The steady putter of the old diesel motor purred in the background as Ugandan Water Project Team #11 rode in silence through the fresh morning air of Uganda. We had been in country about a week so the sights blurring past our windows were not shockingly new like they were a few days ago. The now familiar smell of wood smoke carried on its usual conversation with the wind and I breathed it in with casual recognition and the familiarity of an old friend.
We were on our way to Matugga, about 15 km from our guest house in Kampala. The team was excited and ambitious for the days adventure – we were planning on installing a rainwater collection system alongside the residents of the community it would serve. This project was especially meaningful to me and those on the team from Elim Gospel Church because it was our church that had come together to fund this project. This was a great opportunity to meet some of the people we had chosen to help and build some real relationship.
Our tired van crawled up the broken red dirt road that led up to the church and as we wrestled ourselves out of the cramped vehicle we were greeted enthusiastically by Pastor Joseph Aralitunga and a flash mob of beautiful young faces. My daughter Emma and another team member were quickly swept away by the kids once they saw we had brought a new soccer ball . . . this was the experience we jokingly referred to as “death by children” being carried away with ones heart and soul quickly entwined with the innocent hearts of those beautiful brown faces dying to self in an easy execution of our flesh for the sake of new friends – new family in Jesus.
Pastor Joseph’s face revealed sincere kindness and joy that comes from perseverance through many challenges that drew deep lines on his aging face. His smiling eyes and deep, easy laugh put us all at ease. Matugga Pentecostal Church was home to about 30 families with about 150 in attendance on Sunday mornings. Mattuga is uncommon in that there is the possibility of piped water if you have the money to buy it. However, very few can afford this luxury. So water is fetched from local swamps. He explained that this tank would be such a blessing to those families that lived around the church neighborhood because they live life on such slim margins – squeezed on every side.
Brandon Lampson and Matt Oklevitch jumped right in to the job at hand – exchanging their pasty-white Rochester accented titles with the thickly accented, sun-soaked monikers of our new workmates. Jeremiah and Matt exchanged stories of life while measuring off the building; Amos and Brandon began constructing ladders so we could hang the gutters in the afternoon.
Inside the church, a group of ladies ranging in age from timid young teens to honorable gray-haired matriarchs, gathered round Susan Douglass our ER Nurse turned health educator, as she and the other girls on our team taught a workshop on hand-washing and hygiene. Awkward and distant at first, as the sun climbed hand-over-fist to the top of the sky, the women in that sanctuary steadily melted into a single group of daughters, mothers, and sisters learning and laughing together.
We didn’t finish. The truth is we didn’t even get close. The simple task of hanging gutters on two sides of a building and running their downspouts to a big plastic tank seems pathetically simple and very doable by a combined force from two continents. The reality however washumbling. It is hard to do anything in Africa. Everything from poor quality steel for tools and nails, to having to construct our own ladders, to inconsistently milled lumber, to a complete absence of power tools or mechanization made for one battle after another. What we learned was a tremendous respect for the Ugandan craftsmen we were working alongside. We recognized at the end of the day that they were very patient with us and that we had probably slowed them down.
What we were successful at, was being present. We came face to face and hand in hand with those that were just an idea when EGC committed to raise money but now were our friends. We played hours of soccer on rock-strewn fields, we sat across a make-shift table and shared fresh pineapple and jack-fruit while trying to explain snow, we worked under the same hot sun and learned what it really means to work with your hands and simple tools to provide a basic resource for a community. We learned names and faces and stories.
We drove away from Matugga that day feeling disappointed that we didn’t accomplish what we had started out to do, but enlightened by what we learned along the way. It was not hard to evaluate who received more in this transaction – the people of Mattuga or Elim Gospel Church . . . it is good to serve such a generous people.