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Gospel message met with joyful ‘trill’

GULU, Uganda (BP)–Josephine’s shrill trill came without warning — like the battle cry of a warrior — splitting the afternoon serenity created by a fading orange sun and cornstalks swaying in the gentle breeze. A few minutes later it rifled through the quiet a second time, piercing the air announcing that Jesus was now Josephine’s Savior and Lord.

She wasn’t alone. A chorus of piercing trills rang out from her and three other aging Acholi women.

“This is how the Acholi women express great enthusiasm for the Lord,” said Chris Bwami, a Ugandan missionary to the Acholi. “It would be like shouting, ‘Hallelujah!’ These women are very excited that someone came and shared Jesus with them and they believed. He is now their Savior.”

Jesus became Savior to many Acholi men and women during a mission trip to Uganda sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources during which a 12-member team engaged in personal evangelism, visiting hut to hut with Acholi Christians who served as translators. The piercing trills were sounds of celebration for people who have had little to celebrate in decades.

The Acholi number about 1.5 million people and live primarily in north-central Uganda. They’ve suffered for 20-plus years at the hands of Acholi rebels seeking to purify their race and create an independent Acholi nation, and from Ugandan governmental military forces who persecuted the Acholi in the past, not knowing who was sympathetic to the rebel cause. The result has been a systematic grouping of a fearful people by the government into IDP (internally displaced people) camps. Some camps have more than 30,000 people living in close quarters, creating dire health consequences resulting from poor sanitation and lack of potable water.

Others, however, are getting out of the IDP camps. A few thousand Acholi have trickled back into villages that were burned out by rebel or government troops. They are rebuilding huts and replanting crops. It is hoped that churches will be part of the planting process.

“War started here and greatly disrupted the region,” said Odon Gdavid, a leader in the Baptist Union of Uganda. “Many people lost their lives and land. It unsettled hearts. As they resettle, our desire is that each of them would have a local church.”

The LifeWay team’s focus was to help in that initiative by concentrating on personal evangelism during their June 28-July 12 trip to the African country. Hundreds of personal visits were made; a few stood out as exceptional.

LifeWay retiree Don Davis, his wife Ann and his granddaughter Katelin Fields approached a hut to find a man waiting outside. He pulled up a straw mat and a couple of wooden stools for them. After Don presented the Gospel, the elderly man prayed to receive Christ and then told the trio that three days earlier he’d had a dream and been told that three “Muzungus” (Moo-ZOON-gooz; “white people”) would come with an important message for him to hear. He’d been waiting that morning for them to arrive.

David, a young adult, listened eagerly to the message while another team visited his hut. He enthusiastically prayed to receive Christ and then went next door and had the three women who had been sitting at a distance come and listen. They too received Christ. David was given a Bible and told to begin reading at first chance. He immediately sat down and read nonstop through the Gospel of John.

“The expression and the joy on the face of [one of the girls] when she accepted Christ will always stay with me,” said Kara Brown, the 2008 Jimmy Draper Missions Scholarship recipient and employee at the LifeWay Christian Store in Toledo, Ohio. “I’ve never seen anything like it. This trip has shown me again how great God is.”

Not everyone greeted the Gospel with the same enthusiasm as Josephine and her friends, David or others. There is a minor Islamic presence among the Acholi but religion is dominated by a strong culturally Catholic presence. Traditional belief in guardian and ancestor spirits also is strong. Witchcraft and witchdoctors are prominent throughout the IDP camps.

“There is a lot of spiritual oppression in the places we were working,” team member Anna Gervasi said. “There’s really nothing you can offer these people except the hope of Jesus Christ. God is showing me that I must walk with Him every step of the way if I’m going to effectively be used by Him to bring that message of hope.”

The Acholi live in cylindrical dwellings constructed of homemade brick covered with adobe and tightly woven thatch for the roof. In the IDP camps, the huts are close together. One team member, Beverly Spurlin, sat with flushed cheeks in the shade offered by the roof’s overhang to enjoy momentary relief from the intensity of the African sun and reflected on how the mission trip personally impacted her.

“It has impressed upon me again that Jesus Christ is our only hope,” she said. “One of the most discouraging things is when people reject God. But I know they need to hear that message and I’m thankful to be here to be able to share with these people.”

Josephine and her friends are thankful Spurlin and the others came as well, and they would gladly echo Spurlin’s observation that people need Christ. Their agreement would come with a heartfelt piercing trill.
Chris Turner is media relations manager for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.