Reflections on Kenya & Uganda: Gospel Messengers in Kampala

August 27, 2013

A long day of road travel, through construction traffic and a border crossing into Uganda, we arrived late and weary to the Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala. Pastor Moses Semanda awaited us there in the lobby; he was also weary after his return from Rwanda where his church group was completing a week-long mission trip. We agreed to call it a night and rejoin in the morning, when we would come to Gospel Messengers Church. I was scheduled to preach two services there.

Andrew our driver picked us up at at 8:30 after a rather rough start to our morning. I shall tell that story in a future post, but suffice to say I had some mental and spiritual hurdles to overcome. We wended our way through six kilometers of city streets and finally dirt roads to the church in the Makindye district of Kampala. [Early on a Sunday morning, this drive took us about 17 minutes. The next day, during the evening rush hour, it took 2 hours! We thought Nairobi traffic was bad…Kampala is gridlock.]

Gospel Messengers Church vibrated with music that had already started before our arrival. The early service began at 9 a.m. and there was almost a seamless segue into the second service, which commenced about 10:40.  The building itself is large, seating several hundred people. The side walls are open to the outside, making the sanctuary refreshingly airy and light. A large stage in front, a spacious balcony in back, a full band playing, and songs with which we were familiar were being sung in English. We felt completely at home, because the Spirit of God was there. The services were conducted in the Bantu language of Luganda and translated into English. We learned later that everyone in this part of Uganda speaks the tribal language from birth and fluently everywhere outside “official” settings like school, business, and government. But as soon as children start school, they learn to read and write in English and never actually have formal instruction in the tribal language. [Policies are changing, however, and soon children will be taught Luganda as well alongside English until they gain a basic literacy in their cultural heritage.] I stumbled into this awareness during the second service, when my translator Sarah (an attorney, therefore well-educated!) was not able to read the Scripture passage from the Luganda Bible. She said she would have stuttered and paused too often. The associate pastor, who was more at ease with the local language, read the text for us.

Anyway, the first service was more straightforward and I preached well.Mary Preaching at Gospel Messengers Church What a fabulous translator stood beside me and opened God’s Word in their language. My text was Mark 1:21-28, and the topic was overcoming spiritual resistance to Jesus. The people were attentive and responsive, for which I was grateful, and during the second hour in which maybe one third of the congregation were youths, I felt even more interaction. It was a good morning, during which we were treated to a full 30-minute concert by the Imani [Faith] Children’s ChoirThe Imani Children's Choir and witnessed the betrothal of a couple getting married in September. The wedding party was formally presented and a collection was taken up to pay for their wedding!The Bride and Her Party An MC with a roving mike went to the people who raised a willing hand and announced the amount of their contribution. This is the community’s way of showing support for marriage and for this couple, who receive the blessing of the pastor as they get engaged.

The second service was at least two hours long, and by the time we walked over to Mama Priscilla’s house for lunch, I was ready for a restful, quiet time! Mama Priscilla is the mother of fourteen children, the eldest of whom is Pastor Moses, and another is my former parishioner in the states, David Ssebulime. Translator Sarah, it turns out, is Priscilla’s daughter; and we were joined also by son Abraham, who had finished medical school (in Russia!) and was getting ready to start an internship in Uganda. Table talk was lively, highly informative (this is where we talked about the language issue), and heart-warming. Priscilla cooked our Kenyan favorites, and though she does not speak English she seemed to enjoy the company and filled in the blanks of family history when needed.

Her husband was the previous pastor of Gospel Messengers Church. When he died suddenly in 1981, his son Moses took over the pastorate. More on that connection tomorrow.

The day was only half over! After lunch, we returned to the sanctuary where maybe 75 youths gathered for a Q & A. The questions revolved around peer pressure, how one can be a faithful witness to their non-Christian friends, and secular music and why their elders won’t let them listen to it. [Sarah helped me out on that last one.] There were one or two Bible questions. All in all, we had a great time hashing out some of the issues that make being a Christian in this culture a challenge for young people. Afterwards, Pastor Moses took us to two homes, the Girls’ HomeGirls' Home, Makindye and the Boys’ Home where together about 60 orphans are lovingly cared for, encouraged in their schooling, and learning life skills. A student in each home gave us a tour, and we were impressed with the evident security, serenity, and responsibility these children exhibited. The need is so great, with so many children at risk in this AIDS/HIV decimated area, Pastor Moses and his wife Hopkins have up to 20 children around their table on any given night. Such a big heart they both have, and such an incredible opportunity. More on that tomorrow.

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