I hope this email finds you well. I continue to thank everyone for their support and prayers during these 2 weeks. God has given me strength, I haven't felt sick once (which is a miracle considering all the mystery food I've eaten), and I've been getting plenty of rest. The rain finally halted sometime while I was sleeping last night. So that means, nearly 12 hours of rain. No wonder they call it the rainy season and the dry season. It makes perfect sense. The rain created some muddy conditions on the roads today, but we managed.
Today was a bit of an adventure. It started off with a nice visit to Sipsy (sp?) Waterfalls about 30km (20ish miles) from Mbale. When we got to the waterfalls, we actually had to park, and then hike/walk up to the falls. Myself, along with the Bishop, his wife, and 19 year old daughter, made our way up the mountain by foot, to the base of this magnificent waterfall. I saw wild monkeys today! That was such a highlight! I told the Okabes that the only monkeys I've ever seen have been at the zoo. They were just swinging tree to tree, but every time I tried to take a picture they woulds scurry away. It's almost like they knew what I was doing, and they were playing games with me. The falls were amazing, I have attached a few pictures, but I know they really don't the place justice. There is actually a little resort area up there and seems like the perfect little weekend getaway.
After the falls, we didn't have to drive too far the village church we attended. I was given the opportunity to speak again today, and God put on my heart to encourage the congregation with 1 Peter 2:9-12. How cool is it that we are the chosen people, we are royalty....but with that, comes a big responsibility. We must do what is good and set an example for others, and especially the non-believers. I was even challenged by the message and I was the one speaking, but God was really doing all the talking, he was just using my voice.
I will take a little time this email to describe some of the customs when we visit these village churches....For starters, when we visit these churches, they are already singing praises when arrive. So no telling how long they have been there once we show up. Then, the pastors from the area, at other start-up churches speak and gives their thanks to guests for making the journey to their village. There is singing, children dancing, more singing, some cheering for the Lord, then the Bishop (or myself) will bring the message. So from the time we step foot in the church, until we leave is about 2 hours. After the service, Bishop Okabe and his guests are escorted to a nearby home where we partake in a generous meal. We usually gather in a common area in the home. They don't really living or dining rooms, so we just use whatever room is nearest the front door. And today, we actually just went to room, that was not a part of a home. It was behind the market area. Once we are seated a lady comes in with a pitcher of water and a plastic basin. I'll be honest (and you can laugh) the first time I saw this I thought, "are they about to wash our feet?"... It's actually water used to wash your hands before you eat. I was about to slip my sandals off when the lady grabbed my hands and put them under the water. So, today was my 3rd village visit, I was a pro. Then after everyone has washed hands, they start bringing plates of food out. It's exactly the same in every village. One huge plate, it's literally like a pizza pan, with rice piled high. Then matoke (ma-toe-kay), which is similar to a banana, but not as sweet, then boiled, mashed and served almost like potatoes. It's one of the official dishes of Uganda. Served at every meal. There are also two pots with meat, one with chicken and one with beef. Now, they use every part of the animal. Basically the cow or the bird is chopped up and dropped into a pot and boiled until cooked. So, needless to say, I what I think look like familiar pieces. However, I think I pulled out some cow liver the other night and didn't realize it until it was on my plate. Don't worry, I didn't eat it. Thank goodness it was a very small chunk. Utensils, to eat with, yeah, that's a commodity. Since we were guests, they had some today, but that was not the case at the first village visit. So,at the first village visit, I dug in, just like everyone else. I held my bowl with my left and scooped with my right...rice, chicken, broth and all. It's customary to pick up the rice, let it soak up some of the broth, that holds it together better, then to the mouth it goes. After we finish eating, the water canteen and rinsing basin makes another round. It's really an act of service for someone to pour the water over your hands as you clean yourself. So, it was my joy to wash hands today. Just as I'm really starting to get a handle on things here, I'm nearing my end. Seems as though that is the way it always happens.
The people of Uganda have such wonderful manners and are an incredibly hospitable people. Even the little 2 and 3 year old children are taught to shake hands. It's also customary for children to bow to adults. So, when I arrive at a church the children immediately come to greet me with a hand shake and dip to one knee and tilt there head down. They really try to teach respect to elders. Also, when you greet someone it is common to say, "how are you" and the children respond "I am fine, thank you." One thing I had to get used to over the last two weeks is when meeting someone, they say "hello...you're welcome"....I was a bit confused at first because I didn't say "thank you"...but they are saying, "you are welcome" as in you are welcome to our home, to our church, you are welcome here. What if we, as Americans, were so welcoming? What if every time we met a stranger we let them know how important they were. Talk about an esteem builder.
Tomorrow is my last day here, it will be hard to leave, but I am ready for some sweet tea! I will go to radio station from the normal 10AM to Noon time slot, then I will have a party with the children at the orphanage. We will play games and I think the children will even get some meat with their meal, which is only served on special occasions.
I have loved my time here and I know this will not be my last visit. Next time I come, I am bringing a team, so some of you reading this email right now, pray if you will be a part of that team. God is really at work here and it has been my joy to give up every nicety of home to love on and encourage the people of Uganda. They are hungry for the word and they need our support and encouragement. I will miss all the sweet faces and I can't say enough nice things about the Okabe family, who have has been my gracious host for 2 weeks. What kind, kind people!
I hope you enjoy the photos! Only one more full day here, then I'll spend Saturday traveling to the airport and starting my journey back to the states. I will send another email tomorrow, and hopefully right before I depart on Saturday!
God Bless you all!