Well, it has been a wild last few months. Since the national conference in January, when Pastor Brett and Eddie came to visit, there have been experiences of great joys and serious struggles. Through it all however God has proven Himself to be both faithful and good.
After a long and drawn out struggle with Ugandan customs, we were finally able to clear the water purification units that were donated by Ray Shelor’s company, Atlas Copco, and were then able to make our way up to the Ik tribe. Accompanied by two brothers from Hoima, Bryan and Bunya, we made the long trek up north. We met some challenges on the way including flat tires and forest fires. It took us about three days to make it all the way up the eastern border to the Morungule Mountains where the Ik lived, but by the grace of God we arrived and were warmly received by the people. This reception, however, was a short-lived prelude to some serious challenges.
I hadn’t been to visit the Ik for about a year and a half (Malaria kept me from going last year) and my memory of them as a people group was consequentially somewhat glamorized by the excitement of going seeing them again. I had forgotten the extreme extent of their struggle for survival, the moral degradation that had come to characterize their society, and the spiritual darkness that enveloped them as a people… I was quickly reminded. After our initially warm welcome I learned that they had had a lot more exposure to the outside world than when I had last seen them. Teams from different European University’s had travelled out to do anthropological studies on them. While it would have been my hope that greater exposure would lead to further development for the Ik, it appeared that it had done the opposite. The teams had not come to help the people but simply to collect data… so in order to establish a friendly relationship with the people they brought aid and flooded the people with stuff, bribing them for hospitality and friendship.
This was not helpful. When the Ik learned that my purpose in coming was to distribute water purifiers to men who had worked the previous two months of the road project, I found my warm welcomers to be disgruntled and disappointed. A begging culture had been established. I found the people not hunting though it was hunting season and not digging (hoeing) in their gardens though it was digging season.
On the second day of our time with the Ik we began distributing the water purifiers to the men who had done the work project. We sat with each of them individually and taught them how to use the units and gave them a hoe and a hat along with the water purifiers as a gift for their hard work. This took us the next two days but also gave us the opportunity to share the gospel with them and with others who were curious about what we were doing.
During the distribution we also did a simple but incredibly revealing survey with the men who had participated in the work project. Concerning the water situation: They have to travel, on average, 4 hours each day to get water from a natural spring and 100% of them said that the water was not safe for drinking. The men also said that, on average, someone in their family has Diarrhea (due to water-born bacteria) every three days. If these water purifiers are properly utilized these men’s families will be protected against this unfortunate killer.
Some other shocking information that the survey brought out: 90% of them said that they drank the local brew at least 5 times a day. This is partially because finding clean drinking water is difficult for them and this brew provides some nutrients as well…but it also means that they are drunk most of the day. They each earned, on average, 5000 UGsh ($2) per month by selling their excess meat or crops and 70% of them said that they spent that money on alcohol, though their families die from starvation and dehydration regularly (In order to get this alcohol they have to travel about 25 miles on foot to Kaabong).
As I tried to sleep the two nights we were there I was repeatedly awakened by the sounds of the men of the village beating their wives, of wives beating second wives, deep into the night. My heart raged within me with anger and frustration. Drunkenness, Wife-beating, Laziness…
I left the Ik very discouraged. To be entirely honest, I left disgusted. The people seemed to have embraced their plight and rather than working hard to change and overcome their many obstacles…they seemed have chosen to “eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” A culture of begging, laziness, and drunkenness that was already a problem seemed to have been strongly reinforced…noticeably so even over the course of only a year and a half. The people had even less regard for the message of the gospel than in previous visits and could hardly stomach listening to the Word. So let me not pretend as if I rode in on my white horse and saved the day leaving the Ik developmentally transformed and eternally changed.
No…I left them generally ungrateful and unconcerned. I was seriously discouraged.
But then I began to think. What am I to expect? You see I think we sometimes have it in our minds that the needy or the unreached are pretty people with smiling faces who are eagerly waiting for the gospel to arrive so that they can believe it all at once. We like to imagine that we will be received warmly and that the people we are serving will always be immediately grateful for the assistance that is given. But why would this be true? If “unreached” means predominately untouched by the transforming power of the gospel…If unreached means no clear gospel light in a society…then why should I be so discouraged to discover a culture of utter darkness. Where there has been no gospel influence why should I expect to find gospel living?
Jesus certainly did not come into a world that received Him with joy. No, the light came into the world but the people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil(John 3:19). He did not come to gather the righteous…He came as the Savior of sinners, the redeemer of rebels. It was not that the people were even remotely worthy to be helped or that we were at all eligible to be saved. Instead, he came to rescue that which was lost. Not lost by accident….but willfully so. While we were running from Him (Romans 3:10) He sought us out and subdued us by His grace. He was not dettered by our wretched and willful slavery to sin…He knew the darkness of the human heart and chose to endure suffering at the hands of men and then to take our suffering under the wrath of God so that we could be forgiven. He condescended so that the wicked could be made righteous. Jesus came to “save His people from their sins.” For 33 years the eternally pure Son of God endured our world and it’s filth. He did not come with the expectation of being received with adoration and gratitude from the world…no He knew what was in man and that our infatuation with sin was so deep that only the perfect Savior could rescue us from our blindness. He He came with persistent love to redeem His bride, filthy as she was. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
As I drove away I was deeply convicted by how quickly my love had evaporated and was greatly broken by my weak endurance. The answer to such a people is not…”Fine, perish in your drunkenness and empty souls.” Jesus didn’t say that to me. He came with love and endured far more than I will ever be asked to in my service to the Ik. I may suffer under their discontentment and disregard but He already took Hell for those among them that will believe. And some will. Some will believe. Though I was deeply discouraged by their rejection of the gospel as a cheap and worthless message, I know that Jesus died for a church among the Ik and I am confident that the seeds of the gospel that have been sown and will continue to be, will one day be harvested, whether by me or by someone else. Jesus will receive the glory that He deserves from among the Ik. While their trampling of Jesus and His gospel enflamed a righteous anger within me, my longing for them to know Him and to flee the wrath to come brought my heart back to a place of love and sorrow. Though with a very imperfect love, I was reminded of my own heart and my own redemption and filled with renewed compassion. While I enjoyed the benefits of being influenced by a more generally “Christian” culture with a more generally “Christian” morality, my heart was still just as lost…and wicked. And it took the steadfast and enduring love of my Savior to rescue me from the darkness of my own heart.
So pray for the Ik. The gospel alone has the power to redeem them as individuals and to transform them as a society. Pray for us as we continue the work projects for the distribution of the water purifiers. Pray that we would be given boldness and endurance in our proclamation of the gospel and that in all this we would love God ultimately and the Ik deeply. The glory of Jesus is worth it.
On our way back down the mountain we encountered another unexpected obstacle that God would further use to teach and transform me. On a rough section of the road from Kotido to Moroto we had a serious accident. My truck rolled twice on it’s side, crushing both the left and right hand sides of the front of the truck and throwing all of our stuff out of the back of the truck into the savanna that surrounded us. I can still vividly remember it as we rolled. My head hitting the window and then the ceiling, the glass hitting my face, the sound of crunching metal, and the abrupt jolting as we came to a stop. We had all survived. It was a miracle. We got out of the truck to assess the damage to our bodies and I was amazed that, though my head hurt, I didn’t have a single scratch. Bunya had some cuts on his arm and hand but was otherwise fine. Bryan, though he hadn’t had his seatbelt on and was thrown into the front of the vehicle, seemed to be the least affected. We cleaned up the mess that our stuff had made and changed the two rear tires that had both come off in the accident. Amazingly the truck had landed on all four tires and started when I turned the key. One of our tires was leaking air so we set off quickly hoping that we could make it to a village or maybe even all the way to Moroto. Initially I was speechless. My mind was racing and Bunya and I both talked about the very few but intense thoughts that had passed through our minds as the truck rolled. “I am going to die. I guess I am okay with that. Thank you Jesus for being my Savior. See you soon.” It was essentially that for both of us in so many words. I don’t usually like to make slick allegorical illustrations but perhaps this was a Jonah moment for me…coming out my Nineveh experience and ensuring that I had a truly eternal perspective and would go back to the Ik and endure faithfully in love. My mind was flooded with thoughts as we slowly drove along. It began to rain and I had to pop my head out of the car to drive since our dash board was crushed and the whippers didn’t work. Slowly by slowly we moved along this remote and terribly rough road out in the middle of Northern Karamoja. Surprisingly a vehicle began driving up behind me. I hadn’t seen but two or three the whole time I had been on that road and tried to move over so that it could pass but it stopped next to me.
It was Renee Bach, a friend of mine who works in the Southern part of the country but who had happened to be in Northern Uganda that week doing a malnutrition study…this was another miracle. Who would have thought that out on this remote road in the middle of nowhere, after I get in a serious accident, I would be met by a friend. She drove behind us all the way to Moroto ensuring that we didn’t break down or get stuck somewhere on the road. God was so faithful. I had been nervous that we wouldn’t make it and would have to abandon the truck and hike at night to find the nearest village center, which could have been hours away on foot. Having her follow us ensured that that wouldn’t happen. God is so good. He spared our lives in the accident, delivered us from any long-term or life-threatening injuries, and brought us back home safely. The Lord truly “watches over the way of His saints.” Proverbs 2:8
From there I began February’s monthly trainings in Kyangwali, Kasese, Kumi, and Namatumba. It was a joy to be with the brothers once again and to feast upon the Word together. We examined our final foundational study in February looking at The Gospel as the pastor’s message and at Worship as being the Pastor’s Motivation and Mission. It was awesome to see and hear their response to the clear explanation and biblical definition of the gospel. Please pray for the trainings as they grow in number, that they would continue to grow in depth, love, and passion. I sincerely believe that the Lord brought us here at this particular time for a reason and that we are working with these particular brothers for a reason as well. There seems to be a real hunger for the truth in a world of false hopes and empty promises. These men want to know God. They are tired of counterfeits and half-truths. They are seeking the Word and are receiving it with joy and thanksgiving. Please pray for them as we begin our Doctrinal studies this month looking at the Doctrine of God. My study this week on this subject has been sweet to my own soul and I greatly look forward to rejoicing in it with them throughout the rest of this month. I will be beginning in the West in Kyangwali, the Congolese refugee settlement, and will then head east to Kumi and Namatumba, and afterward will be in Kasese. Please pray especially for the work that God is doing in Kasese right now. Pastor Alfonse is the overseer for that area and has been receiving many requests to take the trainings out to rural villages. I will be spending a week there with him to follow up on three groups (besides the one that we have been hosting already every month). He has already met with these groups deep in the Rwenzori mountains on the border between the Congo and Uganda. Pray for us as we travel to them and pray that God would bless the preaching of the Word. Please pray that in all we do Christ would be honored in the hearts of men and that the Lord would receive the glory due His name.
Thank you for all that you are doing to make this possible. Your sacrifices are not in vain and your prayers are mightily at work!
p.s. The kids are doing great! They are growing so much! They are in school and are generally performing well. Bryan has been helping them a lot with their homework and has been a real blessing in their home the last few months. Pastor Gordon’s wife, Esther, and another young Christian lady named Mary are also both going to be working in the home with Jane soon which is a tremendous answer to prayer. I was reminded that I had not given the full story for baby grace so I wanted to post it here for everyone to see. Pastor Gordon’s mom was contacted by a nurse who had heard about the work that the church was doing to help the orphans already and told her about a baby whose mom was mentally handicapped and was incapable of caring for her newborn little girl. She had been neglecting and even beating the baby after birth so they asked if Gordon would take her until they could find a different solution. Gordon was hesitant when he initially heard until he went and found baby Grace left alone crying and covered with flies on a hospital bed. So she came to the children’s home where she is still today. Her mother is a Congolese refugee and has been deemed mentally disabled by UNHCR (refugee arm of the UN). The representatives from UNHCR have come out to the children’s house a number of times and thanked us for what we are doing for her because they do not have the ability to care for infants and would have had to leave her to suffer and probably die with the mom if we hadn’t been willing and able to help. She has become a part of the family now so it is our hope that she will be able to stay as long as UNHCR will allow. Thank you for praying for these kids and for Jane! Pray that they would come to know Jesus and that Jane would continue to be given endurance and love as she raises these kids!