St Paul reminds the Corinthians that it is not always easy to remain faithful to our calling as ministers of the gospel: “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
Perhaps now more than ever, as a new virus sweeps the world, we feel weak, hard pressed and perplexed. Some of us are not used to this; we have expected life to be easy, things to go right. For others it comes as yet another burden to add to those we already have. But we know too that this a time of change is also a time of opportunity – a time to remember our own fragility, to consider afresh our calling. Many are asking questions about God; many are learning to serve in new ways; many are caring, praying, bearing witness to the hope that is in them.
Whenever we confront new circumstances, it is helpful to remind ourselves that God is at work in the most distressing and challenging of situations. And so we want to share a recent communication we have received from John Onyao of the Diocese of Karamoja, Uganda.
Last year John was asked by his bishop, Joseph Abura, to plant a new church in a remote rural area with little tradition of churchgoing. John tells us how this felt, what he did, and what is happening now:
One year ago, I left my home after being transferred from the mission office to serve on mission to Lopei. Somehow “going on mission” seems to feel different than serving right here in the office. I am reminded that missions take on a variety of different looks, but the character is the same—serving. There are big missions and little missions. There are missions that require our skills and expertise and missions that require only a smile and a kind word.
When John arrived in the village and announced that he had come to open a church, he found that there was opposition. A rumour went round that the new church was in fact led by people who were deriving occult power from water spirits; in other words that it was demonic. And when John took some villagers to attend a prayer conference, children ran in front of the car and nearly caused it to overturn as John swerved to avoid them – and then vanished.
But John persisted, and the new church held its first service just over a year ago. Using Rooted in Jesus, he began to teach them:
My main aim was to introduce fully the program of Rooted in Jesus to church. I have also used some lessons from Rooted in Jesus book one to engage some of the members in the church to share with us their past experiences in life. I normally take 10 minutes to share something from Rooted in Jesus Book before we start with prayers. I called this teaching ‘Biblical early morning tips’ where at least 10-15 members attend. This helped many to grow their faith.
But now of course John and the new church members face a new kind of difficulty. He writes:
Greetings to you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We believe He is the Almighty God and Father even today. We may sometimes feel lost in this world full of tragedy and fear, but we are encouraging each other to be strong in our faith and commitment to Him and to the people in need.
In Uganda we are suddenly in a time of crisis, just like in many other countries around the world. Meetings are not allowed, and intensified preventive health and hygiene measures have to be taken, people are locked up in their houses, including ‘social distancing’. For the churches this means that their services are held at home if possible with a limited number of people to be able to ‘gather’ on Sundays. I know that this crisis will have a huge impact on our members and churches. Because even in the darkest days we experience His love. This gives us the power to rise up and to continue, as followers of Jesus Christ.
The one thing that connects us is prayer. We all believe in a God who is all powerful and we pray for His guidance and His mercy for His church and for the people we serve. Nevertheless, He calls us to be prepared and to be careful. I wish you all the wisdom to do what needs to be done. May God be with you from day to day as Jesus has promised after He rose from the death. He will be with us till the end of time, and no powers will be able to separate us from Him. His Kingdom will come!
For the moment the new church is unable to meet, as any gathering of more than five people is not allowed. But John is trusting that the spiritual foundations laid over the last year will be sufficient to help the new Christians walk in faith through this new crisis. He invites us to pray for them – that people will observe the new government measures, that the new Christians will remain steadfast in the face of a culture which draws people back to the shrines of their ancestors, that they will continue to grow spiritually, and that more will be saved. John also invites us to pray that land will be provided for a church building, and that he will receive the basic resources he needs to continue his ministry.
Experience shows us that as soon as we overcome one difficulty, another rises to take its place. But St Paul continues:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Let us stand with John, and with all who face the same challenges in their own place – and let us draw encouragement from his words: “There are big missions and little missions. There are missions that require our skills and expertise and missions that require only a smile and a kind word.” We can all do that.
Posted 17th April 2020
Rooted in Jesus is published and supported by The Mathetes Trust. To find out more visit www.rootedinjesus.net.