We are back from Africa! After a very busy but blessed week of ministry in Barberton, South Africa, and an eighteen hour flight back, Russ Simonson, Jeff Norris, Ben Seal, and I landed in Washington, D. C. around 6:30 yesterday morning. Holly's paternal grandfather passed away while I was gone, and she drove down to Athens, GA earlier in the week. So, I flew from Washington to Atlanta and reuinted with Holly and the boys. The funeral for Marion Ivey Sr. is today, and we will drive home tomorrow and Saturday to be back with our church family at Fulkerson Park on Sunday.
The trip was wonderful, the best week in Africa yet, at least from a ministry standpoint. We have been working with a group of twelve ministerial students, equipping them with books, teaching them theology, and training them in expository preaching and biblical leadership. This year the main focus was on expository preaching and biblical eldership (following the basic outline of Alexander Strauch's book, where biblical elderhship is marked by five characteristics: pastoral, shared, male, qualified, and servant leadership). The real thrill of the trip was reviewing an assignment I left the students with last year: to prepare three expository sermons (following the Scripture Sculpture method taught by Ramesh Richard in Preparing Expository Sermons, which we gave them last year). The students exceeded my expectations! It is obvious that they are grasping the concepts and putting them into practice. I may post some of their outlines later, just so you can see how well they are doing.
During the mornings at the college, I was sharing time with with Dr. Wally Malaise and "Rogers" (can't recall his last name), who represented Multi-Ministries International and served as our liasons with the college and our "guides" in Africa. The mornings were devoted to lectures on the letter of James. I covered the introduction and most of the first two chapters (finally translating my studies on James 2:14-26 from earlier this year into an actual sermon!). Dr. Malaise focused on counseling from the book of James, and Rogers preached through James 5. It was a lot to cover in only three days of lectures, but I think it was well-received. Wally also served as our driver (including on Saturday when we drove through Krueger National Park and saw ALL of the "Big 5" - leopard, lion, elephant, rhino, and buffalo) and I really enjoyed conversation with him. He is a strong evangelical and an evangelist by gifting, having worked with Campus Crusade for Christ, among other things. But he is also a Wesleyan. I didn't realize this until half-way through the trip (which says something about him - since he is a committed expositor of Scripture, his focus is on the text, not importing his systematic theology into the text). In the course of the week we talked about spiritual gifts, unconditional election, and the Wesleyan view of sanctification. The conversations were lively (!) and we often did not agree. BUT, we never got angry with each other and were able to embrace with genuine brotherly love for each other at the end of the trip. I think we also were both challenged by the other's perspectives. Brother Wally came out of a very hyper-calvinistic background and became a Nazarene. He has read historic Arminian theology more than anyone I've ever met, and the nuances of his statements were helpful for me to hear. I consider myself a part of the "new Calvinist" movement in the USA, in step with John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and the Together for the Gospel folks and as committed to evangelism and missions. This kind of "Calvinist" was new for Wally and I think will prompt further investigation and reading on his part. Mostly, I am glad that we could minister together without disabling conflict or tension - much like Whitefield and Wesley (in their mature years), or Spurgeon and Moody, or Lloyd-Jones and Campbell Morgan of years gone by.
Rogers was helpful in giving me an insider's perspective on African culture. He is a native Zulu and was able to correct some misconceptions I had. He also struck me as a very humble servant-hearted brother and as an eager student of Scripture. He asked intelligent questions about Calvinistic theology and it was obvious two days later that he had been thinking and studying, as he came back with more questions. But it was humility that struck me most. I saw Jesus in this brother.
Our team from our church this year was a great one. Russ has a unique heart for people and a gift in personal relationships that pushed him right into the middle of student life at the Back to the Bible Training College. He played volleyball and spent hours and hours just talking with students, answering questions and giving good counsel and exhortation. Ben functioned as my right hand man, (and as a 13th student, so that by the end I quipped we should call this Strategy 1:13 instead of Strategy 1:12!). He did video work, took pictures, and prompted very good discussion in class with his excellent questions. But he also found a niche that I did not anticipate (although knowing him I should have) - in prayer. Many of the students meet at 6:00 AM in the mornings for a time of intercession (in the room just below where I was sleeping, so that their energetic praying was often what woke me in the mornings!) and Ben found his place among them. I think he has a special heart for prayer and a gift for intercession. He also preached about three times and his message on Jeremiah 2:12-13 was very powerful. Jeff came and served - helping with books, running errands, and serving as there was need. He also preached on Sunday and again on Monday morning. I didn't hear the Sunday message, because I was preaching elsewhere, but the message on Monday was a very Christ-centered sermon on "The Father of the Prodigal Son." But beyond all of this, Jeff served our team by his presence. The last three nights were especially meaningful to me as the four of us spent hours together talking and laughing and enjoying fellowship together. I can't imagine that these nights would have been what they were without Jeff. He contributed so much. On Sunday night, he and I stayed up talking until 3:00 AM - which might not have been smart, considering how tired we were! But it was such a blessing. Then we talked for hours and hours on the flight home, which really ministered to me personally in a special way. I consider it a special gift from the Lord to have gotten to know him better and am very glad he came.
I came home this year more eager to see my family than ever - I just love them and missed them so much. I also come back with a larger vision for Africa. The potential of teaching African pastors expository preaching and equipping them with good books on theology and the skills for studying the Bible is just amazing. I am seeing this not as a three year strategy that will impact twelve students, but as a 100 year year strategy, where a lifetime of teaching and equipping (and recruiting other churches and pastors in the US to do the same) could change the entire face of the African church, giving it a strength and depth it has not yet attained. We are already in dialogue with the college about next year trying to extend the training in expository preaching to the entire college. It is tentatively set for me to spend a week in lecturing on "homiletics" and if we could raise the funds to equip every student with a Bible dictionary, a one-volume commentary, and a good book on preaching, I think the impact could be tremendous. We'll see what the Lord does.
I am so thankful to be involved in this kind work. It is not easy work, but it is joyful work and the Lord has been good to me and to our church to open this door of ministry. Only eternity will tell what good has been accomplished, but for now we labor, knowing that we will reap if we do not faint. Thank you for your support, encouragement, and prayers. Your reward in heaven will be great!