Monthly Archives: February 2014

A Light Shining in the Darkness

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that blessed are those who are reviled and persecuted on His account. A Distant Grief by F. Kefa Sempangi displays the persecution of the author and many others at the hands of one of history’s most notorious men. This book provides meaningful insight into the history of Uganda, which is where I currently reside. It shares a gospel light which shone during one of the darkest times in Uganda’s history. With gruesome detail, the author tells his harrowing story of living under the evil regime of Idi Amin.

A heart wrenching book worth reading.

A heart wrenching book worth reading.

Kefa’s story is one of rags to riches to pastor to persecuted. The book begins with him returning to Uganda from Europe. He had been in England where he earned a graduate degree in Art History. International degrees for Ugandans are uncommon today, yet alone 50 years ago. This is especially a wonderful feat as the author’s parents couldn’t afford to send him to school until he was 12.

Not long before coming back to Uganda in 1971, Sempangi heard that Idi Amin had kicked the oppressive president Milton Obote out of power. Ugandans were happy and championed Amin as “the champion of liberty” (p 16-17).

Kefa began his work as a teacher at Makerere University in Kampala. The university is known as the “Harvard of Africa.” While there, he encountered some orphans and poor women who he felt needed love. This led him to start an orphanage as well as a church. His church would grow to 14,000 congregants. Soon after they had to begin meeting secretly because of Amin.

As the terror of Amin became more known to the citizens of Uganda, Sempangi began working more in his pastoral role. It was at this time that a witch doctor came up to him while he was preaching and asked for the power he had. The witch doctor knew of Kefa giving a general blessing the previous Sunday. Immediately after the blessing, a boy was healed, unbeknownst to Kefa. The witch doctor had tried for years to heal the boy but to no avail. Kefa then lead the witch doctor to trust in Jesus for salvation.

That very week the witch doctor returned to burn her hundreds of relics and idols with the support of Kefa and the elders. The artifacts were piled up and the matches were handed to Kefa. He quietly passed them to the next person. They were passed all the way around until they were passed back to Kefa. The people present were all brought up to fear this stuff and so the thought of directly confronting it was terrifying. But Kefa was able to light the match and start the fire to burn the evil relics of the witch doctor. The witch doctor sang for joy when the pile was reduced to ashes.

On Easter 1973, there was an especially large service at Kefa’s church. They had a normal length service. When it was over the people asked Kefa to continue preaching. They told him to go rest and come back when he was ready. He did so and then preached for 3 more hours. When it was over every one went home and Kefa went into the vestry of the church building.

Immediately, 5 Nubian assassins had guns pointed at his head. They said they were there to kill him. He told them, “I am a dead man already. My life is dead and hidden in Christ. It is your lives that are in danger, you are dead in your sins. I will pray to God that after you have killed me, He will spare you from eternal destruction” (p 119).

This turned the leader’s hatred into curiosity. The leader asked Kefa to pray for them. Kefa prayed and they bowed their heads. When the short prayer was over something had “changed in their faces” (p 120). They told him they showed up at the beginning of the service to kill him publicly. But the leader told Kefa that he saw widows and orphans, the very ones he made widows and orphans, praising God with joy and asked himself, “Why are they happy when death is so near” (p 121).

The author speaking at the Westminster Theological College and Seminary graduation in December 2013.

The author speaking at the Westminster Theological College and Seminary graduation in December 2013.


While this new believer would help protect Sempangi, the book ends with him on the run from Amin’s henchmen and attending seminary in America. He would return to Uganda after Amin was ousted and start planting churches and a denomination – the Presbyterian Church in Uganda (PCU). This is a sister denomination to the one I am ordained – the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). This must be the subject of his follow up book From the Dust.

The book really is a rollercoaster of a ride. It has wonderful stories of triumphs but also has grueling and disheartening stories. The author is open and transparent about his doubts and flaws. He does not mince words. Despite some of the grimmer stories, the book is quite encouraging. It’s stated purpose of witnessing “to God’s answer to the suffering and terror taking place in one small country” is certainly achieved.

I recommend the book to anyone wanting to read about how God can sustain in times of terror. It might also give insight to the slaughtering of Christians going on today in places like Syria. It is a must read for anyone working in Uganda. Surely the author is blessed by Jesus for all the persecution he endured.

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On the Road Again

I must say I was not looking forward to another long drive. But I was looking forward to getting home and seeing my family more. So Ben and I started for Kampala at 6:15am Kigali time. We got home at 7:15pm Kampala time. But you should know by now, I know I certainly do, that Kampala is 1 hour ahead of Kigali. So we spent 13 hours of clock time minus 1 hour of time zone difference on the road. For the mathematically challenged, that is 12 hours of driving.

Ben and I saw lots of grass and trees. It really is beautiful but also very sparsely populated. But this means you get to see 3 monkeys like we did. No, Ben and I were not 2 of the monkeys. We had a border crossing, stopped at a museum for a short break and enjoyed the wonderful vistas, and even stopped at the equator for a break. It was a long and grueling trip, but WE MADE IT HOME. Praise God! We enjoyed our trip and were blessed by what God is doing in Rwanda.

Of course there are pictures below. Be sure to check out the last picture.

I give a thumbs up to that view!

I give a thumbs up to that view!

I told you the vistas were wonderful.  God knows what He is doing.

I told you the vistas were wonderful. God knows what He is doing.

It's just a good picture of Ben

It’s just a good picture of Ben

We are hemispheres apart.

We are hemispheres apart.

The family gives a thumbs up to my return.

The family gives a thumbs up to my return.

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Good and Evil

This morning came early but the breakfast helped get me out of bed. Ben, Gordon, and I shared the meal. We then went to meet with a dynamic Rwandan, Albert.

Albert lost his parents in the genocide that occurred in 1994 here in Rwanda. He fled to Kenya and came back shortly after the fighting stopped. Sometime later he started working with MOUCECORE. This is a Christian organization started to help the reconciliation between the Hutus and the Tutsis through the context of the church. This group has done amazing things and continues to help the church here in Rwanda fulfill her mission. They also happen to have a guest house which is where we are staying.

Albert also has started his own small ministry called One Pig for a Change. He was out meeting people in churches as part of his work with MOUCECORE. He asked two ladies from different areas how their lives could be better. They both said that if they had a small pig they could raise it, breed it, and then start making an income from that. He asked how much a small pig cost and they said $12.

He went home wondering how he could help. He even told his wife he wondered if they were Christians because they were not helping others. So he started thinking and planning. He went around sharing his heart and vision with fellow Rwandans. Many found his vision compelling and gave money. He raised enough money to buy not just 2 pigs for those two ladies but 8 pigs for more.

He has since given the pigs out and seen the people flourish. Part of the arrangement is for the receivers of the pigs to give half of the litter away to others like them and to keep half. If this continues many more pigs will be given to those who need income. For the mathematically challenged this is exponential growth. Thus, the Lord is multiplying Albert’s work as well as the blessings for these people.
Albert has an amazing heart for Christ. His energy is contagious. He is very astute and understands the Lord calls His people to serve Him in wonderful ways. I only hope we can visit with Albert again if and when we come back to Rwanda.

So far we have met with about 4 Africans during our trip. Each one of them mentioned the genocide. Each of the Rwandans had some story of loss and suffering from that terrible time. I had heard about this wicked event and have seen Hotel Rwanda. Being here and hearing the stories makes it all the more real. However, nothing could prepare me for our trip to the Memorial after lunch.

After lunch, Ben and I went to the Genocide Memorial here in Kigali. The exterior is very serene with lush plants and beautiful landscaping. The inside is heavy and tells the story of the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994. There are two basic groups in Rwanda, the Hutus and the Tutsis. While they used to be socio-economic indicators, the Belgian colonizers turned it into a racial distinction. The Hutus were the poorer of the two and made up the majority of the population.

Tensions built and some Hutu extremists preached a message of hate and called for the elimination of the Tutsis. Things came to a head in April 1994 when the president of Rwanda, a Hutu, had his plane shot down. Less than an hour later road blocks were up and Hutus were brutally, mindlessly, and terrifyingly killing any Tutsis they could find.

In the Memorial there are many pictures which can make a grown man weep over the evil and the terrible loss of life. The stories also show some of the wicked ways the atrocities were carried out. All told 1,000,000 people were killed in 3 months. These are numbers never seen before or since. I left the memorial in silence and with a heavy heart.

The country is still recovering from this nightmare. There is a lot of work for the church to do. Pray God would bring reconciliation and healing.

Tomorrow we leave early to go back to Uganda. Please pray for safe travel. We have about 10+ hours of driving ahead. I am looking forward to getting back to see Brooke, Sarah, and Sam. I have missed them. But I praise God for this trip to Rwanda, the encouragement I have received from these brothers in Christ, and getting to see the amazing things God is doing.

Below are some pictures.

Ben, Gordon, and I giving a thumbs up

Ben, Gordon, and I giving a thumbs up

Ben, Albert, and I giving a thumbs up

Ben, Albert, and I giving a thumbs up

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Wait for It…Wait for It

My brother used to say (and probably still says knowing his cheesy liners) that patience is a virtue…..of which I do not possess.   Today has taught me the value of patience.   Waiting patiently for food, meetings, and the Lord to work has been part of my learning today.

Let’s Eat Already

When we (Ben, Gordon, and I) checked into our guest house yesterday, the staff asked what time we wanted breakfast.  We told them 8:30am.  So this morning we wake up, take a shower, brush our teeth, and get ready for the day.  We head down for breakfast promptly at 8:30am.  But it is a long time coming.  We sit and wait.  It is a good thing Vianney joined us for breakfast for then we had more time with this sweet brother in Christ.  There were 5 of us at the table but only 2 cups for coffee/tea and only 2 small plates.  For the mathematically challenged, there are 3 people without cups or plates.  So we asked for more silverware and the server brought out 1 fork.  Things were getting a little crazy.  Can’t she see the discrepancy in the cup/plate to people ratio? Food was very slow in coming.  But it came and we enjoyed it. I even had my kids’ favorite, bread with butter and honey.  I now know why they enjoy it so much.  It was rather tasty.  I had 4 slices of bread like this (I know what you are thinking and you are probably right but I was hungry and it was really good).

The waiting was a little frustrating but the company was good as well as the food.  At the end of the meal I looked at the time and saw that we needed to leave soon so we could get Vianney to the bus terminal so he could catch a ride back.  We had a meeting at 11am to get to after dropping Vianney off at the terminal.  I announced we needed to leave because it was now 9:50 am (see the breakfast did take a while).  Vianney looked at me funny and checked the time.  He announced that in fact it was 8:50am.  I showed him my phone and assured him it was 9:50am.  Feeling confident he would relent, he then told me that Kigali was 1 hour behind Kampala.  Oops.  No wonder the server looked at us funny when we arrived.  No wonder the food was not ready for us.  So I learned to be patient because I might be in the wrong.

Let’s Meet Already

Knowing that the time was different we were not 1 hour early for our 11am meeting with Gerald Sseruwagi.  Instead of 1 hour early we were 1 hour late.  We did not know where the meeting place was exactly.  So we were to meet someone at a location we knew of and he would show us the rest of the way.  Only it took an hour for us to connect with him.  He was there but missed us and so went back.  We were just about to head back to the guest house when he finally was able to catch up with us.  It was frustrating but we made it.  Albeit one hour late.  The meeting was wonderful.  See below.  But I learned that sometimes the wait, senseless or not, is worth it. I just hope Gerald’s wait was worth it to him.

Our meeting was with Gerald Sseruwagi who is a Ugandan living in Rwanda.  So yes, we did leave Uganda to come to Rwanda to meet with a Uganda.  Go figure.

Gerald has an amazing story.  He became a Christian as a young boy.  His animistic father kicked him out of the house.  So he was living on the street with no home.  Some PCA missionaries started loving on him and caring for him.

Let’s Greet Already

Let me tell you more about what God has done in Gerald’s life.  Today he is the rector of a theological college in Rwanda.  He is shaping young lives and bettering the theological climate in the midst of a theological famine among pastors in Rwanda specifically and Africa in general.  Gerald has a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and a PhD.  This is not common at all.  God has taken an unwanted boy to teach others that they are wanted by God.  A boy who was not wanted by his father was wanted by God the Father.  God can take the lowest and use them for His kingdom.

During the meeting it came out that Gordon had been in Uganda in 1981 and had visited the missionaries loving on Gerald.  They may have even met but it has been 33 years ago so the details are foggy.  And let me tell you, I can’t remember 33 years ago (granted I was 2 years old then).  But here Gordon sits and sees the fruit of the work he visited 33 years ago.  What a blessing.

While hearing these stories of Gerald God pressed two things in my mind.  1) I need to take the long view as a missionary.  The work those faithful men and women did 33 years ago is now showing wonderful fruit.  God moves but not necessarily with the microwave speed I might want.  So I need to adjust my expectations on the timing of the fruit. 2) God can work in amazing ways.  God can use people who might be unwanted by society.  He can use those we deem ‘low’ for His kingdom purposes.  This is good news for someone like me.

Let’s Seat Already

It’s late and I am running out of clever headers.  But we did have a seat with Michelle.  He had to wait on us to come meet him.  But I hope he thought it was worth it.  He is a Rwandan friend of Gordon.  He is a survivor of the genocide in Rwanda that occurred in 1994.  He came back after the fighting and helped with a church plant in caring for orphans.  He has helped participate in bringing reconciliation between the tribes in Rwanda.  He is an amazing man with an amazing story.  I learned that listening to the stories of seemingly common people can be gateways into the workings of an amazing God.

Today was a full day but a very rewarding day.  We have been thoroughly blessed to meet with these wonderful men of God.  While I might not have much patience, I hope I can learn to have the patience to see God do half of the things these men are doing in me and through me.

Below are some pictures from today (and from yesterday too).

Ben, Michelle, and I give a big thumbs up

Ben, Michelle, and I give a big thumbs up

Beautiful view of the moon from our room

Beautiful view of the moon from our room

Ben, Gerald, and I give it a big thumbs up

Ben, Gerald, and I give it a big thumbs up

You can tell why they call Rwanda the land of 1,000 hills.

You can tell why they call Rwanda the land of 1,000 hills.

God has really made Uganda beautiful!!!

God has really made Uganda beautiful!!!

Vianney, Ben, and I give a hearty thumbs up to God's amazing work!

Vianney, Ben, and I give a hearty thumbs up to God’s amazing work!

Ben in Kigali.  By the way this is the usual reaction we get in Africa :)

Ben in Kigali. By the way this is the usual reaction we get in Africa 🙂

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The Long Way Down

Today, my teammate Ben Church and I traveled to Rwanda. We brought with us Gordon Woolard who works for MTW and has been to Rwanda several times and knows people here we can meet. We came to Rwanda to meet various saints and just to get to know them and so Gordon is the perfect travelling partner.

We left at 4:30am from Kampala, Uganda to drive all the way to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. We arrived in Kigali at 4:30pm. So for the mathematically challenged that is 12 hours of travel. We only went down the wrong road twice. We traveled about 520 km in those 12 hours including our detours. We did stop for about 30 minutes to eat lunch and about an hour at the border between Uganda and Rwanda. We almost didn’t make it in because they needed to see proof that I owned my car. That documentation is in process and so I did not have it on me. But thanks to the internet it was able to be emailed to the right people.

When we got into town, Ben and I drove to a shopping center to get phone service and to find and ATM. The ATM was scary because I read the receipt as saying we only had $150 left in our account. That really did cause me to panic some. But I checked online and we have what I thought we should have had.

We also met up with Vianney who is a Rwandan pastor who came to Kigali to meet with us. We took him and Gordon to dinner where Vianney shared about his ministry in western Rwanda (side note: we had Indian food…in Rwanda. Needless to say we hurried home after dinner). He works as a pastor at a church and runs a pastor training center. This latter work is very important because he says 99% of the pastors in his area have no formal training.

He told us that part of what he does is to take teaching materials in English and translate them into the local language so the pastors can have them. Most pastors only speak the local language. This means they have little access to quality theological materials. He shared that what he has seen God do through the pastor training is to really equip them to properly handle the Word of God.

Visiting with fellow believers and hearing what God is doing in another part of Africa is a huge blessing. It makes this long day well worth it. We are spent, but it is a good spent. We got here safely and have a few more days to visit and hear more about God’s mighty work in Rwanda.

Here are some pictures from our day of travel and meeting with Vianney. Please pray for continued safety and for more good meetings.

What a wonderful view we have from our guest house

What a wonderful view we have from our guest house

Vast tea fields greeted us in Rwanda

Vast tea fields greeted us in Rwanda

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