|Island women worshiping during a seminar last year.|
At times it seems strange to me to be a missionary where the majority of people are known as "Christians." Wikipedia lists more than 85% of the Ugandan population as Christian. But is that really the case?
The longer I am here the more I understand the breadth of the "Christian" definition. It includes Catholic, Anglican, Pentecostal, Seventh-Day Adventist, Orthodox Christians and "Other" Christians. Those who trust in Christ by faith through grace are known as "born agains." The latter can and do suffer persecution from the former. (To "persecute" means to "pursue with harassing or oppressive treatment, especially because of religion, race, or beliefs; harass persistently."
Indeed, the beliefs and lives of these "Christian" groups can be very, very different from one another.
I was recently reminded of this by my friend Annet.
There is a photocopy shop here in Jinja that I frequent - Ebenezer Secretarial Bureau and Stationery Shop. It is a hole in the wall on bustling Main Street and one might miss it if it weren't for the large mustard yellow sign out front on the sidewalk. Annet works there and has always impressed me by her kindness, efficiency and multi-tasking abilities. I also recently learned she is a born-again Christian.
Last week as I brought Annet more work she told me her father had passed away the previous week. He had cancer, but seemed physically strong so his death was a shock to her family. I asked how her mom was handling the loss and Annet's story unfolded further.
The youngest of 10 children, she is the only believer in her Catholic family. She gave her life to Christ while attending a Christian primary (elementary) school. "I think I got saved seven times," she said with a smile, noting every time an invitation was given to receive Christ, she would raise her hand. Around the age of 12 she came to a greater understanding of the meaning of salvation and the forgiveness of sin.
With her young faith growing and the completion of primary studies, Annet's world turned upside down for the worse as her parents told her they would no longer pay her school fees, unless she converted back to Catholicism.
Knowing she could not reject salvation and her Heavenly Father, she made a tough choice. She would work and pay her own fees in secondary school. For five years, after attending school from around 8 a.m.-5 p.m. she would go to a Muslim home and do housework, working late into the evening. Exhausted, she would return home and sleep, only to rise early and begin again. Those were difficult years for Annet.
After Senior 5, she was unable to pay the school fees and dropped out, later enrolling in a secretarial course. She now has a young daughter, Hannah, and struggles to care for her and Hannah's needs. Her family continues to exclude her, saying she is not a part of them and calling her names like "stupid." Annet has tried to share her faith with her loved ones, only to be ridiculed and laughed at. She has a love for teaching children and leads the Sunday School at her church. One day she would like to go back to school.
Unfortunately, Anne't story is not at all uncommon here. I have seen a number of children who are raised in a particular faith, but if they desire to become "born-again," they likely face persecution - rejection, ridicule or even abandonment. Such realities make it very difficult for young men and women to make that important decision of choosing Christ.
I think of Agnes who attended Lingira Living Hope, a Christian school, for several years. She heard the gospel on multiple occasions and I and others talked to her a number of times. I believe she was very close to that all-important decision, but I believe the staunch beliefs of her family and fears of how they would react held her back.
From the outside, Uganda appears very friendly to Christianity, but Satan is a deceiver and he has blinded many with fatal "mixtures" of truth and falsehood. From what I understand, when the Catholic and Anglican faiths were brought in decades ago, the people did not abandon their cultural and animistic beliefs, they only added to them. The use of witchcraft in combination with these faiths is not uncommon here, which is likely why there is persecution from such followers toward those who are genuinely born again.
Much of this persecution is not obvious and often occurs behind doors in homes, families, the workplace and in neighborhoods and communities.
After listening to Annet's story, my respect and admiration for this young woman grew ten-fold. And I was reminded that genuine followers of Jesus Christ are persecuted around the world, sometimes in places we don't even expect.
We need to hold up one another in prayer to remain strong in Christ in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which we are to shine like bright lights in the world. (Phil. 2:15)