Celebrating Christmas in the Ssese Islands

Celebrating Christmas in the Ssese Islands

Decades of outreaches have given Evangelist Sam Tsapwe a deep understanding of the challenges in communities like Buyange, a tiny fishing village hidden away on Lake Victoria’s Ssese Islands.

Sam has made it his mission to encourage these island communities and let them know that they aren’t alone. ‘The people on the islands live isolated lives. A lot of the time they lose hope — and they don’t find much reason for living,’ Sam explains.

Photos, footage and interviews by Mark and Kelly Hewes. Video by Matt Carvosso. Story by Jenny Davies.  

‘I know that there is hope in Jesus, so we come to share this hope with the desire that they will embrace Jesus as Lord, as hope, and as life.’

‘I want to give special thanks to MAF for flying and enabling us to come and minister to these lovely people.' 

Children flock to this quietly spoken man who greets them, and makes time to sing songs and learn their names. Sam has been coming here for ten years, bringing a team from his Jesus Film Ministry outreach to minister to the people. Nearly a dozen fledgling churches have grown up over that time.

On a typical trip, Sam says, ‘You get to the village, you start to play music to attract the people. A crowd gathers, and you talk to them about Jesus. Then, as night falls, you share a video together with them.’ Sam sometimes brings supplies to run medical and dental clinics.

But for this trip — just a few days before Christmas — the usual cargo of a projector and screen have been left behind. Instead, Sam and his team have brought a Christmas feast: 80 kg of rice, 20 kg of beef, tomatoes, onions, cooking oil, spices and fizzy drinks. Let the celebrations begin!

‘We had different churches presenting songs with drums and dancing. Then we had times of praise and worship, sharing from the Bible, dancing, praying for people, and eating together — quite a bit of eating!’ smiles Sam, ‘And also a “birthday cake” for Jesus! This was a good day to remember!’

'I thank, with all my heart, everyone who prays, gives and contributes towards this ministry. Thank you so much!’

The celebration gave people from ten tiny islands a reason to come together. ‘If the little churches, 8 or 12 people, meet as 150 people together, it enables them to encourage one another and focus on something that gives them hope — the coming of Jesus to set them free!’

Sam reflects that hope, freedom and joy are often in short supply in the Ssese Islands. ‘They live cramped, so they stay awake at night and rest during the day. They fish and get money, then use it on drink and all the wrong things. It comes down to having no hope in life. They worked at getting a canoe, but there are restrictions on fishing and a lot of people don’t have that business now.’

Food has to be bought from the mainland and, ‘by the time it arrives here, it’s expensive, because transportation on the water is expensive. You might not be able to drink a soda because you probably can’t afford it — so if it’s brought to you with a good meal, then it makes it a time of celebration!’

With the all-night Christmas party finally over, believers return by boat to their island homes. For the ministry team, a 20-minute flight from a nearby island replaces an 8-hour boat ride. It’s one of the reasons they were able to come. 

Sam is satisfied that, just for one day, the islanders have been able to break the isolation and welcome the hope that arrived in the world as a tiny new-born King.

‘I want to give special thanks to MAF for flying and enabling us to come and minister to these lovely people,’ he smiles. ‘I thank, with all my heart, everyone who prays, gives and contributes towards this ministry. Thank you so much!’

Happy Christmas from our MAF team worldwide and thank you so much for your support throughout 2018! 

With thanks to Sam Tsapwe and Jesus Film Ministries for their assistance with this story.