Ministry of Margaret Nelson
Uganda, Africa

November 27, 2004

What a riot!

I had another newsletter written and ready to be sent out, but I decided this one needed to go first. My last one told you of the wonderful SEVO seminar we had with Greg Matthews, EMT. This is another follow- up on the seminar.

Hannington Serugga has been the primary leader and developer of SEVO. He is a 40-ish man with a wife and 6 children, including a handicapped daughter, who is deaf, blind and mentally retarded. His lifetime dream was always to attend University, and to become a teacher. After many years of struggle, God has made a way for him to attain that dream, and he's now in his last year of studies at Makerere University in Kampala. Through his church community work at a grassroots level, and then his involvement in SEVO training, he's realizing that his teaching is not going to be done in a standard classroom, but will continue to be at the grassroots level somehow.

His studies have required him to rent a small mud house in Kampala, 50 miles from his village here near Luweero, in order to attend classes at the U during the week. His wife manages the children and the garden, while Hannington tends to school and to SEVO. Their poverty is grinding, but they stick together as a family and support each other, to be able to see the hard times through -- as indeed, they've done all their lives.

The day after Greg Matthews flew back to the USA, life was getting back to normal. Hannington returned to Kampala to catch up on his studies. SEVO students had gone on to set up more classes in their various areas. I went into Kampala on business with Pastor David Kasule. But we left for town later than we normally do, and we also took a different route into the north end of the city, traveling up the steep Sir Apollo Kaggwa Rd. that parallels the University.

The first odd thing we noticed was a police pickup with its siren on, full of riot police. The U can be a volatile place at times, so we wondered what might be going on up there now. We quickly saw, as we drove up the steep hill. It was as if we'd entered a war zone! Smoke was everywhere, coming from many fires in the center of the street we were driving on. Students had attempted to close the street by piling whatever they could find, trash, bricks, lumber, branches. Riot police were everywhere, highly vigilant, looking all around, guns ready. Some of the burning piles were being pushed off into the ditch by police, but most were still in the middle of the street, and we carefully drove around them and tried to avoid nails and broken glass. A crudely painted sign on the pavement by one such pile said "STOP!" We saw a burned out car in the ditch. Then there was a group of downcast students sitting, where they'd been arrested.

We noticed that pedestrians and bikers were traveling with hankies over their faces, and quickly realized why when our throats and eyes began to burn. Tear gas had been used, and we were driving into the residual gas! Even such tiny amounts as we encountered gave me an indication why this stuff is so good at breaking up mobs! It's like inhaling invisible hot pepper. The mouth and throat begin to burn, as do the eyes which start watering as well. Then my eyes just involuntarily closed (fortunately I wasn't driving!), with tears streaming out of the corners. When I wiped at the tears, the skin underneath began to burn with the same peppery feeling.

We quickly drove out of the area with our windows up, and were free from the effects of the tear gas. Later we heard the riot had started as a peaceful demonstration against the reckless city taxi drivers because of the recent hit and run death of a prominent University student leader. But it had quickly gotten out of hand as loiterers, thieves and criminals joined in -- half of the 150 who were arrested were not students.

Hannington lives on the next road over. The violence spread out from the U and he heard that innocent bystanders were being arrested. So he holed up for several days. He wanted to go home to Luweero, but could not safely get out of the area, and of course, he couldn't attend classes either. He was amazed to learn later that David and I had driven through the primary riot area unmolested, because for over 8 hours the battle between "students" and police had raged, with many motorists being attacked and robbed, and other streets involved as well.

Finally, on Saturday, Hannington was free to go teach his SEVO class in a nearby suburb. That class was actually disbanding so that all of those students could go to their own locales and start new SEVO classes! He wanted to go home, but lacked transport money. However, some of the SEVO students told him he needed to go home, and contributed the money he needed. So Saturday night, he got home…

… To find his 3 year old baby, Rebecca, deathly ill. In Africa and other 3rd world countries, babies have a tough time surviving to their 5th birthdays, and this was Rebecca's 4th and most serious brush with death. By Sunday morning, she was unconscious with her little head, neck and back arched backwards (meningitis?) and a raging fever. Her mother had panicked, sensing the impending death of her baby, and had begun wailing. The neighbors were beginning to come to support the family of the dying child. Even had the family risked the costs of taking Becca to the hospital, there was no transport money to get her over the 15 miles to a good one. So they were nearly helpless…

As Hannington worked over her with cool, wet cloths and fanning her to bring the fever down, he asked the neighbors to please move back to give her some air and let her cool down. He also prayed the prayer that only the father of a dying child can pray: "God, she's your child to take or to leave, as you see fit. She's yours, and I put her in your hands…" His heart was also crying out, "God, how can I ever teach people in SEVO to save lives if I can't even treat and save my own child?"

Somehow Hannington got word over to Pastor David's nearby church, to David. Because of the New Life Kids Club orphan project, David has a small medical clinic and a nurse aid who operates it. He sent her over to Hannington's house with medications, antibiotics and antimalarials, with which she injected the baby. Usually when child is in such a state, the traditional methods involve forcing home remedies down the throat of the unconscious child. Fortunately Hannington knew not to do that, and had protected Becca from well-meaning friends.

By the time I saw Hannington that same evening, he told me that Rebecca was sitting up and asking for food. He was shaking his head in utter amazement of the miracle that his child had survived. He said even now, most of his neighbors would be thinking they were at her bedside in the government hospital. They only had the usual starchy foods available to her, so I sent him home with some eggs and some bananas for her.

This was when we exchanged our stories of the Makerere University riot, and we marveled again at the goodness of God in protecting us all. Not only could David and I have been harmed and/or robbed, but had Hannington not gone home when he did, his baby would've died.

Psalm 91 says it best: … He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone… "Because he loves me," says the Lord, "I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation." (Verses 11, 12, 14-16, NIV)

Thank you for your prayers for safety, and your prayers for SEVO. As you can see, they're answered!

Margaret Nelson