In September I got an opportunity to travel to Uganda with my fellow East Africa Team leaders, Cameron Kagay and Grace C. Aaseby. The purpose of our trip was to evaluate our programs, continue to build our co-operatives and Institute students, and to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ in East Africa
Out of a prayerful consideration for our people in Uganda and the needs in their community, we agreed on a number of tasks for each of us to work on while in Uganda. For example, I was responsible for ensuring the holistic well being of our Institute Students. This included making sure that each student understands our academic and spiritual expectations, organize student life activities at the Institute, and attend to whatever needs and questions students have. I was also responsible for reviewing the operations and profitability of The Trade , organize gardening classes for St. John’s elementary school students that will support their lunch program, among others. Cameron worked on organizing our human resources, which included reviewing work schedules, budgets, job descriptions and scope of responsibilities, evaluate management practices for different departments, among others. Grace worked on family and student nutrition, sanitation, which included home cleanliness using locally available natural alternative safe methods of cleaning, teaching on nutrition and immunity, among others.
In addition to all of these tasks, we each took turns facilitating prayer, worship, and teaching God’s Word. We implored our co-operatives and students to daily seek God in prayer, read and obey God’s word, and daily strive to engage God through the various forms of spirituality that we learn from the Scriptures. We recognize that it’s impossible for any human being to be holistically healthy without partaking in the daily nourishment that comes from God’s word. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that Comes from the mouth of God (Matt.4:4). It is through God’s word and our daily engagement in spirituality that cause us to grow and be built up into the kind of spiritual people capable of imaging God in the world.
Ultimately, our goal was to holistically build and empower people. This happened in various ways. For example, during one of my meetings on Student Life at our Bible Institute, I taught the students about event planning and encouraged them to organize various events that would meet needs, help to deepen relationships with one another and enrich students’ experience at the Institute. We brainstormed and listed the type of events they want to organize in October and the purpose for each of those events. We discussed key points to consider when you are organizing an event, namely: date/time, target audience, food, and beverages, venue, budget, announcement/communication, materials/equipment needed, personnel and their responsibility, etc. While this might sound simple to some of you, it is not the case for most people to just know how to effectively organize an event that is going to properly accommodate, children, parents, youths, varying work schedules, etc. Some people go to Universities for years to study event planning. But, none of our Institute students can afford such university education though they need to learn how to organize events. So, a session like the one I facilitated on event planning is crucial for poor people that would otherwise go without such knowledge because they can not afford it. It helps to bridge the knowledge gap between the poor and the rich, and improve the quality of experiences for the poor. It lifts up the poor and marginalized to a place where they can effectively participate and organize their own life. This kind of empowerment to the poor and marginalized fills up the valleys, and levels the uneven grounds that we see in the world.
“...Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”(Luke 4:5-6)
The prophets (John the Baptist in Luke 4, quoting Isaiah 40), envisioned this filling up of the valleys, leveling of the uneven ground, and straightening of the crooked paths as a manifestation of God’s kingdom, and a sign of God’s salvation. Because the students were empowered, this weekend (which is about 2 weeks after they received training), students were able to organize and host a fun game night for all the co-operative children in Uganda.
These kinds of events give an opportunity for our Institute students to serve the parents and children, develop teamwork, improve their communication skills, practice hospitality, enhance their interpersonal relationships, and meet real needs.
I was very happy to witness Grace teach our co-operatives and students about nutrition and immunity. They learned that what we eat affects the ability of the body to defend itself from diseases. They identified bad and good foods that weaken or strengthen the immune system. They learned about proper sanitation and natural alternative cleaning methods that will save them from spending money on buying toxic cleaning chemicals that are harmful to the body. They discussed the effects of taking unnecessary antibiotics, that end up wiping out both the good and bad bacterias in the body, which makes a person even more susceptible to further illnesses.
During these sessions, it was as if we were all in darkness, and all the sudden light bulbs started turning on and on as Grace was teaching and people were asking questions and writing notes, and vocally but quietly expressing awe, and joy. This is education. It’s the kind of education that gives lowly people a chance at life, without which they are left in darkness and bondage. Again, this education is salvific. It saves the marginalized people from the schemes set by the powerful to take advantage of the poor. God desires for this kind of education and empowerment to be experienced by all, especially the poor and marginalized. This empowering education fills one’s soul with joy, and it's indeed an extension of God’s favor towards the poor. This is more than education, it is divine salvific intervention by God that transformatively alters the course of the life of the lowly and marginalized in society. By the grace of God, I am a product of this divine intervention. I understand this feeling of being helped and empowered by God, and I hear it reflected in Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-56):
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed… 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
God intervened in the course of history and extended his favor to a village poor girl, that we now know as Mary, but was initially a nobody coming from a town where nothing good was expected (John 1:46). God intervened in the course of Mary’s lowly life and lifted her up. He empowered her through the words he spoke to her regarding her role as the mother of the savior of the world. Mary recognized this experience as a redemptive experience that even informed her knowledge of God as her Savior. Like Mary, I know that God has saved me and he has saved my brothers and sisters in East Africa with whom we have over the years and even recently learned all kinds of wonderful things that we couldn't afford without God’s help. Like in Mary’s case (verse 51), God has also shown strength with his arm to our cooperative through the education they are receiving.
As I think about how much our cooperatives and students benefited from the various trainings they received, I see how God surely fills the hungry with good things and scatters the thoughts of the powerful. The powerful’s harmful thoughts that promote the use of toxic cleaning chemicals were scattered. The rich are also sent away hungry because our cooperatives and students will no longer give their monies towards a university education that won’t guarantee them a job, when they can have access to a quality biblical education and a meaningful occupation that results out of it. Our cooperatives and students continue freely to learn God’s Word and develop their spirituality and relationship with God. Surely God has filled the hungry with all these good things and brought down the powerful from their thrones. This is more than education, it is divine salvific intervention by God that transformatively alters the course of life for the lowly and marginalized in society. I’m grateful to be a part of this wonderful work.