Notes from the Mission Field: What Does This Really Mean?

Here is the Lutherans in Africa September newsletter (PDF)

Catching Up

For some of you, it has been a while since you heard from us last. For others, we had the great pleasure of meeting and getting to know you better while on furlough.

The last week of May, after the school year ended for our children, we traveled to America for two months. It was quite an adventure, even from the very beginning. As you can imagine, it is not an easy task to travel from Nairobi, Kenya to Cleveland, Ohio on three different airplanes with six children. Normally, with layovers and changes, this trip takes about 24 hours, but this time it took nearly THREE DAYS, 70 hours in total!

Furlough is not really a vacation for us, as we were on the move each week traveling to visit with our wonderful supporters and to give presentations about the work of Lutherans in Africa (LIA). We try very hard to serve the Lord, to bring God’s Word to people who have never heard about salvation in Jesus Christ and to be good stewards of each and every dollar that faithful Christians donate. However, at times, a missionary can feel very isolated in Africa, and it is common to feel homesick, or even discouraged, when things do not go as planned or in a manner an American would consider to be “normal.” Thus, the greatest thing about furlough was that when we met so many of our dear friends they seemed to already understand how difficult the task is. The way we were welcomed into your homes with smiles, prayers, words of encouragement, delightful conversation, and great food really lifted our spirits (and our weight! I think I gained 20 pounds in two months!).

Now and Then

But it seemed just as soon as we arrived, we were off again back to Africa. We returned August 7th, the kids started school the next day, and Tiina and I intensified our search for a new home and mission center. Praise be to God and thanks to your prayers, we were able to find a new location by the end of August. It is on the other side of town and has enough space for our home, two offices for translation work, and most importantly, a large living room where we can hold chapel services.

As noted previously, rent in Nairobi, reflective of any capital city in Europe or America, is not very economical. Therefore, it is our hope that this new rental will be temporary, as we begin to save for a permanent location. We have lived in Africa since 2006 and hope to remain 30 years. But no matter how long we are here, the need for Lutheran literature and teaching will continue long beyond that.

A Call for Help

In the midst of returning from furlough, looking for a new house, and preparing to move, the work continued. During our summer presentations, some of you learned the Lutheran Church in Zambia requested our help. Many of their pastors were being influenced by promises of scholarships and money if they would, in turn, pressure the church to begin ordaining women. It is not uncommon for wealthy Americans and Europeans to take advantage this way, tying funding for education, sustenance, and health care, for example, to furthering their own agenda.

Often the real danger of the ordination of women is misunderstood. Those in favor claim that to deny women ordination is to say they are not as important as men. This is simply not true. Women are absolutely vital to families, to the Church, and to society. Yet we all have God-given roles and tasks to do, and many vocations of this life are clearly delineated in Scripture. One of which–the vocation of pastor–is assigned to men by our triune God. So, the real question is: Should we stick to what the Bible says or should we change the Word of God if it does not agree with our culture and contemporary philosophy? Or, in other words, do we trust the order of God or the order of man? This question then leads to more, not the least of which is: If we change one verse, why not two or three or more?

Unfortunately little assistance is given to our African brothers and sisters in how to respond to this sort of Biblical question. Yet we know the danger of teaching false doctrine. After all, essentially the way Satan deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden was by asking, Did God really say that? Couple the weapons of doubt and pop culture sophistry wielded by our foe with the fact that many other denominations now ordain women, it is no wonder African pastors ask: Is it right not to do so? What does the Bible really say?

Thanks be to God that He has given His Church a clear exposition of “what the Bible really says” in the Christian Book of Concord! We continue to give thanks to Him that this precious resource has been translated into Kiswahli through the work of LIA and Lutheran Heritage Foundation-Africa and that we are in the process of translating the Small Catechism with questions into several other African languages. And we are honored to serve as His voice and hands in sharing the pure doctrine with our brothers and sisters in Christ in Africa.

With Bishop David Tswaedi (from South Africa), Rev. Dr. Anssi Simojoki, Rev. Albert Mongi (from Tanzania), Rev. Samwel Atunga (from Kenya), Rev. Ari Lukkarinen (from Finland), and Rev. James May serving as seminar presenters, the Zambian seminar was held during the last week of August. We began by breaking into small groups to read through five Bible passages and to assess where the participants were with regard to their understanding of Scripture. (1 Corinthians 14:26-40, Galatians 3:26-29, Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Timothy 3:1-13, and Titus 1:5-2:5). As the participants read through these passages, they asked questions, such as the following:

  • The Bible says we are all the children of God but why should we be selective saying that women should not talk or preach in the church?
  • Why do some churches not ordain women to be pastors nowadays?
  • What eliminates the difference, is it baptism or ordination?
  • If there is no difference between male and female; can women be pastors?
  • Is there a difference between shepherding and witnessing?
  • Can women do one and not the other?
  • Of course, one question would lead to another, and it was good to engage in spirited discussion focused on the Word of God.

To gain a better understanding of the need for instruction among church staff in Africa, examples of questions that arose from each passage can be found on the LIA Facebook page in posts on August 28th.

At the end of the seminar, the participants came to the clear conclusion found in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

This exercise and study of scripture also strengthened them in other areas of theology. Whatever God says is true. He does not lie but knows what is best for us and wants what is best for us. Therefore we will trust in Him.

Therefore, if you cannot discern this, at least believe the Scriptures. They will not lie to you, and they know your flesh better than you yourself. ~Book of Concord, LC, V, 76

We are exceedingly grateful to Crown of Life Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas for making this seminar possible and for so generously providing a copy of Women Pastors?, edited by John Pless and Matthew Harrison, to each participant.

Below you can see Seminarian Brian Simunza talk about the importance of both the instruction and the resource provided.


Over the Airwaves

Before the seminar in Zambia, I was invited to attend a conference in Cambridge, England. It was a great opportunity to speak to Lutherans in Europe about the work of Lutherans in Africa. While I was there, I was interviewed by the British Lutheran radio host Rev. Jaime Kriger. The interview can be found here. Search under the title “Lutheran Radio News” for 31 August 2012.


Back to Congo

In mid-September, I have been invited to assist in the ordination of six new pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Congo. Some of these pastors were students of mine when I taught in Togo and/or when we had our Lutheran hymnody seminars in Brazzaville, Congo.

While it is a great joy to be there for this celebration, part of me is also saddened. These are the first ordinations in over three years in Congo! The number of new congregations of Christian brothers and sisters hungry for the Gospel far, far outpaces an average of two pastors per year. For this reason, church president Rev. Joseph Mavoungou asked me to remain in Congo for an additional week to give basic training to the growing number of evangelists who serve in the church when new congregations begin meeting.

Understandably, a week’s training can only be a brief overview, though we will do our best to teach the Lutheran faith and distribute as many catechisms and hymnals as possible. Clearly, a better solution needs to be found to effectively leverage the resources (personnel, resources, funding, and time/travel) of LIA into the greatest possible outreach. Therefore, we are proposing to start a low-cost, permanent translation, publishing, and evangelist training center in a village outside of Nairobi. Our ideas and the ensuing specific needs will be outlined in future newsletters.

In the meanwhile, we ask that you pray that those, who are now in the fields of the Lord without adequate training, are guided by the Holy Spirit through the meager resources they have. We ask that you pray that your brothers and sisters in Christ, who are hungry for teaching, are not led into heresy, other great shame, and/or vice by false teachers. And we ask that you pray that God raises up and provisions more workers for the Lord’s harvest to shepherd Christians and to preach the Gospel in its purity.

As always, we are grateful for your faithful support of LIA through prayer, the gifts of time, talent, and resources, and your generous donations. We praise our triune God for His sustenance of LIA since April 2010. And we ask that you join us in seeking His wisdom and guidance in the next steps to meet the many requests for help–similar to those from Zambia and the Congo–that remain unanswered for now. For we know that when it comes to the Gospel, the bottom line is as Luther declared:

Therefore we constantly maintain this point: God does not want to deal with us in any other way that through the spoken Word and through the Sacraments. Whatever is praised as from the Spirit–without the Word and Sacraments–is the devil himself. God wanted to appear even to Moses through the bush and spoken Word. No prophet, neither Elijah nor Elisha, received the Spirit without the Ten Commandments or the spoken Word. John the Baptist was not conceived without the word of Gabriel coming first, nor did he leap in his mother’s womb without Mary’s voice. Peter says, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Without the outward Word, however, they were not holy. Much less would the Holy Spirit have moved them to speak when they were still unholy. They were holy, says he, since the Holy Spirit spoke through them. ~Book of Concord, SA, III, IX, 10-13

Yours in Christ,
Rev. James E May, Jr.


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