Category: India/Uganda Trip 2011

One of the things we focus on as we work with church planters, young church plants and their congregations in India and Uganda is how to develop a healthy church.

We teach that there are four signs of a healthy church – a healthy church will be:

1) Self-Supporting – (Acts 2:44-45) not relying on some outside organization or personality for economic provision;

2) Self-Governing – (Acts 6:1-7) able to appoint its own leadership, preferably from within;

3) Self-Reproducing – (1 Thess. 1:7-8) demonstrates the ability to win people to Christ and to plant other churches, to, in effect, send out its faith to others;

4) Self-Correcting – (2 Timothy 3:16-7; Matt. 18:15-17) demonstrates the ability to both challenge members to righteousness and reprove and correct problems when they arise with biblical accountability.

The indigenous churches we work with (churches managed entirely by native citizens) face many temptations as they develop. If they yield to such temptations, the future progress of their long-term ministry can be severely hindered, even though in the short-term, giving in to these temptations may seem to help. An example of this is a church’s ability to self-govern. In the short-term it may seem very helpful for those who planted the church to govern the church from the outside. However, making essential decisions for the congregation from the outside only serves to insulate young believers from developing the skills that they need to continue to grow as a church. Such churches become dependent on outside management and often become passive in the daily process of “church,” expecting someone else to make all the important decisions.

On my last day in the village in Uganda, I was asked a question relating to this by one of the pastors. He related that he had planted a church, then after a time left it in the hands of other leadership and moved on to another area to plant another church. Apparently, recently the appointed leader in the first church developed a moral problem of some kind. This church planting pastor wanted to know if he should go back to the first church and fix the problem by removing the leader he had appointed when he was still in the church. This was a very challenging question for me, and I answered him only with a deep reliance on the inner Voice of the Spirit.

What I suggested to him through question and answer was that his position as church-planter was now one of influence and advice rather than direct management. He may be able to pull off a coup like the one he proposed and just remove the leader in question, but if he did that, how would the church members grow? How would they hear from the Holy Spirit in finding a solution? How would this young church mature and learn to correct its own members? How would their skills at searching the Scripture for solutions mature? What kind of authority-handle did he actually continue to have in this church, and what kind of authority-handle should a former pastor have? We talked about parents with children who eventually become adult enough to manage their own lives – when does the parent release them to be on their own, and what position does the parent have after that point, and what is the best course for the children?

One of the hardest lessons for church-planters to learn is to release their churches and let them mature along their own courses, instead of continuing to manage them from the outside, attempting to force them to mature them in the ways the church-planter thinks is best. This becomes a matter of faith for both the church and the church-planter, for these kinds of situations are opportunities to practice daily reliance on the Holy Spirit, even though this might seem counter-intuitive to what seems the most logical solution to the problem.

This is why we work hard in the early stages of a church’s life to produce healthy and productive Christians. If they start correctly, learning that being actively engaged is the normal Christian life, they will have much better potential to continue correctly and be productive for the Kingdom over the long-term. This is why the qualities of being self-governing, self- supporting, self-reproducing, and self-correcting are so important in producing healthy churches.


Some deep thinking today. While in Uganda I learned a lot of words, but which language they were in, I’m not entirely sure. We dealt primarily with those speaking Luganda and a dialect of Luganda called Lusoga (sp?). But there are occasional Swahili words mixed in too, I think, and Swahili is the language of a large portion of the African population across national borders. Anyway, I learned that the word jumbo is really Swahili for hello.

Of course, we know jumbo as meaning huge or extra-large. I believe this is derived from the common practice of naming circus elephants Jumbo, so, in effect, when we say in English that something is jumbo-sized (like on all the TV commercials), we mean elephant-sized, figuratively speaking.

So that raises the question for me of how elephants came to be called Jumbo. It really doesn’t make any sense, but the whole thing is an exercise in how meanings evolve as words travel through different languages. I guess, now that we are armed with this firsthand knowledge, right from the elephant’s mouth, so to speak, we can return to accurate usage of the term jumbo. Next time you visit the circus or the zoo, try calling out, “Jumbo, Jumbo,” to the elephants. Loosely translated, you will be saying either, “Hello, Jumbo,” or, “Hello, Hello.” And if you were to get really bold with your newfound depth of understanding, you could even try, “Jumbo, Jumbo, jumbo.” This, of course, would mean, “Hello, Jumbo, big fella.”

In the previous entry I talked about the two regional body language gestures I encountered in India and Uganda – the Indian head bobble and the Ugandan chin thrust. Noticing these gestures is one thing, but if you are foreign to them, as I am, discerning their meaning is a whole different matter. So here’s what I think.

The Indian head bobble (described in the previous blog) seems the more complex of the two. I described it as a graceful sliding of the head back-and-forth on the top of the neck. On YouTube I’m noticing when someone is trying to get Indians to demonstrate the gesture, it is truly an innate gesture – what I mean is that if you ask a person to think about it and then demonstrate it, it emerges in a kind of exaggerated tilting motion. However, if you just watch from the sidelines so that you observe it in context without their thinking about it, it seems like a much smoother rotation. And, of course, some do it more smoothly than others.

The meaning is very interesting. I would say that it loosely corresponds to “Yes, well, I hear you, but no, I’m not so sure…well, perhaps.” When I was actually seeing it in conversations in India, I picked up another subtle aspect: there is a note of disagreement or reservation in the gesture, like “Well, I’m not so sure what planet you’re from, but I can’t just tell you that, so whatever, I’m good with that…maybe.” Check out this clip from Outsourced to see the best demonstration I could find of both context and gesture:

I understand that the head bobble arises from a time in India where those in charge didn’t want to ever hear “No” as a response, so the gesture captures the perfect way of indecisively responding to a question or statement without offending anyone (

The Ugandan chin thrust is much more straightforward. It is a subtle way of pointing at something – perhaps something on the table to pass, or something on the street, or something being selected from a group. It also is an innate gesture, meaning that no one thinks about it when they do it; it just communicates a specific meaning at the moment in the same way westerners would point with their finger or gesture with their hand. It happens very fast, and if it hadn’t been pointed out to me by another mzungu (white guy), I probably would have missed it. I’m guessing this gesture entered the language of Africans because their mothers really focused on the “Stop-that-it’s-rude-to-point” thing. Our western mothers certainly mentioned that fine point of etiquette to us repeatedly also, but then, being westerners, they almost immediately pointed at something, so we didn’t take them too seriously, or we’d all be pointing with our chins too. Maybe African moms just hammered that one home more successfully.

It was quite interesting to me to discover firsthand that  different regions of the world not only have their own language and accents,  but also their own body language as well. Of course, I’ve heard for years about various different cultural mannerisms, but actually to see it in action was enlightening.

Of course, in India it was the famous head-bobble. This gesture is a smooth and graceful sliding of the head back and forth on the neck as if the joint between the head and neck is cushioned with ball-bearings. The effect is not really wagging” because the head seems to actually glide sideways back-and-forth on the top of the neck rather than tilting or shaking back-and-forth like a westerner might do. You see this gesture in an exaggerated form in Indian dance where the head seems to alternate side-to-side without any tilt at all.

I can’t reproduce the movement effectively – with me it just looks life I’m wagging my head back and forth, or if I manage to hold my head level, my whole torso gets involved in a kind of whole body wag. Apparently, though, when you grow up in Indian culture, the gesture gets built in from the cradle, so I’m guessing the ball-bearings just kind of grow up within them. Needless to say, short of surgery, I’m not going to develop such smooth, well-oiled movement overnight, though I love to observe it in action.

In Uganda the local head gesture is the chin thrust – a subtle thrusting outward of the lower jaw during conversation. It’s a kind of jaw-pointing maneuver just short of dislocating the lower jaw. It is utilized so quickly and smoothly and is so much a part of the innate communication process that it’s very easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, or, more accurately, not trained
up from childhood with it.

Both of these gestures have a world of meaning behind them, just as our western gestures do, of course. I wonder what a visitor to the U.S. goes through when trying to interpret the typical American’s loud guffaw, complicated hand-shake rituals, high fives, peace signs, shakas, or even the famous one-finger salute. It’s been my personal experience that the very common nod of the head for yes and shake for no, which you would think to be pretty universal, is not even totally “clear communication” in all parts of the U.S.  How much more confusing are the subtler gestures?

More tomorrow on the meanings of the Indian head bobble and the Ugandan chin thrust.

Several of you have asked for updates on the girl I prayed for on my first day in Uganda, who I was told was demonized. You may remember the incident  (see “On the Ground in Uganda”) but if not, in brief, after teaching to a small village house church, I was asked to pray for the mid-twenties (?) sister of one of the people. She was paralyzed hands and feet and mute though the doctor had said he was unable to find anything wrong with her. When I began she was marginally responsive and when I was done she was smiling broadly. I was unable to get back to that group to check up on her.

Just this morning I received an email report from Samuel, the church-planter there in Uganda about this girl in response to my request. He wrote, “I checked on the girl you prayed for in the
village. She is some how [somewhat] improving, and the people there sends you greetings.” So this is good news.

One of the thrusts of my future ministry there and something I worked on while I was there was to teach the leaders that the authority over the spiritual region belongs to the church, not to the visiting teacher. Of course, the visitors often have to model these things because these churches are young. Releasing the full authority to be the church of Jesus Christ into the hands of the indigenous church is one of the central emphases of this ministry in both India and Uganda.

You may notice I used the term demonized instead of the more commonly used demon-possessed. This is because the biblical concept relating to demons in the New Testament is devoid of any idea of possession. Rather the concepts of torment, control, influence, temptation, or oppression are what the Bible refers to on this subject though this is only a partial listing. Possession comes from medieval superstition and has unfortunately entered our English biblical translations only because of popular usage, but possession does not appear in the language or implied language whenever demons are dealt with. Christ possesses us, not the devil, regardless of what Hollywood may portray. The devil hates us and attacks us, but he does not possess us. Christ brings liberty to all who are afflicted by demons and who resist them in the Name of Christ. That’s why I avoid the term demon-possession and use the more biblically accurate demonized which means afflicted by a demon.

Gail and I are currently in retreat, considering our forward progress. My feel at the moment is that God has very much affirmed our call to missions in this last trip to India and Uganda. I have been encouraged by a friend, Dan Bray, to continue to write about the trip and go a little deeper.

So for the next few days, while we are still in retreat, I will share some further thoughts, reflections, experiences, and observations about India and Uganda and the ministries I participated in there. Perhaps, as God leads, I will share some about missions in general also because there is a lot percolating at the moment.

So look for some entries over the next few days.

Home Again

Home again after three weeks in India and Uganda. I am resting, trying to catch up with jet lag after a 16 hour flying marathon from Dubai to Houston up over Northern Europe, Sweden, Finland, Greenland and down through Canada and Central States. I am waking up regularly at 3 and 5 a.m. so it is taking some adjusting to get the schedule back in control.

I will be taking stock of all the Lord has shown me in the last weeks. I’ll let you know how that works out. Samuel, the indigenous church-planter from Uganda, called me yesterday to make sure I had gotten in okay and to thank me for coming. And I was thanking him at the same time because I received triple anything I might have given.

Anyway, I’ll let you know as the lessons come into focus for me and Gail.

I’m sitting here at the airport at Entebbe waiting on a plane. I thought I’d share a funny/interesting story from Kenneth Rook’s ministry here (website at bottom in Links). He told me this story to illustrate how open Uganda became after surviving Idi Amin’s reign of terror, and then the following dictator’s reign who killed another seven million or so. After all this horror, Uganda was in a total rebuilding mode, but the people were open to the good news of Christ in a way not seen before.

Kenneth has worked in Africa for many years. On one trip to Uganda, they did a lot of walking among the villages sharing the gospel. Toward the end of one day, they were tired and getting punchy, so Kenneth began preaching to a corn field at the top of his lungs, just as a lark. His companions were cutting up and laughing. I guess this went on for 5 minutes or so. Well, as Kenneth was winding down, he was asking if anyone wanted to receive Christ and laughing. Well, three men who had been working in the field, hidden in the tall corn, stepped out and said they did indeed want to receive Christ into their lives, so they led them to Christ.

So this once again answers the question, can God use such a one as I for His purpose – His grace is big and He can use anything to accomplish His purposes.

Time to go to the gate.