I came to Africa to train pastors; we have launched a new Bible School specifically for pastors called The Barnabas School of Pastoral Development and are off to a great start with a strong enrollment and are now in our 3rd day of classes. I’ll explain in another letter how this school will continue and function.
My public sessions with the whole group are running from 8:00-12:30 each morning and have been exceptionally well received. Pastors Duncan and Dolores Dotson of Rockwall TX are the other teachers in the school and I love hearing both of them. The additional studies, follow-up questions, etc. have run into the evenings.
The entire school has been really intense and I have no doubt God’s calling me to this ministry was not a one-time thing and I am seriously praying as to whether this is the life calling for which I have been listening for the past year or more. I have no clue what the shape of my involvement will be but I am trying to keep my heart open to what HE wants of us.
I have found myself teaching differently than I ordinarily would, primarily because EVERYONE here is in congregational leadership in one form or another. But more than at any other time in my life I have felt the Spirit of God simply seize the moment, direct my words and heart and bring transformation to those attending. The first day my lessons went essentially as I had planned and the response was profound. But the second day, something happened to my planned lessons and it felt to me like God just took over.
One of my greatest delights is the way that these people respond when ‘voicing’ strong affirmation. I don’t get a lot of “amens” or “preach it!” like I would in the states, but they are definitely demonstrative… just not what one in America typically expects. One of the older pastors, in fact, a man who pastors a group of pastors over a wide area of northern Kenya, is the one who delights me the most with his response. He sits on the front row over to my right as I’m teaching and when he gets really excited, he jumps to his feet and does this tribal thing that for all the world I would swear is an imitation of a Prairie Chicken mating dance and call. He spins in place with his feet thumping and is crouched to the side that he is spinning, but with both hands to his mouth, one hand the fingers holding his mouth in a tight spread fashion while the other controls the exit of air coming out and creates a warbling sound. I’m serious, I think of a male Prairie Chicken every time I hear it and just love to look over and watch him… and most others who even notice it do too. You catch that where I said “who even notice it”? His response is not so extraordinary here as to attract special attention. Yes, indeed I AM in Africa!
The first day, after going nonstop for nearly 4 hours—I did stop just a little early as Pastor Dolores hadn’t greeted the assembled yet and they have a strong affinity for her as she has been involved here for a number of years—I was dripping like a wet rag and was exhausted though exhilarated. Some of us sat down for lunch together and the young man, Lucas, who had been translating into Swahili for those who didn’t understand English had joined me and was sitting just to my left. We had been handed bottles of cold water straight from the fridge (a treat here) and he had just taken one long pull on his when he looked over. I was just setting my bottle down on the sofa between us and Lucas’ eyes suddenly bugged out as he looked at it, then exclaimed, “You changed your water to wine?!?!” Well, actually, I had just dumped a tiny packet of Rasberry Lemonade Crystal Lite into it and given it a quick shake, but it did have a very pleasant rosy color. As the humor struck me, Lucas very sincerely extended his bottle to me and asked, “Would you pray over mine too?” I was almost disappointed to have to tell him what I had done and showed him the little packets and then he thought his mistake was funny, but for a moment, I think he thought I was surely something more than what I am. I still laugh just thinking about it, but he did enjoy the raspberry lemonade.
Several questions from pastors yesterday convinced me that I needed to completely change my lesson plans for today. There were serious and practical things that needed addressed. Our team is meeting early each morning to discuss the day and encourage one another, so this was the time that I laid out what I had in mind. The reality is I wasn’t sure when I awakened how I was going to accomplish what I perceived needed done, but while I was in the shower, if what I have in my room qualifies as such, everything became clear. I got new notes printed up and was off to teach. It happened that the illustration I received on my first day here when I did the slick wet floor ballet pirouettes with my big pack was the perfect place to start and they enjoyed the story almost as much as those who witnessed it firsthand that day in the restaurant.
Yesterday afternoon was sweltering here in Kisumu even though it is the middle of winter here and all the little children running around were covered with a sheen of sweat. These kids belong to the cooks, the pastors, the dishwashers and laundry ladies and all the others who are serving here. Well, I happened to notice on the ‘highway’ that goes past the ‘church building’ a man pushing a little hand cart that I could see from the graphics was an ice cream cart. It was fun trying to get him over there because when I would point at him across the street and motion him to come over, he would pause and look all around him and behind trying to figure out who I was summoning. Finally, as he drew closer and the third time I pointed at him and motioned him over, and after looking all around again, he pointed at himself and questioned, “Me?” to which I nodded enthusiastically and called him over. I had him go ahead and roll his cart inside the gate and into the middle of the grassy area and by then we had about 10 kids attention. I asked him how much his ice cream was, turned out he only had popsicles and only one flavor of those… brown, whatever that was, I never tasted one. He told me they were 5 shillings apiece, about 5.8 cents apiece, so I told him to give one to every child and both of us would count as he passed them out. This guy quickly transformed from a worn out guy walking down the highway in traffic to an energized peddler who just walked into a bonanza. I asked one of the boys to go ‘into the building’ and get the other kids but he wouldn’t do it until he got his popsicle—couldn’t risk the peddler running out! I think a few kids from the neighborhood might have come in through the gate when they saw what was going on and I even invited a couple of teenage girls that brought little children up close to have one, which they did. The count ended up 38 happy children and totaled just under $2.25 for me, and we left the peddler with only two popsicles left. Somehow I think he was as happy as the children.
For some reason, during our last prayer and praise period of the evening yesterday, I was surrounded by children who all wanted to hold my hand or lean on me. Most of them had been friendly, but a little shy previously, but the popsicles obviously bridged that gap. I also got more than a few “thank you’s” from the mothers. The financial reality of many of the people here is that they have NO money in their pockets, they managed to get here on faith that they would somehow be able to travel back home. We were discussing this evening what it would cost for transportation to help the pastors return to their homes, some of them live several hundred miles away. Fifteen, in fact, came from the Samburu tribe in northern Kenya where I was last week and you recall that I related my trip to you. And their food here is being supplied by This Is Your Season Ministry in Rockwall, TX. In fact, there are pastors here who do not own a Bible—that will change tomorrow as the purchase for them was just arranged this evening. I don’t think most Americans can comprehend the way these people live—but if you ask me who is truly “rich” I think I would lean toward these people who have nothing material but are wholly devoted to Father and exuberantly joyful.
Yesterday, I needed in a most serious way to address with the pastors the issue of pride; do not think pride is only money based, position can create as much of an issue for our hearts as possessions. Well, on my second day in Africa God had addressed the problem of pride in my life and thoroughly broken me, forcing me to face the most excruciating humiliation of my entire life. I had not realized how much pride I harbored until I was faced with being stripped of it, and then it became painfully evident. The story won’t translate well in this letter, and is a bit lengthy since I’ve almost reached my cutoff anyway—at least that’s the excuse I’m going to use for not sharing it with you now—but in that moment, I realized that if I were to talk to these people about pride and their need to be humbled, I needed to have the humility to speak of my own pride. I did NOT plan to share this story EVER with anyone (other than the one I’ve told so far), but in the moment I was compelled to make the ridding of my pride complete by exposing myself to these people. Well, the story had its desired impact; it left me totally without a shred of pride, feeling as humiliated as I had on that original day. In fact, a few hours later, when I emerged from the building, a couple of groups of ladies across the way started pointing my direction and laughing and the story got repeated in its full humiliating detail again… those cooking and cleaning hadn’t heard me tell it so ladies who had got the pleasure of relating the story. This morning, I asked the ladies how many of them had gotten more laughs at my expense later in the day by sharing the story with others. About five of them raised their hands and acknowledged it. At least they were honest. I doubt I will ever be preaching at Dayspring, or anywhere else in the U.S., on pride, so am hoping I will never have need to repeat the story again! But the reality is, after my pride was so stripped away, I don’t know that I could be any more humiliated by publishing the story in a book. I’ll contemplate this before my next letter… until then, you can hang in suspense.
Prior to the school beginning I had actually been seeing some reduction in my waist size, and hopefully a corresponding reduction in my weight, but the cooks at the school are so intent upon honoring their American guests that I am having to be very careful to avoid GAINING weight now. And our hosts will not allow me to walk. Our hotel is less than 1½ km from the church so I could easily walk over there in the morning, but they insist that one of the hosts has to drive me back and forth each time I come or go and I do not wish to offend them or get the young man driving me in trouble for failing to tend to his responsibility. He did actually tell me that if I was seen arriving afoot or by any other means of transportation it would pose a serious problem for him and he would face discipline.
Okay, back to a point with something I did earlier in my letter; several times I placed a word or phrase like ‘church building’ or ‘go into’ in a quotation indicating the word was used to refer to something other than what is normally perceived. This church doesn’t really have a building. For some time they met under an expansive bamboo roof on poles, then they were able to semi tack used tin over most of the bamboo. Now, in anticipation of eventually having a building, they poured footers and built crude block walls partially around the ‘roof’ but some distance larger and actually extending higher. They are hoping to sometime be able to roof the walled portion and even eventually to add doors and even windows where today there are simply large openings in the walls. We aren’t really indoors at all, so going into or out of it or calling it a building is a little bit of literary license. The floor is partially concrete and partially tamped earth. And this is where most of the pastors are actually sleeping during this week of school. I wonder whether my longing to know God more fully would create in me a willingness to sit for endless hours under this tin roof and sleep on this rough hard floor? I don’t know, because I have a bed and a shower and an actual toilet, so am not faced with that decision. I don’t feel guilty for the difference, I am GRATEFUL to God that He has provided for me as He has! And I know from the way these people honor me, they wouldn’t want me to join them there on that hard rough floor, even though most of them have never had a room in their life as nice as this little hotel room.
We don’t have to feel badly that we have been blessed so abundantly—but we should sure be moved to gratitude. I didn’t choose my parents or where I would be born, it is solely by HIS grace that I am who I am where I am. I pray I will always recognize that and never feel entitled to any of my abundant blessings.
Jack was raised in a Christian home where he spent his youth preparing to preach God’s word. First published at thirteen, writing and speaking became Jack’s passions. Whether through newspaper columns, magazine articles, radio broadcasts or public speaking engagements, Jack continues to share his heart with his readers. His life’s motto: To Know God, and To Show Him To Others.