Contemplating God in Uganda
"God is good! All the time! All the time! God is good!" Throughout our travels in East Africa, this sing-song phrase was often proclaimed whenever there were five or more people in a room. Uganda was no different. Yet, while it filled me with great joy to witness and be part of the unity these cries of praise invoked, I could not help but wonder how much did all of us singing truly believe this? How much did I truly believe this?
Over the course of our week in Uganda, through the fruitful schedule organized by Uganda Christian Lawyers' Fraternity (UCLF), God steadily revealed that He was and is indeed good all the time. He did so by reminding us of His sovereignty through the wonders of His creation, His love through the hospitability of the UCLF members and His continued grace for us all.
I. God's Creation
When we first walked across the border from Rwanda to Uganda, a number of us were struck by how 'different' it was. Piles of rubbish and broken glass littered the roadside among which children were playing barefoot. The roofs of houses seemed to be made of old rusty metal. People, young and old, with severe physical disability were standing by buses begging for money.
As such, I couldn't help but feel slight frustration when we were told that we would be going to the Queen Elizabeth National Park the following morning. Spending fifty dollars to go on a safari tour in the face of such poverty filled me with guilt. Were we just token muzungus, here to say a few words in English and everything would be okay? What were we doing? And most of all, what was God doing?
But as we drove along the dirt road, the vastness of the land, the gentle caress of sunlight along the horizon, the richness in the colour of the dust hanging in the air reminded me that our God is a God of creation, a God of action. He created each gold strand of the luxurious mane that clothed the male lion. He created the vibrancy in the leaves of the lush bushes where a leopard was hiding. He created the resoluteness with which some colossal termite mounds stood. He is always 'doing', always working. He works in the way the birds weave intricate hanging nests with blades of grass. He works in the way a mother elephant ushered her child gently off the road when she heard the rumble of our van. In all this, the words of the Lord in the book of Job rang true.
"Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?" (Job 38:39-41, NIV)
Indeed, who was I to question what he was doing in the face of suffering? Where was I when He laid the earth's foundation? What did I know about the way to the abode of light or where darkness resides? And if He provided for the lions, the buffaloes, the termites, how much more did He care for the people of Uganda, whom He had created in His own image? How much more did He seek to provide for the poor and oppressed all around the world, they who are of more value than the lions and birds? (Matthew 6:26)
In hindsight, going to Queen Elizabeth National Park upon our arrival in Uganda was extremely timely and an experience I am thankful for. In the face of the injustice and inequality that we would witness throughout our trip, it was an important reminder that beauty and goodness is in God's handprint and that as Christians empowered by His Spirit, we can look at His Word, how He has moved in our lives and His creation around us to remind us to trust in His character, words and actions.
II. God's Love
Not only was God's goodness revealed in the diversity and abundance of flora and fauna, His goodness was also poured out through the warmth and hospitality with which the UCLF members and staff treated us throughout our week in Uganda.
On the first night, despite us arriving into Kampala hours after the scheduled time, Titus and his family welcomed us with love and kindness into their home to our first home cooked meal of the trip. It was a lavish spread with different meats all marinated to perfection. Similarly, on our last night in Uganda, Peruth, despite having her hands full with her three young boys, generously gave up her time on a Saturday evening to host us.
Throughout our time in Uganda, Frances and Daphine constantly had smiles on their faces and tried their utmost best to accommodate us. We were very touched when we realized how far Kasese was from Kampala and how they had, dressed in uncomfortable office wear no less, chosen to bear the long journey just so we could experience the safari. We are also extremely thankful to Lubega, our driver who, truly by the grace of God alone, drove our loud and over-enthusiastic group of twelve in a tiny van for hours on end, skillfully navigating through roads scattered with potholes.
It was also such a joy to be able to fellowship with Eunice and the other UCLF staff at the UCLF headquarters. It was very encouraging yet humbling to be able to meet as partners in the gospel (Philippians 1:1-11) and to act out what Paul writes about in Philippians, a book we had been studying as a team over the trip, by supporting each other in prayer. I was particularly encouraged by the shouts of praise and the joy and camaraderie that filled the office despite the overwhelming nature of the work that UCLF engages in.
The warmhearted way in which the UCLF staff and board members received us was truly a reflection of God's loving nature. While it is regrettable that we could not spend more time together, our brief interaction was sufficient to prompt questions as to what an ongoing partnership of supporting and loving UCLF and its work might look like. As our team disperses to different countries and we each seek to work this question out amidst our different lifestyles, we take heart that the answer lies in continuing to seek to know our Lord Almighty, for as it says in 1 John, God is love and knowing how to love, whether corporately or as individuals is intrinsically tied to knowing and loving Him.
"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us," (1 John 4:7-12, NIV)
III. God's Grace
Last but not least, through the process of speaking to several public institutions and witnessing the work of UCLF in the community, God demonstrated that He continues to intend for goodness amidst our fallen world and is graciously willing to use us to work towards this goodness despite our sinful hearts.
For many of us, being able to speak at length with the Inspectorate of Government (IG) and the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) was incredibly valuable. At both places, we were struck by the boldness and humility with which they opened our meeting with prayer, a practice that is unimaginable here in the UK. The steadfastness and determination that punctuated responses to questions about what they do and why they do the work that they do conveyed their unadulterated passion for beneficiaries of their work. The unrelenting dedication of these officers in working to fight issues such as child sacrifice, government compliance with international treaties and corruption, which necessarily consist of overwhelming systemic challenges such as cultural norms and entrenched political practices, was extremely inspiring. All this painted a picture of what a governing authority made up of God's faithful servants might look like (Romans 13:1-4).
Yet, both institutions acknowledged the continued limitations in addressing information asymmetry within rural communities. In light of this, accompanying UCLF on one of their community sensitization sessions at a high school in Gayaza was very heartening as it gave us insight into how UCLF strives towards filling this gap. During the session, a few of us were given the opportunity to talk to a classroom of students and teachers about certain laws such as laws on bail and sexual offences. We were particularly taken with Vincent and his gifting of being able to engage the students with both exuberance and clarity despite the difficult subject of drug use.
Personally, as a fresh graduate entering a new season, observing the way in which my brothers and sisters in Christ serve our God in their workplace was a timely reminder that it is He who establishes the work of our hands and only He can equip us to accomplish His purposes. Supported by encouragement from our Team Leaders, this prompted me to seek and listen more closely to God on how He has uniquely gifted me and how I may join in where He is already working.
While our time in Uganda encouraged me towards uncovering what 'being called to be His hands and feet' actually means in my personal relationship with God, it also convicted me of our limited human agency. In the words of the psalmist, I was forced to 'remember how fleeting is my life. For what futility you have created all humanity!' (Psalm 89:47, NIV). A lush carpeted corridor in the Parliament of Uganda lined with portraits of numerous ex-Presidents, some militant tyrants, others lasting ten days, highlighted the ineffectiveness and destructiveness of human leadership. A solemn court session at Buganda Road Court in which several parties were self-represented spoke of the inherent limitation and unfair distribution of resources within any legal system. A lengthy discussion at the Equal Opportunities Commission on the legal definition of 'marginalization' and 'discrimination' evidenced the inability to fully articulate inequality within our human capacity. All this was a sobering reminder that we continue to live in an age of inescapable brokenness.
However, amidst this damning truth is a greater truth.
"This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
"Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope." (Matthew 12:16-21, NIV)
Examining these two truths in light of our experiences in Uganda brought me to a realization of how often I overlook the presence and effect that sin has on my life. Put simply, I realized that my earlier challenge as to whether God is truly good arises when I forget that I, if not for the blood of Jesus Christ, am not. While there is no more condemnation for us who are in Christ, we cannot escape our current location and circumstances in an age that continues to rebel against God. Therefore, putting our trust in public institutions, in civil society organisations, in our own work as Christian lawyers and legal-aid providers is futile if this trust does not ultimately lie in Jesus Christ and the hope of the age to come. It is only Jesus Christ, the authority above all authorities, whom we can trust to lead us effectively. This is the same Jesus Christ who represents us in the highest of courts. It is this Jesus Christ who knows suffering and injustice so much more intimately than we ever will because he took our place on the cross. And it is only through Jesus Christ that we can wait in eager expectation for the day that creation 'will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God' (Romans 8:21, NIV).
Rebecca Wong has recently graduated in law from the London School of Economics. She is currently working for UN Women in Singapore.