earthen vessels, East Africa, and the gospel
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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

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

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

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!)


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

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

First Profession of Faith

I remember the first time I shared the gospel with someone and then prayed with him to repent and believe in Christ as his savior. Later that day, he made a profession of his new faith in Jesus Christ to our group of friends, remarking, “I feel like a new man.” By God’s grace, he went on to demonstrate the fruit of his decision over the following years. It is an unspeakable privilege to play a small role in what God is doing to draw people to Himself.

Last week I had a similar privilege here in the village of Shadi.

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March 24, 2014   8 Comments

Moshi and Back Again: An Unusual Tale


Dan Eads kindly agreed to fly back to Moshi with me to help retrieve our truck that was left there while flew home for Christmas. With the hope that we could make the most out of an unpleasant situation, Dan and I planned to look into some work related errands en route. Some of our Tanzanian associates would help to follow up on some orphans living with extended family and the group of us could survey that area for church planting needs—all along the way.

These plans were formulated on Christmas Eve as we realized that repairs on the truck were being completed late on that day. It was feared that more problems could (re)surface on the 640-mile drive back to Mwanza, leaving me stranded on Christmas Day without any help. A week later these concerns were validated somewhere in the middle of nowhere between Moshi and Mwanza. But of course, God has his purposes in derailing our plans. Many of those purposes we may never recognize, but after the ordeal we can say that our perspective of God’s grace has deepened. And, there is a good story to tell… [Read more →]

January 5, 2014   No Comments

I’ll be Home for Christmas

Recently I’ve thought much about how the concept of home is changing for us. By God’s grace we are growing more comfortable saying that Tanzania is our home, though we have not left off calling the States home as well. I write this now far from either home in Moshi where we have just finished a week-long family vacation. As we departed to return we encountered some fairly serious car troubles. Laura and Ian were able to press ahead with our friends while I stayed back to sort out car repairs. Today is December 22 and our hope is that I will be on the road headed back to Mwanza on Christmas Eve. The song “I’ll be Home for Christmas” suddenly has acute meaning for me right now.

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December 22, 2013   3 Comments

Thistles in the Way or Roses along the Path?

I once had a calendar with inspirational quotes that reminded me, “life is 70% what you make of it” or something like that. There may be some truth to the idea that outcome is shaped by what we perceive of a given situation. But that thought doesn’t seem so practical when we’re surrounded by apparently pointless problems. For instance, I don’t understand many of the obstacles that we encountered in the way of Container Kesho’s arrival. One hurdle was the bank’s technical problems in wiring payment. The Tanzanian Revenue Authority misplaced our file. More recently the truck hauling the container was unable to pass because of low-hanging electrical wires.

On this and a few other projects I’ve caught myself responding to these hiccups with frustration. We all know what it’s like to imagine some project finishing without any major problems only to be frustrated by all the little things that ruin our plan. These experiences might make us interested in the Scriptures that suggest there is an easy way. Consider Proverbs 15:19:

The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway.

Maybe things are difficult just because we are not on the highway of the upright! I think it’s better, however, to understand this proverb to compare the way the upright and the sluggard look at the same obstacles.

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April 11, 2013   1 Comment