Archive for March, 2014

Perhaps we live very sheltered lives in the US. Or perhaps the things I hear consistently from the normal everyday Ugandans with whom I speak are just fantastical and not be believed – but I don’t think so. These individuals do not seek me out to tell me these things. The stories, their personal testimonies, are dropped into the conversation over supper or lunch. I initiate the request for their story and they tell me matter-of-factually, as if what they are saying is not at all unusual. Some of what I hear is frankly beyond the scope of what the typical “civilized “American can take in, so I will not tell it here. However, some of the tamer examples, I will share.

I met a pastor who told me when I asked that he is a converted witch doctor who used to persecute the church with black magic. He has sent me a digital copy of the book he is writing of his life that contains a testimony of his various evil deeds and how he became a Christian. These are the parts I will not tell you because they contain a record of demonic activities that may stretch your sophisticated worldview too much at one time. However, I will tell you this – his story seems to be confirmed by his actions: on March 10, he left his pastorate near Jinja and moved to the capital, Kampala, to a neighborhood known for its concentration of witch doctors. He is going there to plant a church in the middle of that neighborhood, seeking to bring the light of Christ to that deep darkness. He is laying his very life on the line to do this. I know he has already gone there because he emailed me to tell me of his arrival and to invite me to come to visit him there.

Integrity is defined as matching one’s outer behavior to their inner beliefs so that they are one and the same. This man was converted from an unbelievably terrible life for which he was dedicated, raised and trained since birth by parents who actively practiced black arts. Now he has a deep burden for others like himself, to win them to Life and not to turn his back on them just because he is now free. Considering the dangers he faces, this is integrity, and for me it validates his story.

I was speaking to another pastor who was helping us purchase some food for one of the conferences. We paused for lunch in a small restaurant, eating in silence which is the custom of Ugandans. I, being American and used to talking while I eat, finally broke the silence by asking him how he became a Christian. In brief, this humble pastor, who had not given a hint of such things in anything he had said previously, told me that when he was 25, he had been persecuted by a very tall, black demon who came to him and sat on his chest, making it very difficult to breathe. This had been happening for several years, and he had tried various things to protect himself from this attack, but nothing worked. He described a visible manifestation that preceded each attack and described it in detail. Finally, he met some Christians, and though the voice speaking to him continually told him to reject what the Christians were saying, to run away and to avoid them, ultimately he received their prayers, received Christ into his life,  and was set free – the manifestation and the symptoms departed and have not returned.

This same pastor told us that he has been bitten by a cobra and was protected by the Lord from dying. If you know anything about Uganda, you know that some of the most poisonous snakes in the world live in Uganda, including the cobra and the black mamba. However, lest you worry about me, snake bites are rare in Uganda unless you are tramping around out in the bush without being careful. The cobra had entered an isolated outbuilding where the pastor entered unawares. When he was bitten, he immediately praised the Lord. Then as the poison advanced, he became very ill, and he continued to pray. Unfortunately, he was out in the countryside and too far to be transported to a hospital which may not have been able to help him much anyway. He said he just continued to praise the Lord and thank Him for his life, even if he were now going to die and go to be with Him. However, the Lord told him in the night that he would be healed. He said the next day his leg was swollen four times its normal size, but there was no pain. Then the symptoms subsided, and there were no ill after-effects. Of course, this brings to mind the scripture about Paul being bitten by a viper, shaking it off and having no sickness from it (Acts 28:3-5).

I spoke to a young lady whom we had given a ride back from the conference to the area of her home. She said that four years ago she had been paralyzed for a whole year. No one could do anything for her – the doctors had no solutions. When she finally asked to be prayed for by some Christians, she was healed and restored immediately, and subsequently she prayed to invite Christ into her life. Now she is eager to be part of the church-planting that we are teaching.

I hear these stories over and over. Here is a culture where the majority of Christians cannot even afford to own a Bible. Yet they seem to live as if in New Testament times with Jesus of Nazareth coming to their villages to perform miracles. I appreciate the wonders of our American culture, our technology, our medicine, our standard of living. But the vast majority of the population of the world lives in conditions similar to what I am seeing here in Uganda, rather than as we live in the U.S., and I believe He is God in both cultures.

Do we receive less revelation from God because we have fewer needs and don’t bother to ask? Have we westerners grown too sophisticated for God to show Himself in these same amazing ways? Are our problems just different because our cultures are so different? Does our standard of living blind us to the way the world and God really are? Or are we guilty of unbelief?

All of the above? What do you think? Use the comment section below and tell me what you think?

I continually struggle to learn a few words of Lusoga each trip between teaching and ministering in English with translators. Lusoga is the regional language around Jinja, where I am based, though it is only one of maybe ten of more different languages spoken by the various tribal groups in Uganda. Luganda is a more widely spoken dialect, as is Swahili, which is spoken throughout much of Africa. Apparently Lusoga and Luganda are very close, so as to make it possible for one who speaks Luganda to understand one who speaks only Lusoga. Also, the written Lusoga is apparently very complex for reasons I don’t yet understand, while the written Luganda is simpler to read and understand. This creates the dynamic that Bibles are translated into Luganda, and the Lusoga speakers read Luganda and English translations instead of Bibles translated into the more difficult Lusoga. They almost sometimes prefer the old KJV English over the Lusoga Bible, and even I find that hard to read.

I am now spending three weeks of this trip in the Eastern portion of Uganda near the Kenyan border in a town called Tororo. They speak an entirely different language here – Japadola (a very unattractive-to-the-American-ear “Jap” for short) – so as I write this, we are wondering how the translating to English will go. Samuel remembers a time with Dr. Kenneth Rooks from ICE International when his teaching had to be first translated into Luganda, then re-translated into the local language – two translations for every statement! I am praying that God will provide at least one good English speaker in each conference so the translation can be smooth. So far, one day into the first conference, we had good English translators, so the process was easy. The added difficulty, of course, is that a three-sided translation would take double the normal time to teach with every statement being translated not once, but twice.

My introduction to the Lusoga conferences around Jinja and on Buvuma Island has been to speak a few Lusoga words to the crowd and to tell them that my Lusoga is small, but growing. I will say, “Kale, Sebo, and kale, Nyabo,” (hello, sirs and madams), “I know only a few Lusoga words, but I am learning. I know weybaleynyo, matoki, cassava, posho, irish, tilapia, as well as Mt. Dew, and Cok-eh Zeyro.” This always gets them laughing, which I find to be a very satisfying start to any meeting. [weybaleynyo – polite thank-you; matoki, cassava, posho, irish, tilapia – various foods that are popular; irish is what they call potatoes; freshwater tilapia is the main fish from the lake; Cok-eh Zeyro, of course, is Coke Zero.]

My difficulty with Lusoga is that it seems to be a double-accented language. That is, each word, even the short ones, seem to have two accents in them (a subtle kind of lilt to the voice) instead of the single- accented English that my brain is wired to speak and hear. Since the wiring for double-accents is not present in my brain, I find it very hard to even hear the two accents, i.e.,  the difference in pronunciation between what I am saying and what they are saying. Even more so, I find it very difficult to speak the double accent while my neural language center automatically rushes to complete each word with a single ringing accent. I guess I don’t lilt when I speak.

So Samuel and I go back and forth as he patiently tries to teach me in a dialogue much like this:

S: Wey’rahbah” (good-bye).

Me: Weyrahbah’.

S: No, it’s Wey’rahbah”.

Me: That’s what I said, Weyrahbah’.

S: No, no! It’s Wey’rahbah”.

Me: Ok, Weyrahbah’.

S: No, Wey’rahbah”.

Me: Ok, Weyyyyy rahhhhh bah’.

S: No, Wey’rahbah”.

Me: Weyrahbah’.

S: No, no… it’s Wey’rahbah”.

Me: But that’s what I said.

S: No, it’s…. (Well, you get the idea…)

So I am trying, but I am not making a lot of headway, poor linguist that I am. When I finally have it, I go away repeating what I think is correct to myself, then the next time I use it, of course, I am back to using the one-accent version again and being mercilessly corrected. Perhaps I am hopeless, but I will keep at it. Occasionally now, every so often, I get it right. But when I do, I can’t repeat it, and I’m never sure exactly what I did differently that made it correct because I can’t hear it.

It is said that the ear hears what it expects to hear. My ear expects to hear one accent in a word. I will say that the double-accenting makes Lusoga sound more musical than English. I like it very much. I just wish I could hear it correctly. Then speaking it would not be such a struggle. At least my tortured pronunciations provide a ready source of amusement for the Ugandans. And I have learned that they much appreciate that I am willing to try. When I am able to greet a Ugandan in Lusoga when they are expecting only English, I’m always rewarded with a bright and warm smile.

And now I am learning to say “Thank-you” in Japadola so I can be polite to the locals in Tororo – “Walawa’ah.” “No, wal’a wa”ah.” “OK, walawa’ah.” “No,….”

Ugandan Tooth Fairy?

In Uganda I find many similar customs to those in the U.S. but often with an interesting cultural twist. One that I find both amusing and endearing is the children’s lore surrounding the loss of a tooth. Of course, Americans have the Tooth Fairy who comes in the night to collect the teeth carefully placed under the child’s pillow. We know that the tooth Fairy collects the tooth and leaves in its place whatever amount of money the parent, who sneaks in after the child is asleep to act out the role of the Fairy, deems an appropriate exchange rate for a tooth.

Ugandans don’t have a tooth fairy. What they do have is the Tooth Rat. This is in keeping with the culture where one of the local denizens of the countryside is substituted for the perhaps more Western magical fairy. However, I find the story of the Tooth Rat to be charming and somehow more  authentic. Of course, I am saying this about a rat who sneaks in by night and exchanges a small amount of money for a child’s tooth, so take my use of the word “authentic” however you want. It amazes me that parents in both these disparate cultures support a very similar conspiracy to prop up their children’s sense of wonder, imagination and hope in the unseen forces in the world around them.

My interpreter and driver, and key team member in Uganda, Samuel, first told me this tale. He said when it came time to introduce his daughter to the harder truths of this life, that is, that there really is no tooth rat who comes to buy her lost teeth, she would have none of it. She responded as follows:

“No, Daddy, there is a tooth rat. These rats, they labor hard day and night in the market, selling the teeth they have collected. That’s where they get the money for more teeth. I know he is real. You are wrong. The Tooth Rat takes the tooth and takes it to the market and sells it! I just know it.”

How can you argue with such conviction? Better not to, I think, for soon enough our children will mature by themselves beyond the stories of their childhood and face the many realities of life as well as the many benefits and joys of adulthood. But these stories develop in our younger selves a deep appreciation for the real stories, the true stories of our heritage, the legacy of our forefathers, of the Scripture, and our history. These stories and our ability to hear them and tell them develop in us our own skill in passing them on to our children.

So I hereby nominate the Tooth Rat to take his or her place in the pantheon of child heroes alongside Saint Nick, Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Leprechauns, Elves, Hobbits and all such wonders of our children’s secret worlds that foster their imaginations and strengthen their ability eventually to sort out true story from legend. I believe such little fantasies as the charming Tooth Rat  build into our children a deep and early sense of appreciation for that unseen realm of the spirit that they will inhabit as adults after making their commitment to Christ. For it is Jesus who said of those who belong to Him, “They are in the world, but they are no longer of the world.” And it is Jesus, after all, Who taught about the Kingdom of God by telling the most famous stories in the world.

For an interesting sidebar on the tooth rat, see “The Tooth Rat vs. The Tooth Fairy” at

I’m Back

One of the Church-Planting conferences on Buvuma Island

One of the Church-Planting conferences on Buvuma Island

I’m sure those of you who follow me while I’m out here on the field in Uganda and elsewhere are beginning to wonder if I’m writing at all on this trip since you haven’t heard a peep out me for ten days. The last nine days I have worked in an internet free zone. Half the time I couldn’t even text out to my wife successfully. I have been on Buvuma Island in Lake Victoria (pop. 15-20,000), the largest island just off the coast from Jinja in Uganda.

Our conditions have been such that writing was difficult. We were offered only three hours of electricity per night at our guesthouse, and frequently we did not return until after dark. So this brief time from 7-10 each evening was taken up with finding supper in the nearby village, finishing any chores like washing clothes, showering, organizing for the next day of teaching, etc. There was little time to write and no internet anyway to send it out.

Isolated lakeside fisher-village - our second conference

Isolated lakeside fisher-village – our second conference

In addition, this beautiful little slice of equatorial Ugandan paradise is typically tropical by nature, which means that any light at all attracts about 6 million gnats small enough to pass through both the screen on the windows and the mosquito net on the bed. It took me two days of experimenting with different routines to figure out how to keep from sleeping with half this number of the tiny creatures between my sheets. I found that even with the window closed, at least 2 million of them found their way in through poorly screened ventilation openings near the top of the wall (along with fat 6-7 inch geckos – the largest I have ever seen – feeding on the bugs). I love geckos anyway, so freely invited them to enjoy the feast. I finally settled on a pattern of closing the window, which prevented most of the bugs from coming in, cold showering at about 8pm, and climbing into the sack around 8:30, tucking my mosquito net tightly around the bed-frame, and reading by flashlight.

Sunset over Buvuma Island

Sunset over Buvuma Island

A couple more days of experimentation and I discovered that if I didn’t turn on the light in the room but used the electricity to recharge my phone and computer and used my flashlight to see whatever I needed to see, I could safely open the window and get at least some cooling night breeze which helped quite a lot. The whole week was an interesting balancing act of tropical heat, light, insects, work preparation, daily accomplishment, and interesting village interactions.

The week itself was packed with teaching and preaching. Monday to Saturday, Samuel (my interpreter) and I taught three back-to-back two-day church-planting conferences to over 150 pastors and leaders in three separate locations. This was deeply rewarding work because these isolated pastors rarely see a visiting teacher. Time after time these indigenous pastors who shepherd their flocks with little training would stand to thank me for bringing clear Bible teaching to them. In every meeting, at least one would rise at the end and tell me they need a Bible College on this island to teach the Bible to the pastors from all the islands. Ugandans generally are spiritually hungry, but these folks are starving. I can’t think of a time when I was so impressed that I was doing something so needful that even this tiny little bit might change lives.

Eating lunch next to a termite nest

Eating lunch next to a termite nest

So this morning at 8:30 we boarded the ferry to leave the island. We then drove to Tororo in Eastern Uganda, where we landed early this evening in a guesthouse run by a local bishop of the evangelical churches here (called born-agains). And lo, I have internet again! Tomorrow I will take a much needed day off to rest, regroup, prepare for teaching five conferences over the next three weeks (an easier schedule for sure).

And now, I am beginning to catch up on my writing so you all can know what’s going on during this trip of six weeks. I can’t even express how good the sound of my wife’s voice was tonight over Skype, the first time in ten days. I even got a bonus and chatted briefly with my grand-daughter Eve. This work is vital and a calling, for sure, but the loving support of my family so far away constantly encourages my heart, and keeps in perspective for me the cost of the cross in all our lives.