Wednesday, August 5, 2009

spontaneous ministry day

Today was a ministry day that I've been waiting on for a year and a half. Before I get to tell all about it, I pause to give God the praise, glory, and honor for his patience. And I praise him that I was, for once, open enough to be led.

In February, a group of Hispanic pastors (American citizens) visited Senegal on a vision trip, hoping to find ways they can be used in ministry here in spreading the Gospel to the people of Senegal. I have stayed in contact with one of them, who returned for his third trip to Senegal just last week.

This morning, out of the blue, he gave me a call to say that he was in Theis, and if I had time would I come over to visit and greet his new friends? I said, of course! Just give me an hour and I'll be there. This is West Africa for you, you tentatively keep your schedule open for plans like this. I typically go out in the mornings and in the afternoons, though I never know exactly where I'm going when I go out. This turned out to be my 'afternoon' trip for the day.

When I got to Theis, I greeted his new friends. The men and women are Spanish-speaking Christian ministers living here and ministering to the people. They have translators that they are discipling as new believers-translators who speak fluent Spanish, English, French, Wolof, and probably some other ethnic languages of the people groups here in Senegal. This group is also ministering to people through computer classes, and also reaching out to Talibe boys-boys that follow the teachings of a Muslim religious leader. These boys learn Arabic lessons during the mornings, beg for alms for much of the day, and sit at the feet of their teacher as he tells them stories from the Koran. They start teaching these boys at a very young age. The group of Hispanic pastors also brought some items to share in ministry-music to share songs, and medicines for the people, and I'm sure other things, too.

Already I was blown away by meeting so many Christian believers. To think, I am speaking to a Wolof speaker who tells me that he wants to be an evangelist-in his words-a preacher of the Word of God! Praise the Lord!! You have to understand, I have never, never met a Senegalese man with Christian faith! And I wanted to pick his brain, to sit and talk with him, ask about his past, his family, and when he came to know Christ. I hope for that day in the next couple of weeks, but today time did not allow. I also think I was shocked at what I was seeing.

This afternoon we all loaded up in 2 vehicles to visit a village this team has been working in every day this week. After greeting the people of the village, we all sat under a tree in chairs and on mats, and began to sing praise songs in Wolof and Spanish. I knew 2 of these Wolof songs, but of course did not know the Spanish that we were singing, nor the other 5-10 songs they played. But I'd clap my hands and praise God while they were singing their hearts out.

It was about then that my friend called me over and said, "Brother Roy, do you think you can share with this group what God has on your heart for 10-15 minutes?" Translation-Roy, do you think you can preach God's Word in Wolof for 10-15 minutes? Preach? In Wolof? Go back to that part where I've never met a Wolof speaker who professed to be a Christian. I've gone 18 months without giving a formal message before a group of people, much less in a foreign language.

God is so good, so perfect in his timing. And he has been preparing me for this moment for 18 months. It just so happens that I am carrying my Wolof Bible with me in my car for times that I have the opportunity to share during my afternoon visits. And I did have a thought that I wanted to share. It didn't have 3 points and a poem/joke, but I did take one point (worry) and applied it to our lives. I read Matt. 6:25-34 to them, and talked about how God does not want us to worry. He feeds the birds, and think how much more he will give to us, whom he created to be just like him. He knows the hairs on our head, of course he knows what we think and what is on our heart and in our mind. And I went further to say that for us as followers of Jesus, we know that we don't have to worry. We know there is coming a day when Jesus returns. When he returns, he's going to take us with him to live in heaven with his Father. God does not want us to worry. He wants to give to us daily. Let him know what you need, and talk to him daily from your heart.

I was overwhelmed. Those simple thoughts flowed so well together. Looking back I regret not saying a few things-this is why I prepare sermons/thoughts on paper in order to remember the points I wish to articulate. Next time I get to share this with people, I'll bring out a few of those illustrations that came to mind later. But wow! I shared a devotional thought (I wouldn't call it a formal sermon) in Wolof!!! Also, I wasn't the only one who shared, another member of this group shared another devotional thought, and a third member wrapped up both our thoughts in his closing and prayer time.

Now God is telling me, "see, wasn't that easy? Now do this every afternoon in your village visits." It was surprisingly easy. It did not bother me that I was speaking before a group of strangers. I even had the presence of mind to ask if they were understanding my Wolof clearly. They said they were, and they must have been for the translator commented shortly after that my Wolof was clear.

Actually, since the translator made that comment, the Hispanic team that visits this village invited me back to share more with the people. I will pray about that opportunity. It will be so nice to be around a fellowship of believers more often than I currently am. However, and maybe this is Satan casting doubts in my mind, it is out of my ministry zone. I think 2-3 times a month is not a problem, and promised the group that I would stay in touch with them, and share God's Word with our friends.

We ended the visit by sharing a very late (5pm) meal together, and closed in singing some of the same praise songs before we departed. The people danced and played drums as we praised one last time, and we joined together to pray before leaving. This is my vision for what a Wolof Christian church would look like: Believers together, joining in singing praise songs in their heart language, and 2-3 of their own people presenting the Word of God for them to apply to their lives. I would have loved seeing more open dialogue after the devotional thoughts were shared as the third person spoke. To me that would have enforced the thought that they did understand God's Word to their lives for today. But for today let me escape my Western, Baptist worship mindset and allow God to speak to their hearts as he speaks.

This was a very rewarding day! Thank you, Lord, for using me as your tool today! Thank you, Lord, for letting me see your Wolof people worship you!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

a busy saturday...and bonus cubs news

Yesterday I had the opportunity to go and visit one of my best friends here in his village. I took chicken for us to have rice and chicken for lunch. It was a treat. And I had planned to share a Bible story to the people of the village, however many were working in the fields. Those that did stay around the house took afternoon naps. And my good friend is fighting Malaria, so he wasn't feeling well enough to join us had we talked. I was disappointed not to be able to take the chance to share when I had planned to be in the village for a full day, but I know that I'll get another opportunity soon to do this again. It won't be with a meal like we had! But there will be a chance to talk again soon.

(bonus Cubs report)
See what happens for the cubs when they decide to put Soriano down in the order? They move into first place in the Central!!! And Soriano, now that he's out of his hitting slump, sees for himself that he has the opportunity to drive in more people lower in the order. I'm glad he's happy, he is a very important piece of our offense.
This made me laugh this morning. The Cubs are playing the Marlins in FL this weekend. late in their game Saturday, third baseman Aramis Ramirez got hit in the side by a pitch and had to leave the game. We're short on 3rd basemen, so the guy playing second had to move over to third, and Soriano came in to play second base. Soriano played second for many years for the yankees and rangers, so he has experience there, just not recent experience. The column added that many Cubs position players had to switch positions to make their defense work in the 10th inning, including Soriano who played 3 positions and switched positions during the inning. Why did he switch positions? "To lessen the chance of the ball being hit to him," says Lou! Love it!!

Another Cubs Win! day. Though this one did sting. Our ace Zambrano went out with his back. It must have been bothering him all day, he did not have any control. Ramirez is probably day to day after being hit in the side with that pitch. And our bullpen blew a 6 run lead, and a 3 run lead with 2 outs in the 9th. But I'll take the win. We need to collect them. The cubs have 3 days off the next 2 months. I'll say that again...the cubs team has a total of 3 days off for the rest of the year. I hope Lou's able to manage some rest in for the players the rest of the way. It's going to be a battle to the finish.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

August plans

I'm in the process of resting up and setting goals for my ministry these next 3 months. It's hard to believe that I only have 3 months to go before my 2 year term is complete. This time has certainly opened my eyes to ministry and missions.

One thing I have come to learn is that I am called, like all Christians, to share Christ. I can do nothing on my own to bring people to Christ, but by opening my mouth God can choose to draw people to himself. Prayer is a powerful weapon we have as Christians, and the more I pray for my Wolof friends, the more my heart yearns for them to know Jesus as their Savior. My goal is going to be to do more praying while I am here. That's something that I can continue even after I leave here.

Another thing that I plan to do is to share in 2 of the villages that I am close to. I hope to spend 2-3 days a week visiting these areas and sharing stories to the people there. Even if I have to read the stories, my goal is going to be to present the gospel to these people so they will hear about God and about his Son, Jesus.

These 3 months are going to fly by. During my quiet times lately God has revealed to me my pride in being too dependent in many occasions. I have learned that I can do a lot of things on my own, but I do need encouragement and teaching from others. It helps to have good teachers so that the life lessons I learn are not always learned the hard way. I've made that mistake too many times! I am still struggling some days in feeling lonely, and hope to keep myself busy enough that the time continues to roll by.

So as I think about these next few months I hope to stay encouraged to work, and that I will walk in God's will as I share to my Wolof friends. Thanks to each of you for your prayers and petitions on my behalf in ministry here.

Team Poquoson

It sure has been a busy summer, but a great summer in ministry and one that I'm sure not to forget for a long time. Our 3rd and final group of the summer came to work with us here, and we had a wonderful time getting to know each other and sharing the gospel with people we came in contact with.

Team Poquoson was a group of mostly highschool kids and adult chaperones who came to share with the kids who speak English here. They were challenged by the sights and sounds here. I think they were mostly able to sleep through the daily call to prayers, but the animal noises, bugs, and the heat brought out the discomforts in many.

In ministry as missionaries we often begin by telling everyone to be flexible during the journey, because there's no telling when we will have to change plans. This came to be true early on. Our ladies were planning on sharing Bible stories in a nearby village. On the day this began, the people of the village decided they no longer wanted to hear these stories, and asked us not to share any longer. So the ladies said their goodbyes, and we looked for other opportunities of ministry.

The funny trick about ministering with English speakers in town is that nearly all of the highschool students are young men that speak well enough to carry on a conversation. The women, in being culturally appropriate, really had noone they could hang out with and carry on a conversation with. They were persistent in their daily prayer walks around town, but I'm sure they wanted to do more.

Another rough point happened when a man passed away who lived next door to Pat and Elliott. This created a 3 day time of mourning for the entire block, and further handcuffed what the group could do in ministry. We had to be quiet and respectful of the family, and many of their friends who came over daily were not coming over for respect of the family.

Despite this, the group continued to go and visit their friends. They were able to get out, visit their friends at their houses, and do more prayer walking. God truly opened doors through their outgoing spirits. They met several families that we have yet to meet here, sharing pictures, sharing stories, and introducing the gospel to these families. I think they made enough power bands to share with most every person they came in contact with, and even learned how to say the Wolof words to describe the colors of the power band and what the colors represented. I was very overwhelmed how God used their efforts. Now I look forward to continuing these relationships over the next few weeks.

I'm going to miss this group. Having them come again was like having old friends over. Us guys had a wonderful time talking at night, hanging out, prayer walking together, and just catching back up. Meeting the newer ones in the group and hearing their stories was wonderful, too. I look forward to getting the chance to greet them again soon.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

prayer with a purpose

In planning a vacation, do you typically a) decide to go somewhere last minute, and whatever sounds like a fun time you do spur of the moment, or b) have to plan days, months in advance what to do, where to go, and budget accordingly? I'm in the B group. This weekend I tried to do the A group stuff, but I just didn't have a good time going with the flow. I give it up to those that can do things spur of the moment, I just can't do it!

That's much of my frustration these days. I do like clear direction, lists, direct supervision, and even pats on the back when a job is completed and well done. I've developed my time here as best I can to give me those times of approval. Some days I will only accomplish "see a friend" but know that because I spent time with that person, it was a day that I planted a seed about my faith.

By faith we know that God can move mountains. And we commit ourselves to be his hands and feet wherever we go. Prayer can and does open hearts and minds, and leads us to work through our faith.

The challenge is of course the work. And lately the work that my teammates have planned seem to be destroyed. I'll quote those that I know: unable to direct VBS camp in a village, forbidden to do basketball clinic, not given permission to do medical clinic. All those have in common these things: they happened this last month, to our Wolof team, and all were encouraged by those of authority just prior to the time the work was to begin.

The work, the best made plans, has seemingly fallen through. You can only imagine the disappointment that I feel. Yes, I know the first step in being a worker of God is to be flexible (if I had a nickel every time I've heard or said that myself). But I'm starting to test my elasticity these days. Elasticity measures the flexibility of an object. If it is elastic, it can be stretched and after tension releases it comes back to it's original shape. A rubber band is often thought of in this way as being very elastic. My elasticity is being tested, how will I bounce back form this? I'm not sure that I'm ready to make new plans in work. I'm not sure that I have my optimistic frame of mind when we break the huddle of the next plan.

So I'm brought back to prayer. And prayer with a purpose. My purpose in writing this is to inform you how you can pray for our Wolof team and for missions as a whole. This is my prayer today:

"God, you know the hearts of these people. You call them to yourself just as you died to all people. Lord, I admit that I am just a child, your child, who does not understand all of your ways. My desire, Lord, is that one day the Wolof people will come to know you. I know many are working among them today who may also be like me and feel discouraged. Open my eyes, Lord, and help me to listen to your calling upon my life. Allow me to be better molded and used by you today and these next 4 months to be your servant for the Wolof. Encourage others like me to continue in their work that you have ordained in their lives to do. May this be pleasing to your sight. Amen"

You all know that I don't like to sound discouraged. And I don't intend to be. My elasticity is going to test well, I am still very optimistic. It takes time to work among Mslim believers. Please pray for our next team. They arrive this week and will be here for 2 weeks. I look forward to working with them and will write you stories about their trip after they have visited. Until then!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

free time!!

You gotta love it when your supervisor tells you to "get some rest" for a period of 2 weeks. You see what the work load was for us during the month of June. Volunteer teams are great, and I love having them come. They are such an encouragement as well as an inspiration for us the workers living here. But many long days and laughter add up to short nights and much energy spent. I've taken the last week to rest up for our last group who comes so that I may be strong for them. And I can't let these kids out energize me!

So what have I done? Sleep? Not really. It's 100 degrees in my house at night these days. I just can't seem to get it cooled after the sun shines on the house all day long. What I have done, though, is read. I'm on book #3. I read a James Bond book and I read a John Grisham book already. This book that I am on now is the Borne Identity. It's been a surprisingly good book. For those of you who never have read the book but seen the movie, it's NOTHING like the movie. Honestly the only similarity is the 2 characters and that Borne has no memory of who he really is. Everything else is so much better! There's more action, more twists, and of course more detail. I highly recommend this book.

I've also gone to Dakar to spend the day at Goree Island. You can read more about Goree here:
The short story is that it was once a slave trading site where ships would come and take slaves to the Americas (both north and south). They have a slave house that is open for touring. It's amazing how small the quarters were for the people to sleep. And it reminds the tourists that those slaves who didn't die during the voyage arrived weak and malnourished. Goree is a very popular tourist site in Senegal with many sellers offering paintings, jewelry, cloth, and musical instruments to would-be buyers. They have a few museums there (I really enjoyed seeing the museum today) a school, a few government buildings, and many other attractions. Mom and George, I apologize for not taking you guys to see this. From what I saw the first time I visited, it wasn't worth the trip. Today after getting to see it, I was more aware of all that it offered.

I've also got good intentions to still do a few visits with neighbors and friends. I haven't visited much so far this week (just 2 villages), but I do want to get out tomorrow and friday to see some good friends here in Mekhe. One person wants me to play the guitar for him and his family. When all this is done, Saturday I'm taking a weekend vacation to Saly, our beach not too far away. I will go there with the intent to read, swim, and listen to the NASCAR race online.

So that's what's been going on these last few weeks. I do feel rested up and don't want to overdo it before the next group comes. I'll be ready for them!!

july newsletter

Hi friends! I hope this finds each of you enjoying your summer together-relaxing by the pool, mowing grass, sleeping late, and beating the heat. I always enjoy the summertime, though it seems that's the time I'm the most busy. Busy is good, and I'd like to tell you briefly what my summer has held for me so far.

Elliott, Pat, and myself have hosted 2 volunteer groups this summer. The 2nd week of June my friend Karen and her mom, Janice, came and visited for a week. They came to share stories and walk for the Wolof. We had a good time catching up and visiting with friends. We got to see the high school english club perform, we visited the mayor and had a great visit with his speech writer. And we visited several villages with the intent to share stories and build relationships in each village. Unfortunately we didn't get the opportunity to share a story, however, relationships were built and I know God will ordain a future time for stories to be shared in those villages. Please pray for these villages and the people who live here that God will speak to their hearts through future stories. May they be curious about knowing who He is. Incidently, that's my personal assignment for the next 4 months. I do plan to get out to these 2 areas at least once every week with the intent to share a story to the people.

The next group that came was from Fayetteville, NC!!! Small world we live in. There were people from a church actually in Linden who have known Elliott and Pat for over 25 years!! And they were able to come and plan a 3 day medical clinic in a village close by. Unfortunately we weren't able to do the medical work that we had planned, but it didn't stop us from visiting villages, walking for the Wolof, and having a good time together. I think the biggest praise in this manner was the ministering that this group of 3 was able to do for Elliott and Pat. I could tell from looking at them during the week how uplifted they both were. Please pray for Elliott and Pat as they continue their work among the Wolof. I can attest to how dry the work is here. And you've seen from these 2 examples how darkness can stop the best made plans so work cannot be done. Elliott is in the states right now visiting his father who is recovering from an operation. Pray for the healing of his dad and for the separation he and Pat are having to face. Be strong, guys!

Bet you thought our summer was over? Not quite. We still have one final group coming. They arrive next week and will spend 2 exciting weeks working with high school kids here. This group has been here before, and will continue building relationships with friends they already know as well as visiting new kids they may meet. Please pray for Justin and his group of 10 who will come and work with highschool students. Pray that they will have energy and enthusiam to play soccer, dance, and share stories that impact these students' lives.

Thanks for the empty hands held high in prayer. I love each of you!