It’s laundry day…and I should be boiling the water and getting the buckets ready. But I’m so excited. I have a million things to do and I was planning on writing this blog post in a couple of days but it won’t wait. The Spirit is moving so the time must be right.
The last six weeks have been a blur. I’ve been very busy but it feels as though I’ve crossed a line of sorts…maybe I’m just entering into a new phase of adjustment to life and ministry here in Uganda. I’ve been involved in a number of projects and they have all helped me learn a lot. (FYI, I’ve sprinkled random photos throughout the blog to sort of represent my last six months in Uganda).
First, I’ve been working on the annual publication of the Diocese which acts as an Annual Report of sorts. In the past it has primarily been distributed within the Diocese and the Church of Uganda with some copies being shared with partners as well. It is referred to here as the DNU Magazine. I felt that this next issue should be a little bit different in that it should be geared towards people who have very little knowledge about the Diocese. So this annual review will also include historical and background information which would normally not be included. It’s to help people become more familiar with the work of the Diocese. The idea is to release the magazine in PDF form to as many in the Anglican Communion as possible. Northern Uganda continues its recovery from 20 years of civil war that basically decimated the economy and brought misery and terrible poverty to hundreds of thousands and slowed the work of the Church. Many NGO’s came to help with emergency relief and offered vital assistance to begin the recovery process. Things are getting better. But now the NGO’s are beginning to leave and the next step in the recovery process is for the people to truly be empowered to provide for themselves and become self-reliant once again. The natural resources of the land are bountiful and the people are sitting on an untapped gold mine and we must continue to encourage entrepreneurial thinking. The shift in thinking of the collective mindset is slow but it is happening. It’s that saying… “give a man a fish to eat and he eats for a day…teach a man to fish and he eats for life”. This is the challenge…to offer support programs which have as their end means to enable people to become self-sustaining. The same is true for the Church, which struggles financially to pay its priests a livable wage (or in some cases any wage at all) and to meet other basic operating costs. When people are productive and support the Church then the priests are paid a livable wage and in turn they can do ministry full time and see the Church grow and prosper as well. Most priests must earn a living by farming or doing other things so their ministry work is often limited to Sunday mornings only. Churches could also support more catechists for formal training and ordination as there is a shortage of priests. So with all this in mind, we decided the theme of the magazine is “Empowering People, Empowering the Church.” There are programs offering a hand up instead of a hand out and this should continue in earnest and be stepped up. It’s been ongoing but now this theme should permeate everything the Church does in its effort to see people become productive and self-sustaining. Here in Uganda…a holistic approach to ministry is firmly rooted in the life of the Church. Caring for the poor by addressing socio-economic, healthcare and educational needs while preaching salvation and life through Christ go hand in hand. That is the vision of the Church and what we strive for in this Diocese. So the goal is to have the magazine printed before I leave to come home for the Christmas break on Dec. 10th so I can bring some copies with me and begin to share how people can be involved in the ongoing rebuilding of the church and the people. I’m excited about how the Lord will use this “marketing tool” for the Diocese as Bishop Johnson Gakumba heads into the next five years of his ministry.
I have also been involved in the process of writing the next five year strategic plan for the Diocese. Working on the DNU Magazine coupled with working on the Strategic Plan has been such a good experience for me in terms of understanding how things work here, what the challenges are and to see just how far the Diocese has come in the last five years. As I was reflecting on all that has been accomplished and the ongoing work of the Mission Department of the Diocese, I started to get that uncomfortable feeling in my gut. It’s becoming more easily recognizable of late. It’s that feeling that makes my mind start thinking…uh oh…there is some faith-stretching request about to come down the pipeline from heaven. As I have been looking at the “big picture” of the Diocese and I’ve seen some of the day to day challenges the Diocese faces I began asking myself a series of questions involving discipleship. Urban churches in Northern Uganda offer discipleship in a number of ways. But how do Christians in rural villages grow to maturity so that they begin to live for Christ and share Him with their neighbors? What would be the most basic form of discipleship possible? In the US there are a bazillion different discipleship “programs” that usually involve needing resources that we take for granted…such as transportation, access to electricity, basic means of communication in terms of planning gatherings, etc. Around here you don’t hop in your car here and drive to the church to attend the Wednesday night discipleship course, spaghetti dinner included. So I asked myself… “what is the lowest common denominator when it comes to learning what a life in Christ truly means”? And it’s pretty obvious…the Bible. Now, in the urban areas of Northern Uganda most people have Bibles…but in the more rural villages this is not necessarily the case. And there is a need to strengthen churches at the sub-parish level. Since sub-parishes don’t have a full time priest assigned to them, they might not be taught from the Bible on a regular basis. What if we just targeted those small village churches and provided access to Bibles in the Acholi language to those who can read and simply trust the Spirit of God to teach them as they read? And to also ask them to read their Bible to their family members and to their neighbors on a regular basis? No PhD or seminary trained person needed, as helpful as that is in other contexts…simply put the most basic training tool in the hands of the people and let the Lord do the rest. Novel idea, right? It would be relatively inexpensive and easy to organize. I thought that perhaps I was just being too idealistic so I shared with a couple of people and got positive feedback. The more I thought about it…the more that feeling of excitement mixed with anxiety grew. So I said to the Lord, “You provide the resources and I’ll coordinate the Acholi Bible Fund and arrange to work with priests in each Archdeaconry to determine to areas of greatest needs for Acholi Bibles. A week later I got an email out of the blue from Vicki Sheedy, who chairs the Diocesan Periodical Club in the Diocese of South Carolina asking me if I needed Bibles! “Why yes, as a matter of fact I do!” It’s so encouraging when the Lord provides before you ask. This came as confirmation that I could trust my gut feeling on this. The Lord has provided the money for the first 50 Acholi Bibles! My hope is to distribute as least 500, if not more, in 2015.
Next I began thinking about evangelism. The Mission Department and the churches in the Diocese do a good job of evangelism using the resources they have available. But the further away from urban churches you go, the more challenging things become. The things we take for granted on a daily basis as we do ministry in the US are not readily accessible here. But again I began asking how we could be consistent with planning regular simple outreach events and not be held back by a lack of resources or transportation and fuel, etc. The Jesus Film came to mind. (Google Jesus Film to learn more.) This film has been a very successful tool in East Africa and around the world for proclaiming the gospel in native languages. The Mission Department has used it, as has the Youth Department. It’s not a new idea here. But what if we set a goal to show the Jesus Film in the Acholi language in the most rural areas of the Diocese at least once a month? And what if we weren’t hindered by a lack of resources to do it? We would need a vehicle, money for fuel, a new video projector and a good sound system. Some of the staff have already been trained to use the Jesus Film as an evangelistic tool…so let’s just pray and ask the Lord to provide the resources need to make it a consistent ministry and work with the Diocesan Archdeacons to plan and execute. Again I asked if this was too idealistic and whether it would make a difference. I pictured myself with the Missions Coordinator and the Youth Coordinator loading up a vehicle and heading out to the bush to proclaim the gospel, especially to young people here who are the largest demographic in Northern Uganda and who are struggling with lack of employment opportunities, alcohol abuse and general lack of hope and identity. I got that familiar feeling of excitement mixed with anxiety. Lord…you provide the resources and I will coordinate the logistics and work with the Mission Department here to make it happen.
The first resource needed…for both the Acholi Bible Project and the Jesus Film…a good working vehicle that can be driven to villages in rural areas. Now, as you know if you have been reading this blog…when I arrived in Uganda I was pretty certain I would never have the courage to drive here. It’s frightening! But recently I had access to a vehicle while Rev. Sandra was out of the country. I just decided to get over it. I got behind the wheel and slowly acclimated to Ugandan driving culture. And this is no small feat. Anyway, just as I was beginning to feeling comfortable behind the wheel is when I began to dream about these ministry projects. Ha! Lord, you have a funny way of doing things! I see where this is going. LOL! Now I am feeling bold behind the wheel…which is what it would take to drive around the Diocese to some of these places I believe He is calling me to. And then I remembered the Bishop offering me a vehicle to drive my first month here. I didn’t even think twice about it then because I was sure I would never drive in Uganda. So…I inquired. There is a 2008 Nissan Hardbody double cab four wheel drive diesel pick-up truck parked and not being used because of the lack of funds to properly repair and maintain it. Dr. Katie had her mechanic from Kampala take a look at it. It’s in good condition…it just needs new tires, a battery, a new windshield and some routine engine maintenance. The mechanic put a temporary battery in it and it started right away and he and I drove it around Gulu and he said the engine was in good shape. So I’m waiting on the estimate to see how much it will cost to get it in good working order. But there you have it…a reliable vehicle to that can go to the bush…which in my mind could have been the most costly obstacle. I think it can be repaired for about $1500.
I shared all this with Bishop Johnson and the Diocesan Secretary, Rev. Patrick and they gave their blessing, as did the Mission Department Coordinator and the Youth Coordinator. Never in a million years could I have seen myself get so excited over this kind of ministry. I mean…I like to sit and read and watch movies and be comfortable on my couch. I don’t like to sweat, I don’t like to be dirty, I don’t enjoy large crowds and the roads in Uganda are unrelenting and this kind of travel is physically exhausting. But go figure. I’m so excited about this that I’m already looking forward to coming back in January after my Christmas break at home and I haven’t even left Uganda yet!
Friends…I need to raise about $25,000 to cover my living expenses in Uganda for 2015 plus repair, maintain and operate the truck, and purchase a projector and sound system for the Jesus Film. In addition to that I need to raise about $3000 for the Acholi Bible Fund. As I look at these numbers it is easy to get overwhelmed with worry. Will the money come?
But I constantly remind myself of God’s faithfulness and I reflect on the fact that I know without a doubt that I am right smack in the middle of God’s will for my life. There were times in the last year that I thought I would not be here, especially when the cancer diagnosis came. But He is faithful and He saw me through that chapter of my life and I trust that He will provide everything needed to continue to minister to the people of Uganda and work alongside my brothers and sisters in Christ at the Diocese here to strengthen the Church and see it grow and prosper. What a privilege to be a small part of what the Lord is doing! Please prayerfully consider whether He is nudging you to partner with me to see it all come to fruition. As we see the end of another year fast approaching and you reflect on the things for which you are thankful, keep the people of Northern Uganda in mind.
St. James Church, James Island, SC is my home church and my sending church. They receive all funds given to support me. Your gift is fully tax deductable. The church holds me accountable and they approve my budget. You can read more by going to the Blog page “Partner With Me”. You can send a check directly to St. James or you can contribute by donating through PayPal. Just click on the donate button in the sidebar to the right. It’s easy peasy.
I have to give thanks to the people of St. James who have supported me in every way and who stepped up to adopt a sister church here in Keyo Parish also called St. James. They didn’t hesitate when I shared with them the need this sub-parish church had for building materials as they construct their church building. They currently meet under a huge tree and they are thrilled to very soon have a place where the weather can’t hamper their times of worship. Thanks to my St. James family for your generosity!!
I’ll be coming home in a month. I arrive back in Charleston on the evening of Dec. 10th and will be home about 6 weeks before returning to Uganda in mid January. I look forward to sharing in person with as many people as who will listen all about life and ministry in Uganda. This is the longest blog post I’ve ever written and I hope that won’t count against me. Thanks for reading to the end and for supporting me with your prayers. May God bless you!
And to the Lord be all the glory, honor and praise! Amen!