Interview with Philip Wandawa
1. Sorry for starting here but are you born again?
Yes I am (laughs out loud). But as a by the way, that question could have attracted a different response from say a Roman Catholic because the evangelical lingual we use can be understood differently by those that are not necessarily evangelical.
2. What were the circumstances surrounding your acceptance of Christ as your Lord and saviour?
I grew up in a Christian home, an Anglican home and we always went to church. My mum was a committed Christian. She was a choir leader, always led us in prayer and so in that sense yes I was a Christian but when I got to high school I started asking deep questions about my faith and life; I was searching. Then I met a few ‘balokole’ at school who would preach to me and I would get convicted but several times I resisted and avoided that conviction. But when I was in Senior 3 I walked forward in a chapel on a Sunday and I accepted Christ as my personal Lord and saviour.
3. So when did this search to know the Lord more begin for you?
It is hard to say because from my experience, it is after one accepts Christ that the past falls into perspective. It is then that you realise that God has been in work in some sense even before you became aware of it. So I can say the search was there may be even before I joined secondary school. I however also think that being in a boarding school was like a catalyst in a way to this process. I remember asking questions like: Does God exist? What did it mean if God did not exist?
4. Have you had any turning points in your life?
Oh many, obviously!
5. Are there any that you would love to share with us?
Yeah, although rather than call them turning points I prefer to refer to them as watershed moments in the sense that they were events which led to other situations, challenges, and opportunities that shaped the direction of life in ways I would never have imagined or anticipated. There are several such moments worth mentioning. The first, are those moments that happened while I was still a student: among them was, becoming a member, and later chairman of the Scripture Union group at Masaba Secondary School in Budadiri area, in what was then Mbale district, now Sironko district. Closely following this was becoming a member of the Christian Union when I joined Makerere University. While there I became chairman of the Christian Union in my hall of residence, Mitchell hall. Not long after that I was elected to serve on the main Christian Union Committee as Outreach Secretary. The second, are those moments that led to my employment and work, first as travelling secretary or student worker with Fellowship of Christian Unions (FOCUS), Uganda, then later with Kampala Evangelical School of Theology, KEST.
Looking back now, it is hard to see how I would be what I am today and doing what I do without those watershed events. Of course what is clear in retrospect is never that clear when one is going through it. One is simply focussed on getting things done, often blundering, and even uncertain about what they are dong. From today’s vantage point, however, there is little doubt that God has guided and shaped me through these watershed events—most of them ordinary enough in themselves. By all appearances, one thing led to another. One thing I have learnt is that the invisible hand of God’s providence is at work in and through what appear to to be ordinary events. In my case, for instance, one can discern a common thread winding through the ordinary progression on my life. To highlight a few:
There is no doubt that my active involvement in the Scripture Union as high school student, and in Christian Union as a university student created the circumstances that led to my first job as student worker with FOCUS Uganda. It gave me the opportunity to travel all over Uganda visiting colleges to meet and work with students and Christian leaders from different church traditions. It challenged me to master the basics of Christian faith and the Bible in order to be able to train others. It forced to learn to learn to preach and teach better, to learn to network and to develop my leadership skills.
There is also no doubt in my mind that my academic experience as a philosophy student at Makerere university nurtured in me the inquisitiveness and intellectual disposition that prepared me for theological study.
And, there is no doubt in my mind that working with and through FOCUS Uganda helped me develop a vision for my current vocation in Christian leadership training. It also gave me practical ministry training that has kept me grounded as I pursued advanced theological studies
And yes, it is beyond doubt that it is in and through my involvement as a student in the Christian Union at the University, and later with FOCUS that I met my wife Joyce! The rest is history. Indeed, there would not be enough space to go into what a watershed moment meeting my wife has turned out to be. Suffice it to say, “he who finds a wife finds a good thing....”
6. How about in your salvation walk, any turning points?
Some of the watershed moments in my life have been events or situations that were traumatic, painful, stressful, and plain old hardship. Because everyone goes through such events in the course of life, it is not necessary to go into details experience. However, a brief mention of a few of the tough three watershed moments may be of help to some:
For some part for my career as a student at the University, I struggled with depression. Three things made my experience particularly difficult. First, I did not fully comprehend was happening to me. It me a while, mainly through reading, to develop an intellectual appreciation of what was happening to me. Second, was the undeniable fact that there was little awareness and understanding, both in the Christian public and in general public, of the clinical condition of depression as a possible human condition. On a number of occasions I went seek counsel and well meaning people diagnosed my condition attributing it to demon or evil spirit influence or attacks. On such occasion I humbly submitted to the prayers of casting out the demons of depression (or negative thinking) out of me. Third, it did not help that as a student I was always in leadership position therefore was not expected to be having such struggles.
Another area of struggle is that on the economic side of things life in Christian service has been, as the expression goes, “hand to mouth”—it means you earn enough to get by. I am not complaining, bemoaning anything or even expressing regret. For those who subscribe to prosperity gospel assumptions, this may be to them a failure or lack of faith. Be that as it may I am just stating fact. While it is true that there are some Christian organisations that pay above average salaries, it is equally true that there many others which are—not intentionally of course—unable to do that. Those who work in less endowed Christian organisations have to constantly make the choice between continuing where they are or seeking greener pastures elsewhere. Discerning God’s will in such circumstance is far from obvious or easy. The difficulty lies in the fact it is not a straightforward case of making a choice between good or evil. Rather, it is a case of having to make a choice between two goods: between continuing to serve God in specific in conditions a significant amount of hardship and personal sacrifice, on the on hand, and seeking to serve God where it is easier to put bread on the table, on the other. Which way would God have you go?
Traumatic events have also been another watershed moment in our life. We have had a painful car accident, and deaths in the family. I cannot speak to all of them. I will not touch on the deaths in family. Although death is to be expected, it seems that in last nine years we lost very close people who, by normal standards, we expected to be with us even today: both Joyce’s parents—my in-laws—died barely in their sixties; my own mother also died quite unexpectedly; my eldest sister perished in accident two years ago. Nothing prepares you for journey of learning to live with the gaps created by the space these people occupied our life as individuals and as a family.
7. Most people experience a loss of passion as they grow older, have you experienced anything like that? If yes, how do you deal with it? If not, how is that?
I have heard this and used to think that way myself. But the decline in passion does not necessarily have to do with age because there are young people I know who have lost their passion. I think the distinction has to be made between somebody who is evidently not enthusiastic about the Christian faith, and one whose expression of faith undergoes modification because of priorities imposed by new demands and challenges as adults. Just as described for us by Jesus in the parable of the sower, different factors affect people’s commitment to the word of God.
It is however true that as you grow older, you cannot live your life like you used to as a teenager simply because there are seasons. Sometimes seasons change because you have new demands which you did not have before. Say one used to come to every prayer meeting but now is married, has kids and has new obligations which by the way are Christian too. So sometimes when we use the distinction of age, we have to be careful what we are saying but yes I have seen people lose their passion simply because they have lost their faith.
8. Are there things you have done in your walk with Christ and are proud of?
It is hard for me to put myself in the mindset of being proud of what I have done as a Christian. It would be like taking credit for whatever I may have done as a Christian. I am more comfortable saying that I feel privileged that God called me, “wired me” the way he has, and has enabled me to do what I have so far done. I realize that I ought not to take for granted what I am—my gifts, talents, passions, and predilections. I am often reminded that there are people that will never give a vocation like mine—Christian leadership formation, and theology—a thought. At the same time, I am aware that I cannot take credit for anything that I am. For the truth is that if it was all up to me, I would have messed me up long ago. A case in point—and many people do not know this about me—is that I quit school just before I finished S6 because I felt that I was, not only wasting time in school but actually, disobeying God by remaining in school. I was convinced God had called me to preaching to people who were perishing so that they might be saved. For me the idea of waiting to complete high school, let alone university, before responding to the call bordered on criminal negligence punishable by hell. The response to the call had to be immediate no matter the cost so I quit school. To cut the long story short, God used my mother and auntie—both Christians—counselled with me and convinced me to go back to school. I went back sat for my Senior six exams passed, went to Makerere and rest is history. There no doubt in my mind that were it not for divine intervention—even though at that time I did not see it as such—I would have made a decision for good reasons, but faulty premises, and at the wrong time. Knowing what I know now, I am quite sure my life not have just ended up differently, I might have shipwrecked my faith in the process.
9. Any message to the men that have held firmly onto the message of the cross?
The one that comes to my mind now is that it takes courage to be a man. It takes faith to be a man, a Christian man for that matter because there are so many images of what it means to be a man which we men are vulnerable to. Many men may suffer a diminished view of themselves for different reasons. It could be income, it could be one’s looks. Whatever it is these images and self perceptions impinge on our sense of manhood both consciously and unconsciously. In the end, however, to be a man is to be simply that which God has made you and called you to be. In other words, to be a man is to be true to what he has made you and wants to you to be. Fundamentally, this means that we have to take Jesus seriously as the model of true manhood. Among other things, it means a willingness to learn, to admit one’s mistakes, to be a good listener, to be vulnerable, and to learn to recognize when it is that one needs advice. All this presupposes faith which is the unwavering confidence or assumption that God will sustain you, that God is our or your shepherd, and therefore that he will not give you more burden than you can bear. It is the faith that believes that God will always be there even when sometimes it feels like he is not there or that he is taking too long.