Category: Welcome


Oh what an ignorant, self-absorbed musungu I am. I have listened to these pastors answering my probing questions and have stumbled upon an issue that seems obvious when I think about it now, but until now it has apparently existed beyond the end of my nose because I never thought about it before (I admit this somewhat sheepishly, considering I try to teach the Bible to these folks).

What would you do if you lived in rural poverty, mostly traded produce for services or other produce for a living, seldom ever held more than $2.50 at one time in your hand, were the pastor of a small rural congregation, and it came time to observe the Lord’s Supper in your church? For you, grapes are an unknown fruit – the only grape-juice related products here are imported, and so tend to be expensive. Besides that, since the fruit is virtually unknown indigenously, it is a stretch that you would even know about it. Wine, which is mentioned in the Bible, is expensive and has the additional negative that it is alcoholic in content, which is a cultural “no-no” among abamulokule here (born-agains). Apart from that, it is news to you when you hear for the first time from the musungu that the wine mentioned in the Bible and grape-juice are derived from the same fruit and so either  could be used for the Lord’s Supper, a fact that has never before been revealed.

So what would you do? You want to follow the Scripture. You want to want to obey the Spirit. Though, really, you as pastor are one of the few people in your village who has a Bible and can even read about the Lord’s Supper, so it is quite easy to simply ignore it because no one in your congregation will be asking about it if you don’t mention it. Many of the pastors looked back at me blankly at first when I asked the question, “Do you observe the Lord’s Supper in your church, and if so, how often?” Then with repeated prompts from the translator, there was often the “Oh, yeah, that…” reaction. On average, the churches that have existed a year or less are not sharing the communion supper at all. The ones that have existed 2-3 years may share it once to three times a year, maybe. Only one church of all the ones I’ve interviewed so far shared the Lord’s Supper as often as once a quarter, in that case, their overseer was an impressively organized man.

Now, considering the situation I have described with the grape juice, what elements would you use if you did want to share it with your new believers in your new church plant? The most common answer I received was bread purchased from the store – I see the logic of that, of course – and soda to represent the blood of Christ since it is easy to get and affordable.

Bob interviews an earnest female pastor deep in the rural villages of Mayuge District.

Wait…did I say soda? Yes – soda. I really tried to act nonchalant, but it sort of felt like my brain was jumping on the trampoline my grandkids erected in my back yard back in the U.S. when I first heard that. It wasn’t exactly shock – it was more like, how could I have missed this up until now? With calm and studied smoothness, I asked, “Oh, what kind of soda?” Really – it was the only question I could think of. Some use Coke. Some use Sprite, or even Fanta Orange. Some try for a more fruity blend in an attempt to pace the Scripture a little on this point – so they use a local blend soft drink, something called Marinda Fruity, which is a kind of super-sweet, carbonated berry punch soda, which, after getting myself down off the trampoline, actually seems to work pretty well, even for me.

One church actually throws all caution to the wind on this and uses altar wine, which is available for use by the Catholics and the Anglicans in some super-markets in the towns but is a bit expensive. We actually looked for altar wine today in Jinja to check out the cost, but were unable to find any. With this choice for the Lord’s Supper, a little goes a long way, and somehow they manage to get around the alcohol ban – they told me there wasn’t enough to get drunk on, so it didn’t matter, which was an uncharacteristically pragmatic way to look at it, I thought, considering the horrified looks I got from other pastors when I suggested it.

This pastor sat in the very early church planting seminars of 2013. He was so moved by God during that time that he surrendered to ministry, went to Bible School, and just last November planted a church. We are sitting at Pastor Waisana’s house in Bugembe because 1) he is Pastor Waisana’s son, and 2) his church is far out from the town, so he agreed to meet us “in town” while on business.

So I have digested all this by now and my shocked musungu-American sense of religious propriety has adjusted toward focusing on the spiritual theology of the Lord’s Supper – its symbolic value in remembering the Lord’s sacrifice of His body and blood. I am suddenly not so much focusing on the actual nature of the symbols used, as in, it must be wine or “fruit of the vine” and unleavened bread “just like the Scripture.” Whether you as a church-going Christian agree with me or not, I, at least, have landed on a much more generous view of the options for observing the Lord’s Supper than I have had before. I am realizing that it’s more important to observe the spirit of the celebration than to focus on having the correct “legal” elements. If a rural church can never afford to celebrate the Supper “correctly,” or, even if they could afford it, never has access to a store that sells the kind of wine or juice “required” by Western religious norms, should they just ignore the biblical teaching altogether?

So what would you do? Never observe the Lord’s Supper because of the difficulties I have mentioned, as many here choose to do? Sacrifice what could amount to 2 to 4 months total church offerings to make sure you had the “right” elements? Or would you, in the spirit of obedience, find some kind of alternate beverage to use, like soda, which is now available everywhere, even in the most isolated little market centers composed of a few rough shops, shanties and temporary kiosks formed around obscure road junctions out in the bush. We have even seen soda being sold in tiny wooden stands in the front yards of thatch-roofed African huts – it is almost everywhere – unlike grape-juice or wine.

What does this question do to your theology?

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I have had a very chaotic and trying week with car breakdowns and schedule delays forcing me to flex constantly. Flexibility is a requirement of the missionary job. I have learned by experience that flexibility is defined as never insisting that God follow my orderly program, but rather choosing always to adjust as needed to His schedule and His way of doing things, even when it makes no sense to me. Refusing to be flexible in Africa is the path to an ulcer.

Because I am enjoying an unexpected day off this Friday, but am exhausted from driving 4 hours each day and working (and flexing) hard for the rest of the week, I am going to make this post simple and just list some of the idiosyncrasies of African culture which I have encountered on this trip. These things seem perfectly normal in this culture but may seem odd to a westerner, and because of that, though small and insignificant, offer insight into Africa.

The Slogan

I noticed the motto on the back of a t-shirt worn by one of the bishops I work with on Buvuma Island in Lake Victoria: “An improved toilet is a family’s pride.” I asked him what it meant because I thought it was a strange thing to write on a t-shirt. He explained that in his community there was a program to help families build healthier toilets near their homes and that he had participated in it because of its importance to the health and welfare of his village. In the villages, the toilets are out-houses constructed over a hole in the ground with a concrete slab placed over the hole and then a hole chopped in the middle of the slab with a pick-axe or drill of some kind. A structure for privacy is then built around this slab.

For health reasons, the hole must be a certain depth to prevent germs from traveling up and out, but not everyone knows this, and many of these home toilets are unhealthy affairs that may spread disease to the family. Education and community support of the type offered by the program mentioned on the t-shirt provide solutions to this problem. I’m pretty sure, though, that most westerners would balk at such a slogan, which shows how far one culture has come and how far the other has yet to go.

Formica

I wanted to purchase a piece of Formica for an experiment with a better projector surface (which ultimately was a complete failure, by the way – live and learn). Alfred and I shopped for it in the building district. We pulled into the district and immediately were accosted by several young men who saw the musungu and assumed that money was to be had. They insisted not only on directing us to the proper shop, but also accompanying us. By the time we had filtered through several shops and finally found one that had a piece of white Formica, the pair of us had instead become a caravan. I was greatly amused because by the time I paid for my Formica, it required the services of 7 men, standing by eagerly, and 1 woman, who ran the shop and actually sold me the product. I’m not sure how the men thought they were going to profit from the sale (perhaps the woman gave them a kick-back), but Alfred and I, who are capable adult shoppers, and did not require or request the escort, quickly took our Formica and escaped, though I did “tip” the seeming leader of the band just before we drove away.

Alfred’s Leg

At our conferences I am always amazed at how much rice and beans the people can put away in a short time at lunch. While I eat one conservative helping, those around me pile their plates full to the brim and overflowing and then proceed to gobble it all down. It is a running joke with Alfred that he has a hollow leg which he must fill along with his stomach at every meal. This week, during one such lunch, Alfred leaned over to me and said in all seriousness, “My appetite is gone after eating only three plates.” I think he is beginning to catch the dry western sense of humor because he did not so much as smile, but there was a bit of a twinkle in his eye.

The stubborn door from the outside.

The stubborn door from the outside.

The Man, The Brick And The Door

At the church-planting conference early this week, we had a door near where I was teaching that needed to be closed, but it had no latch and was really just some rough boards nailed together with some tin sheeting and held crookedly in place on bent hinges. It continually kept flying open. Finally, one of the leaders sitting nearby got a brick and leaned it against the bottom of the door, but the gap between the bottom of the door and the ground was about the same size as the brick. The effect of this was that the top of the brick barely touched the bottom of the door so that it would lean there holding the door closed until the first breeze, then give up the battle and fall back into the room, the door then flying open again. I watched this leader repeat the exercise of closing the door and tipping the edge of the brick against the door exactly five times, each time the door flying back open after only a few minutes. All this time I was trying to teach the lesson.

The door from the inside; Notice my equipment box holding it at the bottom!

The door from the inside; Notice my equipment box holding it at the bottom!

Finally, on the theory that if you repeat the same thing over and over in exactly the same way, eventually something will change, he was carefully tipping the apparently useless brick for the sixth time. It’s possible that he hoped by patiently repeating the exercise, the door might finally be humbled into staying closed, or perhaps the brick might at last be encouraged to “stand up and act like a brick and do its #!!% job.”

I confess – I couldn’t stand it anymore. All this drama with the door was going on right next to and in the middle of my teaching, and each time the scene was repeated, all the students’ eyes slowly drifted to the tense contest being played out between the man, the brick and the door. So I pushed one of my half empty equipment boxes up against the door to keep it closed. Apparently, this either cowed the door or inspired the brick because the door stopped flying open. The man, now bereft of his job, instead of sitting down to enjoy the class, wandered off to find some other project, but at least he was not doing it right behind me. Later, I heard that his name was Sisyphus, but I may have misunderstood that.

As I’ve traveled now hither and yon throughout this area of Uganda, it is surprising to me how I hear the Spirit of God saying things to me. I wonder if I’m as sensitive in the U.S. as I seem to be here. I wonder if I hear the same promptings, but for some reason am not as responsive as I seem to be here. Maybe it has to do with the reason I’m here, that I’m prepared to be sensitive, but this is a troubling thought because it suggests that I perhaps am not prepared to hear God as I go about my routines in the U.S.

An example of what I am speaking about was brought to my attention today as I taught church planting principles in a place called Massesse (Ma-sess- say). The group was larger than I normally have from an individual church, about forty in number. I emphasize that I only need to see the church planters in the church, and so I typically have seven to fifteen people at most in this kind of group. But today I had about forty men and women, all interested in going out to the villages to plant churches.

Of the many churches in which I have taught over the last five weeks, most were scheduled by my “team,” Pastor Samuel Wasula and Pastor David Waisana. These men take the calP1090318ls from pastors that result from my pastor conferences where I give a general introduction to my church planting methods. They collect the calls and arrange the schedule to follow up these direct requests for training in the churches by the pastors. Or rather, they have done this in every case but two.

In the first case, I felt strongly prompted last March, when we drove out along the river for many miles, that there were churches out in these isolated villages who never receive outside ministry, and so I followed that prompting of the Spirit by telling my team to make sure and schedule churches out in this specific area. Just yesterday, I taught another pastor conference for about twenty pastors out in that area. It is the third general conference I have led out there, all in an attempt to reach these isolated areas. By this method I have reached at least seventy different pastors with the teaching that they can easily plant a church in the next village beyond their church. Now my team is following up with them to see if they are applying what I have taught and actually going to the villages. I know some of them are following through because I have returned to two of these churches and taught their church planters how to go, and I have personally gone to the villages with them that they are targeting in order to jumpstart them. All this activity because I simply followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit to go to this area with my message.

The decision to go Massesse resulted from the same kind of circumstances. Every day as we drove down the main road on our way to some isolated location, I noticed an area to the south along the edge of the lake far in the distance. I felt my heart leap toward this area repeatedly during these trips back and forth. I asked my team what that area was and they told me it was called Massesse. Every day after that, I heard the Lord say, “Don’t forget to go to Massesse.” So I insisted that Samuel and David include Massesse in our plans. So that is how they happened to call the pastor who attended our conference in Jinja a month ago and schedule the meeting.

So here we are, virtually at the end of the trip, since Gail and I return home next Thursday (one week), accomplishing our last training in a church today (Thursday) and tomorrow at Massesse.  This is the direct result of the Lord’s prompting, and we would not have scheduled this location if He had not prompted it. So when we arrive at a place under those conditions, I am always very interested to find out  what about this place has so attracted the Lord’s attention.

Massesse is a lakeside community – it sits right on the north shore of Lake Victoria on the east side of Jinja. The view from where the church building sits, just a little way up the hill from the road, gives a wonderful panoramic view of the lake. The pieces began to fall into place for me when the pastor told his vision for church planting. There are 52 islands in the lake in this region that are settled by a considerable but very isolated population. He has been praying for years that God would enable him to plant 1000 churches out on these islands to minister to all these people. He told me there are now 300 churches out there among the island people, many of which he has planted, but he has been praying for someone to come and show him how to do it in a more efficient and effective manner. He is convinced that our arrival here is the direct and specific answer to his prayers. All through the teaching today, I noticed him suddenly noting something in his notebook as he listened, and later he told me I had already answered many of the questions he has been asking about church planting.

The funny thing is that before I ever left Texas to come on this trip, I noted the presence of a population on these many islands in Lake Victoria, and I asked the question in my mind about how I could possibly reach this extremely isolated people group with church planting. To make a long story short, Gail and I will visit several of the islands on Monday or Tuesday next week with the pastor –his invitation. I am already beginning plans for an island hopping church planting mission next time I come to Uganda.

So this resulted from listening to the prompting of the Lord as we drove back and forth along the main road several miles north of the lake and this community.

I am left with another thought as well. When I return to the U.S., I’m going to listen more closely for His gentle prompting voice. I am purposing in my heart to be less distracted by the various competing voices of our American culture. I’m curious to see how that works out.

I have upgraded the website today to enable a category called The Sounds of Missions. This section will have recordings of some of my experiences, notably worship segments from the local congregations. My daughter-in-law specifically asked for this since she leads worship at our church in Fort Worth. So I will be adding little bits and pieces that I am able to record as I go along that will give you yet another authentic flavor of the mission field. I hope you enjoy it as much as I am enjoying putting it together. So check out The Sounds of Missions while you’re here.

Updates…

I am working on this blog a little every day. Since starting last week, I have added donations through Paypal, several blog categories and posts, a link list that includes Jody Kennedy International and my good friend, Charles Flemming’s blog – Ripe for Harvest. I have also added a Nic. Pix page where you can get a little bit of a feel for the work in Nicaragua through pictures. Check out our plans in the Current Plans blog. I also added a link to facebook, so I think my posts will show up there, but I’m still figuring out how that works. Why not subscribe and keep up with us through Email and Facebook?

Hello world!

You have arrived at Bob and Gail Meade’s Meade International site. This will, for the time being, be our missions information and donation portal. It will take Bob some learning-curve time to get everything working properly and looking relevant,  so if that’s not today, make sure and revisit in a day or so. He is prioritizing this effort in among his other projects. Thank you for your patience.