“We’re going to be a little late getting there,” Richard said as we climbed into his car and left the hotel. It was Sunday morning, and we were on our way to 8:00 Mass at the Angal Parish church in the West Nile region of Uganda.
I hate arriving late anywhere, especially places like church. It popped into my head briefly that perhaps we could sneak in quietly and sit, unnoticed, in a back pew, although I knew that wasn’t very likely. For one thing, I’d probably be the only white person there, and that tends to draw attention. For another, they were expecting us, and would probably be waiting for us to arrive.
I was wrong on the first count. The pastor, who officiated at the Mass, was originally from Italy, so I was actually one of two white people in the church. I was correct on the second count, but to a degree I never could have imagined.
When we arrived, about ten minutes after 8:00, it seemed that the whole town was assembled in front of the church, even though it had been raining earlier and the area was very muddy. As we got out of the car, we were greeted with cheers and hugs and applause. Several people were drumming or blowing on horns. Everyone was singing and clapping as we processed up to the church. A few people were holding up handwritten signs of greeting and appreciation for our being there, with messages such as: “Welcome to Angal Parish, a place of love, care, peace, and joy. Land of friendly people;” and “May God bless you.” My favorite was one that said: “You are home. We love you all. We wish you a happy stay.”
That’s actually how I’ve felt every time I’ve returned to Uganda. Like I am home. I am loved. And I am happy.
After Mass, we met with the pastor and other leaders of the church, school, and community, listening to their needs, their concerns, and their dreams for the future. Among their needs were things like fencing, to keep stray animals out of the schoolyard, and desks, to accommodate growing numbers of students. Among their concerns was the fact that many girls dropped out of school early because they were needed at home or because they were given away in marriage at a very young age – to settle family debts or because parents couldn’t afford to feed or take care of all their children. Among their dreams were the same hopes for the future that any of us have for ourselves and our children.
Among our dreams are to provide some of the resources and skills to make theirs come true. I’m not sure how or to what extent we’ll be able to do that, but I know we’re going to do our best. And I know that’s something new I’ll be praying for – especially when I get to church on time.
January 25, 2019
©Betty Liedtke, 2019
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