Dear family and friends,
One day just about twenty-one years ago, I stood to worship the Lord with a discouraged heart. We had recently launched a training program for pastors and church planters in the town of Masaka, and the first couple of months had gone really well. I remember clearly the first day we gathered, and how I had felt such joy in the Lord and His work. I had returned to the room where I was staying with Jill and our three little kids that day, and told them I could do this for the rest of my life. I was so excited and full of hope and expectation. But just two months later I was facing deep disappointment.
What had been a strong group of twenty eager pastors had apparently dwindled to three. And, to be honest, I was not so sure about the three who remained. They did not strike me as the cream of the crop. They were not pastors of respected town churches or leaders of church networks, but people who served in remote villages, laboring among small flocks of believers. And so as I stood to worship that day with these three “unimpressive” students, I was confused and unhappy and frustrated. I had put so much work and vision into this endeavor, and I was watching it disintegrate right before my eyes. As we began to sing, my heart was certainly not very worshipful.
Praise Him! Praise Him!… As we sang this simple chorus in Luganda that day so long ago, I slowly became aware of the presence of Jesus in a beautiful and powerful way. Hope and faith filled my soul, and I repented for the discouragement and for despising what God had sent me. I felt an assurance that the Name of Jesus surely would be praised across this land, morning, noon, and night, and that He would somehow use us four unimpressive vessels - and others who would gather with us - in this great work. As it turns out, the following day around a dozen students came together, and for the next two years remained faithful. Six of them eventually joined us as co-laborers at the end of their studies, and with the exception of our friend Kayita who passed away a decade ago, we have been partnering in the Gospel together ever since.
And that brings me to yesterday. Our vision in Uganda is to see disciple-making movements that lead many people to Jesus, using ordinary believers who are filled with the Spirit of God and willing to experience hardship and discomfort out of love for Him. Our first step was to gather a small group of pastors for a church planting training cohort that will emphasize church planting movements and making disciples. Yesterday was our first session, and I had been slightly anxious and not very excited about it. Honestly, I was feeling unsure of myself, questioning our strategy, and a little skeptical about what the results would be. Yesterday morning as I prayed before heading out, the Lord unexpectedly filled me with joy and assurance. By the time we reached the Mt of the Lord Church, where the training would take place, I was genuinely excited. Before I began to teach, our host and long-time friend and partner, Pastor Kintu, asked to lead in a time of worship. The very first song he sang was that simple chorus that God had spoken to me through so wonderfully twenty-one years ago: Tumutende! Tumutende! It all rushed back to me in a moment. We were standing in the same place as the four of us had been on that day, and I remembered it again so clearly. I sensed the Lord speak to me again the same assurance and encouragement, and I could hardly sing as the tears threatened to flow. Jesus is so kind and loving to us, and it is a wonder and a gift to be part of His great work in the nations.
We have been in Uganda for a little more than five weeks now. We are slowly adjusting and re-acclimating to life here. It’s been quite a ride so far. Philip and Hannah are absolute heroes. I am so thankful for them. They have great attitudes and are entering into the missionary life with grace and determination. They are a joy to be around, and we are having wonderfully fun and meaningful times together. They spend the majority of their time during the days doing online school, and the evenings we generally play games or have worship and Bible discussion times. Jill is amazing as well. She has made this temporary accommodation into a home for us, and brings such encouragement and life and peace. She is helping the kids with school, joining me in the church-planting training, overseeing the household, making friends, and generally enjoying life and being a blessing to all around.
We have been staying in the team housing of our friends at Love and Care Uganda, and it has been a wonderful blessing. This is a ministry that takes in children who have been living on the streets and welcomes them into family. It is amazing. However, we are also excited to have made an agreement on a house of our own to rent. The owner is making some improvements on the house that we requested, and we hope to move in a couple weeks or so. We are also grateful to have bought a car - a Toyota “Super Custom” four-wheel drive van. It is making life easier and helping us to accomplish more.
Life has been full these five weeks. I am grateful for a peaceful village environment, and a beautiful small mountain on which to take walks and spend quiet time in prayer. I am also grateful for old friends and some new ones as well. Of course, it has not all been easy and fun. Each of us have days when we just want to go back to the States. We profoundly miss our incredible Tulsa family and all the good work the Lord had for us in Tulsa. We have moments and days of discouragement and “what-in-the-world-have-we-dones!?!” But He is so good to us! We expected those challenges, and they don’t last. We are playing lots of games, going on walks, laughing, and enjoying one another. The Father has overwhelmed us with good gifts.
One of our favorite things is hearing from you. We’d genuinely love to know what is happening with you, how you are doing, and how we can pray for you. Thanks so much for reading this (rather long) letter. We love you and are grateful for you!