By Erica Hale, VP of The Lulu Tree
The van lurches over ruts cut deep into red earth by the rainy season’s downpour. It’s Palm Sunday, and we’ve driven to the villages past the road that runs through Jinja, edged by dusty boys with wide smiles selling fistfuls of palm leaves cut fresh for passing church-goers.
The farther from the city we get, the trickier the roads and the more I appreciate the sturdy Lulu Tree van and the driving skills of Joel, Lulu Uganda’s co-director. Scenes of daily life flash by us on all sides as we make our way from village to village. The colors are blinding—the red of the earth and the green of the trees, the bright colors of villagers dressed in their Sunday best, the vast azure expanse of the African sky.
We are visiting the village churches, seven of them, whose pastors are part of The Lulu Tree’s pastor development program. In the unfolding heat of the morning, we are ushered into church after church by congregations that have been waiting to welcome us in. Their open hands reach out to grasp ours, their faces awash with joy as they proudly draw us into their world.
Each church is different, some made of wood boards spaced with gaps to let the light in, others of hand-made red brick, and one whose three incomplete walls stand open around a tin roof held aloft by tree-trunk scaffolding. Each congregation is different, with a unique flavor and style of worship. Each pastor is different, with a unique preaching style and personality. But the miracle we see unfolding here isn’t in the differences, it’s in the unity.
It’s in the unity of the pastors, who until recently were disrespected in the villages and left to operate as isolated individuals—battling the near-impossible task of caring for their families and their congregations on their own, without support or resources, in conditions that are hard for a Westerner to comprehend.
The enemy, who can’t change the outcome of a Christian’s soul but can wreak havoc on the effectiveness of their ministry, has always favored a divide-and-conquer approach. Disunity in a global church that’s called a body is a lie; a body can’t operate without its parts working as one. And yet, it’s a lie we’ve grown so accustomed to that we don’t recognize it. We tend to ourselves and our private flocks and our churches become islands, exhausting themselves individually despite the abundant resources provided by the Father—resources that would, if shared, be more than enough for everyone.
We are seeing a powerful healing here, in these seven small churches. We are seeing a miracle unfolding. We are seeing the power of unity take hold in the red dirt of Africa, where I watch as pastors who were once strangers walk across the compound of School of Hope as brothers, their arms comfortably draped around one another’s shoulders in a gesture of unity that speaks louder than words. They share each other’s burdens, they know each other’s struggles, they have each other’s backs.
In their unity, they are no longer one man struggling to bear the burdens of family and congregation. They are men who each possess the strength of all eight pastors in the local villages, as well as the strength of the more than 50 others that meet regularly for TCT training in Uganda, as well as the hundred who now come from a wider circle to meet monthly, as well as thousands of other Christians around the world who have committed to pray and partner with them in a gesture of unity that proudly proclaims: We are one church. We are one body of Christ. We are one family whose one Abba-Father calls us to a Holy Unity that imparts a power stronger than every stronghold, every lack, every illness, and every weakness.
It’s the prayer that Jesus prayed for us, the shadow of the cross looming dark before him:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” ~John 17:20-23
Then the world will know. I am seeing it here, as we pull up to Pastor Steven’s church and are met by children waving clusters of bougainvillea vines, fuchsia flowers nodding between wicked thorns. They usher us into the church, where drums are pounding and voices are lifted high, singing so joyfully that my heart feels as though it might burst:
Yahweh, Your name is Yahweh! You’re the miracle-working God, Your name is Yahweh.
Their faces are uplifted, their love for God and for each other and even for us, strangers yet sisters just the same, pours over me and I am overcome.
Miracle worker, a voice rises from the crowd. Miracle worker! Come and work a miracle, a miracle today…
“I used to be mocked in the villages,” pastor Steven will later tell us, his voice breaking with emotion. “The children would call me names and throw stones. But now when they see me coming, the run over to greet me. Now I am respected.”
This is a miracle, that seven churches in a once dark and nearly-forgotten place can see such powerful rebirth not through the restoration of resources or finances or church buildings, but through the restoration of unity that Christ Himself prayed for. This is what brings the miracle: that we act as one, seven churches in Uganda and so many more across the globe—not offering a handout but joining hands together as one body across the nations and around the world.
This is the miracle that has turned weakness into power, solitude into community, and mockers into disciples. This is the unity that lets the world know that the Father loves them.
In the next few weeks, we will be posting stories from the recent trip to Uganda. Our North American team was forever changed and blessed by the hospitality of our Ugandan family, and it is our honor to share the incredible things that the Lord is doing there through The Lulu Tree. Thank you for partnering and praying for the programs that are changing the face of Africa–one life, one church, one village at a time. Truly, God is using these things in mighty ways!