Lira is not a big town, not an important place by most measures. It’s not on the way to anywhere most people want to go (though a signpost in town points to Juba, well to the north in southern Sudan). Lira itself is not much of a tourist destination, being neither glamorous, nor exclusive, nor scenic, nor posh. When I was there last week, it was hot and dusty; they haven’t had rain in several weeks, which is a long dry spell in this part of Uganda.
LCMS World Mission wants me to work with Lutheran seminaries in Africa to help them figure out how to do a better job preparing pastors for African churches. But there is no seminary in Uganda, let alone in Lira, so what brings me here? If you want to figure out how to make a seminary better, you better start by having a pretty clear idea of the conditions and situations your graduates are going to be doing their ministry in. That’s true in the USA, and it’s true in Uganda. So I went to Lira with Rev. Jake Gillard(CSL class of 2001) to see a congregation of the Lutheran Church Mission in Uganda (LCMU), and to talk with Vicar James Otoh.
James was a student in my class at the Lutheran Theological Seminary—Tshwane, in Pretoria, South Africa, where I taught a short course last year. James now serves two congregations, one of which meets in a large, unfinished building a short walk from his home, and another several kilometers away. (They named the “country church” Good Shepherd, after the congregation in Australia that helped them construct their building.) The people are poor, and so is Vicar James. They struggle with building hassles, money woes, inconsistent attendance by members, communication difficulties, community apathy. The Pentecostals are in town and attract a bigger crowd. The Roman Catholics have an impressive church and school. Vicar James and the little flock of Lutheran Christians in Lira offer what they have—what they live from themselves day to day—the pure, sweet good news that God made himself poor to make us rich, made his Son to be sin so that we might be righteous, and died so that we can live.
How do you prepare men like James for ministry in places like Lira? That’s what we’re trying to figure out. I’ll be meeting with LCMU leaders this week, and folks in Kenya and Ethiopia in the weeks ahead, as we work on that together. One thing is for sure: it starts with that incredible Good News about what God has done in Jesus, and what he still does through his Spirit. That much, at least, Vicar James and the folks in Lira have going for them.
["Msafiri" is the Swahili word for "traveler".]