Soda Money

soda_moneySince we are serving in Uganda for one year, we decided not to hop in and out of the country just to extend our visas.  Instead, we decided to go with an agency to help obtain a work visa for Wai Jia and a dependent pass for me.  Doing things the right way is sometimes long and expensive.  It took five months here and nine months in Singapore beforehand to compile all the necessary documents.  I won’t even talk about the fee they charged us for us to volunteer here.

Yesterday I went to the agency to pick up my passport.  Here in Uganda, before you enter a mall or a plaza, it is common for guards to search you and your vehicle to make sure you don’t have a bomb or firearms.  I’ve been there so many times the security guards recognized who I was and let me in. As I pulled my car into the parking lot, one of the security guards came up to me and told me he reserved this spot for me and he would look after my car for ‘soda money’.

Soda Money.

The term ‘soda money’ is a nice way of asking for a bribe.  As Mzungus (foreigners), we are stopped frequently by the traffic police and other guards asking us to get them a soda.  We talked to the locals about these. They don’t like it as well.  Part of the reasons is that their salary is extremely low (or so we are told) thus they look for a way to make an extra buck.

For this security guard, ‘soda money’ was 3,000 Shillings.  That’s equivalent to about a dollar. In Uganda, a bottle of soda costs 1,000 Shillings. With this knowledge, I asked him why he needed so much just for a soda.  He replied, ‘you get me a big soda.’ That’s true, bigger bottles do cost more.

For Wai Jia and me, we don’t pay bribes.  Yes, life can be much easier and faster if we give ‘soda money’ to get things done.  And it is really a small amount.   A dollar is not much.  But the principle still stands.  We don’t pay bribes.

I offered I would go buy a soda for him and for me.  It was a hot day and a long drive and I wanted one as well.  I didn’t want to give him money but I could get him a soda to make his day a bit better.

He said, ‘No.  If they see me with food, they will fire me.’

Nuts.

After collecting my passport and before I left, I asked him for his name.  Emmanuel.  I explained to him it means “God is with us” and that’s the name they gave to Jesus.  He looked surprised.

As I walked back to the parking lot after taking my passport, I wondered what I should say to Emmanuel regarding his ‘soda money’.  I couldn’t tell him I have no money because that would make me a liar.  I also didn’t want to give him money.  If I gave him ‘soda money’, that would reinforce the system of corruption.

As I walked back to my car, I told Emmanuel I couldn’t give him ‘soda money’. But I told him that I came here to Uganda to serve as a minister.  Since I couldn’t give him soda money, I suggested I could pray and asked God to bless him instead.

He looked at me with a shocked look and was quiet.  He probably didn’t expect that answer.

“Emmanuel. I can only give you one soda.  But God, He can give you 10,000 sodas.”

He smiled a bit.  I asked him if he was a believer and if he would be offended if I prayed with him.   He returned my keys and said ‘I believe in God, too.’

“Great, let us pray.”

So in this busy parking lot, both Emmanuel and I bowed our heads and I said a quick prayer.  I gave thanks to God for Emmanuel’s work and prayed for God to bless him and his family so they would not lack anything.

Then I left.

As I looked back at the decisions we made in coming to Uganda, especially with regards to getting the work permit, I felt we did the right thing.  When God looks at our works, He doesn’t merely look at just the works but also considers how we do our work.  If we do it in such a way that doesn’t glorify Him, there will be consequences.  There are many times when Wai Jia and I are tempted to take the easy (and less righteous) way to get things done.  We had many talks and had to take time to discern whether we were doing things rightly in His eyes.

We always concluded: The work doesn’t justify the means.  Both the work and the means are important in His Kingdom.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16 (KJV)

Every Wednesday…

Every Wednesday, the church has a sewing and beading class to help the ladies to strengthen their social-econoimcal situation. Since I am not a big fan of sewing (or beading), I usually read while my wife, Tam Wai Jia, mingle with the ladies.

Sometimes we do wonder if this will really make an impact to their lives. Is this what it means to alleviate poverty? Somtimes we do get discouraged and wonder if this will amount to anything.

But last Wednesday I learnt something new from this ‘hanging out’ with the church ladies. I overheard the ladies asking Wai Jia personal questions. Some asked them how our lives are like in Singapore (or Canada). They laughed and joked about some observations they noticed about Mzungus (foriegners). Some even confided to her their health concerns. I realized from Wai Jia’s interaction with the ladies that these gatherings are more than about gaining a skill or a trade. They are about building friendships.

‘Helping’ isn’t just a matter of completing a project or handling money. There’s more to it than that. It means journeying alongside and walking together step by step. There will be ups and downs. There will be joys and disappointments. There will be doubts and uncertainties. But what it will not lack is hope.

There’s an inherent nature in us to desire change. Usually it is for something greater and grander. Yet, some of the most touching moments in this part of our lives in Uganda is just spending time in these ‘hang outs’ to understand, to connect, and to love one another as friends.

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Home…

It has been a while since I updated my blog.

Things are a bit busy lately in Uganda.  The Bible School had a graduation last month.   School will begin again in January.  In the mean time, Wai Jia and I with the local pastor is trying to get a number of livelihood projects going.

Last week, I wrote a post for the Mission blog from Cornerstone Community Church.  Today they posted it. This post is similar to a post about Missing Home I blogged a few weeks ago. Though I had more revelation.

This is a great truth. We realized that even if tomorrow Wai Jia and I were whisked back to Singapore or Canada, neither of us would be truly satisfied. Though we might have the comfort of home and the love of friends and family, we would not be following Jesus and not doing the work that He prepared for us before the foundations of the world. In fact, we realized that we would feel more lost and unsettled to be back at ‘home’ instead of following Him.

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Cruising through Burundi

When we were in Burundi last month, I took a number of video clips as we drove around the city.  I compiled them into a video.  It is a bit shaky and the quality might not be the best (I was using a simple handheld).  But I hope it captured what life is like in Burundi.

 

Curising Through Burundi

 

Missing Home?

The other day, Wai Jia asked me if I miss home. I replied and asked which home?

She gave me three options:

  1. Hong Kong – where I was born and lived until I was 8
  2. Canada – where I lived for more than 20 years
  3. Singapore – where I was living for 2.5 years prior coming to Uganda

I answered I don’t miss any of these places.

When I was living in Singapore serving with OMF International, there were many moments I longed to be back in Canada. I missed the snow. I missed my friends. I missed having really good Canadian food (ok technically I miss food I enjoyed when I was in Canada such as nachos, chicken wings, and poutine etc….).

Poor Wai Jia, there were many moments she had to endure of my rants during the first year of our marriage.

As missionaries serving overseas, there are moments when you have that desire to be back to norm of where you are from.

This time, in Uganda, it is different.

One of the latest revelations I had is that even if tomorrow Wai Jia and I are back in Canada (or in Singapore), I realized we won’t be content staying there. Sure, there are conveniences we will appreciate like consistent running water and electricity, fast internet or fine dining.  But we realized we won’t be following the Lord’s Will.

In Singapore, I missed my family a lot, especially my aging parents.

Within the short span of three months of being in Uganda, I had the privilege of receiving news of two nieces being born in Canada. I would love to be there in person. But I cannot. We are called to follow Jesus. Holy Spirit has opened doors and brought us to Uganda.

Today’s the Utmost devotion was very timely. It was talking whenever there are conflicting loyalties between Jesus and others, even family matters, always pick Jesus no matter what the cost.

We put our sense of loyalty to our relatives ahead of our loyalty to Jesus Christ, forcing Him to take last place. When your loyalties conflict, always obey Jesus Christ whatever the cost.The Go of Reunication – Utmost.org

Earlier in this month we went to Burundi to teach for two weeks.  Wai Jia noticed I was on fire during one of the classes. I was teaching about the suffering we endure when following Jesus. The students were seasoned pastors and evangelists and many of them had suffer personally from following Jesus. One female student was Muslim and was rejected by her family when she accepted Jesus. As I was sharing, I kept back my tears as I was recounting my own costs and realizing that many of them suffered much more than me.  I realized I need to deliver this message from the Lord to encourage them to persevere and not give up or give in.  I use Hebrews 12:2  to encourage them and myself that even Jesus had joy when he was going up the cross. There’s joy in suffering.  There is fellowship in suffering.

Now we are in Uganda, I don’t desire to go back to Canada as much as I was in Singapore. Perhaps I’ve grown spiritually. Perhaps I finally accept the fact that I have no home (even Jesus said the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head [Luke 9:58]). Perhaps my mind is being renewed with the mind of Christ and it changed all the priorities and desires of my heart.

Right now, I just want to do what the Lord wanted me to do.  Life is too short.  There ain’t a lot of time left.  I just want to be obedient to His Calling.   Wai Jai and I are in Uganda to equip and build the body of Christ so that they are mature, pure and blameless before the Lord.  And there’s much work to be done. Here in Uganda, I am slowly understand what it means to labor for His Kingdom.  The desire to follow Him is stronger than the earthly home.  I desire a better home!  A heavenly country!

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.Hebrews 11:13-16 (NKJV)

Whenever I struggle and feel discourage, whenever I have the longing to go back to Canada or Singapore, I stop and read Philippians 4:12-14:

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:12-14 (NKJV)

This is a great passage to encourage yourself to follow God, especially during hard times.

Pressing toward reminded me of the races I used to compete. It is painful and it hurts. At the moment it is hurting is the moment I need to press it and not give up. The same principle applies in our walk with the Lord.
I am thankful for passage like this. Paul knew what suffering is. He had been persecuted, stoned, beaten, jailed, and shipwrecked.

I am 34 this year. I hope that when I am 54 or 74 I still have this desire as Paul has, to reach the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

We took a picture with the students on the last day of us teaching at Bujumbura, Burundi.   We are wearing traditional Burundian wear which the students generously gave us.

We took a picture with the students on the last day of us teaching at Bujumbura, Burundi. We are wearing traditional Burundian wear which the students generously gave us.

Amen!

Everyday is an adventure

We’ve been in Uganda a little more than two months now.   We had our fair share of stressful and unique experiences.  We are adjusting, adapting and at times enjoying the way life is like in Africa.  Some of our worst moments is the car broke down next to the street market and we don’t know what to do.  Or the many turns that we needed to take in order to obtain a work visa.  The process which was supposed to be simple is never simple.

At the same time, there are many things we enjoyed being in Uganda.  For one, the pace of life is slower than in Singapore.   This is probably why I blogged more now than the previous few years.

There are many transitions we are adjusting.  From learning how to top up my phone (you can buy scratch cards at any store) to learning how to drive precariously along mud roads littered with potholes, I realized that every day is an adventure.

And an adventure it certainly is.

When we got married, a friend of a friend made a video of how God brought us together.  At the end of the video, I said that this was the beginning of an adventure and not the end.  That was almost two years ago.  Two years ago, I would never imagine myself teaching at a Bible school with Wai Jia.  I would never imagine going to Africa.

Though we are teachers I believe this period of our lives in Uganda we are also students.  Students of God’s Words and His Ways.  We are learning what it means to be good disciples of Jesus Christ.  What good fruit looks like in Uganda, a land that is fertile but yet filled with poverty.

Above all, we learn to depend on God.  A few weeks ago, we attended a wedding introduction hours away in the villages.  The wedding introduction is where the bride and the groom’s family and tribes come together.   By the time we left it was at night.  The drive back home was an unforgettable experience.  The road had no streetlights, with cars and motorcycles going every conceivable way and pedestrians crossing the road (did I mention it was in the dark?).  There are no street names and I am still new to driving around Kampala.  But by God’s Grace and protection we were back home safe and sound.

 

uganda-traditional-dress

This is the traditional Ugandan wear: Gomesi for Wai Jia and Kanzu for me.  The man wears a suit jacket over the kanzu.  I didn’t wear one during the picture because it was too hot under the sun.

 

Praise God!

Worship in Spirit and truth

A few people asked us why Uganda given that Uganda is Christianized. Since the 1800s, Christian missionaries have been to Uganda to share the gospel. If you asked most of the locals their religion, they will call themselves Christians. So why we are here if most of Uganda is already reached?

On our recce trip to Uganda back in February, I stumbled upon the local news that in Northern Uganda there is a cult that uses both the Bible and Quran. This article made me realized that in Uganda the Truth is not being proclaimed. I immediately remembered what Jesus said when he spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well. He said that one day people will worship in Truth and in Spirit.

This is the purpose of us coming to Uganda. We desire Ugandans to worship in Spirit and truth.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.John 4:21-24 (NKJV)

For the past two months we’ve been teaching in the Bible school.  The school is nothing more than a big house with a tiny light bulb dangling in the center of one room. There’s no hot water and they cooked with charcoal. Power outage is common and our computer class is often cancelled because of that.

Despite the simple utilities, the students have a hunger to learn. They desire to learn the Bible and learn how to use computer. This is very motivating for Wai Jia and me. God brought us here from Singapore. We sacrificed to come. Others supported us with their hard earn money. The opportunity is here and we need to take advantage of it. We need to invest and invest fully.

Our job is to impart and to build them up so that they can go to Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi and beyond to teach others how to worship Jesus in truth and in Spirit. This is our desire and our hope. We are investing in the Kingdom of God and as Paul said, so that every man (and woman) will be mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28 ESV).

Speaking to a number of missionaries in Uganda, they told us when it comes to working the Muslims are more trustworthy than Christians. They also said even though many called themselves Christians, but those who truly are following Jesus will called themselves born again.

I believe that those who are truly transformed by Jesus through the Holy Spirit will never be the same. I believe that those who are sons and daughters of the Kingdom will work with integrity and honesty. I believe that Uganda and other nations need Jesus Christ.

Even self proclaimed atheist, Matthew Parris, an columnist for The Times, recognized the redeeming power of Jesus Christ in Africa. He wrote an article, As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God, on The Times a few years ago.  In order to access the source,  you need a subscription.  However, I found someone pasted the article and posted on The Richard Dawkins Foundation site.

The Most Important Year in a Man’s Life

Wai Jia and I brought a number of books to Uganda. One of them is Most Important Year in a Woman’s Life, The/The Most Important Year in a Man’s Life by Robert and Bobbie Wolgemuth. The whole premise of this book is to emphasize the first year of marriage as the most important investment for the couple. This is actually two books, one for the groom and one for the bride. Even though we are married for almost two years now, we still find this book highly relevant and beneficial for our marriage.

One of my friends are getting married next month. I quoted this from the book to encourage him to spend the first year to focus on his wife:

It’s often assumed that marriages fail because a lack of investment – time, effort, focus, and intentionality. That’s true, but only partially.

Mark and I have talked with countless couples whose marriages are flailing – or failing. Many are more than willing to work at it, and work sacrificially. As a matter of fact, some of the guys we know who struggle in their marriages are investing exponentially more energy, anxiety, and money trying to keep their marriages alive than couples with healthy marriages will have to invest during their entire lifetimes.

The question must be asked: if these couples are working so hard, why are their marriages failing?

It’s exactly what Jerry found out with ihs successful investment in CompuCalls. It’s all about good timing. Failed marriages are not the result of the lack of investment but the lateness of that investment.

We’ve seen it happen over and over. Men have come to us for help only after their marriages are in deep trouble – in some cases, headed perilously toward divorce. A man may become motivated to work on his marriage when it’s in critical condition. The work and the sacrifices he makes may be nothing short of heroic. But tragically, they come awfully late.

I’ve never met a man who said, “I am choosing to invest poorly” – financially or in marriage. But many men simply do. Their minimal net worth has been the result of neglect. Sheer default.

If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married. – Deuteronomy 24:5

I’m pretty sure what you’re thinking. C’mon, be reasonable. I’ve got work to do. If i were to take a whole year off, I’d be fired from my job – and that wouldn’t be good for neither of us.

Don’t worry. I’m not advocating unemployment. Just intentionality. Your job in your first year of marraige is to become an expert on one woman – your wife – and to learn, better than anyone else in the world, how to “bring her happiness.” And the OT advice is to take one year, ONE WHOLE YEAR. A weekend seminar or a great book about marriage will not be enough – not even the standard five-session premarital counselling commitment. There’s no other way to say it: It’s a big investment!

Because you’ve checked “get married” off your life, you may be tempted to pay more attention to other unfinished things, such as going on to graduate school, landing a good job, or staying in shape physically. But now that you’re married, your most important assignment is working on building this relationship with your wife.Page 15-19 – The Most Import Year In A Man’s Life

Wai Jia and I read one chapter at night whenever we are free. We will read one chapter for the husband to be and then one chapter for the wife to be. Another part that really struck me is the average bride spend 150 to 500 hours to prepare for the wedding. Yet, when it comes to marriage maybe ten hours if they are committed (read a marriage book or attend a marriage preparation course).

One of the things I am grateful for and also helped strenghten our marriage is attending the Marriage Preparation Course (MPC). We attended the MPC about one weeks after we started dating. I know and understand that attending Marriage Preparation Course as a date might not sound exciting or enjoyable. But for me it was a great idea since both of us know our relationship is heading toward marriage. It is through the instructors (later became our marriage mentors and good friends) at Marriage Preparation Course we learned how to live with one another.