Full of hearty laughter, the Rev. Canon Paul Jeffries spoke to staff at the Anglican Church of Canada’s national office last week about his work as principal of Bishop McAllister College, Kyogyera in southwestern Uganda. The former Volunteer in Mission (VIM) from the Diocese of Fredericton is celebrating 10 years of unusual, passionate ministry.
It’s a ministry that includes running 10 km races alongside gangly teenagers.
But to back up: the story began many years ago when Mr. Jeffries was serving at a parish in rural New Brunswick. He remembers he was on his day off, contentedly reading the newspaper, when his bishop called. Startled, Mr. Jeffries asked, “What’s wrong?” but the answer wasn’t bad news, only an encouragement to serve in the companion diocese of Eldoret, Kenya.
After lots of prayer, some chats with former VIMs, and a sudden case of adventurousness, Mr. Jeffries went to Kenya for a year, where he said he “caught the Africa bug.” He then returned to Canada to discern his vocation and eventually settled on a teaching placement at Bishop McAllister College.
This all seemed fine and good to Mr. Jeffries until he actually arrived in Uganda and passed the school on the way in from the airport. It was in rough shape compared to his Kenyan post and, he was soon to learn, facing bankruptcy.
“But Ugandans have this amazing ability to step out in faith,” he said. The leaders of the school decided to start a new secondary school, and six months later Mr. Jeffries was appointed principal.
Life at Bishop McAllister
A day at this Ugandan boarding school begins at 5:30 a.m., and students spend their days in structured activities: classes, study time, or chapel services. Every day they’re served three meals of maize and beans, in different forms. The school started modestly, with 50 male students. Now enrolment is up to 650, and the school is co-ed.
Much has happened after that step of faith 10 years ago. Students were struggling in science subjects, so the school raised money for a science lab. Computer skills were also a priority, so they built a computer lab, which now has 50 computers. They have also set up a child sponsorship program, and recently opened a primary school.
As principal, Mr. Jeffries’ job includes long-term planning, fundraising, staffing—and also running. He started “the Principal’s Challenge,” a popular run that pits him against each of the classes for a 5 km. challenge. If half of the students beat Mr. Jeffries, they celebrate with a roast cow in the principal’s yard and a crate of soda. The best of the best join him for a race in Kampala.
Of course the backdrop to these success highlights are many grinding challenges, including the poor quality of primary education, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and malaria, and his school’s current needs for a chaplain and a primary school teacher.
Mr. Jeffries keeps focused: “God has blessed us greatly,” he said throughout his presentation. His lively online updates are peppered with praise and exclamation marks.
“A lot of good things are going on and the church is doing a lot of good things,” said Mr. Jeffries, “Somehow we have to not only own it but celebrate it in some way.”
So how is the church owning and celebrating this work? Mr. Jeffries still works with Partnerships staff in the national office and keeps close ties with his home diocese of Fredericton. His home parish runs a “pennies for Paul” program, where children raise money for items like desks.
If you’re interested in connecting further with Mr. Jeffries’ work, get in touch with him by email.
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