It is my last day in Uganda. As I sit, looking out over the hills dotted with huts and houses, Lake Victoria off in the distance, it is the red dirt road that catches my attention. This is my fourth trip to Uganda, and I seem to have walked those red dirt roads all across this country. They've taken me through tiny villages and into bustling towns. Sitting here, reflecting back on those journeys, I'm struck by the differences between this country and my own...as well as the many similarities.
Five years ago, my initial thoughts on the differences between our lands centered on poverty. I was overwhelmed by it. I was overwhelmed by the conditions I saw, and to some extent, experienced. For many, the day is consumed with survival. They gather water, praying it will be clean. They prepare food on small fires. They work to eek out a meager wage. Disease is an ever present danger, with sparse medical aid available.
Five years, and 4 trips later, those conditions are largely the same. But now, my understanding of this place, and her people, is changing. While not ignoring their physical conditions, I am learning to look to their hearts. These are a people, like us, shaped by their past. Their’s is a tribal past, where ancestors are worshipped. The spirit world influences much, from vocation, to marriage, to parenting.
At the same time, the gospel is taking hold here in beautiful ways. Many have called on the name of the Lord, and are experiencing the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The impact is, to a growing degree, a culture of Christianity, much like the American South. There are blessings, and curses, that come with this culture. For some, there exists a cultural blending, which pulls them between two opposing worlds. They cling to the traditions of their ancestral spirit worship, while also trying to embrace the church. The upside of this mixed culture is a common vocabulary from which we can begin the gospel conversation. Uganda is not an unreached people group.
This brings me back to the red dirt roads. As I've walked the roads of Uganda these past 5 years, I do not recall a single instance when I have talked with someone who did not know of Jesus. If I ask almost any Ugandan if they know about Jesus, they will say yes. This, as I have learned, is the wrong question. The right question, though it may sound similar, makes all the difference. Instead of asking if they know about Jesus, I've learned to ask if they know Jesus. This knowing is the difference between religion, or even hearsay, and a life giving relationship.
And that brings me to the similarities between our vastly different cultures. Trussville (and the American South in general) is not an unreached people group. We have a knowledge about Jesus, though we've taken this knowledge and blended it with our culture, often times not being able to distinguish between Biblical Christianity and cultural patriotism. For better or worse, those lines of distinction are quickly becoming more clear, but my red dirt road experience is amazingly similar.
If I were to ask anyone in Trussville if they know about Jesus, their answer would be a resounding YES. But as with Uganda, that is not the right question. Rather, I ask you...Do YOU know Jesus? Does this intimate, personal knowledge bear any mark on your soul...on your day to day life? Have you experienced the heart transforming, shame erasing, sanctifying grace of the Lord Jesus Christ?
Along the red dirt roads of Uganda, I can ask those questions of a stranger, and they will welcome me to sit and talk for extended periods of time. Along the paved roads of Trussville (and all of America), I am not afforded that reception. The truth is, because of my own sinful timidity, I often don't even ask. I'm asking now.
Can I ask you about Jesus? Do you know him? Our schedules are busy, or at least we use that as an excuse. So, can I talk to you in this format? In the coming days, I’ll be following this post with a series of posts, to engage you in a conversation along the red dirt road. Would you give me this time? And if these posts stir questions, or better yet...if they stir desires, can we talk further? Please email or call. In the mean time, please also share with others along your own red dirt road.