Worship in Uganda
As I sat this morning after breakfast, waiting to be picked up for delivery to God’s Care Church, I met another guest here, Hazel Seavey. She is working with an organization called Heart of Africa, essentially helping widows launch micro-businesses. She described the process of start-up funding, training in basic business practices, and establishing a sustainable structure for ongoing indigenous oversight and accountability. I loved the emphasis on sustainability. I wonder if our government considers that before doling out grants. Will the work continue when the initial money runs out? That seems to me an essential part of good stewardship, and may be the difference between a handout and a hand up.
I am familiar with Heart of Africa, because I met their director, Mike Henderson, in the very same room on May 25, 2013. Here is what I wrote then:
“Today we were joined for breakfast by Mike Henderson, whom I met last night at supper after I could not help but eavesdrop on a conversation he was having just down the table from me. He’s a fascinating American who has worked for decades now in Africa. He has been involved with many organizations. He says he starts them and then moves on. He is currently working with Heart of Africa, which provides grants for Africans with specific projects in mind. He was meeting with an African veterinarian who is looking to establish a trade school, and there may be future involvement with God’s Care Ministries. Mike gave me a copy of a devotional book he has prepared for trips like ours (why did I not think of that?), and out of it he read a devotion for us. He mentioned at one point being in Nairobi. I asked if he knew Karl and Debbie Dortzbach. I haven’t seen them for 20 years, since our time at Redeemer OPC in Atlanta. He not only knew them, he knew them well, and had seen Karl only a few days earlier. Wow.”
And now, after meeting Hazel, I again say, “Wow!” I pray for God’s blessings upon Hazel and her team here, and for Mike Henderson and Heart of Africa.
Then I was picked up for the ride to church. A few random observations:
1. Being a pastor in Uganda is very different from being a pastor in America. I must ride in the front seat. I am not allowed to carry my own bags. And I must sit in a seat of prominence in the church. It’s all a bit much for me, really, but it could potentially be offensive and would almost certainly leave issues for Pastor Victor if I resisted. Still, as over-the-top as it might seem to me, if I had to choose between the excessive respect and deference given my office in Uganda or that in the U.S., well …
2. The honored seating I mentioned was to the right of the congregation, perpendicular to the congregation. The Praise Team sat behind us, like the “Amen Corner” of some older church structures. In front of me was a nice coffee table, with a pulpit Bible, some potted plants, a bottle of water, and the sports section of an English newspaper. Don’t ask, I have no idea.
3. The offertory was a congregational procession. Two beautiful and elaborate baskets, shaped like large urns and suspended from a T-shaped structure like scales, was moved to the front center. The left basket was for tithes and offerings, the right for building projects. Those of us in the honored seating had our own basket, and what we gave was quite a bit more conspicuous.
4. Joyful tears came to my eyes several times as we worshipped in song. That portion of the service lasts for well over an hour, by the way. Most songs last something in the 10-minute range, singing first in Latooro and then in English.
5. I was overjoyed to see my friend Peter, and to learn that he would, as in years past, be my translator. I dearly love this gifted and humble brother. When I first met him in 2009, he and wife Betty had a five-year-old daughter, Gloria. When I came in 2011, they had a newborn son, Gilbert. In 2013, they had another baby, Jonathan. And this time, they have one-month old Joel. I teased that I must keep coming to Africa so that Peter and Betty could “multiply and fill the earth.”
6. It’s hard for me to be a guest preacher. Anywhere. Even in the U.S., I feel that I can’t grasp the congregation’s needs or challenges. Moving across cultures only multiplies that sense of deficiency. But I’ve learned to ask God to lead by His Spirit and speak to people through me despite my ignorance, and to guard my lips so that I do not say anything harmful. Come to think of it, that’s not so different from preaching where I pastor, it’s just that I’m more aware of my limitations. And may I say that even with this extra weight of responsibility, I do love preaching.
After church, Pastor Victor returned to the hotel with me for lunch and some welcomed private conversation. I’ve always had such respect for him. As we spoke of our families, our personal struggles, our joys and burdens in ministry, my respect deepened with every word. He is a man after God’s own heart.
Priceless: The hilarious silence and quizzical look on Peter’s face when I said, “To understand what the Bible means by ‘meditate,’ you must think of a cow”.