A Unique Expression.

((from Bridget))

It was the fall of 2014.  I had been out of America for 2 years and was looking forward to some good old fashioned worship.  In fact, I was giddy getting the family ready for church that first morning.
Were we really going to hear an entire sermon in our native tongue? Was I ready for instruments and lyrics that spoke to my deepest cultural roots?  Oh, and the thought of just one hour of worship, not FOUR?!?

To say the least, I was ready.

We shuffled the kids into their classes and took our seats.  Familiar faces ran to hug us while new faces gently smiled, but all warmly greeted us as the church publicly recognized the presence of the “returning missionaries.”

Then the music set began.  I was crying, arms raised, even had a few spells of praying in the spirit.  My spirit was admittedly worn, drained, and tired having just returned from our first term on the field but it was lifting and I was consuming this elixir for my soul.

The pastor that morning was one of my favorites.  A true man of the Word, convicting and powerful in his delivery, and on point with the Spirit’s power every time I had heard him preach in the past.

But then, it happened.
I glanced across the aisle and I came undone.

My eyes stumbled upon a glazed-over father, one hand holding his cell phone (could argue he had his Bible app open, I get it) while the other was fiddling with the sleeve on his Starbucks cup.

“Well wait, wait a minute” I thought to myself.  “Maybe he has a newborn baby at home, or worked a late shift.  Give grace Bridget.  Do not be so quick to judge.”

But it wasn’t just one dad.

It was face, after face, after face that I studied that morning.  Faces of beautiful brothers and sisters slumbering, passive, and disengaged.  They were all “in church” and could be physically accounted for, but no one was seemingly present, if you know what I mean.

It took everything in me to not stand on my chair and scream, “WAKE UP!”

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write:  I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up!  Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.  Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.” Revelation 3:1-3″

(Forget Sardis, this note might has well have been addressed to the good ol’ USA!)

Now, please hear me say, I have in no way “arrived” at any level of enlightenment or perfection.  I am a broken vessel who, because of the love of Jesus, can daily choose to reflect His love back to the world as His Church – His Bride still busy “making herself ready” (Rev 19:7).  However, as a sister who does not currently belong to the American church, nor can I fully identify with the African church either, what I offer is this: perspective.

For comparison, allow me to paint a picture of church here in Northern Uganda, Africa: Intercessory prayer begins at 0700.  The majority of the 700-800 church members will be there on time, no matter the distance or weather conditions they had to overcome on their walk in that morning.

Actual “service” is scheduled to begin at 0900 – this is when my family and I usually show up.  The worship set is best described as an African, praise-filled version of the Wii game, “Just Dance” – there is sweat, music, people, and movement in every dimension and direction.

The sermons themselves are difficult to examine as, through translation and compromised church acoustics, we miss about 40% of each one.  What I can tell is this: they are Biblically based, they are long, and the church body responds.

And like the pastor in the aforementioned American church, I can attest that this African preacher is LEGIT.  The lead pastor is one of our closest friends, a founding member of our orphan ministry, and a man whose whole life declares the praises and renown of our LORD Jesus Christ.

In fact, he was released from a Ugandan prison just last week.  He had been detained, with 2-3 other church leaders, for holding a renewal and prayer service over in a compound adjacent to the local witch doctor.  Hundreds had attended the renewal and the witch doctor’s hut was somehow damaged during the course of the revival weekend.   The local authorities decided to detain the church leaders indefinitely in order to ensure that the damage was unintentional.

He was held indefinitely in a Ugandan prison.

I was TERRIFIED when I just visited once.  No food, no water, no blankets, nothing- all of those things have to be brought to you by visitors (if you have any visitors come, that is.)

But our friend endured the lockup patiently and graciously and then came to our house for dinner the day after his release.  When asked about his take-away from the whole ordeal, it was as if I was hearing something straight out of the synoptic gospels, “It was okay.  I knew this was where the LORD had me and I was able to lead 114 people to Jesus.  Praise the LORD.”

Did you catch that?  He was being wrongfully held in prison and led 114 people to Christ!

“To the angel of the church in {Uganda} write: I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich!  I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.  I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days.  Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”  Rev 2:8-10

I am sad to admit I am not ready for detainment in a Ugandan prison for Jesus.  I would love to say yes, maybe, someday, but I am not there yet.  But this, my friends, is the all-consuming ministry my pastor friend is committed to.  This is CHURCH for him and many others here in Northern Uganda.

So then, in light of my offered perspective, you might ask… what is church to me?  I find myself, my “church”, best reflected in these words of John’s Revelation:

“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.  I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles and are not, and have found them false.  You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.  Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.  Remember the height from which you have fallen!  Repent and do the things you did at first.” Rev 2:1-5

Sometimes I can get so busy doing the work of the church, I can forget to just BE His Church.

What is His Church?  What does the church, the reflection of Christ’s bride, look like here in Uganda, America, and beyond?  Scripture confirms that none of us have it perfect (yet).  We also see that God welcomes the unique expression of each community.

Ultimately, His church is an invitation for His people to reflect His best back into the world.

What might this require of us? Attention, obedience, repentance, suffering, selflessness, hard work, and perseverance.  But for those of us that overcome, dear friends, something truly divine awaits…

“To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to {ALL} churches” Rev 3:21-22.

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