Archive for September, 2013

Forced to Move but Undaunted

Written Sunday, 9/29/13 – I preached this morning in a church I had visited last trip in March – Bugembe Christian Worship Centre of Peace. They occupy a rented space and are being “forced” to move so that the landlord can erect a bar in its place. The pastor introduced me to his landlord the other day.

Considering who we both are, the conversation was fairly predictable. He told me that if I would pay for the land, the church could stay there. This attitude – that all musungus have money – is due to training by over-generous westerners who have used their money to make Ugandans dependent on the charity of the West, though I’m sure this is not what they intended. So this bold suggestion was the first thing the landlord said to me as he shook my hand, not batting an eye.

My part of the conversation first determined that this landlord claims to be a Christian, and then gently pointed out that perhaps he needed to think about his spiritual responsibilities in this matter – a bar for a church? He said I was right and that maybe he would come hear me teach or preach (this, of course, I easily recognized as a snow job, and he hasn’t shown up yet though I have been in the church for several days teaching).

Today, as I went to teach this church the principles of church planting because they want in the midst of all this to plant churches too, the “bar next door” had a group of women “manufacturing” a grain-based beer in basins not 25 feet from the door of the church. An alcoholic man in a torn and dirty suit (whom I am told is the brother of the landlord) spent the morning sleeping on a bench that rests against the side of the church building. At one point after our lunch, he stumbled in through the door looking quite angry, exchanged some Lusoga words with the group I am teaching, then turned and stumbled out. When I asked what that was about, they said he had thought we were talking about him.

Unfortunately, this small church now must begin mobilizing for a very difficult and expensive re-location. This is the same pastor and wife I have previously spoken of, who have 19+ orphans, rescued from the street, living permanently in their home. Please pray for them provision, mercy and a new location that will glorify Him, light in the darkness.

(Oh, yes, you will hear more about the orphans…..)

At the church where I am currently teaching in Bugembe, Uganda, I have been watching an ancient art unfold before my eyes. Just outside the door of the rented building where the church meets, they are constructing a room as an add-on to the building next door. I watched the builder pile up a large number of tree limbs of various sizes, then begin to weave them together into a rough “wall” on the side of one of the rooms.

After finishing the branch and twig construction, he had a see-through partition criss-crossed with tree and bush-branches. He nailed the larger uprights at the bottom, but all the others were held in place by weaving them in-and-out with each other, into a lattice-like pattern.

Then he piled up a generous helping of red mud on the ground in front of the building, added a little water, and began kneading it with a large- bladed hoe. Later, on a break in my lessons, I looked out the door to check on his progress, and he was busy gathering up handfuls of the red mud and tossing them onto the top of a beach ball-shaped lump of mud over near the stick and branch wall. He would scoop up a large handful, and hurl it about ten feet to land perfectly with an audible splat on top of this large mud ball.

Today when I went to preach at this same church, I noticed that the branch lattice partition was no longer visible, having been completely covered in red mud, now hand-smoothed into a rough kind of plaster. Now it was drying and hardening on the wall.

So this ancient art of mud-wattle construction, which is a common inexpensive form of construction here in the villages of Uganda today, has been used in Africa and other parts of the world for thousands of years. However, though I have seen many mud-wattle huts and more than a few mud-wattle church buildings here in Uganda, I hadn’t ever been privileged to watch the fascinating process from beginning to end to see how it was done.

It was amusing to me to observe this artisan, the descendent of hundreds of generations of builders before him, right in the middle of a scene that could easily be right out of the Bible, pause suddenly, wipe his hands off hurriedly on his pants, reach into his pocket to pull out his cell phone and carry on a spirited conversation for a few minutes before going back to work throwing history around with his bare and mud-stained hands.

This is the Uganda of 2013, a juxtaposition of old and new, primitive and modern, ancient and yet technologically 21st century. I am humbled to be here serving in such a wonderful place.

Reason No Blogs? Keepin’ Busy!

I have been here 9 days and can hardly believe all that is happening. I have made very positive face to face contacts in this short time with three different church-planting opportunities.

  • One is among the pastors in the Jinja area whom I met with near the end of my trip last Spring. I held a conference with them this last Wednesday about church planting and though we had 26 pastors in March, we had over 40 this time.
  • I have also had the opportunity to meet with an older pastor/overseer who has planted 11 churches in a district about an hour out of Jinja, and who regularly meets with his pastors to disciple them. We traveled together to one of his churches and met the pastor and agreed after talking that we need to do a 2 day church planting conference there. As of today they have 80 pastors signed up to attend this conference on October 9-10.
  • Then I met out in a village called Kiranga (Chirrannga) in much more isolated area north of Jinja along the Nile River. They have 55 pastors lined up for a 2 day conference next week.

This second contact comes from what the Holy Spirit said to me on my last visit in March as I drove out to see the new waterfalls north of Jinja on the Nile River, created by the new dam. It was my last day and all the work was done, and I had heard of these falls, so I suggested we drive out and see them. I was eP1080387xpecting a short drive, but it turned out to be quite a long distance. As we drove through these rural, isolated communities along the increasingly rough dirt roads, the Spirit kept pointing out the various neighborhoods along the road, and the little churches, and saying that these people don’t often see missionaries, especially about church planting, and that I needed to pray about this area.

So I have been doing that since March, and when I prepared for this trip I told my contact here in Jinja I needed to do a pastor’s conference out among those churches, so find me a contact. When I arrived a week ago last Thursday, my team had found a pastor out in that area to work with, and I met with him and his leaders on Monday in the village. I shared with them what I do regarding church planting, and they told me that they have been praying for God to send someone to teach them about church planting and that it has been a subject of much discussion among the pastors of that area for a long time, but they are so isolated that they rarely get that kind of help.

They said that there are many areas there that have no churches. As we met with this one pastor who is willing to host and help organize the conference, he had 8 leaders present besides himself – 2 elders, their evangelist, one of their teachers, his assistant pastor, and a government official they have won to the Lord, etc. So I was much heartened by this reception.

They are excited, and I am excited. Interestingly, my devotion on Monday morning was Isaiah 55:12 –“For you shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills will break forth before you with singing, and the trees of the field will clap their hands.” As this little group ended our time with a brief season of worship, I felt that this verse was coming alive right in front of me.

I feel like with these contacts, I will have about 5 years of steady work laid out by the end of this trip. And that is just the first 9 days of a six week trip.

Ask and It Shall Be Given

I have been in Uganda for five days. I am having so much fun, I hardly know what to do with myself. Here’s an example.

Last Spring Samuel (the local pastor) and I were evangelizing in the village of Naminya where we would end up planting a church in the next couple of weeks. We met an elderly lady there, probably in her eighties, but it’s hard to tell, by helping her carry her heavy water container up the hill to her tiny mud-wattle, thatch-roofed and every-bit-as-rickety-as-she hut where she lived. During that time we took the opportunity to share the Good News with her. She said she was Catholic and knew the pope and knew Peter, and though very talkative, was dismissive of much further discussion of Jesus Christ.

As we blessed her in prayer and then turned to go, she said in her Lusoga language that she needed some sugar and hadn’t had any for a long time. She is far from town, and she lives her life between her small garden, the local spring where the community gets their water, and the door of her little hut. I guess she thought that she’d take a stab at asking the musungu (white man) to bring her something she needed.

I thought about that again and again over my remaining weeks in Uganda, as if the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me forget it. Finally, on one of my final days in Uganda, I went to the store in Jinja with Samuel, bought a bag of sugar, and we took it all the way out to Naminya and surprised her with it. It had been a couple of weeks, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t get a lot of visitors who look like me, so she was very surprised when we pounded on her door, and she peered out at us, wondering I’m sure, what this strange white American wanted on a late afternoon, waking her up from her nap. Then, as she stepped out to us, I handed her the bag of sugar, and Samuel interpreted that the Lord was giving her some sugar. She couldn’t believe it, and she smiled a smile so big that it was, in itself, thanks enough to me.

Then, as we blessed her, and turned to go, she called out after us that she hadn’t had any meat in over two years. We about fell out of the car laughing.

So, can you guess what my first task from the Holy Spirit was as I arrived back in Uganda and we went to visit the little church-plant in Naminya this last Saturday? You guessed it. I purchased a kilo of beef from the market, and we went looking for our friend. It’s been six months since my Spring visit, and as is often the case with people who live at this level of subsistence, she had moved. We asked some children where Luwaida had moved to, and they, excited to be interacting with a real musungu themselves, escorted us up the road and around the bend to a slightly better dwelling – a little room stuck on the end of a row of rooms that are rented out to locals. There was Luwaida, just as I remembered her, sitting inside a tiny cornhusk lean-to in front of her “apartment.” I’m pretty sure the lean-to was her kitchen, but you would hardly think this four by four by four foot structure woven from cornstalks, husks and leaves could serve as much of a kitchen.

She rose to meet Samuel, and then saw me standing in the yard, and for a moment she looked very confused. Then I held out the meat as Samuel translated, saying, “Mother [a common title for elderly women in Uganda] the Lord has sent you some meat.” Well, there was that smile again. And then she started laughing, and I started laughing and Samuel started laughing, and she kept squeezing our hands and saying thank you, thank you.

I’m telling you, fun like this doesn’t just happen – it’s something only the Lord grows. “You will go out with joy and be led out with peace, and the mountains and the hills will break into song before you, and the trees of the field will clap their hands” (Is. 55:12). I’m not sure exactly what God is trying to do with Luwaida, though I have some ideas. But the truth is, for me this is more about obeying His heart as He leads me about than anything else, and fun doesn’t near describe it!

As we got into the car and began to pull away, Luwaida called out after us. I couldn’t understand her, so I asked Samuel what she had said as we pulled away. He said, “She says she needs some soap.”

Standing-in-Line Lessons

I landed yesterday (Thursday) among the wonderful Ugandan people for my second time in 2013. This trip I will be here in Jinja for six weeks. Gail will join me for the last two weeks. This will be her first time in Uganda, and she is excited.

My fifteen hour flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Dubai was uneventful. The only exception was a pleasant change of policy regarding long holdovers between connecting flights. I had a twenty hour layover between my arrival in Dubai and my connecting flight to Entebbe the next morning. On my last adventure in Dubai, I spent the night in an uncomfortable lounge chair. This time, Emirates Air, at their expense, bused me and a whole passel of other overnighters, to the five star Millenium Airport Hotel, where they put us up overnight in very spacious and comfortable rooms.  Now this is the way to do missions! I really can’t say enough good things about Emirates Air.

The only caveat to the relaxing evening, free meals, and very comfy bed – and I’m still trying to figure out if it was good or bad – was what happened during check-in at the luxurious hotel lobby. As I stood in line behind ten others who had ridden the same bus in from the airport, a hotel-uniformed clerk approached me and one other guest and pulled us aside. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but he escorted us directly to the check-in counter, around all the other people. Stunned, I looked at him and said something like, “Wassup, dude?” Actually, it was more like, “Excuse me, what is this about?” He looked pityingly at me and replied, “The hotel allows old people to go the front.”

In retrospect, I’m starting to accept my advanced stage of decrepitude, but as a citizen of the “I’m forever young” culture, I was sorely tempted to be insulted, like any good American. But then I observed the long line I had been standing at the end of and where I was standing now. And even though I’m absolutely sure some of those apparently “younger” people in the line actually looked older than I do, and that this young hotel clerk, who looked 14 by the way, surely needed his eyes checked, I decided that he was showing me the respect due my hoary head. So I smiled and said, “Right on,” or “Thank you,” or something like that. I may have high-fived him.

The truth is, many cultures tend to regard their senior citizens with a great deal of respect and honor. I find this attitude refreshing and…well, often convenient – certainly in this case.

Not to worry, though, that this behavior might go to my head or that I will want to transplant this cultural attitude back home with me. I was put firmly put in my place this morning in the grocery store in Jinja. Being a regimented and fully acculturated westerner, I had forgotten that Ugandans don’t really know what lines are for, or maybe they don’t see any point in them. I dutifully took my place behind two gentlemen ahead of me at the check-out counter. I stood there, patiently waiting my turn in line, just like my mother, all my teachers, and my Air Force drill instructor trained me. Suddenly, a lady with three items pushed around me, cut directly in front of me, shoved her way in between the two at the counter, and plunked her items down in front of the cashier. He, a skilled multi-tasker, spoke three prices one right after the other to his three customers who actually wanted to buy something and collected their money. Then, as they moved off and cleared the way for me, still standing obediently in line, he looked at me as if to say, “You gonna buy that stuff, or are you just a tourist.” So much for my ancient white-haired dignity.