July 26, 1999
Vanessa Pace, operatic soloist, sings to prisoners in a Uganda jail.
by Roger Sonnesyn, special to the Weekly
For the fourth time in five years, the Airlift Ministry, made up of the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International, made the trip to East Africa.
We went to encourage the chapter development work because the chapters in Uganda and Rwanda have been depleted by the unceasing wars and social upheaval in the area. The Fellowship in East Africa, as all over the world, has acted as a spiritual support to the Christian fabric of churches and religious vocations, and so we have been committed to reviving the ministry there.
Also, the many prisons there have serious problems with overcrowding and lack of food which is complicated by the tribal conflicts and political tensions. In Uganda, it is reported that 25,000 prisoners died last year for lack of food and medical attention. In Rwanda, where five years ago, tribal conflicts resulted in as many as a million killings, there are some 150,000 men and women being held in the prisons for these crimes. The trial process is slow, and the conditions are horrible in the prisons there.
Our eight-person Airlift team this year included a former inmate from a Washington State Correctional facility and his wife, who have special experience to share as prison ministers. Phil and Pam Wineinger have founded a prison ministry called Voice to the Apprehended which reaches out to prisoners here in Washington State.
In Uganda and Rwanda, we were escorted by missionaries and local prison chaplains. Ron and Shirley Devore have been serving for twelve years there and have developed a ministry not only to prisons, but to orphans (estimated to be 1 million in Uganda alone). Over the years, they have built nine churches throughout the country and several schools in remote areas. Their ministry, unlike many others, focuses on the unreached people out in the remote bush areas.
Our Airlift team visited one of their mission schools on an island twenty miles out in the middle of Lake Victoria. There we found 300 students who were all excited to be able to learn the various academics offered at the school.
Also on our Airlift team this year was an opera singer, Vanessa Pace, from International Ways of Praise Ministries. The Africans loved her everywhere, but notably, Vanessa showed remarkable courage and faith in the Rwanda maximum security prisons as she ministered to more than two thousand of these rough and sweaty men.
The leaders of the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship in both Uganda and Rwanda have done a superb job in reorganizing and motivating their respective countries' chapter ministry despite the almost overwhelming obstacles. Dan Nkata is the president of the Uganda FGBMFI and Nkusi Josias is in Rwanda and Burundi as national president of the FGBMFI. Both are due to come to Seattle in August to speak to local chapters.
As our Airlift team ministered in Uganda to the four new chapters there, we recognized a new confidence that was not seen just three years ago. The Rwanda meetings were lively and focused on rebuilding the spiritual life of the country after the recent conflicts there.
Both national FGBMFI leaders and all the local chapter leaders were immensely impressed by one of our African American team members, Richard Cara. His spiritual charisma was a powerful testimony in itself to the Africans, but notably, Richard provided a sense of deep understanding of what hardships our African brothers in the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship have endured over the last twenty years. Richard shared his life openly and was an inspiration for leaders at banquets at hotels, dinners, and luncheons, and in prisons everywhere in East Africa.
Two other Full Gospel Airlift team members who were real lights everywhere we went were Ralph Cady and Sig Hansen. Although a new member, Ralph caught on quickly to our evangelism focus and was a perfect complement to the more seasoned soulwinner Sig, who has been on more than twenty Airlifts all over the world.
We visited five prisons, and had five large banquets with business and professional people, as well as a couple of private dinners. We ministered in churches and a large orphanage and at two cathedrals and saw two horrible genocide memorials. We visited and ministered at Christian schools.
We were welcomed in large downtown gatherings of business people as well as the humblest of villages and the rankest of prisons.