I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, … . For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare (Phil. 1:19-20).
On Monday, May 20 (East African Time) in a suburb just outside of Kampala, Uganda and 14 days past the celebration of the day of his birth, my friend J. David Otema met the Lord Jesus Christ face-to-face. His body had been racked by a cruel disease that had been sapping every bit of energy. He had been sick for some weeks and even a few months but didn’t really know what was wrong. David was taken with too many other things to give much attention to this temporary physical malady. He had to study Hebrew and that is what he had loved to do ever since he begin his Master of Divinity studies. Graduation was coming and he had excelled in his academic efforts.
There’s so much to say about him and his legacy will be revealed for decades to come. However, I wanted to write just a brief tribute to my friend, J. David Otema.
David treasured his wife, Winnie. He loved her and served her. His face lit up when ever he spoke to or saw her. She was the prize of his life. I often sat with them as he read the Scriptures and prayed as he led his wife and anyone who was gathered in his home in family devotions.
I first met David sometime around 2008 or 2009 as we were teamed up for a ministry venture of training rural pastors in Eastern Uganda. He and I shared a room and became fast friends. We prayed together at night and enjoyed reviewing the day’s ministry and making plans for the future while waiting for evening dinner. Little did I know at that time that the Lord was forging more than a friendship. Indeed the Lord brought us together for the sake of training rural pastors in oft-forgotten areas of Uganda. If my memory is correct it was around 2012 that David decided to give his life for these men. Ministry would not offer him any sense of financial ease or certainty. He had many suitors who frequently tried to persuade him to leave the work of ministry and to take a job. Banks, large non-profit organizations (NGO’s), and other businesses put forward proposals which included what would’ve been lucrative salaries. He not only rebuffed them at every turn but steadfastly set his face to training pastors and church leaders in order to strengthen the church in Uganda and beyond.
So many seek their own today but, as it was with Timothy for Paul, I can say “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare”. David set aside his own ambitions for the greater needs of the dear brothers and sisters of Uganda. He was taken with a driving desire for the glory of Jesus Christ. David took that seriously and he gave of himself. He himself was an orphan and you can be sure that any orphan that he met he was going to meet their needs. Again, even if that meant that he had to go without.
His worth is unmeasurable. Indeed, I feel like Paul in Philippians 2:22…
You know Timothy’s proven worth, how has a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.
It was all about the gospel for David. In 2014 he decided that he would find his father who had abandoned him 30+ years earlier and though he had tried to share the gospel with him before, this time he would just go and publicly forgive his dad. When he did, his dad immediately repented and after listening to the Gospel once again, he began to trust the Lord Jesus Christ. The other villagers were amazed and many of them asked David to tell them the story of Christ and many of them also believed. In fact, that day a church was planted. I remember David saying, “I didn’t realize church planting was so easy! All you have to do is preach the Gospel!” Today, there is a church in Kitgum-Matitdi with functioning elders and they are preaching the word!
I recently went through some months of our messages and video chats together. Tears of grief combined with rejoicing flooded my eyes as I listened again to his passion for the people to whom God had called him. I remember how he stood with such joy watching the first graduating group receiving their certificates. He had provided much more out of his meager salary than I gave to ensure that the day was especially memorable. We sat together and he just watched all of the events unfold. At that time I remember the overwhelming satisfaction but I can only imagine the joy he knew when he closed his weary eyes here and opened them in the presence of the King.
Well-done David. Thank you for your unique life, I hope that I can follow your example and serve with such passion and faithfulness.