The East African nation of Uganda has a crisis, though not one we might suppose. The plight of AIDS, the number of orphans, wars and child abductions are continual threats to the well-being of this nominally Christian country. But behind these problems lie a dearth of church leadership.
Most church leaders in Uganda today have received no formal training, a condition that can lead to abuses in power, false teaching and even a false gospel. In Africa, including Uganda, the great majority of those who travel to the West for ministry training don’t return home. Many grow to prefer the wealth and opportunities in the U.S.
Jeff Atherstone arrived in Uganda in 2006 with his wife, Christine, and their two young sons. The 33-year-old Californian was part of a team that planted Cornerstone Community Church of Moorpark, where he served as a youth pastor. With the support of his church, Atherstone undertook missionary work with the intention to train Third World pastors.
Atherstone soon partnered with Africa Renewal Ministries (ARM), founders of Gaba Bible Institute in Kampala, the capital and largest city of Uganda. The school has since changed its name to Africa Renewal Christian College (ARCC). ARCC was established to meet the great need for trained church leaders. Atherstone joined the staff of ARCC as Academic Dean to develop curriculum before its 2007 opening; he later took the role of Director.
The school is one of only seven Christian colleges and universities currently recognized by the government of Uganda. They develop missions-oriented students, offering practical training in the local church. Students serve alongside pastoral staff in the community. ARCC understands that to train a leader is to change a church, which can transform the community. In this way, they hope to change Africa.
In 2008 Atherstone attended a Passion World Tour event in Kampala (Passion unites students in worship to encourage spiritual awakening). He met a Passion volunteer who connected him to the ministries of Training Leaders International (TLI) and TGC International Outreach (TGC-IO).
Couriers from several ministry partners now take IO books and resources to ARCC at every opportunity. Although Uganda has 36 remaining tribal languages, its national language is English. So no language translation of the books is needed.
International Outreach sent ARCC’s preaching students 30 copies of John Piper’sThe Supremacy of God and Preaching. The book exhorts readers to avoid methods of success other than God-centered preaching. These books are used for subsequent classes with each new term.
ARCC’s Pastoral Ministry class received Brothers, We are Not Professionals. In this book John Piper shares thirty brief exhortations for pastors to avoid conforming to expectations of men that divert churches from “the pleasures of spiritual communion with the crucified and risen Christ.”
ARCC’s Marriage and Family class gained Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood, edited by Wayne Grudem, with chapters by John Piper and others. This book explores key issues of true masculinity and femininity, and demonstrates how some views of manhood and womanhood tamper with our understanding of God’s character.
More than 200 ARCC graduates have received additional books through International Outreach. Each received personal copies of two of Piper’s books: Let the Nations Be Glad!, and Finally Alive. The first book offers a sound theological foundation for missions, with a biblical response to the prosperity gospel. Finally Alive examines the meaning of being born-again, to help church workers address the mindset that claims Christianity, yet continues in immorality.
Atherstone says the quality of ARCC’s library greatly improved with help from International Outreach. The school’s library gained 800 pounds of books. (Before that, thirty students shared just four copies of a book over the course of the fourteen-week terms).
In 2013 ARCC is working with International Outreach to distribute copies of The Supremacy of God in Preaching, Finally Alive and Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ to over 4,000 Ugandan pastors. The books are being distributed through denominational pastors conferences to encourage the pastors to read sound theology and teaching to support their ministries of preaching and teaching.
“We now have reliable books to give our students,” Atherstone says. “Instead of second-hand books that were not always in line with our theology, we’re getting books and resources we can trust.”
UPDATE: In recent months, ARCC has been able to distribute additional theological resources to church leaders in Uganda, in collaboration with TGC International Outreach: 250 copies of the Supremacy of God in Preaching, 400 copies of God is Gospel, and 400 copies of God is Gospel. 500 copies of Finally Alive and 500 copies of the Supremacy of God in Preaching were given to all the graduates past and present of Ugandan seminary. Plans are underway for helping to resource 1,000 pastors at a leaders conference in North Central Uganda in January of 2013.