Archive for October, 2015

Buvuma Update

NOTE: I depart for Kenya tomorrow morning. I would appreciate prayer as I break this new ground.

The Buvuma Island Ministry two weeks ago, apart from the politics, was very good. Though the attendance was a bit down because of the election the following week, we had around 88 total in attendance by the end of the week. We usually top out above 100. Of course, we experienced quite a bit of chaos in the preparation days before we arrived, losing all the money for a day and finally finding it that night – very scary – then losing my driver and the car for an entire day and being confined to the guesthouse while I should have been carrying out last minute administrative errands in Jinja. Thank you to all of you who prayed for me during that time.

Highlights from the Buvuma Island Ministry:

  • Here is the latest on the “crazy” man, Moses, from the village that we prayed for a year ago.
    • You may remember that he was a permanent daily fixture in the village, but the day after we prayed for healing and a return to his right mind, he disappeared, and I haven’t seen him since. Reports from this trip indicate that he has been seen on the other side of the island in the village where his clan comes from and his father lives. He is reported to be about 70-80% returned to his right mind, has quit drinking as far as anyone can tell, and employs himself carrying water for the villagers there. So we know that within 24 hours of praying for him, he went home, apparently for the first time in years, and seems to be in a process of restoration. I will try to investigate his situation further and pray for that last 20% sometime in the near future. But anyway…PTL!
  • As we gathered for the five day Lake Victoria Bible Institute, the construction workers at a building site for a new hospital noticed the clusters of our pastors walking by frequently. They approached a group of pastors with a request. They reported that as they have dug into the base of the prominent hill that dominates the area to prepare for the hospital’s foundation, they have been repeatedly plagued by demonic activity. They said they asked the Muslims to help them, but the Muslims couldn’t do anything. So they were coming to the Christians for help.
    • They reported that they sleep in a building right at the site where they are digging. At night, they have heard voices from the darkness saying, “You are damaging our land. You must go away. You are trespassing.” Then they report that they feel “pulling” at their clothes, trying to pull them out of the building, and they have even seen some kind of manifestation they describe as a “celestial being” standing in the doorway and trying to pull them out.
    • We were told by one of the pastors that this area is historically the site of much witchcraft and demonic activity, and that in the days before the churches came to the island, there were many disappearances of people trying to cross this particular high hill. Needless to say, we sent a delegation of pastors to pray at the building site. Unfortunately, the political activity has prevented the bishop from ever following up to get the end of the story. So, maybe next trip…
    • Incidentally, while this story sounds very strange to Westerners, just yesterday on the Ugandan TV Evening News, there was a report with videos of a secondary school somewhere in Uganda where the students have been suddenly plagued by demonic attacks. This supposedly began when the head teacher consulted a witch doctor for some reason.
  • The ministry was fruitful and added some new dynamics this trip. The pastors prayed for each other’s needs at the end of each meeting, and a variety of healings took place. Notably, after being prayed for, a man whose eyes had become so bad that he was unable to read his Bible stood up and clearly read to the group several verses from the Bible; a man with a bad toothache reported the cessation of all symptoms; a serious long-term stomach issue disappeared, etc. (Luke 10:9) Again, PTL!
  • I got the husk of a g-nut they had served me with tea caught in my throat early in the week and had a hard time clearing my throat during the lesson. After that, all the g-nuts they served me with my tea were served husk-free – a lot of work for someone. What kindness and sensitivity these people have.
  • On the other hand, none of the pastor-uncles of James, the deaf boy we rescued from the island last trip, even so much as asked after him or his welfare the entire week, again underlining his desperate need of rescue.
  • An older lady came up to me after one of the trainings and asked me to pray for her. I asked her what she wanted prayer for, and she said she wanted me to pray that God would enable her to read – she had never learned, and didn’t particularly want to spend the effort to learn, but just wanted God to give her the ability. I prayed that she would want to learn from a teacher and that God would send a teacher to her – not what she was asking. But as I finished the prayer, a pastor who was sitting nearby said that he worked as a teacher and would gladly teach her to read if she would study – so prayer answered even before I finished the prayer. Don’t know if she took him up on it though. We do have to be willing to receive…
  • As I was teaching about spirituality and both the value and danger of religious ritual in their personal relationship with God, I suddenly found myself saying, “Ritual must serve you, you must not serve ritual.” The point being that ritual can lead you into intimacy with Christ, but it is not a replacement for intimacy with Christ, or a religious end in itself that never proceeds to personal relationship. I didn’t know I knew that. So God taught me something that day as well, as He often does.

All in all, a very good week.

Political Blues

Some of you are probably wondering how the trip to Buvuma Island went last week. I returned late Saturday to the mainland. I was glad to be out of the fray. Party elections concluded yesterday in Uganda, which is like our nomination system, except the candidates are determined here by popular vote in each district across Uganda. And politics here are quite different (and from another era) than what we are used to in the U.S. – very boisterous, often violent, usually contested, and sometimes terminal as one candidate or another is murdered on the sly by the other candidate. Alfred told me that about ten MP’s (Members of Parliament) died last year under “suspicious” circumstances related to poisoning. Another Ugandan told me that last year a winning candidate was actually beaten to death by a mob just after the election.

In the midst of all this national fervor, we arrived at the island on Sunday and settled in, getting ready for the training at the Lake Victoria Bible Institute as the week of training three times a year has come to be called. It sounds grand, but in truth consists of one teacher, me, and about 60-100 students from the islands. We always have a good time.

This time as I arrived, I noticed a lot of people driving up and down the dirt roads, and the guesthouse was unusually full of loud, and raucously-laughing-late-into-the-night guests. These people were “politicos,” people brought to the island to promote a particular candidate. It happens that the guesthouse on Buvuma is owned by an MP. So he typically hires all these people and sends them to the island to promote him for the election. They stay free at the guesthouse, the manager explained to us with a sour expression, and because they stay free, they tend to abuse their privileges by partying and general disorder and messiness. So we spent the week climbing over stacked equipment – audio speakers, tarps, and various gear – and sometimes pushing through milling crowds just to get in and out of the building every day.

The Christian Candidate for MP, Proscovia (orange dress), giving a speech to people at a market center. I am told, though unconfirmed, that she lost the election and must run as an independent on her own funds if she chooses to continue.

The Christian Candidate for MP, Proscovia (orange dress), giving a speech to people at a market center. I am told, though unconfirmed, that she lost the election and must run as an independent on her own funds if she chooses to continue.

In addition to all this, many pastors here get very wrapped up in the elections, campaigning for one candidate or another. Our attendance suffered because of this, and many were in and out through the week. And you could probably guess that if any group gathers anywhere during this time, they will be targeted by various candidates who want to interrupt the meeting to speak to the crowd. On one day, I noticed two distracted looking men whom I had not seen before sitting toward the back. They were not together, but both looked monumentally uninterested in the training. I thought to myself that it was strange that they would come to the training if they cared so little about it. Later, Alfred explained to me that they were not pastors but candidates hoping to speak to my group, so they just wandered in and sat down, hoping for a chance. When I did not give them such an opportunity, they finally got up and wandered out, and I didn’t see them again.

So our week was spiced up by the constant activity of campaigning and speechifying; trucks roaring up and down the roads full of men brought in from the mainland either to guard the polling places during the voting on Monday, or to masquerade as local citizens and illegally vote for the candidate who hired them, a common political trick; candidates dropping by to have a chat with the musungu who ended up asking for a contribution to their campaign, as if I, a U.S. citizen, could risk deportation by providing U.S. funds for a particular candidate in a Ugandan election, unless, of course, I gave to the winning candidate who would then use their influence in my favor; and a Christian candidate who dropped by for prayer, which was a good thing.

All in all, it was an challenging and chaotic week. I was relieved to be back on the mainland, though if you read my previous post, you know I didn’t exactly escape the effects of the elections by returning from Buvuma. To those of you who know me personally, if I ever plan a training mission during election week in Uganda again, just shoot me…

Still A Ways To Go…

It is a mistake ever to come to Uganda to do ministry during the elections. However, not having been warned of this, that is the very mistake I made this trip. Elections for the party nominations were held today. I had to cancel the meeting that we were in because of local violence, even though we were way back off the main roads, deep into the agricultural country that snugs up against the northern shore of Lake Victoria.

Every district had party elections today, and there are reports of widespread violence resulting from voting “irregularities” from across the country. In my case, I was leading a church-planting conference in a small church with about 35 people present. Suddenly, there was a commotion outside, and, right in the middle of my teaching on 1 Peter 2:9, the group jumped up and ran outside to see what was happening. I said, “Well, I guess we’ll take a five or ten minute break,” but there was only Alfred left to hear me, and even he was looking out the window.

Here is what happened. The first wave of chaos was a large crowd of people running down the road, apparently chasing someone. The road was a good fifty yards from the church, so it was possible for the church people to stand back and watch the action without becoming part of it – or so they thought. The crowd surged back and forth along this road for a bit, then seemed to break apart into small groups.

I was told that a group of youths had been hired by one of the candidates to disrupt the voting at the polling station just up the road from the church. This group had run up and grabbed the ballot box and the ballots and run away with it. Then they checked their candidate’s name on all the ballots, stuffed the box with false votes, and boldly returned the box. At this point, the crowd had started to chase them, and that was what we were seeing.

About fifteen minutes after all this had settled down, there was another commotion down the road, and the group at the church ran up to the road to see what was happening. Suddenly they turned in terror and came streaming back to the church, pushing into the building like a panicked mob. At first, I couldn’t see what the problem was from inside the building, but then I saw three large young men carrying sticks – I would describe them as young toughs – running behind the church crowd, obviously chasing them. They charged right up to the church door and would have burst into the building, except that I stepped into the doorway and made eye-contact.

The men stopped, shocked to meet a musungu face-to-face in such a situation and so far from the city. I informed them that this was a church, and that they would not be allowed to enter in the name of Jesus Christ. Now I know what you’re thinking…but I am not quite as crazy as I seem though I guess I don’t really expect you to believe that. The law here in Uganda carries very heavy penalties for harming a musungu in any way – this has to do with foreign trade and all the economic and social benefits musungus bring to Uganda. Violence against a musungu is a line the people simply don’t cross. Besides my confidence in their cultural respect toward musungus, there were many children who had crowded into the building, and, I have to admit, I just could not allow harm to come to these children. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

As I look back on it, when I confronted them, the men were stunned out of their intentions, and their “attack” lost all its momentum. The men backed up, waved their sticks and shouted some angry Lusoga, more at the crowd than at me, and, in fact, they refused to look at me. Then the pastors in the group emerged and began to argue with them and rebuke them for attacking a church. The angry young men were chasing the youths who had stolen the ballot box and who had run into the nearest large crowd to escape. When our crowd turned in panic and ran toward the church building, it drew these vigilantes like a magnet to the retreating crowd. The guilty boys used this opportunity to slip away leaving the crowd of church people to absorb their blame.

I ended the meeting at that point and advised the people to return to their homes, and that being gathered in any kind of a crowd right then in that environment was just not safe. And Alfred tells me that he would expect the chaos to increase as the election draws to a close at the end of today. So we wended our way back the two hours to Bugembe where I am staying. Tomorrow after things have settled down, I will return and finish the conference.

This is politics in Uganda – not what we Americans are used to, full of violence and sadly, much corruption. I’m wondering how the national elections will go in the Spring of 2016 if this is how the party-nomination elections are handled. I now have a whole new appreciation for the process of debates and the organized and peaceful balloting process we have achieved in the U.S.

I have been told that Uganda has never had a peaceful transition of power at the presidential level. Pray for this emerging democracy. They still have a ways to go…

When The Locusts Don’t Win

I am back on the mainland and finally have internet again as of today, having had some repair issues. Yesterday, I preached at the church where I will teach on Thursday and Friday this week. On the two hour journey back from this church, Alfred, my driver and assistant, tentatively mentioned that his father was very sick, perhaps “unto death,” and with a “short” detour, we could visit him and pray for him. Of course, the detour actually took us most of the rest of the day due to very muddy, rainy season conditions. As we slogged through one mud-hole after another, he explained that his father was not a believer and had lived a wasted life, fathering 25 children from many different women. Most of his children now choose to have nothing to do with him because of his lifestyle and his lack of love for them when they were growing up. However, Alfred, since he has become a believer, has sought to forgive him and seeks to help him as he can, as does only one of his several half-sisters.

His father’s current home is far back off the main road, 10-15 km into the bush across roads that threatened repeatedly to bog us down. Being one of the rainy seasons, the weather seems determined to prove it to us by storming and dumping rivers of rain on us every night and usually one good soaking during the day, after which the sun comes out in mockery. The isolated area is populated by small homesteads, agricultural fields, and many walking Africans in the roads. The children here all seemed surprised to see a musungu and alternatively greeted me with shouts of “Jambo” (Swahili for “Hello”) and “Ay-y, Musungu!” (“Hey, white man” – strange as it may sound, a term of respect). However, about one out of every twenty children would greet me with a terrified expression and turn to run as if they had just seen the devil himself. This tells me that we are in an area not much visited by whites, where the more sophisticated older children love to regale the younger ones who have never been out of their villages with tales of horror starring the ogre-like white man as the villain.

We finally arrived at the small brick home where Alfred’s father now resides with a new wife who is a believer. We entered the front room, and he had managed to move from the bed to the chair. He was obviously very ill, and he explained that the hospital has told him he needed an operation that would cost seven million shillings (about $2000), a sum preposterously out of reach for such a family. So he is muddling along on antibiotics and home treatments as he can get them with the aid of his daughter. He could only stand with the aid of a cane carved for him by one of his grand-children. He was quite surprised to see me and welcomed me warmly, even though Alfred had told him we would discuss spiritual things.

We chatted for a while, and then I began to speak with him more earnestly with Alfred translating. Just as we began to get serious, Alfred’s mother came into the house and joined us, sitting on the small sofa. Apparently, though they have been apart now for many years, she lives nearby, and they all seemed cordial with one another. As we talked, he came under conviction, and I asked him if he was ready to receive Christ into his life. He indicated that he was indeed in need of a personal relationship with God. I was blessed then to witness Alfred help his father pray to receive Christ. We then prayed for his healing.

I looked across the small table and asked Alfred’s mother if she understood what she was seeing. She indicated that she did, and so I asked her through Alfred if she needed to receive Jesus also. She said that now, finally, she was ready to receive Christ and make him Lord of her life too. So we prayed with her. When we were done, all three of them began to clap with joy, so Alfred and I gladly joined in.

There is a little church almost across the road from their home, and I encouraged Alfred to call the pastor and encourage her to visit this family and begin to disciple them, which he did as soon as he got home last night. The wife began looking at Alfred’s Bible, which was written in their own language of Lusoga. She immediately got up and disappeared into the back of the small house. When she returned, she handed Alfred 20,000 shillings ($5.50), and said she wanted to buy the Bible so they could study the Bible together. In such an isolated place, such a Bible would be hard to come by, so Alfred gladly sold her his Bible, knowing that he could now go and replace it from the store in Jinja. This incident expresses both their poverty and their hunger for spiritual things – Alfred could have just given her the Bible, but even at that seemingly low cost to us, it was very valuable to him and would be difficult and costly for him to replace.

I left this home for the long and arduous trip back through the mud with the vision dancing in my head of the irony of this aging new believer sitting in his chair sharing Bible studies together with his former wife and his current wife. And I thought I understood better the scripture that says that God restores what the locusts have eaten.

No Time but Need to Say…

No time to give a full report. Going to Buvuma Island in one hour and will have no internet access for a week. Typically, we are blacked out here in Uganda with no electricity since last night. My computer is on its last gasp of juice and I hope enough just to post this.

I am encountering much spiritual resistance in the form of warfare and attacks that derail us for hours at a time. So my material for the Institute this time must be good. Please pray for protection and peace. It’s been like a roller coaster for two days unlike I’ve experienced before, and I only arrived Thursday – three days ago.

Gotta go. I need to send this before the computer dies. See you in a week.

When I spend the normal 24 hours of travel time moving toward a mission project, like the one I’m now on in Uganda, I subconsciously engage a “girding up” experience. This process might be described as focusing my mind toward God in the process of entering the mission. I think this is because I believe that He is ministering to Uganda, and now He will do some of it through me, so I need to be focused on hearing His voice and following it. This preparation is more about getting ready to listen to Him than getting ready to do the mission. If I listen to Him and follow, the mission almost does itself.

So during this girding up, He often meets me along the way to encourage me and demonstrate in some small way that He is indeed stepping forward in me. This happens in odd little things that others wouldn’t even notice, but that are intimately related to how I function so that I notice them right away. I am always encouraged, and sometimes, as on this trip, a little chagrined.

So I was in Amsterdam this trip waiting to board the Uganda-bound leg. I was feeling overwhelmed, as I often do, with all the big things happening this trip. Then I needed to use the restroom, so I went into the nearest men’s room. Now I know the unisex thing in Europe makes Europeans a lot less sensitive to the gender issues around bathrooms and such, so I wasn’t so much shocked as surprised when I found a woman cleaning the men’s bathroom with no “closed for cleaning” signs or anything that suggested that I wasn’t supposed to be in there while she was cleaning. It was more of a “You do your thing and I’ll do mine and we won’t get in each other’s way.” So I ducked into a stall as fast as I could and carefully locked myself in – the stalls were complete enclosures, floor to ceiling, so I felt secure enough with this approach…and with my carry-ons stacked against the door.

I was processing my American embarrassment at the whole situation when this lady started to sing in a melodious voice enhanced beautifully by the echo-chamber-tiled-restroom effect. What does she sing, you ask, the latest from Taylor Swift or Beyonce? No, with quite a good voice, she was singing, “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine….” Now she was singing in Dutch, but every now and then she would break out in English, then back to Dutch. Perhaps she was speaking in tongues or maybe I was interpreting, but she would weave a verse in accented but clear English, then sing the next portion in Dutch, and so on. But there was no mistaking the tune. Because of the tune, I could match her Dutch singing word for word with my English.

It was surreal to break out worshiping in those circumstances, but as I quietly sang along, I realized the Lord was with me, and was telling me He was with me. Now I’d like to give testimony that I burst into full voiced song, two souls performing a bathroom duet, strangers literally in the night, but brother and sister from out of the nations no less. However, I am not into the whole unisex thing, and, well, frankly, I am a little prudishly shy about the gender bathroom thing. Frankly, while she was singing and I was miming along with her and worshiping, an entirely different part of me was freaking out – “There’s a strange woman in the men’s room, right outside the door of your stall!!!!!

It was about here that I truly knew this was of the Lord, because I could just hear Him chuckling. I said inwardly, “Yeah, message received! Message received! I’m listening, Lord….” I look forward with meek dread to that day long in the future when He will pull me aside for a walk and a chat and say, “You remember that time in the men’s room in Amsterdam? What a hoot! Gotcha!” And we will both laugh uproariously.

But really, Lord? I mean, really? Yes, surreal, profound…but also weird.


but also…weird.

But I am very alert now, gotta say…