It was a truly historic moment. In just a few minutes, our first-ever cohort of Ugandan pastors would graduate with their Masters of Arts in Ministry degrees from the college (thanks in part to a fruitful partnership with the Pastors Discipleship Network.) We were buzzing with excitement, eager for the festivities to begin.
We walked down the red dirt road on the six-acre compound. As we approached the ceremony area, we could hear the beating of African drums. Then we saw them: eight Ugandan dancers: four women and four men, each one dressed in traditional African dress. Their dancing featured rhythmic footwork, stomping, hand and body motions all moving to the beat of the drums. As our procession made its way we passed through the midst of the dancers, flanked on each side by four dancers – certainly a deviation from most American college graduations!
The ceremony began, and we sang To God Be the Glory, along with some African songs and we even enjoyed some beatboxing! The Ugandan graduates, their families and audience eagerly received President Teague’s commencement address taken from 2 Timothy 2:2. Bishop Henry Luke Orombi, a prominent clergy member in Uganda, shared at the commencement ceremony as well.
No piece of the ceremony went unappreciated by our newest alumni and their loved ones. Our graduates valued even the smallest touches, proudly displaying their brand-new alumni pins for all to see. As is customary in Uganda for this type of event, everyone present enjoyed a wonderful meal together. It was truly a celebration that recognized both the graduates’ hard work and God’s grace poured out in – and through – their lives. Earning this degree meant much more to these graduates than simply acquiring another academic accolade. Many pastors in Uganda never receive formal training, and because of this, deceptive and misleading doctrines are quite common among Ugandan churches. This degree and the training it entailed empowered our graduates to think more critically, think deeply, draw closer to the Lord, and most importantly, to share what they’ve learned with others.
Perhaps the most striking memory for me was how several of the graduates’ wives celebrated their husbands’ achievement – as their husband’s name was called out, they would approach their husband by swooping down like a bird with arms outstretched all the while crying out in the traditional African female high-pitched trill. The entire ceremony served as a reminder to us that God’s joy is limitless – it reaches across borders, language barriers and expresses itself in many unique ways that all point us back to the Creator, the source of our joy.
What a privilege it was to witness this milestone in the college’s history – I can’t wait to see where He will lead us next!