“Pastor Chad, I don’t see why we have to take this course. I am training to be a pastor and I don’t see what missions have to do with pastoring. I am a person who needs to see the purpose. I really don’t see the purpose. I am only required to take this class.”
These are the words that greeted me on the first day of class, a class that was filled with pastors and lay leaders at African Renewal University. I have taught missions at the college level for five years in the United States. Never has a student approached me with such a concern.
The resistance didn’t stop with this one student. Other students shared similar concerns. “Pastor, how do you expect us to be missionaries when there is no money?” “Pastor, our churches can’t afford to give.” “Pastor, we cannot do what the white missionary does.”
I held my Bible in the air and emphatically asked, “Do you believe in this book?”
“Yes pastor! We do!”
“Then you believe in mission. Then you must participate in mission. You cannot say you fully believe in this book and disregard the mission of God to the nations.”
My passionate plea was met with skeptical eyes. At the end of day one I confessed my discouragement and deflation to the rest of the TLI team. I crawled into my mosquito netted bed the first night thinking, “I have two full weeks to stand in front of a class that had very little interest or saw very little practical purpose in studying mission.” It was going to be a long two weeks. I wondered if I had travelled more than 10,000 miles only to find my words falling on deaf ears.
I resolved to continue with an enthusiastic and clear biblical approach to mission.
During the next three days I built a detailed case of God’s concern for the nations, starting in Genesis 1 all the way through Revelation. I would ask, “Is your God concerned about the nations?” “Has God always wanted his people to be a blessing to the nations?” “Are you being a blessing to the nations?” “Are you involved in the mission of God?”
The ice was beginning to thaw. Interest began to mount. I moved into mission history. I described men and women who abandoned their cultures, their families and their ways of life to carry out the mission of God. These pioneers carved out new ways to reach people who had never heard the good news of Jesus. I asked, “What will your contribution be to mission history? What new strategy can Ugandans add to that history? It is your turn to teach us how to do mission.”
Students were now beginning to catch the vision! At the end of the first week Eshima stood up and said, “Pastor, I want to thank you for coming such a long way to share this message with us. You have cut us to the heart. You have changed my thinking and taught us the truth. Thank you so much for teaching us.” Festo followed, “Pastor, I am so discouraged. I have not been doing the mission of God. We have not been doing the mission of God. I don’t teach the mission of God. I need encouragement.”
We continued to march through my material, frequently charting. No longer was it dispassionate looks. Instead, students revealed a fire that I have seen in few places where I have taught missions. They asked the hard questions. They wanted more information. They wanted to know how they could be involved. On the last day Jonathan (the person who, on the first day of class, had asked me why he needed to take the class, pulled me aside and asked, “How do I introduce this material to my pastor and my church? I want to them to understand what I now understand.”
At the close of that final class, another stood up and thanked me. “Pastor, I am forever grateful for your coming, we as a class are grateful. If you were African we would give you a chicken, but we give you our grateful hearts.”
I held back the tears after a few forced their way into my eyes. I was beyond moved as the students spontaneously decided to circle around me, offered prayers of thanksgiving, and sang a song expressing their thanks and commitment to the mission. One student closed the class promising me what I had been praying so hard to hear, “Pastor, when you come back you will see missionaries from among us!”
I’ve been involved in missions and ministry for over 20 years. I can’t recall seeing students so changed in two weeks, or so passionate about the mission of God after taking just one of my courses. I saw the hand of God move in the hearts of his children this week. But what is remarkable is that He also moved in mine. I came to teach a course on missions, something very ordinary for me. But I found that as I taught and witnessed a change in my student’s lives, we all were catching a greater vision…..to train and mobilize the Ugandan church to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. I pray an army of believers will catch that very same vision.