Sometimes it is pretty easy to “read a room.” Especially if the room is an outdoor space, under a tent, with 400 eyes no more than 50 feet away in broad daylight. You can tell if things are going “well” or not. And the start of the conference in Kigumba was not going very well.
Monday in Uganda began as a “cluster” for all of us. Despite every best effort and intentionality on Dero and his team’s part, our transportation just didn’t seem to work out.
The initial van they rented for us to all travel together broke down right after they picked it up to come to get us at the airport late Saturday night. They got another vehicle, but what we had failed to communicate effectively was how BIG our luggage was.
Not to be deterred Dero and Prosper devised a plan to tie the luggage to the top of the SUV and then we would be on our way. The next problem came when the police officer at the hotel told us if we drove away they would arrest us for having things on top of the vehicle.
Prosper had shared with us previously that traffic laws have a somewhat nebulous definition there in Uganda, and depending on how much money you offer, the laws can work in your favor.
Since I’ve never offered money in exchange for law-bending I didn’t think it best to start while on the other side of the world. Ultimately we found another car so we took two. One for luggage, one for people.
As luck would have it, the car carrying the luggage (and Dero!!!) broke down on the way to Kigumba. The transmission literally fell apart.
So, Prosper, Caroline, Dawn, Lindsay, and I went on to the conference and Dero stayed behind with our stuff and the broken down vehicle.
As I stood up to speak to the guests, it wasn’t “quite” the way we’d hoped the conference would get started. We’d all pictured it getting kicked off as a “team,” with energy, united purpose, etc. Instead, we were trying to figure out transportation issues, we were like 3 hours late so we were out of sorts, and the other West Church Uganda’s team members on-site were exhausted because they’d been leading the conference all day alone in our absence.
We jumped in anyway and about half of the participants seemed “ok” and reasonably happy to be there. The other half of the tent, not so much. I’d smile, it wasn’t returned. Finally, when we asked them what they wanted to get out of our time together, someone responded,
“What are your plans to include all of us? We are not all of your faith, your Christian faith. Some of us here worship God in a different way. What are you going to do about that?”
Dero had shared with me that the religious make-up of the village would be some non-religious, some Muslim, and some Christian. Once that question was voiced aloud, the part of the tent that had been non-responsive began nodding and ultimately, waiting on my response.
“At West Church America we recognize that not all people come to faith the same way. We honor and respect different cultures, interpretations, and understandings . . .”
As I began saying this, you could tell the words were starting to resonate. The “mood” of the tent softened.
“We believe that God is Love. We believe that Love is not something “outer” – apart from us, but rather lives in each of us. We are here to talk about that Great Love, how we can feel it, understand it, and experience it. The way that we understand that Love is through the person Jesus of Nazareth, but again, we recognize that you may understand it in a different way. We are not here to tell you that you are wrong and we are right. We simply want to share some things we believe help us live into being the people we are created to be.”
They clapped. And seriously, the whole “tone” of the day changed immediately.
Then, I came home to this . . .
“Do you teach from the bible where it says men are men and women are women and being gay is wrong? Marriage is between a man and woman?”
Someone went to our website and fill out a “contact us card” with those questions. I did a little homework and found out a little about the person asking the question and their faith background. I’ll just say they weren’t asking because they love our core value “all means all.” It was an accusatory and condemning question.
All week it’s bothered me . . .
I can be on the other side of the world speaking to people of a completely different religion and we can agree on respect and Love.
Here, it’s often about being “right.” And certainly not about respect and inclusion.
The world would be such a better place, period if we’d all learn to offer more love, more acceptance, less judgment. If we’d all err on love and grace.