Monday, July 27, 2009

Great news from Congo!

Martin Odi and Theophile Rugabira

Bakavu, DRC conference participants

The following is the report I just received from Martin Odi about EPI's first-ever conference in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The conference was held in the eastern city of Bakavu, and was entirely African-run:
May I tell you these about our Bukavu conference. IT WAS WONDERFUL.
The journey took me three days by road and it was tiresome. I will also take the same back home, but the reception of the Word comforted me. They had planned for 50 people and all of them came: 44 men and 6 women. Theophile told me more people wanted to come but he limited to what our resources could handle. There were 5 Bishops in the meeting each day for 3 days; none defaulted in attendance.

Every pastor who attended came from his home each morning, but they were always on time. The first day we started a little after 9:00AM, and on the following days we started at 8:30 in the morning and closed at 4:30 each day so they could walk back home. Some of them walked for 5 km or more. That is the reason we did not have group work and also, because this was Theophile's first time to teach, he took long to drive the points home. But you must know that he is a good teacher; you must use him in Rwanda more than me. He is highly respected there.

They do not have any good Biblical training at all. None speaks English except the one who translated for me. Bishop Lungu had learned English as he travels to Uganda. He is very good, and has promised to do the same again when we return there.

The hotels are very expensive, but we used the one owned by the Baptist church. They charged us $40 per night for all of us as we shared the room. The best ones cost from $50 and above even $100. You need to know that this is a dollar country. I had to get a visa for $50. Fortunately, Theophile does not need one because he was born there. Again that is why it is good to use him for DRC. According to him the funds you sent were sufficient for this arrangement. We thank you so much for this.

The pastors were very receptive to the teaching. They sat there listening with more interest than any other place I have ever gone. Listen: yesterday after we closed the meeting, they stayed there standing and wishing I could continue to teach them more things. All the Bishops escorted us across the border to Cyangugu, Rwanda were we stayed for a night to catch up the early morning bus for Kigali.

The Bishops requested that we visit even their capital city Kinshasha which has close to 11 million people and many more churches. They will organize conferences in 4 areas, then other neighboring cities. Did you know that Bukavu alone has close to a million people and over 300 different churches with all kinds of names.

In summary, it was worthwhile teaching those people. they believe in many religious fables and tales that are not in the Bible. They need an urgent help!

I also want to thank Floribert for his good organization and planning. Together with the influence of Theophile, every thing was done so well. Food was served on time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

EPI expands to Congo!

Theophile Rugubira

Martin Odi, teaching last February

Floribert Kikwabantu

One of my hopes is that EPI will expand to surrounding countries from its East Africa base. That is now taking place. It is also occurring in the way that I am most happy to see--by a completely African-led team! Martin Odi (EPI's Uganda national director) and Theophile Rugubira (an excellent teacher who is helping with the work in Rwanda, and who also has translated the 1 Timothy Inductive Training Manual into French) are now in the Democratice Republic of Congo (DRC) leading EPI's first conference in that country. They are teaching 1 Timothy.

Last January, some pastors from DRC (led by pastor Floribert Kikwabantu) had joined us for our conference in Gisenyi, Rwanda. They very much wanted EPI to come to DRC. I told them that I would not personally be able to do so in the foreseeable future, but that our African affliates could do so. That is now a reality.

This conference is important because it demonstrates that EPI is not simply reproducing the "colonial model" of making the Africans dependent on Westerners. That is an important value of EPI. It also demonstrates the significance of TOT ("training of trainers")--i.e., intensive training of some of the pastors (in addition to our regular pastors conferences), to insure that they are thoroughly equipped to train others, in places where I will never be able to go myself.

May God get the glory for this great work of equipping his people in a vital part of the world!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Report from Tanzania & Kenya--Part 2

Jonathan and Philemon Bokyo

Ernest Mwilitsa and interpreter

George Kariuki

The EPI team at the conclusion of the Kilifi conference

Following completion of our TOT and Biblical Stewardship conference in Tanga, I proceeded to the island of Zanzibar. Zanzibar is about 96% Muslim. The churches, and Christians in general, on Zanzibar are oppressed by the Muslim majority. I had visited Zanzibar last year, since it is a strategic location. Our host and primary conference organizer is Philemon Eseka Bokyo. Philemon has been on Zanzibar approximately 20 years as an evangelist and church planter. He has been imprisoned for his faith, but maintains a good, Christ-centered attitude, and has earned the respect of all who know him, including the Muslims.

We did two conferences back-to-back: 1 Timothy and Biblical Stewardship. I observed that, although the churches constitute only a small percent of the people, nevertheless there was a lot of division along denominational and other lines. I strongly urged that they start building closer relationships among each other, and begin working more closely together. In a place like Zanzibar they cannot afford not to. Further, the demonstration of unity is one of the basic missions and purposes of the church (John 17:18-21). I think that this message was heard. Since I require African-initiated follow-up for the conferences I do, we will see.

From Zanzibar I took a 13 1/2 hour bus ride (which should have been about an 8 hour ride) to Mombasa, Kenya. The bus was supposed to have left at 2:00PM, but was an hour late. It then broke down shortly before we got to Tanga. Ultimately, we had to change buses. This is Africa.

In any event, we held a conference on Biblical Stewardship in Kilifi, Kenya (north of Mombasa) for approximately 95 Pentecostal pastors. The teaching team consisted of myself, the conference organizer Ernest Mwilitsa, and pastor George Kariuki from Murang'a, Kenya. I have worked with Ernest and George before. They have each gone through TOT training, and are both good teachers and good men. The people of Kilifi appeared to be eager learners. Indeed, the conference seemed to affect many of them quite profoundly. EPI's Stewardship course is both a theological "eye-opener" and a very practical course. It deals with applying Christianity to many facets of life: stewardship of the environment, the mind, time, the body, money and possessions, and stewardship of the church (the basic mission and purpose of the church, the church and finances, and the church's responsibility to the poor and needy).

As a part of the course, I did a critique of the so-called "prosperity gospel" (i.e., the idea that if you simply "sow a seed of faith" [i.e., gives money] to some prosperity teacher, then God will give you back 100-fold). Unfortunately, this money-centered "gospel" was invented in the US shortly after WWII, and has spread largely in Pentecostal circles so that it now exploits the people of East Africa. Most of the Christians there have never been exposed to a sound biblical critique. Our Stewardship notes include more than 20 pages on that subject, because it is such a corrosive teaching. When I finishd with the critique, the elderly bishop who was hosting the conference gave a spirited affirmation of what we had taught, and (in a sincere but jocular way) urged that God bless EPI "100, 200, 300-fold!" May God, indeed, bless the churches of East Africa as they apply the Bible's teachings to all areas of life.

Report from Tanzania & Kenya--Part 1

John Setser, Jason Nate, & Justus Wafula

Bishop Justus Wafula & Rev. Wilbert Seme

Tanga, TZ TOT Class

On July 6 I returned home after having spent one month in Tanzania and Kenya. The following is from the email update I sent about half-way through the trip:

I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya with my friends Jason Nate and John Setser, who were helping me as presenters at our first conference. The next day we (along with Justus Wafula who was also a presenter, and Wilfred Seme our host) took the bus from Nairobi to Arusha, Tanzania (8 hours to cover 150 miles), then from Arusha to Babati, TZ (4 hours to cover 100 miles). The main reasons for such amazingly slow travel are frequent police checks, speed bumps and, in TZ, an unpaved road for the last 50 miles into Babati. The Tanzanian buses also are all SRO. As they say, "this is Africa."

As had been true two months ago in Kenya, prayer and fast action saved me, if not from death, then from robbery. After our successful conference in Babati, we returned to spend the night in Arusha, in anticipation of leaving the next morning for Moshi, the site of our next conference. We all got to the hotel, which seemed all right to me. Justus said he had a bad feeling about the place, especially when he saw a hole, large enough for a man to get through, in the bathroom ceiling. However, it looked like construction to me. Nevertheless, as we were settling in, Wilbert (who lives in Arusha, so was not staying at the hotel), returned with Emmanuel, who had driven us to the hotel, and Frieda, Emmanuel's daughter. They said to pack our bags, as we were leaving for another place right away. Apparently, as Emmanuel and Frieda had been driving off after dropping us at the hotel, they saw some young men looking at them and talking on their cell phones. Several young men then tried to block their vehicle and then gave chase. Frieda later told me that robbers (particularly if they are in cahoots with the hotel security personnel) drop down through holes in the ceiling. Hence, she persuaded her father to call Wilbert. They came to fetch us and took us to a better place.

Just as "bad money drives out good," so "bad culture drives out good." The reason, I think, is mankind's inherent bent toward sin as a result of the dynamic presence of indwelling sin in all of us. Although the US has done much good throughout the world, I am sorry to report that we have exported much cultural nonsense (and worse) to East Africa. On television, gangsta rap music videos are ubiquitous. Most of so-called "Christian" TV shows are nothing but "prosperity gospel" charlatans. These are the last cultural and religious influences that Africans need as role models. Further, wherever one goes, TVs and radios (including in the buses) are turned up to one-notch-below-deafening levels. Frieda told me that this is because people want to emulate what they think the US is like. Another person told me that the sound levels are because TV is relatively new, so it is flaunted.

In contradistinction to all of that, our conferences and TOT have been going well. Most of the pastors conferences I am doing this trip are on Biblical Stewardship. Our teaching on stewardship of the environment, the mind, time, the body, finances (personal and relative to the church), and the mission and purpose of the church, are received like light into a very dark place. This is a very practical course. The pastors uniformly evince excitement about such things as planting trees, cleaning up their villages, taking basic health measures, etc. The thing that excites me is that they are starting to have a greater vision of the church. The local church can be more than just a place entertainment on Sundays. Instead, it can become a teaching center, a leading if not central place in the village for community development, health information, financial management training, and other practical disciplines that will transform lives physically and materially, as well as spiritually.

In Moshi, only 3 of approximately 100 churches represented at the conference had church budgets. Now they have information about how to budget and the importance of budgeting. A good Christian doctor also addressed the conference about dealing with people who have HIV/AIDS. I am sure that as a result of that conference, he will be invited to speak at many village churches, and will convey vitally-needed health information to the people (and perhaps may do some free medical clinics). In Arusha I also met with some men who have experience in translation. My goal of getting all of my conference notes translated into Kiswahili now has a real prospect of being realized within the next 1-2 years.

I am now in Tanga, TZ, on the east coast (next to the Indian Ocean). We have just completed a TOT session (on 1 Timothy) with 13 good pastors. It went well, and the pastors clearly learned much. They are looking forward to carrying on this teaching themselves, just as the pastors at the conference in Moshi enthusiastically expressed the desire to reach their villages with the transformative teachings on stewardship which they had learned. I will finish our conference on Stewardship here in Tanga tomorrow, and will then head to Zanzibar for a week. There we will be doing back-to-back conferences on 1 Timothy and Stewardship. Zanzibar is a strategic place in which the Christian pastors receive virtually no outside training and equipping. This will be our first conference in Zanzibar.