By Chris Roberts
Special to The Alabama Baptist
My mountaintop moment of spiritual clarity actually happened on a mountain. I spent the summer of 1985 in Wyoming, one of thousands of Alabama college students who have served God through Alabama Baptist Campus Ministries’ summer missions. It’s been 38 years since I worked six Vacation Bible Schools, and even today I enjoy dry cookies and duck-duck-goose.
My final week in Wyoming had me at Mountain Top Baptist Assembly near Casper, chaperoning high schoolers at a Centrifuge camp. A staffer asked the 19-year-old me whether I had heard God’s call to full-time ministry. I quickly said “no” without explaining the real reason: fear. With a high school nickname of “Rubberguts,” I had no desire to be a missionary in Africa because it lacks the necessary McDonald’s.
She replied: “Don’t ever say ‘never’ to the Lord.”
The clarity came a few days later, when I understood that what God wants is for us is to be open to His call, whatever it is, and not reject it even before receiving it.
As it turns out, God’s call did not involve becoming a full-time missionary in Africa but it has included four short-terms missions trips to the continent.
Two trips were to Senegal, where my cousin, Fran Morris, worked for a dozen years at Dakar Academy, a Christian school, before returning to Alabama.
The other two trips were to Uganda. During a 2019 trip, I met Kellie and Michael Seger, who left their jobs as Mississippi schoolteachers to answer the call to full-time ministry. They completed field personnel orientation through the International Mission Board in 2017 and later moved to Uganda.
In May of this year, I spent nearly two weeks with Michael in Gulu, a university town 90 miles from the South Sudan border. During that time he balanced his work as educational specialist with Hope Alive, co-director of the Gulu Globetrotters Educational Cooperative, coaching duties with the Uganda Silverbacks under-16 national basketball team and hosting a team consisting mostly of college students from First Baptist Church Tuscaloosa. He rarely slept.
Spend a little time with missionaries in Africa, and you discover the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. They are filled with Galatians 5:22–23 — “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” — and without such things there is no way to do God’s work in developing nations.
Watch missionaries at work and you see:
►Peace, which comes from knowing they are where God calls them to be.
After five years in Africa, Michael stands a little closer to you than a typical Mississippi native might. He switches between American English and Ugandan English, which means speaking with exaggerated precision and saying things such as “branch left” instead of “turn left.” He drives like a native Ugandan too, which would get you arrested here.
‘God is in charge’
Missionaries stand, talk and act differently because they have forsaken everything to follow Christ. They transform themselves to reach a different culture for Christ. The result is peace in places and situations that would likely rattle the rest of us, knowing that God is in charge.
►Patience and gentleness, best explained by the phrase, “Westerners know what time it is, but Africans have the time.”
Bad roads make the 200-mile trip between the capital of Kampala and his home in Gulu take nearly six perilous hours. The COVID-19 pandemic led Uganda to ban travel on all public roads for several months in spring 2020, and schools closed for a pandemic world record of nearly two years. Internet and phone service is spotty and unpredictable. Power outages mean you may not have internet — or other wants we perceive as needs. The culture and economy typically mean long waits, old cars, fewer creature comforts and few explanations.
Yet Michael and the other African missionaries I’ve met show gentleness to those around them — whether residents or no-nothing people like me on short-term mission trips.
►Self-control, which shows itself in ways big and small.
The Segers’ first Uganda assignment ended for diabolical reasons we won’t discuss here. They didn’t scorch the earth after they were abused. They shook Uganda’s red dust off their sandals and followed God’s call to another city and new ways to serve.
►Joy, which isn’t “happiness” but is the calm delight that comes from knowing God is in charge.
Michael keeps a rubber snake in his car, ready to drop it on an unsuspecting person. He’ll honk a horn when you’re not looking. It’s among his many jokes — ones that bring happiness and show his authentic self and ease with others and God.
►Kindness and goodness, which goes well beyond smiling at people. (In fact, some Ugandans don’t smile because they have bad teeth, are old enough to have had their geniality stolen during Idi Amin’s reign of terror or simply live in a culture that does not necessarily trust people who smile.)
The Segers’ biggest kindness came in 2018, when they were introduced to two Ugandan boys, the age of their oldest two children, wandering on a sidewalk after dark. The boys were homeless and abandoned — dad was an alcoholic and mom walked away. The siblings earned a few shillings when people paid them to watch them fight each other.
With permission of local officials, the Segers began caring for the boys. After years of fostering, prayers and bureaucracy, the Segers finalized the adoption of Brian and Joseph in June, securing their American citizenship a day before the seven-member Seger family returned to Uganda.
►Love, which is the greatest of these.
Love shows itself in faithfulness and in every other fruit of the spirit. When Michael arrived back in Gulu after a months-long furlough, the Gulu Globetrotter staff ran to meet him underneath a mango tree with hugs, ululations and absolute joy at seeing him again.
He was home in Uganda. And he was living The Message translation of John 15:9, where Jesus said, “Make yourselves at home in my love.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — Chris Roberts is an associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Creative Media and director of the Office of Research in Media Integrity at the University of Alabama. He is a member of North River Church in Tuscaloosa and currently serves as secretary of the board of directors for TAB Media Group.