Lessons in the Gospel Learned in KenyaFriday, March 12, 2010
One of my dear friends, Cary Cox, who pastors Conway Celebration Church in Conway, Arkansas, recently returned from his 5th ministry trip to Kenya...the trip that kept him and others from coming to Nepal with us, where we greatly missed him. However, there is a deep impact Cary and his team are leaving with pastor Ben Bahati in East Africa. Cary's recent post was worth carrying here on Miscellanies on the Gospel, particularly the first point which is always a burden to me and on me.
I returned this week from my 5th ministry trip to Kenya, East Africa. We partner in the gospel with native Kenyan, Ben Bahati, and the amazing, multi-faceted ministry God has entrusted to him. We were a team of 40: 3 from Conway, Arkansas; 2 from Gurdon, AR; 4 from Stanley, WI, working with the African team made up of believers from Congo, Tanzania and, mostly, Kenyans. Which leads to my first lesson:
Lesson 1: Unity in the Gospel. Believers can work together in the gospel without making non-essential matters of disagreement into essentials to divide over. How beautiful it is to see believers from different parts of the world, different backgrounds, different skin tones, different life experiences - working together to spread the gospel of Jesus. And how beautiful it is when we not only tolerate each other, but fervently love each other in the Lord. What an experience this has been!
Lesson 2: Joy in the Lord. I have witnessed poverty unimaginable by many Americans. I have met believers who have been persecuted and beaten for their gospel witness. I have worked with those who always face living conditions that are challenging (to be kind). And yet, in all these situations, I have seen joy. Not fake joy that is in denial, pretending that everything is 'ok.' But deep and abiding joy in the Lord Jesus. A joy in the gospel of Christ that can rejoice in the midst of great suffering, persecution, poverty and hinderances of all kinds.
As we dropped Krys off in the Mathare slum to preach on a Sunday morning in a local church, our driver called to the back of the matatu van, "Cary Cox, have you now seen the ghetto?" I replied, "Yes. I have now seen the ghetto." I saw children younger than 2 years lying naked from the waist down in dirt and filth, flies crawling all over them. I saw young, homeless, orphaned street boys sniffing glue to forget their hunger pains. In the midst of these hardships - believers have joy.
A young Somali believer who was kicked and beaten for his faith by Muslims until he vomited blood - I saw him smiling and leading a mud-house full of Somali believers he is discipling in the hymn, Nothing But the Blood of Jesus. I saw children who are HIV positive dancing and laughing and singing about Jesus. I saw believers challenged by bad roads, frequent illness, poor electricity (and a thousand other things Americans would complain about) walking in joy - consistently. I have no right to complain. EVER. Jesus brings joy that triumphs over circumstances!
Lesson 3: Stamina in Worship. When the saints gather to worship God, what is the hurry? Why not stand and sing and dance...for hours? Why not hear the word proclaimed by one pastor, and then - in the same meeting - hear it preached again by another pastor? Why not sing to the Lord in focused worship and praise for a good long while?
Lesson 4: God Can Use Anyone. We had gathered in the slum to conduct the last meeting of the 4-day crusade. Rain had delayed, and now the power was not working. I sat on the stage, tired from the 2 weeks of ministry and from preaching in the morning's meeting. I thought, "This meeting is not going to happen tonight." It was already close to 5 pm, and we had been trying to start each day around 2 pm to have time to bring in a crowd to hear the gospel. Honestly, I was ready to head back to the hotel and get some rest. But suddenly the power came on and the music began. The Kenyan team began to sing and dance and...the people began to leave the soccer game they had been watching to gather around the platform and listen to the music! Each time I looked up there was more people; the crowd grew quickly to biblical proportions. In no time at all there was a sea of beautiful black faces smiling and singing.
From the platform, Ben Bahati looked down and told me to come up. As the singers finished their song, he said in my ear, "You are next. They've counted ten thousand people." A flood of emotions ran through me. "Who am I? A little kid from south Arkansas with no Seminary education. God can use anyone."
As I was introduced, I grabbed the microphone from Ben and greeted the people in Swahili. They were with me. Listening to my words. Responding to my speaking. I preached one verse of Scripture. 1 Timothy 2:5: "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." I explained that a mediator was needed because we are at war with God. We have turned from him and have not loved him and served him like we were created to do. We have rebelled, and he is angry with us for our sins. War between God and men. And then I told them the good news, that God sent a mediator, the man Christ Jesus. I told the crowd of 10,000 poverty-stricken Kenyans that Jesus Christ died on the cross for sinners, taking the wrath of God that we deserved. I told them how he rose from the grave and is alive. Many began to shout and clap. I told them that he is mighty to save, and commands us to repent of our sins and believe on Christ. I pleaded with them to turn from their sins and come to Jesus. I was near the point of tears, feeling the gravity of the situation and almost overcome by this tremendous opportunity and privilge. It was one of the best days of my life. God can use anyone.
Lesson 4: Discipleship Matters. Ben Bahati has raised up young men who are leading his ministry. I've been to Kenya 5 times in 7 years and have seen these young men grow. Some of them were rappers in nightclubs, some of them orphans, some drunkards - but all of them saved by the gospel of Christ through Ben's ministry. I've seen them remain faithful over the years. They are getting married and having children now. And they are still serving Jesus and living for the gospel. When Ben is too old to preach, these men he has trained will carry on. Discipleship matters.
I praise God for all he has shown me in Kenya. The third-world church is not perfect. They are people like us, who have weaknesses. They sin and need to repent and be restored, same as us. We have much to teach them, and they have much to teach us. But there is a beauty in Christ's church that is seen the world over. It's nothing like it will be when Christ returns and we are glorified. The church will shine with brilliant glory in that day. But even now, God's people are beautiful. Jesus' church cannot be defeated. Whether in Africa, the United States, or the countless places in between, Jesus is building his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Hallelujah!