For those of you who do not know what Mefloquin is, let me briefly enlighten you. Apo-Mefloquin is a type of anti-malarial drug that was prescribed to me by the Missionary Health Institute for my travels to northern Uganda. Side effects entail hallucinations and vivid dreams. No word of a lie, almost every night around 1 am Terry awakes in a panic to hear me screaming absurdities from the next room. "Hello?!! Whos there?! WAIT!! Who are you?!! Reveal yourself!!!" to which Terry will jump up petrified wondering if some belligerent felon just broke into the house. I seem to have a tendency to instantly wake up in a state of clarity and coherence and acknowledge my crazy REM sleep, Mefloquin night terrors which upon consciousness is usually followed by 5-10 minutes of laughter. Never a dull moment here in Pader even during my standard 8 hour sleep! I highly recommend these pills to anyone leading lives lacking some excitement between sunrise and sunset who would like to heighten their sleeping experience.
I appreciate the many prayers over the past three weeks as we have been very busy here in Pader with programming and planning for upcoming events. Yikes, there is so much to blog about that I don't know where to begin. I hope you have some time to read a lengthy one today! Thank you especially to all who responded to the proposal for the girls of Pader. I assure you that your investment is one of great value and importance and will have a significant impact on not only the young women but the district of Pader as a whole. Thankyou for partnering with me to make a difference in these young lives.
Two weeks ago, the E.I. staff travelled about 15 kilometers to a school called Aluka Primary where I spoke to about 35 youth varying in age about the importance of staying in school. School drop-out is rampant here in the north and a majority of the youth do not make it to secondary school. I told them that although I have only been here for just over a month I have grown to love and admire the Acholi people. I have observed their incredible work ethic and the way they have persevered through the many trials and hardships of the last 23 years of senseless war is simply remarkable. I asked that they continue to persevere with tenacity throughout their schooling. I stressed that although the road may be tough there is nothing that is impossible with God and He has promised never to leave or forsake them. I'll be blatantly honest with you my friends, when I say that I was hesitant to tell them that last part. I know that from my own experience I can say that verse without any doubt or apprehension, but my friends here in the north have seen enough purposeless bloodshed, lost enough friends and family in a war initiated by tyrants with a preposterous cause to be curious as to whether or not there is even a God and if he does exist, where was he for the last 25 years? Tough questions and no easy answers...
I awoke Friday, February 19th at 6:30 am to pray for the day ahead of me. I had planned and prepped for this day for a while, attending one meeting after another that often left me frustrated and confused. African planning is not exactly the most methodical and I wasn't completely certain as to what God was wanting to accomplish through this soccer tournament involving 5 different division one teams from around the north of Uganda. I boiled some water to bathe and make some green tea, swallowed my daily dosage of Imodium, devoured a gatorade protein bar (Thanks Darren!), brushed my teeth and strolled towards the football field optimistic, but with a hint of diffidence as the sun was rising at my back.
Upon arrival I was immediately escorted to the local radio station (LUO FM) where I was to announce to the north the commencement of the football tournament. I talked briefly about the purpose of the tournament which was to bring Peace, Reconciliation and Healing to the northern districts of Uganda through the sport of football. They asked that I also mention the specific football gear that I will be distributing to the various teams which included cleats, socks, shorts and jerseys (thanks to you!). We then proceeded back to the field which was nicely chalked, groomed and relieved of all the cow deposits. All the athletes, officials, town-council members, bishops, mayors and MP's plus a number of locals gathered around for the opening ceremonies. We were all lined up in chairs facing this gigantic crowd of people like a head table at a wedding. Talk about a spectacle! Reverend Kenneth opened in prayer and a number of the authorities gave their formal greetings. Reverend then whispered over to me, "Curtis, you will testify now." Testify? What exactly was I supposed to do in the next few moments?! Testify?...Testify?...hmmm "ohhh you mean testimony, gotcha!" So I opened my mouth and the Spirit did the rest. I then proceeded to give my story to a couple hundred people listening attentively to what I had to say. I incorporated an explanation of this concept of a "total athlete": A leader not only on the field but off. A good role model for the young ones to see and look up to. A Godly father, husband, brother and son. Disciplined in all aspects of life, not just on the football pitch. A peacemaker, not an instigator of conflict. Ultimately, a life surrendered to Jesus Christ. Everyone was very receptive and my colleagues say it went over very well. Praise God! Each team was absolutely thrilled to receive their new football gear which fit the guys rather nicely. The calibre of play was exceptional but the sportsmanship was lacking in some areas which is expected as some of the teams are primarily made up of UPDF soldiers. I made an effort to talk to each team individually about how football is a gentlemen's sport and therefore must be played like gentlemen. I mentioned that there has been fighting in the north for too long and we thank God for restoring peace. Now we must play football in a manner that reflects this reestablished peace. The whole tournament lasted from Friday morning until monday evening of the 22nd and we had close to 600 people out to the final game. Adulang district team took home the trophy and their fans erupted when the final whistle was blown!
Throughout the tournament I was picking an all-star team which in two weeks I will begin to train and coach in hopes to take them to the Oyam district a couple of hours from here to play their top team. I was looking for players who not only showed skill and finesse but good leadership and sportsmanship on and off the pitch. The UPDF soldiers have already agreed to provide the transportation for the upcoming game. (A military escort to the field! That has to be intimidating for the opposing team.) The whole district is very excited about this elite team and the potential that it presents for unifying the northern districts through the sport of football.
The significance of these football tournaments in the north is far greater than the eye can see. It's bigger than 20 men running around frantically kicking a leather ball back and forth on a rectangular dirt field. God is truly reconciling His children here in north with each other and to Himself. As I've mentioned previously, there has been great friction and animosity between the northern districts throughout the years of war that has overflowed into the last 2 years of peace. The chains of anger and resentment are being broken slowly and in very subtle ways. Praise God!
I mentioned in my last epistle that Terry and I were in Kampala this past week for a short visit and accepted an invitation to join a number of American teachers from the Heritage Christian International school for their Shrove Tuesday celebration (Pancake Day). For those of you who don't know, it is the last day before the period which Christians call Lent. What a treat it was to not only indulge in pancakes, but have them soaked in syrup (not quite Canadian maple!) and chocolate and vanilla ice cream! Afterwards we all joined together for a short devotion about the meaning of Shrove Tuesday. We talked about fasting and how the goal of fasting is the sanctification of a believer. The Westminister shorter Catechism defines sanctification as "The work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole person after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness." John Piper once said that "ultimately, fasting is a way of expressing to God that he is the supreme hunger of our hearts - that we are starving for him." We concluded our time together in prayer and parted ways. During the car ride home Terry and I both felt compelled to give something up for lent. Together, we brainstormed possible sacrifices. Rice?... no... we'd die! Chicken or goat?... nah... it's a delicacy and rarely served as it is. Beans... heck no... 90% of our protein intake! Then I accidentally said it. The word we both were hoping would not surface during this fasting conversation. "How about sodas?" A coke, fanta, crest, miranda, or sprite although luke warm makes for a refreshing treat amidst a rather bland diet of rice and beans. Holy h2O till' Easter it shall be!
One more story... I promise... Last night Terry, Francis and I headed to CCF (Christian Counseling Fellowship) where over 300 young girls live in community together under the supervision of our friend Alice and her staff. Many of these women were abducted during the war and forced to be wives and sex slaves to the rebels. A good handful of these same girls were impregnated while in the bush and are looking after their kin with the help of CCF. The three of us brought over a generator, big speakers and a projector and the dvd "War Dance". If you have not seen this movie yet, i beg of you to go to blockbuster and rent it. If I have not done a good enough job portraying to you through word the tragedy of the last 23 years of rebel insurgency, this movie will. It is about a school here in the Pader district that competes in a dance competition in Kampala for the first time since the outbreak of the war. We all sat under the night sky and projected the movie onto a white wall on the exterior of the compound. On my left was a young girl who had been abducted for a year and to my right was a man who had been kidnapped and spent 3 years in the bush with the rebels. I had a couple of "I can't believe I am here in northern Uganda!" moments that night, which seem to happen quite frequently. It was an even greater thrill to hear that a couple of girls from the crowd were actually in the movie but hadn't yet seen the film. Everyone roared with laughter when these two girls came on the screen! You won't fully understand the euphoria of this experience for me until you see this movie yourself.
We've met a bunch of Americans who are here in Pader for a short while on a quest called the World Race which consists of many groups of young individuals reaching 11 countries in 11 months with the gospel. It's been great to get to know some of them and hear the exciting stories of their travels to various countries! What a cool opportunity to not only see the world but to be Gods hands and feet in each place they reside.
This past weekend I received a lot of praise from countless individuals but all i've really done is speak a message about Gods relentless and unfailing love in my own life and distribute a bunch of soccer gear that was donated by all of you. So I reflect all of this praise ultimately to God, but also to all of you for your constant prayers and support that I couldn't even function here without. I thank God for you everyday and pray that He will continue to bless you as you have blessed me.
Rainy season is swiftly approaching and I can even hear the thunder in the distance as I type! "Here comes the rain!"
Kudos to all of you who made it through yet another massive blog. I'll try and do a better job at keeping them shorter and more frequent.
I love you all,
p.s. Good book to read... Theirs Is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America by Robert D. Lupton is a book that is literally eating away at me (in a good way). I will blog more about it later, but i strongly recommend it to anyone in search of the relationship between poverty and Christianity and the responsibility of the have and have-nots.
p.p.s New pictures are up!