MOBILIZING MISSIONARIES FOR PIONEER CHURCH PLANTING
I stood at the front of the structure packed to double capacity with the leaders of God’s church, scanning their faces. I wanted to honor those who had faithfully served Jesus for the longest amount of time. Dozens of leaders stood to indicate they had been on the front lines for at least five years, and few of them sat when I raised the bar to ten. Only fifteen or so had served for fifteen years, and half of that for twenty. The handful that remained standing strong at twenty-five years ended at thirty and all came forward, including a certain Pastor named Jimmy. I had each of them pray for the rest of us youngsters, silently requesting the grace to serve as faithfully as these giants already had.
Whenever we approach our annual conference, we wonder which of our leaders will stay home for lack of the $3 fee required for their attendance (they often do), whether the lake will cooperate on travel day (it often doesn’t), or whether our leaders will have informed everyone in time to make detailed plans (we’ve been hit-and-miss). We budget and plan and gather materials and make announcements in preparation for hundreds of our leaders and hope we can gather them in one central place for heart-encouragement and to boost their work during these few days in the company of Jesus.
This year’s annual conference for the leaders of God’s church throughout Lake Victoria’s Islands ended up splendidly. Not by way of organization or smooth execution of a plan, not in audio/visual effects or clever branding, but in sheer numbers of leaders seeking the face of God and finding Him in the midst of their struggles.
Pastor Godfrey Muyanja oversees the Island Leadership Network – a growing fellowship formed specifically to address the unique challenges that leaders on the islands face daily. We are gripped by a vision of 100% of these church leaders coming together to build a Church that will transform the island communities, and that hope is rapidly becoming a reality.
For more than ten years we have served on the islands, primarily working among the Baganda people in the NW corner of Lake Victoria. This area is roughly 65 miles square, with well over 100,000 souls seriously in need of a Savior. The remote lakeshore villages where most of them live are full of young mainland-escapees seeking their fortune in either fishing or prostitution, gambling and drinking away any profits they actually realize. Their rural slums are rife with witchcraft, and the resulting spiritual bondage is tangible in many sites. But the Church is breaking through in numbers and spiritual vitality, with nearly 150 congregations blanketing the region. A majority of these church’s leaders participate in our fellowship, and while we work towards 100%, we are pushing East.
We’ve been scouting out the Buvuma islands—another 65 mile square on the NE corner of Lake Victoria, with an additional 80,000+ souls and another 100+ churches largely lacking unity among their leaders or a vehicle to bring them together. Our initial visits and ministry to groups of these leaders were met with eager anticipation of more to come, and open invitations to bring our network to their side of Lake Victoria. It’s remarkable that while plowing through our corner of the lake has taken a rough decade, relationships with other pioneering missionaries has unlocked immediate access to double the reach of our network. Here at our annual conference, Pastor Jimmy steered a boatload of 60+ leaders over 150 miles of waves to be together with their larger spiritual family.
My own brother, Evan, was the keynote speaker, and together with our resident teaching team, he strengthened those in attendance with the Word of God from Hebrews 12: UNSHAKABLE. The encouragement to hold onto Jesus through the storm was especially relevant to a population in the midst of turmoil threatening their very way of life. The prospect of fish money drew them to these islands, but illegal-sized nets proved the most productive method to pull out quick profits while stripping the life out of Lake Victoria. Generations without regulation carved inalienable rights into the hearts of the people and as the police now try to make up the time, the residents are pushing back. Lakeshore riots have followed boat-and-net bonfires and the occasional drowning of fishermen. Some landing sites are marked for closure. People who have centered their lives around this trade don’t know what to do or where to go next.
“These peoples’ stamina is incredible,” Evan commented as we stepped out of the final meeting on Thursday night. Each day was filled with fifteen hours of prayer, singing, dancing and listening to sermons through an interpreter and no one seemed to tire of the process.
I learned later that Pastor Jimmy lost his teenage daughter in an accident just days prior to the conference. You would never tell from his beaming smile, his eager heart for service, and his excitement at being together with so many leaders from around the lake. These people are tough—probably from years of pulling heavy water jugs from the lake, from trusting God for their daily bread as they work tirelessly for survival, from sleepless nights of fishing, travel across treacherous waters (when most of them don’t swim!), from sorrow and from suffering. Indeed, their stamina is stunning.
Another night I spoke of the Unshakable Kingdom we are receiving and called forward those leaders who were on the verge of giving up. I wasn’t surprised to see most of the room step up to receive the grace of God to serve Him well. Though they are presently standing, many are close to tumbling over the edge. Their desperation shows how necessary this Network is for their encouragement, to undergird their hearts as they hold out the light of the world in the midst of a perversely dark society.
I’m honored to stand next to great leaders like Pastor Jimmy; men and women who have laid down their lives for more than thirty years to serve the people of the islands. And as the Consuming Fire gives us more grace, we’ll be honored to push the Gospel further out until it penetrates every last unreached village on Lake Victoria.