Missionary strategies differ but missionaries always face a conditioning process that includes a variety of factors. The goal of this article is to share a few factors that God used to improve and influence our ministry in Uganda.
When my wife Madelon and I arrived on the mission field of Uganda in 2003, we knew Africans would want a Bible Saviour who could deliver them from sin. Early on, we dealt with emotional struggles that began to reveal important realities behind missionary ministry. After nine months of learning, we started our first Bible study in a ten feet by ten feet shop on the back of a hillside. Our first Sunday brought rumors from our African prospects. I knew we were in trouble upon fielding their first two questions. First, we were asked where the Coca-Cola was that they had been promised. Next, they wanted to know where the flushing toilet would be placed.
Envy examines the place you come from rather than the person you have become. It often considers project funding over practical faith in God that makes it possible to perform His will. I recall a woman called Mama Jessica who attended our services. She stirred bad feelings among the others coming to hear the Word. Months of agony passed before an opportunity came to change the circumstances. A girl in her family fell sick. I had a man take some church funds and provide help. Mama Jessica became a loyalist. The envy in her heart left and so did the antagonistic spirit. We led many to Christ though few would follow in genuine consistency.
After six months we divided the group into three locations where the best prospects for viable church planting could be examined. Our home in Mutungo Hill became the location God would use and we became First Baptist Church. We moved to a second house where the home church cell continued. In 2009, our men advised that we find a public facility and so we rented a small building. In 2013, we purchased the building and are now praying for an opportunity to purchase a neighboring plot.
Envy can grow almost anywhere. Most Ugandans are religious and identify with Bible beliefs. However, they are consumed with prosperity preaching and shortcut business ventures. There are wealthy Ugandans, but all too often the fear of poverty exceeds the fear of God. Their fear is driven by envy. The terms “first world” or “third world” are not statements of finance, but statements of faith. Most people are third world in their mind, not because of the material things they possess.
Have you ever heard about a “prosperous slave?” Well, the Bible tells us about one! Joseph was so envied by his brethren, but they did not want the true prosperity that came from their father’s love. Joseph wanted a relationship and they wanted a shortcut. When they finally sold him out of envy they learned the true meaning of poverty. It is not long until the Bible tells us that Joseph was prosperous (Gen. 39:2-3). His prosperity was found in the context of what he could do in Potiphar’s home. Many do not understand that joy comes through the cost of filling the lives of others. This is where faith overcomes finance and envy loses its logic. I wish you could have seen the looks on the faces of our people when I asked them, “Can a slave be prosperous?” Many Ugandans think riches bring Americans happiness. Most people do not want to know the difference between Biblical prosperity and financial achievements.
If you are a good parent you probably know what it is to be lonely. You make decisions and your children do not always understand the wisdom of your direction. Jesus experienced this with His disciples. The missionary’s biggest enemy may be an emptiness that comes when flying from a homeland of camaraderie and support to a world that will not understand his agenda. Missionary church planting is a slow process because it must help first generation Christians overcome bad parenting. Pastors who think that a missionary should be able to produce a church plant every few years need to ask themselves how many years it took them to parent their own children. Often the missionary becomes a godly parent to his converts.
This is true of pastors also. Some of our early converts were just kids when they came to us. Milton and Jackson were boys living across the street from our first house church. They would come to our house from school, learn the Bible with us, and eat at our home. Jackson spent so much time with us that he began to pick up American humor. The key to their attentiveness came from parents who allowed them to spend endless hours with us. Both Milton and Jackson had unsaved fathers running homes without their wives. Milton’s mother died when he was young and Jackson’s mother lived elsewhere. There are other examples like Mark and his brothers who spent much time with us, most of them from single parent homes.
Have you ever heard of the Jewish priest who did not parent well? The Bible tells us how Eli did not restrain his sons. But it also tells us of a woman called Hannah, (1 Sam. 1:11, 28) a very good parent. Empty, she willingly offered her son to God before he was born. Give your kids to God even before they are born. It does not mean they will live for Him, but it may allow you as a praying parent to lend them to those with right influences.
There are risks a parent must take in trusting others with their children, but these risks are reduced when God’s house and His men are factored in the equation. Ron Todd was a missionary my parents trusted. Brother Todd took me to his meetings as he reported back to his supporters. I might not have become a missionary had my family not seen a need to place me under the influence of such godly people.
Our first church plant in Kampala, the Capital of Uganda, is called First Baptist Church of Mutungo. We have prayed and sought other areas to plant churches, but God has yet to open the doors to let us completely leave this first work. Part of the missionary conditioning is just sticking it out where you are until something grows. It can take a take long time in a third world culture to establish a consistent and worthy reputation that gains people’s trust. Much of the progress comes from the pace of spiritual growth in the men God is calling out of the missionary local church planting efforts (nationals). The encouraging news is that two of our very own men have surrendered to preach and have finished Bible school. We also have intermittently been planting Biblical seeds in a village town called Mbulamuti since 2008. We have purchased property there and would like to start another church plant. Additionally, one of our men has spent time in western Uganda on a missionary internship and is contemplating possible church plant locations. He is returning to Kampala to raise funds and is praying that God may give him a wife to unite with him in his ministry goals. Others are becoming faithful as well. The Mutungo building has been renovated and we are raising funds to purchase a second building to expand. More visitors have come in the last few years than ever. The offerings are growing as people tithe and do the right thing. We need prayer for spiritual and numerical growth to propagate this work and the other potential ministries we want to see come from our men.
In Psalm 119, the psalmist affirms one basic fact—his love for the Word of God (119:47-48). Full-time servants of the Lord must value this quality beyond all others. We must train our mission field converts to love God’s Word. There will come a point in time when our ministry finishes in East Africa. What must stand firm from our ministry are people who have a great love for God’s Word. The difference between a single generation work and a multiple generation work comes from people who love the Word. Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” That kind of love is what keeps His servants serving long after all the missionaries are gone. The missionary must be conditioned to endure and strive for ministry longevity. Persons who love God’s Word can stay anywhere and even sustain love for the unlovely.