Although Uganda is not a Top 10 Places to Vacation on any list that I have seen, I really meant to go there to relax and to enjoy a different world perspective. Well, and to satisfy my wanderlust. I had wanted to travel to all five continents (aren’t there 7?) since I was a boy, and after 10 years of actively trying to reach Africa, I found my means. Here in the Diocese of Little Rock, we have two Ugandan priests from the order of the Apostles of Jesus. Fr. John Wakube, who serves Christ the King parish, invited me to accompany him on his first trip back to Uganda since coming here to the States. I was going to stay just for a week. He talked me into staying for 15 days. “A week is too short. You will want to stay for a month…” In Uganda, the Pearl of Africa. The Switzerland. The most Catholic, Pro-Life country in Africa. The friendliest in East Africa.
I saw a safari (Zero lions. Don’t rub it in…), got to go to the sacred Ugandan Martyrs Shrine of Namugongo. I saw Entebbe, Mbale, and every pothole in between. Got stuck hour-long jams trying to leave Kampala, and visited many parishes and people in the village, the city, and the national parks. What unsurfaced in all of this chaos and wonder was a surprising and intense desire to support the missions of Uganda and Africa.
Have you ever considered giving money to Africa? Have you at least put a quarter in for “Operation Rice Bowl” or do you remember the Maryknoll priests who would stop by during Lent to talk about the poverty there or in other parts of the world? How interested are you in helping the missions there, on a 1-10 scale?
Now, I’ve been to the Third World. I’ve been to the aldeas and ranchos of Mexico and Ecuador. I’ve seen the poor in the United States and Brasil, Slovakia and Rome. But the poverty in Africa is on another level. A person may make $80 US per month. Most outside the city live in one-room huts with dirt floors. They rarely own cars. Or even bicycles.
Once Fr. John and I were in Mijerra, his former parish, and a man asked us for a ride to the next town, Luwero. Fr. John had known him and as we had space in our Toyota Land Cruiser, we said yes. Well the man asked me if I could open his door for him. I thought maybe I had made a faux pas in hospitality by not opening his door. But as we reached Luwero and the young man (about 25 years old) was getting out, he asked us “How do I get out?” I unlocked the door. And the man continued to struggle to figure out how to open the door. He didn’t know what a handle looked like. He had never ridden in a private car before. He had never opened a car door.
I did not come from a wealthy family, but I remember a time that my mom, dad, my brother and I all had our own car. 4 cars for one family! To have a single bicycle is a luxury in a Ugandan village. The bad roads and the lack of transportation keeps villages and towns from developing. It is a hardship for the expansion of adequate health care and job opportunities. 911 and ambulances? Forget it. The ambulances are really hearses that come to collect the dead after a traffic accident. There’s no rush if the person looks like he is going to die anyway. Shocking and unbelievably sad.
Education. Nelson Mandela said, “If you want to help Africa, give them education.” Nowhere else in the world are children so deprived of education. Many children cannot go to school because the family cannot pay the boarding fees, or for books and pencils. Especially girls. They are discouraged from going. Many children have lost at least one parent from AIDS. Other families are too poor to send their children to school. The classrooms are overflowing with children. I visited a classroom in Butebo village. Where we would fit 30 children, they had over 70. 5 kids to a desk built for 2. And that was a small class! In the Public schools, 200 pupils are taught by one teacher. This is grade school.
So what’s the good news in all of this? Every so often we get a parable from Jesus that says: “Behold the generosity of God.” Like the one where the master of the vineyard pays each man a daily wage, even those who have only worked for one hour. This man, a figure for God the Father, seems to be very liberal with his money and a very bad businessman. But if we are praying that Sacred Scripture would show us who God is, we receive an answer that he treats us better than we deserve. God is so generous with his salvation, with his grace in our daily lives. And with all the blessings he showers down upon each of his children, there is an irresistible response to God’s generosity that must resonate in their hearts: “I want to be like my heavenly Father.” “I want the words of the gospel to be my very own: “Am I not free to be generous with my money?” With my life? With my time and energy?
I never dreamt of making a mission appeal for Africa. Remember, I went for vacation. For fun. For the lions. The good news about Africa and the poor in light of the Gospel of Jesus is that we have a beautiful opportunity to be like our heavenly Father, maybe even a call and responsibility to imitate our Lord in his generosity. Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, citing Pope Paul VI says:
“…we must never forget that the planet belongs to all mankind and is meant for all mankind; the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity. It must be reiterated that ‘the most fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others’ (190).”
I know, right? I sound like one of those commercials on TV. Or Catholic Relief Services. But I have to tell you, seeing what the American dollar can do in Africa made me a believer of all those “With $1.00 you can change a life.” It can. I providentially met Mary Goss, the director of Yamba Uganda, a non-profit that deals primarily with educating the poor. Look at what your dollars can do:
$10- feed a family for a week
$25 feed a family for a month
$300 send a child to school for a year
$360 send a child to high school for a year
$10,000 build a secondary school in a town without a Catholic High School
I met a nun from Arua, in Northwest Uganda whose convent was burnt down by Kony. A sister was murdered. Villagers are mutilated and their children left as orphans. Sister Patricia, a Benedictine of Perpetual Adoration needs only $5,000 to completely build her convent for her 30 sisters. Then they can begin to reconstruct her church. I can’t buy an A/C unit for $5,000 here in America. They can live comfortably for that. I can’t send a kid to college for $10,000 here. But I can send a whole village to high school in Uganda.
God is so generous with us, and for those of us who come late to the field, we are truly grateful. Today, I choose to be more like my heavenly Father and to be known as a generous person.
For more information about helping Catholics in Uganda, you can email me at email@example.com or to help Yamba Uganda directly, contact Mary Goss at 732.929.9013 or firstname.lastname@example.org Donations are 100% tax free to “Yamba Uganda.”
1596 Godlspire Road
Toms River, NJ 08755