Category Archives: Missions

Turning Back

My time as a marching band member

I was never in the marching band in high school. My brother was. My sister was. But not me. I don’t have a lick of artistic ability. If they had marching math lovers then I might have done that. But I was never in the marching band…until a Sunday in 2015.

To Join a Marching Band

Rashid invited me to a church he was helping to plant in Mukono, Uganda. The young church also has a school for nearby students. They had received the results of the P7 exams for their students. P7 exams are a big deal. It is like having to pass a test in order to go from 6th grade to 7th grade in America. If you don’t pass then you are done with school. In some cases repeating the grade is acceptable but most don’t want to pay more school fees.

Rashid and I at the church after marching

Rashid and I at the church. Oh my, that facial hair.

So this school affiliated with the church plant had a student who passed with a first grade and everyone else passed with a second grade. They told me a first grade is very special but rare, especially for new schools. So they had to celebrate. They wanted to praise God for what He had done. What better way to do this than to march around the village behind a marching band, while announcing the good news?

So we marched. Ok, technically I wasn’t in the marching band but I was marching behind them. It is as close as I have gotten yet.

I knew we would do some marching but I wasn’t aware it would be 8km of marching. I have never run a 5k, but now I have marched an 8k. Dust was everywhere, on the road, in the air, and all over me. I could taste the dust. I had worn pants.  So it surprised me when I got home and realized that even my legs were covered in dust. I had so much dust that I thought my next child should be called Dusty.  You can see just how dusty it was in the videos below.

Finishing marching

It was dusty that day. Just a bit.

But something curious happened. We had just begun marching and hadn’t even made our first turn. We were walking along the big main road. It was then that a young girl, about 15 years old, came up and started talking to me. It was the usual ‘what is your name’ and ‘what do you do’. Then I suppose she became concerned for me because she asked me if I wanted to turn back. She said that if I was getting tired then I should turn back because we had a ways to go yet. Then she suggested I could ride in the cars following us if I needed rest.  You can see the cars in a video below.

I didn’t know if I should be appreciative or insulted. We were only about 1km into our 8km trip. She offered for me to quickly turn back and not endure the trip. I don’t think that says a lot about her view of mzungus (white people).

The Gospel Marching Band

But this got me thinking about the book of Galatians which I was preaching through at the time. In 1:6 Paul is astonished that the Galatians were “so quickly deserting” the God who called them into the grace of Christ. Just like the young girl to me, some other people had come to Galatia and tried to get the Galatian Christians to turn back from following Christ and not endure in the journey after Him.

This begins Paul’s letter into what the gospel is and why we should not add to it and thus abandon it. In Galatia, the issue was circumcision and other Jewish religious activities. They taught faith + works = salvation. In Uganda, these works have different aspects but have the same effect. They are not the gospel at all. Yet many are preaching a different gospel.

In my time at Westminster Christian Institute Uganda, I have learned of how many students have repented of believing a false gospel. I have also heard of the various things many preach in Uganda. Despite a large number of churches and counted Christians in Uganda, the need for true gospel preaching is enormous.

The gospel formula is faith + nothing = salvation + works. Many put works on the wrong side of the equation. We are saved by Christ and then empowered to do good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). Yet Paul, in Galatians, is clear that nothing can be added to Jesus’ work in His death and resurrection. It is all by grace. It is easy to trust in what we do but we must lean on Jesus only. We must march forward in grace. This is a message Uganda needs and a message I need. Every single day.

This is the end of our trip.  Notice the dust and the cars behind.  And that crowd was something.

Here we are beginning our journey.

Marching in the village

Here we march off the main road and in the village.

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The Spirits

A biblical look at a common belief in Uganda

How does the world work? What forces guide the everyday events we see? How you answer depends on your worldview. A worldview is a set of assumptions about the fundamental workings and realities of the world. Everyone has one whether they know it or not. A worldview answers questions like: what is the purpose of life? what is good? what governs the world? and what is real?.

Different regions of the world have different worldviews. Africa is no different. While not uniform, there is a shared basic worldview in much sub-Sahara Africa, if not all of Africa.

What happens when an owl hoots in a tree at night? Is it just a hoot or is something more happening? In much of Uganda, it is believed that this is a signal of bad things including death. So, they chase owls away. Owls are viewed as evil and harbingers of death. They are not a symbol of wisdom as in the West. They are not painted on walls nor are backpacks made to look like owls.

I was with a group touring an orphanage in Uganda. We got the part of the new building where the babies are housed. There were several cribs lined up along the walls in a fairly big room with high ceilings. The walls had a nice paint job with a mural. The mural was a bunch of those cute owls with pointy ears. I speculate that it was painted by someone from somewhere other than Africa.

Basics of Spirits in Uganda

Many of the Ugandans hearing about an owl hooting in a tree assume the work of spirits. Westerners hearing the story assume it is just a bird with no spiritual significance. Africans assume the spirits are active. Westerners assume atoms, molecules, and instinct are doing their thing. Your worldview will determine your thoughts on this matter.

The outside of a small typical shrine.
Credit: not me

In Uganda like much of Africa, it is the spirits who guide and direct everything. They are behind many of the objects and events in everyday life. Hence the term animism, as the spirits animate things. African Traditional Religion (ATR) is how people relate to these spirits. The spirits are everywhere. Belief in them is ubiquitous. There is a spirit of the lake. Trees, animals, and earthquakes have different spirit influences and/or causes. The owl has a spirit that announces bad tidings.

I had a student tell me that many in his village leave some matooke behind in the field when harvesting. This is to appease the spirit that governs such things. Another student told me, in order to have a successful gathering, you must put food for the spirits out the back door with your right hand with your back to the door.

On a side note, this African animism informs my working theory about African/Ugandan art. Most if not all of the art I have seen in Uganda is not what would be called realism. It is not postmodern make of it what you will. You can tell it is a giraffe, elephant, or a person but there is something stretched or just out of place for it to be a more realistic image. This is neither good nor bad, but just the way art is done by most in Uganda.

African art is not quite realism

Most in Uganda believe in spirits. Spirits are ubiquitous. The question is not about whether there are spirits. The question is how to deal with them. A Ugandan Christian asked, in a cultural training class I was a part of when first arriving in Uganda, how to handle the spirits and new cars. He said that he knew it was wrong to take a new car to the witchdoctor so he could bless the car so it would be protected from attack by spirits on the road. This blessing usually involves sprinkling the car with blood from a chicken. His proposal was that the elders of the church should lay hands on the car and pray for protection from the spirits. Some people even have bumper stickers that read: “This car is covered by the blood of Jesus.”

Notice how he assumes the spirits are an issue. He assumes the spirits have control over cars and roads. There are many spots on various roads that many think there are spirits that can bring an accident.

But how can you get these spirits to help you instead of hurt you? Enter the witchdoctors. They have a special ability to communicate with the spirits. They can tell you what the spirit(s) want in order to be appeased. In return, they give you some request. They ply their trade at shrines. This is a large part of ATR.
When people go to the shrine, the witchdoctor asks for some sacrifice. They ask for money, chickens, or many other things . . . including humans (and while it may be uncommon, humans are still sacrificed today). The bigger the request from the spirits, the bigger the sacrifice. The witchdoctor knows the proper sacrifice because he alone can communicate with the spirits. Some come to the witchdoctor to ask the spirits to curse another person. This is done for jealousy, revenge, or a host of other reasons.

A shrine in Uganda.
Credit: matookerepublic.com

The spirits are seen as capricious. They do as they please and sometimes bless and sometimes curse. This is why you need the witchdoctor to help secure the blessing. All events are interpreted through this lens of the spirits acting. Did someone die unexpectedly? Then was it spirits? Hooting owls, earthquakes, and many other events have a spirit acting giving some message. The spirits have the power and authority to act as they please upon the earth. Many realize this and try to get the spirits to work on their behalf.

Because of the prevalence of the belief in spirits, it should not come as a surprise that many consult witchdoctors. Yet it does surprise me. Many attend church on Sunday and visit a shrine during the week. Articles discussing this can be found here, here, and here. Apparently, voting season is the time for politicians to pray to God and visit shrines in hopes of getting a favorable outcome.

Biblical Analysis of Spirits

What should we make of spirits? How does the Bible treat them? Is it ok to visit the shrine? It is important to understand the culture and evaluate it in light of Scripture.

If the spirits are as Ugandans/Africans believe, then they are made by God. They would have some authority to bring blessing and curse. They would need to be appeased to bring the desired result. It would mean that prosperous living is simply a matter of the spirits acting in your favor. We will deal with these claims below.

If we assume the Ugandan/African view of spirits then spirits are different from demons. Demons are evil forces of Satan (Matthew 12:24-29). They are only acting for evil against God and his people. Demons are always portrayed negatively and are dealt with by casting them out. Spirits, on the other hand, are capricious and, as far as I know, answer to no higher authority (though some believe in a distant creator god). They may be appeased to bring a blessing for the supplicant or a curse on someone else. They act for random reasons. I will argue that where spirits are acting, they are in fact demons. But more on that below.

I have taught the book of Genesis to theology students in Uganda several times. It is foundational for a worldview. It is the book of beginnings. In Genesis 1 we see many of the things God created. He created light, stars, land, sky, plants, animals, and humans. The spirits are not named as something God created and thus have no authority. I like to ask the students where are the spirits mentioned as being created. To be fair, angels are not mentioned as being created in Genesis 1. But they are mentioned elsewhere and mentioned as created beings. Spirits are nowhere mentioned in the Bible, at least in the form of African spirits.

As a matter of fact, it is humans that are given dominion on earth (Genesis 1:26-30). All things God created, save for the sun, moon, and stars, were put under the dominion of man. Therefore, it is not the spirits who have dominion/authority on earth. It is mankind.

The Bible must define our worldview

In Genesis 1, God gave His blessing to humanity. Mankind was to take the blessing of Eden and extend it to the whole world. After blessing mankind, God commanded them to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). We see here that the dominion and blessing of God given to mankind has a global application.

Also in Genesis, Abraham is given the blessing of God (Genesis 12:1-3, 7; 22:18). There God says that all will find blessing in him and his seed. Ultimately we know this seed is Jesus Christ and blessing comes through Him (Galatians 3:14-16). So blessing is found nowhere else save in and through Christ. It cannot be found in spirits or any other entity.

So the spirits, as offered in Ugandan/African animism, are not in the Bible. Though unclean spirits are mentioned, these are the same thing as demons as Matthew 8:16, Luke 4:33, and Luke 8:29 show. What is interesting to note is the similarities between spirits and the other idols/gods in the Bible. The idols/gods are capricious, there are many of them, and you need to bring a sacrifice to the priest who is the mediator between the god and the supplicant. The other gods were an alluring draw to Israel. One of the most often repeated sins of Israel in the Old Testament is chasing after these gods.

We know these other gods are no gods at all (1 Corinthians 8:4). Yet they held sway over many. Certainly, they held some sort of power. It is my contention that their power was from demons. A couple of verses show that sacrifices to these so-called gods were sacrifices to demons:

Deuteronomy 32:17 – “They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded.”

1 Corinthians 10:20 – “No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.”

A statue of Baal.
Credit: Wikipedia

So as many flock to witchdoctors to entreat the spirits to act on their behalf, they are actually flocking to demons. They are flocking to sworn enemies of God. Spirits are not neutral nor benign. In fact, they are evil and we should fight against them.

So what shall we do about this? “But what if someone curses me?” This is a real question from a real student. We need to know some biblical truth in order to deal with this issue and bring comfort to our souls.

1. We have to know God is sovereign over everything, including spirits. They cannot act independently of God. God is not powerless to stop them. God governs any power they may have. Satan himself must ask God’s permission to sift Peter like wheat (Luke 22:31). So there is nothing spirits/demons can do that
is outside of God’s control.

2. We must know no believer can be possessed by spirits/demons. Also, the demons in the Bible come out with a word from Christ and even His apostles. There is spiritual warfare but God gives us the armor to deal with it (Ephesians 6:10-20).

3. We need to know God is working for the believer’s good (Romans 8:28). Can bad circumstances befall a believer? Most certainly, yes. Is that the work of a spirit? You just cannot know. But God is bringing good out of it.

4. You should pray for protection. You should, like Jesus did for Peter, pray that your faith not fail.

Many seek witchdoctors and the spirits in order to gain something. Mostly they seek financial or health-related gains. Christians pray for these very things from God, and they should. But the Bible makes clear that God’s ordinary working is through ‘normal’ events. That is why Paul instructs people to work so they can provide for their families and others (Ephesians 4:28). It is also why Paul tells Timothy to take wine for his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23). He recognizes that God uses ordinary means. If we think the only way we can get rich or well is through the spirits then we have missed plain biblical teaching.

What about the Ugandan Christian mentioned previously? He was wondering if he should take a new car to the elders for them to lay hands and pray for it in order to gain protection from spirits. Is that something that should be done? Since the spirits in the Ugandan sense are not real, then I would say no. But they should pray for it that the passengers be kept safe and that it would be used for God’s glory.

Conclusion

I say all this not because I don’t believe in spiritual realities we don’t see. I do, in fact, believe in them. Analyzing a big part of African society from a biblical worldview is my goal. Is there room for the spirits? Are they as ATR says they are? What is really going on?

Spirits, in the Ugandan sense, are not real entities from a biblical worldview. There are demons, however. These spiritual entities use the belief in the spirits to gain a powerful stronghold. We must seek God’s Word for guidance in dealing with demons/unclean spirits.

We need not be beholden to an ATR worldview. Instead, we need to seek a biblical worldview. We see the Bible does not discuss or acknowledge the spirits as presented in ATR. Instead, the Bible presents an ordered world with one God who is sovereign and has given mankind, not spirits, dominion and blessing. We must seek this God and live in light of His truth.

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The Witch Doctor’s Wife

The Power of God

One of the goals of church planting is taking the gospel to places it is less known, taking it to places where people don’t know the good news of Jesus Christ. The church, most keenly through church planting, storms the gates of hell to pronounce the gospel.

In an effort to grow in my own understanding of church planting here in Uganda I spoke with some church planters. Once such person, Ben Tomugabe, told how his church is storming the gates of hell and proclaiming the gospel.

Pastor Ben is from a region outside Kampala, and planting New Jerusalem Church in an area near Kampala, Uganda. He is planting with the Presbyterian Church in Uganda denomination. He is using his home’s yard as the meeting place for the church. The plant began in early 2014 with a bible study and grew within a year (at the time I spoke to him about these events) to meeting regularly with 80 people.

After buying his home, but before the church plant, pastor Ben found out a witch doctor happens to live just across the small dirt road from his house. The witch doctor practices his craft seeking the spirits on the behalf of others. His shrine is just a stone’s throw from Ben’s house. He is married to three wives and has children.

The witch doctor is famous in the community. Many go to consult with him about various life issues. But Pastor Ben wanted a church who proclaimed Christ to be known in the community. So he started planting a church just meters away from a witch doctor.

When the services began at New Jerusalem, a few of the witch doctor’s children, including his heir, were attending the bible club for children. The mother of these children, one of the witch doctor’s three wives, was coming to know about NJ.

Meanwhile, the witch doctor told his wife that within one month something bad would happen to the church and it would no longer be there. The spirits would make sure of that. This got his wife’s attention and she watched patiently for something treacherous to befall the young church.

Nothing happened. When she realized nothing had happened or would happen she questioned the witchcraft ways in her heart. She said that God is beyond the power of the evil spirits. Seeing the impotence of the spirits in the face of the power of God, she knew that in actuality the spirits were powerless.

So she began to meet with Pastor Ben every Monday after dark. She didn’t want to meet on Sunday or during the day for fear that some of the witch doctor’s customers would see her and report to her husband. This reminds me of Nicodemus meeting with Jesus in the Gospel of John. Nicodemus came out at night presumably to meet in secret with Jesus. Why else is that detail included?

So, even though steps were taken to be secret about her meeting with the pastor, the witch doctor found out. He kicked her out and she is no longer his wife. She was forced to leave her home and her children as he has kept them.

Pastor Ben has helped her and prayed for her. He helped her find her sister, who is a Christian, and helped her get there. She is currently living with her sister. She has experienced tragedy and Christ is loving her through Pastor Ben and her sister.

This event demonstrates the seriousness of witchcraft in Uganda. But it also demonstrates the power of God over the spirits. The witch doctor’s wife saw this plainly. More churches are needed to help people see God as the true power. He alone can save and provide the true comfort people seek in Uganda and around the world.

When asked what could help church planting efforts in Uganda, Pastor Ben said that having some outsiders, specifically Americans stand with him would be helpful. I don’t know what this entails but it at least includes praying for Ben and others gospel proclaiming planting churches in Uganda. Let us do that today.

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The Civil War Pastor

Patrick is an example of faithfulness in hard circumstances

Last week I blogged about remaining faithful in hard circumstances like Joseph did. This week I met a man who illustrated this so well.

South Sudan, as you know, is undergoing a civil war. Many areas are not safe and there is no end in sight. There are over 1 million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Many have fled to Uganda. Many others have fled to UNMISS camps within South Sudan. These camps provide safety from bullets but do not provide food or medicine.

Peter and I in Kampala. Thumbs Up!!!!

I got to meet with Patrick, a South Sudanese pastor. We met for dinner as he was in Kampala at a conference discussing peace in South Sudan. We dined at KFC. Why KFC? It was the only thing I knew was close by his conference.

Patrick pastors two churches in Juba and is the General Secretary of the Synod of the Sudanese Reformed Church. He has a wife and 4 children. His wife and 2 children are safe in Kenya, another child is studying in Egypt, and the last is studying in the Ukraine. He alone remains in Juba serving his church and his people.

He told me he was almost killed three times. He praises God that he was able to escape from each incident. He also told me that one church was burned down and that 27 people of that church were killed. Some of these on purpose and some in the crossfire.

The Sudanese Reformed Church denomination is small by some measures in having 16 congregations. But they are big in faithfulness.

How do they respond to the crisis? With so many in the UNMISS camps, they have started 18 small groups to minister to the people in the camps. Because of the great number of IDPs they have begun a school, with grades K-3 currently, to serve the needs of the children.

What was fascinating is his ask. He asked for someone to watch their growth and give advice. He asked for a more mature body to be a mentor to their small group. He asked for assistance in the area of leadership development. He asked for prayer. He asked for help in progressing gospel work in South Sudan. He wants to see Christ’s kingdom expand in the face of war, famine, and many other hardships. He is being faithful.

I was both encouraged and challenged. Certainly we can pray for him and his church. May God bless their efforts and extend His kingdom in South Sudan. May South Sudan know the peace of Christ.

Sudanese Reformed Church by the numbers

16Congregations
18Small Groups in UNMISS camps
12Ordained Pastors
18Evangelists
16Ruling Elders
8Deacons
6,000Members

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Vehicular Theology

It happened once near my house in Uganda.  I was driving and saw a car with a bible verse on its vanity license plate.  It was a very nice car, a recent model Land Rover Discovery in a forest green color.  Beyond a nice and functional ride, this car also serves as a status symbol.  The license plate displayed “Eph 3 20” for all Uganda to see.

A typical Ugandan license plate is yellow with black letters stamped into it.  But it is not uncommon to see vanity plates in Uganda.  They are typically on nicer cars.  You can spot them because they have green letters instead of black ones.

The cost of these plates has been a mystery I have yet to fully untangle.  I have been told they cost $2,000 USD.  I have been told that they cost some considerable amount each month.  The only commonality is the fact that they are much more expensive than a typical license plate.

Poor theology cruises the streets

Poor theology cruises the streets

This particular plate had me upset.  It was common prosperity gospel (all too common in Uganda as with much of the world) stamped onto the owner’s car declaring God has blessed him with such a nice car.  To be clear, I take no issue with the niceness of the car or of putting bible verses on vanity plates.  I take issue with the false message this particular car displayed.

I saw this car and its plate the one time.  Then I saw it again and then a third time.  I had to get a picture.  But driving and being able to get a picture of a passing vehicle is not easy or recommended.  Then one day my dreams came true, it was parked in the same parking lot I was.  I whipped out my phone and snapped a picture.

Why do I take issue with this car?  Its message isn’t biblical.  Sure it has a bible verse on it but what it communicates distorts the teaching of that passage.

What does Ephesians 3:20 say?  “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.”  This vehicle communicates that this car is the owner’s because God can do far more abundantly than all he could ask or imagine.  But is this the point of the text?  Is his material wellbeing (i.e. prosperity) what the passage is discussing?

This passage is ascribing praise to God for the wonders of the salvation He provides in Christ.  The context tells us this.  In Ephesians 3:8, what is preached are the unsearchable riches of Christ.  It is Paul’s prayer in verses 16-19 of chapter 3 that his readers would understand just how amazing the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.  Notice the ‘unsearchable’ and ‘surpassing knowledge’ aspect.  God’s work is so wonderful and far above human understanding and even expectation that prayer should be made to understand it.

Then in our verse Paul moves into praising God for doing things that are so amazing we dare not call them true save for the fact God has revealed them as true.  This salvation in Christ, forgiveness and freedom from sin, is amazing.  It is so wonderful.  Too often we take it for granted.  We pass by it.  But Paul here is pausing to praise God for providing redemption in Christ.  We need to stop and ponder the salvation God has brought.

To then apply this to something comparatively worthless as a nice car is too much.  As C.S. Lewis and John Piper have said, the car owner’s desires are not too big but too small – he is too easily satisfied.  It tremendously devalues what God has done.

So yes, I take issue with this car and its message.

Should we thank God for everything He gives us?  Yes.  From the wonder of salvation to the wonder bread, from being called a child of God to phones to call others.  But this is not the verse to do it.  The owner has taken something unsearchable and reduced it to something far less.

This vehicle highlights thinking that is far too common in Uganda and throughout the world.  That is the expectation of temporal and material blessings.  It is not God’s will that every believer should be rich.  God has promised to take care of material needs, not to make every Christian financially wealthy.  The testimony of Christ and His apostles is enough to show that.  What He has promised is eternal life to all who believe in Christ.  What He has promised is forgiveness, adoption, and the Holy Spirit to power our love of others.  Those are the things we should seek and expect from God.

We need to expect great things from God, greater and more beyond knowledge than a Land Rover Discovery.

 

Here is a video of something fun on the roads in Kampala:

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The Importance of Church Planting

Upon arriving in Uganda, I was to spend 5 months in cultural training.  Then I was to spend 6 months focusing on learning Luganda.  I did both of those things.  Next was to explore ministries and network as a way of looking for a place to minister.  I got to know various people, churches, and ministries.  What I found that fit my interest, giftings, and was a need was church planting.

Church planting is in the DNA of MTW and is included in the tagline– “Planting Churches. Transforming Communities.”  It is getting into my blood as well.  The more I look

That's me teaching at a church planting conference in Uganda

That’s me teaching at a church planting conference in Uganda

and think the more I see the need for raising up gospel centered church planters in Uganda.

Church planting is popular in church circles today and for good reason.  Christ has promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18).  Church planting is thus a wonderful way to participate in Christ’s work on earth.

What is church planting?  It is a new establishment of the gathering of the saints.  It is mostly comprised of new believers or those without a church home, not so much those from other churches.  It is a new outpost of the worshiping community.  It is a new church being started.  I am not exactly sure why it is called church planting.  My best guess because of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:6, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”  Hence church planting.

There are a myriad of ideas and practices associated with church planting.  So I started reading.  A lot.  But recently I have found something that has blown my mind.  I knew it was important and one of if not the best way to evangelize.  But I didn’t know just how important.

Keller Church Planting ManualYou might be thinking, aren’t there enough churches already?  In Timothy Keller’s and J. Allen Thompson’s Church Planting Manual, they lay out some fascinating statistics that say perhaps there are not.  In 1776, 17% of the population in America were “religious adherents.”  In 1906 that number climbed to 53%.  Why?  Church planting.  From 1860-1906 there was a new church plant for every increase in population of 350.[1]

Yo.  That is amazing.  It is church planting that was the main factor in the growth of believers in America.  These stats have revitalized my pursuit of church planting in Uganda.

Many say there are enough churches in Uganda.  The population is growing as well as moving to the cities.  More healthy churches are needed.  More trained and equipped church planters are needed.  This is my ministry – discipling church planters to plant healthy churches.  Please pray for wisdom and guidance from the Lord.  Please pray for laborers; for the harvest is plentiful here in Uganda (Matthew 9:37-38).

[1] All stats taken from Keller & Thompson, Church Planting Manual, p32.

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This is Africa

We had just pulled out of my gate and were driving up the hill from my house when it happened. I live on a small residential road here in Uganda, complete with about 10 speed humps, with walled compounds towering on each side of the road but with a few open plots. We saw a small white car approaching in the opposite lane. We were the only two cars on the street. All of a sudden it darted in front of us turning right onto another road forming a T-junction just to our left. The driver basically drove through the wrong lane to get onto the road. For reference, if a car had been waiting to turn on that road he would have hit it. But if a car had been there he would have driven past us and made the turn into the proper lane.

This is the road going up from our house

This is the road going up from our house

I have seen this thing many times before but that didn’t stop me from questioning the driving skills of that other driver. Oh the frustration. My wife can attest at how many times I digress into foaming about the issues on the road. But please don’t, honey. That might be a bit embarrassing.

Note: I am sure my driving has caused many to question me.

It was a Ugandan friend, Mike, who was driving. I was riding with him so he could drop me at my destination on the way to his. Upon hearing my grumblings about the driver’s actions, he said, “This is Africa.”

It is not the first time I have heard that phrase uttered. I have heard it from Ugandans, Africans, and expatriates alike. Wanting to know his take on the phrase, I asked him what it meant. He explained that people in Uganda do whatever they want and have their own way of doing things.

It might analogous to a northerner being in Tennessee, asking for tea and getting sweat tea by default. The waiter might reply, “This is the South.” Or hearing “Hon” from someone and asking them why they call everyone that, they might reply, “This is Baltimore.” Or going to Chicago and ordering pizza and getting some cheese, tomato, and vegetable filled monstrosity and asking where your pizza is, you hear, “This is Chicago.”

However analogous to these situations, “This is Africa” is decidedly a negative comment. I have heard this phrase in reference to many things such as inefficient ways of doing things, bribes, a leader’s abuse of power, and traffic craziness (of course) among other things. It is a recognition that something might not be right or the best but “This is Africa” and that is just how it is. It is a phrase that denotes the presence of something bad but it not surprising to find it here because, “This is Africa.” The phrase even has an abbreviation: “TIA.”

Everyone seems to recognize something is amiss but nothing can be done about it because “This is Africa.” I do not like the phrase though. As true as it might seem at times, it conveys a defeatist attitude. So I avoid the phrase. But many don’t avoid it including a lot of Ugandans I know.

I want this slang to change. I want it to change meanings. I want Ugandans to say it often. However, I want it to be in response to positive things. No one says, “This is Africa” in response to a kind deed or loving response. But I want that to be the case.

This is Africa

This is Africa

This is not a blog about self-help or even Africa-help. It is a blog about gospel-help. The gospel is the only thing that can change the actions and attitudes of Africans. The good news of Jesus Christ changes lives and cultures.

There once was a rich theological heritage Africa. For example, Tertullian, who coined the phrase, ‘Trinity’, is from Africa. One of the biggest church leaders of all time, Augustine, was from Africa. Africa today needs a fresh dose of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The above issues mentioned such as traffic chaos, bribes, and abuse of power find their cure only in the gospel. Take abuse of power. You cannot give away power or be truly self-sacrificial with power if you don’t know Jesus, who having all the power in the universe sacrificed his own life for others. Bribes meet their end when people know Jesus who was generous and giving. Some traffic chaos will be lessened when people know Jesus who was obedient to the law and preached the law. These traits are respected in the West because of the large Christian influence for at least 1,500 years.

To be sure there are many wonderful things happening here. Just the other day I was driving and had to stop because of a one car jam. The small blue hatchback got its front right wheel stuck in a hole. A crowd had gathered to watch as about 10 or 15 guys helped to get the car out of the hole. Just as I was about to turn around and go another way, I saw the car lurch forward. They had gotten it out. This kind of thing, sadly, is not referred to as “This is Africa.”

My hope is that people see the gospel at work and the Spirit of God moving and they think it is supposed to happen because “This is Africa.” It might take some time, but my prayer is when people see sacrificial leadership, no bribes, or other gospel traits they will say, “This is Africa.”

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Dairy Farming 101

God likes to connect dots. Like with Paul with Barnabas who God connected to form a great church planting team. No church planting duo here, unless it is teaching on church planting. Then that is what Bruce and I are. We are just not sure how dynamic the duo is.

But I digress. A pastor from the PCA called MTW about a ministry he had partnered with in Kitali, Kenya. This place happens to be about 30 miles from where we are. So it was a no brainer to run over and greet those at the ministry.

Bruce and I with Isaac with the church in the background

Bruce and I with Isaac with the church in the background

While there we got to meet Isaac. He helps run an orphanage and pastors a church. The orphanage was started in 1994 and now helps take care of about 52 children. It is a wonderful ministry to the least of these.

Part of what he is looking for is the help pastors get training in the Bible. Abraham runs a center training pastors (which is why we are here this week). So the dots are just now beginning to be connected. We thank God for this providential meeting.

Cooking for that many people requires large cooking areas, pans, and utensils. Bruce was happy to hop in and help make some ugali (Kenyan posho). But seriously, these are big pots and vast amounts of food. This is also true at the school where we are teaching. There is a picture of a giant pot filled with maize and beans – or it could be ‘a maize bean’ pot. Say it fast and it sort of sounds like amazing. Please forgive the puns. I think it is because I am surrounded by so much corn (maize) that the corny side comes out.

Bruce can't wait to eat the ugali he is cooking (notice tongue).

Bruce can’t wait to eat the ugali he is cooking (notice tongue).

I was not to be out done. I had watched Judith, Abraham’s wife, do it that morning. So I invited myself to do it later that evening. When I got home she made sure to remember. Then I heard her calling Taliya, their dairy cow. I also saw Judith carrying a spoon of Kimbo (Crisco) and a small bucket of water. I knew it was time.

I must admit I had a few nervous moments. I have never milked a cow before. But here I am with a spoon of Kimbo staring at a cow’s teat. I am out of my depth. Give me a room of 100 and ask me to teach the Bible and I am fine. But this. It is not my comfort zone.

Luckily she got me started. She helped wash the teat. I copied her actions. Then she told me to use the Kimbo. I got a little on my finger and it was greasy. Thus it does what it is supposed to do. I conjured all the moves and tv shows I have watched where cows were milked. I needed help.

Look out a dairy farmer is at work.

Look out a dairy farmer is at work.

So I just reached out, grabbed a teat in each hand, and started pulling. Milk. Ok. Milk again. Not so bad. I get alternating pulls like I have seen done. More milk. I am now a dairy farmer. And a comedian. Judith was laughing at the mzungu milking her cow. Her children also found this episode humorous. Abraham had to come over and continue taking pictures. Through it all I kept milking. I suppose ¼ of the bucket was filled under my direction.

I am blaming it on the positioning and my bad knee but I was getting tired. Judith happily came in as the relief pitcher. When she started it was like a waterfall of milk came pouring out of that cow. Mine was like a trickle. I thought I was doing so well. I was just pretending to be a dairy farmer. When she stepped in it was like I hadn’t even begun. That milk made it into the tea the next morning and I must say it is the best Kenyan tea I have ever had. Oh and keep scrolling for the pictures.

The church near the orphanage where they worship.  It is quite beautiful.

The church near the orphanage where they worship. It is quite beautiful.

Isaac showing Abraham and Bruce the boys dorm and cooking area.

Isaac showing Abraham and Bruce the boys dorm and cooking area.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

That's me teaching!

That’s me teaching!

Our cooks feed us well at our teaching.

Our cooks feed us well at our teaching.

Kitari.  Or as I call it amaizebean pot.

Kitari. Or as I call it amaizebean pot.

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About the only thing I will win at the dairy farmer's convention is best dressed - or better yet - most inappropriately dressed.

About the only thing I will win at the dairy farmer’s convention is best dressed – or better yet – most inappropriately dressed.

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1-IMG_4062

SONY DSC

I am pretend preaching in the church with Abraham as the pretend interpreter.

I am pretend preaching in the church with Abraham as the pretend interpreter.

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Kenyan Fall Festival

One of the things Brooke misses most is fall. With the changing of leaves to cooling weather to the fall clothes to football it all warms her heart. OK, maybe the football is more of my favorite things about fall. To be fair though she does enjoy a good football game which is awesome!

After class yesterday, Abraham took us to the weekly market. This is the market where people come from all over with their food and wares. It is much like a festival save for the funnel cakes and pony rides.

The Kenyan Fall Festival

The Kenyan Fall Festival

One person had a big bag of maize and I was running my hand through it. As I did I felt a cold chill and was reminded of football for some reason. With a chill in the air, produce being sold, and football on my mind it hit me that I was in something of a Kenyan fall festival. Except that it’s not fall, it’s not football season, I’m in Africa, and I am only about 70 km from the Equator. Other than that it was totally a fall festival.

Speaking of class, two paragraphs ago, it was my turn to do some teaching. These students are sharp. It is becoming clearer that I enjoy teaching and it is one of my passions. Whether or not I am any good is another question. But I do hope to get better and grown in teaching.

After class and the fall festival, we made a stop by the place where Abraham’s (our wonderful host) church worships God. It is a small mud sided building that shares pews/desks with a nearby school. The church started under a tree and moved a short distance to the current building. They have mostly built a nice and big brick church building but are waiting for iron sheets for a roof. You can see all three in two pictures below. In one picture Abraham has his foot on the stump of the original meeting place with the current in the background and in the other he has his foot on the stump with the future meeting place in the background. It is quite a look at the patience in church planning in Africa.

The church planting class gives a big thumbs up!

The church planting class gives a big thumbs up!

Speaking of Brooke, 5 paragraphs ago, we got to FaceTime right after lunch. That was quite the experience. I am in the bush of Kenya and she is in the big city in Uganda. It felt like she was in America in some ways. But I got to see her and Sarah and talk to them for a few minutes. Sarah was impressed with the cows in the background.

The week is progressing and Bruce and I are really enjoying our time in Kenya. Abraham our host is amazing and would be at home in the South with the penchant for southern hospitality. He even could teach a class on hospitality in the South. He is a big part of my enjoyment this week. Don’t worry Brooke, I am in good hands.

Look, Sam.  Lightening McQueen and thumbs up at the fall festival.

Look, Sam. Lightening McQueen and thumbs up at the fall festival.

That's an amazing amount of maize.

That’s an amazing amount of maize.

Our haul from the fall festival took two to carry.

Our haul from the fall festival took two to carry.

Some kids looking on as we look at the church building.

Some kids looking on as we look at the church building.

Bruce and I in the future worship space of Abraham's church.

Bruce and I in the future worship space of Abraham’s church.

More cranes

More cranes

Our class

Our class

It's just beautiful here!!!  God is good!

It’s just beautiful here!!! God is good!

Abraham with the future worship space

Abraham with the future worship space

Abraham with the current worship space

Abraham with the current worship space

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Introduction to Kenya

I don’t think I have stayed this deep in the bush before. Let’s just say there might or might not have been a peeping cow for a time in my bathroom. There is maize all around. I heard a crested crane in the middle of the night. The internet on my phone is slow when it is present. And to top it all there is an absence of Mountain Dew at the nearest trading center – yo. These are all things one doesn’t find in Kampala. But their presence here in the bush of Kenya are pleasant.

Bruce teaches on leadership qualities of a church planter.

Bruce teaches on leadership qualities of a church planter.

The day began with our dear hosts having hot African tea and bread available for our breakfast. Bruce thought ahead and brought a French press to make some coffee. I had bread with strawberry jam which was nice. Then we had to rush out the door to avoid being late. Thankfully we arrived at the stroke of the start time.

Bruce then proceeded to begin the class on church planting. There are about 12 people in the class. They are from various backgrounds. For some this is their first theology type class. For others they are using this class in the pursuit of a master’s degree. They are all lovers of Jesus.

Bruce beginning the first day of teaching.

Bruce beginning the first day of teaching.

I got to meet a lot of Kenyans. Most try to discern my level of Swahili. When the fact arises that I am limited to ‘hakuna matata’ then they all become language teachers.

One of the best things about learning a language is forgetting it. I am especially good at forgetting it even 10 seconds later. Many people throw Swahili words (and even local language ones) at me like a machine gun. The drive by language study is fun but my ears leave riddled with holes. But the others seem to find it amusing at my failed attempts to pronounce and remember the language. I always say, laugh with me or laugh at me but please laugh.

After lunch we went back to our host’s home. Just outside his house we spotted a Ugandan Crested Crane. It is the national bird of Uganda and is on the flag and currency and the national soccer team’s nickname is the Cranes. However, I have seen so many more here in Kenya. Don’t tell any Ugandans I said this but perhaps they should be called the Kenyan Crested Crane.

I quickly got outside to walk and to take pictures. Ok let’s be honest, it wasn’t so much a walk as a limp because of my knee. It really is beautiful around his home. His children, Kirkland (7) and Concillia (5), were quick to join me. They would say the name of the animal I was photographing in their local language. We spent about 20 minutes practicing the name of the Ugandan Crested Crane. I still can’t pronounce it. As we were walking around Abraham’s little girl, Concillia, grabbed my hand. I am not the touchy feely type, just ask my wife, but it was very sweet.

So while I might be deep in the bush without some of the things I am used to having God has provided wonderful hospitality, beautiful scenery, amazing students, and even the sweet hand hold of a 5 year old. So Bruce and I have a lot to look forward to this week.

Abraham's little girl, Concillia.  Heart melt!

Abraham’s little girl, Concillia. Heart melt!

Abraham's son, Kirkland.

Abraham’s son, Kirkland.

Our host's house and our quarters for the week.

Our host’s house and our quarters for the week.

Kenyan Daisies

Kenyan Daisies

Two Ugandan cranes in Kenya.

Two Ugandan cranes in Kenya.

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