Voices

Banana pancakes and prayer

Josephine in Uganda makes 650 banana pancakes every Sunday and sells them at church for a penny each. She raises 13 children on that $6.50 a week.

Josephine in Uganda makes 650 banana pancakes every Sunday and sells them at church for a penny each. She raises her 13 children and grandchildren on that income: $6.50 a week.

See what it’s like to make this recipe and how love and prayer keep her going. 

*     *     *

I learned two things last night. First, I’ll never be a food blogger, and second, I’ll never be Josephine Bingi. I’ll tell you why.

I met Josephine Bingi in Uganda last month. Josephine, 63, takes care of 13 children — some are her children and some are her grandchildren. They live together in a too-small house. They are very poor. Josephine’s health is not good. She suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes. There is no money for medicine.

Josephine in Uganda makes 650 banana pancakes every Sunday and sells them at church for a penny each. She raises 13 children on that $6.50 a week.
Josephine sharing a meal with her family. (©2016 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

The little money Josephine accrues comes from the sale of banana pancakes she makes every Sunday. Before the sun rises and the roosters begin to crow good morning, Josephine is awake. She’ll make 650 pancakes to sell at church. At a penny each, she earns $6.50 that she’ll use to take care of her family all week. Josephine lives on less than a dollar a day.

Josephine in Uganda makes 650 banana pancakes every Sunday and sells them at church for a penny each. She raises 13 children on that $6.50 a week.
Josephine sells her banana pancakes at church. (©2016 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

Last night I tried to make banana pancakes using Josephine’s recipe. There are only four ingredients: ripe bananas, cornmeal, baking powder, and cooking oil. I watched her make them, and I was sure I could do it.

I set up my ingredients like a food blogger would. My ingredients picture was beautiful. My countertop was clean, and you could see the tulips I’d carried in from the living room, bright yellow and out of focus in the background. Things were going well.

Josephine in Uganda makes 650 banana pancakes every Sunday and sells them at church for a penny each. She raises 13 children on that $6.50 a week.
The ingredients for Kari’s pancakes. (©2016 World Vision/photo by Kari Costanza)

I mashed up the ripe bananas using a spoon with a happy face on it. I took a picture of the spoon. It matched my mood. I added baking powder and cornmeal. The spoon wouldn’t mash it up so I had to use my hands, which I didn’t photograph. I washed my hands and then formed the pancakes into small round balls like Josephine had. Hers were nice and neat. Mine were messy. And my hands smelled really weird.

I fried up a few and placed them on a platter. They did not look like Josephine’s. My mother came into the kitchen to see what I was doing. I asked her to try one and give me a one-word description. She bit in, and her face scrunched up like a squirrel wondering if he’d just eaten a bad nut. She took another bite. She was trying to find the right word. Mom was a teacher for many years and is carefully constructive with criticism. Finally, she found the word, “Strange.”

Josephine in Uganda makes 650 banana pancakes every Sunday and sells them at church for a penny each. She raises 13 children on that $6.50 a week.
Kari’s banana pancakes! (©2016 World Vision/photo by Kari Costanza)

Our puppies were standing by as they always do in the kitchen, hoping for something to drop. Mom gave a bit to Calvin the Chihuahua, who gobbled it up. “The dog likes it,” she says helpfully. “Maybe you’ve created a new dog food.”

My husband, Tom, came home, and I insisted he try my banana pancakes. “Give me a one-word description,” I said. He gave me a sentence instead, which I cannot repeat. My daughter, Claire, tried them. “Crunchy,” she declared, and I asked her how much she’d buy them for. “50 cents?” was her softhearted reply. “But just once,” added Tom.

I cleaned up, carried the tulips back into the living room, and sat there in the dark, thinking about banana pancakes and Josephine.

Josephine in Uganda makes 650 banana pancakes every Sunday and sells them at church for a penny each. She raises 13 children on that $6.50 a week.
The aftermath of Kari’s baking experiment. (©2016 World Vision/photo by Kari Costanza)

Josephine sits in the dark too. Her house has no electricity. Her grown children and grandchildren sleep three or four to a twin bed. The littlest, Elizabeth, sleeps on a chair. Josephine’s roof leaks. She has to choose which grandchildren get to go to school because the banana pancake money only goes so far. Alan, who wants to be a pilot, doesn’t get to go to school.

Sitting there in the dark, I realized that I couldn’t be Josephine. I juggle a lot as a working mother with two children. But I have a roof over my head, food in the refrigerator, electricity, a bed to sleep in — everything I need. I have good health.

I asked Josephine how she does it as she sat for a moment to have tea with me on a busy Sunday morning. “I survive on prayer,” she says.

Josephine in Uganda makes 650 banana pancakes every Sunday and sells them at church for a penny each. She raises 13 children on that $6.50 a week.
Josephine prays in church. (©2016 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

World Vision was an answer to prayer.

Josephine goes to Buhimba Christian Church whose pastor, Arthur Turyatunga, took training in Channels of Hope from World Vision. Channels of Hope is a spectacular program. It teaches pastors to reach out to needy people in their community. Josephine was in such great need. The church made sure that she had a cow so her children could have milk to drink and piglets to grow and sell. Josephine takes her pancakes to church where fellow worshippers snap them up by the dozen.

Josephine’s family is still in great need, but one thing they don’t lack is love. She knows God loves her, her family loves her, and that she is loved by her pastor and her church. She’s figured out that the only way to get through tough times is to survive on prayer.

And she makes a mighty fine banana pancake.


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