Sunday, July 07, 2013

Bible Study in Uganda, Part 1

When my friend Kelly first suggested I go with her to Africa, I couldn't understand why. Looking for a reason to get out of it I asked, "Why do you want me to go so badly? What do you see me doing?" I thought she'd quickly see I wasn't mission trip kind of material and drop it.

But she didn't. Without hesitation she said, "We're always looking for people to lead Bible study."

And I knew I was a goner. Bible study is one of my great loves in life. It has brought more growth in my faith than anything else. When she mentioned Bible study, I HAD to think about it. I had to face the fear. God hit my weak spot.

So from the get go, Bible study was one of my jobs in Uganda. I was given three days to meet with women from the village of Kabasindagizi, Wednesday through Friday of our second week. I prepared lessons on Hagar and Hannah, thinking women from a poor region could benefit from talking about how God sees and hears and gives hope and comfort.

On Monday of that week I was to help with a Marriage Ministry session, but many women appeared expecting Bible study. I had left all my material back at the hotel and wasn't prepared to lead, so Kelly and I teamed up to do a Question and Answer session. It was my first time really interacting with others who didn't speak English. They looked so different than me. They were gracious and eager and serious. One man even joined them.

I was glad to have Kelly there. I felt very intimidated and pretty inadequate (although it wasn't too unlike the way I feel at Bible study at home sometimes, staring at a group of women who expect you to have all the answers--me?! all the answers?! yikes!). Kelly's presence calmed me.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I was shocked when they started asking questions. One asked why God answers the prayers of some with a miracle and others don't see His hand. There were questions about fasting and baptism. One sweet elderly woman lamented about her inability to stay awake in church and prayer and asked what she could do. (We told her to just keep trying. God knows your heart.) All of the subjects were things we have discussed in Bible studies at my church. How could their lives be so different, yet we ponder the same issues?

I was so jazzed by the time our two hours were over. I loved their sincere desire to understand and know God's will. That day I was given the pet name Abwooli and when the ladies left they bowed into my shoulders and said my pet name. Our translator, Davis, told me it was their way of saying thank you and I felt honored. It was the first time being in Africa didn't seem like a bad idea.

When Wednesday rolled around, I was excited and nervous. I prayed the lessons I prepared would translate and trusted God to help me. The weather was beautiful so we sat under the mango trees outside.

I found going through the text with them a little harder than at home because few of the women had Bibles and those that did weren't too crazy about reading aloud. It took forever to traipse around the scriptures like I'm used to. I worried the time elapsed would cause the lesson to lose its impact, but Kelly assured me it was good for them. They needed to learn how to find the different books of the Bible. I alternated between having them read and reading it myself in English, letting Davis translate it for them.

The point of our first lesson was that God gives us hope and a major part of the lesson focused on the way God's Word gives hope. Scripture has been a life line to me since I started reading it regularly as a teenager. It has helped me hang on when I can't see a way out. It reminds me what is true and gives beautiful promises. God's Word is critical to me in my hopefulness.

But as I looked out at those women, it occurred to me they may not own a copy, so I asked.

"How many of you DON'T have a Bible?"

Tons of hands shot into the air. Of the women there, I would guess 75% did NOT own a Bible. My heart sank. How do you encourage people to gain hope from God's Word when they don't have it? I wished I'd had some to hand out then and there, but I didn't. I wondered what good it did for this stupid white woman to come talk to them if I couldn't give them what they needed most. I felt compelled to give them something. Though it seemed a small concession, I encouraged them to meet with someone who did own a Bible and write down verses on a card or paper they could carry with them.

"Truth is truth," I told them, "whether it's in a book titled The Holy Bible, or scribbled on a piece of paper in your own handwriting. It's still God's Word."

I felt bad I couldn't give them more, but when Davis asked them later to recount what they learned that day, one woman said she didn't realize she could still have God's Word without owning a Bible. She said she would remember that. I thanked God for giving her something to hold on to.

There's more to tell about my Bible study experience, but that's enough for today. Tune in next time to hear the rest of the story.

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