Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Martin and Helen Odi and the power of the Gospel

Martin and
Helen Odi

Martin and his
youngest son,

EPI's Uganda National Director is Martin Odi. He has been working with EPI since it's inception over 10 years ago. Before coming with EPI full-time, Martin was a pastor in the PAG (Pentecostal Assemblies of God) Church in Uganda for 10 years, and then for 10 years was a PAG Bishop who oversaw about 200 churches. He and his good wife Helen have been living very fruitful lives for the Lord. It will be my pleasure to work with him again part of the time while I am in Kenya (I am leaving on April 4, and will spend the rest of the month in Kenya).

Martin's own life is a testimony to the transforming effects of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am happy and humbled to say that God used the teaching ministry of EPI, in part, to enable Martin and Helen to do what they could not have done on their own, in circumstances that were more difficult and trying than I (or virtually everyone else I know) has had to face. Here is Martin's story:
Martin Odi Testimony
In the past I have shared with some of you about what happened in our family in 1996. Our first born son Bildad who was then aged 14 was maliciously poisoned by our neighbor about 8 months after I had taken office as the Bishop of PAG churches in Kumi district an area of 2681 sq km in the north eastern part of Uganda in East Africa.

We were left with two sons; one was not even a year old and very weak as he was born pre-mature under very bad circumstances. I kept asking God WHY? I cried out loud and burnt with anger inside of me. This went on for years but I had no intention at all for revenge. However I have been very bitter to God and myself! I thanked God for this issue on my lips but wished he would do revenge immediately in order to appease my anger.

Last year a long time friend of mine Dr Henry Krabbendam was having a discussion with me on responses of Christians to God’s dealing with them; sighting the way evangelicals tell testimonies in their churches. Many will say I thank God this week because I got school fees for my children, another will say I thank God I got a new car, or a good house, etc. But Dr K asked me: how many will say I thank God because I got more holiness this week? This was a huge challenge to me although I did not express it to him at the time.

On another occasion last year Joanthan Menn and I where teaching Anglican clergy in three dioceses Nebbi, Arua and Busoga in Uganda; our good friend Rev Moses Isabirye of the Provincial Office of CoU led us each morning in the devotion from the book of Philemon majoring on sincere forgiveness for those who have committed major sins to you.
Jonathan as well when teaching from 1 Tim 3 “The qualifications of Bishops and pastors” said: he must be gentle, and went further to talk about slow to anger and forgiving, and in his closing remarks he gave us home work: “Can you remember any person who has done you any wrong that you must go back from here and forgive? Write down his or her name.”
Although I was teaching alongside him I wrote the name of the guy who poisoned my son. Then I began to pray for an opportunity to meet him because he had fled away from his home in fear of me; got separated with his wife and family. Until last week when his young brother brought him back into a meeting of our clan leaders in an attempt to reconcile him with his family.

Helen and I were invited into this meeting and for the first time after 12 years we spoke openly but with tears to this man and all his family affirming to the fact that they killed our son. We stressed to the crowd that we are now ready to forgive this man. There was untold silence in this crowd with others crying silently. We said together that we want to do this because we are BORN AGAIN!

We invited him and a few of his relatives to our home at a date they will communicate to us later then we will officially pray a blessing to this man and his family. But our hearts were so released that day after we uttered these words in public from the depths of our hearts, and offered that we have forgiven this man. Praise the Lord.

Now I have got the answer to the WHY question of the last 12 years. This is it: God did this so that Helen and I grow in forgiveness and his holiness in order to minister to those who are and will be in a situation like this one 2 Corinthians 1:3-8.

“The mission of our family continues to be the salt and light of our community” we cannot revenge Bildad by killing any or all of the children of this family for the following reasons: (1) all these people are not saved (dead in sins) killing any or all of his children meant exchanging the living Bildad with the dead boys. (2) The quality of our boy according to us is not even equaled to 6 children of this man. (3) Vengeance belongs to the Lord not to us. And lastly, our public testimony has began to show our community and those who are far that we can win our enemies by sharing the love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

I don’t know how Helen feels but I do feel a huge relief of a burden I carried for the last 12 years off my shoulders. In EPI, I teach to change pastors and leaders to be more like Jesus Christ. The one side of the sword of the Spirit has pierced me also to forgive my enemies as Christ forgave his killers on the cross. I thank God for being involved in EPI for the missions of our Lord. Through this I have been pierced and changed to be like Him. JESUS AND HIS WORD ARE ALIVE!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Report from African-led TOT

One of the keys to success in equipping and building-up the East African church is the in-depth "Training-of-Trainers" (TOT). By selecting some of the pastors who have participated in an EPI course for further, more intensive, training, we make it possible for them to personally teach EPI's courses and train other East African pastors and church leaders. We began our TOT program about a year ago in Kenya and Uganda. Photos of EPI's initial Kenya and Uganda TOT graduates are above.

Each of the TOT participants underwent an intensive 4-day course on 1 Timothy. Each TOT session consisted of a small group--so there was plenty of interaction, Q&As, etc. Further, each of the participants had to do 2 oral presentations on various passages from 1 Timothy--and was then critiqued not only by me, but by the rest of the group as well. Their progress, and insights, were obvious.

The Kenya and Uganda TOT participants were required to be fluent in English, since I led the sessions. However, last year we also began our work in Tanzania, where most people do not speak English. Therefore, I commissioned Rev. Andrew Ngugi and Bishop Justus Wafula to lead a TOT session in Arusha, TZ for Tanzanian pastors who may not be proficient in English. Both Andrew and Justus are from Kenya, have themselves been through TOT, and have taught 1 Timothy to others. By having African-led TOT, EPI is now able to greatly increase its outreach and impact. By doing this we are also demonstrating our solidarity with and confidence in our African brothers and sisters. Here is Andrew's report:

Dear Jonathan, Supporters, and friends,
It is now 4 days after a very successful EPI mission in Tanzania. This time around, we were with my dear friend, Bishop Justus Wafula who had never visited TZ before. Our mission was three-fold: 1. Teach TOT from 1 Timothy; 2. Get report from the follow-up; and 3. Plan for conference in June 2009.
Pastors in TZ were eargerly expecting us, to know more about EPI and learn together the TOT programme. On our arrival, the openning ceremony was marked with alot of joy with shinning faces. Rev. Swai, the Oldest in the group, said "It is a real miracle to be away from busy homes and churches, meet together, stay in a good hotel with good meals, study and pray together." It had never happened to him [before].
1 . TOT.
Our Trainers of Trainers was a 4 day programme from 23 to 27th Feb 2009 with 12 members. We had an in-depth training in 1 Timothy. What impressed me was that some of them were very fresh from the conference we had last year. They could outline the Book. In our learning together, we had time to Teach, Discuss, Question and Answer and each of them had time of presentation from the verses our of the teaching (I recorded that in the video tape). Hot discussion and inputs came from chapter 2, vss. 8-15 on the issues of women in the ministry, and also on chapters 4-6 on various practical issues. It was very wonderful. After the conference, they made various comments, but allow me to quote Pastor Ombeni Mafie: "I had never learned any book of the Bible verse to verse and have such a deep survery. From this, I see heaven so near to me." I can say much but since it is recorded, Jonathan you will see it together with the application forms.
2. Follow-up.
We did not have much time for this but each Pastor was saying how his church had been doing since last year's conference from the some book. They have witnessed great changes in church, spiritually and numerically. Leadership is changing and the community is receiving the church. Rev. Mlay of Moshi said that, due to this, the church has been involving in community development and he was elected as one of the leaders. Many said that such conferences are very useful because various denominations are now working and preaching the gospel together with any boundaries. So there is unity.

The conferences scheduled for June in Tanzania are still being worked out. I will report on that at a later time. Thanks to your prayer and financial support, EPI is now beginning to implement the 5-point program I outlined in my December 2008 end-of-year letter. As you can see, we are making a difference. Particularly in these tougher economic times, your giving to EPI is much needed and very much appreciated. Please make checks payable to EPI, and send them to: EPI, c/o Jonathan Menn, 714 S. Summit St., Appleton, WI 54914. All such donations are tax-deductible.

I'll continue to keep you advised of the great work that God is doing through your participation with EPI in East Africa. God bless you.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Report on Jan.-Feb. 2009 Trip to Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda

On Feb. 16 I returned from a very successful trip to Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda, where we conducted a total of 7 pastors conferences: 4 on 1 Timothy; 2 on Marriage and Parenting; and 1 on Biblical Stewardship. This was the first time EPI had been to Burundi. The following highlights are from my “report from the field” which I emailed to those for whom I have email addresses:

When I left Appleton on Jan. 16 it was 7 degrees below zero, and we had 4 feet of snow on the ground. When I arrived in Bujumbura, Burundi on Sunday, Jan. 18 it was in the mid-upper 80s and very green! Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, is in the far western part of that country, on the north shore of Lake Tanganyika (Africa's longest lake). Burundi itself is quite similar to Rwanda--small, hilly, well-cultivated, clean, reasonably decent roads, and people of like tribal backgrounds who speak similar languages. I was met at the airport by our Rwanda-Burundi coordinator, John Bosco Muhirwa, together with two pastors. We arrived at the hotel just after 9:00AM. The pastors then informed me that they wanted me to preach at their churches that morning--the first service of which was to begin in about 15 minutes. So, I changed and off we went, where all went well (at the pastors' requests I preached on serving Christ at the first church and on the Second Coming of Christ at the other).

In Bujumbura we had budgeted for 40 participants, but as a result of word of mouth, 48 showed up the first day and 53 the second. As has been true elsewhere, the pastors and other church leaders had never heard an entire book (1 Timothy) expounded section-by-section before. One of the pastors said that she had been having a conflict with her neighbor. As a result of what she learned, she said she was repenting and would make things right with the neighbor. The Word of God indeed can be the instrument for real change in our lives when we learn it, believe it, and apply it.

One night, a grenade exploded about a block away from my hotel. Apparently a man had tried to break into a supermarket. As he was being chased, he tossed the grenade to facilitate his escape. I do not think anyone was injured or killed.

Upon completing our conference on Wednesday afternoon, we travelled about 3 hours to the northeastern city of Muyinga. Muyinga was quite cool (and there was no hot water at the guest house). I was asked to preach at a local church, and when I was done they asked me to come back the next night, which I of course did. The second night I preached in the dark (i.e., no electricity--not that I didn't know what I was saying!). Both in preaching and during the conference we emphasized what Paul says is the goal of true instruction--love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith (1 Tim 1:5). Most of the church leaders had not been aware that that is the goal they are to strive for, and measure their lives, ministries, and churches by. Now that they are clear on the goal, have learned how to read the Bible in context, and have learned other important truths from 1Timothy, I think there will be some real changes in their lives. Please pray for them to truly teach and model Jesus to their congregations and others.

From Burundi, we travelled to northwestern Rwandan city of Gisenyi, which is on the border with Congo, and on the shore of large Lake Kivu. The conference opened up some possibilities for EPI's work in this part of East Africa. Specifically, I met pastor Theophile Rugubira, who is originally from Congo and who has planted 49 churches in Rwanda, Congo, Burundi, and Uganda in the last 10 years. He is well-educated, has many contacts. Further, he has expressed the desire to translate our materials into French (which is spoken in Congo and throughout much of Rwanda and Burundi).

The conference also had been budgeted for 40 participants, but we had 43 the first day and 45 the second. Two men came from Congo. They are desirous of EPI's coming to eastern Congo. If I can do that personally, I would like to--but if not, I talked with them about sending good African pastors who have had TOT training to Congo. I hope that we can have a TOT session in Rwanda in October, and that Theophile can be one of the participants (he is also looking forward to that). Thus, the 5-point plan which I articulated in my end-of-year letter appears to be on track and beginning to bear fruit. Praise the Lord for that! Many pastors told Theophile that they had never heard systematic teaching like this before (even those who had been to seminary or Bible school). Most expressed great joy at having learned: what the character of a biblical/church leader is to be like; the objective (goal) of true biblical instruction (i.e., love--1 Tim 1:5); what "grace, mercy, and peace" (1 Tim 1:2) really signify; and that pastors (especially them, since their people generally do not own Bibles) are "living Bibles" to their people. Many expressed the desire to be better models of the Gospel, since they may be the only "Bibles" that many people here will ever "read."

In Kigali we conducted a Marriage conference. The participants had a good time and learned a lot. Both the women and the men seemed to enjoy their separate "breakout" sessions. There was a lot of laughter along with a lot of biblical truth. I pray that there will also be changed lives and renewed marriages.

In addition to the Marriage conference in Kigali, I was able to preach on the Kigali Christian radio station, which is heard all around the country. Martin Odi, EPI’s Uganda National Director, had joined us for the Kigali conference. He and I then travelled to Uganda, where we conducted a 1 Timothy conference in Kabale, a Marriage conference in the village of Kanoni, and a conference on Stewardship in Jinja. I always try to have good local pastors do some teaching at our conferences. That both honors them and demonstrates that we are not like colonialists—we truly want to equip the Africans so that they can (as the locals prove) do this themselves. We were blessed to have two excellent pastors wives, Joyce in Kigali and Harriet Kabugu in Kanoni, teach at the Marriage conferences (their husbands also taught at those conferences).

With the economy the way it is, support is down. The need, however, is as great as ever. Since I am planning on being in East Africa in April, June, August, and October, now would be the perfect time for you to begin helping to support this important work. Please make checks payable to EPI, and send them to me at: 714 S. Summit St., Appleton, WI 54914. All donations are tax-deductible and go to the actual work of the ministry, not to my “personal” support.

I will be leaving again for Kenya on April 4. I am scheduled to be in Kenya until May 1. While there, we will be doing 5 pastors conferences concerning Biblical Stewardship and a TOT ("training of trainers") session on 1 Timothy for selected pastors. We will be working in Western and Central Kenya, as well as in the capital of Nairobi. Please continue to pray for this work--equipping the indigenous pastors and church leaders is the most important need of Western missions today. Thank you for your support, and may God bless you.