earthen vessels, East Africa, and the gospel

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Baptisms and Membership Interviews

We baptized eight believers in Lake Victoria near Usagara this past Sunday. Several of those baptized became believers through evangelism involving William, myself, and Bible Institute students. This step follows the near completion of membership interviews and sets us up for chartering a church in Usagara.

Baptism Service in Lake Victoria

Baptism Service in Lake Victoria

William and I talk about how the activity of these weeks resemble labor pains approaching birth. But honestly, the analogy is weak since neither of us would know anything about real labor pains. Even when it comes to the birth of a church, this is the first time for either of us. All we really know is that at the rate things are progressing we all expect to peak soon!

Blessings of Membership Interviews

We believe that church members must be saved from their sin by faith in Jesus Christ and baptized as an obedient testimony of their faith. Membership interviews are a way for us to ask membership candidates about their faith and baptism. They also provided opportunity to answer questions about the proposed church constitution and statement of faith.

Convinced that a biblical view of membership is essential for the health of the church, I consider the interviews important for a good start in Usagara. But I also found the interviews an incredible privilege. Here are some blessings are worth sharing:

  1. Many of the prospective church members started attending services without much of any contact with William or I. The interviews provided a good excuse to visit each home and get to know one another.
  2. What follower of Jesus wouldn’t want an excuse to talk about the gospel? It doesn’t matter what language is used–it never fails to amaze me to hear “Jesus died on the cross for my sins.”
  3. Where people believed but didn’t quite have the words to describe it, the interviews provided opportunities to teach fundamentals of the Faith.
  4. We regularly found ourselves interviewing one person within earshot of others we haven’t yet been introduced to. Gospel conversations in the interviews naturally flowed in to gospel conversations with many others.
charter members

William making the list of charter members

What Comes Next

We hope to charter the new church in Usagara Sunday, October 2. On that day we will be joined by representatives from their mother church in Shadi, who will recommend that those qualified become members of their own church and elect William as their pastor. The fellowship of Tanzanian churches will need to recognize the new church. And, Lord willing, we will begin construction of the parsonage.

September 23, 2016   No Comments

To Build or not to Build

At some point in the church planting process most churches will want to build a building. In almost every case, the cost of building can present a young congregation with one of its first sizable challenges. When people are poor or property and building materials are expensive, the challenge is more acute. Here in Tanzania it seems the difficulty in building church buildings runs cross grain to what everyone expects a church building to be.

big church

A beautiful church building for $170,000

[Read more →]

September 17, 2016   3 Comments

September 2016 Ministry Update

In this video update, we talk about the blessings of having guests from our partnering churches. We also look forward to the events of the coming months. Watch it here or follow the link to see it on Vimeo.

Prayer Update

  1. Thank the Lord for season with safe travel and good visits with our guests.
  2. We met with representatives of the Tanzanian churches on Tuesday (30 Aug) and discussed church and missionary cooperation in church planting. The results of the meeting were positive. Besides the evangelism we missionaries are doing (in Usagara and Malimbe), please pray that the other efforts being led by Tanzanians to spread the gospel and plant churches would be bear lasting fruit for the glory of God (e.g., 2 Thess 3:1).
  3. We have started membership interviews in Usagara where we will be asking prospective church members about their faith and agreement to the church constitution. Please pray that God may help us to foster a mutual understanding of the true gospel (despite language barriers) and build unity grounded in Scripture.
  4. Bible institute students should have finished their work assigned in February’s class on the gospel. Dan and I are preparing a class on spiritual growth to be taught in September. Please pray that homework and teaching would prepare people to honor God in obedience.
  5. Please pray that God may preserve Laura and I with sufficient strength and patience to serve each other and our children. I’m sure we are all aware of our need for God’s grace. Some days the intense sun, noise of young children, and the typical stomach ailments can mount up and cause us to feel that need acutely.

September 1, 2016   No Comments

A Couple Church Planting Firsts

Rather than marking church planting progress in numbers of people, I’ve been inclined to concentrate on the amount of input delivered. Specifically, I am trying to capitalize on interactions over God’s word I am having with people involved in the church plant. While the results are not my final measure of success, they are worth celebrating. Here are a couple church planting firsts.

Preaching in Usagara

Sunday sermon in Usagara

First Offering in Usagara

After 11 months of meeting for weekly corporate worship, we are now just starting to receive offerings in Usagara. July 10 we took a special collection for a lock box and notebook; and on the following Sunday we put them to use in our first regular offering.

This represents the culmination of introductory teaching on giving and multiple discussions on procedure. While the basic concept is simple, we’re seeing that managing collections without banks or a building can be complicated!

First Open Air Evangelistic Message

The church in Nyakaliro is pressing forward with their plans to plant a church in Bukokwa. My part has been mainly in encouraging Pastor Jonas. Their efforts have focused on house to house visitation, but in mid-July they held the first open air meeting. I was invited to deliver the message.

Evangelistic message in Bukokwa

Outdoor evangelistic service in Bukokwa

I preached the gospel from Luke 18:9–14, the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector. My interest in that passage comes from many comments I’ve received during recent gospel conversations. Like the tax collector, many assume that their good works merit God’s favor. By comparing ourselves to ‘those other people,’ anyone can be easily deceived about their condition before God.

I’ve now had the privilege of sharing the gospel many times in Swahili. This was the first time to preach it in Swahili for an open air meeting.

August 24, 2016   No Comments

An Engagement in Usagara

Last Monday I participated in a Tanzanian rite of passage: the negotiating of a bride price. After such a brief time working in Usagara we are already heading toward the first marriage among us. Since it’s in everyone’s best interest to make the engagement official, we agreed that the young man along with representatives of the church should meet with the young lady’s family to make intentions known.

couple in Usagara

A Christian Version of Tradition

Traditionally, marriages were negotiated between families. These days the church is more often filling the role that role especially when the couple are Christian and the family is not. The church’s involvement preserves the good aspects of tradition while enabling believing couples to dispense with non-Christian customs. For example, covenant-like accountability in marriage is good; but overbearing parents trying to force traditional religion on the new family is not good.

Most of our churches favor a procedure like as follows: the young man ready to marry approaches church leadership. The pastor counsels the young man and plans are made to start meeting with the young woman’s family for negotiations. The pastor and other adult men from the church would represent the young man in these meetings. Their objectives would be first to secure the consent of the young woman and her family, agree to a bride price which would be paid to the bride’s family, and then arrange plans for the wedding.

Meaning of Bride Price

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. (Proverbs 31:10)

The bride price is an expression of the groom’s commitment to his bride (Compare Gen 34:12; Ex 22:16–17). Traditionally, it is also seen as a compensation to the bride’s family for giving up one of their household workers (to start a new family usually near or at the groom’s parents’ home).

The closest thing we have to the bride price is the engagement ring. But unlike our customs, the bride price is arranged by families, paid collectively from one family to another, given as cows and/or cash, and could be relatively more costly than the equivalent of that ‘one month’s income’ guideline we hear from Western jewelers. At any rate, the comparison makes for some pretty interesting thought experiments. I couldn’t help but imagine my parents sitting down with Laura’s parents to negotiate how many carats her diamond engagement ring should be. If the discussion went any thing like bride price negotiations here, her parents would certainly point out that she has a college degree, there are other eligible men lining up, and so on. (I’m so glad we did not have to do that!)

how many cows?

Outcome and Take-Aways

For our part we were successful last Monday. We received the bride’s family’s blessing and reached agreement on a bride price. If deadlines for delivering it are met, we should have a wedding by this time next year.

Other miscellaneous observations as an outsider:

  • The negotiating skills at work on that day truly impressed me. The Tanzanian reputation for talking their opponents into submission was proven on that day. Negotiations lasted 6 hours that day, but typically could go on for days.
  • The trip provided the opportunity to visit a part of the country I’ve never been to before.

    Msalala, Geita Region, Tanzania

  • I might consider introducing our family to this custom by the time Kyla comes of age (but most definitely after Ian marries)
  • When asked to be one of the young man’s representatives, I hesitated thinking that I had nothing to offer the negotiating process. But I was told that the family would be interested in pastoral involvement. So, in the end, I was glad to represent the spiritual interests of the couple.

July 20, 2016   1 Comment

Encounters with African Traditional Religion

witchdoctor[image credit: BBC News]

I used to be of the impression that outward and ritualistic practice of African Traditional Religion had become so unpopular in Tanzania that it’s practitioners were now just a small and marginalized minority. I’ve since been forced to readjust my thinking. Belief in the supernatural aspects of traditional religion are alive and well. Perhaps the evidence of this is most visible in places like Lusolelo, where we are further removed from the city. Here are some recent encounters. [Read more →]

June 28, 2016   No Comments

June 2016 Ministry Update

The dry season has most definitely arrived. This is the time of year agricultural work slows down, building projects pick up, and we exchange all the rain clouds for dust clouds. As brown and dry as it is now, it is hard to imagine how everything was so green and wet five months ago.

Evangelism in Bukokwa, Usagara, and Malimbe presses on. In each place we have seen enough positive responses to begin regular discipleship work with young Christians. At the same time, we have been working long enough in these locations to experience disappointment over relationships that don’t carry on (usually because there is some disagreement with the gospel or our teaching).

William Moves to Usagara

William, Mama Eliya (Kristina), Eliya, Festo, and little Abigail moved from Shadi to Usagara this month. They were formally commissioned by their sending church in Shadi and generously helped by them to make the transition.

William packing

William packing with help from friends

They intend and we hope that this will make their work in Usagara both more effective and less burdensome. We also know that, like any move, they will be adjusting to a new place and figuring out how to keep up relationships with friends and family that are now farther away. Though the challenges are not as extreme in William’s case, past experience has demonstrated that moves for the sake of ministry in this context can be very difficult.

Prayer Update

  1. Wives of both Maiwe Livingston (language tutor and employee) and William Samweli (church planter in Usagara) gave birth to beautiful baby girls on April 29 and 30. Thank you for praying! All are healthy and starting to recover from sleep deprivation.
  2. Beginning this Monday (20 June) the church in Shadi is planning outdoor evangelistic meetings in their village. A meeting place will be made near the “center” of the village and the gospel will be preached there daily until Saturday. Please pray that the gospel may be clearly proclaimed, that God may graciously engage hearts and call people to give Him the glory He deserves.
  3. Thank you all for praying for the various church planting efforts. God has truly given us an open door to proclaim the good news (Col 4:3)! Continue praying with us that we may speak wisely to saved and unsaved and that this door may not be shut on our toes (cf. 1 Cor 16:9)!
  4. Work for the next Bible Institute class has already begun. Students who attended the class on the message of the Bible should be wrapping up their assignments by the end of July. These assignments include sharing the gospel with others and executing some expression of unusual kindness for fellow church members in need. Pray that God may use these assignments and the ongoing Bible Institute coursework to build His church.

June 17, 2016   No Comments

Jonas Update

Remember Jonas?

Some of you may remember the testimony of Jonas’s departure from the church in Lusolelo as I shared it in our US church meetings last year. I explained his struggle to make ends meet and the circumstances which led to his stepping down as their pastor. Mentioning his experience was intended to help you see the complexity of the challenges facing the Tanzanian churches: specifically that spiritual growth in the churches is in some way affected by the economic condition of the churches and their pastors.

Jonas’s is one example among a few similar circumstances that led us to begin temporarily supporting the Tanzanian pastors with modest stipends and helping their churches with building projects. Similar thinking is driving our agricultural projects.

Rebound

Jonas’s spiritual and material recovery since those days has been a source of thanksgiving to God and encouragement to us. After leaving Lusolelo, Jonas returned to his sending church in Nyakaliro. Having reconciled with the church in Lusolelo, he took up occasional ministry with the church in Nyakaliro. His service stepped up when Pastor Elias made the move from there to Sweya. [Read more →]

May 26, 2016   No Comments

How Much Does it Cost?

A recent sermon preached in Usagara provides a means to consider both an important matter in following Jesus as well as an example of contextualizing Bible teaching. [Read more →]

May 18, 2016   1 Comment

April 2016 Prayer Update

We are starting to see the multiplication of gospel workers pick up speed. Bible Institute students are growing in confidence as they share the good news and churches are reporting that their neighbors are responding to the gospel. Having already gone to many of their immediate neighbors, visitation has already expanded to places requiring, for example, a 30-minute-walk from the church in Lusolelo and a 20-min-bike ride from the church in Nyakaliro. And, in this month’s pastors’ meeting, anticipating the birth of new churches, we started discussing the revision of the existing constitution to make provision for how churches can be added to the fellowship.

This feeling that we’re strapped to the front of a train that’s gaining speed is probably normal. Though the condition of the track ahead is uncertain, it’s all exciting and a bit unsettling at the same time! Let me give you a quick snapshot of what’s happening. [Read more →]

April 21, 2016   No Comments