I have read several books of early missionary days in Africa and elsewhere over the past year, and have remarked to myself how different the issues facing missionaries were in the 1920s. These brave men and women of God entered the mission field, in many cases knowing it was highly likely they would not survive it, and yet they laid a mighty Gospel foundation wherever they went. They did not have the conveniences of modern roadways, of airlines, bush planes, or email. Many died of malaria and other tropical diseases. There were many evil and degrading witchcraft practices that eventually were abolished by the gospel as the light of Jesus came into their world. One of the many dark practices they encountered was cannibalism.
I’ve thought to myself that these early missionaries’ biggest difficulty was one of sheer survival, so different from today, where by comparison, today’s missionaries often enjoy at least somewhat modern conveniences. However, as I’ve pondered more deeply, I’ve decided that while outwardly it could be said that missionaries no longer have the same survival concerns as their predecessors, on another hand, they do. The struggle has just taken on a new cloak.
Take cannibalism for instance. Is it still practiced in Africa? Yes. Is it practiced in Uganda? Yes. Do I fear I’ll end up in the soup pot? No. Some people do still eat human flesh, but there’s a different form of cannibalism that is even more prevalent, that keeps the nation poor, that cripples churches, and destroys lives (and missionaries, I might add). Paul refers to this type of cannibalism (you didn’t know that was in the Bible, did you?) when he says, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15) He sandwiches this statement in between his (and Jesus’s) summary of the entire Jewish law, “Love God and your neighbor as yourself,” and a discourse on life in the Spirit. If people sincerely love each other, and live lives by the Spirit of God, they will not bite and devour each other, either literally or figuratively.
As the Gospel turned many early cannibals away from eating each other, it also changes lives today. As the church practices its own form of cannibalism by biting and devouring each other when its members don’t live according to the Spirit, it too can be set free from self-destruction by true teachings and practices of the Word of God.
Cannibalism in one form or another is found everywhere there are humans not serving Jesus. Every Christmas Uganda has a “gasoline shortage,” then the price of gasoline (already about $6 per gallon) skyrockets, often doubling or more. This hinders the holiday travelers, the cost of travel having already escalated for the season. Police are out in full force, outwardly to curb drunken driving and unsafe vehicles that cause mayhem on our roads, but primarily to fill their own pockets for Christmas. Everyone dreads getting stopped by the police, because they will do their best to find something that they can use as leverage to impound your vehicle, send you to jail … or get a bribe from you. Holiday travel becomes very difficult.
Traditionally, for the 7 or 8 years, various large churches in Kampala have combined to hold an all night New Year’s Eve service at Namboole Stadium, which holds about 200,000 people. Buses and trucks are sent out into the countryside to pick up people from all over Uganda, who anticipate this night as one of their few opportunities to travel and worship with other believers, and to just plain have fun.
This year the leaders of this mega-event got alarmed when by a certain time of day the anticipated numbers of people were not arriving. It was discovered that the police were actually preventing people from coming to the stadium. On one highway alone, over 90 trucks loaded with people had been stopped. Only the ones paying heavy bribes were being allowed through. On the other side of Kampala, people were held up for hours in a massive traffic jam, for the same reason. People also were being diverted by the police, told they couldn’t go to Namboole, but they needed to go to another area where other big churches were holding an overnight meeting also. Jealousy and competition between churches (biting and devouring) was playing its part here as well.
Calls were made to the head of the Ugandan police and within just minutes, traffic began to flow once again, heavy-laden vehicles began to wend their way into the stadium parking lots, and people proceeded to pack out the facility over the next few hours.
In spite of suffering 4-6 hour waits and more, at least 200,000 people crammed Namboole Stadium, singing, worshiping, praying the whole night long, enjoying speakers from England, the USA, and locally. At least 15 dramatic healings graced the meeting, crippled people leaving their crutches and sticks behind. People returned home the next day, tired but every one with huge smiles, talking of nothing but the goodness of God, and the excitement they feel about the coming year.
Pray for Uganda, a nation that is cannibalizing itself. It is the most Christianized nation in all of Africa and yet holds one of the highest rates of corruption in the world. Statistics alone do not tell the whole truth of course. They do not mean people are truly born again, knowing the Lord Jesus as their personal Savior. Nor do they mean the ones who are, are being taught how to live lives by the Spirit of God, as Paul describes in Galatians 5. Many use the church in order to serve what I call “the Money God,” loving money and power more than their Father God. As Paul says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6b). This is the counter to any type of cannibalism!