Tuesday, December 31, 2013


The humble one’s stories are too easily forgotten.    This morning as I checked my Facebook I had 40 friends whose birthday is January First.     On an average day I should have 8 or 9 friends to wish "Happy Birthday."   (3,200 Facebook friends divided by 365 days in a year equals 8.77 friend’s birthdays per day.)    Today, there is a 456% increase in birthday averages.   What is up?

A couple of my Bazungu (white, or those who wander in circles) friends truly know that January 1 is their birthday.    A couple of my friends from Africa who were fortunate to have their mother deliver in a hospital during a day of relative peace truly know that January 1 is their birthday.

Yet, for the majority of my 40 Facebook friends today they were born during a season of absolute chaos.    They were born in places like remote villages, refugee camps, and urban slums.   Their mom was one of the world’s poorest of poor.    She was likely on the run.  Their mom was thankful to have lived through delivery, and today is exceptionally thankful the child born on that day is alive.

These friends of mine share a common past with my boss, Jesus of Nazareth.   He too was born in poverty (Luke 2:1-21).     Stables and mangers in church nativity scenes frequently miss this point.    If you can’t smell the manure your church has understated the chaos of Jesus’ birth.    Jesus was born in forced circumstance as his nation, Judah was under Roman occupation.    His parents were forced to travel near the end of his mom's pregnancy just to register for a census and pay tax.    Forcing a pregnant woman to travel is the height of oppressive government policy.    

These friends of mine likely share another common past with my boss, Jesus of Nazareth.   His family was forced to flee for their safety as refugees (Matthew 2:13-18.)    An evil despot intended to kill all rivals, and that included infant boys in a remote village.     Despots do the same things today.

Where is God in such circumstances?

Paul in describing the riches of knowing Christ tells an unfathomable truth (Ephesians 1.)    Before creation God in His infinite knowledge knew His creation would rebel.     God’s holiness could not dwell with rebellion.    Our rebellion would cause eternal separation from the God of infinite love.     The consequence was as horrific as an infant child abandoned and left to die in a field (Ezekiel 16:4-6.)    God chose to rescue us by sacrificing the life of His own Son.    In the process He took us rebels, and adopted us into His family.    Can you imagine?    He knew every sin we would commit.   He knew the horrific costs.   Yet, He chose to create what He would redeem though sacrifice.    Amazing.  Jesus is Emmanuel, God near and with us.

In the chaos that humanity lives God watches every movement of life.   In God’s eyes there are no forgotten birthdays.  His word states,

“Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast (Psalm 22:9.)”

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13.)”

“This is what the LORD says— he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: Do not be afraid… whom I have chosen (Isaiah 44:2.)”

“This is what the LORD says— your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the LORD, the Maker of all things, who stretches out the heavens, who spreads out the earth by myself… (Isaiah 44:24.)”

“Before I was born the LORD called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. (Isaiah 49:1.)”

“And now the LORD says— he who formed me in the womb to be his servant (Isaiah 49:4.)”

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; (Jeremiah 1:5.)”
In eternity, God will redeem each one of these chaotic births.   In God’s eyes there are no forgotten birthdays.   Yet, we do live in the here and now.   Is there hope in this life for God to bring good out of chaos?

Absolutely.    God is sovereign.   He is good.    He is full of love.  His ways are mysterious.   Yet, His ways are just.    History is full of stories of God bringing good from chaos.

One of the privileges God gave me during my season in Rwanda was to be a facilitator in the Presidential Scholars program.   Facilitator sounds important.   All I did was pragmatically pastor.  I made friends.    I helped friends communicate to one another.    Sometimes it was rather mundane.   One of the mundane moments was filling out visa applications.    The applications required filling out a date of birth.    Many times we wrote in the application January 1, _______.

Most of those bright young Banyarwanda who wrote January 1, ______ were not born on January 1, ______.    Instead they were born during absolute chaos.     All their family can remember is a year filled with turmoil.    In some ways, God has helped them forgive the sources of the chaos, and in the process forget a few details that would even include the month of the birth.   

Rwanda Presidential Scholars at Hendrix College
Yet, something wonderful happened in the years following the traumatic birth.    Enough peace came that a family could survive.    They could put down a root somewhere.    The kids could go to school.    Many times the schools were barely functioning.    Yet, somehow learning happened.    The brightest students found a place of marginal stability and success.    They kept at it for years.    Then they sat their final secondary exam.   They scored near the top of all the students in the nation.     Then they received an opportunity to interview with the different universities offering scholarships.    For some of these bright Banyarwanda, this was the first time they had even been in the capital of Kigali.   If there was no God they would have had no chance.    Yet, there is a God.  He is good.   He enjoys showing His grace upon the most humble.   These kids whose families don’t remember their birthday were offered scholarships to attend prestigious universities in the United States.   God is good.

So today I ask that if you definitely know the day of your birth thank God.    Much of the world does not have that luxury.   If you’re one of those who wrote January 1, _____, but really don’t know; also thank God.   If you meet someone with a January 1, ____ birthday, listen to their story.   Thank God.   He is good.  There are no forgotten birthdays.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

BIRTHDAY PRAYER FOR PEACE IN SOUTH SUDAN - Adopted from Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

Sharing dinner with South Sudanese
The Lord was kind to give our family an extended season in Africa.    Through most of that season Sudan was at war.   Occasionally, South Sudanese would visit our Ugandan church, the Kampala Church of Christ.    Our organization, New Testament Churches of Christ had work in the Kiryandongo Sudanese refugee camp near Hoima.   I had Sudanese students in my classes at Kampala Evangelical School of Theology.

While we were in Rwanda South Sudan became independent.  The war seemed to be over.    Many of us had great hopes for South Sudan.    My business minded friends from Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda were investing.

As we've moved to the USA with a dream to serve the Diaspora I have heard over and over again from Kenyan, Rwanda, Tanzanian, and Ugandan friends, "We must reach to the South Sudanese.   We can not leave them alone."

A few weeks ago shocking news began coming from South Sudan.   Some worry that a civil war is possible.
Tonight we had a few South Sudanese in our home for dinner.   On my birthday, tomorrow I will preach from Psalm 147, an Exilic Psalm in a South Sudanese church.   Yet, our Sudanese brothers stopped this evening to bless our family's home.   It was humbling.  (ABA = Africa Blesses Again.)
Each year I ask for my friends and family to join in a prayer for a specific matter on my birthday.   On my 47th birthday I request you join in praying the Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi for South Sudan.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Monday, October 21, 2013


Have you heard the latest news? A Mbale trader, Samson Wesonga was ambushed by 6 thugs on the Jinja – Kampala Road on Tuesday, April 1. The ambush took place at mid-day with in the Mabira forest. According to Wesonga, the thugs had placed a tree across the road, and when he slowed down to stop, they way laid him at gunpoint. Then they beat him severely, stripped him naked, and left him for dead.

The thugs took Wesonga’s Nissan pickup UAB 272M, 10 boxes of Blue Band, 5 boxes of Kimbo shortening, 300 kilos of posho, and 2.6 million Uganda shillings.

Wesonga came in and out of consciousness several times until his rescue, and reported several travelers who stopped to observe his condition.

The first was Jim Bob Allister, missionary for the Evangelical Missions Alliance. Allister was driving a Toyota Hi-Lux pick-up.

“I thought I was saved,” reported Wesonga. “Everyone knows Bazungu have lots of money, and are such kind people. The Muzungu greeted me with ‘Jambo, rafiki. Habari?’ When I tried to explain my condition in Kiswahili he called his translator. Then I heard him say ‘Time is money. I have an important meeting with our mission board, and can not be late.’ Then he drove off.

The next to stop was Apostle Bernard Okidi with the Divine Church of Deliverance and Healing. Okidi was traveling in a Toyota Hi-Ace with a group of Christians going to attend a crusade.

Wesonga reports, “Again, I thought I was saved. Surely, a group of Balokole would help me. They are the chosen people of God.”

Again Wesonga was disappointed. Okidi reportedly called for God to heal Wesonga. When there was apparently no response from God Okidi remarked, “Brother, you do not have enough faith to be healed. I must wipe the dust off of my feet from you, and move on to our crusade where people do have the faith to be healed.”

The next time Wesonga awoke there was a leader from one of Uganda’s traditional churches.

“I was too delirious to get this man’s details,” reported Wesonga. “All I can remember is robes and religious babble. As he drove off in his Pajero I heard him say, ‘We don’t know who this man is. He could be a rebel or escaped prisoner. We can not jeopardize our good standing by getting involved with this type of man.’”

Finally, Somali transporter, Abdu Mohamed, rescued Wesonga. Mohamed was driving a Shell
Petrol lorry, UAB 573N.

“I didn’t know what to expect when the Somali pulled over to the side of the road,” reported Wesonga. “I was too weak and tired to be scared. I thought maybe he was an angel coming to take me to heaven.”

Mohamed quickly had his turn boy, Nyusef Abdullah, begin cutting branches to alert other travelers of the accident. As Abdullah was alerting others, Mohamed got the first aid box from his lorry and begin applying bandages and ointment. He also gave Wesonga a slice of bread and some water. Then Mohamed and Abdullah carried Wesonga to their lorry, and transported him to the Kawolo, Lugazi hospital. Abdullah rode on the top of the lorry so that Wesonga would have room to rest comfortably on the trip.

At the Kawolo, Lugazi hospital Wesonga was given 34 stitches for 3 lacerations on his head. Also, a broken right arm was set. While in Lugazi, Mohamed reported the crime to the police. He also placed a phone call to Wesonga’s family in Mbale to notify them of his condition. Mohamed stayed the remainder of the day in Lugazi with Wesonga, and then paid his bill of 122,000 shillings as he was released from the hospital that evening.

Mohamed then transported Wesonga to Mukono where he put him up in Collines Hotel. He left a deposit of 300,000 Uganda shillings with the management. He instructed the hotel to care for Wesonga until he returned from Kampala on Friday, April 4. Mohamed plans to transport Wesonga home to Mbale on his return trip to Mombassa next week.

In related news police spokesmen, have asked for the public to help in locating Wesonga’s Nissan pickup, UAB 272M. They also caution travelers to exercise caution when they approach non-police or UPDF roadblocks. They promise to apprehend the thugs who robbed Wesonga, and bring them to swift justice.

The N.G.O. Board of the Ministry of Internal Affairs has promised to investigate the Evangelical Missions Alliance and Divine Church of Healing and Deliverance. “We need more men like Mohamed in this country, and less of these phony N.G.O.’s,” they said.

Shell Uganda Management has nominated Abdu Mohamed for the Shell World Citizen award. They have also re-imbursed him for the expenses in aiding Wesonga. Management said, “Mohamed is typical of Shell employees who are driving Uganda into the 21st Century.”

When interviewed Mohamed was asked why he chose to help Wesonga. He humbly replied, “What else could I do? As I have traveled I have learned that all men are my neighbors.”

For further information on this interesting piece of news from Uganda check out the original source (Luke 10:25-37.)  His name is Jesus of Nazareth. He told this story to illustrate the failings of law keeping without compassion for all people. A doctor named Luke recorded it in a historical dissertation approximately 2,000 years ago.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


For those graced to live in some portions of the world where security can be a daily concern a little humor is part of the survival instinct.

“What do you call a 14 year old with an AK47?”


Laughter gets us through the uncomfortable moment.     We make friends who whisper to us how to stay safe.    We stay current in the media.    We employ a guard.    We have a fence and a gate.
Yet, sometimes the humor is no longer funny.   I don’t giggle anymore at children engaged in violence.

I’ve watched both “Black Hawk Down,” and “Captain Phillips.”   I saw “Black Hawk Down” in Uganda with a Somali crowd.   I saw, “Captain Phillips” in Chicago, USA with a very different crowd.   Context determines interpretation.

I was in East Africa when the events of both movies happened.      Yet, I was a safe distance from
Growing up in Uganda with my sons, Caleb and Ethan

However, I was not a safe distance from the terrorist activities or recruitment.

Al Shabaab has executed three terrorist actions in places I’ve frequented.    Two occurred on July 11, 2010 at the Ethiopian Village and Kyadondo Rugby Club in Kampala, Uganda.   Another occurred on September 21, 2013 at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya.   This could have been me.   It could have been my neighbors, family, and friends who were killed.   Though no one I knew was killed I know people in grief (http://www.jenkinsinrwanda.blogspot.com/2013/10/why-is-westgate-tragedy-so-troubling.html.) 

Al Shabaab claims the terrorists have roots in Minnesota and Illinois.   It is easy to find many articles over the last few years of Al Shabaab’s recruitment.   It haunts me to consider that the terrorists could have also been my neighbors.

In 1992 Jana and I were in high gear to discover funds to go to Uganda as missionaries.   The American context at the time was celebrating the downfall of the Iron Curtain and victory in the First Gulf War.    The national mood in both politics and religion was that we were entering “The Beginning of a New World Order.”

We entered Uganda in March 1993.    At about the same time Operation Restore Hope was engaged in food relief and military protection in Somalia.    Things were not going as expected.   Mission creep was beginning.   

I remember reading a startling commentary in The East African on Operation Restore Hope.   I cannot remember who wrote it.   Nor can I find an original copy so my memory may be off a bit.    What I strongly remember was how the analysis shocked my naïve altruism.    The commentator predicted that the initial waves of American aid would be greeted with warmth and photo opportunities.   Then the aid would create a bonanza of economic opportunities that would reignite militia activity.   The American military would engage the militias.   The militias would create a media moment similar to the Vietnam War in which the American public would see the horrors of war with an unclear objective.   Shortly after the loss of American military lives America would retreat from Somalia.    The commentary was prophetic.

The unpredicted consequences of the Black Hawk Down on October 3 and 4 1993 included an America government unwilling to attempt to stop the Genocide in Rwanda in 1994, and the release of the movie, “Black Hawk Down” in 2001.   

  Both are personal.   

 I didn’t want to see my US Marine Corp brother engaged in Rwanda’s conflict.   I didn’t think the American government would be able to sort through the complications and keep both the Rwandan people and American soldiers safe.    I’m still troubled in many ways by my lack of actions from April 7 to July 4, 1994.  I’m thankful God gave me the grace to serve with Rwandan friends there 7 years.

I also watched “Black Hawk Down” in a Kampala, Uganda movie theater with a Somali crowd.
One of the consequences of Somalia’s chaos was a drifting of Somali people into other places in East Africa.    Some drifted as refugees.   Others seemed to find a few relatives, connections, documents, and business opportunities.   During our time in Uganda there was a slow increase in the Somali community.    Most of the Ugandans I knew did not trust the Somali.

One Ugandan cultural advisor once noticed me doing a repair with hunting knife, and told me, “Stop.   You look like a Somali.”

Another time our radio show did a modern recreation of the Good Samaritan with Somali hero.   Callers were astounded.   Several remarked, “Somalis aren’t good people.

I remember Somali people being kind to me.   I also remember being creeped out by Somali stares.   I absorbed regional prejudice, and still cannot think of a single Somali friend.

The Uganda I knew was one of rapid development.    We finally had a great movie theatre with air conditioning, first run movies, and popcorn.   We went to the movies to unwind.   I was really curious how I would see “Black Hawk Down” in Uganda.

As we entered the theatre Jana and I sat in the best seats we could find - roughly in the middle.   A Somali crowd sat to our right.   A large Ugandan crowd sat to our left.

During the season we were in Uganda generally Americans were seen with favor.

The crowd approached Black Hawk Down as they approached fan participation at a soccer (football) game.   With each Somali killed the Ugandan crowd cheered.   With each American killed in the Somali crowd cheered.   I sat quietly hoping no one would notice my presence.   I did not unwind in “Black Hawk Down.”   The empathies of the crowd and myself were overwhelming.

The crowd left as the movie finished.   We were some of the last to leave.

For a moment I had the strange expectation that I would step out into the parking lot of a suburban American mall.    I only would be in this exotic historical movie for about two hours.     

Instead I stepped out into dirty Kampala street filled with kavera (plastic bags), the smell of sewage and cooking food, abundant street vendors, and a crowd that I suspect included a few pick pockets.    I was back home.   I was in a land I loved.    The exotic was rather ordinary for me.    Yet, I was troubled by the Somali response and not sure what I should do. 

This past Sunday evening Jana and I went to the movies.   The most convenient and interesting one was “Captain Phillips.”

I almost didn’t go.   Westgate troubles me.   I’m struggling with the strange place of faith balancing justice and mercy.    I worried I’d become so angry I couldn’t function.     I worried my empathies bordering on hatred for the Somali would increase.   After all Al Shabaab has three times attacked places I’ve frequented, and the middle class people with whom I have been privileged to serve.

There are many good reviews of “Captain Phillips.”   I offer no new review.    Yet, one phrase in the movie troubled me, “We’re not Al Qaeda.   We’re business.”    I know violent nonsense is a likely consequence when schools and economic opportunities don’t exist.     The hostage situation on the Alabama Maersk happened in April 2009, sixteen years after The East African commentary, Operation Restore Hope, and Black Hawk Down.    Politics and religion play out in nonsense.    Individuals make choices that require the accountability of justice.    Yet, chaos in Somalia has had dire consequences on my community both a near and far.   It is time to do something enduring.

Two, I googled to find out what happened to the kidnapper who survived, Abduwali Abdukhadir
Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, arriving in the USA for trial
Muse.   He has been sentenced to 33 years in USA Federal Prison in Terre Haute, Indiana (a 3 hour and 42 minute drive from my Chicago home.)   He stands 5 feet 4 inches (1.6256 meters) in height.  There is some discussion about his age.   Most of the estimates put him somewhere between 16 and 19 years old in 2009 when the hostages were taken on the Alabama Maersk.   The legal implications of his date of birth are immense, but practically he was probably born in such chaos no one really knows his age.    His whole life has been spent in the wake of The East African prophecy.

 My own sons are that age.    I’ve spent lots of times with East African youth that age.    Young people around the world make poor choices.   Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse could have easily been a neighbor or friend’s son if not my own son.

“What do you call a 14 year old with an AK 47?”

“Son, brother, neighbor, and friend.”

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Christine Aguilera visiting Rwanda
This morning as I started my morning ritual of checking emails, news, and social media two Rwandan friends, Denis Kamugisha and Ndahiro Emmanuel drew my attention to a recent article in People Magazine on Christina Aguilera’s June 2013 trip to Rwanda (http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20738743,00.html.)  The article states, 

Christina Aguilera knew visiting war-torn Rwanda would be eye-opening. But it wasn't until she spent time in Kigali, Rwanda, on a hunger relief mission this June – visiting refugee camps and seeing the severe poverty firsthand – that she discovered just how profoundly moving the experience would be.”

Though the article promotes godly values such as empathy and compassion People Magazine’s article was based on inaccurate assumptions.   In that process I believe it created an inaccurate perception of both Kigali and Rwanda that merits correction.   The Kigali People Magazine describes is one I have never seen.  

First, there is no war in Rwanda.    There was a war fought from 1990 to 1994 that resulted in the
2020 Vision Estate, Kigali, Rwanda
1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.   Now Rwanda and her capital city of Kigali are some of the safest places you can find.     

Rwanda has occasionally suffered incursions and grenade explosions in markets from the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) based in Eastern Congo.    The FDLR is largely made up of the remnants of those who perpetrated the Genocide in 1994 that retreated to Congo.   Also, Eastern Congo has been plagued with civil unrest and war for a number of years in which various militia groups (which include the FDLR) operate.   

I am currently living in the American city of Chicago.   Some call Chicago, “The murder capital of America.”   The reality is that Chicago has some tough violent neighborhoods.   Yet, it also has some delightful neighborhoods, and great educational and economic opportunities.    African Diaspora are flocking to Chicago (http://www.cnn.com/video/?/video/international/2013/08/05/spc-inside-africa-chicago-a.cnn.)   It would be both inaccurate and hurtful to Chicago for Diaspora to repeat the negative stereotypes.    I don’t know any Diaspora who communicates about Chicago in stereotypes.   I believe Rwanda and Kigali deserve the same dignity.   

Secondly, I am unaware of a refugee camp in Kigali.    However, some refugees do find their way to Kigali.    Most Kigali refugees that I know find extended family with which they live.   Also, most refugees that I know in Kigali are educated professionals who soon find employment.   Kigali offers hospitality and opportunity which should be praised.
The refugee camp visited by Ms. Aguilera was in Kigeme.   The Kigeme camp is populated largely by Congolese refugees that Rwanda has graciously received (http://www.wfp.org/stories/christina-aguilera-and-yum-brands-fight-world-hunger-new-psa.)  
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees reports, 

“Rwanda hosts another 43,000 refugees, more than 99 per cent of whom are also from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The majority of these refugees live in three camps, in Gihembe, Kiziba and Nyabiheke, with a small number residing in the capital, Kigali. This brings the total of refugees and asylum-seekers in Rwanda to more than 57,600. The worsening security situation in the DRC limits these refugees' prospects for return (http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e45c576.html.)”

Besides these inaccuracies there is a YouTube video explaining Ms. Aguilera’s trip that though it may show accurate scenes from Kigali likely creates inaccurate perceptions (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aP46YKM-Dg.)  From my perspective inaccurate perceptions actually increase the likelihood of poverty becoming systematic. The video shows Ms. Aguilera with children singing and dancing.   It also shows Ms. Aguilera cooking food, and distributing school supplies.   She says in referring to hunger, “It is time for us to do something about it.”

Kigali is a city of paradoxes.   It has a growing middle class.   The city is not only safe, but clean.   Universities are thriving.   Yet, a portion of Kigali is poor.   I agree with Ms. Aguilera that it is time to do something about poverty.

I suggest the best answer can be found in the dreams of the Rwandan people.   Those of us who
do not carry Rwanda passports should show our concern by first listening.   We should read the 2020 Vision (http://edprs.rw/?q=content/vision-2020.)   Then we should adapt our plans to best fit Rwanda’s dream.   The vision is to transform Rwanda into a middle income country with a knowledge based economy.    The pragmatics of the plan calls for investment in education and business.The images the Western media creates of Rwanda many times negatively affect the implementation of this vision.    Long-term investors in business and education are most stirred by images of hope.   Rwanda has many and these images are the ones that should be most seen.
If we from the United States feel compelled to address the Congolese refugee situation in Rwanda I offer two suggestions.   First, it is time to cease enabling the Congolese conflict (For further reflections see http://hekimagreatlakesmessenger.blogspot.com/2013/08/pastoral-reflections-on-congo-stop_30.html.)   Second at the risk of rumor mongering, I have been hearing persistent rumors that some of the Congolese refugees in Rwanda may soon be resettled in the United States.   We should be praying about this rumor.   If it does happen we need to rally American good will to match the hospitality and kindness of Rwanda.

Thank you Ms. Aguilera for displaying compassion to the Congolese refugees in Rwanda.   I ask that People Magazine correct the inaccuracies in their story on Ms. Aguilera’s visit to Rwanda.