Sunday, December 20, 2015

Newsletter, December 2015

I have been meditating on a prayer in a book of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, [1] and thought I might use it as a framework for this newsletter. As we have come to the end of our first semester and, indeed, nearly the end of 2015, my mood is more contemplative and reflective as I look back over all the many things that have happened since we started back in August.

Sovereign God, Thy cause, not my own, engages my heart, and I appeal to Thee with greatest freedom to set up Thy kingdom in every place where Satan reigns; Glorify Thyself and I shall rejoice, for to bring honour to Thy name is my sole desire.

Four years ago, as we began to sense the Lord’s gentle yet persuasive tug on our hearts to return to the foreign mission field, we surrendered ourselves to His will to go wherever He sent us, asking only to be sent where no one else wanted to go. Gambella was the answer to our prayers. Not only do we now see the wisdom in our Lord’s sovereign decision to send us here rather than to any of the other very needy places in His world, but we also see His heart. Gambella is a place on the periphery…the people who live here live very much in the margins and have, for the most part, been forgotten and neglected. We see this especially in the field of education. While many have certificates and diplomas the evidence of what their papers declare is lacking. If children actually do go to school they receive a substandard education in comparison with the rest of the country. As far as the church is concerned, Satan has used this to his advantage as lack of proper theological training has resulted in either a continuation of traditional practices or some or other form of syncretism. The Christians here recognised this and asked for a Theological College…this year has been a year of fulfilment of that request.

I adore Thee that Thou art God, and long that others should know it, feel it, and rejoice in it. O that (people) might love and praise Thee, that Thou mightiest have all glory from the intelligent world! Let sinners be brought to Thee for Thy dear name!

But the College is not here simply to educate…it is here to bring glory to God. It is here because we are jealous for God’s Name and desire to see all in the Gambella People’s Region come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. So we teach some in order that they might teach many. To this end we have built into our curriculum a Field Education Program in which our students are required to use what they have learned in class to teach in their respective churches. But more than that. We also have a Spiritual Development Program and a Servant Leadership Program in which students are trained in the disciplines of the Christian walk…Bible reading, study, meditation, memorization, prayer, and service of others. We desire to see our students not just talk the walk, but walk the walk in the Spirit.

To the eye of reason everything respecting the conversion of others is as dark as midnight, but Thou can accomplish great things; the cause is Thine, and it is to Thy glory that (people) should be saved.

There is little we can teach our students about evangelism…in an oral culture, sharing good news is as natural as breathing…so the news of free salvation by grace through faith in Jesus’s finished work spreads like wild fire, and people are responding by the hundreds! This is the work of the Holy Spirit and we rejoice in it. To our Lord, these people are precious and most certainly not in the margins of His book! Reason alone fails to explain the phenomenal growth of the Anglican Church in this area…this is His cause, not ours. He is moving and we are simply following in His wake.

Lord, use me as Thou wilt, do with me what Thou wilt; but, O, promote Thy cause, let Thy kingdom come, let Thy blessed interest be advanced in this world! O do Thou bring in great numbers to Jesus! Let me see that glorious day, and give me to grasp for the multitudes of souls; let me be willing to die to that end; and while I live let me labour for Thee to the utmost of my strength, spending time profitably in this work, both in health and in weakness.

Living in Gambella makes one very aware of the frailty of human life. Death is commonplace here and the reality of our own mortality is clear. Everything in this world is transitory and temporary. We are not owners here. But this realization spurs us on to be used by our Lord to share life in a kingdom that cannot be shaken by war or by disease…the urgency to preach the Gospel here is pressing. For many, tomorrow will never come. The deepest desire of our hearts is to see the people of Gambella among the multitudes around our Lord’s throne of mercy and grace for eternity and so this part of the prayer is especially meaningful to us.

It is Thy cause and kingdom I long for, not my own. O, answer Thou my request!

If we came to Gambella out of a sense of moral duty we are doomed to fail. Life is hard here. Those who have come to visit us, even for a short space of time, can testify to this. But we are not here for ourselves, nor are we here even for the people – no, rather we are here for God and His cause and it is this that keeps us here. Everything we have done since coming to Gambella is for the sake of His kingdom, as that is all that is worth living for as that is all that is real and eternal. God loved His world enough to send His only Son to die for it. That is what Christmas is all about and that is what our work in Gambella is all about. His cause…His Kingdom…His glory.

We are truly grateful for each of our partners in this ministry. We know that it is His cause that motivates you to support us and we praise Him for that. May His Spirit continue to work in and through us all to bring His kingdom to bear upon every place where souls remain imprisoned.

Louise and I will be in South Africa visiting with her mum and family and also one of our children and our grandchildren for the rest of December and part of January. This will also be a time for reflection and evaluation for me as far as the College is concerned. I have applied for Affiliate Status with ACTEA (The Association for Christian Theological Education in Africa) and have to work on our application as well.

Praise:
Give thanks with us for the safe delivery of our third grandchild, Amelia Rose.
Give thanks with us for the successful and blessed completion of our first semester.

Prayers:
Pray with us as we reflect on our work over the past year, for wisdom to know how to shape the curriculum in the future, and for humility to discard our “bright ideas” for His better ones!

Much love and tons of blessings.

Johann and Louise




[1] The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, Bennet, Arthur Ed, The Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 1975.

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