Ministry of Margaret Nelson
Uganda, Africa

November 10, 2009

Training Good Samaritans

A Muslim and a Christian, Yasin and Semakula, traveled together to Butalejja, a brand new district in eastern Uganda to share the SEVO training and message. SEVO Director Hannington Sserugga had been teaching in their district of Budaka and part of his message had been the words of Jesus, “A prophet is not without honor except in his home town,” (Luke 4:24) in advising SEVO students to take the training out to neighboring communities. Most of our SEVO members are young, so many times they are ridiculed when they try to teach new ideas like Emergency First Aid and Rescue.

Yasin and Semakula took these words seriously. They arrived in the mostly Muslim area right at the Feast of Id, which follows Ramadan. They were invited to speak at the mosque, and then were allowed to begin teaching Basic First Aid, the first part of the SEVO training. During that week, Semakula became seriously ill with malaria and was admitted to a local hospital. Being away from home, he had no family to care for him, so while continuing to teach the Basic First Aid class, Yasin and other Muslim friends took total care of Christian Semakula until he recovered.

Teaching from the Holy Bible, we are helping people to learn to live with the spirit of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37). This parable not only gives people a good picture of Jesus, but it is a practical illustration of our first aid and rescue project and ministry, and is a deterrent to tribalism. People learn to reach across common barriers and extend love through practical assistance to those in need, regardless of race, religion, gender or tribe. Indeed, our very SEVO leadership is an example of that, with a good mixture of tribes, gender and religious faiths. We are a Christian ministry which contains about 30% Muslims. We study, use God’s Word, and pray together.

This was a historical event, not just Muslims and Christians working together, but also in that SEVO members themselves, without the help of their Director, had gone and opened a new district to SEVO. Butalejja has already registered SEVO with the government as a Community Based Organization (CBO).

SEVO empowers people to intervene in situations where before they would have stood back and just been part of the crowd of onlookers. During this first Basic First Aid class at Butalejja, one of the students was walking home when he saw people wailing and weeping, carrying what appeared to be a dead body. He stopped them, learned the man had been pulled out of the lake, a drowning victim. He asked to assess the victim, but was laughed at and told, “He’s dead! We’re taking him home to bury him!” But he insisted. Upon examination, he determined the man was not dead, and he began to administer CPR. To everyone’s amazement, the man regained consciousness!

In another situation, one of our more experienced leaders was traveling by public taxi (minivan) from the Jinja area to Kampala when he encountered a suspicious situation. A man boarded the taxi with a screaming 2 year old child. The child was inconsolable, so Alex wondered why. Then he began to see that the man and the child didn’t fit together. The child was chubby, well dressed and care-for. The man had a dissipated look, and by his dress, appeared to probably be a witchdoctor. Alex asked the man about the child and was met with a hostile answer, indicating the child had supposedly been orphaned and he was taking him to Kampala to live with an aunt. However, Alex remained troubled, thinking, “What if this man has kidnapped this child?”

Eventually, Alex was able to raise the concern level of fellow passengers as well, as the child had never stopped his screaming, and to talk the taxi driver into stopping at the police station in a town they were passing through. The police asked the hostile man if the boy was in his care, where was his clothing? He pointed to a bag in the back of the taxi, but when it was examined, it proved to have only things he’d probably stolen. So he was arrested and taken away. The taxi driver began complaining about his fare, but the passengers all pooled money and paid for the man’s fare and gave the balance to Alex in gratitude!

Within the week, Alex had heard, both on the radio and from other sources that a 2 year old boy had been kidnapped in his area, but had been found in the same town where he’d had this man arrested. If this Good Samaritan had not bothered to intervene in the life of this needy child along the roadside, so to speak, who knows what the news would’ve been instead?

We got these reports during our second quarterly SEVO leadership training seminar, the week of October 19th. While Hannington taught a group of new SEVO members Basic First Aid, I was teaching the SEVO leaders simple accounting and how to break out of the dependency syndrome that is so prevalent in Africa, and to become self-reliant by healthy money-management and following scriptural principles. If they can’t manage their own personal finances, how can they manage their businesses? How can they manage SEVO? Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. (Luke 16: 10)

These very poor people are already learning how to budget for the seminars, even paying for my hotel, food and local transportation expenses. They pay their own ways to and from the seminar, and buy their own food. They were even able to set aside some funds for our next quarterly seminar! They are seeing the need to support their leaders so they can do their job in leading SEVO and outreaching other communities. We learned that poverty eradication programs encourage dependency, and people think, “I am poor, I’ll always be that way, so I need to wait for help to do anything.” When we think in terms of income generation instead, the person thinks, “I am poor, but what little I have, I can work with.”

We are learning how so often we isolate certain scriptures, such as “Give to the poor,” or “Give to anyone who asks of you,” and we blindly believe that by doing so, we obtain God’s blessings and so do the ones whom we bestow our money or goods upon. What we forget is that wisdom in our giving is imperative. There is indeed blessing in giving... But... we don’t want our generosity to make helpless beggars out of the recipients! There are many challenges that we often don’t see. It’s something like how this past week we ran into many language barrier challenges with our travels throughout the country. I have my American accent, a visitor with me had an Irish accent. Then as we traveled to areas of the country where languages and accents are different, and we all struggled with each other’s different ways of pronouncing things. We learned that there were about 5 different ways of saying the word “garage,” for instance, all in English! At one humorous point, someone said he had to “Go for short call,” ie, he needed to use the toilet (or loo, in Irish English!), and someone offered him their telephone…

It takes careful and wise interpretation of the scriptures, especially in the cross-cultural context, to glean the true significance of God’s Word. Truly only time and experience can help us to overcome the challenges. As we go and we learn and teach others, we learn also how the joy of the Lord is our strength!

Margaret Nelson