Notes from the Mission Field: Sending Forth the Gospel
A Precious Gift
Picture all the bible study materials, hymnals, and prayer books you have on your bookshelves. In West Africa, even if pastors, church workers, and lay folk could afford them, such resources are simply not available. In fact, apart from the work of Lutherans in Africa (LIA) and LHF-Africa, there are no other publishers of Lutheran resources in all of West Africa. This is why we are dedicated to the translation and publication of Luther’s Small Catechism with questions into the languages spoken across this region. Therefore, it is a great joy to announce that we received 10,000 copies of Luther’s Small Catechism in French!
As we mentioned in our previous newsletter, we are aiming to raise the efficacy of LIA’s work by 1) increasing onsite catechesis training seminars in various countries to help pastors, Sunday school teachers, and church workers learn how to teach the foundation of the Lutheran faith; and 2) establishing a permanent residential training center in Kenya. We held our first catechesis training seminar in September 2012 in Brazzaville, Congo.
Previously, we have held liturgy and hymnody seminars in Congo, but it is hard to imagine that, in the year 2012, this is the first time a catechism course was offered. But how could anyone teach them earlier if students never had the catechism in a language they could read?
As always, the attendees are not the only ones who learn from the seminars LIA conducts. While it may sound repetitive, the humility and encouragement I find in listening to these Christians so eager to learn is sobering. Their interaction is a constant reminder to me that they really are serving on the battlefields of the Church Militant. For example, their excitement over the explanation section of the catechism was palpable. “Now,” they exclaimed, “when liberals attack our beliefs we can show them that they are not at odds with Lutherans, they are at odds with the Word of God!”
With a bit of effort, I was able to fit 300 of the French catechisms into my suitcase. With 30 church worker attendees, each received 10 copies for their congregations. These folk will not simply pass them out door to door, because they believe they are too precious a gift. Rather they will, for the first time in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Congo, begin offering catechism courses and give one per family.
We do not expected this printing to last more than a year, as some church workers paid their own way and came across from Kinshasa, DRC when they heard the catechism had arrived. By the end of the first day, these hungry Christians would not let me go until I told them when French Catechisms will be coming to their country! Because we have seminars scheduled every month until next Spring, they will have to wait until March for their turn. Oh how great is the need for more missionaries, for the hunger to learn the Bible is unending on this continent!
Truly the value of this printing gift is immeasurable and will impact many generations to come. Thus, it is with humble gratitude that we thank all our dear brothers and sisters from the Luther Foundation in Finland who made this possible.
Sample Catechesis Revelation
“But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ’You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16).
Indeed the statement is true because it is the Word of God. But the question remains whether the work of being holy is God’s or man’s.
For the answer, we again turn to God’s Word: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10).
Therefore, the word “be” is not an imperative, not a command for us to go out and achieve holiness by following certain practices and such. Rather, it is a reminder of our state of being in Christ. For holiness and cleanliness are not our work, but are a gift from God to we who are unclean and are incapable of making ourselves holy.
When addressing this doctrinal issue, so often the response is: “No one teaches that. How are we to rightly understand scripture when it has been so twisted? We need this Lutheran teaching and especially this little book that clarifies so much confusion!”
Calling His Undershepherds
This trip to Brazzaville was especially poignant for me. Daniel Moudene and Gustave Ngokosso were students of mine when I taught in Togo. Oh, how I rejoiced to welcome them as brothers in office! Rev. Donald Porter served as the preacher for the festival of Ordination, while Rev. Fred Reinhardt translated into French for him. Rev. President Joseph Tchibinda Mavoungou, Bishop of Congo, led the rite of ordination, with the reading of Scripture and prayer.
Click here to hear the ordination Hymn by the Lutheran Men’s Choir in Brazzaville, Congo.
Please keep these new pastors in your prayers, for the Lord says, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
What God Has Joined Together
Daniel and Gustav were not only ordained while I was in Brazzaville, but they also entered into holy matrimony! Rev. President Mavoungou served as the liturgist, while I served as the preacher. Upon the exchange of rings, enthusiastic cheering erupted from the congregation. While joy over a wedding is not foreign to me, I savor the outright celebration of the unions God has created that occur in African weddings. The congregations never lose sight of, or take for granted, the marvelous work God has done in bringing together a husband and wife.
[We are constantly inundated with personal pleas for mercy and support. Up to this point, I have hesitated in adding them to our newsletters. For really, how does one choose amongst all the broken and needy children of God living here in Africa. However, I decided that by not sharing, I was limiting the work God might do through the supporters of our mission by putting mercy into action. I ask that you pray for those whose stories will begin to fill this section of our newsletters that God will comfort and sustain them and answer their prayers for assistance in a manner in which He sees fit.]
While in Congo, I met Adolphe Soukazal. He is an evangelist in the Lutheran Church and traveled two days from the northern part of the country to attend the catechism seminar. He is a remarkable young man.
When he was six years old, Adolphe was returning to the northern part of the country with his mother when there was a horrific accident. Rain was pouring down as the barge on which he was traveling was being pushed by another one. Because the storm waves were rocking the barges, Adolphe slipped and nearly fell into the water. One of his legs did go over the side of the barge. Before he could scramble back to his feet, the adjacent barge crushed his right leg between the two.
Many people tried help Adolphe, but the damage was already done. Since it was late at night and they were far from the city, he and his mother were forced to continue their journey home. At their village the next day, she took Adolphe to the nearest clinic. A Chinese doctor tried his best to treat him, but disease and gangrene took over. In order to save his life, Adolphe’s leg had to be amputated.
As often happens in Africa, Adolphe was looked down upon because he wasn’t “normal” like the other kids. Yet Adolphe always tried his best and never made excuses. He graduated from school with high marks and began studying computer science. In his spare time, he repairs old computers that make their way to Africa. But his pastor told me the thing he likes most is being in church, singing hymns and learning the Word of God. It was Rev. President Mavoungou, and not Adolphe, who approached me to ask if there is some way we could help this young man.
Rev.President Mavoungou used his own money to take Adolphe to the hospital after he saw the blisters on his hands and arms from his old wooden crutch. While there, the doctor informed Rev. President Mavoungou they could fit a prosthetic leg so Adolphe could walk unaided for approximately $2,000. In Africa, this is a princely sum far outside the reach even of a church congregation. I told the two of them I could not make any promises, but I would pray that a solution be found, and I promised to tell others about Adolphe. If you would like to help him, please let me know.
Rejoice with us the many ways that our Triune God is sending forth the Gospel, but most especially through the dissemination of the French Small Catechism, Catechesis Training Seminars, and the Ordination of African men to shepherd the growing flock of God’s children hungry for the pure doctrine.
Neither you nor I could ever know anything about Christ, or believe in Him, and have Him for our Lord, unless it were offered to us and granted to our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel. The work of redemption is done and accomplished. Christ has acquired and gained the treasure for us by His suffering, death, resurrection, and so on. But if the work remained concealed so that no one knew about it, then it would be useless and lost. So that this treasure might not stay buried, but he received and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to go forth and be proclaimed. In the Word He has the Holy Spirit bring this treasure home and make it our own. Therefore, sanctifying is just bringing us to Christ so we receive this good, which we could not get ourselves. ~Book of Concord, LC, III, 38-39
Yours in Christ,
Rev. James E May, Jr.
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