A quick update: yesterday we went to a Catholic Mass at the official shrine of the Ugandan Martyrs; it just so happened that yesterday was Ugandan Martyrs day, so the place was packed. Attendance was definitely in the hundreds – perhaps 500? We walked in after mass had started, and were marched right to the front. There, a woman pulled up a row of chairs and made a place for us to sit. I later saw that the building was so full that other Ugandans had to sit outside in the hot sun. This made me uncomfortable; it didn’t seem fair! I think though that this was a case of Ugandan hospitality, where guests are given the best seats in the house.
To further the uncomfortableness, when the priest was giving his sermon, he found out that our group was from the United States. A native Ugandan, he had received his education on the East Coast (and had even visited Creighton a few times). In front of the whole church, he continued to call out Americans for being unwilling to share the faith in their places of work, and pointed out that Jesus drank from the river Nile during his time in Egypt – “That water came from Uganda, NOT the United States!” he said. His purpose was to encourage the Ugandans to carry themselves with their heads high. To be honest, once I finished my internal struggle of pride and defensiveness, it was a breath of fresh air to be rebuked in front of that congregation. Oddly enough, I felt encouraged by his remarks.
I believe that is a priceless aspect of the Body of Christ which can be lacking back home. 1 These. 5:11, Matthew 18:15-17 or (my favorite in this case) Proverbs 27:5 all illuminate the importance of rebuke in the Church. If we are all running the race of life, I see rebuke as a way to goad each other on towards the finish line. Oh friends, it is not easy though. Already, although I am young, I’ve experienced how easy it is to isolate yourself from Christian community and find yourself running alone. At first, this might seem like the easier option, but it is so much more draining to run alone than with your brothers and sisters.
I remember my freshman year I was talking with a friend while overlooking a grove of trees. He pondered them, and postulated that God had made trees in order to demonstrate spiritual growth (seed to seedling to towering tree). Sitting in this lobby, I remember running in track practices during high school. There was a marked difference in how far I could run when I was with my friends, versus if I ran alone that day. I believe the same even happens with horses. They can pull more weight, per horse, when they are pulling together versus pulling alone. Perhaps this is meant to point to a larger truth. What do you think Susannah?
Strangely enough, as I was asking the advice of Father Kevin White, who directs the Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) in Uganda, over lunch the next day, he said this:
Q: How would you recommend not falling into a mentality that you are self sufficient, apart form God (he had previously mentioned that this can be a problem in the United States, which can lead to a lack of gratitude and thus lack of compassion in the person).
A: 1) Prayer
2) Read the newspaper (keep up with the world, in order to extend your sympathy)
3) A good faith community.
Graciousness in the face of rebuke is like taking 5 shots of metaphysical wheat grass and doing 10 psychological pushups. It may sting, but after we recover, we can be more gentle, and more grateful for what we already have, than ever before.
I think the same can be said of refugees. JRS inevitably has to turn some people away. This isn’t rebuke for something they have done wrong. However, the deeper sting that they feel yields an unmistakable joy, gentleness, and togetherness. This is clear, even after only 2 days here.
A special thanks goes to Izzy for helping me formulate these thoughts, and for connecting them to our experience with the refugees.
The TV in this hotel lobby cracks me up. Two nights ago, Bay Watch (with Dwayne the Rock Johnson) was playing. I noticed the receptionist would catch a glimpse of some of the scenes, look away and kind of shake her head. Can’t blame her, that movie was very over-the-top. Now, there is a Spanish Soap Opera playing, with an English dub over. HILARIOUS. No matter where you go in the world, you cannot escape the Soap Opera.
This place is beautiful. I woke up to the sounds of the jungle, mixed with a smattering of howls form the street dogs of Kampala. I have made a point to look at the faces of people as we pass them on the street. Including a striking portion of men and women whose faces look like they were carved by Michelangelo – no joke – the faces here seem strong. Some weathered, some even sour, but all strong.