A team from Christ Church Parish, Lisburn, was in Luwero, Uganda, from February 13-26 to work at St Apollo School. You will find a full photo gallery at the end of this report.
This was the fourth parish team to visit the school since 2012, with the last team travelling to Luwero in 2017 and a trip cancelled in 2020 because of Covid-19. The team was made up of the rector, the Ven Paul Dundas, Archdeacon of Dalriada, and 13 parishioners.
Here, Archdeacon Dundas, reflects on the trip.
‘God is good all the time – all the time God is good, that is his nature – Wow, Wonderful, Excellent, Marvellous and Fantastic’ followed by clapping is an enduring memory of school life at St Apollo and the local church there.
The children loved to sing and dance whether at school or at the church. They loved to sing praises to the Lord. It was so evident from the welcome we received on Wednesday February 15 to the Celebration Day on Thursday February 23. Such joy and love that was expressed.
However, as we journeyed with the school and church community, we heard the stories from the period of Covid-19 and about rising costs for the basics of life such as food.
We heard of children who had died, who did not return to school because they are now working, got married, moved to another area or because there is no money to pay school fees.
I believe our visit was timely for the school community, as people heard of it and came to the Celebration Day and hopefully more children will begin their education. One immediate observance as we journeyed to the school was that the nursery school which was about a kilometre from St Apollo never re-opened after Covid.
The parish team had to adjust immediately after the long journey and to temperatures in the mid 30s to deliver the programme. We used the diocesan guest house at Luwero as our base which meant a journey of around 75 minutes each way – of which around 35 were minutes on the bumpy dirt roads.
The team there looked after all our needs, especially our food, rooms and getting the WiFi sorted. Our driver Isaac was so patient in driving us safely during our entire time in Uganda, particularly over some very bumpy roads and in Kampala traffic.
We delivered two kids’ bible clubs, with the rector leading the first one based on the story of Mary on the Thursday. We used puppets for the first time and the kids were filled with joy and giggles as we also sang ‘Sing high, sing low’, a song they took to their hearts.
We did a memory verse based on John 14: 15, ‘If you love me, keep my commands,’ and a craft in the shape of a flower with the words ‘I am the Lord’s servant’ to colour in.
Our link worker was Bridget, who had been with us on our two previous visits and she interpreted the whole time we were at the school and brought a deeper understanding to the stories and all we shared.
Audrey Knowles led the second club on Monday, based on the story of Miriam and the birth of Moses. Singing a memory verse based on John 13: 34, ‘As I have loved you, so you must love one another,’ a drama based on the story was followed by the craft using a paper plate.
Bridget said later that day that the visual presentation brought new life to a story she knew. The children paid great attention to each story and the ways the message was presented. They loved colouring in and took great pride in their crafts.
On Friday the team delivered a programme to the children on hygiene and again used songs and puppets and the visual aid of a paper hand to emphasise the importance of personal hygiene. They focused on 1 Cor 6:7 with their bodies being special to God.
On this trip, I delivered a seminar for the clergy of Luwero Diocese on the Friday based on Ephesians chapter 4 on the theme of unity and growth, which fitted into the diocesan theme for 2023. The seminar was held at the diocesan guest house and a light breakfast and lunch was provided for around 40 clergy.
I was delighted to meet the Rev Zeridah, George and Charles and present them with a commentary on the book of Ephesians. Further links with the diocese were enriched by meeting the Ven Godfrey Kasana, who has responsibility for St Apollo Church.
On the Sunday, he led worship at the church with us present. I preached on the Transfiguration, reflecting on themes around the person of Jesus Christ, ‘it was good to be here’ and continuing to ‘tell’ the story of the good news of Jesus Christ whether in Lisburn or St Apollo.
We were warmly welcomed by the church community and they provided lunch for us. The new team members experienced matoke and groundnut sauce for the first time!
That same day, we welcomed Sarah who had been the first team’s link worker. At dinner, we welcomed Bishop Eridard and Mama Jane to the guest house as the Bishop will be retiring in July. We shared some words of gratitude for their ministry, presented them with gifts and then we enjoyed a special cake to mark their service in the diocese.
When we gathered at home in Christ Church for the Commissioning Service on Sunday February 12, the Rev Chris Pollock shared from 1 Peter 1 on ‘living stones,’ but he also shared about the ‘Ebenezer’ stone from 1 Samuel 7:12, ‘thus far, the Lord has helped us.’ All in church were given a stone, with those on the team to take theirs to Uganda and give it to someone.
We all did this on the Celebration Day and people, particularly staff, felt truly blessed. Those who were in Christ Church on February 19 were to bring their’s back with them that day.
As a team we can testify that the Lord helped us in so many ways to keep us strong and healthy to deliver the programme and especially when decisions on our plans had to be adjusted.
We had many ‘God moments’ as living stones when we saw God’s hand revealing something new. We had a new culture, weather, food, routine and being part of a team to adjust to as well. I can think of Rehema who travelled five hours from nursing college to see us as GFS in Connor, Down and Dromore had sponsored her after our trip in 2017. She had gone to Bethel Royal for her secondary education. She was so appreciative of all who have supported her and took great delight in showing us her nurse’s uniform. She was given a Christ Church GFS top.
Having Bridget was another of those moments as we were initially informed by Fields of Life that she would not be our link worker. How delighted we were when we heard three days before travelling that she would indeed be our link worker. She is a very godly women, who looked out for us and enjoyed being with us in the programme we delivered and continues to learn our sense of humour and Richard’s jokes.
On the Wednesday, Raymond, Beth, Bridget and I walked to Shammah High School in Luwero, about 35 minutes from the guest house. We were to see Violet who was sponsored by KLIC in church and Teddy who was sponsored by Raymond and Gail Geddis.
We met Isaac on the way and he recognised us and came with us back to school. When we were there, we met Wyclif who is sponsored by Beth. He had called earlier that day at St Apollo. That is a story Beth can tell!
We met these four students who all had attended St Apollo but were now at this high school. We exchanged some gifts and Isaac prayed for us and I prayed for these four students. It was truly memorable.
I think of the moment the borehole started working again on the Wednesday lunchtime when we were sitting in the church and I could see the excitement of the children as water was pumped again.
I think of the journey to Bethel Royal on the Saturday over some difficult roads, but the joy of the welcome by the girls’ choir and Madam Annet Kissa. Raymond presented her with sports gifts including a copy of ‘The Story of St Apollo,’ as Annet was the person who located the site for the school and inspired people to build the school.
‘I AM GIRL’
The team delivered two ‘I am Girl’ sessions to P4-5 and P6-7 children which focused on the empowerment of young girls and the boys supporting them and understanding menstruation and puberty. There was small group work including boys and girls and male teachers with open and honest discussion and positive feedback.
The emphasis was based around Jeremiah 29:11. An ‘I am Girl’ menstruation pack was given to each girl and each pack included pants, pads, soap and a facecloth. The puppets, Ruth and Daniel, listened carefully to the story and Daniel was embarrassed by the frank discussion but he learnt from the talk.
Our team hosted a ladies’ afternoon on Tuesday for more than 60 ladies from the community which was based on the story of Esther, with the team playing out part of this story based around a banquet.
Janice shared on the story of Esther who became the Queen and saved the Jewish nation from disaster. Esther spoke with boldness to the King and they were saved. Janice applied this to her own life as a hairdresser, the role of women and all who prayed for her especially last year. This was followed by nail painting, juice and biscuits and the giving out of crosses, hand cream, cotton cloth, scripture text of Jeremiah 29: 11 and bras to over 60 ladies.
Raymond, Richard and Stephen were responsible for painting the outside of the two school blocks as well as painting the inside of the staff room and three classrooms. They were assisted by Gideon and Joshua from the local community and Isaac our driver. It was a great achievement to get so much done. I got the chance to paint the outside of the cookhouse which Lisburn Rotary had built.
On our full final day, some of the team including Jane, Beth, Audrey and Roberta, worked with the nursery children in the church with snowballs, making crowns, blowing bubbles and colouring in. They left a ‘hope’ doll as well. Anna, Ashleigh, Karen, Beverley and I put on a sports day for the children. They were very competitive with the variety of games and races.
We journeyed on the Thursday to the Celebration Day with around 600 people attending, including civic leaders. We truly enjoyed the children singing songs and reciting poems and dancing. We did have to listen to a few speeches from political and community leaders, but Rachel from Fields of Life spoke powerfully on the impact of the partnership and for the school community to work toward sustainability.
I spoke on behalf of the team to give thanks for the welcome of the school, the opportunity to be at the school, the women of faith we have encountered, the dedication of the staff and the opportunity to continue being a place of hope in a challenging time.
We all received plaques with our names on them and one larger plaque for the team that spoke of hope being stirred up in us all.
We left the school with so many mixed emotions but thankful for the opportunity of continued partnership in mission. This was central to Bishop Eridard’s comments as he closed the Celebration Day, thankful for our hearts filled with love and sacrifice, which were mission minded and merciful. He spoke of us being mission partners.
As we travelled home, we had a long journey to Busowooko Falls on the River Nile with a trip to a Java Coffee shop as well. On the Saturday we did some shopping in Kampala. Our flights home went smoothly, and we got back to see family on Sunday morning.
There are so many personal memories for each team member to thank the Lord for. God was good and he did help us all the way, but it is for His Glory alone that we embarked on this mission trip.
We met many godly people who blessed and enriched us. We encountered a school in challenging times but trusting they were encouraged as they have such a dedicated staff and an amazing principal in Madam Esther. We witnessed the children enjoying their education at the school.
Although we are separated by distance, we have them in our hearts and vice versa. We continue to pray for them to be a people of HOPE in Jesus Christ.
I am so pleased that Beth, Raymond, Audrey, Roberta, Ashleigh, Jane, Stephen, Karen, Richard, Janice, Beverley and my daughter Anna journeyed in February 2023 to a beautiful country and continued the amazing partnership of the parish with the school, Fields of life and CMSI. I am extremely grateful for the wisdom and guidance of Helen D’Arcy in the office here and all in the office in Uganda who looked after us.
I was truly blessed. God is GOOD all the time.