Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Changing the Atmosphere

Over the years, Louise and I have often met Christians who have never been able to let go of their past to such an extent that, in many ways, their past had become their present identity. No matter what the occasion, these dear folks would inevitably find an excuse to drag up something from the past that, to them, explained why they were the way they were. Somewhere, someone – an individual (a parent, a sibling, a friend, an enemy, a co-worker) or a group or an organisation (such as the Church) – had hurt them, betrayed them, denied them, abused them, offended them, or whatever and this seemed to have had a lasting negative impact on their lives.

I often asked such individuals if they had forgiven that person(s), or institution(s) and I received varied responses…sometimes surprised, sometimes vexed, or sometimes even angry. It was as if letting go of the past hurt or pain would deny an integral part of their person.

I have seen this same tendency here in Gambela as well…but here the negative is not applied to an individual only, but to an entire people group. We have seen this especially when there is conflict between people groups…suddenly the past is resurrected and groups will gather together to rehash old grudges to confirm their beliefs that the other group cannot be trusted…or to justify their own bad behaviour. Sadly, we have seen this even among believers. This atmosphere of negative memory seems to be the fuel that ignites and feeds the passionate and violent responses to disputes we have witnessed over the past few years. These negative memories appear to be deeply engrained in the very identity of each group, giving rise to a culture of revenge, which is deadly.

Like the individuals in the West who nurse their grudges like suckling babes, some here hold onto negative memories as if their very lives depended on it…as if letting go would somehow bring about an end to their identity as a people group and slander the memory of those who have died as victims of violence in the past.

But the message of the cross is directly opposed to such an atmosphere…in His prayer regarding His murderers, our Lord clearly said, “Father, forgive them as they do not know what they are doing.” Indeed, forgiveness is very much part of our identity as the people of the cross. We are forgiven and therefore we must forgive. God does not hold onto our sins against Him and consequently we ought not to hold onto the sins of those who have sinned against us. It never ceases to astonish me how those who pray the Lord’s Prayer so easily still somehow justify their holding onto negative memories.

Of course we all need healing…very few of us, if any, have managed to make it through puberty without scars or wounds…but there is a point in our Christian lives where maturity demands full-scale forgiveness and a release of the past. Otherwise we run the risk of walking out of step with the Spirit…and in step with the self-righteous.

And so we need to bring about an atmosphere of forgiveness – and all that goes with true Christian forgiveness – in this place.

But this is nothing less than an attempt to change the spiritual atmosphere over this entire area and to change the perceived identity of people groups. This involves prayer at a much deeper level than we have ever prayed before and it involves what some have called spiritual warfare.

Angus Buckhan once said that the recipe for a miracle is simply to attempt the impossible for God. I am well aware of how fragile we are as earthen vessels, to use the Apostle Paul’s image…but he also said that in our weakness, God is strong and that God has purposefully chosen the foolish and weak things of this world to shame the wise and the mighty…if those things are what it takes then we are qualified. We are fragile, foolish, and weak and the task is impossible.

But our God is the Almighty God and all authority in heaven and earth is His and the chariots of God are thousands upon thousands. Indeed, the battle belongs to the Lord.

Would you pray with us, please, for the Holy Spirit to move in the Gambela People’s Region? Without Him, we are nothing and we can do nothing…but with God, all things are possible…even the casting down of strongholds that have existed for hundreds of years…even the opening of spiritually blind eyes….even the resurrection of the dead.

I was reminded this morning of Jesus’ words in His letter to the church in Pergamum. “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.” Satan has wreaked havoc in this area for years. It is time he is deposed and dethroned and his work destroyed. Pray with us, please.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Prayer Letter: June 2016

Have you ever found yourself in a place where you are so lost you have no idea which way to turn, what to say, what to do, or even what to think? Or have you ever felt that you were simply so amazingly inadequate, or that you could or would never measure up to what it seems you are expected to do, or that you are so out of depth that sinking and drowning seems merciful? I have felt that way many times since coming to Gambela. Lord, are you sure You have the right couple?

We recently walked through a fairly long, underground tunnel without any light whatsoever…it was pitch dark and, as such, a very disorientating experience…a good illustration of how we often feel here.

And yet, even in the darkest of times, we have always sensed the loving, gentle Presence of our Father – never chiding or condemning or guilt tripping, but rather understanding, encouraging, patient, and comforting. We have, of course, stayed put these past two years and have seen the Lord supply our every need from His vast treasure trove of spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, and financial resources.

But both Louise and I also grew up with the Southern African idiom, “a farmer always makes a plan”, so our tendency has been to look for a positive plan rather than to immediately roll over and give up…sometimes na├»vely so, but the Lord did say we needed to have faith like a little child, right? And He has never let us down…never…

And so we have managed to face every difficulty with weak, but firm faith in the conviction that as God has called us, He will get us through whatever it was we were facing at the time…whether it was the all out slaughtering of people all around us, or the flooding of the compound, or wondering whether we will have enough scholarships for the students, or, most recently, trying to keep the College going with only two full-time faculty members!

But, as many of you know, placing one foot in front of the other and moving forward is easier when one is sure you are holding the Lord’s hand as He leads you on…or, more often than not, when He is holding you…all of you…and carrying you through!

This month has been a month filled with many varied blessings. We first spent a wonderful time with our family in the northern parts of Ethiopia. This was a very informative trip on many levels as it gave us such insight into the history of this amazing country and the faith of its people. But it was also a wonderful time of fellowship with our family and a restful time for Louise and myself. We really miss Mike and Marianne very much.

We returned to Gambela a day before a security specialist friend of ours came to check out our compound to help us, or more specifically, Rosemary, compile a security report for our Diocese. Of course the obvious things were mentioned again, the need for a wall, for instance, but he also saw a lot of things we did not see and we are very grateful to him for his time and effort.
Then, our dear friends from Greenville, South Carolina, James and Julie arrived. We have been planning this trip for years now, ever since we first talked about us coming here. They have a very special prayer ministry in the US and have come specifically to pray with and for us, our folks here, and over Gambela as a Region. This is the first time we have ever had a team come over just to pray…and it has been such a wonderful blessing for everyone involved. They have been overwhelmed by the immense need here (they said they have been more busy here than they are at home with their full-time jobs!), but their tender love and heart-felt compassion have been very much appreciated by all.

They also brought wonderful gifts to encourage us…beautiful, peaceful, praise music, DVD’s, and books. It has been like Christmas…but also like Easter in a spiritual resurrection type way. We have been lifted up and strengthened.

But I have told you this for a reason: This morning, Julie pulled out one the books and told me to read the opening lines. This is what I read:

“You carry a profound and unfathomable call on your life, placed there by God Himself. It is fresh and new and completely beyond your natural ability to accomplish – God has called you to do something you cannot possibly do. You can meditate on that call for the rest of your days, strategize it to no end, even try and seize it; it doesn’t matter. Like reaching for the stars, God’s call is beyond you. It is a gift God has given each one of His children. In fact, your inability to accomplish it is exactly why He has selected you to carry that call.” Cooke, Graham, Beholding and Becoming, Brilliant Book House, California, 2004, 7.

Wow. That short paragraph was like the voice of God speaking to me. A timely reminder, once again, that this is not about me, my talents, gifts, or abilities, or even my strength or my faith. It is all about Him and His grace and love and mercy and compassion. By calling us to this ministry, God has ensured that the work and the glory is His, not ours or anyone else’s. That’s the only way that this ministry will last…

I love Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians. “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty.” Foolish and weak…check, and check. I also often remind myself that my weakness is His opportunity to display His power and His love. Isn’t our God AWESOME?

After prayerful thought, the idea is still to go ahead with the College as planned before we heard that we would be down to two full-time lecturers. Our dear friend Frances will be coming to teach a four-week long intensive English Grammar course to prospective students. We will only be taking in 8 to 10 new students, so please pray for the Lord’s guidance in the selection process.

Also, 10 new students means we will need 10 new scholarships/bursaries, so please pray that the Lord would raise up supporters for these students. We need US$ 3,500 per student per year, which includes tuition, books, materials, housing, food, travel costs, and per diems for the Field Education weeks.

I have written to various friends and institutions asking for possible self-supporting, part-time lecturers for the remaining subjects. Pray again that our Lord will open the right doors at the right time for the right people. We already have one taken care of! Praise God! He is always a few steps ahead of us, isn’t He?

No, this is not easy…but it is not up to me…in fact, it is, always has been, and always will be beyond me.

We love you and are truly grateful for all your love in return. Thank you also for your on-going support in so many, many ways. But thank you most of all for your prayers.

Johann and Louise