The stated purpose of the ACNA’s Every Tribe and Nation Initiative (ETNI) is to, “…build a network of people from all nations through relationships, respect, and resources across ethnic, national, and regional lines for the release of leadership into the next generation.” While that stated purpose is certainly a mouthful, equally challenging for Bishop Andrew, Canon Leah Turner, and The Rev. Sean Norris was to summarize their ETNI sponsored trip to Uganda in August 2022. The 12-day visit to the country by the nine-person delegation included intensive travel days to minister, encourage, learn, and build relationships throughout the nation of Uganda. By all accounts, the trip was a tremendous success.
In his fourth year as Bishop of the Anglican Diocese in New England, Williams describes the Diocese’ focus as:
1) Developing leaders
2) Children and Youth Ministry
3) Church Planting
4) Spiritual Reawakening
For him, this trip struck a lot of those chords as four of the youth went on the trip, two of whom had immigrated to the U.S. from Kenya when they were very young. “The first-generation immigrant parents in the church are trying to hold on to their culture and roots amidst the Western culture baggage, while forging in a third-culture direction. Leah and the ETNI are trying to incorporate the children of first-generation parents into the church while bridging them to the values and culture of their country of origin.” Bishop Williams went on to describe how these trips contribute to leadership development; they provide strategic tools in developing their mission both locally and international.
Canon Leah Turner ministers at Grace Anglican Church and their sister church, Faith Anglican Community Church, which worships in the Kikuyu language from Kenya. The youth group is combined from the two churches and is the crux of Leah’s work in ETNI. Over the past few years Leah has built strong relationships throughout Kenya and Uganda and it was these relationships that served to lay the groundwork for the trip–making it possible to draw closer to the body of Christ in Uganda.
The Rev. Sean Norris, co-founder of Dandelion Ministries, served as the chaplain to the Bishop on the trip and counseled in many ministry opportunities with the Ugandan youth. “Many of them are dealing with a whole new level of pressure and expectations from modern influences (like the internet) combined with traditional, cultural expectations.” Sean shared how after they broke the groups up into girls and guys, the questions and obvious struggles began pouring out as they demonstrated a freedom to share with the team. “We fielded questions ranging from, ‘how to pay my bride price?’ to all the pitfalls in dealing with the internet onslaught. While they are in a different culture, they needed a place for someone to hear their pain and struggles, and to refresh them with the gospel message of God’s love for them through their challenges.” The serious issues brought before the team made them realize the deep need for access to trained counseling, healing, and resources for the young people.
Bishop Andrew, Leah, and Sean were unanimous in their admiration for the key leader of the trip, Audrey Patra. Director of Love Unveiled Ministries in Uganda, Audrey was described by the Bishop as being, “one of the most anointed young ladies he has ever met. Grace, love, and authority define her character. Wherever she goes there is a trail of restoration and reconciliation.” The team witnessed the fruit of her work in programs for women who had no means for supporting themselves and their children and discipleship formation amongst college students.
For the youth on the team, they discovered that youth in Uganda are dealing with some of the same struggles that they are but caught a glimpse of how blessed they are in their daily lives in the United States. Bishop Andrew observed that, “They also witnessed the spiritual thermals of the trip–spiritual warfare as we moved through a spiritual climate that was raw. They saw us struggling and praying to make it through at times.” There were challenges every day on the trip where they needed to pray, God answered, and the young people witnessed it.
Charles “Biko” Che Guevara, one of the Kenyan-American students who went on the trip, was blown away by how devoted the Ugandan youth were to God. “The most important thing I learned on the trip was that I am not alone. God walks with me everyday, and I saw that happen with the Ugandans who were dedicated to God in their daily life experience.”
Before the trip Biko was asking the questions that many “third culture” youth ask who experienced life to some degree in their parents first country or culture but grew up in the second culture of the United States. He was asking, “Who am I? Am I Kenyan or American? We still practice Kenyan traditions and culture at home but with my friends at school it’s American.” One important thing he learned about himself in this trip was how deep his passion for writing was; to express himself to God and to others everyday through writing. “God helped me to see that writing is a gift and tool that I need to use consistently in my life.”
Archbishop Kaziimba (Uganda) and Bishop Pons (Nebbi) took time to meet with the group and humbly allowed the group to pray for them. There was an overarching connection with the leadership as they wrestled with the unexpected circumstances brought on by Covid and its aftermath.
Bishop Andrew said that the most tender moment for him was when he felt led to minister to 1500 kids in a meeting telling them, “’The Father wants to embrace you.’ So I invited the Spirit to come and for them to be quiet, holding out their hands. You could have heard a pin drop. We heard the wind swaying as they were being ministered to in silence. And then they burst into the purest worship I’ve ever heard. That I will take to my grave.”
Everyone on the team expressed the sentiment that is so often the case on trips like this, that they learned and were ministered to far beyond what they were able to give.
The team members recognized a common theme with all of the vicars, priests, and canons they met: all were praying for revival the same way they were. During one of the worship services there was even confirmation that God was saying it would come. There was a sense that the relationships established on the trip could be the catalyst to it. Leah reflected, “I’m so grateful that everyone had fallen in the love with the people and the culture the same way I had. I feel so strongly about the relationships that can be built between here and there. They remind us of the purity of the gospel and how Jesus brings joy in every circumstance. This is not the end. Relationships with the people in East Africa will continue.”