My "Ebenezer Moment" in Uganda
Philip T. Proctor
The prophet Samuel named a memorial stone Ebenezer ("stone of help"), saying, "Till now the Lord has helped us" (1 Sam. 7:12). Recently I had an "Ebenezer moment" when a visitor returned after five years to see the work of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Mbale. Through his eyes, I was reminded of the great things that God has done in Mbale, and I was encouraged not only to give praise to the Lord of the harvest for what he has done, but also to focus on the path ahead and what he will do.
Since 2004, we have been able to purchase a piece of property, fence it, and build an access road, a library, a classroom, and a dormitory for Knox Theological College (KTC). The Mbale Station of the Uganda Mission has grown to include three ministers and a deacon. KTC now has its own facility and attracts students from Kenya as well as Uganda. These tangible blessings are reminders of God's kindness over the years, but they only facilitate our ministry. We train indigenous church leaders, with the goal of seeing Christ Jesus build up a Ugandan church that is nurturing disciples, proclaiming his glory, and faithfully shepherding Christ's bride (while continuing to train the faithful shepherds).
We have seen the Lord provide the physical facilities for KTC, teammates who have been an answer to many prayers, and the ordinations of the first two men we have been blessed to train. The Rev. Dr. Brian Wingard has provided wisdom, experience, and a wonderful camaraderie as he has done much of the teaching at KTC. His sweet wife, Dorothy, has poured herself into women's Bible studies in three of our village congregations and has borne much fruit for Christ, becoming involved in the lives of the women there.
The Rev. Thomas Mayville, from the Reformed Church in the United States, arrived on the field just prior to my leaving on furloughgetting thrown in the deep end, as it wereand not only took up the teaching load at KTC, but also expanded its ministry to include brethren from the Free Reformed Church of Kenya. His wonderful helpmeet, Carolyn, opens her home to the students from Kenya, as well as to the expatriate community, for times of prayer, Bible study, and fellowship on Sunday evening and lends her wonderful organizational talents to our monthly mission meetings.
Andrew Dickson, from the Reformed Churches in New Zealand, arrived in September, and has been a wonderful answer to our prayers for a deacon. He has continued to develop the college property, helped other missionaries, and organized diaconal assistance for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Uganda (OPCU). He seeks to promote the future self-sustainability of the church here. Andrew is also working with me on our next phase of the ministry (but more on that later).
What a catalogue of answers to the prayers of so many faithful brothers and sisters in the OPC over the past five years! What a testimony to the giving of individuals and congregations to KTC, both in money to fund construction and in short-term teams to help lay foundations and construct those buildings! What a testimony to the sacrifices of OP ministers and of their congregations who have sent them, in helping to carry the burden of teaching classes for me for a time, so that I could focus on maintaining the village ministry. "Till now the Lord has helped us" sums it up perfectly.
However, we are not ready to sit down and relax. Rather, the reminder of God's help in the past points us forward to future blessings. God has brought the ministry in Mbale a long way, and we are eager to see him take it further still.
Ministering to Congregations
With Brian Wingard and Thomas Mayville carrying the bulk of the course load at KTC, we are now ready to take on a challenge that will be every bit as daunting as the challenges in our prior years of ministry. KTC provides us with a wonderful opportunity for intense discipleship and the training of future ministers, but we have been engaging the lay leaders and members of the congregations only peripherally. Our first priority has been, and will remain, the training of undershepherds for Christ's flock. But now that we have the personnel, we can engage in leadership training and congregational development in a more focused manner.
I recently read Simple Church, by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger. The book reminds us that when we try to do everything in our ministries, we end up doing nothing. The churches in Uganda have the same distractions as churches in the States, except that they are manifested differently. The "ideal" Ugandan church has a nice brick building, a pastor who has enough income to take care of the widows and orphans in his congregation and who is a community leader, a clinic, an orphanage, a schoolthe list goes on. There is nothing wrong with any of these things, but together they can obscure what the church is called to do: make disciples.
Andrew and I are focusing on one congregation each month, spending significant time throughout the week with the church leadership, and seeking to foster a unity of purpose and vision in that congregation. It is exciting to see the minister, ruling elders, and deacons not only grasping that single purpose of discipleship, but also contributing to a coherent vision of how discipleship can be worked out with unity for worship, Sunday school, Bible studies, diaconal serviceall the various ministries in which the church chooses to engage.
For example, the leaders of the congregation of Mazi Masa have been distracted in their ministries. The deacons have been telling the ruling elders to evangelize and to visit congregants, the ruling elders have been telling the deacons to take care of the needy, both groups have been failing to focus on their own area of ministry, and the minister has been preaching a series of disconnected topical sermons. Some of the leaders think the most important thing the church can do is to take care of the needy; others want to see the bulk of the funds going towards putting up a permanent brick building. No one is coordinating the ministryeveryone is focused on what he thinks is importantand so the congregation is not growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ.
As a result of our visits, the church leadership has decided to focus on the fruit of the Spirit as a unifying theme. They have decided to begin with love, and the minister is going to preach a series through 1 John. The Sunday school class will be exploring the theme, and after each service the deacons will announce a project for the weeka way in which the members of the congregation can show love to one another and to those outside the church. This may mean digging in the garden of an infirm widow or taking a literal cup of cold water in Jesus' name to mothers who are waiting in the hot sun at the nearby clinic for their children to be seen. As we gather together in prayer and seek creative ways in which we can grow and demonstrate the love of Christ, the passion for the ministry grows in each of us!
Ebenezer. Thus far the Lord has brought us. But we are not yet home. Pray for the brothers and sisters in the OPCU, as well as for the missionaries here in Mbale, as we encourage one another to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!
The author is an OP missionary to Uganda. Reprinted from New Horizons, May 2009.