MOBILIZING MISSIONARIES FOR PIONEER CHURCH PLANTING
One of the graduates from our Ignite discipleship school had spent months on Dolwe Island in business with his mom over the past few years and built relationships with many of the pastors there. When it came time for our Island Leadership Network annual conference back in August, I asked my friend to invite these leaders to join us and see what God would do in expansion to that distant section of the lake. Four of them traveled to our conference, loved what we were doing in the Ssese Islands and invited us to bring the ILN to their fragmented ministries.
Three months later, we stood on unbelievable stacked rock formations that brought home the reality of creation – God Himself piled these things either when he separated the land from the sea or when the flood carved them out. For millennia they’ve stood as a witness to every generation of the great power of the Living God who not only made these wonders, but is typified by them as the “Rock of Ages.”
After a nine hour trip overland and oversea, we found Dolwe Island to be full of Ugandan hospitality, more food than we could handle, warm smiles, and excitement over their visitors. There was even a small scuffle on the beach upon our arrival as two pastors from different churches had miscommunicated and both fought to host us.
Our lodging was superb – while the victorious pastor and his family dwell in a simple mud hut with thatched roof, he had prepared double mattresses on beds in clean rooms with mosquito nets, newspaper covering the mud walls and vinyl over the cow dung floors, all protected by an iron sheet roof. It was a quiet place, with the large church compound so far removed from the main part of town, we could barely hear the movie house, bars & churches blasting their sound systems with external speakers for the village to enjoy. The crickets were especially loud.
We also found abundant species of wildlife on this unique island – monitor lizards, badgers, otters, snake(skin), monkeys, bats, all kinds of birds and insects (including the mutant cockroach/crab combo I chased out of my room & the termites munching the walls of our guest room). I’m sure we would’ve seen even more if we had stayed longer than 36 hours!
But despite the beauty and serenity around us, there remains a disturbing spirit in this quiet little piece of land. With a relatively small population in three modest fishing villages, we couldn’t walk ten meters without coming upon another church building. In one village alone, six Christian churches hold nightly services. Every church with a meeting every night of every week of every year. Each one shouting their message over distorted speakers to draw in more than their usual handful of members, or court the disgruntled to bail on their commitment to a “rival” ministry. I couldn’t help but think it must be more about the nightly offerings than seeking God – it sure seemed like they open for business about the time the town comes alive.
There were just too many churches for such a small place. There’s one Catholic church, one Anglican church, and one mosque, but sixteen “Born Again” churches where three or four would suffice. It’s ridiculous when each shanty house of worship struggles to keep the 15-20 faithful who show up every night of the week to the destruction of their families. Oh yeah, all their school aged kids are away in boarding school anyway.
I was tough on those who gathered at our hosting church’s cavernous barn-like structure for my morning session. While I was supposed to give details about our leadership network, I couldn’t help but address the disunity that causes such a profaning of God’s name among the community. On other islands unbelievers testify that they would genuinely love to give their lives to Christ, but don’t want to enter into the fights and wars between these “brethren.” Surely the lost remain in darkness as the leaders of the House of God strive to be the biggest, best, and definitely the loudest. Lack of morning coffee on this mission sure didn’t help my frustration with their prideful, ignorant pursuit of personal success in ministry to the detriment of Gods name.
On our final night we returned by motorcycle taxi from a village six miles away. The floating lights from mukkene fishermen gave a firefly effect down on the lake, and silhouettes of towering rock castles surrounded us in the twilight. Our “spy mission” had been successful and exhausting at the same time. Will we expand our network to this island? I’m not real sure yet. The leaders definitely want it and desperately need it. But navigating so many complex church splits and lingering character issues doesn’t sound straightforward. Then again, if it was easy someone would’ve already brought them together…