Since we moved to Uganda in 2016, we have often used the phrase “I never imagined I would say/do/have…” and we have learned a lot over the last 7+ years. One of the main things that has surprised us is the large garden we have at our house. With both of us being “city” people, garden and farming were never in our vocabulary.
We started with a few small beds of fruits and vegetables that we couldn’t get in Uganda, and we have expanded our garden to have many options. We grow our own sweet corn, colored bell peppers, jalapeños, lettuce, squash of different types, tomatillos, sweet potatoes, strawberries, cantaloupe, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and green onions. We have banana trees, mulberry/blackberry bushes, jackfruit tree, avocado tree, mango tree, and orange trees. We also grow local foods like beans, maize, potatoes, tomatoes, and greens to share with our neighbors. It has been a blessing to be able to make meals out of the vegetables from our garden, and to share our abundance with friends around us. It is certainly not something we imagined we’d do with some of our time, but we continue to expand our family farm.
When we moved to Uganda we brought our one dog: an English Bulldog, named Jezebel. Over the years, we’ve had 5 dogs, a couple litters of puppies, 2 hedgehogs, a rabbit, and now we have added 6 new chickens.
Leland and Adalyn started scheming about wanting to have chickens a few years ago, but I said I would not have much to do with them because I already had a lot of work to deal with in the garden. While it took several years for planning and actually making it happen, this year we bought our chickens. We currently have 6 chickens that Adalyn can identify, each with their own unique name: Applesauce, BBQ, Crispy, Drumstick, Egg-selent, and French Fry. And already we’re averaging one egg per day, with more layers growing and hopes of producing more soon.
Adalyn loves animals, so she enjoys all the animals at our house. And she enjoys helping in the garden, while also eating the fruits and vegetables (jackfruit is her FAVORITE).
And of course, she hasn’t neglected the 4 dogs we currently have and always makes time to play with them. While the Sawyer Family Farm is not something we expected when we moved to Uganda, we have enjoyed the adventure. Below are several more photos of our family farm for your viewing pleasure. =)
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!
This month I had the pleasure of reuniting with the first women’s discipleship group. This was the first time we were all together to share and spend quality time with one another since we concluded our meetings at the end of 2021. I have made phone calls to each of the ladies throughout the year and we worshipped together at the women’s conference in December 2022, but this was the first time we were ALL TOGETHER to share what God has been doing through and in each of us over the past year.
We started the morning together in praise and worship. It was a beautiful time to worship and thank God for our time together and for watching over us while we were apart. We shared challenges from the past year and how the Lord had stood with us throughout the year. We shared ways we could be continuing to pray for one another, both personally and in regards to making disciples. While each of these women has different challenges, styles, and ways they are discipling others, the confidence I saw in them was truly a testament to the Holy Spirit working in their hearts.
When we started the journey together in January 2018, our group was very different. For different reasons, some of the ladies had to stop being part of the group, but that didn’t stop us from loving them, caring for them, and praying for them as we continued meeting. And while we had the challenge of Covid-19 and TWO lockdowns in the middle of our regular group meetings, these ladies remained faithful in gathering together. But not only did our group dynamics change throughout the years, each woman grew spiritually. It was amazing (and frustrating, at times) to watch them wrestle with what God was teaching us and how that applies to our lives. It’s not just about learning who Jesus is and how He wants us to live; it’s about faithfully living our lives for Him and serving Him in all areas of our lives.
When we completed our time together at the end of 2021, I challenged the ladies to follow Jesus’ call in Matthew 28:19-20: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” If I’m honest, I was unsure what they were going to do when they went back to their homes, communities, churches, and villages. I did not know if our time together was wasted or if they were truly changed, but I could only give our time to God and know that His timing and His Kingdom work will continue to expand, no matter what. So I prayed for the ladies, called to check on them occasionally, and made plans to continue with discipling others.
When we met last week, it was encouraging to see how God had changed their hearts and was continuing to lead them to spiritual maturity. They had gained confidence in reading scripture on their own, turning to God during troubles and temptations, and trusting in God’s timing even when they were unsure. And they were confident in leading others to know Christ better through Bible studies, discipling ladies in their communities, reaching out to their neighbors, and walking alongside those not yet comfortable to be part of the church. The discussions we had were deeper than they had ever been, and I have complete confidence that God is using these women in different ways to serve His people and expand His kingdom. What an encouraging thing to see that even when we are unsure of what God is doing in people’s lives, His is always faithful.
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater. So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
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!
We are happy to celebrate 7 years of living in Uganda. It is hard to believe it has been that long, and at the same time, it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long at all. Like any place, there are things that frustrate us, but there are also many things we love about living here. There are many things we count as blessings and there are many things that make us shake our head and laugh. It’s a fun mix, and God is always faithful in reminding us that He’s got us.
So with that being said, We want to share some fun everyday life items with you….
We have always loved how easy our access to tropical fruits and vegetables has been. We can get a pound of potatoes, fresh green beans, tomatoes, onion, green bell peppers for about 30 cents. We have a large assortment of dried beans for about 6o cents. Our avocados and mangos are huge and also sell for very cheap! The avocado tree we planted when we first moved here finally started producing this year, so we have avocados in our own yard. Pineapple is another delicious treat for less than a $1 (a whole pineapple). We do not have the selection of produce like an American grocery store, but we have gained access to a lot more options over the last 7 years. We can consistently get zucchini, broccoli and cauliflower now. And sometimes red and yellow bell peppers. Those items are a bit more expensive at about $1 each. The broccoli and cauliflower are often small and about the size of my hand, but still nice to have available. There is a farmer who lives on the mountain and he comes to town to sell his fruits and vegetables. His biggest treat for us are the strawberries. We buy a container of strawberries for about $4. I don’t know what they sell for in America, and I don’t care because we can consistently get strawberries and that makes us happy. We can buy 1 small red apple or a hand a bananas for 50 cents each (and the bananas are amazingly sweet). We can sometimes get grapes at the supermarket for about $3.50 a container. We grow black raspberries and mulberries in our yard, as well as sweet potatoes, asparagus, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, green onions, and jalapeños (because Leland loves his salsa). We have had some success growing yellow sweet corn, butternut squash, tomatillos, yellow squash and cantaloupe. As two city kids who knew nothing about farming, Leland and I often feel very proud of ourselves and our endeavors to grow our own food. (We do have a lot of help from the guys who work with us.) I think we eat healthier than we did in America, but we also work harder for our food. 😉
As far as our grocery store, there has been so much improvement in the last several years as well. Our main supermarket has pretty much everything we need (note I said need and not want). It’s a good-size store, but we can go months without items being in stock. For example: I haven’t been able to get frozen beef since November. And import canned goods are not a guarantee. It’s an adventure to go grocery shopping because you never know what will be there, and it’s always a nice surprise when you find something in stock. It’s like a treasure hunt. =) But sometimes you pay for those products we recognize from the U.S. For example, a can of pink salmon (rare find) is $8 a can. I don’t buy those. =) Cereal can also be about $5 for a small box (no value sizes here). A small container of peanut butter is about $6, unless you buy the local stuff, which is much cheaper. There are some items we just splurge on because we can’t imagine life with out it…like cheddar cheese. We pay about $8 for a small block of cheese and we ration that block of cheese! =) When we first moved here, we had to bring our own shampoo, conditioner and body wash. Thankfully, those items can mostly be found in town or in Jinja (about 2 hours away), so we don’t have to use our luggage weight on those items – instead we bring back more cheese. 😉 There are 3 familiar brands of shampoo that may be in town: Tresemme, Herbal Essence, Head and Shoulders. Needless to say, we’re not picky. But there’s a whole aisle of lotion/creams/oils available for skin rehydration.
We rarely go to the capital city of Kampala, which is a good thing because that means we can get most of the things we use without traveling the 5 hours to get there. We used to have to go on regular trips to Kampala to get bags of dog food and dog shampoo. Both of these items are expensive but necessary for our big dogs. Thankfully, we can get these items in Jinja (only 2 hours away). And there’s even a deli in Jinja that partners with an import company from Kampala, so they bring some America (think Walmart) items to Jinja. We get excited when we find some fun unexpected items like buffalo wing sauce, ranch dressing, grape jelly, Clorox antibacterial wipes, paper towels, or powder coffee creamer. It’s all about perspective. For us, we have adjusted to life without so many American products, but we do still get excited when we see something from home. And we have been blessed with people who either bring us or send us yummy treats from America, so we are not lacking. We are very thankful and abundantly blessed.
We are celebrating our time in Uganda, but it’s also an interesting time because we have had more people ask us what is next. It is a bittersweet to think about about what might be next for our life and the ministry here. We can honestly say “we don’t know” and that’s okay; we have peace in it. We know our time here isn’t finished yet, but we also know we’re not supposed to stay here forever. So the questions and thoughts on our minds are about making the most of the opportunities with our friends and ministry partners here, about how we can help the ministry continue to thrive for generations to come (with or without other missionaries), and about how God is going to continue to use us while we are here. We are nowhere near seriously thinking about what’s next for our family because we know we are called to be faithful to where He has called us right now. So we are here now and we are making sure we are present in everyday life!
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.)
Matthew 28:19-20 have been some of our key scriptures in the work we do in Uganda. After Jesus’ resurrection, He commands his disciples, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
This is the call for every follower of Jesus, whether around the world in a different culture or in your own home, workplace, neighborhood, or village. We are all called to make disciples of Jesus.
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!
Adalyn turned 10 years old today. Double digits! For those parents who have already walked through this journey, you know how quickly time flies and how fast kids grow. Adalyn is a blessing to our family and we are so thankful for who God has made her to be. She is funny and compassionate; she is fiesty, sarcastic and adventurous; she loves being at home but she also loves traveling to experience new things; she loves our life in Uganda but she also misses her family and friends in America. She is independent, courageous, smart, thoughtful and forgiving. We love her dearly, and we hope you enjoy watching her grow with us.
There’s always mixed-emotions with our trips back to America. While we love seeing friends and family, it is also busy and exhausting. Yet it is also life-giving and refreshing. And then we also have to say goodbyes, which are always hard. Our life as missionaries is “both/and”, a paradox of emotions (yay ducks and yuck ducks). And this trip was a whirlwind! We stayed for 2 months, so a bit longer than home assignments pre-Covid. With visiting more churches this time, it was busier, with even more travel. But it was also SOGOOD! For those who are interested and don’t already know, here is a recap of our summer travels in the U.S. We left Uganda at the end of May, spent a couple days in Istanbul to break up the long travel back to America and to adjust back to “western culture”, then continued to Dallas and Houston for a couple days to get over jet lag and see our parents.