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Uganda (Gulu) February 2016

Gulu, Uganda February 3-14, 2016

In partnership with a group of churches in the St. Croix Valley of Wisconsin, TLI is training pastors from northern Uganda and surrounding countries. Tutapona Trauma Counseling works with individuals severely traumatized by the horror of war and is now training local pastors to carry on this effort within their own culture by strengthening existing churches and planting new churches in areas of need.

Follow along as teachers in the field offer their experiences as they share theological training with local church leaders.

Feb  12th,  2016Oh What a Week!

We finished our week of training this afternoon. What a week it has been. Thank you for praying. God has been at work this week.

While teaching on Tuesday, we mentioned that Biblical Theology will help students understand the gospel better. That let to the question of “What is the gospel?” They all struggled in answering. We could not escape the obvious. Our students did not know or could not articulate the gospel. After encouraging them to share more and seeing that they still struggled, we decided to address the topic more. Wednesday morning, we took 90 minutes and Philemon taught on “What is the Gospel.” We had students work in groups to come up with an explanation of the gospel. Just like the day before, they struggled. After explaining the gospel, the next question was, “how do we now present the gospel to unbelievers?” Again, we all agreed that it would be good to preach a gospel message of salvation on Thursday. We all finished teaching an hour earlier on Thursday and had Philemon preach a gospel message of salvation to all the students. Many of them were open and sought prayers and shared their struggles in ministry etc. What an encouraging time. Our team agree that we can confidently say that this group of students have heard the gospel and we pray that it takes root in their hearts leading to them sharing it more effectively.

Our time was both encouraging and challenging in some ways. Encouraging because we saw much progress in our students. They remember much of the previous courses taught. They were grasping the content of our teaching. They were transparent in sharing their shortcomings. They were joyful when a biblical truth made sense. All in all, we spent a week with pastors and church leaders who will make a difference in the church here.

There were challenges as well. As mentioned earlier about their struggle with the gospel, there were other situations that made us realize how much work still remains to be done and the need for faithful teaching over the next two years. For example,

  1. One student, a pastor, asked, “What is the difference between the Old and New Testament?”
  2. When asked whether the Holy Spirit is a person or a power/force, most of the students answered “power/force” not a person.
  3. Most did not think that Jesus ascended into heaven with a physical body.
  4. If God is all-sovereign and plans everything, they asked, did he then send Idi Amin and other leaders who slaughtered many Ugandans?
  5. Should we all pursue speaking in tongues since most churches are pushing for it?
  6. Students asked me in class what the Bible says about qualifications for a pastor because they have a pastor with 5wives.

These are just a few of the challenges our students are dealing with. Most are young believers. Some are new in ministry and are having to figure things out for themselves. All are thankful that such a training is available to them.

I leave encouraged that God is doing a work in Northern Uganda. Oh that the roots will sink deep and a healthy church will result.




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Feb  9th,  2016Monday and Tuesday February 9 Training Update

We began our training with a number of logistical challenges that altered our already altered schedule. We were advised by Josh Montague, a Training Leaders International (TLI) leader from past trips that we should do a significant review of the Hermeneutics curriculum before pressing on to Biblical Theology the topic of study for the week.

Philemon Yong of TLI is traveling with us (Pastor Ron Weller and Zack Szyman of River Falls, WI, and myself-Larry Szyman, Hudson, WI), and we would devote day one to be a review of Hermeneutics, because of its critical nature. This left us with only four days to do Biblical Theology. It would also give us the benefit of watching Philemon use some of the curriculum that he wrote.

The “normal” schedule for our trainings has been

    0830 Prayer and Praise

            0900 Teach

            1030 Break

            1100 Teach

            1300 Lunch

            1400 Teach

            1630 Dismiss

Day one was far from normal…we have come to expect a late start on the first day because of the logistical challenges for some Ugandans traveling in from the villages. So we prepared to start as late as 10:00am. At 11:30 we thought we should do something so we held a discussion with those who were present doing a recap of their first training (Attributes of God) and a time of introduction.

I led the discussion on Attributes. One area I highlighted from that training is that God shares some attributes with us (i.e. mercy, love, faithfulness) and others he does not share (i.e. omnipresence, independence). I asked if anyone could tell me the big English term we use to describe those traits that God does not share with us…silence…until a hand went up from the back by a lady name Jennifer and the word “incommunicable” came out of her mouth! I was so excited that a simple woman from a village (way out there!) remembered this truth regarding our amazing God.

 At 13:00 we finally got to lunch as others were trickling in to start the training. In addition to the normal challenges of getting there, we were in a new location (nicer, cheaper!) than the previous trainings, and a leadership transition had recently taken place that resulted in a few gaps in communication.

 At 1400 the scheduled training truly began with Philemon leading a review of the Hermeneutics curriculum. It showed that retention was real, but the review was necessary as well. Hungry participants were highly engaged for the 2.5-hour review.

 We went to our hotel and I jumped in the pool as a reprieve from the 96 degree heat and met two hours later for dinner. The table next to use had six men from Russia who began their meal with two bottles of whiskey (we did not follow suit!) and the next had a person with a Wisconsin shirt on (of course I asked, Milwaukee).

 We made our way back to our rooms to prepare for day two, the beginning of our Biblical Theology training.

 When we pulled up at 08:32 we heard singing from the meeting room…they were ready! After some prayer and praise we split into three groups (Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria) and began an introduction on the subject, followed by a break and the rest of the day we learned how the Bible is one story in seven stages. It was a fun exercise as we made some laminated handouts to use as a tool for telling an overview of all Scripture.

 We found that while many of those in attendance were familiar with many of the stories of the Bible, there was very little knowledge of how the Bible fits together as a cohesive story –the curriculum appears to offer real help to the church in Northern Uganda. It was fun to see light bulbs go on and to see them quiz each other from the laminated handout. To be able to help them understand how each lamb that was sacrificed in the Old Testament pointed to THE Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the word, was more than informational…they were pleased. When we showed that the paradise lost in Genesis three is restored and more in Revelation 21 and 22 they applauded. It was quite a day.

 We assigned them to share the story of the Bible using the laminated handout with one other person overnight and be prepared to do so in the morning as well.  I think they will be ready.


 Larry Szyman


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Feb  7th,  2016Our Weekend


We arrived Gulu on Friday and visited a village where we witnessed the closing ceremony of an Empower Program run by tutapona. Tut is a trauma counseling group here in Northern Uganda ( that helps people deal with trauma which they experienced during Joseph Kony’s “The Lord Resistance Army” era.  We heard stories of many who were traumatized. In a group of almost 100 people, they all had similar stories. Their pain is obvious and the work of tutapona is helping them deal with their trauma and embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was a powerful event to witness.thumb_IMG_3590_1024

We spent 5 hours on Saturday with our translators for the week. We went over each lesson of our Biblical Theology course working on how to translate key words and phrases. I enjoyed watching them work together to figure out the best translations. As teachers, we go into the week of teaching confident that our translators can understand us and that they know what we are going to say in class. The translators are thankful that they know exactly what they will hear in class and how they will translate it.


Sunday was a visit to another village for worship. Though a little far away, we attended this particular church because of its significance in the ministry of tutapona. It is the first church plant that has resulted from their work. We were encouraged that God is working through this ministry not only to bring counseling to the people in this area but also to bring them to Jesus Christ. We are here to train current and future leaders of churches like this one.


These past few days have served to give us a better understanding of the context of our teaching here. New church plants need leaders but where will they come from? Future church plants will need leaders but where will they come from?

It is in this context that we bring theological education to the current leaders in hope that they will be the ones to train future leaders for the church in Northern Uganda.

Please, pray for us as we teach this week. Classes begin today, Monday. Pray that we:

  1. stay healthy
  2. are well prepared for each class session
  3. are effective in our teaching
  4. demonstrate the love of God in serving our students.


Philemon Yong


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