Tag Archives: church

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

18Small Groups in UNMISS camps
12Ordained Pastors
16Ruling Elders

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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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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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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.

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How to Love a Murderer

Just how powerful is the gospel of Jesus Christ? I know a textbook answer but I must admit I doubt it frequently in the real world. Several weeks ago I was floored by its work in one woman’s life.

It all started from here.

It all started from here.

Luwero is a small town in Uganda about 64 km outside of Kampala (that’s about 40 miles for people like me). It is the home of Luwero Presbyterian Church where we spent some time. My teammate Ben Church and I were invited to go out into the community with some of their members to do some evangelizing.

The very first day Ben and I arrived late to meet the others. But it would turn out to be perfect timing for the Lord to work. We met Shadrach and Gladys there and prayed before setting out. We first came to an Anglican woman’s home and spoke with her and found out she already believed in Jesus. Praise the Lord.

Next we went not 100 yards behind her house where four Ugandan men were doing some construction. They were working on a small brick building with a roof but no doors or windows and a dirt floor. Among the four men was a guy wearing a kofia, a brimless hat worn especially by Muslims here. He was leaning up against a wall overseeing the other three men. One of the other men was inside plastering a wall and the other two were outside mixing the cement with shovels and bringing it into the plasterer.

We went up to them and began talking with them. Ugandans are especially friendly and love visitors. If you show up at dinner time then you will be given a seat at the table and given first dibs on the food already prepared. Also it can take hours to go a short walk because it is custom to greet and talk with those you know and see on your way. Americans can be more task oriented but Ugandans love to visit.

When we arrived, Shadrach did most of the introduction. He then had Ben talk to them about the good news of Jesus. He gave a timely illustration about how God is building the world and using various pieces to do it. The pieces have rebelled and need help and forgiveness. Jesus is the only one who can offer this. Then I followed that up with something similar using his building illustration.

After some time the plaster mixers moved inside to further help the other guy and it was just the kofia wearer outside. It turns out he is a Muslim and his name is Medi. It wasn’t long until Gladys and Shadrach were speaking to him in Luganda even though he spoke English. I think it was because it was easier for them. Ben and I stood there silently praying because we had no idea what they were saying.

Ben and I went out evangelizing and saw God work powerfully.

Ben and I went out evangelizing and saw God work powerfully.

Ben and I had to leave so we had to interrupt them. As we were concluding, Medi said through interpretation that we had spoken a “good word” to him about Jesus. He wanted to know more and we gladly discussed talking with him again. The other three men also wanted to hear more and Shadrach and Gladys also discussed another meeting with them.

It wasn’t until we got back to the car that Ben and I realized just how powerful the gospel had been in that encounter. It turns out Gladys knows Medi. You see, Medi is the man who murdered her son 7 years ago. Medi is the one responsible for taking her beloved son from her. My jaw hit the floor when I heard this. I had no idea they knew each other yet alone the current situation of the relationship from our time talking with him.

Her son was 26 years old and fell sick for two hours and died. Medi had bewitched her son. Here in Uganda, when something unexpected like this happens it is often blamed on the spirits or bewitching. I asked another Ugandan about the situation and he said it was definitely a bewitching.

If you are a Westerner reading this then you probably have a very skeptical view of this interpretation of events. If you are an African reading this then you probably believe it was a bewitching. Regardless of the position you hold, what you cannot deny is that Gladys believes Medi is responsible for the death of her son. This is the important fact here. She believes he murdered her son. And Medi apparently feels he did too.

After her son died, that night Medi fled his home. Since then whenever he is about to walk past Gladys on the road, he runs away to avoid her. His wife and daughter have both come to Gladys to express remorse for him bewitching and killing her son. It seems both parties believe that Medi killed Galdys’ son.

I was eager to find out more and hear what Gladys said to Medi. There are many options for how this could go. Did she curse him or utter vicious words or tell her how much she hates him? No. What she said demonstrates the gospel so very well.

She told him, “I forgive you.”

Gladys knows gospel forgiveness

Gladys knows gospel forgiveness

Those are three little words that take gospel power to say to the man who killed your son. I shudder to think what I would say in that situation. No wonder Medi said we had good words. The grace Gladys showed him had power.

That is the gospel power I need in my life. That is the power I need to love my family yet alone my enemies. I need that gospel power every day. It is on offer through the grace of Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection are the means to that power.

Gladys demonstrates well one of my favorite verses Romans 5:8, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While Medi is the murderer of her son, she chose to forgive. She can only do that because the truth of Romans 5:8 has found its home in her.

Pray for Medi. I am sad to say that we did not get to meet again with him. I am not sure if Shadrach or Gladys were able to meet with him. But I pray he would believe in Jesus and know His forgiveness and power. Also pray you and I would know the power of the gospel in our lives every day.

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A Review of Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A life together review

            In this book, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is at once convicting and encouraging.  He warns against your own vision of Christian community and yet paints a picture of it  you aspire to hive.  It is simple and yet complex.  In sum, this book will help add a rhythm to your life that enables you to throw yourself on the grace of God in Christ.

            Bonhoeffer sets out to discuss and explain what true Christian community and its practical implications.  In chapter 1 he states that community is not achievable by any man because believers have community is only found in Christ.  To participate in this community, Bonhoeffer says we must give up our own ideal of Christian community and take hold of the reality created by God in Christ.  In chapter 2 he pleads for the community, most normally the family, to have daily devotions together.  He gives a practical outline of what this might look like.  To be sure it is written for less busy schedules, but perhaps that too is a helpful corrective.  In chapter 3, Bonhoeffer discusses a personal time with the Lord.  He suggests that multiple times be set aside as well as a prayerful spirit throughout the day.  Chapter 4 discusses how we might minister to one another.  He insists this is ministering the Word of God but we can do this through listening, helping, bearing, and proclaiming.  Chapter 5 discusses the confession of sin.  Bonhoeffer is adamant that we confess our sins to God but also to our brother or sister in Christ.  By this we claim ourselves as a sinner and accept the forgiveness in Christ offered by the gospel.

            I highly recommend this readable book.  There are many parts that are pithy and quotable.  All of it makes you think.  It is Christ centered throughout.  He focuses on Christ and His work and the implications for everyday life.  Your heart will be encouraged and your mind will be challenged.  Your family and church will thank you for reading this book.

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