Friday, March 10, 2017

Sent to Nigeria...

I've been in Nigeria for four days now and this is the first time I've had consistent electricity and internet access. So, I thought I'd update the blog and let everyone know I'm doing fine. I appreciate everyone's prayers!

I arrived Monday afternoon and was met at the Lagos airport by Mike Essien and Pastor Sunday of the local Nigeria-CLC. My flight was scheduled to arrive at 3:10 pm and with Mike's advice we had two plans in place. IF my flight arrived on time and I didn't have any trouble with immigration or customs officers upon arrival, then I should be able to be out of the airport by 4:30 or so we would head straight out of town for the 2.5 hour trip to Badagry where a seminar at the NCLC congregation was scheduled to begin at 9:00 am the next morning. If I wasn't able to get through immigration and customs quickly, then I would be out much later and I would spend the night in Lagos and we would need to head out very early in the morning to arrive at the seminar in time. By God's grace, I breezed right through the airport with no questions at all and I was out the door by 3:45 pm where Mike and Pastor Sunday were waiting. We had exchanged photos by email so we could find each other since it's been almost twenty years since the last time I saw Mike face to face the first time I visited Nigeria back in 1997 when I was still in seminary.

Flag of Nigeria
Foreign mission work isn't always full of amazing stories and goose-bump inducing accounts. Sometimes, it's just pretty routine. And that is what the past few days have been. We traveled to Apa (a suburb or Badagry) where the NCLC has a congregation. We made good time as we were ahead of the evening traffic. There were a couple of immigration stops along the way to check my "papers" but no major hassles. We arrive right on time and not long after our arrival dinner was served! Fish and chips! I turned in for a much appreciated night of rest. 

We had two days of evangelism seminars scheduled with Pastor Sunday from Lagos (who came with us) and the pastor of local NCLC congregation in Apa, along with some of the members of the congregation in Badagry. During the down time, I had the privilege of getting to know Mike Essien and Martin's wife Tina (who was an incredible host) as we spent hours discussing all kinds of interesting topics that included politics, local culture, family traditions, Boko Haram, church work, the history of Christianity in Nigeria, and most importantly, the history of NCLC and what challenges the current pastors and congregations face.

We made the trip back to Lagos today and I am checked into an motel near the airport with great air-conditioning and wifi. I'll get caught up on some work and email this evening, have a good meal at the motel restaraunt, do some laundry, talk to the family back home, and get a good night of sleep before a busy weekend and week to follow.

Tomorrow (Saturday 3/11) I fly from Lagos to Port Harcourt where all the pastors of the NCLC will be gathering on Sunday evening and Monday morning for their general pastoral conference that will begin on Monday and run through Thursday. I'm looking forward to meeting all the pastors and growing together in our faith and understanding of God's saving word as we also encourage one another in this blessed privilege of proclaiming the one thing needful!

If you'd like to read about the history of the joint effort of the NCLC and CLC that dates back to the early 1970's, you can find more information at: 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Graduation in Togo

Mission Evangelique Lutherienne de Confession du Togo
Mt. Horeb Lutherienne Bible Institute Graduation Service
05 MAR 2017

My words always seem to fall so short and seem so inadequate to capture and relay the things I experience in life. The only words that come to mind as I try to explain the MELC Mt. Horeb Lutheran Bible Institute graduation this afternoon are “Joy” and “Thankfulness.”

Three and half hours of pure and unbridled Joy and Thankfulness as only our brothers and sisters in Africa can express it, that is what I witnessed and was privileged to be a part of today. An outdoor meeting venue was rented for the event because the MELC church building would not hold the 200-300 attendees they were expecting. I was told that this facility had been typically used for weddings but because it was in such disrepair it wasn’t rented out much anymore. There was a tattered tarp-covered stage on one side with tree shaded areas for the guests to sit on the other three sides. The middle area was an open space. I’ve observed that this open space is common in the churches of West Africa as it provides a place for the “Congo line” dancing that takes place in every service.

After a thirty minute taxi ride through the crowded streets of Lome, I arrived about fifteen minutes before the service was scheduled to begin. There was music playing and the seating areas were packed. I was told that well over 300 church members, family, and friends were in attendance. Many of the church members traveled more than three and four hours to come celebrate the graduation of their pastor. There was definitely a buzz of excitement in the air as everyone waited. I was given a seat on the stage with Pastor Kossi sitting next to me along with several elders from the congregations. There was also one government dignitary on the stage. I sat and watched the people visit and interact as I tried to take it all in. Then suddenly, the music stopped and the chatter died down as the music for “Stand Up, Stand Up, For Jesus” began to play. Then everyone seemed to turn their heads around all at once as they began to look to a corner far in the back where the graduates were emerging as they began marching, literally marching to the beat of the hymn through the crowd. Everyone erupted in cheers and the ladies with their shrill African yells of joy filled the halls. I’m sure the folks out on the street could hear the noise from blocks away. The graduates were all dressed in black pants, white shirts, and red ties. They held their Bibles closely to their chest with their right hand and swung their left arm like soldiers to the beat of the music as they marched in lock-step to the stage. Once on the stage they continued to march in place as they faced the crowd of friends and relatives who had gathered. It gave me goose-bumps.

When the hymn was finished they took their seats and Pastor Kossi went to the lecture to begin the service in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and asked for the Lord’s blessings on the service and on those who had gathered. He then gave a short sermon based on Luke 7:24-30 as he encouraged the graduates by reminding them of the words of Jesus describing John the Baptist and that it is now their privilege to take up the work of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Following the sermon, several guests were welcomed including a representative from the office of the President of Togo. His title was something along the line of Minister of Social and Religious Affairs. He and Pastor Kossi have become friends over the past year as they have worked together to get the Mt. Horeb Lutheran Bible Institute officially registered with the government. He seems very interested in learning more about Lutheran doctrine. Pastor Kossi also mentioned Missionary Koenig and Missionary Ude as honorary guests who could not be in attendance. Then there was more singing and as their tradition goes, first the women formed a Congo line and danced and sang for several minutes, followed by the Sunday School teacher leading the children in the next Congo line, then the men followed with their own. Again, I just don’t have adequate words to describe the joy that is overflowing as they dance and sing to the Lord!
After the final Congo line, I was introduced and was asked to preach the graduation sermon. I preached on Joshua 1:1-9, my favorite Scripture for a graduation sermon. I reminded and encouraged the graduates and all those in attendance that we can go forward in life, serving God, with boldness, courage, strength, and confidence knowing that we serve a God who has proven Himself to be faithful in every promise He has ever made. The cross of Jesus Christ and His empty tomb give us all the strength and courage we need!

Joshua 1:1–9 — After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, it came to pass that the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying: 2 “Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them—the children of Israel. 3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. 4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory. 5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. 7 Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

When I was finished, the graduates were told to stand and the crowd erupted into joy once again and an impromptu Congo line began and lasted for several minutes. You could tell that Pastor Kossi was not expecting this, but he just looked over at me and smiled and shrugged his shoulders. He leaned over and said with a big smile, “the people are very happy this day.”

Once things settled down, Pastor Kossi had each graduate come forward to receive their certificate of completion. The certificate reads:
This certifies that ____________________has successfully completed a course of instruction in the Word of God and the Doctrines of the Church of the Lutheran Confession and has given public testimony of his agreement with these doctrines and is thus officially certified to serve as a Pastor and Evangelist.
Deborah’s certificate is similar but states that she will now serve the Lord in women and children ministry.

After they received their certificates and several honored guests came by to shake their hands, the music started again and each graduate slowly danced their way through the crowds to the area where their specific family, guests, and congregation members were sitting. There was much hugging, handshaking, appreciation, and just over all joy as the crowd sang and danced in typical Africa style for the next thirty minutes or so as the graduates made their way through the guests.

Once the graduates returned to the front, one representative for each graduate came forward with a large bowl and stood in front the graduate they represented. An announcement was made and soon lines began to form as guests danced and sang their way up to the large bowl to place a gift for the graduate.

After the gifts were received another prayer was offered for the graduates and the gifts they had received. And then the Sunday School children performed action songs to celebrate the occasion.

After a couple of announcements, I was asked to close the service with prayer and the benediction.

What a day! What a privilege! Thanks be to our Good Shepherd for providing more faithful preachers and teachers of His Saving Word!

Ephesians 4:11–16  — And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Finishing Up in Togo...

It's Saturday morning here in Lome, Togo. I have a day off as Pastor Kossi and the others spend today making preparations for the worship service and graduation ceremony tomorrow. After I catch up on email, report writing, and my laundry, later this afternoon/evening I plan to take a taxi to the beach here in Lome to see the beach at sunset and see if I can pick up a few little gifts for my children. 

It's been a very busy couple of weeks of teaching everyday since I got here. Eight days in a row! I'm pleased to see the dedication and desire to lean by Pastor Kossi and the those he has been training. This first trip provides a good overview of what this new Visiting Missionary call is all about. The CLC Board of Missions has made the training of pastors, teachers, and evangelists a priority in our overseas mission efforts. With established opportunities in fourteen different countries around the world and more that are developing, there is much work to be done. What I have been doing here in Togo, I will be doing in several different countries over the next several months and the Lord wills!

During my two week stay here in Togo, I have had the opportunity to spend several days teaching and reviewing with the four men who will graduate on Sunday, March 5th. These men have been meeting for classes for two to three days each week for the past four and a half years. They have studied under Pastor Kossi and Pastor Matthew Ude during these years. Pastor Kossi has been with the CLC since 2000. Following more than five years of training with Missionary Koenig during his annual visits and also a visit and attending classes at the Bible school in Nigeria while Missionary was living and teaching there, Pastor Kossi was ordained a Luthetan pastor and soon after began establishing preaching stations outside of Lome where the Lord provided him opportunity to proclaim the Gospel. It became apparent to Pastor Kossi that he would not be able to keep up with all of this work on his own. At the time, he was working full-time as a teacher and school headmaster. A few years back Pastor Kossi decided it was time to dedicate himself fully to the Gospel ministry. So he quit his government teaching job and began training men to serve as pastors of the preaching stations that were growing under his care. Sunday brings te initial phase of this plan to fruition.

While I met Pastor Kossi and these men three and half years ago when I first visited Togo, I didn't really have the time or opportunity to get to know them. My first visit to Togo in 2013 was brief and the time was mostly spent visiting the preaching stations. This time around, during my current visit, my priority has been to work with these men as we have spent seven hours a day for eight days in intense study of God's word. We finished up the lessons that Matthew Ude had begun the last time he was able to visit in 2015 and then moved on to a thorough review of Christian doctrine and the six chief parts of the Lutheran Catechism in preparation for their graduation.

Here's a brief bio on each of these men:

Charles is 36 years old, married, and is a father to three children with one on the way. He works a secular job as a night security guard here in Lome to support himself, his family, and the congregation he serves. He has been studying with Pastor Kossi for the past three and half years. The congregation he serves has thirty adult members. Pastor Charles travels about three hours (one way) by motorcycle every Sunday and Wednesday to serve this fledgling congregation of believers. 

John is 45 years old, married, and is a father to four children. John owns a water truck business that delivers water in and  around Lome. He has been studying with Pastor Kossi for the past five years. He serves a congregation of about 40 adult members in a village that is three hours away from his home in Lome. He makes this trip each Sunday to lead the congregation in worship service and Bible study. 

Dominick is 39 years old, married, and has four children. He owns a motorcycle transport business. Which means that gets paid to give peopke rides and to transport whatever he can carry on his motorcycle. He also rents his motorcycle to others to use while he is attending classes with Pastor Kossi. He has been studying with Pastor Kossi for seven years. Dominick has been making the four hour (one way) trip every Sunday to serve a small preaching station with 20 adult members. 

Moses is 41 years old, married, and the father to four children. Moses is originally from Togo but now lives just over the border in Ghana where his wife was born and raised. He is a carpenter by trade and uses this God-given skill to support himself, his family, his extended family, and the congregation he started when he and his family moved there a few years back. This congregation is located about three hours from Lome. Moses has been making the trip to Lome to attend classes with Pastor Kossi for the past three years. The congregation he serves has sixteen adult members and several children from the village who attend the weekly children's Bible classes that the teaches.

From left to right...John, Charles, Pastor Kossi, Deborah, Moses, and Dominick
The woman in the picture is Deborah. She is a member of the congregation where Kossi serves in Lome and lives very close by. She has been faithfully attending most of the classes that have been taught to the four men mentioned above. She told me that she has grown so much in her understanding of God's word through these classes and she is confident that the Lord will use what He has taught her as she teaches weekly Bible classes to children and proclaims the Gospel to those in her neighborhood. Pastor Kossi told me that many of the members of the congregation he serves have come to him for further instruction in the Word after first hearing the Gospel from Deborah. What a blessed privilege to know and work with someone who has been given a love for the Savior that just naturally overflows in her life. 

These four men have been given the heavy responsibility of leading a congregation of God's blood bought children. They have recognized their need for further training in God's word to carry out the work they have been given. And by God's grace they have found the opportunity to gain this training through Pastor Kossi and the support provided by the CLC. It has been such a privilege to work with and get to know these dedicated men these past ten days. I am humbled by their dedication and the sacrifices they have made to further prepare themselves for the work that the Lord has given to each of them. While each of these men have been serving congregations for the past few years, they and those they serve have understood that they were not yet pastors. Following the graduation on Sunday, these men will be officially appointed as the pastor of the congregations they serve. They are expecting over three-hundred people in attendance as several members and the elders of these congregations will travel the three, and four hours to attend. It should be an exciting and joy filled day!