At the Foot of the Cross in the Middle of the World by John Barton

Recently my college roommate, Uganda teammate, friend and brother in Christ John Barton gave this talk at Rochester College. John and his wife, Sara, have radically committed their lives to Christ. They were the first of our friends to huddle us up and call a play that would change our lives. They said, “We’re going to Africa to do mission work. We’d love for you to come. But we are going with or without you.”

None of us could bear the thought of them going without us, and John in particular would surely need some help paying for several basketball courts in our future home. So we decided to go along.

Since that day, John and Sara, have continued that “play” and have been blazing a trail that others have followed. In particular, John is interacting in the U.S. and encouraging our Ugandan friends through Kibo and other ways to interact in loving, honest, and humble ways with Muslims and others who do not share our same view of Christ and the cross.

In this talk, linked below, you will find a view of Christ and the cross that is a powerful contextualization for today of these words of Apostle Paul:  “but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1 Cor 1:23-25)

The animal I’m most fascinated by in Uganda

I’ve watched elephants for hours in game parks in Uganda, Kenya, and Zimbabwe . . . and at a few zoos. This one I saw and videoed in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Western Uganda in 2010.

I love the strength, trunk action of feeding, and the awareness of others around with a shake of the ears.

What’s your favorite animal?

Drive Uganda 3: Hitchhiking in Uganda

In Uganda, hitchhiking is common as the cold.  But don’t picture a hippie with a joint in the 60s.  Think of an old lady with creaky joints in her 60s.  A lady of this description flags me down one Sunday on a rural dirt road.  We greet each other through a cloud of rolling dust.

“How did you sleep?” I ask.

“Fine.  Take me to the church!” the old hitchhiker says.

“Which one?”

“The church up there.”


“There! UP THERE!” she points with her lips and hits every syllable hard.

“Huh? Wha? Wher–?  Ok, just get in and show me.” Continue reading

Drive Uganda 1: Countdown to 100,000 Miles

In the mid-90s my wife, children, and I lived in Jinja, Uganda and worked with a church planting team, what is now more identified in the United States as The Kibo Group. I often wrote about my adventures and misadventures in and around Jinja. Here I wrote about the fascinating sites and sounds along the roads in Uganda.

It was a big day.  I would be preaching in Buvulunguti, Uganda village where a church started recently.  And our ’92 Toyota pickup’s odometer would roll to 100,000 kilometers on the way to that village.

IMG_9874One-hundred-thousand is a vehicle’s rite of passage, and we males actually bond with the hunk of steel as the 99999 rolls over.  You scoff, ‘Kilometers!’  Mind you, there are more bone-rattling potholes and vehicle-crunching bumps in one African kilometer than in 100 miles on most U.S. roads.

The odometer reads 99938 as I begin, and I make a mental note to watch for the important event during the drive. Driving in Uganda is rarely boring or uneventful.  I zoom by a biker with a 20-pound Nile Perch from Lake Victoria laying across the back of his bicycle.  A goat, tied next to the road, strains for a blade of grass just out of its reach. Continue reading

What’s going on in Egypt?

All Giza Pyramids in one shot. Русский: Все пи...

All Giza Pyramids in one shot. Русский: Все пирамиды Гизы на изображении. Español: Las Pirámides de Guiza (Egipto). Français : Les Pyramides de Gizeh (Egypte). Català: Les Piràmides de Giza, a Egipte. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What’s going on in Egypt today? Egypt is the most ancient society known to our world that still survives as a nation state with the same name and location. It pre-dates even Israel. The Old and New Testaments mention Egypt nearly 700 times. That’s a lot. Imagine being Egyptian and hearing things like this in the prophecy of Isaiah, and these are just from one chapter, Isaiah 19.

  1. The Lord will make Himself known to the Egyptians.
  2. The will acknowledge the Lord, worshiping, sacrificing, making vows and keeping them.
  3. The Lord will strike Egypt with a plague and heal them.
  4. They will turn to the Lord, and He will respond to their pleas and heal them.
  5. Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together.
  6. Israel, Egypt, and Assyria will be a blessing on the earth.
  7. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”

These texts have forever changed the way I view the politics of our American government favoring Israel and Christians who think God has some favored nation status on Israel. God favored humanity, and He told Israel through Moses that it was not because of their righteousness that God picked them (Deuteronomy 9:6).

To read phrases like, “Egypt my people” and “Assyria my handiwork” reframes our politics, our notions of how God favors. He can favor, but he doesn’t have to exclude. I think the politics of the Middle East espoused by many Evangelical Christians over the years have been exclusionary for no good reason, in a way that unfairly views Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims. God seeks Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, Buddhists to be His people, and He is drawing all people to himself, and He wants all people “to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).


Walk With Me Across a Rickety Bridge

On a visit to help a village learn the method of water well drilling, we stayed with long-time friends James and Margaret Okumu, who live on a picturesque close to the border of Uganda and Kenya.

In the video below I’m following the group as we walk across a rickety bridge over the swamp. There are many of these bridges to navigate. The night before we walked over these bridges in the dark. James Okumu rides his motorcycle on these.

Because it is so difficult to pass here, it prevents commerce that could otherwise be done and allows for a lot of shady business between the borders. For many years this village area, called Budoola and Buwembe, heard politicians tell them they’d receive a new road over the swamp.

James told me shortly after we were there walking on this bridge, that the government came and build new culverts and a road through this swamp.

Much is made about going to build buildings in developing nations, schools, orphanages. This is good, but consider if you are an engineer or builder what can be done to build roads where people can simply use them to transport goods to market more easily. Much can be done by engineers and roads to help make people’s lives better.

Engineers and designers of the world chime in here. I want to hear from you.

Emmanuel Katongole

Location map of Burkina Faso Equirectangular p...

Location map of Burkina Faso Equirectangular projection. Strechted by 102%. Geographic limits of the map: * N: 15.5° N * S: 9° N * W: 6° W * E: 3° E Made with Natural Earth. Free vector and raster map data @ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m reading a book by African ethicist Emmanuel Katongole in which he says this about Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary leader of the country he named Burkina Faso, “land of incorruptible.”

In the five years of Sankara’s leadership, through agricultural reforms and mobilization of the population, his country achieved food self-sufficiency, which shows that Sankara’s ‘madness’ was quite sane indeed. Inventing the future requires the audacity to live in the present with energy and visions drawn from the future.

To get a better sense for what this is saying, watch the below video. Food itself becomes a symbol of imperialism in Africa that Sankara and people like him have tried to overcome.

Katongole’s overall point is not specifically about Sankara but about the role of the church as a proclaimer of God’s story that gives imagination and vision and courage to change the terrible heinous narratives that have been lived out in places like Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Upper Volta (later named Burkina Faso). Katongole speaks of the need for lament, memory, story, community of memory, anticipation of a new creation as elements of what the church can do to make a difference in the climate of a country where poverty and oppression exists.

Reading: Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis with Beth Clark

CIA World Factbook map of the country of Uganda.

Image via Wikipedia

Katie Davis was 18 when she first made a mission trip to Jinja, Uganda–a place I called home for seven years with my family–and decided to return for a year that has now stretched into three years. She went to Uganda with no college degree or nursing certificate but with a heart of Christ.

What would cause an 18-year-old homecoming queen from Nashville, Tennessee to forgo college, lose her friends, and break up with the love of her life–all to move thousands of miles away from her family?

Her trip to Uganda turned her life inside out. She was so moved by the Ugandan people, particularly the children–that she gave up a comfortable life to fulfill her calling to care for the poor who cannot afford basic necessities and school fees for their children.

Katie is now 22 and has published a book that will be available in October 2011.

The following are some excerpts and observations about her book and her work.

My heart was on fire with a passion to say yes to God’s every request–to do more to help the people around me. Starting a ministry in Uganda wasn’t something I had in mind when I came here, but it seemed the only logical next step as people approached me needing help and I said yes to meeting their needs. As I prayed about what to do next and sought counsel from friends and family, I realized the only way to really be able to meet all the needs I wanted to meet in this community–to pay for children’s school, keep their bellies full, offer medical assistance, and most important teach them about Christ’s love for them–would be to start some kind of nonprofit organization.

This would be the first of many, many times we would invite disease-ridden people into our home (p 97)

People from my first home say I’m brave . . . They pat me on the back and say, “Way to go. Good job.” But the truth is, I am not really very brave; I am not really very strong; and I am not doing anything spectacular. I am simply doing what God has called me to do as a person who follows Him. He said to feed His sheep and He said to care for the “least of these,” so that’s what I’m doing, with the help of a lot of people who make it possible and in the company of those who make my life worth living.

Photo Essay 2: Boats

Ashley Taylor took this photo near Bugembe, Uganda on the shores of Lake Victoria. We had gathered with a church for baptisms of six people, and Ashley took this beautiful photo of fishing boats on the edge of the lake.



Busia, Uganda Swamp
James Okumu walks across a swamp near Busia, Uganda that separates his family from trading centers and neighbors. He’s been waiting for two decades for government to fulfill a promise to build a useful road across the swamp.


James Okumu near his home in Eastern Uganda

We walked across this swamp at night, passing over slime-covered logs over and over until we reached the home of James Okumu where we would sleep the night. We were a water well drilling team made up of Ugandans and me who had been working five days on a water well for a village called Buwembe. We were demonstrating a new hand-drilling method that allows a 6-inch bore hole to be drilled entirely without power tools. In addition to water, people like James Okumu also need roads through places like this swamp. People with road and bridge-building skills could coach this community through less-expensive ways to build bridges using mesh-rock methods and other levee methods employed here in the United States.

African Children’s Choir coming to Garnett

I’m really proud to announce that the African Children’s Choir is making a World Tour stop at Garnett Church of Christ. I’m excited about hosting these children from Uganda and Kenya in our homes and church for two nights. They will perform Saturday, January 22 at 6 pm and again Sunday, 10 am in our worship January 23. Below is more and a video.

World-renowned musical ambassadors, The African Children’s Choir, bring their exciting 2011 World Tour to Tulsa, for a one-night-only, energy-packed performance you won’t want to miss!

Green Country Event Center/Garnett Church of Christ
January 22, 2010 6 p.m.
Free Concert (Love Offering will be taken)

In 1984, when human rights activist Ray Barnett was summoned to help the thousands of orphaned, abandoned and starving children in war-torn Uganda, he and his team were inspired one day by the singing of one small boy, and decided to form the first African Children’s Choir to show the world that Africa’s most vulnerable children have beauty, dignity and unlimited ability, and could serve as a mouthpiece for change, one child at a time.

The African Children’s Choir has performed to packed audiences around the globe, from major churches to every major TV network–including American Idol–to guest appearances with Christian music superstars Michael W. Smith, Josh Groban, and many others. Over its twenty-six years, The African Children’s Choir has helped hundreds of ACC choir tour members realize not only their own personal dreams of a better life, but to duplicate those dreams for many thousands of other African needy children through tour proceeds and sponsorships that provide quality education, food, shelter and medical assistance. Don’t miss this unique opportunity; make your plans now to see The African Children’s Choir in concert on January 22nd, 2010, presented by Garnett Church of Christ and Green Country Event Center. Admission is free. For more information, call 663-3000.

Oneka Charles: a man of God

Remembering Oneka Charles today. Oneka Charles died August 5 in his home area of Gulu, Uganda.

Oneka Charles was a beautiful human being, devoted to Christ and serving humanity, a tailor and friend to all.

Oneka was a friend of many of us who lived Uganda from mid-90s till now. He was a tailor and it was well-known that he could sew anything, including clothes for our children, couch covers, drapes . . . anything. He was good at what he did.

Oneka did not hide the fact that he was HIV-positive. He spoke guardedly about his past but confidently and faithfully about the future. He wanted God to change his test to HIV-negative, and he at times became discouraged with yet another positive test. We talked one day about how God has spared his life for a purpose–to glorify God in so many ways on this earth–and Charles fulfilled that purpose. God spared him for more than a decade, regardless of what tests said.

Brent Abney said, “I’ll never forget him . . . his amazing faith, his kindness, his guarded stories of his past, his enthusiastic worship leading and singing. He was a man of God.”

On our summer 2010 trip to Uganda, my family was honored to visit Oneka and enjoy moments of prayer and his leading two songs we always remembered him leading in “Jinja Church” years ago. When we visited him, he was living in a small room with rent paid by exchanging sewing work for an orphanage on the same property. Charles was always kind to our children, and wanted specially to have a photo of him with the children.

May he receive from God the blessing of reward for a faithful life and as Abney said, “I hope God hugged him.”