Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Time to be Sick and a Time for Healing

As of last Saturday evening, we are now back in Kigali, Rwanda. Most of you have been following the details about my health, so I won't bore you by repeating all that.

Suffice it to say that I went to several clinics and saw 5 doctors here in Kigali, had quite a bit of testing at each one, with no clear diagnosis. Honestly, we began to wonder if we would be able to find the needed answers here and we made a pretty quick decision to get to what we thought would be better, more sophisticated health care, after realizing that I had dropped more than 20 lbs in about three weeks time. It turned out that the two hospitals we went to in South Africa were not able to find anything either. What they did do in their testing was to rule out some bad stuff like hepatitis, tuberculosis, cancer, bacterial infections and parasites.

I think it was one of the examples of God's unexpected will and timing that Duane Jenks and Don Box were able to change their flight schedule to stopover with us in Pretoria on their way to Durban to visit and comfort Brother Johnson Ngoyo who lost his wife and his oldest son on the same day. D and D were able to meet with some of the leaders of the Seeiso Street church and Duane did a class one evening on spiritual warfare. This really struck a chord and they want him back for a full seminar.

One of the great joys I experienced during my illness was the beauty of Christian fellowship. Numerous people came by to visit, to pray and to sing. One woman was baptized in the bathroom next to our bedroom. Afterward she came in to introduce herself to us and bid me good health.

On July 15, our 45th wedding anniversary, I felt a little better and we think that was the turning point. Each day thereafter, I felt a little stronger and was able to walk farther, gradually my appetite started returning. On Tuesday, July 19, I was finally able to see a specialist who declared me clear of anything they could identify, and closed my file. In the end, the specialist concluded that the culprit was some unidentifiable virus that had run its course.

On the following days we took time to see more of the kingdom works in the area. Brother Machona took us to see ministries in the Pretoria area, the Downtown church which also houses the Gospel Chariot Mission, which we had become acquainted with years ago. They now have two big specially designed trucks with trailers that they do teaching and preaching campaigns and distribute Christian literature in 11 southern African countries. This church also hosts students preparing for online courses with Nations University. On another day Machona and Tebego took us to one of the youth detention centers where some of the leaders of the Seeiso street do New Life Behavior and other training courses. One of the sisters who helps organize their short-term medical missions obvious has considerable means. The last afternoon we were there, she took us around to her congregation and showed the properties she is personally investing in for kingdom projects, one for the church, one for a women's center another for a Christian kindergarten and elementary school.

Tebogo is the main organizer for many of their mission activities and he is getting a lot of demand to speak at different churches who are interested in becoming involved in missions. I really feel like the Lord used our time in Pretoria to add to what Phil Jackson and I were able to do in March; to continue building relationships between MRN and the churches in the area for the future of missions.

Before I got sick I had been planning to go to SA to do a full DMM workshop in August. While there I offered to do a workshop with them and they are eager for more training, but August happens to be a very busy month for them and they were not sure how they could work it in. They were glad I suggested that Cephas Kwaambiliwa could go with me to co-facilitate the workshop. Cephas is a Congolese brother who lives in Kigali and has growing DMM movements in Rwanda and in Congo.

Overall, aside from illness, I don't think I could a have planned a better way to get to know these brethren on a broader and deeper level. Since I was given no treatment other than rehydration medicines and vitamins, I can only praise God for His healing of my body. I am eating better and gaining some weight, though hopefully not too much. I do have a ways to go to get my strength back and still need to rest some during the day. Thanks so much for your prayers throughout the past month.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sowing Seeds in South Sudan

For more than a year some of my Rwandan colleagues have been urging me to organize a mission trip to South Sudan. In June, we made the trip by bus from Rwanda to Juba, South Sudan, with a one-day stopover in Uganda where we were hosted by the Kampala Church of Christ. Besides the three of us from Rwanda, we were joined by a brother from DR Congo, one from Kenya, and a brother and sister from South Africa.

One of our purposes on this trip was scouting, to evaluate our impressions of what the needs are, how receptive the people are to the gospel, how open and cooperative the government would be to outsiders coming to serve there, etc. Our evaluation was at a high level in all these areas. We went to sow some seeds in various ways, but maybe the most significant were the seeds sown in our own hearts: a greater passion to serve the people and share the good news.

We were graciously hosted by a Ghanaian missionary couple, Isaac and Janet Adotey, as well as Peter Ladu, a Sudanese brother, who provided opportunities for us to bless the two young churches they are working with. We did small construction projects to improve their church facilities as well as a local community health clinic. Several home Bible studies led to at least 5 people accepting Christ as their savior and being baptized. Our overall impression of the openness of the country to outsider assistance might be summed up in the expression at least two officials said to us, ‘We want friends!”

Friday, June 03, 2011

Hymn and Literary Tour of England and Scotland

On our way back to Africa in May, we were so happy to be able to join Dr. Jerry Rushford and his group of 35 or so, in a Literary and Hymn Tour of England, Wales and Scotland. This was an inspiring 12 days of singing (225 hymns!) and experiencing the very places where the literary greats of times past and our hymn writers lived and left their mark upon our culture. We felt renewed and gained a deeper appreciation of our heritage, while enjoying fellowship with new and old friends. What a blessing! So grateful to friends and family (Sam’s sister and brother in law) who made it possible for us to enjoy this very special once in a life-time holiday. Can you imagine singing ‘Amazing Grace’ in the church where the composer, John Newton, former slaver turned Christian, wrote it and served as curate of Olney church?

Sam: I was greatly blessed to have been a part of this tour. At times was overwhelmed by the art and architecture, the sheer immensity of scale of the old churches of England and Scotland, not to speak of the equally towering faith exemplified in the lives of the adherents of the Christian religion in this history. But this tour left its mark on me in another, more troubling way.

I can't help but consider the massive amounts human creativity, physical labor and time (250 years to build York Minster) that were invested in the construction and maintenance of these huge churches, not to mention the monetary costs invested in places where so many thousands have come to meet God, when the Apostle Paul said that God does not dwell in temples made with hands of men. Many of these great churches have become monuments to a waning faith in England and Scotland. Worse yet, many are being turned into tourist spots, restaurants and other businesses.

But what bothers me more than anything about all this is what was NOT DONE because the church historically from about the 5th century A. D. onward became inward-focused and building-focused, at the expense of being outward-focused; going to the church instead of obeying Christ's command to go to the world. Except for a few, a very few who 'swam against the tide' and made a small impact here or there, more than 1000 years was wasted in withdrawing from the world rather than taking the gospel to the lost. Where would we be If we had focused on Christ's commands? Would we have completed the task of making disciples of all nations? Would Christ have returned to take us home? It's hard to say. But we can say, it is time to mobilize the church on a grand scale to make up for lost time and to get the job done!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Relationship-building with Seeiso Street Church

On March 23, I flew out on my way to Johannesburg, South Africa to make some connections with the Seeiso Street church near Pretoria. From Kigali, Rwanda, on Ethiopia Airlines, that means flying Northeast to travel South. I flew to Addis Ababa and spent the evening with Alemayehu, a former student of mine at the Nairobi Great Commission School in Nairobi, Kenya, and Moges, a roving evangelist among the approximately 1000 churches of Christ throughout Ethiopia. These two brothers met my flight and took me out to dinner at a touristy type restaurant. I enjoyed the food and fellowship, but the music and floor show was rather loud and we couldn't really carry on a conversation.

After dinner they took me back to the Church of Christ mission station in the Makanisa suburb of the city. They helped me settle into a room in the guesthouse and stayed for a few minutes. It seemed like the old days except that we didn't have time to really discuss how the church was doing, growing and maturing. I was listening for a need that I might be able to meet or find someone else who could, but I didn't hear of one. Alemayehu said the mission driver would come early and take me back to the airport. It was a quick stop and I was sorry that I would not get to meet the families of the brothers this time. Hope to see these brothers at the Africans Claiming Africa for Christ conference in August, next year.

I arrived in Johannesburg in the early afternoon and who was there to meet me but my friend, Machona Monyamane, the pulpit minister of the Seeiso Street church in Atteridgeville, just west of Pretoria. Machona showed me some of the city and then took me to a mall where we took some refreshment, then later dropped me at the home of one of the widows of the church. That evening several of the brothers came by and we had a nice visit over a delicious meal. I heard from these brothers what an impact the Pepperdine Bible lectures had made on the outlook and ministry of both Tebogo and Machona. It was obvious they had a much bigger agenda for the trip to the U. S. last year than just presenting a class at the Pepperdine lectures. They went to every class they could, networked with as many people as they could and attended the all the evening events they could. Machona told me that he even interviewed the shuttle bus drivers as they drove him up the Malibu hills. The result was that they claimed there time at Pepperdine gave them a global view of the church. They said their Bible study, their preaching, their approach to evangelism and their view of the church as a whole had been all impacted by their experience that week in May. They were excited about the possibility of working with Missions Resource Network to build partnerships that could improve and expand their mission outreach. I went to bed that evening excited by what the next few days might bring.

Machona picked me up early and we drove back to the airport to pick up Phil Jackson, MRN's facilitator for European church planting, who was coming in to work with me in a short introductory workshop on disciple making. Phil had never been to Africa and I had lived here most of my life. What Phil experienced that week was not your typical African experience. We found that this church had a membership of 700 plus and 50+ year history. It was a church that had a significant influence in the area and had planted several other congregations. They were involved in international missions in Asia and Africa, making numerous short-term mission trips to various locations every year. For it's size, this in itself went way beyond anything that I knew of in any congregation in Africa or the world for that matter.

The Saturday morning of our visit coincided with a monthly prayer breakfast when the leaders of area congregations came together for fellowship and prayer. The breakfast this month was hosted by Seeiso Street where 40-50 people met. Tebogo Ramatsui, the missions minister of the church and grandson of the man who planted the church in 1958, took about 30 minutes to share some of the ministries and missions the church was involved in and some of their vision and plans for local and foreign missions.

Our main goal in meeting with this church on this trip was not so much to impart something to them; we hoped the time would come for that. Rather it was to get to know them, learn from them and begin building a relationship with them that we hoped would blossom into investment in the kingdom of God in Africa. And learn we did. We met the leaders of several sister congregations, were taken to a cultural park to learn about the various indigenous cultures of South Africa. We were even treated to an international football (soccer) match between Eygpt and South Africa, which South Africa won 1-0 for the first time ever against Egypt. Phil and I were hosted in the country home of a gracious couple, Kenny and Jemina Mookeng and their family. Their little detached guesthouse with two bedrooms was a great fit for us. Then on Sunday evening, our last night there, the Mookengs hosted a farewell dinner for Phil and me, inviting many of the leaders and their wives to be with us. It was such a sweet experience.

Privately, Phil and I were blown away by our time with the Seeiso Street church. Phil was already begging to come back with me in the future. Frankly, in all my years in Africa, I had never been hosted like this before. But it was the passion and the vision that seeped out all over us at this church that impacted us the most. It was, in our MRN parlance of the day, a ready-made, God-prepared Global Launch Site for missions in Africa and globally. I couldn't wait until I could return and bring Nancy with me. Little did I know how and when that would happen ...