Taking the Gospel to the Karamoja people in N.E. Uganda

Soldiers receive Christ as their new commander under a thorn tree in an area ravaged by poverty, hunger and violence.

[notice]Allan Verryenne, an elder on staff at the Storehouse Church in Port Elizabeth, sent us the following report on a recent New Covenant Ministries International outreach to a remote part of Africa where churches and missionaries seldom reach. It is our pleasure to publish his report word-for-word and picture-by-picture. Thanks Allan for giving us a window into these precious moments of the Great Commission in action. We invite other mission teams to send us reports to share with Gateway News readers.[/notice]

By Allan Verryenne

The brief
At a GTT (Geographical Training Time) in Soroti, in July 2011, we heard from a Ugandan evangelist, John Onyao, of the desperate need within the Karamoja people group, of NE Uganda. There was a “Macedonian call” for us to come over and help with spiritual ministry and the redeeming gospel of Christ. John has done a survey of the Karamojong area and estimates that there are 100 regions that are unreached, where there are no Christian churches!

At present, John has not received any financial support for the past 4 months! He stays in Moroto with one of his children, while his wife stays in Soroti with their other 2 children. He uses a “boda-boda” (motorbike, for transport). This call was shared with the apostolic team, who gave us the go-ahead to organize an outreach in 2012.

 Brief history of the area
The area has been notorious for the incessant cattle raids and consequent battles, resulting in repeated killings of people! We heard stories of groups going to raid their neighbour’s cattle. They would kill the neighbours. Then, on returning home, their so-called friends would ambush them and take the cattle! They in turn would be ambushed and raided in a never-ending spiral of violence.

As a result of the violence, no missionary/evangelist would enter the area. John the evangelist started ministering in the district, as of last year. Up to 2006, people would not move from one village to another after 16h00 in the afternoon, for fear of being ambushed and killed by the marauding Karamoja “warriors” .

Some time ago, the first Christian minister was ordained (Church of Uganda) from the least known, and smallest tribe (named “IK”) within the Karamoja people. Shortly afterwards he was murdered! Some Christians believe that that this deed has brought a curse on the land. Witchcraft has been rife. Apparently a group could curse the rain so that the rain would fall on their crops, but not on that of their neighbours! Groups would set up “Shrines” which marked off areas of strongholds. These were often situated in river beds, and in other strategic areas.

By the way, we had to take our own food, water, tents, etc, as there are no shops within 30kms of our base, which was set up at a school at Lopeei. Water for our use had to fetched by hand, some 3kms away!

 The teams
Five of us came from Port Elizabeth. Nic van Rensburg (Apostolic team leader for Uganda), Allan Verreynne, Hein Stander, Adrian Vermaak and Dieter Kusel. We were joined in Kampala by members from the Uganda relating leaders; Athanansi, Amos, and Abraham. Eugene and John the evangelist joined us from Soroti.

We were very fortunate to have a local church pastor by the name of Joseph, who drove us up to the Karamajong area in his Toyota Prado Landcruiser. He had never been there before and was also fulfilling a dream as a Ugandan. This bears testimony to the general reticence of many people not wanting to enter the Karamajong!

In Soroti, the team split in two. Dieter, Adrian, Abraham and Athanansi went firstly to Kalaki (Kameramaido area) for a Leadership Training day, and then came back to Soroti for a GTT. The Karamoja team consisted of Nic, Allan, Hein, Amos, Joseph, John and Eugene.

The trip to Karamajong
I have travelled many places in Africa. This road is the worst that I have been on! If it were not for a beast of a vehicle in the Landcruiser, I have an idea that we would not have made it! Hats off to Toyota!

We had to stop for emergency repairs to the roofrack of the Landcruiser at Katakawi. We had travelled 140kms in 7 hours! While the repairs were being done, Amos and I ministered to the barman of a local drinking hole, where we got a soda. We then led him to Christ! He promptly gestured to all the liquor bottles and said: “And what do I do about all of this?” We responded by saying that he needed to hear what God wanted him to do in the future.

We got to Gangule in the Napak area, and had to report to the local Police Commissioner as to our movements and ministry. We bought a few extra provisions and headed out for Lopeei. With rain looming, we were offered the use of a classroom at the school. I think that had we stayed in our small tents, that we would have been washed away!

The ministry time

One of the comments that will stay with us forever, came from the LOC (Leader of the Organizing Committee). With open hands, he said: “You are welcome. We need you. Please come and help us!”
Our team split up into three, in order to cover as much area as possible. This was a strategic move, as the rain that night caused major concerns for staying on another day

We met a Christian Policeman, by the name of John, who became one of our interpreters. I was taken off to the “Police barracks” – a number of small mud walled/thatch roofed huts, about 2-3 kms away.

The Commander allowed us to gather the soldiers under a thorn tree I was given the privilege of preaching about the cross of Christ – Who Jesus is, what He did, why He died for us and how He demonstrated His love for us. All 16 soldiers responded to the gospel. Jesus Christ became their new spiritual Commander! Praise the Lord! Amos was able to send them 2 New Testaments to help them, with promises of more to come on a future trip.

On our way back to the school, I noticed two huge, laden, trucks from the WFP (World Food Programme), with countless people seated and many more walking out of the bush in long single-file lines. It was the first delivery of Maize meal and beans since January. We met an elderly woman, sitting on the ground, thin as a rake, who cried to out to us for food. She bared her midriff
to expose an empty stomach and ribs. It turned out that she would not receive food because she did not have the required “Registration certificate”! We were totally devastated! Here was food, so close, yet so far away! Distraught, we got back to the school and sent some food to her via John, who returned to interpret for Nic and Hein.

We became acutely conscious of the everyday life and death struggles that these people face daily. Many exist, and do not live to their full potential!

Hein and Nic went to the food distribution point to preach. The people begged for food. Nic spoke on the crippled man outside the Beautiful Gate, and concluded: “Silver and gold I do not have, but such as I have, I will give to you” As a result of the gospel presentation, about 38 people responded to Christ!

Hein and Nic went to preach in a nearby village. There were 28 responses to Christ! Back at the school, Eugene brought two men to me – Michael,a policeman, and James, a teacher). They did not know Christ. He promptly asked me to minister to them.

So, we sat down at school desk, and I had the privilege of presenting the gospel of Christ by means of the “Evangicube”. At the invitation to receive Christ, they did not hesitate! Hallelujah!They too, were given New Testaments, while Hein discipled them further.

Hein was asked to go and minister to scholars in a classroom. He and two other evangelists ministered the gospel for over an hour,and had to answer many questions. Hein drew a parallel between the registration card needed to obtain food, to knowing Christ as the means of gaining access to an eternal existence with God, in heaven. Without Christ, there is no entry! The result of this interaction, was that 35 young folk responded to Jesus Christ as Saviour of their lives!

I was able to visit two enclosures. The entrances are so small, that you have to get down on your knees to get through! The fences are virtually made impenetrable by the lattice work of branches and thorn-bushes. Everyone was eager to listen to the gospel. At one gathering, 15 people responded to Christ, and at another, a further 11 acknowledged Christ as Saviour! By the end of the day, Eugene reported that no less that 186 folk had responded to Jesus Christ! Wow! Luke’s gospel tells us that there is a loud rejoicing among the angels for every sinner that comes home! Praise the Lord!

It goes without saying that we had to establish an on-going Christian presence in the area. The most obvious choice was John the policeman, who stayed in the area. He was very willing to oblige, and eagerly took up the challenge. We need to support this man in prayer for the responsibility and task that lies ahead of him! We thank God for these unsung heroes of the faith in these far flung regions of our world!

That night, after our rejoicing and thanksgiving to God, the heavens opened up! Nic felt led of God that we had to pack up early the next morning and head back to Soroti. We all had a witness in our spirit with this decision, which turned out to be real guidance – for the next day, it rained even more, and there was flooding of certain areas. As it turned out, many buses, trucks and bakkies got stranded! We did get bogged down at one point. It took no less than 7 men to push us out, at a cost of $20 – a bargain for us and a blessing to them! If we had got stuck as well, and could have missed our flight back home!

Back at Soroti, we had a report back session with all the leaders who were involved. A pastor from Kalaki said: “This is the first time that we have ever had a leadership training time in our village. You have started a fire within us. Please do not leave us. You must come again!” What does one say to this type of comment? I will leave you guessing as to the answer!

At the brief meeting at Soroti, we once more met a legend – Newman – a man of 70 years, an evangelist, and on fire for the Lord! What a blessing and privilege to swop notes with him! It is Christians like these who set an example of consistent devotion to our Lord, over many years, who blaze a trail before us! There was heart-felt joy and appreciation shared for breaking open the area of Lopeei for future ministry.

On our way back to Kampala, at Jinja (where the “Eye of the Nile” is situated) we had a brief time of enjoyable rest, with an evening boat ride on the Nile. – a far cry from the area we had just come from! There is a song that we sing here at home, that contains the words: “Oh God, break my heart with what breaks yours!” This proved to be the case while we ministered to the Karamoja peoples!

I leave you with this Scripture quote from Luke 14: 21 – 23 “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was angry and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the city and invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.’ After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full.’”

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