To explain some of the challenges of ministering in Northern Uganda, let me tell you some current conditions that are affecting the church.
Uganda is a poor country. Northern Uganda is the poor part of a poor country. There was a rebellion, they call a war, from 1986 to 2006. People were living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps with very little opportunity for education and economic development. Most men that are of the age to be leaders – married and have children, are poorly educated. Trained leadership is the bottleneck for church growth. We take for granted listening to seminary trained preachers and easy access to information – commentaries, Greek and Hebrew word dictionaries/lexicons, maps and depictions of biblical events, cultural practices of historical Jews and first century Christians, etc., that help us get an understanding of scripture. If a Ugandan has had the equivalent of a 6th – 7th grade education, their English might be good enough to use some of these tools if they had access to them. I’m not trying to leaving the Holy Spirit out of our preparation for ministry and understanding of the scriptures, but we are to “study to show ourselves approved”. As a leader here said, “it is difficult to understand some scriptures unless someone explains it.”
Now, because there is peace, people are coming back and others are moving to the Northern Uganda area. Here, there is good land for farming and raising animals. A growing market for these goods, have caused land prices to quadruple in the last eight years. Many of the churches that were started when living conditions were not safe and unstable, were given land without a written agreement, a common practice here. But with land prices going up, there are strong motives to break these agreements and sell the land out from under the churches. And, the church is dealing with this big-time. Some churches have been chased off their land, or asked to pay a price they cannot afford. These are known as “land wrangles”.
Uganda is 80% rural. Most people are living in a village, not in a city or town, growing their own food, using a hoe and a machete. Most need to sell their crop when there is an abundance, when the prices are low, so they make little. Storing or selling goods in a co-op is not done by most. Church size is based on how far people are willing to walk or ride a bike. A typical village church will have 8 mature people (married or widowed), 15 youth (between age 13-30; if you are a man or woman not married with children, you are considered “youth”), and “many” children – average family size is 6 – 7.
Here is an example of an economic squeeze: typical church giving is about $10 a month. Prices for everything are going up. A bundle of grass to make a roof, is now approximately 3,000 – 5,000 Ugandan Schillings ($1 – $1.50). It might take 80 bundles to make an average church roof. If church giving is $120 per year, and a roof costs $120 which is good for about two years before needing to be re-thatched – you can see the squeeze. They do “cut their own grasses”, but with the population
increase, the competition for grass is great, and has caused a shortage and increase in price. This is just one example. And, we haven’t yet talked about the ways the church participates in giving to the community when someone passes away, by helping the widows in the church, or contributing to the many other congregational needs. If the money isn’t there, they assist by helping with the garden, or sharing a jeri can (to carry water), or a basin so the individual in need know that God cares and is working. All Christians who minister are bi-vocational – they have a job to provide for their family, and they minister.
God is at Work
God is working.
- From the one church that was started in 1994, there are now 54, and new churches are coming.
- There is an annual youth conference since 2008. We expect 500 to attend January 2018.
- Couples conferences where they really say what is on their minds is a lot of fun!
- There are 25 people from this area attending local Bible school in preparation for ministry.
- A few that have a high school education are going for theological training near the capitol.
- It’s exciting to be around so many young men and women who desire to grow spiritually and to serve Christ!
With the many challenges, there is great joy shared in what God is doing!