I would have never imagined God speaking to me through a dream. Nor would I have ever trusted anyone telling me God spoke to them through a dream. So out of fairness, feel free to disregard the entire story below. I have no credible evidence, nor even a desire to prove that what I’m about to tell you actually happened.
A few weeks into our marriage, I was asleep next to Suzan on our tiny mattress. Normally, my vivid dreams in Uganda were induced by preventative malaria tablets, but I had not been taking them very consistently this time.
In my dreamworld, I was wandering across the northern districts of Uganda. I was visiting friends, advising projects, digging fields, eating food, and doing other simple things that held little significance. My dreaming was mild and lighthearted.
In the blink of an eye, however, my dream-self was displaced from its pleasant meandering and relocated on the road to my mother’s home outside Hanover, Pennsylvania. The road was familiar, but the scene was not homey. The forest lurked like a violent aggressor. The houses were strong, vacant buildings that demanded I keep my distance. The darkness crept in from all sides, rousing a full-body sensation of petrifying fear. I was afraid to move, standing helpless in the street.
A faceless, black, human figure cloaked in a robe appeared on the road before me. A male voice shouted, “Now as you have always done, let your light shine upon your servant, so that I may bring the light into the darkness.” A powerful beam of brightness struck down upon the figure like an arrow penetrating this universe from a distant heaven, and the human figure walked confidently ahead down the road, deeper into the seemingly eternal night, carrying the light along. The lurking forest withered away as the figure passed by without a thought. My dream-self was compelled to follow the figure, to imitate the figure, to bring light into the darkness (whatever that meant).
I found myself calling out. “Godfrey!” I yelled. It was not only my dream-self which called out. I actually woke up Suzan with my middle-of-the-night hollering. I woke myself up too.
I sat up immediately, struck by the super-realness of the experience. The dream felt more real than the world I was then experiencing with my five senses. I breathed. I mumbled a few words. I felt around the bed-sheets. Being awake felt so vain and so fake.
“There is only one Godfrey I know,” I told myself. “Pastor Godfrey. I will call him in the morning.”
I hadn’t seen Godfrey for weeks. He spoke at our wedding and had housed and fed me for a few days before the wedding when I went broke from wedding expenses while Suzan was in her village preparing for the traditional marriage ceremony.
When I called Godfrey, he told me to write down everything I could remember in the dream and to begin fasting (which I was basically doing anyway, given our economic situation). When I read my dream to him the next day, he advised me with a tone of conviction:
“Phil, the dark and evil place in your dream was your own home. You were doing some things in Uganda. They weren’t bad things. But ultimately, God wanted you to deal with the darkest darkness. You must think of everything your home represents to you: individualism, greed, violence, and injustice. You must speak and live prophetically in your own land. They call this place the dark continent, but the blackest darkness cannot be seen by the blind.”
Reluctantly, I returned to the US. (I say this because I returned unwillingly and without my wife.) But I have never been able to live comfortably and complacently here. I do not say this as a way of boasting, but rather as a curse, for my words and actions are not always my own. There are days I wish I could forget everything I have seen and experienced in this life. I could become a banker like my grandpa thought I would be when I was young. I could own a five-star hotel or an amusement park like I wanted to in sixth grade. I could own a car. I could buy anything I wanted at any store using any credit card from any bank without any second thoughts. But I have been cursed to this existence, and to break from that appointed curse (because I do try, consistently, to break from it) is to enter an evermore meaningless and fleeting pseudo-reality.
I feel the weight of people looking at me and wondering. I see their silent questions painted on their faces: “Why is that guy living in a tent with his wife beside all those poor people?” “Who does he think he is to say that to that person?” “Why doesn’t he pay taxes?” (As if the IRS hunting me down to pay the $4.28 I owe them is “worth it.”) I have tried to do everything in my human capacity to undermine the structures of individualism, greed, violence, and injustice in my country, which I love so dearly. Some days, I don’t feel like living according to one’s convictions is worth the judgmental worries of rationalists, and other days I want to do everything in my capabilities to upset the status quo all the more. But after months of intense reflection, financial woes, back pains, and counter-intuitive realizations, I have decided I can do one more thing which puts me more on the path of following the figure in my dream: resigning from full-time paid work in order to dedicate myself to raising funds for a movement working for systemic change, uprooting the patterns of individualism, greed, violence, and injustice. Solidarity Uganda, I honestly believe, is one of many vessels that has the capacity to effectively replace individualism with unity, greed with redistributed abundance, violence with peace, and injustice with justice.
I never in a million years could imagine myself electing to intentionally remove the financial safety net beneath me, especially with a firstborn child soon coming into this world (it is irresponsible, rationally speaking). But the spirit of Ubuntu (that is, “togetherness;” and the capacity of the oppressed to fully obtain their liberation without the condescending assistance of the oppressor) has overwhelmed me. People are caring for our needs, at the risk of their own, because they believe in the New Kingdom and embrace the same vision. People are giving their money, time, knowledge, and abilities at their own expense. American friends way below the poverty level in the US are helping us fund-raise, not for their own basic needs, but for the sake of their unknown fellow humans whose land is being stolen across the world. How could I ever deprive my fellow brothers and sisters of this beautiful realization of the fullness of the divine image within themselves?