by Steve Evers
It was a tranquil Sunday morning. The town of Kampala, Uganda had not yet awakened. The tropical birds and insects, filled the air with clatter and squeaking as they searched for their breakfast.
I enjoyed the calming effects of distant, traditional whole-choir numbers from an open-air Catholic parish even as they competed with faint chants from a nearer Muslim mosque.
The tranquility of the morning would be long-gone later that afternoon.
The tranquility of the morning would be long gone later that afternoon...
I was scheduled to preach and worship with a body of believers planted and pastored by Sangalo Vincent, a graduate from ITMI’s International School of Missions. We wouldn’t have time to visit all 13 of the Bible-based churches he started, but commuted across Kampala to join him at his home church on this final day of 2017.
Our hired driver navigated the rutted, pot-holed pathways many Africans call roads, each slow turn of the tires taking ITMI's Muhindo Kawede, Kent Reisenauer, myself deeper into the inter sanctum of the impoverished community that supports the subsistence life of thousands.
The great and beautiful Nelson Mandela Stadium in Kampala cast an ironic shadow over part of the settlement.
"The sky is unusually dark for 11am," I thought to myself as we crawled past an ever-expanding unsanctioned dump.
Whole families were digging through the filth as if looking for gold - and likely valued them as much! How grateful I found myself for what God has given me.
We pulled up to our place of worship for this Sunday.
Before I could mark the location on my GPS, the sky opened up on the tin sheets cobbled together and called a building. It poured as I have never seen it deluge, both home in the U.S. or in any place I have traveled.
Now mind you, being from Arizona for the last 50 years, I love the rain. I love to smell the rain. I love to listen to the rain. I enjoy sitting by a window while it rains.
What I could have done without was having a waterfall relocated on the 30 feet from our car to the church, at the exact moment I made “a run for it." Can you say drenched? Thankfully, I wear my hair short and at least one part of me that looked presentable (I hope.)
To appreciate this scene, imagine 67 firehoses, with all their pressure, suspended above a tin roof, opened up full blast. DEAFENING!!
It was so intense, even the normally high-decibel African church speakers, almost always driven to the point of distortion, powered by a wonderful 10-member praise team and two vehement African drums, sounded faint.
It was so loud that while the electricity held on, the looks on the faces of the church members - the single mothers, the widows, the children - were looks of fear and dismay.
So ear-splitting that to ask Kawede a question, I had to get within three inches of his ear and literally scream it.
It is impossible to have a worship service with this level of auditory chaos. Leaving was also futile. Massive rivers gathered force outside and cascaded in every direction around the building.
Massive rivers gathered force and cascaded in every direction around the building.
The walls and roof of second-hand sheets of tin were riddled with holes intended to allow slight beams of light to pass through. They were now allowing a constant dribble of liquid sunlight to indiscriminately bathe anyone underneath.
The packed mud floor didn’t seem to get muddy from the tiny waterfalls drizzling in through the roof. The doors and windows, usually left open as the only lighting in the structure, were closed to keep water out, darkening the large room.
Echoing thunder claps sent the electricity running for the hills. Now the speaker - me - would have to overpower the torrential pounding with just my vocal chords.
As the wind kicked up, I wondered to myself, “Will the building collapse?” I spent a few seconds planning my emergency exit, but I had other, more pressing crises to solve.
I was supposed to speak shortly. In spite of the nerve-racking drone of the rain beating on the tin roof, they decided to attempt the regularly scheduled worship gathering!
I knew I was in uncharted waters (no pun intended) when, with no electrical power, no sound system and little to no visibility, a tall thin silhouette attempted to make church announcements.
He yelled a phrase or two, and then waited for his female translator to broadcast in another language.
I was about 30 feet away from them and neither I, nor Kawede, could understand a single word. They stepped closer to the audience, so they were only a foot and a half away from the front row, but it made no difference.
A simply dressed lady and a single small boy made their way up front, and I faintly heard strains of a “Happy Birthday” song. The boy smiled as people’s mouth’s moved and the melody was somehow sporadically slicing through the roaring onslaught.
My apprehension grew as my moment of truth was intentionally stalled with 2-3 more worship songs, in hopes the noise would reduce. It did not, however, relinquish the floor.
Ugandan worship team sings additional songs, hoping the deafening noise will subside.
Nonetheless, Kawede and the pastor looked at me and mouthed - because speaking inside this large tin drum being played with jet-engine force was useless - the words, “It is your time to preach!”
When communicating through a translator, you always wonder in the back of your mind - usually with a smile on your face - if what you are saying is being translated clearly.
In my experience, some languages used in this world come with vocabularies that promote precision, rich visualization and depth of understanding. Others seem to use dreadfully ambiguous generalities for vocabulary, resulting in the audience responding to you with confused, blank stares.
This Sunday morning, as I got up to speak, I smiled twice to myself, once for the fact that a dear lady stood at the podium to translate for me and the second because in these conditions, even I probably wasn’t going to hear what I had to say.
In these conditions, even I probably wasn't going to be able to hear what I had to say!
About the time my sermon introduction was complete, my voice begun to go hoarse. Half way into sharing from Hebrews 11:6 that “…without faith it is impossible to please Him,” the downpour intensified, and Kawede encouraged me to take a break.
I’ve never had that happen during a message before! After a few songs, I was able to continue.
As I got toward the end of my sermon, the rain which had been pounding now for almost two hours, began to lose it strength.
The reign of the noisy confusion lost its dominance. I could indeed hear my own words and as I closed!
I could hear my own words as I closed!
I called the congregation to consider their own personal definition of faith. Was it consistent with the faith that Christ demonstrated while here on earth?
Was it pure faith or was it situational faith? Moses, John the Baptist, Gideon, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Daniel, Joseph, Esther and countless others learned to trust Him in impossible situations.
God delights in this trusting of Him and His promises.
On this Sunday morning, many of the attenders silently prayed for a renewed understanding of faith and how to demonstrate it daily. Many were also brought face to face with the reality that church attendance doesn’t make you a Christian.
Calling yourself a Christian doesn’t make you a Christian. Doing praise and worship doesn’t make you a Christian. They understood, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,”
Some of them realized this "new creation" wasn't evident in their lives, and they wanted to become a genuine, Bible believing Child of God.
Even in the midst of a chaotic, disastrous situation, when God is in it, great things happen.
Steve Evers has advocated for and served the ITMI partners as ITMI Director since 2001. Approximately once a year, Steve visits with ITMI partners in their countries and brings stories back to encourage supporters. Steve enjoys photography and mechanics, (both hobbies that have greatly benefited ITMI partners!) Prior to becoming ITMI's Director, Steve served on the Board of Directors for 4 years. Steve lives in Arizona with his wife, Darlene.