earthen vessels, East Africa, and the gospel
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September-October 2017 Prayer Update

Pastor William Samweli has started to preach through the book of Philippians. We are spending much of our regular visits together studying the passages and discussing how to preach them. Our study has brought to mind the partnership you all have shared with us over these past five years. Like Paul we pray with joy because of your labor together with us in the gospel (1:5). I likewise have no doubt that your prayers and gifts are bearing fruit in us and the advance of God’s word. Yet I find Paul’s abounding confidence in the final outcome an encouragement to trust in the One who finishes what He starts (1:6, 19–20; 4:7).

Usagara in the wind

Church members scramble to support the tarps in high wind during worship service in Usagara.

Difficult Matters

In our August prayer update, I asked for prayer generally over various “difficult matters” in the Tanzanian churches. The government-ordered shutdown of building in Usagara was one of those matters. While progress is being made, it still isn’t clear how or when this will be resolved.

Another such matter has resulted in the removal of one pastor from his office. The church called for this minister to step down only so that he may better care for his family. We can be grateful that this was a carefully made decision in the interest of prudence rather than the final step of discipline. The outpouring of assistance from the other churches still another positive result of this matter. Coworker Dan Eads, writes more in his latest update.

Sprinting to 2018

We took some time off in September and came back to begin a sprint through the last quarter of the year. Bible Institute presses on with new courses and 2nd-run revisions. I continue regular visits to support church planting efforts west of the Gulf. We are also preparing to launch a church-based microfinancing project as an effort to practice biblical stewardship and build up our neighbors’ resiliency[1].

Prayer Update

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace…in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. (Philippians 1:7–8)

  1. We thank God for a break from our normal in Tanzania and the opportunity for Matt’s parents to visit us. The time was blessed in so many ways. One of which was the our doctors’ confirmation that Laura’s pregnancy is healthy.
  2. We missionaries meet with the Tanzanian church fellowship this Monday, 16 October, in order to inform them how we will be working with them to grow the churches towards healthy independence. Picture something part biblical exhortation and part strategic vision casting. Please pray that the result may be a single-minded resolve to serve and trust the Lord.
  3. As Laura adjusts to a new role as homeschooling mom, please pray for God’s grace in her health, strength, and adjustment.
  4. Sprinting is exhausting! Please join us in praying for spiritual endurance to serve others with words of encouragement, counsel, and teaching. Pray that we ourselves may be refreshed to that end.

  1. Resiliency in the context of poverty here refers to the opposite of vulnerability to adverse economic, social, and environmental conditions.  ↩

October 11, 2017   No Comments

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

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

July 2017 Prayer Update

For this update we reflected on recent reasons to give thanks to God and recorded it in a short video. We also included a special family announcement. Follow the link below to see it online.

Prayer Update

  1. Thank the Lord with us that the churches successfully organized a fellowship to coordinate their work together and (eventually) fulfill their requirements to the government. The June 22nd meeting was notable as a mark of the churches’ growing maturity.
  2. We are grateful that our co-worker, Beth Roark, is receiving good medical treatment in the States. Please pray for her recovery from surgery, the success of this treatment, and Tumaini Children’s Home while she is away.
  3. We are preparing two Bible Institute classes for August: one on the church and a second on bible interpretation. Please pray for teachers and students alike so that the Lord may be served in these efforts.
  4. Please pray for Laura’s health and strength regarding the happy news we shared in the video 🙂

July 20, 2017   4 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

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

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

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

September 2016 Ministry Update

In this video update, we talk about the blessings of having guests from our partnering churches. We also look forward to the events of the coming months. Watch it here or follow the link to see it on Vimeo.

Prayer Update

  1. Thank the Lord for season with safe travel and good visits with our guests.
  2. We met with representatives of the Tanzanian churches on Tuesday (30 Aug) and discussed church and missionary cooperation in church planting. The results of the meeting were positive. Besides the evangelism we missionaries are doing (in Usagara and Malimbe), please pray that the other efforts being led by Tanzanians to spread the gospel and plant churches would be bear lasting fruit for the glory of God (e.g., 2 Thess 3:1).
  3. We have started membership interviews in Usagara where we will be asking prospective church members about their faith and agreement to the church constitution. Please pray that God may help us to foster a mutual understanding of the true gospel (despite language barriers) and build unity grounded in Scripture.
  4. Bible institute students should have finished their work assigned in February’s class on the gospel. Dan and I are preparing a class on spiritual growth to be taught in September. Please pray that homework and teaching would prepare people to honor God in obedience.
  5. Please pray that God may preserve Laura and I with sufficient strength and patience to serve each other and our children. I’m sure we are all aware of our need for God’s grace. Some days the intense sun, noise of young children, and the typical stomach ailments can mount up and cause us to feel that need acutely.

September 1, 2016   No Comments