Just after Thanksgiving last year we got a text message from our leadership at Presbyterian World Mission: “Don’t buy your tickets back to Congo yet. We need to talk.” In the ensuing conversations with our leadership we learned that our church partner, the Congolese Presbyterian Community (CPC), had asked us and another mission co-worker not to return to Congo because of instability in the country and conflict within their denomination. There were discussions between Presbyterian World Mission and CPC through December and January to see if the door might still be open for us to return as planned. In February, it was concluded that the door has indeed closed, and we would not be able to return. If you receive the e-mail version of our newsletter you should already know this news, but we wanted to say it again for those who get only the print version.
God has given us peace and hope in the midst of uncertainty during these months of transition. Plenty of other emotions have also hit us. We grieve having to give up our Congo home and leaving friends we had grown to love. On the other hand, we also felt relief when the decision finally became clear. We are grateful for the prayers and words of encouragement and comfort received from so many of you who have heard this news. We worry and grieve for our friends in Congo living in the challenging reality of conflict.
Oh, my goodness is it April already? I know there are still Christmas cookies in the refrigerator, what is happening to the speed of time?
Time has flown by because we have been busy. We had a wonderful trip to Covenant Presbyterian Church in West Lafayette, Indiana. This church has been supporting missions in Mexico faithfully for many years. While there our hosts Alan and Barbara Bartelt took us to the LOUDEST Christian rock music concert this side of Jupiter – a group called Casting Crowns. To give you an idea of the number of decibels hurled towards us, we watched the man in front of us take out his hearing aids then stuff cough drops in each ear. Not satisfied, he then added half the printed program and a sock to each ear. That seemed to help because many others seemed to follow the example. In all seriousness, we were happy to see the enormous Purdue Auditorium sold out to people wanting to see a Christian band with a strong evangelistic message. Casting Crowns shared the gospel very well.
We recently had a great visit from Eileen McAvoy of Westminster Presbyterian in Durham, NC. She led a two-day conference on Non-Violent Communication (NVC). The conference was given to a combination of city lawyers and social workers and a few non-profit agencies – all people dealing with the difficult day to day work of serving dysfunctional families. Please look up the work of NVC online. They have a lot to offer.
Greetings from Zambia. I (Dustin) recently wrote a short article for the publication Mission Crossroads telling how our call to mission service came about and our move from Egypt to Zambia. Perhaps by sharing this article with you, I can give some of you a little background, while those who have known us a long time may appreciate a big-picture glimpse of God’s guiding hand. Our story could be told from other vantage points; this one is mine. May it encourage your own witness and service right where you are, and may we all be open to the nudges and detours God has for our lives. At the end of this letter you’ll find a few prayer requests; meanwhile, here’s the article:
Following God’s Detour: Teaching future pastors for the growing African church
One day, while taking a break from studying in the Duke Divinity School library, I got into a conversation that would change the course of my family’s life. As I talked with a stranger, I learned he was the only person in the world with a Ph.D. in New Testament (my field also) who could speak the particular language of the country where he was training Christians for ministry. This really struck me.
He asked what I hoped to do upon finishing my Ph.D. at Duke. I told him I wanted to advance the gospel, and that I’d love to do that especially through teaching the Bible and working with young people whom God was calling.
In the United States, we take much for granted, including education and public libraries. Libraries are an integral part of community development and learning, not only in America, but around the world. In the U.S., we have one public library for approximately every 2,700 people. However, this is not so elsewhere. In Kenya, there is one library for every 726,000 people. It is no wonder that Stu and Linda Ross, Outreach missionaries in Kenya, focused their attention on building schools to educate children, particularly the over looked and often oppressed girl-child.
Children and adults have little access to books. When Stu and Linda would bring books to the schools, they experienced an unprecedented eagerness by the students. Stu recently commented, “Whenever I have taken books to the school for the library, the girls would meet me and before I could get the books into the library they wanted to see what I had brought. They were yearning to see what books were in my vehicle.” There were never enough books, and certainly not enough to share with the local community.
Linda Ross suddenly and unexpectedly passed away on March 17, 2016. Because of Linda’s particular love for the young school girls, Stu began a memorial to build a library at Grace Girls’ High School in Maasailand. “Linda always had two or three books going at the same time,” Stu commented. “She loved books and I know it broadened her view of the world.” She wanted the same for the children of Kenya.
In his youth the Rev. Shan Wei-Xiang was the pastor of a typical Chinese congregation during those years: One that owned no Bibles. In fact, since the only copy of the Scriptures in town was found in the library, the congregation had agreed that nobody else but him would check the Bible out each week from the local library and they would help him write down by hand copies of the passage from which Pastor Shan would preach to have it distributed among the people.
Things have changed significantly in recent decades but Rev. Shan’s commitment to sharing God’s message remains strong. He now heads a program of the Church in China that is responsible for the distribution of the Bible inside China. Since the late 1980s, tens of millions of Bibles have been distributed inside China as the church has tried to keep up with the growth of disciples of Christ. The most conservative estimate of the number of Protestant Christians in China is 46 million, up from less than one million in 1949 when the Peoples Republic of China began.
We were five pastors and five lay leaders who came from Oregon, Indiana, Nebraska, California, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. As the team leader, I was the only person who had actually met everyone before we gathered in Lebanon and then headed into Syria for 10 days and 9 nights to meet with congregations and pastors of the National Evangelical (Presbyterian) Church. On either side of our time in Syria, we spent days in Lebanon meeting with Outreach Foundation partners who are doing ministry with Syrian refugees, or, as is the case with Near East School of Theology, training the next generation of leaders to serve the Church in Syria. The ten of us quickly became a family,