The three of us had been invited to a private meeting at the Ugandan State House, the presidential residence, and the person asking the question was Mrs. Janet Museveni, Ugandaʼs First lady and wife of the President.
In YWAM, we often talk about our goal of discipling nations in every sphere of life, but are we ready to step up to the plate. When leaders of nations ask us for Godly wisdom on their most vexing issues, do we just speak in generalities or are we ready to share specific ways God uses to bring transformation in health, in water, in development?
Do we even really believe God has good intentions for water?… for every sphere of life?
Iʼm reminded of a conversation I had with a missionary I met in a middle-eastern nation some years ago.
“Weʼre restoring water to villages that have not had it since the war,” he said. “Weʼre drilling wells in these communities and installing $10,000 high-tech in-well pumps that weʼre getting donated from the United States and then weʼre sharing with them the Good News of Jesus.”
Wow, I said. Are you able to train any mechanics in the community to keep the pumps running?
No, was the reply. These are too sophisticated a pump to be repaired in this nation.
Well are they just such a robust design that they can last 10 or 20 years without any maintenance?
Well no, again was the reply. They’re really only expected to last about two years, but they are our “foot in the door” as it were to get to share about Jesus and His wonderful plan for our lives.
I had to fight back tears as this man continued on about his group’s efforts to use water as an evangelistic tool, but my thoughts were, “What are these communities going to think about Jesus’ good news in two years when they again have no water? Is the Gospel only Good News about the spiritual part of our lives?
Does God not have good news about water?
Just as the University of the Nations is beginning to evaluate our educational efforts not by what is taught, but by what is caught, so must those working in medical missions and community development focus not on those things we do to and for communities, but on what we help equip them to discover and do themselves, long after we’re gone.
God has no grandchildren, only children. Unless we learn to seek and find His answers for our lives we will always be dependent on others.
“Those working in medical missions and community development must focus not on those things we do to and for communities, but on what we help equip them to discover and do themselves, long after we’re gone.”Allan Robbins
For 3 months in 2008, a team of 12 from the UofN-Kona Community Health Development school joined long-term YWAM ministries in Uganda in equipping servant-leaders who wanted to see lasting fruit in their nation.
Pioneering Not just a School but a School of Thought
While drought and food shortage had made life especially difficult in Uganda this year, interest wasn’t just in our workshops on water, malnutrition, and infectious diseases, but on expanding discipleship training through the local church to encompass worldview issues which pastors were recognizing as the only hope of sustainable change.
In Uganda, it is not uncommon for many believers to be fatalistic and fearful of spirits that would be angered by change. We worked with Ugandan pastors associations to equip local pastors and YWAM staff to see that the giants in their land can be overcome and to help them decide what their part should be. Much of the enthusiastic feedback we received was that, “You’ve restored our hope that things can change… that God does have good intentions for our families, churches, and communities, and there are practical things WE can do about it!”
Helping the Church be the Church
Our CHD students helped three communities start meeting to address and resolve their own water problems, we trained a YWAM staff team at their Hopeland base to build inexpensive rain-water catchment tanks to catch and store safe drinking water. We were asked to train two groups of Parish Health Care Workers and got to work with former UofN Health Care graduates now working long-term in the Buvuma Islands of Lake Victoria in helping equip and launch a new network of community-based health educators comprised mostly of pastors and church leaders who live in the islands. Finally, our team helped YWAM-Uganda prepare for their ﬁrst School of Health Promotion & Development developed specifically to address the needs of sub-saharan Africa, but our goal was not just another school but a whole new school of thought.
Learning from one-another
At the same time we learned so much from these beautiful Ugandan YWAM staff and local pastors. Their dedication, compassion and personal sacrifice in addressing Uganda’s HIV & AIDS epidemic which has touched every family, creative new community-based savings & loan strategies to address family health issues, high-efficiency, vented, wood-burning clay stoves made freely made from the 12 ft tall termite mounds found everywhere in Uganda and story-telling, one of our students commented, I only wish I could learn to tell such winsome stories in my teaching.
“So what to you recommend our nation should do about water?”
The First Lady looked at me expectantly. I glanced across the table at Jeff, also with Kona’s Water For Life team, and Sam, YWAM’s Foundations in Community Development school leader in Uganda, but they both had their eyes closed in what I hoped was a fervent prayer for my response.
I said, “If it were an easy problem you would have already solved it long ago. It’s not just a problem of contaminated water but the problems where families even have difficulty even gaining access to water.“
It is a problem of technology that needs to be affordable, acceptable and sustainable, but mostly it is a problem of beliefs and behaviors that must change. Yet as you prayed when we opened our meeting today, we KNOW God has answer’s, that He has good intentions for our families and communities.
The First Lady nodded and I continued,
YWAM has worked with water issues for over nearly 50 years all over the world. We keep learning as we see successes and we have several household and community-based approaches to water that we think could be very helpful, but each nation is unique. We would like an opportunity for ongoing work with your office, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Water & Environment in finding the answers we know God has for Uganda.
Uganda’s churches and Pastor’s Associations want to help with this, because at the heart of the water problem, there is a need to renew how we think, to change our behavior.
How would you do this? the First Lady asked.
In other nations, YWAM, and other organizations have begun having amazing results with a Care Group network where a handful of trainers each equip 8 Care Group Leaders who each lead 8 groups over a two week cycle. Each Care Group is made up of 10 Leader Mothers who then go back and each week visit 5-10 of their closest neighbor families sharing the simple messages they learned. When the messages are kept simple but profound, we have been amazed at the lasting behavior change this approach has had in families and suddenly that small group of trainers are impacting 12-20,000 families.
Sam Kiwinacha reminded the First Lady of her visit to the YWAM Hopeland training center for a Global AIDS conference last, and she asked, What kind of training can YWAM offer us in Uganda?
We were ready with an answer: from YWAM-Uganda’s many years of experience with community HIV/AIDS work, children at risk and satellite family support networks, and Integrated Health Projects they could offer 2 day – 2 week seminars and workshops on Water & Sanitation, Village Technology, Health Promotion & Global Health Issues, Food & Income Security, Community Leadership & Capacity Building and Biblical Worldview Training and networking with Pastor’s Associations. YWAM-Uganda also offered 6 month certificate courses in Community Development and Health Promotion & Development.
Nodding and looking thoughtful, the First Lady asked, What could my office do for you?
Glancing at Jeff & Sam, I replied, “You could help promote our training opportunities to a wider audience and include us in future collaborations on water.”
“You could help identify people who would especially benefit from our training seminars…and if possible, you could help fund scholarships for those students.”
“But mostly you could help us have an on-going relationship in working together to make water safe and accessible, and in convincing communities that God has good intentions for them in every area of life.
Smiling broadly, the First Lady said, I can do this. Yes this is something I can do.
What does it mean to disciple a nation?
We’re still discovering it, but you’re invited to come walk walk with some fellow followers of Jesus, who are convinced that we’ve never lived in such exciting days. It’s not about what we do TO or FOR people. It’s about what’s left behind…trusting friendships, nationals equipped with new skills and new revelation of God’s nature and character – that He has good intentions for all aspects of our lives; and seeing churches with a new passion to fulfill their role of bringing Hope through simple, practical gifts of service.
by Allan Robbins
Allan serves as an Int’l. Assoc. Dean overseeing UofN’s Health Care training. He leads the Community Health Development program and is one of the founding members of YWAM’s Water For Life Institute.