The lifesaver

So there we were. Twenty-odd Australians, squished into the front of a Ugandan classroom. Another 40 students sat patiently, crammed up against each other on old wooden benches. They were ready. We were ready. And so the singing began.

Our little team had a few songs in our repertoire. Father Abraham. The Hoki Poki. Kookaburra sits in the Old Gum Tree. Jesus Loves Me. In the days before, we had slowly perfected our performance. We all knew the lyrics. We all knew actions. We all knew that the more enthusiastic we were, the better response we’d get from the crowd.


And so we launched, rather fervently, into an animated rendition of ‘Lifesaver, complete with freestyle and backstroke actions. It’s an old classic at my school, but I think one of the teachers made it, so you probably don’t know it. It’s easy enough though.

“Lifesaver, Jesus is a lifesaver, we all need a lifesaver, Saviour of our souls. Sometimes you find your self in deep, deep trouble, sometimes you’re swept out from the beach. And when you find yourself in deep deep waters, that’s the time you need someone to reach out and be your …Lifesaver, Jesus is a lifesaver, we all need a lifesaver…” I think you get the drift.

We sang through the song a few times. The kids were unusually slow to join in. They looked confused. Uncomfortable even, but maybe that’s just hindsight. Maybe we were singing to fast, so we slowed it down a notch.

A few rounds later, and they still hadn’t joined in. So someone launched into a blow-by-blow explanation of the song. That Jesus loves us, that he saves us, like a lifesaver would at the beach. And that’s when we remembered we were talking to a group of students who lived in a landlocked country. Kids who had never seen a large body of water, let alone the ocean. Kids who had no idea what a lifesaver would be.

So our spokesperson struggled through an explanation of what the beach is and how we have lots of beaches in Australia. Still floundering and clearly unsure of how to undo the last five minutes of useless explanation, he turned to the team and signalled to just start singing again.

So we sang. We sang in tune. We sang with gusto. We sang with all the enthusiasm we could, trying to make up for the fact that the students had no idea what we were singing about. Or did they?

We upped the ante and sped up our freestyle strokes. Even faster, we performed multiple backstroke arms. Some one may have even thrown in some breaststroke and butterfly. The kids caught on and soon the room was a mess with arms flying everywhere and giggles all round.


We performed a few more songs, played some games outside, finally bid farewell to the little school and set off, back to Kampala.

And then I saw it.

The roads back into Kampala are dotted with big, brightly-coloured billboards. Everything from mobile phone ads to powered milk. This one, this one I saw, was similar to the rest. A smiley happy family, grinning out on the oncoming traffic. A mum and a dad and two gorgeous children. A bright canary yellow background.

And the words ‘Lifesaver Condoms’ plastered across the top.

Ah yes. It all became clear.

Jesus is your contraceptive Saviour. Not an analogy I’ve ever heard in church before.


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