The heavens declare the glory of God . . . whether we're at CBS, or Camp Berea, or Mbale, Uganda. We send our greetings and love today from Uganda, where we have spent the past two weeks doing very much what we do in the States: speaking on marriage and counseling couples.
We "hobbled" out of the USA on Monday, Aug. 20, after nine weeks straight of family camp, during which time we barely stopped to catch our breath. This was a particularly full and exhausting summer—as I wrote in the last post—so by the time we boarded our flight out of Boston, we were anticipating with joy our 24 hours of travel to Entebbe! Crazy, maybe, but two eight-hour-plus time periods in the air, with no interruptions, was just what we needed about that time. We were most thankful for good, on-time flights, and for a safe arrival at the Entebbe airport late Tuesday night. There's nothing quite so sweet as being greeted by eager children, full of smiles, and seemingly non-plussed by the 4-hour, rugged drive they had just made to pick us up. It was a very happy reunion with Derek and Julie, whose faces we had only seen via Skype since early February.
We drove back to Mbale the next day, after a lovely night's rest and some errands around Kampala. We made a quick stop in Ginja en route for a late lunch, and just around supper time, we arrived at their home. This is our first return to Mbale since our visit in May of 2009 (when Derek and Julie were in the beginning of their courtship) and it was such a joy to settle into their home this time.
We came fully loaded with "not available in Uganda" provisions for Julie and Derek. What fun!
Our ministry opportunities began almost immediately, as Derek and Julie had their pastor and his wife, Wilberborce and Sarah Okumu, come for dinner Thursday night so we could discuss with them the ministry plans for their church that weekend. Why Derek and Julie appreciate this couple so much became quickly apparent: they are passionate people of God who serve their people with deep hearts and commitment. Wilberforce was really excited about our proposal to teach his congregation about God's design for marriage as found in Genesis 2, the fall and curses in Genesis 3, and the "antidote" to the fall in Ephesians 5. It was a new thought to him that God's spoken curse to Eve, "Your desire will be for your husband, but he will rule over you" (Genesis 3:16) means that Eve would have a tendency to control, undermine, manipulate, and overrule her husband (her power corrupted), and that Adam's power would also be corrupted and expressed through dominance or passivity. With this understanding of the Genesis 3:16 account of the curse, the instructions to husbands and wives found in Ephesians 5 "make sense" and far from being obsolete, irrelevant or oppressive, they address the sinful tendencies of men and women as a result of the fall and the curse. Wilberforce was very eager for us to teach this to his people, which we did all day Saturday at a marriage seminar, and again on Sunday to a combined number of over 600 in two worship services. What a privilege to be invited to speak into the lives of these precious people.
|Here we are with Pastor Wilberforce and Sarah Okumu of Pearl Haven Christian Center, Derek and Julie's home church.|
Our inadequacies have been very apparent to us, and we've been often plagued with concerns about the cultural gaps that exist between our world and theirs. We have had many moments of self-doubt and questions about whether we really had anything to say. After eight full days of ministry, we are sure we don't have anything to say apart from the truth of God's Word, and that we don't have anything to offer apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.
We were so aware of this as we taught at Pastor Wilberforce's church, Pearl Haven Christian Center. The all-day Saturday conference was well attended and received, and we quickly adjusted to speaking through an interpreter. We were struck with how very different, yet how very similar we are to these people. In the words of Ron Hall and Denver Moore, "the same kind of different as me." The struggles between husbands and wives are universal to a degree, with cultural adaptations. Obviously there are many differences, but the core issues are very similar. It's been incredibly encouraging to see the impact of truth on the universally-fallen nature of mankind.
Sunday evening we had the privilege of teaching just under 100 at their youth service on God's design for relationships. As we've done many times in the States, we started by asking them what qualities or characteristics did they hope to find in a mate. The list was remarkably similar to every list we've heard in the States! As we taught on God's design for purity and for marriage, we again sensed a hunger for the truth, and yet much confusion related to the cultural mores here. Great questions followed the talk and we felt that some of the confusion was clarified. The longing for healthy, God-honoring relationships was palpable. Some things are universal among the body of Christ.
|At the end of the youth service, a few remained to stack the chairs.|
Before the weekend, we spent Friday afternoon with Derek's Senior Management Team at CURE Pediatric Hospital. This group of very talented, committed leaders of the hospital were delightful to hang out with. After a fabulous lunch of homemade pizza a la Derek and Julie, we discussed group and team dynamics and what Christlikeness looks like in a hierarchical setting. It was a productive afternoon.
|The Senior Management Team of CURE Hospital:|
Florence, (Julie), Miriam, Peter, Moses, (Paul), Moses, and Derek.
|Fresh, homemade pizza, baked in Derek's outdoor pizza oven, was happily consumed by all.|
Monday, Aug. 27, Paul spent the afternoon with 14 influential, evangelical pastors, hand-picked for this meeting to discuss marriage in Uganda. Issues such as dowry, bride price, introductions (engagement), weddings, etc., were on the table with the hopes of aligning Ugandan Christian marriages with Biblical design. The challenges are great: dowry continues to perpetuate a "wife as property" sentiment, which sets her up to be abused and treated as inferior. Weddings have become very costly, large events, which cause the couple to wait for years before actually marrying. They do not, however, postpone co-habiting and having children as they wait for the wedding. The evangelical pastors have a heart for the church to lead the way in bringing changes, consistent with God's design for marriage, and that was the subject of the afternoon meeting. Paul took it all in until the end, when he was invited to speak, and he was so impressed with the hearts and thoughts of these men of God. He considered it a great privilege to be a part of this pivotal meeting.
The next day, the pastors returned with their wives for an all-day seminar with us teaching on marriage. Once again, we were honored to present Biblical design and to wrestle through difficult questions posed by the pastors. We loved the spirit of the day. Such sincere men and women of God who truly are troubled by the state of marriage in Uganda and are poised and ready to lead the way in making some much needed changes. They were so excited about the day that several of them asked us to return as soon as possible so they could mobilize as many pastors as possible to be taught similarly.
|The pastors and their wives attended an all-day seminar on Christian marriage and ministry.|
They were delightful!
The day closed with the singing of "I Surrender All" and it was very, very powerful.
Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we spent at the CURE Pediatric Hospital, of which our son-in-law Derek is the Executive Director. Working together with his spiritual care director, Miriam Ongom, we would be speaking three times each day, in one-hour time slots, to maximize attendance of the hospital staff. The spiritual emphasis of the hospital this year is "Developing Healthy Relationships," and we were asked to speak on healthy marriages, families, and singles.
Over the nine hours we had in the three days, we addressed Biblical design for all of these relationships, focusing especially on God's design for purity, for treating one another with Christlikeness, and His design for sexuality. All the topics were revolutionary to the way life is done in Uganda, but especially radical was dealing openly with sexuality. Ugandans do not talk about it at all. Though sex and all things related to it are kept in complete secrecy, there is tremendous corruption, abuse, and confusion concerning all things sexual. At Miriam's and Derek's suggestion, we waited until Friday to teach on sexuality, and by God's grace and a deep level of trust which had grown between us and the staff, there was an amazing level of openness to our teaching. Though many submitted written questions, a handful even voiced questions aloud. There was such an obvious hunger for truth about this "taboo" subject that is so dynamic and which impacts each person's life significantly.
Our commitment was to teach Biblical design. The last thing we wanted was to communicate western ideas about sexuality, marriage, etc. Enough of those ideas have floated through cyberspace and other forms of media and have had a very corrupting and distorting affect on this culture. For many of them, the concept of a mutually-satisfying marital sexual relationship was a brand new idea. The truth that there was no place for beating a wife into submission went against common practice. The belief that husband's headship meant servant leadership, not "I'm the boss so it's all about me" was hard to swallow (for the men, anyway!). The culturally acceptable attitude towards women as inferior was turned upside down by the Biblical truth of equality.
God met us in ways which far exceed any expectations we had. He was so gracious to give us wisdom in the moment as we dealt with complex issues and questions, and to touch the hearts and ears of those listening. Though exhausted by late Friday afternoon (we also counseled in between the 3 teaching sessions that day), we were thoroughly energized to have been part of something so potentially revolutionary.
Whenever possible during the four full days we spent at the hospital for the seminars, Julie and I slipped into the ward to see the babies. As difficult as it is to see babies struggling with such challenging medical conditions, it's so hope-giving to see how God is using this place to bring life and healing. We're more and more impressed with what is happening here.
Julie loves on a precious little girl who has had surgery and will soon be going home.
|This is a wonderful story of success. This little girl has returned to the hospital for a follow-up visit and she is doing beautifully, thanks to the amazing grace of God and work of CURE.|
We rested on the weekend. :) It's been wonderful to hang out with Derek and Julie, relaxing, enjoying playing games, eating fine meals, going to a local resort pool, and getting good sleep. The first two days of this new week (and our last one in Uganda for awhile), Paul has been focused on writing a handbook to go along with our teaching last week, to leave these dear people with something tangible for reference as they continue to wrestle with these new ideas. I've gone to the hospital for part of each day with Derek and Julie to check in on the babies.
Our time is flying by, but we are grateful for every day we're here. In one week, we'll return to a more familiar world—but one which is loved no more deeply than this one.