earthen vessels, East Africa, and the gospel

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February-April 2017 Ministry Update

Our monthly ministry and prayer update this time has become a quarterly update. It is time to get you caught up on all the good news! Permit me to capture the developments in lists.

Bible Institute

I’ve just updated the blog with an overview of the current Bible Institute curriculum. See that post for an explanation of what classes we are teaching and the results we are seeing. The post includes a new video recorded to tell you about our class on spiritual growth.

I am currently involved in the Bible Institute in these ways:

  1. My teammate, Dan Eads, and I write and teach the new courses collaboratively. While Dan is doing nearly all of the teaching, I have overseen the course writing and revision.
  2. I took my first shift teaching an entire course at the end of March. With over 50 students enrolled, it happened to be our largest class to date. God kindly used the input of the pastors, our co-teachers, to fill the gaps in my Swahili and scrape me off the ground at the end of each day.
  3. We are now preparing to offer a course on Christian family at the end of May.

Story of the Bible, March 2017

Constitution Revisions

The Tanzanian churches are now in the process of revising their constitutions and creating a governing document for their fellowship of churches. The next fellowship-wide meeting, May 2–3, will bring together each church’s revisions and hopefully produce documents ready for approval.

Constitution Summit, February 21, 2017

Constitution Summit, February 21, 2017

Here are some reasons why this is a big deal:

  1. Though the churches have constitutions already, they have generally disregarded or misused their constitutions for various reasons.
  2. There is enough collective maturity between the churches to recognize the necessity and proper role of such documents.
  3. As the number of churches has grown, so has the complexity of their relationships to one another and to us missionaries. Explicit agreement can go a long way in preventing misunderstanding and offense.

Church Planting

Church planting efforts are ongoing in Malimbe, Bukokwa, and Mbugani. Meanwhile in Usagara, we have introduced mid-week meetings to start preparing a new group for baptism and church membership.

Here are some ways we can be praying for each of the young churches/church plants:

  1. In Malimbe pray that God may save, grow, and enable people to remain geographically close.
  2. For the 30+ currently attending the worship services in Bukokwa, please pray that God may develop a strong unity in the faith.
  3. For the evangelistic efforts in Mbugani, please pray that God may continue working in hearts to save and develop leadership for a future church.
  4. In Usagara, let’s pray that God may continue to foster a love for hearing, obeying, and sharing His word.

Prayer Update

  1. Please pray that the Tanzanian churches would be given the wisdom and patience to revise their church and fellowship constitutions so that unity and faithfulness between them is reinforced.
  2. Join us in praying that the Bible Institute classes we are creating will prepare the churches to serve God and one another especially in their personal spiritual growth, ministry to each other in their churches and in their homes.
  3. Please pray for the young church in Usagara which is growing numerically and being challenged with financial and spiritual difficulties at the same time. May God protect them, increase their faith, and strengthen their resolve to be faithful.
  4. With regard to the church planting efforts in Bukokwa, Malimbe, and Mbugani, please pray that the gospel will be understood and believed upon. Pray that groups would gather for the purpose of worshipping and serving the God of our gospel.
  5. Please join us in praying that our personal and family worship would be refreshing and effective in making us more like our Savior.

April 20, 2017   No Comments

Bible Institute Update

The biggest news-worthy updates in our work here in 2017 revolve around the Bible Institute. If you have followed the bigger narrative of the gospel’s advance in this part of Tanzania, you may already know that the Bible Institute has been refitted to be the primary vehicle for helping existing churches grow in spiritual maturity and viability. While there is much more work left to be done, we are glad to report that God has already done great things out of these efforts.

Story of the Bible, March 2017
Story of the Bible, March 2017

Testimonies We Have Heard

The students and their pastors share with us how God’s word is being proclaimed and heard, and how people are being changed. Here are some of the things we are being told:

  • “I have never seen a church with this kind of love and participation.”
  • “Your church actually teaches the word of God!?”
  • “Thank you for teaching my wife,” says one student. ”It used to be that I would drag her to church. Now she is dragging me!“ The same wife later described how she sometimes has trouble making quick trips to the market. She has found herself in gospel conversations for multiple hours there.
  • “I thought I knew the gospel. Now I realize that I didn’t and that there are so many churches here full of people that don’t know the gospel.”
  • “Every day [in class] I discovered how I don’t have anything before God whereas I had thought I was something before. Every day I was emptied and filled up again [with truth].”
  • “I visited an older man to share the gospel. He responded with surprise, ‘I’ve been worshipping at this church since you were born and I’ve seen your behavior when you were younger. And now you want to preach to me the word of God.’ I went home and prayed and another day returned to share the gospel. He listened to the gospel and was convicted of his own sin, asking how he could have never heard these things all the years he has been attending another church. The next Sunday he started coming to worship God with us.”
  • Observing how the students have faithfully shared the gospel, one pastor said, “We’ve become used to seeing new people come to church each week.”

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April 16, 2017   No Comments

Three Day Tour

Since the beginning of 2016 I have made monthly visits to Nyakaliro and Lusolelo. The rough roads and the Gulf that separate those villages from our home would otherwise make it difficult to keep in touch. A weekend trip gives me some dedicated time to encourage the pastors (Jonas and Laurent) and participate in their church planting or teaching efforts.

Typically, I leave home on Saturday morning, arrive in Nyakaliro late afternoon, and then participate in evangelistic visitation or spend the evening with Jonas. I stay overnight there. Sunday morning I preach in one of the two churches and spend the afternoon with Laurent.

Now that both of these congregations are working to start new churches, the weekend agenda can fill up quickly. My monthly visit in January expanded to 3 days to include the monthly pastors’ meeting. [Read more →]

February 16, 2017   No Comments

January 2017 Ministry Update

For this ministry update we reflected on what has been accomplished in life and ministry in 2016 and recorded it in a short video. Hit the play button here on the blog or follow the link below to see it online.

[vimeo 199005673 w=400]

Prayer Update

  1. Please pray that the young church in Usagara will develop habits of taking in God’s word and praying together. William and I are planning in-home visits to encourage informal group reading and prayer gatherings.
  2. New believers are being prepared for baptism and membership in the churches of Shadi, Lusolelo, and Usagara. Let’s rejoice together! Let’s also pray that these young believers may understand the foundations of their faith (think of Rom 6:4).
  3. Organized evangelism is under way in Bukokwa and Mbugani under the leadership of the churches in Nyakaliro and Lusolelo, respectively. Please pray that more would hear the gospel and respond in faith and repentance. Also join us in praying that God may raise up true disciples (John 8:31) who will eventually become fit church leadership (2 Tim 2:2).
  4. Our kids continue to grow and experience more of life in rural Africa. As Ian (and eventually Kyla) try to make sense of where they are in the world (asking, for example, why are they different than nearly every other kid they see in Tanzania?), please pray that they would ultimately turn to God and listen to Him.

January 12, 2017   No Comments

November-December 2016 Ministry Update

Bible Institute class

Bible Institute students after class on spiritual growth

The news since the last update that floats to the top is, perhaps, a subtle shift of my attention from Usagara to Bible Institute preparations. I continue to make regular trips to Usagara to work with William. On Sundays there, I have completed a sermon series through the Gospel of Mark. The climax was a survey of the things that Jesus gave up in service to us (Mark 14 and 15). No matter how difficult you consider your own circumstances, our Lord certainly understands suffering.

Joint Church Worship Service

On Sunday December 4 the churches of Usagara, Shadi, and Sweya met together for a marathon worship service. This provided like-minded believers—who would not otherwise know each other—an opportunity to meet and encourage one another. We deliberately planned one specific kind of encouragement in that we invited Bible Institute students from the other 3 churches to give testimony to what God is doing through them. In the joint service students from Lusolelo preached the gospel; students from Sengerema taught the children; and others led the congregation in song. Dan Eads, Pastor Laurent, and myself each preached; Pastors Hamisi and Jonas gave testimony via letter. Yeah, it was a long morning—about four hours.

To add to the excitement, Pastor and Mrs. Samson’s baby girl was born earlier the same morning. Samson came back to church to participate (by his own will). Also, during my sermon, a snake entered our house where Laura and the kids were taking a halftime break. Everyone is fine—at least nobody fell out of an upper story window from over-tiredness!

Many people have responded to the Bible Institute students’ and pastors’ mutual exhortation that day and registered as new students. Next week we repeat the first class on personal evangelism and the meta-narrative of Scripture, “The Story of the Bible.” With more than 50 interested, we might actually have too many students to handle.

Prayer Update

  1. Three months after the Bible Institute class on spiritual growth, the students are making great progress with their homework. They were assigned to regularly read or listen to God’s word and pray in response. Their pastors report that this has been both incredibly challenging and rewarding for the students. Let’s thank God and pray that He continues to make His word a means of spiritual renewal.
  2. Please pray that the young church in Usagara will develop habits of taking in God’s word and praying together. William and I are planning in-home visits to encourage informal group reading and prayer gatherings.
  3. Evangelism continues in Bukokwa where a temporary meeting structure has been erected. Those who have responded to gospel conversations are invited to meet for teaching and worship. Pray that the group will pursue a clear commitment to the gospel and obedience to God’s word.
  4. Being reminded how influential our example can be for good or for ill, please pray with us that God will continue making us people of Christlike mercy, faith, and love, and that our progress in such matters would be evident (1 Tim 4:15).

December 15, 2016   1 Comment

First Wedding in Usagara

wedding party in the tent

In June a young couple from Usagara got engaged. We then worked together through the process of giving a bride price. This past Saturday Shukuru and Anna got hitched before their family, friends, and fellow church members. We knocked out a wall to accommodate everyone (you can do that when walls are reed mats!).

This was the first wedding held by this church and the first I have ever officiated. It is a personal privilege to have walked with Shukuru and Anna through the engagement process. I might say that these engagement and wedding customs are likely to utterly exhaust a couple financially and emotionally. But I also have seen how it has drawn this young church closer together and how, over it all, the sanctity of Christian marriage is sufficient for quite a bit of rigamarole. Now the party is over, the couple starts their life together, and we pick up our prayers for them.

November 8, 2016   No Comments

Gospel of Mark in TZ Today

Sunday Morning Service in Lusolelo, 25 Sep

Sunday Morning Service in Lusolelo, 25 Sep

After completing the basic teaching which prepared the way to form a church membership in Usagara, I’ve shifted my focus to preaching through the Gospel of Mark. In this context–like the one in which Jesus ministered and just about any other outwardly religious society–people may know about Jesus without truly knowing who He really is. Mark’s Gospel is helpful as an especially hard-hitting confrontation of wrong thinking about who Jesus is.

Mark writes the “good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” (1:1). What makes the “good news” good may be lost on as many people today as it was in First Century Palestine. Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus can be both Messiah and sacrifice for sin, argues Mark. He is humble enough to bless children and bold enough to challenge the religious establishment. Jesus is both Son of God and friend of sinners.

Gospel of Mark in TZ


Preaching through this Gospel presents the chance to address certain commonly misunderstood notions about our Lord. For instance, God is more concerned with the condition of our heart than our pockets. Jesus is more interested in your repentant faith than your status, title, or ability to wow crowds. The following table shows the ideas we’ve been considering as we walk through the Gospel of Mark in broad strokes:

Passage Sermon Theme
Mark 1–3 Let’s get to know Jesus as He really is, not as we want Him to be
Mark 3–6 Those who know Jesus as He really is will be radically changed
Mark 6–8 Loving God as He is more important than keeping traditions
Mark 8–10 Without the death of Christ, there is no good news
Mark 11–13 Prepare for Christ’s return by loving God with your whole heart
Mark 14–16 TBD

October 18, 2016   No Comments

October 2016 Ministry Update

The rains are making things green here once again. Corn and jackbeans are sprouting in our conservation agriculture field. There is also growth in other (spiritual and ecclesiastical) ways.

Spiritual Growth and the Word of God

Pastor Elias leading review in our class on spiritual growth

Pastor Elias leading review in our class on spiritual growth

The Bible institute was in session last week for a class on spiritual growth. We wanted students to finish the week with a desire to know God more through His word, believing that those who know God more will want to be more like Him. Like February’s class on the gospel, we intended the teaching format and material to be accessible to all church members and help each student determine how to better obey God outside the classroom. God gave us an excellent week.

Church Number 6

A church was born in Usagara, Tanzania, on Sunday October 2. With the blessing of their mother church in Shadi, the believers in Usagara–including those baptized just two weeks ago–formally organized themselves as a church under our Lord Jesus Christ. They began gathering, evangelizing, and encouraging one another months ago. Last Sunday’s decision means they are now doing these things as a self-governing body with a statement of faith and a constitution. As their first order of business, the church in Usagara called William Samweli to be their pastor. I feel privileged to have been involved.

Prayer Update

  1. The Bible institute class of last week was blessed with good attendance and excellent interaction. Since this class is about spiritual growth, the assigned homework involves reading or listening to the word of God and responding in prayer. Let’s pray that they may be challenged to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18).
  2. As a new church our brothers and sisters in Usagara are now bearing the weight of more responsibility. Deliberately or not they are now forming lasting traditions and priorities. How will they decide to serve one another? Will they commit their resources to God’s work? How will they decide to worship God? Since habits are easier to make than break, we pray that they may make traditions that truly honor God.
  3. As we encourage our Bible institute students to be growing in godliness, we pray that we ourselves may be good examples of what it means to follow Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. May God help us as we humbly pursue holiness and love.

October 5, 2016   No Comments

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

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September 17, 2016   3 Comments