It was so many years ago, but I remember it as if it happened yesterday. The two of us, my husband Fred and I, stepped off of a plane in the Nairobi airport to begin a new life. As very young missionaries headed to Uganda, we had no idea what we would face in the days to come.
Getting to Uganda from Kenya was a long, dusty ride through the most beautiful places we had ever seen. Through bush country and savannah, through banana groves and rain forests, through tea plantations on mountainsides and the rushing waters of Bujigali Falls, we were getting acquainted with this continent. The terrain was ever-changing, and the way was marked by the majestic beauty of elephants, giraffe, cape buffalo, gazelles, flamingos and Ugandan crested cranes.
We were filled with awe and excitement. But the most moving sight of all was the people, barefoot and downtrodden, wearing rags and carrying heavy water containers. Their country had all but been destroyed by the evil dictator Idi Amin, who orchestrated the genocide of 100,000 to 500,00 Ugandans.
Churches were burned to the ground, schools pillaged and all but destroyed, roads were in shambles. Children were left orphaned in a country of widows. Their faces showed the wear of grief, their bodies the mask of mourning.
They are why we have come, sent by God to comfort a grieving people in small ways. The days ahead would find us digging water wells, distributing agricultural tools and vegetable seeds, giving out books, bibles and sewing supplies, bringing in simple medicines and vaccines.
I can never think of the Ugandan people without recalling Lamentations 5, a scripture passage that was read in a church service to describe the plight of the Ugandan people. As the reader read through her tears, the entire congregation wept, mourning so many losses. I offer the text here in its entirety:
Lamentations 5 New International Version (NIV)
Remember, Lord, what has happened to us;
look, and see our disgrace.
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
our homes to foreigners.
We have become fatherless,
our mothers are widows.
We must buy the water we drink;
our wood can be had only at a price.
Those who pursue us are at our heels;
we are weary and find no rest.
We submitted to Egypt and Assyria
to get enough bread.
Our ancestors sinned and are no more,
and we bear their punishment.
Slaves rule over us,
and there is no one to free us from their hands.
We get our bread at the risk of our lives
because of the sword in the desert.
Our skin is hot as an oven,
feverish from hunger.
Women have been violated in Zion,
and virgins in the towns of Judah.
Princes have been hung up by their hands;
elders are shown no respect.
Young men toil at the millstones;
boys stagger under loads of wood.
The elders are gone from the city gate;
the young men have stopped their music.
Joy is gone from our hearts;
our dancing has turned to mourning.
The crown has fallen from our head.
Woe to us, for we have sinned!
Because of this our hearts are faint,
because of these things our eyes grow dim
for Mount Zion, which lies desolate,
with jackals prowling over it.
You, Lord, reign forever;
your throne endures from generation to generation.
Why do you always forget us?
Why do you forsake us so long?
Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;
renew our days as of old
unless you have utterly rejected us
and are angry with us beyond measure.
Idi Amin was deposed. God did restore Uganda , and those who had lost so much found life again. Their mourning turned to dancing, dancing filled with joyful gratitude to a compassionate and faithful God. Amen.