Happy new year!

Happy new year!

During the holidays in Uganda, messages fly fast and furious – wishing a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and many other felicitations. Images and memes were thrown across WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger like confetti, thanks to cheap and easy bulk messaging.

However, last night, two of our graduates called to wish me a happy new year. This is somewhat unusual, as 1. a phone call is paid by only the initiator (not the recipient), and 2. they both graduated about a year and a half ago, so they are in my rear view mirror, and my focus is on the approximately 150 students in front of me. Regardless, it was a delightful surprise.

The larger surprise, though was that they both essentially said the same thing: they gave me a short update on the family and on the ministry, then both thanked me for all I did for them in their ministerial formation. One of them was, shall we say, a bit more of a trying student, so his words were especially sweet.

Of course, both phone calls were a tremendous encouragement. The students are arriving for the semester, lectures begin on Monday, and I am already stressed by what I know is coming, never mind what I don’t know is coming. As much as I love ministerial formation, it takes the lion’s share of time, both administratively and interactively, and of course, it never ends. They reminded me to take a deep breath, cling to Jesus, and soldier on. Amen.

Confirmation, confirmation

One of my favorite things that we do is supervise our students on their internships, or block placement. While we certainly make them work while they’re with us at the University, it is tremendous fun to see them in their home churches and meet their families.

This year, I volunteered to visit Joram in the diocese of Maseno West, in western Kenya, as I had been in the diocese in 1998. At a conference in 2015, I promised the bishop that I would come home. So come home I did.

As it turned out, for the time that I would be visiting, the bishop was going to be conducting confirmations in two of the parishes in which Joram had worked, so I went with him to attend both services. And I had the joy of seeing the fruit of his ministry.

In Kenya, the confirmation age is 12, and I think it’s the same in Uganda. This means that confirmation often happens at the close of school terms for the church-founded schools, or towards the end of school term holidays, as the students have been prepared for confirmation during this holiday. Joram said that when he arrived, there were only 12 candidates for confirmation, and since he didn’t want to waste the bishop’s time, he traveled throughout the church to find more people to be confirmed. He ended up with a class of 43. The other service also had about 40 confirmands, so in two days, I witnessed in excess of 80 people being confirmed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a service in the US with that many confirmands!

One of the things I love in African is that the bishop examines the confirmands in advance of their confirmation. Most of the questions are related to reciting the answers in the Catechism, reciting the Lord’s Prayer, or the Creeds (Nicene and Apostle’s), and these are often done as a group.

But then the bishop went around the circle and examined the candidates individually. Sometimes the question was as (presumably) easy as “what is the name of your bishop?” The confirmand answered that question correctly. However, if the bishop was not satisfied with an answer, he retained the confirmand’s name tag, and returned to that confirmand later. The confirmand is free to consult with the clergy (and presumably) others present to get the right answer.

In this class, ultimately three students had to be examined again, and all passed and were confirmed. I asked Joram whether the bishop ever declined to confirm anyone, and he replied, “Oh yes. In fact, he has dismissed an entire class because they were not prepared properly.”

Joram was surprised to hear that this is not the way we do things; in my memory, we did meet with the bishop in advance of the confirmation service, but he didn’t examine us. I assume his agreement to confirm us was based on the recommendation of the rector, or in my case, the youth pastor, who had prepared us for confirmation.

I love that the bishops in Kenya (and presumably Uganda, though I’ve not witnessed the pre-service activities) test the confirmands prior to the service. In my humble opinion, this is as it should be. Confirmation is an important sacramental rite, and we would be remiss to not take it seriously. Praise God for all bishops, clergy, catechists, and ordinands who do treat this work with the gravity it deserves!

Of drones and faith

Sometimes I wonder whether my prayers are too small, or whether it’s my faith in God that’s too small. The Lord gently pointed this out to me as I landed at Entebbe last week, after a wonderfully relaxing (though not as academically productive as I’d hoped) home assignment.

I had picked up a some kind of respiratory thing mid-November, and while my prayer requests before travel always include safe and uneventful travel, I assumed I wouldn’t enjoy my flights for being a bit congested.

How wrong I was. Not only was I not congested, I had no seat or row mates for either flight… meaning I could almost get myself comfortable and rest. This, in and of itself, is a miracle. I only had a two-hour layover in Amsterdam, so that was blissfully short.

My last concern for my trip was a suitcase I was bringing for a friend who had just delivered her first baby. Missionaries live for having people schlep things to them, and Leah had sent me with a bag, and then had things sent to me while I was in Virginia. I had heard of stories of people having things taken from their luggage at the exit x-ray machine at Entebbe, and I was fervently praying that would not be the case, especially for the things for Leah’s sweet baby girl.

When I had retrieved al my luggage and saw the line at the x-ray machine, my heart fell, knowing that I’d have to put all my luggage through. I was praying for the Lord’s protection over everything, and headed over that way.

When I got to the line, one gentleman blew right on by, right in front of me. The two attendants were surprised, but didn’t stop him. That must have emboldened me, because I asked the male attendant, “Do I go this way (pointing to the x-ray machine), or that way (pointing to the door)?” Now, the answer is patently obvious. I’m already in line. Americans are quite good at queuing up in lines. But no harm, no foul, right?

The man peered at me for a second, then asked, “Do you have a drone?” Did he just ask if I had a drone? WHY on earth would he ask if I have a drone? I must have given him an odd look as I replied, “No…” because he asked me again. “Do you have a drone?” This time, I answered him more confidently, “No! I’m a musumba (shepherd, priest); basumba (plural) do not have drones.” And I sailed right on out, with all my items intact.

As I was thanking God profusely for His provision, He gently pointed out how He had taken care of everything on my trip… my health, rest, lack of seat mates, the x-ray machine, and asked if I really believed He could do all that. I had to confess that I didn’t.

I mean, I did, in the sense that yes, I know God can take care of these things, and I trusted that He would, but did I confidently believe that He would? Not really. So He showed me how small my faith was. And in my rejoicing, I repented.

From fear to fiery preaching

From fear to fiery preaching

I so love how God can turn what appears to be one thing into another… and it’s such a joy to watch that happen, and an immense privilege to be a part of it.

When I made the chapel rota for the student-led services this semester, I had more students than slots available. Hannah (not her real name) came to me, begging to be put on the schedule. I explained the problem and apologized. She asked again. I explained and apologized again.
So when one of her classmates had to find a substitute for her week on the rota, naturally, I assigned Hannah, and assigned her the sermon her classmate was to preach. I thought she’d be thrilled.

She wasn’t. She called and asked if someone else could take the sermon. I declined, and reminded her how much she wanted to be on the rota. She pleaded to not preach. I reminded her that we’re training her for ordination, and that preaching is part of ordained ministry. She begged again, and I told her I needed to understand what was going on, so could she please come explain?

Hannah came over, and as we sat on the veranda, she told me she has a phobia about public speaking. This seemed a bit odd for someone who is pursuing ordination, so I asked what she was planning to do when she was on Sunday placement and the vicar asked her to take a reading, lead the service, or preach. She said she’d manage, but I wasn’t convinced, so I prodded her a bit more about the root of this fear.

As it turns out, a lecturer (from another faculty) had publicly humiliated Hannah during a class presentation some time ago, and since then, she has been afraid to speak in front of people. Ah. That made sense.

I asked Hannah if I could pray with her about this, and we prayed an abbreviated inner healing prayer. After a few minutes, she told me she needed to forgive that lecturer; she had seen him that morning, and had avoided him. After a few minutes more, she shared that she had been intimately abused by a family member as a child. I asked if we could pray through that also, and one again, I was privileged to see Jesus set one of His children free.

The next day, we went to the chapel for some desensitization training, and though nervous, she was able to stand in the various places to lead worship, to include the pulpit. I was so proud of her!

Later in the week when she served in chapel, she read a lesson, led a service, and preached a fiery sermon – the same student who begged to be released from preaching. Praise God for His healing and the freedom it brings!

Missing Meri

Missing Meri

On April 4, my sweet Meri died. I started this post a couple weeks ago, but it’s been hard to write; I think that writing it for the interwebs makes it a bit too real.

I am struggling with a bit guilt over this; she wanted breakfast at 2:00 am, and since there is no universe in which that was going to happen, I put her outside. She never came back. I found her nearby while on my way to chapel that morning, and spent the service trying to alternately hold back and wipe away tears. The current theory is that she found poison that had been put out for the feral dogs, and I can’t help but wonder whether if I’d fed her this could have been averted.

The Dennisons, from whom I inherited Meri, have been incredibly gracious and have absolved me of any guilt. They pointed out that Meri had likely far exceeded her nine lives even before she came to stay with me.  Let’s remember that this is the kitty who would play with monkeys. Sigh.

I am missing my Guardian of the Galaxy (or at least the Honors College). I miss seeing her sitting on the final set of steps as I climb to my flat. I miss seeing her on the verandah. I miss hearing the girls next door greet her as they come and go. I miss having someone to talk to, even if she woke me at horrific hours.

Ugandans tend to be very pragmatic about death, especially about animals, as they tend to be more house workers rather than pets. But a few students have by and asked have where Meri was, and when I told them she was with Jesus, they were very sad. Their sympathy and empathy touched me deeply.

Meri was therapy for me when the Dennisons left; not only did I have a small reminder of them, having someone to talk to and care for gave me something to focus on. Even though I could never teach her to tell time, she was very bright: I’d tell her “let’s go,” or “time for chapel,” or “time for lectures,” and she’d head for the door. Well, unless she was feeling teenager-ish, and then she’d whine and we’d fight to get out the door.

She was a gift, and I’m grateful for the two years I had with her.