10 Things That Made Me Pause in Uganda

Uganda-childI’m in my second week of my visit here to Kampala. Three days left. We’ve done three full days of training, I’ve spoke at several schools, met with youth workers, preached three services yesterday (three 2-hour services… a little longer than I’m used to. Wow!), and spoke at an Anglican conference that brought people from all over the region. It’s been a crazy week… with some amazing moments!

Here’s 10 things that caused me to pause and take notice in Uganda:

Uganda-worship-danceThe Worship
As much as I travel, I get to hear A LOT of different worship bands. I’ve heard some of the best… but nothing beats worship over here in Africa. First, EVERYONE sings out at the top of their lungs! Men too. (Here’s a 15 second video of 1300 Ugandan young people singing in the church where I preached.) They sing in different languages, sometimes even letting loose with a tribal yipe… so fun. And the dancing! I wish American teenagers would learn to dance like this. It’s not sexualized like almost every American dance-move has become…it’s truly feeling the music, worshipping and dancing to the Lord. I can’t get enough.

Holding Hands
It isn’t uncommon to see two men walking holding hands. In America this means something completely different. But here in Uganda, two heterosexual men will just hold hands and walk. Several times a Ugandan male friend would grab my hand and walk with me. It’s kinda cool.

My Package
Even though most of the people in Kampala speak English, there still are some phrases that differ and come across funny. Maybe I’ve been working with junior high kids too long, but I almost lost it when I was introduced in church yesterday like this: “We are so lucky to have Jonathan McKee this morning. He has so much to offer. He has a big package.”

Uganda-preachUniforms
Every kid wears a school uniform. You see little kids walking to school in adorable matching shirts, skirts and ties. Even in the church services I preached at, entire sections filled with teenage girls all wearing the same bright purple or bright peach uniforms.

Multilanguage
When the people in Kampala talk with each other, they’ll talk in English, then slip into Luganda. Yesterday before I spoke, a local rapper performed. His rap would slip in and out of English, Luganda and then another tribal western language. The young people were chanting back to him in multi languages… really fun.

Death Race
Last year my daughter Alyssa came to Uganda to minister and speak about purity in secondary schools. Next year my daughter Ashley is coming to do the same. And frankly, my only hesitation with sending any of my family here is the way people drive. A New York cabby is 20 times as safe as the most careful driver in Kampala! People drive terrible. No one stays in any lanes, pedestrians do NOT have the rideaway… in fact… if you are a pedestrian and you don’t move… you will die. The roads here are INSANE!!! (I’ll try to post an Instagram video with a sample in the next few days.) Which brings up…

boda-bodaThe ‘Boda Boda’
The first thing you’ll notice when you drive in Kampala is that at any given time you will see about 40 motorcycles on the road, taxi-ing someone on the back, dodging in and out of traffic like a bunch of lunatics. A motorcycle taxi is called a ‘boda boda.’ Traffic is terrible in Uganda, so most people jump on a boda boda to get where they need to go. On our first day we saw one plow into the back of a van. It’s amazing anyone is alive on the roads here.

The Shilling
The currency in Uganda is the Shilling. The weird part is that one-dollar is about 2600 Shillings. So this means that something really cheap is easily 3,000 to 5,000 Shillings. It’s weird for an American who is used to hearing the cost of items being one dollar, or 20 dollars… or even 100 dollars. If you order a burger at a cafe, it’s 14,500 Shillings. When you buy expensive items they are in the millions.

Corruption
My good Ugandan Friend John was sharing his heart for Uganda. He loves the country, has hope for the people, but, like many Ugandans, he is frustrated by much of the chaos (the crazy roads, the lack of good water systems, drainage, etc.). So we asked him candidly. “John, this country has so many good people, it has good soil, and rests next to one of the largest lakes in the world… what’s the problem.”

I’ll never forget John’s answer. He said, “One word: leadership.”

The government has huge issues, which start at the top, bleed through the entire infrastructure and trickle down to the front lines. So when you’re driving on the poor roads alongside the streets that have no drains or garbage cans, if you get pulled over by the police, they’ll expect a bribe. It’s sad.

Hope
In spite of this corruption, this younger generation has hope. When we hosted a free training for youth workers in the area, we had over 140 excited young men and women attend (very few over 30-years-old). When I offered giveaways, they all wanted a book over anything else. They are desperate to learn! This educated generation is eager to try new things, open to new methods and tired of systems that don’t work.

The government is even showing signs of hope. A new ‘Mayor’ of Kampala has started repaving roads, installing drains, and cleaning up the city. Our friend John sees this as a glimmer of hope for the future (and John has seen a lot of dark times, even having to flee the country with his family in his youth).

That’s why I’m excited about offering training to these young ministry leaders. Uganda doesn’t need handouts. They need to be encouraged and equipped to keep up the good work and keep their eyes fixed on Jesus, the true hope in hopeless times.

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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5 Responses to 10 Things That Made Me Pause in Uganda

  1. dan manns says:

    Thanks for the update Jon! I love to hear what God is doing all over the world – bringing hope and light and life! Young people in love with Jesus can transform a nation! Why not Uganda! What an exciting thing to be a part of!

  2. AlMenconi says:

    Keep up the good work. I’m praying that God will continue to use you in your ministry.

  3. Roger says:

    I’m glad you mentioned about phrasing differences before you shared the phrase “big package.” I’m still laughing at that comment and wondering how you contained yourself from laughing out loud. May God bless the work you are doing in Uganda.

  4. Pastor Thomas Mike Obong says:

    So amazed to see this, you are right in all those things, as Ugandan I have no doubt about your analysis of Uganda.
    What we need for the young people in Uganda is the gospel of truth most of the young people are misled by the beliefs of their forefathers/parents, the way gospel was preached in ancient days, people do not know the different between religion and salvation.

    • Thanks for your comment. You’re not alone. PewResearch did a religious landscape survey in the last decade in the U.S. and found that about 80% of the US claimed they were “Christian” (a number that is shrinking rapidly, especially in the younger generation). This 80% is primarily made up of people who claim Christianity as their “religion” because their grandma told them that’s what they are. And that’s all it is. A label. We all need the Gospel’s lifechanging message.