Church Mission Society (CMS) Mission Partners

Holy Trinity Church has adopted new CMS Mission Partners (Tom & Verity) and their  news from Uganda is posted below after two links to short video messages that they have sent

Holy Trinity hello clip: https://youtu.be/OFCAX69pfx8

3 minute summary video: https://youtu.be/C7ygYzp31tM

 

Getting in as much time as possible with Noble before we leave.

Good morning,


We just wanted to send a quick update and to thank you all for your lovely emails and messages of support.

We’re now leaving Arua on Wednesday, to fly back to the UK very early on Saturday morning. Thankfully it looks like both Uganda and Egypt, which we’re flying through, will remain off the red list until then at least.

Since we last emailed, Tom’s been working hard to tie up as much as possible with his work here and still has a good amount to do in the next couple of days.

We’re packing up and saying goodbyes to friends around. Our friends in the missionary community here have been amazingly supportive – bringing meals and looking after the boys so we can focus a bit better on what we need to sort at home.

Friends and family have been wonderful back in the UK in looking for a house for us. One possible option has come up near to Verity’s parents which we’re hoping to finalise details of this week. We’re also finding out about possible school spaces locally for the boys after half term and it seems that Tom should be able to still work as a GP when we come back.

The boys seem to be doing ok with all the changes but we’re very conscious we want to make time to support them in the midst of the whirlwind of leaving. We should have a calmer couple of days down in Entebbe at the end of the week while we wait for Covid test results.

Thank you so much for all your prayers and support for us as a family. We are so thankful for you all.

Blessings

Verity, Tom, Ezra, Eli, Simeon and Joel

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

We wanted to start by apologising for the radio silence around the elections here which started on January 14th and have just finished with the local councillor elections yesterday. We had an update pre-written and ready to send out on the eve of the election, but unfortunately the government instigated a 5-day Internet blackout that evening before we could send it…

Now that the election (and the associated Internet blackout) has come and gone, we thought we should write a fresh update, so here it is…
 

Christmas lunch on the verandah

Elections now over...?

It has been fascinating being around during the election campaign season and now also through the election process here.

President Museveni, 76, was declared as winner by the Electoral Commision with 56% of the vote, and is due to start his sixth term as President shortly. Of the 10 opposing candidates who were looking to oust him from his seat, Robert Kyagunlanyi (aka Bobi Wine) came closest to President Museveni, with 34% of the vote.

Kyagulanyi is a 38-year-old musician who grew up in relative poverty in Kampala before his musical career offered him prosperity and a subsequent route in to politics. He has been outspoken in his criticism of the current President for some time and he reports that he has previously been detained and tortured by security services in the past. He was arrested in November 2020 due to allegations of breaching COVID-19 protocols during his election campaign, with the arrest sparking unrest in Kampala which led to the death of 54 people, some of whom were innocent bystanders.

There has been a heavy security presence in Kampala since the election, including a significant force outside Kyagunlanyi’s home, although a court ruling yesterday has required the security forces to leave the premises and they have said they will do so. Kyagulanyi and his team allege that they have evidence that proves significant electoral irregularities, with the Electoral Commision standing by the official results and inviting them to provide their evidence.

It’s not clear what will happen next, with Kyagulanyi and his supporters promoting the idea of peaceful protest and legal challenge in wake of the election results, whilst a heavy military presence remains in the capital. There has never been a peaceful transfer of power in Uganda and Kyagulanyi has recently pledged that he and his allies aim to have President Museveni out of office within a year in spite of the presidential terms now being 7 years...

We actually spent three nights around the election in a friend’s guesthouse mainly due to the inevitability of loud noises on the main road outside our house through the night! However, there was also a polling station very close to our front door and given the violence that marred the primary elections last year, it seemed best to us to be somewhere else for a few days.

Now we are back home and life, in this corner of Uganda at least, seems to be returning to normal again.

Joel enjoying one of his last cuddles as a 1-year-old
 

COVID-19 - the elephant in the room


As election campaigns have taken centre stage over the last few months, it appears that the very real threat of coronavirus has faded in significance in the minds of the people here.

And yet, the number of cases and deaths continue to creep up, without the necessary increase in testing that would enable the Department of Health to keep full track of the pandemic here.

We have been saddened by news of Ugandans both in and out of the church suffering and dying with COVID-19. The Bishop of Nebbi, our neighbouring diocese, died a couple of weeks ago, apparently after having had a positive COVID test. The previous bishop of our Madi & West Nile Diocese has also been admitted to hospital in the capital with severe COVID along with wife, although we understand they are now improving.
A view from the nearby Mount Wati on a New Year's Day hike
 
 

“See, I am making all things new”


We are so grateful to God for a very blessed, if different, Christmas and New Year this year. We enjoyed 2 nights away in Murchison Falls National Park for Joel’s second birthday and had some lovely family time. We were also blown away by the incredible generosity of family and friends in sending parcels for our family.

From Tom’s side, it has been a relatively quiet start to the new year, as we’ve avoided travelling too much around elections and as he now waits for the renewal of his annual medical registration and license to practise here which will enable him to go back to seeing patients again soon. Tom is taking the opportunity to prepare a range of training for the health centres and to think and pray about plans for the year in the Diocese Health Department.

These plans include the potential rollout of community health insurance at St Luke’s Health Centre in Katiyi (there should be a team coming to train the health centre staff some time before April) among other things.

We are also having twice-weekly language lessons as we look to make this year the one where we really dig in to learning the Lugbara language.

Verity is due to start a seven-week Trauma Healing Training next week, run by one of the American mission agencies here. It will involve meeting with a group of local women each week to lead them through what she has learnt in training. Our friend, Peace is currently mobilising a small group from our local community and will help translate the sessions.

The boys are continuing to thrive, particularly enjoying their friends in the missionary community recently. They have done so well in transition here and the significant local missionary community has been a real blessing for them in terms of finding good friends with whom they can immediately strike up a bond. They also continue to enjoy playing with various neighbourhood children in our compound most afternoons as they await news as to when schools will restart. This is something we don’t take for granted, especially in light of the restrictions in the UK limiting social interaction.
Joel with his friends Joshua and Benjamin
 
We are praying for those of you in the UK as you take on another lockdown of your own, but this time in the cold and dark of winter. It’s so hard to read the news and hear from friends and family about the situation you’re facing and we’re praying for you all.
 
5 Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honour depend on God;
    he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
    pour out your hearts to him,
    for God is our refuge.”
Psalm 62:5-8
 
Blessings,

Tom, Verity, Ezra, Eli, Simeon and Joel

 

 

December Newsletter

Dear friends,

“Christmas again! Wow, I feel like we just had Christmas. This year feels like it’s been Christmas, March, bleurp and then Christmas again!”

I don’t know if this resonates with you at all but for us, Ezra’s response to a local friend’s mention of Christmas summarised neatly our thoughts about how this particular year has gone.

Four happy boys out for lunch for Eli’s birthday, top to bottom: Joel, Simeon, Eli and Ezra.

For us, the significance of March came not just in the dramatic spread of coronavirus but also in our long-anticipated move to Uganda. In some ways it feels like we’ve been here a lot longer than eight months and our arrival feels like a distant memory. So much has changed, not just in our lives but across the globe.

Our overwhelming feeling, when looking back over the last year, is that of gratitude. We are so thankful to God for bringing us not just to Uganda, but to this specific city, neighbourhood and home, at just the right time. We are beginning to feel properly settled here and are so thankful that we get to call this wonderful place home.

Out for a walk above Kuluva hospital on a typically sunny day.

Tom is grateful for God’s great blessing in the early days of his working role here and particularly for the wonderful Heather Sharland with whom he is working in the health department. He currently spends one or two days a week visiting the six rural health centres which the diocese supervises, training staff and running doctor’s clinics. The rest of the week he spends in the office on a wide range of work such as enacting externally-funded health projects and considering schemes such as health insurance and blood pressure screening to improve care.

COVID cases have not exploded exponentially as they might have done here, praise God (a total of 150 deaths now registered), but it is very much in the community just as people are starting to tire of following the appropriate precautions. Do pray for ongoing motivation for people to take COVID seriously and for God’s protection at this time.

For me (Verity), so much of my life revolves around our four boys. One of the biggest joys over the last couple of months has been to see them interacting most afternoons with a group of neighbourhood boys who come to our compound to play. It feels so good to be able to share our space and resources and to see how happily the boys now play alongside each other.

Joel and Simeon playing the 2020 version of “mums and dads” including putting on their masks to go to work.

Eli in particular really struggled over the first few months to engage with the local community and it’s so wonderful to see him joining in with games with the local boys. Ezra is in his element playing football most afternoons and loves having an abundance of friends to play with. Simeon seems very content being part of the community here and Joel continues to charm local shopkeepers and market sellers with his few words in Lugbara. His speech in general has taken off in the last few months, which we thank God for, as when we left the UK he had a hearing aid linked to his cleft palate and there was concern that his speech might be affected. We’re also very thankful for the friends we’ve made in the sizeable expat community here.

Like anyone, we have hard days and easier days. After a particularly stressful week of home-schooling the boys, with little time for walks in the neighbourhood, I (Verity) was walking to the local market one evening. I had a few good chats with some of our shopkeeper friends along the way, and just had a feeling of affirmation from God saying “You belong here.” Not necessarily in a forever sense, but for now, we are legitimately part of this community that God has chosen for us to belong to. The constant shouts of “Mundu!” (“foreigner”) remind us that we are different, and that won’t change, but we can still belong.

A few minutes later, in conversation in Lugbara with the market ladies, they told me they’d given me a Lugbara name – Ayikoru, meaning “joy” because I’m apparently always happy when I buy from them. I was hugely humbled but also laughed a little inside as my behaviour over the week at home had been quite the opposite of joyful. God has his timings though and it was another affirmation of our belonging here.

In John 1:14 we read how “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”. We’ll often re-read this chapter at this time of year and the combination of God’s majesty and humility always blows me away. It leaves me both humbled and challenged. Humbled that the God who made the whole world has given us “the right to become children of God” (1:12). At the same time, I’m challenged that just as Jesus came to bring God’s love and light to a world in darkness, as his children, we are called to do the same. For us this means sharing his love with the people of Arua that they would “receive him and believe in his name” (1:12).

The view towards the end of the long drive north from Kampala that tells us we’re nearly home.

We feel very privileged to be a part of God’s mission in this corner of Uganda and we know that we couldn’t do it without the prayers of everyone back in the UK. Thank you so much for your support over this last year, we are so thankful for every one of you.

As usual, if you’d like more frequent updates on our lives in Arua, click here. claresinuganda.wordpress.com.

Blessings,

Tom, Verity, Ezra, Eli, Simeon and Joel

 

Just a quick(-er than usual) one today!

We'll be sending a full update soon as per our usual monthly updates, but we really want to start sending (much) shorter, more regular emails to keep all you pray-ers updated...

 

Prayer point 1:
Pray that we make it out of Kampala on Tuesday!


We have just arrived yesterday in Kampala on a trip to finalise the immigration requirements for Verity and the boys now that the department is open again after lockdown. We are staying in a lovely AirBnB house (and we've had our first ice creams in Uganda - see above) but we are hearing strong rumours that Kampala may be locking down again on Monday or Tuesday in response to a rapidly-increasing number of positive COVID-19 tests. We're supposed to be heading to our first short family safari on Tuesday at Murchison National Park and we need to be here until at least Monday to get our immigration bits done.

There have been false rumours before so please pray with us that we make it out!

 

 

Prayer point 2:
Pray for Eric's family, the team at Yivu Abea and Tom and Verity after what happened this week


Just a few days ago (on Wednesday this week), I (Tom) saw an 11-year-old boy named Eric (not his real name) as part of a clinic during my doctor's day at Yivu Abea health centre in Maracha district. The photo above is me with Gilbert, the in-charge officer at the health centre a month or 2 ago (we were delivering hand washing stations as part of a project through Irish Aid).

It was the first time I had met Eric, but he was very unwell, with bilateral proptosis (both eyes being pushed forwards out of his head) as well as widespread lymphadenopathy (enlarged lymph nodes that can be felt) and prostration (being unable to stand up). He had been completely well up until March this year, like any other 11-year-old you might meet.

They had been to 2 hospitals in the last 6 weeks but hadn't got any answers,even being told in their words that nothing was wrong, although the suspected diagnosis of childhood lymphoma had been written all over their medical notes. This is a childhood cancer that is potentially curable, even when discovered at an advanced stage, by chemotherapy.

I expect I'll write more in our upcoming link letter, but I explained to the boy and his family that he likely had a cancer called lymphoma at an advanced stage and we then organised a transfer to Uganda Cancer Institute as soon as practically possible. We went through the process of praying for God's provision for the family whose funds were exhausted by their prior medical bills and a sponsor came up within a day to cover all the costs of transport, diagnosis and any treatment needed.

I wrote the referral letter and spoke to the hospital. He was due to travel with his brother this Monday to start the process of diagnosis ahead of any treatment, with everything in place to help with their costs, but we just heard this morning that he died yesterday. I think he was at home but I haven't yet heard the details.

We are still processing this - it's my first experience of the stark reality of childhood death here in Uganda - but we appreciate your prayers for his family (he has several siblings including the eldest brother who carried him to my clinic) and for Gilbert, the in-charge at Yivu Abea through whom the transfer was being arranged and who will be trying to support the family as best he can. We also appreciate your prayers for us as we try to disentangle the complicated web of thoughts, emotions and questions both of what the hospitals were thinking and what God's up to in all of this.

 

Thanks so much for your prayers everyone! We'll send a full update soon and include more photos and more prayer points.

We always love to hear your own news and prayer points (even if we often take a while to reply to them!) so do get in touch and let us know how you've been.

Blessings,
Tom and Verity

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Clares in Uganda July update

 

Hi everyone!

It seems the plan for shorter, more regular emails has once again failed so I’m afraid this one is on the longer side again. Thank you to everyone who has got in touch with updates since we last emailed. We love to hear from you.


 

"Learning Uganda"


So this week Arua became a city! We’re not quite sure what this really means but people stayed up until midnight on Tuesday to go into the streets shouting and screaming for a good hour or so. We had no idea what was going on so weren’t best pleased. Milly explained it all the following day - turns out she was up past midnight as well, keeping her neighbours awake a little further down the road!

 

Joel loves to help Milly and Noble with jobs around the house

 

We feel like we’re only just beginning to gain some understanding of the culture here and start to grasp why things work the way they do. Or as Eli (5) put it "Mummy, I'm now learning Uganda". Milly has been a great help in this and in addition to helping out with cooking and cleaning has become our unofficial language teacher as well. She’s such a blessing and we’re thankful for her every day. She keeps me sane when sometimes three out of the four boys are crying, she doesn’t seem to judge the daily homeschool battles and helps me navigate visitors and their needs.

Life here is tough though. In the same breath as she excitedly explained about the celebrations, Milly, still smiling, explained that a relative had also died at midnight last night. An elderly widower whose four children were all either alcoholics or addicted to smoking opium, having died of hunger with no one to look after him. The burial was later that day and would be short and simple. A few weeks ago another uncle of Milly’s died from ‘drinking alcohol for three days and not eating’. His family were also alcoholics apparently - she had very little sympathy and had to be persuaded by her close family to attend the burial.

 

 

Tom taking the boys through the fascinating waste segregation segment of his infection control training for health centres in the Diocese

 

Deep-rooted brokenness


We’re learning of a huge deal of brokenness here and even though we’ve still only got to know a handful of people locally, there seems to be a common theme of family breakdown and addiction. As part of Tom’s work, he’s been involved in a programme to sensitise the community to the huge problem of gender-based violence (or GBV). This concept includes a wide range of areas, including physical, sexual, emotional & economic abuse based on gender norms and unequal power relationships and has by all accounts worsened during lockdown as children are out of school and fathers are out of work. Whilst most cases of GBV come under the title of violence against women and girls, GBV also includes violence against men and boys and our health department decided to focus on men as victims of GBV in the run up to the local date for Father’s Day.

There was a press conference with the bishop (which made it to national TV), along with several other ventures, such as a drawing competition for children to express their experiences of violence during the COVID lockdown. Seeing this artwork come in has been fascinating and equally harrowing – fascinating in the way that the children astutely depict alcohol and substance misuse as well as financial pressures in their drawings, but harrowing in the realisation that many of their pictures are based on personal experience. In the national violence against children study here across Uganda in 2018, researchers found that 75% of adults had experienced some form of violence in childhood - 1 in 3 girls had been a victim of some form of sexual violence, including the 10% of all girls who underwent the trauma of forced or pressured sex. The next step for us will be taking steps to try and address the underlying causes which will obviously be a huge challenge.

Aside from the GBV programme, Tom has been busy preparing (and this week delivering) some infection control training for health centre staff in light of COVID and ordering more protective equipment for the health centres as part of a programme sponsored by Irish Aid. He’s enjoyed getting out and about, particularly enjoying seeing some patients at the health centres when he’s visiting.

 

The boys have enjoyed getting involved in the harvest - we've had an abundance of mangoes from our one tree and now the beans are ready for drying (top - shelling the beans ; bottom left - Eli with a day's mango haul)
They also spend a lot of time in imaginary play around the garden (bottom right - Ezra and Joel making 'soup')

 

Finding a new rhythm


Lockdown was eased a few weeks ago and now most of the shops have reopened, apart from non-food markets. Public gatherings are supposed to be limited to 5 and the main imposition is that passenger transport is still banned. The number of cases is still fairly low on a global scale (902 cases, 0 deaths) but as most of the cases have been brought in from neighbouring countries, they are continuing to restrict transport in the border regions. This means there are large numbers of people who are struggling with no income and there are continued problems with people not being able to travel to health centres or hospitals.

We’ve settled into a new routine with Tom working full time for the last month. We manage to get some amount of homeschooling done each morning while Joel and Simeon either play around us -for Joel this often involves climbing on us and sitting on or scribbling over the boys’ books - or they follow Noble, our watchman, around the garden while he tries to work. It’s hard work trying to keep the older boys focussed but we’re doing our best for now.

Joel, Ezra and I go for walks in our neighbourhood most evenings and we’ve got to know some children from a few families who Ezra plays with, joining in with their local games. All ages seem to love babies here so Joel is always a big hit and gets carried off by older children. It’s harder to get to know the parents but I’m slowly befriending a few of the mums and need to be patient in this. Eli and Simeon usually prefer to stay at home. Eli in particular finds it harder not to get upset when the local children point and laugh at us and try and chase and stroke him, but he’s finding it a bit easier each time he comes out.

His grace is enough


There is so much need here and we’re learning how best to help people, when the assumed solution is that we will give money to friends and visitors who ask. I’ve spent a good number of hours in conversation with an interesting chap we've got to know a little, who openly talks about it being good to ‘have access to mundus’ (white people) because 'they have access to money'. A good number of those mundus who have previously supported him are currently stuck in other countries and won’t be back for a while. On the one hand, he’s right and we’re very aware that us just being here means Milly and Noble have a job and can support their families better but it brings up all sorts of questions about our role and how we interact as foreigners here.

We’re thankful that the boys are generally more settled and we’re enjoying getting to know people in the local community. We’re also thankful for some other expat families who we’ve been able to join in with for a small, weekly home church, as local church buildings remain closed.

We’ve always prayed that God would break our hearts for the people here and fill us with love and compassion. We’re thankful for daily opportunities to interact with different people but are conscious we need to be wise in our interactions. Life is generally more tiring here - trying to learn and understand a new language and not offend people by saying the wrong thing, loving and helping people in need but also sussing out when people aren’t being genuine and being careful not to become cynical.

We’ve enjoyed watching a weekly online church upload from Worship for Everyone - a family with four children in the UK. We’ve often been challenged by the uncomplicated take-away messages and the songs they write and perform. The most recent song, Slingshot, reminds us of God’s power in our weakness, based around the story of David and Goliath. We’re so thankful that ‘God’s grace is sufficient for us, for his power is made perfect in weakness.’ 2 Corinthians 12:9.

 

Hanging out with some new local friends

 

 

Things to pray for:

  • Continued energy, love and grace in our interactions with the people God brings into our lives each day
  • For us to keep God at the centre of our family as we live out life together in full view of Milly and Noble, both of whom come from reasonably complicated family homes
  • For protection for health centre staff in the diocese as coronavirus continues to be a major risk near the border and with some limited local transmission
  • For protection for all local people at risk of gender-based violence and for wisdom for us as we look to implement solutions addressing the practical problems whilst pointing firmly to Jesus.

Thanks again for all your prayers and support and please continue to let us know how we can be praying for you in return.

Blessings
Verity, Tom, Ezra, Eli, Simeon and Joel

 
 
 

 

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