Here is Gulu, Uganda we are moving into the dry season when the skies are clear, the giant bugs are out, and the temperature creeps into the high 80’s (F). Despite the scorching heat, we have much to be thankful for.
There was a lot of movement at club this month. We now have local volunteers stationed in each bible club. We have 48 students enrolled in the program and 2 more plan to come aboard in December. The pastors taught club last week and got to use Play-doh as their demonstration, which was a fun first for them!
Each leader is getting to personally know a small-group of children. Sandra and I usually end up with the P6 and P7 students (There are 7 grades in primary school). Our conversations have been able to grow as the kids slowly let loose from their shy ways, but sometimes we bribe them with cookies. Whatever works, right?
Our sermon series is still on identity. Part one was Who is God and part two is Who We Are. For the past few weeks we’ve looked at God’s characteristics and learned that we inherit his attributes. Sure, maybe God has two hands and feet too. Maybe he is white, maybe he is brown, maybe he is purple. But what if being made in his image isn’t necessarily talking about the physical image, but the spiritual?
To demonstrate the theory I pulled out a mirror. Each kid saw their reflection, most of them don’t own mirrors so it was a fun activity. As they looked in the mirror we talked about inheriting physical attributes from our parents and maybe we’ve inherited those from God, it’s totally possible.
But then we talked about inheriting characteristics or habits from our parents. Maybe someone is stubborn like their Dad, maybe someone likes sweeter tea like their mom, maybe someone sings in the shower like both parents! Whatever the characteristics are, sometimes we get them from our parents.
From God we inherit his spiritual qualities: Love, joy, peace, patient, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. So then I pulled out my flashlight and shined it on the mirror.
“The flashlight doesn’t reflect a physical appearance like the way our faces do. The mirror reflects the light … It’s the same way we reflect the light of God. Sure, maybe God has two hands and feet. Maybe we look like him physically. But maybe being made in his image is more about the spirit. Maybe looking like God is more about reflecting his light, reflecting his love. Remember the fruits of the spirit? We reflect love, joy, peace, etc … Those are the spiritual characteristics that we inherit from God.”
Sometimes I have no idea what the children have been taught. I trust these pastors, I’ve spent three (almost four) months with them in ministry. I’ve listened to them preach, we’ve counseled together, we’ve worked and shared life together. I know they’ve done their best to teach the children the truth but sometimes I gather that the kids go home and their villages are totally off the beaten path of truth.
Sometimes the lessons we teach appear to be foreign concepts to these kids. Sometimes we have to go over one idea as many as 5 times before the kids catch up. I worry a bit about what home has taught them, and what home will continue to teach them.
For example, we were talking about forgiveness. This is how most conversations went in mine and Sandra’s small group with the most advanced students, keep in mind;
Sandra and I: “Does Jesus love sinners?”
The P6 and P7 students: “Yes.”
Us: “Does he forgive them?”
Us: (We always put their Sunday school answers to the test) “Does Jesus love liars?”
Us: “Does Jesus love thieves?”
Us: “Does he love alcoholics?”
Students: (They begin to appear a bit pressed in their conscience, hesitant) “Yes…”
Us: “Does he love witchdoctors?”
Us: “Wait, does Jesus love sinners?”
Us: “So, if Jesus loves sinners … Does he love witchdoctors?”
Students: (A bit puzzled, double thinking the equation) “Yes.”
Us: “Okay. Does he love prostitutes?”
Us: “Wait, does Jesus love sinners?”
Us: “So, if Jesus loves sinners, does he love prostitutes?”
Us: “Ok. Well. Does Jesus love you?”
Us: “Are you sinners?”
Us: “Me and Sandra are sinners. We make mistakes. Sometimes we get angry, sometimes we say something mean. We are sinners. Does Jesus love us?”
Students: (Although they didn’t see their teachers as sinners they responded) “Yes.”
As you can see, we’re having some fundamental problems. We don’t believe the confusion is stemming from the church but instead from the villages. Villages polluted by gossip, judgment, and their own standards for who is a sinner and who can be forgiven.
It was astonishing. We would go through these scenarios over and over again and find that some of these students have been taught that some sinners cannot be loved or forgiven by Jesus or mankind. The majority of students didn’t see themselves as sinners and hardly believed me and Sandra when we claimed we are.
The following week we went back with the same scenarios and not much had improved for some of the groups, where as others were finally catching on. If God loves, we love. If God forgives, we forgive. We inherit and reflect those spiritual attributes of God. The mirror may reflect the flashlight’s rays but we reflect God’s.
This month we’ve been able to bring spiritual warfare across cultural issues like the mentalities displayed above. We’ve especially been able to shine light into issues that attack our female students.
We have an 18 year old student with a new born baby. Her village had been gossiping about the family so much that the girl’s mother tried to remove her from the program first directly then again secretively in hope that we would chose her son instead. The home was attacked with shame from the young, unmarried pregnancy.
We had a 14-year-old girl run away from home. She had gotten in trouble and punished, and decided to run. (When you get spanked as a kid, who DOESN’T plot their imaginary pack-up and run before you realize dinner is 3 hours away and you’d grow hungry and bored?) Anyway, the girl had gotten married to a man twice her age with a first wife and child in a village 45 minutes away from town by car.
This month with the help of Sandra, the pastors, and cooperation from the students and guardians involved we were able to come in peace to each home. We were able to share about God’s inherited qualities of love and forgiveness. We were able to counsel both homes, pray over their spiritual needs, and encourage them to walk in a new light.
For the 18-year-old with a baby, she is now coming to club. She is supported by her mother and her mother is no longer scared of what her neighbors have to say about their family.
For the run-away bride, yesterday she went home with mom.
In each visit the families ended up in hugs and tears which is a distant concept for village Africans. Affection is hardly shown, and almost never in touch.
So this month we thank God. We thank God for providing awesome pastors and volunteers to carry Childero throughout Gulu. We thank God for teaching the students about inheriting his image and how we can reflect his qualities. We thank God for redeeming the families and for protecting our students. In general, we thank God because he is awesome.