Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Visit to PAG

The team on the exposure visit have had a wonderful, inspiring day and we are in awe at the way God has worked through PAG Soroti in the communities we visited today.

We met initially in the PAG offices. Unfortunately Bishop Francis had a funeral to take today and was not able to be with us but came and met with us in the morning to apologise and ask us to visit again and maybe spend more time with him and the PAG team on training and ministry. Sadly also Simon the General Manager was ill and we didn't meet him. We were hosted by Sam the new Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Pastor Patrick, who we have met before, Deena the finance officer and Filo(mene) the new Health Programme Officer. They provided a great welcome and a fantastic summary of the PEP (participatory evaluation process) that was piloted in PAG Soroti and has now been implemented in 946 communities in the Soroti region. 

We had a well thought through programme to visit 3 new communities including Kadungulu which Love Africa has supported in the current funding round, which was completed only 4 hours behind schedule by 7.45pm tonight!

The first visit was to Iruko okulukulun community. The welcome from the people was overwhelming in its extravagance with unconstrained singing, dancing and ululating (!) in their excitement at a visit from a group of white people for the first time. After the group introduced themselves we heard reports and testimonies of the impact of the PEP process on the community, how attitudes, individuals and the entire community had been transformed The people came from PAG, the Anglican Church of Uganda and the Catholic Church. They had worked to together on a "people living with HIV" (PLWHIV) support group and moved beyond the success of the PEP process to set up a savings and loan scheme for the community to allow funding of new projects, school fees etc. The people demanded a "word of encouragement from your leader" (Hebrews 4.12) and a blessing from the real theological Pastor (Phil) and thanked us for the encouragement they had received from the people who cared for them so much in the Lord to travel to their village to meet them.

The whole experience was overwhelming for the group in the outpouring of emotion, the exuberance of the dancing, the response of the people to what we shared and their testimonies. We left with great difficulty when we had to say good bye and shake hands with almost everyone in the village and by promising we would visit again!

We travelled on to the village of Kagawara on the lake, a main landing site for the fishermen. We were welcomed by a smaller group, with less exuberance but equal sincerity at their pleasure of the visit. The presentations were more formal from the Chairs of various political and Church sub groups, again cross denominational (could we learn something?)  These people too testified to the power of the PEP process in transforming individual lives and the community. They were anxious to have an open Q&A session and again several couples were keen to be identified as being PLWHIV. This group too wanted a word from our leader (John 3,16) and a blessing from the Pastor. We were taken to the lake to inspect the boats and the landing place and then as we were ready to leave at 4.30pm they sprung on us an invitation to a "late lunch". Not to offend we ate quickly and sparingly and set off for the Kadungula community.

This is a community where Love Africa has supported a PEP process over the last 2 years with amazing impact. Though the people were lower key than Iruko they were engaged and anxious to shares their stories of the impact of the PEP process, how their studies of the Bible illustrating the Church as salt and light, stories of resource mobilisation and relationship building has impacted their community and driven change. They have set up 2 finance schemes supporting youth (up to 35) and adults which have been used to e.g. finance buying timber for a carpenter to make beds, to fund school fees and scholastic materials in the short term. The confidence and pride that these people showed in their faith in action was an inspiration to us all. We had to leave quickly as it was dark and the 30 minutes journey along bumpy unmade roads seemed to take 90 minutes in the dark. When we arrived even the Desert Resort seemed welcoming. People were exhausted from the travelling and the emotions of a day where we were really confronted by the power of Love Africa releasing this latent power of the local Church.

For some context, 2 years after my last visit, 3 areas of change were apparent,

2-3 years ago the emphasis was on people being tested for HIV to come to terms with their status, now people were willingly acknowledging that they are living with HIV, the testing is pretty much universal, monitoring of the disease is much more sophisticated and most people seemed to be on free ARV (anti retroviral) treatments

2-3 years ago the PEP process was taking root and the testimonies were about regaining self esteem, collaboration in the community and small income generating projects, today people seemed to have sustainable income and were contributing to savings and loan schemes to allow each other to access money for their businesses or to educate children

2-3 years ago the Church buildings were rudimentary - today all 3 communities had built substantial new brick Churches that could house maybe 200 people for worship

We as a Church should rejoice at the privilege of being involved in Love Africa and the impact on people’s lives that has been achieved through God's use of the PEP process.

In your prayers please

- give thanks for the staff at PAG Soroti, Bishop Francis, Simon, Sam, Filo and Patrick, their skill, expertise and faithful service
- give thanks for the people in these 3 communities (and the 943 others) where faith in Jesus Christ is being lived out in a practical way that transforms lives
- for safe travel for the team as we head to Mbale tomorrow and for Paul and Emma driving
- for a day of equal encouragement at ACET Mbale and UWCM.”