I am trying something new in Uganda, and frankly, I didn’t know if it would work or how it would be received. I am at the end of the first day. I am not only pleased with the results, but I am excited and feeling like this was exactly what was needed at this point in Meade International’s development. I am speaking of performing surveys with new church-plant pastors in an attempt to evaluate the ministry after four years of teaching church-planting seminars.

Conducting church-plant survey at Bulyampindi with the pastor.

I decided that it was time to step back and get the big picture about what has been happening as a result of our work in Uganda –  how many churches have been planted as a result of the conferences and what are their ongoing needs. Every time I say it out loud, it sounds kind of boring. But let me emphasize: today was anything but boring! I visited five church plants in a wide area with much driving between sites. Escorted by their overseer to show us the way, we spent about an hour at each site interviewing the leaders, but the whole workday lasted exactly twelve  hours – we left at 9 am this morning and returned at exactly 8:56 pm.

We drove through beautiful agricultural countryside that is just now recovering from a severe drought. Though the green is showing well, and new crops are in the ground and sprouting up, the water in the various crossings is still very low. The people here lost an entire growing season, and the result was famine in the land. Fortunately, the rains have finally come and though food prices remain high and availability remains low, they are beginning to recover. There will be a lag now as the new crops will take several months to grow in and be harvested, restoring the balance, so the effects of the famine will be with the people for a few more months.

We conduct the survey right where the church at Namilemba meets on Sundays – under a beautiful Acacia Tree. They’re saving for land and a building but have a long way to go.

My procedure today was to briefly re-introduce myself to each group, though the leaders had attended a church planting seminar within the last four years and so knew me from that contact. Then I asked my survey questions, discussed any relevant issues raised by the surveys, handed out some detailed church-planting materials for them to use, prayed with them, and took pictures of the pastors, leaders and the facilities for my records. When I am done at the end of this eight weeks, I will have visited over 40 new church plants started in the last 4 years.

In addition, by talking to the individual church-planters, I anticipate discovering a number of church-plants that didn’t get reported. It was only the first day, but among five pastors, three reported planting churches that they hadn’t even told their overseers about. That adds up to five new churches that were not on my initial list of reported church-plants, and, incidentally, one somewhat chagrined overseer who discovered as much from my interviews about the pastors he oversees as I did .

This lack of communication is not as strange as it may seem to us in the West. Here is a list of factors that help me understand why this occurred:

  • These pastors do not own cars, so transportation is difficult and time and energy consuming. At least one of them has only a bicycle to get around. There is more walking than we can even relate to, or, on the rare occasions they can afford it, they will hire a boda (motorcycle taxi) to take them where they need to go. One lives twenty miles from his church and makes the boda trip three times a week to his church.
  • The primitive conditions out in these villages just don’t support a tightly organized system of frequent communication and regular reports. For instance, of the five pastors I interviewed today, one did not own a phone and has to borrow his church elder’s phone when he wants to conduct church business. Phone service can be very spotty that far out anyway, as demonstrated by the fact that at some point today, my phone went off the grid, and I couldn’t raise any signal at all.
  • Only one of them has email, and they all live far enough out in the villages that access to any kind of internet café may at best be a once a month occurrence on a trip into town. Think for a minute how that would affect your communication efficiency – once-a-month email! Even then, reporting in to an overseer is probably not their highest priority on such a trip to town.
  • None of them are paid a salary of any kind by their churches, so all work full-time jobs six days a week as farmers, brick-makers, or school teachers to make ends meet.

    17 beautiful orphans who live with the pastor, his wife and 13 biological children. And he still had time last year to plant 3 churches.

  • One of these pastors has 13 biological children and 17 orphans living with them, and he managed to plant three churches last year, appoint pastors for two of them and pastor the third himself. In that situation, I might also be too distracted to report in a timely fashion!
  • In addition, through the last seven months, they have been in a severe drought and facing famine conditions, much worse out in the villages than in the towns or “centers” where there are at least some markets.

Still, with all this, four of the pastors I interviewed either planted additional churches during the last 18 months or participated on a team that did so. Who can fault them if they did not report it to their overseer?

I am learning a lot about church-planting in Africa, a lot about Uganda, and a whole boatload about these hardy and dedicated Christians.

More to come tomorrow…