An appointment made by God
February has rolled around and it is time for our annual trip to Uganda, to do some work for a charity run by friends of ours. My husband is medically trained, so although the charity's main focus is education (Jinja Educational Trust), we bring a focus on health when we go out there. The charity supports a couple of orphanages, so we do medical checks on the children and give whatever medical support is required. If children are unwell, they don't go to school, so the two aspects go hand in hand.
And each time I point my nose due south to Central Africa I reflect on my first visit there seven years ago, with my husband and daughter. Nothing quite prepares you for Africa - the sights, sounds and smells of the cradle of civilisation. The extreme contrast between the beauty of the people and the countryside, with the clear poverty and hardship there. In a life we would find very challenging indeed, we find joy, happiness, laughter, lightness and hope. The existence may be tough but never so tough as to not smile or be grateful. Each trip is a reminder of the importance to cherish life, yes, simply being alive! Where a good day is one where you have had something to eat and water to drink, and not become ill, and ready to face the next day.
On that first day in Jinja, Uganda's second largest city, we were walking down the main street with our host under the unforgiving African noon-day sun. It was so hot and bright you could hardly see or breathe. Suddenly our host stopped to greet a friend, a priest wearing a dog collar and a thick, dark brown three-piece suit....and not visibly bothered by the heat at all. We are introduced:
"Father Leonard, these are my friends from England, here to help us with the children," then turning to us, "this is Father Leonard."
We each get the traditional Ugandan long handshake hold.
"Ah yes," said Father Leonard with a big smile, "this has been an appointment made by God!"
Really? I'm thinking the heat has got to him after all...or me, because I don't understand what he is saying. He must have seen the quizzical look in my eye.
"You see, when you are out and about and meet someone you know without having planned it, it is very important to stop and take the time to see what the meeting may offer. Because it was unplanned, it was an appointment made by God, who wanted you to meet this person in this moment."
Yes, now I do understand, and it was quite profound. How often do you bump into someone but say you're "in a rush, can't stop now, we must meet up some time, I'll be in touch" and then don't? It's not an uncommon occurrence, I've been there many times myself. But since meeting Father Leonard and hearing his important message, his gift to us, I have been more open to people who come my way unexpectedly. I see it as part of developing spiritual awareness, of behaving yogically if you like. And each time I respect these appointments made by God and pause to enquire spiritually from the encounter, I gain something valuable - a rekindled contact, a hug, a laugh, an important piece of news, good advice.
Along with asana, pranayama and meditation, it is simply another way of practising yoga.