Out of Control

I have to confess. I like being in charge.

Don’t we all, really? Isn’t there a part of us that always wants to be captains of our own destiny, always in command of our circumstances and surroundings? Being head of Grace Community School, who, like the centurion in the gospel story, has “many people under my authority, to whom I say ‘go’, and they go,” my day-to-day reality creates a sense of control. Even if you aren’t the boss at work, we westerners have access to transportation, technology, and time-management devices and constructs that allow us to feel as though we harness the clock and our lives, direct our paths, and guide our futures.

But, it’s all really a lie, isn’t it? Or, more accurately, an illusion? The reality is that we live moment-to-moment, second-by-second by the loving, caring will of a gracious, Almighty God. A God who holds the molecules in our bodies together by His constant, continuous command (ever wonder what would happen if He stopped)? Our schedules, our lives, our plans–they’re all completely His. Always are, no matter what Google Calendar says.

What’s causing me to reflect on my vain attempts to control my life on this particular day? I’m sitting in a pastors’ and wives conference in Mbarara, the main purpose of this trip. The conference, attended by 400 pastors and their wives, was supposed to start at 9 am. As you know, that normally means 10 am African time. However, Ugandan President Museveni is in Mbarara today campaigning for reelection, and wanted to meet with some of the pastors who were attending the conference. Just like America, what the president wants…..

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So, the conference was in a holding pattern, with the pastors’ wives and the speakers (including the Clarks, the Tanners, the Nixes, and me) sitting in a conference room, loudspeakers blaring outside, and yellow-clad motorcycle riders (Biker Chicks for Museveni?) throttling their engines just outside our window, rallying for their candidate. Meanwhile, we are singing, serving lunch and post-Christmas discount candy canes, spontaneously preaching whatever comes to mind, teaching topics out of order, doing everything we can besides making hand shadow puppets on the wall to entertain the wives, stretching time until the pastors show up from their meeting with Museveni because, well, you know, a pastors’ and wives’ marriage conference kind of needs pastors and wives to make it work.

Trivia question: What is the only thing more unpredictable than regular Ugandan time? Answer: A Ugandan politician’s schedule.

And, so, we waited. And waited. By this time, any American conference planner would have long since thrown themselves out the window, in front of the Biker Chicks for Museveni.

But, guess what? God showed up. In the always-beautiful, joyous, worshipful singing of Ugandan Christians, but somehow even more sublime when voiced by full who had given their lives, sacrificed and suffered so much for this Jesus they loved and praised. In the way that God used our cobbled-together, stretched-out , duct-taped schedule to put together something that actually resonated deeply with the pastors and their wives, as reflected in testimonial after testimonial. In the way that God reminded me, as He always does when I’m among my beloved African brothers and sisters, that people matter more to God than getting stuff done, and that I’m never closer to the heart of my Lord than when I’m just sitting down and sharing my life, my time, with someone else, especially someone with whom I have nothing else in common but the saving blood of Jesus Christ.

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I’ve done a bunch of these conferences, and they never, ever turn out the way we’d planned them. The more we plan, the more it unravels. But, God always reaches into the chaos and brings forth something spectacular, something transcendent, something that reminds me that He is God and my job is to just bring what pitiful obedience I have, relax, shut up, and stand in awe at the work of His Hands.

I need Africa. Regularly. Desperately. To remind me that I am completely out of control.

-Jay Ferguson

And the pastors and spouses kept coming….

For the last 3 days our team has diligently taught an incredible conference just for pastors and spouses. What started out with a small crowd in a seemingly small room ended up with over 500 in attendance.  Just when you thought the room was full, more would show up! Many of the pastors traveled long and far to attend this conference. PCM pastors as well as many others from surrounding areas joined for this powerful time of teaching, dancing, food and worship. Imagine trying to find almost 250 hotel rooms across the city for each of these pastors and spouses (and prepare meals twice a day). This was a nice blessing for each of the couples. Some of the pastors may have not stayed in a hotel away for years, if even ever at all!! Way to go PCM staff for making all of this happen.

Doug teaching

Doug and Vicki Clark, as well as Jay Ferguson, Stori Nix and Millie Tanner taught sessions in both large and smaller group settings (though both still in one room). Topics included:  Finding Rest While in Ministry, The Purpose of the Church, The Role of a Pastor’s Wife, Integrity and The Priority of Studying the Word.

The men and women in attendance responded very enthusiastically to the teaching, and it appeared that they were excited to identify with the teachers’ stories and struggles. It was clear that so many of the joys and challenges of ministry are universally the same.

Vicki teachingWith the help of some incredible translators and the staff at Grace Community this conference was a blessing to everyone who attended.

What about the children?

Ellen:Grace on bus

Many are home on break with families getting prepared to go back to school soon. However, Jon And Stori Nix along with Chelsea Clark and Ellen Ferguson managed to find some children and take them on a safari!
Safari kids at SangaThey sang songs all the way up and most of them slept all the way back.

Safari Bus with Kids

It was an exciting trip filled with lots of exotic animals

Warthog Mud

and led by everyones favorite driver, Emmy D!

-Tanner

Eyes Opened

Our first full day in Mbarara was, as expected, very busy. The team split up for most of the morning so Doug, Jay, and Steve could all preach at different churches and spend time with pastors with whom they had built relationships in the states.

Doug was able to preach at his friend, Pastor Willie’s church first, and then at Pastor Emmy’s. He taught from John 3, leading up to verse 16. He talked about Nicodemus questioning Jesus and seeking answers about the faith and emphasized that we could come to Jesus as we are to accept his free gift of grace and salvation.

Doug at Pr. Willie's

At the end of his sermon at Pastor Willie’s church, a man came forward wanting to give his life to Christ. Mukama Asiimwe, Praise the Lord! He told us he was a scientist, and had known about God for a long time, but had never trusted Jesus and accepted the gift of salvation. He talked about how, as a scientist, he was able to understand cells to the molecular level, but was not able to identify how the wind blows (which was mentioned in the passage in John 3). He was in awe of the Lord, and his eyes were opened.

Salvation

Something our team noted was that Pastor Willie immediately pointed to a man and told him to get the scientist’s contact information so they could follow up. We discussed how sometimes we want to get people to the point of salvation, but do not always continue to pursue and encourage them.

After Doug again preached on John 3 at Pastor Emmy’s church, we got to celebrate several more salvations that had taken place this week and this morning. This included two muslims, who had made a very brave choice, and were already experiencing difficulty, as one had lost his job because of his conversion. It was a joyous morning of worship and celebration!

Our team reconvened after church and headed to tour Katyazo with Pastor Charles who showed us new dormitories and classrooms being built for the primary school, and the existing buildings of the secondary school. We marveled at the beauty of the construction, and, of course, the view. This was incredible as the last time several of us were here was five years ago. At that time, we mostly knew Katyazo as “The New Land”. There were no school buildings, just pastures of cows, banana trees, and freshly dug (not yet filled) ponds. The ponds have since been filled to make room for even more expansion and the school is complete and fully functional.

 

Katyazo Tour

We of course had to make a stop at the Omwana House, where, though it was nap time, some of our team got to snuggle with some babies who were waking up.

John with baby

Though the day was full, we could want nothing less. Tomorrow will begin a Pastor and Spouse conference that is anticipating 300 couples!

Praise the Lord for what he has done, is doing, and will continue to do.

-Team 58