earthen vessels, East Africa, and the gospel
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August 2017 Prayer Update

The theme of thankfulness we picked up in our July prayer update might as well continue into this month. As our neighbors’ food stores begin to run low, the end of dry season (July and August) can be hard. But before cultivating for the coming growing season, these months can also be less busy, providing time for other things. Between Bible Institute and other visits, we look for ways to walk with our friends through these challenges. We also make opportunities for hearing God’s word together and find blessings in conversations like this one.

Bible Institute

Bible Study in Bible Institute, 8 Aug 2017

Being the Church of God

The Bible Institute met the first full week of August for a class on being God’s church. In this class we intend to confront common bad ideas about what the church is: a building, a performance, a business, etc. We aim to replace those ideas with the biblical metaphors for God’s church: God’s temple, the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, etc.

Every congregation has its reasons for meeting and working together. Perhaps it is just because there is somewhere nearby to get together. Perhaps there is a well-established tradition that has become enshrined. Here churches can pop up essentially as means to hear popular songs or form a visible and active community.

The best reason for churches to exist, however, follows from salvation by faith in Christ and God’s setting apart saved people for good works. The students that completed these classroom activities are now being sent out to encourage their fellow church members with that same thought.

Prayer Requests

As you are anticipating a new school and ministry year in the States, we are also rounding a corner. In the few months ahead we begin a new farming season, celebrate 5 years in Tanzania, introduce new Bible Institute classes, and roll out some practical training on financial stewardship. Here are some ways we can turn this corner together in prayer:

  1. We thank God that we are all in good health. Please continue praying especially for Laura’s strength and health as she approaches the midpoint of this pregnancy.
  2. New or revised Bible Institute classes are being rolled out in August, October, and November. In our minds, the Institute is vital for the spiritual growth and healthy independence of the churches. But such a goal isn’t possible apart from God’s work through it all. We are jealous for His wisdom and blessing.
  3. The church in Nyakaliro officially called Bukokwa resident and Bible Institute graduate James Mapinda to lead their church planting work in his hometown. The church in Lusolelo is making a remarkable effort in bringing the gospel to Mbugani. We are praying that the name of our Lord is exalted in these efforts.
  4. Please pray for God’s wisdom as multiple Tanzanian churches are currently handling difficult matters. May they move forward with one mind, honoring God by submitting to His word (Phil 2:1–4).

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August 18, 2017   No Comments

May-June 2017 Prayer Update

Here is the latest digest of ministry happenings and prayer requests. You may follow the embedded links for more details.

Hamisi leads Bible Institute class

Hamisi leads Bible Institute class

Church Planting on the Far Side of the Gulf

Pastors and Bible Institute students from Nyakaliro and Lusolelo are making great efforts to preach the gospel in Bukokwa and Mbugani. By God’s grace people are responding in faith. I made my first visit to these two locations on May 20 and 21 and wrote about the experience here.

The group meeting for Sunday worship in Bukokwa already fills their tent. Meanwhile, a core group is also forming in Mbugani. Members of the church in Lusolelo are traveling a relatively great distance to continue evangelism and encourage those who respond.

Church Fellowship and Construction

As the number of churches grows, so does the cumulative ability to expand the reach of the gospel. Where no single church may have the resources to send and support evangelists, they may collectively. Cooperation is an exciting prospect. It is also potentially complicated. How do 6+ churches agree where to plant a new church? And while American churches are partnering with them to that end, each of the Tanzanian churches has a vested interest in how shared resources are used. At the risk of being crass, there are many hands in the pot! So who decides how big the church building should be? Who decides whether a given piece of land is worth the asking price?

These are some of the questions confronting the churches as they are formalizing the fellowship between them. For us, organizing the fellowship is one way we missionaries are shifting more of the responsibility to answer those towards the churches—those effected most by such decisions. I have written more about these developments here.

One of the recent test cases of collective decision making is the construction in Usagara. There the road to building a permanent structure for meeting has felt long and hard. Construction was progressing on pace with the support of all the churches, but a week ago the government ordered that we wait. It is a relief to us missionaries and a mark of maturity for the Tanzanian churches that they are initiating the steps necessary to reconcile with the government.

Bible Institute

The first group of Bible Institute students completed the first four foundational classes on June 2. We teachers observed the achievement by washing the students’ feet. These students will have the opportunity to move into 2nd-level courses in August, beginning with Bible interpretation. Meanwhile, other students have just begun working on their homework for Spiritual Growth and will enter the class on the church.

Prayer Requests

  1. The first meeting of the new church fellowship is Thursday, June 22. Please pray that this and subsequent meetings would continue to move the churches towards greater maturity and unity in Christ.
  2. Our coworker, Beth Roark has made an unplanned trip to the USA for necessary medical treatment. We thank God that she is currently doing well and seeing excellent doctors. Please join us in praying for wisdom and effective treatment. Also pray for those filling Beth’s shoes while she is away.
  3. We as a fellowship of churches and a missionary family are all working through various demands from the Tanzanian government. We personally would like to move on and put these matters behind us. But above all I would like to ask that we pray for God to be honored in all of our interactions with government officials. Despite my good intentions these interactions too quickly bring me to the end of my patience.
  4. The gospel of Jesus Christ is being proclaimed in Tanzania! Pray that more who hear the good news in Malimbe, Bukokwa, and Mbugani, would be saved from their sins and gathered into God-honoring churches.

June 18, 2017   No Comments

Western Church Planting

Mbugani
My last trip to the west side of the Gulf became my first opportunity to see the progress of church planting in Bukokwa and Mbugani.

Open Air Meeting in Mbugani

Mbugani is a Swahili word roughly translated “in the remote place.” But that name was given to this place before it became a large village. The members of the church in Lusolelo chose Mbugani for its size and need for a gospel-preaching church.

The most notable point about the location is perhaps the ambitious faith of the evangelists, for Mbugani is at least ten times the size of the little village they are coming from. Beyond that is the great distance they must travel to reach their target. Mbugani is more than an hour’s drive from the church in Lusolelo. The pastor bikes the distance several times a week while others are traveling by foot—a hike that must take at least 3 hours. And even so, there is no shortage of people willing to cover the distance, camp away from home and make evangelistic visits.

Evangelistic Meeting in Mbugani
outdoor meeting in Mbugani

The Saturday of my visit (May 20), we held the first open air evangelistic service there. Turnout was actually poor due to multiple funerals in the family of our host, but I hear that response to the gospel is enthusiastically positive.

Worship Service in Bukokwa

Although I have participated in evangelism in Bukokwa on multiple occasions, that weekend was my first opportunity to meet with those who have responded to the gospel there. I preached from Luke 18 and excellent village hospitality before making the six-hour-drive back home (that’s unusually long).

Before the Worship Service in Bukokwa
before Sunday worship in Bukokwa

The group of believers now meeting in Bukokwa is eager to call a minister and identify themselves as a church. They are only waiting for the church fellowship to formally organize before moving forward.

The quick development in Bukokwa has something to do with the involvement of Bible Institute students from Nyakaliro. It was the students who did the work of evangelism in Bukokwa–and they did well! Pastor Jonas says that the students’ enthusiasm for their ongoing studies has spilled over to the group from Bukokwa. And as a result, there are now more students enrolled in the Institute from Bukokwa than Nyakaliro. This multiplication of disciples through these churches is the reason for the massive uptick in student numbers this year. Praise God!

June 4, 2017   No Comments

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.
missing

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

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

March 2016 Prayer Update

I have maintained blog silence for longer than I’d prefer. There has been some intense focus on the Bible Institute during February and then some equally intense focus on a family vacation in early March. Following that, the first thing I wanted to pass along to you is the answers to prayer we’ve seen in the Bible Institute classes of the last month. To give you the best look at what God has done, I’ve spent some time putting a video together. It’s now ready. The video is longer than our usual updates and the craftsmanship is spotty, but I hope you’ll agree that the content is significant.

Prayer and Praise

  1. Thank you for praying for the Bible Institute class. Without a doubt, this has been one of the most encouraging experiences of our work here thus far. Perhaps the greatest praise is that God continues to bear fruit as students use what they have been taught in evangelism and mutual encouragement. Praise the Lord with us and pray that God may be pleased to sustain what He has started.
  2. May our families and churches be properly focused on God’s grace to us through Jesus’s death and resurrection this weekend. I will be preaching the Good Friday message in Shadi. Other pastors are planning for evangelistic messages this Resurrection Sunday. Pray that God may be glorified.

March 24, 2016   1 Comment

The Past Two Sundays

In order to start the process of choosing a new Bible Institute class, the last two weeks I’ve visited each of the five churches to make sure that everyone is on the same page. I intend to continue updating you about the Bible Institute, but what follows here is a short account of “regular” Sunday happenings over the last two-week tour.

Lusolelo, Sunday, Nov 8

Last weekend I saw the three churches on the west side of the Gulf, overnighted in Nyakaliro, and attended the worship service in Lusolelo. There I had the privilege of preach from Leviticus 19:1–8—a choice of text that was made for me, not be me. (Later I learned that Laurent was particularly interested in an example of how to preach from the Law. I hope I served them well!)

Lusolelo

the church in Lusolelo prior to Sunday service

After the service, the church’s building committee walked me through the work that they are putting into the parsonage before Laurent, his wife, and 12 children could possibly move in(!). Then, we had an early lunch which was delicious (but probably the cause of a day’s bout with food poisoning later that week). Before I began the 3-hour drive back home, we read through 1 Thessalonians 1 and prayed for the church.

Shadi, Sunday, Nov 15

Yesterday I stayed nearby home to deliver my letter to the church in Shadi. In the place of a regular sermon, Pastor Samson has begun teaching his way through a 10-question catechism. Having defined salvation and the gospel on previous Sundays, this week was occupied with the definition of repentance.

Pastor Samson initiated this teaching himself, observing its need through conversations with church members. As he is reminding the church in each message, these things are foundational to life as a Christian and necessary for answering others outside the church.

To be clear, this isn’t the first time most of the people in the church have heard these things, though Samson and the other pastors would tell us that it takes a long time for these concepts to sink in.

A highlight of the sermon-discussion on repentance was the testimonies of a few people that gave illustration to how God has helped them turn away from traditional practices involving talismans and spirit worship and turn to Christ. One likened this change to the way that we, the white pastors, have moved to Tanzania and “learned how to live well with us.” Her point was that we Christians need to adjust to a new (Chrsitian) way to live.

The rest of that Sunday was spent reading, wrestling with Ian, making a video call with Bibi and Babu Gass, and meeting with team.

November 16, 2015   No Comments

First Preaching in Swahili

Two weeks of Bible Institute concluded this past Friday morning. The students and the teacher all approve of the work. As we are observing, however, the greater difficulty in the task of disseminating biblical training is not teaching the Institute students, but inducing the students to pass along teaching to others. 2 Timothy 2:2 and related passages have been finding their way into our team discussions and prayers recently.

We will be eating this elephant one bite at a time. For now, I am basically an Institute student myself, sitting in class to learn how to express biblical ideas in Swahili. Even so, I passed a significant milestone this last week. I was given the opportunity to preach a couple short devotionals to the students in Swahili. The first was on Ephesians 6:10–17 and the armor of God. The main thought was that we need to be prayerfully preparing ourselves daily with the truth of the Gospel so that we may be ready to fight against the lies of our enemy. The second devotional was from 1 John 1:1–4 and the joy of sharing with others the news of who God is and what he has accomplished. I briefly encouraged the men that the work of learning about God is not finished until it is shared with others.

The devotionals were manuscripted and then edited by others. From my perspective, the delivery was still rough and full of mistakes. But by God’s grace, the points were made and received. After confirming that the men understood me, they were asked to help me correct my Swahili. I am looking forward to teaching these men some day; but for now, I am grateful to be their student!

June 17, 2013   4 Comments

Seminar for the Churches’ Doctrinal Statements

The proper function of a doctrinal statement in the life of a church is what sets a church apart from a social club. That is, our existence and our work is defined and authorized by God’s word; unless we acknowledge this in practice, we are not much different from the run-of-the-mill charitable society. But if biblical doctrine is ever to function as it should, the churches would need to begin with a doctrinal statement they agree with wholeheartedly.

The churches have been using a statement that they helped write before their doctrinal convictions had matured. Some of the language in the current statement reads awkwardly or possibly implies unbiblical ideas. Last week (Feb 12–14), the Bible Institute sponsored a seminar for revising the churches’ doctrinal statements.

Seminar in Progress

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February 17, 2013   2 Comments