Grace Church, Kitgum, the Moral Law, and other things by Charlie King
On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, while TBI was proceeding in Gulu, I travelled to a smaller town called Kitgum, about 120 Km to the east of Gulu. It has been depressed; indeed during the civil war, and then during the years of the LRA, Kitgum was a virtual island. For almost a decade travel between Gulu and Kitgum only went in armed convoys. While all that is past, thank goodness, people remember. Last year the government finally paved the road there, and business is picking up. There are also some sizeable refugee camps in the area, due to Kitgum’s proximity to the border with South Sudan. This too, unfortunately I suppose, leads to increased prosperity in Kitgum; the government of Uganda gets reimbursed for its acceptance of refugees from the UN, so they have an incentive to do just that. Anyway, one of the best instructors in TBI, Pastor James Lonyerah, is from Kitgum. He has a small theological study center in his chuch, which he runs using curriculum from MINTS (which, btw, is an outstanding organization aiming at the same problem we do—theological famine; they have a different tack than we take, but are a blessing.) He invited me to teach for two days, on the same topic of TBI—Christian Ethics— but boiled down considerably. A picture of the study center (which is James church) is below.
For this topic we are using several key resources: the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Kunhiyop’s African Christian Ethics, Douma’s Ten Commandments, and curriculum by Third Millennium written by John Frame, and some material from MINTS. From all these we have fashioned a 5 day program taught for 6 hours a day by three to four instructors a week for TBI, focusing on the moral law. James Loneyerah is one of the instructors for this week’s training in Gulu, so after we finished the two days of instruction in Kitgum, we both piled into Robin Thomas’s vehicle and returned to Gulu. (Robin is on the board of TCWM and runs Thomas Charities, a wonderful organization that focuses on literacy and women’s empowerment – check it out. In return for the wheels, she did ask me to lead a conference on this topic.)
So, James taught here in Gulu yesterday, while I spent the day speaking to a one day conference on the same topic – the moral law – in a place called Goro, about 45 km from Gulu. This is the home of Thomas Charities, and is where Robin’s work is having the greatest impact. It wasn’t a class– this was an all comers’ conference, more of a crusade than a class . . . we had over 500 men and women attend, to include the local political leaders. More on that in a moment . . .
One of the things that I see already on this trip, teaching based the moral law, aka the Ten Commandments, is that most folks don’t really know them, and even if they do, don’t consider them too often. This is true both at home and here. What I have learned as I have prepared for this is that the law is deeper and richer than I ever imagined. James said exactly this, two days ago, after our first day of teaching in Kitgum: “Everything we do, all the decisions in life, connect back to the Ten Commandments and they in turn connect to Jesus’ great commandments to love God and love our neighbor.” Well, yes, I knew that intellectually, but it was only through the process of teaching them, particularly doing so across cultures, as Rich and I are doing, that it really hit me like a slap in the face—these aren’t rules . . . these are way things are supposed to be. They are truth.
Applying them to local issues has been fascinating. In some issues, such as witchcraft (which we have discussed quite openly), the application of the moral law is clear. But in other cases, it was a process of leading people to see the connection. Yesterday in Goro, we talked through the application of the commandments to many local problems. For example, gambling is an epidemic here in Acholi country, and it has ruined many a family. Even though there is no explicit commandment saying “you shall not gamble,” a deeper understanding of them shows that the 8th, 10th, 9th, 1st, and 2nd commandments all lead one to the clear conclusion that gambling is not a good idea in the eyes of the Lord. This was news. One of the more interesting cases that people came up with was this: “ In the village there is a robber, and he has been discovered. So a mob is chasing him and he runs and hides in my house for safety. When the mob comes looking for him, what do I do? If I turn him over to the mob, they will kill him (6th commandment) but if I lie to the mob and tell him he is elsewhere, I will be lying (9th commandment).” This scenario was generated by the students, and everyone could relate to it. Long discussion ensued, with some arguing for the former action, and some the latter. One man, however, spoke like this: “We are forgetting our culture. In Acholi culture, when we give the security of our home to someone, no matter who they are, we are obliged to protect them. I would do so, no matter the consequences. And I would also remember my Christian identity and not lie.” So he was saying he would be prepared to be killed by the mob by getting in their way (and yes, that happens) to protect this robber. This sobered the class. Then, I asked him what he would do about the robber. He said, “Oh, him. If I survived the mob, I would call the police and turn him over to them. After all, he is a robber.” Well, I think this man knows his identity as an Acholi and as a Christian.
We have also spent time on Christ’s teachings that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. The health and welfare crowd often verge into antinomianism and the heretical idea that grace means the laws don’t apply. Of course they do. Christ’s fulfillment is our salvation. This too was news . . .
Lastly, let me share what the local political leader said yesterday. He attended the conference and at the end assured Thomas Charities of his support, and his appreciation for the conference. Then he added: “You know the many troubles we have had in the past, some so terrible we don’t even want to talk about them. And it affects how we are today. We need many things, and we appreciate what you provide. But what we need most is spiritual help.”
Amen, and blessings to everyone,
I neglected to post this picture of Acaa Nancy on my last post. This woman is raising a family, serving as our registrar, attending university, working in the women’s coop, and still serves the team lunch… and she does so graciously.
I add the photo of toilet construction at Grace School because some of you have helped Grace school out. They are under the gun from the government, and being threatened with closure due to insufficient latrines. This is as much as they have been able to build!