Ministry of Margaret Nelson
Uganda, Africa

February 25, 2005

Foundations, cracks and bats

February is the hottest, driest time of year in equatorial Uganda, ending our "summer" season that goes from December through early March. When there are no clouds to shelter the land from the burning tropical sun, the land dries out quickly, the humidity plummets, and smoke fills the air as the swamplands are burned off. Right now our daily temperatures are above 100° and the humidity, normally staying above 50%, drops into the teens. We also get a desert effect, which causes are nighttime temperatures to drop lower than normal, down into the 60s and sometimes even less. The days become very windy, which eventually ushers in the spring rains from the northeast.

Because we're used to a humid climate, people do not tolerate the dry heat as well. Coughs and colds add to the discomfort of dry skin and sinuses. When the spring rains start, it's much like the autumn season in countries which experience a more distinct seasonal change. The weather cools (to the low 90s or so), we get daily rains, and people get sick. We don't get influenzas, since that's a cold weather bug, but measles go around, unfortunately, killing many children.

One of the ways I notice the dryness of the weather is in what it does to the wood in my house. We don't just go to Home Depot to buy doors or window screens when we build a house. You find a carpenter who builds what you need, and sometimes that even involves cutting your own lumber. That untreated wood is greatly affected by humidity changes. I begin to see daylight around my window screens, around my doors, and between the door panels -- fortunately, there are few mosquitoes in the dry season! I have to struggle to lock my doors, as the locks and the door frames no longer line up.

This week I began having bat problems. About the time it's dark enough to light my lamps, my cat Sam begins to haunt my walk-thru closet, looking up and meowing. I eventually figured out that the wood panel that separates the closet from the attic has shrunk enough that bats are entering my room around the edges. The way Sam relishes eating bats, I compare them with the chicken muchomo we love so much, chicken roasted on a stick at the roadside markets. He does amazing acrobatics to catch a bat on the wing, or any other way he can catch it, and within about 15 seconds of crunching, his bat muchomo is 100% gone down his little throat!

The other night, when one of these creatures began flying around my room, I surprised myself by not running out of the house, as I normally do. I hate flying creatures, from flies to moths, to bats. My Ugandan friends laugh at me, because they don't share the same squeamishness about bugs and things; I even watched a mother give her baby a large ant to play with one time! My night guard has never had to save me from a thief or a rapist, but he's saved me many times from bats, scorpions, and snakes! I reasoned that with a bat's radar, he would not hit me in his wild flying gyrations, and that Sam would just catch him and eat him anyway, right? Wrong! The bat flew onto my shoulder (maybe I stayed too still and he thought I was something to land on???) and I screamed! The bat flew off and I got chills down the whole right side of my body -- and then Sam caught it and the bat was history in 15 seconds…

Last week I taught a Bible lesson in one of the village churches on the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. We learned how the fruits of the Spirit take time to grow, they are character- related, and eternal in nature. They are like the foundation stones that make a firm foundation for a house. On the other hand, the gifts of the Spirit are freely given to us by God, they are task-oriented, and are temporal in nature. They are more visible, like the structure above the foundation of the house.

As we studied and I diagrammed the "house" of our lives, I thought of Jesus' parable of the two houses, one built on a good foundation by a wise man, the other built on sand by a foolish man. Here the foundation is compared to practicing the words of Jesus, which of course, builds character. When the storm comes -- and storms always come -- the house without the foundation was destroyed. In the same way, as Christians, we may have very visible giftings of the Holy Spirit giving us the appearance of a beautiful house. But if we are lacking in character, if we don't demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit, when the storm comes, that house will fall, due to its flawed foundation. And, as Jesus said, it falls "with a great crash!" (Matthew 7:24-27)

Even between storms, during our dry seasons, our houses suffer from weather changes in a lesser way. Cracks may open up. Annoying insects can enter, or even the larger bats. Such creatures can carry filth and diseases, which ultimately could be fatal, especially if left untended. We can use a mosquito net or repellant to prevent bites, and we may have a cat to kill the bats. If we happen to get bitten and get sick, there is medical treatment available.

So as we studied about spiritual houses and foundations in that little mud church last week, I've been learning some of the finer points of house maintenance since then, thanks to the dry, stormless weather and the bats. We must always be on guard, even when we're not suffering a major storm in our lives. Our enemy is always on the prowl (I Peter 5:8-9), seeking even cracks in our lives, where he can enter and try to hinder or destroy our witness for Jesus, to damage or collapse our "houses" through any means possible. A few months ago I was in the midst of a storm shaking my house dreadfully. Now things are peaceful, but there are always the little bugs and bats sneaking in, the temptation to lie, to tell a dirty joke, to not listen to a whispered word from the Lord.

God, help us to build strong foundations for our houses, and to help us keep them always weatherproofed! And keep our lights shining brightly!

Margaret Nelson