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.

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.”

The Nativity Message

The December night was chilly and a crowd had gathered with anticipation. We had sheep and a donkey and I think a few other animals at a live nativity we performed at our church when I was in high school. In it was a particularly memorable moment, not when the angels spoke to the shepherds nor when the wise men arrived nor baby Jesus’ entrance. No the most memorable moment was when a sheep ran off with a youth holding tightly to the rope. The crowd laughed and had a bit of concern and we youth were aghast and trying to figure out how the show would go on. I can’t even remember which part I played but I do remember the sheep dragging a friend for a few yards.

Among the many Christmas traditions and decorations, the nativity stands as one of my favorites. I love how they remind us of Jesus, God incarnate, as a baby and how they show the people who came to worship Jesus. This is not just in America, in my travels I have found it fascinating to see how each country has different materials and methods of constructing nativities. Every area of the world makes them in their own way. Each one displaying the meaning of Christmas – that Immanuel – God with us – has come to save the world (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23).

When you see a nativity scene this Christmas, you can thank St. Francis of Assisi. Well, of course we should thank God for sending Jesus. But, St. Francis made the first nativity or crèche in 1223 AD. That first nativity featured live animals and people. It quickly gained popularity and spread throughout the Roman Catholic world. They featured all the characters of the Christmas story found in the birth narratives of Luke and Matthew – Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the wise men, shepherds, angels, a star, and even animals.

Brooke and I at the traditional site of Jesus' birth

Brooke and I at the traditional site of Jesus’ birth


But who should we include in the nativity? This has been a question I have heard more and more and perhaps you have even heard it.

Should the wise men be put into the nativity with the shepherds? Growing up, of course they all went together. More recently I have learned that many think the wise men came about two years after the shepherds. They were both there but not at the same time. Are our nativities wrong? Should we correct them? I have heard it suggested – both tongue in cheek and more seriously – the wise men should be on a different shelf. How should we think about all this?

Why do people question if the wise men should be there with the shepherds? Well this is because of the story of the wise men as found in the Gospel of Matthew. They show up and ask the king of the land, Herod, where the one born king of the Jews, Jesus, was to be found. Herod wasn’t too keen on having another king so he set out to kill Jesus. Herod had all children two years old and under heinously murdered.

This time frame suggests to some that Jesus would have been about 2 years old when the wise men came calling. But nothing in the text makes this conclusion necessary. Herod could have just been overly cautious. If Herod is anything like me then he is not too keen at identifying the ages of younger children.

How long did Joseph and Mary stay in Bethlehem, a city they were visiting for a census? They didn’t have a return bus ticket for a specific return date. But would staying 2 years in a place that wasn’t their home be probable? Two years seems like a long time.

Regardless of when the wise men were there, the shepherds were there for opening night of Christ’s life on earth. God, as a proud Father, announced the birth of His Son to the shepherds. They were there for one night only, at least as given by the text. So the likelihood of the shepherds and the wise men being there on the same night doesn’t seem so great.

But does this mean we should separate them in our nativities?

Here is a nativity at my mom's house

Here is a nativity at my mom’s house


The nativity tells this one story so very beautifully. Though we have four Gospels we have to see them telling the one story of Jesus but with different perspectives or emphases. I think when St. Francis made the first crèche he had the gospel story in mind not just the historicity of one moment. Think of a nativity as a portrait and not a snapshot. It portrays so well the Christmas message of God with us. The nativity demonstrates so well the ‘us’ in God with us.

If you want a Matthew nativity then you should include only the wise men and the shepherds should be on a different shelf and the baby would be a little bigger. If it is a Luke nativity that you desire then perhaps the wise men should be on a different shelf. But if you want a Gospel nativity then they should be together.

But what does the nativity communicate to us? Taking the Matthew and Luke accounts together is good and tells a story about Christ as God and who He came to save. In each account we have two sets of very different people coming to see the baby Jesus (see Chart).

The wise men of Matthew were not Jewish people but Gentiles. Gentiles were kept out of the temple and generally avoided when possible by Jews. The wise men were also rich bringing expensive gifts to Jesus. They traveled from far away to visit Jesus’ homeland. Their title in the text as well as their ability to gain an audience with King Herod suggests they held respected positions. The text of Matthew also tells us that they knew of some prophesy about Christ and knew that the star they saw meant that the king of the Jews had been born.

The shepherds of Luke are quite different from the wise men. They were Jewish and thus the very people to whom Christ had been promised. They were poorer than the wise men and most likely poor themselves as they had the night watch on some sheep. They lived in Jesus’ homeland and were very near to where He was born. Their occupation was not the most respected in that time. The text tells us that they were surprised by the birth announcement from the angels.

What they have in common is part of the greatest news of all time. They both respond in faith and with worship. Imagine if they lacked faith and did not visit the baby Jesus even though told about him in their differing ways. The wise men knelt down and worshiped the infant Jesus. The shepherds, like the angels who told them, glorified and praised God for what they had seen. Praising and glorifying are a form of worship so their experience caused them to worship God. Both groups respond if faith and worship. Experiencing Jesus should result in worship. This is the desired outcome of the nativity and Jesus’ birth.

The 'Us' of the Nativity

WISE MENSHEPHERDS
GentileJew
RichPoor
FarNear
RespectedLowly
AnticipatedSurprised
RESULTRESULT
FaithFaith
WorshipWorship

Today many fear they are or may be excluded from Christ. But all are welcome to respond in faith and worship. The wise men and shepherds teach this. Each group has something that suggests they are not expected to be the ones to come and worship. To be sure the Jew/Gentile division is the main one. For the Jews, the Gentiles (or those who were not Jewish) were not part of God’s people and the anticipated Messiah was largely thought to be exclusively for the Jews. But even within the Jewish community, one might expect religious leaders or priests or those of high esteem to be told first by God. The nativity blows these expectations out of the water (Isaiah 9:2, Psalm 86:9, Isaiah 61:1-2, Luke 4:18-19).

The wise men are Gentiles and far off. Who would guess they would come and worship. But they are rich and respected which many take, especially in that day, as signs of having God’s blessing. Also they were looking for Jesus. So these may be inferred as characteristics we look for in worshippers.

The shepherds on the other hand are Jewish and live in Israel. Of course they are welcome by this criteria. But also they were poor and of a lower occupation and were not even looking for Jesus. By these we might not expect them to be invited to the party.

But the good news is, and we see it so clearly in the nativity, all manner of humanity has been called to worship God through Jesus Christ. It does not matter your background, occupation, status, financial assets, or whether you are even looking for God. His call does not extend only to Jews or the rich or any other category. Jesus came to save people from all stripes – whether you are being drug by a sheep or have it all together. All people are welcome to respond to in faith and worship Jesus.

This Christmas season, when you see a nativity let it remind you to worship Jesus. It is all about Him. Let it remind you that all are welcome to respond in faith and worship Jesus. Who are the people in your life who need to hear the good news of Jesus? Who needs to hear that they too are welcome? Like God, the proud father, told of the birth of His Son to the shepherds, let us too tell of the birth of Jesus and call ourselves and others to worship Him.

Unwrapping Up

Our time in Kenya is coming to an end. But that didn’t stop us from unwrapping some gifts from God. We taught our last full day and then headed out to greet some people.

So what exactly have we been doing here? Why are we in Kenya teaching on church planting? Good questions. Let’s back up and look at that.

That's me teaching.

That’s me teaching.


We are here in Kenya teaching at a MINTS center. MINTS is an organization that provides sound reformed biblical teaching material to those areas where that kind of teaching is not available. MINTS does this in two ways.

The first way is to collect biblical classes that various people have written. They make them available for anyone to take and teach on at the various centers (with the writer’s permission). This makes what to teach simpler for a lot of teachers.

The second way is to empower local believers to run centers. Running a center takes minimal resources because they don’t have buildings but ‘borrow’ existing buildings for a week or two at a time. The local who runs the center helps recruit students and teachers to come for the selected times during the year. I have been to several now and its simplicity is beautiful and of course easily reproducible.

MINTS believes in the locals and the quality so much that they grant degrees for those completing the work. This makes it very attractive to local pastors. It also makes getting good teaching and degrees a lot more affordable. Because the centers only run a few weeks at a time it also helps answer some of the issues faced with residential schooling.

Visiting with a student and his family.

Visiting with a student and his family.

Bruce teaches and works at a residential Bible college/seminary. Yet he also travels to these centers to help teach in other parts of Africa. He does this because the two models work well together. As a matter of fact Abraham is a former student of Bruce’s. Abraham graduated from Westminster Theological College (now known as Westminster Christian Institute of Uganda) and moved to his home area with the vision to bring the kind of teaching he received to local pastors.

The class we are teaching on this week is church planting. This is a topic of particular interest to me. I want to see lots of churches planted because churches are beacons of God’s glory (Ephesians 3:20). Thus to shine this light to a lost world, the best way is to plant churches where people do not know Jesus. That’s why I pray these students go back home and plant more churches with more biblical insight.

After class on Thursday, we had the opportunity to greet a student in his home and then 350 widows and single mothers gathering for a conference. It was a wonderful tour of rural Kenya. It was also a very encouraging time getting to meet with them.

First we stopped by a student’s home. Hospitality and welcoming people into your home, especially visitors, is a big deal in Africa. Some of the students have come from far away and some closer by. This student fits into the latter category.

Of course tea was offered. I am told that there are 3 tea times in England. But Abraham says that in Kenya, every time is tea time. Also chapattis were consumed. Yum. Apparently the kids outside were laughing at me. I went into the kitchen to see it and to greet the wife. Kitchens are separate from the main house in this part of Kenya (as well as much of Africa). The husband told me the kids were laughing because white people don’t go into kitchens. I was unaware. But apparently that is the perspective of white people here. Who knew?

We had heard of a widows and single mothers conference taking place nearby. So we decided to stop by and see it. We should have known better but ‘seeing it’ turned into speaking to, greeting, and praying for them.

This is what a room full of widows and single mothers giving a thumbs up looks like zoomed in!!!!!

This is what a room full of widows and single mothers giving a thumbs up looks like zoomed in!!!!!

As we entered the building we stood in the back. That wasn’t good enough. They escorted us to the stage to sit up there. On our way up there you would have thought I was a well-known speaker. Everyone was offering a hand to shake. But it is very important to greet visitors – especially obvious visitors from far away (we’re looking at you white skin). It was a privilege to greet so many widows.

When it was my turn to speak I butchered a greeting in the local language. I then told them that their bright smiles – and to be sure they were smiling wildly and expressing amazing joy – were a testimony to me. Being a widow or single mother is difficult for many reasons. Hence the special instructions to care for them in the Bible. Being a widow or single mother in Africa adds a lot of other challenges. So their joy despite any issues they may be facing is a testimony to me.

I also had them sing ‘Mambo Sawa Sawa’ which is a song in Swahili that we sang often at church in St. Louis. It is a simple song but says that things are already better because Jesus is on the throne. Hearing this from widows makes its meaning much more rich!

We left that time and commented on how encouraging it was. More for us than them. But Abraham said they were very glad we stopped by to greet them. Whether or not they were blessed I can’t be sure. We sure were blessed. Please pray for these women as their conference continues until Sunday. Then next August they will meet again. Amazing! I told you we got to unwrap some of God’s gifts.

Saying goodbye.  Thumbs up from our hosts and their guests (and a neighbor).  Bruce, Abraham, Kendrick, Concillia, Judith, relative, neighbor, Steven

Saying goodbye. Thumbs up from our hosts and their guests (and a neighbor). Bruce, Abraham, Kendrick, Concillia, Judith, relative, neighbor, Steven

Then came our last night and morning at Abraham’s. He and his family have been a real blessing. Judith made chapatti mayai (pronounced like ‘my eye’). That is an egg mixed into the chapatti batter and then cooked normally. It is the Kenyan version of the rollex. Since the egg is mixed into the batter perhaps it could be called a ‘rollin’. You’re welcome for that. But we had to say goodbye to this wonderful family. We will then teach for a bit and then head back to Uganda. Pray for safe journeys and that the Lord would use our time here in Kenya for His glory. Oh and this is the last dispatch. Let the jeering or cheering begin as fits.

Another picture of Abraham, Judith, and children.

Another picture of Abraham, Judith, and children.

What a cute house!!!  I love the flowers!

What a cute house!!! I love the flowers!

This is what a room full of widows and single mothers giving a thumbs up looks like!!!!!

This is what a room full of widows and single mothers giving a thumbs up looks like!!!!!

It's a crane convention.

It’s a crane convention.

We met at a primary school during vacation.  The teachers, as usual, work during vacation to make teaching materials.  These ladies were next door to us.

We met at a primary school during vacation. The teachers, as usual, work during vacation to make teaching materials. These ladies were next door to us.

Thumbs up from our wonderful host family.

Thumbs up from our wonderful host family.

Our living quarters for our week in Kenya.  Good bye.

Our living quarters for our week in Kenya. Good bye.

What a view!!!!  God is good!

What a view!!!! God is good!

This is what a room full of widows and single mothers giving a thumbs up looks like!!!!!

This is what a room full of widows and single mothers giving a thumbs up looks like!!!!!

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.

1-IMG_4078

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.

1-IMG_4063

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.

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

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.

Making Our Way the Only Way We Know How

When you venture to another country why not throw in a two plus hour worship service in a city about 30 minutes out of the way, a two hour stop at the border, and a sit down dinner. But that’s just how we roll.

Bruce Sinclair and I are traveling to Kenya in order to teach a class on church planting. Bruce is the MTW team leader in Uganda and thus my team leader. It is a wonderful blessing to get to teach God’s Word to a sweet group of saints in Kenya.

Bruce preaches on Daniel in Tororo.

Bruce preaches on Daniel in Tororo.

Yet this opportunity requires a 6-7 hour drive. We left at 6:30 am in order to worship with one of Bruce’s former students in a city about 3 hours away. But not only were we to worship God with them but Bruce was also invited to preach. It was a wonderful experience to meet pastor Ben Okware and the congregation.

After the service we spent about 30 minutes visiting with the pastor in his home in typical African fashion. We then left for the Uganda/Kenya border. We were hungry as it was now around 12:30 pm.

Our driver suggested eating once we crossed the border. So we said that was ok. I mean how long could the border crossing take? My stomach would later rebel at this decision.

When we got out of the car our driver pointed ahead and said we needed to go to a building about 100 yards away. Because of my torn meniscus I have a crutch with me because my knee will hurt if I walk too much on it. I decided to leave the crutch in the car as the distance wasn’t great. I thought to myself that it wasn’t too far and I would be back in the car in no time. No worries or as they say in Swahili hakuna matata. Well there was matata. The distance was more like 500 yards as the building I though he was pointing towards was much closer than our actual destination. Rookie mistake. Don’t worry I made it again.

The first step in the border crossing is the get the exit stamp. So we filled out our departure papers and picked the shorter of two lines. Then a man decided he liked our line better. Bruce wasn’t as appreciative of his joining our line and gave him a slight shoulder bump while informing him of his lane change. After the line didn’t move for a few minutes he moved of both lines.

If only that man had gone to the back of the other line he would have finished 10 minutes ahead of us. Like in the grocery store, you want to pick the shortest line. Picking the wrong line leaves you angry with yourself and makes you feel like you lost the game. But when the other line basically laps you then you have really chosen poorly. We chose poorly. The irony is that another guy tried to cut into our line. This time I went into defensive maneuvers in order to protect our place. Let’s just say I was defensive MVP of the day.

My neighbors while worshiping in Tororo, Uganda.

My neighbors while worshiping in Tororo, Uganda.

The next step in border crossing is to cross the border and get the entry stamp from the receiving country. We met our driver at the car. He was working on his exit stamp and getting the mandatory insurance for the car to drive in a foreign country. As he was still working we thought we would walk to the next part of the process to save time. Did I get my crutch? That’s a big fat negative. Matata. The walk was much longer this time. While my knee did hold up well enough it was certainly getting tired. If you think I would learn my lesson but then you forget how thick my skull is sometimes.

Knee issues aside it was time to wait in line again. This time it was to get our entry stamp. The good news is that we didn’t have to pick a line. There was only one and it was relatively short. As a matter of fact we didn’t even have time to fill out our forms entirely before it was our turn. The short line didn’t prevent some people from thinking their line began in front of us instead of at the back.

Bruce and I each gave our paperwork, passports, and money at the same time. I am not sure why it took so long but the line tripled in length and width. I was designated to stay and collect both of our passports.

Two people from me, I saw a man wearing a kufi and so knew he was a Muslim. He also looked tired with me taking too much time. However, I decided to talk to him while I waited. His name is Osama and he is from Somalia. He asked about me and I told him I was a pastor. This brought questions about Jesus. Osama stated that Jesus wasn’t God. I told him that the Quran says to read the Injil (that is the New Testament) and that the Injil says Jesus is God. I told him the story from Mark 2 about how Jesus forgave sins and this is something only God can do. It was then my time to go and the passport stamper told me to keep preaching the gospel. I told Osama I would pray for him. I have and ask you do also pray that He would come to know the true God.

The end of the walking then arrived but the waiting wasn’t as the car needed more time. It was now 3:30 pm and no food had been consumed. It was about here that my stomach’s revolt began. My knee on the other hand was rejoicing. Joy in the midst of suffering.

From the border we made our way to Eldoret where we were meeting our host for the week in Abraham Kogo. This three hour trip was not slowed down by a stop for food. We couldn’t decide if we did eat if it would be a late lunch or an early dinner. So we just didn’t eat at all save the snacks that were already on board.

After meeting Abraham at 6:30 pm, we sat down to dinner/breakfast. I am not sure how to classify it. It was the first meal of the day but it was at 6:30pm. They didn’t have pizza so we went with meat samosas. A lost plate of French fries made its home at our table. It was at this point that Abraham informed us that his wife would be upset if we ate too much here and didn’t eat her dinner. So I put a brake on my eating because my stomach shrank and I was getting too full too quick. It was worth it as the meal at Abraham’s was large and good.

We left there and headed to Abraham’s house arriving at 8:15 pm. So after 13+ hours of travel we arrived at our destination. But what a wonderful trip it was. We got to worship with fellow saints and Bruce got to preach. We got to tell some Muslims and others about Jesus, and we got to have table fellowship with our Kenyan hosts. So the long trip was a good one and we praise God not only for our safe arrival but our wonderful adventures along the way.

Running to Hope

Have you ever been in stop and go traffic without another car on the road? I now have. We were driving in the Kiryandongo refugee camp and Pastor James Bab would tell me to stop.

A small house in the  refugee camp

A small house in the refugee camp

He saw someone walking and he wanted to greet them. So a short drive was made longer, but also much more pleasant.

Three guys from our Mission to the World (MTW) team, Ben Church, Bert Williams, and I, went to visit the South Sudanese refugee camp in Uganda and the work Pastor James is doing there. We know Pastor James because he has studied at Westminster Theological College where MTW helps teach.

James Bab and the visiting contingent give a thumbs up on a wonderful visit

James Bab and the visiting contingent give a thumbs up on a wonderful visit

James Bab is a Presbyterian pastor who runs a school that trains pastors in South Sudan. I met him last December when He came to Uganda to attend the Westminster graduation of some fellow South Sudanese brothers. This encounter led to a meeting and an accepting of an invitation to preach at the church he planted in Kampala.

Fleeing From Fighting
Just before he was to return to South Sudan and his family, fighting broke out in South Sudan on December 15th. There were reports of a coup attempt against the president (some dispute this claim). Regardless of the precipitation of the fighting, it is clear that battle lines are now drawn along ethnic lines.

According to the stories told to us one ethnic group, the Dinkas (the tribe of the president of South Sudan), are seeking to kill another ethnic group, the Nuer. The people in Kiryandongo are mostly Nuer. They fear for their friends and family still in South Sudan and are trying to make the best of their new home.

Every day, more people come into the camp with more stories of the suffering and persecution of the Nuer. One of the most recent arrivals, Helen, got to share her story with us.

Helen is Nuer and lived in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. As soon as the fighting broke out her home became its own refugee center. She had 15+ people in the house hiding. But soon even her home wasn’t safe. She had to flee and hide in another house. When the murderous soldiers came, they wanted to demolish that house with a tank like they had done several others. They were trying to eliminate the assets of Nuer as well as eliminate any hiding places. Fortunately, someone told them it was the house of another soldier’s in-laws. So they let it stand.

Eventually she was able to flee to the compound guarded by the UN in Juba. There are UN soldiers who protect those inside. Helen was relatively safe in the compound but many are suffering inside the compound. However, there is little food, water, shelter, medicine, and other necessities available. Some murderous soldiers on the outside of the camp climb a tower and shoot into the compound and sometimes hit people.

****Warning – some of the things in the next paragraph are terrible, graphic, and not for the faint of heart

Helen’s story is tragic. But she relayed the happenings of others to us as well. Some Nuer found by the murderous soldiers were made to do unimaginable things and had unimaginable things done to them. The soldiers raped many women and even gang raped some into a coma. In a sick and twisted perversion, some sons were forced to ‘know’ their mothers. Some women were made to eat the raw flesh of some who were already dead.

****Graphic content over

These stories still make me pause and regroup. They are unsettling. But it makes their requests of us all the more amazing. More on these requests below.

These events certainly show the depravity of mankind and depths that sin will take us. Never before had I heard stories like this so fresh and real. Never before have I realized just how much we need a Savior. We need a Savior who not only hates sin but provides salvation from it. We need Jesus.

In February, I went to Rwanda and took the opportunity to visit the Genocide Memorial there. The stories between the two events are strikingly similar. Just a few days ago people were commemorating the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. I am afraid that in 20 years the same will be done for South Sudan if actions are not taken soon.

Inside the Camp
After stopping at the entrance to the camp to greet the camp director, we proceeded into the camp. There is one main road that is dirt. There are a few other roads that branch from it including smaller footpaths.

Food collection day in the camp.

Food collection day in the camp.

In mid-December 2013 there were 150 or so refugees in the camp. Less than 4 months later there are over 20,000. At first glance you might not realize this is a place that houses 20,000+ refugees. I was expecting something more densely populated. But granted, I have never been to one before. However, the drive down the road is pleasant with wonderful vistas of the mountains in the distance and greenery all around. There are huts and houses on occasion. They are rarely close to others. You can tell for sure if a house belong to a refugee because they will have tarp roofs or walls.

When refugees arrive at the camp they have to register. Then they are assigned a plot of land, given 5 poles and a tarp and bused to their new place of residence. The poles and tarp help build homes. Some refugees have opted to build mud brick homes as time and resources allow. They can also get a concrete slab and 4 logs given to them so a pit latrine can be constructed. Also there are days when food is delivered and they can go collect rice, beans, and various other food supplies.

Apart from tarp roofs and walls occasionally, the setting is very much like an African village. The scenery is quite pleasant. But the people are still in turmoil. They are grieving their family and country and they are trying to make a life in the camp.

Meeting with the Survivors

Ben and Bert listen to James and company talk about the plans for the church and its building.

Ben and Bert listen to James and company talk about the plans for the church and its building.

Pastor James first took us to see a building with only wood poles framing in place. They are working on constructing a church building. Currently they share meeting space with the local Catholic church.

We were then whisked over to that shared meeting space to have a gathering. The choir was present with their robes neatly adorned. They welcomed with a song in Nuer and followed that up with another. I didn’t understand a word but I certainly enjoyed it.

James introduced us to the people and shared a few words. Then the people gathered shared their stories with us. Helen was the first to go. The others verified her stories and told their own.

At the end I Have Decided was sung in Nuer and I sang in English. We then joined hands, Americans and Nuer, in prayer to our Heavenly Father. It was a sweet time of fellowship with a dark and heavy subject. Yet everyone there was worshipping God and giving Him glory.

The choir welcomes us with a song

The choir welcomes us with a song

It really is a testimony to me that they would have seen and experienced firsthand and still want to praise God. They have a real joy and peace that so many are longing for in this world. They have a lot to teach us, especially Westerners, on how to rejoice in suffering.

The Requests
After the stories were shared two requests were made. Several people stood to reiterate the requests and to share more about them. What they wanted was money to help get more people out of Juba and into Uganda. Specifically they want to get the widows, orphans, and sick out so they can come to the camp to receive some of the things not found in the UN compound there in Juba.

Funding to finish construction on the church building was the second request. They want to finish construction on a space for the Presbyterians to have a place to worship and offer space to the community. The current meeting space is also used by the Catholics and they use the space the majority of the time. Even the Catholics there were wanted this. It seemed to make sense.

Putting these two requests together remind me of God’s command in the book of Exodus. There, the Pharaoh is told by the Lord to let His people go so that they may go worship Him. That is what these dear brothers and sisters in Christ want. They want their people to be freed from the violence in Juba to come and worship God in Uganda. These refugees are being faithful in the midst of suffering. Praise God for their message and their testimony to God’s mercy and goodness. They are running to hope. The only hope found in Jesus Christ.

Thumbs up to praising the Lord!

Thumbs up to praising the Lord!

A family's compound in the camp.

A family’s compound in the camp.

We give a thumbs to up an encouraging meeting

We give a thumbs to up an encouraging meeting

Note the tarp covering of the house

Note the tarp covering of the house

The space where we met with the refugees.

The space where we met with the refugees.

Teaching Theology

Oh How I love Thee

This past week, I had the opportunity to teach a class at Westminster Theological College. Our team leader Bruce Sinclair teaches there and paved the way for this wonderful opportunity. I taught 13 students a course on New Testament (NT) Survey. We covered topics such as the NT canon, the story of the Bible, and how the NT is the realizing of God’s promises made in the Old Testament.

I do love to teach and have the hand motions to prove it.

I do love to teach and have the hand motions to prove it.

The students are from different parts of Uganda and a few were from Kenya and South Sudan. They are involved in some ministry in their home areas. They have each come to study at Westminster in order to further their understanding of God’s Word. One student told me about a prison ministry he helps organize near his home. Each one is on the front lines for our Lord Jesus Christ. They bring a variety of experiences and backgrounds to the class.

I gave quizzes, written assignments, and a final exam. To be on the other end of the exams was very strange. Part of me would rather take the exam and do the homework. But honestly, I really tried to let those assignments serve as learning tools.

My mother was a student for one day and enjoys the wonderful view from the college.

My mother was a student for one day and enjoys the wonderful view from the college.

It is said that Christianity in Africa is a mile wide and an inch deep. I am finding this saying to have some truth to it. One of the biggest challenges I have seen in Uganda has been the lack of quality biblical training for pastors. Westminster serves the needs of Christ’s church in Africa very well and I get to play a small part in that.

In the movie Chariots of Fire, the main character is a runner and says that he feels the pleasure of God when he runs. One day, I came home and told Brooke that describes how I felt when I taught. Teaching is such a privilege and I praise God I get the opportunity.