Ugandan Pastor Elijah Sebuchu is both a friend and a mentor. He once told me the most profound lesson his mother taught him was, “Relationships are better than meat.” This was from a woman who did not know if she was going to eat from day to day. He lives that lesson daily.
In 2007, he started a ministry with a vision from God and $10 in his pocket. In eight years, he and Ruth and their five children built two orphanages serving 1,600 children, two K-8 schools, planted 269 churches, a radio ministry, an annual youth conference for 7,000 and a women’s ministry serving 2,000 women. His annual budget now exceeds $2 million. He is a recognized leader in Uganda.
12 Wives and 38 Siblings
Pastor Elijah had 38 siblings. His mother, one of 12 wives, gave birth to Elijah in a swamp as she did not make it to the hospital in time. She carried him 17 miles back to their village. It was there, through a rather unusual naming ceremony, he was given the name of Sebuchu, which is the name of a former great Bagandan tribal leader. From that moment his mother told him, “You will be a great leader.” This prophecy became reality through the meat of relationships.
Elijah’s mother insisted on the best education available for Elijah. Being gifted with great intellect, an entrepreneurial spirit and a thirst for leadership, he became an Episcopal pastor. He was on his way to greater leadership responsibilities until he became a born-again believer in Jesus Christ. This belief and the preaching which followed caused his dismissal from the church. He found himself and his family on the streets of the capital city Kampala trying to survive.
One Man, More Meat
His story was newsworthy, and a man from Norway contacted Elijah. He invited him to attend a Pentecostal Bible college. This new relationship brought his family safety and launched his new pastoral career. He became a proficient church planter, but he could not look past the millions of orphans wandering the streets. HIV ravaged the adult population of Uganda. Today, 49% of the country is under 15 years of age versus America at 20%. When the parents die, if there are no relatives, the children are left to fend for themselves.
Elijah fasted daily for 289 days while asking God what he would have him do. God’s answer was, “Serve the orphans of Uganda. Introduce them to Jesus. Educate them and encourage them to become the future leaders of Uganda.” He quit his job as pastor and walked 70 miles to visit his mother and tell her his plans. She laid hands on him and prayed for him and Ruth. They then walked to a remote piece of property his father had left him where they planned to build an orphanage.
God Works Through Relationships
On the way, they met a Muslim man who fed them. After some time together, this man gave Elijah a machete. Elijah and Ruth used this machete to build his first mud hut for orphans on the inherited property. Within two weeks, 188 orphans had joined them.
Once again newsworthy, Elijah was discovered by a man from Germany who contacted him. This German wanted to give them money in support. Elijah asked the man to come and visit. He said, “Do not send money. Stay with me and my family and serve the children of Uganda.” This man stayed for six months. When he returned to Germany, he told people in his church about his experience and also shared with a partner church in London. These churches became his first real donor base.
A newspaper story was written about Elijah and Ruth’s work with orphans. This led to an invitation by Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Orange County, California. They were hosting a world-wide conference on HIV/AIDS and asked Elijah to represent East Africa. This trip to America is how I met Elijah.
A couple in the London church asked their daughter and son-in-law to allow Elijah to stay at their house in Atlanta. They were part of a small church who adopted Elijah and his ministry and set out to introduce him to others in America. One of the church members was an active attendee at a Bible study I was hosting in 2007 at the Advanced Technology Development Center at Georgia Tech. He asked if he could bring Elijah to our meeting.
New Ministry Is Born
One Wednesday in June 2007, Pastor Elijah of Uganda walked in wearing the traditional flowing robe of Uganda. He introduced himself, his family and his mission, and then he began by saying, “Greetings from Uganda.” That simple introduction to me and the men and women in that room was the beginning of Hands of Love USA.
Pastor Elijah was introduced to the networks and churches of all the people in that room, including mine. These relationships allow him to continue to move closer to fulfilling his vision. God gave him the relationships which brought the much-needed expertise and funding to grow his church, ministry and schools in Uganda. It isn’t about the money. It is all about the relationships.
He sees his job as sharing his vision to build the next generation of leadership for the nation of Uganda. He knows God will put the people in his life who will work with him and support him in making this vision a reality. In eight years, he has never asked me for money. He always asks me to come to Uganda and help him transform his nation.
If you are an entrepreneur, you would do well to remember the profound words from Pastor Elijah’s mother, “Relationships are better than meat.”