too, but didn't realise that my second job (the silly string) took place AFTER the speeches. Better planning needed next time in what I agree to do!

I hope this has been culturally educational for you all! There are more photos over on facebook if you want to see a few more, but a lot of them are me and the kids entertaining ourselves through the looong waits and speeches by taking silly photos of ourselves.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Life update

Instead of telling you all about what's been going on in my head, I should really tell you what's going on in my life! I know it's been a while, but I'll try and keep it short and sweet so you know roughly what life looks like since I arrived back here:

I now have 3 classes I meet regularly, although 2 have now finished as the students have exams and then they leave for the holidays. These are:
- Mixed-sex students discipleship class on Thursdays
- Girls only purity/life class on Saturdays
- Girls' discipleship and evangelism class on Wednesdays. This is with a v exciting group of 4 girls doing a full-time discipleship course, an offshoot of a boys' discipleship course AIM is involved in and wonderful evidence of Ugandans taking on responsibility of ministry when a need is there, even though it was mzungus who started it. It makes me think of ripples on a pond - we threw a stone (the discipleship course for boys) and the girls' course is a resulting ripple on the pond. Let's hope those ripples keep getting bigger and better!

I also led a one-off Bible study on Ephesians 1-3, which was organised by my friend Fiona (a student at the university) that I mentioned in the post below. It was a lovely evening; we explored the themes of God's love for us and His complete Sovereignty, and how He does everything for His own glory yet still loves us infinitely and involved us in His redemption plan from the beginning. It was the perfect way to culminate the hard lessons God's been teaching me recently, and it was a huge blessing to hear other people's thoughts. It turned out a lot of people really needed to be reassured of these things, and God definitely showed more of Himself to us that night!

I have been whizzing around many different lab departments trying to fit everything in to my new tighter schedule (as I'm coming home early). I've finished both malaria and TB this month and had some experience in urine examination, gram staining and other small but vital tests. This month I should be doing DNA PCR, the test for >18 month old children for HIV. However, a vital piece of equipment is missing and doesn't appear to be available anywhere in Uganda.. So who knows what I'll be doing on Monday? Saying that, the most likely place is immunology again, as my boss is on leave and her duties are being shared among other staff. If I'm free I'll probably be doing all of her lab work.

I've applied to the Connect programme with Glasgow Navs and am now waiting for my interview (over skype!) to see where and how I will be placed in the ministry. There's a possibility I won't be in Glasgow, which is something I'm struggling through, as I really want to be there, but I want to be willing to go wherever God wants me.

The team at the moment is focussing a lot on working out Ugandan attitudes to church and the Bible so we can know what to address in relationships and teaching. The pentecostal church (nothing like the ones in the west, which are mostly strictly Biblical) is huge here, and absolutely saturated with prosperity teaching and false prophets. We are working hard to understand the mindset behind the acceptance of this teaching and how people understand the Bible and the office of preacher. People often set themselves up as essentially Old Testament prophets, promising earthly riches and hope and ignoring the hope of the world the come and the gloriously rich gift of God's son as Saviour. There's a lot to get our heads around, and it'll take a whole other post to explain, and I'll give it a try when I have time. I'm lucky enough not to see too much of that, as the students I work with don't tend to think this way, but a significant number of my work colleagues are pentecostal so I am seeking, along with the rest of the team, to understand this church and see how the Gospel is and isn't being preached.

A couple of weekends ago I went on the Short Term retreat at Lake Bunyonyi, probably the most beautiful place in Uganda. It was a very restful weekend, with marshmallows in the fire and rope swings in the rain, though Lindsey, you should have been there! We missed you.

So, that's what my life looks like at the moment, and I'm just starting to think about winding things up for my last month here. I'll try and get round to posting a few more pictures some time soon as well!