earthen vessels, East Africa, and the gospel
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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!)

Lusolelo

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

2015 Furlough Wrap-up

Before beginning this furlough a Tanzanian neighbor asked if we were planning to drive back to the States. As it turns out, we accumulated more than enough miles driving between churches in the States to make it from Mwanza to Detroit and almost halfway back!

We would like to acknowledge God’s graces over the many miles we have accumulated this year. Despite the difficulty of continuous moving with two small children, we found our visits to partnering churches to be very encouraging. We have been reminded of the many people praying for us with an understanding of our work and non-work needs–even praying for us in ways that we have not explicitly asked. Moreover, you have all been such gracious hosts, accomodating us in many ways. It seems that you are all reading the same good book on best practices for missionaries on furlough.

In 5 months’ time we were able to meet with 21 churches for ministry reports and various other ministries. We enjoyed many of your cheeseburgers along the way. Thank you for working with us and encouraging us in the Lord. We have just now clocked one week back in Tanzania, settling back in and gearing up for some big projects ahead.

The following pictures are a sampling of our family and ministry experiences since we began this furlough in February. (You may need to follow the link to the website in order to view all of them.)

July 26, 2015   2 Comments

In and Around Iringa

Other than all the Swahili grammar we are cramming into our heads, our trip to Iringa has provided a great opportunity to take a breath and enjoy what our new country of residence has to offer. We have found Tanzania to be much more diverse than we realized. The cooler weather is a welcome change. Some foods, which are otherwise unavailable in hotter climates (coffee, dairy, and even berries!), have also been a delightful surprise.

On a more significant note, the trip has broadened our appreciation for our Lord’s work in this country. We have encountered a number of Christians engaged in good works in various places. Their burden for God’s reputation and their experience have served to encourage and equip us with tactics worth exploring. Also, our drive through the heart of the country has identified countless villages yet to have any established witness to the gospel. We are left with the impression that God is working and that there is much work left to be done.

Since we couldn’t bring you with us, we hope you enjoy the following pictures.

Ruaha National Park

Iringa Town

May 23, 2013   No Comments

Longest Road Trip to Date

With all of our things packed up and moved out of the house, we have been living out of our car since July 27. Thankfully, we have had great places to stay along the way. We won’t return back to Detroit until September–just a few days before we depart for Tanzania. Here is a summary of our church meetings since we left Detroit.

We made our first stop to meet with a church in New Jersey on July 29. Parsippany Baptist Church invited us to share our ministry with them on that day. After I offered a presentation and a sermon, we had multiple opportunities for fellowship and discussing theology and missions with the people of the church. I was impressed with how seriously the church evaluates missionary candidates. It was explained to us that the process was intentionally thorough so that the church can make their partnerships lifetime commitments.

We were glad to meet with our partners at Colchester Bible Baptist Church in Connecticut on Wednesday, August 1, to update them on the progress of our pre-field ministry and share a sermon. They were glad to meet Ian and send us on our way with prayer.

From there we took a detour through New Hampshire and stopped in Burlington, MA, to meet with the Church of the Open Bible, August 5-9. Their pastor Dan Winnberg and his family are friends from our sending church. The church gave us four days to meet with them and participate in their church services. We appreciated how eager the church was to open their homes to us so that we may fellowship with them.

We left New England to return to New Jersey and meet with Calvary Bible Chapel of Flanders. I was asked to present our ministry in Sunday School and preach in the other worship services on August 12. Calvary Bible has the unusual distinction of being our last church meeting in pre-field ministry. Laura noted that this may be the last time I preach in English for a couple years–an oddly bitter-sweet thought. At any rate, we are glad to end this part of our pre-field ministry with such a positive experience.

August 12, 2012   No Comments

Retreat on the Kancamagus

Our family enjoyed a getaway this past weekend. Matt surprised me with a short trip to New Hampshire; he had booked a small cabin in Lincoln, NH in the White Mountains. We enjoyed the time as a family as we took time to be with each other.

Among the highlights of the trip was driving on the Kancamagus Highway from Lincoln to Conway, through the White Mountain National Forest. We stopped along the way to wade in the Swift River. Ian experienced his first feelings of river water and seemed to take in the whole experience. : ) We loved the chance to relax and thank God for his blessings.

Matt and I spent some time discussing our goals for the rest of our time in the U.S., as well as our goals for our first year in Tanzania. We also shared sweet time in prayer together. We are grateful for the opportunity to refocus and relax.

August 9, 2012   2 Comments

Change and Jesus

We are in the middle of a whole mess of change. There’s simply no way around it; one cannot move from Michigan to Tanzania without an extreme disruption to our way of life. Most of the things we’ve used daily for the past 6 years are now either in a box or no longer in our possession. We are almost 2 weeks into a 6-week road trip that ends with our flight out of the country. Needless to say, the process tests our emotional and physical endurance. We should be quick to say that there are many pleasant situations in the midst of our traveling–thanks to you. Our accomodations have been comfortable and we have benefited from exceptional generosity in the form of meals, loaned vehicles, and occasional fun diversions.

The reality that distances this stage of pre-field ministry from a nice (but rather odd) vacation is that our daily routines have been pitched never to be recovered. I’m not exactly sure where my favorite mug is; my running shoes have been inadvertently packed into a box somewhere; and all the daily activities I usually take for granted are just not there. The greatest difficulty in this disruption is in leaving behind what is familiar to us.

I’ve been admonished to remember that change can be good for us. Shaking up the status quo shows how dependent we can be on our regular routines. We all create space in our lives for predictable and familiar things–your home, something to eat, or some physical activity, and so on. But when everything is in transition, the house is bare, the meals are not home-cooked, and the whole day is full of new challenges. Where do you turn for relief?

The midst of change is the best place to learn contentment. Consider Paul’s testimony:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Phil 4:11-13)

We could mishandle the situations in which we “are brought low” or “abound” by disregarding the one who enables us to “do all things.” There is a secret to be learned in that God is using “any and every circumstance” to strengthen us. But true to my form, I have not always recognized God’s good gifts to us as they really are–gifts from above (Jas 1:17). Likewise, I have not always turned to God first in the midst of our loss. Correctly handling these circumstances ends in contentment because we are satisfied not in the predictable and familiar but in Jesus who enables us to endure all things. First, be content with Jesus. Then, knowing that there is no variance in his kindness (Heb 13:8), we may also know the stability to handle the change in our life.

July 28, 2012   3 Comments

It Looks Like We’ve Been Robbed

We held our second and final yard sale this past Saturday. With the help of many friends and Laura’s sister, who came in for the week, we were able to sell almost everything we will not be taking with us to Tanzania. Once again we are amazed that God makes something so common rather extraordinary. The sale makes it possible for us to move out and it helps provide for our outfitting expenses. Beyond that, it also does our heart good to see our “stuff” go to a good friend or a stranger who was eagerly looking for that particular item. Yard sales require a ton of work, but the unloading of so much stuff also brings great relief!

Indeed it was a long day. We were scheduled to meet with Bible Chapel of Delhi Hills in Cincinnati on Sunday; our hosts there were expecting us to arrive that night. During the yard sale, a few hours before the departure, I learned that the brakes in our car had developed a significant leak. By God’s good providence the shop was able to fix the problem just before they closed. Our departure for Cincinnati was late, but we made it safely.

On previous trips to Cincinnati, we have met with the pastor and elders of Bible Chapel and discovered a mutual appreciation for an approach to missions which aims to develop local church leadership. Sharing our ministry with the church led to a number of excellent discussions about God’s merciful work in their lives. Many of whom also encouraged us by sharing how their response to God’s mercy involves laboring to see the gospel reach others in this world.

When we returned to Detroit on Monday, I couldn’t help think that our house appears to have been robbed. We’ve been left with a few odds and ends–but this is just where we planned to be. This week we will be packing what’s left, which will either make the passage with us or on the shipping container. Thank you for praying!

July 24, 2012   1 Comment

Last Trip West of Chicago

…before we depart for Africa. We were able to cram much family and ministry business into our recent trip through Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. On July 8 we joined Prior Lake Baptist Church in Prior Lake, MN, for their worship services. After being introduced in the morning service, we joined the children with whom we discussed life in Africa. There we resolved the error that tigers and triceratops are roaming wild in Africa and explained why children all over the world need to hear about Jesus Christ. Dan and Jana Eads have visited this church previously, so we reintroduced the work to them in the evening.

My dad, Ian, and I

We met with the leadership families of Grace Community Bible Church nearby in Lakeville before returning to Iowa that week. My youngest sister’s wedding was the following Saturday, July 14. This event provided opportunities to discuss our ministry with many members of my family–many of whom are unfamiliar with our approach to missions work. We pray that God would use such opportunities as a testimony of the faith. Of course, my extended family was also glad to meet our son and have the opportunity to see us before we leave for Africa.

Is this heaven? No, this is Iowa

Unfortunately, that will be the last we see of Iowa for quite a while. That Sunday, July 15, we met with First Baptist Church in West Bend, WI. Pastor and Mrs. Dunford have met with us for lunch a year ago and greeted us at a pastor’s conference since then, so we were eager to meet the church which is benefitting from their service. After such an emotionally draining trip, we were glad to find much affinity between us and this church.

July 19, 2012   No Comments

Send-Off Meetings

Since plans for our transition from pre-field to field ministry have become settled, we have made efforts to schedule  meetings with as many of our current partners as possible. We have already given our final pre-field update to a few churches in Illinois, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Michigan. This past week we visited Lakewood Baptist Church in Delafield, WI, to catch up with each other and discuss what our partnership will consist of once we land in Africa.

In various ways we communicated to each other that we are both still learning how any of our supporting churches will be involved in our ministry beyond prayer and financial support. The precedent set in the NT is that Paul’s partners in the gospel did more than send him money; they were involved in his work, providing for his other needs, and bearing the burden of spreading the gospel together (e.g., Philippians 1:27-30; 2:25; 4:2-3). These send-off meetings serve to reinforce this commitment even though neither of us are entirely sure what this will look like until we’re about knee-deep in the work.

Lakewood is one of a few of our partnering churches which organizes a group to represent the Gass Family to the rest of the congregation. These groups are a tangible expression of the church’s commitment to “hold the ropes.” In our limited experience this seems to be an effective means of working together. If for no other reason, it has facilitated profitable communication between us and the people supporting us. The believers of Lakewood Baptist Church shared on multiple occasions their excitement for being a part of this ministry in Tanzania. I’m glad to say that this is a genuinely mutual excitement.

July 3, 2012   No Comments

Memorial Day Weekend in Cincinnati

The three of us traveled to Cincinnati on Memorial Day Weekend to meet with a few churches we have been in contact with for about a year. We joined the Strassner family (from Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church) for lunch on Saturday and met the elders of Providence Bible Fellowship in West Chester that evening. I presented our ministry in their morning worship services on Sunday morning. We quickly realized that there are an unusually high number of people at this church interested or involved in the spread of the gospel over-seas. Many have visited missionaries or have family members serving as missionaries. This means that our short visit was packed with rich conversations! That evening we joined Bible Chapel of Delhi Hills for their church cook out. We met pastor Landis on an earlier visit to the area. This time, we were able to meet and discuss ministry with all but one of the other elders.

Our first out-of-state road trip with Ian went very well, although it wasn’t without challenges. This trip has confirmed that I cannot compete for attention with my own son (but how could I be disappointed in this?). Overall, it was a hot and busy weekend. We returned home emotionally exhausted from all that was packed in to the trip. In retrospect, however, it is so encouraging to be introduced to churches who are genuinely like-minded in our desire to advance the gospel.

May 30, 2012   No Comments