“At ________ Camp, we are averaging two snake bites per day. In fact, a sixty year old woman is now fighting for her life as a result of a Puff Adder bite from last night.”
– Medical clinician at refugee camp meeting.
I wonder if that lady survived.
I wonder why God allowed the pastor in Koboko to die of a snakebite.
I’ve always wondered why God allowed that snake to bite Paul as he was shipwrecked on Malta Island.
I may never know the answer to the first question.
It may be Heaven before I get the answer to question two.
I believe we can understand question three’s answer with the insight of scripture and nearly two centuries.
Acts 28 is one of my favorite Biblical passages.
Paul is a prisoner headed to Rome by sea.
The ship becomes caught in a Mediterranean storm that buffets the crew and passages for two weeks.
During this time, Paul (who had warned against this winter journey in the first place) becomes the true leader on the boat.
The captain, crew, and even Paul’s Roman captors listen to him.
Another example that leadership is not a matter of title but often confidence and courage.
The ship runs aground.
The human cargo swims ashore.
They receive some good Southern (European) Hospitality on the island of Malta.
Paul, always helpful, is throwing wood on a bonfire when a snake latches on his hand.
The islanders know their snakes.*
This one is deadly.
They tag him as a murderer who has escaped the sea only to receive justice from the serpent.
They wait for Paul to swell and die.
But he doesn’t.
Then, revealing more of their worldview, they decide he’s a god.
Soon, he’s preaching and healing.
The captive has a captive audience.
God took this incident and used it for His glory.
He can even take a snakebite and draw attention to himself.
He does take the bad and bring good out of it.
John Dina is a veteran missionary with our company in Mozambique.
Nearly twenty years ago, a green mamba bit him.
In Africa, it’s usually a death sentence.
Dina didn’t die.
He came close.
But he’s still working among the people and country he loves.
I’ve been told his survival of the mamba bite gave him great credence
With the natives of his area.
Another story of God bringing good out of what seems bad.
But honestly, it is not always so.
Sometimes, God doesn’t deliver from the snakebite.
Often, he chooses to not heal cancer or prevent the accident.
I wondered about that as I observed Momma Pastor in Koboko Baptist Church.
I’d heard her story but never met her until recently in northern Uganda.
Her husband was pastor of the only Baptist church in Koboko.
One day he was snake bitten.
And within a few days he died.
Sadly, not only did he die but also the church soon died.
The fellowship I’m sitting in today is the resurrected Koboko Baptist.
To my knowledge, it contains no members from the earlier church.
Except Momma Pastor.
I study her. She’s a strange blend of sadness and poise.
Even without knowing, I’d guess she’d had a great tragedy in her life.
Grief is that difficult to hid.
At the same time, she has a peace and quietness that reveals her
Relationship with Jesus.
I don’t know what God delivered Paul (and John Dina) but allowed Pastor Koboko to die.
I have the same questions on the early church in Acts.
Peter gets delivered.
James loses his head.
Two faithful disciples.
Two different outcomes.
I don’t fully understand.
But I still trust God.
I’ve trusted Jesus for over forty plus years.
He’s got my faith as well as my questions.
He is plenty able to handle both.
Snake post script
After the service where we met Momma Pastor, I asked current pastor Mark Vukoni what I call one of the “hard questions.”
“Mark, if you died of a snakebite, what would happen to this church?”
He looked up from his matooke. We’ve worked together long enough for us to ask each other these kinds of questions.
“What would happen to your church?”
He smiled his famous gap-toothed smile and nodded at the men around him. “I believe they’d carry right on with the Gospel in Koboko.
And I believe he was right.
He is currently discipling four men.
James: a bundle of energy and enthusiasm for Jesus.
Moses: quiet, classy, strong. A man whom other men follow.
Daniel: burning with evangelism to share about Jesus with his fellow Muslims.
Bakit: a new believer who is withstanding the fires of persecution from his Islamic friends and family.
Pastor Mark nods. “These Kakwa men will carry on Gospel work whether I die or go back to Madi-land.”
I agree. There’s no question in my mind on this. A strong church is being rooted and built up in this strategic town at the border of three countries.
However, I want to ask you this same hard question: As a leader, would your church/business/organization/family survive your death by snakebite.
A good leader (and Godly ones) is always looking to the future.
*Most herpetologists who are also students of Biblical studies (Now that’s a double major that’d look good on a resume) think it was a Libertine (spelling variations) Viper that fits the story: a large deadly viper that hangs on to its victim while pumping more poison in.