earthen vessels, East Africa, and the gospel
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Category — Commentary

Laurent on Leading Children to God

Prayers for Bad Guy Evangelism

Don’t you love how children begin to grab on to spiritual truths? While I was away on a recent trip to meet with the Tanzanian pastors, Laura and the kids prayed for me. Ian was particularly concerned that our meeting might be overrun with “bad guys.” In the event that “any bad guys come to you looking for their bad guy friends,” he prayed that I would tell them to “listen to the true God!” But for better or worse, no bad guys came to listen to the true God.

Later during the same trip Pastor Laurent and I talked about leading children to God. There at the small table in his mud brick house I had the privilege of benefiting from his wisdom. I can’t replicate for you the beauty of his Swahili or how remarkable this conversation was in juxtaposition to the humble confines of the setting, but I think his thoughts are too good not to pass on.

Ian Camping at Laurents

Ian Camping at Laurent’s

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August 13, 2017   No Comments

Pay no Attention to the White Man in Front

Mbugani is still remote enough that the presence of white skin causes commotion. This can be good and bad for the advance of the gospel. It may attract people to hear. But it may also become a distraction. [Read more →]

August 2, 2017   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

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September 17, 2016   3 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

What Does Lasting Impact Look Like?

Paulo and I met at his place for my naming party. My Sukuma name is now official. The goat was too expensive so we slaughtered a duck instead. The food was good but the conversation was even better. As one of the first disciples our team of missionaries has ever worked with, he appreciates the long-term perspective of what God has accomplished here in the last 1–1/2 decades. His godly perspective of ministry ups and downs was a true encouragement to me.

Pastors' Discussion

If you want to hear a Christian perspective on traditional Sukuma culture, Paulo is your man. This makes him a good candidate for choosing a Sukuma name and one of the most grateful for God’s grace in redeeming him from the sinful corruptions of that culture. He sees the fruit of the gospel in his own life and in others who have discipled him. That is what was so encouraging to me about this conversation: Paulo credits the power of the gospel for preserving him through some difficult situations. [Read more →]

January 13, 2016   1 Comment

Progress from the Inside Out

Change Brought by Pastoral Stipends

The effect of the pastoral stipends has been greater in some ways than what we expected. Though there is no hard and fast evidence of this, I believe there has been an up-tick in the pastors’ engaging other people. Following that, we have had productive conversations about church membership, use of the tongue, and evangelism—conversations that we have found difficult to engage in prior to dispensing stipends. It appears that the stipends have given them enough freedom to focus on other things.

There is also what the pastors have said when asked how the stipends are helping:

  • “Now when I come home my children are happy because they have had enough to eat.”
  • “I used to have one day per week for pastoral ministry [because he was spending four weekdays every week on his farm or doing day-labor], now I have five.”

Needless to say, it is really encouraging to hear our friends rejoice in God’s provision. Dispensing of stipends and building funds, however, is just the easy part of a larger project. As I’ve said during our furlough meetings, the benevolence the churches are now receiving is a band-aid fix for several systemic spiritual and economic problems. The success of the long-term fix relies on several efforts to address these complex problems. For the sake of our labor in prayer together, I’d like to highlight a few of these efforts.
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October 23, 2015   No Comments

June and July 2015 Ministry Update

Our move to Tanzania has brought us closer to bartering, sowing, harvesting, and shepherding than we have been in the States. References to these things in the Bible have since become more meaningful to us. (Sheep really do get lost easily!)

Though life in America is even further removed from life in biblical times, our furlough experience has stretched us in new ways which have, in turn, brought new insights into Scripture. Now that we have begun saying our goodbyes to friends and family this past month, my attention has turned a few times to Paul’s farewell to the elders in Ephesus (Acts 20:13–38).

The link between our experience and Paul’s is mainly that, knowing our time with loved ones is limited, there is a similar urgency in our conversations. I wonder if Paul came into Ephesus with a short agenda that turned into the address we have recorded in this passage. I have never been as eloquent as Paul, but I have run through a mental checklist before saying, “see you in a few years.” I have found myself less hesitant to share the Truth with others and more eager to pray before parting ways.

We have had to think deliberately about “last-chance” meetings with people. Knowing what was coming at his destination, I wonder if Paul had to think about whom he could and could not see and where those meetings would take place to ensure the most constructive convesations. (It seems he did; Acts 20:16, 17) We’ve taken detours to fit people into our schedule, but we still haven’t been able to see everyone. I’ve set a 1-hour timer to make sure I leave one place in order to make it to the next “last-chance” conversation.

This is the Point

I would count this sense of urgency as a privilege of our situation rather than a burden. Not only do these encounters make a reading of Acts 20 more rich, we find ourselves identifying more with the life and burdens of other missionaries. We also do not regret that God has used these mental checklists to bless us with great fellowship.

While we would rather not have to say goodbye at all, we would also like to remind everyone (ourselves included) that life in ministry is rich in surprising ways. God is good. And, He often opens that goodness up to us in the midst of difficulty–not apart from it.

Prayer Update

  1. I had the privilege of serving my sending church by speaking for our teen camp in June. God blessed us with great meetings and fun times (and only minor injuries ;-).
  2. We have only one more church meeting to go. So we are now turning our attention to figuring out how to “bring as much of America back with us” as we can cram into our luggage. Please pray with us that God will help us wisely use our remaining weeks in the States to enjoy our families and prepare for readjustment.
  3. We fly out of the US on July 14 and finally return to Mwanza, Tanzania, on July 18. We already know that our Swahili muscles have atrophied and that we will need to work hard to catch up on all that has happened since February. Please pray that we will be enabled to readjust well.

June 27, 2015   1 Comment

Sukuma Dancing and Worship

Sukuma Dance Exposition in Luchelele

One Saturday in September 2014, a Sukuma dance troupe visited the village near our home. I decided to check it out since the predominant tribe around us, the Sukuma, are famous in Tanzania for their dance competitions. My interest was piqued when neighbors told me that this dance society was also known for dances with live snakes!

But I didn’t get to see the Sukuma snake dance on that occasion; I left soon after the program started–once I realized that this sort of dancing was unfit for Christian scruples. Later I learned that traditional Sukuma dance competitions are typically opportunities to exhibit all the things that are otherwise too scandelous to speak of openly in the village.

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March 26, 2015   1 Comment

Adding Depth to the Ministerial Roster, Part 3

This is the final installment of a short series on the Bible storying project we started in August of 2013. Previous posts may be found here and here.

The seminars in which the Bible stories are taught are divided into three parts:

  1. In the first, the participants are asked about their efforts in sharing the stories since the previous meeting. Sometimes this is an opportunity for a quick review or a word of encouragement to persevere.
  2. In the second section, a new story is introduced.
  3. And in the third, the participants are given an opportunity to practice sharing the story with one another.
    The entire seminar may take about two hours. But popping in and popping out for a meeting is unheard of here. Two two-hour seminars on the west side of the Mwanza Gulf are a full day’s work. Here is a typical day’s schedule for such a trip.
Sat, Feb 2, 2014
5:20 am depart home
6:15 am arrival at Kikongo for 1st ferry
8:45 am arrival in Nyakaliro
9:30 am participants gather at the church in Luselelo; we have chai
10:00 am seminar begins
12:00 pm seminar finishes
12:30 pm Elias and his children pack to leave
12:45 pm depart Nyakaliro
2:00 pm arrive in Sengerema; visit with Hamisi
4:00 pm begin session
4:45 pm depart Sengerema
5:30 pm board ferry at Busisi
7:00 pm drop Elias and children off at Buhongwa
8:00 pm return home

 

Suya and our truck in Nyakaliro

Suya and our truck in Nyakaliro

It will be a while before we know the true impact of teaching with Bible stories. With regard to our objective to involve more people in the work of evangelism and discipleship, we are already noticing the following benefits:

  • Bible teaching can reach a broader audience. Going to the churches and teaching basic Bible stories has made teaching available to church members who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend our Bible Institute. Challenges presented by people’s age, interest, and even language ability are being overcome. For instance, stories may be translated on the spot for people who are more comfortable in their tribal language than in Swahili.
  • Bible stories have unique strengths for teaching. During the course of teaching the stories people are naturally picking up ideas that are more difficult to teach systematically. Stories are well-equipped to demonstrate man’s need for God’s grace and God’s patience in response to us.
  • Memorizing the material makes it usable in nearly any context. We hear that Bible stories have been used in conversations where people can’t carry a Bible with them. Pastors have used the stories as texts for their sermons or as standalone Bible readings in worship services.

After finishing one set of stories we have enough experience to warrant pressing forward. To make the project truly successful, the churches will have to pick up the responsibility of leading these training sessions—something we have yet to see realized.

March 4, 2014   No Comments

Adding Depth to the Ministerial Roster, Part 2

This is an overdue follow-up to a short series on our efforts to train believers in evangelism using Bible storying. Find the first post here. This post details some of the background of the project. One more post is intended to follow.

One recent trend in missions has captured attention by making some fantastic claims. I deliberately try not to be a student of trends, but it is difficult not being impressed by the numbers of some church planting movements in the past few decades. Here is a sample:

“In the 1990s, nearly 1,000 new churches are planted in Orissa [India] with another 1,000 new outreach points. By 2001, a new church was being started every 24 hours…
In 2001 a newly emerging Church Planting Movement [in China] yields 48,000 new believers and 1,700 new churches in one year…
Despite government attempts to eliminate Christianity, a Church Planting Movement in one Southeast Asian country adds more than 50,000 new believers in five years…
A Central Asian Church Planting Movement sees 13,000 Kazakhs come to faith in Christ over a decade and a half.”

Church Planting Movements by David Garrison

Garrison, David. Church Planting Movements. (Kindle Locations 424, 655, 904, 1426). WIGTake Resources.

Whenever statistics appear to be fantastically extraordinary, it is always wise to ask how the data was gathered. In this case, how were these believers and churches counted? I personally don’t find their definitions to be fully satisfying. However, even the most skeptical assessment of these movements must admit that there is an impressive number of self-multiplying groups committed to propagating biblical teaching. That warrants a closer look.

If you did look into it, you would find that these rapidly expanding church planting movements share this in common: laypeople are immediately engaging in the work of evangelism and discipleship. Knowing that the bulk of the ministerial work load among our churches falls to the pastors, this point is particularly interesting to us. How are these movements able to mobilize so many so quickly?

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February 17, 2014   1 Comment