Lee Mulder describes his newly released book, They Call Me Mzee: One Man’s Safari Into Brightest Africa, as “part memoir, part travelogue and part investigative report.” He has been to Uganda 15 times and is a founding board member of Juna Amagara Ministries, a Kampala-based organization that helps AIDS orphans in Uganda.
Mulder studied journalism at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. His international mission work has taken him around the world, to such destinations as Peru, Mexico, Honduras, Egypt, Ethiopia, Dubai, Burundi, Rwanda, parts of Europe and, of course, Uganda.
The book is packed with facts, anecdotes and interviews. Lee traces his journey from a church pew in Chicago to the remote villages of Uganda, describing the deep faith, bravery and trials of the Ugandan people.
In a recent conversation on the release of his book, Mulder shared both the inspirations and challenges that accompanied his years-long project.
KB: What was your inspiration for writing this book?
LM: The inspiration came from the Ugandan people themselves. I was first astounded that this little country had, through sheer guts and common sense, beat back the AIDS epidemic. Meeting President Yoweri Museveni and hearing his story only fired that inspiration. Then, working with various people over the years, I came to understand that this population is well-educated, entrepreneurial and capable of anything. And then there are the kids -- orphans and otherwise -- smart, eager to go to school, quick learners, motivated. If properly trained, these kids will change the future of Africa.
KB: Can you talk about the nature of your work in Uganda?
LM: Sure. I was intrigued by this man, Ben Tumuheirwe, who cast a vision for his village – a place about as far away from western civilization as one can get – to save the orphans [and] improve the lives of the local people. Working with him to raise funds and lead teams over [to build] schools [and] medical clinics, I have come to know many people as family. In eight years, the kids are doing great; one of them has a degree in I.T. and is a lecturer at the local university. Another is sitting for her medical school boards as we speak.
KB: What are some of the greatest challenges facing Ugandans today?
LM: Food shortage, inflation, poverty, overpopulation. Food shortage is due to famine in Somalia and Kenya and also in supplying South Sudan. The farmers make more money exporting food, causing a shortage in the country. Inflation is mostly food and fuel cost, a temporary condition. Poverty and overpopulation go hand in hand. If people have jobs and an education, they are no longer poor and have less children – this is where international business investment becomes critical, and also education for all kids.
KB: Can you talk about the experience of writing this book? How did it evolve?
LM: It started as a story of how Uganda beat back the AIDS epidemic. The book Killing AIDS actually was written but never published. Time passed and every time I went back, little stories would emerge. Eventually, we ended up with the memoir/travelogue/investigative report you have before you.
KB: What have you learned about the spiritual lives of the Ugandan people?
LM: It is inspirational to see people who need faith in their lives as much as they do air, food and water. Faith is everywhere. It is obvious. It is in schools and businesses and on the lips of people in all districts. People pray incessantly as the Bible tells us to do -- and I have seen prayers answered – almost every day. The people believe God has brought them through the bad times and is with them always. And isn't that something we all can cheer about and want for ourselves? It lives with me daily.
KB: What were some of the challenges you personally faced while working in Uganda?
LM: Some foods are not to my liking and the bathroom situation can be a challenge, but in time, I've come to regard those as small things, insignificant really. One learns patience as vehicles break down, meetings are always late. Putting my American agenda on hold has taken time to learn.
KB: How can Christians pray for Uganda?
LM: Pray for the leadership of the country as it struggles with its neighbors, for all the orphan kids that they might be saved, for international enterprises that they might discover Uganda as a place where an eager government, educated work force and beautiful climate can be a formula for business success.
A Note to Readers
One dollar of every sale of They Call Me Mzee goes to support AIDS orphans in Uganda through the work of Juna Amagara Ministries, where Lee is a founding board member. The book can be purchased at Amazon.com or at CreateSpace. For further information on Mulder’s work in Uganda, readers can visit his blog or Juna Amagara Ministries.
The book is, overall, an extension of Mulder’s work in a country he has come to love.
“Most importantly,” he says, “it is my personal story of discovering a place where faith underlies all. The people I meet, the visitors I take to Uganda and the lessons we have for each other are insightful, surprising.”
Mulder hopes that They Call Me Mzee will impact readers to discover Uganda for themselves.
“Christians need to go to the various countries in Africa to see the needs firsthand,” he says. “Many things are being done to help the people but it is impossible to describe even with a great PowerPoint presentation.”
Mulder hopes that his book will inspire action – and not just from a church pew. “People need to go,” he says.
Kristin Butler is a contributing writer at Crosswalk.com, where she covers topics related to human rights, religious freedom and refugee resettlement. For further articles, visit her website at kristinbutler.net or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: November 3, 2011