October 2008 - Vol. 23


Africa Spring Rain Tree - watercolor by Jamie Treadwell

Divided by Poverty – United by Love 

an encounter of the Holy Spirit at work in Uganda

By Joe Fahd

Joe Fahd grew up in a Christian family from the Maronite tradition in Lebanon. He is a member of the People of God, an ecumenical Christian community in Beirut, Lebanon. Since September 2007 he has been in formation with the Servants of the Word in London, UK.
Making disciples of all nations
This past July I was invited to travel with four unlikely companions – Martin Steinbereithner, an Austrian-born Servant of the Word, Sword of the Spirit European and Middle East region missionary coordinator and management guru who lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Delphine Lebbe, a single woman in Jerusalem community in Belgium, John Keating, an American song-writer, missionary coordinator for the Sword of the Spirit, and presiding elder of the Servants of the Word, and Mags Tierney, an experienced fundraiser and outreach leader for Youth Initiatives in Northern Ireland. And myself the youngest and least experienced member on the team.
 
Mission Team and Emmaus Staff
Sword of the Spirit Mission Team members (Joe knelling on the far right)  with Emmaus Community Staff

So what brought us all together? Mission. In the Sword of the Spirit we call ourselves a community of disciples on mission. Mission for most of us involves serving the Lord right where he puts us in our daily living situations, studies and jobs, neighborhood, church, and community. But on this occasion we were actually going to travel somewhere to engage in mission. The common goal for our team was to help run a two-week student training program hosted by the Emmaus community, an evangelistic Catholic group in Luwero, central Uganda.  This program aims at forming Christian leaders among university students from across Uganda and some other places in Africa. Our first week there we ran three courses for returnees who attended last year’s similar program: a course on Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, the Two Kingdoms Course (a course about spiritual warfare and choosing for Christ) and a course on habits necessary for effective leadership. In the second week, some of the students who attended the first week helped us run the program in which we provided a course on the letter to the Romans, a course on Christian character and a course on evangelism. We were also sharing meals, conversations, recreation times, and entertainment evenings with the participants.

 Friends who had been to previous mission trips to Africa told me to expect to receive more than I could possibly give. I certainly found this to be true - just as the Gospel states, “give and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap” (Luke 6:38). If you are a regular reader of Living Bulwark, you have probably already read about previous mission trips to Uganda. 

Mission Team

What I want to share with you is a snapshot of what I saw God doing in the lives of individuals from the three groups who were attending this program: Emmaus Community, Cornerstone Leadership Academy, and the Uganda Catholic Charismatic Renewal. 

Training the young for evangelism
Emmaus Community in Uganda runs an outreach ministry that centers around evangelism and equipping others to be evangelists. Community members live in common financially at a center which trains evangelists, fosters Christian life and provides a base for active Christian ministry and evangelism. We had the privilege of getting into contact with some of their students who were receiving formation to become evangelists. This opened our minds to how God is using the efforts of these people to change the lives of many others who face serious challenges in their personal lives. This set of challenges was very new to me or was an extreme form of what I had seen elsewhere.  Many people’s lives are also seriously affected in this region because of the spread of witchcraft. Even during our short stay, some four people were prayed with and were delivered from the oppression of evil spirits. Emmaus also serves as a center for many Christian conferences providing the location, practical support, and also sometimes the content for retreats that cater to youth, clergy, lay people… Graduates from their evangelist formation program then go on to serve around the country or in other places including Kenya, Tanzania, Congo, and Zimbawe. The Emmaus Community are also able to provide for some of the physical needs of their surrounding region including water which villagers can pump from an artesian well on the Emmaus grounds.

Rejected from the womb – reborn in Christ
*Janet, a university student aged 20, miraculously survived various attempts at abortion and abandonment when she was a baby. Her very young mother had ended up as an outcast because of her pregnancy. She grew up with a step-father after her mother got married and was haunted by rumors and attempts by her step-father to reject her. She felt unable to love men in general. Through the help of spiritual counselors, Janet learned to accept God as her heavenly Father. Although she never got to know her earthly father, over a period of time she was able to find healing and reconciliation  with her step father and step siblings. During one of the conferences run at Emmaus she experienced new confidence and hope. She also found a sponsor which enabled her to enroll in the university. In the program we ran last year, she was blessed through getting to know Christian students who loved her and eagerly came back to attend this year’s first week program and help us run the program in the second week. Young lady from Uganda
From hunger and need to love and acceptance 
Chris, another student, was orphaned when his parents were poisoned by his step- mother. He was expected to die along with his siblings at an early stage, and he grew up constantly facing threats by people who promised him a similar fate. God intervened in his life by protecting him and leading him to a place where he could grow as a Christian disciple. He is now seeking to establish himself with a goal, purpose and mission statement. 

A divided family finds unity in Christ 
Some students from Cornerstone Leadership Academy in Uganda formed the second group of attendees. They enriched the ecumenical breadth of the program we were running with brothers and sisters from Protestant churches. Cornerstone trains young people from very poor backgrounds coming from different tribal groups and denominations. It provides high school education and works on forming men and women into friends of Christ who in turn transform their society. 
 
Mathew is a good example of some of the people whose lives were transformed through God’s work in Cornerstone. Mathew grew up in the eastern part of Uganda in an extremely poor polygamous family of thirty-five. He experienced continual hatred and threat due to conjugal competition between the three women his father married. “Food was not compulsory,” as Mathew puts it. He only was able to afford a mattress to sleep on at the age of fifteen. He had to leave school around that time because he couldn’t afford the tuition. With the help of his sister’s marriage dowry, he was able to pay for  one more year of school. Mathew progressively came to know the Lord through the  work of Christian evangelists around that time. He became an active member in his local church despite the opposition of his parents. young man from Uganda

Matthew's academic skills were quickly recognized by his teachers and they sponsored him for private lessons to catch up on the material he missed when he had to leave school earlier. In the midst of all of this, Mathew was still struggling financially. When he heard that Cornerstone was interviewing prospective students to attend its high school program, he signed up and was accepted. He saw this as a providential work of God, since he wasn’t the most academically apt among the students being interviewed. He still needed to find funds to pay for the travel expenses to Kampala, the capital of Uganda where the school was located and directions around Kampala where to find the school. The Lord provided for the travel expenses and Mathew met  someone on the bus who knew the way to the school. This was a great help since Mathew had never traveled outside his village area. Clothes, shoes, bedding and other goods were donated as well. Through becoming a member of Cornerstone Leadership Academy, Mathew got to experience the generous support, encouragement, and love of Christians who reached out to him. His involvement at the academy enabled him to grow in Christian discipleship. 

Mathew next did a Bachelor’s degree in business. Hearing God’s call to full time Christian ministry, now eight years on, he helps facilitate a number of Christian outreaches. Through God’s work in Mathew’s life, his various family members now are Christians as well. During our first week, he was giving part of the course on habits necessary for effective leadership. It emphasizes leadership out of a strong character: being proactive and not setting the blame on others for something that is happening to you, leading with a clear goal in mind, leading while efficiently managing time and resources, making sure you first understand others before being understood, cooperating creatively and interpersonally, as well as making sure you constantly monitor and re-emphasize all of the aforementioned habits.

Another student I met, named Rebecca, came from a poor family who could not afford to send her to school. She had thought of asking her mother to sell the family’s only cow so that she could pay the fees to start high school. She saw that as the only way to get out of poverty. Her involvement in the Cornerstone family not only gave her hope and training but economic support as well, to begin studies for a Bachelor in Business degree. 

Reaching out to others with the good news of Jesus Christ
The Uganda Catholic Charismatic Renewal office is actively involved in promoting Life in the Spirit Seminars, prayer groups, and evangelistic programs throughout parishes and schools in Uganda. They stand out as a strong witness of God’s love as they boldly speak the gospel message to friend and foe alike. Some of them even share their faith with soldiers, which is something noteworthy in a country which has a history of autocratic regimes. Several individuals involved in the charismatic renewal attended the recent leadership training program hosted by Emmaus Community. 

I met Martha, a single mother who grew up in a tight-knit family. When she gave her life to the Lord, she decided to live alone so she could bring up her daughter in a Christian environment despite this being totally counter-cultural. She now works full time in Christian ministry. 

Team with people from Uganda
Mags (left) and Delphine (right) with Martha and girls
 

I also met Paul, a student who is preparing to become a plumber. He attends a Muslim college but is not afraid to witness to his Christian faith, despite the challenges he faces there. And if I had time and room to write more, I could tell you about Sandra, John, Jane, Dominic - and the list goes on – and what each of them is now doing to reach out to others with the good news of Christ. 
 
Being grateful for a God who works wonders and miracles
Through my personal encounters with these brothers and sisters in Christ who live in this land ravished by poverty, disease, and death, I have personally come to understand the importance of being grateful for each day of my own life. 
praise with dance
I believe that God is doing great things in Uganda, both to renew his people there and to open new doors for evangelism, education, and leadership training. Our mission team were blessed by our short stay. We will never forget the lively exuberant style of African worship – with drums, singing, clapping and dancing, (I never thought of praising God for being ‘fat’ which is a sign of health and prosperity in Africa) and the warm hospitality we received everywhere we went. 

If you ever think that your problems are too BIG and insurmountable, think again because God is doing new wonders and new miracles as we were privileged to witness in Uganda. 


*names of individuals in Uganda have been changed to preserve privacy
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(c) copyright 2008  The Sword of the Spirit
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