If you ever visit Masaka, Uganda, and serendipitously meet a boy named Keith Augustus Burton, what is the first thing that would come to your mind? There actually is an infant in the region who bears that name, but if I could borrow some words from the late Michael Jackson, I need you to know that “the kid is not my son!” Then is this just a coincidence? Absolutely not! Well, if it’s not a fluke occurrence, how can it be explained? What are the chances that somebody from Uganda who did not descend from a “Burton” would have a son with a combination so unique that if you googled it, you will get a number of hits to my name?
Fourth Trimester: An African Miracle
It happened like this. In 2009 I was invited by a Pentecostal organization to speak for a pastors’ convention in Uganda. While I have often preached for different denominations in the United States and England, this was my first experience on the African continent. The fact that God had orchestrated the event was immediately evident when after being picked up by the organizer in Entebbe, I realized that when he extended the invitation he was ignorant of my denominational affiliation. After explaining why I needed to attend the Central SDA Church in Kampala on Sabbath, I put him at ease by sharing some of my interdenominational experiences. These went back to my childhood days when my colporteur father would take me to Pentecostal conventions where the cordial bishops would invite him to share a word and sell his books.
Actually, it was by sharing a book with this Pentecostal leader in the South Bend, Indiana airport that I ended up participating in a conference where I engaged in the continuing education of more than 100 pastors. The conference took place in Masaka, a proximate equatorial town in central Uganda. The pastors were joined by scores of laypeople who boarded in a nearby school and filled the host church to capacity each day. Among other speakers, I was expected to deliver three sermons daily, after which people would line up to share their problems so I could pray for them.
I must admit that I prayed for so many people, that I still can’t recall the face of the woman who requested me to petition God to deliver her from the load she had carried in her womb for more than eleven months. I don’t even remember the translator telling me this. What I do remember is the report I received from pastor Godfrey Mulonde of the miracles that were reported after the conference. These were not Benny Hinn type miracles where lame people were commanded to stand in front of the expectant masses—they were quiet miracles that received private confirmation in secluded villages far removed from the conference site.
Indeed, the young Keith Augustus Burton is one such confirmation of God’s power. Distanced from medical facilities by geography and finance, his mother “knew” that the bundle in her womb would be another stillborn statistic in a nation with a male infant mortality rate of 72. Nonetheless, she found favor with the statistic defying God and upon returning to her village the “impossible” occurred when she naturally delivered a living son and in recognition of God’s intervention gave him a name so strange that he is destined to always be a living testimony!
Second Trimester: A British Miracle
I hear some skeptics taunting, “How can Burton be so naïve? It’s just a coincidence! This is not the first time that a child was delivered after the normal period of pregnancy!” For those who doubt, I would probably agree with you if this were the only extraordinary experience in my life. However, there are others.
Two years before the Ugandan Keith Augustus Burton was born, I was involved in evangelistic meetings in London, England. My host was the affable “pastor’s pastor” Dr. Brighton Kavaloh. On the final Sabbath of the meeting he approached me and asked if I could pray for a visitor who also had a pregnancy problem. Doctors had determined that her son had a congenital disease and had advised her to abort since he would never live a normal life. Notice I said “doctors.” She had got several opinions and it seemed as if every prognosis had come from the same copy machine.
Undeterred by the medical experts, this woman knew that God intended for her to birth a healthy child and came to the house of God with the same faith as the centurion in John’s gospel. After prayer and anointing, the woman left the platform holding on to her miracle. Several months later, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Both mother and son are now a part of the church that witnessed the anointing and will always serve as a testimony to God’s ability to confound collaborated scientific certainty.
Third Trimester: An American Miracle
Before I end, let me share one more experience from my miracle file. I had finished a weeklong revival in a city on the East Coast and was preparing to return to my sweet home in Alabama. I thought the knock on my room door was the person who had been assigned to take me to the airport. I was not expecting to see a young lady whose face was marked with pain. She asked if I could come downstairs and counsel with her about a desperate issue.
When I descended the stairs, I saw that she had come with her husband—or judging by the fact that she had initiated the discussion, her husband had probably come with her. I immediately thought that I had been called to resolve a domestic dispute, but as I watched the husband gently cradle his beloved in his arms, I realized it had to be something else. She spoke. I learned that they had been married for several years, and were still dealing with the internal pain that continually intensified whenever they were asked when they planned to start a family.
This loving couple had tried everything in their power and it seemed as if they were destined for a childless life together. But then the wife looked me directly in the eyes and challenged me with these words: “God told me that if you prayed for me, I will get pregnant.” Her words caught me off guard, but I dared not stand in the way of the miracle that God had promised her. So in the spirit of the demoniac’s father, I internally asked God to help my unbelief as I placed my moldy mustard seed in the Miracle Worker’s hand.
Those who are accustomed to the old time mission stories already know how this experience ends. Nonetheless, I will briefly share the details. About a year later, I was invited to conduct a weekend revival at the same church. I confess that I was totally surprised when we stepped into the church building and noticed that somebody was hiding behind a curtain. As the person revealed herself, I observed that she was not alone—she was heavy with child. We embraced, laughed, cried and thanked God for his miracles.
If these were my only experiences, I would probably chalk it up to strange coincidences. However, I have seen too much to doubt that God is still in the miracle working business! I have seen canes discarded, cancer cured, demons exorcised, and yes—life extended (my father’s new nickname is “Lazarus”!). Yes, I have also seen requests for healing go unanswered. I have experienced pain and disappointment after believing God for a miracle and seeing a turn for the worse. Nonetheless, he has given me enough glimpses of his power, that I have no doubt that he can do anything!
I firmly believe that the omnipotent God has a womb full of miracles that he is anxious to deliver to whomever reaches out to him in faith. Perhaps if we sought to experience God’s power, we will be less inclined to question his ability to do those mighty things that rationalists deem scientifically impossible. As you meditate on these words, always remember that, “a tree is known by its fruit.”
Keith Augustus Burton directs the Center for Adventist-Muslim Relations at Oakwood University.