‘Faith connects us with brothers and sisters worldwide’
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/05/faith-connects-us-with-brothers-and-sisters-worldwide/
By Patty Huston-Holm
Waterfalls, forests, savannahs, gorillas, chimpanzees, lions and giraffes make Uganda amazing. Yet, as cliché as it sounds, for Jack and Linda Klenk, the best thing about the country known as the “pearl of Africa” is the people – the relationships they have there.
Jack first went to Uganda over fifty years ago for three years, studying and teaching as part of an Anglo-American teaching organization, Teachers for East Africa.
For Linda, her first of many trips to Uganda was in 1998, when she and Jack led a short-term mission team to Uganda. Some of the young children they met then have how grown up and are married with children. From the beginning, “I was all in,” Linda said. “The people were so friendly.”
Something that is very special for Jack and Linda is how Christianity connects people across cultural lines. When he lived in Uganda in the 1960s, Jack noticed a sense of bonding with Ugandans who were Christians. Over the years, he and Linda have experienced that again and again. When sharing a faith in Christ, “you’re family…regardless of the language you speak or the pigmentation of your skin,” Jack said.
Indeed, Linda added, “Ugandans have opened my eyes to see how faith connects us with brothers and sisters worldwide.”
Jack, a member of the Uganda Christian University (UCU) Partners Board, built new Uganda relationships with Linda after their marriage in 1997, while his long-established ones became hers as well. They were in a church that had a relationship with the Diocese of Kigezi in western Uganda, and later with UCU. The church sent short-term mission teams to Uganda and other countries, sponsored Compassion International children, supported missionaries at UCU, helped start a hospital in Kigezi, and sent containers with supplies for UCU and other ministries in Uganda.
For most of their marriage, the couple lived near Washington, D.C., where Jack worked for the US Department of Education. There, they gladly opened their home to Ugandans, including a number from UCU and the government, who were visiting the nation’s capital. The Klenks would show them Washington. So many Ugandans visited their home that it became known as “Uganda house.”
Under their roof emerged the “American Hamburger University” – so designated because Ugandans gathered in their kitchen to learn the trade of making traditional American hamburgers. Still today, Ugandan “graduates” of the fictitious AHU hold dear their certificates declaring their “hunger for learning” and “excellent taste and high achievement.” In 2019, when the Klenks were in Uganda, one graduate organized a dinner with certificate holders at a Kampala hotel.
“Our visitors from Uganda are so fun,” Linda said. “They ask me questions that make me think. Like, ‘why do Americans put stickers on fruit they buy at the grocery store’?’”
One of the first Ugandans Linda met was the Rev. Canon Jovahn Turyamureeba, when he was a student at Virginia Theological Seminary in 1997. He made arrangements for the team they led to the Diocese of Kigezi in 1998, where they became involved with Bishop George Katwesigye and other Ugandans who are friends to this day. Another was Julius Mucunguzi, now communications director for the Ugandan Prime Minister, who did a recent video call with them on Facebook Messenger. He continues to applaud the Klenks for their hospitality when he arrived for the first time in the United States with no luggage and few funds in 2000. In addition to a photo of the Klenks, Julius’ 2014 book, entitled “Once Upon A Time…” describes Jack and Linda as “a couple whose love for Uganda is unmatched.”
The stories are many. Seminarians. Bishops. Students. Faculty. The UCU Vice Chancellor and his wife. A wedding reception. Celebrations of Uganda Martyrs Day and Uganda Independence Day.
Sheltered in their home in the midst of COVID-19, the Klenks take precautions. On the occasions when they go out, as to visit their daughter and her family nearby, they wear masks and gloves, and social distance. But they see the difficulties they face as “just an inconvenience” compared with what others in Uganda and the US are facing. Linda said. “Others are really suffering, while we are comfortable, with food, running water, and electricity. . .”
Jack and Linda know that Ugandans are hurting because of the coronavirus, but also know that they don’t easily talk about their hardships. Thus, it is hard to know exactly how they are faring. Ugandans they have come to know are “so polite, they don’t complain, they see the glass half full, not half empty.”
Out loud, Jack wonders: “How can Ugandans survive this crisis? With 8-to-10 people living together in one room, how can they social distance? If they can’t travel or go to work, how can they afford to buy food? How can they pay school fees and university tuition?”
Many of the Klenks’ Ugandan friends are connected to Uganda Christian University. They have come to know and respect UCU for the way it combines academics with character building and spiritual formation, setting it apart from other universities.
Jack and Linda admire UCU for its determination to be a thoroughly Christian university and not to lose its Christian identity the way many colleges in the US that were once Christian have done. It provides “a complete education for a complete person” for its students, whether they are in traditional disciplines like science, law, journalism and business, or in the Bishop Tucker seminary that prepares clergy from all over Uganda and East Africa, and even from the U.S. They like how UCU is a leading institution for Christian orthodoxy in the “global south” and the whole world.
Jack has served on the UCU Partners board since 2010, and greatly enjoys his visits to UCU and the relationships he has there. In recent years, a special focus for him has been UCU’s Africa Policy Centre, the first Christian policy think tank in Uganda.
As Jack reflects on his Christian walk, he asserts: “God calls us to is to follow him and serve him in the community of the Church. Sometimes God directs us to specific things, but mostly we are to look for opportunities to live out our call to follow and serve him. I am grateful for how this has led to involvement in Uganda starting over fifty years ago. I am especially grateful for the blessings Linda and I have received through our engagement with UCU. We pray that UCU will survive the current coronavirus lockdown and always be a bright beacon of light for Uganda, Africa, and the world.”
Jack and Linda hope to travel to Uganda in October 2020 for the graduation and the annual Public Lecture, this year with the noted cultural critic, Mary Eberstadt. They hope the current shutdown will end and that those events will take place. Graduation in the past two years was extra special for them because students they helped along the way wore caps and gowns.
Jack sees Ugandan Christians as strong even during this coronavirus crisis because of their faith in Christ. They hurt, but they “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (I Thess. 4:13). He and Linda are challenged by how Ugandan Christians endure incredible difficulties and still smile and have inner joy.
“No matter how bad it gets, Ugandan Christians have hope,” Jack said. “It is by the grace of God.”
For Jack and Linda, this they know: They have been blessed beyond measure by Uganda and Ugandans, and they have received much more than they have given.
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 email@example.com.
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