David A. Okken
The other day I came home from a village Bible study with greatly mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was filled with joy because the study had gone so well. After almost a decade of ministry in Karamoja, I could not remember a time when the word of God had been better received than it was that day as I spoke under the tree in East Kopetatum where we preach and teach. We were studying Noah and the Flood. The hearers paid good attention. There were many thoughtful questions and comments. They seemed to understand and eagerly receive the message as I showed from the Scriptures how the story points to the salvation from sin and judgment that comes from Christ Jesus, his death and resurrection. They were asking me to keep coming to teach them, and they were promising to invite many others to come. I was thrilled.
So why was my joy tempered by suspicions and even doubts? Of course, part of the answer is that I am a sinner who struggles to truly believe in the power of Christ. From such unbelief I need to repent! On the other hand, my guarded optimism is based on years of experience. I have seen many instances where groups have joyfully received the word, only to lose their enthusiasm over time. Furthermore, in the parable of the sower, our Lord teaches us that the presence of joy among those receiving the word does not always bring the promise of lasting fruit (Matt. 13:20–21). We know that the word can be choked and made unfruitful by the cares of this world (13:22). This is a big problem in Karamoja.
Should we then be rejoicing that men and women are receiving the word in places like East Kopetatum? Indeed we should! Ours is a judicious joy, but it is an unceasing joy (1 Thess. 5:16). We do not naively believe that every time the word is joyfully received it will certainly produce the fruits of eternal salvation. But we do rejoice because the very fact that the word goes forth and is received is a reminder that the kingdom of Christ is present. We are those to whom it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13:10–11). We understand that even when the word does not bear the fruit that we long to see, the kingdom is still present. There will always be those who will receive it with joy, but whose faith will not endure. But just as surely as the seed sometimes falls on the paths, on the rocky soil, and even among the thorns, so also does it fall upon good soil, according to the timing and perfect will of King Jesus.
Let us rejoice that Christ has been pleased to bring his kingdom to East Kopetatum. And please pray that the Spirit would be sowing the seed of the gospel in the good soil of the hearts of those who, by God's grace, will hear and understand it and bear much fruit for the glory of our great King!
The author is an OP missionary to Uganda, laboring in Karamoja. New Horizons, May 2011.