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Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Day of Celebration: striving for Peace and Purity

Bundikyora Church became an official congregation today as three elders took vows to strive for the peace and purity of the church.  I like that phrase, the balancing of righteousness with graceful love.  After decades of patient work by the mission and by Ugandan evangelists,  of teaching and training, of living and working and waiting, there are now three fully-formed Presbyterian churches in Bundibugyo.  Today’s milestone was especially poignant, as this was the location of Rick Gray’s and Greg and Beth Farrand’s effort to live in tents half-time in order to be more fully invested in the lives of the people of this village.  Their experiment ended when the ADF attacked in 1997 just a few days before the elders were to be interviewed.  Now 11 years later their dream became a reality.  Scott read from 1 Chronicles 29 as he spoke, and the parallels are interesting.  King David wanted to build the temple, and though he put in much effort and planning, God did not allow him to see the accomplishment of his vision, but rather delayed until his son Solomon reigned.  Rick, Greg, and Beth are no longer present as missionaries here, and their work passed into the hands of their “sons” in the faith long ago.  This group continued to struggle and meet when the village lived in an IDP camp; we remember visiting when a paltry dozen or so people gathered in a half-built school room.  So It was a privilege to see, at last, the glory of this day, where a couple hundred people crammed the shelter constructed beside the mud and wattle tin-roofed church.  Streamers of toilet paper, bright balloons, three choirs, enthusiastic drumming, and hours of ceremony marked the milestone.  As Scott reminded them, the temple was built by the offerings of the tribes of Israel, because they gave from loyal hearts.  And this church also rests not only on the vows of the new leaders, but on the faithfulness of the congregation.

We biked to this village, almost 10 km, with Michael and Karen this morning, leaving our kids in Luke’s care (Scotticus thankfully pitched in too), probably the first time we’ve done a “couples” outing leaving the kids behind.  The quiet plantations of cocoa trees punctuated by bustling villages, the rutted tracks, river crossings, tricky puddles, and breathtakingly steep hills . . . It was a beautiful but strenuous ride, fun to be out, to be pedaling, to be alive.  But besides the adventure aspect of biking to church in a dress through the mud, two things about the day really  stood out.  First, after the three new elders were “sworn in”, their first act was to wash the feet of their three wives.  Each knelt on the ground before his wife and held her foot, pouring over water and sort of baptizing her in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  It was a powerful image of servant leadership, a shocking stance to take in a culture where women are basically owned by men.  

Second, after the ceremony, we sat in a big circle to eat, scooping sticky rice from huge platters and topping it with salty steaming chicken.  And I realized afresh the depth and length of relationship that binds us here.  In our circle:  Bhiwa and Topi, Josephu and Rose, Charles and Mary, Kisembo (his wife Jessica just had a baby and could not come), Joyce, Pat, Michael and Karen.  These are the people whom we have worked with for so long, and it was a celebration not only of the newly-organized church, but of the culmination of the partnerships we share.  Our striving together for peace and purity has not always been easy:  we have walked with some of these people through the deaths of their children, through alcoholism and abuse, through infidelity.  But we’ve also walked with them through forgiveness, recommitment, and faithful perseverance, never letting go of purity even as we all seek peace.  Amen.

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