Africa Reconnaissance Trip

January 20, 2011

Greetings dear ones,

A lot has happened lately. I returned from my 2 week reconnaissance trip to Africa, we moved from our daughter’s apartment into our home [4615 Farnington Dr, Houston, TX 77084], I leased an office space and furnished it with a desk and a host of bookcases from Ikea, we’ve decided to join the church where I was on staff here in Houston in the 80’s and I spoke at the church’s Couples’ Retreat last weekend.… whew. It’s taken longer to get “set up” than I had anticipated. [Note to Aramcons in their 50’s: the transition from life in Arabia to life in your home country will likely take longer than you think!]

The trip to Africa in October was wonderful. I was able to reconnect with some of the friends I met when I was there in 2007. My purpose in going was to do on site reconnaissance and get first hand feedback on our ETS discipleship materials. I was wonderfully blessed to discover [and was not aware of the extent of] the profound impact the ETS training and materials have had. I was able to meet with scores of ETS pastors and trainees and individually interviewed several dozen pastors. It was a blessing and an eye opener to hear face to face how ETS has not only transformed lives, but has also given church members the boldness and confidence not only to share their faith, but to launch out in ministry in other villages and communities. One Nigerian woman I talked with felt the Lord was calling her to share Christ in a neighboring village inhabited by muslims. She did so though she was eventually taken before the village elders to explain her activities. I think the elders were surprised and taken back by her boldness and confidence. An amazing woman.

In the many feedback sessions I conducted, it was evident the ETS trainees had a clear sense of who they were, why they are here on earth and what they need to be doing for Jesus’ sake. Another surprising realization for me: in developing countries, theological training for pastors can be somewhat scant and lacking by Western standards. But a number of the pastors I spoke with shared how they had learned so much while training their people with ETS and now they themselves have a confidence in their pastoral ministry.

My overall takeaway: ETS discipleship training has provided a solid “working theology” for both pastors’ and church members’ lives and ministries. Similarly, ETS has provided a thoroughly biblical theological framework for understanding the big picture of who God is and his design for us as his people. The way this works out practically, is that followers of Christ have a boldness and confidence to step out in evangelism and disciple making ministry. They know how to lead someone to Christ, how to follow them up, how to get them in the Word and growing spiritually and how to train them to be Christ followers…in other words, they know how to do the work of the ministry. This is good!

"To all of you who are supporting Cindy and me through your prayers and financial gifts, know that we are deeply grateful for your faithfulness and generosity. You are our partners and your sharing with us makes this ministry possible. Indeed, you are partnering with us in touching the world for Jesus’ sake. How good is that?! Much love in Christ to each of you, Dwain [p.s. I know this letter is way too loooooong, but the trip to Africa was just so huge. Sorry for the length.]"

Tomorrow I go to Dallas to meet with 4 men who are actively involved in leadership/pastor training via digital media and the internet. One is a former NASA rocket scientist who has been with MAF [Mission Aviation Fellowship] for the past 20 years [Mike Holman]. Brilliant fellow – he wants pastors in remote locations to have access to training resources. We are already partnering with him and want to make all our training available online. Currently all the ETS discipleship materials in English, Spanish and Russian are available at different locations online. We also want to get all the ETS video training online as well. The website I am having developed will provide a single place where all of this will be available to anyone, anywhere in the world. Glory to God.

africa_one.jpgThe next few pages are pics from my trip to Africa along with some travelogue. I spent time in both Nigeria and Zambia. The pic at right is a group of trainees in Lagos I met with. Here is the report I sent re this meeting: "I then asked them for feedback on their ETS training: it was overwhelming; one couple in the group had never been able to conceive a child but after getting in the ETS group and growing in Christ, the wife was able to conceive and had a baby. The entire group feels ownership of this child since they were all praying for conception. They pointed to a picture on the wall – the ETS baby!

One after another stood to explain how God had been powerfully at work in their lives and ministries as a result of ETS training. The sharing went on for an hour. I tried to wind it up since the meeting had gone long [2+ hrs], but they were in no hurry to close the meeting. The mood was festive and celebrative. We had tea and “biscuits” [ie, cookies] when the meeting was over and then took photos for 10 minutes or so."

africa_two.jpgI also had opportunity to meet with the board members of ETS Africa [pic at right]. This is an organization Dave Dawson founded with four Nigerians who devote themselves full time to ETS training in Nigerian churches as well as travelling to other African countries to present ETS to churches and denominations. They also have arranged with a local printer to produce the ETS training materials there in Lagos. The printer was an ETS trainee who volunteered his company to do the printing!

At the meeting, I presented some ideas for a workshop to help pastors, especially those not familiar with discipleship, understand how discipleship works and how a pastor would go about shaping his ministry to focus on making disciples. My hope is that this workshop would help pastors see the value of making disciples as their ministry goal and Eph. 4 as their strategy. But most importantly, assist them in designing a workable plan for their particular church situation. Former Aramcon Dan Walters and his pastor friend Roger Sanford from Electra, Texas have already led similar workshops in Zambia.

africa_three.jpgThe Anglican Church in Africa is solidly evangelical and many of these churches in Lagos are currently using ETS materials. I was able to meet the Dean of one of the Anglican cathedral churches of Lagos [cathedral = the church the bishop attends]. This church is very influential among the other 200 churches in this particular diocese in Lagos. The pic at right is with the ETS leaders and trainees at this cathedral church. This church’s use and endorsement of ETS training has opened the door to many other churches in the area. Here is an excerpt from the report I sent:

"The Anglican Church in Africa is solidly evangelical. They are hard core in terms of the deity and lordship of Christ, inspiration/inerrancy of the bible, etc. In my sessions with ETS users, when they are giving testimonies of how God has used ETS in their lives and ministries, they often speak of the ‘word of God.’ They say it in a way that expresses their confidence in the bible as God’s truth.

africa_four.jpgAmazingly, when the lesson in ETS Book 1A “The Priesthood of Every Believer” was covered, some of the Anglicans were alarmed as they have a highly defined system of priests, with the traditional clergy-laity divide. However, when they saw that the priesthood of every believer was biblical, that settled it for them. One commented something to the effect: “Our church is wrong.” That apparently settled things and it has been a non-issue since then. Ptl.

In the afternoon, I met with the ETS facilitators, graduates and current trainees at Archbishop Venning Memorial Cathedral Church. Powerful meeting. We finally had to cut things off after nearly 3 hrs. Testimony after testimony of how God has used ETS to give them confidence to minister the word; to teach the word of God without fear. This confidence re sharing the word has been a recurring theme from ETS students. Some go to other villages and share Christ. Some remarked how scrip memory has given them confidence in ministry and also enhanced their prayer life. Learned how to follow up new converts in order to conserve the fruit of evangelism. QT changed her life with children and husband."

africa_five.jpgWhile in Zambia, I also met with groups of pastors to find out how their ETS training was going. On Sunday, I was invited to preach at a mud walled, thatched roof church outside the small town of Kabwe. We drove about 1¼ hrs down a dirt road before arriving at the village of Loima [LEE-muh]. From my report:

"This village church is pastored by Lack Kapali pictured with me below. We met in his home for a few minutes after the worship service. The service was wonderful; lots of singing, the choir did several songs. There were about 80 – 90 in attendance. The building, a mud walled, thatched roof structure was full. In the picture, I am in front of the bldg, which had no electricity or lights [other than the windows – open holes in the walls which let light in]. The pews were simply mud benches, like the walls. The musicians were two drummers who hammered away. The choir consisted of about 8 to 10 women who were absolutely delightful. They danced as they sang. So much joy and life and vitality throughout the meeting. In fact, the only “still” person in the room was this one white guy.

africa_six.jpgWhen it was time for me to preach, the pastor was my translator. Really a sweet guy; you could sense his goodness. Though we hadn’t met before that morning, he was able to track with me as I talked and the people seemed to follow. He was much more demonstrative than me initially, but once I got warmed up we were both cookin’. What a joy to share in ministry with this brother. After the service, he received our group into his home for about 15 minutes, then we went back to the meeting building where I was asked to speak to a group of adults on the topic of discipleship.

While these folks have very little by Western standards, their lives are lived with joy and purpose. They are people of faith who look to God for meaning in life. The taller man in the pic at right is the pastor’s brothers who came to Christ a while back. Now he’s the exuberant worship leader in the church.

africa_seven.jpgThe pastor mentioned in conversation that they meet again on Friday for prayer and bible study. Then they break the fast together. “Break the fast?” Oh yes, they fast as a matter of weekly routine. When I asked him about it, he looked at me somewhat puzzled and reminded me of the phrase in the gospel where Jesus mentioned “prayer and fasting.”

He would likely be surprised to discover that there are actually groups of Christians who don’t fast regularly. Dallas Willard commented that a telling observation on current Western spirituality is that we Westerners often regard as optional and/or unnecessary what the spiritual giants of previous generations considered utterly essential to their life in Christ. Jesus, the disciples, NT elders, as well as the spiritual giants throughout church history fasted as a regular discipline of spiritual living…so do the dear brothers and sisters in Christ in this village. ptl."

For you dear ones who have persevered all the way to the end…well done! You must be marooned on an island with your laptop. If you want more info on my trip to Africa, I can send you my whole report [18pps] at your request.

God bless you dear ones. Much love in Christ. Dwain