First, I give thanks to God for His amazing work. He is really great. He can do more than we can ask or imagine, and my time in Africa is a fulfillment of that truth. The Lord promises abundant life to His followers, and He has given me a very full and meaningful life. All the credit goes to Him. He’s a good Dad.
Bible School Graduates, in Butembo, Democratic Republic of Congo (I’m in there somewhere)
Two years ago, I posted on Facebook, “I really want to go to Africa.” At the time, I had no idea how or if I would go to Africa. A year later, I was invited to speak at a September seminar in the Democratic Republic of Congo (which I’ll Congo from here on). While in Africa, I also met with Sam Bahiirwa, a Ugandan pastor with whom I had been corresponding. Last week I returned from my second trip, this time visiting Congo, Uganda and Tanzania.
In Congo and Uganda, I was part of a team with Mike Anticoli and Vin Lucien. Mike lived in Congo for several years and planted The Church on the Rock in Butembo. Vin was Mike’s pastor and primary support in the work. The church now has 14 daughter churches in Congo and Uganda.
I met Mike in Russia in 2000; he was a great help to me early on in my time here, and he performed our wedding. Mike’s ministry focuses on three things: Unity among believers, cross-denominationalism, and leading people to a living faith (as opposed to dry religious duty). Mike is a church planter.
Damiri Paluku, bishop of the churches and a church planter himself, was our guide and translator. He has become a good friend.
We arrived in Entebbe, Uganda and spent a night there before heading to Kasese, where we went on Safari and rested from our travels. The next day we drove into Congo. The road is one of the roughest I’ve experienced. There are practically no paved roads in that part of Congo. The road is also known to be dangerous, with one section going through the bush where militants and bandits attack travelers.
In Butembo, I taught at a leadership conference, helped in an ordination ceremony, and participated in their Bible School graduation ceremonies. The church had asked me to teach on a Biblical Perspective on Money, and my teaching was both well-received and challenging to the culture. The conference was live on the radio and hundreds of thousands of people heard our sessions. I also spoke on how the Kingdom of God is completely different from the kingdom of this world. I’ve been asked to continue teaching on money when I return.
The church in Butembo is in a difficult time. Mike Anticoli asked the conferees to list their top three daily anxieties, and the answer was Murder, Rape and Kidnapping. Those are the main daily anxieties.
The pastor of the church, Jeremie, was attacked just a couple of weeks before the conference. Gunmen broke into his house after midnight, demanding money. They knew he is a pastor and assumed he had money. They said they would kill him (“this machete has cut off many heads”). They woke up his children and brought them into the living room. Jeremie was force to lie down with a rifle pointed at his head. His wife begged them not to kill him, and they said, “God will give you another husband”. This with the children watching. This kind of experience is not uncommon. Congo is a hard place.
Jeremie’s life was spared, and his sermon the next day was on how to bless those who curse you. So, just a few hours after being held at gunpoint, he led the church in praying for the men who had attacked his family.
I’ll also mention Bethuel, a missionary pastor who has a heart for people groups who have never heard of Jesus. Bethuel will walk for days in the bush, sleeping on the ground, to find villages that have not heard the gospel. His ministry is primarily to pygmy villages in the dangerous parts of eastern Congo, places where people are often killed by roaming Islamic militia.
Sam Bahiirwa pastors a church in the mountains above Fort Portal, Uganda. He was in Congo for the conference, and it was good to have time with him there as he built relationships with other pastors and learned how to run a conference. This was Sam’s first trip outside of Uganda, and a whole new world opened to him.
Sam built a church, simple but serviceable. Sam is also building a house. His first house, made of mud and sticks, blew down in a windstorm. His new house will be of mud and stone, and he already has two rooms covered. He has no electricity or running water, dirt floors.
He’s building a good community of believers. We met with members of his church as well as local church leaders. It was a short visit but good for establishing and deepening relationships. I plan to support a leadership conference at Sam’s church in September; Damiri and others from Congo will lead the conference. There talk of another conference in early December; I would like to speak there but don’t yet know if it is the Lord’s will.
After parting ways with Damiri, Mike and Vin, I joined a team in Tanzania. One of our home churches in the USA is St. James United Methodist in Athens, GA. They’ve been sending teams to Morogoro, Tanzania for about 15 years. The team leader, LaMurl Morris, was on her 12th trip to Tanzania. (She is also the leader of a team that goes to Estonia with Stoneworks.)
The work is focused on building churches, providing water and supporting an orphanage. Each year, money is given to build a church for a church plant. The team finishes the building (this year it was painting and planting) and then participates in the church dedication. It was great fun to see the pastor’s face when he was given the keys to the building.
They also install wells at the churches and provide water filtration so the church and the village will have good water for cooking and drinking. The filter system they use is amazing — super simple and super effective. I hope to introduce the filter system to our partners in Europe. I’ll write a separate post about that.
The team also did water filter training at three Maasai villages. I was very blessed to meet the Maasai believers and experience the truth that even though our cultures are VERY different, they have the same needs and desires that I do, and their kids are like kids everywhere.
St. James also supports “Mama Helen”, a Tanzanian lady who has built a private orphanage. She currently has about 30 children. The kids are sweet and she is a real mother to them. They have many needs: sheets, beds, improved water system, and LOTS of food to feed so many growing children. She wants to start raising chickens to provide food and money. Her ministry is very similar to others I know of in Europe, so everything felt familiar to me.
I spoke at three churches and helped the team in various ways. It was great to learn about the culture and see the work I’ve been hearing about for years. I often prayed for specific words of encouragement for people as I spoke. The Lord touched hearts and encouraged people through those words.
So, the trip was rich and varied. My love for the church is growing as I have more experience of God’s family in the world. I hope to return to Africa and look for the doors to open once again.
Please contact me if you’d like to know more of it any of this has touched your heart. I want to help you do what God is calling you to do.