Summer/Fall 2002
Volume 7 Number 1
 

 

 

 

 

 

A Clear Connection  Come To Uganda


by Erika Marksbury

Two Septembers ago, M.Div. senior Danny Thomas and his mother headed to a Virginia hospital near his hometown to visit his sister. On the way, they fought about what he increasingly felt to be a call to ministry in Africa. She protested, “Why do you have to go so far away?” But her heart wasn’t really in her protest, and Thomas’s wasn’t in his defense, since neither thought the possibility was imminent.
For more information about ministry in Africa

United Methodist Daily News

Global Connections: Africa

BBC Africa Pages

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Africa Factbook

CIA World Factbook - country listings

Then a knock on his sister’s hospital room door interrupted the first talk Thomas remembers his family ever having about spirituality. His sister’s priest entered, accompanied by friends: an Anglican bishop from Uganda and the head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Uganda. Learning that Thomas was in seminary, the bishop exclaimed, “My brother, come to Uganda! There is work for you there.” He handed Thomas contact information for the head of the Uganda United Methodist Church. Within two weeks, plans were set; Thomas took leave from his studies at PTS and headed to Africa in February 2001.

Admittedly “pretty pleased to be United Methodist,” Thomas was stunned to learn that some in Uganda regard his denomination as a cult. Suspicion was raised when a prophetess, who leads a nonaffiliated congregation that meets in a formerly Methodist church, locked her congregation inside for two weeks of

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 prayer and fasting (even though the ill congregant for whom they were holding the vigil died after the first week). On learning of this, town officials grew even more strict with indigenous churches, particularly because two months earlier (March 2000) in Kanungu, leaders of the Church for the Restoration of the Ten
Commandments of God had torched their sanctuary, killing several hundred people trapped inside. When mass graves resulting from this group’s earlier activity were discovered, the death toll topped 1,000. The Methodist’s symbol—a cross with flames—was suddenly and ironically inappropriate; their place in the community became even more precarious.

Knowing that these and other events had negatively influenced some Ugandans’ ideas about church, Thomas realized education was greatly needed among believers there.

“I set about training pastors and parishioners in the Methodist Book of Discipline,” he says. “There are about 70 United Methodist pastors in Uganda—five are ordained, and of them, only one has completed theological education. It was scary for me to realize, ‘I’m the second most trained person in the United Methodist Church in Uganda.’”

While Thomas spent much of his time working with churches, his official duties resembled a CPE placement. He visited and prayed with patients at a government hospital in Jinja and established a program to feed needy patients. The encouraging responses of a few patients convinced him, as the bishop in his sister’s hospital room had promised, there is indeed work for him in Uganda.

One day as Thomas was making his usual rounds, he approached a room whose badly burned inhabitant looked like “a mass of flesh.” Thomas’s coworker whispered, “That one’s a Muslim,” steering Thomas away. “She’s a child of God, and she’s in pain,” he responded, and went to her bedside. She was one of several wives of a Muslim man, and other cowives had thrown acid on her, burning her with their jealousy. As he prayed with her, Thomas didn’t know whether the woman understood his words; her eyes were open because she had no eyelids. “But as I finished praying,” he remembers, “I said, ‘In the name of Jesus,’ and she said ‘Amina’ (amen).”

The woman’s recovery has been slow. Thomas met her in April and she was still hospitalized when he left Uganda in January 2002. As she began to regain strength and movement, doctors were especially concerned for her mouth. Thomas suggested she try singing. The following week, she was singing praise songs to other patients, testifying to Christ.

Thomas believes the churches of Uganda will one day overflow with people like her, who cannot keep their joy quiet, if only they have a place to gather and a way to restore their faith in the church. That’s his mission now. After distractedly finishing his final semester at PTS and graduating this past May, he plans to return to Uganda. He’s raising money for a project he will oversee when he arrives: roofing Spire Road Annex for the Blind, a school whose construction began several years ago but was interrupted when money ran out. Thomas will raise the needed funds for the roof and ask the school if, in exchange, the United Methodist church might worship there. He will also support the local pastor assigned to that church and facilitate training sessions for pastors throughout Uganda.

His plan is to stay six months, but he’s open to God’s adjusting that time frame. So is his mom. Their fighting has ceased; she now believes this is a “God call.”


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