“God is working in you giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” These words in the New Living Translation of Philippians 2:13 pierced my heart several years ago while I was still in Tennessee. What a powerful and encouraging thought to consider God’s commitment level to my success as a believer. Living holy lives is supposed to be a celebration of grace and Spirit, not a cut-throat competition between humans to see whose discipline and self-control rank first.
Many young people have fallen prey to lies, deception, shame, and guilt in the realm of moral purity. Instead of being hopeful and excited about God’s plan for their lives, they bear the dreadful burden of disgrace and regret. It did not take us long in Africa to discover that teenagers here are not-so-different than the ones in the US. Beneath beautiful Sunday smiles on our villages lies another world in which adults are not invited to enter. That world is full of drama, gossip, and cycles of sin. In March of 2011, when we first visited Watoto, we talked with our supervisor about the discipleship needs that he felt were needed on the villages. Teaching and encouragement in the realm of sexual purity was one of his first replies. We shared with him the model we had used in youth ministry to deal with those issues: weekend purity events that combined fun, teaching, interaction, Biblical truth, accountability, and celebration. Pastor Doug’s (our supervisor) eyes lit up as we described the purity events we had done in Jackson. He asked us to plan on spearheading such an event on the villages ASAP.
In November of 2011 we began making serious plans to have purity events in the spring of 2012. We quickly realized that it would take thousands of dollars and about 3.5 suitcases worth of supplies from the US to do a purity event here with excellence. God in his sovereignty was (as always) one step ahead of us. We casually mentioned to some of our long-time friends and ministry partners, Hugh & Lisa Dear, that we sure wished they could come help us do a purity event for Watoto. Their response was not a light chuckle or passing comment about wishes or “ifs.” They instead wanted to know how soon we could nail down dates. We entered 2012 with 2 dates in April and veteran ministry partners ready to fill their bags with supplies.
Hugh and Lisa Dear with us at the Subbi ceremony
In January I began teaching our youth ministry team here at Watoto the truths God had led me to about sexual purity. They were overwhelmed. They glowed with excitement at what these truths could accomplish in the lives of young people on our villages. By February we had decided the Purity events on our villages would be the biggest discipleship events of our calendar year. Momentum was building by the day.
Part of our purity event program involves students receiving purity rings as a symbol of their vows to live a pure life before God. The vows are not a legalistic list of do’s and don’ts. Rather they represent a covenant between young people and God to be Spirit-led in their pursuit of purity in every aspect of their lives. There is a strict “no jewelry” policy for Watoto schools but our administrators graciously amended the rule because of their respect for our event. The students here were very excited about the possibility of receiving rings. However, many of them were intimidated and confused at exactly what a covenant of purity would mean for their daily lives. We spent many hours in March preparing them for the event with discipleship sessions about purity and relationships. By April our villages were literally abuzz with anticipation for the events.
Students preregistering for the event
With roughly 900 students age 13 or older on our two villages we realized that the financial implications would be huge. The 2 events became divided into 4 events- two on the villages for high school students and 2 off-sight during Jr. High camp. Mika and I stepped out in faith and committed thousands of dollars of our personal money to make the events happen. Then God responded by moving the heart of our pastor (yes, he is still our pastor!) Randy Carter to lead Northside Assembly in Jackson, TN to partner with us by taking an offering to subsidize the events.
On Easter weekend Hugh and Lisa Dear arrived in Uganda with 150 lbs of rings, covenants, prizes, programs, and decorations dispersed among their suitcases!!! Hugh told us he felt like a “pack-mule for God!!” These events were left as voluntary for our high school students because we recognize that purity only works for those who are hungry for it. We had an incredible 98 % participation on both villages! Thanks to other friends in our Northside family we also had videos and power point presentations delivered in time for the event. On April 13-14 and 20-21 we had two amazing purity events!!! These events were executed with a level of excellence that was new to the youth ministry team and many others. We combined music videos, live dramas, a variety of speakers, prizes, illustrated sermons, and Truth into one incredible weekend. The event ended with a formal ceremony where students dressed their best and spoke their vows before their peers. Then they signed purity covenants, received rings, took pictures (which is really special here), enjoyed refreshments and danced!
Thomas teaching a session called "Race Cars and Flowers," explaining the differences between sexual desire in guys and girls... and the dangers when the two are put together carelessly
Vow Ceremony at Suubi
Students at Brira saying their vows
Cupcakes, g-nuts, and juice for everyone!
Both events went so smoothly it was almost scary. We know that Great Grace was upon us. We are now preparing for round 2 – Jr. High Camp but we are still glowing with gratitude at what God is accomplishing in and through our lives. Two days after the event, Hugh Dear and I were walking across the High School campus. A 17 year old boy ran up to us from his class and held his ring up with a huge smile across his face. “This is the best thing that has ever happened to me!” he exclaimed. Countless teens have approached us with tears in their eyes to tell us how grateful they are for the events. Why share such a long blog? Because so many of you have prayed for us and partnered with us financially. We want you to know that God truly is allowing us to experience FRUIT here in Uganda. THANK YOU. Your prayers have brought health, wisdom, provision, and favor to our lives. Your gifts have been joyfully sown as good seed in fertile soil. If you have any questions about these events or our upcoming schedule feel free to email us and ask.
Some students with their Covenants of Puriy