Friday, November 03, 2006

My trip to Zambia

October 20, 2006

While the gentle roar of the airplane engines buzz loudly through the cabin, I find myself with some much needed time to reflect on this memorable week in Zambia. As you remember, I spent 5 full days in Zambia not including 20 hours in the air each way, to explore what God might have for our family in Zambia. The purpose of the week was exploratory, but much of the attention, focus, and preparation were for 4 messages on inductive Bible study and expository preaching that I gave at a pastor’s conference on Tuesday and Wednesday.

An interesting conversation after arriving more or less set up the week for me. I got in line for customs, and because there was a huge group called Wilbur Ministries there to do some mercy ministries, the authorities moved me to the “Zambian’s line.” There was a lady in front of me, looking at this big group, shaking her head and saying, “I don’t know why all these big groups come to Zambia. They should just send their money. That would make a bigger difference to the people in Zambia.” I didn’t really know what to say, especially, since I was in some ways one of them. I offered, “well, maybe by these people coming they will get a heart for Africa, and they will get more people to send more money.” She said, “yeah, maybe”, and then mumbled something else more negatively. We chatted a bit but I didn’t tell her why I was here. As I look back on that conversation, it seems almost prophetic in what this week would be about. ACTION Zambia (AZ) is different than most other groups. They are about partnering with local churches to equip and encourage these churches to do the ministry. It is important that AZ is here. They give what money cannot do (in fact, which often prevents) which is friendship, training, counsel and encouragement to the church for the purpose of reaching the people in Zambia. It only took a day to really see the value of this commitment to local church pastors.

On the Saturday I arrived, Pastor Ernest from Streams of Living Water church came to meet with Glenn (the AZ director). I was privileged to sit in and learned how this partnership between AZ and Streams of Living Water has produced a children’s school for 180 kids, 90 of whom have lost either one or both parents. ACTION contributes to a feeding program that feeds these malnourished kids three times a week. But this church has organized volunteers to run the feeding program. They also have Zambians helping teach in the school. It was an amazing experience to visit this school. There were five different classes, about 35 in each class, all but one class sitting on the floor, crowded together. There was one blackboard for each class. One chalkboard had the books of the Bible on it. Another had a chart for those learning how to multiply by 6. Another had words and the others had letters. The Pastor, who spends his morning as a teacher, had the 180 students stand up, and they began to recite in unison 10 bible verses. Then they sang. Oh, it was amazing. I recorded some video. You will have to see it sometime. They sang some songs I didn’t know. Then they sang, Big, Big House by Audio Adrenaline, but instead of playing football in the backyard with the motion of throwing the football, it was futbol, and boy, did they kick good. We then watched as they gave each of the kids a bowl of porridge, which was filled with important nutritious ingredients to help these kids. Glenn and pastor Ernest were talking about the importance of this feeding and how it came about. The children weren’t able to learn due to a lack of strength because they were so hungry. So, they partnered together to create a feeding program that would sustain these kids. When they first started the school, some of the kids had orange hair, a result of severe malnutrition, but now, they are better, the black has come back. Their stomachs are full, their hearts are happy, and the smiles on their faces are radiating. AZ is continuing to partner with this church, by having other missionaries train the church in HIV/AIDS education, and work in training teachers at the school. AZ is also working on helping him build a church building that will enable the church/school to have two separate modest structures. It was a beautiful example of what they hope to continue to see develop between AZ and like-minded churches that have a passion to reach their fellow Zambians with a gospel that cares for the orphan and the widows. I am sure I will never be able to forget those faces.

I went to church on Sunday and it was, well, different. Here are few observations:

1. They had all of us first time visitors stand up. They welcomed us and the entire church sang a welcome song in Nyanga. That was cool.

2. The men, women and the children all sat separately. There were twice as many women as men.

3. They clapped and danced and grooved. It was lovely.

4. It was a very young church. Aside from the 10 or so older people, it was a young church, like sitting in my college group. They say that the life expectancy is 37 years old. But the # is skewed a bit because it is the middle generations that are dying. There are some older people and lots of younger people, but the middle generation, the parents of these young people are not there.

5. The government requires that all the churches be located in the compounds where the people live. So there are literally 4-6 churches within 100 feet of each other. You can hear the music and the children of the other churches shouting through the open windows. It is almost like a competition. There is an Assembly of God next to a Baptist next to Church of God church near the Catholic Church and on and on. Very interesting.

6. 95% of the population does not drive, so our car was one of three in the parking lot. No parking problems here… They all walk to church.

7. The wooden bench pews were a bit uncomfortable. However, I was the only one squirming and twitching and moving. Everyone else sat perfectly still for the 2 ½ hour service.

8. The children were dismissed before the sermon. So, during the sermon, you could hear the kids yelling and signing songs. I left the sermon a bit early to go see the kids. They were in this 15x15 concrete room, singing these amazing songs of worship. I got that on video as well.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I spoke at a seminar for pastors on how to study the Bible inductively, which is how to draw out of scripture through teaching them how to observe, interpret and apply the scripture. I also spoke on expository preaching, the process of preaching verse by verse through the Bible. Glenn gave the opening message, a message of hope, hope that goes beyond death, a hope that survives in the most difficult of times. The word of God is the only thing that can give hope. He encouraged them by saying, “This is why we need to be a people who can accurately and fully give our people in our church the only true hope.” So, thus began during the next four seminars, one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I am not sure how to describe in words how absolutely thrilling it was to teach 125 pastors and leaders how to do inductive bible study. Most of these pastors were older than me by many years; seasoned, tough, Godly men. They listened, engaged, laughed at my jokes. When I asked them to work together, they did. More than once, during my speaking, I was just overwhelmed, feeling so privileged that I could be in Zambia, sharing the most important book in the world with God’s chosen shepherds. It was amazing.

I created a worksheet that they used to learn how to study the Bible. They actively participated, writing, following me in the Bible from verse to verse. They were so patient with me as I stumbled some, and talked too fast other times. You should have heard them worship before we began. Unbelievable. It was rocking, absolutely rocking. I am still in awe. I spoke the first time for at least 1.5 hours. They didn’t move. They were sitting on these benches without backs, listening, following, and learning. The next lesson was over an hour, too. I did 2 Timothy 3:16-17 during the first session, and then I did Mark 4, the parable of the sower during the second session. I gave them some homework too: 2 Timothy 4:1-3. On Wednesday, I showed them how to move from inductive study into expository preaching. I created a different sheet, one that allowed all the hard work of studying to be transferred into this preaching sheet.

After the first night, I met with Vasco, a man being discipled by Glenn. We met in the library at the farm (the farm is AZ’s headquarters about 20 minutes outside of downtown Lusaka) where he and a friend of his were studying. He went with us to the pastor’s seminar. He had this wild look in his face, as he looked around and pointed to these big commentaries sitting on the table. He said, “I listen to John Piper and I see these big books, MacArthur and others, writing so much on so few chapters of the Bible, and I now I understand. This is how they study the Bible. This is how they get this.” He said when you come back you need to teach us this more. He said, “This is your calling. You need to teach us how to study the Bible like this more.”

The second day was just as thrilling as the first. The first day I spoke without a translator. The second day, a translator jumped up at the beginning of my speaking and well, uh, I was flexible. I went through their homework. I was amazed at how the just got it. It was very humbling and exciting to watch them get it, as they raised their hands and asked such good questions. I looked over at Glenn at one point, and we just smiled and shook our heads in amazement of what a cool privilege it was to be able to do this. One guy told Glenn that he finally knew how to prepare a sermon, and he was so thankful. Another man wanted me to come and share this with the 12 pastors that he oversees. Glenn shared how they just have such a hunger and desire to know the word. I talked with a pastor during the break, and he just shared how he became a deacon, then an elder, and then he helped plant a new church. He expressed how much he was enjoying his time here, because he has had no seminary training to be a pastor. Glenn told me that there are 1000’s of churches and pastors who really need and desperately want training.

I wanted to share a bit from my journal:

“It has been better than just a good week. It has been in many ways life-changing. I understand the need to really hammer out what truth is so that I can understand and then explain. The words of Vosco ring in my ears. “You were called to do this…” Can you think of any higher calling then to come to Zambia to teach people how to study the Bible? Is that not worth a sacrifice of food, comforts, and issues like malaria and struggle? I know it is in my mind. My heart struggles because I know the Enemy does not like what went on at these seminars. And I know the assaults will come, and have come, and will continue to come. And that scares me a bit. It scares me because I know that what I will be doing is top level stuff… To get a generation of pastors who know how to rightly divide the word and then teach others to do it also is ground breaking stuff.”

As I sit here, 33,000 feet in the sky, I can’t help but just be so thankful for my experience this past week. Thank you for joining me in Zambia. Your prayers were answered in many ways to the glory of God. Will you continue to partner with us in prayer as we walk this journey? This trip was so confirming to me that we are heading in the right direction and I was amazed at how perfectly this ministry matches my gifts, personality and passions. I can see us as a family living and thriving there. So, we press on…

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