I guess it really began on Friday, April 28, 2017. That was the day when my heart began to truly be changed – pierced because of Africa.
A few months before, life was “normal.” I husbanded, fathered, and pastored – maybe not grammatically correct, but you get my drift. And then I got a call that Phillip Price (our county’s Baptist Director of Missions) and George Smith (a missionary to Uganda through the IMB – who I already had a great deal of respect for) wanted to meet with me. Red flags? No – I had no idea what was ahead.
Phillip began with pleasant small-talk, but not George. He opened up a map of Uganda on the conference table, looked me in the eye, and said, “We need you to come with us to Uganda.” What????? And then he told me that a team was heading over, and they needed me to help train pastors (many of whom have little to no opportunity for in-depth training). He said more – but my mind went blank. All I know is that as they left, they asked me to pray (though I think I remember George saying that God already laid it on his heart that I was going).
I did – BOY did I pray. And when I sheepishly mentioned in to my sweet wife, Kristi, she really didn’t hesitate. She agreed. And then my staff agreed. And then others began agreeing. And I soon found that no one wanted to talk me out of it – great friends, huh?
So I agreed. (Oh, and I forgot to mention that God definitely burdened my heart to go as well.)
I didn’t have a lot of time to think about the trip – what it meant – what it involved. I saw all the things that needed to be done as tasks to accomplish – things to check off my mission trip to-do list. And even in the week leading up to the trip – I was swamped with my daughter’s soccer district match (I coached the team – though we lost) and my son’s golf district match (I coached that too – and we won it – woohoo!). I had to get together a bunch of lessons and messages. I had shots and medications to get – a visa – supplies – it was all a bunch of steps to me. But to go on such a trip as a Mississippi Baptist, there is a requirement to participate in a travel-safety conference – the possibilities and precautions that they talked about definitely began to wake me up.
And then – I began to see a different look in the eyes of my family. Was that worry I was noticing? Yes – Kristi told me that they really didn’t want to upset or worry me – so Jameson and Amelia Rose spilled their guts to her. And then some of our church members began to say some things (they were nice things – I promise) that led me to believe that there were some things they were worried (or maybe I should say “concerned”) about. Those things still hadn’t really hit me yet, though.
Then something happened on Sunday, April 23. After my usual “short” sermon (oh, that’s a good one!!!), the Deacons took the mic at the end of the morning worship service – to pray for me. (They probably have no idea what that meant – and what it still means to me.) And then the night before I left, my whole family circled me – to pray for me. And suddenly – what they were feeling – what I was facing – what could happen – began to hit me.
When we all got up on April 28, all four of us were fighting back tears. Even my man-child Jameson made a point of telling me to be safe (he never does that kind of thing). Suddenly, my heart was overcome with regret over how this made my family feel. Was me going to Uganda really a God-thing?
I’ll admit that I really didn’t know what to think about the team (not that I didn’t like them – I just didn’t know them yet). The picture of us before we left the Mobile, AL airport is missing one member, Nick Walters, who would meet us in Atlanta, GA. So there I am – trying not to cry as I leave my beautiful wife – because I’m a man (you know), and we don’t do that kind of stuff.
And while we waited – I began to do a little more research on Uganda. Idi Amin took control in the 1970’s – opening the door for communist countries to come in. He and they ravaged the country, and they never got a chance to recover in many ways. But, hey, my research showed that Uganda is considered “relatively safe” (whatever that means).
What had I gotten myself into? I’ve been on many mission trips – but never one across the ocean – and never to a country that might be “dangerous.”
And then it happened. While leaving Mobile on the plane, we headed into and then out of the clouds. As we came into the bright blue sky, my heart sensed “HOPE.” It was as if God was speaking to me – and me alone. And that verse rang out in my heart: “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” (Psalm 56:3)
I prayed – thanking God for the opportunity and what was to happen. And suddenly – my heart began to burn for the people I would soon meet.
(To be continued)