It was exhilarating to be here today on Uganda's 50th anniversary "Jubilee", joining with Ugandans in prayer and celebration of what God's doing here and of a people expressing such a beautiful part of His face. Dignitaries from all over Africa tore down the red-, yellow, and black-bannered roads in siren-screaming entourages today during our trip to and from the airport. Churches held overnight prayer vigils. The country got two days of national holiday. It was fun to enjoy most of the day with my parents, and see Ugandans laughing while they swam in the surf on Lake Victoria..
Sadly, many can't afford flags or even to close their businesses today, so apart from waiters or shopkeepers I saw glancing at the formalities on TV, few of the average Ugandans seemed to mark the day with much flair.
And that's somewhat of the paradox with which this day has been celebrated, on which Uganda was declared independent of Britain in 1962. There is a great deal to celebrate about a beautiful, heritage-rich country ruling itself, full of so many people I love, enjoy, and admire. A lot of things are going right here. But it is still a country under the intense burdens of poverty and related systems: injustice, sorely-lacking health care, paralyzing infrastructure, education that fails to prepare most Ugandans with what they need for life, corruption at every level of government, and a horrifying history of lethal dictators like Idi Amin.
The analogy was made to me that we should view the Jubilee as a wedding anniversary: A time to focus on things that are going right, the things that are beautiful and memorable. I agree, and I love cheering on my Uganda! But I also see the delimma of a marriage when one partner (i.e. the government) has a continuing history of abusing the other, and the abused is supposed to dab a bit of cover-up over its black eye for the big event, won't you, Honey?
So today is occasion both for festivities and for petition. It's a day to fix my hopes in a different place. Perhaps Uganda is not unlike the U.S. is its hopes that a different political regime will finally bring the change we not only thirst for, but desperately need. Isaiah 26:13 struck me last week: O LORD our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us, but your name alone we bring to remembrance.
I am thankful for great leaders in history. I'm more grateful than ever that in the country I come from, there have been so many. We do need heroes on micro- and macro-levels. God does great things through good men (even bad ones, despite them), systems that love justice, and great nations. But even a good leader, like Josiah, or a great system, is limited by the hearts of the people. I'm pressed to set my hopes for Uganda, and the U.S., set on a Hero and His Country. He is still at work here, and His work is good.