Parish Church of St john the Baptist

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CMS News - July

Tom and Verity's July update


Hi everyone!

It seems the plan for shorter, more regular emails has once again failed so I’m afraid this one is on the longer side again. Thank you to everyone who has got in touch with updates since we last emailed. We love to hear from you.


"Learning Uganda"

So this week Arua became a city! We’re not quite sure what this really means but people stayed up until midnight on Tuesday to go into the streets shouting and screaming for a good hour or so. We had no idea what was going on so weren’t best pleased. Milly explained it all the following day - turns out she was up past midnight as well, keeping her neighbours awake a little further down the road!
Joel loves to help Milly and Noble with jobs around the house
We feel like we’re only just beginning to gain some understanding of the culture here and start to grasp why things work the way they do. Or as Eli (5) put it "Mummy, I'm now learning Uganda". Milly has been a great help in this and in addition to helping out with cooking and cleaning has become our unofficial language teacher as well. She’s such a blessing and we’re thankful for her every day. She keeps me sane when sometimes three out of the four boys are crying, she doesn’t seem to judge the daily homeschool battles and helps me navigate visitors and their needs.

Life here is tough though. In the same breath as she excitedly explained about the celebrations, Milly, still smiling, explained that a relative had also died at midnight last night. An elderly widower whose four children were all either alcoholics or addicted to smoking opium, having died of hunger with no one to look after him. The burial was later that day and would be short and simple. A few weeks ago another uncle of Milly’s died from ‘drinking alcohol for three days and not eating’. His family were also alcoholics apparently - she had very little sympathy and had to be persuaded by her close family to attend the burial.
Tom taking the boys through the fascinating waste segregation segment of his infection control training for health centres in the Diocese

Deep-rooted brokenness

We’re learning of a huge deal of brokenness here and even though we’ve still only got to know a handful of people locally, there seems to be a common theme of family breakdown and addiction. As part of Tom’s work, he’s been involved in a programme to sensitise the community to the huge problem of gender-based violence (or GBV). This concept includes a wide range of areas, including physical, sexual, emotional & economic abuse based on gender norms and unequal power relationships and has by all accounts worsened during lockdown as children are out of school and fathers are out of work. Whilst most cases of GBV come under the title of violence against women and girls, GBV also includes violence against men and boys and our health department decided to focus on men as victims of GBV in the run up to the local date for Father’s Day.

There was a press conference with the bishop (which made it to national TV), along with several other ventures, such as a drawing competition for children to express their experiences of violence during the COVID lockdown. Seeing this artwork come in has been fascinating and equally harrowing – fascinating in the way that the children astutely depict alcohol and substance misuse as well as financial pressures in their drawings, but harrowing in the realisation that many of their pictures are based on personal experience. In the national violence against children study here across Uganda in 2018, researchers found that 75% of adults had experienced some form of violence in childhood - 1 in 3 girls had been a victim of some form of sexual violence, including the 10% of all girls who underwent the trauma of forced or pressured sex. The next step for us will be taking steps to try and address the underlying causes which will obviously be a huge challenge.

Aside from the GBV programme, Tom has been busy preparing (and this week delivering) some infection control training for health centre staff in light of COVID and ordering more protective equipment for the health centres as part of a programme sponsored by Irish Aid. He’s enjoyed getting out and about, particularly enjoying seeing some patients at the health centres when he’s visiting.
The boys have enjoyed getting involved in the harvest - we've had an abundance of mangoes from our one tree and now the beans are ready for drying (top - shelling the beans ; bottom left - Eli with a day's mango haul)
They also spend a lot of time in imaginary play around the garden (bottom right - Ezra and Joel making 'soup')

Finding a new rhythm

Lockdown was eased a few weeks ago and now most of the shops have reopened, apart from non-food markets. Public gatherings are supposed to be limited to 5 and the main imposition is that passenger transport is still banned. The number of cases is still fairly low on a global scale (902 cases, 0 deaths) but as most of the cases have been brought in from neighbouring countries, they are continuing to restrict transport in the border regions. This means there are large numbers of people who are struggling with no income and there are continued problems with people not being able to travel to health centres or hospitals.

We’ve settled into a new routine with Tom working full time for the last month. We manage to get some amount of homeschooling done each morning while Joel and Simeon either play around us -for Joel this often involves climbing on us and sitting on or scribbling over the boys’ books - or they follow Noble, our watchman, around the garden while he tries to work. It’s hard work trying to keep the older boys focussed but we’re doing our best for now.

Joel, Ezra and I go for walks in our neighbourhood most evenings and we’ve got to know some children from a few families who Ezra plays with, joining in with their local games. All ages seem to love babies here so Joel is always a big hit and gets carried off by older children. It’s harder to get to know the parents but I’m slowly befriending a few of the mums and need to be patient in this. Eli and Simeon usually prefer to stay at home. Eli in particular finds it harder not to get upset when the local children point and laugh at us and try and chase and stroke him, but he’s finding it a bit easier each time he comes out.

His grace is enough

There is so much need here and we’re learning how best to help people, when the assumed solution is that we will give money to friends and visitors who ask. I’ve spent a good number of hours in conversation with an interesting chap we've got to know a little, who openly talks about it being good to ‘have access to mundus’ (white people) because 'they have access to money'. A good number of those mundus who have previously supported him are currently stuck in other countries and won’t be back for a while. On the one hand, he’s right and we’re very aware that us just being here means Milly and Noble have a job and can support their families better but it brings up all sorts of questions about our role and how we interact as foreigners here.

We’re thankful that the boys are generally more settled and we’re enjoying getting to know people in the local community. We’re also thankful for some other expat families who we’ve been able to join in with for a small, weekly home church, as local church buildings remain closed.

We’ve always prayed that God would break our hearts for the people here and fill us with love and compassion. We’re thankful for daily opportunities to interact with different people but are conscious we need to be wise in our interactions. Life is generally more tiring here - trying to learn and understand a new language and not offend people by saying the wrong thing, loving and helping people in need but also sussing out when people aren’t being genuine and being careful not to become cynical.

We’ve enjoyed watching a weekly online church upload from Worship for Everyone - a family with four children in the UK. We’ve often been challenged by the uncomplicated take-away messages and the songs they write and perform. The most recent song, Slingshot, reminds us of God’s power in our weakness, based around the story of David and Goliath. We’re so thankful that ‘God’s grace is sufficient for us, for his power is made perfect in weakness.’ 2 Corinthians 12:9.
Hanging out with some new local friends
Things to pray for:
  • Continued energy, love and grace in our interactions with the people God brings into our lives each day
  • For us to keep God at the centre of our family as we live out life together in full view of Milly and Noble, both of whom come from reasonably complicated family homes
  • For protection for health centre staff in the diocese as coronavirus continues to be a major risk near the border and with some limited local transmission
  • For protection for all local people at risk of gender-based violence and for wisdom for us as we look to implement solutions addressing the practical problems whilst pointing firmly to Jesus.
Thanks again for all your prayers and support and please continue to let us know how we can be praying for you in return.

Verity, Tom, Ezra, Eli, Simeon and Joel

Building Update


We are pleased to be able to report that on 18th May 2020 repairs were resumed to the roof and the rest of the main shell of the building. Work had been suspended on 27th March because of the Covid 19 outbreak.

Drawings and other documents are now being finalised and the necessary permissions being sought for the next phases, which cover reordering the interior and reinstating the floors within the tower, including:

  • Gas-fired under-floor heating, plus radiators for rapid boost capacity
  • Level stone flooring throughout the nave and aisles
  • Low-energy lighting that will better reveal the beauty of the building
  • A refitted kitchen and separate servery
  • More accessible toilets
  • Replacement glazed timber west doors with power operation
  • Replacement carpets to the raised portions of the chancel and Lady Chapel, with a wheelchair access ramp to the latter
  • Relocation of the font to the north aisle
  • Installation of recast bells
  • Improvements to the ringing chamber, including a window blind and increased storage
  • Redecoration throughout

A further phase will cover the procurement and installation of chairs and other movable storage etc. furniture, a comprehensive audio-visual system and a digital organ. We tested a selection of chairs for appearance and comfort, and the ones we have chosen are stackable with profiled wooden seats and backs on a chrome frame, typical of those now to be found in many cathedrals. We hope to activate our “chair sponsorship” scheme once the Covid 19 situation permits.

A large part of the costs will be covered by insurance, but where we are introducing more expensive improvements we shall need to contribute. We shall know the fundraising required once tenders are received for the next phase and the insurance amount determined. We are hugely grateful for the donations already received from the community – over £45,000 to date.

The suspension of work from March to May is likely to have introduced a delay in our overall programme, but we still expect to be able to reoccupy the building in the first half of 2021.

Photos of the building work

If you have any questions, please speak to the Vicar, or one of the Churchwardens.




Building Photos

Latest photos of building works

Click on the photo to enlarge

CMS News - May

Clares in Uganda May update

Hi Everyone,

Thank you to all those of you who have been in touch since we last emailed. It’s been lovely to hear your news. We’ve somehow been in Arua now for just over two months, the majority of which have been spent in some form of lockdown. As I’m sure will be familiar for many of you, the days here have been passing by in a bit of a blur and even though we can’t really go anywhere, it’s a bit hard to account for where the last couple of months have gone!

Enjoying Simeon's birthday takeaway during the lockdown here in Uganda 

Living in Lockdown

Uganda has been in lockdown since March 30th with the following restrictions: no handshakes or hugs (a big thing in this part of the world), no public transport carrying passengers (ie cargo only), no private cars allowed on the roads (unless an approval sticker for key workers etc), nationwide curfew 7pm to 6:30am, no gatherings of more than 5 people, the closure of all non-food shops and non-food markets, no religious gatherings, no exercise outside your home.

The first of these restrictions came in before there was a case confirmed here and taking strict measures so quickly seems to have worked, with a recent community survey confirming that there is no significant community transmission of COVID at all. There have been over 200 confirmed cases of around 20,000 tested, 95% of whom are truck drivers screened at the border. There have been no deaths at all as yet.

Whilst this is great news to be celebrated on the one hand, we are also acutely aware of the impact of lockdown on communities here. Access to hospital and health centres (normally relatively easy on a motorbike taxi (aka boda)) has become very difficult. Boda drivers are afraid of being beaten for carrying passengers and one boda driver was recently shot dead, in the South of the country, by an apparently-rogue security officer when carrying a pregnant lady. Not only does the transport issue affect people who are acutely unwell, but it also places a barrier to those needing to go to the health centre for HIV services, antenatal clinics and other more routine health issues. Add to this the loss of income for hand-to-mouth workers, the increased food prices and the high levels of deprivation locally and you can easily see why the lockdown itself will be causing significant problems for so many people in the poorer communities.

We are due for a review of the lockdown in 2 days’ time, with some non-food businesses having been allowed to reopen 2 weeks ago – we pray for wisdom for those in power as they try to strike a balance between the strict measures working so well to avoid COVID in the community and the damage caused by the prolonged lockdown.
Our new swing has provided hours of entertainment (and a fair few arguments too) during the lockdown...

Finding a new rhythm

Although arriving in Uganda at this time has made the transition more complex, we are so thankful to God for getting us here at this time. It’s been frustrating for Tom that he can’t get stuck into work, but having him around at home to help the boys as they struggle to adjust to life in a new culture has been an unexpected benefit for all of us. Ezra has found the move particularly difficult and his mood volatility has been hard to manage at times. The boys have all really enjoyed getting to spend extra time with their Daddy- or ‘agun’ as Joel wanders around the house calling after him.

We’ve settled into a bit of a daily rhythm of homeschooling in the morning with the older two while Tom is usually engaged in playing some kind of make-believe game involving Paw Patrol or PJ Masks with the younger two. The boys don’t always come to school with great eagerness to learn but the routine has definitely been helpful for us all. Both boys loved their school and classes back in the UK and we were so grateful for the work of their teachers. It took us a while to come round to the idea of homeschooling here but we’re so thankful that we have a resource package we can follow each week. It’s been a real joy to see the boys getting really excited and engaged in certain lessons- favourites are currently English and Geography, as well as science lessons with Granny via WhatsApp. Ezra has a fantastic imagination and when we can get him to sit still and focus for long enough, to write the words down, in the middle of his constant fidgeting and beatboxing, he’s produced some great work. Eli’s been joining in for a good number of the lessons and currently has a bit of an obsession with homophones!

At times, life here can feel a bit relentless, as with four young children, there is usually at least one who’s upset, getting into mischief or needing help with something. As I’m sure many of you in the UK are finding, being in lockdown with small children brings both real blessings and challenges. I (Verity) have found myself craving personal space more than ever before, which is not really a concept that exists in the culture here.

Life here is much more communal than in the UK. We have our doors and windows open all the time and life is lived much more in the public eye. Noble, our watchman, lives on site as he’s not local to Arua and we have a lovely local lady, Milly, coming for a few hours Monday to Friday to help us round the house, arriving sometime before 8am. Whenever we leave the compound, we are watched as we walk along and often have people peering in through the perimeter hedge just to see what we’re up to. People seem to find it especially entertaining when one of the boys (usually Simeon) decides to have a screaming fit, as children here don’t really cry. We know that they aren’t being offensive or rude, it’s just part of the culture here but it’s something we’ve had to pray for grace and love for as it’s not easy to deal with.

The position of our compound is an interesting one and we’re praying into how God wants to use us in this specific place that he’s provided to be our home. On one side we have welders and mechanics, at least a few of whom chew Khat - a leaf stimulant drug, local to East Africa - through the day causing them to get louder and more uninhibited as the day goes on. On the other side we have a carpenter’s workshop and a few little shops, one of which has a bench at the back, bordering our hedge, where people hide away to drink alcohol. The owner has a large speaker which blasts out music to attract customers anytime from 6am and often, bizarrely, starts especially early on a Sunday morning, broadcasting hymns and a church service from one of the local radio stations. The front of the house is bordered by one of the main roads into town, with a motorbike station and forest opposite, where a group of men gather to smoke some kind of drugs through the day.

None of this seems out of the ordinary though - these things just seem to be an accepted part of life here and we feel very safe where we are. The position of our compound means we don’t have to go far to meet people and begin to make connections. There are a good number of little shops up the road, leading to a local market where we’re getting to know some of the sellers. We have a lovely lady, Mauri, who owns a shop outside our house and her mother, Zilipa, who is often in charge, speaks no English, which has been great for practicing our Lugbara. We go out most days for walks along the dirt roads, in the neighbourhood behind our house and are getting to know some regular faces as we become familiar with the area. Having a baby on my back or small person in tow is a great ice breaker as they love babies and small children here.

Prayer points

  • Wisdom for how to engage positively with our neighbours and share God’s love with them.
  • Continued peace for us all as we settle into life here.
  • Wisdom for Tom in how to spend his time in lockdown, dividing his time between language learning, being with the boys and preparing for the medical role.
  • Daily-filling-up with God’s love and grace as we interact with the people around us.
  • Thanks for David and Heather looking out for us and for the few missionary families we’ve met locally who’ve welcomed us and have children similar ages to ours whom they can play with.
I was challenged this week when I was talking (complaining) to Milly about the monotony of life here at the moment, that every day is the same and we can’t really ‘do’ much. I realised she had no idea what I was talking about – from her point of view we have so much to be thankful for and the relative stability is a good thing - no-one is ill, we have money to buy food, she has a job to go to, we are blessed with children and a lovely home. This idea of our identity being so wound up in our daily accomplishments and what we ‘do’ is something we are learning to let go of, instead trying to grow in our identity as children of God and bringing our boys up to know his love.

We will soon be sending a link to a video with some footage of our first 2 months here and we are aiming to send shorter, more regular emails on this list from now on if all goes to plan.

Thank you so much for all your support and prayers– we are so grateful to God for all of you and we really do love to hear from you and pray for you in return.

Tom, Verity, Ezra, Eli, Simeon and Joel                         
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