It was late afternoon on a Friday in early February and my team and I were headed to the village of Palenga with the Jesus Film. I had three students from the theological college and my tech guy with me. We stopped at the fuel station in town to fill the truck and get some water. I was waiting for the students to return with water when a young woman with a crying baby approached the truck. She looked desperate and afraid. I rolled down the window and said hello to her. I knew almost immediately that this was someone the Lord wanted me to see and not look beyond. This woman saw that I was driving a vehicle from the Diocese. She told me her name was Joyce and that her husband had recently died from HIV, leaving her with four children and no way to provide for them. She said that she had completed an application to attend the Women’s Development Center, a program I have been involved with at the Diocese…but had heard nothing. I knew in my gut the Lord put her at the fuel station at that exact moment so that our paths would cross. I told her to go the Diocese on Monday and tell Rev. Willy that she had spoken to me and that I would cover all her expenses through the scholarship fund. I gave her a little money to feed the children and we continued on our way to Palenga. As I drove away I knew the Lord was up to something. I wondered if she would follow through and show up at the Diocese.
I have been wrestling for several months now with some of the many challenges in ministering here. I have been here for almost two years. It’s not getting easier. It can be difficult to know how and when to help people…and I am approached often by people asking for money. Money and economic development have become intertwined with the gospel in a way that is sometimes not helpful. As any missionary in a developing country will tell you, there are difficult days that leave you wondering if you are making any difference at all. There have been lots of disappointing days and wrestling with God over the impact of this kind of poverty on society and the church. Where do you begin to address the core issues? In the process of ministering, how do you root out corruption, opportunists, thieves and con-artists without becoming cynical? Over time this can lead to disillusionment. On more than one occasion, Dr. Katie has reminded me that I have to keep looking for where the Lord is at work and join Him there. The Lord is always working! It requires constant discernment. On that day at the fuel station…His love and mercy welled up inside me as I looked at this desperate mother. It was His love, His compassion for Joyce, not mine…that moved me to see her. I didn’t have to question her motives and wonder if she was genuine in her need. I knew. He worked to bring her to me and worked in Joyce to make her bold enough to approach me that day…and in essence, I was invited to join Him in His work of caring for her. Incarnational ministry.
With Joyce, it was not just about paying her fees so she could get skills training…she has absolutely nothing! It meant meeting her very basic needs. She had no place to live and had been sleeping with her four children in the bus station. We have rented a hut for her and her children near the school for about $3.50/month. We have paid her fees, provided her with a school uniform and shoes. She has been given a Bible. I have covered the costs of food, soap, a blanket to keep the children warm at night and a few other small things. She is adjusting to her new routine and making friends at the school. The children are cared for at the school during the day. Joyce was elected to the Student Council. She is seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. In the last few weeks I’ve gotten to know more of Joyce’s story. She too is HIV positive but her four children are not. Her own parents are dead and her husband’s family has rejected her…essentially saying that she is a dead woman who is walking. No one wanted her. They saw her as being cursed. She tried to commit suicide several times. She was ready to give up…just die. Life was not worth living. But some people reminded her that if she died, her children would be orphaned. She shared with me about all the tears she had shed…wondering why this was happening to her. Today she came to my compound and invited me to the WDC family visitation day…because she had no other family to attend. I told her I would honored to come as her family on visitation day. I told her that the Lord sees her and hears her prayers. I assured her that our paths crossed at that fuel station because the Lord loves her deeply and cares for her. She talked about dying and I reminded her that none of us knows how many days we have on this earth…but as children of God, we have the promise of being with Jesus in paradise forever when death comes. The Lord is providing for her…she is not alone. I asked her if she believes this. She then sang me two little songs she sings to herself often…the first was about her belief that God is real and the second is about the paradise that awaits her. Joyce knows the Lord…she knows Scripture, she has kept the faith…even when life could get no worse for her. It was all I could do not to begin sobbing myself as she sang her song of faith to me. I know the Lord sent her to me. I know He will continue to open my eyes to others like Joyce…the ones who love Him and who cry out to Him. If she stays strong, Joyce will graduate with a skill with which to make money and provide for her children and she has found a church family and is receiving medical care. Please pray for her and her children, that the Lord would continue to strengthen her and encourage her and give her a testimony of His faithfulness to share with others. She has no idea how much the Lord has used her to remind me that ministry here is as simple as looking for God already at work and joining Him.
It’s been a long time since my last post and I apologize for that. I really have been processing a lot and the last few months have been very busy. I taught Christian Spirituality to the Diploma students at the theological college. We had some very interesting discussions about spirituality in Africa. Exams were last week. Now there is a four week break before the next semester begins. I continued my work as the bookkeeper for the college which is almost a full time job in itself. In two weeks, on 30 April 2016 the college will graduate its first class of students since re-opening three years ago. We are fundraising for all the many needs of the college. We need to run plumbing at the school, the classroom wing needs a new roof, we need a dining hall, we need a security wall around the compound to keep thieves out. There are so many needs. I am working on trying to convert one of our classrooms into a library/IT Center. The college is planting 8 acres of beans and maize and we are praying for a good harvest to help meet operating expenses. I continue to insist that this theological college is the most important ministry in the Diocese right now because out of it will come the leaders of tomorrow.
I have taken the Jesus Film to five parishes. I have begun taking students with me on these trips to give them ministry experience and the opportunity to preach after the film is over. I’ve gotten to know them outside of the classroom, which I have enjoyed. I love to watch people watching the film. Seeing the story unfold on the screen makes it come alive for them. We have seen many dozens make first time commitments to Christ in the last several months and many be encouraged in their faith.
I continue as Curate of Christ Church Gulu and I am grateful for the experience I am gaining there. It’s so very different from how churches are run in the US. I am observing and learning. I enjoy preaching there and leading the English service each Sunday.
I am grateful to the Lord for a buyer for my condo in Mt. Pleasant and for all of you who were praying with me for this. The closing is on April 28th. I am thankful for Rees Johnston, Jennifer Woodworth and Real Estate Repairs and all the many friends who worked to get the property ready for the market. There will be no great windfall from this sale and I am sad to let go of my home but at the same time I feel a burden has lifted from me and I can fully focus on life and ministry here in Uganda without worry of renters or paying a mortgage. For that I say thanks be to God!
Lastly, I want to share with you that by the grace of God, I will be ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church of Uganda on May 29, 2016. I’ve been so busy I’ve hardly had time to think about it and now it’s almost upon me and I am humbled and honored and almost in disbelief that the Lord is bringing this to pass in my life. I am excited that the Rev. Louise Weld from my home parish in Charleston will come and be present with me on this day in addition to my good friend Kelli Hample and St. James’ Youth Pastor Alisha Griggs. The countdown has begun.
Please pray the Lord would continue to let me see where He is working so that I might join Him. Pray for safety as I travel around Gulu in my truck. Driving can be dangerous here. Pray for continued good health. Pray for the theological college and its students as we work to form and shape them into godly men and women equipped to do Kingdom work here in N. Uganda. Pray for patience for me as I continue to work in a culture so different my own.
If you feel led by the Spirit, please consider partnering with me through a financial contribution to my mission fund at Saint James Church to enable me to continue ministering in Uganda. Click on the “Partner with Me” tab above for information on how to send a check or make a payment using PayPal. The fund is getting low and I rely on the support of my brothers and sisters in Christ to help sustain this mission work in Uganda.
Thanks for your prayers. They uphold me more than you can know.