BY EMMA, A PIONEERS UK FIELD WORKER
Arua, a bustling town in the north-west of Uganda, has one of the best fabric markets in East Africa. Shelves of colourful, fun rolls of cloth (called ‘kitenge’) lie stacked up, begging to be sewn into smart shirts and cute dresses. On the market floor, amongst the mud and dirt, lie discarded scraps of fabric, unused and unwanted.
The sounds of laughter and chatting ring out. It’s Thursday evening and we’re meeting for our card project, ‘Arua Home Crafts’. The card project was started over a decade ago by another missionary who saw a need, an opportunity and a market.
Our small card business uses the unwanted scraps of fabric and fashions them into beautiful homemade cards, with fun African animals and colourful, eye-catching designs. The card-makers stain the card with cold tea, and carefully cut round stencils to create the shape, meaning each card is unique.
There are currently six members of the card project. Two of the ladies are named Peace and Grace, which I find so apt for the heart of the project. The aim of the project is not only to provide an honest income – that the members can work in the comfort of their own homes, but also an opportunity to walk together in discipleship as we study the Bible and look at how it relates to our everyday life.
Peace is a widow with two sons, and one of them is Type 1 Diabetic. Because of the income provided to her through the card business, over the last few years, she has been able to buy a year’s supply of millet flour to send to his boarding school so that his diet is supplemented and his blood sugar levels stay healthy. In the last few years, the card project members decided to all contribute from their end of year bonus so they could afford to bulk buy essentials and then share them amongst themselves and their communities.
Grace is another widow with numerous dependents. The money she has earned through the card project has enabled her to pay their rent, pay for medicine for her epileptic daughter, pay for school fees, and for basic food. Through the encouragement of the project, Grace testifies to knowing God’s timely and personal provision.
The annual profits for the project are shared amongst the card members at the end of the year, and the card members receive a lump sum bonus, as well as being paid per card made throughout the year.
Like many businesses, we have had our past challenges, such as distrust amongst previous card members, slow markets, plagiarised designs, and maintaining quality control, but working together to overcome each challenge has helped us to grow as a team, and depend on God more.Our latest challenge has been a dwindling market due to lockdown, and Uganda’s borders being closed, which has meant none of the usual sales through tourists.
Yet we remain hopeful and prayerful that the project will continue to bless the card makers and their families, and in turn bless and bring hope to the wider communities.
As the unwanted kitenge scraps become an integral and beautiful part of each handmade card, so we pray that the project is a symbol of the good news of hope to the marginalised and down-trodden in society, that they too will become transformed into something beautiful and valuable in the Kingdom of God.
Photo by Annie Spratt
My People, My Country, Myself
Our world is constantly changing, and field workers in ‘creative access’ countries have to be flexible and innovative to find ways to stay on the field. Stacey* has been with Pioneers for several years and has been involved in a variety of ministries, but her calling has remained the same: sharing the love of Jesus with the people of Asia. We recently asked Stacey to share with us about life in her country, and some of her highlights and lowlights of serving there.
MY PEOPLE, MY COUNTRY
The people in my country welcome you in such an honest raw way. Not just a polite, “Hello how are you”, but they make you feel truly welcomed – like a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. They are so happy to see you and they are delighted to spend time with you. The amusing thing is that many of the other cultural norms are so different, loud, and sometimes seemingly unsafe that it causes a foreigner to want to run away. Turns out that friend who has been dying to see you also has smelly armpits, a visible bogie hanging out of his nose and sits way too close! Yet, once you let go of your own cultural norms and start to see the world from their perspective you realise that the offensive smelly one with the bogie hanging out isn’t them but you! It is cringe-worthy to think of how I unwittingly broke their cultural norms and ideas of politeness yet despite this they chose to embrace me anyway!
I love so many things about this Asian culture: the food, the history, the depth and eccentric nature of life, but most of all what has touched my heart is the community way of life. One Sunday after church we went home to my pastor’s house. There were several of us there. We played Uno, joked and laughed together, ate together and then all napped ….. together. It felt so normal, but then as I was lying down trying to sleep the thought came to mind that this would never happen back home. In that moment I was lying in the same bed with the pastor’s wife, the pastor, his kids and another person from church, with everyone else sprawled around the floor in close proximity. That would never happen back home – it would be too weird – cross too many boundaries. But here those boundaries don’t exist. The strong community values have stopped any individualist notions like personal space (or private bedrooms!) from becoming a concept or desire.
One challenge of ministry, though, is that lack of mature leadership in some of the churches has meant that there are some fundamental issues. This is especially true in the villages. Some of the local pastors were telling the ladies who work with us that since they were working for a business whose leaders were Christian they also needed to change their beliefs and be baptised, even though they weren’t yet believers. This was not the message that we want to communicate to our ladies or the community. When we tried to address this issue with the pastor we could not get on the same page. There have been so many other things done and said by this local church that we don’t feel comfortable associating with them anymore. We seek to work alongside the local church as much as possible, but this has proven to be rather difficult, and we have found ourselves having to distance ourselves from some of them.
However in the city it has been a bit easier. I work with national partners from amazing church communities. I wouldn’t be able to do this work if it was not joining in on what they have already been doing.
The lowpoint of life here has been seeing the persecution of my brothers and sisters and feeling helpless. It can be hard to believe that we have the victory when you are losing the battle. Cruel injustice can roar against those seeking to see His Kingdom established, the enemy doesn’t fight fair and even goes for blows against vulnerable children. It can be a battle to keep the eternal perspective in mind. But the highpoint for me has been seeing the reality of what I have hoped for. I have longed to see the kingdom of God come into and transform vulnerable communities. I never dreamt that I would be able to see this happen, yet before God called me to be a part of this it was something he was already doing. I’ve been able to visit communities that have come to know Jesus in the unlikeliest of places, even in the midst of Asia’s biggest red light district.
And what about ‘me time’? Going outside can be an exhausting experience, with the sweltering heat and lots of noise. When I need some down time, it involves me alone in my room with some music or Netflix, and lots icy cold drinks. Sometimes I go out and find a café but mostly the idea of travelling out in the very hot and sweaty weather is too exhausting, so I keep indoors. Where I live is very conservative – I can’t wear sleeveless tops or expose my legs – even showing my ankles would be a bit risqué! So if I have some down time I like to stay indoors and chill, and with curtains pulled, wear those banned items of clothing (shorts and a tank top). Being able to do this makes me ridiculously happy!
To read more about the ups and downs of life as a Pioneers field worker, have a look at the latest edition of Reach Magazine online. Or if you’d like a print copy, just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Name changed for security
A Lesson in Community
I must’ve looked a bit funny, my bike crumpled beneath me, picnic-laden backpack askew, lying on my side in the middle of the road with one knee digging into the asphalt and the other in the air. But no one dared laugh. The people around me were all wide-eyed, mouths hanging open, stopped in their tracks, thanking the sweet Lord they hadn’t just witnessed the horror of a cyclist getting squished by a bus. It was only a skinned knee and a shattered ego, and all I wanted as I picked myself and my bike up off the road was to disappear into anonymity.
You see, on this particular day, I’d decided to be brave. My soon-to-be-husband, a keen cyclist, had been trying to get me to use my bike more in town, rather than walking or driving. He’d taken me on several bike rides on country lanes in the Peak District and in other parts of the country, and I’d followed him through Sheffield traffic plenty of times before. But whenever he suggested I meet him somewhere in the city on my bike, I always balked. I was too afraid to brave the traffic myself. I was too unstable, too road wary, and not very quick-thinking on wheels. So I’d always say no, forcing him to come to my house first before I would go anywhere in town on my bike.
But not this day. This day I decided to be brave. I was going to meet him at the Botanical Gardens for a picnic, and as my car was being fixed and the Botanical Gardens was close to his office, I knew what I had to do—I had to ride my bike on my own. My route took me through neighbourhoods and along little-used roads, and though I was nervous, things were going well. (Not counting the moment I had to stop at the top of a hill and instead of putting my feet down and putting on my brakes to keep from rolling backward, I grabbed a bollard and hung on to the bike with my knees—it was very unglamorous, and elicited a smirk from at least one passerby.) Unfortunately, my route also took me along one of the busier streets in Sheffield, and getting into the Botanical Gardens required a right-hand turn across oncoming traffic.
I attempted to balance there in the right-hand lane, waiting for a gap in the traffic. I’d signaled appropriately so that the people behind me knew my intention to turn—but the traffic kept coming and I became more and more unstable as I slowed down. Unbeknownst to me, a bus had come up behind me and decided not to wait. He silently crept up behind me and came around my left side, very close to me. The bus startled me, which threw me off balance and the world slipped into slow motion. I knew I was going to fall into the bus. I was getting closer and closer, and I was praying that God would hold me up until the wheels had passed me. And He did. As the back wheels drew even with me, I fell into the side of the bus and ricocheted off it and onto the road.
Everything came to a halt. Traffic on both sides of the road stopped. Pedestrians froze in their tracks. The bus, full of passengers, pulled over to the side of the road, and the trembling bus driver alighted, certain that he’d killed me. It took a substantial amount of reassurance to convince him and the others who stopped to help that I was indeed fine except for my skinned knee and my bruised pride.
I was shaky for a while afterward, and I’m certainly not keen to do any more solo city cycling just yet, but I learned an important lesson: We need each other, don’t we? I don’t just mean that I need other people to lead me through traffic on my bike because when I go by myself I get hit by busses. I mean, we need each other. We humans. We Christians. We obeyers of the Great Commission.
The fact is, I’m not road ready. I’m not prepared, mentally or physically to ride solo. Maybe one day I will be, but it will only be because I’ve been taught and guided and helped by someone who is more experienced than me. And even then, it’s generally better not to go on my own. We individualists place a high value on doing things ourselves. From the two year old who insists on pouring her own milk out of a jug that’s as big as she is, to the project manager who genuinely believes that to get something done right he has to do it himself, we are all victims to one degree or another of this belief—this lie—that we can do it by ourselves.
The fact is, we weren’t made to be individualists. We were made for community. Made to help and guide and learn from and bless each other. When it comes to our call to fulfil the Great Commission, it’s even more vital that we do it in community. The church was called AS A BODY to take the Gospel to those who haven’t heard, and it is a call that each one of us is meant to heed, according to our gifts.
My fiancé wasn’t with me when I got hit by a bus and ended up on the road with a skinned knee. But a lot of other people were there. The man from Sheffield council who stood with me, talking with me until he was sure I was ok. The women who stopped and offered to get me a drink. The bus driver who was prepared to kick everyone else off his bus and drive me home, or to the hospital. Even the drivers who managed to stop in time and not run over me as I lay on the ground. People were there. And had it been worse than a skinned knee, people would have looked after me.
The moral of the story is twofold, I suppose: 1) I should wait until I’m road-ready before I strike out on my bike alone in city traffic and 2) If I do get hit by a bus, it’s much better to do so in a crowded area, where people are ready to look after me.
And as for the Great Commission, let’s do it together. Let’s learn from and follow the people who are more experienced than us, and let’s make sure we have plenty of people to walk beside us as we carry the Gospel to those who haven’t heard. Then, when we bounce off life’s busses and skin our knees, we’ll at least have someone to help us up.
Photo by Carl Nenzen Loven.