Friday, October 30, 2009

On Having a Generous Heart

I heard a message by Joshua Harris on Generosity and the Poor and Needy and he read this quote from Milton Vincent. I thought it was really good and wanted to share it


"Like nothing else could ever do, the gospel instills in me a heart for the downcast, the poverty-stricken, and those in need of physical mercies, especially when such persons are of the household of faith.

When I see persons who are materially poor, I instantly feel a kinship with them, for they are physically what I was spiritually when my heart was closed to Christ. Perhaps some of them are in their condition because of sin, but so was I. Perhaps they are unkind when I try to help them; but I, too, have been spiteful to God when He has sought to help me. Perhaps they are thankless and even abuse the kindness I show them, but how many times have I been thankless and used what God has given me to serve selfish ends?

Perhaps a poverty-stricken person will be blessed and changed as a result of some kindness I show him. If so, God be praised for His grace through me. But if the person walks away unchanged by my kindness, then I still rejoice over the opportunity to love as God loves. Perhaps the person will repent in time; but for now, my heart is chastened and made wiser by the tangible depiction of what I myself have done to God on numerous occasions.

The gospel reminds me daily of the spiritual poverty into which I was born and also of the staggering generosity of Christ towards me. Such reminders instill in me both a felt connection to the poor and a desire to show them the same generosity that has been lavished on me. When ministering to the poor with these motivations, I not only preach the gospel to them through word and deed, but I reenact the gospel to my own benefit as well.”

- Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer for Christians

Video of children in Zambia

video

First Impressions and Thoughts

In our traveling to different churches, many of you asked how it was for my first trip there, or how things were going. So I thought I would post this from my family blog, that I wrote just a few weeks after coming home in August. The Lord continues to stir our hearts and move us along and I am encouraged, but this is where I was at when we first got home.

August 15th, 2009
We have been home for a week and a half now, since our trip to Zambia. I thought I would write an update to let everyone know how things are going.

The honest answer is that it has been a very difficult 2 ½ weeks.

Our time in Zambia went very well in regard to everything we had set out to see and do. But so many realities were brought in front of us and that has been part of the difficulty. It is one thing to see a country and visit different places, but as soon as you head out to the place that you are planning to move to, everything changes.

Zambia is the 7th country that I have been to. So, I was not shocked to see life outside the USA or to catch a glimpse of poverty or the things that accompany a 3rd world.

I think the “shock” to me, was that in moving to Zambia, I will no longer be living in Kentucky in the good ole US of A. I will no longer be seeing dear friends that we know and love. That we live near and that are like family to us.

We will no longer be able to see our families regularly. Probably 2 whole years will go by, before we will be able to see most of them. Our kids with their cousins and grandparents and Aunts and Uncles.

We will not look out our windows as we drive around our town and see other people’s homes and businesses, rolling hills and green grass. Cows in the pasture and horses in their fields… We won’t sit on our front porch and look out and see what we can see now. ---We’ll look at concrete walls as we sit on our porch, or as we drive around town. Walls everywhere. That’s the life in the city, whether it is Lusaka or Ndola. That is how it is.

So as we came home last Tuesday, I was worn out emotionally, having not seen my kids for 12 days and then physically, not sleeping well and spiritually too. I really felt worn out, and some oppression from Satan. How he would love to keep us from ever even going to Africa. Let alone cause trouble there, how much more the “victory” if he could keep us from ever even leaving? So my heart and soul have been very heavy and sobered this past week.

I realized that my roots here, especially in KY go down really far and deep. Though we were out in Montana for 3 ½ years, the Louisville area is where we have been settled and have raised our family. This is home.

Sometime last week James asked me to list 3 things that are the hardest to think about in relation to Zambia. I told him, “We will not be here, we will not be here, we will not be here”. As I talked about how I was feeling briefly with Pastor Jim, he said, “you can see now why not many people go”.

I have been very thankful that several friends have been praying for me and us more specifically and that the Lord has been calming my heart and encouraging me again. It is hard when I have been feeling so much going on inside and am not quite sure exactly what it is or how to explain it. I think heavy hearted, sober and overwhelmed would be how to describe how I felt the last day in Lusaka and the first week home.

As I opened my weekly email that I receive from the Voice of the Martyrs, I was reminded of one of the reasons we are wanting to go and work in Africa.

The report was of another man in Eritrea ( country in Northern Africa) dying in prison after being captured and tortured for his faith in Christ. And just a few weeks ago in another country in North Africa, the report of 2 boys (ages somewhere between 8-12) being beheaded because their father was a Christian and they were trying to get to him.

What evil, awful things. But those who are doing such things are in need of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. And our going to Zambia, and James helping in training men for the ministry could then have an impact upon these places, as these men are sent out into other countries.

So the Lord used that to remind me. It is easy to lose sight of things and focus on our losses and not on our gains, or on Christ or the people there.

The people we met, and in general, are all so very warm and kind hearted. We felt very welcomed in Zambia. It is such a huge blessing to be able to speak the same language and have several growing thriving churches there to fellowship with.

It will take time though. People are kind, but friendships are not formed instantly. And many times , easily either. Things there take a long time to do too. And though the city is more “western”, it is still Africa. Just an example… They had hot water which is a blessing, though hardly any water pressure and not really any “showers” just a handheld spiket which means just bathing takes longer than usual.

You can be 2 miles from something, or however many kilometers that is, (I need to learn the difference) and it takes 15 minutes to get there. Also, I found out that you can’t just “run into the grocery for something”. Getting there, parking, getting what you need, checking out and getting out of the shopping center takes a really long time. I think I have it down to a science, running into Kroger grabbing what I need and getting home, if I need to be quick.

These examples are not “problems”, but just things to get used to.

Pastor Kalifungwa was very kind in asking me how things were going one of the days I was there. He and his family are Zambian but they lived for a while in South Africa, and have been back for the last 3-4 years. He said that it is hard in the beginning, but then you begin to see why things are the way they are, then you get used to how things are, and then he said, you actually start to prefer them that way.

It was encouraging. Even now as I remember, I had emailed another American woman living there and she said that she likes it much better than in the states, though it took time, and that things are much slower pace and she feels like her family is much closer as a result.

The Lord brought those things to mind, as well as encouraging me in His Word, and through prayer before Him and being refreshed listening to songs of worship.

So Thursday I told James that I felt like I was ready to go again. I talked to a friend last night and was telling her the same thing and said that I know it is a direct answer to her prayers and others. We certainly felt the need to be lifted up before the throne of God. Which will only continue. It will not get easier, so we need that continual help and strength.
Thank you for remembering us.


And then this one was written in August also, a few days later...

I have been reading a book, picking it up a little here and there, titled "Heavenly Springs", by Andrew Bonar.

I brought it along with me to Zambia and the Lord used it to encourage me some, and then since I got home I have been reading it a little more.
It is a small book with 53 sections. ( one for each Lord's Day of the year) All about 2-3 pages each. It covers various topics and subjects and I have been very encouraged reading it. I thought I would share a few quotes from it. This post follows the other one on "How are we really doing?" So if you haven't read that one first, read it and come back to this so you can see the progression of heart and encouragements over the last few weeks...

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"Why are Gideon and Barack spoken of for their faith - Barak who said, 'If Deborah does not go with me I will not go' - and Gideon who said, 'How shall I save Israel?'
Their faith gained strength as they went at the Lord's bidding."


"The Lord went before them by way in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way" (Exodus 13:21) Their past experience was not of great use to the Israelites in their journeyings. They needed always to consult God. If you think you will get through anything because you got through before, you will certainly fail. You must ask fresh counsel of God and consult with Him continually; and since the pillar-cloud and not your own experience is your guide, see that you make it so. Perhaps some Israelite, looking on the burning sands all around and thinking of the scorching heat, would say, 'What if this continue? What if that friend should die? What if the little ones be worn out? Let us follow the pillar-cloud and not trouble ourselves with 'ifs'. "


"Let the love of Christ take possesion of your heart, and you will find you are living for Him without an effort."


"We have but one thing to do, we have but one Person to please. Has your life been thus simplified?"

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Work Visa

We heard today from Seke Lupunga, the Pastoral Assistant at Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, that James was approved for his Work Visa.

This was very good news for us, and we continue on with our plans to leave mid January. We have our tickets.

We have heard from a man in South Africa that is moving to Zambia to do pastoral training also, he just got his work visa as well. He had much difficulty in getting his, and they initially had expected to be in Zambia when we were there in the summer.
So we were very thankful to hear this good news and that there was no delay.

We still have no offers on the house, this is the last major thing to fall in place for us, so we would appreciate your prayers in that regard.

Thank you

"How American Christians Can Help Christians in Zambia"

This was published online this summer and we thought it was great.

How American Christians Can Help Christians in Zambia

By Conrad Mbewe


American Christians are already doing a lot to help Christians in Zambia, for which we are deeply grateful. When we see the church in eternity, there is no doubt that the American church's contribution to missions will stand out like Mount Everest compared to contributions from any other parts of the world.

And Africa has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of this missions output from the American church.

So if this article sounds a little negative, it must not be seen as betraying a lack of gratitude. Rather, 9Marks has invited me to present the perspective of one beneficiary who wants to help American Christians ensure that their help is more effective.

1) LEARN THE ZAMBIAN CULTURE

It seems to me that the best place for American Christians to begin trying to better help Zambian Christians is for them to take time to understand African or Zambian culture. When Paul said, "To those under the law, I became like one under the law…To those not having the law, I became like one without the law…" (1 Cor. 9:20, 21), the least we can say is that he took time to understand how people in both cultures thought in order to win them to Christ.

Sadly, we have far too many well-meaning Americans who climb off the plane for the first time wanting to correct everything they see. They don't realize that the sensational view of Africa presented to the American people via CNN is often very superficial. A person needs to be on Zambian soil for some time, observing and asking questions about the presuppositions that make up African culture, before one can effectively minister here.

Space forbids me to apply this lesson to the huge area of modesty, decency, and propriety, especially when American young people are sent to Zambia on short-term mission trips. We often blush on your behalf!

However, let me say a little more about another area. Like most Africans, Zambians rarely want to give offence to anyone. Hence, when an American comes and appeals to his hearers to repeat a sinner's prayer, many Zambians comply merely out of a desire not to offend him. The deceived evangelist goes back to America with glowing reports of the number of converts he has left behind on African soil. But the truth is that no sooner was he on the plane crossing the Atlantic than his "converts" went back to their life of sin. They were not converted at all!

2) PARTNER WITH THE ZAMBIAN CHURCH

American Christians should also realize that the pioneer stage of missions in Zambia is largely over. The church of Jesus Christ has been firmly planted here. Therefore, American Christians should not do all their planning while in America, or try to do all their work through sending missionaries to Zambia. Instead, they should consult and plan with indigenous Zambian church leaders. Once this is done, it will soon become apparent that our greatest need is not for more missionaries from the West but for us to be challenged to send out our own missionaries (perhaps with your support).

I am not suggesting that there is no need for Western missionaries. We could do with many more hands! Rather, I am saying that if you plan with indigenous church leaders here the emphasis will certainly shift. It costs ten times more to send and keep a Western missionary and his family on Zambian soil than it does to briefly support an indigenous missionary as he begins to minister among his own people. So, even from the angle of stewardship over the Lord's resources, the present emphasis needs to change.

3) DEMONSTRATE BIBLICAL CHURCHMANSHIP

Western Christians entering Zambia as missionaries are generally very good examples to us with respect to their personal and domestic lives. In these two areas, we see a very clear difference between them and their non-Christian counterparts from the Western world.

However, where we see no difference is in their commitment to the local church. Their church attendance is scanty to say the least. They do not join a local church. We do not know where they give their tithes and offerings. They are not involved in any local church ministries (except to preach when they are asked to do so), and so on.

As a result, our young professional Christians believe that this is enlightened Christianity. They also end up having a very loose relationship with the church. I really think that this has been the Achilles' heel of the work of Western missionaries in Zambia today. They are not good examples of biblical churchmanship!

We need to find a way in which Western missionaries can maintain relationships with their sending churches and at the same time exhibit biblical accountability to local churches where they labor, so that they can be good examples in this area to those whom they win to Christ.

4) ENSURE EQUITY IN CHRIST'S BODY

If American Christians are really going to help Christians in Zambia, one other area that needs some serious thinking is the price that your books cost when they arrive on this side of the Atlantic. They cost an arm and a leg!

The biblical principle is that "he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little" (2 Cor. 8:15). That is certainly not what is happening. Books are priceless when it comes to the work of ministry, and Zambian pastors need books just as much as American pastors. Yet in addition to the discrepancy in salaries between pastors there and here, add in the cost of transportation and the books become too expensive for the average Zambian pastor.

I do not want to be unfair to book publishers and demand a pricing system that will put them out of business tomorrow. All I am saying is that there is need to implement the biblical principle of equity in Christ's body if Christian books are not just to be a form of business but also a true spiritual ministry to the worldwide body of Christ.

5) COMBAT AMERICA'S CHIEF, AND WORST, SPIRITUAL EXPORT

As I close, I wonder whether Reformed and conservative American Christians are aware that the charismatic prosperity gospel is America's chief spiritual export to our shores. In Zambia, the only free television channel that we have twenty-four hours a day is Trinity Broadcasting Network. It is the most unhelpful thing you can give us!

As a result, the kind of preaching now taking hold in Zambian pulpits is being modeled after preachers like Joel Osteen. Preaching is fast becoming nothing more than motivational speaking. Reformed and conservative American Christians need to do more to be helpful to the church in Zambia before the damage presently being caused by America's chief spiritual export becomes irreparable.

As someone has rightly asked, "Why is it that false teaching is often halfway around the globe before truth finishes tying its shoes?" I hope the readers of this article will, therefore, not just sit there but do something about it!

Conrad Mbewe is the pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Africa needs God

This article was circulated earlier in the year. I wanted to add it to the blog, as I thought it was helpful to read.


As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God
By Matthew Parris, from The Times Online

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding—as you can—the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

First, then, the observation. We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world—a directness in their dealings with others—that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.

At 24, travelling by land across the continent reinforced this impression. From Algiers to Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Central African Republic, then right through the Congo to Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya, four student friends and I drove our old Land Rover to Nairobi.
We slept under the stars, so it was important as we reached the more populated and lawless parts of the sub-Sahara that every day we find somewhere safe by nightfall. Often near a mission.

Whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had to acknowledge that something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to: something in their eyes, the way they approached you direct, man-to-man, without looking down or away. They had not become more deferential towards strangers—in some ways less so—but more open.

This time in Malawi it was the same. I met no missionaries. You do not encounter missionaries in the lobbies of expensive hotels discussing development strategy documents, as you do with the big NGOs. But instead I noticed that a handful of the most impressive African members of the Pump Aid team (largely from Zimbabwe) were, privately, strong Christians. “Privately” because the charity is entirely secular and I never heard any of its team so much as mention religion while working in the villages. But I picked up the Christian references in our conversations. One, I saw, was studying a devotional textbook in the car. One, on Sunday, went off to church at dawn for a two-hour service.

It would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and optimism in their work was unconnected with personal faith. Their work was secular, but surely affected by what they were. What they were was, in turn, influenced by a conception of man's place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.

There's long been a fashion among Western academic sociologists for placing tribal value systems within a ring fence, beyond critiques founded in our own culture: “theirs” and therefore best for “them”; authentic and of intrinsically equal worth to ours.

I don't follow this. I observe that tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours; and that it suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe. This rural-traditional mindset feeds into the “big man” and gangster politics of the African city: the exaggerated respect for a swaggering leader, and the (literal) inability to understand the whole idea of loyal opposition.

Anxiety—fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things—strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won't take the initiative, won't take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.

How can I, as someone with a foot in both camps, explain? When the philosophical tourist moves from one world view to another he finds—at the very moment of passing into the new—that he loses the language to describe the landscape to the old. But let me try an example: the answer given by Sir Edmund Hillary to the question: Why climb the mountain? “Because it's there,” he said.

To the rural African mind, this is an explanation of why one would not climb the mountain. It's... well, there. Just there. Why interfere? Nothing to be done about it, or with it. Hillary's further explanation—that nobody else had climbed it—would stand as a second reason for passivity.

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.

And I'm afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.




Sunday, October 18, 2009

Traveling

We are in New York right now, heading to New Jersey.
We have been on the road for a week and a half, and have about another week and a half. We have been visiting more churches, as we did this spring, and presenting the work in Zambia. We have had the opportunity to stay and visit with friends, as well as meet new people and make new friends.

In September, we visited a couple churches in North Carolina and one in Roanoke, Virginia.
This past week, we visited churches in Maine, New York and now New Jersey and will have a couple in Pennsylvania next week.

It is exciting to me and encouraging when others are interested in what the Lord is doing in Zambia, and what we will be doing over there.

Several times when we are weary of traveling or tired from all the preparations and planning, God brings us to a church, and has someone specific come to us and encourage us or tell us they have been praying for us already and will be a prayer warrior.

That is such a blessing and a huge help to me, when I am getting "bogged down" in all the details. To think back again over what we are doing. Even just watching the video and the powerpoint for the (20+ time) reminds me again of the Lord working all these things.

So I want to thank all of you, who have encouraged us along the way in our many travels, or who have been praying for us. Whether in Tennessee, Indiana, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, California, Arizona, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia, Maine, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or our beloved Kentucky! The Lord has used you.