It has been around 365 days since I moved into Fountain Hills AZ, and began my new ministry venture at the Church called Christ’s Church of Fountain Hills.
I am grateful for the large numbers of people that have been watching, praying, and cheering for the Renner family from a distance.
I want to compare my experience to previous ones. I have been in some kind of professional ministry for the past 27 years. The different titles I have been given through those 27 years within the local church have been; Preaching Pastor, Youth Pastor, Associate Pastor, Singles Pastor, First Impressions Pastor, Evangelism Pastor, Church Planter, Merging pastor, Senior Minister, Lead Minister, President of Mission Org, Bible Teacher, and a few titles that I have heard whispered behind closed doors about me. LOL!
All is good. I write this blog to the professional pastor out there and I have one purpose and point in this post. For those who are not a professional pastor, I hope you will read and be challenged to encourage your pastor, who may not always show it in ways you think you need, but he/she loves you and wants to protect you, and prepare you to meet Jesus someday, like nobody else in your life.
Out of all the titles I’ve held over the past 27 years, the current title I hold has been the most challenging and difficult thing I’ve done. The title is best described in its simplest form as Lead Pastor. But that title is not the best description of my title. The real title, in the eyes of those my position has affected the most, is …”Our Next Pastor.”
It is a legitimate title, because I have been called it too many times to count in just the last year. Its not a bad title and in all honesty it really is the most fitting title for the situation. I’m good with the title.
After 26 years of very successful ministry endeavors, this year 27 has had me feeling like I didn’t have a clue in what I was doing. In the past 27 years, I have been more of a church planter type lead pastor than anything else. So when I transitioned into the role of “our next pastor” to replace a retiring founding pastor who had tenure for 33 years, I really had no idea what I was getting into. And I got into it thick! From what I’ve been told or have read about other pastors who have transitioned into the role of “our next pastor”… I’ve had it pretty good. In fact this isn’t my first rodeo with trying to be the “our next pastor.” I tried it once in a church in FL and literally quit 7 weeks into it. It just wouldn’t be right to share the gory details of that hardship my family encountered…but… all that to say, becoming “our next pastor” is not for the faint of heart. It is not fun, but it is good. It literally is the hardest thing I’ve done in professional ministry. So…what’s my main point here? Keep reading…
Many USA resources are stating that around 10,000 baby boomers, people born between 1946-1964, are retiring everyday right here in the good ol USA… and will continue to do so until 2036. Google it, its crazily true. Calculate that and it equals more than 80 million people retiring in the next 19 years.
I believe it is fair for me to guess, then, that there will be a multitude of founding pastors in that mix of retirees. Which means there will be multitudes of “our next pastors” stepping into their shoes, picking up their torches, or taking their batons. For those who are about to step into the shoes of those retiring founding pastors, please heed my words of warning.
There is nothing more leadership intensively difficult, nothing more hazardous to orchestrate, nothing more uncertain in its success, that will leave you feeling isolated and abandoned, than to fill the shoes of a retiring-founding pastor, and be the one who introduces a new era of influence. You, serving as ‘Our Next Pastor’ will have enemies in all those who love the old form, and at best, lukewarm support in all those who will benefit by the new. So, for God’s sake, for the Church’s sake, for the lost’s sake, for a troubled world’s sake, look forward, move forward, dig deep, for the very reason this situation is happening, is because the current status quo isn’t working anymore. Lead on, O’ leader, lead on! You only need the solid rock on which you stand, to be your inspiration…Jesus…to remind you that He can do immeasurably more than you dare to ask or hope for! So persist, press on, endure! Let Jesus be your only audience you desire to please, and He alone must be your faith, your hope, and your love. You are the, ‘our next Pastor’! You got this!
If I can personally visit with you over the phone, email, or at a table, with a hot cup of coffee or Dr. Pepper with a wedge of lime squeezed in it, please just ask. I’ve been taking extremely thorough notes through this adventure. I am seeing success. More time will tell the truth in how I’m doing. It has become vividly clear to me why churches struggle to produce fruit beyond the 100, 200, & 400 growth barriers. I can help you! I know I will pump you up!! 🙂 And even more, I know I would also learn from you. I’d be grateful to swap stories with you, compare scars, celebrate our victories, cry through the heart wrenching experiences our families face as we lead people to experience God, and most of all, I simply want to encourage you, and have you walk away with shining eyes!
This is really, really good work we do. Of course it is hard. It reminds us how alive we really are.
Oh, what a great day. ( I will post pics when I return home…the Wifi is painfully slow here.)
I awoke to one of the most beautiful mornings I’ve ever had. The weather was slightly overcast with no rain, but a cool 65 degrees. Uganda is on the Equator and everything is so very green. Palm trees pressed against mango and papaya trees. Lush hedges, green grass. You just really need to see it for yourself. Sam was running late this morning so I simply grabbed a chair and took it just outside the small cafe/kitchen of the hotel…took my coffee with me and just soaked it all in. It was a moment of refreshing and gratefulness.
Sam arrived about 40 minutes later and we went inside and had some breakfast. The way to explain the breakfast would be to simply call it a breakfast burrito. Africa has their version of flatbread…but its thinner than flatbread. Maybe it could be Africa’s version of a tortilla…but it thicker than a tortilla…its called chapati. They have the most wonderful egg omelets….they cook them very thin. Then they take the omelet and lay it on the chapati and roll it like an awesome breakfast burrito. Africa is known for tea so there is plenty of it to drink. It was nearly a perfect morning. The only thing missing was you!
When breakfast was finished we gathered up our daily items of water bottles and bags, mosquito repellent. (BTW…there are hardly any mosquitos this trip…it’s the rainy season and there seem to be very few.), a few snacks and we were off to the 15 minute drive to Sam’s School called, “Wings of Grace.”
The children at the school were ready. When I got out of the car you could hear the shrills of excitement and you could see the children waving their welcomes! Today was a day of presentations and celebrations. Dancing, singing, laughing, playing. Pure Joy! I was treated like a guest of honor. So many children introducing themselves in front of the whole school. Singing with great passion, loudness, rhythm, and spectacular African dancing. These children know how to dance. It is obvious that they feel the music when they dance! You must come witness it with me.
The presentation went on for an hour or two. The teachers of the school acted out a play that made all my smile muscles ache. The children were given gifts from some left over Samaritan’s purse Christmas boxes and this really created a buzz of joy. When the celebration was over, I was hugged and thanked for helping them have better lives. It is quite an emotional experience. The people of Bugiri Uganda are so grateful and they express it with purity back to God and anybody who has blessed their lives.
I climbed back into the car and it was time to go and visit some fresh water wells that we have been able to provide. These visits are exciting to me. It requires that we travel deeper into the African bush. We get out of town and head into the equator of the earth. It is beautiful. So much untouched natural creation. You see it like God created it and it is breathtaking. And then you arrive to meet God’s favorite of all creation…his people. Many of these people, out in the African bush, have not seen white people. I scared many children! LOL. It is quite an experience to be the only white person for miles and miles. Even if they have seen a white person, it is rare and fascinating to them. It is a strange experience. These people of God’s creation are beautiful and expressive…and in great desperation of the very things we in America take for granted. Clean water. There is much food in Uganda. My trip this time brought me right into the middle of mango season. They are EVERYWHERE. The ground is littered with mangos. It is a time of joy for the kids. As we drive down the roads…more like cattle trails instead of roads…you can see little village mud huts and outside are children climbing the mango trees or a group of them standing under a mango tree with a long stick trying to knock off the fresh mango fruit about to fall. When you greet the children this time of year and shake their hands…they are very sticky from the sugar of mangos. Its not gross…its funny. Nothing a little wash of the hands from the new fresh water borehole won’t take care of!
The boreholes…aka…fresh water wells that are hand pumped…provide the cleanest freshest water you’ve seen. We visited one in a village called Sanika that was drilled in the shade of some huge trees…some of them mango trees. It seemed the water came out ice cold and as clear as I’ve ever seen it. Prior to receiving this borehole the people would have to walk about 2 miles, one direction, to carry water back from a diseased water hole. This water hole is at the low point of the area, so all the rainwater running off the land and picking up animal feces and dead animal carcass disease with it. Then the people have no choice but to drink it. It is their only option. Until you came into the picture. Thank you for teaming with me and Return Hope. We are providing fresh water wells to people who have never had fresh water in their lives.
When the well begins to pump…and the people begin to drink the fresh water. I am convinced you can witness them getting healthier already. Fresh water wells changes the life of someone immediately. Their kidneys and liver begin to function properly because they are loaded down with water born diseased and bacteria. Skin diseases go away. Nobody should have to drink dirty water in the 21 century. Thank you.
We are in process of actually drilling 7 fresh water holes as you are reading this. Each borehole can easily serve 10,000 people. That is a lot of changed lives. That is a lot of thankfulness. You can imagine my day as we traveled and visited these fresh water wells. The people knew we were coming and they were excited. The came bearing gifts of nuts, mangos, chickens. We had to accept their gifts. Our trunk of the car was full. We simply take the gifts back to the school children in town. It is a win/win for everybody. We were in some very poor villages or we would have probably had several goats given to us as well.
One of the wells we drilled recently…had a problem and dried up. We don’t know why. But, we promise the people that Return Hope will never leave something that goes wrong undone. You and I both know that things can go wrong. So…it was exciting for me to show up and tell the people who’s well had gone dry that the drilling rigs would be following behind the new water surveyors and that a new well would be drilled within the next 14 days. It feels good to prove our integrity. I’m almost grateful for the well drying up, because it gave me a chance to prove I’m a man of my word. The people were so grateful. Imagine how concerned they must have felt after having fresh water for 6 months and then seeing the well literally go dry. I imagine the people felt deep desperation thinking they would have to return to the diseased water source. Again…it didn’t take long for us to solve the problem. We found out the drilling company we were using…didn’t actually survey that specific water well location. The locals told us they never brought out a surveyor like they usually do, or what is professionally called a geophysical surveyor equipment that identifies where great underwater sources are. So…we fired that company and interviewed a new one and we are convinced this one will not try to cheat us. Time tells all things! We are able to fix any problems with the wells without any extra costs to the donor who gave the money for the well to be drilled. God is good….he provides, if you trust Him!
Return Hope charges 7000.00 US dollars for a fresh water borehole. You can’t beat that price…and I promise you we do it with the best materials for drilling and pumping. The water wells and the land are given as a gift to the community. Nobody but God owns that water well and the people respect it and desperately need it. I’ll post pictures when I return.
That is what we did the rest of the day. It began to get dark and the rain clouds were looking pretty dark and were approaching. As the sun was setting I got to ride in the car back out of the African bush and into town. Again…Uganda isn’t nicknamed “The Pearl of Africa” for no reason. You must see it with your own eyes.
I’m considering a short trip in October. I think I can get us all back here for about 5 days on the ground for a very good price. Do you think you could scramble raising some funds and join me? October is one of the cheapest times to fly to Africa. That is the biggest expense. I don’t bring people to Africa to make money. I do all I can to break even on the costs. I promise you we will do a quick mission trip at the cheapest price I can get you. You must come with me. You’ll never be the same.
I’m preparing to leave Africa today. I have a 3 hour drive back into the city of 5 million. Kampala Africa. My plane doesn’t leave until 11:30 pm. I think I have just finally adjusted to the 10 hour time change…but with only 3 days on the ground…it’s time to be thrown off my time clock again. It can be a pretty brutal flight. I won’t lie to you. But it’s worth it.
I love you and I’m grateful you have read along this journey with me. Thank you for investing in Return Hope, financially. If you are not doing so, would you please consider it?
Jesus did so much for each of us. We must return the love in anyway we can. I can’t think of a better place or a better people, or a better need than those of Uganda.
If you have questions please just contact me.
The emails come directly to me. I will personally answer them quickly.
See you back on USA soil soon.
Travel with me to Africa soil soon!
As in the previous 2 posts…the WiFi is still bad in Africa…so please know that I will post pictures when I return to the USA.
My time clock is all messed up. I keep waking up at 5 am. But, it gives me time to type out my blog post of the experiences I am having on this short venture. Thank you for taking the time to read it. I pray it inspires you to grow deeper and more committed to Jesus and all that He asks us to do.
As I rolled off of the thin foam mattress bed with a mosquito net hanging over it…it was time to do one of the hardest things for me to do on this trip. It causes me great pain. I had to take a shower and the electricity has been off for several hours. The water is freezing! I’m sure the other rooms could hear the gasps and laughs as I tortured myself with a cold shower. (Suffering for Jesus, right?! LOL) But at least I smell good again!
I didn’t bring dress clothes for Church services on this trip. I have a pair of jeans and a Joy Christian School polo shirt that I sometimes teach my Bible classes in. Wow…the people of Africa love to dress up for Church. The colors of the rainbow are nothing compared to the women of Africa in their cultural dresses. The men get on their very best suits and ties that they have. I am astonished every time I see the bright white dress shirts on the dark skinned men coming out of the mud hut homes. I don’t know how they keep so clean…they are very impressive and handsome.
I think the Ugandan people are some of the most beautiful people on the planet. They have the darkest skin I’ve seen and contrast their super white smiles and it is magical. Another thing that I notice is how straight the teeth are of the natives here. On a past trip, I was able to travel with a dentist and she told me that the African people from childhood eat a very hard food plan. Corn, very tough meat, the children are constantly chewing on sugar cane. The dentist told me, that hard foods force the teeth into alignment. Seeing is believing on this one. I’m jealous of how white and how straight the teeth are for the African man and woman. Maybe I’ll get Sam to open his mouth and I’ll take a picture so you can witness it for yourself. (that will make him laugh his contagious and unique high pitched laugh!) Better yet, come with me someday and see for yourself!
The drive to church was only 20 minutes. Sam, our director has started a Church out of his school facility of mud and sticks. There were about 100 people in attendance…the men, women and children all sitting/standing together. The children are very patient through the very long service. They sing passionate music. this church group can’t afford instruments yet…but one can’t tell as the voices of the people are so passionate and many melodies are sung, stomping and dancing to the rhythm they create together. An occasional African woman will send out her high pitched shrill of joy…“lalalalalalalalalalalalal!”
They asked me to speak. I told them that the older I get, I’m becoming a man of fewer words. They actually enjoy much preaching. A typical Ugandan Church service can last for 4 or more hours. I’m thankful today’s service was only 3 hours. So…I didn’t preach for long. I spoke for maybe 15 minutes. I told the African people that after living in America I have determined that talk is cheap. I asked them to witness how much I love them by my actions and how much Return Hope International is doing on behalf of Jesus to love and serve them. Sam preached and then another pastor, named Reno preached as well.
There are many elderly who haven’t learned english, so there is always a translator. But, know, most Ugandans speak english. They did more music, then preached some more. People came forward to pray and confess their sins and many did. I was privileged to lay my hands on those who came forward to pray for them and help them understand how much their repentance causes Jesus to forgive them. There were times the service just broke out in prayer…the whole room lifting their voices to God in prayer. A man in wheelchair who is struggling with his health came forward and asked the whole church to pray for him. We laid hands on him and he cried as we prayed for him. The children watched and engaged the whole time. More music, more preaching. 3 hours of love, learning, celebration, and so much more. I enjoyed it tremendously. I was touched.
After the service we stood around and shook hands and gave hugs. I grabbed my camera and used the opportunity to take some pictures. I will post them when I return to America on Wednesday. I haven’t shaved in weeks and the children were fascinated with my beard and hairy arms. It is so thrilling to be amongst a group of people who are so loving and kind and curious. I am curious about them too. We learned about each other, from each other.
It was approaching 2:30 and my stomach was growling, I asked Sam if we could head back to the hotel to grab some lunch. He agreed. Lunch was rice and beans, a chicken leg boiled in some fantastic broth, a mix of g-nut paste…(kind of like purple peanut butter), a great banana type mix that has the texture of mashed potatoes and the African staple called porsha…a corn mix…also in the texture of mashed potatoes. To drink I had an ice cold glass bottle of coca-cola! Who doesn’t love that?! 🙂
The rest of the day was dealing with the necessary evil I call business meetings. Nothing to really post about. When Sam and the RHI Ugandan team live 10 hours worth of time zones away from me…even with the internet…it is a must that we have clarifying meetings. We compared our account sheets, budgets, estimates. Not fun…but vitally important. I vow to use every dollar that you invest in Return Hope with deep integrity and transparency. If you would like to know any details of the Return Hope budget, I will gladly share them with you. That meeting started at about 3:30 and went until dark. It was a good meeting. I am overwhelmed with all the work we are doing. I am so inspired by the quality of the facility we are building and how we will use it to train around 1000 students at a time…year after year, and I can’t wait to get home and get back to the work of asking for followers of Jesus to sacrifice and invest this crazy paper thing called money. When you and I consider how blessed we are, we will be incredible givers. Are you an incredible giver?
It’s Sunday. It was a good day. I only have a day and half left before I must climb aboard another airliner and fly at 31,000 feet back home.
I am blessed. Supremely blessed…and at the same time I am haunted. Haunted by the conditions that this sin cursed world has created for such wonderful people like Ugandans…and sometimes even the people in our neighborhoods in the USA. Poverty is not always a money thing. Return Hope International is not just about Uganda Africa. I teach the Bible in the US. I am a Bible teacher at a Christian School and would be grateful to fill the pulpit of your pastor if he/she needs a break. Return Hope makes this all possible. God is good. Let’s continue to conquer the entrapment of poverty all around the world.
Is there anything in your life that separating you from God and causing poverty in your life. Poverty of marriage? Poverty of physical fitness? Poverty of friendships? Poverty of spirituality? Poverty of finances? Poverty of parenting? Poverty of emotional health?
Only Jesus is the answer. He won’t miraculously make you rich in those areas of life. It will require you to become a fully devoted follower of Him. He has asked much from you and me…but not before giving His all for us.
We can do more for Him. Your obedience matters. Narrow is the road that leads to heaven. I love you too much to just make you feel good, if you are walking down the road to hell. Please don’t be separated from God for eternity. I think it would be cool to spend eternity with you.
I pray you will use the tool of Return Hope to grow in your relationship with Jesus and become more like Him. Return Hope is the work of Jesus and the Church.
It was a good Sunday. I pray someday you will experience a Sunday with me…here in Africa!
I have only one full day left in Africa before I return. We are preparing to drill 6 fresh water wells for people in the African bush who have never had clean water to drink. Each well will provide fresh water for approx 10,000 people. Talk about making a difference in the lives of people! Many of the locals have been told that there just isn’t any water underground. Wait until we show them what Jesus can do!! He can do anything! I am going to visit some of the locations and people, and take some pictures. I will post about it tomorrow. A couple of the well locations are deep enough in the African bush that some of the people will have never seen a white man.