We only know what we know. My job in this country is to help our pastors know more. When I say "more" I am not only referring to the Bible. I just mean "more". During our time here I have seen the impact of a persons surroundings on their development. Every little behavior, thought, dream, idea, action, motivation and hope are constrained to the information made available to the mind. Big world equals big thinking. Small world equals small thinking.
A fellow missionary once heard some village pastors referring to the Galilee River. When he asked them why they weren't calling it a lake they said, "What's a lake"? I've been profoundly and permanently impacted by the power of poverty and lack of education on human minds, lives and communities. Some of the greatest hours of my time in Uganda have been spent among those who know nothing beyond the dusty roads of their tiny villages.
A couple weeks ago Rev. James and I travelled a few hours outside Kampala to a small church where the community had gathered. For over six hours we preached, sang and ministered to them. It was a Thursday but the event was so important to them they dropped everything to be with us. At one point I had to pause my sermon and sit down because the rain on the metal roof was so loud I was losing my voice trying to speak over it. James leaned over to my ear, "If you notice a strange smell it's the manure. They've mixed it with some dirt to coat the floor and walls like a temporary concrete." I laughed and checked my shoes. They clapped and sang and danced until the rain slowed down.
Our goal in visiting this church was to encourage the leadership, provide direction and instruction for teaching and give them a sense of belonging within the denomination. Rev. James spoke for a while about the words 'Africa Gospel Church' and explained what they meant and how their small church was part of something bigger in the country.
At one point Rev. James asked a question. To my right was a man dressed better than anyone in the room. He had a fine black suit, ribbons on his lapel, glasses (a rare accessory here), shiny shoes, a watch, two Bibles which he held at the same time, big jars of something to his right and a short tie with Uganda's colors. He raised his hand to answer the question. When he was finished Rev. James said, "Interesting. Thank you. I like that very nice tie!" The man smiled and began clapping for himself.
We found out later that there was a story with this man. Some time back he had wandered into this town with very little known about him. He was quiet and modest. Then, during a time of prayer at church he volunteered to pray for someone who was asking God to help him sell a cow. Not long after that the cow sold. The village noticed that God had heard this man's prayer and they began coming to him. In their desperate need for help they saw the possibility of hope in this man and his 'powerful' prayers. They began paying him to pray for them. He became famous. He bought expensive bottles of prayer oils to use during these powerful prayers. More recently the church had begun to challenge their own pastor in favor of this (seemingly) more powerful man. Now he had joined us in this meeting.
After this backstory had been made known to us (in the midst of our day with them) I watched as Rev. James began to formulate his response. During my sermon I turned around and saw him reading and scribbling. I smiled later when I realized he was rewriting his sermon to address the immediate issue. When he stood up to preach he called them to the Gospel of John chapter 15. He read, "I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener." He paused, put his Bible to his side and looking around the room spoke, "Do you know why Jesus described the vine as true? Because there are other vines!" I was amazed. I thought, "This friend of mine is preaching to the very problem in the room. He has captured their hearts by showing them he loves them and now he is correcting them."
When we were back in the car on the way home I told him how much I had learned and how I admired his courageous leadership. What an awesome experience!
As I sit here now I reflect on all that we've learned from this country so far and I feel deeply compelled. God called us here but our understanding of the need was pretty much a guess. It's Africa and we've always been told they need help. As we've lived here those guesses have become experienced truths. It's real. God can do this work with anyone. We are so thankful he's chosen us to be His helpers.