Barbara Griffiths, chair of Lango committee, Hannah Warner and Stephen Mourant visited our link diocese of Lango, centred on the town of Lira, in the north of Uganda in January. Thank you for your prayers for us as we travelled – some of the car journeys were on un-metalled marram roads, some a little dangerous, and we visited small village settlements as well as town parishes during the ten days we were in the country.
The trip arose from a long-standing link with the diocese going back to the 1970s, and each year the deanery has made a contribution of around £3,500 towards a project or need specified by the bishop and his team.
We travelled from Entebbe, the main airport to Lira via an overnight rest stop in Kampala, by road – some 250 miles on a good metalled road, crossing the River Nile at Karuma, arriving in Lira late on Wednesday 3rd. the following eight days, organised by Rev. Capt Canon Moses, currently diocesan secretary, who visited the deanery back in 2005, included meeting the Mothers’ Union leaders, whose work is very strong with thousands of members across the parishes, and whose ministry includes working with those with HIV, women suffering from domestic abuse, orphans and vulnerable children; counselling trauma victims and supporting “Father’s House”, a ministry to 68 vulnerable children without proper family networks, marriage counselling and preparation. They also own some land where they grow crops and have planted trees for harvesting for wood in 10 to 15 years’ time. They are currently building a Vocations centre at St Augustine’s Church specifically for training young women and girls in skills for life, and supporting single mothers as well to enable them to have a trade from which they can support themselves.
We also met Rev Sylvester, who is the diocesan youth co-ordinator, responsible for training youth leaders in every single parish in the diocese (they are all volunteers). Hannah was particularly interested in this area as she helps lead the youth work and a music band at Alresford.
We met the diocesan treasurer, and several others who were responsible for diocesan strategy and policy, all of which has been fully developed since Bishop John Charles was selected to be bishop in 2005. This is a huge step in accountability financially and strategically and we were given a copy of their 2016-2021 plan. It gave us opportunity to talk about future donations to their ministry and the increasingly important accountability for monies sent and how it is spent.
Bishop Charles arrived back from a trip to Kitgum where he is looking after the diocese there as well between bishops; his chaplain Rev Capt Alfred Tonny was with him. We had a tour of the Vocations Centre for youth at Boro Boro, meeting the lady who runs some work with teenage girls and also the young man who trains the boys in motor cycle maintenance skills. This work needs development and more equipment as well as teachers, but finance is limited.
We travelled to the area of the diocese which was under the control of the LRA for some years, and which had lost its’ population when they fled to the towns and lived in camps for a number of years; we helped them by supplying seeds and equipment for them to restart their lives and planting crops. Now the LRA have gone, the people are slowly returning, but many prefer life in the town to having to restart their lives from almost nothing as most houses were destroyed and crops ruined. We also visited Barlonyo where over 500 people were massacred and burned by the LRA in 2004.
Stephen was asked to preach at a wedding on Saturday 7th in Lira, which was an amazing affair! The reception was very interesting, including having to pray and bless the couple’s house and to enter with them to bless their marital bed as well…..Stephen received one of the smaller wedding cakes as a thank you gift for taking part.
Sunday was an early start as the English service was at 7.00 a.m. (before it got hot); cathedral was packed with hundreds of families with all age children, who sat through it all without a murmur; Stephen preached, and then we were taken a ride over marram roads for about an hour to a village where he had been asked to speak at another wedding – of 13 couples simultaneously: in Uganda many couples, even Church – going Christians begin their married life with an African Traditional wedding, which includes the groom having to pay the bride price – several cows, goats, sacks of rice etc; and much later they have a Christian Church wedding. In this village they decided to do one wedding for all of them, and Stephen not only was asked to preach – with translation into the local language, but also to pray over the rings and to assist with ring exchanges for some of the couples!
We met the local head teacher of the secondary school – he had 907 pupils and TEN teachers – there is a real need for many more teachers, if only the government would fund them…
The return home was about six hours later. On Monday 9th we met a few of those who had attended a course called “Rooted in Jesus “ the previous February; Alresford Deanery helped fund part of it, making a contribution to the cost of printing the training material into their local language. Their faith and life was very passionate and living, and they are making real progress in training others in Christian discipleship and faith-sharing – their vitality and that of Christian congregations and full churches we encountered was a far cry from back home, with much lively worship and enthusiasm. Rev Moses (a different one from the diocesan secretary) is a very practical priest who knows how to train others not just talking about it. Several of the folk gave testimony of God’s work in their lives, of answers to prayer and of healing as well.
Though the Mothers’ Union work is very strong, there is a need for work amongst men, as alcoholism and domestic violence is common; addressing the women’s need is only part of the solution. What is needed is men’s lives being changed too.
We also visited the office of Compassion, an American/UK based charity that arranges sponsorship of vulnerable children across the world; the Lira office is run by Jennifer, Rev. Canon Moses’ wife, along with a couple of others – a very vital work, and which is paid by external sponsors from all over the world, paying for education, health and social training for adult life, and sometimes university as well.
On Tuesday 10th we had a “trip day” to part of the Murchison Game Park, where we saw giraffe, buffalo, cop antelope, monkeys, baboons, wart hogs, elephants, hippos in the Nile, a sea eagle and other birds, all in the space of a couple of hours. Stunning scenery too – what a privilege to see them in their own habitat. The one hiccup of the trip came on the way back to Lira; Dr Andy Douglass (a retired GP) and his wife Ceri, who work at the health centre in Boro Boro in the Bishop’s compound and whom we had met 18 months ago when they visited Winchester, were out there for their 2 weeks or so serving and working in the clinic (which they do several times a year) had taken us in their borrowed but somewhat ancient Toyota saloon; on the way back the cylinder head gasket blew; fortunately we were able to call Moses and he came out in the 4 x 4 with a mechanic, followed by a couple of others in the MU’s 4 x 4, to tow it back for repairs! No AA or RAC here!
Tuesday night was a final meeting with bishop Charles, the Lay chairman of the diocesan synod (whose uncle had been at college with Stephen), the clergy chair, the diocesan secretary, the bishop’s chaplain, MU president and others, where we had time to reflect on our time with them, what we had seen, heard and grasped, and to briefly talk about the next step in our ongoing link. Health, basic hygiene and education of all, especially children, are high priorities for the Church, going where there is none and starting it, sometimes a long way ahead of the government.
There was much joy, warmth, and acceptance for us the masungus (“white [people]”), and a graciousness towards us which was very humbling.
Gifts were exchanged (dresses for ladies, a rather bright pink patterned shirt for Stephen) and after prayer we returned to our temporary base at the Gracious Palace hotel in Lira (chosen by Moses, at a special almost half rate per room negotiated with the Christian owner for us to be staying in somewhat better circumstances than perhaps many of them lived in).
We returned to Entebbe via Kampala the next day – some 6 hours of car travel- to a hotel near the airport for an overnight stay and good getaway at just after lunch on Thursday, to return home tired, but exhilarated by our experiences and thankfulness to God’s mercy in our travels and time.
Stephen Jan 14 2017
Some of the issues facing Lango diocese:
Finance: the creation of West Lango diocese in 2015 has had big financial implications for the diocese; their costs have not decreased as much as the income, now that the new diocese’ giving goes to West Lango, so they have had to think carefully about what to cut or not do.
Vehicles – no comprehensive insurance in Uganda(bishop’s car badly damaged last year and although repaired is still not running properly) – Diocese owns several vehicles – Toyota Land cruiser (quite old), bishop’s 4×4 and Mother’s Union have a 4×4 twin-cab.
MU membership subscriptions down by over 50% last year as mothers can’t afford them as they are all subsistence farmers – priority is to feed the children….
Father’s House caring for 68 vulnerable children
Election of new bishop later in 2017, consecration in August.
We agreed with the bishop that from now on we communicate with them and ask them to suggest to us what projects we should support; we can then announce that around the deanery to see if there are folk willing to give extra for the particular project that year. I have already had a request from one of our churches as to what project could be identified so they could support it