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New Horizons

Observations and Lessons

Albert J. Tricarico, Jr.

About two years ago, Laurie and I made the difficult decision to leave the Karamoja region of Uganda and take up life and work here in the U.S. We believe in the work of our Uganda Mission—one we served for eleven years. Yet, we believed the time had come to serve the kingdom differently and to be closer to our expanding family.

Karamoja is a beautiful place, and we loved living there. We do not so much miss the triple-digit temperatures, muddy roads, snakes, and termites. But we do miss our mission team and being part of a unique gospel work.

And we miss the people. Our Karimojong friends are special, and we learned much from them. They are hospitable, joyful, and resilient in the face of unspeakable hardship. They are committed to friends in ways that are not known so much to us. They are able to enjoy their shared life in the midst of the darkness. I have seen these things, appreciated them, and told the people so. I have come to believe that looking for ways to praise and thank people, and then actually thanking and praising them, is a vital part of ministry—to believers as well as those who do not embrace the gospel.

Lessons came to me that might not have come, had I not lived in Africa. I can’t quite say that I have learned them, but I received them and will go on learning them, I believe, for the rest of my life.

As a result of spending time in Uganda, the world looks bigger to me than it once did and smaller at the same time. It seems bigger as I reflect on people—folk I knew existed, but never saw until I became their neighbor. And as I multiply my experience of living in a different culture by the number of cultures I will never see in my lifetime, it makes me marvel at the vastness of humanity and at God’s creative beauty.

But the world also became smaller in a way. No matter where you go, how many people you meet, or what experiences come, there are two great realities that connect us all—sin and the gospel. We are all in trouble with God, and we are all loved by God and invited to believe in his Son for our everlasting blessing. Those two realities explain so much that we see in our world.

If I were to summarize the lessons of living in Karamoja in a single word, I would choose patience. I learned patience with people, patience with gospel work, patience with myself, and patience with culture—a culture where so many things are different from what I know as one who was raised in the West.

Everything seems different. People in East Africa think differently about so many ordinary things—money, time, marriage, friendship, and more. And it takes a little skill—and a lot of patience—to navigate around the differences.

We moved back to the U.S. in December 2015, so that I could take up a new call as associate general secretary for the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the great cause of world discipleship here in North America—a place that is similar in need, but different in character from where I lived as a missionary.

Different Cultural Challenges

It is possible that I feel the changes that have taken place in our culture with more intensity than many of you who are reading this article. While I tried to keep up with the doings here, my calling for more than a decade was to serve on a different continent. It is not easy to grasp cultural movement while living elsewhere—at least not for me. I followed the scene and dipped into Western life during furloughs, but it wasn’t until I relocated, listened to newscasts, interacted with neighbors, and scanned social media with greater ease, that the changes really hit me.

We now live in a place where the Christian faith is seen by many as implausible and absurd. I observe that those who hold to basic Christian ideas, such as God’s design for marriage, are often dismissed from conversations. I have felt this personally. I am sure that you have as well. I believe we do well to engage with patience, respect, and a listening ear, whether or not we receive the same.

In Karamoja, the challenges have a different look, though they emerge from the same misstep—a failure to submit to God’s ways as revealed in the Bible. The cultural realities that made ministry difficult there were many—polygamy and animism, to name two. As missionaries, we tried to address those issues patiently, while always putting the Lord Jesus before our friends as the one who delivers sinners and welcomes them into the family of his father.

Ministry was difficult in Africa, but we never felt excluded because of our beliefs, at least not openly. We always had a place in the conversation. We felt accepted and respected. We wanted to return the same and take the opportunities we were given to winsomely speak of Jesus.

Different Work

While the goal of church planting in North America is the same as it is in Africa, the work itself has a different look. From the beginning of our work up to the present time, the church in Karamoja has been overseen by missionaries, not local leadership. Missionary church planters are from a different place, are most comfortable speaking their own language, and have the difficult task of spotting and training candidates for church office in a place where polygamy is the norm. Pray for the Lord’s generous provision of indigenous leaders in Karamoja.

In North America, we send an ordained man at the beginning. He understands the culture, speaks the right language, and makes finding and training church leaders a priority very early on. Home missions here involves local budgeting, demographic analyses, attendance records, and detailed reporting. These categories are not so much in view for our missionaries in Uganda—yet.

There are other differences, of course, but the main thrust of the work is the same. Wherever we serve, the goal is to work toward the formation of congregations (and presbyteries) of God’s people—testimonies of the grace of Christ, serving needy people in a fallen world.

My new call is to serve our Committee on Home Missions and support the work of our general secretary, John Shaw. My tasks continue to develop as I settle in and learn my calling. A short list of things I am doing would include assessing fields, training church planters, interviewing candidates, visiting home missionary families, reporting to presbyteries and congregations, and visiting seminaries. There are, of course, related duties, such as writing, brainstorming, and attending meetings. One of the great privileges I have is to pray for our church planters. I invite you to join me. Pray as well with the lessons expressed in this article. Pray that we would all:

  • Engage our culture in the most helpful ways,
  • Respect and thank people for their contributions to our lives,
  • Patiently bring the gospel to bear upon our neighbors,
  • Appreciate the vast number of people who live on this planet and pray for their salvation, and
  • Humbly remember the great realities that equalize: we are all sinners and deserve the wrath and curse of God; we are all invited to trust in Christ for pardon, peace, and everlasting joy.

I am thrilled about what the Lord is doing in OPC home missions. I have been so pleased to see new works begin and other works organized in my first year of serving under this call. Presently the Committee supports twenty-six works and has approved funding for nine more that may be launched sometime in 2017.

Thank you for supporting your Committee and praying for the increase of the kingdom of Christ through the work of OPC home missions.

The author is the associate general secretary for the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. New Horizons, March 2017.

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