Going ‘rogue’: leading without a plan
Uganda is not for the faint of heart.
I sort of knew this, before we even planned to travel here, because the only Americans I know who travel to Uganda are missionaries. Besides my missionary friends, who I told you about last week, my friend Rev. Vicky Lovell has also done much work around Kampala, Uganda. (Check out her story, here).
Their stories are amazing. Rachel and Daniel are leading a Ministry School and an animal husbandry project. Pastor Vicky partnered with a new Chicken Farm and also ran a Women’s Conference. All of these things happen in God’s timing, with significant Ugandan leadership, and there isn’t an easy way to explain to Americans why they’re happening without much of a plan as to how we will get where we’re going.
I am not them.
I preach with a plan. I travel with a plan. I have outlines, and schedules, and ideas of how things will go. I follow the rules, and do things in a ‘real’ church structure. I also really enjoy it when animals are at a distance.
Uganda has none of those things. I was seriously out of my comfort zone.
A lifetime of traveling, a year of preaching, and a heavy dose of the Holy Spirit prepared me for this time in Kampala.
We arrived to Uganda at the invitation of Pastor Vicky’s friend, Professor Larry from Stawa University. Even though we had been emailing back and forth for 3 months, this is literally all I knew about my two days there: I will be the ‘keynote’ speaker at a refugee conference, where I will have 2 presentations of up to 90 minutes each, and also the ‘preacher’ at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new Lutheran church where I can speak for up to 60 minutes.
No idea where the university or church is located, how we will get there, whether translation will be needed or provided. No information about how many attendees, the time of the events, what to bring, or what to discuss. No agendas, schedules, maps, worship outlines, or meal plans. No packing list or housing reservations. And definitely, no concerns about when to tell us this information.
A few years ago, I would have freaked. Totally stressed.
But after a year of this Graduate Preaching Fellowship adventure, I was a little more prepared that Uganda was going to be “out of my comfort zone”.
So, this is what really happened in Uganda:
Where I was the Keynote Speaker, blessed some pigs, baptized a baby, and opened a new Lutheran Church
We arrived and literally could not find the University. It was not at either location on Google Maps, and no one had heard of it, and my contact was not connecting with me. We tried to walk to it, we tried to drive to it, we tried to call it, etc. Eventually, our friendly Uber driver asked 3 different people on the street to find an unmarked gate where only one employee was there.
We arrived at 9am, which was about 2 hours earlier than everyone else.
But, we got to meet with Rafael while we were waiting.
He was another presenter at the conference, and he spoke about Internally Displaced People (IDPs). More about that in a future post. (IDPs are like refugees inside of their own country. Think Hurricane Katrina folks who fled to Mississippi or Texas.)
Eventually, we figured out that I was one of 4 main speakers. There were also a handful of other pastors and music leaders. Around 20 Stawa students and 50 refugees came to the conference. It lasted 6 hours, in the same room. The hosts would invite different speakers to come forward, and lunch was served to us in our seats. I did have 60 minutes or more to talk at a time, but that had to be translated, and spoken very slowly (so, frankly, it was about the length of a standard sermon). I also spoke after 3 hours of other speakers, to a group that was very hot and hadn’t eaten lunch yet.
Frankly, most of the sermon I had planned was not going to work.
Thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit used all the effort I had done to prepare that sermon, all the sermons I had already given, all the presentations I had already created, all the stories I had already shared, all the children’s messages I had spoken, to create a message that worked in that time and place.
We don’t have video (because, honestly, who wants to hear 90 minutes of me?) But David got some great photos. The translator was also a pastor, and he even translated my hand motions! The scriptures were read in English and French. I spoke in English and he translated to Swahili.
We talked about how the Bible is a story of refugees.
How God used a refugee named Moses to rescue the Hebrews from Egypt. And how the Pharaoh King did not listen to the refugee, and didn’t even listen to God. And how, even when they were free of Pharaoh-King, they still spent 40 years in a refugee camp.
How God came to earth as a refugee, a little baby far from his heavenly home, snuck into Egypt to escape the Herod King, an earthly king who thought he could kill God.
We talked about how a Pharaoh King did not listen to the refugees.
We talked about how the Herod King did not listen to the refugees.
We talked about how the Kings today do not listen to the refugees.
God Listens to the Refugees. God is a refugee.
We talked about how my US passport is not a Golden Ticket. It is made of paper, and it can be taken from me tomorrow. The US President is no more powerful than Pharaoh or Herod – and will eventually be destroyed.
We talked about our baptism. How our baptism made us all refugees, because Heaven is our home, but we still live on earth, and church is like our refugee camp, where we’re trying to make the best of this situation until we get to the Promised Land.
The message resonated with the attendees. Many of the Ugandan students at Stawa University had never thought of themselves as refugees, and much like my friends in the US and Europe, were trying to be charitable. Many of the Congolese and Sudanese refugees had not been heard in so long they had almost forgotten they had a voice.
This group includes 3 refugee youth and 2 adult university students.
The next day, Professor Larry took me on another Adventure. We drove 90 minutes west of Kampala to learn more about his work with Stawa University, including a farm.
Here, they are raising pigs, goats, chickens, and maybe a cow. University students can purchase a baby animal (a pig is only $40), and tend to it on the weekends (a hired farmer is there every day), eventually selling the animals for a profit which will cover their school fees.
Larry knows all of the families near the farm. Most help him to raise the animals. He is also hoping their children will soon attend the Stawa Primary School.
I was asked to Baptize baby Bridget, just two weeks old. (I think she was born at home, and there is no church for miles.)
Bridget slept through the baptism 🙂 her mom didn’t speak any English, and I’m not sure she understood what was happening. But the Holy Spirit does what she does, whether I am in a church with a font and a piano and a liturgy, or not.
Then, after lunch, we went with several Stawa students to the newest Lutheran Church in Uganda, meeting in the home of Ms. Faith, and led by Ms. Blessing and Ms. Hannah (Also pictured are Prof. Larry and Alice, from Stawa U.)
They wanted me to teach them about Lutheranism. Who is Martin Luther? What makes a church Lutheran? How do Lutherans run church? We did a very basic non-communion liturgy, with African songs acapella, and a sermon on Ephesians 2:8-10, all about Grace and Faith and Salvation.
None of that is what I had prepared for my 13 page sermon.
I had prepared to speak with dozens of people in a large building with a ribbon cutting and microphones for over an hour.
Of course, what God prepared was better. Talking as friends about how a German Priest 500 hundred years ago translated a Bible and wrote a catechism, never knowing that an American Pastor and African Evangelists would begin a church in Kampala Uganda. Blessing each other with prayers and songs and scriptures. Feeling a glimpse of what heaven might be like, to all be together someday.
Stepping out of my comfort zone literally included stepping off the road.
Professor Larry – a Ugandan I had just met 24 hours before, and I still don’t know his last name – drove us to a rather sketchy part of Kampala, with no roads and no road signs. He asked me to get out of the car and follow his assistant, Alice (also don’t know her last name) as she walked through a rutted alley. It took every ounce of faith I had to step onto that road:
That is a step which began 20 years ago in Mexicali, Mexico, when my youth leader said it was ok to enter a pastor’s shack in a tiny village and lead them in prayer.
That is a step which began 15 years ago in Segovia, Spain, when my professor said it was ok to take a ferry to an African port city in Morocco for the day.
That is a step which began 10 years ago in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when I realized that I had to follow God to a foreign country even if it meant leaving home.
That is a step which began 5 years ago in rural Wisconsin, when my first seminary class involved a high ropes adventure course and trust falls with strangers.
That is a step which began 2 years ago in Pinckney, MI, when my pastoral mentor said I could do it, even without a plan or outline in place, and that God would give me words.
That is a step which began 18 months ago in St. Paul, MN, when a group of professors decided I could go on this amazing Graduate Preaching Fellowship journey.
That step, out of a stranger’s car, onto a strange alley, to open a Church in a strange place, all because God wanted me to do that – that step was not so difficult to make.
It was just the next step in the adventure.