July 2009


a distant grief

Since I just returned from visiting Uganda, I finally felt motivated enough to pick up a book I’ve been wanting to read for the past year. It’s called ‘A Distant Grief’ and is an account by Kefa Sempangi about how Christians were killed and martyred during the reign of terror by Idi Amin in the 1970’s.

I have to admit I’d never read about the terror of Amin and the gruesome killings carried out on his behalf, though I’d been exposed to them Hollywood-style while watching ‘The Last King of Scotland’.  This book made me shudder.  And I came to agree with Sempangi that Amin’s vicious and brutal killings took on a demonic quality (Eph 6: 12) .

The trauma inflicted on Ugandan Christians was almost indescribable. Often Amin and his henchmen brutally tortured their victims, cutting off limbs or genitals, and then gloating over them as they bled to death in agony.  (And  it was sobering  for me to realize that many were killed in what was Makindye Prison, a collection of buildings located just several blocks away from the American club in Kampala where I have stayed on a few occasions.)  Amin’s brutality was frighteningly systematic and in 3 months, 90,000 Ugandans disappeared. Truly horrific stuff.

In the face of all of this, what was so convicting was that as Sempangi’s Redeemed Church of God, which he founded along with several friends, swelled to 14,000 strong, they no longer began to ask new converts “Do you believe in Jesus?”. Instead it became, “Are you ready to die for Jesus?”.  And this didn’t mean die euphemistically speaking. This meant : Are you ready to give up your life on this earth for Jesus, the way he gave up his earthly life for you?  Amazingly, over and over again, the answer was a resounding ‘yes’.  And yet this was not theoretical.  Some of those who declared this in the affirmative were subsequently and brutally killed for their faith.

Reading this made me think about my life here  in New York City.  Am I ready to die for Jesus?   Am I really ready to die for Jesus?  I hope I am, though I can’t say I have yet been fully tested.  And while it may not mean becoming a martyr literally for the sake of the gospel – though of course at some point it could – surely dying for Jesus at least means being roused from my safe,  comfortable , and relatively risk-free life  here.  And being ready to move out of that which is predictable and known to live instead with a quiet but ever trusting heart and open hands, while heeding God’s call.

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Please forgive the long hiatus from updating this blog, but I’ve been away from my laptop and largely unplugged.   In all honesty, the break has been quite blissful. 

For the last month, I’ve had the privilege of returning to Africa, the continent of my birth, where I re-connected with extended family members whom I’d not seen for 4 years and caught up with dear friends in East Africa (Uganda and S Sudan) whom I lived and worked with in 2006 & 2007.  It was truly a  sweet, sweet time and a taste of the joy that awaits us in heaven.

As I reflect back on my time away and think about what I learned about God during this trip, several key things jump to mind.  The first is God’s plans are not our plans, and because of this, he desires us to hold our plans loosely.  Weeks before I was to leave, some of my travel plans which had been set for 4 months were unexpectedly altered. I got stressed out, I panicked, and I began kicking and screaming (not literally but in my mind as I questioned how God  could dare do this to me ).  Finally with the counsel of kind, wise friends, I gained some perspective, and decided to move forward with my trip, even if parts of it weren’t going to happen as planned.  However, once it began, and I was now really trusting Him with all the  plans regardless of how things would work out, the rest of the trip fell into place. And it turned out that His altered plans weren’t so awful after all.  I ended up having a truly fantastic time.

A second thing God taught me on this trip was that He remains in control, He continues to move his kingdom forward and that He is able and actively doing that, whether I’m involved or not. (How easy it is for me to feel self important…)   Returning to rural Uganda, where I lived and worked for 2 years on an HIV prevention project with pregnant mothers, it was with a sense of completion and closure that I learned that this program has now been fully handed over to the Ministry of Health, 5 years after it’s inception.  As of the end of this month, there will be no mission involvement in it at all, financially, administratively, or otherwise.  The transition may not be seamless and there are bound to be some bumps in the road ahead, but a district-wide program testing pregnant mothers for HIV infection and providing meds to positive moms to reduce the risk of their babies being born infected now exists where it didn’t before and it’s being sustained. Praise God for his righteous right hand, in whom all things are held together!

The third key thing I learned about God during my trip was that God really does give us more than we can ask or imagine.  I went on this trip with few expectations but wanting a heart that was open to what God was doing and what he would show me – about Himself and about my own heart and life – and he more than met me in this.  I came away awed by his love, grateful for his generosity, basking in the richness of friendships and experiences he’s blessed me with, and with a renewed sense of his grace.

What a pity that He had to take me halfway around the world for my heart to get jazzed up by Him in these ways.  Oh that my everyday life in New York City would also be filled with such deep affection and appreciation for Him.