Monday, September 29, 2008

Curse, Death and a Stolen Bicycle

One of the things that is a powerful controller here in Uganda is the FEAR of being cursed. Of course, FEAR is always at the heart/root of fallen worldview and culture, it's just how that fear is played out that differentiates one culture from another. Satan is crafty and tends to root fear so deeply within a worldview that it is often unnoticed and the power of its control in maintained with little effort. Both Islam and Catholicism maintain much syncretism within their respective religions, keeping close ties to the culture of witchcraft and practice.

With that background, I want to introduce you to my friend Wandera. Wandera has been working at NHICF since we first came in 2002 to go through the Institute. He is a groundskeeper, faithful, steady, and quite a humble young man. He must be around 27 years old, married with three kids. I can go some time without seeing him, so when I passed him on Friday, I stopped to ask him how he's doing. "Uncle, not good" was his response. He went on to tell me that his bicycle had been stolen while he had been at the hospital. Feeling sad for him, since a bike is a big deal, especially when you have to come 4 miles to work, I told him that if he saved a certain amount of money toward the bike, I'd help with the rest. He was very excited.

This past week I taught on Suffering and the Gospel, laying both foundation for suffering, the Biblical view of suffering, and practical response to suffering (of course, this topic is NEVER taught disconnected from HEART- as there was MUCH suffering represented in our classroom). I say that because it's what came next that really stunned me. On Saturday, Wandera was at my house, but with a graven face. He said, "Uncle, my baby died." My mind immediately shot back to my 30th birthday when I was greeted with similar words from a friend here. I found myself responding the same way I had then, "Was it malaria?" Only this time, it was not- he didn't know what it was. He said she was fine the day before, started getting sick in the night, and then in the morning she was jerking (I'm guessing convulsing). Half way to the hospital she died. They turned around and went back home.

Now, as he stood before me, he was asking for around $20 as a loan so that he could have a grave dug and cemented inside to bury his 3 year old little girl (his other children are 4 and 6). I asked if he was going to buy a coffin, but he said that it was too much money. Quite moved, and also fresh from the days of discussion on entering into suffering, I knelt down, held his hand and just prayed for him. As I prayed, he began to weep- which is not normal for this culture, and I could sense my Father wrapping His arms around Wandera. After I finished praying I was able to give him (not loan him) around $55 to meet the different expenses for doing a "proper" burial.

The burial was set for the next day, Sunday, at 2 sharp. Church, which began at 10:30, ran a bit later than usual and we were out at 1:15. I scarfed down some food and heading over to the Institute where my car was packed out with people going with me to the burial. Since burials are about the only thing that even remotely begin on time, I hightailed it out to the village and we arrived at Wandera's mud house just after 2pm. Of course, the last leg of the journey found the road becoming a path, so I pulled my car into someone's house and got permission to leave it there as we walked the path to Wandera's.

As is customary, upon arrival, we all packed into the four room house. The women were all sitting on mats around the "living room". The wailing came and went in waves. The center piece of the room was a small mattress and lying on the mattress, dressed in a cute blue dress, was the little girl. She was beautiful. I immediately thought of my little Noah (3 years old) and what it would be like to lose him so suddenly. We stood around for a few minutes before exiting the house. The body was then placed in the small wooden coffin and carried to the place of burial.

Wandera is Catholic, and I had never been to a Catholic burial before, so I did not know what to expect. The crowd of gathered villagers all moved to the site (around 100 men and women), and the singing began. One song said, "We are grieving, Holy Mother pray for us". The priest was there and conducted the ceremony, which consisted of his reading and people's responses intertwined with songs. At one point I asked one of my friends with me what he was saying and he responded, "That God has killed this baby. And that they had all better be ready because they don't know when their time will come." Regardless of what your view is of God's sovereignty over death (which I agree with), those are NOT words of comfort to be spoken in the midst of such fresh loss, nor are they the best motivators for someone to truly turn to God. Of course, we had just been talking about this in the Institute!

After the coffin was placed inside the ground and the cement was mixed (and boy did I get hit with a good splash of cement, right on the shirt and pants- of course there was an obvious sound of disapproval from those around), a cross was placed into the wet cement. As everyone turned to "jet" away (remember, the cultural belief is that if you are the last one to leave, the spirit of the deceased might attach itself to you), I spotted Wandera walking back by himself. I went up and put my arm around him, walking back with him. As we talked, he was still stunned at how suddenly the girl had died.

It was only after that conversation that I found out that when his bike was stolen from the hospital, he was there with his niece- who had been abandoned to his house by the father. She died a few days later. So first the bike, then the death of the niece, and now the death of his little girl quite suddenly. Without saying it, I knew what he was thinking- witchcraft. You see, here, nothing just "happens". Everything has a cause, and something like this was sure pointing to the fact that someone is against him.

I wish I had a happy ending to the story. I don't. I gave him the week off of work to just be with his family, and on Wednesday two of our students (both Ugandan) are going to his house to try to bring him REAL comfort, that which only comes through the Gospel and the hope found therein. Please pray for Wandera and for others here who are bound in fear to Satan and witchcraft. Pray that he may come to know the One who took the curse for him and who alone can set him free from fear of death and Satan. Just a tidbit from the "other side" of life and ministry here. And just so you know, as a class we are planning to buy him a bike.


jeromy said...

wow. thanks for sharing those moments keith. thanks for living those moments and serving. i miss you and being with you there to share that. i wanted to call you yesterday but they havent connected our home phone yet, and someone stole my wallet out of my truck last week! they are telling me our phone should be connected on tuesday. i really need to talk to you. - hof

Keith said...

Hof, man, I really need to talk to you, too! Sooo much going on here these days. Too much to post in a blog : )