Nick and Tessa

On the Plane

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Its time. Are we ready? Well we’d better be because we are quite literally on the plane. As my late Opa would say, we’re “physically, spiritually and emotionally prepared” to head back to Uganda. That’s is a good place to be.

We’re so grateful for our time in New Zealand. Thank you to our families for love and seemingly endless generosity. Thank you to St Aiden’s, St Barnabas, Sumner, and our home church St Tims for taking us in and allowing us to be a part of you for a time. Thank you New Zealand for your hills, beaches and streams. We’ll miss you. And Thank you to God, who’s been in all of the above and more, refreshing us and guiding us to new ideas.

St Philip Hospital

For a long time now, Bishop Johnson of Northern Uganda held a vision for a hospital at the Anglican base. The building has been half built for a while, but there’s a long way to go, and the plan has stagnated. When I shared the situation in New Zealand, many people encouraged me to push for the much needed mini-hospital. The possibility of working as a doctor there, and helping set a mission culture there is also really exciting. Some individuals and churches have generously given already and my old school Christ’s College have generously offered to give half their lenten appeal to the project. We pray the building will come to fruition soon!

Relationship course

Our good friends Sam and Aloyo fell in love at 20 years old. Aloyo got pregnant too young, but they desperately wanted to make the relationship work for them and their kid. Yet after three years and many challenges including lack of work and living in different cities, they separated. This is be a recurrent story here, with relationships falling apart quickly, despite good intentions and the presence of the love of God and each other. God’s nudged us to see how we can work with young people too. We plan to adapt the Alpha marriage course, join with a couple who already have a good relationship, and see what we can do.

 

We send this update seven days after touching down. The last week has been full of energy and positive interactions. Jetlag is minimal, and work has started well (more on that soon). We went to Wednesday Bible study and it seems in better shape than we left it. Keep in touch, and we’ll put up some blog posts soon at www.ugandapanda.com!

 

Please pray for: 1) Our friend Isaac, who lost everything when his hut burnt down. We want to help him get a new computer which is the key to his livelihood – contact us if you’re keen to help. 2) Tessa’s community organising group “Wakonye Kenwa,” as their activity ramps up again 3) The youth at our church St Catherine’s. Something special seems to be happening, with lots of new young people and a great energy.

Mango Hunting in Uganda

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Here’s a video from last year made by Nick Laing in Uganda. Though this video isn’t particularly serious in tone, it actually captures a large part of what serious mission is all about: building real relationships with real people. In fact, though programmes are important and have their place, sometimes the most fruitful moments are found in the midst of everyday life. The video also gives us a glimpse of the area Nick & Tessa are living.

(Nick does apologise for his singing, which he describes as sounding like a “tone-deaf 5 year old.”)

 

Training in the Clinics

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After a month of working in St. Philip health centre, Tash, a British nurse is training staff at all our clinics. What she’s doing is inspiring! (Below is from her facebook post).

“Yesterday I visited this clinic. It’s a 1.5 hour drive down a bumpy, scorched dirt road to the middle of what feels like nowhere. My driver Anthony was telling me only 15 years ago this area was controlled by the LRA for training (he met his now wife, as she fled from this area to Gulu). And now I’m visiting the nurse run clinic and putting my little laminated flow charts on the walls. Definitely puts things in perspective. I’m excited to see how things progress in the future (probably with more laminated flow charts to be sure!)”.

 

For more from Nick and Tessa Laing visit their blog at Ugandapanda.com

Marching for Kingdom Restoration (Snapshot 2016)

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The following is one of the articles from the 2016 NZCMS Snaptshot Magazine, our annual publication that gives you a ‘snapshot’ of NZCMS today. If you didn’t receive a copy please request one from office@nzcms.org.nz 

During the war, Angee Santa lost a lot. She lost children, family members and her land. At one point she lost all hope – she attempted to kill herself. Along with her son, she turned to alcohol and became addicted. Drinking compounded her mental health struggles.

I sit with her now as she calmly sorts beans under the shade of her grass roof. It’s hard to imagine the drunken chaos she describes. Angee is hard to forget. She loves bright clothing, shiny headscarves and chunky jewellery. She speaks with passion. Her legs are swollen, scaly, and almost elephantine due to an unusual medical condition. Sometimes it’s hard for her to walk, but her eyes always dance.

Angee isn’t the only member of our Community Organizing group with a story about alcohol. Last month we buried Rose Lam’s eldest son. For months he wandered out of reach of his family, drinking and drinking. He failed to take his HIV drugs. Rose stayed by his side in hospital for a week while he died. Then there’s Abalo Helen looking after her struggling brother. He regularly steals her money to buy alcohol and comes home in a drunken rage, yelling and breaking her things. Isaac’s mother, Florence’s son, Miller’s brother, Paul’s neighbour. I could go on and on.

Twenty years of violence, displacement and loss has left so much brokenness here in Gulu. Money-hungry vultures prey on brokenness. Northern Uganda has the highest rate of alcohol consumption in the country, and Uganda has the highest rate in East Africa. There’s no regulation. Bars are open 24/7, and alcohol isn’t only sold in bars but in every tiny shop that sells everything from toothpaste to batteries. Worst of all, 40% strong spirits is sold in tiny plastic sachets of 100ml for 20c(NZ). The ethanol is imported from Kenya by various Ugandan companies who add flavours and colourful packaging. Forget the 50c mixtures; these are so cheap children buy them and slip them in their pockets to take to school. It doesn’t take many to knock you out.

Where is God amongst this brokenness? Where is God’s Kingdom? So often this world seems like a kingdom of capitalism. The king is the company and the ‘rule of law’ is the free market. And yet Jesus teaches us to pray to our Father, ‘your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in Heaven.’

I love the Message translation of Colossians 1, which tells us that through Jesus’ death “all the broken and dislocated piece of the universe, people and things, animals and atoms, get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies.” While the Kingdom is not fully here yet, sometimes we can see God starting to put things back together again. We can see the ‘vibrant harmonies’ of the Kingdom peeking through.

 A couple of years back Angee came to know Jesus. God gave her the reason and the strength to stop drinking. This year, she walked into our little church to our group’s strategy meeting, ready to join our fight. Our small Community Organizing group, ‘Wakonye Kenwa,’ is about finding strategic solutions to address problems facing our community. We want to be part of God’s Kingdom project, putting back together just a little piece of the broken and dislocated universe. Specifically, we wanted laws regulating alcohol, including a ban on plastic alcohol sachets. So we tackled Gulu District’s local government.

Members like Angee walked around our community collecting data and personal stories about the impact of alcohol on people’s lives. We submitted a big report to the district government and lobbied till they agreed to start writing the law. As it turned out, government can be a slippery bunch. Keeping the law making process moving and making sure our major demand (the sachet ban) was included in the law proved the hardest part. So we started collecting signatures for a petition calling for a sachet-alcohol ban. We made friends with the biggest local radio station who let us run a six week series featuring former alcoholics from our group and the wider community. Each week we pushed for the ban on sachets.

It hasn’t been an easy year! Part way through the campaign, Angee spent a week in the mental health wing of the local hospital. Her son, who she thought had left his days of alcohol abuse behind him, got raging drunk again, resurfacing her past struggles. We visited her in hospital. Her usually spirited eyes were dull, staring blankly. She spoke about haunting voices and an uncontrollable sorrow.

The year was difficult for others in our group as well. The day before we filmed our short video calling for a ban on sachets, Paul’s neighbour died of alcohol poisoning. He spoke about it in the film. When Josephine’s hut was burned down by a drunken person, she told me she was thankful that at least the anti-sachet petitions she was collecting were stored in another hut, safe from the fire. For me, working closely with local government in Gulu has been like wading through a bureaucratic swamp of incomprehensible, head-ache inducing inefficiency.

Our campaign climaxed with a march through the streets of Gulu to present the 9500 signatures we collected to the district council. We invited the major religious and cultural leaders of the district to lead the march. That day I got to see the members of our group proudly marching through the streets, followed by hundreds of supporters. Only two weeks after returning home from hospital, struggling with her swollen legs, Angee made it all the way carrying her sign. No one chanted louder than her! The district chairman received the petition and with the media’s cameras rolling, publicly declared that the law would be passed by the end of the year.

I believe we’re starting to see moments of God’s transformation. Moments where broken, dislocated pieces of our universe are starting to be put right. Moments where people’s love for the King leads them to work to see the Kingdom grow in the here-and-now. Gulu’s new law banning sachet alcohol is on its way. Angee doesn’t define herself by the losses of her past, her disability, the drinking, or the demons in her head that still return to haunt her. She is God’s person, who marched boldly through the streets of Gulu demanding justice and praying ‘God, today your will be done.’

March on Video

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We proudly present to you a 2015 highlight: Wakonye Kenwa’s March to End Sachet Alcohol in Gulu

You might be wondering…

What is sachet alcohol? Watch the video clip above, and Isaac from Wakonye Kenwa will explain all… Who is Wakonye Kenwa? We are a community organising group launched from our wee church in Lacor, Gulu town. We are the ones making lots of noise. Why march? Because we wanted to make Gulu Local Government publicly accountable to their promise to us to ban sachet alcohol Did it work? Yes! The District chairman publicly promised to complete the law before 2016, and the media spread the news far and wide. Our law is almost finished.

Ugandan Caterpillars

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An interesting part of cross-cultural, overseas mission is learning more and more about your surroundings. In this video Nick Laing shares something he discovered in their backyard. Not only do we get to learn a little about the critters in their backyard, but we also get to know Nick a little more!

If you have kids (or grandkids) why not share this video with them?

Messy Discipleship (Issue 24)

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The title on my Word document read “Alcohol in Gulu District: Health Impacts.” An army of Google tabs linked me to recent journal articles. A small ginger cat purred on my lap. A mug of steaming spicy tea sat patiently beside me. As someone who loves the calm methodical nature of research, I should have been at peace. Writing this report was a necessary part of our group’s fight for new laws regulating alcohol.

But I was deeply uneasy. It’d been weeks since I’d been out on my bike on the dusty paths, meeting with members of our community group in their homes. There’d been a few meetings in town with council officials, but I’d gone by myself. It was easier to go alone than to bring along someone inexperienced that might turn up late or say something unpredictable. In that moment, I felt a long way from those early meetings in our small church hall when we discussed Bible passages alongside community problems.

What was missing? What was I forgetting? Was I simply trying to get a new law passed in the most efficient way possible?

I prayed.

In that moment, I felt God remind me why I’m here and what our group is really for. Our group started from our little church, St Catherine’s, but now it’s a melting pot for anyone in the surrounding community who wants to strategise for social change. Our hope was that through the group, believers would discover new ways to be followers of Jesus by caring about the people Jesus cares about. We prayed that others would discover that their drive for social justice came from God and that they would come to know Jesus, the ultimate social radical and source of true transformation! But in my tea-fuelled fervour to do a good job on our Alcohol report for our District Council, I’d lost sight of a key ingredient: discipleship.

It’s been two months since my discipleship-revelation moment. Since then we’ve made some changes. Last Saturday we held the second of our new monthly group Bible study. We examined the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who defied the king’s new law by refusing to worship his statue so were tossed in a furnace. The story launched us into a discussion about following God’s way rather than bowing to human demands. Some people talked about defying their family’s insistence on trips to the witch doctors when they get sick. And we talked about what happens if powerful people start to resist our efforts to have alcohol regulated in our district.

I’ve also resolved to avoid doing meetings by myself. Last week there was a meeting with councillors from the district council. I took a motorbike into town with Betty for her first meeting with an official. The trip gave us a chance to talk about her faith, why she joined the group and the challenges she was facing. We prepped for the meeting… and she ended up doing most of the talking! The icing on the cake: the councillor promised his support.

As productive and safe as I might feel behind my computer with my cat and spice tea, I was being nudged towards the messier, less predictable world of discipleship. Discipleship may be messy, but it’s how God is building his Kingdom on earth.

Tessa and her husband Nick are NZCMS Mission Partners in Uganda. Tessa heads up a Community Organising group that tackles various social issues in the broader community. For more from the Laings visit ugandapanda.com

 

For discussion

In what ways are you tempted to choose efficiency over discipleship?

Are there ways you can invite others into your Kingdom efforts?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of Intermission will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. Why not take up the challenge and start using Intermission in your community? For more information or to order copies click here.

Tessa and the Radio

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“I don’t have a job” “Why?” “Because I drunk so much when I was younger I never got an education!”

Recently four ex heavy drinkers from Tessa’s group, Wakonye Kenwa, shared their stories on Mega FM, the most popular radio station in Northern Uganda. It was the first of a three part series to garner support for Wakonye Kenya’s latest endeavour, and massive dream: a law which would ban the cheapest, strongest and most popular form of alcohol. Small plastic packets of Alcohol, called ‘sachets’

Tessa’s work is going really well. After taking upon the mammoth task of embarking on creating a new law, her group has moved forward at a rate of knots. The group has a real sense of community and purpose which is driving them forward. Meetings are very social and the group is starting to believe they can do great things. They’ve already got thousands of signatures on a petition to ban the packets (aiming for 5000, I think they’ll reach 10000), a Ugandan NGO has agreed to fund all the group’s transport and phone calls, and the local government has agreed to draft the law and put it in front of the council for voting. Everything is moving remarkably smoothly at the moment. The inevitable challenges from the industry and business will come when the law looks like it might actually happen.

 

For more from Nick and Tessa in Uganda, visit UgandaPanda.com

“He sells his land to drink”

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‘What problems does alcohol bring in this community?,” Geoffry asked an old lady leaning against the edge of her hut, picking tiny stones from a shallow basket of rice.

“Alcohol breaks up families. Liver disease. Young boys steal from their families to buy alcohol. It makes men do nothing, no farming, they just sit drinking” Then solemnly she added.. “Impotence. Women are not satisfied these days.”

Wakonye Kenwa (our community organizing group) has been out and about with our survey, asking our community in Lacor about alcohol. What kind of alcohol brings the most problems? What time should bars open and close? Do you support a ban on sachet alcohol (100ml of ready to drink 40% spirits sold for 20 NZ cents)? And the trickiest last question… “Do you know anyone who is negatively affected by alcohol? Can you tell us about their life?”

Our survey served two purposes. 1) To hunt out keen people who care to recruit to our group. 2) To collect evidence to support our campaign for new alcohol laws in Gulu District.

Our research taught me a lot about alcohol use in my community. But I’ve learned more about how (and how not) to do research with keen but new-to-research volunteers. Take that last question. Each volunteer was asked to try and capture an example, a story, about how alcohol impacts on people’s lives. We did role plays to drum it in. Yesterday I translated and typed our 98 questionnaires into excel. Approaches to answering to that last question were varied…

The most unhelpful response: “Yes I know someone” or “I know lots of people!” (no elaboration)

The break-all-confidentiality response: A list of names (but no stories), usually followed by a plea of sorts “they need help.” One lady wrote, “my neighbor, David Komakech.” The next form I picked up was..wait for it…was David Komakech. In response to the last question he answered “Yes. Alcohol is a problem for me. I’ve lost all my money.”

The story response: And of course, some interviewers understood the question properly and got their interviewee to give a detailed example. Here are a few:

“I know many people, but the one closest to me is my mother. Any money she gets, anything you give her, she just sells it to drink alcohol… sugar, food, anything. If she drinks a lot then she gets accidents. I have taken her to hospital many times. It disturbs me so much. She is always asking for money. I don’t give it to her, because alcohol is killing her:” (41 year old man)

“Yeah, me. It can be a problem for me. Yesterday on the way back from the bar I stubbed my foot. My foot still hurts.” (24 year old man)

“My husband drinks, he uses all our money for drinking, and he is hardly ever home. When he is home he hits me when he gets drunk. I know he sleeps with other women. I’m worried I will get HIV aids” (30 year old woman)

“My uncle drank so much he passed out and has now been in hospital for one week with liver problems. He has drunken alcohol for many years now. He doesn’t work, he sells things like his land to eat food and drink more. Last week he sold his motorbike. He no longer sends his children to school” (32 year old woman).

I did 20 interviews myself with members of our group. So, so many people had stories like this.

A new home for Nick and Tessa

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We are incredibly fortunate, if a little sheepish with even a spattering of guilt that we’ve had the chance to be a part of building our own home. It was never something we planned to do, and I doubt very much that we’ll get the chance to do it again. The big hut is finished, and we remain only with finishing touches (curtains, pictures on the wall, etc.). Its a round hut, so orientating yourself shouldn’t be too hard!

We’re delighted that our friends from near our old house are still keen to hang out with us.

 

To see how Nick and Tessa’s new home was built, click here.