Tag Archives: Uganda

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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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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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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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.

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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.

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A Light Shining in the Darkness

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

A heart wrenching book worth reading.

A heart wrenching book worth reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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On the Road Again

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

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

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

I give a thumbs up to that view!

I give a thumbs up to that view!

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

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

It's just a good picture of Ben

It’s just a good picture of Ben

We are hemispheres apart.

We are hemispheres apart.

The family gives a thumbs up to my return.

The family gives a thumbs up to my return.

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The Long Way Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a wonderful view we have from our guest house

What a wonderful view we have from our guest house

Vast tea fields greeted us in Rwanda

Vast tea fields greeted us in Rwanda

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