We have taken a break in reporting stories from our interviews of village church-plants, and now I would like to continue that theme. Our break was mainly due to our being off the internet grid for ten days while we ministered on Buvuma Island.  You may remember from two weeks back that we are using this trip for a survey of the church-planting work accomplished over the last four years so as to assess our ministry and make meaningful changes and improvements. We continued to visit pastors on the island where a number of new churches have been planted after our training. So, on to more stories we have heard…

One pastor could not read when he became a Christian, having completed only 3 grades of primary school. He loved John 3:16 as he heard it quoted in church and memorized it as a young Christian. But as he grew in Christ, his hunger to have his own Bible also grew and grew. Finally, he went to his father who had a Bible but never used it or opened it. He asked if he could have it and finally was given his own Bible. Now, receiving a Bible in Uganda is a much bigger thing than receiving one in the U.S. It is a major event for any Ugandan Village Christian. Today this believer is a pastor and a church-planter, having taught himself to read from that very Bible he received from his father.

Why is receiving a Bible such an important event for Ugandan villagers? One theme has consistently been voiced in every interview I have completed so far – the extreme lack of Bibles among the people. Bibles are expensive relative to this economy. By that, I mean to say that for an American, such an expense would be thought out perhaps, but not particularly intimidating. Among village Ugandans, the income is so low that Bibles are proportionally extremely expensive. A Lugandan Bible (in the Luganda language) will cost about 20-30,000 shillings. In dollars this equates to about $9.00 at the current exchange rate. But for perspective, in the churches I am visiting, the average offerings from the entire congregation range from 3,000 shillings (84 cents) per MONTH to a high of 12,000 shillings ($3.37) per month. Only one or two of 18 church-plants has exceeded that range so far. Many times the offerings are made in agricultural goods which are either distributed or liquidated.

This extreme poverty obviously affects every aspect of life. You don’t even want to start thinking about how it affects needed medical care and life expectancy. The result in terms of the availability of Bibles for the people means that a church of 50 new believers will have only three Bibles total among its entire congregation, and one of those belongs to the pastor. I did find one pastor who has managed to collect six Bibles over the years of ministry which he loans out and then collect back every Sunday. Not only do few people have Bibles, but the pastors and the older people who have managed at some time to acquire a Bible use them many years beyond their durability. One of the ministries I accomplish frequently in the quiet of my room at night after the teaching is finished is the rebinding of old and torn Bibles with duct tape, cardboard for replacement covers that have long since disappeared, and clear packing tape to re-secure torn and falling pages to some semblance of a binding. Sadly, I hand back many of these Bibles the next morning missing the first sections of Genesis or the last pages of Revelation which have disappeared to wear and tear over many seasons of usage by the owners. I hope with these minor repairs that they might get another year or two out of their precious Bibles.

So receiving a Bible is a big deal to a Ugandan villager. I regularly teach that they should pray daily for God to give them a Bible, even if it takes three or more years to see an answer. I believe God wants them to have a Bible, and that process must begin by requesting one directly from the Author.

Every one of my surveys so far lists this problem as one of the major challenges they face in church-planting. I  have personally prayed and thought much about this over the last few years, about how to solve this problem which affects most of Uganda and probably most of Africa. The problems are many – donated Bibles are too heavy to bring with the limited luggage allowance by the airlines; though many Americans would gladly donate unused Bibles, the Bibles would not be in one of the 50 languages of Uganda unless they were purchased here with donated funds – though, strangely,  most of these people would be thrilled to receive an English Bible even if they could not read English; Bible distribution is complicated because it is unfair to give to some and not to all, even if we had enough local-language Bibles to begin such a project; and on and on.

However, God can solve this. I’m consistently laying it before Him to seek His plan. I know He has one. I just haven’t found it yet.