When we started our website 5 ½ years ago, I dubbed my page "Hot Flashes from the Desert" because of my stage of life and our location in hot, dry, dusty, Sahelian Chad. Just a couple of weeks ago our new assignment was made official. Next term our base of operations will be Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This is the second-largest city in DRC after Kinshasa, and the population is about 1.5 million people within the city limits. It is in the southeast corner of a nation the size of the United States west of the Rockies, and it is on the fringes of the second-largest jungle in the world-the Congo River Basin. That being the case, I need to change my blog's name to "Hot Flashes from the Jungle"!
Last term I knew where we were going and what to expect. We had previously been in the house we were renting from the AG Chad. We knew how it was constructed and where the furniture would be placed. We were familiar with the Youth Center compound and the traffic patterns because of our own stays in the guest house found in our back yard. We knew what we would be doing in Moundou: building a Bible school campus (Bill) and teaching English (Sonia). When we returned to Africa at the end of 2006, we did not realize that it would be our last term of service in Chad.
Now we are about to embark on a new adventure, working with a network of Bible schools that are in the process of being developed in this vast nation. The country is so large and the infrastructure so poor that the student pastors cannot travel from one province to another for training. Until a few years ago, Bible school training facilities were only available in two of the eleven provinces. Thus there were provinces in the DRC with 144 churches and only 4 trained pastors, 158 churches with only 1 trained pastor, 199 churches and only 33 trained pastors, 94 and 4, 73 and 3…You get the picture. The need for these Bible schools is desperate.
Although DRC is one of the earliest fields for the Assemblies of God-the first missionaries in the northeastern corner of the country arrived from Kenya via Uganda in 1921-they are also desperate for missionaries at this point in time. Currently 3 couples and an elderly widow are stationed there. Of the families, 1 couple is about to retire, another is leaving for an extended furlough due to medical needs, and the third is the Central Africa Director, which means he works with all the missionaries in all the countries in the region and travels a great deal. When we arrive in DRC at the end of this year, we will be the only missionaries on the ground specifically assigned to this network of schools in this vast nation of 73.6 million people. It's an overwhelming assignment!
Some of the earliest Assemblies of God missionaries realized that the only way to expand our efforts is through multiplication. Thus the AG has developed the largest network of Bible schools that the world has ever seen. Our church network is many times larger overseas than it is in North America because the goal of missionaries is to teach local pastors and get out of the way, basically working ourselves out of a job.
In Africa we have already seen indigenous missions programs begin in several countries. In fact, that is the main reason we were able to leave Chad when we did. The Bible school ministry we began last term is in the capable hands of missionaries from Togo and Burkina Faso, West Africa. Another family from Nigeria, now working in northern Cameroon, will soon be moving to the capital city of Chad to begin church planting there. As Bill says, "The future of Africa is black." In other words Africans will continue to build the Church when missionaries from the West are no longer able to continue the work they started.
The hope of the Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM) leadership is that DRC will become the next African sending church. There are hundreds of people groups unreached by the gospel message scattered across the continent of Africa-many more groups than Western missionaries can reach. In Chad alone, there are over 80 unreached people groups (UPGs). Our expectation is that the AG/DRC will soon have the ability, through these Bible training facilities, to not only supply all the pastors needed for their own churches, but to reach into all their own unreached towns and villages and also begin sending missionaries into the surrounding countries.
There is a reason why UPGs are unreached, and it is an obvious one. They are difficult to reach! They live in isolated places, their cultural barriers are challenging to cross, their language is hard to master, their lifestyle is hard to cope with, their weather is brutal to acclimatize to, etc. African missionaries moving to other African nations can cross several of these problems off the list. They are used to the weather, they already speak several languages and can easily learn another, and the culture is similar to their own. As we see it, this is going to be one of the best means possible to reach the rest of the unreached peoples of the continent.
As we finish itineration and our MA studies, please pray for the Lord of the Harvest to go ahead of us, preparing the hearts of many student pastors with a desire to reach across cultural boundaries to people who have never before heard of God's plan to forgive sin and welcome people from every tribe into His forever family.
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Love to all,