It is closing midnight at the end of a very long, eventful day. I’m questioning why I am even starting a blog right now, because I don’t think I will have the mental fortitude to finish it before I need to sleep. But I do have one, general idea I want to express… so, if I can manage to leave out all the extra, rambling, fluff maybe I can get it all out in one go.
Christmas here in Uganda – this topic might be rambling, yet it is relevant, so I will start with it. I could fill a whole page with things I miss from home right now. But that would definitely qualify as rambling, so I won’t. What I have enjoyed is that the season is so laid back here. No one expects me to send them a Christmas card, decorate my whole house and light up my yard, bake cookies for teachers, wrap presents prettily. I did enjoy doing those things before. Yet, I have often found myself on this Dec. 22 feeling a bit disillusioned with Christmas, tired of looking at a to-do list, frustrated with myself because I knew I wasn’t focused on the real reason for the celebrating. In Uganda, most people don’t have money to buy decorations, or an oven to bake anything in. Their kids are lucky if they get just one gift for Christmas. No one asks, “what do you want for Christmas?” or “what are you getting for Christmas?” So, I am here with no excuse not to focus. There is nothing else to fill up on except the main course. So, I savor Jesus. My calendar is not so busy; I have space to just relish His advent.
All that being said, today was different. We stepped fully into Christmas festivity today! We were picked up this morning by a Watoto van and taken to Central Church for an ex-pat Christmas party hosted by Pastor Gary and Marilyn. Everyone brought gifts and desserts. It was really fun and refreshing to be in a room full of other mzungus and not be a minority for a few hours. The food was incredibly delicious. The dessert table - wow! Desserts are quite rare here in Uganda, and to see a whole TABLE of them… well, we felt very at home. Then, we stayed in town so we could attend Watoto’s Christmas Cantata this evening. The cantata is THE event to attend in Kampala at Christmas. They have around 20 performances (2 or 3 a night) with maxed out attendance at each one. People were lined up outside over two hours before the first performance today, and hundreds were turned away after it started. We were feeling special, since we got to sit on the second row in the reserved seating section. The production didn’t disappoint. It was very impressive theatrically. TONS of dancing, of course – the most joyful and exuberant cantata I’ve ever seen. Not sure it should even be called a “cantata.” Haha
So, for the most part today, we enjoyed playing the role of privileged, White people. I walked around the party today in an AIR CONDITIONED room (the 1st room with AC I’ve been in since arriving in Uganda), sipping my punch, eating my beef flank steak. At one point, I looked out the 2nd story window onto downtown Kampala street and had a moment… “oh,yeah. We’re in Africa.” Later, we walked past the crowds standing in the bright, hot, parking lot, and breezily took our 2nd row seats. We drank our cold drinks and socialized and waited for the auditorium to fill up behind us. We gushed over the performance when it was over, gathered up our gifts from the day, walked out into the muggy night… and then reality hit.
We were supposed to ride the village van back to Suubi. We had been told that the van driver would be there to pick us up as soon as the first show was over and give us a ride back to the village (yet another way we would be treated special today.) When T called Michael, we found out that he was still at least 45 min. away, and he wasn’t planning to head back to Suubi until the final performance was over. So, we were looking at a 3 hour wait at minimum. You must understand that we were in the very center of Kampala, and there is NOWHERE that is accessible to just hang out and wait. The church parking lot is poorly lit, full of crowds of people, and crazy traffic all around. We have three, very exhausted children who have not had supper. Our only option at this point is to hike to the public taxi park and take a taxi van home. Some other things you must understand – the taxi park is not a “park.” It is not even a parking lot. It is few acres of muddy land full of stinking, rotting rubbish and taxi vans packed in like canned sardines. It is in the very heart of the city, surrounded by street vendors, questionable establishments, and very dark alleys. T has had to go there a few times before at night to get a ride back, but he has always balked at the idea of going there as a family – for good reason. But we didn’t have a better solution.
So, off we went, T carrying Reynah and a bulging backpack. All of us toting bags and clutching hands. It was about a mile walk, weaving through Christmas traffic and boda bodas. There is NO such thing as crosswalks or pedestrian right-of-way! We had to step around several children sitting by the road begging for money. We finally made it to the park and found the taxi headed toward Suubi. We crammed ourselves in and began our bumpy, stuffy, 1 ½ hr. journey home. Then, we were dropped off by the main road in pitch black and had to find a couple of boda (motorcycle) drivers to take us up the mountain to Suubi. I know my description of this sounds rather dramatic. If my Ugandan friends read this, they would probably laugh and say, “what’s the big deal?” This is daily life for them. But from our Western perspective, it WAS rather dramatic. It pushed us to our limits.
And it brought into focus this everlasting tension we live with here – the standard of living that we used to have vs. the one we are choosing to embrace. I say “choosing.” But the tension is in the fact that some days we do gladly choose it, so we make ourselves feel noble and sacrificial. Then, other days, it seems it is forced upon us, and we face the fact that we still feel so entitled. At the end of this long day, I remember that we are neither. We are really, truly, not sacrificing. We still live SO SO much better than the average Ugandan. And we are most certainly NOT entitled! In the middle of this tension lies the fact that we are called to identify. Tonight just put us one step closer to identifying with the 30 million Ugandans in this country. The waiting, the walking, the inconveniences, the lack of power and water – these are all opportunities to identify. Sometimes, the chance to identify is the only redeeming point I can see when I feel especially “put out” by all the inconveniences. Of course, we will never completely be able to identify with where our Ugandan friends and neighbors are. But our effort to try is crucial to our effectiveness here, I think.
We have to be willing to give up some of our “American-ness.” We have to be willing to become learners. This is really humbling! It is getting better now that we are into our sixth month here. But there have been times that I have felt absolutely stupid and helpless – like a little baby. I need someone to interpret for me, to take me where I want to go, to help me buy something… and I so hate feeling incompetent! Some days I feel like I have lost so much freedom. I feel confined to the limits around me. There are days I feel frustrated by my lack of personal space. But, then, I know it is all part of the price to pay in order to identify.
So, tonight, I was mulling all this around in my head when I made the connection between our calling to identify and Jesus’ calling to incarnation. And, this ~Alas!~ is the main thought that I began this whole blog with. Jesus gave us the perfect model for human relationships with His act of coming to us. He issued a model for us to follow. He laid down/ gave up all that was familiar. He humbled himself and became a baby. A baby! A completely helpless baby who had to be potty trained and learn a language. He let Himself be confined by skin, and time, and space. Oh, the freedoms and the rights He gave up! I can’t even begin to comprehend the measures He took to enter into our world. And I think about my petty, pious efforts to “identify,” and there is just no comparison.
Yet, the measures taken are not the only differences I see. There is the motivation. Jesus came to us and became one of us – because of His love for us. He loved us first. There was no other motivation. This all at once affirms me and convicts me. I love the affirmation of His love at Christmas! We could not ask for a more perfect, clear picture of God’s love for us. And also, tonight, I feel conviction from His love. I have come. I have left. I have relinquished. But is it all for love? There is love. I do love some people here very dearly. But is it all for love? I know it isn’t. And if it isn’t for love, what is the use of it? “if I have not love, I am a clanging cymbal, an empty sound…” 1 Cor. 13:1. Why come and give if it is not all for love? These are the questions in my heart tonight.
Tomorrow, we go down to some of the clusters of homes in the village to give away Christmas presents to the children. I am determining not to do it because it will make for good pictures and sweet stories to tell. I don’t want to give because these are the only gifts they will receive, and they will love us for it. I just pray we will go and love them like Jesus for a while. The toys will probably be broken or lost (or stolen!) in two weeks time. God’s love is the only part of the afternoon that will last for eternity.