Greetings from the Uganda/South Sudan Border!
Carol and I are praying for God’s grace and mercy to be extended to you, our friends and family in America, as well for all who are suffering the direct and indirect consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic.
We thank God for his mercy over Uganda. Please continue to pray for Uganda. Looking back, I can see God’s providence in moving Uganda to put restrictions on those entering the country before there were any confirmed cases of the virus in the country.
I have been pondering some things in the context of short-term ministry trips and the COVID-19 virus. We at Reaching Africa’s Unreached are willingly complying with all of the Ugandan government’s mandates and seeking to leverage all that we have and are for the advancement of the gospel.
This week, we started planting corn and beans (pinto-like), which can be harvested in around 60 days. We have a lot of RAU-grown rice in the container and have been skinning it so as to have food stock for our local community if things get worse. We now have about 1.45 tons of this RAU-grown rice in the container ready to be cooked and eaten. We have much more RAU-grown “un-skinned” rice in the container along with a lot of RAU-grown g-nuts (peanuts) and soybeans, which we will also keep in reserve.
First Season Planting
Soon, we will be planting an acre of onions, which are still in the nursery beds. The box gardens are/will be full of vegetable plants or seedlings. Our 640 grafted mangoes are loaded with fruit and our many bananas are coming back strong after our dry season. Even though we cannot have farmer’s groups/pastors here, the demo plot it is still serving as example to the community of how farming as a business can be help in raising the economy of our community. The food reserves we have can be a good testimony of Christ’s love if food stocks in the area get low.
Emma, RAU’s agricultural expert, will continue to give advice to farmers via RAU’s weekly 2 hour radio broadcasts and by answering questions via the phone. We are encouraging everyone to be active in their fields and gardens during this time of planting first season crops. Please continue to pray for the agricultural ministry arm of RAU that we can be an examples of God’s mercy and grace.
I had lots of plans for the month of March for discipleship and evangelism in the Metu Mountains, Obongi, and Yumbe, but they had to be postponed. Lord willing, by the second week of April, we will be able to push forward in these areas while following the Ugandan government’s guidelines.
Previous Outreaches in the Metu Mountains, Obongi, and Yumbe District
We are disappointed our ministry friends/partners have to cancel their trips to us. Our April training of local pastors is on hold, as well as our June and July training with Sudanese. We have other trainings which also follow that could be postponed if things do not change. I do hope that the virus has run its course soon, but even if it does, I do not see travel opening up through Europe to us in the near future. Looking at the repercussions of the virus in Europe and America, it does not seem wise to have partners traveling here from or through areas that have the virus, even if they could.
A Previous Church Leadership training and Agricultural training
People are well aware of how Covid-19 is transmitted, even in our remote area, because of all the media coverage. We, as a ministry committed for the long term, are of the conviction not to do things which may seem safe in our eyes but look questionable to our community. So, we do not think it wise for the time being to have visitors at RAU from countries with the virus. Living and working in our community has given us a lot of leverage for gospel work, which could quickly evaporate if it appears we do not have their best interests of the community in view.
The Law of Love
“Therefore let us no longer judge one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in the way of your brother or sister.”
Romans 14:13 CSB
The whole world has been affected in major ways by this current crisis. It has given me pause to pray over and ponder what the Lord may be doing. I am certainly no prophet, so I can only pontificate. I see the COVID-19 pandemic as being a means for the Lord to make people (both the lost and saved) come to grips with the shortness of life and the fact that the comforts of prosperity and security can easily vanish. I pray that God’s people, the church, see God’s hand in this and press courageously forward, taking this opportunity to proclaim the gospel of grace in word and deed.
I have also been musing on the coronavirus’ affect upon foreign missions. I am thinking and pondering about what the Lord is wanting me as well as the Body of Christ to see more clearly and, in turn, act upon. Could it be that the Lord is wanting his people to focus more on long-term commitment in cross cultural ministry, along with keeping the passion of short-term ministry? I believe the answer is yes. By God’s grace and mercy, He set my heart on being a missionary 44 years ago, and I have been involved both short-term and long-term cross-cultural ministry during these years.
I took my first Short-Term Mission (STM) trip to India in 1979 and, thereafter, more trips to India. One of these was with Carol shortly after we were married. We were there for six months. Our oldest son was born there at that time. Later, I took two ministry trips to Pakistan and numerous ones to East Africa (South/Central/Northwestern Uganda, South Sudan and D.R. Congo).
Thirteen years ago, I first began ministry in Uganda/South Sudan in the Moyo Uganda area. In 2013, Carol and I physically moved to the RAU campus north of Moyo. Since 1979, I have seen the many positive things associated with short term missions and now in my latter years also the importance of living in a culture full-time for the advancement of the gospel and Christ’s building his church among all peoples and languages.
COVID-19, by God’s sovereign hand, has, at least temporarily, put a pause on short term ministry (STM) trips. I cannot help but think that this hiatus placed upon short-term trips is meant for the church to look at how STM’s can better serve the advancement of the kingdom. My sense is that emphasis needs to be put back on long-term ministry efforts, with the emphasis on STM trips connected to and supporting long-term ministry work.
While the number of people going into long term cross-cultural missions has stayed the same over the years, short term work has multiplied so that 1.5 million Americans now go on short-term trips each year. Ideally, the growth in long-term and short-term should have, at least, remained the same. The great increase in short term ministry workers has not decreased the total area of the world without a gospel witness.
The laborers continue to remain few for the nearly one-third of the world which remains without the gospel. Unless God’s people leave their culture to live and proclaim the gospel among this “one-third,” they will remain without a gospel witness (see Romans 10:13-17 ). In my research, I have seen some astounding charts! The chart below only tracks to 2001. I am quite certain the trend has continued to 2020. If any of you can point me to more updated chart I would be grateful. Even so the one below still illustrates well what I have been saying.
I think the increase in short-term ministry growth alongside the lack of growth in long-term, cross-cultural ministry has come for several reasons. Most likely this reflects the West’s “quick fix” culture.
“…In the contemporary Church, there is little difference between having a fleeting ‘burden for missions’ and a starry eyed wanderlust. The call for long-term missionaries willing to lay aside their lives for the cause of Christ found in past generations is mysteriously absent today. The mission enterprise is taking on the flavor of a microwave culture aimed at scratching our consumeristic itch…”
Alex Kocman, from the Introduction to David Joannes’ The Mind of the a Missionary: What Global Kingdom Workers Tell Us About Thriving on Mission Today.
Again, I see great value in STM trips done when connected to workers on the ground in given location. However, I really believe, at least for now, it is way out of balance. Personally, I think it may have become a way for many Christians to “straddle the fence” when it comes to missions to one-third of world which will not be reached unless God’s people cross cultural boundaries for the long term. For the gospel to advance, we need more gospel-proclaiming, Jesus-loving believers to leave home and live in the midst of the people they want to see won for Christ.
From 2007 to 2013, I took many trips, lasting from 2 weeks to 2 months, to the Moyo area and during that time I saw increasingly that if we were going to make a lasting impact in Moyo/Yumbe area, Carol and I needed to move and live in the midst of the people. In the beginning, it was especially hard to break into the culture. But I am certain that now, after living here just seven years, we have been, for most part, more accepted in the community than would have been possible if we were only visitors.
For instance, we had a group from the Moyo sub-county Land Board Committee on our front veranda working together for several hours to get a land title for the 3 acres we had purchased across the road. Knowing the cultural cues of hospitality and their knowing we are here as Mundru (white) Ma’di’s gave us, by God’s grace, good interactions and progress. The community seeing RAU’s mercy ministry aspects for them, the fact that we remained here during 2014 Madi-Kuku conflict, the breakout of the civil war on our “doorstep” in South Sudan, and now our not leaving during Coronavirus are all ways we can break down barriers that short-term ministry efforts are unable to do. In most cases, people on STMs do not even know what barriers need to be overcome.
Over the years, we have had many faithful followers of Christ who are willing to come for short-term ministry (both young and old), but when pressed by me (more boldly recently) to live abroad, the obstacles and objections flow freely. I truly believe this needs to change in the church, and it very well may be that Covid-19 might be the nudge the church needs. (Remember, these are “musings” from my heart and, of course, from context of a very biased person who believes and has experienced the reality that long term commitment in cross cultural ministry is what is needed by God’s people reach the one-third of world that has little-to-no gospel witness.)
I rejoice that many local churches and short-term ministry groups are leading the charge in taking steps in the right direction. But even with such ministries, there are many challenges and barriers of trying to do things from afar. COVID-19 alone is a clear example. It is a positive trend that these ministries are working towards long-term goals with long-term people. Similarly, it is the mission and vision of Reaching Africa’s Unreached to walk out 2 Timothy 2:2 with our local church congregations and join their hands with the hands of local churches in America to see that churches are planted where there are none.
I strongly encourage every mission-minded pastor and STM team member to read Holding the Rope: Short-Term Missions, Long-Term Impact by Clint Archer. I believe this little book gives the right kind of advice needed in the church today on STM. I also recommend all of Darren Carlson’s (President of “Training Leaders International”) articles on STM beginning with “Toward Better Short-Term Missions”. Another very helpful read is “A Philosophy of Short-Term Missions at Cornerstone Church” by Preston Sprinkle. RAU’s reading list for STM teams includes this book and articles as well as others. The reading list may be found at the bottom of this RAU web page: “Fact Sheet for Short-Term Ministry Teams to RAU”
I certainly don’t want to discourage any the ways you are seeking to be obedient and to do what you can, given your circumstances in your respective ministries and churches. In 2020, many of our ministry plans were centered around STM teams coming to participate with us in walking out 2 Timothy 2:2. We are grateful for these specific teams as they are ones that “get” the long-term commitment needed in missions.
However, with the shut-down of travel, we are having to adjust. If we had other long-term missionaries here with us, there would be less of a pause in leadership training as well as evangelism outreaches and church planting in villages which have not one church. Please know that part of these reflections flow out of the desire to have other team members here long-term and the great burden for an area with so few gospel workers for the ripe harvest fields.
In closing, may I challenge those of you who are lovingly and graciously involved in STM trips to pray, consult with your local church, and consider moving to and living in a culture without the gospel? One-third of the world needs dedicated disciples of local churches to relocate and live in their midst to proclaim the gospel of grace.
And let us pray together that local churches around the world would pray and send forth laborers (Romans 10:13-17) who will move out of their cultures and into unreached cultures, bringing the gospel to those who are in darkness and under the power of Satan, so that they may receive the forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus! (See Acts 26:15-18).
Jacob (Carol) Lee
The greatest evil is having the gospel and not doing everything within our power to get it to those who do not have it!
When at least 35% of the world, “the unoccupied fields”, have no access to the gospel, we (believers) must all do all we can to reach them. We who are saved owe the gospel to every lost person, most especially the 2.4 billion who will not hear unless someone breaks into their “unoccupied field” with no thought of their own life!
Sowing seeds of love and kindness should not be separated from preaching the gospel of sovereign grace but completely intertwined with it!
I am sure that none of us will say when in heaven that we prayed too much, we sacrificed too much, proclaimed the gospel too much, and were too passionate to get the gospel to those who have little to no access to this gospel of grace. Let us together press on to make it our ambition to preach the gospel where Christ has not been named!
Our goal in our gospel witness is to take our eyes off the “risk” and place them on the cause for the risk. When God compels us like this he often will not tell us the risks…after all there are no risks for the all-knowing, all-powerful God. So let us be AMBITIOUS (Romans 15:20) to see that ALL are reached with the gospel of grace (Romans 1:16) in ALL places…there are no closed doors to the gospel, just some which are more difficult to go through!