10% and $10,000 — Gaining Momentum

Our Trip

We just returned from our first fundraising tour. We visited with pastors, churches, missions committees, and prayer meetings (8 communities in all). Dan also spoke on Scripture at the Fall Retreat for RUF @ WWU (at Island Lake Camp).  A very busy last 12 days to say the least! Scroll through the carousel below to see all our stops.

 

Pledges Coming In - The Cranks Are Turning

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. ... According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. ... Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it ... If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.
— 1 Corinthians 3:5-6, 10-14

We received a handful of immediate personal supporters on this trip. We are now at 10% pledged!

 

We are so thankful for those of you (8 of our email list subscribers) who have pledged already.  If every subscriber to that list (roughly 150 people) pledged $50, that would $7500/month. We would have all of our monthly living expenses covered and then some!  

 

Have you considered if you think this work is worth your investment?   Will you join the others who have already pledged?

 

We believe this work is worth our investment: we are giving the rest of our lives to see the African church built up and matured. We are continuing in the work of Apollos, and would invite you to do the same.

$10,000 - Our Hopes Are Attainable!

After presenting yesterday, a dear couple came to us and said they would like to pledge $10,000!

Needless to say, we both started crying in thankfulness. We couldn't believe our ears. All of our hopes depend on other people's generosity, and so often our hopes feel very unattainable and distant. But, in God's kindness, he led this couple to share their blessings. 

Splitting this gift between our two major needs, this means we have in total pledges:

  • Moving Expenses:  $6500 of  $24000  | roughly 27%
  • Ph.D: $5000 of  $60000 (total cost for all 3 years)  |  25% of the first year of tuition

These moments do two things for us:

  1. They make our hope in the kingdom seem perfectly attainable
  2. They act as a lasting memorial and witness that God is faithful and he is not daunted by our financial needs. 
You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.
— 2 Corinthians 9:11-12

Generosity, Paul says, is the ministry of spreading thanksgiving to God. So please join us in giving thanks to God for this. 

 

Prayer Requests

  • Pray for each of the churches we visited to make space in their budget for us, even if it involves taking financial risks in faith.
  • Churches are slow decision makers (we get this), so pray for the Lord to be working in us as we wait their budget processes.
  • Pray for more supporters to come on board with us.
  • Pray for the Holy Spirit to be preparing us and those we will be working with, so that this ministry is fruitful. We must work, but any fruitfulness comes from the Spirit giving traction and growth.
 

Spread the Word

 - The Robbins family exploring a bit at Silver Falls Stat Park, outside Salem, OR

- The Robbins family exploring a bit at Silver Falls Stat Park, outside Salem, OR

Finally, please spread the word, and invite others to check out this work. Think of those in your life who are interested in missions, in generosity, or in joining our work. Thanks!

 

 

One-Time Expenses Pledges - October

We Have a Missions Agency

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After many conversations and getting to know each other, we have decided to apply to work with Serge: Grace at the Fray.  [You might know them by their former name: World Harvest Mission; they've been at this work for a long time now.]

     As the name implies, they are all about bringing the depth of God's grace into the frayed edges of the world and our relationships. We have long admired them from afar, and heard many good things about he way that this grace permeates their mission team cultures all over the world.

They are excited about the work of theological formation in Africa. They believe, like we do, that the future of Christianity and the future of the African Church are bound up in the health of indigenous pastoral leadership in the church. 

The most exciting thing about Serge is that they see getting a Ph.D as a necessary step to this work, just like language school and linguistics training is a prerequisite for Wycliffe Bible translators.  Loving our African brothers and sisters in Christ means we seek to bring our best for their long-term good.

We will attend their assessment and orientation week December 3-8. This is the last step of vetting before we receive final approval to be Serge missionaries. We should be able to receive donations through Serge after December 8th.   Please pray that the Lord will give us many partners and supporters to pledge support before then as we go on fundraising 'tour' this fall.

 Flying over the Puget Sound

Flying over the Puget Sound

Western Theology is Ill-Equipped

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I love reading the many wonderful works our fathers in the faith have written, whether Bavinck, Calvin, or Augustine. In fact, as Chesterton and Lewis have noted, when we read authors from other ages our blind spots are revealed in ways that often don't happen when we stick to contemporary theological conversations. We see how our culture, and our assumptions, have shifted over time precisely because of the distance between our day and the author.

What a gift all that work is to us and the global church throughout the ages! But we must ask, how readily applicable is it for people from an entirely different intellectual and cultural background? The answer is that the writings which are meaningful for us often don't address the realities and questions our brethren face in Africa, Asia or Latin America. 

One thing that often escapes our notice is how much of our theology to date has been a response to the predominantly Greco-Roman intellectual background in which the church first matured.  Calvin, sadly, does not spend much time addressing demon possession, spiritual warfare, or the outworking of a biblical view of church government in a culture dominated by tribalism.

In the interview below, I asked Rev. Julius Siwenda what he needs he saw for theological education, imagining that he might say something about the teaching happening in the churches. Instead he addressed the way in which theology is done in the African context.

There is a double reality here: We benefit from reading people outside our context, but we also need to learn from people who are applying the gospel to our own context. So we can benefit from reading Augustine and Ignatius often times precisely because they inhabit a different cultural setting, just as our African brethren can benefit from reading Western theology because of its distance from African realities. However, just as we in the West have continued to produce our own theological works responding to the critical questions and hot topics of our day, so our African brethren need to produce and have access to theological works addressing their own realities. 

This is one of the main reasons we believe we should invest in theological education in Africa. We want to see the growing African church thrive, and begin producing their own theological works addressing their own questions.  We haven't yet discovered how much we have to learn from them. What blind spots do we have in which they could help us? What assumptions do we need to be freed of by learning from our African brethren?

Friendships Are Ministry

As I mentioned in the last post, one of the most important parts of our trip was the part we couldn't plan: relationships. 

In fact, some of the most encouraging relationships have been you all, our supporters. Because of your rich support for this work we were able to give away $2300, not to mention many gifts, supplies, and 4 entire suitcases full of books. This really is the goal of short-term missions trips: establish relationships that can grow into friendships, brings gifts and supplies, do your best to bless those who are hosting you (take out for dinner!) and look for the Lord's works all around you.

Investing in Friendships

Friendships Are Ministry

Most of us tend to think of 'fellowship' as an add on to the 'real' ministry. But, of course, the Lord often saves us and always disciples us through Christian friendships. Real, trusting Christian friendships are crucial.
     So, we were very blessed to find our old friends (such as the Munyongas) ready to reconnect and share life in Christ together. They are a godly and lovely couple. We spent the day together talking about living faithfully in a corrupt society, catching up on our family life, and sharing our vision. They were excited and very encouraging!

 

Kids On Patrol

On each stop, the boys managed to make friends and enjoy life together with African boys. In spite of a major language barrier, they had good fun together playing soccer, exploring, poking bugs, etc. What a huge encouragement to see them embracing our mission as a family!

Elijah especially thrived in his Malawian school, and made some great friends for the week. By the end of our first week in Malawi, he was freely exploring the little village with his new friends from next door.

 So lovely to see his heart full.

So lovely to see his heart full.

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Theology Friends

In South Africa we reconnected and stayed with our old friends, Mathieu and Kayle Pelletier. They have been involved in theological education in Africa for some time now. We were able to pick up right where we left off. They were excited to hear our vision as well!

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We also got to connect with some of our lovely Pacific NW missionaries: the Stoms and Locatells. We spent the day together and we were able to take them all out for a lovely meal. It was so good to reconnect.

 

Privileged to Give Gifts

In all, we were able to give gifts to each of the missionaries we visited, totaling $1800. We also gave $500 to a godly Malawian couple we know who was in need of a new roof. This couple has ministered to so many people, including us when we lived there previously. In all we were privileged to deliver these gifts to these crucial mission works totaling $2300.

We were so blessed to be able to bring not only money, but piles and piles of books, gifts for missionary kids, and gifts for the school our boys attended. In spite of all that we gave away, we still had some money left over.

Thank You!

Thank you all for your support of our work, and partnering with us as a family! This will be a big help in kickstarting our work and the path forward. 

Vision for Bethany's Ministry: Counseling & Chaplaincy Training

One of the most important parts of our trip was the part we couldn't plan: relationships. We were also blown away to find the Lord leading us into some really exciting opportunities for which he's already been preparing Bethany and our kids.
 

Potential Ministry for Bethany

Never mind the goofball kids in this pic, let me tell you a bit about Bethany. Most of you don't know just how much the Lord has been at work in Bethany in the last five years. I loved her back then, but man, she is getting glorious these days.

     We've been discovering recently how gifted Bethany is in counseling. Bethany is a trained doula, and is now in her second year of intensive lay counseling training at the Allender Center in Seattle. I've heard from every woman whom she's attended to through birth, every woman she's met with in 1-1 counseling, and now we are hearing it from her school leaders, "your wife is amazing." To be more specific, the Lord has specially gifted her with an ability to walk with those who are suffering, to grieve with those who grieve, as well as a deep and loving insight into people's hearts paired with an ability to lead people into a greater awareness of God's gracious presence in their lives. She's our secret weapon in advancing the Lord's gracious reign against the kingdom of darkness.  This led to a big question for our trip....

What would Bethany do in Africa?

The answer is that she would do what she always does: genuinely befriend and connect with people on a deep level, and gently lead them toward greater trust in the Lord. These pictures exemplify how, along each stop, Bethany would manage to connect with women at a deep level. This was true of old friends as well as new ones. The Lord opened up trusting conversations for her in each place and we started seeing the pattern.

One thing stood out to us during our time in Uganda & Malawi: the Lord has been preparing Bethany all along to not only counsel, but to help train leaders to counsel as well.

A Big Surprise

After working with our friends in the Hospital in Malawi for a few days, Bethany asked Rebecca, "If you could hire two people for the Hospital right now, what would they be?" Bethany was thinking we could recruit some of our surgeon and doctor friends. The answer blew us both away.

     "If we could hire anybody for the hospital right now, it would be a marriage counselor and someone to lead our chaplaincy training program." 

Along with caring for the fatherless, walking with couples to see the power of the gospel in their marriage, and helping leaders know how to enter into and love those in grief are at the center of Bethany's passions and training. 

 Here Bethany was asked to give an impromptu speech to the Compassion International center staff and the family whose child we sponsor. God has taught and given her some wonderful things to say. No surprise, caring for the vulnerable and fatherless is part her calling.

Here Bethany was asked to give an impromptu speech to the Compassion International center staff and the family whose child we sponsor. God has taught and given her some wonderful things to say. No surprise, caring for the vulnerable and fatherless is part her calling.

Marriage Counseling

Its hard to find marriages in Malawi (Uganda too), which are Christian in any real sense. It makes sense too: Christianity has only been around for 3-4 generations, whereas in the West we have inherited a millennium of gospel-wisdom in our marriages. This doesn't mean our marriages aren't a mess. It does mean that in America, we can almost always find a godly couple to help. 


Chaplaincy

 The program at Nkhoma Hospital has been up and running for a few years now. I believe it is the only chaplaincy training program in Malawi. These leaders are an ideal place for Bethany to invest her training and skills so they can more effectively comfort those in grief with God's grace. Partnering with African leaders this way allows her to bless people she might not otherwise have access to.

 This is the midweek hospital chapel service for staff and any others interested. It was led by three wonderful chaplain assistants who exuded God's grace. What a joy to preach alongside and be led by these brothers.

This is the midweek hospital chapel service for staff and any others interested. It was led by three wonderful chaplain assistants who exuded God's grace. What a joy to preach alongside and be led by these brothers.

Please Pray

We were so thankful for the Lord to make this need clear to us. It was a huge answer to prayer for to see a big way in which Bethany could be used. So please pray with us that we would know how to best invest in Bethany's training and that the Lord would preserve relationships we began those weeks, and open doors for us to return.

A Taste of Teaching

 Oh, and yes, that's a collar I'm wearing. Its all the rage among the Malawian clergy.

Oh, and yes, that's a collar I'm wearing. Its all the rage among the Malawian clergy.

An Old Friend, Now a New Student

This is my old friend Blessings Chikakula. We used to work together 10 years ago at a Christian Secondary school in Lilongwe. Imagine my surprise to find he was a student at JMTI preparing to enter ministry! I'm thankful for sincere friendships with brothers like this in Malawi.  I got to spend the day teaching Blessings and the entire student body, looking at how we got the books of the Bible we have today (called Canon from κανων for 'rule'). 
 

A Taste

The faculty of JMTI asked me to take a day of their classes and lead a seminar on the doctrine of Scripture. Thrown into the deep-end, I got a taste of how much I will have to learn in bridging two very different intellectual cultures. Tradition looms much larger there, whereas we value creativity and precision. This is as true for communicating the gospel as it is for teaching theological skills to students with a very different set of assumptions about learning and research. This highlighted to me that value of everything we’ve learned pastoring God’s people in an ordinary context. Thankfully, the students encouraged me that my pace was good, my English easy to understand, and that I wasn’t “like some Americans; you were humble.” Phew!

Shape African Pastors,
Shape The Future of Christianity

The growth of the African church is well documented, and has not slowed. Its growth is expected to place the African church as the dominant force in Christianity in the next 50 years, making up 40% of the total church. Historian Philp Jenkins says, "By 2050, Christianity will be chiefly the religion of Africa and the African diaspora." What will that church look like? What will they teach and preach?
     Those questions are answered by looking at the seminaries today. If we can be involved in shaping the next generation of pastors,  this will not only effect the African church but the shape of Christianity in the future.

 

A Crucial Theological School

Josophat Mwale Theological Institute (JMTI)

NKHOMA, MALAWI

 The Presbyterian Church in Malawi is a giant. But, she's a sleeping giant. Thankfully, every Presbyterian pastor, unlike most other African pastors, must go to a theological school. However their training may or may not be all that good, and they are often overburdened with massive congregations which average 5000 members. Combine this with multiple funerals to conduct every week (a result of Malaria, AIDS, and famine), and you can see the challenge pastors face. More pastors are needed, discipleship in congregations is desperately needed, and current pastors need to be supported.


     This is what makes the health of theological institutes like Josophat Mwale Theological Institute crucial as they:

  • shape an entire denomination
  • support current pastors
  • strengthen a small faculty
  • value academic excellence as a faculty
  • are a truly African institution

-Shaping a Denomination: To become a Presbyterian pastor in this central region you must go to this school. From over 200 applications every year, the Synod selects 10 students to admit into their fully funded pastoral training program. Upon graduation every one of them will be placed by the Synod into a church. This means that they train almost every single Presbyterian pastor in this central region of Malawi. The quality of the faculty, the instruction, and the culture of the school will have a direct impact on the future of the Church in Malawi.

- Supporting Current Pastors: JMTI also hosts free in-service training retreats for current pastors. These offer a means of encouraging and further forming current pastors and their churches. This is a great doorway for blessing our overworked brothers.

- Strengthening A Small Faculty: 
I was able to sit in on a JMTI faculty meeting. While they have some visiting instructors, to my surprise there were only five full-time lecturers (including the Dean and Principal). Each was overloaded with teaching responsibilities.

Additionally, the Synod is already strapped for money, so the lecturers are required to raise funds from local Malawian churches to supplement their income. We could be an enormous help in taking on some of the teaching load and raising our own support from the US.

- An Academic Faculty: The picture above is their library display of all the research papers written by their past and current faculty members. Most of the full-time faculty have research master's degrees, and are looking into doctoral studies. It's clear that they want the best for their seminaries and pastoral training, just like we do. Joining their faculty with a Ph.D in hand would go a long way to bolster the institute itself, as well as honor their desire to become an excellent faculty.

- Truly African Institutions: The Malawian Church of Central Africa Presbyterian has been run by local Malawians for 50 years now. Joining the work here at JMTI would be the opposite of Western Paternalism; we'd be going to work under the authority and oversight of the Malawian Church, doing our best to benefit her on her own terms. Of course working with African institutions brings its own challenges. But here we have a real opportunity to partner with and invest a denomination, and seek its revival.

A Crucial Work. 

Humble? Certainly.  Tucked away in a corner of one of the poorest countries in the world, not likely to gain much attention? Certainly. Important for the kingdom? Without a doubt. Its schools like this one which faithfully serve and powerfully shape the Church for ages to come. 

One Seminary Doing it Right, Pt.2

A Huge Opportunity Is in Front of Us

In the previous post, we talked about how compelling the work of ARTS is. How could we join this great work? This a huge opportunity, but what would it take to get there?

Ph.D Required: Do Not Pass 'Go'

We would love to be involved teaching at ARTS, but to teach at a Master's level I have to either have a Ph.D or have begun my doctoral studies. This is a sign of health in the Seminary: they are taking seriously their own role as  an educational institution. Having a Ph.D would allow me to have real expertise, and to invest in their work for the long-term. 

Module Format Allows Visiting Instructors

Their classes are formatted as 2-3 week intensive modules. This means we could be involved in teaching modules at ARTS while pursuing doctoral studies, or even if we end up serving as full-time faculty somewhere else in Africa.

Meet my long-time friend John Stambolie. He's a pastor in Zimbabwe, and has been a student at ARTS since he began his pastoral office. 

One Seminary Doing It Right

Africa Reformation Theological Seminary (ARTS)

KAMPALA, UGANDA
We stayed with Dave and Darlene Eby, the founders of the seminary. It was a delight to get to know them. Most encouraging of all was to see the community being shaped at the seminary. This is a really special work because:

  • they are geographically strategic
  • they have rich and warm theological teaching
  • they are academically strategic and relevant
  • they are serving the church
  • they are locally overseen
     

- Geographically Strategic: Uganda is at the nexus of the three dominant cultures and regions of Africa. To the North is the Arabic-Muslim influenced area (Sudan, Ethiopia, Chad, etc.) To the West is Francophone Catholic and Protestant Africa (Congo, Burundi, etc.). To the East and the South is English speaking Anglican and Presbyterian Africa. Students come to ARTS from each of these regions. Many of these students, especially North Africans, return to minister and teach in regions white Westerners could never reach.

 MTW Missionary Bruce Sinclair teaching New Testament Greek. Some students were using 4 languages at once: learning Greek through English instruction which they then compared to an additional Greek textbook in Arabic which made more sense to their native tribal tongue.

MTW Missionary Bruce Sinclair teaching New Testament Greek. Some students were using 4 languages at once: learning Greek through English instruction which they then compared to an additional Greek textbook in Arabic which made more sense to their native tribal tongue.

- Rich and Warm Theological Teaching: When grace shapes your life together at a seminary it will shape the churches where those seminarians end up. Getting to hear one of the MTW missionaries teach Greek was a treat. He exemplified what I love about the PCA and others: a hearty love for rigorous deep theology colored and driven God's love. This is exactly the kind of gospel-shaped culture which is hard to find in Africa. 

- Academically Strategic: University education is highly valued in Uganda; they are seeing roughly 400,000 Ugandas earn their bachelor's degree every year now. This also means that most of the students at ARTS have already found jobs, or begun their ministry in churches, and are ready to pursue theological education at a Master's level as a professional degree. They are more stable financially, and better students all around. These credentialed leaders will become great assets for the Church (see below).

 Dave Eby meeting with two South Sudanese Presbyterian Pastors who had begun their own theological institute back in Sudan to train other pastors, elders, and lay people

Dave Eby meeting with two South Sudanese Presbyterian Pastors who had begun their own theological institute back in Sudan to train other pastors, elders, and lay people

- Serving the Church: Each ARTS grad will be able to return to their won country and minster the grace of God effectively to their own churches (which can often be quite large; 1000-5000). On top of that, with a Master's degree they can start their own Bible Colleges to train their fellow pastors, elders and lay people, the very people who would otherwise never receive the riches of theological formation. (Two South Sudanese Pastors pictured above are making plans with Dave Eby along these lines). As well, though they are a Reformed Presbyterian school, they have church partnerships across many denominational lines.
     The teaching at ARTS is teaching is churchly and practical. Thankfully they are well complimented by the Mission to the World team on the ground. We met another MTW missionary, Steven Edging, who is walks with alumni after graduation to help them practically work out their education in the nitty gritty details of ministry.

- Locally Overseen: Paternalism is a constant danger when Americans and American money is involved in the church overseas. ARTS exemplifies many of the virtues we long to see in Missions organizations: local oversight, trusting partnership with and submission to Africans, African leadership and ownership of the organization, in the service of the Church on African terms (not Western agendas).  They began the work at the request and invitation of the Presbyterian Church in Uganda (PCU), and though now no longer directly under the PCU, their board of directors is composed of a number of local Ugandas from the PCU and other denominations, all of whom must subscribe to the Westminster Standards.

 

A Very Compelling Work

All in all ARTS was a very compelling work. They are doing so many things right, and so much of their organized and institutional life bears the marks of grace and love for God that we would love to be a part of the work. Now..... How to get there? See the next Post.

 

Meet Dave Eby, the Principal