A generous reading of the blank spaces between postings on this blog would assume not only that life on the mission in Karamoja is very busy, but that it is too ineffable to be memorialised in such a space as this. Indeed, much (too much?) of what takes up our mental space on the mission ranges from earnest disagreements over how to carry out the ministry to sheer bafflement with decisions made by our colleagues (and had they blogs, they might possibly refrain from writing for wringing their hands over our decisions).
About such things, it is prudent not to speak too much or too publicly. What causes me to address the topic today is a series of recent observations which have served to remind me that such differences of opinion, while important—we want to think strategically and be good stewards of the time and money entrusted to us by the Church—inevitably diminish before the work of the Holy Spirit. In the end, God has used many missionaries who have come and gone, whose ideas and methods we have sometimes taken exception to, to shape our congregation in Nakaale in unambiguously positive ways.
Several weeks ago, Maruk Mark and his wife Josephine unexpectedly lost their young daughter. The mission had sent them to Mbale to get help for the chronically-ill child. Through a series of miscommunications, they waited in vain for medical help that never came and their daughter died. They were unceremoniously booted from the hospital onto the street in the middle of the night. Pastor James drove to Mbale to bring them back to Nakaale, and the following afternoon, a burial was held in their home.
We’ve written elsewhere about funerals in Nakaale, and we’ve certainly attended our share during our time here. But in ten years, I can say that this was the first Christian burial I have seen. We have seen Christians buried. We have seen non-Christians buried by Christian relatives. We have seen burials attended by church members. But this was the first time that I have been to a burial where the pastor said “we mourn as those who hope in the resurrection,” and it was clear that many of the people present actually believed those words and were acting upon them. The death of a child is a terrible occurrence, made the worse in this case by the attendant circumstances. Nevertheless, I watched Maruk, whose long history with the mission has been far from sterling, lead his family in their mourning, tenderly embracing his wife as they watched the body lowered into the grave, leading her by the hand to ceremonially sprinkle soil onto the coffin. Absent were the ubiquitous theatrics of grief. Those present were genuinely sorrowful but generally sober. As I reflected on my walk home that evening, what I had witnessed was a remarkable testimony to the Spirit’s movement in Nakaale.
In a less somber vein, just this last Sunday, as we sat in church waiting for the service to start, I looked back to see who was arriving, and saw not one but three young Karimojong men arriving together with their wives and/or their young children in their arms. In Karamoja, as a general rule, families do not arrive to worship together. Parents usually arrive each at their own timing and children may or may not appear. Perhaps more commonly, parents send their children off to church to get them out of the house or else children wander thence unaccompanied for a change of scenery. To the extent that children arrive with a parent, it will always be with the mother. Karimojong men do not carry children.
These young men—Lochoro Emmanuel, Angella Paul, and Aleper Zechariah—have been discipled at different times by different missionaries, and because of the fruit of their Christian character, have been financially supported to go to school by the mission. They have all grown up from childhood under the mission pastors’ teaching. To an extent, they know that we expect them to attend church services. But it is demonstrably not the case that the mission requires them to bring their families to church and help guide them in worship. That is something that they have internalised and taken initiative to do, and it’s something that nearly made my jaw drop to the floor on Sunday. It is a testimony that whatever each missionary’s different views on how best to interact with these young men as a mission, the Spirit does his work through us or in spite of our missteps, and our flaring disagreements over best practices, even those which are substantial, are as nothing before the sanctifying fire of God’s Word.
These young men have had only the imperfect living example of foreign missionaries to guide them as they seek to lead their families in biblical ways. The next generation of young men will have the example of other Karimojong—their neighbours and friends—as a much more compelling model. For that, we return thanks.