Monday, April 27, 2009

Our Last Sunset...

Well today was our last full day here in Uganda. It was a full mix of emotions as we said goodbye to some and hello to others. The hotel here invited us to hold a mini conference this morning for the local pastors and church leaders here in Jinja, that didn't get a chance to attend the conference last week in Kakira. So Pastor Scott and Pastor Jim each took two hours and taught the pastors on Preaching/Bible Interpretation and Biblical Conflict Management. About forty showed up and, once again, God did amazing things. The topic of conflict management really seems to be an untouched topic here, and so the pastors were eating it up. Now I've known Pastor Jim, my father-in-law, for about ten years now. I've known him as my high school chemistry teacher, my high school baseball coach, intimidating father of my high school love interest, and finally, intimidating father of my wife. I've heard him speak many times, but never like today. He went well over two hours, teaching the pastors all about conflict and how the Bible instructs us to create a culture of be peacemakers. The question and answer time started at 12:30 and didn't end until 1:30. He was passionate, educated, thought-provoking, eloquent, and for the first time (that I've seen anyway), he was emotional. Not that he's not all of those things all the time, but as I watched and listened, I couldn't help but notice how alive he was...more than usual. I was proud to call him my father-in-law, intimidating as it is.
We had a good lunch with Pastor Paul and his new bride, Margaret, and were joined by some other pastors that we've connected with in the past week. It was fun and we had a good time chatting and laughing for one last time. We left the hotel to shop, shop, shop. For a group of five adult men shopping on a foreign continent, I think we made our wives proud.
We finished the night by taking Moses with us (see previous blog), and heading down the street to the Sunset Hotel. The view of the sunset, from the Sunset, was spectacular. We dined and talked and watched the fishermen put out lanterns on the water to catch perch by twilight. I really missed my lady. I'm sure the others felt the same. Our last sunset did not disappoint as the clouds (which are always billowing and vibrant with movement and life), moved over the Nile, trying to choke out the sun. It was perfect. We're all a little weird right now. We're all so eager to get home and see our family. But I know that Africa doesn't really just go away from you. I can't even begin to sort out all the lessons and feelings from this trip. That's going to take at least a week or so to do. All in all, though, we are all confident of this: God far surpassed our expectations for this trip! I still cannot believe how He spoke and how He used us to teach them, and them to teach us. The prayers of all of you were certainly felt and I am so so so grateful for all of you who gave to make this possible. Because of your prayers and gifts, so many pastors learned for the first time how to properly study and teach the Bible, how to handle conflict in a way that glorifies God, how the Old and New Testaments speak of Jesus, and how God desires to do a great work in Uganda, Africa and the world. There were so many testimonies of God's power and God's work within the hearts of these men and women. And once I get my videos done, you can see it for yourself. But your giving and your praying did a great great work here for the glory of God!
Pray for us tomorrow as we travel. We will leave the hotel around 2pm and head to Entebbe. Our flight leaves around 10:20pm (12:20pm your time). So please pray for safe travels, health, and miraculously fast flights! And pray that we're reminded that God's work does not stop in Africa, it continues on the airplane, in the skies, on the ground in Amsterdam and Houston, in Los Angeles and in Ventura County, CA. For we are all missionaries, servants in the same Kingdom, for the same purpose and goal...the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Saying Goodbye...for now.

Our last Sunday here, we all split up and went to different churches to preach this morning. It was a blessed time and all of us came back with wonderful and interesting stories. That's the way it is here in Uganda...wonderful and, well, interesting. What took me by surprise, though, was how difficult it was to say goodbye to some. I realized that I have really connected with many of the pastors here, but there are a few that I built a very special relationship with...not because our living situations are similar, but because of how much we have taught each other through conversations and visitations. There are three that stick out to me...two of them I'll talk about here:
Pastor Gerald (top picture) is serving as associate pastor at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Kakira, where we have been holding the conference. I had heard about him before I came, but getting to know him personally, well, we just hit it off. The first time I met him, I realized how he was tall, skinny, with Kenyan features, and he kind of resembled Snoop Dogg. But his heart...oh his heart. He is so Biblically centered, devoted, warm and full of love. His story is intriguing. He lives with his wife and twin boys, who just turned one year old last March, in a rented room on the YWAM base just outside of Kakira city limits. He has a job as the basic maintenance man on campus. When I say it's a rented room...I mean that. That's the way most people live here, an entire family living in one room. All cooking is done outdoors, unless you have real money. His wife, Ruth, hasn't been to church since the twins were born and she says she probably won't until the boys are about three. Not that she doesn't want to go...on the contrary! But it's that there's no safe way to transport two baby boys over the distance to Kakira. Their only option is boda boda (rented motorcycle), and I don't have to tell you how dangerous that is. Or they can walk the hour long walk with two baby boys to the church and then an hour back. I already explained the dangers of being a pedestrian on those dirt roads. We asked about a stroller. But as we asked, I think we all realized that we haven't seen a single stroller since we've been in this country! Again...that's a luxury reserved for the top 3%. Yet she releases her husband to do what she knows he must, pastor and preach the Word with integrity. He has given up a lot to live for Christ. His father already disowned him and left him on his own when He accepted Christ. His is a faith that is truly day by day and so purified. I wish you could hear him talk and see how his true concerns rest on his family and others around him. He talks very little about his needs. One last thing: There's a funny tradition here at church services. Whenever someone is up singing a song, if people like it or are blessed by it, they will come up, dancing, and slip a little money into the performer's hand or pocket. (I'm thinking about starting this tradition at CBC...kidding.) I was watching him this morning as he led in a song about God's provision. And I was blessed, as everytime someone slipped him some money as a loving gesture, he would smile and slyly slip the money into the pocket of another pastor behind him, as a loving gesture. Because the other pastor, pastor Godfrey, is struggling to keep his family afloat as well. That is love. That is a pastor. Gerald is one I have to keep in touch with! Maybe I can find a way to slip them a double stroller, or a motorcycle, or a car. We'll see...
Pastor Moses grew up an orphan at the Psalm Ten house that we visited earlier and that Pastor Paul helps run. I have been blessed to come to call him brother and friend. He is currently serving as a children's pastor here in Jinja, and he does a great job. He is so full of scripture and looks for any opportunity to preach the Gospel. He also works at our hotel, which has been fun. Oh...did I mention that our hotel is owned and operated by devoted Bible believing Christians? Every morning, I sip my coffee and check email as I listen to the staff in their morning worship sessions. It's beautiful. We've really bonded with the staff of this hotel. He told us the other day that the hotel has a soccer team and they play the other hotels every Sunday, and he really wanted us to show up. I told him I wouldn't miss it. So we went this afternoon to cheer on Moses as he played goalie for the hotel's soccer team. It was cool to see the other team ready to play, but waiting on our hotel to finish praying so they could start the game. Praise God! I underestimated our influence. As soon as Moses saw us in the grass with the audience (we kind of stick out here like a sore thumb) he got his big smile and waved big with both hands, kind of like a five year old waving at his parents on the sidelines. And I many times has someone come to just cheer for him? He was blessed, we were blessed, and eventually when the hotel staff saw us there, they invited us to cheer with their group. It was so much fun! We got to intereact with all the staff that had been serving us all week and talk about the conference and laugh and joke and cheer like mad! The family of God is truly big. Of everyone...Moses has had the biggest impact on me. And our connection will last, I'm sure, as I pray for him and as he prays for me. Again...they pray for us more than we pray for them. There's a lesson for you.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Oh Yeah...and p.s.

I forgot to talk about the cake. They only cut up two cakes. The rest are to be given to people chosen by the bride and the groom. So they chose to give our group one of the cakes. The whole thing. That was a wonderful gesture of appreciation and love and it meant a lot to be one of the few to receive such a gift. We are, of course, five "robust" American men, with no real need for a cake. So we gave it to the children's home. They were excited to receive it...


Weddings in Uganda are an all-day affair. In case you get invited and wonder, "I wonder how long a wedding is in Uganda?" All day. Long as it was, it was a really really really cool experience. To be invited at all is a tremendous get a cake to take home is an even greater priviledge! I'll explain later.
As far as tradition goes, the wedding and reception is very much like weddings in America, with a few differences. First, Pastor Paul arrived and everyone cheered and yelled and applauded. Then it was about twenty minutes of worship, waiting for the bride to arrive. Once she did, all the women out in front of the church, cheered and yelled and applauded, letting everyone inside know that the bride has arrived! It was cool. She (Margaret) had a large wedding party complete with the cutest flower girls you've ever seen. And walking down the aisle...well nobody walks down the aisle in Africa! They dance and sway, slowly...very slowly making their way down the aisle to take their seat opposite the groom. It was a cool feeling as I listened to the crowd scream, dance, cheer, yell, dance, scream, cheer and yell. It really reminded me of what that day will be like when the Bridegroom (Jesus) is presented with His perfect Bride (The Church). It's gonna be a lot of screaming, dancing, cheering, and yelling! The service was beautiful and Pastor Scott, who had the priviledge of officiating, did a fantastic job. Everything went off without a hitch and it was on to pictures!
We were invited to be in some of the pictures as we made our way to the source of the Nile. It was fun to watch Pastor Paul, who is usually pretty serious and very very quiet, come alive with his new bride. He's smiled more today than I've ever seen him smile.
We came back to the church for the wedding reception. Again, it's similar to our traditions with a few differences. Once the bride and groom cut the cake, the bride puts pieces of the cake into a basket and serves the groom's family. The groom does the same with the bride's family. It's a beautiful picture of thanks and servanthood. Then we are all served by the bridal party. Another tradition that was fun: At some point, the bride slipped away to change into a new dress. Paul, then slipped away and disguised himself and hid among the people in the audience. The bride came back to find her groom missing! So then she begins to go with the help of some bridesmaids all through the audience, looking for her groom. It's fun for the audience, because Paul slipped away without us knowing, so we don't know where he is either! And it's fun to greet the bride as she makes her way through your section of the audience. And it's fun to watch her find her husband, as they greeted each other with smiles and loving eyes. It's a cool tradition. I liked that. Then people brought all their gifts and left them at the feet of the bride and groom. Brightly colored boxes, wrapping paper, vases, goats and chickens. The goats and chickens were my favorite part. Next time someone complains about their wedding gifts and how nobody even looked at the registry, just could have gotten a goat.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Source...

Today, we took the afternoon to walk to the source of the Nile River. It was so beautiful to see the water and the currents and to know that we were standing at the source of one of the world's most exotic and famous rivers. Thunderstorms were all around us, and so the whole experience was truly amazing. I prepared myself, but Africa has surpassed all my expectations with all its natural beauty. Well done, God.

Day Five...The Last Day

Last day, and oh what at day! It was short, but certainly powerful. We each took 15 to 20 minutes, and challenged them with a parting word to wrap up the week. Everyone did so good. Pastor Tim even wrote a song and led the group in "The Duck Dance". Don't ask.
We handed out Bibles to all the pastors and gave them certificates saying that they had attended. I was surprised to see how much those certificates meant to them. But most them have no access to education right now, and something that shows that they are trying means the world. The Bibles were supplied by our team and the group was so appreciative. I just loved to see two cultures come together like this and accomplish something God-sized. It's great to travel halfway across the world and see that even though some of us speak Luganda and others speak English, together we all speak the same language...the language of the Spirit. For we are all one family under one Father, and our needs are ultimately one and the same. God spoke mightily and used both Americans and Ugandans to teach rich spiritual lessons.
It was so hard to leave. And it was really hard to say goodbye to those who had to travel far away. But one pastor reminded me that if we don't see each other again here on earth, we will celebrate together on the other side.
Please continue to pray. Tomorrow (Saturday), Pastor Paul is getting married! It's really exciting and they asked that Scott (my father) officiate the wedding. We're all excited, and it is a special priviledge over here to be invited to someone's wedding. So that means a lot to us.
Also, Sunday we are all going our separate ways to speak at local churches. Fred got assigned to the longest distance...30 km from Jinja. Pray that God speaks powerfully through us and pray for our connections with the people.
Monday...and then we fly out Tuesday night. That can't be right...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Day Four...

I have failed to mention the diversity among those at the conference. People from all different tribes, worshipping together. People from all over Uganda, pastors from Rwanda and a few from Kenya, all worshipping God together. The most discriminated against and the most neglected group in this country happens to be the disabled...and they're here too. There's a lady that has been coming from day one. I'm not sure exactly what she suffers from. I've noticed that these countries are full of people who suffer from crippling diseases, but have little or no access to real treatment. Or they can't afford it. So the diseases are given freedom to run their course. We have yet to see an elevator anywhere, and the roads are almost undriveable. So the thought of having to wheel oneself around in a wheelchair is almost laughable.
And yet this woman smiles. And yet she is so happy to be in the presence of God. She always greets me every morning with a big smile, a crippled handshake and a "Bless you, pasta (pastor)". But I think what inspires me most is watching her raise her bent and broken hands in praise to the One who created her and allowed her disease. I think it inspires me, because we're both looking forward to the same Day, when we'll praise God together, face to face. And maybe she'll reach out to me with her perfect hands and lead me in a special dance of praise to the One who redeems our souls.