July 2, 2016
Hello again, friends and family! I’ve returned once more from a ministry expedition into rural Zambia, this time in a much smaller group. Just like before, we participated in powerful works God was doing… but this time our impact was also more personal and relational, as we served alongside and were hosted by our local friend and minister, Pastor Jerry.
Instead of traveling with my class of 25 and all our leaders… it was only me, 2 fellow students Braiden and Courtney, and Paul– a Zambian AMT graduate and sector missionary for that area. We arrived at the pastor’s home early that Saturday afternoon. He warmly welcomed us (for me, turning my offer of a handshake into a hug and excited arm-squeeze), introducing his wife and children before unloading our belongings and groceries.
Was living at their home a different experience? Yes it was, as I’m sure you can easily imagine… but let me say more on that later, so you can understand the full story.
After we set up our tents beside Pastor Jerry’s hut – across from the fire and seating that served as our outdoor kitchen and dining room – I asked him what he planned to preach on for tomorrow’s Sunday service. He plainly replied “I am not preaching tomorrow; you four are preaching the message.” It was an arrangement I was already anticipating, but I was trying to ask discreetly just in case we were off the hook.
That next day, the church service was at “9,” but the way time works in Africa means that people stream in and finally start around 10:30. “Muana Church of Christ” the cloth over a pulpit/communion table read. It’s a mud-brick and thatch hut– the size of a single, modest rectangular office room in the U.S., but packing in bench pews for a congregation of 52 people.
Paul, Braiden, myself, and Courtney were seated in a sideways pew in the very back corner, and took turns standing to preach a message we threaded together: about God’s Father heart over us, and gracious redemption to transform. In a culture that too often views our Creator as distant and Christian living as rules and rituals, this was our joy and honor to proclaim that the Lord of heaven longs to dwell with us and change our hearts from the inside out. In that moment, I spontaneously felt led to share my own testimony of encountering Jesus as a skeptic, and begged them to share this Good News with anyone like me.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” -Jeremiah 31:33-34
My desire for the week was that a multiplying effect would result from our encouragement and teaching to the believers of Nbwezi.
Granted, I was both thrilled and grateful as I was to see signs of power accompanying the story of the Gospel. A older man’s sight began to grow strong again as we preached that Sunday. Paul saw in a vision that the head of a household was selling witch doctor charms, so that we could challenge him to burn them and fully rely on Christ for protection. In another family, Jesus delivered a woman struggling to breath because of demonic influence and restored her crippled husband to stand and walk for the first time in two decades without a cane or helper. In total with our Sunday service, house-to-house visits, and a crusade at the local school… my estimate was that we spoke to 250 precious people, of which 14 were hearing what Jesus did for them for the first time and received salvation (I’m sure there were more, but these are the ones I can say with complete certainty from personal interaction).
That said, I wanted most of all to leave with a confidence that Zambian disciples would grow into maturity and share their testimony in our absence. I’m pleased to tell you that the Lord answered this prayer.
While we never attended a Bible study as initially planned, the alternative was even better– speaking to five men each interested in leading Bible studies for their neighbors (including the man who chose to burn his charms). They felt unfamiliar with the Bible, so we simply explained the story that begins in Genesis but always points to Jesus, and assured them that uneducated men like Peter and John spoke powerfully because they spent time with the Savior. After this time of teaching, we ate a traditional meal together (nshima and beans) and my choice to eat three helpings prompted them to call me a real Zambian.
In another case, the co-pastor and the usher of Jerry’s church paid us a visit. With Paul’s initiative and respectful instruction, we guided them to re-examine the Scriptures for how they led money offering and communion in their service. Until then, they were sharing negative and external examples for why believers should contribute financially and participate in bread and juice with reverence… but our encouragement was that they emphasize how God sees the heart, desires a cheerful giver rather than a fearful one, and offered us Jesus’s body and blood for any who accept Him with faith.
However, what I will always remember and cherish the most from this trip is how Pastor Jerry was blessed, and also blessed us. Every morning, we had a devotional time of encouraging one another, so that we embarked in the peace of God’s presence. Walking between huts, we had conversations about both Zambia and the United States… mutually expanding our minds in regard to culture, and stirring our friend’s heart toward God’s will to reconcile all nations. At his home, he asked us about our future dreams for ministry, and we sang English and Tonga worship songs with the whole family under the multitude of stars and the Milky Way.
Truly, Pastor Jerry and his family were caring and generous hosts to us. I could explain at length how living at this was a new experience to adapt to. They have one hut and an open storage area for dishes, thatch enclosures for a long drop and a basin shower (newly constructed with metal train rails as the flooring), and a range of animals wandering about including chickens, ducks, and dogs. And yet, we hardly noticed this at all, as we went in with an open attitude and had our needs quickly provided for (when he killed a chicken for us, it was the most fresh and delicious meat I have ever tasted).
When Pastor Jerry told us that his wife was nervous hosting Americans for the first time and didn’t know what to do, I thought of my own house and how we strive to have it perfect and clean for every visit. I expressed my gratitude to him, for their willingness to open their home to the use of God and His people… to which Jerry responded by holding my arm, squeezing his eyes shut, allowing a single tear to trickle down, and after a moment of solemn silence declaring “Amen-amen-amen!”
I have so much peace and joy as I write now, because as great as seeing people turn from darkness to light really is, our most unique and personally tailored effect is upon this shepherd of the Lord’s flock in Nbwezi. The Word will surely not return void, but produce an abundance of spiritual fruit as Pastor Jerry nurtures the lives we touched toward even greater works.
Will you pray over this continued work in Nbwezi? As for me, my two teammates and I have felt a stomach illness since returning to base. It hasn’t been nearly severe enough to keep me beside a toilet, but the aching and sensitivity to temperature is still a nuisance. Please pray for our rest and recovery, as we are about to begin another week of instruction for preaching and auto mechanics.
Either way, I’m super thankful and in awe of what God accomplishes through his servants, and blessed to be back with my friends in AMT. The Lord is also speaking to me about the specific warrior in His army I am crafted to be, and I can’t wait to share more and see you all in another month.
Abounding peace and grace in Jesus, from Subsaharan Africa to North America
Source: Taylor Lewis Zambia