(This is my foreword from Trevor Stevenson's memoir that I have co-written with him. This gives you a flavour of why I was excited to be involved in the project.)
It was a hot day, under a blue African sky. I was attempting to find shade beneath the canvas of a gazebo, a bottle of water in my hand. All Ugandan protocol was being observed.
It was my turn to speak. I looked across the grounds of Onialeku Primary School on the edge of the town of Arua, on the edge of north west Uganda. Out beyond the mango tree was a brand new shiny building that would soon house the school that had started in the church to the other side of me and makeshift building behind me. I was speaking at the opening ceremony.
It was soul tingling. Oh, it was just a building but it was so much more than a building. It was the possibility of changed lives. It had the potential to transform a community. It was the building of hope, tangibly before my eyes.
Fitzroy Church, where I am minister, had taken a decision to tithe the funding for our Church Halls project. Of course, tithing the cost of a building means raising ten percent extra as the builders are never best pleased when you take ten percent off their bill and send it to Africa. A process was carried out that linked us with Onialeku Primary School. With that tithe, we funded a new primary school building in two blocks.
Fitzroy had sent a team of young people, led by my wife Janice and I, to meet the children, staff and parents of Onialeku Primary School and to be at the school opening ceremony. We had fallen in love. Within a short space of time Fitzroy members would be sponsoring over 60 of the children sitting in front of me now. We would be travelling back with teams for years to come, sharing mutual poverty and wealth, finding God’s presence in the mingling.
I was elated to be here. I had Bishop Isaac beside me. One Sunday in church, as he watched all the children running around his feet, he had asked God what he could do for them. “Education”, he sensed God reply. So they started a makeshift school. It grew and when a fit for purpose building was needed, he connected with Fields of Life in Kampala. The Northern Ireland and Kampala offices of Fields of Life had bonded the two communities of Fitzroy and Onialeku.
To eventually be in Arua was incredibly emotional. I cried as we entered the town, I cried when I got off the bus in the school, I cried when I walked through the doors of the new building. I cried as I made my speech at the opening.
In the speech I unpacked the Biblical basis for what Fields of Life does. They have three aims in their branding. Changing people. I spoke of the cross and how Jesus redeems us. Transforming communities. I spoke of the incarnation and how the Word of God, in Jesus, becomes flesh and moves into our neighbourhoods. I spoke of the hope of resurrection. It seemed that personal change, community transformation and hope were all around me.
I had moved on to my “thanks yous” when I said it. I am not sure if it was in my notes or not but I said something like, “Today I would like to thank Trevor Stevenson. Trevor came over to Uganda in the 90s and somehow God led him to begin Fields of Life and build over 100 schools like this one. I would love to get to know that story better.”
Looking back, it was as if God was listening in and turned to some of his angels and said, “Let’s make that happen. Our story with Trevor needs told. If Stockman really wants to know that story, let’s get him to help write it.”
So, for the last two years I have read, listened, edited and done some of the writing of Trevor’s story. What a privilege it has been. What a blessing. On sabbatical in 2018 I travelled around Uganda with Trevor visiting some of the important sites in this book. I then got to spend some weeks in Kampala and Arua, editing and writing.
I learned about Uganda, the geography, people and customs. I learned about Fields of Life, its development and impact not only in East African but in churches, like mine, whose mission was transformed by missional partnerships.
Most of all I learned what it is to follow Jesus one step at a time. I came to respect Trevor’s openness to the leading of God and his courage to take the next step. Just the next step. Trevor had no grand plan or vision in 1993. Schools were not even on his radar. This memoir is a remarkable story of God’s leading and a disciple listening and being courageous enough to follow.
Spending so much time in Trevor’s life was like bring on a discipleship retreat, every page inspiring me to believe what God could to do with a seemingly most ordinary person if he or she or I would take just the next step.
I am definitely glad I asked to hear the story!
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