Weary from the six-plus hour boat ride, a team of six U.S. pastors, including SBC President Fred Luter, and a handful of IMB personnel, looked with anticipation to the nearing shore.
The sturdy wooden fishing boat had looked comfortable enough at the beginning of the journey at a muddy river's edge after an hour-long bus ride from the town of Jinga. But the boat packed with supplies became more confining to its passengers the longer the journey stretched across the water.
The supplies, boat and its motor were provided through Southern Baptists' gifts to the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, which also supports missionaries' presence and ministry projects overseas.
For Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, the impact of being in such a remote location was immediate.
"It's just hard for me to believe in the day and time that we're living in, people are living in such conditions," he said of the isolated island without electricity. "And, to get off the boat and to walk among the people -- how receptive they were to us.
"That says a lot about the missionaries who are here ... the relationships that they have made," he continued. "It was a very humbling time to walk around that village."
Luter joined an ethnically diverse team of pastors visiting Uganda and the Horn of Africa in May: Daniel Park of New Song Korean Church in Carrollton, Texas; Alan Chan of Mandarin Baptist Church in Los Angeles; Ramon Medina of Champion Forest Baptist Church's Hispanic ministry in Houston; James Dixon of El-Bethel Baptist Church in Fort Washington, Md.; and Ron Lentine of Myrtle Grove Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla.
The team met with a handful of local believers and church leaders on the island to worship and pray together. Then, Park led a session of Training for Trainers (T4T), a church planting course on how to disciple new believers to reach and train others.
"I want our church to be fully engaged to spread the Gospel, the Living Water, and that has been my burden throughout this trip," Park said.
During the 10-day journey, the challenges of reaching people groups with the Gospel in the Horn of Africa became a reality to the pastors. Sometimes the complications were as basic as travel difficulties in accessing remote areas. After waiting more than five hours for a connecting flight into one of the most unreached parts of the Horn of Africa, the flight was canceled.
But pastors Park, Chan and Lentine had used that time to share their love for Jesus with several Chinese business professionals, a Korean woman and a local man also waiting for flights.
"Our Chinese pastor engaged in a conversation with a Chinese man who just happened to be there and needed to hear a word from God," Lentine said. "The Korean pastor ended up meeting someone who spoke Korean and also needed to hear the Gospel.
"We soon realized," Lentine said, "that what we thought was a delay in our schedule was actually a God-ordained event because God had a schedule of His own."
After experiencing sleepless nights in the African heat, canceled flights, exhausting boat rides and many hours of travel on bumpy roads, Luter told the pastors, "There just needs to be more of a commitment from myself as a local pastor, from my church as a local church but also from members of our convention that we really need to do all that we can to dig deeper to support the International Mission Board.
"There is such a great need in the Horn, there is such a great need in Uganda and in order to meet those needs, we really need the members of our churches and the members of our convention to step up to the plate," Luter said.
There's a "great harvest" of people who need to hear the Gospel, he said, "but we need the resources in order to reach them. So, I'm going to take that as a personal challenge back to my church and to my congregation. I trust and pray that other congregations throughout the Southern Baptist Convention will do the same thing."
See more from the pastors' trip via video in the "United for Africa" presentation at www.africastories.org.
Rolan Martin is an IMB videographer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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