Ministry of Margaret Nelson
Uganda, Africa

March 18, 2005

Salary Ministries

One of the first major undertakings of a new missionary seeking to go to a foreign mission field is the raising of adequate financial support. Occasionally, a missionary can work and support himself abroad, but most of the time it's not possible. The demands of the very ministry he's called to don't leave time for a secular job, and in many cases, the host country is in such a different financial strata that the missionary could not survive on the income he would be paid there. (For instance, as a Registered Nurse, I would only be paid the equivalent of about $100 a month in Uganda.)

So armed with our budgets and our newly raised financial support, we take off for the foreign missions field, and pray that it all comes together as we've hoped and planned and prayed. Because I live in a rural area, my budget is much smaller than most, my primary expense being fuel for my truck. Gasoline is currently about $4.55 a gallon, and I travel long distances. Now, thankfully, I have a diesel truck which also gets better mileage. Diesel is cheaper at a mere $4 a gallon.

Anyway, when the missionary gets to his new place of residence, he begins to find out how different life is in every respect, including financial. You have to learn a whole different money system, in my case, Uganda shillings, versus the American dollar. Right now a dollar is worth about 1700 shillings. So how do you convert? And what is the local "value" even after you convert? Our first day in Uganda, my daughter Becky got pick-pocketed of 12,000 shillings from her backpack. At that time, that was worth about $8 or $9, not a lot to us maybe, but a huge amount to a Ugandan.

When Becky and I came to Uganda, we lived in a small, crowded staff housing, in ½ of one tiny "duplex." The rest of the building was filled with teachers and boarding students . We had no electricity, running water, no phone, no car, no garden, and no rent. So our electric bill became buying kerosene for our lamps, and batteries for our CD discman and speakers.

Running water was the guy who ran with our jerry cans of water from the village well. So our water bill became paying the man who brought our water.

After about 6 months a phone tower was erected in Luweero so we were able to get cell phone service, on a pay-as-you-go system (Oh, if our USA cell phones could be so simple!). I still remember the joy of talking with family 10,000 miles away after not hearing their voices for 6 months!

We were 50 miles from Kampala, the bank, the other Foursquare Missionaries, with no phone and no car. So we learned to use all public transportation means. Most common is the taxi, a 14 passenger minivan, which operates on a fill and go basis. They're very cheap and they'll stop anywhere for you. The trick was learning enough of the right Luganda words to get them to stop when and where we wanted to get off! At times we hitchhiked, but always with a Ugandan friend who generally knew who we were riding with. Eventually I learned to ride the boda-bodas, which are motorbike taxies, or bicycles. Risk of injury is higher riding a motorbike, especially in Kampala traffic, but I really love to ride them, and still do on occasion. They can get you thru a traffic jam when nothing else is moving! The catch to riding them is ladies must ride on the back sidesaddle, as it's not proper for us to straddle anything. As for bicycles, I've never ridden them, although Becky did. I always had this mental picture of sitting on the back of one with the front wheel coming off the ground, and this little skinny Ugandan man peddling in the air, trying to get us going!

And of course once I did buy a vehicle, I had to learn how to drive on the left side of the road! The most taxing thing to me was making right hand turns across traffic, especially when the only traffic rule is basically, "If there are any traffic rules, you don't follow them!" and, "BIG rules!" FAST sometimes gets you there too.

Food… Oh yes, we had no idea where to go to get it, how to cook it, or even how to eat it! Cook a banana? So we depended on our neighbors to teach us these things, to take us to market and teach us how to buy food, and how to negotiate prices for the foods. Meat and fish were sold at one end of the market. With the cow carcasses hanging on hooks and flies all over the fish and beef, and nearby were lovely piles of heads, horns, hooves, and other tables with even more fly-rich entrails for sale, we were vegetarians for at least 2 months! I couldn't even go to that end of the market for a long time! I could eat meat or fish at a restaurant or roadside market, knowing it came from those same cows hanging on the hooks, but somehow that was different from buying it and cooking it myself. But eventually I learned how to walk to market every other day or so, buy my food (yes, even meat and fish), prepare and eat and enjoy it. We would take a taxi back to the village then. You cook daily because there is no refrigeration, and you learn exactly how long various foods keep before spoiling (did you know eggs will keep at least 3 weeks just sitting on the shelf in the closet?). No prepared foods are available, so everything is from scratch. Oh yes, we learned how to carry raw eggs in a plastic bag and not break them!

How do you do laundry without running water or electricity? By hand! We learned to do it. Every week, I would scrub the skin off my knuckles and make them bleed. They would just get healed up and it would be time to do laundry again. You quickly learn that if clothes don't look dirty and if they pass the sniff test, they don't go to the laundry! Ironing? Yes, everyone irons their clothes, even in the deepest, farthest village! We use those old iron boxes you may have seen in antique stores. You fill them with hot charcoal, test the temp with your finger, and iron sitting on the ground.

So the first few months are spent figuring out how everything works. I was often asked why I didn't hire a lady to do all my work, as is common here for people who can afford it. I said no, I wanted to learn how to do it all myself. In those early months I had the time to do so, as I was working at a village clinic and only had to be there if patients came in. It wasn't very busy. But when I left that behind and began to go out into the villages and teach all- day classes, I found there weren't enough hours in the day. As you can see, just day to day cooking and cleaning takes lots of time in Africa. So my life changed again as for the first time in my life, I began to work with hired help…

Now 6 years later, I live in my own small house, in the same village. I still don't have electricity or running water, or refrigeration, and I don't miss them. I still buy kerosene, candles and batteries. I still pay the guy to run with my water, but I also collect rainwater, so he doesn't have to run so much. I have my own garden, so I don't have to buy very much from the local markets. I do have my cell phone and my truck and I still drive just fine on the left side of the road.

When I planned out my budget for coming to Uganda, I never thought in terms of that money going to pay hired help, or of me hiring anyone. I also never thought of what a ministry it would be to do so. Over 40% of Ugandans live below (I might say WELL below) the poverty line, of less than $1 a day. So a little bit of money goes a long ways to ease that kind of poverty. Here's some thumbnail sketches of my friends and workers who benefit by the jobs I give them, and being paid by money that is contributed for my support - and theirs - by many of you!

Nakamiya - a widow of around 60. She lives in a tiny mud hut in a nearby village, with about 10 or 12 other relatives, her elderly, senile mother, a daughter or two (one has AIDS), and the rest grandkids, many of whom are orphans. She has to pay school fees to keep the little guys in school. Her mother divided her property between her 3 children, and a brother is threatening to throw Nakamiya and her family off her land as soon as the mother dies. She arrives at my house usually around 10 AM and works until the night guard comes around 7 PM. She cooks for me and anyone else who is here, workers or visitors, and for my dog and cat. She does my laundry and ironing. She does light gardening. And she's here for daytime security so the house is rarely without someone here, even if I'm gone.

Hannington - A 40-ish father of 6, including a severely handicapped daughter. A brilliant man, trapped by dire poverty, but striving towards educational goals. An incredibly hard working man, strong as an ox, as the saying goes, I call him "my tractor." He has helped me with all kinds of heavy physical work, from clearing land and grubbing out tree stumps, to helping with my house construction, to building fences, building my garage and putting up an iron gate. In return, most of my pay to him has been paying university expenses to help him see his dream come true. He will finally graduate in June! He is the executive director of our Samaritan Emergency Volunteer Organization (SEVO) which has over 2000 students in training currently, all across Uganda.

Nataliya - an old widow with no family whatever. When I bought part of my land, I acquired a tiny brick house with a dirt floor and a mud-walled latrine, where a single man had previously lived. Friends began telling me of Nataliya, how where she lived in the village, children were constantly harassing her, throwing stones on her roof at night time and such. They recommended I let her live in the little house. I agreed. She didn't come to meet me for some weeks, being embarrassed that she didn't have a nice dress. But she began to work in my garden. I'm sure she was eating out of it too, Finally she got over her shyness and came to meet me. She kept weeding and caring for my garden (which covers over 1 acre). Then she began picking the coffee as it came ready to harvest. Then she planted. And one day she timidly sent word, asking if she might have a few shillings so she could buy some meat. Since that point, she's become a part of our "family" here. She loves working in the garden, and she loves her meat. She's too old to do heavy gardening, but she meticulously weeds and cares for the lighter stuff. And I pay her a small "salary" each month so she can have her meat and whatever else she may need. If she gets sick, Nakamiya, always the caretaker, takes her meals. As far as I'm concerned, she has the house as long as she may live. We put a cement floor in it and a new door on it, and she's very happy.

Kyeyune - a neighbor, our village security man, father of about 6 kids, uneducated but hungry for knowledge and education. So he works hard to make sure his kids get their education. He initially did odd jobs for me. Then he became my water man, bringing my jerry cans from the village well. When I planted vanilla, I gave him some vines too, and because he's gone to all the classes on how to grow vanilla, he cares for mine too. So he became one of my gardeners, and eventually, he became my night watchman two nights a week. Unfortunately, Kyeyune got in trouble with the law and had to flee to avoid prison. His wife took over doing the gardening (but not the vanilla) and carrying my water, so the family continues to have an income. Kyeyune comes home as often as he can to be with his family. He spends a lot of time at my place, tending the vanilla. It's a safe place for him, and he found we did not reject him for what he did. We have prayed with him and for him, and when he's home, he now attends our regular Monday prayer meeting at my house. He seems to be drawing closer to the Lord through his trials.

Ezira and Sosten - two Congolese brothers who are my night guards, strong warrior men, armed with bows and arrows. I sleep in peace, knowing my life is in good hands, because they pray and do spiritual guard as well as safety guarding. Their village area has suffered severe drought the past few years, possibly from deforestation, and people are suffering hunger in that area. They have suffered also, but their salaries have kept their extended family afloat. Had it not been for this, they would have returned to Congo. Their little church is the only lighthouse in a very dark area, and it would be a great loss if they left. I do one of my LIFE Ministries Institute classes there.

I wanted to tell you of these people so you can pray for them too. But also so that you can see that the support money given to me by individuals and by churches is not just supporting me and what work I may do here. It is supporting numerous other families, easing their hard lives, and giving jobs rather than handouts.

Thank you for being a part of our Ugandan ministry!

Margaret Nelson