Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Coke in Rwanda

I just returned from Kabale, southwest Uganda, right on the Rwandan border, late last night. They call it "the Switzerland of Uganda" and they're not kidding! It is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. It takes about 7-8 1/2 hours by bus (depending on which bus you're on) to go there, which is an adventure in itself. The ride there was pretty easy, but on the way back, we were crammed three in a seat, really meant for two, the woman next to the window kept getting sick out the window, on my left there was a woman standing in the aisle with a rooster under her arm, and as is with the taxi's in Kampala, the theme of these busses should also be "there's always room for one more!"

It took all day to travel there on Tuesday, and that evening, my guide Lydia and myself met with three of the pastors from the church we were visiting. These three men were amazing! They receive very little salary (if any at all - the funds often don't make it through) and are still in the process of planning/developing programs for HIV/AIDS. About a third of Kabale is HIV positive, and the HIV rate is continuing to rise. Three main contributing factors: 1. They are situated on the trucking line, which creates a place for women who have been widowed or have no other source of income to work as commercial sex workers with the truck drivers and 2. the prominent presence of witch doctors. 3. People live so far outside of town, they can't make the trip in to get treatment/medicines. People will go to the witch doctors and often, their 'healing' will include being cut with a razor blade that is never cleaned, or the witch doctor saying to a woman that the only way she can be healed is if she will have sex with him. One of the things the church is doing to combat this, is to put out a weekly radio program that speaks out against witch doctors. They reach over 15 million people, and what I found was really amazing, was the fact that people listen and believe what they say, even if they are not Christians. They shared that people in Uganda will listen to the church and do what they say, even if they don't believe in Christ, so in turn, the church holds so much power for change. Amazing! (Below is a picture of me and the five pastors who work at the church)

During the dinner, one of the pastors told me he and his wife are HIV positive, and actually let me interview them the following day. Their story is truly amazing and I feel so honored he would allow me to write about it. He has only disclosed his status to the staff at the church and a few of the congregation members, but was excited at the idea that others could be encouraged by his story.

On Wednesday, we had a full day, starting by meeting with the church leadership in the morning and hearing about their programs. After that, went to the nearby village of Katuna and visited a small church there. About 100 people crammed into this tiny, thatched building to visit with me and give their testimonies of how they have been helped through mainly counseling programs.

I think the biggest surprise of the day was when after lunch, one of the pastors asked if I wanted to go have a coke in Rwanda. Thinking he was kidding, I said sure, and the next thing I knew, we were walking across the border and buying a coke - though I had lemon fanta since the pastors were determined I would have something that was actually from Rwanda, and the cokes were from Uganda. You'd think it would be harder to get into Rwanda, but not so much!

After that, we came back to the church in Kabale, and met with a group of about a hundred people that are either infected with HIV or caring for those who are infected. Again, just an amazing time of testimony sharing and fellowshipping together. (I'm getting ready for a meeting and don't have a lot of time to write, but will share more details later)

Over all, Kabale was amazing and I feel so blessed to have spent time with the people there. At the start of my day on Wednesday, one of the church leaders asked me very sincerely, "What do we do when people come for help and we have done everything we can but have nothing to give them?" It really was one of the worst moments of my life. This woman was asking me so genuinely for advice on what to do, and I didn't have a tangible answer. I told her that all I knew how to do now is pray. Pray that people will hear their story and want to help them. So this week, if you're praying, remember to pray for the church and the people in Kabale who are trying their best to fight HIV/AIDS with very little. Be encouraged to know though, that even with little, God is doing amazing things not only in Kabale but in all of Africa, and I thank all of you for sending me here to have the chance to witness it.



Erik said...

Amazing stuff!

Anonymous said...

oh Kristen!!! Thank you so much for doing this blog!!! keep writing and sharing the stories with us!!!
I will be praying here for you and for the people you meet! God is soooo good to have you go there and bring the stories home!

tlmoody said...

I loved what you wrote about one of the "worst moments" question. I know those questions, the ones that leave you feeling like someone has just kicked the air out of you. And there is no "tangible" answer, either. That's because you're dealing with injustice. There is no justification. I am rich and have excess. You are poor and have need. You will die a more painful death than is necessary because of it. How those words cut the first (and the 100th) time you don't speak them but rather hear them them screaming in your head. I remember walking away from some groups and thinking to myself, "These people don't have a prayer!" only to quickly realize, that is the only thing they do have. It is no small thing you have offered them: hope found in prayer.

tim ruiz said...

tm took the words right out of my mouth. Only through the power of prayer and the hope thru Christ is there any help or justice. Praying God fills you and you are not "helpless."

Hazel said...

Kristen - I just found your blog and have been reading it with wonder - and thanksgiving. I do pray for you - now I know enough to pray for your ministry as well.
Aunt Hazel

rubyslipperlady said...

I find that people also have hope that others care and they are not alone and above all love. To love the unlovable is a gift. To recieve that love is an even bigger gift. You are full of love, I have seen and heard of it. Love people and pray for them. Don't ever stop.