Ministry of Margaret Nelson
Uganda, Africa

April 28, 2009

Dying to Self

Since my car broke down a few weeks ago, I have been forced to return to using public transportation to get places. That includes public taxies, which are crowded, careening 14 passenger vans, which in rural areas are often crammed to 20 or more, special hires, which are the private cars we more often think of as taxies, and motorbikes that can get a person through the worst of traffic jams ... if you have the courage to ride them!

Kampala Traffic
Kampala Traffic
Ladies ride side-saddle on scooters
Ladies ride side-saddle on scooters

This means doing a lot more walking as well, including to and from taxi sites in my village. So when I return from somewhere, my neighbors don't always know I've arrived since they don't see my car go by.

Recently I got home about dusk from a trip to Kampala. Since I'd left while it was still dark that morning, I'd left my curtains closed. Now, since it was so close to dark again, I didn't bother to open them. I quickly finished up evening chores, closed and locked my doors for the night.

Next thing I knew, I heard children outside. I live on 2 acres, so generally the only children that come to my house are from the family I hire to weed my large garden. As I peeked out the closed curtains, I saw them with what I thought were hoes in their hands, but it was almost dark! They also were very quiet and were trying to peer into my windows (which are high off the ground). I stayed quiet to see what they were up to, and every time I looked out, they were moving around and trying to look in my house from near and far in the yard. Then I heard and saw a grown woman behind the house, near my storage shed, I realized it was their mother. And she was just standing around also. I honestly couldn't figure out what was going on, so I continued to wait and watch.

Then I heard kids entering the front part of my unfinished house. Entering my house is strictly a no-no, so at that point, I had to go outside and ask them what was going on. At the same time I opened my door, I heard a man's voice ... their father's! As soon as I popped out the door, asking in Luganda, "What are you doing?" they all broke out in laughter.

Then the mother and the other children came from the back, all laughing also, and appearing relieved. I began to get the story then. The lady who tends my place in the daytime had had to leave, so she'd asked this neighboring family to keep an eye on it, since I wasn't home yet. They hadn't heard me come home, and when their dog alarmed in the direction of my house, they feared a thief had come. That was further confirmed to them when they perceived my movements through the closed curtains. The mother had called her husband on his cell phone to come (he's our village security man, as well as my night guard), and he’d been in the process of trying to figure out how a thief had gained entrance to my house, since it still appeared all locked up. What I'd thought initially were hoes, were sticks, so if need be, they would attack the thief or run him off.

We laughed about that incident for several days afterwards. I thanked them profusely for caring so much for me and my home. And I was blessed to know that I could trust them to look out for me, whether I was home or not.

One thing I have struggled with these past few years in Uganda has been trust, and I'm not the only one. Uganda is such a corrupt nation that it seems that while there are warm relationships with friendly people everywhere, one must constantly be on guard against being cheated in small and big ways. Ordinary shopping is tough for the uninitiated. Prices on everything are not set, but are determined by the perceived ability of a buyer to pay. So if you're heavy-set, or drive a car, wear nice clothes, or are white ... all signs of wealth to Africans, or if you're white and very pale (not yet sun tanned), walk in nervous groups, and have big mosquito bites (signs of tourists), prices will quickly double, triple or more. So the art of haggling must quickly be mastered.

The harder situations are dealing with people who befriend you in order to deliberately take advantage of you. Some take longer than others, depending on how skilled they are in winning your trust. The very hardest ones for us to cope with have been the ones calling themselves Christians, including several pastors.

Someone recently asked me a challenging question, "In what ways are you dying to self?" I admit I had to think on that awhile, since I hadn't really thought of my spiritual life in quite those terms, but what I finally came up with was related to the above. Learning to trust God more than people, letting Him give me wisdom to deal with people of all kinds, to analyze the fruits of lives around me, and most of all, to realize that though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. (2 Corinthians 10:3-4) So battles must be won on the spiritual level, not the physical. When I get hurt or angry and want to punch somebody's lights out, I have to back up and realize that I must pray more. Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. (James 1:19).

I remember a vision God gave me a few years ago when I was praying for the fear of God to fall upon Luweero. It was a very black night and suddenly I saw this cone of bright light shining down from the heavens to the ground. The circle of light on the ground looked like a desert, but as I looked closer, I saw it was not a desert ~ the light was so bright there were no shadows at all! And as I looked, I saw tiny people scurrying like cockroaches, trying to get out of the light back into the darkness. And the scripture went through my mind that men were lovers of darkness rather than of the light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19)

There is a lot of scurrying in this world. John goes on to say, Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light, for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God. (John 3: 20-21) As God's people, we must die to self, pray more and challenge the powers of darkness for the souls of the people around us. We must realize they do what they do, whether it's corruption or other aggravating and harmful evils, it's because they love darkness until they're set free from it. If we contend with them in our flesh only, we cannot win them to the Light. We must show them the Light who lives within us!

As I look to God for help in this area, I'm finding that I'm learning to focus more on Him, trusting Him to bring me trustworthy people to work and minister with, people like my neighbors, rather than having my eyes on people, being suspicious of their motives. I think this is one way of dying to self.

Margaret Nelson