I can’t believe this is really happening! I’m going to live in Gulu, Uganda. I’m new to the blogging world but I knew that I wanted to share this journey with all of my friends and family. So here goes…
For the last couple of years I have been praying and seeking the Lord for a ministry assignment that would challenge me, something that would be impossible for me to do apart from Him, something that would deepen my dependency on Him and thus my intimacy with Him. It seems that the Lord has been preparing me for a time such as this for a while. After nearly 17 years of ministry experience and completing a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2006, the call has come to leave my home and go to Africa! My recent ten day trip to Uganda last October confirmed the call in too many ways to list here but take my word for it…it could not have been clearer to me!
I will be working for The Rt. Rev. Johnson Gakumba, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Northern Uganda. Specifically, I will be teaching in the Archbishop Janani Luwum Theological College. I will also be a personal assistant to the Bishop in charge of external communications, that is, corresponding on the Bishop’s behalf with others from all over the world who want to know how to partner in ministry with the Diocese of Northern Uganda. I have a feeling I’ll be spending time at “My Father’s House” as well, the orphanage run by the Diocese. My home church, Saint James in the Diocese of South Carolina, is officially sending me on this mission assignment. I am grateful for my church family and their ongoing support and encouragement, especially my pastors, Arthur Jenkins and Louise Weld.
To understand the current needs of the Diocese of Northern Uganda, a bit of recent history about the area is needed. In 1987, what began as an opposition movement to the election of current Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni morphed into war effecting primarily Northern Uganda. The LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) led by a man named Joseph Kony, hijacked the movement and began a twenty year killing spree, internally displacing an estimated 1.7 million people to live in government-run camps (called IDP camps) for safety. To keep his movement going, Kony abducted an estimated 30,000 children over a twenty year period and forced them to become child soldiers who were often required to kill their own family members. Kony and his army raided villages nightly, stealing food, raping and forcing women to become sex slaves. The soldiers maimed many, cutting off the lips, nose or limbs of anyone who reported them. Northern Uganda was a living hell for 20 years. A whole generation of children either grew up in the IDP camps or in the LRA, forced to do unspeakable things. The Ugandan army was not successful in stopping the LRA nor could they capture Kony, who became an expert at hiding in the vast African bush. In 2008 he was finally chased out of Northern Uganda into neighboring Congo, where he is still at large today and still wreaks havoc but thankfully with a greatly diminished army. Never has a work of the evil one been so evident in actions of one person!
Over the last six years peace has returned to Northern Uganda. A decimated economy is slowly beginning to recover and displaced persons are returning to their villages. Needless to say, the church suffered a great deal too. However, with the election of Bishop Johnson four years ago and through his faithful leadership, the church is beginning to grow and prosper. The mission of the Diocese has been to bring healing to the people through physical, mental, socio-economic and spiritual means. This is happening! The Lord is working to redeem this land and its people. There are about 250 churches in the Diocese but only about 50 priests! The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few! One of the greatest needs the Diocese faces is more trained leaders in the field! This is where my call comes into play.
After being closed for several years, the Archbishop Janani Luwum Theological College re-opened in January 2013 to begin training church leaders. The school serves several dioceses in Uganda and is an integral part of continued success in spreading the gospel, making disciples of Christ and overcoming the brutalities of war. It has been widely recognized that while western missionaries can be successful in the field, indigenous missionaries are far more effective at spreading the gospel and providing pastoral care to the people because they do not face the language and culture barriers that westerners face. Who better to minister to Ugandans than other Ugandans! And with Islam persistently pushing into east Africa, the need for educated leaders is that much more urgent. My role in the Diocese will be to assist in training leaders for the church by teaching basic theology. My heart has always been to teach and train…to equip the saints for the work of ministry in order to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13). I was honored to be invited to preach at the school’s weekly chapel service while I was there last October. As I stood looking out at the faces of the students, I felt humbled and oddly, very much at home. I am in awe of these men and woman, most of whom will never get paid for their ministry…they only know they are called by God to serve His church and they make great personal sacrifices to come to the school for training. It is an overwhelming privilege to be called to help equip them for their work.
The Lord has already provided a place for me to live in Gulu with another American missionary who is a medical doctor. He has provided my beloved dogs with a loving home while I am away. Unbeknownst to me, He has been working over the last year to build a foundation of relationships between my church, the Diocese of SC and the Diocese of N. Uganda in preparation for this call. In fact, Bishop Johnson visited the Diocese of SC this past spring. Right now my expectation is to be there at least three years. My hope and goal is to move to Uganda this May.
For now I am raising support and getting all my duck in a row, so to speak. I’ve leased my condo and will be moving in with friends until I leave in May. Tonight is the last night I’ll sleep in my own bed for a long time. Tomorrow I move out. It’s also the last night I’ll spend with my two dogs in our home. Its bitter sweet. It seemed the appropriate time to start this blog. I may not have left the country yet…but I’m definitely already on the journey. It’s good to have time to slowly detach from all the comforts of home and prepare myself to live in third world conditions. As I described to some friends recently, I feel like I’m a piece of Velcro…attached to this first world culture…and I’m slowly being separated from it. Letting go of a lot. I can hear that crackling noise Velcro makes when you pull it apart. It’s the best of times, its the worst of times. I know it will change me forever and I welcome that change.
So…I invite you follow me on this kingdom adventure!