‘COVID is bringing me a new way to minister’
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/05/covid-is-bringing-me-a-new-way-to-minister/
By Mary Chowenhill
On a typical, sunny Ugandan day and in front of what most call the Thelma building but is soon to become the Uganda Christian University (UCU) business incubator on the Mukono campus, seven students and I got the news. They were telling me about their incubators – also known as business startups – related to piggeries, organic fertilizer, crocheted baby clothing and more. As their economics and entrepreneurship lecturer, I offered advice.
Then, we got the news of the lockdown, and everything changed.
I think that day was March 30. But like most people living in the COVID-19 pandemic around the world, the exact date then and even the day of the week now escape me. I knew the coronavirus was spreading, including in my state of Florida in the USA. Yet, I didn’t see it coming to Uganda or my small apartment where I have lived on the UCU campus for the past four years.
Within days, I watched thousands of university students, including mine, as well as half of the Americans living and working at UCU, pack up and leave. Having recently sold my house in Florida and suffering from asthma, I felt it healthier for me to stay out of airplanes and remain here.
UCU offices are less than half full as Ugandan employees were ordered home and into isolation.
To the best of my knowledge while writing this on April 30, 2020, the deadly virus still isn’t here on the mile-long campus and in our houses, in my garden or on my patio. In fact, as I write, only 89 cases have been identified out of 39,000 tests administered in this country. It’s hardly in Uganda at all.
But the threat and precautionary measures are. And in Uganda, there are penalties for disobedience of such government regulations on social distancing, curfews, and taking public transportation. In addition to consequences of no income for people unable to go to work, there are government fines and imprisonment for disobedience.
In preparation for the inability to leave the campus, I immediately purchased 1.5 million shillings ($395 American) of food – something that the average Ugandan is not able to do. I divided beans, rice, posha, and sugar into various portions. My friend and gardener, Paul Mukhana, delivered these to many in greater need than me – a family with new twin babies, an elderly woman walking with a cane, among others.
When this ran out – and it did – I sent Paul to the market to get more. He went to buy more posha. Under Ugandan COVID guidelines, Paul was permitted to use his boda-boda (motorcycle) to pick up food. But due to some misunderstanding and while he was inside the market, the local police confiscated his transportation. Like many others who had their vehicles taken, he was required to pay 700,000 schillings ($184) to get it back legally or 200,000 shillings ($52) under the table.
It took two weeks, including prayer and a lesson about what Jesus thinks regarding bribery, to get Paul’s boda back.
The Christian love and human kindness of Ugandans, woven with the acceptance of a country fraught with bribes, is ever present in the COVID environment.
What has changed most is that my frenetic schedule of teaching economics and entrepreneurship and children’s Sunday school has ceased. It has been replaced with solitude and church on my patio and from the computer with six children and eight adults. After our most recent “service,” we moved and sat six feet apart under a tree, discussing the meaning of loving each other as depicted in 1 John 4:7-12.
A neighbor named Ebenezer, age two and a half, wraps his arms around my knees. He doesn’t understand why he can’t cuddle on my lap.
While the campus is quiet, there are places we can’t walk because a few international students still living here violated the distancing rule.
Depression from change and isolation contributes to the lack of motivation to accomplish tasks I was never quite able to get around to but could now. Yet, COVID is bringing me to a new way to minister.
I have always had people who are not students as part of my Ugandan family. But recently with students sent home, I am seeing more and more staff coming to my door. Some want to harvest greens from my garden. Some want a prayer. Most need a listener. Many need money for children’s school fees when that education returns.
It is an opportune time to teach people to fish. Not a hand out but a hand up. It’s what I’m trained to do.
One worker cleans out bat feces – 7 sacks full – from between the ceiling and roof of three apartments, including mine. I hire a man to fix my patio. Grateful for the work, he writes “Hebrews 13” in one section and ”Praise God, Jesus Lives” on the cement in another.
God is allowing my brain to be relaxed while I see deeper how people are hurting. Yesterday, I read Job 19. I know my redeemer lives. Is this easy? No. But it’s necessary. He will see us through.
Mary Chowenhill, a teacher in South Sudan until the war caused her evacuation, is a sponsored educator and missionary with the Society of Anglican of Missionaries and Senders (SAMS) and sponsors a student through UCU Partners. She hails from Jacksonville, Florida.
To support Uganda Christian University programs, students, activities and services, go to www.ugandapartners.org and click on the “donate” button, or contact UCU Partners Executive Director, Mark Bartels, at firstname.lastname@example.org.