As we detailed in our “Not Always What We Expect” newsletter, I was invited to Australia this past January to bring books to teach Congolese and Sudanese refugees. While I have shared some of their story before, I believe it bears repeating.
When I arrived, the African refugees were elated to hear someone teaching in their language and bringing books in their languages so that they may learn more about Jesus Christ. Truly, I am not even sure “elated” really captures their response. For them, it had been a difficult transition to a new country, a new climate, a new culture, and a new language in Australia. Living in Africa, my family and I know how difficult transition can be at times. And yet we are all foreigners, living in a foreign land, hoping to get back to our home in heaven.
Sometimes living in a foreign land amongst foreign people provides a distance that can bring clarity to the bigger picture of life and how temporary it really is. This is one of the greatest blessings of my call to serve Lutherans in Africa (LIA). Never more so has this been clear than during my trip to Australia.
Australia granted permanent refuge to the Congolese and Sudanese refugees because millions were being killed by wars raging in both countries. In Sudan, raiders would come from the north on horseback and wait until a village was most vulnerable, before setting village huts with straw ablaze. Then, as people fled the flames, raiders shot them dead. In case anyone survived, the raiders also poisoned the wells so that those who thirsted in the torrid climate would also die. Who would want to live in such a world?
A Rocky Road to the Pure Doctrine
Before settling in Australia, many of the Congolese and Sudanese found temporary refuge in northern Kenya. At the time, my predecessor, Rev. Dr. Anssi Simojoki, and other Lutheran pastors ministered to them. However, many of the Sudanese, being Anglicans, were hesitant to receive the Lutherans. Yet many of the Sudanese never saw or heard from an Anglican priest. The refugees in Australia told me the same story. When they arrived in Australia, they attended Anglican churches but were not welcomed, and the doctrine taught was not the same as what they read in the Bible.
Over time, faithful Lutheran pastors did receive these refugees and did their best to teach the Gospel to them. For my part, during my visit, I was rather impressed to hear Rev. Stephen van der Hoek read the Gospel lesson in a Sudanese language during Divine Service. Although he has never visited Africa, Rev. van der Hoek acquired a Sudanese Bible and asked them to help him learn to pronounce the language. Rev. Matt Anker had a Congolese Lutheran choir sing hymns in Swahili and French on Sundays. Rev. Matt Buse began training African men to become Lutheran pastors. Yet all of them were struggling to find appropriate teaching resources. Thus their welcome of and continuing thankfulness for the opportunity to work with LIA.
The refugees were also thankful. In this foreign land, they had found riches beyond their hopes: great mercy shown to them by the Lutheran churches, access to Word and Sacrament ministry that matched what they read in the bible, and new resources in their own languages. Yet their hearts were still heavy.
What About Our Families?
“So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. And the news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he had come and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And it came about that for an entire year they met with the church, and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
“Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders” (Acts 11:19-30).
The most surprising and encouraging aspect to my trip to Australia was the refugees’ concern for their families and relatives remaining in Sudan and Congo. Following my visit, they immediately began collecting funds and reaching out to their relatives in Sudan and Congo, encouraging them to contact LIA. Their reaction calls to mind the believers at Antioch, whose thoughts were for the needs of their brothers and sisters. The refugees knew that spiritual hunger, too, can become a great famine.
How surprised was I in April when a Sudanese man, Rev. Nathanael Bol, traveled all the way to Nairobi, 600 miles, and asked for catechisms to teach his people the Lutheran faith. How far would an American travel to obtain good teaching resources?
Like the refugees, Rev. Bol was an Anglican in Sudan who became disenchanted with liberal theology. “They don’t teach what the Bible says.” He told me.
A friend of his in the United States sent him a copy of the Book of Concord, which he promptly read from cover to cover! Out of curiosity, I asked him which of the doctrinal texts he found most helpful. Rev. Bol answered, “I liked the Augsburg Confession, the Apology, the Smalcald Articles, the Catechisms, and the Formula of Concord,” listing each text by name without picking up a copy of our Confessions.
While I was busy trying not to fall out of my chair in amazement, my new friend insisted that this is the teaching that must be brought to Sudan. Confident that I would agree with him about teaching a seminar, Rev. Bol suggested we start by giving a brief history of the Reformation, explain the differences between Lutheran Churches in America, teach the basics with the Good News magazine, and respond to questions from the other former Anglican priests interested in becoming Lutheran pastors. This is exactly what we did!
October 5-11, 2012
During the seminar, many of the attendees were confused, trying to reconcile what they were hearing with what they had learned at the Anglican seminary. However, the fact that we always turned to the Bible to find answers to their questions impressed them. In the end, not only did they decide that they wanted to be Lutheran, but they also committed to translating the Small Catechism with questions into the Dinka language!
While the catechism has already been translated into several Sudanese languages, such as Nuer, Zande, and Arabic, the largest tribe in South Sudan is the Dinka. There are over 4.5 million Dinka speakers, but there has not been a single Lutheran resource translated into their language. How can they learn unless they have teaching materials? In fact, only the New Testament has been translated into Dinka … no Old Testament. So, you see, there is much work to do in the Sudan, in order to bring the pure doctrine to those who hunger for the Gospel, for the comfort of Christ crucified for them.
Faith Comes Through Hearing
Africa is nearly three times the size of the United States. Certainly the fields are ripe as the people want to learn “What does the Bible really teach?” Sadly, many people turn to Islam because there are so many Christian denominations and so many different teachings. The words spoken and read are not the Living Word, but rather a twisting of the pure doctrine that places the things of man in place of the Work of our Triune God. It leads them to think that either Jesus was confused or is too confusing for this world.
But there is no greater truth than the Living Word, nothing more powerful on this planet. Therefore, what is needed most is the means for translating the entire Bible into African languages, for more teaching of the pure doctrine, and more translation of key doctrinal resources so that the Holy Spirit might build and sustain faith in those eager to know His truth. Those living in a foreign land made that their prayer and laid the groundwork to continue this work in the Sudan.
May it also be yours!
[Update: Christ be praised! Trinity Lutheran Church and School has stepped forward to sponsor the artificial limb for Adolphe! (see our previous newsletter]
One of our staff, Camilla Gedhi, a single mother and Lutheran Somali refugee, has suffered greatly for her faith and for her ethnicity. She now is bearing yet another heavy cross. While we were away on furlough, she developed a painful growth under her arm, which led to loss of appetite and weakness. When I returned to Africa, the growth was so large and painful that sleep was impossible, but Camilla was too terrified to go to the doctor because she never had surgery.
Camilla (far right) waits for surgery with Mrs. Hussein and Rev Atunga.
Another pastor and I accompanied her to the hospital, prayed with her, and assured her that Jesus would take care of her no matter what. While the surgeon successfully removed the growth, the biopsy resulted in a diagnosis of Tuberculosis (TB).
Camilla immediately began treatment with medication, but there are no sanitariums in Kenya for the rest recovering from TB requires. The doctor sent her home. Her recovery will take between 12-18 months, during which time she must remain isolated so as not to infect others. Clearly unable to work, Camilla needs approximately $200 a month to cover her medication and food during this time.
If you or your church would be willing to sponsor her, please contact me directly.
It remains my honor to serve our brothers and sisters in Africa. Thank you for supporting God’s work in LIA and for keeping these faithful Christians, those who are hungry and still searching for the Gospel, and my family in your prayers.
We further believe that in this Christian Church, we have forgiveness of sin, which is wrought through the holy Sacraments and Absolution and through all kinds of comforting promises from the entire Gospel. Therefore, whatever ought to be preached about the Sacraments belongs here. In short, the whole Gospel and all the offices of Christianity belong here, which also must be preached and taught without ceasing. God’s grace is secured through Christ, and sanctification is wrought by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word in the unity of the Christian Church. Yet because of our flesh, which we bear about with us, we are never without sin.
Everything, therefore, in the Christian Church is ordered toward this goal: we shall daily receive in the Church the forgiveness of sin through the Word and the signs, to comfort and encourage our consciences as long as we live here. So even though we have sins, the grace of the Holy Spirit does not allow them to harm us, for we are in the Christian Church, where there is nothing but continuous, uninterrupted forgiveness of sins. This is because God forgives us and because we forgive, bear with, and help one another. ~Book of Concord, LC, II, 54-55
Yours in Christ,
Rev. James E May, Jr.
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