Ministry of Margaret Nelson
Uganda, Africa

May 13, 2005


"Healing rain, is coming down, it's coming nearer to this old town Rich and poor weak and strong, it's bringing mercy it won't be long…"

The words of Michael W. Smith's CD, Healing Rain's title cut, sang in my ears as I was praying for friends of mine this morning. Later, as I contemplated writing this letter, another Michael W. Smith song poured forth:

"Let it rain, open the flood gates of heaven, Let it rain, let it rain…"

I had never noticed before that these are the only words sung in the whole song!

As I walked out to my latrine, I noticed a puddle of water on the sidewalk that I stepped over, reminding me of the night rain we'd just experienced. It is the spring rainy season, so there are many nights of rain, creating sauna-like conditions the following day. As a result, gardens and weeds are growing at a phenomenal rate. I can almost hear them growing! Some things, like our papaya trees, can grow 14 feet in one year!

I love the rainy season in Uganda. It's not like the unending gray, chilly, drizzly days of rain in the northwestern part of Washington State, where I'm from. It's a time of thunderstorms, usually building up over the morning hours, then dumping their contents in a deluge over about 2 hours in the afternoon. There's plenty of warm sunshine before and after. In fact the building clouds help to keep the sun from scalding us, as it does it does during the December through February dry season.

Most of the time the rains are benign, although getting 2 or 3 inches of rain in such short amounts of time took me some getting used to, initially. However, sometimes the storms turn violent, most often at the beginning of a rainy season. I've seen the rain come down sideways due to the hurricane force winds, and completely flatten a maize field, ripping out huge trees by the roots. There are often deaths in such storms, from tin roofs ripping off, bricks falling, or even from drowning.

However, there are some areas of Uganda that are no longer getting adequate rainfalls. The climate is changing due to deforestation and overgrazing. Often times even the people themselves understand that when the trees are gone, the rains stop coming. It's easy to say that deforestation needs to stop, and tree planting should be instigated. Such programs are slowly being introduced, but it's debatable whether it will be soon enough to reverse the damage in time. Uganda is down to a mere 3% of its original forests and the deforestation is even outpacing the population growth.

Why is this happening? Uganda has one of the fastest growing populations in the world. Only 8% of the nation has electricity, and wood still provides the cheapest available energy source for cooking. Most of the forests are disappearing into charcoal manufacturing, as poor people struggle to earn some cash to buy their necessities and keep their children in school. A tree is cut, chopped into short lengths, the pieces then sorted according to size. Then the lengths of wood are piled into a dome-shaped hill, covered with a thick layer of soil, and ignited. It will smolder for days, giving off a distinctive odor all its own. When it has finished, then the charcoal is uncovered, bagged up, and stacked alongside the road to wait for a passing charcoal truck who will take it to Kampala (usually) to sell. And if the seller is lucky, the truck driver will return with his money on his next trip through to pick up more charcoal.

It's easy for those of us from the industrialized world to point the finger and say this rampant deforestation MUST stop. However, it's much easier said than done. First off, electricity is hard to get and is expensive. Even though a rural electrification program has been implemented to extend services to the more remote areas, in the 6 years that I've lived here, the price of electricity has doubled! A person can live in a single room dwelling and have one light bulb, a radio, and maybe a refrigerator, and spend $10 a month for electricity… when their monthly income may average only $30 a month! The price of propane/gas, which I use for my own cook stove, has nearly tripled in 6 years. There are places in Uganda where people are eating cold food because there is no longer any wood to cook on, and there are no other options for them…

My friends for whom I was praying this morning are living in an area that has suffered drought for the past 3 years. I'm not entirely sure if this is due to deforestation or other causes, reason being that areas around them which are more deforested are actually getting more rain. If you were to drive through this village, you might marvel that they are in drought, because it's still so green. However the rains are falling at wrong times, the rainy seasons have ended too early, before crops mature, and so on. Their only source of water, the swamps, is getting less and less. We tried twice, unsuccessfully, to drill water wells there. Then someone came in and drilled a successful well right in the village town itself… and went off without finishing the pump so the people could access the water! This was likely someone demanding a bribe, who didn't care whether the people have water or not.

Pastor Ezira and his brother Sosten, who both work as my night guards, both live in this area, in Kabanyi village. They regularly go without food, usually at the end of their pay period, sacrificing to try to keep the small children and nursing mothers eating in their extended family. To add to their strain, a family of 5, some of their relatives, came to live with them when their land was sold out from under them in another area. Inadequate food must be stretched even further. Last week I bought 2 sacks of charcoal from them, the price of which probably fed their extended family for one day. Illnesses are frequent, no doubt from malnutrition. Pastor Ezira is kept busy praying for healing for family and friends, because there is no money for medicine or doctors. The women deliver their own babies for each other.

To add to this suffering, about a year ago, one of the developmental NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) which works in that area, offered people micro-finance loans to start their own small businesses. A cursory lesson on small business operation is given, but then the money is loaned without much, if any, supervision on its utilization. Given the above bleak picture, how many people started small businesses (in an area where no one has money!)… and how many fed their families with that money?

Now the piper must be paid. There are no wages to garnish, no cars to repossess. They simply come and arrest people, putting them in prison, without any kind of trial, until the money is paid back. If the man is not home, or is hiding, when the police come, they simply take his wife (with her nursing child, if she has one) and keep her in prison until the man comes up with the money. Many in Kabanyi have been arrested, and now Sosten is living with the axe over his head, because he also took out one of these loans.

Now Sosten wants to borrow the money from me to pay off that money he borrowed and couldn't pay back. Sure, he works for me and I could take my payment from his monthly wages. If I take half his wages, it will still take him 7 months to repay me… and already he's going without food for at least one week per month …

Obviously, people cannot borrow money to get out of debt or out of poverty, no matter what the loan sharks promise. The nature of poverty is powerlessness. One of the things I do with some of the people I work with is to teach them budgeting and money management. That can help when there is money to manage…

Why is there inadequate rain in Kabanyi? We are not sure, except that it is an area that is rife with witchcraft and even cannibalism. There are 5 shrines to demon gods that I pass every time I drive to Ezira's church. When the road was being reconstructed, a village leader collected money from people along the way so they could buy a chicken and sacrifice it to their gods, to guarantee success to the project (which incidentally was never completed). There was a church in the area whose pastor was shot and killed by law officials because he was in organized crime. Another religion dominates the people, providing the only schools in the area, but the girls are frequently subjected to molestation and defilement. When we have prayed against witchcraft, there have been increases in the rain over Kabanyi, but it never lasts.

So please pray with us for Kabanyi, that the cause of the drought will be revealed and defeated. That people will repent of their sinful behaviors and begin to serve the living God. Pray that spiritual eyes will be opened to the truths of God. Pray that any witchdoctors and the like, if they won't serve the Lord, will be moved out of the area! A real breakthrough is needed in this area of great spiritual darkness. Please help us to help our brothers in their great need, by your prayers.

Margaret Nelson

James 5:16b-18

"The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for 3 ˝ years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops."