earthen vessels, East Africa, and the gospel

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We Had a Fight at Church Today…

Sunday there was a fight at church during the worship service in Usagara. It was loud and disruptive. But it was also staged and resolved using Scripture.

conflict in Usagara

Example of Student Initiative

On my first opportunity to attend a service in Usagara since early January, I was delighted to see one of our Bible Institute students preached the sermon. According to Pastor William, the students felt that the class’ material was worth dedicating to a Sunday morning series, that many in the church had missed the related mid-week evening series, and that they were ready to teach it. Today they were already several weeks into teaching biblical principles for conflict resolution.

They adapted exercises from the class, involving church-goers in acting out the conflict, then applying biblical principles to resolve the dispute. One example included a husband and wife arguing about whether they could afford a new Easter dress. The rowdiest disagreement had to do with dispersing possessions of a deceased family member (regardless of widow’s and children’s needs).

In The Bigger Picture

James teaching

James Evarest explaining the 4 steps to resolving conflict biblically

I consider preaching God’s word a great privilege. An even higher honor to me is teaching Tanzanians to preach and teach God’s word to others (2 Tim 2:2). After a two-month absence, it is an encouragement to see our students eager to preach God’s word and doing so faithfully.

2 Timothy 2:2 is, of course, essentially where we get our vision for the Bible Institute. Recent efforts in the Institute are intended to spread out the load of church ministry. That aim is being realized slowly in Usagara: the students’ efforts this week meant William had the freedom to devote several days to the urgent demands of his harvest.

March 12, 2018   No Comments

The Three Gassitos

It is our delight to share with you that Nia Joy Gass was born at 2:45 pm, Saturday, February 3. She is beautiful, and all are well.

3 Gassitos

Nia (pronounced NEE-ya) has roots in Welsh or Swahili. In Swahili, her name means “purpose” or “intention.” More specifically, our Tanzanian friends will understand that her name is an allusion to God’s purpose.

God’s Intentions

As it turns out, God intended to keep Nia in the hospital for nine days after birth. She contracted a dangerous but somewhat common infection. Her antibiotic treatment concluded on Monday, and all tests suggest that we need not be concerned regarding long-term consequences.

We made the trip to Nairobi for the hospitals and doctors here just in case we find ourselves with such problems. God’s intentions were (in part) to remind us of our need for Him. Please join us thanking God for His kindness and answer to our prayers!

Laura and I would also like to publicly thank our coworkers and friends here in Nairobi for all the support that they’ve provided as we have been living between the hospital, government offices, and our suitcases. We couldn’t imagine handling this without them!

We’ll stay here in the diaspora until Nia’s passport is ready for our move back to Tanzania.

February 14, 2018   1 Comment

January in Nairobi

Early in January, the Gass family lifted anchor and temporarily moved to Nairobi, Kenya. Besides the food and flowers that aren’t available in Tanzania, Nairobi is a choice destination in East Africa for medical care. Kyla was born here in 2014, and Gassito #3 is due to arrive very soon.

Downtown from Nairobi National Park

Time away from some obligations in Mwanza has allowed for more freedom to focus on Bible Institute curriculum and preparation for our trip to the States later this year.

From here, we continue to join you in prayer for the ongoing work in Tanzania. Here are the highlights for January and February ministry:

  1. Churches are forming savings groups, electing group leadership, establishing rules, and starting group Bible study.
  2. The church plant in Bukokwa is teaching through the church and church fellowship constitutions in advance of forming a membership role.
  3. The evangelistic work in Mbugani is continuing with regular Sunday meetings on their new property.
  4. New Bible Institute students are doing home-to-home evangelism under the guidance of 2nd-year students.

Matters For Prayer

Here are some more specific ways to partner with us in prayer:

  1. As people are learning to share their faith and teach the Bible, please pray for courage to say what needs to be said and faithfulness to say what God has entrusted to us in His word. Consider specific situations of evangelism, Bible Institute teaching, and small group Bible study.
  2. I posted a more complete prayer guide for church planting earlier this month. Consider using it to pray for the advance of the gospel and health of the (future) churches in Mbugani, Bukokwa, and Usagara (which is technically a young church, approaching 2-years-old).
  3. The church in Sweya has been without a pastor for four months now. Please pray that God would provide the ability and the wisdom to call their next pastor, that they would not grow faint in doing good works (1 Thess 5:14; Heb 12:12).
  4. We look forward to meeting our new Gassito and introducing her to you. Please pray for health and safety. Besides traffic, this potentially is another complicating factor scheduled for the baby’s due date.

January 30, 2018   No Comments

Prayer Guide for Church Planting

Church Plant Map (2015)

Thank you for praying for the advance of the gospel in Tanzania. As you know, the primary objective of these updates is for informing your prayers. We’ve posted specific ways you can be praying for missionaries. More recently, we’ve updated you on the challenges facing church planting efforts in Mbugani. As you consider that church plant and others in prayer, you may keep in mind some of the following matters:

    1. Please pray that evangelism may reach various people groups (Acts 12:24; Gal 3:26—28; Eph 2:14, 15).
      • While women and children are generally responsive and available to talk about the gospel, it can be challenging to engage men with the gospel.
      • Pray for opportunities to reach less prominant tribes with the gospel.
      • Pray for opportunities to reach Muslims and others steeped in traditional religion.
      • Pray for opportunities to reach people that have been shut out from the community.
      • Pray for opportunities to reach people of different educational and financial conditions.
    2. Pray for good participation in evangelism (Matt 9:37, 38).
      • Pray for perseverance. In some cases, people are traveling hours by foot and bike to make evangelistic visits.
      • Pray for faithfulness to the gospel. None of us are worthy of the message we proclaim. May God’s grace to overcome our faults for the sake of His name.
    3. Pray that the gospel may bear fruit that multiplies (Matt 7:1–23).
      • Pray that people may receive the word of God, rejecting shallow and false substitutes (1 Cor 1:18).
      • Pray that God may open the eyes of their hearts so that they may begin to grasp the significance of the gospel in their lives (Eph 1:17–23).
      • Pray that God may protect against exceptional temptations, especially temptations to revert to non-Christian faith (Matt 6:13).
      • Pray that young believers may stand firm in the faith (Eph 6:10–18).
    4. Pray that people may be drawn to the church because of the gospel more than hope of foreign aid, choir music, or construction of a church building (Rom 1:16).
    5. Pray for those leading and teaching.
      • Pray that God would protect the church from false and otherwise unhealthy teaching (1 Tim 1:3–11).
      • Pray that God would provide for the needs of church planters and their families (3 John 7).
      • Pray that God would provide wisdom in learning how to feed and lead a new group of believers (1 Tim 4:15, 16).
    6. Pray for protection from those who would exploit a young church for their own benefit (Acts 20:28–31).

January 19, 2018   No Comments

December 2017 Prayer Update

Leaders in just about any field reach a level of success when they are able to step away from their work and watch everything move forward without interruption. When we missionaries say we are trying to work ourselves out of a job, we are anticipating the day in which gospel work is wholy entrusted to local churches. Didn’t John relay a similar idea when he wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4)?

It is now my joy to write this in the back of the Bible Institute classroom while Tanzanian pastors are teaching others the gospel and how to share it with their neighbors. Others, meanwhile, are out preparing a property to be used as meeting place for a church plant in Bulyaheke. And yet others are taking steps to teach their fellow church members principles of biblical stewardship.

Training for Savings Groups

The microfinancing project mentioned in previous prayer updates involves starting savings groups out of Tanzanian churches. You can read more about what this looks like and why we are doing it here.

Each church has selected two members (one man and one woman) to facilitate the formation of savings groups. Following training earlier this month, facilitators are now moving towards launching groups by the end of January. As we explained in the post linked above, these groups are designed as means to teach and encourage biblical stewardship of our things.

New Bible Institute Class

A new year of Bible Institute classes begins this week with a new group of students. At 40 students, the class is large and includes new faces from the church plant in Bukokwa and others who have heard the gospel from previous students. Some are able to attend this time since we are meeting in Nyakaliro—much closer to their homes than classes in Shadi.

This class is the first opportunity for most to consider the consequences of keeping the gospel to ourselves. The other remarkable news of the week is that the Tanzanian pastors are teaching the entire class for the first time. I have the privilege of coaching them through.

Matters For Prayer

  1. As people are being trained in evangelism and Bible teaching, please pray for courage to say what needs to be said and faithfulness to say what God has entrusted to us in His word. Consider specific situations of evangelism, Bible Institute teaching, and small group Bible study.
  2. Lord willing, a new church will soon be born in Bukokwa. 19 were baptized last month. The whole group (about 30) is now studying the churches’ statement of faith and constitution before forming their own membership. Please pray that the teaching will result in faith in and unity in the gospel.
  3. A week after New Year’s Day, the Gass family moves to Nairobi for the birth of Gassito #3, who is due at the end of January. Please pray for health and safety. May I also add that we pray specifically that this time we may avoid fleeing to the hospital in the middle of Nairobi rush hour traffic. Thanks!

We’d like to wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Kwa Kiswahili, tunasema heri ya Krismas! Mungu awabiriki wote!

December 19, 2017   No Comments

Explaining Our Microfinancing Project

So far I have only briefly referred to our microfinancing project. Microfinancing, however, is such a broad term and what we are doing is fairly specialized. Let me explain. [Read more →]

December 14, 2017   No Comments

Challenges in Training Teachers

Since Bible Institute enrollment is growing and we continue adding new courses, there is a need to spread out the teaching load. Tanzanian pastors are stepping up to bear that load. Indeed the best reason to involve them is our desire to see Tanzanians discipling Tanzanians. While they are making tremendous progress, the effort has uncovered some challenges we didn’t anticipate. [Read more →]

December 1, 2017   1 Comment

November 2017 Prayer Update

We have a children’s book about a surprise that we enjoy reading with Ian and Kyla. The book’s title, Waiting is Not Easy, should help you figure out the plot line leading up to the surprise. (Spoiler alert!) At the end the two friends are rewarded with a surprise worth waiting for: a view of the stars. Those last pages (maybe ironically) remind me of the privilege of our ministry here.

The greatest joy we have in ministry here comes in sharing another’s discovery of God’s greatness and goodness. The end of that children’s book is two friends sharing something that was appreciated only by one of them before. Likewise, the hope and energy that drives our work here is a dialogue that resembles this one:

us: Do you see that? [as we are pointing to God’s greatness and goodness through the Scriptures]
friend: Yes! Wow.
us: I know. Isn’t that great?!
friend: What do I do now?…Where can I get more?

Whether we are sharing the gospel, teaching institute students, or meeting with pastors, arguably the best we can do for them is to help them “[behold] the glory of the Lord” so they may be “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). By God’s grace, we have shared in moments like this recently.

Our God

Our latest Bible Institute class met last week to consider the first theology course of our new curriculum. The premise of this course is that the strength to do good works, resist sinful temptation, and endure trials comes from knowing our God. We considered how our hearts are idol factories and how acknowledging how God’s threeness enriches our faith. We also looked at how God makes good out of hard things.

For me, this course was a delight to prepare. But seeing students experience light bulb moments is even better than my joy in writing the course.

Membership Interviews in Bukokwa

There are over 20 new believers in Bukokwa currently making steps toward baptism and forming a new church there. This past weekend I joined Jonas (pastor of the mother church in Nyakaliro) and James (the church planter) in interviewing prospective members. The purpose of these interviews is to verify (as best as we are able) that the prospective member believes the true gospel.

membership interviews

membership interviews in Bukokwa

This can be a challenging purpose to fulfill when most are not able to describe what they believe about salvation and why they want to join a church. Most interviews turn into a discussion about the gospel. Personally, my favorite part of the process is talking about God’s grace in salvation. For those (many) that think God forgives only the most obedient servants, we get to show them how God’s salvation isn’t earned but rather given freely by faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

Matters For Prayer

  1. Join us in thanking God for fruit being born out of Bible Institute teaching. Join us in praying that through this teaching students will grow in Christlikeness from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18).
  2. Lord willing, a new church will soon be born in Bukokwa. More than 20 are planning to be baptized this week. Please pray that the related teaching will result in faith in and unity around the gospel.
  3. This week we kick off our church-based microfinancing project with orientation seminars in the churches. Think of it like training wheels for laying up treasures in heaven. And pray that through it churches will grow in their discipline to steward what God entrusts to them.
  4. Join us in praying that God would make the Tanzanian churches sources of light in dark places (Phil 2:15). May God zealously guard the testimony of His Name among His people through biblical discipline and spiritual growth.

On behalf of all of us, we wish you a blessed Thanksgiving.

November 22, 2017   No Comments

Counter-Cultural Church Planting in Mbugani

Something is happening in Mbugani which is proving to be a added challenge to the church planting effort there. All throughout the region (and maybe most of Sub-Saharan Africa) church choirs and choir music videos are extremely popular. At least in this part of Tanzania Christians co-opted the love for traditional dancing competitions and made church choirs sensationally popular. Much like troupes dance and drum for the greatest crowd, church choirs now compete for popularity and prizes. In Mbugani, some have added a dash of entrepreneurial thinking—and poof—church planting becomes a profitable business!


The Pattern

Since the start of the evangelistic effort in Mbugani, the church from Lusolelo found themselves competing with choir competitions. So many of these outdoor meetings are taking place that some groups start theirs at sunset. We conceded that our voices and speakers aren’t amplified enough and have moved our efforts further away from town center.

Main Street of Mbugani

Residents naturally attempt to associate us with groups who have preceded. They ask, “When are you going to build a building?” Some have made offers: “You can meet on my property, but we need a building for the choir.” And after several months of sharing the gospel there, many who initially responded positively begin to get restless.

If we were to follow the pattern of church planting now established in Mbugani, this is what we would do: First, we would choose a resident with a centrally located home. Then, we would build up his house to accommodate choir shows. Finally, we would bring in speakers and large choirs to begin meetings. To add a spiritual veneer to the operation, we would conclude each meeting with a short Bible message. But the key to the whole operation is timing the offering sometime before the sermon. Since many people come just to see the choir, if you place your offering after the sermon, far less will be collected.

The Response

We’re not following that pattern.

The church-planting-as-business pattern does explain what we are observing in Mbugani. There are a small number of churches for the size of the town (and practically no gospel witness). At any one time there far too many choir meetings masquerading as churches, but these groups don’t last. They are there long enough to turn a profit before interest in a particular group fades and transfers to another.

evangelists from Lusolelo in Mbugani

While there is a great need for gospel-believing churches, there is an overabundance of non-gospel meetings and choir competitions. This explains why many residents don’t understand why we like preaching the gospel so much. We haven’t built anything yet; we haven’t held enough large outdoor meetings. We have spent many hours sharing the gospel and opening God’s word in homes. Nearly each time someone asks, “Why don’t you build a place for meeting?”

What should our response be? While others may peddle the gospel with cheap entertainment, we are encouraging one another to rely on “the open statement of the truth“ (2 Cor 4:2). Our hope is that we may walk together with people in Mbugani long enough for them to see that there is more to the truth than what others are peddling (4:5–6). Our prayer is that our message may adorned by perseverance that none of the other groups can match (4:7–18).

October 24, 2017   No Comments

September-October 2017 Prayer Update

Pastor William Samweli has started to preach through the book of Philippians. We are spending much of our regular visits together studying the passages and discussing how to preach them. Our study has brought to mind the partnership you all have shared with us over these past five years. Like Paul we pray with joy because of your labor together with us in the gospel (1:5). I likewise have no doubt that your prayers and gifts are bearing fruit in us and the advance of God’s word. Yet I find Paul’s abounding confidence in the final outcome an encouragement to trust in the One who finishes what He starts (1:6, 19–20; 4:7).

Usagara in the wind

Church members scramble to support the tarps in high wind during worship service in Usagara.

Difficult Matters

In our August prayer update, I asked for prayer generally over various “difficult matters” in the Tanzanian churches. The government-ordered shutdown of building in Usagara was one of those matters. While progress is being made, it still isn’t clear how or when this will be resolved.

Another such matter has resulted in the removal of one pastor from his office. The church called for this minister to step down only so that he may better care for his family. We can be grateful that this was a carefully made decision in the interest of prudence rather than the final step of discipline. The outpouring of assistance from the other churches still another positive result of this matter. Coworker Dan Eads, writes more in his latest update.

Sprinting to 2018

We took some time off in September and came back to begin a sprint through the last quarter of the year. Bible Institute presses on with new courses and 2nd-run revisions. I continue regular visits to support church planting efforts west of the Gulf. We are also preparing to launch a church-based microfinancing project as an effort to practice biblical stewardship and build up our neighbors’ resiliency[1].

Prayer Update

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace…in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. (Philippians 1:7–8)

  1. We thank God for a break from our normal in Tanzania and the opportunity for Matt’s parents to visit us. The time was blessed in so many ways. One of which was the our doctors’ confirmation that Laura’s pregnancy is healthy.
  2. We missionaries meet with the Tanzanian church fellowship this Monday, 16 October, in order to inform them how we will be working with them to grow the churches towards healthy independence. Picture something part biblical exhortation and part strategic vision casting. Please pray that the result may be a single-minded resolve to serve and trust the Lord.
  3. As Laura adjusts to a new role as homeschooling mom, please pray for God’s grace in her health, strength, and adjustment.
  4. Sprinting is exhausting! Please join us in praying for spiritual endurance to serve others with words of encouragement, counsel, and teaching. Pray that we ourselves may be refreshed to that end.

  1. Resiliency in the context of poverty here refers to the opposite of vulnerability to adverse economic, social, and environmental conditions.  ↩

October 11, 2017   No Comments