Mothers’ Union members living with the consequences of Joseph Kony

This banner given to Mothers' Union members in the Diocese of Winchester tells the story of burnt homes and displaced people, caused by the war between LRA and the Ugandan Army

The Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Winchester (of which I’m currently a Trustee) is linked through the Mothers’ Union Wave of Prayer to members in Kitgum, an area of Northern Uganda that lived for decades under the influence of war between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan Army.

Those living in Northern Uganda are beginning to rebuild their lives, but this week Kony has been ‘trending’ in social media due to this video, and others (like BBC commentators) have been suggesting it is misplaced and won’t change things among the people affected.

In 20o4-5, during the last big peak of media awareness of the Lord’s Resistance Army, and it’s leader Joseph Kony, I spent considerable time sharing in local churches the plight of child soldiers, and those that sought to avoid that fate. The ‘night commuters’ walked miles to the ‘safety’ of towns in Northern Uganda, often to be abused by the Ugandan Army soldiers and others that they thought would protect them, or to fall foul of disease that spread in the crowded yards where they huddled together.

Mothers’ Union members in Kitgum wanted to provide a night shelter for these children, and here in Winchester Diocese we successfully raised the funds for them to do this. The shelter was built and used.

In 2006 when I visited Uganda, the situation was still too volatile to travel to Kitgum, though I did manage to speak to Mothers’ Union leaders in the region by phone. My colleague was also unable to visit in 2008 but met Mothers’ Union leaders in Kampala, and brought back this information.

The completed Mothers' Union 'night shelter' in 2006 - it is now being used as, among other things, a schoolroom!

Now that relative peace has returned to the region, when we hear sporadic news from the Diocese of Kitgum it is all about the wounds that need healing: children’s lives damaged physically and mentally, communities rebuilding trust, as well as houses, livelihoods, and churches. Amidst this I discovered last week that Mothers’ Union members in Kitgum are planning a conference around Mary Sumner Day 2012 (August 9th) which will use music, “Bible exposition and drama about family life and prayer” to strengthen their Christian faith in such difficult circumstances.

This week my teenage son saw the #Kony2012 video, and rather startled his friends by explaining that this was something he’d known about since he was seven! He thought of doing something in school to raise awareness of the issues, but was appalled to find this sort of information today about the group behind the video; he knew full well that all of the money we raised as Mothers’ Union members in 2004 went to build the Kitgum Night Shelter! Tonight I’ve pointed him at The Church Sofa’s excellent post today highlighting the work of War Child, and there’s also this good one from Dean Roberts.

If you are moved about the plight of the children of northern Uganda by the current hype surrounding #Kony2012, I would encourage you to support (prayerfully and/or financially) organisations like Mothers’ Union whose members have lived through and experienced first hand the pain of the civil war fostered by Joseph Kony which still isn’t fully resolved in Uganda or in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In this way more good will come from the possibly mis-judged campaign that is currently ‘going viral’ among those who use social media.

Later notes:
Grateful to Richard Littledale for tweeting this link which gives a survivor’s perspective from within the Acholi community


Why I’m going to Greenbelt #GB11

Today I received my first ever Festival wristband in the post!

I’ve only ever spent two nights under canvas (in a friends field), and don’t own a tent. I have spinal issues which cause me pain, especially if I stand a lot, or get cold. I’m not that keen on large crowds and like space for thinking in peace and quiet. So… why, oh why, am I going to Greenbelt?!

I am what you might call a ‘Greenbelt virgin’… though officially I’m known as a First Time Christian Leader. I was persuaded to explore the idea via various folk who have been really supportive of me during our recent vacancy; folk like Good In Parts, the Fibre Fairy and Laurence Gamlen. The offer a discount (a Reader it seems is in ‘Christian Leadership’ – which is actually an encouragement in itself) helped a lot – my ticket for the whole weekend is costing me £25! The fact that Tangerine Fields provide a pre-set tent with AIR mattress, sleeping bag, stove and kettle, also made it rather attractive to a rooky participant who will be abandoned by her family with rucksack and cooly box at the gate on Friday to fend for myself over the weekend. The plan is that I will be claimed by my lovely placement vicar from All Saints, Basingstoke, on the Monday and brought back to Hampshire; she’s been telling me for two years that I really ought to go!

But why make all the effort? Well in no particular order:

  • I want to meet some of the people I’ve made friends with on Twitter;
  • I’d like to experience some alternative forms of worship. The iMass appeals because of what I think will be mix of sacramental worship and rock music partly hosted by Blessed; I would love to experience the Jazz Church, Grace is something I heard about when I first started blogging , and to calm down after all that I guess I’ll find the folk of Taize!
  • Mothers’ Union are focusing on their efforts on the Family Life Programme in Uganda, the only MU project overseas I’ve had the privilege to visit, and our great Chief Exec, Reg Bailey is speaking – I’d like to support both;
  • If I can get my brain to work, I’d also like to hear Paula Gooder again (having heard her talk 3 years ago at a Diocesan Lent Lecture), as well as John Bell, Margaret Sentamu, and Nadia Bolz-Weber whose skin tells the story!
  • I love folk music, and have particularly wanted to hear Kate Rusby and Show of Hands (whose ‘Roots’ is my mobile ring-tone) live for several years – both are appearing at Greenbelt, along with the Unthanks!
  • Mostly I want to be part of a ‘coming together’ of all those people that call themselves ‘Christian’, aren’t so worried about the other labels we tend to attach to ourselves, and are willing to listen to each other and those of no faith at all, in an effort to make the world a better place!

What I need to work out is what, among all this and plenty more, will most feed my development as a minister, and help me preach and create worship that might help the people of a ‘Middle England’ parish to be touched by God.

If I manage to achieve even half of that, and sleep, I shall be impressed! What I’m just waiting for now is my ticket to turn up, and the programme to be published (hopefully next week) so I can start planning how it’s all going to fit together. It just leaves you to let me know if you’re going to be there too 🙂

Failing to count #myblessings is itself about Mothers’ Union

It’s been a whole week since I Counted my Blessings for Mothers’ Union Family Life Programme in Uganda. In many ways that counts as a fail, but for me it actually speaks about most of the Mothers’ Union members I know!

You see, for me the reason why the organisation excites me is because so many Mothers’ Union members are very involved in the sharp end of practical ministry among families – and thus having the time to ‘blog’ or talk about it, can actually prove really hard to achieve. That’s been true for me during the week, largely being active in ministry in the parish, sadly including preparation for the funeral of one of our faithful intercessory members, but also looking forward to the interview process for a new vicar in the next two days.

So, running through the last week of ideas for counting our blessings with regard to life in Uganda, and my own trip to the Family Life Programme in 2006, what things am I reminded of:

Wed 16th March we were asked to thank God that we know what is going on in the world, and give 5p for each newspaper and magazine in the house – not much for us as we only get two in any one week; the Church Times and the Radio Times.

When we were staying in Uganda, we were near Kampala, blessed by relatively well-to-do

Toilet at a MU-FLP 'model home' - the whole in the ground is kept covered in the ventilated shed by a stand on which leaves or paper are held safely

hosts who had TV. The news they relied on was from the BBC World Service – I don’t know if that remains available to them given the recent cuts. The other thing we noticed was how Kampala-centric their news was in their papers, and how the Premier Division of English football dominated their sports pages!

Thursday 17th March we were giving 20p for every sink and toilet… £1 in the kitty then. With it came a big reminder of one of my favourite photo’s (right) and how proud the ladies involved in the Family Life Programme were of a clean, dry, hygienic toilet!

On Friday we were giving 1p for every door handle, remembering as we did so just how much the Family Life Programme, and other Mothers’ Union projects, open doors to a better life for the people they help.

Cow being 'zero grazed' at the MU-FLP 'model home' in Luwero in 2006

Saturday 19th meant we had to count the dairy products in our fridge – about 50p’s worth at 10p a shot. A cow in Uganda is a major investment for a family. The cow I saw at the Luwero ‘model home’ was kept in a zero grazing system. Grass was grown on the banks that divided areas of cultivation, being cut and slightly wilted (to enable flies and parasites to fall out of them) before being fed to the cattle.

In the west we are very security conscious, and on Sunday we were counting our keys at 2p a go… well over a £1s worth for us if you count the keys to the cases of our musical instruments! But where is our real security? The Mothers’ Union is of course above all a Christian organisation, and it is the faith in God of all its members, and their faithfulness in prayer that give it’s work such a strong, secure foundation.

I think for tonight I’ll leave it there. Hopefully tomorrow, around my commitments in an incredibly busy parish week, I’ll catch up with more of #myblessings.

Counting #myblessings – what price a phonecall?

I try, one day a week, to have a day without turning on my computer. This week, that day was yesterday (Monday 14th) which is why no blog post about Counting my Blessings with Mothers’ Union. So now I’m trying to play catch up.

A mobile phone shop among the market traders on the outskirts of Kampala

In 2006 when we stayed on the outskirts of Kampala one of the things we were amazed by was the number of mobile phone kiosks along the main roads. It was obvious, and encouraging for the country’s economic development, that since there was no historic telephone ‘landline’ network, the mobile phone was providing a huge change in the communications possible in the country. And yet, because so much of Uganda is very rural and poverty is so high (and the north has until recently, and for so long been subject to civil war), only 14% if Ugandan’s have access to a phone. When it comes to seeking medical help, that must be quite and issue.

I don’t think in a busy week of ministry (more funerals), that I really want to count the number of phonecalls that I will make and receive, but I’ll put a significant contribution in the kitty for the MU Family Life Programme. (The MU Count your Blessings scheme suggests 10p for every call you had.) It makes me wonder how I would actually arrange a funeral, working with family members, the undertaker, the lady that does ‘orders of service’, the church office, and possibly the florist, if I didn’t have a phone!?

Things wouldn’t happen so fast without the telephone that’s for sure! So who is receiving the blessings here? Is it us who are blessed by the phone? Or is it part of the curse of the western frenetic speed of life, and should we count the Ugandan’s and other less developed countries, blessed by their slower pace of life?


Counting #myblessings – going for growth!

My son aged 9 playing with some much younger children in Uganda

38% if Ugandan’s suffer stunted growth!

I’m not sure why I’m surprised by this, but I shouldn’t be, because on reflection none of the Ugandan’s I know, or have met, are particularly tall. At 5’5″ I don’t think of myself as being particularly tall, but I’m taller, or as tall as most of my Ugandan friends. And being 5’5″ will cost me £1.30 at 2p and inch towards the Family Life Programme run by Mothers’ Union in 10 regions of Uganda.

Why is the height of Ugandan’s so important? I guess because it’s a reflection of the levels of nutrition and health care available to them, especially in the more rural regions. If a family doesn’t have enough to eat, in the form of a balanced diet, the children won’t grow as well or as fast. It’s really very simple.

This is a reminder that we have to thank God for things that quite often we’re unaware of – we don’t tend to focus greatly on our height, unless and until, like me, your teenage son is suddenly looking down on you and enjoying the sensation! But that of course has an importance of it’s own: growing to a ‘proper’ height (whatever that might be for the culture you’re in) is something that helps give you self-esteem, even if God’s more interested in what you are like inside, and in your relationships with him, and with others.

As we Count our Blessings for our own inches, and the way society accepts them, let it help us to pray for the health of children in Uganda (and many other places in the world) that a more even distribution of the worlds resources, and a more sustainable approach to community life, may help children to grow to their full potential.

Counting #myblessings – for warmth and welcome

On a day when I’ve sat, getting very cold, by a lake watching my son sail for the first time

A geko that came in out the 'cold' and took up residence above the toilet of the house we stayed in near Kampala!

this year, it is mildly amusing and appropriate (having thawed out in front of the rugby) that I find myself being asked to thank God for my radiators!

We have nine radiators in this house (if I include the heated towel rail in the shower room), so at 5p a radiator I owe 45p towards the Mothers’ Union Family Life Programme, thinking as I do of the many children who die of pneumonia in the mountainous regions of Uganda.

I didn’t have the chance to visit the mountains in Uganda when I visited in 2006. We visited at the end of July, not the warmest season in Uganda, but quite comfortably warm by the standards of a UK winter. But I wonder how we would feel, coping with the winter we’ve just had without central heating, a gas fire or whatever heating we are blessed with!?

I’m also reminded of another sort of warmth; the warmth of the welcome that every Ugandan we met gave us. When I visited the Family Life Programme (FLP) in Luwero, I couldn’t believe that people had walked miles to meet and talk with this strange lady from England who wanted to see their ‘model home’.

FLP Trainers in each participating Diocese provide examples in their ‘model homes’ of good hygiene, sanitation and cultivation techniques – the one in Luwero was near the Cathedral and was the home of one of the cathedral clergy. Ruth the FLP Trainer pictured yesterday, was his wife I think.

Family Life Programme trainers, facilitators and members of Luwero Diocese, Uganda (in 2006)

Each Trainer works to identify groups of people in communities in their region who will work together to learn these skills. Group members are selected on the basis of their understanding of and enthusiasm for the programmes aims, and not on the basis of their religion or ethnicity.

Each group of eager learners, nominates a ‘facilitator’, the person who works closely with the Trainer, learning the detailed practical techniques, and then teaching them to other learners in their group. The facilitator’s homes in turn become ‘model homes’ for their local communities.


Counting #myblessings for food security

How to sustainably grow banana's

I think I’ll be putting at least a quid in the kitty today for the Mothers’ Union Family Life Programme. I’ve must have at least 50 tins and containers of food in our cupboards – a luxury that few Ugandan’s have! And on a day when so many thousands of people have had everything swept away in the Japanese tsunami, it seems all the more poignant that we have so much food in the house, a roof over our heads and friends to cook supper for us.

The Family Life Programme has food security training as a major part of it. I suspect that this has been formalised since we were there in 2006, but even then food security, and sustainable ways of providing security of health and nutrition were core parts of the work. This forms part of the three key areas which the programme focuses on to improve the value and quality of family life:

  • Health and Hygiene
  • Poverty Alleviation
  • Environmental Management

Much of food security in the developing world is about the two-way relationship between plant cultivation techniques and the management of livestock. When I met Ruth, the FLP trainer in Luwero she explained the details of banana cultivation and composting. As pictured above the earth must be mounded round the plant to give it stability, and a maximum of 3 trunks allowed per plant, otherwise the size of the banana crop in each stem is much reduced.

And the goats have their part to play too. As well as being a source of meat (cross-bread so as to provide a good size carcass, milk and twin kids as often as possible), they are a source of fertilizer for the banana’s with composting of what might be termed “misdirected waste” carefully done under sheets of metal so that when the sudden heavy rain squalls come, all the goodness isn’t washed away!

And so, as we watch so many lives and livelihoods washed away in Japan, and remember those seeking food security in rural Uganda, perhaps we will be inspired to thank God and Count our Blessings that we have so much in little tins in the cupboards of our modern homes.

There is a prayer for all those affected by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami here on the Church of England website.

Counting #myblessings of comfort – pillows and cushions

Late in evening and my first chance to sit at the computer. Today, the busy life of a lay minister and Mothers’ Union member has included an MU Trustees meeting, and juggling the needs of several grieving families in the local community as I help them prepare for funerals in the coming couple of weeks.

But it’s never too late to Count Your Blessings! When funerals are uppermost in my mind, I think of the comfort that Jesus brought through being there with people in their need and distress, the peace he brought with healing to people’s lives, the words and prayers to his Father in heaven that changed people’s lives. If I can bring a tiny measure of Jesus’ comfort to people’s lives, even if (as tonight) it helps people to cry as they mourn a loved one, then I feel that my ministry is doing something useful in Jesus’ name.

Our son (then 9) on his comfortable bed near Kampala!

And yet in today’s world, “comfort” is a word that has almost lost it’s meaning and value. Comfort today seems more related to our physical state than our peace of mind; more about the cushions on our sofa, the pillows and duvets on our beds, than anything else.

When I visited the Family Life Programme in Uganda (for which the Mothers’ Union ‘Count Your Blessings’ is raising funds) I wasn’t taken into a bedroom, but I was proudly given a cooked meal of goat, sat on a cushion in the corner of the house. I suspect I had the only cushion, being the honoured guest from England! In the home we stayed in near Kampala where our hosts were quite well off, we were very comfortable – we each had a pillow, a sheet and a mosquito net!

But it was the faith of all those Christian’s so wonderfully working in the name of their Lord to better the lives of those in their communities through Mothers’ Union projects, that was the biggest comfort of all.

Here at home I have loads of pillows and cushions, some with covers I’ve tapestried or knitted, others on which to simply lay my head at night. At 10p a pillow or cushion I think I’ll be putting a couple of pounds in the kitty tonight!

Counting #myblessings with Mothers’ Union – taps!

Back in 2006, being in receipt of a small amount of money after the death of a grandparent, we spent 3 weeks in Africa (the only foreign ‘holiday’ in 19 years of marriage). We took with us our 9 year old son. For the first we stayed with a Mothers’ Union leader near Kampala in Uganda before travelling on to stay with friends and visit other Mothers’ Union leaders in South Africa.

So why am I telling you this now? Because that trip was probably one of the biggest blessings we have received as a family. Because I’ve been meaning to blog about it for the whole two years I’ve been blogging. And, because now I’ve a great excuse!

Today is Ash Wednesday and many people now mark Lent by “counting their blessings” in support of a major Christian charity. Mothers’ Union are one such charity, and their ‘Count Your Blessings’ leaflet was featured as the centre spread of the latest issue of ‘Families First’ and is also downloadable here. This year the MU are taking as their inspiration for Count Your Blessings their Family Life Programme which runs in 10 regions of Uganda, and towards which our financial gifts giving thanks for our blessings will go.

The Family Life Programme (FLP) was the major project that I visited with my host when I was in Uganda in 2006, so this Lent I can tell you all about it! (I am however doubting if I have enough photo’s and can blog about it for every day in Lent, but we’ll see!!)

29% of Ugandan’s don’t have a supply of clean water, and today we are asked to give 5p for every tap in our house – if I count the hot and cold running water in our outside taps that’s 40p in the kitty from us today!

Pictured is a “tap”at the ‘model home’ run as part of the MU-FLP in Luwero, on the Gulu Road north of Kampala. It works by use of the foot pedal at the bottom, which tips up the gerry can without you needing to touch it. The soap is carefully attached on it’s own ledge. The stones underneath (collected from cultivated areas of the ‘model home’) mean that water drains away without being trampled into mud, and thus reducing the ‘taps’ attraction to flies and thus the spread of disease.

So, when you follow the #myblessings tag on Twitter to start counting your lenten blessing with Mothers’ Union, and as you turn a tap on today, remember how much thought and work goes into making a tap, for safe and hygienic drinking water in Uganda.