Without Vision People Perish

As some of you know, I had the privilege of traveling back to Uganda late last month and getting back to the states on the 7th of August. It was another journey of my life that will take quite some time to fully digest, as God continues to bring forth lessons of wisdom and growth as I think back on my time with the beautiful people of Uganda.

Each time I travel to this part of the world it becomes harder and harder to leave. Partly it is because of the joy-filled little children that we serve; partly because of the freedom that is found in living out unobstructed purpose without the distractions and responsibilities of home life; and partly because I long to be immersed in the true community that I find is so easily accessible there. Although I was certainly ready to see my wife and kids by the end of my trip, in some ways I wish I could have snapped my fingers and magically brought Abby and the boys to Kampala.

I certainly had some unique opportunities on this trip that I won’t soon forget, and I want to share some of them with you this morning along with the spiritual impact that they have thus far had on my faith. I first want to focus on the theme of community, and how refreshing it is to live with a common focus and purpose on these trips with Sweet Sleep. It is such grace to be united with other believers for the good of the orphaned and disadvantaged children that we are serving.

I want to list some verses for you on community from Acts 2 and 1 Thessalonians 2 that will lead us into some of the blessings I experienced during this journey to Africa and back.
Acts 2:42-44
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common.
1 Thessalonians 2:6-13
6 We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.
As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, 7 but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 8 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 9 Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.
10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.
The word of God was hopefully at work in us while we served, but I learned in concrete ways just how much the word of God is rooted in these incredible children. On Wednesday afternoon of our first week we had the honor of traveling back to Blessed Hope Champions Academy where we had served with Sweet Sleep the previous year. It was so wonderful to see so many familiar faces and to hear the shouts of “Uncle Mike” from many of the kids that I had made a special connection with. What I did not expect was what happened just a few seconds off of the bus. A young boy by the name of Joseph, who last year had drawn countless pictures for my son Gideon, walked up to me without any lead-in and asked me how Gideon was doing. He not only remembered me, but he remembered the name of my son, and here is the reason why. Before we left that evening Joseph found me and placed this very letter in my hand, it stated:
Dear Gideon,
How are you? Back to the pen holder, I am fine. I pray for you every day and may the good almighty
Lord bless you. I am in primary seven. From your faithfully loving friend,
Nyanzi Joseph

That is a form of community I never thought possible. My son may live through his entire adolescence and not have a more faithfully loving friend than an orphaned child in Uganda that he has never even met, but is praying blessings over his life every single day. I try to make the grace-filled decision when I am in Uganda to live by Paul’s words to share not only the Gospel but my life as well, and these are some of the results. Other results are the friendship / brotherhood that I have found in my friend Jonathan in whom I hope and pray our lives are intertwined in love and service for the rest of our lives. When we are willing to open up our lives, community happens. When we are willing to be vulnerable, community happens. When we are willing to love not just with our words, but our very lives, community happens. And sometimes community takes on new forms that we never thought possible, as it has become with Joseph and Gideon.

There are a few more things that I want to share with you, and two of them are images of grace, and I hope that I can paint the pictures for you properly. With my extra week in Kampala I was given the opportunity to shed a little of my Mzungu skin and blend in a bit more with my surroundings. I had another honor of going back to Africa Greater Life, where I served my first summer in 2009. I got to see many of the precious kids that made such an impact on me that first year and in some ways became my Africa. One such boy, another Joseph lived at AGL with his grandmother, Pascazia, and I was saddened to learn that she was sick. To say that she was sick does not do the scene in which I saw justice. I went to visit and pray with this once vibrant women I had met two years earlier who was now a mere 65 pounds. She lay alone in a room lying on a foam mat covered in a few sheets and many flies. As we prayed together and I shared with her that I had come back once again to check on her grandson, I couldn’t help but think of the millions of other African saints that have met this same end. And do you know the words that came to her frail lips, words of gratitude for the love that I have shown to Joseph. They were not words of fear, of anger, of pity, they were weak whispered words of thanks, and I have never felt more unworthy of gratitude in my whole life.

Another story took place later the next evening on Friday night. We were running a bit late to pick up some jewelry, from an incredible women by the name of Rose, and due to our tardiness we were now going to pick up the items at her home. Rose lives in Acholi Village, a large hill that has been donated by the king of Uganda to serve as a place of housing for the countless widows and their families from Northern Uganda that seek out the capital city of Kampala as a place of refuge. We arrived just after dusk, and the streets were bustling with activity as people returned from Kampala City and their various jobs. I cannot begin to describe the noises, smells and images of this slum community, but one site that caught my attention and was burned into my heart was that of a young couple, most likely in their early 20’s, who were walking the waste filled streets hand in hand, on what seemed like a date, as if they were taking a moon-lit walk on their favorite beach. Yes, I thought to myself, God lives even here.

And this verse is what came to mind in light of both of these images; 2 Corinthians 4:16, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” This life in which we live, and the value we so often put on our stuff is nothing in comparison to the relationship we have with those around us, and certainly nothing in comparison to our relationship with God, and all that is waiting for us when this life comes to an end. Both Joseph’s grandmother and this young couple seemed to live in the reality that outward appearances seemed insignificant in comparison to what was taking place on the inside of our lives.

The last thing I want to share with you this morning is on the topic of vision. My second week in Kampala was aimed at trying to bring Fields of Dreams to reality. Fields of Dreams is a non-profit Tyler White and I have been piecing together for the past year aimed at empowering the disadvantaged children of Uganda through the vehicles of soccer and education. At every meeting with government officials or people in the world of soccer, I heard the common response of gratitude. Over and over again people were thanking me for this vision for their people.

The word vision itself must have been uttered over 200 times that week, and it all started on Sunday morning as I worshiped beside some incredibly passionate followers of Christ for about 4 ½ hours. One of the things the pastor said that morning was that he wouldn’t lead a church without vision, and each Sunday he has his congregation hold up their individual vision books so he can pray over them. I was reminded of my first flight back from Uganda in 2009 as I prayed for what God wanted to do in my life in response to my new found love affair with this country so far away from my own. It is amazing how far he has brought me in just 2 short years, as I witness Fields of Dreams slowly coming to life. When we open our lives to God and realize, just like in the scripture that Amy read for us, that God’s word is at work in those who believe, we find that we are all called to be visionaries for God.

I am reading a book right now by Kyle Idleman, called Not a Fan., and although I am only in the early chapters I want to share a short passage from this book that challenges me to move from belief to action. This book is based on the idea that most everyone one of us plays the role of a fan of God, but very few of us are true followers. The quote reads as follows: “So in case someone left it out or forgot to mention it when they explained what it meant to be a Christian, let me be clear: There is no forgiveness without repentance. There is no salvation without surrender. There is no life without death. There is no believing without committing.” And this morning I am going to add that there is no purpose without vision!

Kyle is trying to tell us, warn us even, that the Christian road is not an easy one. I am reminded of Aslan, from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. When young Lucy Pevensie first meets Aslan she asks him if he is a safe lion, and his response is that he is not a safe lion, but she will come to find that he is a good lion. Life with God is not risk-free, it is not a free ticket from pain, suffering or persecution. Instead it is an invitation to endure those very things while being covered with the grace bought through Christ’s death on a cross. With every good thing from God, there is a part of the equation that we must step up and be responsible for in the end, and purpose is one of those good things that I often find myself struggling with upon my return from these trips to Uganda.

I don’t always feel the same purpose I do surrounded by orphans that I do as I am collecting attendance sheets in the sanctuary, or responding to countless emails. What I am coming to learn though, is that if I have a greater vision for God that I can focus on, than purpose can be found in even the most mundane activities. If I open myself up to “God’s word at work in me,” and listen for his guidance than purpose is found. If I am willing to turn over the control of my future plans to the greatest planner in history, than purpose is cemented in the vision we receive from God’s leading Spirit.

So my prayer for all of us this morning is that we would be willing to share our lives along with the gospel to begin to see the fruit of community pop up in the most unlikely of ways in this fractured world in which we live. That we would be able to focus on the internal gifts of God, rather than the brokenness that so often encompasses the hate, violence and loneliness in the world. And lastly may we be a people of vision, dreaming big dreams for God and those vulnerable masses that were created in his image, because in the end, without vision people perish.

Before I end my message I wanted to share that I learned by way of email that Pascazia passed away over the weekend. Joseph and his younger siblings last remaining link to their family is now gone, and they now only have their Father in heaven and the other people at Africa Greater Life to lean on for support. Pascazia was one of the women that made much of the beaded jewelry that I sell for Ekisa Designs and her beautiful portrait is visible at the top of this post thanks to the beautiful photo taken by Kathryn Campbell on our first trip together to Uganda. Pascazia was a woman of gratitude, a woman of faith, and certainly a woman who held closely to the hope found in the cross.

August 22, 2011 <> Michael Warneke

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