A Definition of “Ministry”
(Ethiopia, December 2006 - January 2007, Part 2)
Before departure, the leaders of the Alaba church wrote us outlining their desires for our ministry. For Dave, this included teaching the book of 1 Thessalonians (to the Bible School students and to the congregation) and reviewing the translation of Mark and Luke into the Alabinya language. For me, this included teaching the book of Ephesians to the women, teaching the Sunday School teachers, and teaching English to the school teachers.
Our classes were well attended, despite the usual confusion about meeting times. The Thessalonian church was very similar to the Alaba church, so its message was highly personal to these young believers. While teaching Ephesians, I also taught a method for personal Bible study. In this method, a book is studied paragraph by paragraph. After a paragraph is identified, I give it a 2-3 word “title.” Then I read the paragraph over and over, thinking on the words and phrases, until I can identify the main idea or teaching of the paragraph. After this, I meditate on the teaching until the Lord seals the personal application of the teaching of the paragraph to my life. The final step is submission to the teaching of the paragraph. I showed the women how I wrote the study in 4 columns: paragraph verses, title, teaching, application. At the end of the study, I can take the application columns for all the paragraphs and make a clear “write up” of the book. The Lord seemed to really use our sessions for His deepening of their spiritual lives. It was fun to watch the expression on their faces as the truth of the message of Ephesians hit home to them as women in Ethiopia. Truth is constant from age to age, and from location to location. The Lord’s truth for the women in the bustling commercial city of Ephesus is the same truth for these women of Alaba, and the same truth for women here in America.
Dave was very excited about working with the translation team, but unfortunately nothing was done in this regard. They had not completed the back translation into English. This was a big disappointment, but our Lord knows, and we are confident that He has all this arranged according to His timetable.
One item of particular joy to us is the working relationship we have with the leaders of the mother church. These men are chosen by the congregation every 3 years. They carry a very heavy load, as finances are so tight, political pressures so strong, and persecutions so real. Dave and I are the only ones working with the church “from the outside.” For decades they have struggled alone, but in the Lord’s timing He has sent us to partner with them. What joy it is to pray together and work together! In sharing the burdens, the load is lighter. We brought them pictures of our work with the churches here in the states, shared messages from their sister churches, and showed them some website articles and brochures. We tried to give them some idea of the work on this side of the Atlantic.
One leader, named Tessema, anxiously came to us upon our return from our first overnight trip to the rural parts. With halting English, he wanted to be sure that we were OK…no headache?, no stomach ache?, slept OK? We assured him we were fine. Then he told us how he’d been up all night at the church praying for us! How unworthy we are to work with such dear, true Christians!
One evening the leaders met with us. In essence they said this: “You are no longer outsiders. You are part of us. We have seen Jesus in you. We’ve seen His love in you. The Holy Spirit is upon you. So we will speak openly with you. We will show you all of our difficulties, all of our embarrassments.” Then they laid open their hearts about the ministry in Alaba, all their challenges, all their concerns, and what they were trying to do to cope. Such a joy we experienced! The simple joy of child-like trust in a Father who provides all that is needed. Black and white, English and Amharic, Ethiopian and American, we came to the Throne together, to find grace in time of need, to lay before Him our dreams, fears, desires, longings. I cannot find the words to describe how much we treasure them, and they us. It truly is the Lord’s doing!
In the midst of daily comings and goings, the Lord multiplied my ministry through medical care and counseling. We went to the home of one leader to visit, and found that his mother-in-law was gravely ill – her hand was swollen tight and discolored from a spider bite. I gave her pain medicine, we gave them money to get her to the hospital, and I wrote a note explaining that she needed strong antibiotics. By the time we left, she was on the way to complete recovery.
Another woman named Tigist came to see me, complaining of a swollen, painful knee. Upon review of her history and an examination, it was fairly easy to see that she had arthritis, probably rheumatoid. I taught her about management of her joints, gave her some medicine for pain and swelling, and we arranged a toilet chair for her (so that she wouldn’t have to squat over the hole). By the time we left she was walking well, but long-term management of RA is a challenge. Her family has only her husband’s income as an evangelist, and medical care is primitive. Please remember her in your prayers.
Other women sought me for counsel on dealing with issues ranging from handicapped children, to pregnancy matters, to general aches and pains. Malaria, typhoid, and typhus are rampant in Alaba; often they strike at the same time, making the person extremely ill. We’ve been introduced to Artemisia Tea, so are trying it. Even the World Health Organization now recommends this tea for cases of resistant malaria. One thing I was impressed with is the need for more education on basic health and hygiene. They need to understand how disease is spread and the things they can do to protect themselves. I was also again impressed with the generally poor nutrition of these dear ones. We packed our suitcases full of protein bars and prenatal vitamins; we could have used 10 times the amount we took!
In summary, our “ministry” was a lifestyle of giving, encouraging, sharing, and teaching. It was using every opportunity to raise up Jesus, for the all-sufficient One that He is. And in the providence of God, we left a group of Family there who were closer to Him and more jubilant in Him than before we arrived.
“Pointing others to Jesus” is a good definition of “ministry”; it doesn’t have to be in a formal, structured, timed manner. It’s just a lifestyle, the lifestyle of Jesus Himself. Jesus had times of structured ministry, when He sat down with the multitudes or the disciples and taught them. But most of the time He just moved among them, letting the moments be filled with the direction, provision, and fruit that His heavenly Father deemed best.
And so it was with us in Alaba. Times of official, structured “ministry” blended with a life flow of unofficial, casual “ministry.” Both had their places, and both were profitable for the Kingdom. As Lord of the Harvest, we glorify Him for His arrangement of our ministry.
An evangelist with his bike.
Distributing protein bars, vitamins, clothes, and satchels to evangelists.
Sharing Jesus' love with children.
Visiting in homes.
Becky cooking her first enjera.
Encouraging a young couple.
Talking about babies.
Dave with his Bible School students.
In the home of the first believers in Alaba.
Preparing a chicken for supper
Laughing at one of Dave's jokes.
Bringing greetings from the brethren.
"Happy New Year!"
Crossing cultural boundaries for Him.
Coming up next: Building the Churches.
January 13, 2007