What is it like to teach theology in northern Uganda? How
about a sampling of student questions Larry, Stu, and I have had to give you a
- If a man has seven wives and becomes a Christian, should he divorce six
of his wives? If so, which six?
- Can a polygamist be a leader in a local church?
- What’s the church discipline process for someone
who continues to go to the witch doctor?
- Does someone lose their salvation every time
- If my pastor says I’ll get sick when I don’t give
more money to the church, is he correct? If he’s wrong, how should I approach
him if he’s wrong?
Don’t ever say theological education and pastoral training
isn’t necessary here. These students have been so hungry for biblical and
theological training. In a confusing milieu of traditional religions,
prosperity gospel, and Catholicism, the light of the gospel as told in the
Bible has shown forth this week. I look forward to returning here in November
to teach Hermeneutics.
Speaking of which, Acholi is a historically oral language.
The written language was developed by Bible translators about sixty years ago.
Acholi is not taught in the schools so there are very few who can read it well.
At the same time, most of our students don’t know English. They can struggle
through written Acholi, but many can’t read or speak English.
In November, we’ll be here to teach hermeneutics,
essentially “How to Interpret the Written
Bible.” As far as I know, TLI’s curriculum has never been translated into a
language with a written component so recently developed. So we’re about to
boldly go where no one has gone before. Please be praying for the interpreters
here in Gulu as they begin the difficult work of translation. And please be
praying for the team that will come here in November to teach.
(You may post your answers to the questions we received in the comments!)
It's been a phenomenal first three days of teaching here in Gulu. About 35 pastors and teachers have come from the area to attend our Attributes of God class. They have been attentive, engaged, insightful, and eager participants as Stu, Larry, and I have lifted up a God who is Omnipresent, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Truthful, Faithful, Gracious, Merciful, and Independent.
Our translators have been fantastic, with an excellent command of both English and Acholi. Our hotel accomadations have meant that we have rested and ate well. Our hosts, Carl and Richard, have blessed us in numerous ways.
Teaching in northern Uganda means you repeatedly encounter a few themes. This is an area that has known piece for only a few years. The ugly shadow of war and its atrocities looms everywhere--from the condition of the roads to the pain in people's stories. It seems like almost everyone in my class has a close family member who was killed at the hands of Idi Amin or the Lord's Resistance Army. Very few people live in the village where they grew up. They have been forced to relocate to find safety. Many times when people first come to Africa they talk about how joyful people are. There is a happiness that's evident in their faces, but when you start to listen to the stories rather than just drive past the villages, you begin to understand the deep pain experienced among the Acholi people.
The need for solid theological training here is quite evident. Despite a large Christian population in Uganda, there is a great deal of syncretism here in the north. A few of our students were witch doctors before their conversion. Many in the villages still practice various traditional religious practices alongside Christianity. Confusion over fundamental doctrines of the faith like salvation by grace alone has needed to be addressed repeatedly. There are many villages without churches here in the north and if people don't have transportation, they have no way to connect to the church. So we're pushing the vision for church planting as we move forward.
Keep us in your prayers as we teach Thursday and Friday and then begin the journey home on Saturday. Pray that God is lifted up as we study His attributes and that the gospel is made known throughout the Acholi people of northern Uganda and South Sudan.
It’s been an informative and exciting couple of days for
those of us new to Gulu and northern Uganda. Gulu has a tumultuous ancient and
modern history. As the main city in the north of Uganda, it serves as the
economic and transportation hub of a region that has suffered under colonial
military conscription, the genocide of Idi Amin, and the rampant violence of
the Lord’s Resistance Army and Joseph Kony.
One of our translator’s fathers was killed by soldiers of
Amin and many of his friends were killed by the LRA. Hearing his story brought
home the tremendous suffering of the Acholi people in northern Uganda. What had
been read about or seen on CNN was now told by a friend across the table.
While the LRA was at its height of power, the Ugandan
government moved many of the Acholi people into Internally Displaced People
(IDP) camps so they could be better protected from Kony’s rampages. These IDP
camps have developed new networks of villages with populations who have
suffered extreme violence and hardship.
Tutapona has come into these IDP camps, along with other refugee
camps in northern Uganda, to offer trauma counseling and bring the hope of the
Gospel. Refugees from Sudan, Eritrea, Congo, and Somalia are also set up in
refugee camps throughout Uganda. As Tutapona’s facilitators and counselors work
with these hurting people, God’s Spirit has been opening the hearts of many to
the news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. And as people respond to the Gospel,
they are discipled and connected with local churches.
Unfortunately, there are not enough local churches in
northern Uganda and many of those that do exist are being pulled into the
heresies of the prosperity gospel or syncretism. So Tutapona has embarked on a program
of leadership development and pastoral training in partnership with Training
Leaders International with the hope that existing churches will be
theologically strengthened and new churches will be started. On Monday, we’ll
begin the first course of a nine-module curriculum. We’re expecting about forty
pastors and church leaders with the three teachers who have come from Wisconsin
These first few days in Gulu have been spent getting to know
our translators, the leaders of churches and ministries, and the people in and
around Gulu. We visited a village that grew out of a former IDP camp and heard
the stories of many participants in Tutapona’s trauma counseling and the
freedom they’ve found in the gospel. We heard stories of children being
abducted in front of their parents, forced enslavement to the LRA, and many
other atrocities. It seems everyone in northern Uganda has a very personal
story of deep suffering, almost unimaginable to those of us living comfortably
across the Atlantic Ocean.
Into this context, we’ll teach on the Attributes of God. He
is sovereign, just, holy, righteous, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present,
gracious, merciful, and loving. The great hope of the Gospel shines bright in
an area of the world dark with suffering.
After a long couple of days, our
team is finally in Gulu, Uganda.
Day one of this trip involved a lot of time in an airplane. Our flight from Minneapolis to Chicago was delayed, but we still
made our connection on to Brussels. After an eight-hour flight to Brussels, we
had a quick turnaround before another eight hour flight to Uganda, which included a stop
and go in Rwanda. All told we were traveling for about twenty-four hours before
arriving in Uganda, meeting our host, Carl Gaede, at the airport and driving to
a hotel to get some rest.
This morning, Carl drove us
to our ultimate destination, Gulu, which wa a six hour drive north of Kampala.
We’re here, set up, well fed, and ready for some solid rest after all the
flying and driving.
This is a new site for TLI, which
has connected with a group of churches in the St. Croix Valley of WIsconsin who
support a mission to refugees in northern Uganda. You can read about that
mission, Tutapona, by clicking here.
Uganda can be easily labeled as
Christian when you look at the percentage of Christians among the population.
However, the north of the country is filled with refugees from numerous African
countries to the north, east, and west and the opportunity for the gospel to
advance is great. Care and rehabilitation work is vital and we're incredibly
thankful for the job Tutapona is doing among refugees. But Africa also needs
Bible-preaching, God-centered, Gospel-loving churches and our prayer is that
these pastors and church leaders would be encouraged and motivated by our study
of The Attributes of God. We'll look at our sovereign, holy, majestic, loving
God revealed in His Word. Knowing and worshiping God is the fuel needed to set
these chruches ablaze for the gospel. Please be praying for Stu, Larry, and I
as we teach and lead this new group. Lord willing, we'll be returning many
times over the next few years as we walk these church leaders through the TLI
curriculum in an effort to build up the church.
But it’s good to have a weekend
ahead to rest before we teach. Northern Uganda is a long way away from