Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mission Tanzania

In August, I will have the opportunity to lead a group of three other men from our church on a mission trip to Tanzania, Africa. I cannot tell you how excited I am about this trip for lots of reasons. One of my former associate pastors, Scott Ward, left our staff about two years ago to accept an appointment with the International Mission Board as a career missionary to Tanzania. Scott had visited the country several times on other mission trips and God laid on his heart the Pare people. The Pare are an unreached people group located in the Pare mountains in northern Tanzania. God paved the way for Scott's appointment and so he, along with his wonderful wife, Jennifer, and three boys, have all relocated to Same, Tanzania. As you can imagine, it's quite an undertaking to relocate an entire family, learn the language (Swahili) and prepare to plant churches in an area of the world that has never seen Christianity. This past spring, Scott finally reached a point where he was ready to start hosting small groups of volunteers to help him work the mission.

Meanwhile, back at the "ranch"….
We had already determined at Grand Avenue Baptist Church to assist Scott and Jennifer and be involved with the mission work among the Pare, but God has been at work to expand the resources that will be available. To begin, First Baptist Church, just down the street from our campus, jumped on board and made a commitment to help Scott reach the Pare as well. Greg Ford is the mission pastor at FBC and a GREAT guy. I have known Greg for years and he and I are "old" friends.

Next, God sent to the River Valley of Arkansas a man named Jeff Thompson. Jeff arrived about a year and a half ago to lead the association of 60+ southern Baptist churches here in our area. God put the Pare on Jeff's heart as well. And so last year at our associational meeting, we, as a group of over 60 churches made the move to adopt and commit to the Pare people. That means that Scott Ward now has the collective resources of over 60 churches working together to help him bring Jesus to Tanzania. For all the naysayers who complain that churches only fight against each other and that churches can't get along, I'd like to invite them to come check out the cooperation happening in the River Valley of Arkansas.

Back to Tanzania…
FBC just returned a couple of weeks ago from their first trip to Tanzania, led by Greg Ford. They will be sending another team in July followed by the team I will be leading in August. These are small teams designed to be highly mobile and move quickly through the mountains from village to village, mostly on foot. Our goal is to meet the village leaders, gain favor and permission to meet and talk to people paving the way for Scott to return. Scott's goal is to ultimately lead individuals to Christ and start indigenous churches.

We have another God resource in Tanzania as well. God has provided a man named Fanuel as a native Tanzanian and Baptist pastor to work with Scott. Fanuel is also training several other young "preacher" men to become pastors as well. I cannot overemphasize how much of a blessing this is to the mission effort to the Pare. Fanuel and his team provide credibility for Scott and our teams from the U.S. They will serve to interpret and introduce us to the culture.

I have not met Fanuel yet, but he is my brother in Christ. I can't wait to meet him face to face in August and tell him that I have been praying for him daily.

With all of this as backdrop, I want to share with you the words of Scott Ward who sent this update to Greg Ford just last week as a follow-up to what God is doing since FBC's trip:

Hey Greg,

I wanted to update you on the stuff happening in Mwembe (actually Mwembe is the whole region – we were in the village of Bangalala in the section of Vudee). We have just finished showing the Jesus Film for the third night in a row. Tonight was the last night. Each night, we have averaged over 200 people, and they have come as far away as on top of the mountain. It has been mostly women who have come (maybe 80%), but there has been some men on the fringes. Fanuel assured me that this is how it works. Many people have been "saved." Actually, at these events almost everyone "accepts" Jesus. This is why volunteer teams can leave here saying that they had 500 people accept Christ. The truth is that culturally everyone wants to make sure they don't offend you, so they go along with the motions even though they don't mean anything. During the days, we have just been going house to house sowing the Gospel.

So, in a nutshell…

  1. About 5 weeks ago three people accepted Christ through Alison's (one of Fanuel's students) testimony.
  2. About 2 weeks ago you guys came and softened the soil and did some more seed-sowing.
  3. This week, we have come in with full permission of the district and local governments and did a lot of seed-sowing using the Jesus Film, preaching, and just plain 'ole talking.
  4. Many people have responded in some way.

Now the future plan…

Fanuel will return to Mwembe on Saturday to rent a small house for 1 or 2 months (maybe $20 total). I will provide him with posters advertising a Baptist Church meeting on Sunday's and a men's Bible study on Wednesday's (Fanuel said that this is the way to get the men – they want to come, drink chai, and discuss.)

1. We will see this month how many people actually gave their lives to Christ and begin in some kind of Bible study. Hopefully at the end of a month or two we will have out first baptism service. I am planning on leaving the Proclaimer with them there so that they can use it to study the Bible.

2. If this goes as well as we think it will, Alison will move to Mwembe in a couple of months to be a pastor under heavy accountability through Fanuel and myself. We will then have the official launch of the new Baptist Church in Bagalala (the first all-Pare church).

Of course, everyone is extremely excited about all of this here. People are really beginning to catch a vision for the mountains, because they have seen such a need and hunger.
Everyone loves Jeff's (Thompson) commitment not to shave until we baptize 100 Pare and start 5 churches. Fanuel asked me to make a poster to put in his church so everyone will remember Jeff's suffering. He hasn't stopped laughing.
On a side note – We went to Mwanga today and Fanuel's office had been broken into. All that was stolen was a small cooking stove and a radio. He thinks they were looking for his motorcycle. We got some good new locks. The good thing out of this is that he is feeling more urgency to move to Mwanga now.
I'll be gone all next week to a meeting in Nairobi, but I should still have email.

Latest Update!

As I was walking out of morning worship this past Sunday, I got a text via Scott that said:

"We had 25 attend our first service in Mwembe!"

Folks, God is moving. He's moving fast and He's moving big and I can't wait to jump on the wave in August.