I learned cynicism at a delightfully young age.
One of the most tangible forms I recall was targeted towards my friends who returned from mission trips.
“Oh my gosh well I spent a whole week helping the people of Haiti.”
“I didn’t change them, they changed me.” Or “I wasn’t a blessing to them, they were a blessing to me.”
“It was amazing. They are so poor. When I come back I’m not going to take twenty minute showers anymore.”
I mean barf.
I used to always think to myself. “If they “gave you so much more” well then go back and serve better.
I hated it. Rolled my eyes. And truth be told I still do.
Until two weeks ago I had never gone on a “mission trip.” Because truth be told I never, ever, ever wanted to return and say vomit inducing words like them.
Which is a really stupid perspective to have. It kept me from travel and lasting memories. But truthfully had I gone when I was in high school I probably would have gone to “help” or be that powerful American who could fix the problems of the third world.
It’s a difference I hope to highlight.
Also I’m a rebel and usually act out in ways different than the Christian stereotype.
Aren’t I the most enlightened twenty-something?
When I was younger I wouldn’t go on mission trips because barf^^^^. But now I know a large reason I was so excited to go was that people didn’t want me to go.
In the year leading up to this trip I had to raise financial support for my current job. Part of this job description I would talk about was a trip to Africa. And you would be surprised how many people warned me not to go.
You’ll get a disease.
You’ll get your head cut off by terrorists.
Or the words that spark immediate anger into the deepest pits of my soul “We have enough problems here.”
No lie, the leader of a prominent Christian Ministry told me those words. To which I kindly asked: What Bible have you read? Remember the Paul dude? Peter?
The last year as this election cycle has greatly picked up and people like Donald Trump have their words thrown out into the public God has been doing an incredible work in my heart.
Now make no mistake I feel anger and sadness towards much of the examples I’ve listed above. The people who told me not to go or voiced their concerns (yes many simply cared about me and wanted me to be safe) upset me.
I just couldn’t understand how American Christians didn’t see the need for the gospel in all places. How can we be selfish with the gospel? It’s not ours. It only got to America because someone went where it had never been.
(Which wow: The Gospel is an immigrant-now there’s a sermon idea.)
Anyways this work in my heart. With everything that my political party (Yes I’m a Republican-stand shocked.) has been throwing out there alongside their deeply Christian moral compass has greatly disturbed me. But I believed God has used it to stir my heart to the belief that “That is so wrong.” That much of what Christian candidates have been promoting about Syrians and Mexicans and Muslims and different races is in so many ways anti-Christ. And it hurts….hurts my heart.
I was once taught listen to your anger. What makes you so angry that you begin to fume and think someone should do something about that.
Maybe this is God’s way of telling you that someone is you. And so my eyes I believe are being more and more open to the unity of the human race. That there is “One God and Father of all, that is over all, through all and in all.” That the divine breath that has given me life exists in every human being and that this is a sacred bond to one another.
Christian leaders have responded to the Black Lives Matter movement with “All Lives Matter” and then in the same speech talk about a gigantic wall to keep desperate immigrants out. Is it only American lives that matter? Or they argue for the sacredness of life before birth and yet seemingly care little about that life after birth.
These views have been brewing in my heart but I do believe this Political season has grown my sight to see the injustice of words shared by men and women who will say they are guided in a very strong way by their faith.
ANYYYYYYWAYYYYYYS if that felt unnecessary here’s the Africa bit.
My heart for the world and the all of us has been growing. I desire all to see Jesus, including the Christians. Including these politicians. Because I don’t want to be selfish with the Gospel. I don’t want to be lazy with the Gospel. I don’t want to be an entitled American. I don’t want to be like Jonah. His nationality and his views about enemy nation made him selfish with the good news of God’s grace even to THEM. And so this whole year my heart has been responding to these cautions and selfish nationalism with a great and anxious desire to go.
******(End Political rant)*******
And so the GOING bit.
We flew out of Africa on a Friday, March the 4th and landed late the following evening. That’s right roughly 20+ hours of fun airplane rides. What butt? I had a butt?
Perks were they had movies (like the new Star Wars which I watched twice.)
We arrived in Africa Late Saturday night in Kampala, the capital and largest city of Uganda. A.K.A. the city where no American could ever remotely hope to drive a car. You will fail. Miserably.
We were greeted at the airport by a man named William who not only knew everything we wanted to know about Uganda, but so much about the world at large. He travels, speaks many languages (even if only a little) and knows so much about cultures here and there. He loads our bags into two vans and then gathers us for a prayer. Which just set the tone for this whole trip. A prayer sounds so simple and yet this prayer truly was like a blanket that would rest on our whole trip. We drove another hour to our guest house for our first night of..errr….sleep in Africa. I say this because I don’t think many of us slept well that night. Africa is hot. We were about an hour from the equator line. I didn’t sleep under covers the entirety of the trip and needed a sleeping pill to ensure the heat would not wake me up in the night. The first day was appropriately and easy day. We went to the University that was started by Africa Renewal Ministries; the ministry hosting our trip.
Our first day there we took part in the Sunday church service where Gary (the eldest member of our trip and leader of our Residency back in Austin) gave the sermon. We worshiped loudly and proudly singing mostly American worship songs with some Lugandan worship songs. This service lasted several hours and gave us a small taste of the remainder of our trip.
The next day we led discussion groups with many of the students. The conversations were hilarious. I and Amy Dobson were assigned with a group that talked about Secular holidays and relationships. Which began with should the church have parties for Valentines Day? “A holiday for lovers” No joke. This was my first theological conversation with Ugandans hahaha! The group was passionately and respectfully divided over the issue which segwayed into can men be a stumbling block to women. Which flabbergasted the patriarchs in the room. How is this possible? They were convinced that they couldn’t dress more modestly than they were. They couldn’t wrap their minds around it. But they were told it wasn’t always their appearance but how they interacted with women. How they flirted or what they entrusted, or how intimate their conversations were. Leading women to believe “Does this man like me?” but having no desire to ever date this girl. Which is not only the truth but an area that I do believe I’ve contributed a bit of trouble to because as guys we just don’t really think about it. Not a lot of attention is drawn to how guys make girls stumble, it’s definitely less discussed. Which this opened the door to a man (who was super bright) saying he believed a woman should be able to say “I love you” to a man. What he meant was if a woman has feelings for a man than she should be able to say so to the man. Now this was disputed. I found it all hilarious. These were serious intellectual conversations that were given so much more sincerity and consideration than we find in America. Most people were so shocked and didn’t even know what to say to this mans suggestion of a woman’s pursuit of a man. “The man pursues the girl!” They then went around the circle asking each person “is it okay for a girl to ask a guy out.” hahaha! to which I was laughing the closer the question came to me because I have lived this reality they were all saying would NEVER happen!! With each person the “oh no, what are they going to think” increased with laughter in my mind. When it finally came to me I said this question is rooted in the problem men have with causing women to stumble. I told them plain and simply I just bond with women better than men. Because I’m “such a sensitive guy.” But also one of those things that makes me angry (See above about how to respond to anger) is how most guys treat girls. Which by no means do I deserve an A+ in this category but I’ve always desired and tried to treat girls differently than other guys. Which can lead to being a guy girls can talk to. Which can lead to intimate conversations. Which can lead to girls thinking I want to date them. Which has led to girls TELLING ME they like me.
What I told them is that that conversation is always helpful. Worrying about “losing a friend” is overrated. While I agree the guy should pursue the girl I told them that if an individual is torturing themselves over the thought of “What’s going on here!?” then let that torture go and just ask. Or simply let them know that they are indeed giving certain signals. You tell them this so that the other individual (if this is not their intent) can protect you from feeling the wrong way. This avoids the courting conundrum and opens a door for that conversation but also allows the person to not have to awkwardly shut you down. That was what I left them with and they left me with such a beautiful dialogue of discourse. I loved how they round-tabled an issue and really sought after the truth especially when several of them had very different views. The chemistry and friendship of the group was very apparent.
After this we went to the market where I bought your typical Africa presents. Things with elephants and giraffes and stuff. Every shop we walked by we were met with the kindest “You’re welcome” which is not a response to “Thank you.” It means literally “You are welcome.” We then drove through the no traffic laws, try not to hit a motorcycle (Boda! Boda!) be as aggressive changing lanes as possible roads back to our guest house where we had dinner with the lead Pastor of A.R.M. He shared this amazing story that I will simplify. He would pray and God would provide. And I mean he’d pray for random things and provision would be like weird meetings with people to discover oh wait “You do that kind of thing” I’ve been praying for type of provision. It really was encouraging to see and hear just how fruitful and blessed this ministry had been.
We left Kampala early in the morning on a tiny plane. It was really cool because a ministry does these small flights to places that, to put it plainly, only missionaries are flying to. Our flight on what would possibly be considered a sketchy plane began with a prayer. We then left the ground and went towards a tiny village known as Pader. (Puh-dare). The flight so low to the ground of Africa was beautiful.
The closer we arrived we began to see these small mud and straw huts appear. We then saw families and people looking up at us and as the plane started descending. We looked ahead and saw a tiny dirt road that would be our landing strip and you begin thinking your final prayers. But no, it was probably the most graceful landing of our entire trip. Pilot was a rockstar.
We were picked up and driven a short distance to a guest house (which aside from a few schools was one of the nicer places around). No we weren’t cool enough to live with our friends in the bush. Most of our meals these weeks were beans and rice with some vegetable and if we heard the screech of an animal earlier that day… some protein. I ate really well. I pigged out most days. (Though the malaria pills can do a number on your stomach.) We often had cold drinks and sodas with every meal. Stoney. That’s the golden goose. Stoneys.
We would then get a tour of the church property at Pader Community Church.
What’s the point of this trip to this place?
Years ago, the church of my employment had been having a discussion with Africa Renewal Ministries about where they could work alongside and partner with a church plant in Uganda. They wanted a remote place where the gospel needed to go. The people at ARM said Pader.
To elevate this claim the day we were at the University in Kampala the pastor asked how many Ugandans at the church had heard of Pader. Out of a few hundred people maybe six or seven raised their hands. So this place was unknown even to most Ugandans. But Austin Ridge Bible Church and A.R.M. both were praying for this place and a partnership with Pader Community Church was born. Pader is a war-torn village not far from the border of South Sudan.
Pader is the native area of Joseph Kony. You know that guy from that big movement back in 2012. You remember yes? Kony 2012?
Kony was the leader of the L.R.A. When you think of child soldiers in Africa, think of Joseph Kony. Pader was deeply affected by this war and by the taking of children, murdering of men, and raping of women. Most women were widows. Many adults were part of this army or suffered from the fallout. Thousands of people lost limbs. Thousands of people were abandoned. Thousands were abducted. Over 100,000 people were killed as a result of the L.R.A. And Pader was immediately a product of all of this. So Pader is where our church has partnered. Over the course of the week we would hear horror stories of intentional infections of HIV/AIDS where it was said that possibly 100% of the local army is infected and maybe 75% of the village could have HIV. Before, after, and while we were there many people were infected with Malaria; a sickness given by night-mosquitoes. The lead Pastor, Pastor Enoch’s, infant child had received the illness just days before we arrived and the assistant pastor came down with it during the week we were there. Our friend Emma (short for Emmanuel) came down with it after we left.
The people of Pader are aware that there are problems. Though complaining is spoken with the most severe of caution. Because what good would that do? The people we met in Pader spend their days focusing on what they have, not what they don’t. Material things they do not have. The thank God for health. For life. For awareness. For grace. They focus on blessings. And they focus on the new day. This translates as a real awareness of the good and sometimes a sweeping under the rug of the bad. A closeting of their story and the Hells that many of them have lived.
Which is not completely unlike America. However for many of the people in Pader, to be white; to be a mzungu, for many translated to be without problems. “To be closer to God.” Because in Africa. The white people show up, smile, talk about Jesus, give our candies and presents, and then leave. Not to jump ahead, but I shared the gospel with some kids in Africa. When I was done a child shouted “Give me some sweets!” Because that’s what white people do. They shower the poor with blessings and show them how well they have it and how much they can help provide and yet FAIL miserably to empower others in different circumstances to see the TRUTH they that have just as much to give us. And that we have just as much to learn from them.
While we were still in Kampala, we met an Australian missionary who shared with us the lessons he had learned that fortunately I believe my friends and I were all on this same page. But it was refreshing to hear it from someone NOT in our group and someone IN Africa. This man Jamie shared a story of an African man who straight up called out these missionaries. “You come to our country, You take pictures with our babies, you give us gifts, you build a home, and then you go home and tell everyone all the great things you did, and you never come back, you never speak to us again. I will take a picture with my own babies.”
You won’t find many pictures of me in Pader. Despite my mother messaging me over and over about how badly she wanted them. Truth be told I didn’t want the temptation of look at what I did. Now there’s A LOT of pictures of my safari. You can totally look at that.
Last fall our friend Lauren got to travel to Pader ahead of us and map out a game plan for what we would be doing. Pastor Enoch had a strong desire to reach and enable the youth. Youth being a generic categorization of singles. Anywhere from fifteen to thirty something. Many were single mothers who had been abandoned by husbands. There also was a Women’s conference that was led by two of our team Mary, and Holly.
The first days in Pader myself and Lauren got to meet with the Youth Leadership while others went to meet children they sponsored. Lauren and I had no idea what we were in for haha! But it was neat. We met Emma who allowed his leaders to ask us questions and we would share our insights. Which immediately rubbed the caution that we didn’t want there to be this mentality that we were somehow better off or had more to offer. This lie unfortunately exists or has the temptation to exists for both Americans and Africans. But they asked us REALLY hard questions that we weren’t even sure translated culturally. Like suppose a person has to work for their family and so they refuse university? They choose to work than to receive an education. Culturally we weren’t sure how dependent families were on their children working the family trade. Maybe it was the better choice to learn the family trade than further their studies at a university. We explained that in America college too is very expensive. And so many people work for a season and save money, then pay for a season of university, and then work again. They pay their way through college. It takes longer but they are able to maintain their responsibilities to some extent. We learned they really wanted us to teach their youth diligence (to avoid laziness), as well as lessons on body and relationships (like the conversations at the university in Kampala. We would lead the conference this way. The theme of the conference was “Identity.”
Day one: Kiri would teach on creation and fall. Lauren would teach on relationship with Christ.
Day two: Katie taught on our identity in Christ and our bodies. I would speak last on our identity as the church.
The two days prior to the youth conference we went with the Youth Leaders out into the community as three groups. Group one would evangelize. Group two would speak to the unchurched youth. Group three would meet with special needs youth around the church. (Tessa and Amy work with special needs back in Austin) The special needs ministry in Pader is newer and they have a huge heart for it and that’s just awesome.
People with special needs are treated like low life citizens. A curse to society. And ultimately many people just don’t know what to do with them. As we drove through town I saw one middle aged man with special needs just tripping and falling on the ground. Nobody gave it any notice. While Tessa and Amy were out they met with a physically abusive youth whom his family had tied him to a tree. Though they believe they were dealing with a demon. Which Americans just don’t go out and say “Oh THAT was a demon.” The family was of witch doctors and they, rather than deal with the child or help the child, would beat him with a stick and tie him up. The only time of peace they saw while they were there was when they were praying with him and he set aside violence and put on a smile.
Myself and Gary were led to a small community of huts where we met a woman named Eunice. You are greeted when you approach a hut by having wood chairs and a mat placed out for you while they sit on the ground. It was a very big deal and honor to have a mzungu (an “aimless wanderer” a term used to describe most Europeans.) visit your home. I was given the opportunity to share the gospel within my testimony. She listened very intently as I was translated by a local woman named Paulina or (Paulie). When we offered her a chance to ask me questions she said she wanted to be saved. And then and there she gave her life to Jesus and we all prayed with her and over her. Prayer in Uganda generally consists of everyone praying audibly and passionately different prayers at the same time. In others words people are talking over each other and it can feel a bit weird at first because we Americans are typically so intimate with our prayers. Ugandans are powerful with their prayers. They shout and they stomp with ferocity the ground which Satan lives in. They rebuke demons and declare the power of the name of Jesus and it is terrifying and beautiful. There is no fear or timidness in Ugandan prayer over the soul of individuals. It is embedded with demand, with desire, and with power.
When we left we went to meet a group of boys who had been into town earlier when we came by. I again got to share my story as well as Peter, Paulina’s twin brother and a singer in a worship band. The power of testimony is something (a theme if you will) that we wanted to instill in the people we met in Uganda. There is no greater witness to Christ than your own story. It was amazing to hear these stories that involved strange healing, witch doctors, horrible life events, and then the beauty of Christ’s work in their lives. The group of boys however were not ready. One of them believed in Jesus but that “he couldn’t be saved because he’s Catholic.” Which was my first exposure to the corruption of Catholicism in this town. Now I didn’t meet with a Catholic priest to see what these specific people were taught and believed. But Catholicism is vilified in Pader. Now much of it is similar banter that we hear from Protestants who are misinformed about Catholicism in America. “They worship Mary and the saints.” These kinds of things. But even the Catholics here believed they “couldn’t be saved.” Or “Could not be born again.” They are words I heard several times meeting people in town. It was clear that what we were preaching and what they believed were not the same things. And this troubled me so greatly. Because of this I did not share that a large part of this story I was sharing greatly involved Catholics and a Catholic pilgrimage. But I felt led not to share this detail. I asked Peter’s bandmate Amos what was happening with Catholicism in Pader. I explained that in America there too is a divide between Protestants and Catholics. But that for the most part people believe we are on the same team. Protestants do not see the need for middle men or women. And while there was the awkwardness of trying to maybe clarify some things about the saints and Mary it seemed as though it was very possible that the Catholics of Pader in fact worshiped Mary and not Jesus. From what I witnessed it actually seemed this could actually be how it is and not entirely a misunderstanding of the practices within Catholicism. Much of Amos’ views revolved around Catholics not being “born again” which are arguments I’ve heard in America and argued to those spewing such nonsense. (It’s nonsense to single out Catholics.) For Amos the Catholics they go to discos and drink Alcohol and they are encouraged to do this. Like I said aside from the apparent disconnect between the Catholics and the truth of the Gospel, most of the facts I received were from non-Catholics. I think my heart broke with this more than anything. If I were to return and address anything I’d like to return with a group focused on ministering to the Catholics in Pader.
The boys that were present for my second sharing of my testimony were not ready to give their lives to Jesus and be saved. Their religion was in the way.
We returned and shared stories from our outreach. (Side note this day was the first rain since December. and boy did it rain. We started this day by whacking away at weeds and bushes…in the rain. About an hour into this we realized it was WAY easier to just yank things out of the ground than to chop away and blister up our pathetic hands.)
Day 2 we went out to the communities again in our same groups. The day prior Lauren and Kiri worked on painting a mural for the wall in the back of the church. (There will be a picture below). Today Kiri joined Gary and I and the team from the day prior.
We first visited with a group of single mothers. About eight women some had divorced. Some were left. Kiri shared her story. And then the women opened up with their stories. Many of them shared with us the painful truths of their pasts. And how they had suffered. Most of them wanted to be saved. (The Catholics again did not believe they could be.) Four women gave their lives or rededicated their lives to Jesus. One of them pulled me aside and asked to speak with ME (why me?) at the conference the next day.
We returned for lunch and then went out again to what was the highlight of my time in Pader. We drove way out to a village a few miles from the church. It was a spot the church had been praying about. We arrived and it was immediately awkward. We stopped in what looked like your stereotypical ghost town in a Western movie. It looked abandoned and unlike the other stops there wasn’t a specific person there we were trying to meet. Paulina said some words to a woman and the woman left. And we were just standing there wondering what we were doing. Gary asked that I share my story again because he believed some of the “supernatural” elements of my testimony deeply resonated with their culture. But I was more thinking…but who are we sharing to? There’s nobody? A woman brought out a long skinny bench for us to sit on and two plastic chairs. And then the woman who walked away brought some older people back to listen to us. These were the oldest people we spoke to. They were not “youth” in fact we quickly learned that one man was 97 years old and his voice was scary to me. This sounds mean but I don’t mean it that way. When he spoke it was just like the aliens in “Mars Attacks.” I mean it was this high elderly voice with sincerity that I couldn’t understand. But the dude was 97 years old. He was accompanied by a drunk woman and two men in their early thirties. I got to share my stories and some locals shared their stories. Afterwards the elderly man stood straight up and told us how he knew it was the Lord who had blessed him with long life. He had never given his life to Jesus and he and one of the younger men wanted to do so today. We prayed over these two men. And then some kids showed up.
And then more kids showed up.
And then even more kids showed up.
While we were praying school had let out and children (probably for the first time) saw three white people praying over the oldest man they know. Over 100 kids (someone counted) had gathered around us to see what was going on. Now we had planned to leave after our prayer and go somewhere else. But I couldn’t do that. I asked Amos to share the Gospel story but he didn’t want to. I was worried they were too weirded out by a white guy (literally I tried to shake hands and they scattered) but I got up and for the first time in YEARS got to share the entire gospel story in one swoop. Creation, Fall, Jesus’ life, death, and Resurrection. I say this because people know this story in the United States. Usually I have to clarify it, not tell it. It was liberating to share this with these kids and tell them where they exist within it. And what it means for them. Afterwards I asked if any of them wanted to give their lives to Jesus and my fears were true, they were terrified of me. Then Amos shared his testimony that he was hesitant to the times earlier. And his story was incredible. He was ill. No doctors had any idea what was wrong with him. His tongue had rolled out of his mouth, so much so that the doctors had to roll it back in and sew his mouth shut. His spine was bent, forcing him into a permanent fetal position. No doctor could help him. His mother then stood over him and gave him to God. “If you want to take my child, you can have him. If you want to heal him, you may heal him.” And immediately Amos’ back straightened out and he began to heal. He talked about what it meant to be born again and he exposed their fear of stepping forward in front of their friends but that one day Jesus will return and judge them. He shared with them the dangers of living in sin and Hell. Which I don’t avoid, but I shy from making that the message. But some kids began to step forward. Amos’ story and his ability to connect with these kids was amazing. After this wasn’t as successful as maybe some hoped Peter stepped forward and “tricked them into salvation.” (Which doesn’t work.) But it was one of those “wait what just happened!?” moments that will be a fun story to tell. He asked these kids to raise their hands if they love Satan!? And all the kids laughed. And then asked “Who wants to be with Satan and live in Hell? And nobody laughed. They just stared intently. And so he then asked “Who wants to be with Jesus in Heaven” and every kid raised their hands. He then led them all in the “salvation prayer.”
“Great you are all saved now.” And Gary and I just shockingly stared at each other. “Uhhhhhh…”
But some kids I do believe truthfully believed in the gospel that day. Some kids stepped forward for real. Though 100 kids were not saved. Even as beautiful as that would be. One girl student sang a worship song and others sang along in response. We then left the children and the men who gave their lives to Jesus.
Before the conference we worshiped. And wow. They worship.Not just with voice but with body. Dancing in ways that if women were to dance in America they would be quickly consulted. But it was amazing. It didn’t feel inappropriate it just felt like worship with dance. Even when it was hip shaking butt twerking worship. It was brilliant and I did the total “white man’s sway along” with a few claps here and there. Tessa danced along like a champ. There was entertainment, testimonies, Kiri and Lauren set up everything and then we broke out into groups and helped people see their identities and learn to share their stories. Which many struggled to do.
What if I am honest with a person and they go and share these things with the whole town? This was almost everyone’s hesitation. I shared the story of how Jesus treated the adulterous woman. The story of how a woman’s testimony was known to the town and how Jesus handled the accusers. But also that a struggle to share some parts of your lives means you probably haven’t repented of it and received grace over it. Or forgiven. Or given grace.
After the first day that lady who pulled ME? aside asked to speak with me. She wanted advice on how to raise her baby alone as a divorced woman.
Which I thought there were much better candidates to have that conversation but Paulina helped translate and provide some back up.
To sum up a lengthy conversation I said don’t raise the child alone. Let the church come alongside you. Let people help carry that burden. Raise the child knowing they have a heavenly father who will never leave. And that you’re going to struggle. And the church is probably going to fail you sometimes. Use those moments to grow and to learn. Jesus wasn’t spared suffering. In fact the way God came into the world is even a story of suffering. Christmas is a story of suffering. It why we find such beauty in it. And so don’t live life alone. And don’t raise your child alone. It doesn’t have to be a husband that helps. This all seemed to be what she was looking for.
The following day (Saturday and we leave Pader Sunday. ) was the final day of the youth conference. We would leave immediately following the morning service of church the next day.
The message I shared was on the body of Christ. We all are different and different is good. We are different because God made us different. We are different but we are one. I centered it all on this story I read in a book called “Sex God.” The story completely changed me to the core.
A young boy made his father a present out of pipe cleaners. Thirty years later he walked into his dads office, and on a shelf was that same creation of pipe cleaners. He kept it and took care of it because he loved his son.
The point of this as it was so well put that I stole the mess out of it, was “How we treat the creation reflects how we feel about the creator.”
“The head cannot say to the hand “I don’t need you.”
Whatever you have done for the least of these you have done for me.
One God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and IN all.
“How you treat the creation reflects how you feel about the creator.”
I made this the charge for unity. For the unity of our difference and the need for one another. We need them and they need us because we are ONE body. We might be a foot and they might be a hand. If we were to only give blessing well then we are thinking they need us and we have nothing to gain from them. That’s translated as the foot telling the hand “I have no need of you.” It’s wrong and it wasn’t the truth of our time with them.
We learned so much from them. For starts how they worship is just awe inducing. It’s incredible. I want you to experience it. The sincerity of their prayers has a confidence that isn’t just “God thank you for a nice day.” We pray that you would just… It was fierce prayer that believed in the power of the one they were praying to. The heart for the community is not just spoken but acted on and planned out. We talk a lot about our care for the community and I believe we do mean it. But we don’t REALLY do much about it. I’m certainly at fault. “But I’m a minister.” Doesn’t matter, I still rarely go walk up to a stranger and share the gospel with them. Because that’s just weird and uncomfortable. And yes it’s easier doing this to people I may never meet again. But that’s also the reality of your city. It was EASY to be led to these people and to share my life’s most intimate moments. It was EASY to talk about Jesus. And they did it. They just went out.
I believe we instilled in them a greater purpose and eyes to see the power of sharing their stories. Hearing them become more comfortable sharing their struggles, their stories, was powerful and a blessing. Their heart for their community was a blessing. Seeing them act on their love was a blessing. Seeing them praise was a blessing. Sharing the truths of our cultures was a blessing. Giving and receiving was a blessing. But the greatest blessing was that it felt like one ministry. One mission. An extension of what we do in America. Not some grand week long service project. It was the hand and the foot working together. It was the body of Christ.
They shared great humility with us. They only wanted to thank God and showed great caution to their complaints. And when we left they showered us with love and prayer and intentional blessing. Pader is a beautiful place and I really do wish to return. God willing I will.
Some side stories before moving on to the end of our trip.
I showed Emma some pictures of Austin and some of my fun memories. And my beard. He was amazed that people grow beards so long. I said in Austin people have beards to their knees. To which Kiri shared about how the lead singer of ZZ top would have to throw his beard behind his shoulders when he went running. To which Amos replied this sounds like a woman who lives in the village over there. She puts her baby on her back a flips her breast over and can breastfeed the child over her shoulder. It was like being hit with a truck it was so unexpected and I laughed so hard.
My favorite moment in Pader did not involve evangelizing or preaching or really anything about the why that we were there.
The first night I walked outside and looked up but the dust really clouds the night sky. It’s just not clear in Africa. But the day that it rained there was no dust. And I went outside and saw the most beautiful sky I have ever seen. Stars as low as the horizon and as bright as I had ever seen. It’s maybe the prettiest thing I have ever seen in my life. My testimony involves God speaking to me through the stars. To see stars like this took me back to that moment. I always think of a line in a Phil Wickham song
“We are amazed in the light of the stars
It’s all proclaiming who You are
That’s the most meaningful line in any worship song to me. And I stood there and saw the beautiful truth of those words. And I remembered God’s craftsmanship of my life. That I could see stars, creation more beautiful than comprehension and remember words that Lauren and Kiri taught the day before me. I’m a part of that creation. And God loves me more than those magnificent, beautiful stars.
And so I want to end by sharing pictures of God’s creation.
We ended our trip by traveling to Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda. So please listen to this song and look at these pictures of what God has created. Beneath these pictures I will conclude with my take away from the trip.
Before I left for Africa my favorite Christian author released a book. I was super upset because the package was delayed and I wouldn’t be able to read it until I returned.
Before we left Africa we were asked to share what we were taking away from this experience. We mentioned many of the blessings the people in Uganda have left with us. Our friend William shared his powerful testimony with us. We were worried that people back home didn’t know what we were doing in Pader but more so we were worried people wouldn’t maybe couldn’t understand. William shared that even if we worry that people won’t understand or that we made no impact that whatever was going on in our minds live by this. “This is about God.”or in his calming accent “Thees is abowt Gawd.” People in Pader are going to be impacted by the simplicity of a Mzungu showing up to their home to see them. That something so simple will inspire a child to go to school. That they will tell their friends about what happened. That it will share with them hope. He shared this because William lived in the bush. Just like we experienced in Pader. And that someone had sponsored him as a child. All he ever wanted to do was meet that person and thank them for all the support they had given him over the years. Pay for studies, pay for medical bills. And several kids got to do that when we visited. People won’t understand. This is about God. What William said to us left us all with power and inspiration but more than this hope. It began our trip with grounding and he left us more deeply aware of the presence of God in all that we carry.
Of all the people I’ve ever met William is one of my favorite. He radiates. Radiates Jesus. He just sees it all. He communicates it so simply. He loves so well. I felt safe with William. And that safety wasn’t just in his knowledge of culture. It was in his faith. His faith made me feel safe. I hope that we meet again.
My take away from this all was life. Full life. And in some ways a growing bitterness for America. As we traveled back home my phone blew up with stories of fights at presidential rallies. Of videos of candidates advocating violence on those who disagree. Of our country moving away from God. Of “Christians” destroying the image and the love of God. And really my heart has broken for America.
While we were at our lodgings for our Safari we met a group of High School students and their leaders who were on a mission trip. Originally I was very, very irritated with this experience. It was everything I opened this post with. “Well we went to the slum kids, did ya’ll go see any slum kids?
Well that’s probably for the best. You would have seen things that no person should ever see. But I believe we really helped them. The Lord is so good.”
Several of us left irritated. It was just what we were so worried people back home might think we were doing. It felt robbed of one body. And I get it. I can’t be too hard on them because it’s just an easy trap for American’s to fall in. But it still is sad. I was super down that we experienced that at the end of our trip but it moved in me to be seen as a blessing. We weren’t see things this way. God had shown us more. God hadn’t lowered us or raised the people of Pader. He showed us we were one. An extension of one another. We work together for the kingdom. This involves EVERY nation. It involves Pader. It involves Austin. It involves all of us. Our strengths. Our weaknesses. Our sufferings. Our hopes. Our differences. We are the church. The bride of Christ.
I am so thankful to be safely back home. I am beyond excited to share these stories from my trip. It really was as fun and inspiring as I hope this post suggest. But the transition back to America is already tough. To live so fully abroad and then return back to all that is politically stirring up is something I have already struggled with. The choices our country is making and supporting is an unfathomable thing for me to grasp. I’ve struggled to remain positive returning to many of these news stories. Because it’s not about Poltics to me, it’s about kingdom. I see these troubles as the enemy trying to fog over the beauty of my past two weeks. I take no doubt that God is always up to something better. We wander away, we are given over to our disobedience, we fail to see his beauty and provision. We chase religion rather than the divine. And while I believe we Americans are celebrating fear and division I take hope that reality and truth will come. In Romans Paul teaches God has done this so that we all can receive mercy. While I pray we each receive mercy and grace, I pray that we can live as a country that sees it has already been given.
America has problems. Africa has problems. The World has problems. The problems may even be different. But the church is one. This destructive ball of pain and suffering is not my home. And maybe it needs to break for the beauty of our home to shine through. Because my desire is to live for that now. Because I know why things are so bad. But I know who makes it beautiful. He makes the pain of Africa beautiful. He gives hope to those who otherwise could never find it. He will heal America. But maybe we will break before we want this. And if that is true, then I believe his beauty will shine as bright as my African stars.
Because God loves His creation.
My response to Gary asking what we will take away is that I was present in Africa.
In America I’m always thinking ahead to the next thing. I’m always having to make sure the next thing is ready. Or I’m always excited about the next thing. Before I left I had to deal with all these problems with my car. When I returned I was immediately met with all those same problems. I’m constantly focused on a problem I have with how the country is doing and how Christians are representing Jesus to the world. When I’m with friends I want to know what we are going to do next. I want to know if the night ends when what we are doing is done. I’m waiting for this person to text me back because I’m worried I might spend another evening at home doing nothing.
I didn’t have these problems in Africa. I was in it. People picked us up and drove us. My schedule was at the mercy of others. I woke up only knowing I would be serving God. Others would tell me how I would be doing this later. The only preparation I needed was to be ready to share at any time. Which is a command of the Bible. In Africa I was present. And I needed to see that. I needed to learn that.
That book I was unable to read on my trip. The one I was upset I didn’t get in time.
It’s called “How to be Here” and it’s about being present. I bought it because it was by an author whose books I always buy. I’m so glad it showed up late. Because I need it more now.
May you see the beauty of creation so that you will see the God who has made himself known. May you see the Creator.
of the elephants,
of the stars.