“Being part of the RinJ team in Soroti Diocese was demanding, thought-provoking, inspiring, and profoundly affecting. People’s commitment to learning, their gratitude to God and to us, and their sheer joy in the Lord will be abiding memories. So will the impression of an Anglican diocese growing in number and vitality. The learning with RinJ is two-way!” Steve Coneys
Rooted in Jesus was first introduced to the Diocese of Soroti, Uganda, in 2017, and in November 2018 a team led by Revd Mike Cotterell returned to provide further training and encouragement. Coordinator Emmanuel Elianu had arranged two conferences, the first a followup gathering in Soroti, the second a conference for new leaders in Kaberamaido. Rooted in Jesus is used in the Ateso language in Soroti, but had been newly translated into Kumam for those in Kaberamaido.
The conferences were well attended, with 175 participants in Soroti; some of them were already using Rooted in Jesus, but many were coming for the first time. In Kaberamaido the conference was attended by 70 mostly lay people who had never been to anything like this, and were soon enthusiastically worshipping and sitting on the edge of benches listening and very engaged. In both places about a third of the participants were women.
God at work through prayer
As so often in Africa, joy is matched by pain. In Soroti Mike reported that “we are very pleased and thankful for all God has done. Everyone at the conference was united, excited and very clearly blessed by the teaching. The times of personal response were deep and powerful. Engagement and ability to grasp and to apply were enormous. Everyone had fun and loved it.” And yet he also wrote of a young woman called Eunice, who said that both her parents were shot on the same day and then her daughter disappeared from nursery and has not been found. Eunice found some comfort during the ministry talk, and was able to pray with the team. In Kaberamaido, a very poor, rural area, they learned that some girls marry at the age of twelve, and inevitably have a high number of children themselves. Life is far from easy even when nothing goes wrong.
Prayer was also a feature of the conference in Kaberamaido, with most of the participants saying that their prayers had been answered. Three quarters of them said they had been healed either emotionally or spiritually and that they were sleeping better; sixteen had been released from fear and six had experienced physical healing. Given the intensity with which people had responded to the invitation to confess their sins and receive the blessing of the Holy Spirit, the team were not surprised. Worship, Mike says, was loud and wonderful. “The final day ended with beautiful wild, loud dance and worship. No one wanted to go home. ‘We have learned a lot’, they said.”The team often discussed highlights from the day or the conference, but they were hard to identify because there were so many! Perhaps one that is telling, was when some people received their RinJ booklet on the last morning, they recieved it with joy and immediately sat down and prayed over it. They had received something precious.
So what was the unexpected?
The children. They were everywhere. Some teams rest in between sessions, but this team didn’t feel the need for that. In Soroti they filled some spare moments by teaching a group of curious children the game ‘What’s the Time, Mr Lion?’, and ended up giving an impromptu telling of a Bible story to local onlookers on the dirt track. The children took the game back to their primary school, and the next day another gang of unknown children turned up out of nowhere asking to play the same game. From then on the conference was overrun with primary school children, many taking to the fringes of the workshops and ministry times, and some asking for prayer.
It was the same in Kaberamaido, where the Church was located very near the Church Primary School; flocks of children came and went from early afternoon into the conference. They were welcomed and encouraged to sit in on sessions and workshops, which they did in large numbers – often outnumbering the adults – and were always very well behaved. Mike reported, “Dozens of these children are our friends now (in and out of the church and listening to many things) and we want to do something special for them. So by arrangement with the Archdeacon and the Primary School Headteacher, the team offered to run a two hour programme for the school in Church immediately after the conference. About 200 children were kept spell-bound for 2 1/2 hours of story-telling, drama and song. The enthusiasm and engagement was exceptional, and the session ended in everyone kneeling for a prayer of commitment led by a local leader.
A transition moment
Coordinator Emmanuel Elianu is leaving his post in order to undertake further study. He has handed over to Pascal Odele. Pascal demonstrated great keenness for Rooted in Jesus, which Mike feels will be a good jump-start to his new role as Mission Coordinator. And the Diocese as a whole is preparing for the election of a successor to Bishop George Erwau, who retired last year. So it is our hope that Rooted in Jesus will continue to provide a catalyst for growth during the interregnum – it’s all too easy for a diocese to lose momentum while focussing on the election of a new bishop.
Blessing in two directions
We always find that blessing travels in two directions during a Rooted in Jesus conference. We asked the team members to tell us about their experiences. Diana High, a lay leader in her local church (below, left), replied: “My most memorable moment was during the prayer workshops when I got the delegates to be quiet and listen to the Holy Spirit. One man got up afterwards and said ‘I thought you were joking and then God said to me …’. Each time someone had received something from the Lord. It was such a delight to see their faces and for them to realise that God does speak to them.”
Steve Coneys, Mission & Growth Adviser in the Diocese of Canterbury (below, right), wrote: “The quality of relationships, level of mutual support, sense of humour, times of prayer and sharing combined to make this a valuable part of the experience. Since returning I’ve realised that, while it is true that what team members have to offer is our ‘education’, the experience of being a team member is probably as much one of being a pilgrim as an educator. In this short time, we were welcomed to stand on the holy ground of African Christians’ experience and their knowledge of God in Jesus Christ. Their gentleness, gratitude, joy in the Lord, commitment and eagerness to learn spoke powerfully to us of our life in Christ as Jesus’ disciples. I’m interested in seeking deep rooted culture change towards missional church in the Diocese of Canterbury. Here is a church, recognisably Anglican, where the clergy and lay leaders we observed seemed to enjoy working together, the people seemed receptive to learning and to change, and the church is growing using a strategy of planting new congregations. It can happen!”
Let it be our prayer that it will!
Posted 4th January 2019
by Alison Morgan