Well, the trip home was interesting. With the Corona virus spreading and the media coverage spreading even faster, it was challenging to know how to wisely discern next steps. While we were in Ethiopia we were also spared much of the news. With limited wifi, we would only catch a few minutes of CNN when it might happen to be on in the hotel restaurant. The trip home made it clear that the world had changed. I am currently four days into a fourteen day self quarantine.
With so many unknowns, these are times it serves me well to review the things I know FOR SURE. Every certain truth takes me to a person… Jesus.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2
For the last two weeks I’ve had the privilege of working with brothers from Ethiopia. After a fairly challenging battle to reset my body clock and adjust to the diet here, I served Gil Zinke in studying through the TLI Gospel of Mark curriculum for three days, with six Ethiopian leaders who would lead the training. These men worked hard in preparation which bore fruit in the execution. Gil is the site coordinator here, and has worked hard to understand culture and geography. Most impressive to me was the way Gil related to those in the training. He has worked to know them, their families, their area, and their name. There are more than forty engaged in the training in this site.
Life in this broken world is challenging for all of us, but church life in Ethiopia brings additional challenges. There are plenty of ethnic and tribal disputes. Most recently there has been an increase in religious tensions. The Vice President of one of the evangelical denominations stopped by to visit the training. He was traveling to meet with government leaders regarding several church buildings that have been burned recently. He told us five church buildings have been burned in the last two months. Two in the last few days. One of the buildings was burned by Muslim activists. The other by the Orthodox.
On Sunday, Gil and I traveled to preach in separate churches about two hours from Hawassa. The church I preached in was the mother church to the church Gil taught in. I jumped out of the van, met the pastor and started walking to the church building. The worship service had already started, but as I approached the building about six children ran up and gave me great big hugs! That’s the way to welcome a guest! Pastor Tesfeya was translating for me, but during his introduction for me he spoke of my “retirement” from pastoral ministry, and the beginning of my work with TLI as a re-FIRE-ment. After the service, this hugger thought I might have died and been transported to heaven. The Ethiopian custom is to hug THREE TIMES, alternating the head. Once on the right, once on the left, a final time on the right, usually followed by a handshake. And we’re not talking a, “I’ll-act-like-I’m-hugging-but-I-don’t-wanna-touch” hug. This was three, full, lingering embraces. Substantial, meaningful, delightful “let’s-slow-down-and-be-together” hugs. This is a great place for a hugger! But, i did think, “If this were our practice at Faith Community, communion would (delightfully) take forever!
On Thursday morning (yesterday) we received news that the TLI board had canceled all training trips until further notice, and called all personnel currently on the field, home. My flight was scheduled to depart Friday, Gil was planning to stay for an extra few days, but his flight was changed so we would travel home together. The fortunate reality is that we got to finish the training here.
I’m so grateful for all those who pray for the Lord’s work through TLI. This training is bearing fruit as pastors and teachers are growing in their understanding and devotion to preach God’s Word rather than what they’ve heard from others, or their best opinion. I’m most grateful to the Lord of the Church who continues to allow me the great joy of meeting and serving with our brothers and sisters around the world. As the Spirit of God teaches, He reignites my joy in Him. Please pray for the Lord’s intervention with the Corona virus, and give thanks for His sovereignty. All of our travel has been suspended for the next several weeks. The May training in Uganda is in jeopardy and we are making plans on how that might be best executed. It is possible the Lord is advancing the leadership of the Ugandan Lead Trainers we have been working with. I’m grateful for the vision and leadership of both the St Croix Valley (WI) churches and Four Corners Ministry! Thank God that we are in a position to even consider moving ahead with the training. I’m praying for wisdom and discernment for each of you. May God accomplish His purpose in us!