Wednesday evening I had been reading through some of the book of Mark. I decided to stop right before "Jesus Calms the Storm" so that I would easily remember where I would need to pick back up.
Thursday morning I awoke well rested and anxious to get out to Buvuma so we would have enough time to get everything done for the day. After driving down towards the shore, parking the vehicle, and then walking to the shore we found the boat motor being difficult and not willing to work properly. The plan was to head to the Island with Pastor David and another missionary.
David was already on the boat working with a mechanic to try and get the motor running. After about 30 minutes of just sitting on the shore we were told to board the boat.
Now that all sounds simple and easy, but in reality it's a bit awkward.
(The water around the shore of Lake Victoria is contaminated with a disease called Bilharzia, which is carried by snails. It's a fairly serious disease, but there is a pill available if you think you've been infected. The medicine will make you violently ill if you indeed have the disease, if not you'll feel fine.)
Anyways, all of that to say that there are men on the shore who are either immune or don't care and they carry you to the boat so you don't have to walk through the water. So the first guy had the other missionary on his shoulders and carried him to the boat. The next guy who was to carry my wasn't a very big guy so I asked him if he was sure he wanted to take me and he said he was, so he scooped me up because I was wearing a skirt, and carried me to the boat like a baby.
After sitting on the boat for some time it became apparent that the engine was not going to start, so David made some calls and we rented a much smaller boat for about $10. WGM has a smaller motor that was working, so we put it on the boat and off we went about an hour and a half after our scheduled departure time. The ride to Buvuma Island in the normal boat is about a two-hour ride.
On to Plan B
It only took us about and hour and twenty minutes with the smaller boat. The lake was calm, the sun was beating down, and the sights were breath taking. I entertained myself by listening to some Selah on my iPod and looking for crocodiles and hippos. It felt like home somehow.
With a smile on my face we arrived at Buvuma Island, hopped up onto the "dock" and walked up to the school where we were greeted immediately by the head mater, Joseph. After some customary greetings, I explained what needed to be done and we got right to work. My job was to get pictures of all of the orphans along with some basic information in order to assist in getting them sponsored.
I had already made up and printed out a form with a space for photo number, name, age, gender, and grade level. Each of the teachers were given a stack of the info cards and they wrote out the student's info, gave the card to the student, and then the students lined up for me to take their picture and write their photo number so as not to get the wrong face with the wrong info. It was a very fast process and I was very surprised at how well the whole ordeal went.
After all of the pictures were done being taken, the headmaster gave me a tour of the compound because there had been so much forward progress since the last time I had visited the school. All in all we were only on the island for about 2 hours when I had thought it would be an all day project.
Back to Jinja
We boarded the boat and began our journey back to Jinja. The sky was still clear and bright, my still wintry, pale skin was beginning to turn red, and the lake was friendly. We ventured a bit close to the island as I wanted to look for crocodiles, but we were on our way. Up ahead we could tell that there was a storm, but it looked like it was closer to the mainland than on the lake.
Well about 45 minutes to an hour into the trip the waters woke up and began to stir. The clouds overhead became menacing and a wind that would have made lesser men (or women) seasick took control. I tightened my grip on my bag, which contained all of the info, two cameras, and my iPod, and held onto my seat for dear life.
The boat began to chop through the waves and jump and crash over some as the smaller engine worked to keep us moving forward. The mainland was in sight, but the water between where we were and the shore was anything but safe and inviting. And then the engine stopped. The boat was swaying violently; I was drenched from the rain and lake water rushing into the boat.
David was calling for help from the back of the boat. The motor had come loose and jumped off the boat and David was holding onto it for dear life. The other missionary went back to try and assist, but the motor was too heavy for the men to lift and the waves were not helpful. Water was rushing into the boat.
In the distance there was a boat passing by. I steadied myself a bit, stood up and flailed my arms about to try and grab their attention. They kept going past us. Just when I thought we were going to have to swim to the nearest shore, filled with crocs, the other boat turned around. With the help of some of the men from the other boat they were able to lift the motor out of the water. A waterlogged motor doesn't start so our only other option was to sit and wait for someone to come get us, or ask these men to tow us.
We'll Take the Woman
The men said they would tow us back to the mainland, but not where we had entered the water. Where they wanted to tow us was almost exactly where we had left from Buvuma. The mainland wraps around, but taking a boat is faster for getting to the island which is why WGM travels by boat more often than not. So with our fuel as payment the men began to tow us through the waves back to some kind of shore.
The towing system was a man in our boat holding a rope and a man in their boat holding the other end. Not the best system, but what do I know? Soon the men began asking for more payment. What better payment than making a white woman one of their wives? I was not thrilled about that suggestion and began to feel a bit unsafe as we were being watched.
Following a larger boat meant dealing with its wake. There were moments when I was absolutely positive that we were going to flip. I'm a good swimmer and probably could have made it over to one of the islands, maybe not without losing an arm or my life to a known man-eating crocodile, but Ugandans generally aren't avid swimmers. Most don't even know how to doggy paddle.
So even if I made it, David probably would not. I don't remember the tears starting to flow because I was soaked from head to toe, but I remember being terrified enough to think that I was going to die that day, in the middle of Lake Victoria. I was not being dramatic, just very realistic. I texted some people on the mainland asking for prayer and letting them know our situation in case anything did happen.
Jesus, Calm the Storm
As I was sitting there, body tensed, holding onto the boat as the waves tossed us to near capsizing with every hit, I thought of what I had been reading in Mark. And then it occurred to me that I stopped reading right before the story of Jesus calming the storm. So with tears streaming silently down my face I prayed, "Jesus, I know this is cliché, but I really need you to calm this storm. Jesus, you've done this before. Calm the storm."
Almost instantly the wind died, the waves went back to sleep, and the sun was once again burning my skin. I didn't jump up or even say a word, but sat silently praising God because it was all that I could do.
We finally reached land and thus began the debate on more payment. The other men were being inappropriate about women and even saying things to me, but I just couldn't pay too much attention to them because I was focused on stepping foot on land. After some time payment (not me, praise the Lord) was agreed upon and the men were off. Even though they were offensive and rude, God used them to probably save our lives that day. Pray for them, as they clearly non-Christian men.
We finally jumped out of the boat, waded through a bit of diseased water, and were on the shore of a small village. My white skin was quite the spectacle, especially for the village children. We waited in the village for about 2 hours while someone was on their way to pick us up. The children were a gift from the Lord and I couldn't help but laugh as smile as they played. I spoke what little Luganda I do know to them and they laughed and laughed at the fact that a mzungu (white person) was speaking their language.
Our vehicle arrived and we drove home over some of the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen. It was safe and peaceful inside of the vehicle even with the crazy unstable roads, animals and children darting into the dirt road, and bodas flying past. God is good.
About the Author: Christina is a regional Volunteer in Action with WGM in Africa. She lives in Kampala, Uganda, but is the marketing coordinator for WGM Africa. Christina is also our scholarship / sponsorship program coordinator for Kikongo school. She also teaches English as a second language to refugees at the Center of Hope in Kampala. She hails from the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Illinois where she is a youth pastor at her local church.