We write both with some exciting Karamoja ministry news as well as some pretty big personal news.
I guess we’ll jump right into the personal. Many of you are already aware of our plans though others are not. This will be our last term of service in Uganda. We were due for a furlough this past November. Instead, we extended the term to conclude this coming summer at which time we plan to return to the U.S.
A significant factor which led to this decision was our desire to be closer to and better able to help our parents as they become older. But there were other factors as well. The bottom line is that we believe that the Lord is leading us to a new place of service somewhere in the States. Though we are convinced that this is the right decision, it has not been an easy one to make. All of the challenges and heartaches of life and ministry in Karamoja notwithstanding, we have been so blessed to be part of this work for what will be seventeen years in May. It is has been a privilege to serve under the Committee on Foreign Missions of the OPC. We thank the Lord for their leadership and care for us. We have been so blessed to serve alongside wonderful teammates. It will be extremely hard to leave them behind. And we will miss our African brothers and sisters among whom it has been such a joy to live and minister the gospel. We take comfort in knowing that the sorrows of what will be a painful farewell cannot begin to compare with the joys of that reunion which will soon be ours in glory as together we behold the face of Christ!
What is next for the Okkens? I have been pursuing a pastoral call in the U.S. In God’s providence, the opportunities which are before us are well east of the Mississippi. We had hoped to find something in or at least close to Southern California or Arizona where our parents live. On the other hand, anything in the States will be much closer to them than Uganda is and so we are warming up to (speaking for myself, even excited about the adventure of) serving the Lord in a new and different part of the U.S.A. I will share more about those details as things develop. We appreciate your prayers. For our remaining days in Karamoja and then wherever he leads us next, we want to be doing what will be most useful in the service of Christ’s kingdom.
We will depart confident that he continues to build his kingdom in Karamoja, even through the labors of this mission. We leave behind a team of fine servants. And they will be joined by two new families both arriving in February: the Baardmans and the Van Essendelfts. Dr. Flip Baardman will serve as the new doctor. He and his wife, Anneloes come from the Netherlands. Mark Van Essendelft will serve as our new facilities engineer. He, his wife, Carla, and their eight children come from North Carolina. Please pray for these new teammates as they prepare to come and then transition to their life and work here.
Also, please pray that the Lord will raise up another pastor to labor with David Robbins. It has been a blessing to work with him. I am so thankful for his enthusiasm and fresh ideas. At the risk of this update becoming too long, I wanted to share some very encouraging news about a ministry recently carried out at his initiative.
We have long hoped and prayed for a more effective ministry to the old men in Karamoja. They tend to be a tough group to reach. David came up with a great idea for how to share the gospel with them. We do have two old men, Loyep Daudi and Loduk Peter, who have become members of our church within the last year. They probably did not have much experience or skill in sharing the gospel. David thought that if we gave them a bit of training with a more experienced brother, they might be able to have a more effective ministry to their peers than we have had.
Under David’s direction, Lokwii Paul Omena spent much time with these older brothers discussing verses from the Bible, particularly Romans, to use in sharing the gospel. They also made use of an excellent tract David has written on the animal sacrifices. Finally, they went out for the first time. They brought some “chapatti” (Ugandan bread which is kind of like a thick tortilla) as a way of honoring the “mzees” (a term for African elders) and they began to speak with them.
David R. wrote about what took place:
“Lokwii Paul was concerned that Loyep might not have the courage to speak to the elders without compromise. As it turns out, Loyep Daudi was formerly the highest of all the elders in the area - we didn't know that! But when they began to talk to the elders, Loyep and Loduk both spoke faithfully and clearly about God's final sacrifice, Jesus, and told the elders that the cultural sacrifices of Karamoja are actually offered to demons (1 Corinthians 10:20).
The elders said they had never heard this before (or at least they have not really received it until now). They said something like, "Do you want us to [i.e., think we should] migrate from the old god to this new God?" Omena explained that the God of the Bible is the one true God and that he is older than the cultural god - that he created everything. And the elders listened.
Omena was really overjoyed by this, and we are rejoicing, too! It seems the Lord is really working in the hearts of these elders! Please pray with us that the Lord would use these meetings with the mzees to turn their hearts from idols to serve the living God. Tomorrow is another mzee outreach in Nakaale. We are hoping to send Loyep and Loduk to both villages once a week for a time and see what the Lord will do.”
Since David wrote this, another meeting has taken place. Again, it went very well. Of course, this was not the first time we have shared this message with the elders. But perhaps God is blessing seeds which have been planted over the years such that there are some who are beginning to hear it for the first time. The brothers are inviting these elders to be coming to church. We hope that this account will encourage you to continue praying with us for the work in Karamoja.