In my last newsletter, I wrote about rain, and how rainfall in Uganda is viewed as a blessing from God when it falls on an event. In the light of that, Hannington Serugga, founder of our Samaritan Emergency Volunteer Organization (SEVO) was generously blessed this week. On the 30th of March, he joined nearly 2500 other graduates at Makerere University in Kampala to have his Bachelor of Arts in Education degree bestowed upon him. About 1600 more would graduate the next day.
Seven of us drove before sunup in a crowded car to try to get to Makerere early enough to beat the massive crowds and be able to find seats at the graduation, which was to start at 10:00 AM. As we began the 50 mile drive to Kampala, the heavens opened up, and rain poured down so hard, we could only drive at a snail’s pace, and try to stay in the middle of the road. Angry, surging brown water thrashed its way through and over the sides of insufficient roadside drainage ditches. We repeatedly crossed floods crossing the highway, and at one point a lake on the road gurgled around the wheels and undercarriage of the car. Even as the sun slowly brought light, the rains continued in varying degrees, as we struggled on our journey. The rain eased as we approached Kampala and joined the masses of cars slowly wending their way to the University.
We managed to find the few remaining seats, still empty only because they were not under the tarpaulin tents erected for the occasion. They were wet and dirty from the storm, but fortunately I had a hanky and we cleaned them off. Even these seats quickly filled up around us. We were blessed by the fact that clouds remained over the event, but empty of their rain. Had it either rained or been sunny, we would have been miserable sitting in the open.
The university officials were escorted in with a traditional African band of dancers in red, the whole procession swaying in rhythm to brass horns, long, thin wooden horns, and drums. Graduates sat on one side, parents and family on the other. The prime minister of Uganda was the speaker of the day, and contrary to most African events, the schedule was kept on time, and we were finished by 1:00. I had not expected to see anyone there that I knew, among all the thousands of people present. But I got to congratulate and hug many happy SEVO members who were graduating, whom I’d met in various SEVO functions around the country.
Hannington Serugga is a simple village man in his 40s who had a dream of one day finishing a college education. But it was always impossible, as he had 6 children and lived in dire poverty, often surviving by hard manual labor in a nearby gravel pit. His widowed mother had survived by making and selling homemade beer, and his brothers all followed suit in one way or another. Hannington was always a hard worker, but was viewed as too “big and stupid” to accomplish anything. Big, yes. Stupid, no! I discovered he was reading materials by philosophers and theologians. He would walk to my house singing hymns and classical music. The prince and the pauper. He had been disowned by his family when he left the Catholic church and joined the Seventh Day Adventists. The worst thing that can happen to an African is to lose his clan. He was a lonely man, so it was an honor when he began calling me his “Mom.” Many Africans call me Mom, a title of respect for an older woman. But when Hannington calls me Mom, he calls me his Mother. He asked me to name his youngest child, which is normally done by the grandparents. Through our work together with SEVO and our core ministry group, he one day told me he no longer was missing his clan - he had found a new family. So Hannington became like one of our “orphans,” whom we helped to finish school.
After graduation, we all returned to my house where Nakamiya, one of our friends, had cooked up a celebratory dinner. It was a small group for this type of African celebration, but Hannington wanted it that way. No one, with the exception of us, his adopted family, had believed in his dream, nor encouraged him in any way. So he didn’t feel that they merited being invited to celebrate with him; he wanted a small, private gathering. As we sat around on the grass in my back yard, he marveled what a peaceful day it had been. He wore his cap and gown proudly the whole day. His heart was full of gratitude and the joy we all shared. He said, “I am willing to serve God and follow Him to the very ends of the earth, wherever He wants me to go.” His joy was complete.
Interestingly, his birth mother got word of his graduation and wanted to attend. Hannington did not want her to come, and tried even to discourage her. They’ve not had a connection in years. But according to tribal tradition, another close family member is supposed to attend and witness such an important event in someone’s life. So he gave in to tradition and allowed her to attend his graduation and our dinner afterwards. She was an amazed and joyful woman that day. We believe and hope that this may have opened a new door for a renewal of their relationship, and that she, too, will find her place with Jesus Christ as her savior.