Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sleepless night....Speak, your servant is listening

Bob received a call on his cell phone and it turned out to be from a man from Georgia. He was asking Bob about the mission trips to Tanzania and the work done there. As they talked about the growth of Christianity and how hard the pastors worked serving several churches. I heard Bob telling him that the donations received were used to buy bicycles or motorbikes for pastors to travel between churches.

The man told Bob that he had received a Lutherans Engage the World magazine. He promptly tossed it  in the trash. A few nights later he couldn't sleep and got out of bed. Looking for something to read, he spotted the magazine in the trash. He pulled it out and became interested in an article describing the work in Tanzania.

He went through the trouble of searching for Bob's contact information. Bob asked if he was interested in going on a mission trip but he said no. He felt led to send a donation to use on the next trip to Tanzania for whatever need Bob sees as most pressing. A few days later the envelope came with a very generous donation. He sent a note saying not to write a thank you note back or acknowledge it. Why, we don't know. He just said to keep up the good work.

So the moral of the story is that the Holy Spirit works around the clock and often gets our attention in many ways.  How many have had sleepless nights and heard the voice of God?

We are grateful for this man's obedience and know he will be rewarded in heaven for this gift.

1 Samuel 3:10
And the LORD came and called as before, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel replied, "Speak, your servant is listening."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

First time mission trip is called " Pure Joy"

            Recently I had the opportunity to be a part of a mission trip to Tanzania, Africa through my church Christ the King Lutheran.  It was an amazing experience to say the least.  To be able to go half way around the world and share my faith in Jesus Christ with the people of Tanzania was only possible through the work of the Holy Spirit.
            The scripture in the Bible that keeps coming to my mind is Genesis 11:1-9, the Tower of Babel. God confused the language and scattered the people over the face of the earth. For us, this is something that happened a long time ago, and it may be hard for us to relate to, considering all the many different languages and cultural differences of today. But God’s timing is always now and His plan then was the same for us now and always.  He knew when they came down to confuse the language and scatter the people that He would send me far away from my home to share the good news of His son Jesus Christ in the Sakuma Villages of Shinyanga, Tanzania. We were blessed to have a team of pastors, deacons, evangelists and village translators to walk with us through the villages and translate the Gospel from English to Swahili to Sakuma. The saving grace of Jesus Christ was translated through the word into the heart of the believer.
” For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37
            Our team went out daily to an area called Salawe. The people were very friendly and humble. Everyday my heart was overjoyed to be in that beautiful country and meeting those beautiful people. On the second day in Salawe, we came to a home where a young mother was sitting on the ground cutting potatoes. She had five little children and was expecting another. She looked tired but was very friendly and welcomed us in her home. As we told her the story of the Gospel, others from the area came to listen and before we left 25 were baptized.
            The next day we went to a different area in the same village and the first home we came to there was a young boy about 17 years old and he was very ill. We were welcomed is his home and shared the Gospel with everyone there. Even though the young boy was sick and weak, he listened intently and responded in his Sakuma tongue, ”yes, I want to be baptized”.
             The tired young mother and the ill young boy were both baptized into our family. “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29 This is the good news of Jesus that was shared with them. The seed of hope in Christ has been planted! Alleluia!   
            On our last day in Shinyanga, we attended worship services with our new friends and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. My heart was overjoyed again during worship as I was singing, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me”, from a Lutheran Hymnal in the language of Swahili and in the continent of Africa. Worshiping with people of another land, language and culture and knowing they share the same faith in the resurrected Christ proves for me of God’s perfect plan of salvation. And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10
            The LCMS Mid-south district partnership with the SELVD and our relationship with the people of Tanzania must continue and the work of the Holy Spirit will spread. “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of the mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of Glory.” Colossians 1:27 

Amy Weldon
Memphis, TN

Sunday, June 15, 2014 the bush or on your street

One of the most often asked questions about our Tanzanian Mission work is, “what’s it like where you are evangelizing?”  I can tell you that the “local” environment has been pretty much the same over the past 6 years in the areas we have been visiting.  People live in homemade “mud-brick” huts with straw roofs that are usually inhabited by some sort of swarming bees.  The areas around and in the homes are dirt, often swept clean and smooth with straw brooms.  There are no amenities – modern or otherwise.  A tree limb fenced storage area often accompanies the “hut” for an animal (a cow or a goat) and the staple crop, potatoes, is usually piled in an area adjacent to the door of the hut for ease of peeling.  Potatoes are THE crop – there’s some cotton and maize, but in these areas, you have to grow what you are going to eat and cotton, is, just a little stiff to chew and well, maize isn’t exactly tasty!  Most of the time there’s a campfire burning – and generally people are seated on a log around it.  That’s it – and yet, somehow people always manage to greet us with smiles, extend a hand of welcome and women curtsy in honor of our arrival.  What a blessing to visit these people in their native land and to be greeted in such a wonderful fashion!

On the last day of evangelizing – in fact, at the very last hut, our team came upon a group of 5-7 women and children who were sitting in front of a hut.  Our evangelist was told that they were mourning the death of a 2-year-old child and that the men were in back of the hut mourning together as well.  We said a quick prayer, asking God to be with them, and moved to the back to talk to the men, numbering around 11 (the women also followed us to see why we were there).  After another prayer, our pastor and evangelist greeted the men and told them we were there to tell them about God, his Son, Jesus Christ, and the wonderful gift of salvation!  After some internal “back and forth” discussion, our local pastor called me forward with his loud voice and spoke these words of evangelistic action: ”Mike, they are ready to hear God’s word!” 

Six years ago, I would have cringed at the thought of doing this - inwardly, I would have thought, “God, anything but this – this isn’t my thing – don’t You have another job I can hide behind?”  But that’s the beauty of this story.  You see, after trying to run from God’s work (aka Noah!), the Holy Spirit has truly blessed me with a love for DOING this work.  You see, this is EXACTLY what John 3:16 is telling all of us to do!  By now you might be thinking, good for him, but not for me – I’ll stick with potlucks.  Well, I would suggest you consider that old saying we’ve all heard at the potluck table:  “try it – you’ll like it!”  Evangelizing in Tanzania is not for everyone – it’s a long trip to a far away land and it has its challenges.  But, really, can’t you evangelize to people right where you live?  Can’t you share the good news with a neighbor or friend?  Can’t you invite someone to church?  The answer is yes to all three – God has already equipped you with the tools to do it through the Holy Spirit!  Instead of running away from people, run towards them with the wonderful news of Jesus’ death and resurrection!  Yes you can do this – right where you live!

One last comment – on that day, after evangelizing to the leader of the men’s group, we baptized approximately 18 men, women and children at that one hut.  What a wonderful opportunity, what a wonderful blessing and what an amazing demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit!  All Glory be to God in heaven!

Mike Jurgensen
Memphis, TN

Friday, June 13, 2014

Hannah is baptized at 98

Can you imagine what it would be like to be going about your daily chores and have a group of strangers show up on your street, come to your house and tell you of someone you had never heard of before?  These strangers are of a different color, they don’t look anything like you or your friends.   They speak a different language. You wonder where they have come from and why they have come.  These strangers say they have come to tell you the story of Jesus.  Can you imagine?  Would you be just a little frightened?  Wouldn't you have some doubt? I am sure you would ask who is this Jesus and why do I need to know about Him.  
Weeks before our mission team’s arrival in Tanzania, prayer had been lifted up that the Lord God of the entire universe would prepare the hearts of those He would have us meet and tell the story of Jesus; prayers that the Holy Spirit would prepare their hearts to hear and to receive the precious gift of salvation and prayers that we would have a spirit of love, joy and peace when we presented the story. 

It was our third day in the area called Salawe and we were walking back to the car to start our return trip back to our meeting place.  A man on a bicycle was asked if he had heard of Jesus.  He said that the previous day other members of his family had heard the story and repeated the story to him.  We told it again and he said yes, that he would like to be baptized into the family of God.  Then he asked if we would go talk to his grandmother, who was ill.   She could not walk to us. We said of course and walked across the plowed field to meet his grandmother.  She was sitting on the ground next to their house.  We could see that cataracts were impairing her vision but not so much that she could not see my white skin and my white hair.  Cataracts are a common problem in Tanzania where medical resources are scarce. When someone is too old to work, they stay home and do whatever chores they can manage. 

She said she was sure she was older than me.  So we compared ages, she was 98, I am 73.   The average lifespan in Tanzania is around 47 so this is amazing. We told her the story of Jesus, how He loved her and had paid the price for her sins.  She was excited to hear for herself and said yes to the Holy Spirit’s call on her heart.  It took 98 years but she finally heard of His saving grace. What a privilege to share this story and witness her baptism.

If we who know Him will just obey and go tell others, the Holy Spirit does the preparation and the follow up.  Now an entire village has heard of Jesus, many answered His call that day and will tell the story to everyone they meet.  They now have a hope and an assurance that they do not walk alone and that their future is secure. 

The scribe attending this baptism recorded her tribal name and her selected new Christian name of Hannah. The evangelist in this area will follow up and talk to her about worship services in the area. The services may start under a mango tree but eventually the people will build their own church, clearing the land and making the mud bricks. They are very proud of their churches. This lady may not live to see all this happen in her earthly life but her place in eternity is secured. 

(Note from Susie Allen/TN) Judy and I were American partners on this day along with the Tanzanian evangelist and scribe. My pace quickened as it was time to walk back to the car.  I found myself quite a bit ahead of the group. When I turned around and noticed there were gone, I asked the group of children trailing behind me....where's the mazungu(white person)? They pointed to the trees and I followed as they led the way through the brush, down a path and to a small hut.  I arrived in time to witness the baptism of our new sister in Christ. This was a perfect end to a good day. If we traveled from America for this old lady, it would have been worth it. I am reminded of the story of the woman who loses a coin. 

GOD'S WORD® Translation"Suppose a woman has ten coins and loses one. Doesn't she light a lamp, sweep the house, and look for the coin carefully until she finds it?
This coin was not lost.

Judy enjoys children at school in Shinyanga

Judy Irwin
Murphy, North Carolina

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Open the eyes of my heart Lord

Joy – The Greek word for joy is kevo which means grace.

 Joy is not happiness that comes and goes, but rather true joy that flourishes not only in good times but in hard times.  The people we met were all hard workers.  They tended crops and livestock.  They lived off the land.  They didn't have the material things that we are so accustomed to. 

I witnessed joy when we baptized an old man.  He could not get up from under the tree.  The young children were eating porridge and he sat there barely moving in the shade of his tree.  He had never heard the name Jesus.

As we told him the story of Jesus, he listened and although his eyes could no longer see, he sat and those blue cataract eyes began to glisten.  His soft voice said he wanted to receive Jesus into his heart.

 He wanted us to share the story with the young children.  After they were all baptized, I turned to look at this man who I knew I would probably never see again, and my heart was filled with joy.  Even though he lived a hard life, he could no longer see, and could no longer stand.  The smile he gave us and his shaky hand waving goodbye – I could see joy on his face.  This was joy flourishing in the hard times of this man’s life.

Sharon Hyde
Memphis, TN

Blood related...more than a partnership

Ignas and Sharon

I was a newbie on this mission trip that took me thousands miles away from home to Tanzania, Africa.  I learned so much about myself, a new culture, other missionaries and most importantly how the Holy Spirit works. 

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) Mid-South District has an ongoing partnership with the South East of Lake Victoria Diocese (SELVD ) in Tanzania, Africa.  The definition of a partnership is a relationship between two or more people or organizations that are involved in the same activity.  

This definition does not begin to touch on what I found our partnership to be.   This partnership is what I would call a family.  Some people define a family as blood – related, and as someone who joined a family by adoption; I find the term family to mean so much more than blood-relationship.  I will have to say in this case, our family was blood-related. ....through the blood of Jesus Christ who died on the cross for all of our sins.  Yes, the villagers, evangelists, pastors, deacons and missionaries are all a family now and I am proud to have become a part of this wonderful family.

This new found family of mine consist of the most humble, loving, kind, hospitable people that anyone could be blessed to have in their family.  One of my team members whom I now call my sister, Judy,  said the words that came to her mind about those we met and fell in love with on this trip – they were the Fruit of the Spirit.  Galatians 5:22-23:

”But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.”

Although the people in all the villages we met may not have much and by our standards, hardly anything, they had what we should all strive to have and that is the fruit of the Spirit.  If it was a chair being brought out for us to rest, or a handshake, or a hug, or just a shy but loving smile, these people had pure joy in their hearts. 

They didn’t have a lot of money; big homes; cars; electricity; clean water; phones; or things we think we cannot live without – but they had love, joy, kindness, trust, and a strong sense of family.  I always felt safe and very welcome.  I also felt the Holy Spirit with me and touching those I met.  The Fruit of the Spirit is alive and well in Tanzania.  The apostle Paul in Romans 7:5-6:

“Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.”

Most of us are taught since childhood that it is all about love – Mark 12:31:

“‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

  Some of these villagers had never heard of Jesus, but they were living a life full of Christ like virtues.  They had open ears and eyes to learn what we told them, and I saw the Holy Spirit at work every day while I was there. 

Sharon Hyde
Memphis, TN

Under the Acacia Tree...witnessed first baptism

 Going into this trip, I wasn't sure what to expect.   – would it be dangerous – would it smell – would I get sick - would I enjoy my teammates – would I be able to openly share the story of Jesus?  

I didn't know what to expect and found that all my fears went away as soon as I met the first person.  I know as a Christian, God loves me so much and wants me to experience love deep in my soul.  He asks us to love others and I was amazed that opening my heart to these strangers who now are my family helped me realize just how much Jesus loves us.  The fruit of the Spirit shined through and on the first day of my travels, I saw and gave – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self- control.

The first experience of love on this trip was under the Acacia Tree  - driving up after a long drive on a dirt road, the car stopped and you heard singing – beautiful singing.  There was a church body - only a foundation, waiting on walls and a roof to be built, but they didn't need a building - they were a church – under that Acacia Tree.  
church foundation

The congregation all greeted us with a handshake and bowed as they shook our hand as a sign of respect.  The first baptism that I witnessed was right there.  I will never forget this moment.  As I held a small girl in a beautiful purple dress was sitting in my lap, beautiful singing by the choir, Rebecca had asked Jesus into her heart and was ready to be baptized.  Rebecca became a child of God and a sister in Christ with me.  This was such a beautiful experience.  Tears were flowing from my eyes.  I felt love...true, deep, un-selfish love. 

worshiping under the Acacia Tree

Rachel is baptized

Sharon Hyde
Memphis, TN

The Baptismal Certificate

Sharon sharing the story of Jesus 

One village we went to,  we found a large majority Christians there.  We met those that were Lutheran, Roman Catholic, African Inland Church, African Anglican Church, and 7th Day Adventist.  When we got back to the trucks there was some disappointment since the baptism numbers were much lower and some were saying how this was a tough day. 

 Even though we didn’t baptize as many as previous days, it was wonderful to see an area that Christianity was thriving.  This is where one of my favorite stories happened.  We had baptized a lady and her family.  We continued walking and sharing Jesus with others in the area - meeting many already attending a local church, and those that already knew Jesus. Those that knew Jesus were astonished that we had come so far to teach others about Jesus and they just wanted to tell us thank you for coming.
After probably an hour or so, a lady came running up to us and she wanted to know if she was getting a Baptismal Certificate.  I was a little taken back and asked if I needed to write her out a certificate.  I then learned from the pastor with us that a Certificate of Baptism is written out for everyone that was baptized.  That is why a scribe is with each team to record the tribal  name of the person and the Christian name they take at baptism. The local pastors and workers have a certificate made for each person with their new Christian name,  date, and the  pastor that performed the baptism.   The evangelists in that area also invited those who were baptized back to the area church for worship.  If the area does not have a church yet, the evangelist  will return to the homes and give them their certificate.

 This was truly amazing to me.  Our mission trip baptized 1093 individuals during the week.  These certificates mean so much to those baptized.  I think about how I have my Bible from the day I was baptized and my certificate; I think about my daughter’s baptism certificate as well as her Confirmation Certificate.  These items, although only paper, are a reminder that God picked me to be one of his children.  Some people think their diploma or a work certificate is the most important piece of paper, but to a Christian the day you received Jesus into your heart is a true sign of faithfulness.  This lady that was so excited to receive a Baptism Certificate!  The pastors and area evangelists are truly hardworking and diligent to these duties.

 Sharon Hyde
Memphis, TN

Pray for Trouble...

Our team walked more miles then I probably have walked in a year combined; we endured the heat, dust, and we saw the will of God.  

That day we baptized others that had heard we were there the day before; some had bowls ready for us for baptisms.  One boy didn’t want to be baptized and our evangelist named him “trouble” as he sat in a tree and watched as his brothers and sisters were baptized.  We saw him the next day and he followed us door to door, but he was never baptized while we were there. 

 I thought to myself. .. It is all in His time and His will.   I will always wonder what happened to “trouble,” but I know that none of the baptisms were because of me; they were because the Holy Spirit worked through me and the others on our team.  

Hopefully, one day “trouble” will become a brother in Christ with us.

Sharon Hyde
Memphis, TN