Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Blogging from Masindi Hotel, Uganda

I'm sitting on the veranda of Masindi Hotel, the oldest and probably the most famous hotel in Uganda. Built in 1923 by The East Africa Railways and Harbours Company. Masindi was the gateway to the hinterland of Africa where goods and produce from the Northern Congo and Southern Sudan found their way to European markets. Cargo was shipped across Lake Albert, trucked from Butiaba up to Masindi Customs Sheds. From Masindi, goods were trucked on to Masindi Port on Lake Kyoga where it was shipped down to Soroti and then by railway to Mombasa.

The hotel has been host to several famous visitors before we arrived last night.... Ernest Hemmingway's made a legendary trip to the district, where he was involved in two plane crashes in the space of a week. The first at Murchison Falls and the second at Butiaba airstrip. Hemmingway stayed at Masindi Hotel whilst recovering. Humphrey Bogart and Catherine Hepburn also stayed at Masindi Hotel during the filming of "African Queen" at Masindi Port.

This is the third year Jim McAnlis (CMS Ireland and Fields of Life), Craig Dyer, training Director of  Christianity Explored and I have assisted in equipping church leaders to use the course. Two years ago we launched the Luganda translation and last year the Swahili edition.

On Monday and Tuesday last week we participated in the national launch of Christianity Explored in Kampala, hosted by the Uganda Bible Society. We also held a second conference to train teachers from Uganda and Burundi, connected with Fields of Life schools, to use the youth version of Christianity Explored called CY.

At the invitation of the Rt. Rev. Evans Kisekkathe Anglican Bishop of Luweero, we then held a two day conference for about 50 clergy from several local Diocese in how to train others to use CE. Then we moved to Kiwoko Christian hospital to participate (for the third year) in the 7th Annual Kiwoko Bible Conference. Between 800-1000 pastors from a wide area joined in this Bible teaching week, and Craig, Jim and I shared in the teaching as well as encouraged them to use CE.

On Saturday I visited the Compassion Project UG-507, Wakayamba Child Development Centre which cares for about 260 children, many of whom are orphans. It is an amazing oasis of hope and encouragement providing education, health care, food and clothing, and above all, a future for those children.

On Sunday I preached twice at St John's Anglican Church in Kiwoko, at the Ugandan service and then the English service which is primarily for Expats working in the hiospital and local relief agencies.Then we drove four hours to Masindi and the famous Masindi Hotel for a good night's sleep.

Masindi is our base for the week and each day we drive north to Bweyale. The journey takes over an hour, on very dusty and bumpy unmade roads, and longer if we keep to the main roads with tarmac. People tend to ride three or four to a motorbike, two or thee to a bicycle or stand in the back of open cattle trucks - sometimes as many as 50 people in one lorry. Then there are the pedestrians and cattle to avoid that walk by the road side. Passing oncoming vehicles while dodging the motorbikes, cyclists and pedestrians requires precision especially where the road is narrow or has deep ditches on either side. Right of way tends to go to the largest vehicle or the more aggressive driver.

Bweyale is on the main Kampala - Gulu road and has become a bustling town, home to a wide range of people groups as well as refugees from the surrounding countries. Over 80 different languages are spoken in Bweyale which creates challenges for the civic as well as church leaders.

We are here at the invitation of the Rt. Rev. Stanley Ntagalio of Masindi Diocese to assist with two training conferences for clergy and church leaders to help equip them to use Christianity Explored to reach their communities with the good news of Jesus Christ. Last year Christ Church, Virginia Water supplied two motorbikes for the Anglican and Pentecostal clergy to access their outlying communities.

To God be the glory and the future of the Church of Uganda.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Blogging from Kiwoko Hospital in Uganda

Wednesday 19th
Sitting on the veranda of the guest house at Kiwoko Hospital in Luweero, Uganda looking out over jungle and semicultivated land - mostly bananas. Its 7.00am and it feels like England at mid day. The sun is not yet up but its peaceful and beautiful.  The Kiwoko hospital generator has just kicked in so we now have light at last - much better than candles - at least for another couple of hours. Life here in central and very rural Uganda is basic - life expectancy is 45...

Thursday 20th
And then there are the roads. Off the main roads out of Kampala, which are largely tarmaced, the rural roads between towns are literally lethal. Made of sand and rock, deeply rutted, they have a heavy camber, exacerbated by flash floods, which makes passing on coming traffic and avoiding the pedestrians and cyclists, a game of dare (about who will give way first). No running water by the way so we use a latrine in the garden. The rain water is OK for a shower (cold) but not for brushing teeth or drinking. Its hot and sticky at 9.00pm and the moquitos are dying to get in for a drink.... so an eventful night ahead.

Friday 21st

Its 7.00am and the sun is rising over Kiwoko hospital. I am sitting outside on the guest house veranda enjoying a cup cup of tea as the colours of the sky turn from dark blue to pink and orange and yellow. I am covered in mosquito repellant as they are thirsty too. Today I am speaking at the chapel service for the staff. This is a Christian hospital and every morning the staff, including around 80 students at the nursing school, meet for praise and prayer. Today I will be explaining the meaning of the parable Jesus told about of the The Good Palestinian from Samaria

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Christianity Explored: Uganda Launch

In a couple of hours I leave for Kampala and the national launch of Christianity Explored in Uganda. This will be held at the Uganda Bible Society HQ in Kampala. It is expected that up to 200 clergy will attend this day’s training in the use of CE. The majority of those attending will be from the Anglican Church, although there will also be some from the Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and Seventh-Day Adventists churches.

In the next ten days we will hold similar conferences for school teachers working with Fields of Life, Anglican clergy in Luwero and Masindi and participate in the annual Bible conference at Kiwoko Christian Hospital

You can view photos from a visits in 2009 and 2010 here

View videos here

Friday, 14 January 2011

Extermination Camps for Palestinians?

Anyone publicly advocating the use of extermination camps and genocide to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, at least in Britain, would be rightly declared criminal. That these views would ever emanate from a religious leader is utterly reprehensible. That they might be advocated by a Jewish rabbi is totally incomprehensible. Yet the government of Israel apparently funds their ministry.

This is the claim made by Richard Silverstein in Israel's Orthodox Rabbi's 'Palestinians to the Ovens' and by Tony Greenstein in Arabs to the Ovens

Greenstein writes,
In a ‘family magazine' Fountains of Salvation,of what Richard Silverstein calls the radical, right-wing Orthodox rabbinate, an article appears advocating placing the Amalekites, a code for the Palestinians, in death camps. That such an article can appear should not be surprising, as I’ve been detailing for some time things like the appearance of graffiti (in Hebron of course) saying ‘Arabs to the gas chambers’

What we are seeing today is the culmination of Zionism. It has shed its ‘left wing’ which used the phraseology of socialism whilst expelling and massacring the Palestinians, and the appearance of an openly racist and neo-Nazi Orthodox Rabbinate in Israel. What is remarkable is how they use the symbols and imagery of the holocaust, not of course to warn against the evils of racism or even racism against Jews but as a justification for repeating the same to the Arabs.

Rabbi Dov Lior is a well-known figure in Israel. He is not an isolated maverick. He is the Chief Rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arab settlers. He is also a leading scholar of the Religious Zionist camp and reportedly the favourite student of the late Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, son of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. Avraham Cook is revered by the whole religious camp in Israel and acknowledged as the founder of religious Zionism. In his 'honour' the rabidly racist bastion of religious Zionism, the yeshiva of Mercaz Harav was founded in Jerusalem in 1924.
Silverstein concludes quite rightly,
Finally, since I know people of all ideological stripes may read into this story what they wish, I want to make clear that this is not Judaism.  These wicked men may be Jews and rabbis, but they don’t represent normative Judaism any more than Osama bin Laden represents normative Islam.  Do not make the mistake of conflating this idiocy with all of Israel or all of Judaism.  Yes, these men are dangerous, they are hateful, and they must be challenged.  But there is another face of Judaism and another face of Israel (though that is becoming increasingly difficult to see I concede).

Why Do Churches Refuse to Question Israel's Actions?

I had the privilege of dialoguing with Mark Braverman last year when we shared a platform at an event in Washington.

In this presentation, Jewish psychologist Mark Braverman uses his upbringing and experience to create an understanding of why so many mainstream Christian churches refuse to question the racist and immoral behavior of Israel's Zionist government. In a plea to Christians, Braverman talks passionately about not allowing Christians to do what is not Christian and, likewise, not looking the other way when Jews do what is not Jewish.

Mark Braverman’s roots are in the Holy Land – his grandfather, a fifth generation Palestinian Jew, was born in Jerusalem, emigrating the U.S. as a young man. Growing up in the United States, Braverman was reared in the Jewish tradition, studying Bible, Hebrew literature, and Jewish history. Trained in clinical psychology and crisis management, Braverman devoted his professional career to working with groups and individuals undergoing traumatic stress. Returning to the Holy Land in 2006, he was transformed by witnessing the occupation of Palestine and by encounters with peace activists and civil society leaders from the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities.

Since then, Braverman has devoted himself full-time to the Israel/Palestine conflict. He is a co-founder and Executive Director of Friends of Tent of Nations North America, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting Palestinian land rights and peaceful coexistence in historic Palestine. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions-USA, the advisory committee of Friends of Sabeel North America, and the advisory council of the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace. He is a charter member of American Jews for a Just Peace.

For more information see Mark Braverman's website

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Fox News "Out of Control?" Surely not

Ian Burrell writes in the Independent today,
one of Mr Murdoch's former henchmen, Andrew Neil, publicly questioned whether the world's most powerful media figure retained his grip over his organisation. Criticising the output of Murdoch's Fox News, Mr Neil, the founding chairman of Sky TV and the former editor of The Sunday Times, said the News Corp CEO was "uncomfortable" with Fox's right-wing presenters, Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck.
"My own view is [Fox] is out of control," Neil told Richard Bacon yesterday on BBC Radio 5 Live. "I think Rupert Murdoch has lost control of it. I know from sources he's not happy with a lot that appears on it and I think he's lost over the Glenn Becks and the O'Reillys," said Mr Neil.
It certainly seems to be re-drawing the international borders of the Middle East.

Read more on the Wikileaks 'Insurance' Cache on Murdoch

Friday, 7 January 2011

Made in the USA: deadly gas used on civilians

Over on Common Dreams, Ira Chernus writes on the growing list of fatalities and casualties of Israel’s Deadly Tear Gas Made in USA
The Israeli peace movement is coming back to life, and it's a very courteous movement indeed. When activists find things marked "Made in USA" lying on the ground they deliver them directly to the U.S. ambassador to Israel. The other night they returned  a bunch of empty tear gas canisters, all marked "made in USA,"  fired by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank. They're used to break up nonviolent protests against the Israeli-built wall that is tearing Palestinian life apart.
One canister made in the USA killed Jawaher Abu Rahmah, in the village of Bil'in, on the last day of 2010. Another one killed Jawaher's brother, Bassem, in April, 2009.
Apparently the ambassador did not appreciate the courteous gesture. The police quickly arrived, broke up the action, arrested eleven people, and found a way to keep them jailed on trumped up charges.   
But these canisters, and the Israeli soldiers who shoot them, don't discriminate against Palestinians. American-made tear gas canisters are used against American citizens too.
Just a few days before Bassem Abu Rahmah was killed by a tear gas canister blow to the chest, an American volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, Tristan Anderson, was hit in the head by the same kind of canister in the village of Nil'in. Anderson survived, though surgeons had to remove part of his brain. Another American, Emily Henochowicz, lost her eye in June, 2010 when she was hit by a tear gas canister during a protest at a West Bank checkpoint. 
Read more here.

Read more of Ira Chernus here

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Walid Shoebat "nukes will take care of the whole [Muslim] problem"

Richard Bartholomew reports on the latest wisdom from Walid Shoebat, the alleged former PLO terrorist, originally published by The Facts about Islam. Bartholomew admits, "This is rather crude, even for Shoebat". Yes, well, decide for yourself.
I would wish that the whole Muslim world would listen to Mr Bakri and fight by the sword literally. This way the nukes will take care of the whole problem once and for all.
Shoebat was speaking on Bassim and Haifa Gorial’s ABN, an evangelical TV station which seeks the conversion of Muslims to Christianity – an aim with which the more sanguinary-minded Shoebat appears to have little patience, despite his supposed adherence to Christianity.

Shoebat was in the news just recently, when the Washington Post noted that he had addressed law enforcement in South Dakota as a supposed expert on Islamic terrorism; Chip Berlet followed this up with a report that Shoebat had advised an anti-terrorist conference in Las Vegas that the way to deal with Islamic militants is simply to “Kill them…including the children”. Shoebat also claims that Obama is a Muslim working for Islamic terrorists, and alongside his “terror expert” gravy-train he also visits churches to explain that the Bible predicts a Muslim anti-Christ.
Read more about Shoebat on Bartholomew's Notes on Religion or visit Walid Shoebat

Jews on First have published a short expose on Shoebat. There is also a longer article from the Jerusalem Post

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Christians Suffering in the Middle East

With increased persecution of Christians by Islamist extremists in countries such as Iraq and Egypt, the BBC has produced a helpful summary of the status of Christians in the Middle East.

See also Christian minorities living under Muslim rule.