- Last Updated on 07:46 AM 04/03/13
- BY Special to the Gazette
Uganda is some 10,000 miles from the East Coast of the USA, and for one retired North Carolina Baptist pastor it proved to be a three-day, five-airport journey into the heart of Africa, his first on that continent.
The Rev. Dr. Bill Greenwood Jr., a Vernon Hill native who now lives in Winston-Salem, N.C., is a veteran of two dozen short-term overseas mission trips.
However, on this missionary journey he saw a hunger for learning he has never witnessed before.
Uganda in East Africa lies on the equator, bordered by Sudan to the north, Kenya on the east, Congo on the west and Rwanda and Tanzania in the south and southeast.
“This war-torn nation has some 35 million inhabitants with 50 percent of them under the age of 15. The average family has some six children, often with an additional orphan child or two in the home,” Greenwood said.
While nominally Christian, Islam is making significant inroads into the fabric of this nation. Although English is the official language, most learn one of the 40 some tribal languages before learning English. Kampala is the capital with some two to three million crowded into this teeming city.
“I went to Uganda to teach some 50-60 pastors the Old Testament book of Exodus two hours each day at the Uganda Baptist Seminary, the largest Baptist seminary in Africa,” the traveling pastor explained.
Uganda Baptist Seminary is located one hour northeast of Kampala in Jinja and has over 500 pastor-students enrolled from six surrounding nations, primarily from Uganda.
“Most of these students had only a middle school education at best. They come to the seminary for three weeks of classes three times during the year, leaving their families to care for all the farming chores,” he added.
“Seldom have I seen such hunger for learning. They only reluctanly leave the classroom after the lecture/discussion is over. Most have great difficulty paying the tuition fees of about $30 per person per term which covers also all room, board and travel to the seminary,” Greenwood said.
God’s people in the U.S.A. cover 90 percent of the cost of their education, he added.
“Remember that Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world with most people earning only a dollar or two each day. I saw very few Ugandans who were fat. Any of those few were considered most fortunate,” Greenwood said.
The last two of his three weeks in Uganda Greenwood focused on guest lectures in the capitol of Kampala.
“In the mysterious providence of God, a Muslim lady served as our driver and arranger of these many details. I can only say that God used this lady, ‘Hoda,’ to open many doors for us in a number of middle and high schools, as well as two of the largest universities in the country,” he said.
As missionaries to Uganda, Greenwood said he had “carte blanche” (a free hand ) to teach God’s Word in the many schools. Most are private schools, which provide the bulk of the education in Uganda. They require tuition, and many are boarding schools where students come from distant villages to get their schooling, returning home only once or twice a year.
“More than a few students spoke to me about their need for help to pay their tuition and school fees...which seem to run about $100 per year,” he said.
As Greenwood spoke in these crowded classrooms, students sat often four to a primitive desk built for two. They unfailingly showed deep respect for all teachers and school staff. Their school buildings were in severe disrepair, with little or no light in the classrooms and tin roofs that leaked the seasonal rains.
Toilet facilities (often called “squatty-potties”) and the noon meals were very basic, even primitive by American standards.
“Nevertheless their hunger for learning was like pouring water on a dry sponge,” Greenwood said.
While in Kampala, the retired North Carolina pastor asked the Baptist Seminary to loan him a student helper.
“They awarded me their best faculty lecturer, one Herbert Kabuluku, a seasoned professional who knew the city well and aided me, as did Hoda, our Muslim driver/arranger. “Herbert shared the speaking duties with me and I learned much from this godly man,” Greenwood said.
When asked what did God him during his three weeks in Uganda, Greenwood replied, “How do I describe or explain all that God seemed to teach me in these three short weeks in Uganda? The overriding lesson seems to be that out of their privation, their material want and their desperate struggle for life, the hunger for meaning and purpose, for the things of God, all somehow heighten their openness to the message of Christ, the sure hope of life more abundant. That hunger seems also to stand in sharp contrast with the Western world’s dullness to radical Christian commitment, perhaps brought on by our affluence and material prosperity.
“Strange how these realities seem to clash and intersect. Exceptions however cause one to refrain from being too dogmatic about the state of affairs in either world. Nevertheless I found their keen interest in the things of God, in the Bible, in the message of Christ to be exceedingly refreshing and a cause for genuine celebration,” Greenwood added.
“Finally I kept thinking that if more of our people here in the home base would step out of their bubble, out of their comfort zones and make themselves available to the clear call of God to go into all the world and proclaim the Good News, then there might be more hope for a vibrant body of Christ here in the homeland,” he concluded.