earthen vessels, East Africa, and the gospel
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January in Nairobi

Early in January, the Gass family lifted anchor and temporarily moved to Nairobi, Kenya. Besides the food and flowers that aren’t available in Tanzania, Nairobi is a choice destination in East Africa for medical care. Kyla was born here in 2014, and Gassito #3 is due to arrive very soon.

Downtown from Nairobi National Park

Time away from some obligations in Mwanza has allowed for more freedom to focus on Bible Institute curriculum and preparation for our trip to the States later this year.

From here, we continue to join you in prayer for the ongoing work in Tanzania. Here are the highlights for January and February ministry:

  1. Churches are forming savings groups, electing group leadership, establishing rules, and starting group Bible study.
  2. The church plant in Bukokwa is teaching through the church and church fellowship constitutions in advance of forming a membership role.
  3. The evangelistic work in Mbugani is continuing with regular Sunday meetings on their new property.
  4. New Bible Institute students are doing home-to-home evangelism under the guidance of 2nd-year students.

Matters For Prayer

Here are some more specific ways to partner with us in prayer:

  1. As people are learning to share their faith and teach the Bible, please pray for courage to say what needs to be said and faithfulness to say what God has entrusted to us in His word. Consider specific situations of evangelism, Bible Institute teaching, and small group Bible study.
  2. I posted a more complete prayer guide for church planting earlier this month. Consider using it to pray for the advance of the gospel and health of the (future) churches in Mbugani, Bukokwa, and Usagara (which is technically a young church, approaching 2-years-old).
  3. The church in Sweya has been without a pastor for four months now. Please pray that God would provide the ability and the wisdom to call their next pastor, that they would not grow faint in doing good works (1 Thess 5:14; Heb 12:12).
  4. We look forward to meeting our new Gassito and introducing her to you. Please pray for health and safety. Besides traffic, this potentially is another complicating factor scheduled for the baby’s due date.

January 30, 2018   No Comments

Prayer Guide for Church Planting

Church Plant Map (2015)

Thank you for praying for the advance of the gospel in Tanzania. As you know, the primary objective of these updates is for informing your prayers. We’ve posted specific ways you can be praying for missionaries. More recently, we’ve updated you on the challenges facing church planting efforts in Mbugani. As you consider that church plant and others in prayer, you may keep in mind some of the following matters:

    1. Please pray that evangelism may reach various people groups (Acts 12:24; Gal 3:26—28; Eph 2:14, 15).
      • While women and children are generally responsive and available to talk about the gospel, it can be challenging to engage men with the gospel.
      • Pray for opportunities to reach less prominant tribes with the gospel.
      • Pray for opportunities to reach Muslims and others steeped in traditional religion.
      • Pray for opportunities to reach people that have been shut out from the community.
      • Pray for opportunities to reach people of different educational and financial conditions.
    2. Pray for good participation in evangelism (Matt 9:37, 38).
      • Pray for perseverance. In some cases, people are traveling hours by foot and bike to make evangelistic visits.
      • Pray for faithfulness to the gospel. None of us are worthy of the message we proclaim. May God’s grace to overcome our faults for the sake of His name.
    3. Pray that the gospel may bear fruit that multiplies (Matt 7:1–23).
      • Pray that people may receive the word of God, rejecting shallow and false substitutes (1 Cor 1:18).
      • Pray that God may open the eyes of their hearts so that they may begin to grasp the significance of the gospel in their lives (Eph 1:17–23).
      • Pray that God may protect against exceptional temptations, especially temptations to revert to non-Christian faith (Matt 6:13).
      • Pray that young believers may stand firm in the faith (Eph 6:10–18).
    4. Pray that people may be drawn to the church because of the gospel more than hope of foreign aid, choir music, or construction of a church building (Rom 1:16).
    5. Pray for those leading and teaching.
      • Pray that God would protect the church from false and otherwise unhealthy teaching (1 Tim 1:3–11).
      • Pray that God would provide for the needs of church planters and their families (3 John 7).
      • Pray that God would provide wisdom in learning how to feed and lead a new group of believers (1 Tim 4:15, 16).
    6. Pray for protection from those who would exploit a young church for their own benefit (Acts 20:28–31).

January 19, 2018   No Comments

December 2017 Prayer Update

Leaders in just about any field reach a level of success when they are able to step away from their work and watch everything move forward without interruption. When we missionaries say we are trying to work ourselves out of a job, we are anticipating the day in which gospel work is wholy entrusted to local churches. Didn’t John relay a similar idea when he wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4)?

It is now my joy to write this in the back of the Bible Institute classroom while Tanzanian pastors are teaching others the gospel and how to share it with their neighbors. Others, meanwhile, are out preparing a property to be used as meeting place for a church plant in Bulyaheke. And yet others are taking steps to teach their fellow church members principles of biblical stewardship.

Training for Savings Groups

The microfinancing project mentioned in previous prayer updates involves starting savings groups out of Tanzanian churches. You can read more about what this looks like and why we are doing it here.

Each church has selected two members (one man and one woman) to facilitate the formation of savings groups. Following training earlier this month, facilitators are now moving towards launching groups by the end of January. As we explained in the post linked above, these groups are designed as means to teach and encourage biblical stewardship of our things.

New Bible Institute Class

A new year of Bible Institute classes begins this week with a new group of students. At 40 students, the class is large and includes new faces from the church plant in Bukokwa and others who have heard the gospel from previous students. Some are able to attend this time since we are meeting in Nyakaliro—much closer to their homes than classes in Shadi.

This class is the first opportunity for most to consider the consequences of keeping the gospel to ourselves. The other remarkable news of the week is that the Tanzanian pastors are teaching the entire class for the first time. I have the privilege of coaching them through.

Matters For Prayer

  1. As people are being trained in evangelism and Bible teaching, please pray for courage to say what needs to be said and faithfulness to say what God has entrusted to us in His word. Consider specific situations of evangelism, Bible Institute teaching, and small group Bible study.
  2. Lord willing, a new church will soon be born in Bukokwa. 19 were baptized last month. The whole group (about 30) is now studying the churches’ statement of faith and constitution before forming their own membership. Please pray that the teaching will result in faith in and unity in the gospel.
  3. A week after New Year’s Day, the Gass family moves to Nairobi for the birth of Gassito #3, who is due at the end of January. Please pray for health and safety. May I also add that we pray specifically that this time we may avoid fleeing to the hospital in the middle of Nairobi rush hour traffic. Thanks!

We’d like to wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Kwa Kiswahili, tunasema heri ya Krismas! Mungu awabiriki wote!

December 19, 2017   No Comments

November 2017 Prayer Update

We have a children’s book about a surprise that we enjoy reading with Ian and Kyla. The book’s title, Waiting is Not Easy, should help you figure out the plot line leading up to the surprise. (Spoiler alert!) At the end the two friends are rewarded with a surprise worth waiting for: a view of the stars. Those last pages (maybe ironically) remind me of the privilege of our ministry here.

The greatest joy we have in ministry here comes in sharing another’s discovery of God’s greatness and goodness. The end of that children’s book is two friends sharing something that was appreciated only by one of them before. Likewise, the hope and energy that drives our work here is a dialogue that resembles this one:

us: Do you see that? [as we are pointing to God’s greatness and goodness through the Scriptures]
friend: Yes! Wow.
us: I know. Isn’t that great?!
friend: What do I do now?…Where can I get more?

Whether we are sharing the gospel, teaching institute students, or meeting with pastors, arguably the best we can do for them is to help them “[behold] the glory of the Lord” so they may be “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). By God’s grace, we have shared in moments like this recently.

Our God

Our latest Bible Institute class met last week to consider the first theology course of our new curriculum. The premise of this course is that the strength to do good works, resist sinful temptation, and endure trials comes from knowing our God. We considered how our hearts are idol factories and how acknowledging how God’s threeness enriches our faith. We also looked at how God makes good out of hard things.

For me, this course was a delight to prepare. But seeing students experience light bulb moments is even better than my joy in writing the course.

Membership Interviews in Bukokwa

There are over 20 new believers in Bukokwa currently making steps toward baptism and forming a new church there. This past weekend I joined Jonas (pastor of the mother church in Nyakaliro) and James (the church planter) in interviewing prospective members. The purpose of these interviews is to verify (as best as we are able) that the prospective member believes the true gospel.

membership interviews

membership interviews in Bukokwa

This can be a challenging purpose to fulfill when most are not able to describe what they believe about salvation and why they want to join a church. Most interviews turn into a discussion about the gospel. Personally, my favorite part of the process is talking about God’s grace in salvation. For those (many) that think God forgives only the most obedient servants, we get to show them how God’s salvation isn’t earned but rather given freely by faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

Matters For Prayer

  1. Join us in thanking God for fruit being born out of Bible Institute teaching. Join us in praying that through this teaching students will grow in Christlikeness from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18).
  2. Lord willing, a new church will soon be born in Bukokwa. More than 20 are planning to be baptized this week. Please pray that the related teaching will result in faith in and unity around the gospel.
  3. This week we kick off our church-based microfinancing project with orientation seminars in the churches. Think of it like training wheels for laying up treasures in heaven. And pray that through it churches will grow in their discipline to steward what God entrusts to them.
  4. Join us in praying that God would make the Tanzanian churches sources of light in dark places (Phil 2:15). May God zealously guard the testimony of His Name among His people through biblical discipline and spiritual growth.

On behalf of all of us, we wish you a blessed Thanksgiving.

November 22, 2017   No Comments

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).

[Read more →]

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