Some reviewers of the Book of Mormon Musical on Broadway have pointed out the musical doesn’t just insult Mormons—it also really insults the people of Uganda. While Uganda does have a great deal of poverty and many problems, they aren’t unsolvable problems and not everyone there is suffering. There are educated people, there are people growing up and changing their own country for the better, there are good and kind and intelligent people. The real Uganda is not the Uganda portrayed in the play.
Throughout Uganda, work is being done by religious groups to help out and many people have moved above poverty.
The musical hints that religion can’t do anything to help with the serious problems of the world. In the last article, we showed how basic faith can make a big difference in the life of someone who is suffering. Today we’re going to look at what churches are doing to try to make poverty a thing of the past. Since this is a Mormon site, we’ll be talking about what Mormons are doing, but lots of faith-based groups are doing similar types of work. God’s people don’t just preach the gospel—they work to take care of God’s children.
In 2009, missionaries got together in Uganda, not to preach the gospel, but to just live it. A lot of refugees were pouring into the country because of dangerous rebel activities in the Congo. These refugees often arrived with nothing at all. The missionaries worked long hours to put together emergency supply kits for them, including blankets, cooking pots, rice, sugar, salt, cooking oil, soap, and mosquito nets. The Church had, at the time of the article linked to on the word missionary at the start of the paragraph, delivered more than 7,000 pounds of food to refugee camps, as well as blankets, cooking pots, and farming tools. Musa Ecweru, Uganda’s Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness, received some of these kits and said, ““Our good friends, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, go about quietly, without a lot of publicity, helping the needy people of Uganda,”
One serious problem in Uganda is that too many babies die. Often their lives could be saved if someone knew what to do for a baby who was not breathing at birth. The Mormons put together a program to train midwives and others in neonatal resuscitation. This means helping babies to breathe if they aren’t. The minister of health in Uganda took the class himself and he told the doctors that every time a baby dies in his country, it creates a 100,000-dollar deficit in his country’s economy. That means it hurts the economy that much. In the first six months after the May 2006 training ended, 646 babies were saved from death. How good is your math? Figure out how much that single effort by the church helped the Ugandan economy. When the economy improves, poverty is easier to fight.
Mormons have a huge humanitarian aid program. This program isn’t just for Mormons. It’s for everyone in the village or area where they are working. They bring clean water into villages that never had it. Can you imagine drinking dirty water or having to walk hours to get water at all? That’s how a lot of people around the world live until the church goes in and helps the people to create a clean water source. They provide wheelchairs, glasses, vision treatments, farming help…all sorts of things that make life easier for those who are suffering. They also do things that will help people learn to help themselves so they won’t always have to depend on outsiders.
Some people might think it’s pointless to send missionaries into areas where there is a lot of poverty. But God loves all His children, no matter how poor they are. He wants them to know about Him, but He also wants them to be taken care of and made self-sufficient. For that, He needs His other children, the one with greater privileges, to go away from their comfortable homes and get to work. The Mormons have humanitarian missionaries in addition to their regular missionaries.
But it isn’t just missionaries helping out. Ordinary teenagers in Mormon churches also pitch in to make Uganda a better place. In their own communities they assemble kits like the ones mentioned above or go out into their villages to make something better. One group of teens in the US donated their old clothing to a church program. Their clothes were sent to a prison in Uganda. The women there were not given anything to wear and so they had to remain undressed until some teens in Utah decided to donate some of their clothing.
Take a look at the picture at the top of this article. It’s of a Mormon family in Uganda. The musical portrays Ugandans as primitive and stupid. Do you think they got Uganda right? How would you feel if all people in your country were portrayed the way Ugandans are treated in the musical? It might have made the musical’s creators feel “cool” to make fun of people, but Christians know we don’t treat others with that complete lack of respect. Nor do we just goof around being silly when there is serious work to be done, despite what the musical suggests. While there are some people in Uganda who are poor, more and more are learning the skills and getting the health they need to move on—and Mormons and other religious people are helping to make that happen.