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We have been going to Uganda for 22 years, but we had never gone further north than the Murchison Falls in the National Park of the same name. This was mainly because we had no reason to visit, but in later years, even though we had increasing numbers of brothers and sisters and students, it was not safe to travel that far north as the rebel, lawless group, the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army), was in firm control of the area. Many, many lives were lost over years of conflict before the Ugandan army managed to largely disband the group. However, they are still operating, though to a lesser extent, in South Sudan and Congo, with the International Criminal Court in The Hague having issued a warrant for the arrest of its leader Joseph Kony for crimes against humanity.
In recent years, Brother JJ (Johnathan Johnstone) and Brother Godwin Mugasi have travelled to West Nile area in northern Uganda, initially by air when it was unsafe to travel by road, but more latterly by overnight bus from the capital, Kampala. They have established firm links with the students in the area, and quite a number of ecclesias, and so it was with some excitement that we (John and Sue Mathias, Martin and Sheron, Joe and Ben Barham, and Roy Dean) set out, with JJ for company, on the long road that stretched north at the beginning of our trip over Easter this year.
Our first stop en route was at a place called Kigumba, some few miles east of Masindi. Here there was a brother who had got some students together, and so we stopped for a night to meet them and to encourage him. We had a good time with them, and many of them have asked for the correspondence course. Our initial impressions were sadly dented, however, when they asked for what were obviously inflated transport costs, but we still hope and pray that their interest will be proved to be genuine.
But that wasn't really 'north'. So on we went up to Nebbi. We liked Nebbi. Here we met Brother Benson Omri, who is the secretary of an active little ecclesia. We stayed for four days, and thoroughly enjoyed our time here. John and I moved on to Arua whilst Martin, Sheron, Roy and the boys remained at Nebbi to spend time with the ecclesia and the local students, chatting, teaching, and learning. They had a great time with them and forged some good relationships.
Meanwhile JJ took John and me to Arua, his home town. We met his sisters and mother during our stay here, and also made two trips - one to a brother's very rural village even further north and right on the border with Congo, and one to another brother's nursery school further inland from Arua. At both places we carried out some 'traditional' preaching, much as we used to do on every trip to Uganda in the old days. This was a change from the norm because nowadays our trips are mostly to support Bible schools and pastoral work within an established ecclesial context. The children were absolutely terrified of mzungu, so unused were they to seeing white man, so we could only conclude that not even aid workers get to these very remote areas of Uganda. We had a really good time in Arua, made even better by the fact that our hotel was at the top of a hill with some amazing views over the surrounding countryside! Sadly though, we had to leave, and so it was back to Nebbi to meet the rest of the team, and then onwards the following day to Gulu.
We went to Gulu for two reasons. Firstly it was to meet the students who were coming down from South Sudan to meet us (see following article). JJ said that it was easier for them to come to Gulu than to Arua - though we subsequently discovered Arua would have been better! Five students came down, and we spent a couple of very interesting days chatting to them.
The other reason for travelling to Gulu was to meet the brothers from Kitgum. It was a step too far for us to make the long journey up there too, so it was a better use of resources to get them to come to us. One brother, his wife and another student, made the journey to meet us and again we spent a happy couple of days with them, before moving on down to Lira. Here we were back in almost familiar territory, as John, Martin and Roy had already been here last year. We spent a day travelling to Apac to meet a good group of students there, before returning to Jinja on what was a very long day of travelling, down the eastern side of Uganda.
So there we are: our first venture north. Everything was different: the scenery was very different, the brothers and sisters were different, the food was different. John and I really liked it; it was far from the hustle and bustle and noise and dirt of southern Uganda. It was more peaceful, despite its recent past, and in many ways more beautiful. What was terrible, though, was passing all the refugee camps at the side of the road, where those displaced from their homes by the LRA spent many a long year. It brought it all home to me, and made me realise how fragile life is, especially in Africa.
It was absolutely fantastic to meet the brothers in Arua and Nebbi, who up till now have just been names at the end of e-mails. To put names to faces and to actually speak to them face to face and get to know them was really good. We have linked up the brothers in northern Uganda with those in the next region down, so that they can have some fellowship with each other. We pray that he will guide all these brothers, sisters and students.
We now have nearly 1,000 active brothers and sisters in Uganda with 82 ecclesias. It is quite staggering to think how much God has given the increase over the years, and we look back with amazement at how his hand has been at work, and with gratitude for allowing us to be part of it.
|"Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation." (Mark 16:15)|