Ten Things I Learnt from a Week in Uganda

On Sunday I arrived back into the UK after a week at Uganda Martyrs Seminary (UMS), Uganda, where I had gone with a team of 10 others from Oak Hill College to help run a preaching conference on Mark’s Gospel for 80+ Ugandan trainee ministers. It was a fantastic time – here are ten things that I learnt:

1. The Ugandan church is booming

Everywhere we looked as we drove through and around Kampala, there was another church. This is not a country where the church is sidelined or marginalised – here, the church is in the grit and grain of everyday life, for the vast majority of the population. The church where I was preaching on the Sunday morning (St Thomas’), was in walking distance of many others, and yet it still pulled in hundreds of locals. Praise God for the growth of His church in Africa, and in Uganda specifically. However, there are some big issues…

2. There is a desperate need for basic Bible-handling skills to be taught

This is why we were there, and why Oak Hill run these conferences twice a year. Though there are thousands of churches across the country, there are relatively few which week-in, week-out, faithfully preach from the Bible. For many, it’s not because of lack of desire – they just don’t have the resources to train. It’s not uncommon for men & women to be leading over 10 parishes within a diocese without having had any formal training. This is why the work that UMS do is so important: training future ministers in doctrine, church history and apologetics, amongst other things. It’s also why these Oak Hill conferences play such an important role – equipping these men & women in how to find God’s main point in a passage, how to read a passage rightly in it’s context, and how to then apply that main point to their congregations.

3. False teaching is a major problem

Another of the big issues – I was struck over the week how much the ‘gospel’ of health, wealth and prosperity has infected the church in Uganda. There were numerous churches which carried banners outside declaring the promise of victory over sickness or an answer to money worries through faith in Jesus. Even within the walls of UMS, you can see how this gospel of health & wealth can easily seep in – I had a 90 minute conversation with one guy about the main point of Mark 2 and the reason why Jesus heals. But this is why the work of seminaries such as UMS is so important – they are equipping a generation of gospel ministers to be ready to take a stand against false-teaching. (Shai Linne’s song, ‘Fal$e Teacher$‘ speaks right into this problem…)

4. Preaching after 3 hours sleep is…exciting (?)

It’s an experience, that’s for sure. Arriving at UMS at 1.30am, waking up at 5.15am, in the pulpit beginning to preach at 7.30am. What a privilege to share fellowship with brothers and sisters thousands of miles from home though – and a reminder to me that though I get weak and frail and tired, He is always strong and enduring, and His word never fails.

5. Playing football against Ugandans in their own backyard and still beating them is immensely satisfying

Against all odds, we won. 2-1. 90 minutes in 30+ deg heat. The seminary students were giving it large before hand, completely confident they’d breeze past the pasty white guys from London – and we beat them! Wonderful.

6. Ugandans think you’re crazy if you choose to sit in the sun

I haven’t been in a hot country since my honeymoon – I was loving the heat and the chance to get some colour. Ugandans, though, think this is ridiculous. The funniest moment of the week was during the personal study time in the afternoons, when 80 Ugandan students sat under the shade of trees scattered around the site, but Pete Bentley-Taylor and I moved our chairs right into the middle of the sunshine. They couldn’t quite understand why we’d want to do that, but they soon got on board, and for the rest of the week my study group would set their chairs out in the shade, with my chair alone enjoying the rays!

7. Chris & Ros Howles are heroes for the gospel

They wouldn’t want me saying this, but they really are. They’ve been out serving at UMS since 2011, after having graduated from Oak Hill, as partners with Cross Links. Chris’ job consists of so many different things, but primarily he’s a lecturer and mentor for the students at the Seminary, and he’s wonderfully helped by his wife Ros (a trained doctor). They have 3 kids – Josh, Danny & Chloe – and the five of them are an absolute joy to be around. Their enthusiasm for ministry in Uganda and their love for the people there is infectious, and they are an enormous asset to the work that’s going on. Pray for them, follow Chris on Twitter (@ChrisHowles), and keep up to date via their blog.

8. Matoke is surprisingly tasty

I’m not a massive banana fan, but 1. bananas fresh from a tree are incredible, and 2. matoke (which is a sort-of mashed up, savoury banana which tastes a bit like sweet potato) is delicious. It sounds like it shouldn’t be that good, but it really is.

9. Bodas are lethal, but such good fun

On one evening, coming back from a restaurant, rather than risk walking in the dark down the main road, we took bodas. It’s the black cab of Uganda, but it’s nothing like a black cab. It’s a motorbike, without anything so unnecessary as safety features (no helmet, obviously). Just you, perched on the back of a bike that’s weaving erratically between giant trucks, pedestrians, and other bodas, trying to avoid the axel-shattering potholes. It’s dangerous – over 60% of A&E incidents at Kampala General Hospital are boda related – but immensely fun. Check out the video on Facebook. That being said, I was pleased to get back to UMS in one piece…

10. Nothing beats doing ministry, together

I’ve been at Oak Hill for 5 months now, and though I love studying doctrine, and I love learning about church history, and I love wrestling with complicated exegesis – nothing beats getting your hands dirty and ‘doing’ ministry. And more than that, nothing beats doing ministry together. To spend a week with guys that I’m studying with, not sitting around drinking coffee and having complicated discussions about apologetics (as important as that is sometimes) but teaching the Bible together was a real privilege. Sweating it out on the Equator with brothers and sisters from North London, preaching and teaching the gospel – it was absolutely brilliant. I’d do it all again, in a heartbeat.

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