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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.

WHAT? WHAT??!!!

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.

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.

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.

Bugging Out!

I noticed the first hole in the floor of the sanctuary by flashlight, and I first thought someone had jammed a pole into the floor to support something. .

Something interesting happened while we were on Buvuma Island in early April. I almost said, “Something funny happened,” but I don’t think the people involved are going to find it very funny.

We were teaching in the church building we have been using consistently for the last three years. It is a typical pole-and-wood-slat building with tin sheets for a roof and a dirt floor. The podium portion of the room is a platform of raised dirt about 12 inches high at the front of the building. I always set up my screen, projector and computer on the podium so the students can clearly see the slides and the whiteboard.

We were there for five days, and on the third day as I was walking around on the podium, I noticed strange holes about an inch and a half in diameter in the floor of the podium on one side. I assumed someone had jammed a pole into the dirt to support something, and I didn’t give it much more thought.

Upon investigation, I noticed the termites!

Then I began to notice other holes developing, all about the same size and in the same area. When I investigated closely, the attached pictures show what I saw.

I am told that these tiny white bugs are termites. They have constructed these large holes into what must for them be super-highways, and the colony from which these highways extend upward seems to be directly under the podium of the church building. As I watched this process over the last two days we were there, I saw that the ground around the holes was gradually being built up by these tiny little creatures. This is very common in Uganda, and I have included a picture here to show what a mature termite mound looks like.

I have never observed one in the incipient stages of the colony, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where the church’s podium is headed without some serious intervention. I’ve also never observed a termite mound inside a building. Science says that termites are very good for the soil; I wonder how they will be for the soil in the sanctuary…

I pointed this out to the leaders of the church since they didn’t seem to have noticed this invasion of their facility yet. They were mildly concerned, but not overwhelmingly alarmed. I guess they have a way to deal with them that I don’t know about. I asked how they planned to solve the problem, and they were non-committal. They live in a fairly primitive area, and I doubt very much that there are pest control companies available to the islands even if they could afford it.

I guess I’ll just have to wait for our next visit to find out how they will deal with this infestation right in their sanctuary.  I hope we’ll still have a building to meet in, and I hope I don’t have to share the podium with a huge termite mound.

 

More holes appeared. The soil is already beginning to build up around the holes.