Ministry of Margaret Nelson
Uganda, Africa

February 15, 2010

Finding Jesus Among the Poor

I’ll write a book someday, and I want to entitle it Another African Experience… The story behind this idea is that there are many interesting things happen living in Africa, that are unique to Africa. So long ago, I began referring to such incidents as “another African experience!”

This week gave another such occurrence that I’ve added to my mental list of stories. Giving to the poor is something that has to be examined in the light of scriptures and brought into context when you are surrounded by poverty and corruption. Plus upon entering African life, a person gets used to seeing many crippled people, many of whom are beggars. So when Pastor David Kasule, who usually travels with me, and I were driving into Kampala, we didn't think too much about it when we saw a crippled man sitting alongside his wheelchair on the highway. Our only real thought was that it was kind of dangerous for him to be sitting on the pavement like that, but it was in an open area where cars would have adequate visibility to avoid him as they drove by.

However, on our way home from Kampala that hot afternoon, we were appalled to see that same crippled man lying on the pavement next to his wheelchair, in the same spot! I had this sudden sense of alarm, so we stopped and backed up. As the story unfolded, we learned that this old man had come from Adjumani, up near the Sudan border, some time back, for medical treatment at Kampala’s government hospital. Afterwards, his relative in Kampala had pretty much kicked him out, not wanting to be bothered with him. Some kind soul had given him the dilapidated wheelchair that was beside him, and he’d been struggling to get home on his own. It had taken him 2 months to get the 20 miles or so north of Kampala, where we’d found him. He’d been deterred by the steep hill just north of that village, so had returned to the village, where there were people.

The wheelchair was so old and rusty that we couldn’t collapse it to fit into the trunk of my car. The old man wanted us just to leave it behind if it was a problem, because he just wanted to get home. Olivia, a teenaged girl coming home with me, and I gave him a bottle of water and some food we had in the car while David walked into the village to obtain information and transportation for the old man. We were appalled at the hardness people showed towards this poor beggar, telling David not to bother with him, saying “He’s just like that.” (Meaning There’s no point, he’s just a bum.) But as the man ate and drank, and began to realize we really had intentions to help him get home, his face began to glow with happiness.

We eventually hired 2 motorcycles to take the man and his wheelchair up to the next town where there was a bus stage. David called ahead to make arrangements for the man, because security for him was a big concern. Such people are very vulnerable and if we just gave him his travel expenses, someone could easily rob him and dump him off somewhere else. Our little parade drew attention all along the highway as we traveled, a car following a crippled man on a motorcycle, followed by an empty wheelchair on another motorcycle.

When we got to the bus stage, it quickly became obvious that the fat man in charge was a crook, interested only in what money he could squeeze out of the situation. But as we were considering exactly what to do, a double cabin pickup truck pulled in. Because travel is expensive (gasoline costs nearly $5 a gallon), pickups and trucks will stop at such places, looking for passengers and loads to take on their journey, payment for which will help offset the cost of the trip. So David approached the driver about taking the old man to Adjumani. He wasn’t going quite that far, but was going to the neighboring district of Gulu, so he said he could take him that far, then put him on a bus from there.

They decided on a price and as David went to find change for a bill, Olivia and I overheard the fat man and another man conspiring to rob the old man. They didn’t know I could understand some of what they were saying, and they couldn’t see Olivia in the back seat. So we warned David when he came back, how they were planning to take the old man’s money and dump him off somewhere. But fortunately, the driver had a good heart which was broken for the old man; he even wanted to put him inside the cab with the other passengers. But because the man had such a foul odor about him, David suggested he have him ride in the back with his load of sheets of foam rubber.

The men lifted the old man and his wheelchair up into the back of the truck, we paid the driver, and gave the old man the remaining money to see him on from Gulu to Adjumani. We got phone numbers and the license number of the truck, hoping to ensure that the man would actually be delivered to his destination, and then they took off.

Then we were faced with the fat man and his cronies, all squabbling for their share of money they felt they were entitled to for “helping” with the old man. David brushed them off, and we took off, feeling a mixture of disgust at such hard hearted greed, and joy at having taken the time and effort to help a helpless old man get home.

James tells us to look after widows and orphans in their distress (James 1: 27). Jesus tells us to feed and give drink to the hungry and thirsty, to invite strangers into our homes, to give clothing to them who need it, to look after the sick and visit those in prison. (Matthew 25: 34-46). And He gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan, describing what it means to be a true neighbor. (Luke 10: 25-37) All these scriptures point to our need to care for the most vulnerable members of society. Jesus goes so far as to say what we’ve done for them, we’ve also done it to Him.

Jesus always looked out for the poor, needy and outcast “sinners.” If we want to see Jesus today, we need to do the same. We will find Him there…

Margaret Nelson