Damulira Aaron. My name is a combination, one from my birth father and one from folks in Jjokelera, Uganda. Damulira. That name included me into another family, into a very different culture, where some very loving friends welcomed us with rare abandon. I pray their character never leaves my heart.
When I was a little boy, my dreams were to stop the poaching of endangered species, clean up oil spills, travel the world, defy gravity, dance, sing, and change the world. Today, I have not lost my sense for environmental justice. I’ve also had the privilege of traveling quite extensively. And although all of my dreams are not yet realized, my adventure has already been more complex and interesting than a younger me could have imagined.
Graduating high school, I declined a four-year, accredited violin performance degree to engross myself in what I saw as “God’s call on my life to be a missionary.” I went to Elim Bible Institute near Rochester, NY and studied International Community Health and Missions. After three years of arduous study and soul shaking, I had only to complete the internship to graduate. I chose a three-month internship in the Philippines.
After some time working at a troubled boy’s home and fundraising, I found myself in the pacific tropics, setting up clinics, assisting in surgery, teaching local health care workers, and consulting with nurses and textbooks to diagnose and treat illnesses. We spent countless hours traveling to remote villages, some Muslim, some Christian, some secular, where there was so much tension between all of them, and I learned the beauty and difficulty of working with peacemakers. On the other hand, I learned the tension of medicine and “missions,” beautiful, cultural collision and assumption. I finished my internship successfully, and left immediately from the Philippines to Mexico.
Staying in Morelia, Mexico, I lived a more relaxed existence, learning Spanish and playing the violin for a large church’s worship team. Deep friendships and life changing songs fell into my lap, and I was at home. I left my heart there, and returned to my Upstate N.Y. hometown where I served tables for tips and served a small local church as a music director for a few years. Yes, it was literally depressing.
Leading worship in a local church is not without its challenges, and if I was allowed to tell you all the difficulty and brokenness that I began to see in the church, the world, and myself during this time, it might just tear your belief in two. So I’ll leave those for another time, when I can share more delicate things without skimming.
Toward the end of this difficult period, I was deeply involved in a collaborative cultural music project with another musician/producer and an ethnomusicologist/guitarist. The three of us traveled across the ocean in April-May of 2013 to record the songs of orphaned and homeless youth and produce an album for their benefit.
It was a musical recording venture in Uganda where, amongst many life-debilitating, emotional experiences, happened the most loving, joyous, impoverished, needy, and hauntingly beautiful friendships I’ve ever engendered.
The three of us came back with more raw emotion, talent, and experience than we expected to encounter. It was the hackneyed anvil falling from the sky, and we lay crushed under its weight, pondering, postulating how to pick it up, package it and sell raw, potent poetry. As I sit writing this, I’m still only half way through completing the music video for our team’s single, “Motherland.”
Being ripped from producing this and other musical wonders in Upstate NY with my two American compatriots, by the leaning and abrupt direction of spirit and wisdom, to a prayer room and shelter called Hope City in the depressed and violent east side of Kansas City was a scary decision to say the least. Despite the geographic distance from the studio in NY and the district of Wandegeya, I’m still churning through the art and soul of what I found there. And I’m burning for the day when “Paradise Uganda,” our soon release of raw, lyrical, songs from the street youth of Kampala, awakens the hearts of the cold, apathetic ones who pity the poor orphan of Africa only to miss the fervent fire of heaven’s creative expression in their songs.
What I didn’t expect, enveloped in this fire? To join in singing, playing, and producing musical prayers for the African American, Hispanic, and minority communities of the Unites States and for the impoverished here in Kansas City, where the cold ones are the homeless and a passive-aggressive hatred like a bitter herb from the coldest hearts, still grows like weeds in our back yards. Every week I join rappers, musicians, homeless addicts, America’s lost youth, and the good Lord himself to stand in the gap for all of these. The rap and prayer of inner city youth for justice with the cry of hunger for food and medical attention by Ugandan orphans are ringing in my ears, a beautiful, painful sound I can’t relate except by echoism- shhhhhhhhhhhpplllaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh…
Well, I digress. 2015. I’m not the least bit sure what to expect except the approach of mystery. This last year has gone by so quickly and so tenuously for me that, aside from living with the homeless, recovering addicts, musicians, and other intercessors in a house of prayer, I’ve lived in two different basement apartments of semi-famous worship singers, and subsequently landed in a large, hipster renovation of a house in mid-town Kansas City. As I said before, a complex and interesting adventure…
So, I can’t complain, but I will share a few more facts that you can skip over if overwhelmed by this long biog (yes, I wrote biog, not blog- it is a word), before conclusions. I’ve moved a lot. I’m a vegetarian. My favorite band is Vekora. The Kansas City Royals almost won the World Series since I’ve arrived (just sayin’). A driver crossing the state line from Missouri into Kansas missed her red light; the state line was the road I was driving on- my car was totaled by hers in early July. My car is still waiting to be towed out of my driveway. Now, I drive rental cars for my part time job, cruising the highways and byways through the dark night with an engineer in the back seat optimizing and collecting data to improve cellular phone coverage. All to pay the bills.
All right, enough rambling, the point is that I always expect things to change. Every Wednesday night, when for two hours we sing and pray in Spanish for the Hispanic community, I expect our words to shake the shackles off prisoners. I expect to meet strangers and street people, who expect me to care for them because they know the Lord commands it, and I know they will trust God to take care of them more than I can. Sure, there will be financial, spiritual, emotional hurdles and baggage to trip over, and there will be relational and artistic surprises. I do know I’ll be returning to Mexico for most of January reconnecting with the heavenly language and the best of friends. I’ll try new things, start blogging maybe.
The truth is I’m not sure what to expect for 2015, but I am eagerly expectant still.