Why Disciplemaking is SO Important

What is a disciple? Is it different than a convert? What do I mean when I say discipleship or disciplemaking?

One of the things we have felt over the past several years is a constant need to DEFINE terms and clarify what we mean by them; what the Bible means by them. It comes from a belief that the words we say and use have real impact only when there is a shared and clear understanding of what those words mean. When I would ask my father-in-law, “What color is that stop-light?” he would automatically say, “They are all green.” He was color-blind, so he had never seen colors through my eyes and we didn’t have a common understanding of what each color was.

Similar things have happened here in Uganda. When we moved here seven years ago, we thought we had a great understanding of the English language…boy, were we wrong?!?! Words we always knew to mean one thing suddenly had a very different meaning, both in Uganda and in other parts of the world. Even our British friends question our English so much that we have stopped saying that we speak English, rather that our family’s heart language is “Texan” and we are learning English.

All this to illustrate a point: we must agree on what we mean by such important words as DISCIPLE and DISCIPLEMAKING. For our family and the ministry we serve in Uganda, we define Disciple from Matthew 4:19, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Disciples: 1) Have committed to following Jesus with their lives; 2) Are forming their lives around Jesus’ life and teachings, being transformed into His likeness; and 3) Are committed to the same mission as Jesus, namely to make disciples in a lost world. And we define Disciplemaking as “life-on-life relationships” that produce Disciples who make Disciples, sharing a closeness where someone is able to pour themselves into another person. In this case, Jesus’ relationship with the twelve and the three are the primary model (also, Paul with Timothy as another Biblical example of this same model).

By many metrics, sub-Saharan Africa has been “reached” by Christianity. There are fewer and fewer Unreached People Groups (UPG) in sub-Saharan Africa because the Lord’s Church has spread and multiplied throughout the continent. We have heard from different people that missions and missionaries should stop wasting effort and resources building the Church in areas which have been reached like Uganda.

But when we look around, we often see spiritual children leading other spiritual children towards more confusion, legalism, and destruction. We see on the news stories of “Starvation Cults” in Kenya where more than 70 people killed themselves by starvation because their church leaders told them this is the Christ-like thing to do. If there were spiritually mature disciples of Jesus at this church, they could have put a stop to it. We see this in our own communities where people chase miracles and earthly blessings because church leaders have manipulated the Scriptures to teach that these are life’s priorities. If there were spiritually mature disciples of Jesus leading these churches, then they would know how to discern the Bible and help others apply it to their lives. Many churches that we work with are more like a youth and children’s ministry with another youth leading the way: They have committed to following Jesus but they do not understand how the Holy Spirit should be transforming them into the likeness of Jesus. They have approached Jesus as their personal Saviour from hell (fire insurance) but have not made Jesus the Lord and King of their everyday lives (by the way, if you’re focused on the misspelling of Savior, see my point on English and language from the second paragraph above=).

The purpose of Disciplemaking is to help spiritually immature Christians grow more mature in their faith in Christ, to a place where they can discern God’s will for their own lives and disciple other followers of Jesus: To help spiritual babies grow in maturity to a place where they also become spiritual parents. And this is why we believe it is so vital for the Church across Africa, in particular here in Uganda. If the Church doesn’t have mature disciples of Jesus, who will lead, discern, navigate, and disciple others?

I firmly believe that the vast majority of church leaders and Christians here in Uganda genuinely want to follow Jesus and be transformed into His image, but they have never been shown how. No one has discipled them the way that Jesus discipled His followers and many have been inoculated to the Truth in Jesus’ words. Many of them do not read the Bible because they have never been discipled in a way that gives authority to the Word of God. Many of them only seek the power of the Holy Spirit to perform miracles because they have not been discipled to understand that the greatest display of the Spirit of God is a transformed life. They would love these things, but they’ve not been led there…yet. They have been born again into Christ but have been left as spiritual babies and children, not being shown the way to spiritual maturity. And this is why DISCIPLEMAKING is crucial for the Church.

Here is an article written by an organization that worked for years to produce an African Study Bible, with notes and commentaries from African theologians and church leaders. It was a huge under-taking and has been a remarkable blessing to so many people, even some within the ministry we serve. This article focuses it’s attention on why it is so important to the Global Church that we focus efforts on disciplemaking here in Africa. Please, I ask that you take a few more minutes to read and explore: Click HERE.

And HERE is another article they have written about the NEED for disciplemaking across the African continent.

All of this points to one important factor: disciplemaking is a MUST here in Uganda, Africa, and beyond. Thank you all for being a part of it!


2023…New Year, New Opportunities

As a New Year is upon us (beginning year number eight for our family in Uganda), we are off and running towards the work that the Lord has put before us. Last year was such an encouraging and challenging year, and as we look back on it we can see how God provided for many things throughout. If you haven’t read the reflection on 2022, I would encourage you to go HERE first.

Once we know where we are coming from and where we want to go, we can clearly try to plot the course for the upcoming year. We have spent the past two months clarifying some of our 2023 ministry, personal, and family goals, and I want to take a minute to share those with you here:

Messiah Theological Institute – After several years of abnormal classes and meeting schedules, we have started 2023 off with a “normal” class schedule for MTI. We have begun with 28 students some key classes and disciplemaking groups. The first week of classes was encouraging, full of energy/excitement, and a lot of good soil to plant seed. We have made plans for some great teachers to help this year, including some of our brothers from Jinja, Uganda. And we are trusting the Lord to provide everything we need for MTI in 2023.

Discipleship – At the end of 2022, Gina and I had each started new disciplemaking groups. In 2023, we will continue meeting regularly with these new groups, praying that the Lord gives growth and transformation in the lives of our new friends. We are praying that they continue to be open and teachable, humble to learn from the Word of God. We also have plan in 2023 to gather with the previous disciplemaking groups for continued connection, encouragement, discipling, and mutual growth. We hope to learn from these groups that have come before ways that we can continue growing in how we make disciples who make disciples.

Community Development – Community Development projects has been one area that we have neglected over the past several years, due to the pandemic and a lack of staffing. It is our prayer and plan that we will begin 4-5 NEW development projects in different village communities that will bless the physical well-being of church leaders and members, so that the whole community can be blessed. We have already started pinning down which communities to work with this year and which projects will work best in their areas. We sincerely ask for your prayers in this area, as it requires a lot of additional planning and follow-up.

Discovery Bible Study – We have continued to emphasis DBS groups and it has been a great blessing to many churches and communities throughout Uganda. Even during the pandemic, churches who were accustomed to DBS groups increased in their ministry, impact, and membership because they were not limited to church buildings. We still have many churches that we need to train in DBS, and others that we need to follow-up and encourage, so that is a big priority for us in the New Year. DBS is the primary way we train people on using the Bible in their lives and we distribute many Bibles to group members. Once groups have been meeting for a number of months, we follow-up with them for encouragement and to give Bibles to people who have shown a passion for studying the bible. This year, we pray that the Lord leads us to a great audio Bible resource for villages.

Church Visits and Development – With over 200 churches that we work with, our schedule is always full of churches to visit. We try to visit different churches 2-3 times each month so that we can encourage, build up, and continue teaching some important things. Most of our churches are within 1-2 hours of Mbale, but some are very far, requiring multi-day trips to see them. We are planning to go north and west for two trips this year, possibly adding a third trip even further away. These trips are quite demanding of us, but they are also very important to the ongoing development of the ministry. In addition to visiting churches, we also partner with them in their construction projects. While it’s not as much as we would like, we do our very best to help with roofing when churches are building permanent church buildings. Some of these churches have really pushed themselves to construct buildings that they can meet in for generations to come, and it’s a joy to partner with them in this.

New Staff – We have been praying for the past 4-5 years for MORE ministry staff members at the Mission, and finally we are able to make that happen. We are asking the Lord to lead us to the RIGHT people to add to the team that will work well with the current ministry staff and further the work of the Lord. We are beginning interviewing candidates this month and will prayerfully add people as the Lord leads us. We also ask for your prayers in this effort. “

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. - Luke 10:2

Conferences – We are also planning to host our second Regional Leadership Conference in July 2023. Last year we had leaders from over 75 churches come, and we are praying that we have an even greater reach this year. As always, we will be planning for our annual youth and women conferences, this year to happen in December. And we always join in with other Church of Christ churches across Uganda for a National “Family Reunion” Conference. This is a weekend of encouragement, fellowship, and sharing.

Personal / Family – As for the Sawyer Family, we are very thankful to be entering our eighth year of ministry in Uganda. We are fortunate enough to have been invited to go to Israel with a group from Central Texas and join many dear friends for the trip of a lifetime. This is something that we have been praying for and are very excited to join next month. In addition, we are looking forward to a Christmas trip to see family and friends in December 2023. We also believe that this year we shall embark on raising chickens at our house for personal use…which Adalyn is VERY excited about!

And that’s what we’re planning for 2023. We are asking God for all guidance, wisdom, and discernment in all things, that he may give us strength and perseverance to make plans happen, and grace to make plans change when needed. Thank you for joining us in this prayer!

2022 Recap – A Year at Warp Speed

What a year it has been! Having now celebrated Christmas in Uganda, we are taking the time to reflect on the past year – personally, as a family, and as a ministry. A New Year will bring NEW opportunities, but first, let’s look back on a great year…

Discipleship Groups – At the end of 2021, both Gina and I finished meeting regularly with our discipleship groups. Those groups had been meeting for more than three years (thanks to Covid lockdowns) and we were ready to launch into new groups. The other women’s discipleship group met throughout 2022 and finished their meetings in November 2022. We have now completed 4 discipleship groups of men and 2 of women, plus one more co-ed group. Those are in addition to the 12 groups we have walked with in MTI. In total, we have discipled over 120 men and women to be passionate disciples of Jesus and to be make disciples in their churches, communities, families, and villages. In September, we also began new groups – Gina with a group of women and Leland with a group of men. We are seeing the fruits of disciplemaking and spiritual growth in many of these churches, and we thank the Lord for this focus. (Click HERE for more.)

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Training and Equipping for Ministry

Last Saturday, November 19th, we were thrilled to celebrate and mark the 21st Graduation of our theological school, Messiah Theological Institute (MTI). We had 27 graduates completing the training that began back in April. It was a day full of celebration, congratulations, singing, dancing, and joy. And it marked the completion of these students commitment. It was a really good day!

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On the Journey – TOGETHER

Marriage is such an important institution in all of human history. And in Scripture, it is the ONLY time that “two become one.” It is a permanent union between a man and a woman all the way back to creation itself. It is a covenant we make with one another. It is an image of the Trinity. It is a metaphor of Christ and His Church. It is beautiful and bears good fruit. And it takes work and effort.

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Worship the Lord, All Ye People!

One of the MANY blessings about serving the Lord in Uganda is the privilege of worshipping God with so many of His children. Ministry takes me to all kinds of different villages and churches. The church we most regularly attend, Mbale Church of Christ, is not too dissimilar to Christian Churches in America. Sure, there are songs sung in different languages and the sermon is typically translated into Luganda, but overall it feels more comfortable. They mix in familiar hymns and Western worship songs, the instruments are Western, and the “flow” of the service is more what we experience in America.

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Life and Ministry with Covid-19

All of us are too familiar with the struggles over the past few years and the lasting impact that Covid-19 has had on our world. Churches have experienced more change in the past few years than any other period during my lifetime. Here in Uganda, so many aspects of everyday life and ministry were completely halted or altered. But not EVERYTHING! Some aspects of ministry thrived during Covid-19. Some began to bear even more fruit!

This is my friend Alex. He is a pastor of a local church about an hour south of Mbale, where we live. He gives a powerful testimony about the importance and necessity for making disciples that make disciples. And he shares how that greatly impacted his church and community over the past three years.

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Visiting New (Old) Churches

Sometimes we get surprised…really on a daily basis it’s something new. But around Christmas time, we received a phone call from churches in a certain area that we had been told were no longer there or no longer working with us. These churches are about 2 hours away from Mbale, so they aren’t nearby. But there had been a connection…someone standing in the gap between the Mission in Mbale and the churches in this area. Through that person, we came to believe over the past ten years (in fact, we knew) that those churches were no longer working with us. And, while we were disheartened by this, we understood that this sort of thing happens. Transport costs are high, visiting is difficult, the distance is far…all these things are reasons why it can happen.

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BIG December!!!

Wow, December has been such a busy and great month. November was too…but that was last month. Today, we’re focused on December!

The first week of December was our theological classes, MTI. This was the first time since May that we’ve been able to have full classes, due to lockdown and Covid restrictions, so we were overjoyed about the opportunity. We had a total of 30 students come for teaching, discipling, and sharing.

During the week of MTI, our family also had some celebrations. Adalyn has been taking a dance class from a missionary here in Mbale since September. They worked so hard over the past few months, even overcoming practice cancellations due to Covid, to put together a lovely Christmas Dance Program. In all, there were 12 dance routines, six of which Adalyn participated. She went into dance a little reluctant, but in the end, she thoroughly enjoyed it! She persevered and reaped the blessings! It was also really fun for us to watch our beautiful little girl shine and enjoy something that isn’t usually her cup-of-tea.

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