Episcopal Medical Missions Foundation

Making A Difference

EMMF: Bakersfield Seven and the Pygmies


Seven volunteers from Bakersfield, Calif. had come to SW Uganda to build a school for the pygmies -- Mission impossible- build to California codes, using available materials and complete the structure in 10 days during the rainy season.  Problem number one: the foundation had been laid when we were in the US with the thought that it would give the crew a head start on the project. We found to our dismay that the foundation was not flat losing 3 inches of elevation from side to side; additionally it was out of square and three feet longer than anticipated. Another drawback was that the mortar was mixed with insufficient cement and had not hardened after several weeks.  We were continually reminded of Jesus' remonstration in Luke 6:48 to build your house on a firm foundation so when the torrent strikes the house will not be shaken. This passage was particularly apropos in that this was the height of the rainy season with a daily horizontal downpour of three to four inches. Another aspect of the project was to teach the pygmies the art of construction and along the way develop a relationship with them where God would be glorified.

We quickly learned that humor and practical jokes would be an essential part of this project. The first day a scheme was devised for the pygmies to present Jack (one of the authority figures of the group) with a small rock. When the first pygmy approached him and gave him the rock with a deferential bow Jack proceeded to toss it, but the translator explained with a straight face that this giving of the rock was an act of deference to a revered leader and to throw the rock away would be culturally disrespectful. As pygmy after pygmy came  Jack's pockets quickly bulged with rocks and his pants were barely holding on. Finally when one of the Bakersfield crew approached on bended knee, head bowed, rock in hand and Jack realized that he had been had.

In addition to practical jokes daily devotionals with intense sharing allowed us to deal with all adversities and to bond as a group. Prayers at the job site demonstrated to the pygmies and other workers where our heart was. At one juncture when the rains were particularly torrential all were huddled under a tarp as we watched the recently applied mortar being washed away. Instead of being despondent the group broke into a rousing chorus of amazing grace and other gospel songs. During another downpour a villager who sought refuge in a vehicle asked how one would believe in God and a lively discussion ensued and before the rains had ceased had given his life to Christ. Another time bibles were distributed to the 90 students and members of the group were able to share how God had called them to Africa. As always there was a steady stream of patients afflicted with malaria and dysentery brought on by the rainy season.

 Despite all of the difficulties of obtaining materials in this remote area of Uganda, working with unskilled labor and the daily downpours producing a sea of mud, work proceeded steadily. We also appreciated that the interruptions were part of this mission and divinely appointed.  We realized that in spite of the fact that the school could not be completed in the allotted time the project was a success by any standard. The pygmies had been taught a skill but more importantly had been given the gift of relationships and the appreciation that much can be accomplished by working together in a spiritual context.

 The school was named in honor of Pres, a 64-year-old mason, who epitomized the spirit of the group. He was always unselfish, freely giving of his knowledge and many spiritual insights and ministering to the pygmies in a Christ like manner. The quote chosen for the school was from 2 Timothy 2:2 "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will be qualified to teach

It was apparent to all that whereas we had thought that the call was to construct a school in reality the purpose was to preach, teach, heal and to serve.

 God bless,
 Scott and Carol


Mark speaks to the students

Pres' School (Pres is in hat, glasses, beard, looking at sign)


Dr. Gerald ministers to a patient




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