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Friday, May 22, 2009

Ministry in Uganda

This week is pretty special for me. I get to see something that I was part of expand well beyond me. As phenomenons go, this is very cool! Let me tell you about it.

It was early in 2006. I had gone to a PTA meeting for my son's school. One of the parents there was another pastor (although I didn't know it at the time). We exchanged pleasantries and went on our way. I never thought about him again.

Nearly a year later, I got a phone call out of the blue. This man wanted to buy me breakfast, and asked me to humor him. Curiosity got the best of me, so I agreed.

When we met for breakfast, Jerry explained that he was the head of a ministry known as Leadership Vistas, and that it was engaged in the business of training indigenous pastors in Africa. He said he'd been praying about a need they had and the Lord had prompted him to reach out to me.

As we talked, he explained that they needed a curriculum for pastors that would help them deal with the difficult subjects in their lives and in their churches and communities. Apparently God had told Jerry that I was the guy to talk to.

I tentatively agreed to help write a curriculum but had no idea what to write. Jerry asked me to address sexuality, relationships with women, children, the devil and some other difficult subjects. Months went by and I had nothing. A true "writer's block" seemed to be my dispose. Finally, one morning, I woke up around 4:00 AM and it all unfolded before me. I began writing furiously, and a multi-chapter curriculum was born a few days later.

I went with Leadership Vistas to Kyambogo University in Kampala, Uganda in July 2007 and taught this curriculum for the first time. About 28 pastors came forward to express specific needs and ask for assistance and counseling. (I'm still in touch with some of them today.) I went back and taught the curriculum a couple more times, and then focused on training someone else to teach it. We weren't sure who could teach it, and Leadership Vistas had no one that they thought would be comfortable teaching it. Still we prayed - and trusted that God would raise someone up ... or would empower me to continue returning to teach this curriculum.

During that first visit to Uganda, we had a free day and one of the local Bishops arranged for us to visit Luzira Prison, one of the largest prison complexes in all of Africa. We spent a memorable day in the maximum security men's unit. One specific area of discussion that day was the need for some program of "restorative justice." Prison officials were looking for some way to help prisoners take responsibility for what they'd done, make amends, and be prepared to relate to others effectively when they got out. But no solution had been found.

I returned home in August 2007, and began to pray about the idea. A few months later I began working on a concept. By November 2007, the idea had turned into a multi-page proposal, complete with exhibits and attachments. The proposal was submitted to the federal prison authorities in Uganda in November 2007. We figured it was a long shot, but had nothing to lose. Much to my surprise, by June 2008, the proposal had been accepted in its entirety - with no changes. A complete faith-based, Christ-centered discipling program for prisoners was approved. It seemed like a miracle.

I went to Kampala in September 2008, and began implementing the program. With complete freedom to roam the prison and interact with prisoners, I spent a full week teaching, worshipping, praying, and meeting with various prisoners. Homework assignments were given out - and a promise that someone would return in a few more months to continue rolling out the proposed program. At the time, we had no idea who would return, but had been praying and were confident that God would raise someone up to do it ... or would empower me to do it.

So what's so special about this week? Well, two important milestones are both occurring at the same time. Let me explain.

First, a local pastor in Uganda appeared early this year with a heart for pastoral counseling. After some work with him in February (when I was there) and some lengthy e-mails and phone calls, we decided he could teach it. Leadership Vistas is sponsoring another pastors' training conference in Uganda this week. Pastor Stephen Bamuleke, a local pastor originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo - who fled persecution there - is teaching my curriculum - to hundreds of pastors. Very cool!

Second, a team from Calvary Church here in Irving, Texas is spending two weeks at the Luzira prison complex. They're continuing the implementation of the proposal I'd written and started in the men's prison. Simultaneously, they're starting the program in the women's prison. By the time they leave, we will have trained dozens of prisoners in this program of restorative justice (which is loosely based on the popular Celebrate Recovery program). Moreover, they will have trained two local churches there in Uganda to continue implementing the program at Luzira Prison. It's totally awesome!

I suppose the most exciting thing for me this week is that I'm NOT in Uganda. Things that were obviously of God, which I got to be a part of, are carrying forth without me. Pastors in Uganda are getting stronger and spiritually healthy. It's been said that revival in Uganda will be led from the prisons. And now the prisons are being equipped in that way.

Most of all, I'm in awe of this wonderful God for His magnificent vision. He sees so far beyond what I could ever imagine or hope for. And I'm very grateful that He allowed me the privilege of being on the front-line of two of His awesome works at the same time!

My pastor at Grace Community Church often says, "Go God!" I couldn't agree more!

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