As this post is going out, I am making preparations to board a plane that will pinball me across oceans and countries, checkpoint after checkpoint until we arrive in Entebbe, Uganda.
I have the honor and pleasure to accompany one of our Narrow Gate Exchange Board members on one of his missions with reconciling relationships in South Sudan. While we are in Uganda, we’re going to head up to Keyenjojo, Uganda and finally meet our Ugandan Narrow Gate Exchange students! Our students in Uganda will be opening a sawmill and woodworking business with our partner NPO Heart of Africa after they return from their training here in the United States in November.
We will get to see the Wood-Mizer sawmill that was delivered to our students last summer, we will get to shake hands and give some hugs to people that we have been praying for, and interact with men who have been praying for us every day. We will get to talk about their lives, how things are going, and I will get to experience their dreams and their hearts in person. I’ll get to look them in the eye and tell them about all the friends they’ve never met who love them all the way across the world.
You see, this is what it’s all about. Relationships. We get so bogged down by the day-to-day drag of tasks, deadlines, and expectations. We get so lost in the minutia of projects that we forget the faces of people.
The project doesn’t matter – the people do.
That has been something that I constantly have to remind myself of. I have a board next to my desk that has every one of our eight Exchange students on it, their pictures a daily reminder that ministry is not a mission of buildings, assignments, trainings, or productions…it’s a ministry of people, for people, by people. Because behind each one of those eight face faces and eight smiles paints a deeper picture of life, and of our responsibility to establish community with not only those like us, but those that are different than us as well.
Sure, we will “teach a man to fish,” and yes, we will help establish a pond for him to keep fishing from, but ultimately, it’s not about the fish or the pond, it’s about the fisherman.
Because our students have their own ideas about how they will fish, what they will build, how they will sell their products, and how they will grow and develop as a business. And I am going to get to witness those ideas because I get to be in relationship with them.
I think of the ministry of Jesus, and his goals. Jesus had three commandments: love God, love others, make disciples. As I ponder his posture behind those three commandments, I see them as clear instructions in my walk as a disciple maker.
How did Jesus love God? He spent time with him, in relationship. He had conversations with His Father, He carved out specific, intentional time to be with His Father. He also chooses to use every other action, thought, process, and interaction as a way to be in relationship with His Dad.
How did Jesus love his neighbor? He did the same thing that He did with His Father – He spent time with people. He developed relationships. It wasn’t enough to instruct someone or teach them the right way and send them on. He intentionally went to people’s homes, shared meals with them, and brought them into the Kingdom not by a rule, but by a relationship.
And how did Jesus make disciples? Well that came out of the relationships that He built. Who do we tend to want to follow? If we have a genuine desire to follow someone, and that desire isn’t out of fear or pressure, it is for someone we trust, know, and respect. And those qualities only come out of relationship.
I am hopeful I can instill that same priority of relationship in all of the young men who come to Narrow Gate Exchange. I hope that my example will be one that shows them that through relationships, all things are possible. My guess is that they already know that, as evidenced from their interaction with their community and their desire to see it changed and impacted for good.
This trip is going to provide a connection point for true relationship that will continue into eternity.
This trip will better prepare us at Narrow Gate Exchange to create the structure that our students need based on what we see in Uganda.
But ultimately it will be a chance to start relationships. For the faces that I look at every day on my office wall to finally come to life in front of me!
As I prepare for this exciting journey, I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite books, “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” by Dr. Seuss:
“Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go….
And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)
KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!
So…be your name Sampson, Emmanuel, Josaia, or James, Simon or Owen, Lagani, or Bright.*
You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!”
(*names added for emphasis)
Narrow Gate Exchange is about creating an environment where these men can climb their own mountain, see their dream on the horizon, and have the ability to bring it to fruition.
Where families are supported, poverty is a thing of the past,
young men have hope, and a future that lasts.
It’s a place for adventure, to design and to build,
to see sustainable opportunities for the trained and the skilled.
A place to shake a hand, look someone in the eye, and see equals equipped.
Where an exchange of hearts builds more than business, it builds relationship.