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Uganda Conference 2011: “A bad day for the Devil.”

(This is the third report on the recent International Bible Conference in Uganda; the first is here, the second here. A summary of the conference has been posted on the 9Marks blog here. Pictures taken by various team members and corresponding to this post may be viewed here.)

“For a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” (1 Corinthians 16:9)

We returned to our hotel after the weather-shortened first day of the conference with heavy hearts. We had preached 3 messages to the 25,000 souls who had gathered. But we’d been interrupted, both by the logistical challenges of feeding and housing such a multitude and by a torrential storm which knocked down tents and turned seating areas into serious mud. (Matt Schmucker would later joke that whereas Livingstone’s heart was buried in Africa, he’d be burying his shoes.) It was a somber time. We wondered if the conference could be salvaged, and even if it was safe for the entire team to return the next day in light of the frustration some men had expressed at not being fed. We discussed the situation during a team meeting that night, then prayed—for wisdom, for grace for the attendees, for strength and efficiency for the Ugandan organizers, for the Lord to do what seemed humanly impossible. Following our prayer time, by divine appointment, a Kenyan pastor named Pastor Elyves joined us at our table. His exhortation was timely, delivered in clear, accented English: “I heard your discussion and prayers, brothers. Let me remind you of what David did when the Amalekites had kidnapped his family and when his men wanted to stone him: He encouraged Himself in the Lord (1 Samuel 30:6). That is what you must do.” It was a blessed irony: The Americans who came to teach were again taught by a faithful African pastor. Our spirits were lifted, though the situation was still dire.

When he awoke the next morning, before even getting out of bed, my brother Jeff muttered what every team member must have been thinking: “What’s going to happen today?” We prepared for the day and met for prayer and devotions. We cried out to God for amazing deliverance, for His name’s sake. We could do nothing else.

After our time of prayer we heard what was great news, if accurate. All the attendees had been fed the previous night. All of them had been served tea early that morning, then fed again. The Ugandan pastors and their assemblies had rallied, turning 2 cooking and serving stations into 4, having water shipped in during the night, repairing tents, resetting chairs. They had slept only minutes (following several other sleepless nights), but amazingly, they had accomplished what seemed impossible. It was a heroic, divinely-enabled effort. It was a beautiful example of Christian perseverance, unity, and sacrifice. They urged us to come and continue as planned. We arrived to find that their reports were true—there was an entirely different atmosphere from the previous evening. There was a joyful expectancy, a sense of triumph over adversity, a longing to be fed the Scriptures. I later made an observation that would kind of define the day: “It’s a bad day for the Devil.”

Indeed, it was. Steve Hafler preached a stellar message on Colossians 1:16-18 on the preeminence of Christ. I was moved to tears repeatedly by the truth being proclaimed, by the response of the hearers (quiet note taking, interrupted occasionally by joyful applause and shouts of “Hallelujah!” as Christ was exalted). It was a glorious start to the day. Jeff followed by preaching reconciliation from Colossians 1:19-23. I was amazed to see the rapport he had with the men and the liberty with which he preached Christ. I commented to a team member that Jeff was made for this. He has been raised up and gifted for an astounding task. I wonder at it and rejoice in it. Our good friend and one of my missionary heroes, David Hosaflook, described Jeff’s ministry this way:

“He told me he feels like an African trapped in a non-African body. They love him because he loves them and bears no scent of superiority. They probably don’t even think in terms of, ‘he accepts us,’ because he has made them color-blind. He is one of them because he has never exuded the notion that there is something about them requiring some strain to have to ‘accept.’ In short, authentic love and vulnerable transparency, stuff that make it reasonable to gather thousands to listen at his feet. I love this man.”

I followed Jeff, actually relieved by his stunning gifts of communication (and by a couple paper clips I’d borrowed from Steve). “I’m not him. I can’t be him. And I don’t need to be him. I need to preach this text, line by line.” So that’s what I did. It was my pleasure to teach these men what Christian ministry looks like from Colossians 1:24-29. Share Christ’s suffering. Fulfill Christ’s ministry. Preach Christ’s Word. Labor in Christ’s strength. I told the men that ministry is the same in America as in Uganda—that we need divine enablement just as they do; that we preach the same gospel; that we too were returning to adversity and to small churches. They were encouraged to hear that the church I pastor met for 12 years in rented buildings and outside in local parks (in America!), yet has experienced God’s spiritual blessing. Christ is building His church, in Madison and in Mbale, and He is doing so in such a way that only He receives any glory. “Hallelujah!”

Well, I figured that after 3 messages the men would be ready for a break. I was wrong. Jeff introduced Matt Schmucker of 9Marks ministries. He and his brother Jim made an impromptu pulpit and Matt launched into his message on the doxological purpose of the church (which you can hear as delivered at another conference here). It was a biblical theology of God’s work in the world, and it highlighted the need for the church to reflect God’s image before a sinful world—as Adam and Israel hadn’t, but as Christ perfectly had. It was a call to holiness as a distinctive of the church and as a key part of our witness to the world for the glory of God. It was exceptional, and it was well received. (I love the picture above where the man on the right is taking copious notes!)

Following lunch (which, by God’s grace, went very smoothly), Jeff preached a one-message summary of Colossians 2, very specifically warning the leaders in attendance against the errors that are pressing into Africa: spiritism, syncretism, the sign and wonders movement, the prosperity gospel, etc. The rain threatened, but it never became a problem. For the last session of the day, Mark Henry introduced the men to “The Gospel Flip-Chart,” a picture resource my dad developed that goes through the entire Bible, telling the story of creation, fall, sacrifices, and salvation through Christ. This is the resource each man was to take home, but unfortunately they were delayed and will be distributed by area coordinators in coming weeks. As a result, Mark had about 25 of us walking around the crowd of 20,000-plus with flip-charts. Think “Vanna White meets VBS.” To our surprise, it worked. Beautifully. The entire crowd sat in hushed attention, craning their necks to see the next picture. Mark is a master storyteller, and he highlighted the need and preparation for Christ throughout the Old Testament. When he finally connected the dots and told of Christ’s perfect life, death, and resurrection, the men lifted their hands and cheered. I wept. It was a time I’ll never forget.

The Lord’s people had persevered. An amazing recovery was made; I still don’t understand how the Ugandans pulled it off. Six messages were delivered Friday. Each exalted Christ. Each urged men to trust in Christ alone, to preach Christ alone, to reflect Christ alone, to give Christ alone preeminence in their local churches. It was a bad day for the Devil and a glorious day for the work of Christ. Grace.

(The financial needs of International Bible Conference are significant. IBC, Jeff Anderson, and the Ugandan leaders of the conference put their necks on the line to make this conference happen. It was completed successfully, but outstanding bills must be paid immediately. Please help, whether with a large or small gift. You can make online donations here or contact Jeff Anderson for more information here.)


2 Responses

  1. Chris, I have really enjoyed reading these updates. They have been an encouragement. The one thing I keep thinking about as I’ve been reading is the special blessing that 1st day near-disaster turned out to be. You got to see God work in a way you never would have believed otherwise.

  2. […] dear friend Steve Hafler (a friend from BJU and a teammate on my mission trip to Uganda) recently wrote a blog post on the grievous effects of alcohol. In a heartbreaking turn of events, […]

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