Friday, December 15, 2006

Tying the knot in Namiyembe

A couple of weeks ago--on a Saturday, which is "the" day for weddings in Uganda--I headed for Namiyembe to officiate at a wedding ceremony. To "join the couple" is how they say it here. "Namiyembe" means "place of mangos," and one can see many a dark green mango-tree crown among the lighter greens of other trees and bushes and the greyish brown thatched roofs of local huts.

I've learned by experience that whoever drives a motor vehicle to a wedding ceremony, at least in rural areas of Uganda, also gets to dog-leg over to wherever the bride is being dolled up for the occasion, wait from one to three hours while she and her retinue ready themselves, load them all up (or as many as can be crammed in) and proceed (much more slowly than on the first part of the dog-leg) on to the wedding venue. Happily for me, this trip was atypical in that the bride and her crew were actually ready when we reached the place. After I recovered from the disorientation of not having a two-hour wait, I managed to get back into the pickup and drive on. We paused only briefly along the way for someone to pluck a couple of sprays of deep fuchsia bougainvillea flowers and poke them for decoration into crannies on each front corner of the truck.

There were already over a hundred people at the church building on the edge of Namiyembe trading center when we arrived. They had rigged a tarp for extra shade along the side of the building for the people who couldn't fit inside. It took me about 90 seconds to get from the pickup to my seat inside the building. The bride and her company accomplished the same feat in about 45 minutes.

Eventually she and the matron of honor were seated to my left, between me and the audience, and opposite the groom and his best man on my right, also between me and the crowd attending. There followed a couple of hours of introductions, choirs presenting songs, reports from relatives on the backgrounds of the bride and groom, and a sermon on marriage.

My part on this occasion -- supervising the vows, ring exchange and signing of the marriage certificate -- came on the heels of the sermon. The master of ceremonies urged me to do some more preaching before the vows. So I did, but kept it to just a few minutes since the afternoon was waning quickly. For the vows, I stated each phrase in English. Then a translator repeated the words in Lugwere, so that the couple could say them after him in turn. The end of each set of vows triggered applause, cheers, and loud ululations, as did the presentation of the signed certificate and introduction of the couple as Mr. and Mrs. James Wakula. Decorum does differ in definition from one culture to another!

It was getting on towards 5 p.m. as the ceremony itself concluded, and the reception and meal were still ahead. In order not to drive home in the dark, we asked to be excused to leave as the celebration continued. Our hosts were understanding of our situation, but insisted that we eat something, at least, before going. They ushered us over to a small room in a nearby shop and served up a fine repast of rice and chicken with sauce.

We did make it home just before dark, but I could do little justice to supper after having feasted so shortly before it in the Place of Mangos.

James the groom (near side) and his best man

Here comes the bride!

Robina, the bride, with her matron of honor and bridesmaid

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Mainly for Asher's grandparents

We just returned from three enjoyable days of retreat with our whole mission team. Kingfisher Safaris Resort was the place, situated on a bay in Lake Victoria just next to the point at which it gives birth to the fabled White Nile. Sunday after our worship time together, Phillip Shero and I with several of our boys (and Emily) piled into a boat and took a tour through the neck of the Nile and a mile or so downriver. Saw quite a variety of birds and animals, including a four-foot water monitor lizard that one could be forgiven for mistaking for a small crocodile.

Danetta took these pictures while we were at the retreat. I share them mainly for what they show of Asher rather than for the bits of me that got included. One of Asher's grandmothers told me at Thanksgiving that current pictures of him were way overdue!

Smile, dad!

That's, let's see what I can grab--

...that shirt makes a good handle!

Some things are precious beyond our ability to value, like this little boy's smile.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Day at our house

Thanksgiving morning...while others in the family are still abed, Jonathan and Luke find their way into the living room for a bit of reading before the crowd we're expecting arrives.
Danetta talks with family in the U.S. over the Internet, while she enjoys a cup of tea before heading into the kitchen to make dinner rolls.
Meanwhile, Asher amuses himself on the living room floor (this doesn't usually last very long, but works for a while before he decides he'd rather be entertained by a real live big person).Emily busies herself gluing together strips of construction paper for Thanksgiving meal placemats.By mid-morning friends and coworkers start to show up for the day's festivities. Nathanael , along with neighborhood friends Lydia, Aby, and Nathan, watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade (recorded from a few years back).No leisure in the kitchen this morning! Danetta mixes up dough for dinner rolls, assisted by Jonathan, who's always ready to dive in on cooking/baking projects.That's a lot of rolls! Eric, standing at left, works with Peace Corps. He and his wife Ranji joined us for the day.The dessert table, still in its pristine glory. That didn't last! We did have a few pieces of pie left at the end of the day for folks to take home, but most of the eight or ten pie pans we started with, not to mention the other desserts, were reduced to little more than crumbs.There were enough people and food that we served the meal buffet-style. After filling plates, everyone found a place at any of several tables set up around the living room or on the front porch.Leila, Aby and Lydia made it through the line early.
We eventually had a fairly full living room, with almost all of our mission team present for the feasting, together with a number of American friends from the community here.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sunday night at the pancakes

One of our long-time weekly family traditions is having pancakes on Sunday evenings. Over the past few years it's developed into an open-house to which coworkers and other friends from the community come to hang out, eat pancakes, visit, converse, sing, strum, drink lots of coffee, etc. I took these pictures last night after several of the crew had already left:

Danetta, Emily and Laura Beth

Nathanael, Josiah, and Nathan giving the new couch a work-out

Stephan and Heidi trying a tune

Resting from the rigors of pancake consumption

Monday, November 13, 2006

Our house: 360

Back in March we moved from the house we had occupied for eight years or so to another one in the neighborhood that is a better fit for our large-ish family. With seven kids, going from three bedrooms to seven has given everyone a little more space! We did the "bare necessities" of the move before leaving for furlough in the U.S. Now that we're back, we've been working on all the remaining loose ends to get things as we want them to be in the house. So even as I write this, we have painting going on in hallways and dining room.

Several asked us while we were in the States what the "new" house looks like. Here are some images of the outside, and I'll upload some from the inside in a later post. The perspective moves 360 degrees around the house, starting from inside the front gate at the lower left corner of the compound and moving to the lower right, then up the slope and around the back to end at the front door and verandah area:

(view from front gate)

(looking right from front gate)

(from lower right corner)

(from upper right corner)

(from upper left corner, looking back to upper right corner)

(from upper left corner again, but looking toward front door/verandah)

(verandah view from front door; Emily at top of steps down to lower level)

(looking left of verandah from front door to balcony on top of garage / storage room)

(front gate from balcony)

(Wanale mountain, looking east from balcony)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Extra fat and sugar!

It's good to be back in Mbale. Some things have changed in the five months that we were away in the U.S. -- there's a new supermarket in town, for one thing. But most things are their familiar selves, including all the signs of this particular time of year.

We don't have the same seasons as you who live in temperate climes. Here on the equator the presence or absence of rain is the only real difference-maker in how hot or cool it feels. But there are rhythms to the coming and going of rain, the flowering of trees, farmers planting and harvesting, and the migrations of birds that remind us of the march of time. Right now here in Uganda almost every day you can hear the liquid fluting calls of Eurasian bee-eaters as they pass overhead in flocks on their passage southward. And for the next several months we'll have the same basic species of barn/European swallow wintering here that you have during the summer months up north.

The other day I was checking out the new supermarket in town and pulled a loaf of bread off the shelf. It was one of those "you know you're in Africa" moments -- emblazoned on the bread bag was the advertising slogan designed to entice the discerning buyer: "Enriched with extra fat and sugar." We're not in Texas any more!

We picked up a couple of fans in anticipation of warmer weather on the way as the rains wane in November and December. It didn't take Luke and Emily long to put the boxes to good use:

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Expecting changes

It's something I've noticed with all our seven children, particularly in their early months: changes in their appearance and awareness, subtle but noticeable on an almost daily basis. With delight we have observed Asher learning to focus visually on his surroundings, to track nearby movements. He can put on quite a smiling display in his sleep, and we think we can tell that he's on the edge of grinning even when awake, as he begins to figure out the basics of interacting with someone else face to face.

Of course, that's what infants are supposed to do. But what about us who are older, who have already "grown up"? I think it's fair to say that the longer we live, the less we want to change. And as we become comfortably fond of the status quo, we tend to lose any real expectation of change.

God calls us to continual change. How else can we interpret Peter's final words in his second letter: "Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ"? And Paul evidently believed that being changed to be more like Jesus is one of God's truly glorious works on our behalf (2 Cor 3:17-18).

Maybe this is part of what Jesus meant when he said we must change and become like little children even to enter God's kingdom. I need to be a lot more like my infant son Asher, specifically in regard to being willing to alter my thinking and my behavior under the instruction of Jesus. I want to expect good changes in myself and to be delighted when they come, just as I take daily pleasure in noticing this process in my son.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Daniel Asher Shelburne, 20 August 2006

Daniel Asher Shelburne arrived Sunday morning, 20 August, at 8:22. His personal dimensions are 7 lb (3.2 kg) in weight and 21 inches (53.3 cm) in length. He was a week or so longer in making his debut than we had expected, but his performance this first day has been stellar. Here are a few images from day one:

Natalie Tyler joins the rest of our crew gathered to see Asher for the first time.

Friday, August 04, 2006

A handful of rice...or a can of soda

I don't enjoy fund-raising, and suspect that it may not be one of my native talents or spiritual gifts, either one. This is a liability of sorts in my line of work, since the money for our livelihood and work all come from contributions by churches and individual supporters. But, especially during furloughs, we and most of our missionary colleagues have to get around to asking for money.

Which brings me to some thoughts provoked by the activities for several years of some practically minded believers in Burma. Like Paul's friends in Macedonia, these Burmese disciples do not excuse themselves from sending and supporting missionaries. They could plead that theirs is a third-world, developing nation. And that they have an average income a fraction of most wages in the West. Instead, they have used faith, love and imagination to collect the funds needed to send missionaries abroad.

It's simple, but effective: While preparing each meal, a handful of rice is set aside from the main family portion, to be saved and then sold each month to support mission work. Multiply this by ten, twenty or fifty families in a church and you have a hefty monthly contribution for missions. Multiply this by any number of churches teaming together and you have the kind of generosity that Paul would praise again today.

A handful of rice at a time. Almost too little to notice.

What would that kind of imaginative generosity look like in North America or Europe?

If I drink an average of one can of soda a day, I could replace it with water at almost no cost and save the cost of the soda toward missions. At about $0.50 per soda, that would accrue to around $15.00 each month. Multiply that by even fifty disciples teaming together and doing the same thing, and there's $750.00 a month.

OK, for some of us doing without that soda would feel like a sacrifice. In that case, consider it a multi-level experience in spiritual discipline. Commit to it as a fast--abstaining from something you would otherwise enjoy--as a way of focusing your attention on God, growing in self-control, and, at the same time, supporting mission work. Every cold soda that comes to mind can trigger you to say a quick prayer for a particular mission project.

This is just one of many ways we can creatively give more and grow spiritually at the same time. Some people routinely empty their loose coin change into a container and periodically give its contents to missions. The point is that we in wealthier countries can learn something from our Burmese brothers and sisters.

We realized recently after talking with our sending church that to cover the budget for our work we need another $1,500 in monthly contributions. It's conventional wisdom that monthly contributions are the hardest kind to come by. But you know, a mere hundred who committed to skipping one soda a day and giving what they save could together raise $1,500 a month. Which would be decidedly...unconventional.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

"Safari Yetu"

"Safari yetu"--for now, at least, this is what I'll call this blog experiment. As folks who have lived a while in East Africa will know, this Kiswhahili phrase means "our journey."

Right now, safari yetu is a literal journey in that we are on a five-month furlough in the United States. This is a long way from "home" in Mbale, Uganda! And we're doing a lot of moving around the country, having visited family and friends in Virginia (in May) and now in Texas. I spent several days at the end of June in Louisville, Kentucky for the North American Christian Convention. Then three of my boys and I made a camping expedition with my dad, my brother, and his son to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons national parks in July. As I write this, I'm sitting in the home of John and Sherrinda Ketchersid on the north side of Fort Worth (check out John's blog at And tomorrow we plan to drive back to Lubbock on the South Plains of the Texas panhandle, where we have established our base of operations during this furlough safari.

Last night we had the pleasure of meeting with members of the Richland Hills Church of Christ missions ministry--made some new acquaintances and renewed some old ones, including Sam and Nancy Shewmaker, and Jim and Laura Reppart. At RHCC we also enjoyed seeing our former coworkers David and Brenda Vick and their kids again, together with Dan and Beverly Bell.