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Invading the Impossible

Uganda, East Africa - April 1995

Covered by only a stained sheet, Lieutenant Raymond Okwanga lay on a bare mattress.

His head was propped up on one thin pillow, and his eyes were closed.

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness of his apartment, I took in Raymond’s bleak

surroundings. Though a member of Uganda’s elite Presidential Guard, he lived in a

shabby flat set aside for junior military officers. The furniture was simple and

unupholstered. Unspeakably dirty and torn draperies hung in front of filthy windows. The

cracked concrete walls were stained with mold, smoke, and dirt, and the paint was flaking

off in places.

The modest surroundings of Raymond’s small apartment were in stark contrast to his

person. Even though he was weak and lying flat on his back, he seemed to maintain his

military bearing and quiet dignity. The enemy he faced now was far more brutal than any

he’d encountered in his army career.

Raymond was dying of what the Ugandans ruefully call “slim” . We know it as

AIDS. When I visited Lieutenant Okwanga, nearly two million of Uganda’s nineteen

million people were living with HIV; hundreds of thousands had died, and entire villages

had become virtual ghost towns. Seeing Raymond lying there, I was sure he was within

twenty-four hours of becoming another statistic.

Raymond attended the church our in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. Richard, my

Ugandan assistant pastor, and I had been summoned to Raymond’s home by Vincent and

Mary, church council members. They rose to greet us as we entered the darkened room

where Raymond lay.

Vincent whispered, “The doctor says he dies soon. He hasn’t taken food for many

days; now he cannot keep water down. His family is bringing in a coffin from the


I glanced toward Raymond’s sleeping form. I hoped he hadn’t heard Vincent.

“Raymond,” Vincent said softly, “Pastor Don is here.” He and Mary tried to rouse the

dying man. Raymond opened his mouth, trying to say something, but no sound came out.

He opened his eyes; they were feverish, red and yellow, and sunken into gaunt cheeks.

His breathing was raspy, shallow, and irregular. He tried to smile. I reached down and

touched his cheek. His skin felt like very hot, dry, thin rice paper. His skeletal hand

gripped my wrist.

From just behind me Mary broke the silence. “Pastor, can you pray for Raymond

now? Maybe it’s not too late!”

I glanced at Richard; he turned his palms upward in a sign of helplessness. His eyes said, It’s up to you.

They were looking for a miracle, and I was confronting the impossible.I’d first met Raymond several

months before during a Sunday morning church service,not long after my wife and I arrived in

Uganda. That morning I felt I should offer to pray for anyone who needed healing. Many of

the slum dwellers that came to our church couldn’t afford medical care. God was their only hope.

A long line of people came forward and faced the platform. As Pastor Richard and I

prayed for each one I asked them what their need was.

Eventually a well-dressed man reached the front of the line. His neatly tailored gray

suit and crisply pressed white shirt indicated that he was a man of some substance.

“What can we do for you, sir?” I asked.

He looked at me through red-rimmed eyes. He cleared his throat several times. “Ah, I

have a very, very bad cough. Please pray for me.”

Suddenly the man had a severe coughing fit. And before he could retrieve his

handkerchief and cover his mouth, he sprayed droplets of saliva all over Richard and me.

When his coughing subsided, I spoke a brief but sincere prayer for healing of the cough.

When I glanced up, I noticed that Richard was almost grimacing as he continued to pray

silently and intensely..

After the crowd was gone, Richard asked , “Pastor, do you remember that man in the


“Of course,” I replied.

“That was Raymond Okwanga. He has AIDS and is in the last stages of the disease.”

I felt the cold hand of fear grab my heart.

Today, antiretroviral drugs enable people to live with AIDS for many years. In 1995,

an AIDS diagnosis, especially in Africa, meant death in a few months or a couple of

years. We knew that body fluids contained the virus, though it was unknown whether

AIDS could be transmitted by saliva.

“Richard, I wish I had known that. How am I supposed to pray for a guy with AIDS

when I think he has a cold?” It suddenly hit me that I was more concerned for myself

than I was for Raymond. I felt ill as I left church that day.

* * *

A few weeks after praying for Raymond at the front of the church, Vincent and Mary had

summoned Richard and me to his home. They’d gone there regularly to pray with

Raymond and comfort his family; now they asked to join them before it was too late.

As Richard and I bounced down the dirt road in my Land Rover toward Richard’s

home, I felt terribly inadequate.

God, what do I say to this man? He wants me to pray for him; his friends want me to

pray for him. How do I pray?

I tried to still my racing mind. I’d learned years before that when I wasn’t sure how to

pray for someone, I needed to ask God, Lord, give me grace that’s sufficient for this

situation. I couldn’t help Raymond, but I knew that God’s grace—his love and power in

action—could overcome anything. After asking the Lord for his grace that day, I simply

listened. Suddenly, I knew that God was directing me to tell Raymond about certain

verses of Scriptures. I didn’t understand why, but I knew it was important. I breathed a

deep sigh of relief. At least I wasn’t going into this situation without direction.

Then I was there, on one knee in Raymond’s apartment after Mary’s urgent plea. It

was time to pray.

“Raymond, I want you to know God loves you,” I began . “He has given me

something to share with you. These are his words, not mine. I believe they will have

special meaning to you.” Then I opened my Bible to the psalms and began reading:

For as the heavens are high above the earth

So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;

As far as the east is from the west,

So far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:11-12)


After reading the psalmist’s familiar words, I turned to the book of Isaiah:

I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake;

And I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)


By now, Raymond’s eyes had closed. I wasn’t sure he even heard me. Yet I had one

more passage to read to him:

Indeed it was for my own peace that I had great bitterness;

but You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption,

for You have cast all my sins behind Your back. (Isaiah 38:17)

I looked at Raymond when I’d finished reading the final verse. “Raymond, did you

hear what I read to you?”

He nodded slowly and smiled weakly.

“Raymond, I don’t want to presume what God is doing. But it seems to me that there

is a clear message here. Whatever you have done in the past was forgiven when you put

your faith in Jesus. God has forgotten all about it.”

Raymond and dozed off.

“Well, Pastor,” Mary said insistently, “aren’t you going to pray for him?”

I had already done what I felt God wanted me to do, so as we prayed, I simply asked

God to help Raymond. Mary gave Vincent a disgusted look and shook her head. I had notraised the dead.

* * *

The next Sunday morning, I stood in front of our church, which met in a big green tent,

welcoming people as they arrived.

Ugly marabou storks picked at piles of garbage on the street corner. It was not quite

ten in the morning, but I was already perspiring heavily. As I squinted in the blazing,

equatorial sun, I watched a large group of people approaching.

At the head of the crowd was a tall, thin man in a suit. I must be seeing things, I

thought. The man looked like Raymond Okwanga. But it couldn’t be—Raymond was

supposed to be dead. Yet it was him. Raymond came up to me and wrapped his arms

around me. His cheek pressed against mine.

Raymond slowly pushed me to arms’ length distance. His white teeth glistened in his

wide smile. His eyes were clear and white. He looked radiant.

“Pastor, later I have to tell you my story. .”

Sounds of people singing the opening chorus drew us inside. Throughout the service

my eyes were drawn again and again to Raymond’s beaming smile.

After the service, Raymond and I sat together on a bench.

“When I got very sick from the ‘slim,’” Raymond began, “I thought it was my

punishment for what I did in the war. You see, I fought in the bush against the Obote

government. The Obote army terrorized and punished the villagers who supported us and

we terrorized the ones we thought supported the government troops.”

Raymond looked down. “I was a commander. I did terrible things. I beat the brains out

of children with a shock absorber right in front of their parents. I led gang rapes and

murders of many people. . My crimes were so horrible that I felt that even though God

had forgiven me in a general way, I still had to pay. My first wife infected me with AIDS.

I felt the slim was a just punishment and I had no hope of being healed. Now my second

wife and most of my children are also infected with AIDS.

“After you came and read those Scriptures to me, I realized that God had not only

forgiven my sins, but He had forgotten them. After you left, I prayed. I asked God to

heal me and give me another chance at life. I wanted to be able to tell people what a

wonderful God He is and to raise my family.

“Then I drifted off to sleep. Sometime in the night I had a dream, or a vision. I’m not

sure which. I was standing in a great room with blood up to my knees. I was horrified.

Then I heard a voice calling me. Some distance away I saw my first wife. She had

contracted AIDS from someone while I was away fighting. Like I said, she infected me

before she died. Now there she was. She had an evil smile on her face. ‘Raymond,’ she

said, ‘today you will be with me!.’

“I heard myself say ‘Lord Jesus, save me.’ There was something like a bolt of

lightning that came and struck my former wife. She disintegrated into many tiny pieces.

There was another great flash of light. I looked down, and the blood I had been standing

in was now crystal-clear water.”

Raymond looked back up at me. I didn’t know what to say. It was incredible, but there

he was. He continued. “When I woke up in the morning I felt so good, so happy . . . so

full of life. I thought I must have died and gone to heaven. But when I looked around my

flat, I realized this was not heaven.”

I could certainly understand that.

Raymond began to chuckle. “I got up out of bed. I had not been outside in weeks, so I

wanted to see the sun. I went out wrapped in my sheet. My neighbors all started

screaming and running away; they thought they were seeing a ghost.”

“So, Raymond, how are you?”

“Pastor, look at me. I am as strong as ever. I’ve been eating and putting on weight. I

feel wonderful! I truly believe God has healed me of HIV!” Looking at him it seemed he

might be right.

“The army is going to give me my job back in the presidential guard if my blood test

comes out negative. I’m very happy!”

Raymond’s smile faded a bit as he met my gaze. “Pastor, I hope I haven’t gone too far

in my faith. “Now I have also asked God to heal my wife and children. When I go for my

blood tests I am going to take them with me. Do you think that’s okay?”

What could I say? “Raymond, that seems perfectly fine to me. I’ll be praying for you

and your family. Please let me know what you find out.”

The next Sunday Raymond stood before the whole church and testified of his

complete healing. There were no HIV antibodies in his blood at all. The blood tests of his

infected wife and children also came back negative. It seems they were all healed at the

same time.

Skeptics kept waiting for Raymond’s AIDS symptoms to reappear. Frankly, I

wondered about his prognosis myself. But when my wife and I left Uganda three years

later, Raymond was still healthy and telling everyone what God had done for him.

* * *

My wife, Leia, and I are ordinary people. Yet over the past thirty-five years, we’ve seen

God show up in extraordinary and miraculous ways. Raymond’s story is among the most

dramatic, but it’s really not all that unusual.

Early on, we agreed to do whatever God asked of us; to go wherever he led. Almost

immediately we slammed into a disconcerting truth: on our own, our resources were

utterly insufficient. Yet when we had nowhere else to turn, God always showed up,

pouring his power and grace into one desperate situation after another. I can think of no

more adventurous and faith-building approach to life than to walk in step with him!

When I first sat down to retrace our journey, which spanned four continents, I began

making a list of each time God answered our cry for help in an unmistakable way.

By thetime I finished, I’d recorded more than fifty hope-giving, faith-stirring illustrations that

showcase God’s provision, protection, and direction.

As you read about our experiences, I hope you will be in awe of God’s miracles but

also keenly aware of the weakness and humanity of Leia and me. I pray you’ll also find

answers to your questions about the way God works today. Perhaps you’ve wondered:

Can I really expect to see God work miracles?

Can I trust God to care for me and my family if he calls us into uncharted areas?

What should I do when I’m asked to pray in a situation that seems hopeless?

How can I even know what God is asking me to do?

I don’t claim to have special insight into God’s plans for your life. But I do know this:

God is good. He performs small miracles and great miracles according to our needs,

according to our faith, and always, according to His good purposes.

But what if you are unconvinced, not only that miracles happen, but also that God

even exists or cares for you? My story is for you, too, because God’s supernatural work

in my own life began before I even knew him. When He first showed up, I, like

Raymond, was a soldier fighting for my country...