In February of 2017, HeartCry missionary Bill Issa in Uganda visited Fort Portal in the western region of the country. He had received an invitation to preach and meet with church leaders there. The result was an agreement for Bill to lead seminars on a quarterly basis, teaching them biblical doctrine and church practice. A church in Bridgeport, California, partnered together with HeartCry to fund Bill’s travel and cover the conference expenses.
First Conference Overview
The first seminar was held in June. Here is Bill’s delightful description of his time in Fort Portal. We are particularly pleased with how Bill avoided starting with controversial topics, instead teaching reverence for God’s Word and then letting their curiosity bring the Word to bear on those topics.
On the morning of the first day, we drove twenty kilometers to a village where the organizers wanted us to have the seminar. We really wanted the seminar to be held in town for many reasons, but we decided to go along with it and see how the first one would go. The organizers in Fort Portal were expecting twenty-five or thirty pastors. However, the first day's turnout was not good, as only a few pastors came. Among these were some women pastors. We had asked the organizers to invite pastors from all Christian denominations just the way they are, trusting that the truth would set them free from any errors.On the second day, we had about thirty-four pastors. The day ended very well, and (to our grateful surprise) many pastors were more encouraged. On the last day, we had a few new pastors join us. The teaching went well, and the day ended with more questions and answers.
We taught three subjects over the course of the three days:
- A The Doctrine of God: Knowing the Living God
- B Basic Principles of Bible Interpretation
- C Leading According to Jesus’ Pattern
We had many village pastors who could neither read nor write, so reasoning with them through Scripture was not easy.
Overall, the seminar was very successful. We had forty pastors and church leaders in total, though not all were present for every session. We had decided not to begin with doctrines that bring divisions among denominations, like speaking in tongues and women pastors. But during our hermeneutics lessons the pastors themselves started asking us how some Scriptures could be correctly interpreted according to the principles we had taught. The examples they chose were Scriptures about speaking in tongues and women pastors! We had no option but to apply the principles of biblical interpretation to some of those Scriptures and help them understand what the Bible really teaches.
Surprisingly, people were encouraged by the teachings beyond our expectation. After reasoning with them through the Scriptures concerning these controversial topics, we feared that they would be discouraged and stop coming. Instead, they continued coming, and to our amazement this is what some of them said:
PATRICK: “Brothers and sisters in Christ, I don’t know what to say about this seminar. It is the first of its kind in my life. I’m a pastor, and I’ve attended many seminars and conferences, but we spend all the time singing and dancing and leave very little time for learning, and the little they teach us is nonsense. But these people, to me, are unique. They’ve spent the whole time teaching us, and whatever they teach they open the Bible to prove that it’s not their own mind. Indeed, God has remembered us in Fort Portal.”
Jenifer: “I am amazed with these teachings. I’m a woman, and I’ve been a pastor for many years now, but no one had explained the Bible very clearly to me like these people have done! I now understand very well that, according to Scripture, women can’t be pastors. What I should do next is what I don’t know; I need God’s grace to guide me.”
Christopher: “Friends, I’m also in a dilemma like Pastor Jenifer’s. I am a male pastor, but my senior pastor is a woman. I now understand clearly the meaning of these Scriptures—women should not be pastors. What I can give to Pastor Jenifer as advice is that we should not rush things. After understanding the truth, let us pray to God about what we should do and how we should do it. We need a lot of prayer and wisdom. But I thank God for having brought us these servants of His from Kampala.”
Second Conference Overview
In October, Bill returned for the second seminar in Fort Portal. This one turned out to be quite different from the first, as Bill explains below.
As we did last time, we encouraged everyone from every Christian denomination to come, even women pastors, so that we could reason together from the Scriptures and try to understand better the mind of God together. In our first seminar in June, we taught the pastors on three subjects: 1) the doctrine of God—His attributes; 2) hermeneutics—ten principles of Bible interpretation; and 3) servant leadership—leading according to Jesus’ pattern. This time, because our seminar took place during the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we decided to celebrate the event with the pastors of Fort Portal by taking them through the teachings of the Reformers. “The Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation” served as the theme of our October conference.
We began by giving them a brief history of the Church, from its birth in the New Testament (how it was simple and Scriptural), then showing how corruption entered, which eventually led to the Reformation. After that brief history, we spent all our time going through the five Solas. Surprisingly, almost none of the pastors even knew about these doctrines, because they were more interested in experiences than history! Let me first share the challenges and then what we felt were successes on this trip.
If I compare this seminar with the previous one, I can say that this one was far more challenging to us. In fact, at one point, the host pastor stopped us in the middle of the lesson to publicly oppose what we were teaching. The biggest problem for them was the word “alone.” They wanted us to teach Scripture, grace, faith, Christ, and the glory of God, but without the word “alone” after each of them. We told them we may as well drive back to Kampala if they did not want that word in our teachings, because all of those doctrines without the word “alone” are helpless, powerless, and meaningless.
I always believe that one cannot teach “Scripture alone” effectively without pointing at teachings and practices in the Church today that are nowhere found in the Scriptures—this proved to be where the trouble started for us. We found ourselves, without realizing it, teaching against some of the very doctrines and practices of our host church, a Pentecostal church called, “Power of God Ministries.”
This church was new to us, because in June, we had met about thirty kilometers outside of Fort Portal in a rural area. This time, we asked the organizers to find a church in the city center, and this is how we ended up at Power of God Ministries.
The Lord is always amazing! Can you believe that the conference that was more challenging to us is the one we consider more successful! How? We had more attending the conference, a total of sixty-seven pastors, compared to forty at the one in the village.
Providentially, the Lord linked us with our dear brother Jim Robinette, who works with Mission Africa here in Uganda. Jim is also the agent of Chapel Library from Pensacola, Florida, here in Uganda. He receives a lot of good literature from Chapel Library; when he learned that we were going to train pastors, he gave us a box full of books to give to pastors free of charge. Brother Sam Smith also came from Tororo with another box of books. At the end of the conference, each male pastor went back home with thirty-eight free books, among them Ten Indictments against the Modern Church by our brother Paul Washer. This added new flavor to this conference compared to the previous one. We thank the Lord for these books and for our brothers Jim and Sam.
While the host pastor, his son, and a few other people were busy opposing our teaching, we saw the power of God when many other pastors defended us even though they too were Pentecostals. We were also very encouraged to see some pastors from the first conference come from the village (thirty kilometers away) to hear us teach again. When others started calling us names, one of them, Pastor Edward, stood up and said in their local language:
“Dear brethren, I hear you say a lot of things against these men from Kampala. Allow me to share a brief testimony of what happened to me in June, when these people first came to teach in Fort Portal. After Pastor Bill had taught us for two days, I was very much confused because what he was teaching against is what we do in our church, yet he was supporting everything with Scriptures. I got so very confused. But when I returned home, I prayed, asking God to help me understand His will, only to hear God tell me that what these men are teaching is the truth and that I shouldn't oppose them. From that day forward, I respected these men. I stand here to warn you that we should be very careful what we say against these men. Just go back home and pray to God; I’m sure He’s going to guide you the way He did with me. What these people are teaching is the truth from God. Those are my words.”
After that, he sat down.
After the conference, a number of pastors came to us outside, confessing that they were afraid to support our teachings openly because of the host pastor’s presence, but that they loved everything we taught. Some even asked us what they ought to do with their churches that are not biblical! They encouraged us not to fear anything but to continue speaking the truth in love.
Before we left, the host pastor and his son apologized to us, thanked us for the teaching, and expressed a desire to learn more. They mentioned potentially visiting our church, and they invited us to return any time to teach the Bible. Everything ended in harmony. These are some of the reasons why we were very encouraged with this conference, in spite of its challenges.
Our next seminar is scheduled for February 2018. After seeing in the first two seminars that we already have some people who are very interested to learn more, we have decided to have the February meeting in Kampala instead. We are inviting only those pastors who have shown signs of understanding our teachings, in order to disciple them more closely without the distraction of those who are not ready to learn. We also want them to worship with us on Sunday and see how we conduct services at our church. We have already identified those who truly have shown interest to learn more. We will be going back to Fort Portal in June, God willing. Please be in prayer for these people, that the Lord will use some to establish biblical churches in western Uganda in the future.