The HOPE+ Africa house hosts a once a week worship and study time, but our church is 24/7. We are a community of friends and family and spend a great deal of time together celebrating, crying, telling stories, making jokes, praying for each other, singing and dancing, and eating together. We do A LOT of eating together.
The church offers free meals each Wednesday to our community. We serve the Eucharist frequently. We take up an offering and then those who attend draw lots, whoever gets the lot gets the entire offering to do with as they wish. We have many poor people who worship with us and this is a huge blessing to them, one that, more often than not, they gladly share with others who are suffering in our community.
Uganda is an extremely poor country, our church is a poor people’s church. Most of our disciples have been inundated with horrible theology of common for-profit churches pedaling the prosperity gospel. In contrast, we teach and try to put into action the central teachings of Jesus found in the gospels and the Sermon on the Mount.
Ugandans, typically, are not big readers. They are still very much an oral culture, one that elevates authoritarians, just like pre-colonial chiefs and post-colonial dictators, as being the deliverers of information, orders, and judgements. Ugandans seek out and fall prey to “pastors” who use their roll not to serve, but to be served and revered.
Because of this focus on authority and a cultural avoidance of reading, many Ugandans think they know what Christianity is about, but are almost completely unaware of the teachings of Jesus. The concept that scripture should be understood in context is completely unfamiliar to pastors and radio teachers and interpretation is mostly proof texting to back up cultural norms or to perpetuate service at the church and to the advantage of the pastor.
Women are often pressed upon to serve rolls in church such as ushering and cleaning, some are allowed to teach, but more often than not, poor women who are unmarried but have children (very common here due to men feeling it is their right to abandon women they impregnate) are not welcome to serve in leadership roles.
Children are often segregated and are not typically catered to at church, but for lack of entertainment, will happily attend long church service. In our house church kids are integrated into our worship and teaching.
Parties are a big part of building a sense of family. Poor people don’t get to party often so a piece of cake and a soda with some music to dance to makes a great party.
We often welcome friends from neighboring countries to our home. Hope has extended family and friends all over Uganda, Rwanda, and The Democratic Republic of Congo. We use our hospitality as an opportunity to show our African friends another non-authoritarian way of being the Church, which they are often surprised by but love.
Above is Hope and Mama Toto, one of our friends from Rwanda. We helped Mama Toto recover from TB and got her on ARVs (antiretroviral therapy to treat HIV). She is like a mother to Hope. We loved having her come and spend time with us and see how we do life and Church, because she is from a very conservative church that doesn’t allow women to show their arms and has a lot of legalistic requirements for membership.
The Kingdom of God is like a party. That is why we party!
The ladies are having a great time learning to read the bible and figure out the context so they can reinterpret what they are reading to challenge their own culture with the teachings of Jesus.
Cooking for the crowd. Every Sunday is a meal for everyone who attends. Many of our friends do not get enough to eat. We serve meat because for poor people meat is usually something they only get at Christmas. Ugandans eat a high starch diet with little protein other than beans, so a little goat, beef, or fish makes our worship time a celebration.
Organic lettuce straight from our chemical-free garden is served up every week for the church to enjoy. Ugandans distrust fresh vegetables due to Typhoid. Teaching Ugandans that they can eat grow and enjoy a balanced diet is part of the challenge of our work. Our church is growing a taste for better nutrition, so our organic sack and bottle garden gets a lot of attention and comments from our guests.
Unlike most churches, our church takes time to read the gospels chapter and verse, one by one, and encourages everyone to talk and ask questions. We talk a lot about the cultural context of the scriptures comparing them to Ugandan culture. In a culture where deviating from cultural norms is very difficult the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, for example, requires a lot of time to digest.
Welcoming volunteers from the West is a privilege, it allows our African friends to connect with a larger world of friends in the “body of Christ.” Above is our friend, Jet, from California, with our girl, Jackie, singing together and building what is becoming possibly a life-long bond.
Our friend, Joslin, from California, trying on a skirt the ladies made for her to take home. Joslin spent a week with us and became part of the HOPE+ family.
Many of our African friends are so poor they rarely get out of their home, church, or market. We often times will organize special trips to get them out of their day-to-day grind, like taking them to the local Western-style mall to ride the elevator, escalator, see fountains, and eat ice cream. These “outings” are what Ugandan families do for Christmas, they say to our friends “we are family!”