Missionary Spotlight – Snakes and boda-bodas

Paul Chinchen Paul is the President of African Bible Colleges, Inc. and Chancellor for all three Universities located in Malawi, Uganda and Liberia. Dr. Chinchen is the founder of the ABC Community Clinic (1999),
01 April, 2005 3 min read

Our move to Uganda was not supposed to be terribly complicated. Our family had already lived in Malawi for 15 years – three of our five children were born there – so we knew Africa, and how critical it was to allow for the unexpected.

We checked in at the airport four hours early to make sure our 20 pieces of luggage made the flight. Twenty-one hours later we were standing in the Entebbe airport with nothing – not one piece of luggage. Welcome to Uganda!

Not only is all our luggage missing, but on arrival we discovered we were also missing a 20-foot container shipped out three months earlier. When I finally tracked it down we learned that it had just arrived at the port in Mombassa, almost 1,000 miles from the capital city Kampala.

Ironically the rail line from Mombassa to Kampala is notorious – nicknamed ‘the Lunatic Line’by British settlers in the early 1800s because it went ‘FROM nowhere TO nowhere’. After five months on the railway it arrived in Kampala with its contents in complete shambles.

Dark continent

Three weeks after arriving in Kampala, we couldn’t take the darkness any longer and had to buy our own generator.

There was supposed to be three hours of ‘power sharing’ every other night due to low water levels in the power station dams, but that much darkness is more than five kids (and two parents) could handle. The novelty of eating dinner and doing homework by candlelight quickly wore off.

If Uganda’s national bird is the crested crane, its national mode of transportation is the boda-boda – bicycles and motorbikes converted into taxis, delivery vans and trucks. The list of what Laura and I have seen strapped to the back of a two-wheeled cycle is as long as it is bizarre – queen-sized beds, three-piece couch sets, goats, mountains of bananas, and even two 50-gallon drums!

I’ve had to hire a boda-boda a few times myself. Parking in downtown Kampala is impossible.

Monkeys and snakes

Even though we have lived in Africa you never get used to the snakes – especially when you wake up at six in the morning and there’s one in the house!

I was walking down the hallway to wake up the children and almost stepped on a three-foot orange snake in the middle of the hallway. I pinned it with the broom handle and dispatched it with a hammer!

The one that got away, though, was a green snake that Laura found by the back door. It was partly hidden by a bush, so Laura had no idea how massive it was until she and the cleaning lady tried stoning it and it slithered straight up a four-foot high retaining wall behind the house.

Another day our unnecessarily active five-year-old boy Levi was yelling from the front porch, ‘Mom! Dad! Come quick! There’s monkeys!’ I’m thinking, ‘Nice try Levi – we live in a huge, over-populated city’. But when we went out to the front porch, sure enough in the treetops along the driveway is a mother vervet monkey with her baby and a large male.


Despite all the unexpected excitement we have much to be thankful for as we settle in. We are renting an attractive old colonial-era house built in 1953, with 14-foot high ceilings, wide-open windows with no screens, a beautiful garden, and even a small banana plantation in the backyard.

The front porch looks out over the treetops of the homes below us. Early in the morning when we are eating breakfast it is a beautiful sight to see the trees covered in mist.

Another special blessing is being able to work each day with Kenny MacKenzie. Kenny and I are overseeing the construction of the new African Bible College campus. At the end of 2003 he took over the construction project with almost no building experience and has done an amazing job. He’s from the Isle of Lewis – a wool cloth weaver by profession.

I have used him as sermon illustration a number of times this summer: ‘If you are willing, God is able’. Much like Jeremiah whom God called to be his prophet.

Jeremiah says, ‘I’m too young, I’m too inexperienced – you have the wrong person’. God’s response was, ‘Don’t you know who I am? I made you. I knew you before you were even formed in your mother’s womb. You are exactly the person I want’.

Old lady

On 1 November I turned 41. My kids were giving me a hard time about getting old, but it didn’t hit me until I saw an article in Uganda’s New Visiondaily paper entitled ‘Old woman hit by train’. I read it only to discover that the unfortunate ‘old lady’ was only 35 years old!

We’ve been in Uganda six months, and feel much has happened in a short time.

We are still getting accustomed to life in a massive and congested African city, but the Lord has a way of making his people fruitful despite our limited capacities. He makes it possible for us to enjoy our work and ministry despite unfamiliar and sometimes difficult circumstances.

Paul is the President of African Bible Colleges, Inc. and Chancellor for all three Universities located in Malawi, Uganda and Liberia. Dr. Chinchen is the founder of the ABC Community Clinic (1999),
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