Meanwhile, in Another Part of the World
By John Ashmen
The month of March has been a blur of distant airline terminals, littered city streets, and a whole lot of unfamiliar faces. I’ve been gone more than I’ve been home. That’s never fun, but it comes with the job.
But the lessons I learn on the road are particularly powerful. For this issue of Executive Session, I thought I would take a different course and share two special experiences from my March travels abroad—and the thoughts God impressed upon me.
There was no sign where the road and driveway intersected. The black steel gate was nondescript. The only thing to let visitors know they had arrived was a sloppily painted “Lot 19” on a column of red bricks.
I was between sessions at the Association of Urban Missions of Africa conference in Jinja, Uganda. My walking break took me outside of the compound where we were staying and down the road a quarter mile. Monkeys in the trees produced the only chatter I heard—until I got to Lot 19. I heard the sound of kids playing. Peering through the thicket, I saw a brick building with a dozen or more children playing outside. One of two adults present—obviously not locals—noticed my reconnaissance and motioned for me to enter.
It turns out that Lot 19 was an AIDs orphanage—one of several in the city. All of the children had lost their parents to the dreaded disease. Furthermore, all of the children who were milling around me were HIV-positive.
I was introduced by name to several. The kids were getting cookies for snack time. A red-shirted boy noticed that his friend in blue had one more cookie than he did and called it to the attention of an older girl. She said something in a language I didn’t understand and a helper appeared with an extra Nilla Wafer to even the rations. Cute kids, ordinary kids—none of whom will probably live beyond age 11.
One of the two men who had invited me in held a girl in his arms who appeared to be about kindergarten age. I asked him where they were from and why they were there. “Joe and I live in Indianapolis,” he said. “We come over twice a year and spend a week of vacation each time just to hold and hug these special kids.”
“But it’s hard,” he continued. “Each time we return we have to deal with the fact that some of the little ones who we had gotten close to have passed away.”
I left Lot 19 with a new appreciation for Matthew 19:14, and unspeakable respect for two Hoosiers who would pass up fishing trips and golfing holidays to go love parentless children who were like grass in the dry African wind. Their response to Matthew 25:40 was nothing short of amazing.
Following the conference and a City Mission World Association board meeting, we left Jinja in a dust-covered Land Rover and went further into the African bush. Deep-rutted, red-dirt roads took us past mud huts and curious locals. The last village lucky enough to make it onto the map was Gaba. From there the road got so rough we had to creep.
At dusk, we arrived at our destination: a ministry facility in the making on the shore of Lake Victoria. The three missionary couples—all in their 30s—who were building it were true pioneers, each with a full complement of uncommon skills.
Syd, originally from North Dakota, showed us the health center they were building. He explained that it was two hours in dry weather to the closest African doctor (and longer in the rainy season.)
I looked at the concrete and wood structure underway. It was a respectable start.
“There’s a lady between here and Gaba who treats the local when they’re sick,” Syd said, explaining that her methods were somewhere between basic first aid and witch doctoring. “The health center is desperately needed in this area.”
I asked what the estimated completion date was, and when the doctors would arrive.
“We don’t have any doctors committed to coming yet,” Syd explained. “But God will bring them by the time we’re done.”
Such frontier faith is truly remarkable. I pondered his perspective and prayed we would not lose that kind of faith in our North American missions.
The missionaries employ folks from the local fishing village of Nalamuli—you can see it on Google Earth, but it has no labels—to help build, clear brush, pump water, cook, clean, and so forth. Just before 2 p.m., the work came to a stop and workers started streaming back to the village. We asked what was going on and found out that a government team was doing AIDS testing in the village church. The results were ready to read in just eight minutes.
One of the young security guards stopped to explain why he was leaving his post in the middle of the day. “I am going to get tested,” Mulogo told his employer. “It will be eight minutes of dread, but I have to know if I have a life.”
What was it like, I wondered, to have all of your hopes and dreams hinge on eight minutes? And if the results were positive, how could there ever be hope again?
In John 10:10, Jesus said, “The thief comes with the sole intention of stealing and killing and destroying, but I came to bring them life, and far more life than before” (Phillips).
I left Nalamuli with a deep respect for these pioneer missionaries. I also left with a keen awareness of the evil one’s grip on the world—stealing and destroying lives. God is still speaking to me about how to represent abundant life to a person whose hopes have been dashed. I believe only His Holy Spirit can do such convincing.
* * *
I encourage every AGRM mission to consider some type of international involvement, whether it is a sister-mission relationship, supporting a former mission member serving in a foreign country, or having an intern from a place abroad. International involvement will not distract you from your mission task. It will give you a global perspective and a greater appreciation for how your work fits into God’s overall plan. You can learn more at the May AGRM Annual Convention in Orlando.
I’m still overseas, but yes, I have been looking at all of the comments on the CEO listserv regarding charging for certain services. It’s been coming in every few days like the squalls off the cost of Denmark.
Several of you have emailed me directly and asked if I was going to shut it down. As long as the conversations remain kind and courteous and there’s no ganging up we’ll “leave all of the switches on.” (Frankly, it’s a lot more civil than it was five years ago.)
AGRM people are very passionate about their ministries, and sometime passionate turns into protective. Indeed, we must protect our core values, but we must also process new ideas. We are thankful not only for the members who hold us to our tenets, but also for those who suggest bold new concepts. Not all of them work, but as time goes on, we are all thankful for the ones that do.
I’ve noticed that there is still some misinformation underlying many of the comments. Compounded misinformation produces a pile of waste that clogs the system and affects the senses. My suggestion is to ask questions rather than make statements if you don’t fully understand what’s being discussed. And above all, please be guided by the principle of 1 Corinthians 14:40: “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (NIV).
One last reminder: AGRM’s 2012 Annual Convention is not even two months away, but there’s plenty of time to register yourself and your staff (if you haven’t already). For details, look for another brochure in a 9- by 12-inch envelope coming in your mail next week.