earthen vessels, East Africa, and the gospel
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September 2014 Prayer Update

This September 12 we will reach the second anniversary of our life in Africa. Looking back at this past year, we can see great progress in making Tanzania our home and place of ministry. For many months after moving in, the mark of our success was simply identifying the problems of our adjustment and coping with them. Now, we could describe the steps forward over this past year by recounting the number of things we did to adjust ourselves and our home to resolve some of those difficulties. Our house is more our home and the flow of life and work makes much more sense to us now than it did a year ago. We find ourselves more free to give thanks about the “Tanzanian” aspects of our life: the beauty of the land, the kindness of our neighbors, and the privilege of our son’s freedom to explore—to name a few.

Matt has also found this year to provide both greater opportunities and challenges in ministry. I’ve gone from devoting the whole of my time in preparation to talk with others about the Scriptures in Swahili to taking various opportunities to do so, and then be told, “that helped,” in various ways.

A Year of Focused Ministry Partnership

The past two months have been without a doubt the most intense season since our move here. Much of this has to do with our preparations for the next Baby Gass. The rest has to do with some good discussions with the Tanzanian church leadership. Observing a number of difficult situations in their own churches,1 a few representatives from each church agreed to make several requests of us missionaries. Some of the requests were for financial aid, some were for counsel, and others were for further explanation regarding our relationship to the churches. In some ways the subsequent discussions revealed the progress made in this church movement; and in other ways, it brought to the surface issues that are preventing spiritual and numerical growth. The intensity of the situation is no doubt a result of growing pains. That these conversations are a necessary—albeit challenging—step forward is a matter to thank the Lord for.

We agreed to answer all their questions and provide some financial help. Knowing that these difficult situations would require more than money to resolve, we also proposed a way to open the Scriptures with them in order to work through these problems together. We are now beginning a year of a focused partnership with these churches in which we will all be seeking God’s wisdom and, hopefully, making necessary corrections.

Prayer Update

I regularly remark to Laura and my teammates on my gratitude for being in a situation which demands that we recognize our need to depend upon the Lord. Thank you for depending on God through prayer as we do the same. Your prayers from wherever you are are no less important nor effective than our prayers here. Here are a few ways you can continue praying with us:

  1. Let’s pray that God would use the upcoming planned and unplanned meetings with the churches for Bible study and prayer to help the churches grow through the challenges they are now facing. May God use these discussions to make His word understood, strengthen our trust in Him, and help us to press forward in unity.
  2. Thank you for praying for the pregnancy and upcoming trip to Nairobi for the baby’s birth. By God’s grace, Laura and the baby are doing well. We continue praying for health, provision, and wisdom approaching the next few months so that the four of us may return to Tanzania safely and soon.
  3. Elias has recovered well from his accident and Samson continues to remark of God’s grace in his family’s situation following the recent loss of his younger brother. Thank you for praying. We may continue to praying for these men as they each face challenges in either making ends meet or leading a church through new situations.

[1]: I have introduced some of these challenges in individual posts on the history and progress of the churches: Sweya, Nyakaliro, Shadi, and Luselelo.

September 10, 2014   No Comments

The Church in Nyakaliro

This is the second post in a series on the history and progress of the churches we work with. The first post covered the church in Sweya.

Nyakaliro and Luselelo Churches in Nyakaliro

The Churches of Nyakaliro and Luselelo Following a Combined Service (2009)

A Brief History of the Grace Baptist Church in Nyakaliro

The location for the second church plant was selected by the men who had begun studying in the first years of the Bible Institute. They settled on a village about a three-hour-drive West from the church in Sweya, along the shore of Lake Victoria. The choice was influenced by (1) a desire to move west across the Mwanza Gulf, (2) the size and location of Nyakaliro relative to other villages in its district, (3) the absence of any evangelical church.
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June 23, 2014   No Comments

The Church in Sweya

Relatively little on this blog has been said concerning the churches themselves with whom we work. As I’ve suggested in previous updates, this season has given us the opportunity to draw nearer to the lives of these people. Becoming more acquainted with the happenings within the churches has brought a mix of responses: excitement and gravity.

In this and the following posts I’d like to share generally the history and current progress of each of the churches. My hope is that you would be better equipped to pray for the churches and for those of us who are working directly with them.

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June 12, 2014   1 Comment

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

Update on Pastor Elias

Last week I mentioned that Elias was in need of surgery to relieve a hernia he has been suffering from since December. The situation is looking better now, though he experienced another episode Wednesday. He is now at a medical facility in Sengerema, about an hour’s drive from his home in Nyakaliro. Unfortunately I don’t know when he will have his surgery, nor do we know how long his recovery will be.

We are encouraged that God has worked to provide for the cost of Elias’s treatment through the giving of our Tanzanian brethren. The church in Nyakaliro took up an offering on Sunday (the 13th). They were very generous. The church here in Shadi also agreed to contribute to the financial need. In addition, they are interested in sending a group to help Elias care for his field since he is currently unable.

We are grateful that this week there have been multiple examples of believers taking initiative to respond to the need. Though there will probably be financial needs that have not yet been satisfied, Elias should be receiving the medical care he needs. And, the occasion is providing opportunities for the saints to encourage each other in the Lord. Thank you for praying.

January 19, 2013   1 Comment

A Visit to Encourage Elias

This past Sunday (the 6th) Dan Eads and I made a visit to Nyakaliro. Dan preached there and in Luselelo, but the occasion of the trip was to visit Elias, the pastor of the church in Nyakaliro. Sometime in December, Elias began suffering from a hernia. For a man who makes a good portion of his income from physical labor, a hernia can be a difficult situation in more than one way. We came to encourage him.

Rob, Elias, and TCF

Rob, Elias, and TCF

During the day a call was placed to a doctor-friend in Mwanza who was able to provide a sound prognosis. Elias will need surgery, but, thankfully, his condition is not urgent. For many of our Tanzanian friends, the regular procedure for health problems involves trying traditional medicine first. It’s cheaper; and, it appears to help in many situations. Especially in the villages, Western medicine is not usually considered until traditional treatments have been exhausted. Far too often Western medicine fails simply because treatment began too late to do any good.

Elias has survived a round of traditional treatments which have been far less than pleasant. Currently, he is able to be be active in ministry as long as it doesn’t involve physical labor. He will need help to harvest the crops that are now in the ground. The problems of paying for surgery and getting it done at a reputable clinic are still looming ahead.

The cost of getting the surgery done at any place worth considering is out of the reach of a pastor’s income. How we, as “wealthy” white people, get involved is a complicated issue. Ideally, our help would not interfere with the church’s opportunity to support their pastor and see God supply through their own generosity. Our help should supplement their giving, not the other way around. Lord willing, Elias will receive the treatment he needs and many of God’s people (not just the white ones) will have a good view of God’s grace at work.

We left at 6:40am and returned about 9pm. The drive was rough on roads that were being washed away by the rains that day. I spent most of the day trying to piece together bits of Swahili conversation. It was a long, hard, day…but don’t let me ever fool you. Next to these Tanzanian pastor I’m getting to know, my job is easy.

January 9, 2013   No Comments