During my first 4 years in Uganda, I shared a dwelling with other staff members, and a few boarding school children, of an African ministry called Africa Village Outreach. There were 4 tiny, 2-room apartments under 2 roofs, and for 3 years, I lived in half of one apartment; another family had the other room. The 3rd year, while my daughter Becky was still with me, I got the 2nd room. There were about 30 adults and children living in the staff housing the last few months I was there.
Then in January 2003 I was able to move into the new house I'm building on a neighboring plot of land. Building African style, I moved into 2 more-or-less finished rooms, while continuing to build the rest of the house. So while I was still living in only 2 rooms, they were better arranged, and much more private.
Maybe in part because of living in my own home for the first time since I sold my last one in 1990, I felt a new joy about Christmas this year. By late November, I was more than ready to start decorating! I only had 2 pieces of rope tinsel and a couple of ornaments because the AVO house had been too small to really decorate; a tree was always out of the question. So I put up what I had and started looking around for more decorations. In Kampala I was able to find a small artificial tree with some rather ugly decorations already on it. I bought it, but later on was able to find some rather nice red bows, beads, tinsel ropes and lights to replace the ugly things.
I really wanted lights on my tree, since I hadn't had a Christmas tree in 5 years! But it's a bit tricky to put lights on a tree (that work!) when there is no electricity. The salesman assured me I could use them on a generator (which I don't have) or a battery. A battery… Hmmm… Ok, I went ahead and bought the lights.
A friend helped me hook up the lights on my now-decorated, now pretty, tree, which I had set up on my desk. But no matter what we did, the lights would not work. They had worked at the store, so we knew the lights were good. So we carted the whole 3-foot tree and its lights to an "electrician" who also tried everything he knew, but failed to get the lights to work. They would work when plugged into an electrical socket, but not when hooked up to the battery. So our logical conclusion was that we must need some sort of adapter.
We went to another more knowledgeable "electrician" who agreed. He said we needed an AC/DC converter to make the lights work on battery. Where could we get one? We'd have to go to Kampala, and by the way, they cost about 150,000 shillings (about $125!). ..
So at that point, I gave up my idea of having lights on my tree. I told my friend he could have them, because his family has electricity, living in town. But he said no, you must have your lights! We went to a 3rd "electrician" and were able to arrange to rent a converter! The next day we were able to pick it up, after a lengthy delay because the electrician had gone to a burial.
We hooked the converter up to my tree lights and to the 6V battery, and voila! I had Christmas lights twinkling on my little tree, 3 days before Christmas! The converter is this rather scary looking hand-made metal contraption, with wires sticking out all over it, which I've discreetly hidden in a bookcase. Two wires stick out the side and when I want lights, I connect 2 copper wires, and I'm in business! It hums like the pump in a fish tank, but hey, no problem! I have Christmas lights!
I bought a small battery to use with the lights and friends lent me another one as a backup. The small one was only briefly charged when I bought it, so it ran out of juice early on. Meanwhile the other battery was at the shop getting itself charged up. So when a friend went to pick it up for me, he found that the electricity in town had been off all day, so the battery was not yet charged. So they lent me someone else's battery to use overnight until mine would be charged, if we promised to bring it back first thing in the morning. So even having battery power is not a foolproof guarantee of electricity!
Of course in my village, no one has ever seen a Christmas tree before, except for a few who've been in the big city during holidays. So it evokes many questions as well as admiration. I don't really know the history of using a tree at Christmas, but with my struggles to put working lights on my tree, I have thought a lot about how, to me, they represent Jesus being the Light of the world. They make the tree glow in the darkness, and an already attractive tree becomes a radiant, living thing of beauty.
Like the Christmas tree, we often try to decorate ourselves to look good, whether physically or by our behavior. But we never really come alive and glow with inner radiance until we are lit up by inviting Jesus, the Light of the world into our hearts and lives. We are then connected with the proper "power source" and we become lit up!
Africa is so often called the Dark Continent, or referred to as "deepest, darkest Africa." I don't know the origins of those terms either, but in spiritual terms, they are both correct in many ways. Africa is steeped in witchcraft and dark history of wars and genocides. But what happens in a dark place when you light even a small candle? The darkness flees. It cannot remain in the face of the light. So while people here continue to placate the spirits of their ancestors and relatives who've died, and to make animal and other sacrifices, and wear the charms and fetishes of the various gods, their hearts are often hungering for the Light. As believers in Christ, whose lives have been lit up with the spiritual, inner radiance of His Light in us, we shine greatly in the darkness, and people are attracted to Him.
Please continue to pray for Uganda during the coming New Year. Pray that the people who come to know Jesus won't just think of Him as another god on their long list of gods to be appeased, but that they will make Him Lord of their lives. Then their lives also will radiate and glow with beauty in this dark, dark world we live in.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!