What really caught Henry Mulindwa's eye when he saw his first church was shoes. Not expensive or outlandishly colorful shoes but just that church members wore shoes at all.
In the sixth grade, he got his first pair and the church has been a second home since.
For much of the past three years, though, Mulindwa has been far from his home of Uganda, about 9,000 miles as the crow flies. And while the rather diminutive Ugandan - all 5-foot-4 of him - speaks fondly of home, he seems comfortable here in Sequim serving as interim priest for St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church.
"Sequim is a wonderful place; people are so welcoming, open," he says, flashing a smile.
But his purpose here is hardly to find comfort. Now 37 years old, Mulindwa came to the states
in 2005 to further his education, but in the process he's
educating plenty of others about his home.
Finding his faith
Uganda is an East African country struggling with war in the north and poverty everywhere. Despite a relatively stable political state, the country still battles many of the same problems as other African nations: civil war, disease and an economic base impacted by an unstable world market. Dependent upon coffee and cotton prices worldwide, Uganda and its people struggle to the tune of about $300 per capita income annually (compared to the United State's $43,000 per annum). Some bright spots include the country's strong, pioneering liberalization of media and reduction of HIV/AIDS prevalence, according to BBC reports.
In the climate and into the Catholic faith, Mulindwa was born.
"My mom was a very committed Catholic," he says, along with his grandparents. When he first attended church he noticed, in addition to the shoes, that the priests were particularly handsome.
"I thought he had to be a priest to be handsome," Mulindwa recalls, laughing.
His grandfather, a coffee businessman, was one of the fortunate ones able to send his children and grandchildren to school, where they learned to speak English. There at primary schools at Buwunde Anglican Church of Uganda and St. John's Boys Primary School in Masaka, Mulindwa learned to read and write and, like other schoolchildren in Uganda, meet with a priest in their visits to Ugandan schools.
One day, the priest asked if there were any students who wanted to train to be a priest, to attend seminary. Mulindwa did, but that didn't go over well with his family. His uncle, whom Mulindwa was living with at the time, told the young student, "You're going to be poor. They (priests) don't make any money."
But Mulindwa persisted, barely passing an interview exam to get into seminary and working hard to get good grades. Soon, the degrees began piling up: Uganda Certificate of Education and an advanced certificate from Bukalasa Minor Seminary; a degree in philosophy from Makerere University in Uganda; a degree in Sacred Theology from Urbaniana University in Italy; a master's degree in educational management from Makerere University and soon a Master of Theology degree from the Jesuit University of Scranton, Penn., one he hopes to complete this May.
Each step along the way, the Ugandan hopes to transition his own education for those back home.
"As a profession, I want to be a teacher," he says. "I think that's where you make the biggest influence, the (biggest) impact."
Speaking with Mulindwa for a few moments, it's clear his heart is with his people. In addition to an encyclopedic memory of the Catholic Church's history, he knows first-hand the plight of 30-million-plus Ugandans, most of whom don't live much past age 50, only two-thirds can read and write and the vast majority survive on subsistence farming.
But his church, he admits with remorse, can only do so much. Despite the Catholic commitment of maintaining Uganda's social services - from building and maintaining schools and hospitals, orphanages and more - they are losing followers to evangelizing Protestant church leaders that promise, for example, a dollar to attend a service, or who provide a bus to and from each service.
On the other side, the Catholic Church, one that boasts of nearly 9 million followers, according to a 2002 census and 43 percent of self-proclaimed Christians, doesn't advertise itself, preferring to let its good deeds speak for itself.
"So it seems like the Catholic Church isn't doing much," Mulindwa says, but that it isn't true. With much need in the area and not a lot of money to do it with, the Ugandan priest makes his case for the plight of Uganda here in the states, in Sequim.
Ugandans in need
With a simple list in his head of the Ugandans' needs, Mulindwa speaks frankly.
First is water. Oddly, in a country where a third of the country is underwater in the shape of the 26,000-square-mile-plus Lake Victoria, clean water is in short supply. The cost of wells or underground tanks is reasonable, though, Mulindwa said, costing only about $3,000-$5,000.
Second is power. Some schools don't have power, so if these buildings could get electricity and some technology, good teachers would come and the education level for Ugandans would rise, Mulindwa says.
Third is the need for computers. Many Ugandan children have never touched one. Five years ago a Seattle Rotary club donated a number of computers to Ugandan cities, Mulindwa recalls.
Fourth - and not least - is simply money. Mulindwa says is takes just $400 to put a Ugandan child through a year of primary (elementary) school or $600 for a year of high school, and that includes food.
Mulindwa seems to have hope, if not unabashed faith, that the brotherhood of man will come through for Uganda, that America can share its wealth to save lives so many miles away. He totes a copy of the DVD entitled "Invisible Children," a remarkable documentary created by three young American men who detailed the harrowing lives of young children in war-torn Northern Uganda (see invisiblechildren.com).
Headed home soon?
Serving as interim priest at St. Joseph's, Mulindwa is not sure if church officials will ask him to stay longer than his anticipated May 19 departure date.
Until then, Mulindwa likely will continue to answer the queries of curious strangers, including, "Aren't you cold here?"
Answer: No. The Ugandan was a guest lecturer in Pennsylvania last year and for a monthlong spell the ice didn't melt. "This is nice," he says of the recent Sequim cold snap.
But if he were asked to stay for a full year?
"Yes," Mulindwa says, gracious in his grin. "I would love to stay."
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