Modest but Powerful : Dennis Sempwebwa’s Timeless Truths

Dr. Dennis D. Sempebwa’s new book “Timeless Truths” is a relatively small volume that can be read in about 4 hours or less. This does not mean it is a small book. The book has 300 proverbs that are accompanied with respective meanings which cover nine key topics; Adversity, Purpose, Change, Diligence, Authenticity, Cheerleaders, Antagonists, Coaches and Faith.

Dennis draws from a wide spectrum of cultures and experiences. In crafting the book, each chapter starts with a proverb from an African country and these are  Burundi, Lesotho, Uganda, Gambia, Mali, Botswana, South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. Dennis is known to have travelled the world a lot while part of the Ugandan Gospel Music trio – Limit X but he went on to establish a College (International College of Excellence) in Chicago which extended into 22 campuses in multiple countries and also founded Eagle’s Wings International in 2007 which reaches millions of people every week. He has served in over 70 countries thus his experience is huge.

That said, you can tell that a lot of his inspiration for writing the book is drawn from his own culture – Buganda and it seems to be a tribute to the oral tradition of the culture whose use of proverbs built one of the most developed civilisations in East Africa by the time external forces came in. Dennis isn’t one of those detracting oral tradition, he states,

“…despite proverbs being the educational backbone of countless societies, their value to modern thought and life has been diminished. My desire has been to remind the reader of this lost tradition for both ours and our children’s sake. Instead of relegating proverbs to remote villages around late-night fireplaces, modern thinkers would do well to learn from the simplicity and brevity of timeless proverbs.”

The Buganda factor can also be seen in two others places, Dennis’s tribute to his mother’s wisdom and the endorsement from the Nabagereka of Buganda – Queen Sylvia Nagginda.

While I said the book can be read in 4 hours or less, it should not. The proverbs shared are heavy and demand some thought to them. They are not only relevant but for most of the time I read, they felt like a very personal address. Like someone prodding you mindful of the issues you are going through.

In talking adversity, Dennis tries to pass onto the reader the fact that “life is a concert of dichotomous seasons over which we have little control” and that we must learn to come to terms with adversity. He advises on how to handle adversity positively, suggesting a range of choices such as handling regret and moving on “Instead of trying to put the porridge back into the pot, look for the mop”.

When Dennis talks about purpose, the tenor of his writing is that we must understand our identity and this means learning a few lessons like paying attention to what matters to you, turning down the noise of others and staying our own course. “As far as time is concerned, we are all born equal” certainly made me think about avoiding excuses.

“Ba azi osile si be ni yo” No One Has Teeth at Birth

is how Dennis starts the chapter on change. When you think about it, this is such a simple yet brilliant image. He uses different proverbs to encourage the reader to allow change, even work towards it and not focus on the past. “The man who wishes for tranquil waters must sail close to the shore,” “Small hinges turn big doors,”We learn the way, on the way” all speak of a mindset that allows the normalcy and necessity of change.

While in addressing Diligence Dennis shares a number of proverbs, one in particular stands out with its explanation. “ ‘It’s foolish to curse a tree, and then crave its fruit’ meaning Without process, nothing worthwhile can be achieved. Behind every accomplishment is a season of toil.”

On authenticity “ Authenticity is not built on some stage or in the limelight. It is not learned in a conference, workshop or seminar. You don’t become authentic by going to graduate school. It is developed internally”. Dennis shares proverbs like “Make regular visits to the basement of your soul,”When your food stinks don’t pinch your nose,” and “People are what they do, period!” He seems to be saying be true to who you are, do not act.

When he talks about antagonists, cheerleaders and coaches Dennis affirms that life involves people. People do different things and they certainly affect our lives. He is against the idea of isolation but also believes “There is a big difference between being connected and having relationships” further noting that

“Most of your morning company will not be there when the sun sets”.

Dennis believes in the need of coaches – people who are convinced that you can become more than you are. These three chapters were the most affecting. It seems he was talking about things I’d experienced. Friendships gone bad, true friends, betrayals, confidants, fake friends… Everything was there wrapped in a proverb and paving the way for wisdom for the future regarding people and relationships.

The final chapter is key. It is an address about faith and the belief in God. I love some of the things stressed in this chapter, for example: “ ‘Only a consistent Go can be fully trusted’ Meaning: God never asks us to trust one another. He knows our flaws. He prescribes love, which covers a multitude of faults.”

“So what happens when God doesn’t fix you?”

Knowing Dennis’ strong roots in God, it is fitting He finishes with this as when you look at all the advice from the start, it reminds me of the important verse in Luke – “…Without me you can do nothing.”

Looking at the nine topics with some perspective, Dennis on the whole is addressing three things in a person’s life – the person himself, the circumstances and people. For the person he talks on the necessity of authenticity, diligence, purpose and application of faith; these are important in addressing the circumstances – adversity and change; and they are highly influenced by the people in your life who can be antagonists, cheerleaders or coaches.

It’s definitely a book to have in your library.

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