Archive for May, 2019


Revisiting the Tithe

Bob demonstrates “Hilarious Giving” during Stewardship Seminar.

[NOTE: We are back in Jinja tonight getting ready to leave Uganda on Monday. We apologize for the lack of posts this trip. We have had consistent internet problems everywhere we’ve been, making it impossible to post most nights. This post may send or not. Even now, internet is on and off, and it has taken more than an hour just to get this much prepared to post. I will do follow-up posts after we get home where the signal is stable. ]

One of the surprising successes in my choice of classes for Ugandan church leaders has been a subject that is pragmatic and needed but unexciting to many Americans. The subject is Stewardship. I teach it because it is important and widely misunderstood here. Talking over and over again about tithing and giving offerings is good, but hard to teach in ways that keep people interested. So I do some things in the class that spice it up for me and for everyone. Still, I am always amazed at the reaction to this subject from the students.

“We have never heard such things!”

“No one has ever taught us this!”

“You have changed us forever!”

“You are changing the face of the Ugandan church!”

Really? Gail and I have tithed now for at least 47 years, having begun as soon as we heard of it during our first year as believers. I wondered how people seemed to be so organized in their giving at church while we were depositing whatever we had in our pockets every Sunday. Then, when I asked the question, a deacon explained tithing to us. I guess, in retrospect, that conversation did indeed change our lives because we have never backed away or questioned the commitment we made to the Lord at that time. Personally, it is a point of worship for us to this day.

Bob continues to demonstrate “Hilarious Giving” during Stewardship Seminar.

So it is important! But even so, the reaction of the people everywhere I teach this subject is surprise, conviction, amazement, and yes, joy! One young man told me after one of the sessions on this subject that he had tears in his eyes as I explained hilarious giving from 2 Cor. 9:7 – “God loves a cheerful (hilarious) giver.” I always try to show them by demonstration what hilarious means since they’re unfamiliar with that English word. So I expect laughter and even confusion as the students watch my demonstration and wonder if the musungu has gone a little crazy. But this pastor said it brought tears to his eyes to realize the spirit of giving that God desires from us.

It is evident to me that Christians across Uganda want very much to worship God, and, though they have often been told many untrue things about giving, many of them try earnestly to obey what they have been taught out of deeply sincere hearts. One told us that his spiritual parents (those who led him to Christ and discipled him) told him always to send his tithe to them, so he has done that for years. Others give their tithe directly to the pastors who put it into their pockets because that is what they are taught and what they tell the people. Others insist that they must send their tithe back to their home church where they first met Christ, even though now they are attending a church very far away in a different place. Others teach that if you give your tithes, it obligates God to prosper you, so give generously – ah, yes, the prosperity gospel has made its way even to Uganda.

But imagine my surprise several weeks ago to have someone stand and ask this question: “Can you comment on

And yet again…

tithing our children.” I was shocked and asked him what he meant. He explained that if he has ten children, should he tithe one of them to the Lord? I discussed the fact that children are not income and that tithes come from income. And then I commented on human trafficking, an issue Uganda is struggling with and which has only recently been in the news here from villages close to us in eastern Uganda where there is apparently trafficking and slavery of humans. I thought that I would never hear that strange one-of-a-kind question again about tithing one’s children and ascribed it to the deep village we were in that such a question would be asked at all.

However, soon after, in a completely different place while I was teaching on the same subject, a young man, barely twenty I think, approached me on a break and began to thank me for the teaching, saying some very nice things about how the teaching was freeing them and giving them hope. Then he said, “Can you help me? Please, my parents offered me to the church as a tithe.” I looked into the eyes of this boy, and he was dead serious and deeply troubled. Hearing this for the second time in such a short period of weeks, I dismissed my shock that such a thing could happen and asked him some questions to find out what exactly he was describing.

Apparently, in the denomination he has come out of, he was number ten in his family. When he was born, his parents, in a misguided application of Hannah and her son Samuel from 1 Samuel 1, offered their son as a tithe. When I asked him how this affected his life today, since an evangelical church has no way to accept such a tithe, he explained that he wanted to get married and have children, but that this matter of the tithe restricted him in his life severely. When I pursued how it restricted him, he indicated that his parents expected him to become a priest and to live a celibate life. So, even though he had prayed to receive Christ personally and was now worshipping in an evangelical fellowship, he was still bound to this matter of the tithe of his parents.

I explained to him that tithing did not apply to people because, of course, they are not property or income. I also told him that he was free in Christ and not bound by the demands of his parents now that he was grown up and no longer part of their church, and that in the kind of church he is in now, all Christians are priests to the Lord (1 Peter 2:5, 9). We spoke for a few minutes, and he came to realize that in Christ he could follow the leadership of God in his own life rather than someone else’s plan for his life. I prayed for him that he receive his freedom and that he ask God about His purpose for his life, and that he might have the power of the Spirit to follow God’s direction, whatever it might be.

He seemed much relieved after prayer. I look forward to following up with this boy on my return to Uganda to see how he is faring in his new understanding of both tithing and freedom of purpose. I remain, after this experience, much more open to understanding the clash of cultures these people are living in, and how so often, my western perspective limits my ability to grasp just how religion can twist the teaching of scripture. While we enjoy the fruits of both American political freedom and spiritual freedom in Christ, I sometimes miss just how revolutionary it really is to many of these sweet people to discover that the great God of heaven actually wants to have more than the practices of rules and laws and obligations that so many are bound up in. God wants to have a deep, personal, “walking-alongside” relationship with them, one that is practical and daily.

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Snap-Shots from the Road

Pleasant Changes

We are in Soroti for the final two weeks of the trip, five days of Stewardship and God’s Will this week out in the village, and 4 days of Church History next week in Soroti Town.

We were on our way to Jinja early in the trip, and we had commented during this trip that the activity of the police seemed to be quite different recently. In the past we have been stopped along the road and almost any excuse was used to induce us to pay something – the speed is too high, the baggage is blocking the back window, etc. The more legitimate stops have resulted in a ticket fine that was taken care of officially later, just as in the States. Other times we have paid a small “fee” (depending on how much we valued our schedule) and were allowed to proceed. Last trip we were stopped and were allowed to proceed with smiles all around when we produced Bibles and gave them to the two officers – all of us won that round because they got Bibles and we got to hand them out. For a season I even refused to ride in the front seat because I knew they were seeing a musungu in the vehicle and stopping us just to pick our pockets (we actually never got stopped when I was hiding in the back seat).

However, recently, we have not been stopped at all. It seems there is a new police administrator at the national level and he is straightening things up, fighting corruption, and insisting that his officers behave in a more professional manner. We were enjoying this new road freedom on our way to Jinja when suddenly a policeman waved us down from the side of the road. I sighed, expecting to have to go through the games all over again. He approached the window, smiled and said, “Do you have any food? We have been here all day and no one has brought us any lunch.” Now it was about 4 pm. These poor policemen were way out in the boondocks, assigned to watch the road, and apparently were unable to arrange for food to be brought out to them. Lunch is an important meal to Ugandans – I’m sure they were very hungry.

We, by you-know-Who’s direction, I’m sure, had just stopped several miles earlier at a service station with a small grocery and loaded up with snacks, and we always have bottled water with us. We were able to share our snacks with him and give water to them. This was a joy to us – they were not stopping us for any negative purpose, but only to ask for our help. What a difference has come to Uganda!

Dragging Uganda into the 21st Century

We have had a different routine than normal several times during this trip, arriving late at a new city, or passing through Kampala with late afternoon business, which required us to find a hotel for the night while on the road. We, of course, insisted that we find something that was within our budget. So for the first time ever in Uganda, we were firing up our internet hotspot in the vehicle and going to Booking.com to find cheap deals at good hotels in these unusual-for-us circumstances. We usually are able to plan our trip to arrive in one day at our next teaching point where we will be for the next week and do not have to stay overnight along the road.

This method of booking a hotel is also very new to Ugandan hotels, who seem to just now be hopping on the bandwagon, internet-marketing-wise. We found a really interesting looking hotel on our pass through Kampala on our way to Masaka in the third week of our trip.

So we booked rooms online for a really good rate for Alfred and for us for the night. When we arrived at the hotel, Gail, our official “keeper of the exchequer,” showed our reservation on her phone to the man at the desk. He had no idea what to do. He had never seen this before, didn’t know what it was, and had to go track down the manager just to register us into the hotel. Fortunately, they figured it out and we got in after only a little bit of confusion. We were the first, apparently, who had ever booked at this hotel from the internet. We had a pleasant night there.

I’m sure they were all thinking, you just never know what those musungus will come up with next.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TO ALL MOMS OUT THERE!!

[From Gail] Bob’s the main teacher on our travels. Sometimes there are requests for a meeting with the women of a church or area. I am happy to oblige, even though speaking to a group is not as comfortable for me as being one-on-one with someone.

This trip I had two women’s meetings scheduled in Mbale, and I was glad to go. These two groups are the women who are training in economic development in the areas of tailoring and hair-dressing. I have nothing to do with the training, but I love these women, and I am so glad to meet with them to encourage them and share what God has put on my heart. I have to admit, that the love they pour out on me every time I meet with them, every six months or so, motivates me to love them back. Some of them just won’t stop hugging me. They say, “Thank you for loving us.” How can I not love them back?

The subject that has been stirring in me for this trip is “Hearing the Voice of God.” I’ll be leading a day-long meeting at the end of our trip in a place called Soroti, and I’ve been preparing to share what I’ve learned over my lifetime, and what I’ve gleaned from my thoughts,  experiences and the scriptures on the subject. This topic has been in front of me intensely over the last few months as we have been praying for the return of James (see https://meadeinternational.org/2019/04/19/part-1-the-saga-of-james-continues/).

The short meetings with the women in Mbale have allowed me to give a dry run of my teaching before we arrive in Soroti next week. This has been very helpful since it aids in working out the bugs. In the first meeting in Mbale, I met with about seventeen women in a small village church building set back off the main road. The woman who trains them in tailoring is the pastor’s wife, so this place is very convenient for those two groups who have their training nearby. Both the dedicated trainers – tailoring and hair-dressing – who give this training as a free ministry to uplift the women of the area, were present at the training.

Here in Uganda, it is the height of planting season, and so much depends on the seasonal rains. However, it had not rained for months, and the expected season of rain was now overdue about a month. People in every place we have been are fearful of famine if the rains don’t begin soon. A little rain had fallen earlier that week, but it was disappointingly small. Several women who had wanted to come to the meeting were in their gardens planting their delayed crops in the damp ground. Even though the Bible study is an opportunity they look forward to, they could not afford to leave their gardens during this crucial time.

As I began my teaching, rain suddenly poured from the sky. The roof of the little church building was made of tin sheets, and I could not even hear myself talk. We had to sit silently and wait about half an hour for it to slow down, but it was a joyful silence because the rains were finally arriving. It seems like an odd thing, but everywhere we have gone recently, it has started to rain as we arrive. In one place we had to cancel our entire meeting because the students couldn’t afford to neglect their gardens when the rains were beginning. One student approached Bob and told him he was renaming him in his language from “Bob” to “Rain-Bringer.” Maybe that is God’s gift through us this trip!

As the rain finally let up, I began with a verse I’ve been meditating on, Psalm 119:130: “The unfolding of your words give light, it gives understanding to the simple.” When I memorize a verse and then meditate on it, I can be open to hearing God speak to me as He bears witness to the scripture. I shared many things about hearing God’s voice and about determining whether it is God’s voice or my own.  Then I asked if they had any questions – that can be the best part!

One question: “What do I do when I try to be a simple (humble) person, and I am persecuted at work?”

Another question: “How do I know the dreams I am having are from God?”

Another question: “What if I never hear God’s Voice?”

Answering these difficult but heartfelt questions is the fun part for me, looking into the faces of these beautiful women, showing them that we are the same – I have the same concerns and struggles with hearing God that they do. I want to hear God as much as they want to.

The second meeting was just as encouraging, but the flavor of each meeting was totally unique. My main teaching was the God has created each of us, and each of us is different. We hear His Voice in our own way that seems very different from the person beside me. Yet we both hear Him speak to us. How marvelous is that!

I thought I had finished all my short teachings in preparation for the Soroti day-conference next week. However, another time along the way, as we were getting ready to depart from one of the many guesthouses we have stayed in, two of the girls working there approached me, very disappointed that we were leaving. They had wanted to go hear Bob’s teaching the previous days, but they had to work. I had formed a relationship with these two over the several days, and they were sad that they could not spend any time with me.

Teaching a five-day on Stewardship and God’s Will. Bob has a little chest cold, needs prayer!

I was led to sit down right then and offer them a small teaching at the table in the outdoor patio. While Bob and Alfred packed the vehicle, I told them a very short version of my story, and then I asked each of them to tell me their personal story of meeting the Lord. One of them had grown up with a severe health issue. She was healed through prayer at a young age, and she received Christ as a result. We talked about how to hear God’s Voice. It was a short encounter, but He was there speaking to the three of us. I will continue to pray for these two and hope to see them again someday.

It’s good to be prepared to share because I never know when someone will cross my path wanting to hear my story. And the more times I can share it, the better prepared I will be for the big meeting next week. God knows I need the practice and is kind to give me the opportunities.

Poor Elijah!

Teaching Hermeneutics in Masaka, Uganda.

I was teaching Hermeneutics in Masaka in southwest Uganda a couple of weeks ago when the oddest question came up. Hermeneutics is the science/art of Biblical interpretation. There are specific principles of interpretation that are used to interpret the Bible properly. I have worked hard to condense this sometimes complex and abstract information down to seven clearly illustrated principles.

Usually, when I teach this subject, the students aren’t that interested until I actually begin illustrating the lesson with scripture examples where the principles can clear up confusion about the meaning. Once they see how practical this can be to them, they perk up and begin to “get into it.” With education limited for many church leaders, discovering what the Bible is actually saying can be a wild ride. They are bound by many poor interpretations that they have heard and simply repeated without ever knowing how to interpret the scripture for themselves. This produces a very authoritative passing on of bad teaching from one generation of believers to the next.

Any church leader here in Uganda who is in the front line of teaching the Bible desperately needs these guidelines. As interest catches on in the crowd, the teaching gets lively as questions start rising up, one sparking another for sometimes an hour at a time.

I was in just such a situation in Masaka. Very good questions about this scripture and that scripture were popping up like popcorn all around the sanctuary. Then a man stood up and asked why Elijah, who was faithful to God, was punished by demons at the end of his life. As always, when I am astonished by a question, I asked for the scriptural reference. Many times they can’t come up with a reference because, just like in the U.S., many people quote verses from the Bible to prove their points that aren’t even in the Bible. I once worked with a deacon whose favorite Bible verse was, “God helps those who help themselves.” I was very young at the time and it took me a while to figure out that this was from Benjamin Franklin, not the Bible. This was, in fact, where I learned to always request the verse reference.

However, getting the verse reference from the Elijah question did not clear up the confusion. It took a serious bit of investigation AND hermeneutics to solve the mystery behind the demons who punished Elijah at the end of his life. Here is the verse from 2 Kings 2:1 and 11, so you can keep up with me here:

1 And it came to pass, when the LORD was about to take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal…

11 Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. (NKJV)

The crux of the interpretive problem arises from the culture and the way it influenced the translation of the term whirlwind. In Ugandan culture, a whirlwind has always been considered the work of demons. In fact, I am told that when they witness a whirlwind or tornado-style wind, the parents typically tell the children that the demons of their ancestors are walking in the wind or walking across the land or even in their village. I get the impression that they don’t have truly devastating tornadoes like those that annually flatten whole communities in the U.S., but that a really big one in Uganda can perhaps destroy a house or tear a roof off.

It seems their language lacks any exact word for “tornado” or “cyclone.” Apparently, when the translators came to this passage in 2 Kings, for some reason they chose the very colorful Lugandan cultural term for a whirlwind, “wind of the demons,” to translate the Hebrew word. This mistranslation occurs in the most used Bible in Uganda, the Luganda Bible. Luganda is as close to a national language, after English, that Ugandans have. Though there are about 50 tribal languages spoken in different regions of Uganda, many can read Luganda and understand it when it is spoken. As a result, the Luganda Bible is very popular even among those who don’t speak Luganda as their first language. Up until now, I have tested this version many times and found it to be very accurate to the original languages. Up until now, that is!

When a Ugandan reads this passage in their traditionally favored Luganda Bible, they read,  “Elijah was taken up to heaven by a wind of the demons.” They, of course, find this to be extremely perplexing and disconcerting. Over the years the verse has spawned a wide range of false teachings from non-hermeneutical and wildly imaginative attempts to explain this verse. Needless to say, Ugandans tend to be less impressed by Elijah than westerners might be when reading their Bibles. They almost have the attitude of “poor Elijah!”

I went through the hermeneutics of this verse with them, showing them the Hebrew word and the accurate translation, but even then many were skeptical. After all, there it was right there in their Bibles! It is sometimes hard for them to grasp that their favorite Bible version could be wrong. The day was saved when another student stood and said he had just gotten a new Luganda translation of the Bible, and he held it up for all to see. It seems it has just recently been released. When he read 2 Kings 2:11 in his Bible, it read: “Elijah went up by a strong wind into heaven.” This mollified the crowd considerably and finally allowed us to move on to other questions, neatly making a strong point about the value of proper hermeneutics for accurate interpretation.

It’s a bit of a shock when I tell students here that their versions of the Bible aren’t inspired, but only the original writings were. But with many examples of translation issues like the one mentioned here, which mystified all of us until we applied proper hermeneutics and some cultural investigation, they came to understand the value, at least partly, of becoming good students of the Bible, rightly dividing the word of truth.