As you know, the work God has given to us in Ethiopia is not organized by polity, boards of directors, or government forms (e.g., 501c3). We have tried hard to keep first things first. And one of the first things is to allow the work to flow according to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We have had many tornadoes across our land in recent weeks. One thing about tornadoes...they are massive wind that is unpredictable. When Jesus was speaking with Nicodemus, He compared the action of wind to the movement of the Spirit. Specifically, we cannot tell where it is coming from, nor where it is going, but we can see the results of it. Given this nature of the Spirit, we have not felt a peace about locking the Ethiopia work into a set of rules.
From time to time someone will ask us, "What is your 5-year and 10-year plan?" Our answer is simple: "To be obedient." And so regular prayer and constant listening, coupled with reasonableness, has been the manner in which the work has been done. This seems, as best we can understand it, the pattern demonstrated by our Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul in their ministries, even though it is very contrary to our Western way of organizing the Holy Spirit right out of the work.
Over the past 7 years, if you have been following the work since 2004, you know that God has appointed Bible distribution, clinic establishment and operation, sponsoring of evangelists, facilitating personal crisis situations, erecting buildings for Christians to gather, taking teams from the U.S., distributing eyeglasses, sponsoring for education, and many other works. None of these works is "sacred." Some have continued since their inauguration; some have had their season. In all things we have tried to follow the leading of the Spirit, both to our hearts and to the church elders in Ethiopia and those involved in leadership this side of the Atlantic.
The message of Scripture is clear. Kingdom work is under the headship of the Lord of the Harvest. In the Kingdom, some plant, others water, and others gather in the harvest. The focus for the servant in the Kingdom is obedience; the focus is not results.
By the grace of God, many times He has allowed us to witness a great spiritual harvest. Sometimes this harvest is resistant, hardened people coming to Christ. Sometimes this harvest issues in more dedicated Christians who are following our example of sacrifice. Sometimes this harvest is increased knowledge of the Way. At other times, God has withheld the harvest of our work for a later time; someone else will harvest what we have sown and watered. And, of course, some of what we have done has not borne fruit at all; it has fallen on stony soil, or thistles have choked it. All of this is in the hands of the Lord of the Harvest. Our role is simply obedience to do the work He has appointed, in the field He has appointed, at the time He has appointed.
With regards to helping the Church in Ethiopia to grow understanding the Lord's Way, we have sponsored 3 men for "advanced" and "formal" Bible education. Also, we have done much on-site teaching of the church elders and evangelists; this teaching was done by ourselves and our team members. Finally, we have initiated a Rural Bible Teaching program, where Bible teaching in the Ethiopian language is taught semi-weekly over loudspeakers and via hand-players in the rural villages.
Beginning last summer, we began to sense that God wanted us to bring one of the church leaders to the USA to study under Dave in a form of intense discipleship and formal education. This young man is Nigusse. If you are on our email prayer list, you are familiar with Nigusse already. He has assisted us in our work in many ways. Here he translates for Becky:
And here he accompanies Dave into a rural Muslim village:
Nigusse was born and raised in Alaba. His father died about 10 years ago, and his mother died a few months ago of cerebral malaria.
He has several sisters and a couple of brothers who also live in Alaba. From a young age Nigusse has followed the Lord, and he has always wanted to help God's church through teaching. He attended the rural Bible school and then we sponsored him (along with others) to attend the Evangelical Theological College (ETC) in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. This is a fully-accredited college in English. Nigusse graduated in 2006 with the Academic Excellence Award.
Unlike many Ethiopians, Nigusse kept his commitment to his sponsors and returned to minister in Alaba. Many times he was invited to a place of ministry that was easier and contained more perks, but for the past 5 years Nigusse has worked hard and been faithful in the difficult work of the Alaba church. Currently he oversees the entire work, including the Bible School, the evangelists in the rural churches, and the work of the mother church in Alaba Town. The past 6 months have brought renewed persecution of the believers in the rural Alaba towns, and Nigusse has been on the forefront of dealing with the court and the Muslim leaders who perpetrated the violence. For many weeks he has been hunted and has needed to pay attention to his own personal safety by always staying in the company of fellow Christians. Here he is with one of the Alaba evangelists he rescued from the men who tried to kill him.
Since July, 2010, Dave and I have been praying about investing more in Nigusse's education. In December we sensed that this was the will of the Lord Jesus, so in early February we began the process of application to attend SEBTS (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where Dave teaches). During the whole process we have told the Lord, "If this is not Your will, please close the door." Instead of closing the door, He has opened it very wide. The seminary has offered Nigusse a full-tuition scholarship, and all the necessary hurdles have been overcome. The last remaining item is obtaining the Student Visa from the American Embassy in Ethiopia. Nigusse will have this interview in a couple weeks and, Lord willing, he arrives here in North Carolina on July 29th to begin the Fall Semester.
As I have been working and facilitating all the details of his coming to SEBTS these past months, I have felt that I was giving birth. It has been a time of great stress, wonder, praise, petition, grace, and amazement. And it is with great joy that we anticipate the fulfillment of this work.
Nigusse's focus over the next 3 years will be 2-fold: intensive discipleship by us, and obtaining the M.Div degree in Advanced Biblical Studies. The first item (discipleship) is the model of Jesus and Paul, both of whom took others with them as they ministered. He will live in our home, eat with us, go with us for ministry, etc. The second item will give him the piece of paper (diploma) that opens a wider door to help the Lord's church in Ethiopia. The widest door, of course, is opened with the paper that says "Ph.D.," and perhaps that is in the future. But for now, we will focus on the Masters degree.
Some additional facts:
· The financial outlay for living expenses, travel, etc., will be funded by Dave and me; these expenses will not be taken from the gifts of God's people to the Ethiopia work, unless specifically designated as such. So this sponsorship does not diminish the help we are currently giving to the rural churches in Alaba and Burji.
· Prior to beginning the admissions procedure, we discussed the matter fully and openly with the Alaba church elders. They have unanimously given their full and unconditional consent and support to this work.
· Nigusse is now preparing others to fill his shoes in the Alaba work. And while he is here, he will communicate by phone to assist them from here as he is able. So his involvement in the Alaba church continues.
· Nigusse has committed himself to return to Ethiopia to work in strengthening the church there upon his graduation. In the past, he has proven his faithfulness, and we trust the Lord to bring about a good result from this work.
· It is possible that after he gets his Masters degree, we will continue on with his Doctorate, but that issue is not settled at this point.
Will you pray with us for Nigusse? All ministry has danger. And the primary danger of this work is that the Evil One will entice Nigusse with the materialism and comfort of the American lifestyle. While recognizing this danger, we are trusting the Lord to complete the work of grace that He has begun in the life of Nigusse, and we thank Him for allowing us to have a small place in that work.
Nigusse rubs Papa B's feet after a grueling day of ministry.
In 2008 Becky spent 10 weeks in Ethiopia assisting a woman named Aberesh with her pregnancy. Aberesh had already lost 5 babies, four in utero, when Becky moved her to the capital, rented an apartment for her, found her a doctor, and monitored her blood pressure, sodium intake, and diet. Here Nigusse helps in the kitchen.
Aberesh gave birth to a healthy baby boy, naming him after our son Nathan. Here Becky and Nigusse rejoice over the news of Nathan's birth.
Celebrating with Tilahun, Nathan's father, in a restaurant in Addis.
Nigusse with Becky's mother Betty Lapsley at his graduation from ETC.
Nigusse translating for Becky in the Alaba Town Church.
May 15, 2011