Sabbaticals bring many benefits. One is obviously time for reflection: on the past, present and future; on what matters; on what has made us who we are. And I can say without hesitation that, for good and sometimes perhaps for ill, our Uganda years made a far greater impact on me than any other four-year period as an adult. Of course, one never realises it at the time. Life goes on, you blithely persevere from one thing to the next, you never stop to think. Read more
This is important. Bishop Zac Niringiye used to be my sort-of boss for the 4 years we worked in Uganda. He was the secretary of the trustees of the college I taught in and had actually been someone I consulted about life there before we moved in 2004. His advice to me was simple then. “Don’t try to be a Ugandan, Mark. You’re not. You’re a Brit.” Superb – of course cultural sensitivity is essential – but it is only works if it is accompanied by authenticity and integrity. Zac is a strong character with strong passions and a good mind (he was a Langham scholar, doing his theology PhD in Scotland). He’s not always easy! But he’s someone with real integrity and gospel concern. Read more
Nearly 10 years ago, a dear friend of mine was addressing a gathering of Ugandan MPs in the Parliament building in Kampala (around the 40th anniversary of independence). It included those from all shades on the political spectrum, including not a few post-colonial firebrands. My friend is certainly no great apologist for imperialism, but he posed two simple questions.
- “Which Ugandan regions (of those that the British failed to develop) have we since developed?”
- “What aspects of public life, government and rule of law have we improved on or done better in than the colonial regime?”
This is a random Friday Fun. It’s not especially funny, although some will probably think this makes me seem very funny, putting me in the same bracket as collectors of birdsong CDs. Too bad. It just so happened that I was searching for some old files on my computer and came across these – I’d completely forgotten I’d made them. But in the few days before we left Uganda in the summer of 2005, I took my rudimentary digital recorder out into the garden and just let it listen. Read more
It is not just the victims of imperialism who easily identify its sins and blindspots. Those who have wielded and then lost empires are quick to spot the parallels in others’. Perhaps that was partly why Graham Greene was such a caustic critic of what he perceived as the twentieth century’s new imperialist incarnation: the United States. Of course Greene had strong left-wing sympathies and was openly anti-American, which provided convenient filters by which the right could ignore his perspectives. It’s no surprise that he was under FBI surveillance from the 1955 publishing of The Quiet American until his death in 1991. Read more
During the 4 years we worked in Uganda, I would have this conversation with students all too often. They would despairingly deprecate African states for their oh-so predictable corruption, nepotism and despotism. It would be shrugged off and perhaps accompanied by a green-eyed comment about western political systems. And indeed, when chatting with friends back home, they would often enquire whether X or Y countries were doing ‘worse or better these days’ – shorthand for whether their respective rulers were now more, or less, openly corrupt and oppressive. Such is the caricature many outsiders have of Africa – and of course, there’s no smoke without fire, etc etc. Read more
Not quite sure how I came across this wonderful Wiki page - but for any who have ever lived or visited Uganda, or East Africa generally for that matter, it is a treasure trove. Definitely worth printing out as a precautionary measure to keep in your back pocket.
Which reminded me of some things we wrote in our monthly newsletter when we were living there… exactly 7 years ago - simply can’t believe it was that long ago now.
I recently surfed (via StumbleUpon) to another random photo compilation, this time of the inestimable Yves Arthus-Bertrand (he of the amazing Earth from Above photos). His images are always stunning. And the compilation is certainly remarkable. But this one stood out, even though it is by no means one of his more spectacular images. It gave me this weird sense of deja-vu – and I couldn’t place it for a while. (If you’re interested, it’s of some very unusual suburbs in Copenhagen.)
Then it came back to me. But a few years ago, while we were still living in Uganda, I had the chance to go on a day’s flight around Uganda with an old friend, Laurie, a pilot with MAF. Every few years, they need to fly to each of the airstrips in the country to measure them (to make sure they’re not shrinking because of weeds and other growth), to check coordinates are right and other tests. As it was not possible to use this to take passengers, I was able to go along with them.
As we were flying over the remote and underdeveloped region of Karamoja (near Uganda’s border with Kenya), we saw these Karamajong villages far below us. Ring any bells?
The Karamajong are a people group whose lives revolve around cattle. Their wealth is measured in heads of cattle; their diet is built on the staples of cows’ milk, cows’ blood and beef; their lifestyles entirely revolve around the care, protection and health of their herds. And as you can see vividly from the air, their social planning does too. For in the centre of each settlement is an area to keep the family’ herd at night. The reason is simple – one of the other activities they get involved in is cattle rustling. Feuds with the other clans, and with the other people groups across the border like the Turkana, go back decades even centuries. This social phenomenon, probably more than any other factor else, drives this sort of town planning.
It’s especially interesting when placed alongside one I took on that trip in another area of Uganda – this time Busoga, the area around the source of the Nile at Jinja. As you can see, this is a very different arrangement. This time the protective ring is not dwellings around the herd, but trees around the dwellings. This is a fertile area of the country, as you can tell by the greenness, and these are arable farmers.
I’m by no means a social anthropologist nor do I have anything particularly profound to say. But it did provoke some thoughts about how we go about protecting what we value. Are we then to assume from the Danish image that their most important possessions are their cars? Probably not because the innovative plan is not designed to keep outsiders out as an experiment in forming new units for community.
However, what do we invest in protecting? And more to the point, what do we not invest in protecting? Simply looking for clues like what gets locked up most rigourously or protected most assiduously might just reveal something about where our hearts lie…
Came across this site via Creative Roots (a site I’ve grown to love): Dar Sketches, is a project set up by a London trained artist, Sarah Markes, who has lived in the Tanzanian city for a few years. She works to encourage the arts in Dar es Salaam, and these sketches are tied in with creative writing she’s hoping to provoke.
Fantastic stuff. For anyone who’s lived in an E. African city, these scenes will be VERY familiar indeed – and I found myself immediately whisked away to the bustle of Kampala. One to keep an eye out for, when these get published in book form.
Further to my suggestion a few weeks back that people should get hold of Carson & Woodbridge’s Letters along the way, I started thinking about the pieces of advice that various bods have given us down the years. So here is a little anthology.
On your first assistant ministry post:
Choose the boss, not the job!
This is crucial because you learn far more on the job in your first job than you ever did/could at college. The models you pick up from your first boss can bless or curse you for years to come! But there is a wider application – because we ALL imitate someone. The question we should always be asking is ‘who actually are we imitating?’
On life and ministry:
Take Jesus seriously; but don’t take yourself seriously.
The key to survival and sanity.
On pastoral temptations
A congregation’s greatest temptation is to place their minister on a pedestal; a minister’s greatest temptation is to want to be there.
Ouch. Too true. I first learned this from David Jackman (though don’t know whether or not it originated with him). The next one is related, by someone called James Crook (though don’t know anything about him).
A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.
On working cross-culturally.
Never go with a preconceived idea of HOW you’re going to work. Never go with a preconceived idea of WHAT you’re going to do.
This was the advice of Martin Goldsmith (formerly of All Nations College) to us just before we left to work in Uganda. It was the most important and telling piece of wisdom we were given. The first half is what they always say to you about cross-cultural work – in other cultures, people do things differently and you need to go with the local flow so often (‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ etc). But the second is harder but for us was prescient. I went to be a lecturer and teacher. I then became academic dean and was doing a third of the teaching I’d done. Then I became Acting Principal and was teaching only 1 hour a week – spending my time getting stressed with admin and fundraising and quietly going nuts. But it was right for a season season. What Martin had said kept me going and encouraged the right service attitude.
On feeling overwhelmed
If you think you are too small to make a difference, try spending the night with a mosquito.
Bit of a cliché this one, but it particularly appeals to anyone who has lived in the tropics. A helpful reminder.
Do you have any other nice one-liners to share?
Here is something a little more light-hearted. I’ve uploaded to my Flickr page a number of classic signs and sights that I’ve spotted on my african travels. Some I’ve shown before (mainly from Uganda), but I’ve added a few from the South Africa trip. Check them out the whole set after this little excerpt:
The problem with ribbons, bracelets and t-shirt campaigns is that they are two-a-penny which dilutes the impact somewhat. Which is why they’ve become politically correct. And that is a crying shame. But today is World AIDS day – and so here is a virtual ribbon to make the point. Without being politically correct. Because AIDS is still an issue. Of appalling proportions, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
I’ll never forget organising a 2-day workshop at the college i taught at in Uganda to help these potential pastors know how to care for those with HIV/AIDS. The main trainer started the seminar off by asking how many people had seen family members die of AIDS related illnesses. EVERY HAND WENT UP. Knowing people who have since died of it, has brought it home hard.
Here are some stats (courtesy of the World AIDS Day website):
In the UK
People living with HIV:
- More than 80,000 people living with HIV in the UK
- One in three people with HIV are undiagnosed
- One in every 360 pregnant women in the UK is HIV positive
New HIV cases in 2007:
- 7,700 new diagnoses in the UK in 2007
- 2,700 new diagnoses among men who have sex with men
- 3,500 new diagnoses among people from black and minority ethnic communities
In the World
People living with HIV:
- 33 million people living with HIV worldwide
- 30.8 million adults
- 15.5 million women
- 2.0 million children under 15
New HIV cases in 2007:
- 2.7 million total new cases
- 2.3 million adults
- 370,000 children under 15
HIV-related deaths in 2007:
- 2.0 million total deaths
Here is something quite cool that will help a little bit. Check it out… Sign up, get music, help the work…
Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.’
No one buries himself; if he does, one of his hands will have to be outside the grave!
Both hands become clean as each hands washes the other in turn.
as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another
Just had my new review on the film Last King of Scotland posted on the Damaris Culture Watch site. I think it is a fascinating film – thought-provoking and challenging. For me, one of the more interesting characters is Dr Junju, played by David Oyelowo (known to Spooks addicts as Danny). He is the one who says the acerbic line to protagonist Garrigan: They will believe you: you are a white man. That seems tome to be one of the keys to what it’s all about.
[For transparency's sake, i should add that i was actually an extra in the movie (in the press conference scene) and so of course am completely unbiased - see previous posting Cinematic Breakthrough - however this does not in anyway affect my objectivity as i didn't even get a credit - can you imagine?]
Making a stand
It’s always difficult to join a bandwagon – but then, if that bandwagon is heading in the right direction, then not to join it is itself problematic.
- So good to see Gordon Brown making a strong stand for the EU-AU summit (yesterday)
- Also inevitable to see Mugabe shrugging it off (today)
- Also, in case you missed it, is the news that China is withdrawing backing from Zimbabwe (report 31st Aug) after years of propping up the decrepit and discredited Mugabe (see photo).
Perhaps this humble blog is making a difference after all… And perhaps our beloved Prime Minister will get the prize from Quaerentia’s very own Spot The Difference competition.
Art imitating life?
Incidentally, I am acutely sensitive to the way that Africa gets portrayed in fiction and on screen (i have a forthcoming review of Last King of Scotland coming soon). So much is patronising, ignorant or profoundly unhelpful.
So I had my antennae out on stalks last night when we watched Season 5, episode 4 of SPOOKS (known as MI-5 in the US) - the new boxed set happily arrived last week! After a pretty iffy and unrealistic concept and start, it did improve – not least because of its portrayal of the moral dilemmas inherent in involvement with African politics. Read the synopsis here if you’ve not see it and don’t want to. It revolves around a G8/AU (African Union) summit to deal with fair trade deals for Africa – obviously a perennial and knotty issue. It is obviously tv – and real life is much more complex than could ever be conveyed in a spy thriller. But dare i say it, i couldn’t help wondering whether or not there were any deliberate similarities between the fictional President Sekoa of West Monrassa (played by the excellent George Harris) and President Museveni of Uganda – both lauded in the west as African pioneers and leaders, while getting up to all kinds of dodgy stuff behind the facade.
And while we’re on this tack – one of my favourite West Wing episodes, and one which really breaks the heart, is Season 2 episode 4: In This White House. While all kinds of different plot lines are being followed (in true TWW style), the primary concern is that of a dialogue between the CEOs of major US Pharmaceuticals and an African president looking for ways to get cheaper HIV/AIDS drugs to his continent. Played by the brilliant South African actor Zakes Mokae, President Nimbala of Khundu comes across as a sympathetic leader doing his best against impossible odds – but thwarted at every turn. The ending is simply tragic – but not implausible (which makes it all the more affecting). And yet without being patronising or generalising, the episode realistically and movingly conveys the agonies of the continent. There are no glib solutions here – and that is precisely the point.
Today John Stott is 86 years old. Today also marks the day when Uncle John will formally retire from public ministry. It is for the rest of us a sad day – but for him perfectly right, reasonable and proper. He certainly deserves the rest from the public eye!
Last Sunday (22nd April), he read the Bible reading at our 11.30 service at All Souls, Langham Place (a church he has been associated with since his birth, quite literally). It was a very moving moment – he is of course frail (not surprising at 86 and after a fall and hip replacement last August) and needed help to get into the pulpit which he dominated for so many years. But his voice – unique and unmistakable – was as strong, crisp and clear as ever. There was clearly no way he could sustain it for long so it is no wonder he’s cutting back. But there is no doubting the commitment, conviction and passion that still remain despite the frailties – which is why he is determined to speak at the Keswick Convention this year as the one exception to his public retirement.
I’ve been trying to think of the things that i most appreciate about him and his ministry (even though I’ve only recently got to know him a little bit having only met a few times before joining the All Souls staff). This posting is not hagiography, guru-worship nor a form of evangelical papism! He is the first to deplore from such thinking and is quite open about being fallible and flawed – and inevitably there are issues about which people disagree with him. But there are some things that are simply undeniable and that need articulating because he is such a wonderful role-model for us younger Christians:
- A profound love for God and love for people whatever their backgrounds and nationalities
- Clear biblical convictions combined with a wide generosity of spirit (especially to those with whom he disagrees)
- Academic and scholarly rigour combined with pastoral sensitivity
- An enviable crystal clarity of thought coupled with the ability to communicate engagingly and relevantly (and often with remarkable precision and brevity)
- A teachability and hunger to learn (which is still present) coupled by a fascination and love for a huge breadth of interests (not just birds!)
- A seriousness about the things that matter but a twinkle in the eye when humour is required to deflate the puffed up or the intense. In fact only last week he described me as an ‘ignorant fool’ for having the temerity to describe all gulls as ‘seagulls’ in a sermon and for not being able to discern which are the ones that we can hear from our central London home every morning.
During our time in Uganda, it was clear John Stott was still hugely influential even there. In fact, he is regarded as one of the most influential Christian leaders in Africa in the 20th Century – despite never actually having lived anywhere outside W1, London (unless you count boarding schools and university)! As a result of his international travel and personal friendships, his speaking and writing, he truly has a global family – which is why he is universally known as Uncle John – a way of showing respect in many countries while also showing huge affection and friendship.
This photo was taken in 2003 (at High Leigh conference centre) at a consultation for those involved in setting up Langham Preaching conferences around the world. I was there almost by accident really (was back from Uganda for a couple of weeks anyway) – yet it was one of the most extraordinary and special 48 hours i’ve ever experienced. 25 people from India, Lebanon, Egypt, USA, UK, Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Burundi, Philippines, Hong Kong – all of whom owe so much to Uncle John (by his example, encouragement and for many there, through the Langham Scholarship programme enabling them to do PhDs). Now Langham Preaching is operating in many other countries as well, headed up by Jonathan Lamb, far left. (Before anyone comments, I’ve absolutely no idea why i’ve got my eyes closed – it was in February and not exactly bright – ho hum)
Despite slowing down, he’s not stopped thinking. And last year his wonderful series of Quiet Time notes (Through The Bible Through The Year ) was published, and his 50th Book The Living Church is out any minute! Can’t really say much about it yet because i’ve not read it! But i’ve no doubt that it’s worth a read.
But let me finish by quoting from someone who knows him far better than I do – Timothy Dudley-Smith.
To those who know and meet him, respect and affection go hand in hand. The world-figure is lost in personal friendship, disarming interest, unfeigned humility—and a dash of mischievous humour and charm. By contrast, he thinks of himself, as all Christians should but few of us achieve, as simply a beloved child of a heavenly Father; an unworthy servant of his friend and master, Jesus Christ; a sinner saved by grace to the glory and praise of God. (Who is John Stott? – All Souls Broadsheet – April/May 2001)
I hope and pray I’m like that when i grow up. Happy Birthday Uncle John!
Here are some Links to find out more about him:
John Stott’s Life:
- Langham Partnership – Profile of JOHN STOTT
- Wikipedia profile of JOHN STOTT
- Timothy Dudley-Smith’s Biography – Vol 1 (The Making of a Leader) & Vol 2 (A Global Ministry)
John Stott in the pulpit:
You can download 100s of John Stott’s sermons from the All Souls church website for FREE (though any donations are gratefully received). Click here for Uncle John’s talks and see what you can dig up. There’s a lot to choose from – the recordings go back 40 years to 1966 (when England actually won the World Cup!).
NB You have to register on the site (requiring just an email address and password) before you can download a maximum of 30 a month (to protect our servers). After all, that is still one a day if you stop to think about it!
John Stott in the public eye:
- New York Times Op-Ed – WHO IS JOHN STOTT (Nov 30 2004) by David Brooks
- Time 100 – JOHN STOTT – TEACHER OF THE FAITH (2005) by Billy Graham
- Awarded C.B.E. in 2006 New Year’s Honours’ List
- Tim Stafford Interviews John Stott in Christianity Today (Oct 2006)
John Stott in print:
- A Comprehensive Bibliography – Timothy Dudley-Smith’s mammoth reference work for everything he’d written before 1995
- Timeless Classics – To see a list of some of his key books still in print with his favourite publisher – IVP. Many of these will be read for decades to come. My favourites are:
- The Cross of Christ
- The Incomparable Christ
- Calling Christian Leaders
- Evangelical Truth
- 2 Timothy & Ephesians (Bible Speaks Today)
A fuller list can be found at Langham Partnership’s site