At 37,000 feet, the air is thin, but my thoughts are clear as we sail through the air aboard American Airlines flight 105, London, Heathrow to New York, JFK headed for home!
I just woke from a nap feeling strongly compelled to write about our last days in Uganda, the Pearl of Africa. Though there is now some space between those days and today, the events that took place are forever crystallized in my mind.
Sunday, June 6th, 2010, God gave my daughter and I the privilege to go and minister at the UN Refugee Camps in SW Uganda. The morning came early as I had only had two hours of sleep before this long day of travel and preaching. I wanted to sleep but I had my wife and children heavy on my mind and was having a difficult time trying to get a hold of them. Many worked hard at trying to help us connect for which I want to say thank you. The truth is I was desperate to get in touch with my wife because I was homesick and just wanted to chat, which after several hours I was thankfully able to do. I was also working hard on posting my last blog post, #15, which I finished very early in the morning. Lastly, I was restless about going to preach to 3 different groups of refugees from Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, and Somalia. What should I preach on? What do I say to a group of people who have been forced to flee from their own countries to find refuge from the torture, murder, rape, and starvation that many of them faced. What do I, the rich (all of us are by world standards) American white guy have to offer? The answer that God gave me was NOTHING! Craig Houston has NOTHING to offer of myself, there will be no gimmicks that will sell people on Jesus that I could bring from our “beloved” system of Christianity. The only thing that I could bring to the people who lived in these camps that would have any RELEVANCE was the precious Word of God! (Might I give a little reminder to those in the States, this is the only thing that really has any RELEVANCE for us as well and we would do well to get back to the Word of God and cast off all of our programatic gimmick that we think will solve the problems of the church.) Where was I? Nothing but the Word of God!
After having the answer from the Lord, I rested my weary head on my pillow until the now familiar alarm clock of a gentle knock on the door from Mrs. Tracht letting me know it was time to get up. Considering I had no alarm this was a great help, not to mention she brought coffee. I woke up with that nervous feeling that I had overslept but thankfully it was just a thought due to the short rest. What do you do at 6:00 AM before a long day of preaching? Take a nice warm shower! Not this time, the water was freezing but it helped me not to linger.
Anna and I enjoyed a quick breakfast of hard boiled eggs, toast, and fruit and headed out the door as missionaries Jeff and Carla Bassett honked at the gate. I grabbed a final cup of coffee 🙂 (surprise) and headed out to begin our journey to the camps. The drive takes between 1.5 and 2 hours depending and it is very rough with no pavement, pot holes , washboards, washed out spots, big ruts and fast trucks. Lets just say it was an adventure riding with Brother Jeff who is a very excellent off road driver and has been trekking the roads of the Ivory Coast for twenty years and in East Africa for 5 years. The good news was that it was fairly dry which means the red clay roads were not like an ice rink. Anna and I enjoyed getting to know Jeff and Carla as they are very precious missionaries who have gone through many difficulties on the field with their yard being part of daily war zone in the Ivory Coast and yet they are still faithfully loving and reaching the souls of Africa. After seeking a place to move due to the war in the Ivory Coast, the Bassett’s who are fluent in French (which is the language of several African nations including Rwanda and the Congo) landed in Mbarara to work with the refugees. May I say God is using them to do a mighty work for the Lord.
We entered the Refugee Camp area which was much different than I thought it would be, but it was a good different, at least in this Ugandan Refugee Camp. I had envisioned a large open field with a tent city including row after row of tents, but instead there was a vast area of several thousand acres given by the Ugandan Government for 50 years to be used by the UN for the Refugees.
The refugees, upon arrival, are given a blue tarp and some poles to start upon arrival in the camp along with a piece of land to put it on. When set up, the best way I can describe how they look, is like a covered wagon, only blue. After several weeks, if they stay, they will begin to build a small, one room hut/house, with tree branches for poles, and mud to fill in between…and for the roof? You guessed it! A blue tarp.
By 8:30AM we arrived at our first preaching point, which is the newest one of four. We pulled up to a small group meeting under a tarp on polls, sitting on wooden benches and singing praises to Jesus. I was instructed before hand that the way it works, due to time, is that we arrive with the service already in progress, and I basically will stand up to preach and then we will have to leave. Those of you reading this blog probably know that for me, this was torture as I am all about spending time with people seeking to minister to them in any way that I can.
Within minutes I was asked to stand and preach to this small band of believers and guests. I have preached to thousands before and have never felt so overwhelmed with love for the people, and humbled by the privilege to open the Word to these precious souls. I took my text from Titus 2:11-15 and preached on the power of the Grace of God. As I began to preach, the Lord smote me in a way I have never been before and I began to weep uncontrollably. God spoke to me in that moment and it wasn’t about the impoverished condition of the people that I wept, though I do care greatly for their needs. I was overwhelmed by God’s Grace for all people in the World and how I have a very real responsibility to share his grace to the uttermost places of the World, including refugee camps. In that moment, God also reminded me that I too am a refugee and that this World in which I live is not my home. Each one of us as believers must remember this as we live our lives, or else we will waste them on that which is of no importance. God also in this moment, broke my heart for the people Africa. I finished the message and one man professed a desire to learn more about Christ. One of the men was then given the responsibility of sharing the gospel more fully with him. With no time to fellowship, saving a quick embrace of everyone present, we loaded the Land Cruiser and headed further into the camp for the next service.
This time, the believers were meeting in a small mud and wood building that was packed to overflowing with wonderful African worship emanating from inside. As we walked in, a group of young people were leading the worship in song, big smiles were on there faces, which again brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. They have nothing as far as the World is concerned and yet it appeared they had everything important, and indeed they did! After a couple of songs, again I was up to preach. This time the Lord lead me to Psalm 19 which I had preached in the village of Kyahi just a week earlier. I was told later by the interpreter that the saints were greatly encouraged by the message of God’s revelation of Himself in His creation and His Word, the Bible. I reminded them that just as the sun faithfully rises every morning, like a bridegroom coming out of His chamber, one day the Son of God, Jesus Christ, will come as a bridegroom adorned for His bride and that we are to comfort each other with the promise of Christ’s return.
We were now headed to our last meeting location in the refugee camp which was located very near the UN headquarters. This area included the largest refugee housing area as well as the largest population base. On the way to this church, we passed the UN Headquarters, a brand new Mosque, a market, and many people, finally arriving at a nice church building that was filled with people. This was Jeff and Carla Bassett’s first work in the refugee camps and was quite obviously the most spiritually mature group of people. Please don’t misunderstand me, it is not because they have a building, but rather because they have more mature Christians. The music was fantastic in this church with the congregation lifting the roof off the building with their voices of praise and thanksgiving. This church family had a large representation of different African Nations, and yet all of them had much in common. First, they had all suffered much loss and persecution, they had witnessed loved ones being slaughtered before their eyes, many of the women had been raped by bands of soldiers, and many do not even know if their loved ones are still alive. But it is not only suffering that they have in common, for they were gathered today at the church to celebrate the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ loves them, has redeemed them and given them a new and better country that is never to be taken away as they will abide in the presence of the Lord forever.
How my heart was totally overwhelmed to preach the Word of God to this body of believers in the midst of much difficulty with such JOY OF THE LORD! The Holy Spirit lead me to the book of Titus again and I preached on the Power of the Grace of God from chapter 2:11-15. The message was interpreted into two different languages so all present could understand what was being proclaimed. It was absolutely amazing to see the response of these believers as I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that the Spirit of God was bearing witness between preacher and people. Tears of joy flowed from both the congregation and the preacher as we rejoiced in the goodness of the grace of God upon our lives as Christians, and the lives of all who would believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
To conclude the service, the church sang again the of the wonderful words of life. The amazing service ended with prayer followed by some sweet fellowship.
Brother Djuna and his lovely wife then hosted us for a wonderful lunch at the church before our long trek back to Mbarara. I had been told before that Djunas’ wife made the best beans around and I was given a first hand opportunity to test this claim. We had an amazing lunch and the beans cooked Congolese style were amazing. Pray for Djuna, his wife, and family as they are being trained up to pastor either in the refugee camp or back in the Congo.
After a few hours of travel and a bumpy nap, we arrived safely back in Mbarara for our last evening with the Tract Family. We had a wonderful meal of beef cooked on the BBQ , a delicious chicken dish cooked by Annette (pastor Robert’s wife) and many side dishes. It was a sweet time spent together with wonderful friends who are growing more and more like family all the time. After dinner, Anna and I spent a few hours packing and weighing our bags before our long journey back to Kampala on Monday morning. The trip went well and we continued the new tradition of breaking down in the middle of nowhere traveling between Mbarara and Kampala. The repair did not take more than two hours and we were back on the road. One positive was that I was able to get some great pictures of some amazing Impala. (Not the Chevrolet Kind but the real ones, sorry Lucas:))
We made it to Kampala, taking a nice detour through the city due to a huge traffic jam as we entered town, and the blessing of it all, is that we did not get lost! Tom, Cheryl, Rebekah, Anna-Renee, and I all went to dinner at a nice Italian Restaurant for dinner, including Italian Ice Cream, and then headed for the hotel.
Tuesday morning arrived and we all had a relaxing morning at the hotel, having a delicious breakfast, and sweet time of fellowship while we waited for the vehicle to be returned by the mechanic. This morning was mixed with emotions both of deep excitement and sadness. The excitement is easy to explain as we were beginning the long journey home to see my beloved wife of almost 16 years and the 9 blessed children that were not with me. The sadness is harder to explain because I didn’t want to leave Africa, the Trachts, the other missionaries, or the African brothers and sisters in Christ whom I now felt very much at home with. I will miss each one and will look forward to the time hopefully in the near future when we can again be together to share in the work of the ministry and the Word of God.
We arrived on time at Entebbe International Airport and made our way into the terminal where we had to say our goodbyes embracing many times with the beloved Tracht Family that was there, and gave a final wave when we were checking in and knew the flight was not canceled. I HATE GOODBYES!
We climbed aboard United Emirates Airlines flight 007 for our flight out of Africa to Dubai, and then a quick transfer to our next flight to London. I must say that in all of my international travel, Emirates Airline is hands down the best service I have ever experienced while traveling in coach. It was like being on business class on other airlines.
Well, I think I have written enough for now, and though it has been a little over two days since I started this post, everything is still very fresh on my heart and I still wanted to share what God had done. I hope you enjoy this e-book “o” I mean blog post!