From the Vatican to the Village


Fireworks in human form.

Jake Casale is a student from Dartmouth and had the opportunity to visit ROWAN Uganda two summers ago. He has a tremendous gift in journalism and recently wrote a blog about the people of Mawanga. It paints a beautiful picture in words.
“I recently had the opportunity to visit the Vatican City and marvel at the glorious works of artistic and architectural achievement that lie within its walls. My day in the shadow of Michelangelo’s Pieta was couched at the end of a week-long visit to Italy, during which I was blessed to see some of the biggest masterworks of Western art history. As I traveled, I was struck anew by the pre-eminency of the Biblical narrative in these works: a plethora of sculpture and painting depicting the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, an event steeped in extreme sadness and joy, the lynchpin in God’s cosmic plan to liberate all from the bondage of sin and death. European churches are known for their immensity and overwhelming beauty, and they were purposefully constructed in this way to reveal the grandeur of God’s character and grace. I’d experienced this grandeur throughout my Italian voyage, but the last destination delivered the greatest sense of awe: St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. No words could do justice to the basilica’s interior, so I recommend a quick jaunt through Google Images to get a sense of my surroundings. Suffice it to say, I was filled with such a great measure of joyful appreciation for the Lord that I couldn’t contain myself. My friend offered to take a picture of me, so I went to the basilica’s center and threw my arms toward the ceiling in an expansive, triumphantly happy posture. Yet no sooner had two seconds passed before I was sharply jabbed in the shoulder by an older woman, who said angrily, “Church! Temple!” She left only when I put my arms down and resumed a somber walk throughout the basilica.
Now, I understand that there are a myriad number of cultural differences in how people express devotion to God, but I couldn’t help chuckling to myself imagining what this devout woman would think if she were dropped into the middle of the tiny church building in Mawanga. I remember, on a hot Sunday in the summer of 2014, seeing nearly every arm in the building raised as the presence of God pulsed magnificently throughout the tiny, enclosed space during our worship service. Women dressed in traditional attire danced with reckless abandon, smiles wide and voices whooping. Men moved just as energetically or bowed in prayer over an orphan suffering from malnourishment or a widow whose sickness had just progressed further. It seemed as though every heart in the building was unshackled, all pains and worries and fears colliding with the incandescent joy of the salvific promise. The result was fireworks in human form. To me, an American college student, this was the true liberation that Christ came to offer. The grandeur of God revealed not through what man builds with his hands, but through the very souls of His children. That’s when I knew that my brothers and sisters in this remote African village had a very special gift: intimacy with God. The kind of intimacy that comforts and enlivens the heart in the face of the hardest trials and circumstances. I saw women alight with joy who had broken down into tears just days prior as they recounted their life stories to our team.

Untouchable joy does not erase suffering, but it whitewashes it.

And I could see that from that whitewashing was emerging a transformed community. Shards of the same joy were evident in the faces of the women who gave us a tour of their passionfruit garden, the result of agricultural and business skills gained through partnership with ROWAN and personal ownership of the vision God had sowed in their hearts. One could see it percolating between members of a savings group as they successfully took another step toward financial stability. It was present in Pastor David Wafula’s exuberant preaching to the crowd that had gathered to listen to our sessions on leadership skills, and it animated their laughter as they engaged our team in a dialogue about prioritizing tasks and replenishing spiritual fuel. I am convinced that the children in the village are the unbridled embodiment of joy, for I have never seen so much zest for life expressed through a soccer game as I did when I was roundly trounced by several pairs of little legs that wouldn’t let me keep the ball for more than a second at a time. And I believe the hope in Christ from which this joy springs will continue to enable the partnership between ROWAN and the village of Mawanga to empower the region and challenge accepted notions of what international development partnerships look like, as my notions were challenged and reshaped during my blessed two weeks in that little corner of Uganda. Hope doesn’t disappoint because Christ doesn’t disappoint—and that is a promise worth celebrating.”
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