For the last few years, I have led trips to Uganda with Man Up in an effort to expose American Christians to the economic and spiritual conditions there. We visited Pastor Samuel and his wife, Mercy, of Kerith Ministry in early June. Our team of 14 was profoundly impacted by both the words and lives of our hosts. Our trip was slated as a visiting orphans and men’s conference endeavor. While those things were accomplished, God had a bigger vision in store for our team.
In preparation for this trip, we as leaders constantly encourage our team to have their “flex pills” ready; that is, prepare yourselves to be flexible because our trips rarely go as planned in Africa. That need for flexibility began the very night we arrived in Pallisa, Uganda. Tired after a long day of travel and ministry, our accommodation situation threw us a curveball. Many team members were up until the wee hours of the morning as they worked hard to prepare rooms with mosquito nets, beds, and working toilets and showers.
The next day God gave me my own “flex pill” moment. I had just finished preaching in Sam’s church, and he came up to give an altar call. While no one in his congregation responded, I was shocked (pleasantly) to see one of our team members, a leader in his community and church back in the US, come to the front and confess Christ as His personal Savior. I would’ve never known this seemingly god-fearing man was not saved – our trip questionnaire asks for a personal testimony. This one salvation seemed to jumpstart a wave of professions of faith. In solidarity with our new brother in Christ, the entire team was baptized with him in the Nile River on our way back to the airport. It was life changing for us all.
The next “flex pill” opportunity occurred as we sent some of our men to speak in the local public schools. This wasn’t planned, as these men were supposed to help minister at our men’s conference, but God had another plan! Over 350 boys, mostly Muslim, listened to them speak. With the help of Burukani, a leader in Sam’s church and our translator, 105 students raised their hands to make professions of faith in Jesus Christ. What an amazing move of God! We were greatly encouraged by this because in the past four years of Man Up trips to Africa, only one other person was saved. Sam noted that the following Sunday, six of the boys attended his church. Along with Sam, we pray that they will be discipled in Christ moving forward.
During our stay in Pallisa, we were able to minister to over 400 children in the community and at the River of God Primary School that Pastor Sam and Mercy founded. While we had VBS-type lessons and projects, our main objective as a Man Up team was to LOVE BIG on the kids. We didn’t have an agenda, but rather engulfed the children with the energized love of Christ, and became fathers to the fatherless if even for just a short time. The team was deeply impacted by the joy and exuberance of the children despite how few material goods they had. The children were a huge encouragement to us as well. One 12-year old girl wrote letters to each of the four women on our team encouraging them to be strong women for Christ!
Finally, the Man Up team conducted a men’s conference for the second straight year at Sam’s church. The Christian men of this rural region seem hungry to learn and grow in the faith. Over 120 men hitched rides, rode bikes, or walked to make sure they could be there. Our theme verse was 1 Corinthians 16:13, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” Bracelets were handed out to each of the men that said, Man Up – #STAND, to serve as a reminder not only of our time there, but as an encouragement to stand firm in their faith even in the harshest of conditions. Pastor Samuel has invited us back again and would like us to hold a conference just for pastors in the region. His hope is that each pastor will take what he learns and implement it in his local church.
As with any mission trip, we go to serve and end up being the ones served. Our team was humbled to hear Pastor Sam’s story, his fight for the Gospel in an Islamic-dominated area, and to see the impact he and Mercy have had on the children in the community. I am personally blessed to know Sam and his family, and pray God allows me to continue to fight the good fight with him for many years to come.