Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Last Katakwi TLT - Work and Worship

I recently finished my last training in Uganda.  It was the "Serving God in Work and Worship" manual in Katakwi.  It went well.  Let me begin by sharing with you some of the reports from their action plans for the "Teaching" manual.

Rose was intentional about teaching new Sunday School teachers.  In the process, she first demonstrated to them how to teach the children.  She and the children had a really fun time during the Sunday School sessions as she utilized a ball and a jump rope as she helped the children to memorize and understand Bible verses.  Now she says, "when children see me, they come running!"  What I love is that she made the jump rope from grass, from local materials.  Many people in Uganda don't bother trying to teach Sunday School at all, because they say they don't have money for it, and they want to just wait for some day in the future when a missionary or someone else will give them Sunday School materials.  But Rose has shown them what you can do with local materials, little money, and creativity.  You can begin to work with what you have to teach children the Word of God.  Picking up on my passion for When Helping Hurts topics, let me remind all of us again: the goal is to encourage and help people use what they have.  When we give material, like Sunday School material, it can have the adverse affect of causing all the other churches who didn't get the material to not even bother trying.  My personal opinion would be that the best thing would be to not give any materials, but to instead invest in starting a printing company in Uganda that can make and sell the materials locally.

I was also encouraged by several reports of pastors being able to have better times of teaching their own children.  These pastors, who are overworked and tired most of the time because they don't really get paid, and have to work in their gardens for their livelihood, often don't spend enough time with their own families.  The last manual convicted them strongly that they weren't giving enough attention to their children.  So it was great to hear about how they had spent time together as families having devotions, and memorizing Bible verses together. 

Lazarus led this training with me, he is on the far left of this photo:
  During this new manual we had a lot of good discussions similar to what you read in the other posts from Amuria and Kaberamaido.  Let me highlight just a couple of the discussions.
One lesson in this manual is about confession.  We talked about the common misunderstanding here that if you sin, you immediately lose your salvation until you confess again.  I hit home the point as hard as I could that we are saved by grace, that we sin constantly even in our thoughts and motivations, and in ways that we don't even know.  I told them I don't personally believe you can lose your salvation, but even for the Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG) denomination, which does believe you can lose salvation, the real doctrine is not that you lose your salvation every time you sin, but only if you reject Christ, for example by leaving the church and persisting in unrepentant sin.  One of the saddest things to me is that perhaps most of the Christians in Pentecostal village churches here think that if you sin on the way to church, but die before getting there to confess, you won't be saved. 
One pastor asked a serious question during this discussion, because we emphasized that the real problem is not sin, but unrepentant sin.  He is officially married traditionally/culturally, but he has not yet "wedded" in the church.  He wondered, "Will I still be saved even though I'm living in sin by not being wedded?  My wife refuses to be wedded in the church."  It broke my heart to hear such a question.  The whole issue of weddings for Christians in Uganda really frustrates me.  Unlike the US, Christians here must be married in two ceremonies in order to be considered to be officially married and not living in sin - the traditional marriage ceremony, and then the church ceremony where you make the covenant before God and his people.  That's not so bad in theory.  But in practice the church weddings are mainly about having another big celebration and doing things the American way, down to the details of wearing a white wedding dress and a tux.  Because people are trying to impress the community with a big celebration, these church weddings cost a lot of money.  So what ends up happening is that people wait ten years to be wedded while saving up the money.  In the meantime, they are married and have children and life goes on.  So by the time the church wedding happens, it is relatively meaningless, and is really, in my opinion, more about just wanting the celebration. 
Thankfully I am not alone in this opinion.  In Soroti, the main PAG church in town is encouraging people to be wedded right away and to have smaller, more simple ceremonies.  They have even done simple weddings where people are married during the regular church service.  They also had a mass wedding last year of about six couples at once that cut expenses.  I am so happy about these changes!  Back to the original pastor who raised the question, we were all able to comfort him that he would still be saved, and that he cannot force his wife to wed in the church, so he should not live with guilt over this.
On this theme of confession, sin, and salvation, we also discussed the Lord's Supper and how so many Christians in their churches refuse to take part in the meal even when the pastors encourage them to.  I think the PAG churches are going through something similar to what my denomination, the CRC, went through in the past.  Some pastors have emphasized the warnings in 1 Corinthians 11 so much that people are viewing the Lord's Supper as a meal of fear and judgment, rather than of grace.  Some people refuse to take part because they know they are sinners.  It's so sad to me that they don't realize the meal is specifically for sinners, those who need Christ and to remember the grace and forgiveness we have in him!  The warnings in 1 Corinthians 11 are for those living in unrepentant sin and those mistreating the body of Christ and the poor.  But the TLT participants will now be giving their churches good teaching about this.
We also discussed baptism.  An unexpected issue came up.  Can you baptize a woman who has accepted Christ but is still living as a man's second or third wife?  Polygamous marriages still exist here so it's a real issue and just happened this month for one of the pastors in the group.  I didn't know the answer according to PAG doctrine.  Most of the group told him he could go ahead and baptize her and that it's not against their doctrine, but others were not sure and told him to consult the PAG leaders.
There is also a lesson in this manual about "blessing."  We discussed the power of words.  In traditional African religion, from my understanding, words have power on their own apart from God's power.  So if you bless or curse someone, it can happen, just because you say it.  I realized that most of these pastors believe that curses still have power, and they have to be rebuked in Jesus' name.  They all told so many stories of people who cursed others, who weren't Christians, and what they cursed/prophesied happened.  For example something like: "the old woman told a person who annoyed her, 'you will die this week,' and then the person died."  I told them that I don't believe these curses have any power.  But could this be a cultural blind spot for westerners?  Is this somehow connected to spiritual warfare?

Whereas I would view their stories as coincidences, they did not think so.  But during the discussion they came to agree with me that words do not have power alone, it is only that God that has the power and he may or may not act on our words.  However, most of them then came to the conclusion that somehow God must be acting on the words of these people uttering blessings or curses even if they are not Christians.  But I wonder if other African Christians would say it is Satan who is acting on people's curses.  It was a long discussion that needed to be much longer.  I think this is a great example of how traditional African religion is still having a big effect on modern African Christians, and I think the TLT members themselves were confused as to how to integrate all of their experiences and ideas with what the Bible says.  If I do start a doctorate program someday, I'd love to research and learn more about the intersection of African traditional religion and modern Christianity.  There is so much I still don't understand.
In the picture above you can see me and my friend Robert.  He has been the coordinator for this Katakwi group and has been a friend since we first taught him at Pentecostal Theological College six years ago.  At the end of this last training, he publicly appreciated me, for both my time at the college and in TLT.  He said that they had experiences of other teachers coming in telling them what they must believe even if goes against PAG's doctrine.  He said I've always been very respectful and gentle and telling people to respect their own denomination's doctrine and leaders, instead of trying to convert them to my views.  It was really nice to hear this as I have indeed tried hard to share my views without forcing them to change theirs.
Rose appreciated me as well.  She said when they go out and train others they must follow my example in that I have showed humility in being willing to say, "I don't know" to certain difficult questions.  Culturally here people often give an answer to everything even if they truly have no idea.  Even on simple matters.  If you ask someone, "which way to this store?"  even if the person on the street doesn't know, they will tell you a direction just to give you an answer, because they want to be helpful.  The TLT students noticed this difference in me and want to emulate it.  That made me feel good.
As usual, there were exciting new action plans.  Most of the students are going to go out and train other pastors and worship leaders in this manual.  Annah is going to write new worship songs using biblical language from the Psalms and teach them to her church.  Samuel was touched by how little Scripture is used in church services, so his goal is that his church will read Scripture at least four times in every worship service.  Continue to pray for these leaders as they make good change in their churches!  

I am so glad I had the privilege to do these trainings for the past two years in Uganda, but I am actually really relieved to have it all finished.  The trainings are quite tiring and it will be good to do something different for a while.  


  1. Always love your blog, especially the pictures. Thanks so much for serving God in this way.

  2. Wow! So Interesting. Grateful you are there to help direct them in Gospel truth.