What is Reverent Rhythms doing in Uganda?
Some of you may have heard of Mathias Mulamba, founder of Father to the Fatherless ministry. Please click here and read about their ministry in Uganda. It is an incredible ministry in Uganda serving street children, orphans, young abandoned mothers (some as young as 12 years old) and widows. Mathias grew up as a street kid in Kampala Uganda and is now ministering to “the least of these” in Uganda through the Father to the Fatherless ministry. Reverent Rhythms founder and director, Cameron Cunningham, will be joining Mathias on a trip to Uganda in January 2022 as the first step in implementing a longstanding and sustainable dance program at their campus in Namagunga, Uganda.. They currently have a primary school, a clinic, agriculture and farming program, women’s programs, and a girls vocational school. These programs are in place to not only meet practical needs of those who have no other support but also teach these women and children that they are loved, cherished, powerful, skilled and are of great value! These programs teach these individuals skills that they can use to eventually support themselves. The women and children in Uganda have a passion for dance as that is a prominent aspect of their culture. They have a specific desire for a formal dance program to be started at their campus. This type of program would combine traditional african dance with traditional western style dances to create a program that will, not only teach the women and children skills but will also provide an outlet for expression and creativity. Dance is often seen as a luxury and those who do not have the means to pay for it often go without. This upcoming trip to Uganda is the first step to Reverent Rhythms becoming an international ministry and is in keeping with our mission of serving “the least of these” through the performing arts.
Follow along as Reverent Rhythms partners with Father to the Fatherless Ministries in reaching the people Uganda through the performing arts.
1/9/21 - The Airport
Traveling to Uganda will take approximately three days. These three days include a 4 hour car ride from Grand Junction Colorado to Denver Colorado, one one hour flight to Salt Lake City Utah, one 10 hour flight to Amsterdam and one 12 hour flight to Uganda. The weeks leading up to these three travel days were filled with lots of preparatory paperwork, travel vaccines, covid tests, health screenings and preparing my staff for my three week absence. I anticipate being fully exhausted by the time I arrive in Uganda Africa. This trip marks the beginning of so many unknowns. I am confident that Lord will work in miraculous ways as I step out in faith on behalf of the ministry. Although Mathias and I are both confident in our vision to implement a long lasting and sustainable dance program in Uganda we have no idea how this program will take shape, what it will look like and how it will be done. We are leaving more than enough room for the Lord to pencil in, erase, and completely revise our plans and expectations. From the founding days of Reverent Rhythms it is has always been apart of our long term vision for Reverent Rhythms to become an international ministry. I had always imagined that Reverent Rhythms first international steps would be through our professional company's annual tours. This made the most sense to me as I have seen both secular and faith based dance companies do this. This seemed like a natural step that I was prepared to take eventually with our company. I never thought that Reverent Rhythms first international endeavor would be to Africa, for the implementation of a on going dance program.
I have traveled internationally since I was three years old as my parents both worked in the medical field and our family went on numerous oversees medical missions trips. Every time I have traveled internationally whether it be for a mission trip or for vacation I have known what to expect, what I was supposed to be doing and how I was supposed to be doing it. This trip is an entirely different experience for me. There are more unknowns than "knows". I am nervous, excited, filled with anticipation, questions and curiosity. I am certain that I will be emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually challenged throughout this entire process and I am eager to see just how the Lord will choose to do that. We serve a creative God who longs to be apart of the process. He is not interested in immediate results but instead is consumed with an overwhelming desire to walk with us as we grow. Please join me in prayer as the next three weeks are intentionally set aside for the Lord to reveal to both Mathias and myself what the Uganda dance program should look like. Admist all the unknowns, I do know that the Lord moves through the performing arts, the people of Uganda love to dance, and the Lord longs to connect with them (also you) through movement/dance. We are made to worship and worship through dance, using our entire self to worship the Lord, is powerful.
Stay tuned to see what the Lord does through the partnership between Reverent Rhythms and Father to the Fatherless in bringing professional and recreational dance as a worship form to Uganda.
- Cameron Cunningham
Founder/Director of Reverent Rhythms
1/12/22 - The Language and More
The official language of Uganda is listed as English and Swahili. I was told this is for political affiliation with other African countries. In reality the primary language spoken in Uganda is Luganda. Luganda is extremely difficult for newbies to learn as it is a tonal and musical language. There is often multiple meanings for one word and the differentiation lies in the inflection of your voice when saying the word. Luganda is also known as a social language as the persons tone and body language play a huge role in the interpretation of the language. Every time I have traveled internationally before it has been to a Spanish speaking country. I do not speak Spanish however, I am familiar enough to pick up on a few words and ask a few conversational questions. I am very lost when it comes to Luganda as I can not even differentiate between syllables as they speak incredibly fast. Thankfully Mathias and a few others speak English. No time like the present to start learning Luganda. The evening I arrived we stayed in a hotel near the airport as Mathias did not feel it was save to travel at night. We had dinner and got to bed around 2am. For those of you who know me you know that I go to bed at 8pm. The next morning we had breakfast and started our journey to the F2F center. We stopped as saw some animals along the way (see pictures of monkey attached). The center is about two hours from the airport. We stopped and got some groceries from a local street vendor as well as some snacks. The streets are lined with vendors and those trying to make a living selling their merchandise to travelers. The streets, being filled with people, are very similar to every other developing country I have seen. During the car ride I asked Mathias about the living conditions of the people in the rural areas. Most of them live in mud houses and have nearly nothing to their name. They have no access to health care and other essentials which often puts them in life threatening circumstances.. The Ugandan people living in rural areas are truly living in poverty and most are simply trying to survive. Once we arrive at the center Mathias gave me a tour of the campus. What him and his team have done here is extraordinary. I was greeted by a group of enthusiastic children from F2F’s school. As they recited their welcome massage to me in English I felt welcomed and very much a peace. The next day (1/12/22) I woke up and immediately felt sick. I was nauseous and light headed. I tried to eat some breakfast with no success and quickly returned to bed where I took a five hr nap. I am pretty sure that it is just the jet lag and long travel hours. I am still struggling with fatigue. Tomorrow (1/13/22) I will start teaching the children’s dance classes. We had previously set aside specific days for me to teach however, the children came back to ask if we could hold class every day that I am here. They are eager to learn and have a growing passion for dance. I am increasingly exited to work with them, learn from them and share my gifting with them. Please continue to pray for my health and stamina and that the Lord moves through me in sharing dance as a worship form with the people of Uganda.
Founder and Director of Reverent Rhythms
1/16/22 - Jumping In
I have been here for 6 days! A lot has happened since I last wrote. I would have thought I would have more time during the day to write however, things just take longer here. Whether it be hand washing clothes or hauling buckets of water up three floors of stairs to bathe.. you just move slower. The people here wake up with the roosters first crow. The morning and evening devotions at the center start with a few people playing the drums. This alerts everyone else it is tome to get up and come gather for devotions.
On 1/13/22 we went into Kampala, the capital of Uganda, to get various supplies for the center. The streets of Kampala reminded me of Times Square in New York City in that it was extremely busy, cluttered, crowded and the people are hustling. The streets of Kampala are filled with vendors and small businesses with barely enough room in between shops to stand. You know when you walk through the mall and the vendors at the kiosks approach you faster than you can say no? Kampala is like that except there is no end to it because there are dozens and dozens of kiosks on both sides for the entirety of the street. If you are driving in your car there are easily ten different street vendors approaching your window to sell you a variety of goods. If you are walking down the streets the vendors will do anything to get your attention hoping to lure you into their shop. Mathias told me stories of how he would pick pockets for food money and would sleep under the ditches at night. He was only ten years old at the time. Walking those streets as an adult he was still vary guarded. Holding his backpack close to his stomach and looking over his shoulder. I can only begin to image the life he lived as a ten year old street boy. Visiting Kampala was an eye opening expereince that I will not forget. I was happy to return to the rural villages of Uganda by the end of the night. I was supposed to begin teaching dance classes that evening as Mathias told me would be back by 3:30pm. After last minute stops, traffic jams and unexpected circumstances we finally returned home around 10:30pm. Needles to say, 12 hrs in Kampala is enough for me and I will not be moving their any time soon!
I began teaching dance class on 1/14/22! There is a short window of time I have to teach as the kids are in school until 4:30 and it gets dark around 6:30pm. All of the children who do not live at Father to the Fatherless center (only 9 do) need to walk home so we need to give them plenty of time to do so before it gets dark. The first class went great! The kids were enthusiastic, entertained, and captivated. They have such a passion for dance that anytime they hear music or sense a rhythm they are busting their moves. They are so hungry for more dance training and think that it is the coolest thing that I came all this way to teach them dance. The kids did not want to leave however we made them to ensure their safety in walking home. For the dancers out there wondering what exactly I am teaching them.. I have started with foundational ballet moves and will move on to jazz and improvisation! I have assured the children I am not here to teach them how to dance because they already know how to dance and are more naturally gifted than most dancers I have seen. I am here to introduce to them new kinds of dance!
Since it was Saturday we planned to hold dance class at 10am since the kids didn’t have school. Early that morning it began to rain and continue to for the rest of the morning Because of the rain the kids were not able to walk to the school to take class. These are obstacles that would never occur to me in the states. Never have I ever had to cancel an indoor dance class due to rain. Since we couldn’t hold class I went to take a nap. Only to be awakened by Shela, one of the older more experienced dancers here. She came to my room saying “Auntie Cameron! The kids are here! They are ready to dance!” The kids had come but were just delayed because of the rain. Ugandan time is very fluid. It is very common for them to “get there when they get there” or “get there when they can.” All in all we had another great dance class on Saturday.
There was a miscommunication (also very common) about an additional dance class being held at 3pm. The kids had a previous commitment that was not communicated so there ended up being only 2 students (in comparison to 30 kids normally). One of the students had walked quite a ways to come take class so we held class with just the three of us and it went very well. Again, they are so eager to learn whatever I have to teach them.
Even the teenage boys love to dance and want to learn as much as they can. They do not seem to be self conscious of their dancing or embarrassed when trying new dance moves. The kids, teens, and even adults are extremely free in their movement and with their bodies.
I will be teaching them Jazz starting tomorrow (Monday 1/17/22).
Church and Dancing in the Living Room
Today, Sunday (1/16/22), I experienced my first African church service. If you ever have the chance to go to church with the Ugandan people do it! Everyone, and I mean everyone, is singing and dancing, clapping their hands and constantly rejoicing throughout the service. Dance is incredibly integrated into their culture even in their church services. They have someone translate everything into English so visitors and staff who speak primarily English can also understand the sermon. Although they do translate it the very excited preacher (they have many different people preach during one service) does not pause for a second to allow for translation. The preachers also yell their sermon into the microphone with many gestures with an immense amount of passion. This makes the translators job like that of a sprinter. They simply try to translate as much as they can and whatever they miss they know there is no time to stop. All of that to say, it was a very interesting church service. It filled my heart with Joy to see believers worshiping with such freedom!
After an afternoon nap, I spent the remainder of the day with the children in the children’s home. There are 9 children who live here full time. They spent time teaching me their favorite African dance moves. Again, my heart was filled with joy. The time spent in their living room exchanging dance moves and sharing is one of my favorite moments here so far.
Most of the people here truly have nothing to their name yet, they are incredibly grateful for all God has done for them.
I have been experiencing major side effects form my Malaria pills and have been suffering from migraines, along with fatigue , dizziness, vomitting and more. I was offered to go to the city and stay in a hotel to recover however, if I did I would not be able to teach the kids dance classes so I will be staying here at the center. Please keep my health in your prayers as my goal is to feel well enough to continue teaching.
Founder/Director of Reverent Rhythms
1/24/22 - The Last Week
On Thursday (1/20/22) Mathias and I, along with a tour guide, took off on an adventurous safari. We went out into the largest National Park in Uganda and saw a myriad of African animals. I have now experienced the F2F campus, the village of Namuganga, Kampala (the capital), and the northern side of Uganda where we went on the safari. Not to mention the many villages, towns and districts we have travels through.
While we were on the safari we stayed in huts on the Albert River. We stayed there for two nights and I could hear elephants all night long each night. They sound really cool for about 15 minutes and then you want them to be quiet so you can go to bed. We were told not to leave our huts after 11pm because there are many wild animals that walkthrough at night. As we were eating lunch one afternoon a family of elephants walked right through the lawn of the facility we were eating at.
My favorite part of the safari was taking a boat ride on the Nile River. After seeing all the hippos and crocodiles on the river I thought back to the story of Moses’s mom sending him in a basket down the Nile river. That story came to life for me in a new way. To think that sending him down the River in a basket gave him a better chance of living than keeping him at home. I can’t imagine the amount of faith that took for him to put him in the basket and send him down the river.
On the last night of our stay in the huts some of the staff performed traditional ACholi (a northern African tribe) dances for us. Most of the dances were centered around praising God and others were courtship dances. They told us that with the courtship dances If the man does not dance well the women will not choose him as a partner. Can you imagine if your ability to be chosen by a potential husband or wife was solely dependent on your dance abilities? As I am here on a dance mission I have been learning African dances from the kids here at the center. It was fun to see traditional dances from the other side of the country.
Dancing at Church
On Sunday I danced with the kids in their style and then performed a contemporary solo for the congregation. I chose the song “Rescue” by Lauren Daegle. The song is about someone who has been hurt, beat down, abandoned and betrayed. They feel hopeless and as if God does not see them in the midst of their pain. The song is sang from God’s perspective. He tells them that He does see them, His heart is breaking with theirs and that He is their rescuer. I chose to dance to this song because so many of these people have been through things that I can’t even begin to imagine. They cling to their faith, holding it tighter than anything else. They know God sees them and that He is with them. They hold fast to that truth as they work hard to survive. This was the first time I have performed in three years.
Sunday evening Mathias and Pastor Michael baptized 20 people. The oldest to be baptized was a 100 year old women. Mathias picked her up and carried her into the water and dunked her under. As she came back out of the water, being carried by Mathias, you could see the joy on her face. Her and her family had traveled to church that morning and she was baptized that evening. It was so encouraging to witness an incredible example of someone saying “it is not too late for me. I am choosing Jesus now.” The fact that she could not walk into the water did not stop her from publicly proclaiming her devotion to Jesus.
The Power of the Gospel
41 people have come to know Jesus in the last week and 20 have been baptized. Mathias does not miss an opportunity to share the simple Gospel. He is meeting practical needs of this community by providing jobs, food, a church, housing, education and now even dance classes. He will tell you that all of those things are only temporary. The news of salvation through Jesus is the eternal gift he is bringing to these people. He is bringing the news of Jesus with no hesitation or remorse and lives are being changed. Even the people here who are believers, who have nothing to their name, are content and steadfast in their relationship with Jesus. They carry with them true joy anchored in the Lord’s truth, giving them hope for tomorrow.
One of the many reasons I started Reverent Rhythms is because I was tired of people telling me that I couldn’t share my faith through my dancing/choreographing/teaching ect. Reverent Rhythms is very bold is sharing the Gospel through our performances, classes, Ect. The classes I am teaching here are no exception. Each class the kids are reminded of who created them and who delights in their dancing.
Wrapping Things Up
This week I will teach four more dance classes, work on some film content with Mathias and then we will head to the city to fly out to the states on Wednesday. I will be returning to Uganda next year, if not sooner, to continue growing a dance program here. I had originally anticipated that a lack of resources would be the biggest obstacle we would face in starting a dance program. After spending some time here I believe certain aspects of Ugandan culture will be the biggest obstacle to navigate in starting a long term program. There will be many conversations between Mathias and I about exactly how we will approach the next steps of Implementing a program here. It is not a question of “if” but is a question of “how.”
Please pray for our travels back to the states including covid testing, and flight schedules. The Ugandan government works very differently and their are a few extra hoops to jump through to get out of the country.
Big Things Coming Up
I have had significant time to spend with the Lord while in Uganda. What I have heard from the Lord the most is this “You have been known for big faith yes, but the faith that is required for these next steps is like nothing you have seen before.”
While I have been here in Uganda my team and I have seen answers to BIG prayers come to completion. Things we have been praying about for years have suddenly happened in the last two weeks. Reverent Rhythms is on the cusp of major growth and we are seeing the fruit of seeds planted years ago. Pray for me and my team as we take on what the Lord has for us and that we steward all things with excellence.
Founder/Director of Reverent Rhythms