In February 2020, before Covid-19 restrictions came into force, two couples from the UK, Sidney and Judy Miller and Kevin and Susan Judge, went with ShareWord Global (SWG) to help with separate “GO” missions in Uganda. Neither had done anything like it before.
Kevin and Susan Judge from Reading Branch (pictured above) went to Kampala in early February for 2 weeks.
These missions were some of the first where there would be no traditional forms of Scripture distribution. No visits to schools, hospitals, prisons, or orphanages. Simply ten days of street witnessing in two cities using HOPE magazines, working alongside local Ugandan Christians. Before the missions began, team members of all ages from Canada and the UK “met” each other via Zoom training sessions, and additional training and cultural acclimatisation was provided when they arrived in the country. Uganda is a country of 45 million people, with 78 per cent of the population being under 30. There are 40 living, native languages and 13 of these are without the Bible. Alcoholism, corruption, HIV and AIDS are rife and life expectancy is just 58. Witchcraft and child sacrifice are on the rise and there are growing calls for Sharia Law in the east of the country.
The entire programme was enabled in a fortnight. “Could we do that?” said as we looked at each other. We had just heard Chris and Angela Axelby speak about their ShareWord Global trip to Moldova and were so excited by what we heard.But surely those trips were for other members? People who had been members for much longer than us, maybe? We had not considered the previous International Scripture Blitz trips as our heart was for serving together, not separately. Later that evening, we heard Bill Thomas speak. His text that evening was “Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4). And so the seed was planted in our hearts.
Over the next few months, we prayed that if God wanted us to join a ShareWord Global trip He would open the right doors. By late Autumn we had been accepted to join the GO Trip to Kampala, Uganda, but there was an unexpected twist. This trip was one of the first where there would be no traditional areas of distribution.Simply 10 days of street witnessing in the slum districts of Kampala using the HOPE magazines, working alongside local Ugandan Christians. At which point the nerves kicked in. “Could we do that?” we asked again.
When Hudson Taylor, the pioneer missionary to China, was asked about his work, he responded, “It seems that God searched the entire world, looking for the weakest man, and when He found me, He said 'you'll do'". We can honestly echo his sentiment as we considered the challenges ahead.
We met the rest of the GO team on a series of Zoom training calls in the weeks before departure. It was daunting to learn that we were the only “newbies” on the team, with everyone else seemingly mission trip veterans. We soon realised what an advantage this was as everyone was keen to support, encourage and mentor us. Our team of 12 was made up of three from the UK and nine from Canada. The youngest, Alejandra, was just 17 and had been given time off school to join the trip on the provis o that she submitted regular homework assignments online.
Our team leader, Wayne, was a wise man with a real heart for evangelism and a love for the lost. As the trip went on, we understood just how much effort he had put in to organising the trip, having made several visits to Uganda in the months before. All we had to do was turn up and do as we were asked. Covered by prayer In the months before we left our daily prayer was that God would both challenge us and use us for His glory and in His service. God knew that we were apprehensive about days of street witness and door to door work, but the words of Isaiah 40 were a great source of hope and peace:
“I will be your God throughout your lifetime, until your hair is white with age. I made you and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you” (Isaiah 46: 4 NLT)
And so after many vaccinations and with visas ready, we were off. No turning back. After a brief stop at Dubai airport, where we enjoyed a final Costa, we boarded the onward flight to Kampala. We knew that many people were praying for us – our families, our church, our Reading Branch, our colleagues on Regional Cabinet and many members across the UK. We were completely covered with prayer which we knew would make all the difference. After a good night’s sleep, breakfast was the first opportunity to meet the rest of the team in person. It was also a time to learn that Ugandan breakfasts are somewhat different to our usual muesli or Weetabix. Enormous helpings of meat (goat or beef), pasta, noodles, fried vegetables, fried potatoes, and chapatti – and my favourite, cake with chocolate sauce!
Our first day was spent in team building and training in the hotel. We were joined by pastors from the Central Rubaga Pastors Fellowship, with Pastor Sam being the lead local contact. He had worked with Wayne for many months, preparing the itinerary.
Our ShareWord team would be split into four groups of three and each group would be assigned to a small number of churches with whom they would work all week. Each day we would be based at one of “our” churches and each of the team would be partnered with a church member to act as interpreter, friend and encourager as we walked the local streets sharing the Gospel. It all sounded straightforward, until at lunch time, one of the local Pastors asked us whether we could cope with long days of preaching! No one had mentioned preaching on the streets. What a relief to discover that they meant witnessing. Sharing Jesus? We could do that! There were six full days of street witness.
Each morning the minibus would drop us at our assigned church for that day. Given that all the churches were in slum areas, most needed repair and some were missing roofs and doors. As we pulled up, church members with beaming smiles would hurry out to greet us, insisting on carrying our bags and water bottles, most concerned that our shoes were not dirtied by the famous red soil of Uganda. We were always ushered into special seats and children bowed or curtsied as they greeted us. There was a flurry of activity as the HOPE magazines and the local language version, Essuubi were readied for distribution. Stickers were applied to the back, giving contact details for the church.
After prayer we were paired up with a church member to interpret. Although we were on the trip to serve God together as a couple, we opted to work separately during the day. It was fun at the end of the day to share photos, stories, and testimonies of how God had been at work that day. Some church members stayed behind to prepare lunch for everyone. Before we ate, it was common that someone would take our hands and wash them for us. Such love and a desire to serve us shone out. Portions were huge, with many expressing concerns that we could not possibly have eaten enough. In turn we were greatly relieved that we were never offered fried grasshoppers, a traditional Ugandan snack.
Walking the streets of the slum areas was tough. Each day the area we worked seemed to be poorer than the day before. Often there were open sewers and piles of rubbish littered the streets, with goats and chickens perched on top, feeding on whatever they could find. Tiny children carried huge yellow jerry cans as they went to fetch water, and motorbikes weaved in and out, trying to avoid the many potholes. Yet there was a real hunger and interest to hear what the Mzungu (white person) had to say.
We stopped wherever we could find someone to speak to, from women sitting outside their houses peeling plantain, to men waiting in barber shops, to young people running small shops and snack bars. Sharing the Gospel was so easy compared to here in the UK. There was no need for preamble or small talk. Our interpreter would say to us “Preach to them” and so we did! HOPE or Essuubi magazines were readily accepted and our interpreters would take contact details and suggest coming along to church to hear more. Many people professed faith and we encouraged the local church members to ensure that these new believers were followed up and discipled.
Leah was typical of one of the many young women we met. Just 18, she stood in the doorway of her food stall waiting for customers, as her two little girls played happily on the dusty track outside. She was happy to chat with us, explaining she was a Catholic and hoped that Mary and the saints would help her get to heaven. She was very keen to take a HOPE magazine as she knew some of the Psalms and was delighted by the Ugandan scenery that it contained. As we made the Gospel clear to her, she had many questions and was obviously searching for assurance and truth. She confided that her husband was an alcoholic who regularly beat her when he was drunk and generally made her life an absolute misery. How she needed Jesus. As we turned to leave her, she fell to her knees and there in the shop doorway she prayed to accept Jesus as her personal Saviour. She beamed with delight as we left and promised to come to church on Sunday.
Barbara had such a joyful faith in Jesus. She was sitting outside her one roomed house peeling plantain as we stopped to chat. We offered to help her as we talked. This young woman of 19 had an amazing testimony. She had been brought up in a family who were prominent in the witchcraft community.
By the time she was 14, she was very afraid of all she had seen and heard. When she heard a street preacher one day, she stopped to listen and took a Gospel leaflet away to read later. She hid the leaflet at home knowing how her family would react if they found it. Alone in her bedroom she read the leaflet and was struck by what Jesus had done on the cross for her. Deciding to find out more the next day, she went to sleep. A few hours later she woke in utter terror. She told us that the room was filled with a thick and palpable darkness. She could feel clawed hands around her neck, squeezing harder and harder. She remembered the leaflet she had read the night before and shouted out the name of Jesus. Instantly, the clawed hands released their grip and light flooded her bedroom. Tears flowed as she gave her life and heart to Jesus.
Life was not easy as a result. Her family rejected her and threw her out of the house. She was homeless for some time before finding acceptance and fellowship with a local church. Now at 19, she was married to Richard with two young children. Her six month-old baby was unwell with ongoing health issues. Word reached her family that the baby was sick, and her uncle sent her a message to say that she had angered the gods of witchcraft by turning away from them and this was their punishment. He has made many threats to come and take the baby away to be sacrificed to appease the gods. Yet Barbara told us that she has never regretted her decision to accept Jesus and of her love of sharing the Gospel message.
As we left her, she asked us to pray for protection for her and family and we promised to share her story with others in the UK, so that she would know she was being prayed for.
We could tell you many more stories of people coming to faith in Jesus and people keen to hear more. There was little open opposition to our work. Yet in one area, the local witch was angry at what we were doing and was keen to warn us off. She walked up the street to us and stopped just inches from our faces. Looking us in the eye, she shouted, “I hate Jesus” and spat on our feet, before running away. Staying just where we were in the middle of the busy street, we prayed with our interpreter for this woman, asking God to open her blind eyes to the truth and beauty of the Gospel. On our final day, the whole team met at the largest of the churches with the pastors from the Central Rubaga Pastors Fellowship and many of the local believers. It was a joyful occasion of prayer, singing and testimony sharing. We were able to present each Pastor with a study Bible for their own use and offer boxes of Bibles for them to distribute to their church members. Wayne reminded the Pastors of the need to follow up those who had professed faith during the week and to continue regular street witness using the HOPE and Essuubi magazines.
As he reflected on the week, one of the Pastors said,
“We have seen mission organisations come and go. They hold large, fancy crusades and will only eat KFC. But you walked with us and ate our food with us.”
A lasting memory is of Norah, a young Christian with a truly vibrant and wonderful faith. She owned the Melchizedek dress stall, festooned with brightly coloured scarves and dresses. Her beautiful smile greeted us warmly. Tucked away behind the counter was her sleeping three month-old baby boy. When asked if she knew Jesus as her Saviour, she grinned from ear to ear. Her smile said it all. She had accepted Jesus as her Saviour seven years earlier whilst at school. An old Gideon New Testament was open on her counter, clearly well read. But there was a great deal of pain and sadness in Norah's eyes as she shared that her one-year old son had been burnt to death last year. To make matters more painful, her three year-old daughter had accidentally knocked a pan of boiling porridge onto her brother. The boy could not be saved and died the same day. And yet, “I know my Saviour and Redeemer loves me” she said, “and He will hold me through my grief”. But she was afraid of harm coming to her new baby and asked us to pray that she would be made stronger in her faith and love for Jesus, and that her fears would be calmed. As we walked away, she began quietly singing “It is well with my soul.”