Poor yet rich

First published 31st August 2010

Bruce Clifford spent July in Uganda as an ordinand on a church placement that was facilitated by our Diocesan link. Here he reflects on his experiences.

How can we help make poverty history in Uganda? This was a key question for me when I set out. Yet when I began to experience something of Ugandan life, the question turned on its head.

Certainly, I saw that by western standards many live in extreme material poverty. In the town of Lugazi where I was based, a family typically live in one room perhaps three metres square. They rely on candle, paraffin and charcoal for light and heat, and collect their water in plastic cans from the town supply. They share a hole-in-ground toilet with others, and wash with a bucket. Tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS are too common; maternal and infant mortality are too high. Education is accessible to most children, but families have to pay the fees. Unemployment levels are way above those in the west; and of course no state benefits are available.

Yet in the midst of their poverty Ugandans came across as contented people. While in the UK we live as individuals, they live as community. When any has need, others ensure the need is met. They give gladly and almost automatically; and their generosity is often beyond their means. Loneliness is unheard of; depression very rare.

In UK society religion is seen as a private matter, if it is relevant at all. In Uganda people are hungry for God. Church worship is not primarily cerebral: it is vibrant and demonstrably from the heart. When walking around in the community with the vicar, I found people eager to hear words of encouragement based on scripture, and to pray with us about their particular challenges. Visiting the local hospital, whole wards staff and patients gathered to listen to us and pray. In schools, assemblies gladly responded to the good news of Jesus.

So though people are poor economically, I concluded they are socially and spiritually far more rich than our society. Most significant for me, they do not depend primarily on material goods, scientific knowledge, or medical help. They depend on God.

So I returned humbled by the inadequacy of my initial question. I now ask with equal urgency: how can we help make social and spiritual poverty history in the UK? I guess this is a responsibility for every one of us.

Bruce Clifford

Trinity College, Bristol 2010

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