Reflections on Kenya and Uganda: Raise the Roof!

August 28, 2013

Our second full day in Uganda was dedicated to exploring ministries to children at risk in both Makindye (a district of Kampala) and a rural village. Surprises awaited us, all of them delightful and encouraging!

First stop was to visit St. Mbuga Primary School adjacent to Gospel Messengers Church in Kampala at 8 a.m. Six hundred twenty-five students and about twenty faculty were gathered in the central patio of the school, arranged by class and therefore by age and size, from the teeny-tinys to the right all the way to the upper grades to the left. St. Mbuga School Greeting They greeted Andy and me by raising both hands and shaking them silently—quite a sight and a delightful gift. Those fresh faces all beamed at us, and of course the principal asked me to “give a word.” So I started with the story of Abraham’s call (Genesis 12) and talked about how they (the students) were receiving a blessing every day by having the opportunity to learn in a Christian environment, and that someday God was going to ask them to turn this blessing around to become a blessing to others. So if they remembered what they were taught now, put it into practice faithfully, and followed where God led them, their small steps would become great strides for the benefit of their community when they grew up.

We then sought out Pastor Moses and one of the church elders named Dorothy who would be joining us for the drive down to a village about 2.5 hours away.  We wanted to see firsthand how it was going with the ministry of my friend David Ssebulime, called Raise the Roof. [David, Pastor Moses’ little brother, now resides in the U.S. after first coming to visit with the Africa Children’s Chorus in the late 1980s. He attended the church I pastored in Concord, CA, and courted our children’s director Marlene. They were married and are now working on degrees (MBA for Marlene, MDiv for David) that will enable them to expand and develop their mission.]

The original need was to put a roof on the Gospel Messengers Church in Kampala, so David and Marlene did some modest vision-casting and fundraising in the Bay Area to cover the cost. We saw the fruit of that labor on Sunday, and a good roof it is! Part 2 of the vision was to build a school in a village of Masaka District, 2.5 hours southwest of Kampala. In answer to my question, “How did you pick Bwassandeku village?” David and his brother Pastor Moses explained: As Pastor Moses (the oldest of fourteen children) came to adulthood and sensed a call to ministry, he was commissioned to pastor a church in Bwassandeku. However, shortly after he started there, his father died suddenly in 1981, and Moses was called back to take over leadership at Gospel Messengers Church in Kampala. The unfinished business in the village has been at the back of his and David’s mind all these years. As a tribute to their father’s memory, they decided that the work there must be reinvigorated. In the last few years, David and Marlene have been focusing their attention on building a school in Bwassandeku and have raised the funds to construct two buildings and are completing a third as we speak. Currently there are 325 kids enrolled in Raise the Roof Academy!

David had been in the village just a month prior to our visit and made plans for our day to include consultation with a few pastors in the area. As we drove onto the grounds about 11:15 a.m., the drumbeat and singing pulsated from the church building. We walked inside to find about 200 pastors and elders gathered in worship Worship at Raise the Roofand awaiting “a word” from me! Yikes! What I thought was going to be a conversation with twelve now was more like a pastors’ retreat. Some had traveled thirty miles to be there, and let’s just say there were no cars anywhere close by. They had walked or taken a motor scooter taxi to get there. We had a Q & A session of about an hour, during which they asked questions of biblical interpretation, theology, and pastoral practice. None of them have enough money (they have no money) to even begin to address the needs of their parishioners and therefore all are “tentmakers.” We talked about what it looks and feels like to do what you can and leave the rest to God’s care. There were signs of pastoral burnout among them, so join me in praying that the Lord would send more laborers into the harvest and provide them with the resources and wisdom they need to accomplish God’s purposes among the people.

And then it was time to see the children. We gathered in the biggest room of the unfinished wing of the school, and they dragged in desks from other rooms Students of Raise the Roof Academybecause the new building is not furnished yet. [A desk seating three students costs $32, made by a local carpenter.] We had a rather chaotic conversation, then the children sang for us. We took a tour of the campus, which of course is very rudimentary. A church mission team had come several weeks earlier and drilled a borehole, which now provides clean water not only for the school but for all the neighbors as well.

At lunchtime (which I think was about 2 p.m.) the children were served mounds of brown rice, and we were treated to hot chicken that had been steam cooked in banana leaves. The food was delicious, but I felt bad that we were offered this feast Chicken cooked in banana leaveswhile the students and faculty ate their rice outside under the eaves. So many little things like this were cause to ponder and to pray. When we were done eating, we were taken back into the sanctuary to speak with the pastors one more time. Literally, as I was invited forward to “give another word,” having no idea what I should say, the Lord provided me with a passage and a message that was timely, encouraging, and catalytic for a bit of organizing on their part. Lesson learned: one must never fret about what to say, for God will give you the words when you need them.

We’re not done yet! The equivalent of a PTA meeting was in progress in another building, so we were ushered in to “give a word.” Andy shared about being an inventor and engineer and how studying science is an important step in learning how to steward God’s creation. I urged their cooperation in allowing their children time to do their homework, so they can come to school prepared for their lessons. Sometimes kids are expected to do family chores at the expense of their schoolwork, simply because the parents are not quite convinced of the value of education. So we “gave a word” once more, and do hope that this village is transformed by the energetic and enthusiastic education of these children.

Mary with the kidsWhat a day! What a ministry! So much work to be done! Such joyful faces! May the Lord bless this work and transform lives and communities with the gospel of Jesus, as these children become citizens of the Kingdom of God.

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2 Responses to “Reflections on Kenya and Uganda: Raise the Roof!”

  1. houstonhodges Says:

    You must be a particularly stubborn case, to need so many reminders that God will provide “the word” when it is called for! I think that’s an acute need amongst Presbyterian seminary graduates, so steeped in “the Word!”

  2. revmary Says:

    Ha-ha, Houston, you are so right! Sometimes we get so hermeneutically sealed in the Word that we can’t get it out into real life when it is needed! Hence my passion, “bringing the Word to life.”

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