Thursday, February 23, 2017

First Responders

The 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake occurred in New Zealand at 10:47 a.m.  The earthquake killed 256, injured thousands, and devastated the Hawke's Bay region.  It remains New Zealand's deadliest natural disaster up to now.

The earthquake measured 7.8 on the Richter scale and destroyed everything.  Everything was ruined.  Every building fell, gas mains ruptured, and terrible fires broke out over the whole city. Where the plains were before the quake, hills appeared.  Half of the mountain fell into the sea. The harbor for the fishing fleet disappeared and dry land appeared where homes stand today.

Earthquakes are not restricted to the earth. Nations, churches, organizations, families, and individuals sometimes experience an upheaval in their lives that can be compared to what a quake does to the earth.  A seismic change occurs.

I recently encountered a personal earthquake in my life that arrived unexpected and uninvited.  But it came nevertheless.

On January 6th of this year, I came to discover that some friends of mine, for reasons that are unimportant to me, made a relentless effort to vilify my character in order to have me jailed and deported from Uganda.  That effort was made by way of filing criminal complaints with the police department.  The investigation of my character and work started either in August or September of 2016.  I had no idea that my life would be turned upside down and inside out when 4 policemen showed up at my house with a court order granting them permission to inquire, break in, enter, search, recover exhibits from my residences and arrest me.

I have never had such an experience.  As the events of that day unfolded and I faced the seriousness of the hatred of four people that was being expressed toward me and my effort here in Uganda I began to realize that my life here would never be the same.  Most of the  complaints voiced to me by the police were imaginary and all of them were unfounded.  But, my life has never been the same.

By nature I am a very open and transparent individual.  The gate to my compound could be the only open gate in the city of Jinja.  I don't have guard dogs or human guards that stand watch day and night.  I welcome all visitors and give people the benefit of the doubt with both trust and access.

But the terrain of my life in Uganda was changed dramatically on that day.  Not only did I become much more security conscious, but my suspicion of nearly every individual I encountered reach a very high level.  After all, the effort to sabotage my life and work came primarily through the effort of someone who lived in my house and benefited greatly from my wife and me for more than 3 years.

Everything that had been quite predictable in my work has changed.  When an earthquake happens, it can be difficult to recognize the geography.  My new world was in an upheaval. There was a seismic change that occurred.

And, I was in danger.  Not just because I had become aware of human enemies.  Imagine being in a literal physical earthquake.  Would you be concerned first about self-preservation or tending to the broken community?  Because, in times of pressure we tend to think first about ourselves and isolate.

Think about this:  Earthquakes reveal what is flexible and what is rigid.

What is rigid gets broken , but what is flexible gets stronger.
26 When God spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but now he makes another promise: “Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also.” 27 This means that all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain.  28 Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. (Hebrews 12:26-28)
Kelci Birchette
I am grateful for this personal "earthquake" that I have experienced.  It shook me and sure there is some rubble and debris around my life here in Uganda.  In reality, this war is not really with human beings (flesh and blood), but with spiritual forces.  A friend of mine told me, "If you don't run into the devil, you must be traveling in the same direction."

Emergency workers have a specific strategy they follow when responding to a disaster situation.  As they follow a 4 step process, they are able to help those who suffered from the earthquake recover and even rebuild.

This past week I was the recipient of this amazing process.  Let me share it with you.

Compassion - The victims of a tragedy need to know that they are going to get care as quickly as possible.

We have a short term missionary from Sacramento, California working as an associate of Next Generation Ministries.  Kelci wrote a personal note with my name on it and attached it to a Coke Zero.  The note was in her handwriting, but the message was from God.  God affirmed that HE is the One who brought me here and HE is the One to give me a different assignment.  I am convinced that He is not finished using me here in Uganda.  Kelci has a tatoo on her wrist that speaks to me as well.

Claire Mirembe
I also discovered that our new NGM Administrative Assistant, Claire, cares about my well being.  When she went to have her lunch one day this week, she instead went to The Hub and prayed for me.  Prayer touches Heaven and brings it to earth.  Before the day was over I sensed the answers to those prayers.

Finally, an unusual thing happened when my daughter Rebecca, sent a message in the middle of one of my days with a one sentence question:  "Why can't I sleep?"  I responded, "Maybe God wants you to pray for your dad.  He is struggling today."  She prayed.  God heard.  I benefitted greatly.

Rebecca N Hunter
Care and compassion cannot be underestimated.

When a person's life has been threatened and they end up in an emotional pit, their dreams of making a difference in this world may end up terminal. When others express care and compassion, hope begins to erase discouragement about the loss they have suffered. I not only had these immediate expressions of care, but also have other family and a few friends who have been representing my challenges to the Lord as well.

When any kind of devastation comes to a person's life, God wants real people to be the ones to carry his heart of compassion and care to those individuals.

We need to remember to love, to come alongside and embrace those that have needs.  We all have needs, but we must learn to live outside of our tendency to look toward meeting our own needs and desires.

My wife, Pam
Community - Once the emergency workers have helped those who have suffered loss make it out to the other side, they work to reconnect them to community. In my case, I began to feel like I was so isolated and alone in this "earthquake" (trusting literally no one and being the subject of racism almost on a daily basis can lead to feeling left outside of normal life).  As I began to slide downward into a funk that began to absorb three days of my life, my life partner began to recognize my need for community.  She openly and emotionally spoke to some of our housemates in an attempt to convey to them that I am normally an initiator and an encourager; that I constantly help connect resources to needs.  I naturally become a friend to dozens if not hundreds.  But, she told them, I am also a human being who has gone through a loss of connection and I need friends. Additionally, she suggested I find some of those people who have been my friends for around a decade and share my condition with them.

These relationships became a sort of emotional and spiritual refugee tent for my brokenness. Everyone should be so fortunate to have a life partner like Pam.

When everything else is broken, we need to tend to community.

Do you know what helps?

Connection - It is too easy to become disconnected from the bigger story that we are a part of.
It is too easy to lose focus as the earthquake disorients us.  Chaos threatens and we find ourselves somewhere living for something that is too small.  In reality, followers of Jesus have experienced devastation in their lives throughout the ages.  What connects us from one generation to the other is this new covenant with God.  We have and are living for the glory of His story.

This past week I had the privilege of sitting down with three older spiritual leaders.  They reminded me of that divine connection to God's redemptive story.  They gently, but firmly, put this "earthquake" within the context of the much bigger story of my life in Uganda.  They refused to let the enemy use this upheaval to define my 11 years here in Uganda.

It helped to have them reaffirm that I have a lot of work left to do in their nation as I keep my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith.  Actually, the connection was a re-connection.

It is too easy to lose direction when the earthquake happens in our lives.  We become survivors only. We tend to think about cleanup without any eye toward rebuilding.

Compass - It is easy to lose our way when we encounter something that shakes us to the core.  The only way to stay on course is to be pointed in the right direction.  Knowing that we are part of a bigger story than our challenging experience, maintaining a sense of genuine identity (knowing who we are), and knowing why we are here in the first place (purpose), produces a rebuilding of the dreams we have for being useful to God and His world (vision).

Believers in Jesus Christ are pregnant with destiny.  They dream of being used by God in ways that only His intervention can explain. But, just as Joseph's own brothers attempted to kill his dream by killing him, some of us also encounter that kind of opposition.  And, it is important to recognize that between the pit and the palace there could be prison ... even suffering for crimes never committed.

So, there has been a pretty good shaking in my life this year.  But, that which cannot be shaken still stands.  And, that which could be shaken and has been destroyed.  It is time now to move forward and replace what was with whatever God rebuilds. He will build a new normal for me.

[Thanks to Mike Breen for his earthquake metaphor in LEADING KINGDOM MOVEMENTS which help me articulate my journey through my personal earthquake and back to dreaming about making a difference in Uganda for the glory of God.]


  1. Thank you for sharing what you've been going through, and teaching a lesson through it as well. While very disturbing & saddening to hear about, I'm thrilled that you are standing strong today, surrounded by community & people who love and care for you, ready to continue the work God has been doing through you! I believe God will make good come out of this, as He promises us always! Love you much.

    1. Thank you, Jodi, for seeing beyond the circumstances to recognize the opportunity for me to mature in my faith & calling and for others to recognize the opportunity God provides us to respond when others are going through a devastating experience. Your love and prayers are essential to the effort we are making here and we appreciate them.

  2. I pray Pam is doing well too. Nothing happens to just one of you. I am sorry this happened.

  3. Thank you Joetta for recognizing that the battle has also involved Pam. We have both had our days when we were weaker than other ... when we missed our family and friends more than usual ... and even when I have wondered if our work was finished here. The old hymns that resonates with my spirit and soul nearly everyday and sometimes every hour are "I Must Tell Jesus" and "I Need Thee Every Hour." Thanks for praying for Pam.

  4. We are praying with you Paul and Pam. Let Jesus, our Rock, friend, Chief cornerstone, Shepherd and Savior reveal His power, wisdom and glory through this trying time.

    1. Thank you Jimmy ... may we always look behind and beyond the circumstances to Jesus.

  5. We too are standing in the gap on your behalf dear friends (and family!). Such personal devastation can only be remedied by God's divine intervention and His endless love. Job said "I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted." And to that we say Amen ! - John & Karen Joiner


Please share your comments here.