Learning an Invisible God, Meeting Visible Needs

For the last several years, our East African cooperatives have been privileged to participate in a distance learning opportunity. Select courses from the Institute for G.O.D. Int’l are recorded to DVD, and sent to the living rooms of our cooperatives in both Kenya and Uganda. With a basic DVD player, and hearts ready to learn, these men gather together weekly to learn from the Word of God. They then engage one another in discussion, and complete homework that they send back to us in the States. (We then provide suggestions, grade their work, and send it back to them.) Though we desire to eventually live near enough to teach such courses in person, their hunger for the Word of God has not permitted us to delay their education until then.

Both groups of men have completed the Literary Analysis course, which taught them how to approach the bible as literature, and thus be sensitive to its differing genres. Now, they are both receiving lectures and completing work for Old Testament Survey (which gives an overview of Leviticus, Numbers, Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, Ezra and Nehemiah). In venturing through Leviticus and Numbers, they have learned to see God as a community organizer, who has a specific holy culture that he wants to impart to his people. God’s holy expectations for his people have not changed. However, due to the historical and cultural gap between ancient writers and modern readers, these expectations must be carefully appropriated into our present moment. The Old Testament Survey class offered by the Institute assists students in evaluating their lives in light of the biblical text, making sure they are moving from what is ‘common’ to what is ‘holy.’

Francis Lubega and his apprentice work on the forms for the roof for his neighbor's new toilet.  

Francis Lubega and his apprentice work on the forms for the roof for his neighbor's new toilet.  

In the following excerpt, Francis Lubega, a cooperative and friend from Bombo Town, Uganda, describes the way God has organized the camp of the Israelites in the wilderness: the presence of God was in the middle (signified by the tent of meeting), the Levites formed a circle around it (imparting the knowledge of God to the people), and then a larger circle of people surrounded it all, facing inward—toward one another. Their circle formation allowed them to look not at the tent of meeting, where God’s invisible presence dwelt, but instead at other members of the community—whose needs then become visible. Francis writes about his own community, and the way he has learned to see his brother (here, George*) in a new way.

"Considering the way the Israelites camp was organized (in the way that the tent of meeting was in the center and around it, the people, according to their tribes, settled facing the tent of meeting, and also, the Levites around the tent in front of the people) we can learn that God wants his people to be able to see one another. The people being able to see one another in the circle shows us God's intention to enable the people to have good relationships and to see one another's needs.

In this case, you people [G.O.D. Int’l] are my "Levites" (teachers) and I try to see God through your acts and teachings. I am in the circle, together with George and other people. Besides that, George is my neighbor. When I saw all the hens in his courtyard having black legs, I tried to find out about it. The truth is that they were scratching from the full, risky toilet and there was a danger of germs everywhere. This raised my concern.

I asked [George] what to do and what materials he had, but he could only provide for a shallow pit of (about 18 feet) deep on a very hard rocky surface. We seemed helpless at first due to lack of some supplies. But when [Josh Kurtz*] said that G.O.D. Int’l could provide the raw materials for the construction of the toilet, and all the men [in the class] showed much interest in having the toilet built and ready to help, it was so great! In about four days the toilet was in place. Everyone was happy and thankful. The old toilet was demolished. The hens' legs are no longer black. And there is no more contamination coming from the full toilet."

To explain more fully, toilets (or choos, as they call them in Africa) are typically built by digging a deep hole and placing an outhouse type structure overtop (minus the seat, there is just a hole in the floor). When the hole eventually fills up with feces, they have to dig a new one somewhere else. George’s toilet was so full that it was dangerous to everyone who would have used it.  When Francis saw the chickens, he noticed that their legs were black, covered in feces as they were digging (“scratching”) for food (the feces were that close to the ground surface). The fear then, is that the chickens can easily spread feces (and furthermore, disease) around the entire compound, including the kitchen, as chickens are not typically kept in a particular pen away from human beings and their daily tasks.

Francis Lubega, a trained mason, has experienced a transformation of mind in learning that he can make an impact on his community through volunteering his skill to improve the environment of those he is in proximity with. 

Though the concept of community is valued in Uganda, individual families are often kept from helping one another because their own needs are so great. Most often, life is lived in ‘survival mode,’ and even if others saw George’s toilet, they were likely unable or willing to do anything about it in light of other needs. But Francis, upon receiving lessons from the Word of God, knew that God expects that we take care of those whom we see in need around us. The book of Leviticus teaches several practical lessons on the necessity of a clean, sanitary environment. This undoubtedly challenged the men to no longer be accustomed to such infection and disease (for it is surely commonplace in their world), but rather to take part in eradicating some of the root causes.  Francis continues, "I felt I could do something to solve the problem given the small building skills that I have." [Francis is a builder by profession, so ‘small building skills’ is a modest estimate of his abilities.]

We are so grateful that the education these men are receiving in the word of God is not producing disconnected spirituality, but instead a faith that is informed by the responsibility God gives us for the communities we live in. We are grateful to have helped fund this building project, but even more grateful that it was Francis’ idea, Francis’ burden, Francis’ love for his brother that initiated such a response. His action far surpassed our generosity. We are so proud of our brother, and so in awe of the power of the Word of God. More stories to come!

*George is a long-time friend of G.O.D. Int’l who has always exemplified utmost service to others, despite his own need. Tragically, George just recently lost his youngest son (Joshua, 7 years old). This toilet was a gift to the family when they were tied up with other costs for the funeral.

*Josh Kurtz and his family are G.O.D. Int’l representatives in East Africa, and lived in Bombo Town, Uganda from August to December of 2010.

Written by Laurie Kagay and Francis Lubega