by Jeanne Damoff, Secretary of The Lulu Tree
At the top of the lined sheet of paper, the words are written in red ink: “Those who got Jesus as Savior 20th, October, 2018.”
There are twelve names written on the page. Twelve souls brought out of darkness and into light. Twelve new disciples called to follow Jesus — all of them living in the slums of Kampala, Uganda. All of them awakened to an understanding of the gospel and ushered into new life through evangelistic ministry.
All of them children.
When we send Lulu Uganda Co-Director Joel messages celebrating the beautiful work he and his team are accomplishing, his constant refrain is, “All glory to our Good God.”
And we know he means it. As hard as he works to prepare the lessons, as hard as he and his fellow ministers, Shaban and Daniel, work to make the Bible accessible and fun for the children, as fervently as they pray for the truth to be heard and understood and embraced by young hearts and minds, they know only God can open blind eyes and resurrect dead hearts.
But the children can’t see God. They need to see His smile on human faces, and hear His loving invitation through human voices. Joel, Shaban, and Daniel — these gentle servants with hearts of gold — are uniquely suited to be those faces and voices.
The children call them “Uncle,” and when they see The Lulu Tree van bumping along Uganda’s red dirt roads in the slum or between their villages, they run across dusty yards, smiles exploding on their faces, waving and calling out their names. The children love them, and they love the children, and are laying down their lives to make sure the children know that Jesus loves them, too.
Joel has been powerfully ministering to children for years, but his beautiful gifts didn’t end on him. He raised up Shaban and Daniel and continues to raise up pastors and Sunday School teachers, training them in the spirit of 2 Timothy 2:1-2 — entrusting what he has learned to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. In keeping with The Lulu Tree vision to prevent tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s families through the local church, Joel’s goal is to come alongside church leaders, modeling children’s ministry and mobilizing others to keep it going after he and his team have moved on to train someone else.
The lesson on October 20, 2018, is about obedience, and the story is Abraham Tested from Genesis 22:1-18. Joel explains that Abraham believed God when His promise seemed impossible, and he trusted God to provide in every way. Because Abraham believed and trusted God, he was able to obey Him even when it didn’t make sense. Like Abraham, we can trust that God has a plan and He will help us.
That’s not an easy truth for any of us to fully walk in. But the children listen to Joel, because he lives what he teaches them. Then Shaban teaches the memory verse and each child in turn recites Psalm 31:14 — “I trust in You, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’”
Pastor Kazibwe gives an altar call, and Daniel writes the names of the ones who come forward. Shaban and Daniel lay hands on the children and pray. Mommy Kazibwe feeds the children lunch, each receives a piece of candy, and twelve leave that afternoon having made Psalm 31:14 their very own testimony for the first time.
And all of heaven rejoices.
Joel, Shaban, and Daniel also leave, to prepare more lessons and to pray more prayers in the modest spaces they call home. They will faithfully hold these twelve names and so many more before the throne of grace. And they will continue to love children in Jesus’ name and to equip shepherds to feed them the bread of life.
And even though the world may never notice these three at all, I’m pretty sure the day will come when hundreds, maybe thousands, will run to meet them on streets of gold, smiles exploding on their faces, waving and calling out their names. And their refrain will remain the same.
All glory to our Good God.
*note by Emily Wierenga: It was an honor and a privilege to see firsthand the work Lulu Uganda Co-Director Joel Lutaaya is doing alongside his teammates Shaban and Daniel when we visited Pastor Richard’s congregation in the slum this Christmas. Children from surrounding churches in the slums are invited once a month to partake in a meal and the gospel message. Aria and I were blessed to be able to lead children to Christ and to help distribute Jesus’ birthday cake amongst the children.