Growing Down in Uganda

It’s December 30th 2016 and we are boarding a plane from Amsterdam to NY. After three months in Africa we just spent four hours in an airport with wall to wall fine food, perfume and jewelry stores. There are coffee and candy and Tulip stores. There are liquor stores and clothing stores and cheese stores galore filled with Gouda blocks and Cheddar blocks the size of your head. There’s a place to take shower and a place to take a nap. There are toilets that flush with actual seats in private stalls with toilet paper mounted on painted walls. There are sinks that work, soap dispensers with soap and paper towel dispensers with paper towels. There is even a ventilated, glass room where smokers can smoke and one wall is made out of Heineken beer. 

We walked for a while just seeing the sites before stopping for breakfast. We found a Dutch stand and ordered gourmet coffee and muffins, the cost of which would feed a Mozambiquen family of four for week but who’s judging; right? I contemplated the mass of people in the Rhino refugee camp without water or food all the while sipping my espresso and swallowing the succulent cake. I wondered and prayed as I chewed, if the South Sudanese children we met in the camp and two babies in particular, were still alive and if it was wrong to be at peace with my own powerlessness apart from prayer. After all  wasn’t it Jesus who said the poor would always be with us? 

Boarding is nearly complete now and the stewardess is passing out earphones while passengers scroll through inflight entertainment options in search of something to take their minds off the indomitable task of sitting for hours in a cushioned seat that reclines. I just heard the “F-Word” for the very first time in three months. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I jumped in my seat even though the teenager behind me had employed it as a simple conjunction in an otherwise normal sentence. What am I feeling right now? I think ambivalent might be the word. I do believe our reentry process is officially under way.  

We have experienced a lot in the last three months and there’s lots to unpack. In case you didn’t know I’m starting to unpack right now and right here. So please excuse the seemingly disjointed thoughts as I write. Unpacking is rarely as sequential and organized as packing. Not to mention that some or all of the laundry might be, shall we say, less than clean. But as Papa Rolland Baker says, things are not always as they first appear, sometimes the answer is not “yes or no” but “yes and no” and the Kingdom of Heaven is upside down. 

 But I digress. 

We have experienced a lot in the last three months. Our team saw blind eyes open, the deaf hear, the lame walk and children doomed to die live. We have lived in a refugee camp and deep in the bush, preached the gospel to leaders and those in prison. We saw the miraculous multiplication of food. We have seen people come to Jesus in droves. 

We hugged  little Muslim children who threw rocks at us. We have helped to start businesses, plant a church, rescue orphans, pay for job training, taught videography to children, fixed a wheel chair, bought a wheel chair and put a new roof on a wheel chair ridden guy’s house. We saw machine-gun fire interrupted and countless lives saved when the machine gun miraculously broke in half. We helped save a baby, named a baby, furnished a nursery and handed out more soccer balls, bread rolls, cookies and flip-flops than we can possibly count. I have laughed and cried more and harder than ever before and sometimes simultaneously. In fact I sobbed so hard one day when Heidi taught that I literally thought I might die. There were other days when I was angrier and more frustrated than I have been in years. Still we have seen more of the world and built more relationships within more cultures in the last three months than we have in all of our previous fifty plus years. Yei God!! Yet missions is deeper than simply giving, building and doing things. I know it but can I explain it as I unpack? 

God really started a work in me, in us during Harvest School. We knew he would. That’s why we went. It was during our final outreach to South Sudanese refugees when an important part of that work finally came to a head.  

Nothing about the final leg of our African adventure had worked out as expected. I had planned to be a part of a proverbial Holy Spirit Calvary dodging bullets and ministering to child soldiers in a South Sudanese war zone. Instead I ended up wrapping Christmas gifts for 117 South Sudanese orphans in Uganda. 

Sure we taught a few kids how to shoot video.

 But I spent the rest of my time sitting with, hugging, singing and dancing with traumatized children to a point where I was starting to feel more like Mary Poppins than the Machine Gun preacher. But enough about me. 
The truth is these South Sudanese refugee children are by far the most patient, humble, gentle, forgiving, loving and spirit filled human beings I have encountered any where this side of heaven. It would have been entirely worth the trip if all we ever did was hear them worship and pray.  They have given up everything; parents, homes, friends and families to narrowly escape from a civil war with their lives and the shirts on their backs. And yet they have purposed in their hearts to forgive those who harmed them. Their one desire is for peace; peace in their country and peace in their hearts. They are incredibly resilient and independent. The older children care for the younger ones. They take turns doing laundry by hand as well as the other chores such as cooking and cleaning. They never need to be asked or supervised. They lead worship on their own. They compose skits and dances and teachings from the Bible on their own. Many times there was literally nothing for us to do on such a short term basis. So we sang songs with them and we danced with them. We laughed and played soccer with them. We ate food they cooked for us and celebrated Christmas with them. Yes we bought them a crazy amount of crazy gifts


as we westerners are prone to do.  

Even so we were not the proverbial calvary we had imagined ourselves to be. We were still students being taught and ministered to by those whom Jesus said we must become like. 

We were and are undone. 
Luckily we were able to do at least one thing that had a concrete impact. Sort of… I guess… Several of the kids at the orphanage are in their late teens and early twenties which means raging hormones create a need for discipleship specifically in the area of dating and marriage. 
One strength in this situation was that South Sudanese culture is quite prohibitive when it comes to public displays of affection even between a husband and wife. Therefore in a effort to honor the culture and avoid becoming a stumbling block Cathy and I intentionally maintained a respectable distance from one another when we were in public. Then the team scheduled some times whereby some of the married couples could speak into the lives of the teens regarding the topic of relationships and the opposite sex. However Cathy and I did not participate in these. We assumed (perhaps wrongly) that we were either too old and or our sorted pasts that included divorce might further complicate an already potentially confusing cross cultural topic. 

Ironically by the end of the outreach the kids reported being more impacted by our marriage than by anything else we said or did. They said they saw that Cathy and I “loved each other so much, always cared for one another, worked together and always had one another’s backs.” They said they want what we have one day. The Lord used our presence and who we are in Him to teach the very thing we purposed not to teach. After all marriage is supposed to be the model of Christ’s relationship with His Church. We got out of His way and He shined through us in spite of us. Yei God.

So what is the lesson in all of this? Well it will probably change a bit as I continue to unpack but maybe the point for today is the upside down nature of the Kingdom of God. Things are often not as they first appear and the deeper things of God are often only found within the smaller things of the world. 

We came to Africa to grow up, to have God do a work in our hearts, to mature in Christ so we could do more in Christ. Ironically we became less and in that less we became more. What we did accomplished we accomplished through our being and not our doing. 
It seems to me that Mighty Oaks of righteousness and any other tree for that matter all have one thing in common. They grow in two directions or they don’t grow at all. They also grow down first in order to form the root system needed to sustain them as they reach toward heaven. It’s worth thinking about as some of you endeavor to make America great again.
God willing we aren’t done. In fact we are just getting started. We still plan to do a lot of things and help a lot more people. We came to Africa and the Harvest School to learn. We came to stop for the one. We came to know Him better, to commit ourselves to becoming love, to operate out of intimacy with God and our identity in Him instead of the the normal life sucking striving of the secular world. We came to learn how to give what the world needs. We came to learn what love looks like.
People are not starving because others prosper and being rich does not make someone bad any more than being poor makes someone good. The state of the world is as it is because people don’t know Jesus. People don’t know their creator. As a result they don’t know themselves. It is simple but it’s deep. It’s deeper than we knew. It’s deeper than we know now. I realize some of you will not accept this. That’s ok. I won’t argue the point. I promise.  

Ultimately we came to Africa to offer our hands in compassion and were imparted the simplicity and love of a child. We came to grow and we did. We grew down in Uganda. 


It’s hard to believe our time in Mozambique is drawing to an end. The lesson has been so very simple but how in the world will we ever explain something that runs so contrary to normal Western values and thinking namely that as Surprise Sithole says, “relationship is more important than hard working”. The Mozambiquens understand it because as one youth explained “We live in a place where you can get sick at any time and be dead in a just few days.” 
The village of Namoto sits peacefully on the shores of the Ruvuma river about four kilometers from the Tanzania border. “Namoto” actually means fire and was the site for one of our “Bush Bush” outreaches. 
After ten and half hours on the road we finally arrived at the village of Namoto. There is no electricity there and the village was already asleep except for a 13 year old boy named Shamsi who stepped out of the dark to greet Cathy and me. Shamsi spoke Swahili and a just few words of English so it took some time for us to learn that Shamsi had recently fled his family of “another faith” in Tanzania to arrive barefoot and penniless in Namoto on the very day we met. Apparently his mother had recently died, his father was missing in action and he feared for his life. Several people did not trust Shamsi because his story seemed to change each time he told it. This was reason enough in the minds of many not to help him. But Shamsi would not leave Cathy’s side. Shamsi wanted a mamma and Cathy was the chosen one. Later the next day we went deeper into the village to invite people to the IRIS Jesus Film we would be showing that night. Shamsi witnessed a young man receive Jesus in Swahili and a he asked to receive Him as well. Everything seemed to be going really well. The only problem was that Shamsi was an illegal alien minor with absolutely no documents. This could mean prison for Shamsi and anyone harboring him if he were caught by Mozambiquen police. Shamsi was in effect a proverbial “hot potato” that no one wanted to touch. Everyone in authority within the village was completely freaked out and afraid they would be jailed for child trafficking. But later that night we met with the head pastor in the village. We squatted in a circle for about an hour while the pastor drew in the sand and told stories of how he had helped boys in similar situations. He assured us that he had favor with the local authorities and it would be “no problem” for him to take Shamsi in to live with him. Problem solved. Yay God! 
The next morning we jumped on the truck for the 10 hour drive back to Pemba. We had travelled about 5 miles when Shamsi suddenly emerged from the bushes and began running after our truck. Our hearts sank. Luckily another vehicle carrying a Swahili speaking pastor from Tanzania was close behind. They stopped and the pastor reexplained the plan to Shamsi before sending him back to the village. Obviously the language barrier had clouded Shamsi’s previous understanding but now everything would be fine. Problem solved. We returned to the IRIS base in Pemba and I gave a brief testimony regarding our awesomely successful experience of “Stopping for the one”. Yay God.
About a week later Shamsi showed up at the Pemba gate just as we were returning from visiting a family in the outlying village. He had walked/ hitchhiked for four days to find Cathy and me. We got him some food and water and not knowing what else to do, I brought the situation to the attention of the IRIS staff. They freaked out for the same reason that the Namoto village leaders had. “Is he impaired?” They asked as they organized Shamsi’s departure alone by bus back to Namoto. I could see the anger in Shamsi’s eyes. “That’s not going to work. He’s gonna bolt.” Cathy told them. “Don’t worry. He won’t bolt” a staff member replied.
The next morning Shamsi was outside our door, hungry and smiling and looking for breakfast. So we fed him our morning ration of bread rolls and brought him to church thinking it would be best to just take him straight to Heidi. After all she was the author of stopping for the one. Surely she would lay her life down and help this boy who had just come into the kingdom. “What? Who invited him here? How did he get the address? “Beats me” I said, “I don’t speak Swahili.” You’d better pray!” she said as I knelt beside her trying in vain to explain the situation. “We are in a lot of trouble! They could charge us with child trafficking, shut this whole base down and take us all to jail.” There I knelt, face to face with one of my all time spiritual heroes on the planet second only to Mother Teresa and Jesus himself, having “stopped for the one” and possibly destroying everything she and Rolland had given their lives lives too.
Ain’t missions fun. Yay God.

As Heidi likes to say, there are two reasons for being persecuted in the body of Christ. One is for the sake of righteousness and one is for stupidity. I have a lot more experience with the later. Needless to say I wasn’t feeling particularly righteous at that moment. I was kindly asked to remove myself from the situation while they investigated. Then the Harvest School staff obtained police permission to escort Shamsi back to Namoto. Where is Shamsi now? I have no idea. In fact he could be walking back to Pemba as I write. “This is pitiful!” you say. “Why are you even telling me this?” Bear with me.
To be honest I was angry. I was offended and disillusioned with Heidi and IRIS as a whole. Then I finished my tantrum. Did I really expect the IRIS staff to go to jail, to forfeit the current and future welfare of tens of thousands of people for the sake of one 13 year old boy? What would I say to them; “Sorry but you all have to go to jail and or die so we can help this one boy who couldn’t follow directions”? 
The reality in this life is that saying “yes” to the one usually means saying “no” to another. That we need to choose in the first place is a result of our choices not His. I was suddenly confronted with my own propensity to sit in judgment, positively and negatively, of all creation and subsequently upon God Himself. I realized that every time I am angry, depressed, offended or disillusioned, every time I slip into self-centeredness; every time I covet an alternative reality to what God has created I am actually condemning God. Gulp…
Instead of focusing on the character of God and acknowledging that his ways are not my ways and His thoughts are not my thoughts; I judge God and others according to current circumstances when I should be judging both according to the character of God who is good and seeing Jesus in everyone. 
How easily I forget where I came from, that I am where I am today because of His mercy that so frequently manifested as pain in my life. God is good and He is by definition love. That means His “yes” is love and so is His “no”. 
We live in a universe that is literally composed of relationships. Believe it or not the goal is not to feed the poor, heal the sick, help widows and orphans or anyone else for that matter. It is not about fixing people or situations. Our purpose is to simply love God. But how do I love God? Well, we feed the poor, heal the sick, help widows and orphans and anyone He puts on our hearts to help. It’s a paradox. God doesn’t need us to save the Shamsis of the world and yet He does. He’s a “yes and no” God not a dichotomous “yes or no” God. No thing or situation will ever make sense apart from an intimate relationship with Him because that relationship is the goal. Everything else is fruit. 
That is what we came here to learn or part of it anyway. That is why we quit our jobs, left our home in paradise, left our loved ones, sold our stuff, went into debt and came to a diseased and poverty stricken country literally on the other side of the world. We came to enter the fire, to have our self-centered pride, delusions and frivolous fluff burned off our souls. We came as proverbial Marthas to learn the lesson of Mary, that our lives are but a vapor and “relationship is more important than hard working”. There may be some here who’s dross is fully burned off and have fully comprehended the paradox of loving. As for me I’m still working on it. I’m still burning. I hope and pray that Shamsi is too. Because at the end of the day I am Shamsi, sincere, hard headed and wanting my own way.

Teach a Man to Fish

Mozambique is country filled with mostly untapped oil and mineral wealth. It is also a place where nearly everyone goes hungry some of the time and many are hungry all of the time. In fact it is nearly impossible to find anyone who doesn’t know at least one person who has starved to death.

The villages outside of the IRIS base in Pemba are perfect examples of this desperation. It is no wonder that the gate outside of the Harvest School is a place where young 20 something year old men congregate to sell cheap hand made jewelry to missionaries and students from the west in hopes of simply eating that day. Not dating or playing or partying like their western peers. Just eating a bowl of rice or Shima and maybe just maybe a piece of a chicken leg. Others invent tragic stories they hope will be believed and result in some one giving them money. The stories may be fabricated but the tragedy is real. Unfortunately begging undermines the dignity of both the beggar and the giver and frequently results in resentment on the part of one or both parties particularly when the giver’s money runs out. It’s not that there is zero opportunity for economic growth in Pemba. It is simply untapped. Sometimes it is  just a matter of these young men not knowing how to access opportunity do to a lack of education, ignorance of work ethics and or how the world of business and employment works. Some simply need a leg up to get started and a few hundred American dollars can mean the difference between a life of abject poverty and the dignity that comes with being self supporting. 

It’s a bit ridiculous in my opinion if not completely insane to preach the current and popular Ephesians based “Christian identity motif” to a culture already demeaned by centuries of white colonization when a Mozambiquen man still feels the need to beg for a proverbial fish from a white man just to feed his own children. Feeding the poverty mentality within a given culture is the epitome of disrespect and not what Jesus meant when He told Peter “if you love me then feed my sheep.”  People need discipleship not just evangelism. 

When we first met Daniel he was selling Bibles to missionaries on base. I personally grabbed 25 before I realized that they were actually Gideon Bibles. I rebuked Daniel ever so gently explaining how selling Bibles that were intended to be free was not only wrong but also not good for him. “But papa” he began, “you don’t understand. I have no money to start my business and I have no money to eat. I need to do something.” “Hold on” I said “Tell me about this business.” “Papa I’m very good at cutting hair…” and he proceeded to tell me about his dream of opening a salon for both men and women in his village. (Hair salon?! I thought people were starving.  Well as it turns out  starving people are seeking dignity just like everyone else.) “I could make maybe 1500 Metacals ($20.50) per week” he said. So we proceeded to work out how much it would cost to get him started. 

As it turned out Daniel could get the required business license and build his salon for just under 600 US dollars. So he gave his remaining Bibles away and resolved to never sell one again and we started giving him money in increments. 

What began as a gamble quickly became a solid investment in Daniel’s future as he proved to be a man of his word in every way. Obviously we do not expect a financial return. That would not only be absurd but also illegal under Mozambiquen law. Our ROI comes in the form of the joy goes with helping another human being succeed and find dignity through empowerment. It is also a way to preach a Gospel that has teeth as we made it abundant clear that this was not about us.  Rather it was about the love God put in our hearts for Daniel. 

We are praying that God opens the door to similar opportunities in the future. Perhaps you’ll want to partner with us if He does. 

​​​​Be sure to check out Daniels short video