10 May 2015
St. Augustine Chapel, Kabale, Uganda
About a year and a half ago, a pastor friend of mine in California sent me an invitation. He was leading a mission trip to Amman, Jordan, to support Christian workers helping refugees from the violence and destruction in Syria.
In his note to me he said, “come share with me in the suffering of others.”
I accepted his invitation and joined a team of six doctors and pastors to visit and support Syrian refugees who fled to neighbouring Jordan. We met them in small unfurnished apartments, sitting on the floor. We heard their stories of bombs and fighting near their homes and businesses and how they escaped.
It was a powerful experience for me, but God was present, strengthening us and healing them. Most of the refugee families are Muslim but we asked if we could pray for them. Almost all agreed. We called upon the Prince of Peace, Jesus, to help end the horrible destruction being done to their country.
When our time in Jordan ended, and the others went home, Pastor John and I crossed over to Israel. It was my first visit and I was excited about a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
From the border we drove through the Judean countryside. It was a place of refuge for David, who was hiding from Saul. Jesus spent his 40 days in the nearby wilderness.
Before long we got our first glimpse of the Dead Sea, an isolated body of water located between the eastern mountains of Israel and the smaller Judaean hills. The Jordan River is the only major water source flowing into the Dead Sea. There is no outlet.
It lies in a beautiful, stark, valley with no trees or vegetation, like a desert. Its surface is 430 meters below sea level, making it the lowest place on Earth. It is nearly 10 times saltier than the ocean. In Hebrew it is called “Sea of Salt.” The water is a harsh environment in which animals and fish cannot flourish…and that is how it got its name.
In our OT lesson, the prophet Ezekiel writes about the hope of a present God in a barren land. These verses use the imagery of water and describe something of a paradise in a land that was hostile to life.
“I saw water flowing,” he says. “Flowing from the sides of the temple.” At first the water came to his ankles….and as he walked further, the water was up to his waist. Then it was too deep to cross except by swimming.
“And where the water flowed….there was new life.”
Verse 8: He said to me: “this water flows through the land to the east and down in to the Jordan Valley and to the Dead Sea. When it flows into the Dead Sea, it replaces the salt water of that sea with fresh water. Wherever the stream flows, there will be all kinds of animals and fish. The stream wiil make the water of the Dead Sea fresh, and wherever it flows, it will bring life.”
This is beautiful imagery of the nature of God. Nourishing us to bear fruit in our season. Even if we sit here and think that life is bleak, these words can lift our spirits.
As we look at our surroundings in Uganda, Kabale District, what do we see? What colors do we see? Primarily green…plants and trees showcasing life.
There are abundant rains to satisfy and sunshine to speed growth. Imagine, then, a life in exile. The promise of the Lord a memory as conquerors now rule.
This is the life and vision of refugees even today, like those from Syria whom I met. The colors of life they see, unfortunately are like the dry, brown, desolate Dead Sea area.
No trees or plants. Just a large body of salty water. A deslote, barren land. Brown and inhospitable.
Can there be a greater contrast? The brown, lifeless land of the desert and Dead Sea or the greenery of Uganda…productive land to cultivate. Plentiful rains and water. Trees with deep roots by streams. The biblical poets and psalmists write about this often. It is what God created for us here in SW Uganda.
Ezekiel’s vision for his people showed promise of a transformation…from death to life….from brown to green…using the symbol of water. Making the impossible possible.
My brothers and sisters, that is what you and I must share…with the lost…with refugees fleeing a war zone with their lives…with our hurting friends and neighbours: that there is a new life, an abundant life of living water in Christ that is theirs for the asking.
It is poetic, actually. Can any of us come up with more beautiful language to describe how our loving Father will restore life in our spirts, souls, our bodies?
Uganda is beautiful land of green hills. But other parts of the world are dry, thirsty, and in conflict.
The news shows us battles in many nations: Birundi, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria.
People caught in the middle of those conflicts are like exiles in their own land. Oh, that the Prince of Peace would descend upon those nations with his living water…rushing from the temple.
And where the water flows, there is new life. That is the promise.
That is the nature of God. His faithfulness can do far more than we can ask or imagine.
Someday, man’s inhumanity to man must fade….swallowed by springs of living water. God’s light will overcome the darkness of our hearts.
The water…rushing from God’s temple to the empty land, transforming the Dead Sea is the hope we need, the hope we have.
The green hills of Uganda, the smiles and songs we see and hear each day show us the peace which passes understanding.
Mukama is in control. He’s got this. Those are the words we must share with our troubled brothers and sisters from Syria….and with our friends and neighbors.
There is new life…abundant life to be had. That is God’s promise to us.