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.

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