Herb Guthrie’s introduction to the war-torn regions of Uganda began in the trafficking business, except Herb wasn’t running contraband, nor was he smuggling illegal substances across the country’s heavily guarded borders. In a rather Casablanca-like fashion, Guthrie found himself toting three portable sound systems, tightly wrapped in brown wrapping paper and packed discretely in his luggage, in order to transport the concealed “packages” past the customs officer at the Entebbe airport. Only after much skepticism and eyebrow-raising did the officer finally allow this peculiar evangelist through its gates and into the heart of Africa…
A mainstay in Athens for over 40 years, Guthrie has built a career as a sound engineer and as the drummer for the Michael Guthrie Band – a gutsy threesome of Who-inspired power pop. After having grown up near Hamburg, Germany during The Beatles’ rise to fame in the early ’60s, the Guthrie family graced the stages of the original 40 Watt, as well as the opening night of the Georgia Theatre in 1978. So, when initially called upon by University Church to set up sound systems in Uganda for missionary work, Guthrie was the logical fit to answer the call for duty – not to say he knew exactly what he was getting himself into.
Today, Guthrie reflects on his first visit to Uganda over seven years ago, “Surely, Africa can’t be too crazy… Oh, how wrong was I!”
After witnessing one of the most devastating humanitarian crises in modern times firsthand, Guthrie quickly realized that healing a crippled Uganda was beyond the scope of any one person, agency or even religious affiliation. Since the late ’80s, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has perpetuated the demoralization of peoples in Northern Uganda, largely through the abduction of child soldiers, who now compose up to 90 percent of its ranks. Ostensibly fueled by government resentment, the extremist group’s actions have resulted in the displacement of nearly 2 million Ugandans into Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps, where they have been stripped of their cultural identity and deprived of healthcare, education and hope for a future.
Complicating the issue further, channeling aid to the African continent has long been known to be a precarious matter. Attempts by the United Nations and various international governments to assist humanitarian efforts have all too often been made in vain in the face of third-world corruption.
“You can’t take a wad of cash to Africa with the naïve idea of helping people,” Guthrie insists. “Your only hope is to get it directly into the hands of people you know and trust.” In his opinion, it’s smaller, mobile groups like Church Planting International (CPI) that are most effective in creating observable change.
Using the Michael Guthrie Band Benefit Concert as a fundraiser, Guthrie hopes to raise a modest $5,000 for education specifically in the Kampala townships of Kitebi and Kabanyaro, where money is desperately needed for English textbooks, computers, school uniforms and even shoes. “I’m not trying to solve the world’s problems. I’m trying to help solve this specific situation,” says Guthrie, never allowing his emotions to trump his practical role in Uganda.
Under the directive of CPI and Dr. George Hutchinson and with the support of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, several classrooms have already been erected in these poorer districts in the capitol of Kampala. Money donated to the benefit will directly affect the lives of 1,000 children in these neighborhoods, many of whom are AIDS orphans. According to Guthrie, roughly $50 is enough to put a child in Uganda through an entire year of school, proving that small amounts go a long way.
Since receding into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, up to 800,000 refugees have returned to their homes from IDP camps with the LRA’s diminishing presence, with an estimated 1 million displaced Ugandans remaining in camps. Though many Ugandans haven’t known a day of peace in their lives, they remain resilient and willing to work to rebuild the country’s future. Having visited Uganda several times over the past seven years (and shifting responsibilities from smuggling speakers towards the oversight of CPI’s missions), Guthrie has witnessed churches evolve into full-blown neighborhood centers that also serve the health and educational needs of their communities. Confident in the success of these projects and all the individuals involved, Guthrie hopes that the benefit concert becomes something of an annual event to raise money and awareness for a country that is truly in need.
WHO: Michael Guthrie Band, Carla LeFever, Bruce Neese, Shortbus Allstars, Vanda Guthrie
WHERE: Redeemer Presbyterian
WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 7
HOW MUCH: FREE! (donations accepted)
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