The following post is one of a compilation of stories written for a photo book showing God’s work through International Teams in communities across north-eastern Uganda.
People in the community of Pamba call Francis Osire “pastor,” a perfectly normal denomination for someone who leads a local church. But once you know Francis’s story, the fact that he is called “pastor” becomes something altogether remarkable.
In some ways, Francis’s story is a bit like that of Jonah in the Bible: a runaway that God refused to let go.
Back in 1978, the young, newly married Francis would have laughed at the suggestion of being a pastor. In fact, he doubted whether he would even survive one day to the next. That was the year of the Teso insurgency in north-eastern Uganda, a violent uprising of rebels that pitted themselves against the government. During that conflict, few families in the region were left untouched by the crossfire.
“Life was difficult,” Francis remembers all too vividly. “People were dying and being killed in the streets every day. Thousands of them died during that rebellion.”
But the rebellion became personal for Francis the day his family was attacked by rebels and his father shot. Although his father survived, that bitter night haunted Francis and left him bent on revenge. Only days later he joined the Ugandan military with just one aim in mind.
“My intention was to kill those people who had attacked us,” Francis explains. After a pause and a grin he adds, “But I suppose it was not God’s will that I become a soldier.”
Just one day before the end of his training, Francis became terribly ill, which kept him from being deployed. Ironically, the sickness saved his life, and in more ways than one. “As I recovered, I spent a lot of time thinking about my life,” he says. “I began getting a lot of convictions because I was still very uncertain about my life. There was so much violence and instability around me and I began realizing that my life is not certain.”
Francis wrestled with such thoughts all throughout his lengthy recovery, until one day, he learned of a Baptist church nearby. In the midst of his questions and confusion, he decided to visit the pastor in the hope that he might find answers. As it turns out, that was the day Francis chose to give his life to Christ.
As if that wasn’t enough transformation in the life of a man who had been filled with bitterness and revenge, the Lord also laid the call of full time ministry on Francis’s heart. And, for a time, Francis listened. After completing Bible college, Francis moved his family to the far eastern Karamoja region of Uganda where they were missionaries for ten years. But through lack of funding and complications in ministry, the Lord eventually brought Francis and his family back to the Teso region, ultimately to the community of Pamba, just outside of Soroti.
“When I returned here, I came back frustrated because of how I had been let down in the ministry,” Francis remembers. “I came with much bitterness in my heart. I said to my wife, ‘Lets get back and leave the ministry. Let someone else pastor.’”
Once again, Francis chuckles as he thinks back to the times he tried his best to run. “We decided we should start a business selling produce. But again, that idea was our plan, not God’s.”
Francis and Janet’s entrepreneurial dreams came to a screeching halt almost as soon as they began when a man cheated them out of all their initial investments. “There was a very big battle in my heart at that time,” says Francis. “We had nearly nothing for our family. But that’s when the Lord began speaking to us through our situation.”
Like Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the whale, Francis chose accept this blow as a renewed calling from the Lord. And with that, Francis and Janet restarted their ministry as simply as anyone can: door-to-door evangelism in their own community. But perhaps that simple, unglamorous work was exactly where God wanted them. “People all over Pamba knew there was a tall man and a short wife who walked with a Bible, going door to door,” Francis says with a laugh. “But that’s when we truly saw God start working in our ministry.”
It has now been over eight years since those early days, and Francis and his family remain in Pamba, right where they are supposed to be. Seven years ago, Francis planted Zion Community Baptist Church in Pamba and the fruit he sees continues to confirm the Lord’s calling in his life.
“I have seen people changing and growing so much in Pamba,” says Francis. “So much related to the families and the lifestyles they live. People here are mending broken relationships.”
In many ways, the redemption Francis sees happening in Pamba today is a reflection of God’s redemption in his own life. Though the road has been long and his attempts to run many, Francis knows now why the Lord never let him go. It’s why Francis loves to be called “pastor” in Pamba, and until the Lord calls him elsewhere, that’s exactly where he will be.
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Please pray for pastor Francis, that the Lord would continue to encourage and strengthen him in his calling to the community of Pamba. And pray that the love God has shown to Francis would pour into that town as the Lord raises up disciples that truly and deeply reflect Jesus.