" the ends of the earth." Uganda Mission Trip

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The main purpose for our team's trip to Uganda was to determine if we will partner with Children’s HopeChest and establish what’s known as a Carepoint in a new village. 

Carepoints are vital for the community and include building restrooms, a kitchen, an office space, and a large room for education to take place. These Carepoints assist 150 children. Beyond the building, the hope is to match the talents and gifts of the sponsoring church with the talents and gifts of the community for long-term community impact in Uganda.
We visited an established CarePoint in Bukadea, Uganda. This is one that had been up for 8 years. We spent several hours there to see how it works. When we arrived, it was perhaps the most joyful, friendly, warm greeting we had ever received! The people of Uganda have the spiritual gift of hospitality. As a church, we have been speaking of joy for the month of December, and I can truly say, we have much to learn about joy from the Ugandan people. 
We toured the facility and met with the HopeChest staff at Bukadea.  We learned of how HopeChest had helped them at the start and then saw how they had several different projects that were income generating for them, everything from tailoring, to aluminum, to making sweaters, etc. These projects wouldn’t have happened without an initial investment from HopeChest but it’s amazing to see how the Ugandan people have owned it and helped change their community.
After finally arriving at our destination for the first couple of nights, we got a much-needed night of sleep. We woke up Sunday morning with some more energy, and enjoyed breakfast before heading off to a church in Odudui, Uganda. 
Odudui is about a 45-minute drive from where we are staying in Soroti, Uganda. This is the one available CarePoint we are seeing in Uganda. An available CarePoint means Children’s HopeChest is looking for a community-to-community partnership with a local church in the USA.

Upon arriving at the church in the bus we were surrounded by the most joyful human beings on the planet. They were so encouraging and so happy to see our team. Immediately we went into the church service to hear some Ugandan praise and worship.  It was an amazing experience.
During church, the team got to announce ourselves and why we were there. Much of our team was led to help the children in their version of children’s church. I was then able to share a sermon based on Matthew 9:24-27 and the importance of following Jesus and His words as disciples. 

After church, we got to play with the kids and even learned a tribal dance. Then we met with leadership at the church to hear of the challenges that their community and church is facing. Amongst them all were the availability of clean water, early teen pregnancy, and caring for the widows and orphans in the community.

Finally, we went and toured the village and got to see firsthand where the school was located, how to pump water from the well (and all of the challenges associated with it), and the hospital. 
Seeing how the Ugandans in Odudui lived gave our team truly a great perspective. The greeting experience alone will forever leave an impression on our team. We also realized how incredibly fortunate we are from a material/wealth perspective. Even the basic things that we take for granted are not so basic to many that live in Odudui. Often times our “I’m having a bad day” thoughts, truly in perspective, we realize is not so bad. We are blessed. And yet, at the same time, there was something about the joy that people could have in the midst of uncertainty and poverty that will forever leave an impression on me. It showed me that true joy isn’t in the things of this world. 

After this day, we kept moving right along. On Monday, we visited another CarePoint that was already developed in Wera, Uganda. Through a partnership with HopeChest they have built a “Peanut Butter House” where they make their own peanut butter and supply it not only to the other CarePoints in Uganda but also sell it at the local market to bring revenue back into the village. 

We then went on a 5-hour bus drive to stay overnight at some African Huts on the outskirts of our African Safari that we would experience the next day. The bus rides were full of bumps, snacks, Coca-Colas, and card games. 

After waking up early Tuesday morning, we entered the Safari (Game Park) and got to see God’s creation at its best. Not only did we see the beautiful landscape as the sun was rising, but we also saw dozens of giraffes, buffaloes, hornbills, hyenas, warthogs, and many other amazing animals. It was a definite highlight for the trip!

From the safari, we hopped on a boat for a tour down the Nile River where we saw hippos and crocodiles, and finally, an elephant up close! We also saw an incredible view of Murchison Falls. This waterfall was majestic and was one of my favorite moments of the trip. Words cannot do it justice. It is an extremely forceful waterfall that goes into the Nile River, which alone is impressive. But on this day, at the time we were there, there was this amazing rainbow that stretched from one side to the next. I was just again reminded of the greatness and the power of the God that we serve!

We then drove for a couple of hours before stopping at our hotel for the night in Masindi, Uganda. It was New Year’s Eve and so we got to experience some awesome African dancing amidst a barbecue. The team was tired so all but one of us retired before the New Year officially came upon us. If you know our team, you could probably guess that David Oliver Willis was the one that stayed up and went to a local crusade and to a local party to ring in the new year!

When we woke up in 2020, on Wednesday, we had one more long bus drive ahead of us. We embarked on another 5-hour drive back to Entebbe where we met up with John, a friend of HopeChest. John shared his remarkable story with us about how he was captured and taken hostage by the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) at the age of 12. He was then brainwashed and for many years followed instructions and rose in the ranks of this terrorist group.  But through it all, he kept a relationship with God. Even when the LRA was doing awful things he was secretly helping many people that he shouldn’t have been. Eventually, he miraculously escaped and is now married, with 3 kids, including 2 newborn twins and pastoring a church. I loved how God is using his story to help so many others today.

We also ate my favorite meal of the trip at a restaurant overlooking Lake Victoria. It was yet another beautiful picture that I will have of Africa.
Thursday morning started at 2AM. It was up and off to the airport for another 22 hours of flights and layovers to Miami, FL. This update is being written while on the last leg of the flight. 

I reflect back on this trip and I am so grateful for it. I am so proud of the 8 of us that went on this trip. In fact, the leader from HopeChest said never before has a team run as hard as ours and accomplished as much as we had in as little as time as we had. The way that Sydney, Sharon, Michelle, Allison, Nathan, Brady, and David interacted with the children was so special. HopeChest said that they have never had a team as fully engaged with the kids as quickly as our team did. I’m so proud of our team, every one of them.

This trip was special for me for many reasons. 
For those that don’t know my wife grew up in Africa on the mission field with her family. She lived in West Togo, Africa, until she was 12 years old and hadn’t been back to Africa since then. It was a joy to see Allison in Africa. Even though it was different country, I believe I can understand a little bit more of her context as a child. There’s a phrase, “You can take the girl out of Africa, but you can’t take the Africa out of the girl.” This is so true for Allison. She has so much love and care for this continent and it was amazing to share this experience with her.

From a dad perspective, it was so amazing to have my 8 and 12-year-old experience this trip. Not many kids could have handled the time travel, the long flights, the long bus rides, and lugging around with other adults like my kids could. I love the fact that they got to see what other families live like across the world and to see firsthand how joy is not in the things of this world. This is the second year in a row that we’ve taken our kids on a mission trip right after the Christmas season. It’s so refreshing after the most consumeristic month of the year to go out and simply serve. I highly recommend taking family mission trips. It’s not always easy, but it is so worth it.

And then, as the pastor of theCross, I recognize Christ’s final red letters to go and share the Good News to the ends of the earth. We have done so many incredible things locally through theCross, and we have done some things nationally and internationally, but it was a goal of mine to explore ways in which we can make more of a global impact in 2020 and beyond. I take Christ’s call to go to the nations very seriously and we simply cannot be God’s church if we are not willing to taking Christ to the world. It was cool to partner with HopeChest for this trip and to talk about one way potentially we can make more of a global impact in the future. It was an awesome experience to share with David, Sydney, Sharon, and Michelle, and my family.

So, what now?

We are praying about and exploring what a partnership with HopeChest could look like between theCross and the village of Odudui, Uganda. A partnership would include building a CarePoint (that includes a multi-purpose building with offices, a kitchen, a latrine, and a water well), sponsoring 150 children from the village, and also agreeing to work on several projects with the village for the next 7-10 years. It would also include at least one partner visit trip each year with a minimum of 6 people.
Honestly, I wish everyone from theCross could come because the partnership we are talking about would be a no-brainer if people are here and see it. But how do you share a vision and make it compelling with people that have no idea what life is like in Uganda? 

I don’t know except to share what I saw. 
The difference between the village at Bukedea, where the CarePoint has been developed and running for 7 years and what I saw at Odudui gives me great hope. These partnerships work. HopeChest is changing Uganda one village at a time. We can help change a village. But the amazing thing, if you talk to all the churches involved, is the village helps change our church as well. It really is a partnership. While we have much to give, I believe the Ugandans have as much, and even more, to give and to show us. 

That’s all for now. Pray. Hope.

— Pastor Zach


Sermon Series Preview: Terrific Servants, Terrible Masters

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This world is filled with so many good gifts, and many of these good gifts are even given to us by God. In November, we will be exploring how to use some of the good gifts we’ve been given in a God-honoring way. This is an extremely relevant series to help us steward some things that are prominent in our society. 

We’ll be looking at 4 topics: Sex, Entertainment, Money, and Smartphones.

These 4 gifts are incredibly good. They are also incredibly complex in how they engage us within our world. If we listen to what the world says regarding these topics, we will be led down a road of destruction. We aren’t the first to discover this. 
If anyone wrestled with how to use good gifts in a God-pleasing way it was King Solomon. King Solomon was known as the wisest man in the world, had more riches than anyone else in the world, and was deprived of nothing materially or sexually that his eyes wanted. Solomon didn’t always do things right, and his words, in Ecclesiastes 2:10-11, are very important for us to consider during the course of these series:
   I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
    I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
    and this was the reward for all my toil.
   Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
    and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
    nothing was gained under the sun.
Solomon speaks from experience. He was greatly blessed in this world, and yet, when his life was based solely on the good things of this world he found it to be meaningless. Good gifts are never meant to replace God in this world.
His conclusion in this matter is found at the end of Ecclesiastes 12:13:
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of this matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. 
All good things pale in comparison to the best thing, God. And yet, God still blesses us with good gifts, because He is a God that lets us live an abundant, pleasure-filled life. Let’s stop listening to the ways in which the world says to steward these gifts and search God’s word to discover how to utilize these good gifts in a way that brings honor to God.

Here’s the four we will be looking at in detail:

Week 1: Sex

We are living in a hyper-sexual culture filled with many different opinions and ideas on what sex is and how it is intended to operate in this world. Sexual brokenness is rampant in this world, by both Christians and non-Christians, and collectively we have traded in God’s intention for sex for a lie, and it’s creating devastation, confusion, and shame.  How do we take this good gift from God and steward it in a way that honors God? We remember that sex is a gift given to us by God and we take steps towards honoring God’s original intention, and along the way, we find God’s grace for every misstep we’ve taken and give that grace to others.

Week 2: Entertainment

Entertainment is a beautiful gift God has given to us in this world. It’s amazing to see the result and the entertainment when you combine how God has given gifts, creativity, and talent to each one of us. But in the name of entertainment, have we have allowed our eyes, ears, and minds to go to places that we normally wouldn’t. How do we honor God while enjoying modern-day entertainment? What is appropriate for disciples when it comes to movies, music, parties, eating, events, etc.?

Week 3: Money

The world’s relationship with money is not healthy. Worry, fighting, tension, debt, monthly payments, little to no financial margin, bankruptcy, paycheck to paycheck, and loans are all common words associated with money in our country. Those words would make sense if we were collectively living in a time of great deprivation, but amazingly, we are living in a time of riches that few in the history of the world have ever achieved. God has collectively blessed us abundantly and collectively we’ve blown it. Let’s reclaim this incredible gift and learn what a healthy relationship with money looks like so we can find the joy in being the generous people God has called us to be.

Week 4: Smartphones

Our world looks so different than it did just one generation ago. The smartphones that most people have today have 7 million times more memory and is 100,000 times faster than the computer that landed a man on the moon just 50 years ago. With such a powerful machine, it’s important we understand how to use this machine for good and not for evil. Communication is of utmost importance in this world and if we can effectively steward this device, the Gospel of Jesus could spread more fruitfully than any time in the history of the world.

These are crucial weeks for you to choose church.  Remember, even Jesus chose church.  Let’s come together to hear practical, relevant, timely truths and be encouraged each week by the Good News that Jesus has for us.

— Pastor Zach

Posted by Zach Zehnder with
Tags: money, sin, sex, idols

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