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OCMC News - Reflections on Uganda

by Dean Franck (Posted 7/20/2017)

OCMC News - Reflections on Uganda
The 2017 OCMC construction team to Uganda transformed the lives f an entire community by helping to build Orthodox an secondary school (8th to 12th grade) in the village of Bulera.

It all started with a 27-hour Greyhound ride down to St. Augustine, Florida. One of the great blessings inherent in such a ride on “The Hound” was that I began to slow my rhythm in preparation for the upcoming trip to Bulera, Uganda. If I were to ride into a place such as Bulera, like an American locomotive with a full head of steam, I would miss many of the quaint delicacies intrinsic in a simple life. In the States, things move very quickly- in fact, maybe too quickly sometimes. Over time, I've discovered how important it is to slow down and pay attention to the finer details of life, the details which encapsulate the “unseen.” As St. Paul says, “Hope for that which is seen is not hope, but rather, hope is for that which is unseen.”

One such detail of life on the recent mission trip to Uganda came at the gnarled, thick, dark-brown, red dirt-encrusted fingers of a Ugandan day laborer named Sam. He was crouched beside a turned-over wheelbarrow, which lay in streams of the warm midday sun as it fell from the towering clouds above the red brick three-classroom building we were constructing. The would-be building was surrounded by tall lush fruit and gourd trees of a deep jungle green, and banana leaves clapped in the wind. Sam repeatedly slapped the rubber tire with a strong downward swipe of his thick palm to make the wheel spin as he worked. I walked closer and squatted beside him. My bottom squatted low, almost down onto the red dirt. My forearms were extended out across my bent kneecaps for balance, just like him and many Africans before him. When I crouched down beside him, I realized he was trying to get the stem of a particular kind of plant into the space where the axle meets the squeaky wheel. From the stem of the plant came some sort of natural lubricant. This particular barrow was squeaking and grinding all morning and needed some grease.

From the time I squatted next to Sam, he did not pay me much mind. He just kept doing what he was doing. He chewed, slapped, spun, and jammed some “grease” in there. I kept my big straw hat from casting a shadow on him as he worked barefoot in his humble, dirty work polo and stained khakis.

“Grease?” I asked and picked up one of the leaves that lay beside his wide muscular foot.

“Mhhgg.” He said with a quick affirmed flick of his head as his sun-glazed eyes stayed focused on his work.

I stayed crouched beside him for a little while until my legs started to fall asleep, and then I went back to hauling giant rocks, which would eventually become the floor, into the classrooms.

By the time we left Uganda, the primary school for the community of St. Thomas in Bulera was not finished, but it was close. The rafters were up, the rock floors were cemented in, most of the windows were finished, and about half of the metal roofing sheets were done. The locals said it would probably be finished a week or so after our departure. Construction projects like the one we witnessed in Bulera, Uganda, had that good old-fashioned construction where you felt the results with every stroke of the saw and every swing of the hammer. The saws were the manual bow type, the hammers were affixed to pieces of pipe, the lumber still looked like the trees it came from, and so did the homemade ladders. The water which was used to hand-mix the cement was carried up from the well in old industrial-sized oil containers strapped to a bota-bota (motorbike), and the cement itself was carried 100 yards from its storage place in the simple concrete floored church.

The community of St. Thomas is surrounded by an Orthodox farm bought for the sustenance of the community and the Church at large. The farm brandished an abundance of mangoes, avocadoes, jack fruits, maize, bananas, beans, and many other foods. On the farm there was a place to make bricks, most likely the bricks which were used to build the school. This school would be one small piece of the larger hope for the Orthodox Church in Uganda. The goal of the Orthodox Church in Uganda is to have one school and one medical clinic in each church community.

Some of the workdays it rained for half an hour or so. We would then pile back into the old, stiff, stinky van that transported us to and from work each day. Some of the young girls ran off to play in the rain while inside the van we played music; other days we napped, some days we read. Sometimes the little children who would someday attend the school piled in the van and played games with us. St. Paisios says that “all rain is holy water.” I believe that God blessed that project in Bulera and the smiles of all the children who had struggled to go to school but would soon have a school in their own backyard.

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Prayer for Missions

God of truth and love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Hear our prayer for those who do not know You. That they may come to a saving knowledge of the truth, and that Your Name may be praised among all peoples of the world. Sustain, inspire, and enlighten Your servants who bring them the Gospel. Bring fresh vigor to wavering faith; sustain our faith when it is still fragile. Continually renew missionary zeal in ourselves and in the Church, and raise up new missionaries who will follow You to the ends of the world. Make us witnesses to Your goodness full of love, full of strength, and full of faith for Your glory and the salvation of the entire world. Through the prayers of all the missionary saints, Have mercy on us and save us. Amen.