Catching Our Breath

Abby and I are sitting at the gate in Livingstone, Zambia awaiting our flight to Johannesburg, South Africa…

Wow! What an intense seven weeks! We’ve trained in Mongu, Nangweshi and Livingstone, Zambia, as well as in Katima Mulilo and Chetto, Namibia. We’ve trained youth leaders, pastors, elders, deacons, Sunday School directors, and more. As of tomorrow, we’ll have preached seven times between us in five different churches. And, perhaps more than on any of our other trips, we've had significant one-on-ones with former and current students.

It’ll take us some time to process this trip, especially our initial interaction with the Khwe people. Their needs run so deeply, and our opportunity to train them in the future will likely require a fresh approach.

Thank you for loving and supporting us, and for praying faithfully for us. We are so grateful!

And, never forget that when we go, you go!

Sunset on the zambezi river in Livingstone, Zambia

Sunset on the zambezi river in Livingstone, Zambia

Sunset over a drought-stricken victoria falls

Sunset over a drought-stricken victoria falls

The Opportunity of Difficulty

It’s been almost a week since our third and final visit to the Khwe community in Chetto, Namibia. To say we’ve needed, and still need, time to process our experience is a significant understatement.

Our encounters with Pastors Nelson and Wilson, with several Khwe families, with the Khwe church, and finally with fifteen students who had at least some English, were both troubling and encouraging at the same time.

What was troubling? The level of poverty which is worse than we’ve ever encountered was troubling. The government ban on hunting and farming was troubling. The limited vocabulary of the Khwe language was troubling. And, the mixed reaction to our white, Western presence was troubling, although not unexpected.

One story gives a glimpse into what we experienced. During our training, we used the word sin, which isn’t surprising. After all, it’s not really possible to talk about the Gospel without discussing the meaning and nature of sin. What was startling was when Pastor Nelson, who speaks pretty good English, told us that the Khwe language does not have a word for sin. It does have a word for problem, he told us, so he asked: “Do sin and problem mean the same thing? Or is there a difference?”

Twenty minutes later, after using stories, role playing, and discussion, we think we were able to communicate the difference between the two words, and help the students understand the relational nature of sin. I wonder…

Yet, we were also very encouraged by our visits. We were warmly welcomed by everyone we met. We shared a joyful and heartfelt worship experience with their beautiful voices joined in harmony. We established relationships with several Khwe who spoke passable English. We discovered to our delight that Khwe does have an alphabet and, in fact, that a translation of Genesis is in the works. And, our students were enthusiastic and full of laughter, and expressed a strong desire to continue training, despite our struggles with language issues.

It strikes all of us, Percy, Abby and I, that if we're going to be effective, we're going to have to rewrite the curriculum which has worked beautifully in Zambia and Namibia up until now. We'll have to begin with the basics, and slow down the process. And, we'll have to allow their questions to direct our curriculum and training, at least in the beginning.

So what’s next? Well, Percy will return and meet with them without us present sometime in the next few months, in order to talk “African” with them, so to speak. After that, we’ll decide if Percy should begin training them without us to lay the groundwork and let us join in later, or if we’ll begin together when Abby and I return next year. In short, Percy needs more time with them to get a good feel for their culture, build relationships, and help them understand that we bring training only, and offer no other relief or aid of any kind.

Please pray for the Khwe community, and for our discernment process. And pray as we finish Phase 3 training with our Katima friends, and continue Phase 1 with some new Katima Bible school students.

And remember…Where we go, you go!

Our Khwe students were joyful and enthusiastic!

Our Khwe students were joyful and enthusiastic!

Amos and his sons raptly listeN to percy's teaching on biblical worship.

Amos and his sons raptly listeN to percy's teaching on biblical worship.

Many of the khwe children were a bit shy.

Many of the khwe children were a bit shy.

This lovely khwe girl was a delight to meet.

This lovely khwe girl was a delight to meet.

This typical khwe family was on the move along the highway.

This typical khwe family was on the move along the highway.

Pastor Jack (R), an old friend of Percy's, introduced us to khwe pastors nelson (l) and wilson (m).

Pastor Jack (R), an old friend of Percy's, introduced us to khwe pastors nelson (l) and wilson (m).

Beyond Our Control

One of the cultural markers of the Western world, it seems to me, is the illusion that we are in control. Our political stability and wealth afford us this. Our water is safe, our lights turn on, there's food aplenty, our roads lead us wherever we want to go, Amazon delivers same-day to our door, our clinics are clean and doctors competent, etc.

When you’re working in the rural areas of southern Africa, all such illusions vanish. Water is scarce and sketchy, there is rarely electricity, food is hard to come by, roads are poorly maintained, Amazon is nowhere to be found, and clinics are rudimentary, at best.

This year, the four year drought is devastating Western Province, Zambia. Reports of one meal a day, at best, are widespread, people are going deeper into the bush to dig roots, and it's only going to get worse.

The hunger has been evident in the ever thinner bodies of our students, their whispered concerns, and in their troubled eyes.

And, yet, our students arrive daily and eagerly engage our training. No matter how much we train them, they always ask for more. It seems they hunger for more than food. They devour the Word of God and it's application in all areas of their lives, including, and perhaps especially, in their families.

This year, in Nangweshi, we listened as our students described in detail their tribal family traditions, and it was troubling, to say the least. In one tradition, a husband is free to kill a trouble-making wife at his discretion, provided he’s ready and able to pay her family a sufficient price when they come to claim her body. In another tradition, children are thrown food from the table as they scramble for it like dogs. Women and children are seen and treated as possessions of the husband and father because the husband paid for his wife with the “bride price.” The notion of mutually loving relationships where each family member has equal value is simply not part of their traditions.

Abby had been teaching extensively on God's original plan for the family in Genesis 1-2, the terrible consequences to family life because of our sinful rebellion in Genesis 3, God’s announcement of family restoration when the Messiah comes in the last verses of the Old Testament (Malachi 4:5-6), Jesus’ restoration of God’s original plan in the Gospels where he uses Genesis 1-2 as his benchmark for marriage, and Paul's call for mutuality and equality in marriage and in the church in 1 Corinthians, Galatians and Ephesians. The discussion about tribal traditions had come in response to a small group question during her training.

As the discussion came to a close, one of our students put it like this: “Please don’t misunderstand us. These are our traditions. It's where we’ve come from. And, Jesus has already helped us to begin changing. But, what you’ve taught us about God’s radical plan for the family is now where we're going. We're not there yet, but we have left our traditions behind and are on our way."

We are under no illusions. We are not in control. But, the Lord is, and he is shaping and refining and transforming us, day by day, whether we live in the West or in southern Africa. And it is our privilege to be part of what the Lord is doing, whether here or there. We're so grateful that we, like our friends in Nangweshi, have left our “traditions” behind and are becoming more and more what Jesus wants us to be. We are not there yet, but we’re on our way. And we are hungry for more!

Please continue to pray for us, as we do for you. We've been with the Khwe (pronounced quay) twice this week. Known popularly as the Bushmen or San people, they prefer Khwe, the name of their language, which means, simply, “the people.” Tomorrow, we go for a third time to begin training a handful of English-speaking adults. Were taking this one step at a time. It’s a four hour round trip, so well only have 3-4 hours to train, but it’s a start. We'll tell you more in a future blog.

And, remember, where we go, you go!

After three weeks of traveling and training, we took a welcome break, including a renewing sunset cruise on the Zambezi River.

After three weeks of traveling and training, we took a welcome break, including a renewing sunset cruise on the Zambezi River.

Sunsets on the zambezi river are always memorable.

Sunsets on the zambezi river are always memorable.

We made our first two visits with the khwe this week in chetto, zambia.

We made our first two visits with the khwe this week in chetto, zambia.

In nangweshi, Edgar and his wife, memory, were a delightful couple, eagerly seeking to follow Jesus in their family life.

In nangweshi, Edgar and his wife, memory, were a delightful couple, eagerly seeking to follow Jesus in their family life.

“Some of the seed fell on good soil…” Matthew 13:8

The Kingdom of God is a messy, wasteful sort of business, if you ask me. Jesus, in Matthew 13, tells a parable where he describes the scattering of the good seed, the Message of God's Kingdom. And, if I read the parable correctly, most of the seed falls on bad soil. Only a small percentage of the seed roots itself in good soil, soil that produces a crop thirty, sixty or a hundredfold.

The secret to the Kingdom is that it doesn't require the Message always to take root, because the Message, by it’s very nature, multiplies. Multiplication, then. That’s the key.

I mention this because we had the opportunity during our training in Nangweshi, Zambia to hear so many stories of multiplication from our students. We were very, very encouraged. Here are a few…

Pastor Martin is actively sharing the Message with two witch doctors, one of whom has now released his wife and children to attend worship.

Pastor Sylvester has used our “Understanding the Bible” principles to instruct his congregation so that they have become resistant to the false teachings of the wandering, self-proclaimed prophets who are wreaking havoc in Zambia.

Pastor Patrick reports that he has become Kindom minded, and has stopped competing with other churches for members. Over the last year, he has counseled about twenty neighbors who had fallen away from Jesus and their churches. Once restored, he has gladly sent them back to their churches instead of keeping them for himself.

Pastor John has planted four new churches.

Pastor Sitali has used our “Discovering My S.H.A.P.E. for Ministry” training in his church, and they’ve begun connecting people to the ministry for which the Lord created them. A side benefit is that members have stopped seeking titles in the church, but have begun to focus on ministry

Pastor Titus has used our training in the “One Anothers" (love one another, forgive one another, build up one another, etc.) in his new role as District Supervisor of eleven churches.

As we left Nangweshi, we told our students to please continue to give us more grandchildren, to continue to pass the Message along to the next generation, and the next. After all, the Kingdom's nature is to multiply.

Please pray for us now that we're in Katima Mulilo, Namibia. Tomorrow, Abby is preaching at Believers Fellowship, our host church. Then, on Monday, we'll drive two hours to Chetto where we’ll meet the Bushmen pastors who are interested in our training. Pray that we will listen and discern well, and that we will connect just as the Lord intends. If it goes well, we'll return on Wednesday and Friday, as well.

And, remember, where we go, you go. We love you and appreciate you all!

What a great class we had in nangweshi. Cumulatively, we have given the core group 135+ hours of instruction over four phases. Our students have become our friends.

What a great class we had in nangweshi. Cumulatively, we have given the core group 135+ hours of instruction over four phases. Our students have become our friends.

Teaching under the tree is the best, especially when there’s a breeze.

Teaching under the tree is the best, especially when there’s a breeze.

This is what our driver called “a rural hardship.”

This is what our driver called “a rural hardship.”

On the road to Katima Mulilo, Namibia, the zambezi river appears in all its glory.

On the road to Katima Mulilo, Namibia, the zambezi river appears in all its glory.