What We Believe
i

A Mission Letter from Karamoja

H. James Folkerts

New Horizons: July 2021

Ministry in Strange Times

Also in this issue

Ministry in Strange Times

At Last, a Visit to South Sudan

Our family of nine has been serving in Karamoja, Uganda, for a year and a half now. Time passes quickly here for us. Not a day goes by without a new lesson or a challenging experience, many of which we never dreamed of. At times, the intensity of daily life leaves little time for processing these events.

This past week, for example, we heard that one of our compound guards had suddenly become sick and tragically died and that his body needed to be picked up from the hospital and brought to his village. Since we were several hours away in Kampala for a meeting, I asked another team member to pick up the body with a mission vehicle. I received a call later that he hadn’t passed away—yet. He did die a few days later, and mission members collected his body and held a funeral. We arrived in his village the day of his death, just able to be there for the last part of the funeral. So, in the past week, we have had three funerals of people close to the life of the mission. Such suffering and loss are all too common here. We grieve for the brokenness of this world and for the pain and loss that their families are enduring.

For another example, a few days ago, I was mowing and almost stepped on a large, deadly snake. Praise the Lord for his protection!

The Real Story of the Missionary

Daily life is intense; it is also nonstop with routine obligations such as Sunday services, discipleship and training, evangelism, conferences, homeschooling, and supply runs on bad roads.

But in writing about the daily challenges and adventures of missionary life, we have to ask: what is the real story of the missionary? It’s not about the deadly snakes, although that was an experience I won’t quickly forget. The real story is about telling people about Christ through suffering and difficult situations.

It’s a story to be read not just by those who are far away from the mission field, but also those who are on it. Think of Dr. Luke and the second installment of his “mission letter” to Theophilus, otherwise known as the book of Acts. Addressed to a single “God-Lover,” it is Scripture for us all to read and be fed by. Consider what it was like for members of the churches of Asia Minor when the book was first read to them; what must it have been like for them to hear this account of their churches and themselves?

Our writing is subject to human limitations, but God is the great communicator. In communicating with us, he, too, wrote about the stories of people, of missionaries and the expansion of his Word, of joys and sorrows, victories and defeats, sin and repentance. He wrote of himself, of his work in us. He communicated himself to us. What a “mission letter” the Holy Scripture is! What a good news story! It is the story of power in Christ to challenge and change us and our story—forever.

Every story, law, parable, song, proverb, miracle, vision, letter, and prophecy given to us was perfectly appropriate, perfectly placed, without fault, given with divine purpose, a divine portioning of grammar and syntax. Isn’t it a blessing?

Instructing and Encouraging Our Hope

Our God thinks so. Paul thought so as well.

Consider the concluding words of the missionary Paul to the Romans. Keep in mind the rich gospel he has already communicated in the previous fourteen chapters. Then, in chapter 15, he writes:

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 15:4–6)

Paul wants to encourage people with God and with all of his Word. In the next chapter, he mentions by name specific people. Like you and me, they each had a story, a newsletter they could write, a tale of where Christ had met them, how he had changed them, and how he had called them to offer up their lives as living sacrifices.

Notice that after explaining the rich doctrines of grace in the letter to the Romans, missionary Paul says that Scripture instructs and encourages our hope. How often do we as believers hunger for encouragement, for endurance, and for hope and harmony, but then gloss over God’s communication to us? How often do we feed others but fail to enjoy the rich nourishing portions of Scripture for ourselves? How often are we content with scriptural sound bites and testimonies of others, but neglect “all Scripture” and what it is useful for? There is no substitute for God’s Word to us, whether we are well-weathered missionaries, pastors, or parishioners. Biblical hope gives us renewed endurance and encouragement in that pilgrimage we’ve been called to.

In Need of Christ and His Word

So how is Karamoja? It is in need of Christ, in need of his living Word, and so are we missionaries. We remember the words of Paul that one person planted, another watered, but God gave the increase. Over the years, there has been much planting and much watering here, sometimes in tears. We continue to plant and water, and we look to God to give that increase. Only he can change people’s stories in his Son, Jesus Christ. Only he can make people here worshipers of him, even as he has made you and I, and men and women through the centuries, worshipers of him.

We give thanks for God’s rich communication with us—for his Word. What an encouragement it is to give to people around us. We give thanks for stories of people being changed by the gospel—even when their faith is as small as a mustard seed. We give thanks for men and women who have a renewed interest in studying God’s Word and learning to pray. We are learning endurance, learning where to find our encouragement and hope, and above all learning about Christ and his mission. 

The author is a missionary evangelist (URCNA) laboring with the Uganda Mission in Nakaale, Karamoja, Uganda. New Horizons, July 2021.

New Horizons: July 2021

Ministry in Strange Times

Also in this issue

Ministry in Strange Times

At Last, a Visit to South Sudan

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