We’re home! The Sarlos and Zappacostas have returned, and we are thankful for God’s blessing in travel, health, and safety. Thank you to all of you who prayed and supported us. You were there with us in the Spirit of God.
There is a lot to say about the trip. However, I wanted to write a quick something about all God did in us and through us on this trip. In this post, I hope to outline the what and how of the trip as well as some initial personal reflections to encourage all of us in our mission for the Lord.
Where we went
Our time was spent in two of the major cities of Uganda, Africa. Kampala, the nation’s Capital; and Entebbe, the former capital, home to the president, and home of the airport. Both are major cities in this country of about 46 million people. Uganda is known as “The Pearl of Africa” and sits on the equator on the shores of Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world. Entebbe, which is on the shore of the lake, felt like home. The birds, the wind, and the sunsets, not to mention a little more humidity in the air which helped my dry throat. Uganda is a country of red dusty streets, lush foliage, and daredevil “bodaboda” (motorcycle) drivers. The rules of the road are mere suggestions! It’s a beautiful country, but one where poverty, joblessness, and corruption are common themes. We met people paying rent for what could barely be called a home and struggling to make payments. Over and over again, people asked for prayers for jobs. Uganda is a country that is hurting and many feel hopeless about their future prospects.
It is also, surprisingly, a country where Jesus is well known. The country is very religious, whether that be Roman Catholic, Anglican, miscellaneous Protestant, or Muslim. I did not meet anyone who did not know who Jesus was or who said they did not believe in God.
Why we went
Esther and I went to Uganda first as an answer to prayer. We were asking God to be able to do something different with the time, energy, and resources that God has blessed us with. Through Anthony and Cindy, God answered that prayer. Neither Esther nor I had done anything like this before and we had very few expectations for what it was going to look like. That was probably an answer to prayer as well to give us courage and boldness to go.
But we also went with an organization, ShareWord Global. Their mission for these trips is to impact people with the gospel and equip Christians to develop a lifestyle of evangelism. So, we went to partner with the local Church, to be mutually encouraged in the fact that the message of Jesus is our greatest treasure and prize and it should overflow out of our hearts to everyone around us as an act of worship. In that, we trusted God to use the seeds we planted to bring people to saving faith in Jesus Christ. We went to tell people about Jesus.
Who we went with
We went with a group of about 19 people. Some of them were volunteers like us, some were staff of ShareWord who were either collecting stories from us or getting a taste of the ministry firsthand. We were a team of believers from different denominations and even different countries, but we had unity in the message of the gospel and the task to share it with others. The team helped encourage each other on hard days and celebrated victories and stories of God’s grace on the good days.
Once we were in the country, we also connected with local pastors and churches. We did not go out as a group of privileged “Muzungus” coming to tell Africans how to live their lives (Muzungu is the general term for someone who is not African or a white person). We came alongside local believers in their neighbourhoods to help them cultivate a hunger for the gospel in their communities. In my mind, we got more out of our interactions than they did, but I think each person we worked with would argue with me on that. It was a powerful partnership in the mission of making Jesus known.
What we did
Each day basically looked the same. We woke up, had breakfast as a team, had a morning devotion and prayer time, then we hopped in the vans and headed off to one of two churches for the day. When we arrived at the church, the pastor and a team of volunteers welcomed us. We then sat down for some training done by the ShareWord team or our team leaders. The training consisted of a simple plan for turning the story Jesus has told in each of our lives, into a tool for sharing that with others. We were taught about intentional conversation that starts with small talk, moves to personal talk, then to spiritual talk, and finally to gospel talk. Now, as a white person with a language barrier, some of that small talk was difficult through a translator. But we had the privilege of being able to skip to spiritual and gospel talk quickly. The tools of the training are meant to help the local Christians think about their friends, family, and conversations in the community differently and make plans for getting the message of the gospel into those conversations.
After the training, it was time to put what we learned into action. We were put in teams of 2-4, with some members of our team and some members of the local congregation. The teams we went with always had someone who was comfortable doing translation into the local language, Luganda. Then we went out into the neighbourhood of the church, talking to people in the streets, at their homes, and at their businesses. The ministry we did was so unique because there was no camouflage. There was no bake sale or building project; just us and the message of Jesus, face-to-face with people.
We did bring a gift for those we talked with, however. We brought a magazine called, “Hope” or
“Essubi” in the local language. It contained a collection of Psalms printed alongside pictures of the Ugandan countryside and people. The back of the magazine contained the gospel of John and an outline of how to respond to the message of Jesus if the Holy Spirit prompted. It also had the contact information for the local church we were working with so they could ask further questions. It was a beautiful way to highlight the word of God in the beauty of God’s creation in the country of Uganda. It was made especially for them, and I think that care was appreciated by the people we gave the magazines to.
After a morning session of sharing, about 2-3 hours, we would return to the church and share some stories of the people we met. After lunch, we would go out again for another 1-1.5 hours. Once that was done, we would share more stories then get back in the vans and head back to our home base. We would have a few hours to rest before dinner, a daily debriefing, and then bedtime before repeating the whole process again. It was a simple model, but it brought us face-to-face with real people in their real contexts with a message of hope and transformation.
How did it change me?
Esther and I were greatly challenged by this trip. God purposefully gave us very few expectations so that we would not have a chance to worry about our experience, comfort level, or ability. He provided those things with our tiny seed of faith.
As a pastor, I talk to Christians every day. I love encouraging the saints and helping them grow in their knowledge of God. And, by God’s grace, I met a good number of brothers and sisters in Christ who I was able to pray for and encourage. It was such a blessing to tell them that our meeting was not an accident and that God purposefully put me there on that day to give a word from God to them. What a blessing. This was the case with Julia (name changed). I came up to her in the “front yard” of her home. It was more of the area directly in front of the door of her clay brick house. She was doing laundry and when I said hello, I told her to keep washing and don’t let me disturb her. We talked for a bit and I found out she was a believer. I shared with her why I was there and how thankful I was to have met her. Then I asked if I could pray for her. And I saw her eyes soften. She looked at me, stopped her chores, and motioned me to come and sit beside her on her porch. She shared with me the stress of sending kids to school, her husband losing his job recently, and feeling hopeless about how they are going to manage the coming months. I got to pray with her and see the joy on her face having someone ask about her life and care enough to bring it to God. What a blessing.
But as a pastor, I don’t have a lot of places in my life that overlap with unbelievers. My time is mostly spent with our Church family. This means that I do not get to have conversations with people outside of Christ very often. So, this was a real challenge for me. I am comfortable behind the pulpit, and speaking through this blog, but to stand face to face and share the gospel in a loving and clear way over and over again stretched me. But God was faithful of course to bear fruit. I will share an example. One day we were in a busy market neighbourhood of Kampala. There were people everywhere and it was hard to know where to begin. But we started with the first young man we passed. He had a hard look on his face and was just in the process of putting in his headphone for his walk. In Canada, that would be a major social faux pas, but Ugandans are wonderfully hospitable which gave us an open door to begin to talk with this young man. Let’s say his name was Peter. Peter didn’t speak English, but the Ugandans I was with translated for me. Very quickly I found out that Peter was a Muslim and that he wasn’t really interested in talking. I asked him what he knew about Jesus and we started having a conversation about how Jesus can be God and the Son of God. But I knew the point of the conversation was not to debate points of Christology but to show this young man how much God loved him. And I shared about how God as the Holy Trinity is the only God who can love because he has community and love in and of himself. I told this man how I came to know Jesus and that God loved him enough to put him in my path today. As I shared those things, I saw his eyes begin to soften. To me, it looked like he had never heard that God loves him, and I was able to share that message with him. I prayed for him and gave him the magazine and said goodbye, trusting God to work the change. As we walked back toward the main road we ended up in a chat with a group of “bodaboda” drivers and there was a crowd gathering to hear what I had to say. It was like nothing I had ever seen. But I noticed, there in the back of the crowd, was Peter. He came back to hear more. The simple message of God’s love in Christ softened Peter’s heart and I am still trusting God that his Word will bear fruit in Peter’s life. I am so thankful to have been able to plant a seed in this man’s life.
On this trip, I was reminded how deeply valuable the gospel is to a lost soul. People need Jesus, and the primary way God has ordained for that message to get out is on the lips of his people. I needed that reminder and lesson. It is an easy thing for me to step onto the streets of Uganda where I have nothing to lose but it is another thing to die to myself and put my reputation on the line for the sake of Jesus on my street, with my friends, and in our community.
The mission isn’t done
I’m sure the Zappacosta’s and Esther would agree that 12 days in Africa is not the end of the story. What God has taught us in Uganda is still true in Sault Ste. Marie. I am so thankful for the reminder of the value of the gospel and the chance to see how central it is to my life. I pray that my heart will not fall back into its comfort zone, but rather grow and overflow with joy in the message of the gospel. We look forward to sharing with you more. Thank you for your prayers and support for this trip. God provided what was needed to accomplish His purposes.