I went to Uganda with two objectives. First, to engage and learn from the people there. I wanted to meet them, be exposed to their culture, and generally expand my knowledge of people who are far away and very different from me. Additionally, if God were to call my family to teach or pastor in the majority world, we are committed to saying “yes.” But we – especially I; my wife spent a summer in Guatemala in her 20’s – really have very limited knowledge or experience with which to know what we’d be saying “yes” to. So, my second objective was to increase that knowledge and experience. What would it be like to be a pastor or seminary professor in Uganda or a place like it?
I feel these goals were met, at least on a limited basis. I did meet lots of wonderful people, learn about the place, and experience the culture. And I definitely have a much better sense of what we’d be getting ourselves into if God were to send us there when I graduate from seminary. As an important aside, I don’t feel called in that direction at all. If anything, my time in Uganda pushed me closer to accepting the idea that God might be calling us to pastoral ministry here in the States. I think my role could be to help people in this culture to question their assumptions about who God is, who they are, and about the Kingdom of God.
What I didn’t really count on when I left for Uganda was that I would come home with some deeply-probing new questions. Of course, I looked for the theological implications attached to and underpinning my experiences while preparing and while I was in-country, but I wasn’t really expecting my theological reflections to fall into totally different categories than the questions that were pressing on me as I was preparing to go. I guess I should have expected that, but I didn’t. What can I say, I’m a bit slow.
Instead, when I got home, I found I was spending a lot of mental cycles on three specific questions. Having devoted a few weeks of thought and prayer to them, I’d like to share my current thoughts. They will no doubt continue to evolve, but here’s where God’s got my head and my heart at the moment…
1. What is success?
God’s definition and the world’s definition of “success” don’t exactly align. Let’s talk about terms like success, development, and contentment. and how they really apply to our lives and to the experiences I had in Uganda. And let’s analyze some practical, real-world situations to test our theories.
2. How does Matthew 25:31ff relate to my trip to Uganda?
Jesus once told a story about two groups of people – those who go out of their way to care for others, and those who do not. He calls them “sheep and goats,” respectively, and is explicit about the Shepherd’s separating the two groups – one to “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34), and the other to be sent away “cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (v41). So, Jesus is deadly serious (as usual), and makes it clear that the stakes are high (as usual). And how, in this story, does the Good Shepherd distinguish between the sheep and the goats, between those who will inherit life and those who will be eternally punished? And how does this story relate to my trip to Uganda?
3. What can the Western Church do for Ugandan?
Many people think of Christianity as a European religion. But that’s simply not the case. Many people also think of countries like the USA as brimming with abundance, needing to give, give, give, and countries like Uganda as impoverished and sorely lacking. Consequently, many in the West (with stellar motives!) feel they need to rush to the aid of the rest of the world. But I’m not sure it’s really that simple. I think we might need a new map of the world.
If you actually followed each of these links, then we’ve covered a lot of ground. Thanks for sticking with me.
I sincerely hope you haven’t read all this thinking that I’m in any way anti-American or anti-Church or trying to be overly critical of the West. That’s not my goal; nor do I feel those kinds of things. But I do think that we need some perspective, and many of us (myself included) need to be jarred out of our tidy, snug comfort zones from time to time. It’s so easy, in all our luxury and peace and (false?) sense of security, to cruise through life on autopilot or to draw a sense of comfort or superiority from exactly the wrong things. But it isn’t our expressways or healthcare or paychecks or technology or creature comforts that make one successful or secure or that really means much of anything in the final analysis. Ultimately, it’s our obedience to God, and our worship of God, and our love for God and people that matters. It’s not what we possess, but Who possesses us. And we need to think through the implications of these truths, which is what I’ve tried to at least begin doing here.
God used my trip to Uganda to teach me about Himself and about others who are different from me, but I’m still learning. I have a long way to go. Thank you for sharing the journey with me. I can’t wait to see what new experiences and lessons await on the next leg of it.
In the meantime, may God bless us all as we travel.