500 Pencils

June 30, 2016

I am headed to Uganda. I will be connecting with Pilgrim Africa staff and friends, visiting farmers’ co-operatives in the Northeast, and meeting with local leaders around Pilgrim’s new Gates-funded anti-malaria campaign. I will also be preaching and teaching at our boarding school, Beacon of Hope College in Soroti, meeting with pastors of local churches, and touching base with the local Anglican bishop and several of his clergy, checking in especially with the fledgling ministry to alcoholics begun over the last two years in my visits with Canon Jay Geisler and Dr. Mark Guy. With only 10 days in-country, it will be a short and busy trip.

And I bring gifts.

IMG_1393Pastor Nano and the good folks at Saint Stephen’s Wilkinsburg had a surprise for me. Nano called me up about a week before I left and asked if the kids at the school could use some pencils and crayons. Of course, I said, “Sure.” So she brought over about 500 of each! Since I travel light, it wasn’t hard to get them all in the luggage.

It is amazing what a difference such a gift can make.

A lot of these kids are still affected by the last thirty years of civil strife and insurgency. The whole Teso region is slowly healing, but the young bear the scars in very deep ways. The arts have a particular power to help them heal. Beacon of Hope has a great program in music, dance and drama; the children have even made films re-enacting the things they suffered during the war. Sometimes writing or drawing can also open a door for them.

So 500 pencils become instruments of grace.

Since there are about five hundred kids at the school, this should mean one pencil apiece, right? At least that is the way we Americans tend to think. The kids share everything, readily and immediately. I have seen them gathered two deep around a big art project, the ones in front breaking their crayons or pencils in half and handing the pieces to those who stand behind, while the ones behind use the backs of their friends as a desk or an easel! It all happens wordlessly, the children intensely focussed on what they are doing, the resources going where they are needed.

So 500 pencils help children build their community.

It means so much to them to think that people they have never met, love them and pray for them, and these pencils and crayons are a sign of that love. While I wait here in Amsterdam for my connection to Entebbe, I think of Nano and her people and this simple gift. I remember one of my favorite passages from the writings of Paul: You show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Cor. 3:3). Here, at the gate, I give thanks to God.