earthen vessels, East Africa, and the gospel
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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

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

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

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

Visitation with Ian

Ian in town
Sometimes I get the privilege of putting on my missionary hat and my daddy hat at the same time (though neither hat actually comes off at any time, right?). Last Friday, Laura and Kyla went into town to join the fellowship of missionary ladies for their monthly Bible study. This typically leaves us guys at home to our own devices, except that Fridays have now become the day each week I go out to Usagara with Wiliam for visitation. This week we all went together.

Wiliam, Ian, and myself during an evangelistic visit in Usagara

Wiliam, Ian, and myself during an evangelistic visit in Usagara

We successfully made visits and shared the gospel in spite of a few “tummy” problems. Ian gets the chance to make new friends; and it’s good for all of us to be reminded that we are all people with multiple important hats to wear. Wiliam, who has a wife and a few boys of his own, has been making weekly trips to Usagara for this ministry. His family stays back in Shadi while he camps out his weekends an hour’s drive away from home. Despite our differences, we can all relate to the need to share the gospel and the desire to see family after a few days away.

November 23, 2015   2 Comments

Upcoming Planned Evangelism

The long dry season (June–August) is often considered a good time for community activities that get squeezed out of the planting and harvesting seasons. These months are usually when checkers and soccer football leagues are formed. The increased free time is probably why the Tanzanian churches are gearing up for special outreach. Please join with us in praying for these efforts to share the gospel.

  1. The church in Sengerema is hosting outdoor evangelistic services the last weekend in July (July 31–Aug 2). Dan Eads and Pastor Samson (from Shadi) will be preaching gospel messages each day. Food will be provided and some follow-up visits may be conducted the same weekend. This will be the first event of this kind to be hosted by the churches we are working with.
  2. The church in Shadi is moving forward with its plans to plant a church in Usagara (south of us by a 30-minute-drive). Evangelism begins the first week of August with small teams of church members relocating to Usagara to visit house-to-house during the weekdays. This plan will be repeated for a few weeks until a group can be formed.
  3. Dan Eads has set September as the start of evangelistic work near the Saint Augustine University campus in Malimbe (near Sweya, 15-minute-drive from Shadi). He plans to focus on small group Bible studies with the help of some Bible Institute graduates.

Each project reflects a slightly different method of evangelism. To be honest, we are all trying to develop best practices in proclaiming the gospel to people who generally believe that the gospel is mainly about prosperity and that God’s favor is bestowed for attending church. These errors can be reinforced or corrected by the way we share the gospel.

I intend to participate in each of these efforts. May I suggest that we pray for opportunity and wisdom in handling gospel conversations and God’s effectual working to win people to Himself for the sake of His name.

July 30, 2015   No Comments

Fishing with Bible Stories

Last week was the beginning of a new evangelistic push involving Bible storying. The concept is similar to the ways that each of the existing churches have started in that the biblical story will be shared in about 10 segments beginning with creation and concluding with Christ’s resurrection. This effort will be different in that it will involve previously untrained church members sharing the stories in homes, on the street, etc. A few people from each church have been volunteered, though we fully hope that every church member would eventually be participating.

While my teammate is carrying the responsibility to share each story in Swahili with the participants, I can focus on absorbing the story in Swahili and getting out into the community to share it. Last week I shared a basic creation story with about 7 people. The prospect of the next few months is exciting. Though this past week showed that most people are basically unfamiliar with the material I shared, they are also generally eager to listen to a story.

The exercise is also good for my practice Swahili. The greatest challenge is not the story itself, but the questions which follow. This is what I was asked following the creation story:

  • What kinds of trees and plants did God create?
  • Where did death come from?
  • If God created white people on the sixth day, when did he create Africans? (Please note: I did not mention any ethnicity whatsoever. I told the story of mankind’s creation.)
  • Why do some people say we should rest on the seventh day of each week while others disagree? Didn’t God give us an example?
  • If God told man to fill the earth, does it please God that some couples only have a few children?

These questions may betray the fact that the listeners are also getting the most important implications of the story: namely, God’s ability to create, his right to rule over what he has made, and man’s special purpose among God’s creation.

Please pray for us as we share God’s word. I will be glad to keep you informed as the work progresses. Tomorrow we begin practicing the story of man’s fall (Genesis 3).

August 29, 2013   No Comments

Apologetics and Missions

During the second week of August the Bible Institute met for 40 hours of instruction on the defense of the Christian faith, or apologetics. Dr. Mark Snoeberger from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary co-taught with Dan Eads; Dr. Snoeberger provided the bulk of the course content while Dan translated and elaborated for clarity and relevance. By the last day the students were discussing ways to witness to unsaved relatives and navigate a few ethical minefields. You can read more about the week from Mark and Dan.

Mark and Dan teaching apologetics

Dan Eads and Mark Snoeberger explaining the presuppositions of the Christian faith

In spite of the difficulty of this subject, I have become a firm believer in the importance of apologetics in the task of missions. If we don’t seriously consider how to adorn the gospel before unbelievers in those ethical minefields, the gospel message loses its influence in daily life. In my opinion, that is basically tantamount to disregarding God’s intentions for us in Jesus Christ.

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August 25, 2013   No Comments

Swahili Conversations on Spiritual Matters

In our latest set of prayer requests I said that we are praying for boldness and wisdom to engage people in conversations using a language we aren’t yet comfortable with. Now I’m glad to say that we are already seeing fruit from these prayers. While visiting homes in Nyakaliro last week we happened to wade into a number of spiritual matters. Here are a few of the things we discussed:

  • One of the Bible Institute students is being asked by his neighbors how one knows which church is the true church.
  • A man building a house in the neighborhood asked us, “What is the Bible?” He happened to be reading a translation of the New Testament into his tribal language, though he has been having trouble understanding some of the older language.
  • Later that day, after being invited in to someone’s house, our host mentioned that Christianity was similar to other religions that worship one God. This man had joined a church but hadn’t attended in more than three years. His comments expressed the attitude that Christianity is basically as good as any other religion. We had the opportunity to talk about why the Christian doctrine of reconciliation by God’s grace makes faith in Jesus Christ unique. Then we began to challenge him about faithfulness to Jesus Christ.

My interest in these conversations is still primarily for learning. I am still not free to say what I would like in the way I imagine it in my English-dependent-brain. At times I needed to repeat myself and get help from my friends, though I believe that the conversations were all productive communication. Thanks for praying with us for progress in learning the language. Conversations like these are the single greatest motivation for pressing forward.

July 25, 2013   2 Comments