April 6, 2013
More Grace In Uganda
The following blog is part two of the “Grace Notes” I journaled on the 18-plus hours plane ride home from Uganda. I was privileged to visit several orphanages in Jinja, Uganda and to spend a week in Angeltok teaching at their first ever Pastor’s Conference. The lessons I learned about grace were much better than the truths I taught about grace.
Grace is a universal message that feeds hungry souls, mends broken people and satisfies all who partake. 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10
While in Uganda, I saw the simple power of the Gospel. The message is not complicated. It cannot be bound up with legalistic ties and cultural stipulations. The message of God’s grace through Christ’s death on the cross and the power of His resurrection is truly timeless. Simply telling people that “all have sinned and fall short” (Romans 3) and that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16) to pay for our sins for all who believe was a strong message in such a dark place. After being in Angeltok, Uganda only four to five days, we had villagers coming in to our campsite and politely sitting and waiting on us to acknowledge them. When we asked how we could help them, they said that they wanted to know Jesus as their Savior. Hungry souls came looking for the message of grace. Oh that God would stir America and Alabama to hunger for Him so!
You are never too old for grace to overwhelm you.
At church on Sunday morning, I shared the message of grace on Mephibosheth, the crippled fugitive farmer living in a barren land (2 Samuel 9). Ten souls came forward for salvation. One was a 67 year-old woman named Nora. As I penned her name in to my prayer journal, I wondered how long she had waited to hear the message of grace. I wondered how many, if any, other messengers of grace she had ignored. I marveled that at 67 years of age, she was willing to make a life-changing decision that would be the best decision she could ever make. On February 16, 2013, she became a new creation. She was overwhelmed by the message of grace. Like Mephibosheth, she accepted the grace to dine with the King. And one day, like Mephibosheth, she will dine at the table of the King of kings.
Grace shouts God’s love in the midst of pain and suffering.
It’s fairly common knowledge that orphans are abundant in third-world countries. The mortality rate for adults is high. Parents die at young ages, leaving behind their young children. Sometimes, in desperation to help their children, parents leave them in towns and cities where resources seem more abundant, hoping that someone will care for them. Disease is always a problem in third-world countries. Uganda is no different. Bad water and a lack of sanitation bring about much disease and death. Yet, in this very impoverished place, grace shouts of God’s kindness. Some have accused God of not caring and they point to places where this great suffering as examples of God’s apathy. Bust most who declare such philosophies have never lived in or even visited such dark places of poverty and ruin. Every time I have been in such a place, I have found God and His grace clearly at work in the hearts and lives of people.
Damali Wattier runs Sonrise Baby Home, a grace distribution center in Jinja, Uganda. You can learn more about her ministry at www.sonrisebabies.com. As an orphan herself, she determined to help children who have no other chance to survive. She takes in babies who are very weak, sick and malnourished and through love and God’s bounty, brings healing, strength and laughter to the babies.
Even stronger to me was the grace that I saw at the Home of Hope just outside of Jinja. There, a woman named Edith Lukabwe decided that special needs children needed grace. She started a home for such children. (click here to learn more: http://sonriseministriesinc.com/homeofhope.html) Edith and her staff care for children who have multiple disabilities, who are abandoned and orphaned and left to live with older grandparents. Without Edith, there would be great suffering in the lives of the twenty-six children I met at her home. Instead, these kids receive physical therapy, love, attention, plenty of food and daily baths. The sight of extremely handicapped children is difficult to see here in America. But in a third-world country, it can take your breath away. Yet, while I was trying to process the crippled children, many of who were in braces and wheelchairs and strapped to apparatuses designed to help them stand straight, I saw grace. God’s amazing grace in six committed workers (nannies, really) and the physical therapist who has dedicated his life to caring for these children. Grace showed up in the poverty, pain and suffering. One lady listened to God. His grace overwhelmed her and now she is an overwhelming picture of grace. She is truly a pitcher filled with grace. Timothy, one of the Ugandan support staff members, shared in a devotional one night that we can be vessels and pitchers of grace if we allow God to use us on a daily basis. Edith pours grace out by the gallon day after day after day. So should we!
Grace overcomes curses through the cross of Christ and we can promise anyone who receives Christ to be free from the curse and all curses.
After the Sunday service in the Ugandan chapel, a lady approached our team as we gathered outside the church. In her eyes I saw much fear and anxiety. She told us, through Pastor Mark our translator, that her husband had been put in a prison for murdering someone and then was killed himself. A local witch doctor had told her that she and her family were cursed because of those events. She asked if we could help in some way. Can we help? Wow! Of course we can help! There has never been a curse that cannot be broken by Jesus Christ. He is the Great Curse-Breaker. The greatest curse of all was the curse of sin and its wages, death to all mankind. But the Great Curse-Breaker, Jesus Christ, rose from the dead and conquered both death and Hell (1 Corinthians 15). What a joy it was to share with her that if she would simply ask Jesus into her heart, believe that He died for her sins, she would be free from any curse. And she did. Grace wins! The next day, she brought all of her children to the school and asked if we could introduce them to Christ as well. Thank God that grace covers all curses for all ages.
March 7, 2013
Grace In Uganda
So I just recently returned from Angeltok, Uganda. Don’t bother trying to locate it on a map. It’s pretty much impossible to find. However, if you manage to locate Soroti, Uganda and throw in a four hour, kidney-jarring bus ride into the African bush, you’ll come upon a lovely, remote village called Angeltok.
For a few days, I had the privilege of spending time with the Wattier family, who has ministered there for several years, and a ministry team from Springfield, Georgia, who turned out to be an amazing group of servant hearted, survivalist ministers. I hold team members Mandi Johnson, Chandra Willis and her two children, Kristen and Aaron and Stephanie Deal in the highest respect. They each endured a rough, rugged trip and never complained. Instead, they displayed grace, love, help and hope to all who they encountered.
After our forever-long journey to Angeltok, I began the Pastor’s Conference I was asked to lead. I shared the concept that there is no depth to the understanding of God’s grace and that even the oldest and wisest minister in the meeting should be learning more and more about God’s grace each week. 1 Peter 3:18 says that we should all “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This passage is not written to only young or middle-aged Christians. It is also written to seasoned pastors, missionaries, and even saints who handle the Word of God daily and dissect and discern theology and truth all the time. God’s grace is ever expanding. In the course of teaching seventy to eighty ministers about God’s grace, I came upon even more truths about His grace! So here are the “grace notes” I discovered while in Uganda. Enjoy!
Grace Changes Everything
This is clear from the life of the Apostles and very clear in the life of the Apostle Paul. He was once a persecutor of Christians who sought to destroy the churches of the New Testament era. But after one powerful encounter with Christ, who could have easily destroyed him on the road to Damascus, he was transformed. He became a preacher who raised up and established healthy New Testament churches (Acts 9). As I taught my third and fourth lessons on how grace should permeate every aspect of church life, the ministers in the open-air “church hut” were having what seemed to be discussions amongst themselves during the break. I asked our translator to eavesdrop for me and to let me know what was troubling them. He told me that they were discussing how important it was to change now that the grace of God had become more clear. The intensity of the discussions was related to how fast and what kind of changes needed to be made within their church structures.
Grace changes people and softens hard, wounded and bitter hearts.
Zaccheus, the chief tax collector in Luke 19, was dramatically changed by his encounter with Jesus. John writes that Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” Zaccheus gave half of his possessions to the poor and repaid all whom he had defrauded. Then there’s the adulterous woman in John 8, one of my favorite New Testament stories of grace. She is caught in the very act of adultery and is living in sin. On the way to her execution, she encounters Jesus and is “set free from sin.” Although she surely had a broken and wounded heart, she lived her afternoon free from sin, washed clean by the grace of Christ, who could have stoned her, but chose instead to free her.
While in Angeltok, there was a godly, elderly pastor who would walk me back to my campsite in the evenings. During one of these walks, he shared with me how the teachings of God’s grace had touched his heart. He was bitter and angry with the renegade rebel army leader General Kony, who only four years before had come through this very town and murdered his family and friends. As we walked, he pointed to a place in the road where pools of blood stood. He showed me where his family was murdered. He said that since then he has had only hate and resentment for this evil man. But hearing the story of grace and how Robert Cochran (one of my own elders at Northside) had taught me how to show love and grace to Saddam Hussein after his capture, this pastor in Angeltok had forgiven General Kony that very evening before chapel. Grace is really amazing when it moves deep in our hearts!
Grace happens in quiet, unexpected places.
Scripture is filled with this reality. The birth of Jesus happened in the small, obscure town of Bethlehem and yet His birth is some of the most precious and quiet grace ever offered to mankind. The beautiful rescue of the crippled fugitive farmer Mephibosheth from Lo-Debar in 2 Samuel 9 is also a great example. By the customs of the day, Mephibosheth deserves death or, at best, permanent exile in Lo-Debar (meaning “the land where nothing grows”). But into this obscure land come King David’s men who find Mephibosheth and from that day forward, he would regularly dine at the king’s table. I often wonder how such grace had been in Lo-Debar.
I saw the same grace in Angeltok, a place that is so far removed it does not even appear on the map. It is a remote place. It is an obscure place. But there, in the midst of Angeltok, I watched the Georgia team teach proper hygiene to the local women. I watched them share about the cleansing blood of Jesus and how our soul can be clean through His grace on the cross. And with prayers and raised hands, grace fell on many. I saw hundreds upon hundreds of villagers stand on their feet for over two hours watching the Jesus film. There was a three minute invitation at the end of the movie. Ninety-nine people of all ages came forward and signed a sheet indicating that they had received Christ and wanted a follow-up visit from the local church. Grace rained down upon this remote village in Angeltok.
In His Grace,