In August, I travelled to Uganda to be with a friend and church member who has a ministry that supports underprivileged children.
This was my first visit to Uganda, my first time in Africa and, other than advice after conversations with a few people, I really had no idea what to expect. My schedule was pretty tight with 22 speaking engagements in about 12 days, with two of those days set aside for internal travel.
Yonah, my friend, greeted me at the airport at 4.00am. He had brought three other men: Pastor Job, Godfrey and Gerald, the latter known to me from the time he was a student at a Bible School in the UK where I had lectured. Gerald is Yonah’s representative in Uganda and together, through Mission Destiny, they feed, clothe and educate 275 children every month. Without the help of Mission Destiny, these children would go without.
We drove several hours to a town called Mbarara where were based for the first part of the trip. After a few hours rest, we headed to a town called Bushenyi and to the first meeting of a three-day conference. The drive to the service brought with it some amazing views and I was told repeatedly that this area was the Garden of Eden! Arriving at the church, I was amazed again. This time at the sound of hundreds of people singing loudly their praises to God. I knew I was about to experience something special.
As the service went along, the presence of God became more tangible. I realised once again that while we in the west maybe rich in some areas we are poor in others, and people in countries like Uganda may be poor in some areas yet they are rich in others.
The first service was wonderful. The message I gave was well received and seemed to be relevant to the host church at that time. We went back to the hotel, looking forward to what lay in store for the next few days.
During the following services, Pastor Job, Yonah, Gerald and I shared the preaching and Godfrey led the worship. I had been told that this young man was gifted and he exceeded my expectation. The phrase, ‘taking it to another level’ is widely used but, for me, this really was the case with Godfrey. That afternoon, a scheduled 30-minute session for pastors lasted 2 hours, and we all came away encouraged at the start of a local pastor’s network.
Nearly every day I was introduced to people who had come to faith in Jesus because Yonah had sought them out and brought them to church. Some are now in ministry, some are in business, but all acknowledged that it was because Yonah had encouraged them. However, one of the greatest thrills was to meet the man who helped Yonah, a man affectionately known as ‘Uncle Douglas’. Uncle Douglas met Yonah and his family many years ago when they lived under a mango tree on some wasteland. He decided to help Yonah, his mother and his siblings in their time of need. Yonah later found out that Uncle Douglas had helped many families. As more and more people were introduced to me, they referred to Uncle Douglas and how he had helped them. Now Yonah, through Mission Destiny, is simply doing for other children and families what was once done for him. We managed to squeeze in a one-hour visit to see some of the children he helps as they gathered in a local school. They are so thankful for what is being done to help them.
The conference finished on Friday, and over the weekend we were invited to minister at two other churches in Mbarara.
We spent most of Monday travelling to Hoima where I had been invited to speak at the 21st annual conference hosted by a local church. The journey took several hours longer than anticipated due to blocked, impassable or closed roads.
In between conference sessions, another group of churches in a remote village area had also gathered for several days of meetings, so our time was split between both places. Each meeting was special in its own way. One had several thousand attendees and the other a hundred or so, but one thing stood out: these Ugandans desire more of God. They are not put off by the heat or rain, nine-hour walks to a service, power failures or pretty much any adversity that comes their way. There is a lesson to be learned right there.
After these meetings finished, we drove to Kampala and to the final four meetings. The first was particularly special as it was held in the church where Yonah, Gerald and Godfrey had spent much of their youth. They helped build and lead the church, and it seemed to me like a little of their heart was still there. Pastor Haman was a wonderful man with whom I really connected in the short time we had together. He’s been pastoring for a long time and is a father figure to many.
The final two services were for a pastor of a new church. Almost two hundred men and women attended a lunchtime service arranged especially for workers in central Kampala who desire to fellowship together, praise God and hear the Word of God preached during their lunchtime.
That evening, we had the privilege of speaking at one of the services of the newly planted church. They had committed to meeting every night for the next 55 nights. Again, we had a wonderful time of worship. The message was relevant to the church and was well received. I’m confident that these believers will outgrow their location and will need to prepare to expand soon.
The day before we returned to the UK was a day I was particularly looking forward to. We had arranged to meet and share a meal with some of the Ugandans who had attended the UK Bible School where I had taught for 10 years. It was a lovely few hours and a great opportunity to reconnect and encourage one another.
On our way to the airport, we decided to spend an hour at a church whose meetings had been going for almost an entire year. It had started as 77 days, but it soon became apparent that it was going to go longer. As we came into the open-air site, I saw hundreds of crutches and back braces lined on either side of the platform. These were no longer needed as the people they had once helped had been healed from their illnesses. On this night, six or seven thousand people were gathered, but towards the weekend it gets so crowded that there is only enough room for people to stand.
I left Uganda that night aware that there are so many people who are hungry to see and experience God move in the same way He did in the lives of men and women in the Bible.
These people are prepared to walk for hours, give up personal time and make huge sacrifices and changes to their lives in order to position themselves for this to happen. And in many cases it has. They’ve either witnessed it or experienced something significant. It’s not because there is nothing else for them to do, they have just prioritised things differently. I came away wondering if we, in this country, will ever see what the believers in Uganda are seeing and, if so, what it will require from us.
During my two-week visit, I met some of the warmest people and made memories that will last a lifetime. I’m looking forward to my next visit, whenever that may be. Watch this space!