Bush pastor seminary

What do you do when your pastors are suddenly told what they are doing is illegal?

Most of us know of the difficulties in the underground churches and what persecution believers go through. But in Kenya a new law is suddenly hamstringing the Church.

Rules are now in place requiring all pastors to submit a certificate of good conduct and have a theological degree in order to do the work of a pastor (whether as his sole job or as an unpaid pastor). (read one article here)

The new laws come from good intentions as a measure to stop the growing tide of “send me $50 and your crops will be blessed” con artist pastors (and there are a lot of them in sub-Saharan Africa). But the ripple effect wasn’t thought through.

Last month I was with our partner in the bush of Kenya. He has 200 pastors scattered in the remote parts, serving in small homesteads in the middle of nowhere. Almost all of them have not completed school and can’t read or write. Obviously none of them have theological degrees. So what does our partner do? Does he ignore the law? What about the fifty villages they are preparing to start church planting work in this year…does he not go? What about us – are we helping them break the law by training pastors who we know are going to be illegally leading churches?

Almost 300 people meet under these trees each Sunday, one of many bush churches led by unschooled pastors.

Almost 300 people meet under these trees each Sunday, one of many bush churches led by unschooled pastors.

As we sat together talking about this, we talked to Bishop James about starting a simple certification program that met the government’s requirements, but with a twist. What if we created an all story-based, no books, no handouts, no electronics, all discussion driven, modular course of study that could be done over a couple years’ time? Unschooled pastors could learn core theology, overviews of Old and New Testament, and important topics like church planting, discipleship, evangelism, and godly leadership, among other things.

This is going to take some time to develop and will definitely have some bumps along the way – we’re already seeing that – but how incredible would it be to have 200+ pastors living in the bush knowing 200 Bible stories that shape their congregations’ growth? Imagine the impact in sending new missionaries and pastors who have been raised in that from their youth and now are going into Muslim-dominant countries to the north of Kenya – Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, and into the Sahara Desert. Please be praying with us for this.

One liners

(Highlights Of The Past Year series)

On top of our refrigerator is a spiral notebook.  It houses a treasure of “kid-isms”, humorous things the kids have said, like several years ago when our three kids were probably five and three years old and a glass of milk spilled and my wife said, “Quick, use your hands and dam it up,” and the kids started chanting “Dam it!  Dam it!  Dam it!…” in front of our dinner guests.  We died laughing and couldn’t get the kids to stop chanting.

Most of the things in the notebook have one phrase that makes us all start laughing whenever it’s said, but there’s of course a longer story behind each one-liner that adds more details.

Well, the other day I got a short one-liner email from one of the men that I met six weeks ago in Congo.  “Thanks pastor!we are good all of us!and we try to telle the stories fom bible and we got some one!”  I told the family and we all started saying “We GOT one!” like it was a huge fish we’d hooked.  But none of us knew the story.  So I asked my friend what happened.  In his own words… 

Hello my pastor!!!

it has been longtime!look then how i was intruduis that peoples about the story from Gad’s word ;

one day; i was from the auditoruium;i met three womens on the road bearing vegetables to sell to the market; and then i greeted them and asked them if i could them to carry what they had. when we arrived to the market i aske them to duscuss abit about God’s word;so i started telling them about one story from bible in matthew 9:27-30

He continues telling me about their conversation over this short four verse story.  He finishes with this…

i asked if they ready to receive Jesus in their life.  we are two of them said.we prayed.

then they recommended me to pass the market oftenly for teaching them Gad’s word together with their friends.

this is the story my pastor!i don’t know if have get my point,because i don’t know english only swahili.

Every good one-liner has a story behind it.

Simple

We started driving up a road that was as smooth as craters on the moon’s surface.  Our van’s shocks didn’t exist anymore.  Neither did our kidneys.

“Mzungu!  Mzungu!…” (“White skin!  White skin!…)  Kids started running after the van.  The closer we got to the feeding center in the small village, the larger the crowd of curious kids got.  Finally the parade stopped and eleven mzungu got out of the van.  “Jambo.”  (“Hi.”)  That was pretty much the extent of our Swahili abilities, which just brought giggles, a few handshakes from the braver kids, and a couple of shrieks of terror from one or two of the smaller ones, which makes sense if you’ve never seen eleven grownup mzungu before.

And then we stood there.  Waiting for the rice and beans to finish cooking.  The feeding center gives three meals a week to undernourished kids who stood waiting with their cups.  But right now, everybody just stared.  Unblinking stares.  Holding their cups ready for the rice.  And the crowd grew bigger.  Our translator was talking to one person, so the rest of us – eleven mzungu, fifty kids, and a growing crowd of adults –  were just staring at each other.  Without a translator, there’s not much else you could do. 

dirt drawExcept draw.  I squatted down and kids started spreading out in a circle jostling for closer position.  I cleared some dirt and drew a simple smiley face.  One brave kid squatted next to me, the mzungu with a stick drawing circles.  I gave him the stick and he took it, but wasn’t sure what to do.  “You draw…”  He tried.  His circle looked like a bug splattered on a windshield.  So I drew a new circle, picked up some bits of wood, rocks, grass, and started putting them in the circle.  Eyes, nose, ears.  The last to go was a smile.  I had him put it on.  He did.  The kids who could see started laughing.  The boy looked at me and grinned.  Other kids started picking up sticks and drawing bug splatter shaped smiley faces.  Amazing how something as simple as making a face in the dirt can bring joy.

Our trip to Congo had several moments like this, reminding me of the power of simple things.  Handing out rice and beans.  Sizing up children to fit into dresses and shorts made by a group of women in the US.  Giving a new pair of underwear to kids who had worn the same pair for a few years.  Sitting with women who have been victims of brutalities that have left them socially outcast and watching them make baskets that they sell.  Buying the baskets they made to help restore their self-dignity instead of just giving them money.  Bringing a suitcase of maxipads and hearing their loud joyful high-pitched “la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la…” African cry when they understood what they were for.  Being comfortable being stared at.  Simple things.

I think Jesus really liked simplicity.  Share a story. Eat a meal. Sit with people. Cry with them.  Laugh with them.  Walk beside them.  Teach them.  Take them one step closer to understanding His Father. 

No, I’m not avoiding telling you about the story training we did.  It went well.  There were fifty believers from different communities we were able to train.  This month they are going to villages, including this small village, and will let me know next  month how it has gone and who else they are teaching storying to.

Each trip I’m more convinced that storying is a simple universal language that God uses.  Almost as simple and universal as a mzungu and a Congolese village boy drawing smiley faces in a dirt road and smiling at each other.

“One thing!”

(Highlights From The Past Year series)

Friday night baseball.  Bottom of the sixth inning.  Ryan’s team has already lost this game 9-3, but that doesn’t matter at the moment.  You see, the coach has just looked over to Ryan at shortstop.  “Ryan, take the mound…”

ready

Ryan’s never pitched a game in his life.  For the past few weeks he’s been practicing in the backyard, throwing to Brady and me.  We’ve set up 2×4’s to keep him from stepping wide.  We’ve practiced holding the ball, swinging his trail leg, and following through.  And all the time we keep saying, “Ryan, you’re doing great, but none of it matters if you forget one thing – you have to hit the catcher’s glove.  One thing, just remember one thing.”

Ryan starts walking to the mound and parents start asking me, “Does Ryan know how to pitch?”  “We’ll see,” I said.  I turn to the field and yell, “HEY RY!  ONE THING!”  He grins, looks to the catcher…

Really early Thursday morning I’ll board a plane, and 32 hours later walk across the border from Rwanda into Congo. This past week we almost canceled the trip. 

You see, hard to reach places aren’t just ones with extremists or polytheistic theologies.  Some places are just bad places.  For thirty-five years there has been constant conflict in the northeast region of the Democratic Republic of IMG_2788Congo (DRC).  Guerrilla groups hold villages in fear, raping women, killing men, abducting child soldiers.  The UN has their second largest international peace keeping force in the world here (17,000 troops).  The Congolese army treats the women not much differently than the rebels.  Children depend on feeding centers for food in many villages.  And Congo is statistically a “Christian” country.

Paul’s words in Romans 15:20 constantly echo in my mind.  “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ is not known.”  During our nine days in DRC, that’s what we’ll be doing.  Jesus isn’t unknown in this region, but he is not really known.  Fear, power and domination, abuse, death, hopelessness…these are the realities that course through the villages, walk the hill paths, and envelope people’s daily lives.

We’ll be teaching pastors how to use storying in the villages.  The younger members of our team will be sharing stories with children at feeding centers that the pastors can build on.  Our ladies will be spending a couple days with women who have been victims of indescribable rape and abuse, share life stories, pray, and share stories from the Bible of women unloved by men but completely loved by God (and there are a lot in Scripture).

This trip is really about one thing.  Doing what we can with our Congolese brothers and sisters to help fearful, hurting people begin to know a God they know about but don’t know. 

Focusing on one thing can make a difference.  Ryan’s pitching?  He struck out his first batter.

Sweaty multiplication

(Highlights Of The Past Year series)

IMG_1154 cropped adjustedA couple weeks ago I got back from Africa.  It was the hardest trip I’ve done – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.  Believe it or not, it was the first trip I’ve ever gotten sick on.  My host and I miscommunicated several times, effecting the training schedule.  We drove for hours, four men wedged in the back seat sitting shoulders sideways, windows down in 120o and dust blowing in.  I got back to the US and was completely drained.

But it was a good trip.  I could share about how many people came to the trainings and comments they made, but let me share a bit about four men I saw God move in during this trip.  We pray for churches to start and people to become believers in hard to reach places and those are the “cool” things to share, but notice in Matthew 9:38 that Jesus says to pray for laborers.  This has been my biggest prayer this year, shaping the trips we’re taking and how we’re making decisions – are we preparing qualified laborers who can train others?

IMG_1123We pulled up to our first training, surgically separating ourselves from each other as we climbed out of the backseat.  Eugene came up to me and I forgot about trying to get my spine realigned again.  I recognized his huge grin from last year when I was training in a different part of the country.  He gave me a huge hug!  “Pastor, it is so good to see you again!”  Last year we talked one-on-one about how storying could fit in his church.  “Let me tell you how the Lord has worked among the people of…”  Eugene had changed his preaching to a story approach, inviting interaction and asking people to share the stories with other people before the next Sunday.  Then in church they review the story, visitors ask questions and members of the church (not pastors!) stand to answer.  “Pastor, the people are talking to Muslims about Jesus without fear!”

IMG_1220Last year I had the most incredible translator I’ve ever had anywhere.  This month Obed was my translator again and basically became the fourth member of our training team.  Like I mentioned, there were several miscommunications with our host about schedule issues, which most of the time we didn’t find out until we started speaking, so I’d have to say something like, “OK, Obed, we were supposed to have two more hours, but I was just told we need to be done in thirty minutes.  Doing this with translation is going to kill us.  You’ve seen me do this part several times.  I need you to run with it.”  OK, yes, I was taking advantage of the situation to see what Obed could do.  I watched him float around to groups, answering questions, clarifying things, giving encouragement, people tracking with everything he said.  We watched a man move from being a gifted translator to passionately teaching his countrymen.

IMG_1088 IMG_1174On this trip, I took two young American men with me.  Jack is moving to Africa in the future to live among a Muslim people group and has been doing storying discipleship with the youth group he pastors.  Ben is going to an animist unreached people group in a couple years.  This was the first time they had done storying training, so I gave them plenty of opportunity to lead different parts.

On the last night in country, we sat in our room.  It had dropped to a chilly 97o and we had three fans blowing on us, which basically felt like standing in front of three hair dryers on high.  We talked about an invitation from Eugene to come to a nearby Muslim country to do training.  “Guys, I can’t do it then.  Wish I knew a small team who could.”  Then I sat back, closed my eyes, and listened to three young men – two Americans and an African who had met each other just ten days ago – talk about training church planters in a Muslim country later this year.  Even the heat didn’t seem all that bad right then.

“CANNON…CANNON…”

(Highlights Of The Past Year series)

With two minutes left, Ryan says he’ll sit out the rest of the game so we can put Kenny back in.  Kenny had never touched a basketball until December.  He’s short, a little nerdy looking, and had no clue what to do on a basketball court.  My son and I have been working with him this season to give him some confidence.  But he still hadn’t scored a basket.  Actually, he could barely get the ball to the rim.

But these last two minutes are Kenny’s time.  Whatever we need to do, even lose our last game, Kenny was going to get a basket!  We designed a special play just for him called “the Cannon”.  The first few times we ran it, our bench started yelling “CANNON!  CANNON!  CAN…”  The ball came to Kenny…and he missed the pass.  The next time, Justin hands him the ball and Kenny tries dribbling… and dribbles the ball off his foot out of bounds.  Next time down, Blake makes a beautiful pass to a wide open Kenny and – zip – the ball flew right past him.

The whole gym knows what’s going on.  Parents from both teams start yelling “CANNON!  CANNON!”  Kenny misses the pass again.  “CANNON!  CANNON!”  Kenny gets the ball and shoots…and the ball somehow goes behind him.  “CANNON…”  Aaron gets the next rebound, runs the ball down the court, gets it to Kenny, who shoots…there’s a huge sucking in of breath in the gym…and it hits the rim and bounces out!  “NOOooo!  Come on, Kenny!  CANNON!…”

Our team is standing up.  Parents are yelling.  Thirty seconds left.  Nobody’s paying attention to the score.  It’s just pure fourth grade basketball mayhem!  Blake gets the ball, passes it to Justin, who hands it to Kenny who is already facing the basket!  Kenny sets, raises the ball, the defender jumps, giant sucking in of breath, Kenny shoots…

If Kenny makes this basket, who’s happier – the kid who scored his first basket ever?  The crowd cheering on the underdog?  Or two coaches who got to see the kid they have been working with for three months make the biggest shot of his life? 

By the time you read this, we’ll have a team heading to Africa for two weeks.  We’ll be training a thousand believers.  But that’s not nearly as exciting as what happens two weeks after you read this letter.  A thousand people will be back in their villages telling stories.  There will be Muslim families hearing about Jesus.  Many won’t know what to do with this.  They’ll argue, they’ll miss ideas, they’ll have questions, they’ll get confused when what they’ve been told to believe clashes with what they are hearing, and they’ll get restless in their hearts.  But these thousand followers of Jesus will keep “getting them the ball”.  It’s their time.

Do the crowds in heaven watch, cheering the names of people playing in this “game”?  Do they suck in their breath each time a story, a truth, a biblical reality is passed to them, shout “NOOooo” when it’s dropped, and then stand up to cheer them on with even more adrenaline?  How big is God’s grin when it all comes together for that one lost person, that family, and they finally get it? 

We’ll never know what happens in most of these villages until we’re in heaven and can ask people how in the world they ended up here when all the odds were against them.  But we’ll have plenty of time to hear the story.

And you can ask Kenny what happened in the last thirty seconds of our game, too.

All-nighter in Africa

Benin is the birthplace of voodoo.  The voodoo that is in Haiti and New Orleans can be traced to Africans brought from Benin as slaves.  Today it is still very active.  Many houses have small altars at their doorways to make small chicken sacrifices or egg offerings.  In Ouida there is a small round building with one hundred pythons that are worshiped and attended to by priests.  Once a week the doors are opened up so that the snakes can roam the village at night to feed before they return on their own to their home.  In one village nearby there is a pile of human heads from ritual sacrifices.  Voodoo is very alive.

Ode is a believer in one of these villages.  He came to the first day of training on how to use stories for evangelism in his village.  The first night we gave them “homework” to go share one of the Bible stories we had done.  But the second day Ode didn’t show up.  On the third day, he came apologizing for being absent.

“I was walking to my village along the ocean. I saw some of my friends working on nets.  They asked where I had been, why I had not gone out today.  I told them the story [of the demon possessed man].  I was asking questions, but some people came and I had to tell it again.  Then they got some friends and I had to tell it again.  So we sat on the beach talking about it.  Then they asked if I had another story.  I told them the paralyzed man.

 One of the older men said to me, ‘Why haven’t you shared this with us before!  I am very upset with you.’  They stayed until the morning.  Then they went home and I fell asleep on the beach.  That is why I didn’t make it yesterday.”