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Report from Africa

Well, Ben and I have now been home for a week and (at least speaking for myself) are almost over the jet-lag. So, before too much time gets away, I thought I’d write up a brief report of the trip for you.

Departure and Arrival

After leaving Friday morning from South Bend, Ben and I departed from Atlanta on Friday night and arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa Saturday evening around 5:00 p.m. local time. We were met by Emil, a middle-aged pastor who has done work for Multi Ministries for the past several years. Emil took us to the guest house where we were staying, then we picked up Emil’s wife and met Harold and Antoinette Peasley for dinner. Harold is the director of Multi Ministries – some of you may remember meeting him when he visited Fulkerson in 2004. I had not seen him in three or four years, so it was good to reconnect with him again, talk about the World Cup, hear about the work Multi Ministries is doing, and get oriented to the week ahead in Barberton. Following dinner, we went back to the guest house and crashed.

On Sunday morning, Rodney and Arthur, two other men who work for Multi Ministries, picked Ben up and took him to a church in Pretoria, where he preached on God’s promise to Abraham to bless the nations and how it is ultimately fulfilled in Christ and through the great commission. At this church, Ben (and me, briefly) were able to reconnect to Rogers, a former student from BBTC whom we had met several years before. He now works for Multi Ministries and serves in a quasi-staff position at this church.

Emil picked me up and we went to a little church that he is now pastoring (he is about to leave Multi Ministries to pastor full time). I preached from Mark 15 on how in the crucifixion, Christ identified himself with the suffering, the shamed, and the sinful, and then ended with a call for us to identify ourselves with him by carrying the cross like Simon of Cyrene. This was followed by a baptism service, where Emil baptized (in a swimming pool at a local gym) two people. One of them was a converted Hindu woman, whose testimony was really moving. Following the service, Emil took me to Pretoria to meet up with Arthur, Rodney, and Ben, and we spent the rest of the afternoon journeying to Barberton, arriving around dinner time. After dinner, we crashed again, still weary from the trip.

The Week at BBTC

Chapel started at 6:45 a.m. on Monday, so we were up early. I preached a short message from Luke 18 on the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Then we ate breakfast with the staff and started into the first day of lectures. I’ll spare you too many details from the lectures, but they were all on preaching, laying out first a theology of Christ-centered, expository preaching (Monday), then working through a seven-step method for preparing sermons (Tues-Thurs). I usually lectured from around 9:00 a.m. to noon, with a fair bit of Q & A each day. Ben was busy in a myriad of tasks, from arranging for the distribution of the more than 500 books we brought (mostly donated by Desiring God International), to sitting in the lectures (giving me both good and critical feedback afterwards, which was very helpful!), to installing bible software on multiple computers, et cetera. This is basically how we spent each day, Monday through Thursday, with only slight variations. On most afternoons, I would meet with students from 3:00 to 5:00, then Ben and I would meet for an hour to walk, talk, and pray before dinner. Between sessions, we’d find time to call home, take an occasional short nap, and do other logistical type work needed for the classes. The evenings usually involved an enjoyable meal with the staff, followed by meeting with various staff members for various reasons, though Monday evening was devoted (7 -9pm) to evaluating student preaching.

On Tuesday morning, I preached on three ways we use God from the story of the capture of the ark in 1 Samuel 4, and on Wednesday on suffering from the letter to Smyrna in Revelation 2. Ben preached Thursday morning on the promise to Abraham and the great commission, and I preached again Friday morning on Psalm 84, then led staff devotions Friday night with a talk on how to deal with stress and anxiety from Philippians 4. One reason I share this course of preaching and teaching is because this is one of the key ways we’re able to minister to the college. Ben is especially helpful and perceptive in this regard, because he spends so much time with the students and staff and is pretty alert to the pastoral needs. One burden he and I have both had for the last several years is to counter the prevalence of health, wealth, and prosperity teaching at the college (which doesn’t come from the staff, but unfortunately gets broadcast from our own country!) and to help the students develop a theology of suffering. That concern accounts for some of the above choices, along with our desire to fan the flame for missions at the college, with its sixteen African countries (and now Korea, too!) represented.

On Friday, the students took their exam, part of which involved writing and preaching a sermon. The entire student body is divided into cell groups, so for the preaching assignment, the students broke up into their groups to preach. It was pretty cool to see these groups spread out all over the campus, taking turns preaching their expository sermons! After this was completed, all the sermon manuscripts were turned in and it was time to start grading.

For some reason, I had a much harder time adjusting to the time change this year, so I was often crashing by 10:00 or 11:00 pm, but wide awake at 4:00 (or even 2:30 one night!), unable to go to sleep again. So, by Friday, I was sick. I did some work on the exams, but after the devotions Friday night, was really needing some sleep. We canceled the Saturday trip to the Krueger National park, and I took sleeping pills (thanks to Ben for providing) and slept for a total of 14 hours! When I finally got up Saturday afternoon, I felt much better. Ben and I spent most of the afternoon working in the office on various things for the college, followed by a meeting with some of the staff and counseling with one student. I worked again on the exams Saturday night.

Ben preached at the college on Sunday morning, this time from Jeremiah 2 on the evil of forsaking the fountain of living waters for “broken cisterns.” The rector of the college, Shai Mulder, took me into Barberton, where I preached at a local church on heaven from Revelation 21-22. The Lord seemed to bless this sermon in an unusual way to bring comfort to people in their suffering – with some moved to tears.

Sunday afternoon was exclusively devoted to finishing the grading, with Ben and one of the staff members helping a lot. Then, Sunday night, we had a two and a half hour Q & A session with the students. The questions were submitted in advance and ranged from questions on practical issues like tithing, preaching, and church leadership to theological questions about suffering, predestination, and free will. Believe it or not, someone even asked “who was Cain’s wife?”! Well, there were too many questions to get through and many which I obviously couldn’t answer. But I had a good time trying, and some of the students seemed to really benefit. When this was finished, we awarded prizes (in the form of books) to the high scores on the exams, and said our goodbyes, since were planning to leave early Monday morning.

An Eventful Trip Back

Our flight from Johannesburg was at 3:30 pm on Monday (it’s a six hour drive there), so we were off by 6 a.m. Monday morning. We made the flight without problem, but the layover in Lagos, Nigeria was another story! I was anticipating a relaxing layover with time to eat and shop, since we had over three hours. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We spent the first hour to hour and a half in a crowded stairway, then room, trying to get through passport control. There must have been between one and two hundred people crowded in that room. And it was hot! But things got worse when the airport folks realized we were transferring to another flight. They then demanded that everyone turn in their passports as they escorted us to another area of the airport. And you can imagine the response. If you want to see a hundred angry Americans, just ask them to turn over their passports in a third world country’s airport! I was nervous myself, but glad to have a policeman at my side. (I would have felt better if he had been armed, though!). I was especially nervous when we literally followed a Nigerian man in fatigues and a beret outside of the airport, with him still holding several dozen passports! It turns out he was just leaving arrivals and taking us to departures! But, obviously, we made it through.

The story ends well. When we got on the large plane with Delta for the 10 hour flight back to Atlanta, I noticed that first class was empty and said to Ben (with not a little resentment) that most of those seats would be empty while we were stuffed in coach class in the back. So, Ben decided to tell the flight attendants that he was a police officer to see if they would upgrade us. About fifteen minutes later, they came back to our seats and escorted BEN to the front. I kept hoping they’d come for me, but to no avail. So, I settled in with my novel, thinking I’d just have to make the most of it. BUT, about fifteen minutes after take-off, they came for me too! It turns out that one of the flight attendants had a soft spot for missionaries, so decided to give me the upgrade as well. So, we both got to ride home from our mission trip in first class; and, I want to tell you, it was nice. Even the food was good (I had a two-inch thick filet for dinner!).

We landed in Atlanta before 5:00 a.m. and were the first flight to make it through customs. We were back in South Bend by noon on Tuesday.

For Prayer

So, that’s a rundown of the trip. Here’s a few things to be praying for now as we think ahead.

1. Future trips. Ben and I both continue to feel that our work with the college is a strategic way to build up the church in Africa. We’ve already penciled in tentative dates for a return trip in 2011 and would like to see more people come to help with evangelistic outreaches through Multi Ministries. If you’re interested, let us know. You should have plenty of time to raise the funds as we hope to have final dates locked in soon.

2. BBTC’s financial needs. This school is a faith-run college. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, in fact. It’s like seeing George Muller’s faith and prayers in 21st century. Every year we’re amazed by some of the specific answered prayers the college is seeing. And the needs are great, so one thing we’d like to do is raise more financial support for the school. To help with this, Ben has started a blog for the school. Bookmark it and check it regularly, as we’ll be adding more information about how to support the school. And send the link to friends outside of Fulkerson, as we’d like to spread the word.

3. Library. The school’s library is in really dire need. With only about 5,000 books (and probably only half of those being very useful), there is a huge need to help the school build up their library. I’d like to see us do something about this and will be discussing options with the elders and missions team in upcoming months. But individual donations can also help, so if this interests you, let me Ben or me know.

That’s it for now, but suffice it to say that it was a great trip and we’re glad to be home. The worst part of the trip every year is missing home, especially Holly and the kids, but also all of you. Thanks for your prayers and continued support.

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