Henry Van Dyke

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While admitting that we have no specific date to pin this story on, it is a great story, with an even greater lesson. The account here appears in the book From the Dust, written by Kefa Sempangi, a citizen of Uganda who escaped that torn nation during the Idi Amin era and later graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

Here he tells of the time that Westminster professors Jack Miller and Harvey Conn came to Kampala, Uganda to minister the Gospel.

Garbage Truck Evangelism

Two Americans came to Uganda that first year and had a very positive impact for the gospel. Jack Miller and Harvey Conn were two of my professors at Westminster Seminary. Jack taught evangelism and Harvey taught missions. Jack did not hesitate to launch an evangelistic crusade in Old Kampala, but the meetings were not very successful. Harvey, on the other hand, came up with a more creative way of reaching the people with the gospel. He had taken a walk in the short streets of Old Kampala and was shocked that everywhere he turned, he saw huge, stinking mounds of garbage. As he gazed at these garbage dumps, he thought of a strategic plan for evangelism.

In the evening evangelistic meetings, Harvey asked whether it was possible to get shovels and a garbage truck from the City Council. By ten o’clock the following day, the garbage truck was parked outside the students’ residence. Right away Jack Miller, Harvey Conn, and the students they had brought from the seminary began shoveling garbage in our immediate neighborhood along Namirembe Road.

For nine years people had not seen a white man, for Amin had expelled both the whites and Asians at the same time. It was a spectacular sight to see white men shoveling garbage and making the city clean. This scene attracted a huge crowd to the extent that some climbed on top of the tall buildings to have a clear view of this rare occurrence. The people could hardly believe what they were seeing. An old woman was heard thanking God for enabling her to live long enough to witness this spectacular event.

The work continued until four thirty in the afternoon. After the truck had made several trips to dump its loads, the professors were ready to climb the platform and preach the gospel to a bewildered crowd. The people were ready to listen to these amazing white men who had humbled themselves to labor so hard to clean up their garbage. The preachers had earned themselves a hearing, for they had fully identified with the general public.

We called this method “garbage evangelism.” Later Harvey Conn held a session with the students and explained the lesson that we all had learned that day. Preaching the gospel sometimes involves getting out hands dirty. It could involve touching mud, mixing clay, and anointing the eyes of a blind man with it, just as our Lord Jesus Christ had demonstrated. Harvey warned the students not to use hygienic methods only, but to realize that, sometimes, unhygienic methods can yield more far-reaching results. Our “garbage evangelism” had made a powerful impact on the people, and many lives were transformed because of our willingness to humble ourselves.

Words to Live By:
To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak; I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.—1 Cor. 9:22.

From the Dust, by Kefa Sempangi, (The Lutterworth Press, 2008), pp. 12-13. Higly recommended, and available on the Web at https://books.google.com/books?isbn=071884288X  See also Kefa’s first book, A Distant Grief.

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