Saturday, July 18, 2015

Jews for Jesus in Gulu

While eating dinner at the hotel, in walks a rabbi.  Very strange, I had never seen a Jewish man adorned with a kippah and tzitzis in Uganda let alone in rural Uganda.  He joined a table of people bent over bibles. I moved my chicken a little closer.  The Rabbi ordered some fish and shared how he preached about the good lord Jesus Christ today at a local Ugandan church.  I picked up my wine glass and joined their table because it was a Friday night, in a town with no electricity, and this was too good.

The Rabbi had his own TV show in Ohio and was traveling to African countries to film and preach the word of Jesus.  He was joined by 2 young (maybe early twenties) camera handlers and an older man.  In Gulu, Uganda, I had found my very own Jews for Jesus.  

“Do you believe in the good lord’s word?  Have you been saved?”

“No, sorry guys.  I’m an artificially inseminated, daughter of lesbians, haver of pre-marital sex, approver of abortion, worshipper of no god, true heir to the iron throne.”

“No I have not been saved.  But I’m open to the idea!”

Rabbi S believed that Jewish people are the chosen people, Jesus was after all a Jew, but the bible doesn’t end with the Old Testament and Jesus is our true lord and savior.  He’s a preacher with a yarmulke. A pastor with Chanukah. 

I moved to the other side of the table, because the rabbi kept putting his hand on my head and praying for me, and started talking to the young cameraman.  He was nice in a pasty, long nailed sort of way and I talked with him for several hours.  He had some very good points as long as we stayed away from morality.   But is where I always trip up when someone is trying to convert me.  I don’t have faith.  I don’t believe in God, and I don’t have faith.
I explained that to cameraman and he said, “Chelsea, just come to the Crusade tomorrow night.  You’ll see miracles and then you’ll get faith.”  (They thought it was ok to call it a Crusade?  Yikes.)

The next night I take a boda to the Crusade Arena (…) and am shocked to see Rabbi S on a stage overlooking tens of thousands of Ugandans.  And I’m not exaggerating.  Tens of thousands.  I walk through the crowd and take pictures and videotape.   The rabbi is being translated by a Ugandan Pastor who shouts his words and stomps his feet.  It was fun, like a Jewistian field day.  People brought their kids and women were selling roasted maize.  And then it started getting dark and Rabbi’s preaching took a darker tone. 

“Homosexuality is the greatest sin and Obama is the anti-christ!” The crowd clapped their hands and whooped.  I felt a chill run down my spine.  There was a lightning storm in the distance and the clouds lit up over the faces. 

“I want you to put your hands on your head.   I am going to bless you all now.  Get RID of the evil spirits that reside inside of you.  Cast away the devil.  Be free now!”

The woman next to screamed and sank to the floor.  Her arms and legs were writhing.  People around her tied her hands and legs and shouted at the devil inside of her “You shut up!  You shut up!” And then another woman fell down beside her. It was terrifying.  I kept filming.  I pushed through the crowd and walked right onto the stage.  I was staring at thousands of faces completely enraptured by the man next to me.  A young girl was brought up onto the stage who was foaming at the mouth, her eyes rolling back into her head. This girl was having a seizure.  The rabbi comes up to me “This is how it all happens in the book of Acts.  Women falling down screaming, having seizures.”

I went home freaked out, the women still screaming in my head.  What was that? 

I opened the Bible.  I put down the Bible.  I opened up Google.  I was most interested in that young girl who was foaming at the mouth and having a seizure.  How is that possible?  Is there such a thing as a psychological seizure?  Google’s not super helpful on the matter but I did find this: Temporal Lobe seizure, a seizure invoked by a strong emotional reaction controlled by the temporal lobe. 

The cameraman was wrong.  The Crusade did not bring me faith.  I am not a Jew for Jesus.  Or Jewish.  Or Jesus.  

But damn.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


They were given 72 hours to leave to pack a bag and fly across the world and fight Ebola.  When they got there, the disease was already rampant.  Traditional burial practices and fear had made this disease spread faster than anyone had ever imagined and they had to hit the ground sprinting.  An alphabet of NGO acronyms competed to put their letters on the isolation tents and the efforts were disjointed and competitive.  Their task wasn’t just to move in and cure Ebola.  They had to figure out how to change the behavior of burial practices so people would not wash the dead before burying.  They had to work with anthropologists to connect with traditional healers and to learn about community practices.  They had to figure out how to set up isolation units when people feared that they would get Ebola if they went to them.  They had to teach local staff how to properly put on and take off protective equipment so that they would not infect themselves.  How do you turn over beds when Ebola has such a long infectious period?  How do you motivate health workers to come to work when their peers are dying from the disease all around them?

My friend talked of a major spread in one of her villages in Sierra Leone because two gang members got into a bloody fight. One died in the fight and the other contracted Ebola from blood contact.  He went into hiding because he was now running from murder.  In the process he infected hundreds of people and would not surrender to the hospital for fear of being jailed.

Now the questions are, how do you prevent a future outbreak if we do not know the animal reservoir?  And what are the long term effects the disease on Ebola survivors?  What about how we know Ebola can stay in the semen but we have no data on how long it lasts for?