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If you are someone who is instantly turned off by the kind of blog (or any kind of writing) whose premise is along the lines of “Recently I traveled to country ‘X’ and I came back with lots of new perspectives,” then you’d best stop reading this blog now. Because I am recently returned from eight or so days in the East African nation of Uganda and I do have some new perspectives I took home with me, one or so of which I will scribble about here.
I was invited to Uganda through the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (I am a member of the Institute’s wider staff) and at the behest of the Theological Education for Africa people, many of whom work for Christian Reformed World Missions. The occasion was a week-long conference for pastors and other church leaders. Attendance exceeded expectations as 350 people gathered from chiefly Uganda and Kenya but with plenty of representatives from also North Sudan, South Sudan, Rwanda, Malawi, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and perhaps a couple other nearby nations. It was my privilege to teach a class of 50 pastors about preaching for the week even as I gave a plenary lecture on the subject and preached a sermon at the mid-week communion service (note: the picture associated with this blog post shows about half my preaching class from the TEA Conference).
It was quite a week indeed and as this was my first trip to any portion of Africa, I can say that having been to Europe and Japan, Africa definitely counts as the single most foreign-feeling place I’ve ever visited (and that is in no way a negative statement, by the way–it’s just very different from home!). There is much I could write about but the one thing I will share has to do with the matter of opportunity. I grew up knowing–because my parents reinforced it often–that compared to much of the world, I was a rich person. What I did not always know, however, is that this truth is only partly about monetary matters. Money is tied up with most everything, of course, so you cannot completely separate money out what I am about to note but still: what I learned as much as anything on this week in Uganda is that when it comes to being “rich” vis-a-vis the rest of the world, a big part of that is sheer opportunity.
Like the opportunity to buy books, theological books in particular. For most of the pastors I talked to, books were expensive, yes, but the cost didn’t matter much seeing as in most places you just cannot find the books to purchase in the first place. There is also the matter of having access to good continuing education events. All week long while I was the TEA Conference–in my classroom, in mealtime conversations, and most everywhere–I was struck by how hopping eager every single pastor and church leader was to learn. Anything you had to offer as a teacher was regarded as a precious gift, embraced and taken to heart in ways both joyful and thoughtful.
This is not to say that North American pastors like myself do not likewise take some joy in learning at good continuing education events but . . . well, we have so many available to us that we skip most of what is offered in our area across any given year even as we take in relative stride whatever colloquia, symposia, workshops, or conferences we do attend. But for my students in the preaching class in particular, taking such a class was something many of them had never before been able to do and was likewise something many of them would not be able to take in again in the foreseeable future.
Thankfully many of these African sisters and brothers do have some regular internet access and so I hope I can keep reaching out to them through my website even as we promote to them other online resources they can tap wherever they are. But I write all this on this Labor Day holiday afternoon here in the USA to say that I came home extra grateful for the simple matter of having opportunity as part of my life–opportunity to study, to read, to interact with others on a regular basis. And I came home praying that somehow, some way my fellow conference attenders in Uganda two weeks ago went home enriched by that experience–the conference was flush with wonderful teachers and presenters–even as the simple (but not really simple at all) expansion of opportunity will come to them bit by bit, too.
Many of us North American pastors and teachers and leaders who read blogs like The Twelve are indeed rich compared to so many in this world. “Blessed” would be another way to put it. But I have now at least a tiny glimmer of insight into all the ways that blessing extends itself in our lives.
You are so right about all that you said with "opportunity." I hate some of the problems the internet causes in our world. But in many ways it is a tremendous blessing, and one of those ways is that pastors around the world can get access to good stuff, even commentaries, online. And it is far easier to get the information to them that way, than to try to ship tons of heavy books. The center for excellence for preaching website is a great one for them to know about. I believe I had shared it already with some Ugandan pastors last time I was there 🙂
I will go to Uganda on 3rd medical mission in February. What you say about the eagerness of the Ugandan people to learn, and their lack of any tangible tools with which to learn, is so true. The question always remains, what have we learned from them?….always more than we "give". What do we DO with what we have?