27.08.2018 25 °C
The Anglican Church of Uganda recently celebrated a big milestone of 100 year anniversary in the West Nile region. 100 years ago, the West Nile region just been returned to British rule after been part of the notorious Belgian Congo with the regime’s brutal treatment of people for ivory and rubber. In this area, elephants had been hunted for ivory and slaves were captured by Arabs coming down from the north. The mighty Nile river runs alongside the Eastern borders while the land rises towards the west along the hilly Congo border.
In that year, 1918, a missionary couple called Frank and Edith Gardner arrived in West Nile, entering from Congo through an area called Vurra. Frank’s brother Alfred accompanied them.
The Gardners were ordinary people. Frank was a railway engineer and son of a postman from Chipping Norton. Edith was a butcher’s daughter and shop assistant. They had a new baby, although they had also left a toddler aged 3 in England. Edith Jr was 11 when they next saw her! This seems like a cruel thing in our eyes these days, but during the precarious time during World War 1, they were concerned for the toddler’s safety traveling by ship.
Initially, they came as a couple to Africa to work with a mission agency started by the renown CT Studd in Belgian Congo, but after 2 years there were disagreements with him and they transferred to Africa Inland Mission (AIM).
AIM had been asked by the British District Commissioner to help to distribute food to deal with a severe famine in West Nile and this is what initially led the new AIM recruits to the region.
The Gardners had a difficult time in their fledgling work. Edith struggled being constantly watched and peered at by the local people. Neighbours would also fill in the wells they dug for getting clean water. Since there had been a famine, there was little food to eat.
During that first year, the Gardners succumbed to Spanish Flu, a pandemic of sickness killing people around the world. Edith nearly died. Frank had already been ill with malaria and black-water fever several times but fell sick again. He too nearly died. The family were advised to move to an area with a healthier climate and so went to work at Kijabe, at the AIM station in the mountains of Kenya.
The Gardners had only been in West Nile from June 1918 till February 1919, eight short and difficult months.
However, as the book written to commemorate the church’s history, ‘Celebrating Our Centenary’ mentions, ‘Christianity has made a greater impact [in the West Nile] than in other parts of Northern Uganda’.
Despite the inconspicuous and frustrating start which must have seemed like failure to the Gardners, the church grew. Today, 90% of the Lugbara people the Gardners settled amongst are Christian according to The Joshua Project ( https://joshuaproject.net/) and the church has hundreds of thousands of adherents.
As one of the descendants of Frank and Edith says:
“I hope this encourages us never to think fruitfulness and faithfulness are judged by size. That even in pain and seeming failure, God is still at work. No matter how small the seeds we think we are sowing today, God is the Lord of the harvest and can bring forth fruit a hundredfold. So, don’t despise the day of small beginnings and keep sowing!
Rev Adrian Beavis, St Luke’s Church, Earl’s Court, great grandson of Frank and Edith.
When I heard the Gardner’s story, it touched and encouraged me.
Emma and I are ordinary people that left ‘normal’ jobs in the UK but we can often struggle with living and working cross- culturally. We can feel irritated when a simple jog can turn into being a comical spectacle, or different cultural differences in parenting or education can gain unwanted comments… We can relate to health and sickness scares: insect bites, malaria, high fevers, a broken bone, and how the physical can quickly affect our emotional and spiritual outlook. We’ve sometimes looked at our work, our projects, our failings, and wondered whether we’re making any difference and whether we should pack up and go home, especially since what we are doing is such a backwards move in a career sense. When we hear stories of missionary heroes, they seem so incredible that we can’t relate to them, yet the Gardners seem so normal, so human, so ordinary, and their trials so real and understandable.
And yet, like the story of the Gardners, there is change because of the small seeds they sowed.
We, too, are hoping and praying for God to work through us in our vision to see transformation in peoples’ lives through God’s love and hope.
- That through the income generating card project, people will see that God can use someone’s hard work, skills and creativity to help them support their families.
- That through the Hibiscus tea project, people can see that Africa and their people are rich and the poverty mentality people often hide behind can be challenged.
- That through the Lifeskills teaching, people can see that God can provide us with wisdom to live effectively in all areas of life to God’s glory.
- That through the sponsorship project, Cheka Child, vulnerable children who would not have otherwise had much hope and even less opportunities, can be given a hope and a future.
The story of the church’s beginnings in West Nile are an encouragement to any ‘small’ people out there like Gideon in the Bible, wee Zacchaeus, or us…
If anyone is interested, here is a link to a video of the Frank and Edith Gardner story done recently: