I am a firm believer in the power of prayer and am convinced that a lot of you have been praying for me and my health this past week and I am happy to say that I am now healthy (regular)! It's been a long (D-)train ride and I am glad to finally reach a solidified destination. ha Thank you all for your prayers! I really hope and pray that you all are well and enjoying the beauty of Gods creation as winter turns to spring. Summer is on the horizon! Belated Easter greetings. He is risen Indeed!
As many of you know I love music. 30's, 40's, 50's, 90's and contemporary, you name it. From Mozart to Coldplay, Dean Martin to Lifehouse, Mills Brothers to Switchfoot, I don't discriminate when it comes to good music. All throughout the journey of life's adventures, good days and bad, joys and sadness, victories and failures, I feel as though each unique experience has an appropriate soundtrack. A playlist of songs that would rightfully fit each day, moment by moment like a spontaneous, improvised musical. On Tuesday, March 30th, Terry and I jumped on an overnight bus to Kigali, Rwanda for an experience that we knew would be like no other. For the first time in my life there was no fitting music to accompany this trip. As we travelled from one memorial to the next, the only sound I could hear were the piercing cries of victims of Genocide. The hundreds of thousands of fractured skulls, blood stained, machete slashed clothing, preserved bodies of young children and severed mothers with their babies still wrapped solicitously in their arms. The names carved in stone of close to a million Tutsi and Hutu moderates that were brutally slaughtered in a span of only 90 days. This was all my ears could hear while walking through the mass graves, dungeons and churches filled with skulls. Cries for help from impotent human beings followed by silence. Silence that symbolizes the sheer apathy, negligence, and inaction of the world and its leaders in April of 1994.
The world responded to the crisis by sending 2500 UNAMIR peacekeepers to the Eastern African country. To protect the Tutsi and Hutu moderates from the predacious genocidaires and establish peace? No. They came to evacuate the whites and officials and leave shortly after their valiant evacuation mission was accomplished. Only days after the genocide began, 2500 Tutsi as well as Hutu opposition politicians crowded into a Kigali school known as ETO, where Belgian UN troops were billeted. The Belgian soldiers were ordered to depart the school to assist in evacuating foreign nationals from Rwanda. They did so abruptly, making no arrangements whatever for the protection of those they were safeguarding. As they moved out, the killers moved in. When it was over, all 2500 civilians had been murdered. Following the tragic events of 94' Gen. Dallaire stressed that the 2500 peacekeepers under his command would have been a more than sufficient number of soldiers to cease the mass killings and instill peace in the tiny country of Rwanda even if only for a short time until more help arrived. His proposal of defense was refuted. He could only stand by in horror as the premeditated evil was unleashed. 18th century political philosopher Edmund Burke once said "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
One thing that many of us have said in our own personal defense is "I didn't know!". For a large part of my life I was a part of this vast group of people. This might have been the case in 94' as leaders around the world refused to use the word "Genocide" to describe the attempted ethnic cleansing of the Tutsi's. Many did not know the severity of conflict until the three months concluded and the damage was already done. At this very moment that you are reading this Genocide is taking place in Western Sudan. The Coalition for International Justice estimated that 450,000 people in Darfur have died since the deadly genocide began some seven years ago. If you didn't know, you now do. I/we cannot claim ignorance this time.
Evil is not neutral and anyone who is not against it is abdicating in favour of it. - Burke (paraphrased)
Politically, I am not a liberal and i am barely holding onto some conservative ideals, yet I strongly believe in Canada's "Responsibility to Protect". Nearly 60 years ago, the international community made a commitment to put an end to the crime of genocide by ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. I strongly believe that Governments are mandated by international law to protect people from genocide. I am proud to be a Canadian. We have rights and privileges that many countries could only dream of. Do we not take for granted societal stability, political steadiness and for the most part security and safety. How easy is it for us to think of these liberties as universal or the global norm. The things I have seen here in northern Uganda and now Rwanda have the power to completely demoralize an individual. After each heart wrenching story of senseless killing, every memorial, every mass grave, I ask God; "Why are you allowing me to witness these things?" I protest, and I complain wondering where He was during all of the sheer nonsense of genocide and insurgencies. Why He allows mere children to die from poverty and preventable illnesses like diarrhea or malaria. Why thousands of children are victims of brutality and rape and forced into military operations to commit violent acts against their will. I believe with all my heart that He is allowing me to experience all of this in order to spread the word and help to awaken the inactive, comfortable Christ-follower who may whole-heartedly believe that he or she is too small to make a difference. If you seriously believe that God loves you more than a stranded Sudanese woman or man in war-torn Darfur than you have been mightily deceived. He has however, equipped you and I with resources and skills that can bring stability to the lives of the vulnerable and oppressed. Together with His leading we can make a difference.
As I attempt to process all that I have seen and heard I pray for Gods perspective. I'll tell you, cynicism haunts those who quest to learn more about genocide or the ridiculously incredible history of the continent of Africa, but life is too short to be constantly pessimistic. Billy Graham when asked by millions where the hope is in this world answered by saying: "The hope that each of us have is not in who governs us or what laws are passed or what great things we do as a nation, our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people, that is where our hope is in this country. That is where our hope is in life." When are we going to start being the answer to our own prayers? When are we as Christians going to be on the forefront of the social justice movements in this world? When are we going to take seriously the 2nd greatest commandment which is to "love our neighbour as ourselves?" With a definition of neighbour far-exceeding geographic location. I truly believe that we as Christians one day will be judged not by what we do not know, rather what we do know. I believe that we will be held responsible not only for our sins of commission but of omission; the things we have failed to do in which we know we rightfully should. We can show our concern and our love for our neighbours in countries like Darfur by doing a variety of things: Lobbying, protesting, writing letters to our local MP's, supporting local leaders campaigning and advocating on behalf of the vulnerable, enlightening the church, fasting, raising awareness in your circles of influence. Lets take seriously the call to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
"Charity is not a substitute for justice withheld." - St. Augustine
The tranquility of my surroundings makes it very easy to evade the thought of Pader being a tormented district by the LRA less than 5 years ago, but every now and then I am reminded of the reality of Joseph Kony and his rebels. Just two weeks ago one of Kony's many abducted wives escaped from the bush with her child and returned to Pader. She is currently residing at CCF (Christian Counseling Fellowship) under the care of my friend Alice Achan and her staff. I can't even imagine the horrors this young woman has seen and experienced. I cannot reveal her name for confidentiality and safety purposes but if you could keep this young woman and her baby girl in your prayers that would be greatly appreciated.
On Saturday, March 27th we had 80 girls over to the compound for the first of many pad-making seminars. Although I organized the event, i tried my best to stay behind the scenes as much as possible because of the male factor. The girls were ecstatic to receive the materials and learn how to assemble their own sanitary pads. It was even more of a privilege to have our country coordinator Anita Bertrand there to lead and mentor the girls in sex education and the women's body. As much as I tried to stay invisible throughout the day they continually asked me to be involved in the proceedings. When the day concluded and the girls had finished assembling their pads... hear this... they called me in to judge the best pad! ha My face bright red as Anita walked me around the room, the girls arms raised proudly holding their newly constructed pads so i could inspect them. Myself walking around moronically sporting a thumbs up to every girl pretending to be observant and spot distinctions between each seemingly identical pad. In order to justify this peculiar occasion in my mind it helped to think of myself not as a male intruder on this exclusively female occasion, but as an advisor in the vital, key element of quality control. From what I hear the girls had a great time laughing and learning throughout that day. The money donated by a number of you went to the purchasing of the required materials, as well as knickers and a light lunch of porridge and safari tea. We will be holding these pad-making seminars once every two weeks until we either reach all the young women in the district or exhaust our resources. Thank you so much for your support in this endeavour. The girls were very appreciative!
For the next four Saturdays these same girls will return to the compound for discipleship training lead by myself and Josephine. On the first saturday of discipleship I lead a study on "What is God like?" and talked about the different attributes of God incorporating relevant verses and stories: God is... a person, is spirit, is glorious, is holy, and is love. 20 girls made decisions to follow Christ for the first time that morning! Praise God.
We have also showed the Jesus film on numerous occasions this Easter season and the power of the gospel is simply undeniable. Over one hundred people made first time decisions to be born again in a span of two weeks. Thank you so much for your prayers! Continue to pray for me as I will be training (in soccer techniques and the "total athlete" curriculum) four different teams in the district as well as my Pader all-star team prior to our UPDF transported trip to the Oyam district in Lira to play their top team.
Well I am incredibly sad to say that I have less than 25 days left here in Pader. The grant has not come through for my position but thanks to all of you there was enough funding to keep me out here in Uganda for an extra month. I do however, see Gods hand in this. As staff we have been praying hard for a medical team to come to Pader. I did not initiate or request anything as we have been very busy with other programs. The following week, I went to check my email and with a smile on my face read one sent by a man from my church asking if there was a need for a medical team in Pader. Isn't God awesome?! So, after a couple weeks of correspondence, a medical team has been assembled of 2 parish nurses and a pediatrician. While in Uganda, I have been learning more extensively about the Community Health Evangelism (CHE) strategy and see a huge opportunity to implement a sustainable health program here in the district of Pader. CHE is all about training and multiplication. Educating in proper nutrition, sanitization, and disease prevention. I have met with a handful of Reverends here to inform them of this opportunity in hopes that the church would be involved and on the forefront of this mission. In the next two weeks I will be traveling to the various sub-counties in the district to conduct a medical needs assessment to determine the highest priority health needs of the community. With the results I will hopefully give this team from Toronto more of an indication of what they will be working with when they come in September of this year. The significance of this mission is very great and has a lot of potential as there is currently only one medical doctor here in the locality. When I arrive home in Toronto on the 28th of May I will begin to equip this team and prep them for September as well as raise awareness for the needs of the people of Pader. Lord-willing, I will travel with them in September to help implement the CHE program and establish a small clinic here on the compound. I will keep you all posted on the results of this needs assessment.
Having said that I will be flying out of Entebbe into London then to Basel, Switzerland on the 9th of May to do some mountain trekking and a personal debrief from this short adventure while staying with the Reed family (Missionaries from BVG) near the Swiss border in Black Forest, Germany. I will then travel to Frankfurt for a short visit with family before my flight back to YYZ on the 28th of May. I am signing with a soccer team in Richmond Hill who is currently playing in the provincial division. Aside from that, I don't know what is in store for me upon arrival back in Canada. Going to take things one day at a time and I am convinced that the Lord will lead. Life with Christ is definitely an adventure and I sometimes still have trouble believing that I am here in northern Uganda. This experience has been life-changing in many ways and I pray that this change will be indelible as I continue in this journey of life. I can't even imagine what the day will be like when I have to say goodbye to my friends here in Pader. The thought of it helps me to capitalize on every moment i have here to love and be loved by the Acholi people.
Well, I am off to see the President! Museveni is in town today and will be speaking down the street from us. He is on a campaign to get re-elected in June. Looking forward to hearing what he has to say.
God bless you and yours,
I love you all,
p.s. I've uploaded a slew of pictures to my site from March & Aprils events, Rwanda, and a short safari we went on in February. Enjoy!
p.p.s For all those still searching for more reasons to make fun of me... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4TBiIwtbpU