On February 22, 2011, I celebrated my 36th birthday. Of course, I had to think of a unique way to celebrate (spending a day by myself at Disney World was the previous record-holder), so I traveled to Mwanza and then spent my birthday in the Serengeti. This was my third trip to the Serengeti, and while I didn’t see as many animals as on the previous trip, I saw just about everything I wanted to see. This time I saw even more lions than last time, plus I saw a dik-dik (a tiny antelope) which I had never seen before. While I was in Mwanza, some friends of mine back in Bukoba called me to wish me a happy birthday. I met this family a few months ago on one of my daily walks. They live in a house right on the beach along Lake Victoria. In the beginning, I was a little unsure about the expectations of this relationship (more on that in my next blog), but I have learned that they are genuinely interested in being my friends and are delighted to have me stop over on a regular basis. I even began taking over some of my movies, and we watch them together. Since I wasn’t in Bukoba on my birthday, this family had me over for a mini celebration after I returned. They brought out a cake (a small round cake without frosting) and sang happy birthday to me in Swahili. Then they brought out some chicken soup. They raise chickens at their home, so I asked if we were eating one of their chickens. They said yes. The two daughters (4 & 11 years old) then presented me with handwritten birthday cards. Both were addressed to “Uncle Michael” and they thanked me for coming to visit them and play with them. This is one of the extra perks of mission work.
There was another event a week before my birthday that was an even bigger perk. Back in November, at the first priest seminar in Bukoba, I met a priest named Fr. Polycarp. We made a connection and further developed it when he returned for the second priest seminar here in January. It was then that he asked me to be the godfather for his baby son. Arrangements were made, and on February 14 (Valentine’s Day) I went to St. Eleftherios Church in Bugabo for the baptism. This was my first trip to Bugabo, which is a town very close the Uganda border. The church property is within view (almost a 180º view) of Lake Victoria and the weather is nice and cool. Fr. Spyridon told me that he had grown up close by and was a fisherman there before he was called to the priesthood. Seraphim’s baptism ended up being a mass baptism. 27 babies, children, and young adults were welcomed into the Orthodox Church. I imagine this is what it must have been like back in the early church when the masses were baptized by the hundreds or even thousands. I now have godchildren in three different countries, and for those back home who are trying to keep count, it’s up to 15 now.
What’s interesting about both of these experiences, and the many others I have had like them, is that I didn’t actively seek them out. They sought me out. It’s like I am already being rewarded (unworthy as I am) for my service here in Africa. If this is just the beginning, I can’t wait to see what happens from here on out.
Thank you to my support team!