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5/30/97 In the valley of AK-47s, missionary fears no evil

KAABONG, Uganda (BP)–“We are here to thank God for this water,” said Bruce Schmidt. “No man can give you water. I cannot make you water. The Karamojong do not make water. It’s only God who gives you water.”
Schmidt, a Southern Baptist missionary, was talking to about 50 people who had gathered to pump water for their families.
It was Schmidt’s first time to talk with the people at this communal water pump, one of three hand pumps the Baptists installed to bring clean water to this area of Karamoja in Uganda’s northeast corner.
The people who live in this area are called Karamojong. Their living conditions are primitive. They are cattle herders who drink cow’s blood mixed with milk and prefer wearing no clothes. Villagers live in huts made of dried grass plastered with a mud-and-manure mixture.
The area is remote, and few missionaries have lived and worked here.
Most nights, Schmidt goes to sleep to the sound of AK-47s.
He said he fears no evil.
“I am at total peace about God’s protection. I have absolute confidence in God. If harm is going to come to us, it’s going to go through God.”
Often there are clashes between the Karamojong and neighboring tribes. In February, a clash between the Karamojong and the Turkana tribe left three men dead about 300 feet from Schmidt’s house. Weeks later, another clash between the same two tribes left about 30 on each side dead.
“The only hope in a world full of hatred is the gospel — the gospel of peace,” Schmidt said, his words tumbling out. “This place is unreached and unevangelized. They don’t really know who Jesus is … . The devil has ruled Karamoja for a long time.”
Schmidt, 42, is a Portsmouth, Va., native. His wife of 23 years, Martha, and the couple’s two younger children — Stephanie, 12, and Michael, 7 — are living in Mbale, about six hours away by car, while Schmidt builds a house in Kaabong. Their oldest child, Nat, 19, is a sophomore at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.
The house Schmidt is building with the help of hired Ugandan workers is made of homemade bricks and gravel. The walls are a foot thick, with the windows higher than those in most houses in America.
“If there’s a raid and shooting,” Schmidt said, “we can just drop down below the windows.”
Schmidt said he first felt the call of God when he was 14 and a missionary visited his school.
He has a bachelor of science degree from Old Dominion and a master of divinity degree from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tenn. He served three years in the U.S. Army and, with his benefits under the G.I. Bill, he attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.
Turning 40 two years ago brought questions.
“I really struggled. Here I am … and don’t have anything. A lot of people my age have some significant accomplishments. Martha and I don’t own anything and have no significant accomplishments in terms of the world’s standards. But I feel privileged to have God’s call. That’s better than all the other stuff.”
At the water pump, Schmidt spoke to the villagers through an interpreter, Philip Lochap, a local Christian.
Women and children sat on the ground in the hot afternoon sun. Off to one side, several harsh-looking warriors sat on six-inch wooden stools. Now and then, one of the warriors would spit snuff. One woman continued to pump water. Yellow and black butterflies flew about. Cows mooed and goats drank from around the pump.
As Schmidt preached, a man standing near the women walked away, children grew restless and some women began to talk. “Ask them to be quiet,” Schmidt said softly to Lochap. The people quieted and Schmidt continued.
“The Bible says God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. The Bible says God loves the world so much that he gave his only son and that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. God’s plan for you is that you have eternal life, too.”
The excitement in his voice grew. “God wants to live with you through Jesus Christ, and at long last when you die, God doesn’t want that to be the end. God wants you to spend eternity with him in heaven.”
He talked about sin, repentance and prayer. Then he and Lochap knelt in prayer: “Heavenly Father, we thank you for the wonderful gift of water because we cannot live without water.”
Asking the others to repeat after him, he continued: “Heavenly Father, I need you. I know that I am a sinner and that Jesus is the Savior. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Forgive me of my sins. … Amen.”
Some of the women prayed with Schmidt; some didn’t.
Lochap said, “It comes bit by bit.”
Some days Schmidt gets up well before dawn to walk to a remote cattle camp. From the main dirt road, the camp is a two-and-a-half-hour walk into the bush. Since the camp leaders head out with the cattle at 7 a.m., Schmidt has to start walking about 4 a.m. to be at the camp by 6:30 a.m. when the men get up. After only 30 minutes with them, he makes the long walk back to his four-wheel-drive truck.
On one visit, about 70 men said they wanted to serve Jesus Christ, Schmidt said. “One of the older men got up and said, ‘We have been in darkness for years, but this is the way of light.’ Another one asked if I could come every day.”
Unlike that day in the cattle camp, his visit to the village was more low-key. Schmidt was there to check on the villagers. Many of the children had the bulging stomachs common to the severely undernourished. Many had open sores on their bodies, and some had runny noses. Flies sat on the sores and on the mucus collecting under their noses.
Schmidt said he not only wants to build a chapel near the village, but also hopes to improve living conditions.
“I want to see a primary school for the children here and literacy programs for adults,” he said. “I want to bring in a doctor. We want to
minister to the whole person.”

    About the Author

  • Alberta Lindsey