David J. Robbins
The mid-morning sun filters orange light into the waiting room. It’s a little slow today at Akisyon a Yesu Clinic in South Karamoja, Uganda, but there are a few people scattered on the benches that line the walls.
I greet them. We have good news for the sick.
The passage is Mark 2:13–17. Jesus says to Levi, “Follow me.” Not only Levi but many sinners follow him, and he eats with them. What a marvelous meal that must have been! But Jesus’ actions provoke the self-righteous.
Follow me! The words are foreign, strange. How could the holy and righteous One, who will not even look on sin, not only tolerate but actually invite the company of sinners? He does not shun the thieves, the drunkards, the murderers. He does not dismiss the guilty, but calls sinners of every stripe to come and follow him.
Follow him to the cross, where he will break the power of sin, cleanse its stain, and pay its deadly debt. Follow him to heaven, where he has now gone before us, leading his people up to perfect and unfading joy. Follow him in worship, where each week he meets with us, speaks with us, transforms us into his likeness, and prepares us for his service. Endless blessings await unworthy sinners who come to him!
The patients listen. Prayer is offered. Tracts are distributed. We hope some of them will come and worship with us.
As I preach, my wife Rashel, who is sick, is receiving treatment in a back room.
For the twelve disciples, the call to follow Jesus meant forsaking everything. In the light of his glory and grace, everything else faded into the background.
Following God’s call to Karamoja has required us to leave some things behind. Before arriving on the field, we were told that we might be sick—a lot—during the first year. In God’s mercy, we’ve fared better than we expected, but the clinic walls have become very familiar. They can bear witness to our malaria, tonsillitis, giardiasis, amoebiasis, weird infections, and other complaints. Our immunities are increasing and our health should improve, but feeling well is not necessarily part of the program. Following Jesus is, and he brought us here to announce the comfort of the gospel to other sinners.
There are other stressors. The doorbell rings constantly. Friends in need—and even people we don’t know—ask us for things. We can view these either as interruptions or as opportunities to cultivate friendships and share the good news—and that is how we follow Jesus, we remind ourselves. Our comfort and cultural expectations bow to his priorities.
The call to follow my Lord here has ultimately damaged my pride. You probably know that the romanticized portrait of the heroic, ultra-spiritual missionary is usually not the whole story. I knew this, or thought I did. And what can I say? I have struggled to be kind to family members, to guard my tongue, not to be angry, to love the people to whom God has called us, and even to pray. Sometimes I have allowed myself the dark indulgence of self-pity. It happens that I need Jesus just as much as the Karimojong do: desperately! Praise God that Jesus calls and redeems sinners, not the righteous and not the heroes.
We are unworthy of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. And yet he called us! Such marvelous grace! It amazes us, and it motivates us. Our life and our labors are deeply joyful because Jesus speaks these words: Follow me.
The joy of following Jesus is multiplied by the privileges of inviting our neighbors to join us, and of walking together with our Karimojong brothers and sisters who have answered his call. They are very precious to us.
These last months, a flock of little old ladies has descended on Nakaale Presbyterian Church (NPC). They all want to shake hands. One, Maria, rubs my hair with her hand and then with her armpit. She is blessing me. Most ask for prayer; they have waist pain, headache, eye pain, leg problems. Everyone is hungry. The pastoral prayer is lengthy because they suffer a great deal. But they are concerned for us, too. When we are sick, they ask about us, hold us, and tell us not to worry. They pray for us, and give thanks when God answers.
Young men are following Jesus. Louse (low-OO-say) John Bosco came to us asking for school fees. We gave him work and a Bible. His very first! On receiving it, he beamed with joy. He reads it, studies it, and loves it. Now in senior classes (the equivalent of American high school), Louse and his friend Angella (ahng-EL-uh) Paul regularly “preach” the word to the other students and are eager to evangelize the Muslims on campus. They have joined NPC. On most Sunday afternoons, they are in our home, along with a group of other serious young men. These men are learning the hymns “Amazing Grace” and “I Belong to Jesus” in English. They recently asked, “What does it mean to be a Presbyterian?” and listened to the explanation with rapt attention. They are just learning, but they seem persuaded. They know that Christ is the head of his church.
People are coming to Jesus with their problems. A Karimojong brother recently approached Dave Okken, my wonderful pastoral colleague here, to confess a struggle with drunkenness and to seek help. In another situation, a church member had another brother in Christ arrested. Dave and I sat with them and read from 1 Corinthians 6. They agreed to resolve the matter together in the church.
In 2016, the OP Uganda Mission was invited to hold worship services in the nearby village of Akuyam. It’s a large place with no churches. Meeting under the tamarind tree in the center of the village is a special joy. Attendance varies, but is increasing; a core group is forming. There are men there whom God may be calling to leadership.
One day, as we were walking back to Nakaale after the service, a woman called out to our translators. She ran and gave each of them a piece of roasted maize—the first “tithe” in this place. Now the people want to erect a building to shield us from rain. They will supply the labor, some of the materials, and possibly even the land. They want to be a local church. This is new territory for us! We don’t know what God will do, but it is very encouraging.
Not perfectly, not painlessly, these people are following Jesus with us. We share together in the struggles, but we also share together in the Savior. He is calling the Karimojong to himself, and they are coming. Many have planted, many have watered, and God is giving the increase. These are answers to our prayers and yours.
Our hearts are very full of joy
The author is an OP missionary to Uganda. New Horizons, May 2017