Archive for September, 2019

A crowd of 130 excited believers and leaders from the islands around Buvuma Island greeted us.

One of the subjects I teach to the leaders of the churches in Uganda is Christian Leadership. I deal with everything from character issues to governmental structures of the New Testament.  One of the underpinnings of the New Testament on Leadership is the doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers. This subject is new revelation for Ugandan churches, though it is considered by most western Christians to be a fundamental teaching of the Protestant Reformation, a doctrine restored to the church when average people finally regained access to Scriptures after 1,000 years of relative spiritual darkness.

For those readers who may be rusty on their understanding the priesthood of all believers, here is a quick overview of what I teach on this subject. References:

Isaiah 61:6 (NKJV) 6 But you shall be named the priests of the LORD, …

1 Peter 2:5 (NKJV) …5 you also, as living stones, are being built up…a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:9 (NKJV) 9 But you area royal priesthood

Revelation 1:6 (NKJV) 6 and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father…

Revelation 5:10 (NKJV) …10 And have made us kings and priests to our God…

Revelation 20:6 (NKJV) 6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection…they shall be priests of God and of Christ…

We are here tonight…

I ask them what a priest is, since priests have been around in all religions since the very beginning of civilization. Priests are the ones who, in each religion, stand between God and the people – they speak to God for the people, and they speak to the people for God. In primitive religions, they are the shamans and witch-doctors. In the Hebrew religion they were a well-organized tribe of servants who served in the Tabernacle/Temple. Organized priests tended historically to have a High-Priest to oversee the work.

In the New Testament, it is taught that Jesus became the High Priest who serves in the true temple in Heaven. As the scriptures listed above indicate, the believers in Christ have become the priests who serve under the High Priest Jesus Christ. Here are some basic implications for the church of this teaching from the New Testament:

  • All Christians are priests,
  • As such, all Christians are equal,
  • The New Testament knows nothing of two classes of Christians in the church:
    • No upper-class clergy of special Christians, appointed to rule over the lower class of lay-people,
    • No lower class lay-people, made up of common Christians,
  • All Christians are equal,
  • All Christians are ministers of the Gospel,
  • All Christians are gifted,
  • All Christians are called to service,
  • Moreover, Christian leaders are supposed to be servants to the church (perhaps another post can elaborate on this.)

The earthly clerical system was the order of the Old Testament when there was a Temple on earth, a high priest in the Temple with his servants who were the rest of the Temple priests. These priests did the priestly work of standing between God and the other tribes of the Hebrew people. But all this was transformed with Christ when He became the High Priest (virtually the entire book of Hebrews teaches this), and as in the referenced verses, the New Testament clearly declares that all Christians are now priests in service to the Lord, our High Priest.

I ask my students, in helping them to grasp such new ideas which none of them have ever been taught, “If this is true, as the Bible says, and you are priests, who then is your congregation? Who are the people you are supposed to be speaking to for God and who are the ones you speak to God for?” This question perplexes them. “The Christians in the church?” they typically answer. “No, according to the Scripture, the Christians are all priests. So who is their congregation who needs to know God, but who can’t approach Him without the help of a priest?” Slowly it dawns on them – “The lost people. Those who don’t know Christ need someone to speak to God for them by praying for them, they also need someone to speak to them for God by telling them about His salvation.”

While this discussion of doctrine may seem a little dry to you, in practice, when this truth breaks like a sunrise into the minds and spirits of the Ugandan believers, it carries the weight of revelation, and many suddenly understand for the first time exactly who the church is and what it is supposed to be doing here on Earth until Christ returns.

Last week on Buvuma Island, after I finished teaching and answering questions, Gail asked to speak to the students. She asked them what they had learned from the teaching on leadership.

One after another they came up to the front and testified things like,

“I never knew this. Now my eyes are open. Things in my church will now change because we are all priests of our High Priest Jesus.”

The students excitedly gave testimonies of what they had learned.

“For the first time, I understand that we are all equal, we are all ministers responsible to minister for Him.”

“Now I know who I am and what I am to do in my church.”

“When I return home, I will begin to serve my church members instead of lording over them.”

“As a pastor, I will no longer sit in a special chair above the people as I have been traditionally taught, but now I will sit with the other priests and be equal with them.”

We pray this “revelation” of church practice will actually happen at the church level. We are beginning to see it in the reports of churches where the leaders are focusing on training their people to do ministry instead of just doing it all themselves. One pastor, a man who has planted more than five churches himself in the last several years, told us that church work used to be “heavy” for him, but now it is easy because he trains the other priests to do the work of the ministry, they all share it equally, and it does not become a burden for any one person.

This is the best application of Truth we could hope for.

Boating on Victoria

Busy port for boat taxis – Kyiindi.

It turns out that riding the boats across Lake Victoria is not that big a deal. Yes, they are big, wooden hulks and not the sleek fiberglass watercraft that ply the lakes in the States. Yes, they often leak a bit if the caulking between the planks is not maintained – ours was fine mostly. Yes, the hardest part is getting in and out without a dock, but, after all, this is the primary mode of transportation on the lake for 150,000 people, so we handled it with the aplomb of 70-year-old musungu missionaries. Typically, in the end, Gail was dry and I was wet to the waist.

We arrived at the lakeside port town of Kyiindi (kee-yin-dee) where the boats are going in and out all the time. It was quite busy when we arrived. Our boat, the one that our local friend Jessy reserved for us, was not yet there, so Alfred and I walked down an alley between buildings and stood at the edge of the water.  The chaotic conglomeration of shops and businesses housed in rough wooden buildings crowd right down to the waterline. We watched for our boat with Jessy sitting in it. You have to see these boats to understand the dynamics of all this – they are 30 feet long, about five feet across at the center, and sit up five to six feet out of the water at the bow. They are powered by outboard motors.

We are here tonight…

The business of the boat taxis to the islands is a matter of finding the one going where you want to go, then scampering aboard either over the bow, which is anchored in the sand at the edge of the water, or being carried out either piggyback on the shoulders of the boatmen, or honeymoon style, both men and women, to be shoved up over the side. Many men at these places get paid a small amount for bringing paying customers so there is a lot of yelling, shoving, and running about each time a boat comes in. They also get a small fee for carrying people and their luggage to the shore. The boat sides sit up easily 3 to 4 feet above the water, so most people can’t climb up from the side, and most are afraid of the water because few of them can swim. So the crowd of potential passengers and workers would dash forward to every boat that landed, trying to reach it first in chaotic competition for the seats and the work of unloading and reloading the passengers.

Finally, Jessy’s boat came into view and landed about twenty yards down from us in between several other boats.  It was, of course, inundated with bedlam until the boatman could make them understand that this was a private boat. When they realized there would be no money here, they rushed off in one cohesive serpentine flow toward another boat that was coming in, leaving us and our small party of four to climb aboard.

Gail was carried out into the water and heaved up over the side, as were the others, a pastor and the bishop and their bags. I, however, would have none of that. One, I outweighed the man doing the carrying. Two, I have been around water and boats to some extent all my life, and I figured I could handle this by myself. I rolled up my pants, waded out along the side of the boat, hoisted myself up and easily sat on the side, swinging my legs over into the boat. Everyone stopped and was looking at this crazy musungu, so I threw my arms up in victory and got some laughs.

Our small amount of luggage and our teaching whiteboard were loaded in, and before we could get away, about five people clambered aboard thinking this was a normal taxi. Finally, we convinced any others that this was a private boat, but those who had gotten on sat ensconced in their seats and weren’t budging. So at the end of the journey, when we had reached Buvuma, the bishop made a point of charging each person for their fare and handed me the funds since I was paying for the boat.

The ride across was uneventful, nice even. I’ve always liked riding in boats. We arrived at Buvuma Island about an hour later and pulled up directly at the beach for the guesthouse we would be staying at in the little “town” of Kitamiru. They easily unloaded all our equipment, and each of the passengers allowed the boatman to carry them through the surf to the small landing site. The water was only about two feet deep. Of course, I knew I could handle this, but they are so used to Ugandans who don’t want to get wet that they came to carry me even though I tried to wave them off. The stout young man who came for me wouldn’t step back to give me space to jump down – I guess he thought the musungu would just end up drowning himself. So finally, I put my hand on his shoulder to use for leverage and slid off the side of the boat. Unfortunately for me, he was standing too close and ended up tipping me over as I landed, so there I went down on all fours. Embarrassed and wet to the waist, I laughingly waded ashore. Next time, if there ever is one, I still don’t think I’ll allow myself to be honeymoon carried to dry land by a lad whom I outweigh by 30 pounds.  It just doesn’t feel seemly…

Gail is carried to dry land at the end of the trip across the water.

The whole episode turned out to be nothing but a pleasant morning on the water. I’m not sure why the locals think this kind of travel is not fitting for musungus. Maybe it’s just older musungus. Gail, for instance, was almost never allowed to carry her own backpack from the guesthouse down the street to the church where we were meeting. One young man, in a horrified voice, as he grabbed her backpack said, “But you are very old!” You can imagine how Gail loved hearing that one.

A good view of our boat. If it looks a bit fuzzy, it’s the drop of water on the lens from me falling into the lake.

The ferry was repaired by mid-week and we made it back to the mainland by Saturday noon (yesterday) after a good week of teaching two classes, one on Christian Leadership and one on God’s Will to 130 students from across many of the local islands. Again, we are awed by the way the people receive these basic Bible truths that they aren’t being taught. It was the right decision to come, which happens a lot when you just pause and ask for Guidance. Strangely, when I was searching the scriptures for insight last week, trying to discern His will about using the boats to come to the island, every scripture I landed on had the word “water” in it. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure He wasn’t talking about me falling down as I got off the boat. He was here ahead of us, and we are on His schedule.

Oh, By the Way…

We arrived in Entebbe, Uganda, last Tuesday, spent the night in a local hotel, then met our Ugandan partner, Alfred, who drove us to Bugembe where we have spent the week staging our supplies and equipment for the upcoming ten-week trip. Bugembe is a suburb town of the city of Jinja, which is an ideal city to buy supplies and most of what we need while we’re here. As we spend the next weeks crisscrossing Uganda, carrying out our itinerant teaching ministry, Lake Victoria Bible Institutes, we will pass through Jinja repeatedly, ending here in November just before we return home to the U.S.

Everything has been normal and predictable and familiar to both of us by now – we know the places to eat, the pharmacies, the groceries and the stationery stores to shop in, where to buy water, student books, and pens, where to get airtime for our phones and our internet hotspot, and where to exchange our funds for Ugandan shillings at the rate of 3,650 shillings per dollar. The biggest ripple before this afternoon was that we couldn’t find paper clips, and finally found them only after checking in five different stationery shops. I guess they were having a run on paper clips for some reason. And the ones we finally found are enormous – I joked with the clerk that I could tie my cow to a tree with these clips (how would he know I don’t have a cow?).

So as we carefully planned our first week-long venture on Buvuma Island in Lake Victoria, a week of isolation out in the villages, no internet, email, or Google-everything, we were at the very end of our careful packing for the vehicle trip to Buvuma – with this suitcase for this, that tote for that, and these suitcases in storage. Everything was cataloged, organized and ready. We knew where everything was, and we were ready. Then the phone rang at 2:30 pm.

One of our students was calling from Buvuma Island. He told us that the ferry to the island was out for repairs and had been for a week, and would be until the end of this next week, the week we are scheduled to be on the island. He said he apologized for waiting to call, he didn’t know why he waited since he had known about it for a week, but anyway, he was now calling to tell us this “oh-by-the-way” piece of information. Now understand here, the only vehicle access to this island is by ferry, so, no ferry, no vehicle to the island.


We followed up with a call to our student committee on the island that is preparing for the Institute on Monday. Yes, they knew about it, but they didn’t want to call and tell us because…yadda, yadda, yadda. FULL PANIC MODE.  Our schedule called for us to put the supplies we were not taking to the island into storage just about 3 hours from now and have everything else, generators and all, ready for loading early tomorrow morning. But that plan was based on having a vehicle to haul us to the island. There followed a long three-way discussion of options between us and Alfred, with Alfred on the phone most of the time to the various islanders, trying to figure out alternatives.

Alternative 1 – Postpone the meeting until the following week, and substitute that week’s plans for this week instead – it just so happens that our calendar schedule would easily implement that switch.

Main drawbacks:  1) We have a large number of students coming by boat from the other islands who have been mobilized at some expense and will begin their journeys either Sunday afternoon, or early Monday morning. With typically difficult-to-impossible phone service between here and there, we have to make 40 to 80 phone calls to reschedule the meeting, or they will travel all the way to Buvuma only to find out we are not there. Over and over again through the afternoon, we lamented:  if only we had more notice of this, we could probably adjust, but late Saturday afternoon, the day before? Easy for us to cancel the meeting, but not so easy for all of our students to find out before Monday.  2) There is a serious cultural “face” issue here. These hardy islanders travel many miles in sometimes leaky wooden motorboats loaded beyond safe capacity, even in the dark of night, to attend our trainings. We have witnessed this. So here is our witness:  these musungu missionaries, who follow Jesus by faith, they say, canceled the meeting just because the ferry was out of service, when we have traveled so far to get here for their training without ever once using the ferry? Uh-h—h….

Alternative 2 – Strip down our luggage to something we could carry by hand, put our generator, whiteboard, all non-essential items into storage here, and take a boat to the island with only enough items to do the training and get through the week. Alfred is out, anyway, because his wife Julie is due to give birth last week and is still bravely holding on. So we have hired a back-up driver who is now traveling in to meet us in Bugembe.

Main drawbacks: 1) No car on the island with no driver. We tried to explore this several times through the afternoon, but there were no cars for rent  – cars with drivers to taxi us, yes, but cars to rent and keep for the week, no. So basically, this option puts us on Buvuma without wheels, just the tender leather on the bottoms of our feet.  We would have to cancel our driver, and send him back home. 2) We would have to rent a generator there, and we have not had great luck with rented equipment on Buvuma previously. 3) We have never ridden the boats out to the island before and have always taken the ferry with our vehicle. We have been warned away by several, suggesting that the boats are not “optimum” (my word) for musungus. One time, we were on Buvuma when the ferry went down for repairs, and we had to make an unexpected run back to the mainland. We were actually bravely striding across the field toward the water’s edge at the boat landing to take a motorboat when the Chief of Police for the islands, who happens to have his office right there on the other side of the road, came running out to us, saying surely, we could not be planning to take a motorboat to the mainland. He insisted that we wait while he calls the ferry office to see if the ferry was back in service yet. Fortunately, it had a just been released and was arriving at the ferry dock in an hour. Considering his attitude toward us taking the motorboat option, we felt like we’d dodged a bullet. Now we are facing the same firing squad again.

Oh what to do? 3:30 looms. It’s time to go quiet before the Lord and see what He has to say. Here’s the thing, though. All three of us, even Alfred, a Ugandan himself and who is not even going to the island this time, do not think we should take the boat to the island option. But we’ll pray about it.

Thirty minutes later, journals in hand, Bibles open, we meet back up to compare notes. We have all heard separately and convincingly that this is His mission, and we should persevere and take the boat.

Having heard the Voice, we then spent a grueling, equatorial heat-sweaty hour-and-a-half unpacking and repacking everything down to one suitcase and two backpacks worth of “stuff” for the week, then loading all the rest into the vehicle and taking it to storage.

As we say, the rest will be history….We’re off the grid on the island until next Saturday, when hopefully ferry service will be restored and we will get picked up and driven back to Jinja. I’ll tell you the rest of the adventure then.