Born in 1980 during a civil war in Uganda, I was raised in an extended family, my parents separated when I was a baby so I was taken to my Grandparents to raise me. Life was very hard growing up. At home we lacked almost everything from the basic needs to the smallest.
I was raised in a family which I may term as a “Christian pagan” family. This means we could go to church on Christmas and Easter, but at home we had our shrines where worship to traditional gods was a daily activity and a must. Practice with adoration, fear, and honor to the gods and the guardians. There were many rituals and even sacrifices of animals were often done.
Growing up in such a life was so hard even to find a true God. I thank God for His grace and mercy, in that He found me where I was lost.
When I was in school I heard a lot about God, but that was not something I went to school for, so I really hated people who shared the gospel. My entire life I longed for wisdom, as I thought that with wisdom you can be every great thing/person you want to be. I wanted to read and seek knowledge to be wise. One day I stumbled on an old bible with pages from Psalms to John. I thought it was a great idea to have it and read even though I never believed in what it said. On many occasions I said there was no God, that’s why the Gospel never gave any meaning to me. Also the fact that the gods we served at home where so strict and always had to do with laws and physical punishments, which I suffered many times for not doing what is right.
The old bible opened with Psalms 14. “The fool has said in his heart ‘there is no God’.” In my interpretation with my search for wisdom this meant I was a fool, and all I wanted was to be wise. So, I said “ok there is God” but I never meant it, I only wanted to maintain that am not a fool. There grew much conviction after I admitted that there was a God.
I chose to go to church to get to know more about God, who by doubting him makes a person a fool. Yes indeed He found me to find Him.
I fell in Love with this new God and wanted to know more about him, I found out that serving him was easier than the one I was serving, and I also knew that he appreciates me serving him. I dedicated myself to Christ and the bible teaching, becoming a youth leader and a pastor to new converts. Then I went to the Bible College where I was offered a work study scholarship. Despite facing many challenges during school, I graduated with a diploma in Christian Ministry.
After College I was on fire, I wanted to go back and be a pastor, or any leader in the church. God had a different direction for me though, one which I never knew.
When I was young, like I said, life was so hard. I left my Grandparents home and I went to live with my mom, I was about 13. At home there were many of us, about 9 siblings, but my brother Joseph and I were very close and shared a lot together; he was a brother and a friend. One day when we come back from school Joseph got sick and the next day he started telling me he couldn’t hear at all. As children we tried our childish first aid, but he still couldn’t hear, and from that day Joseph was deaf.
In Uganda being deaf is in many ways seen as a curse, taboo, or a shame to the family. A common name for the deaf in Uganda is “kasiru”, meaning a foolish one. My family’s, like many other families, attitude towards Joseph changed. He ceased to be that special child he was, school stopped, and one would care if he is home or not, I saw his life changing from bad to worse every day. I learned many things about how deaf people are treated, to me he remained a friend but with a great barrier, no language and no communication.
When Joseph was about 20 years old he was beaten by people and was set on fire, the reason to this time is unknown to me, and I grieved and felt very sad. We got his ash and buried him.
After my college, I was on the cross road like a soldier waiting for deployment. I never knew what God wanted me to do, it was about 8 years after Joseph’s death when God brought a fresh pain and conviction, about Joseph in my life. I felt like there was something I could do to save him, all this was to wake me up, I left with that pain and conviction as if it had just happened.
At church I was a Sunday school teacher and I also trained teachers for Sunday school teaching, I loved children so much. There was a deaf boy, Derrick, who always came to me. If he got hurt while playing he would run straight to me, I saw myself as his only friend, he never wanted to leave my side. I loved him and accepted him. He knew a few other deaf boys and every Sunday he started to them bring to me. There were now about four deaf children, I welcomed them, loved them, gave them candies, and hugs. He looked for more deaf children, now there were seven and I felt God was telling “this is the ministry I give you.” It was hard to take but I had the pain in my heart for Joseph and I thought they may end up like Joseph if I don’t obey and serve them. I started seeing Joseph in each one of them and I loved serving them, even to this very moment.
I started meeting them under a tree shade in my friend’s compound. We were meeting, having fun, learning some sign language together, and then we would go home. After a while it became a school under the same tree. We had been in a series of situations and levels, but then we became Boanerges Deaf Initiative, a registered charity in Uganda serving the deaf people.
As we say; Deaf people are rising above disability.
Joel Tonny Mwesigwa Director Boanerges Deaf Initiative