David J. Robbins
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Jesus is with his people. Our faith and our evangelism depend entirely upon his presence. The church that Jesus said he would build would utterly fall and the Great Commission fail if he left us to struggle on alone.
His ascension does not mean that he is absent: by his Spirit, in all his power and glory, the Lord himself is with us and in us and for us. And if God is for us, can anyone be against us? “Behold,” Jesus says. By faith, he calls his church to see and to observe, not only that he is risen, but that he is with us. And if he is with us, his Word and Spirit should be evidently at work in us.
What a gracious thing it is to perceive Jesus in and with his church in Karamoja, Uganda!
Much has changed in the twenty years that the OPC has labored in Karamoja. We are all so thankful that cattle raiding has mostly stopped for now and that there is peace in the region. It is rare to hear gunshots these days. Yet while battles between the various tribes and clans are not common anymore, our great adversary, the devil, remains violently opposed to the reign of our King and still imprisons many in witchcraft, animistic sacrifice, and chronic sin. We are at war; yet Jesus is with his church, and his power is infinitely greater.
There have been times when the enemy seemed to be working especially hard. About two years ago, we introduced the community to a tract explaining that because Christ came and sacrificed his life for us, we must trust in him and leave behind the sacrifices of the culture that do not please God. This provoked a reaction. A church member even heard some men discussing under the tree a plot to curse the mission for this teaching. But the Lord confused their plans: none of them were willing to sacrifice the cow that was needed for the curse. We thank God for that. There have been other times when church members resisted intense pressure from unbelieving family to practice witchcraft; or were able to persuade others not to offer a sacrifice; or prayed, sometimes all night, and the power of witchcraft or apparent demonic activity was frustrated. God’s people here have real faith because they know that their Jesus is really with them.
A common saying here is eyai Akuj, “God is there.” This is what you say when a person is sick or has some problem at home. Sickness, sometimes severe and debilitating, is very common in Karamoja. Death is familiar. I have lost track of how many funerals I have been a part of these past four years. God is there, it is certainly true, but only his people know the sweetness and the power of the truth that Jesus is not just there, but also with us.
This past year a dear sister badly broke her foot, but that did not stop her from coming to worship every week—dragging her cast through the thick mud that spanned the half-mile between her home and the church. Her testimony of love for Christ in her trouble is amazing proof that Jesus is with us, always. Another brother who has often been very sick continues to humbly trust the Lord. Others who have been assaulted by neighbors or have had their crops devastated by careless shepherds have forgiven for Jesus’s sake. And as they do, many take comfort not in platitudes but in the Word of God.
This is especially encouraging because outward trials and inward temptations often go together. If you owe money that you must urgently repay, or if you don’t know what you will feed your children tomorrow, or if your neighbors are harassing you, then anxieties begin to mount and temporary escape through alcohol can be very appealing.
Drunkenness is a rampant and “acceptable” sin here. For a person to admit to drunkenness and accept the shame of it requires special, unusual grace, especially in this culture. So it amazed me when a brother who I knew was struggling with this sin finally admitted it in front of several other men and promised to leave alcohol entirely. In another situation, a brother whose life was in total bondage to alcohol came to his senses, grieving and repentant. Before the church, he confessed his sin and his determination to follow Christ.
Not every story is so heartening. Some members of the local church are under discipline for grievous sin. Two were recently excommunicated. Yet there is evidence that God’s people here and around the village of Nakaale are growing in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness. Their trials are great, but they love the Word of God, and their path is growing brighter and brighter in Jesus, because he is with us.
Such assurance! I am with you. We need not fear: our Savior is present, even to the end of the age. Our brothers and sisters here have growing confidence in his promise and growing obedience to his command to go and make disciples.
Last year, some mature young men in our local congregation began hosting conferences for area youth. They have done most of the speaking and are growing in their ability to open the Word of God with clarity and conviction. Lochap Emmanuel, who graduated from the mission’s Timothy Discipleship program, recently exhorted in public worship. Others have been instrumental in leading public worship and exhorting in the nearby village of Nakasien, where last year ten children were baptized. We rejoice that the Lord is raising up such men to lead his church! Please pray for their protection and growth in Christ. (Reaching and discipling the young women around Nakaale has been more difficult, but even in this, we see Jesus beginning to work. Please pray for this.)
More and more doors for the gospel are opening, and now it is the Karimojong who are becoming missionaries. Four times so far, young men in the church have gone to a group of villages up the mountain to evangelize. Every time, the reception has been truly amazing. Other villages closer to us are also opening up, and our little band of evangelists is thrilled. One place is even requesting worship services. Other church members are gathering their neighbors to read the Bible, going to funerals to share the comfort of the gospel, or helping one another when there is a need. There is a cost to all of these things, but Christ is worthy, and he is with us. We do not need to be afraid.
Jesus is with his church. He is the joy and the strength of his people everywhere, and for all time. May he be seen in his church in Karamoja. Pray for us.
The author is an OP missionary in Nakaale, Karamoja, Uganda. Although the missionaries in Uganda are now coping with government lockdowns and other restrictions due to COVID-19, this piece was written in early 2020 and does not reflect these new difficulties. New Horizons, July 2020.