Thursday, March 14, 2013

Why a principal at a theological college?

I've been asking myself how (or why?) God brought me to Gulu in northern Uganda to be a principal of a theological college. Many who come as missionaries to Uganda come specifically to work with the orphans. Even though my first inkling of what I would "do" when I first came to Uganda in 2003 was to head up a babies' home, that has never happened. I have been involved with a program called HELP them (Hear, Educate, Love, Prepare) - which works with vulnerable children in primary schools to develop their English skills while experiencing the love of Jesus from their "aunties" who meet with them each Saturday. It still continues in Fort Portal under the able leadership of Mrs. Briton Kyalimpa. As part of the ESFA team (Evangelization Strategy for Africa), I helped establish a school in a small village called Kabasindagizi. The first children are preparing to sit for the national primary leaving examination this year. Something I have observed in my nearly 10 years is that while helping the orphans and vulnerable children is necessary, there are ways that help and ways that aren't as helpful. 

Now, I am leading an institution which is charged with training men and women who believe God has called them to be His servants to the people in their local villages. In Uganda the village is the center of most people's socio-economic life. These men and women, who are the local pastors, are seen as leaders of their community, charged not only with spiritual care, but also called to lead the way in developing the families' ability to increase their earnings. In addition to theological subjects like Old and New Testament, how to preach, counseling, and understanding African Traditional Religion, the students are also taught about development. So though my ministry is not directly impacting the lives of the vulnerable children, by providing training that the pastors can teach their flock, children will be  assisted as the economic status of their family improves.

I am praying about the possibility at some point in the future to again find a group of Ugandans who want to start a school in a remote area of northern Uganda. However, at the moment, I'm fully occupied with the task of leading Archbishop Janani Luwum Theological College it its mission to train 'faithful servants'.

Blessings on your day.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Life after knee surgery - much more movement including walking and rocking. One of the exercises from the physical therapist involves stepping out with one foot then rocking back on the foot behind then rocking forward 5 times then shifting the rear foot forward and repeating. It reminds me of the hesitation walk that brides love to use for their processional and recessional marches - a long time to get anywhere!

I continue to bless God for His healing and provision. Each time I remember laying in the theatre watching the surgery on the screen I just thank God for the wisdom and skill He has shared with our human doctors.

It has also been a humbling experience - being cared for by so many people. I am reminded of how much I still like to depend on myself. And God reminds me that He created us for Himself and for each other. To Him be the glory.

Blessings on your day.

Friday, October 12, 2012

On my knees

Wanted to share a little of my experience with arthroscopic surgery in Uganda. Dr. Shirazi is the only one in Kampala who does the keyhole surgery. He is also the one who put me back on my feet when my knee gave out about 8 years ago. At the time, he told me I would probably be back in 6 months, but the treatment was very effective and it took 8 years before I had to return.

Last Saturday I heard "pop" as I stepped down from the house. I was unable to put any weight on my left foot, so I crawled up the stairs, stood and hopped painfully back to my room. I was taken to the local clinic in Hoima where they took an x-ray and determined nothing was broken. They wrapped the knee, gave me antibiotics, calcium and ibuprofen for pain. Since that treatment didn't give me much confidence, I decided a trip to Kampala to see Dr. Shirazi was needed.

Rev. Godfrey Buro drove me to Kampala on Sunday (about a 4 hour drive) and then to the doctor's office on Monday morning at 8 a.m. He arrived about 10:30 a.m. The doctor's examination revealed torn meniscus and his immediate response for treatment: surgery. He would have scheduled me for Tuesday, but it was a public holiday in Uganda, and the fees would have doubled, so it was scheduled for Wednesday.

The office provided a proforma invoice of over 4 million shillings which needed to be paid before I would be discharged. Thanks to many generous friends and family, we have raised over 1/2 of the needed funds. So I left the office and began communicating the situation.

As it was not possible to have the money by Wednesday, Bishop Nathan and Rev. Godfrey helped identify some people here who were willing to loan me the money on a short term basis. So I went to surgery knowing that I would be able to leave without a balance at the doctor.

Through all of this, God has been so gracious. His peace has been like a warm blanket covering me. The prayers of His people are powerful.

Now to the experience of surgery in Uganda -
Check in at 10 for tests. Then rest for several hours. About 2:30 the anesthesiologist came to determine if I was fit for surgery and to explain the types of anesthesia. We went with an epidural. His name was Dr. Joseph Ayebale. I was told to put on the dreaded patient gown and wrap myself with a sheet and be ready for the surgeon any time after 3.

The anesthesiologist came to take me to the surgical theatre at 3:50. The doctor came shortly after 4 and the actual procedure began about 4:30. An epidural is truly an out-of-body experience. It was amazing to watch the procedure on the monitor while Dr. Shirazi explained what he was doing and what he was finding.

When it was over, the anesthesiologist leaned over and said, "The service is over, go and serve the Lord!" He then told me that they were bringing my land rover to take me back to the room. I laughed and said he needed to bring a Hummer. He kept me laughing all the way back to the room about 5:30 p.m.

The paralysis lasted until about 8 p.m. then the new sensations took over - itching and pain. They gave me a shot of petadine (demarol) which definitely sent me off to sleep - at least until 3 a.m. when I received a shot of diclofenac.

Before the night nurse left, she informed me that I would need crutches. The day nurse refuted that and when the doctor finally came about 10:30 he sent me out with nothing but said I should come back on Saturday. So I walked/limped to the vehicle. Hallelujah!!!

Simon came by and asked how the happy muwadde was doing. I asked what that meant and he said that muwadde means patient and that the first time he set eyes on me I was coming from the theatre laughing. Dr Joseph told me I was a patient patient unlike some impatient patients!

I'm impatiently waiting in Kampala for my Saturday review to learn how soon I can return to Hoima.

Thank you for all your prayers and support. I'm hoping that the healing is complete I will again be able to be "on my knees."

Blessings upon your day.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Alone but not forgotten

This week an old woman died - no earthly family remained. But the family who will join her in heaven came together to celebrate her life, remembering a woman who would quietly come and ask what she could do to help. Though she had no income, she would find ways to take a small bunch of bananas to a neighbor's home and give them to a specific child in that home. Her last days were spent with people she didn't know, who cared for her every need. And over 200 people attended the funeral service and accompanied the body to the burial site, even though it rained.

More than 800 people were given an opportunity to assist this woman as she was moved to a more comfortable situation prior to her death. At each of the 3 services at the Cathedral, an announcement was made asking for those who could help to come by the vestry. Only one equally old woman with no income came to the vestry and offered 2,000 shillings (this is less than $1) and promised to bring more when she got some. I've been pondering on why it is so easy to pass up the opportunity to follow God's command to care for the orphans and the widows. Living in Uganda gives me many opportunities and sometimes it becomes overwhelming, until I remember that I cannot meet every need - only God can do that. Pray for wisdom and discernment that I would do what little I can with the abundance God has given.

Blessings upon your day.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Return to the Blog

Welcome and thank you to those who continued to check this site for updates while I was "lost". It has been quite a year since I last posted. From January until April I was busily writing papers to complete the coursework for my Masters degree in divinity at Uganda Christian University. The month of May and even some of June was spent finalizing my research project so that I could graduate on 6th July! This picture shows the international students' fellowship of Bishop Tucker School of Divinity who hosted a celebration for our graduation (Paul Kumbo (S. Sudan) and me). And miracle of miracles: my Mom came to visit along with Jeff and Rose Kirby. See her behind me!

Bishop Nathan beating
the drums at St. Peter's Cathedral.
Mid July found me moving from Kampala to Hoima where I am now the Personal Assistant to Bishop Nathan Kyamanywa of Bunyoro Kitara Diocese of the Church of Uganda (Anglican). My responsibilities include international relations and communications among other interesting tasks. Today I accompanied him on a pastoral visit to a very old, very sick man who is the father of a reverend from the diocese currently living in the U.K.

Old man has high blood pressure,
malaria and chest congestion. He is in his 80s
Old man's wife with Bishop Nathan

My living situation is very fluid. Right now I am staying in the home of the vicar of St. Peter's Cathedral with his wife and family. I am considering several options, but for now it is comfortable to be here. Although having no indoor plumbing at times can be a little challenging. 

Rev. Canon Godfrey Buro (Vicar), wife Janet,
and friend John Kiberu
Recently, the retiring Archbishop of the Church of Uganda came to say farewell to the people of Bunyoro Kitara Diocese. It was quite a joyful celebration.

Part of my responsibilities as personal assistant is to accompany the Bishop as he travels to different parishes around the diocese to conduct confirmation services. For those not familiar with vestments in the Anglican tradition, I am wearing an alb. Some Christians gave me this basket as a thank you gift for visiting their parish.

My life continues to be an adventure in following Jesus Christ. I have recently received a 3 year extension on my work permit visa here in Uganda and I am expectant that many opportunities to serve him will unfold in the days ahead.

Thank you for your support and love.

May you be aware of the blessings around you this day.

Sandra Abwooli

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Phone and Internet but not Communication

At times I wonder at the ways technology affects our lives. We have the ability to communicate nearly instantaneously, yet little is truly communicated. Living in Uganda where mobile phones and internet were practically dropped into the middle of their lives, I have noticed that people do not often use these tools to communicate changes in plans. Yesterday I accompanied Rev. Jacob to a home prayer fellowship. When we arrived the house was closed tight, but a young woman finally came from the back to tell us that the homeowner was sick and had gone to the clinic. Therefore the fellowship was cancelled! But no one had notified the church office of this and so we arrived to learn of this in person. This also happened last week when I accompanied the lay reader to another home and found no one there. When someone is late, they just come late. There is no need to notify people of that change. As you might imagine, this has been one of my struggles with life in Uganda. But in their worldview, the concept of time is so different. They are more concerned with what is happening with them in the present time knowing that they will eventually get to the next event - even if it's hours late. They know it's time for dinner when dinner is ready! And what is more amazing to me is that there is rarely any sense of stress over the delay - something I could learn much more about.

At the same time, in a culture where 10 years ago few people had phones, and where phones are now not just in each home, but in the hands of every man, woman and teenager, personal conversations and even meetings are stopped when the phone rings. I have been in shops making a purchase and had to wait while the shopkeeper received a phone call from home. People leading meetings take phone calls in the middle of their speech. And ... if you don't take a call, people are annoyed!

Thank God for technology, but may we learn to use it respectfully.

Blessings on your day.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Weddings and Baptisms

St Peter's Cathedral - Hoima
My time of internship at St. Peter's Cathedral has been very exciting. The Dean and vicar have involved me in a number of activities - including wedding services and baptisms. What is really amazing, is that I am reading my parts in Runyoro! I've also read the scripture lessons in English and Runyoro at the Sunday services. People are amazed at how well I read their language - it seems most of them cannot read the language they speak as it is not taught in school.

There are also home services three times a week, and I've participated in those as well. Yesterday, I accompanied the Dean of the Cathedral, Very Rev. Canon Martin Nangera to a service at the home of a former Head of Laity. A day in the life of a parish priest can be quite hectic.

The days leading to Christmas here are fairly quiet. We are observing Advent in the church - thankful for the opportunity to rejoice in Christ's first coming and to continue in the hope of His second coming.

A sad update to an earlier posting - I learned that the thief who had been rescued from the mob by the police returned to the next village the next morning and was killed. Mob justice is unfortunately an acceptable way of some people here when dealing with the perceived lack of justice in the land - even for those who call themselves Christian. Pray for the light of Christ to shine in these dark places.

Blessings on your day.