Sunday, June 28, 2015


Pastor Henry is a little man with a big heart.  I initially met him on my first visit to Uganda.  My uncle, Pastor Bob Emrich, had invited me to accompany him on a trip to Uganda.  He’d been working together with Paul Mwesigwa (the African Director of Hope and Mercy Mission) and some folks from US churches in ministering in a variety of ways to some churches in the villages surrounding Kabaale Village in Uganda.  My daughter Carissa joined us on the first trip.  We held a conference for a group of 25 or so pastors.  Pastor Henry was in that group. 

Over the course of the subsequent visits, I got to know Henry better.  He attended the Bible Study methods training that I taught.  He served as my translator on numerous occasions.  I’d say a phrase in English; he’d provide the translation.  We’d sometimes tease our translators.  “How are we to know what you are actually telling them?” we’d ask.  And they would smile and suggest that we’d just have to trust them.  From the beginning, I’ve been blessed and encouraged in my friendship with Henry.  I’ve been to the church he pastors, People of the Way Church, on many occasions.  He loves the Lord, the Word, and the church in Uganda.  He asks a lot of questions and soaks up instruction from God’s Word so that he can then pass it on to others. 

The breadth of the ministry in the area has grown since that first visit.  What began as a ministry to a handful of pastors has expanded to encompass ~150 pastors and churches in five separate pastor alliances.  These alliances have been formed to provide for the mutual encouragement and accountability of the village pastors.  They have also allowed for a venue through which we can assist the churches in providing Bibles, gospel tracts, pastor training, and other things like tarps for roofs, etc.  Pastor Henry was chosen to be the administrator of the five alliances.  He meets regularly with the leaders of the alliances and oversees logistics.

The churches in that region have a lot of needs.  Many of the pastors have not attended Bible College.  It is only in recent years that the churches have had a more adequate supply of Bibles in their own language.  Most of the pastors do not speak or read English.  Bible study tools or books in their language are scarce.  They yearn to have such tools.  Pastor Bob and I had promised to do what we could in providing them.

It was on my fourth visit and near the time for our departure.  I sat down with Henry on the steps outside the guest house.  Pastor Henry speaks and reads English, and I had some tools, in English, to pass on to him.  I explained how each could be used.  And then I discussed with him other ways in which we might be able to help the pastors.  He spoke to me of the need for assistance in the discipleship of new believers.  I didn’t know exactly how we might be able help in that way, but his need planted a seed of thought in my mind.

I returned from that trip with the desire to do something to address the need.  Most believers know that there are certain spiritual disciplines that are essential to the believer’s growth in Christ (i.e. devotion to the word, prayer, and fellowship; Cf. Acts 2:42).  I myself had gone through studies that address these matters and thought maybe something similar could be done.  Sometimes, the practice of these spiritual disciplines tend to gravitate to a kind of “religious” exercise, so I wanted to clarify the “how” and “why” with respect to them.  How?  By the Spirit.  Why?  To grow in Christ.  I wanted to keep the book simple.  Four chapters, I thought.  I also wanted to include the referenced Scripture passages in the book, in case the reader didn’t have access to a Bible.  I was also aware of a concern that we had regarding their understanding of the true nature of the “by-grace-through-faith-in-Christ” salvation we have received.  I wanted to clarify these matters up front in the book.  One other thought governed my thinking as I wrote—what did I myself wish that I had been taught early on as a believer to help me in my walk with Jesus.

I asked the church family to pray as I began to work on the book.  It took me a couple of months, spending some time on it whenever I had the opportunity.  I had already been doing some thinking about the translation of the book into Lugandan.  I knew of a Ugandan fellow, Alex Kmba, who lived and worked in the Seattle area.  He attended Edgewood Bible Church where my uncle Frank served as Pastor.  I got in touch with Alex and asked him if he would be willing and able to translate the book into Lugandan.  He said that he would love to, so I sent it to him.  And the church family began praying for Alex as he did the work of translation.  He spent several months working on it.  Sometimes, he would call or email me about language in the book that was difficult and ask if it could be written in a different way.  He spoke to me of how he sometimes worked until late at night, praying all the while for God to lead him and give him the right words.  Finally, it was done!  Of course, since it was now in Lugandan, I couldn’t read it!  I sent it to Paul Mwesigwa who reviewed it.  It was almost ready to be printed.

I gave a lot of thought to the cover of the book.  I’d already decided on the title, “First Steps with Jesus.”  I wanted to put a picture on the cover, something with a path on it to coincide with the title.  I have on my computer thousands of pictures from Uganda.  Some are mine and some are from teammates that have come along on previous trips.  I started looking for a good picture with a path.  I narrowed my search down to a few and finally found one that was perfect.  Using a computer program, I digitalized it.  It looked real good and I sent the book off to be printed.  On that next trip, we took 500 copies.  And we distributed them amongst the pastors to be used in the churches.  It was on that trip that Pastor Bob asked me if I knew where that picture had come from.  I honestly didn’t know.  It was one I had found on my computer, but I couldn’t recall the spot where it had been taken.  He said that it was a picture that he himself had taken and he could show me the exact spot.  We got up from our seats in the guest house and crossed the field to a path that leads to a valley.  I recognized the path as one that he would frequently transverse on walks in the morning.  We went down the path a little ways until we arrived at the spot.  Sure enough!  It was the same tree, the same path, and the same background.  He went on to explain to me how he had come to that spot on his first visit to Africa.  He had spent some time in prayer there asking God to take the gospel message beyond that valley and the hills that lay on the other side.  And I’m thinking, “Isn’t that amazing that God would work so that a picture of that place would end up on the cover of the book!”

We’ve distributed over 1200 copies in the region.  It costs over a dollar each to print them and some more for the extra baggage necessary to get them there on our flights.  But we’ve never lacked for funds in providing them to the people.  On one occasion, I was approached by one of the members of our church.  She said that her family had some money set aside to support missionary endeavors like ours.  She wondered if we could use some funds to help with the printing of the books.  I said, “Sure!”  On another occasion, a good friend and fishing buddy called me at home.  It was just before Christmas.  He said that he had something for me and asked if he could come over.  We invited him in.  He didn’t stay long.  He explained that his wife and he had talked about the work in Africa.  He wondered if I could use some help with funds for the printing of the books.  Teary eyed, he handed me a huge wad of money.  I counted it after he left.  It was $400.

The intent in writing the book was for the more mature believers to use it in the discipleship of new believers.  On our last visit, we saw that God had a different plan.  We heard some testimonies from pastors on how the book was already being used.  Pastor Henry spoke about how he was taking his entire congregation through a study of the book.  The pastors themselves suggested that they would be best served by doing the same.  How encouraging that was too hear!  During that visit, we were able to distribute 5 copies to every pastor in the alliances.  About 100 teens/young adults attended a youth conference that was held at Our God Reigns church.  We were able to give each of those attendees a copy of the book.  We did a lot of home visits on that trip.  And every time our team visited a home, they took along a copy of the book.  The book has found its way into 100+ churches!  I’ve kidded with folks that I’m the best-selling author in that region of Uganda.  Of course, that’s not too hard when yours is the only book and you give it away for free!  We’ve also passed on 70 copies of the book to Shepherd’s Heart International Ministry (located on Lingira Island in the Buvuma Island chain of Lake Victoria, Uganda).  First Steps has also been translated into the Turkish language and is being used by missionaries in that region.

LCBC commemorated our 25th anniversary a couple of Sundays ago.  We were so blessed by the services that day.  Many visitors came, including some long-time friends from St. Helens Community Bible Church where we used to attend many years ago.  My friend Mo made a point of coming to me and thanking me for the First Steps with Jesus book.  He said that the church had been using it in their Men’s and Women’s Bible Studies.  So I thanked him and thanked God.  I got an email the other day from a friend in Colorado.  He attended LCBC years ago and recently contacted me via email.  I sent him a copy of the First Steps with Jesus book.  He soon wrote me back and asked for more copies.  In the more recent email, he wrote to tell me how the Discipleship Pastor in their church has decided to use the book in a new small group discipleship class.  So I wrote him back and thanked him.  He said in that email, “I get such a kick out of watching God work.”  No kidding.  The book was not my idea; it was Pastor Henry’s.  LCBC folks prayed about it.  Alex translated it.  Paul Mwesigwa reviewed it.  Pastor Bob took the picture for it (without even knowing it).  Others helped to pay for it and paid to get copies to Africa.  The pastors are using it.  And all along the way, God was, and is, at work.  How privileged we are to serve Him and watch Him do what He does in His “exceeding-abundantly-beyond-all-that-we-ask-or-think” manner!

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