What an honor to return the week after Christmas and fly back to Uganda, Africa! Check out pics and video on our Instagram page. So thankful for my dear friend, Pastor Chuck Balsamo for inviting me to return and we flew together from Dulles (IAD) to Entebbe, Uganda. We changed planes in Instanbul, TURKEY where the recent “Taken” movie was filmed and en route back to Africa I knew the Lord wanted to TAKE BACK souls that the Devil had stolen. We arrived at 5 AM local time and greeted by a film crew from our friends at DREAM TV and they captured us coming out of baggage claim and no one has the kindest smiles than Uganda. They do everything BIG in Africa and Chuck did a great interview on the spot and we were whisked to our hotel. So thankful for all the logistics done by our dear friend Eric Newberry and he worked tirelessly to help make it run smoothly. He has a heart for missions and amazing with administrative skills and blessed by his friendship. God is using him powerfully to touch the world. He has an OPEN MAP and OPEN HEART and that always OPEN DOORS!
After a 23 hour flight we had no rest for the weary because after having breakfast I just climbed into bed only to be summons five minutes later that I was invited and expected to speak unbeknownst to me at a Pastors Conference at Victory Christian International with Dr. Hugh Osgood from the United Kingdom. I had spoke there last year but with a change of schedule was not anticipating to speak this year prior to the stadium. With no notes, no sleep and no time to worry I said a silent prayer asking God for strength and to be Spirit Led and blessed to minister to several hundred souls. Their worship is unlike any other and in America we tend to look at our watch after an hour but they worship all day long! The Lord met with us and a violent but much needed rain storm soaked the region while we were in worship and looking back it may have been a sign of God’s blessing raining down on us. As a child I thought rain was bad but as an adult it is a good thing! After nearly two days with zero sleep I finally found a bed to crash for a few hours. It is a eight hour time difference not counting a day’s flight and it can mess with the human time clock.
Pastor Chuck Balsamo had an idea to preach a continuation of his message the year before featuring a stuff animal. An engineer from his home church in the states began to build an ensemble that would enable his message to take flight. #Literally Pastor Chuck is one of the most creative, selfless and inspiring guy I know and that brother is brilliant. He got the big stuffed animal on the plane but once in Africa we had to trust God to find a helium tank to blow up 30 jumbo balloons to sail. It had to be exactly 99.9% helium because anything less would not work. After several failed attempts at local stores the team was falling flat! Some of his friends and mentors were advising him that it was impossible. Others said the risk was greater than the reward. Another said you could fail miserably on the largest platform of your life in front of both a packed soccer stadium and live television audience. However, Chuck didn’t listen to the critics but the call God put in him and that was to deliver the Gospel and help a nation take flight thinking their best was ahead and the battle is won and lost in the mind.
PARK the CAR. Let me pullover and drive home this point for every one reading this. Regardless if in leadership or following our goal is not “to look good” but deliver the goods. #DropTheMic Chuck wanted to convey that we are seated in Heaven with Christ and too often we are grounded when we have stinking thinking and settle for less and sit life out. More than ever when the odds are against you remember that GOD is FOR YOU! When it appears that hope is lost this is when God and you WIN the game! Press on not walk out! Chuck pressed on and finally found a tank that would work and one of my favorite memories is what hardly anyone saw. Chuck, Coree Balsamo (Chuck’s son), Eric Newberry and myself while all dressed in our Sunday best were under the Nelson Mandela Stadium blowing up balloons with no time to spare while the service was already underway. With the clock ticking and some back home doubting we moved forward in faith. You have heard of whistle while you work well we prayed while we worked asking God to fill in the blanks and do what only HE could do. Chuck kept asking me if I needed to get back on the stage and go over my notes to address the crowd because I was up next in the schedule but I knew that at that moment helping another was more important than last minute preparations on my speech. Plus, I recall what Gov. Ronald Reagan said backstage moments before the final presidential debate while running for the highest office in the land, “If I don’t know it by now I never will” and he prayed that God would help him and the rest is history. Speaking is one thing but serving is the greater thing and I trusted God to help us both backstage in the bowels of that iconic stadium and He sure did beyond our wildest imaginations and we both are pretty creative! A shout out to my good friend, Dr. Johnny Parker (former Chaplain of Washington Redskins) who reminded me, “our backstage is more important than the front stage and should be both when in balance.”
With the clock ticking, we were at balloon 22 when I was called to speak on the platform and the team continued to work during my thirty minute remarks. As the crowd went wild to hear of God’s love for them I could see Chuck and the guys in my peripheral vision not only cheering me on but completing their task because he was up next. Just in time, Chuck walked on that platform and not only preached a sermon but catapulted a stadium and inspired a nation. You can see that uplifting message on our Facebook page and it is powerful! The back story is the President of Uganda ordered on the day of the event to have all television and radio stations air the celebration live to some 30 Million throughout Uganda. As if speaking to over 100,000 was not enough the Lord does above and beyond! When the first set of balloons were attached to the stuffed animal he began to LOOK UP. The weight of those first ten balloons picked up the head of the dog and the crowd loved it. Then when Coree brought out the second batch of balloons and affixed it then it STOOD UP and the stadium was smitten. Then when Eric (team effort) brought the final ten balloons to make all thirty attached to the animal it WENT UP! It took off and the capacity crowd went CRAZY!! As the animal went upwards their dreams and potential did too! Within seconds it was out of the stadium and the cheers got louder as the animal flew higher and then they realized it was symbolic of their identity in Christ. Eventually the animal disappeared out of sight and as Chuck and I were boarding a flight from Uganda to Dubai we got word that it was found NINETY MILES from the stadium! You may start out local but God wants to take you global!
In this midst of all that excitement we were still monitoring the delayed arrival of our keynote speaker. Clayton King and I have been friends for over half my life and we met in college and he is one of my favorite friends in the world. He now pastors the third largest church in America (NewSpring in Anderson, SC) and tens of thousands call that church home each weekend for worship. Clayton is a phenomenal preacher and one of most gifted evangelist of our generation. He met Billy Graham as a young man but has become similar to him as an adult and I couldn’t be more proud of him. Clayton and his entire family had missed their flight the day before due to snow and it was touch and go if they would make the trip. Again, after prayer and perseverance we learned that they would arrive in Uganda at 11PM. That was their initial time to speak and they still needed to get through customs and it was an hour drive from the airport to stadium. When most would probably think the Lord is not in this these are the times when we have to be DUMB to DOUBT and FAITH it OUT. The Bible says, “as they WENT they were HEALED” and I believe as you go forward in faith the Lord will help you out. The Lord orchestrated a police escort for Clayton and his family ushering them to the stadium with flashing lights and all. I shared later when you are a “King” you deserve the best 🙂 God worked it out and what a treat it was to welcome my longtime friend on the platform moments before his sermon. God brought two college kids who met in North Carolina nearly a quarter century before (1994) now half way around the world to serve on mission together and it is a memory I will recall fondly in this life and the one to come. Grateful to God, Pastor Chuck and Dr Joseph Serwadda for graciously opening the door and being sensitive to the Holy Spirit to allow us the huge honor to partner and minister with them. Only God can do that and we give Him all the glory. We would all agree that we are not the most gifted but we try to be the most obedient to His call. Clayton despite being tired preached a powerful message of the simple Gospel message and he never ceases to amaze me in his preparation or proclamation of the Gospel. Dr. Adrian Rogers said, “Someone may preach the Gospel better but no one can preach a better Gospel.”
By the end of the evening along with all the wonderful worship and sermons and most importantly the work of the Holy Spirit multiplied thousands repented of sin and professed Christ as Savior. For years we collectively and individually prayed to see a glimpse of Pentecost again when several thousand received Christ in one day and this past New Years Eve with a soccer stadium and nation watching on television the Lord answered again. We serve a good God and He is the same yesterday, today and forever. The old hymn still rings true, “It is no secret what God can do. What He’s done for others He will do for you!” I was touched by the love we shared while in Africa and yes the road was long and the flight longer but God was faithful each step of the way. The following day we went to an orphanage and brought games, clothing and toys and lavished on them a couple suitcases stuffed with love from the USA. Grateful to some of our incredible students and parents at Southern Maryland Christian Academy in White Plains, MD who donated and was able to distribute their love to those in Africa. Chuck and his church family among generosity of others were able to do the same and we cooked and served a delicious meal of beef, potatoes, soup and drinks to a couple hundred people. Watching them eat on a hillside was one of the greatest moments of my trip. After playing with them, loving on them it was tough to leave them but as their stomachs were full my heart and spirit was now as well. Jesus was correct, “It is more blessed to GIVE than receive.”
In the pic below on far left is my dear friend, Coree Balsamo. Hands down, he is a missionary marvel and he is on mission as much as anyone I know. He is a selfless soldier and he lives for God and loves everyone. #SoGood We have been blessed with such an amazing team and they each individually and corporately have taught me so much about loving, living and giving. In closing, I want to thank all the anonymous friends who prayed for us, put money in the bank and proverbial spiritual gas in our tank to do this mission. Some preach, others teach but we EACH can REACH and together we made a difference. We didn’t just speak to a nation but part of a continent and like that stuffed animal that left the stadium the spirit of Uganda is flying higher than ever. The team may have left Africa but Africa won’t leave us.
This was the second sermon I had the honor to preach along with Pastor Clayton King, Pastor Chuck Balsamo & Dr. Hugh Osgood. Over 118,000 were present!