Since December 2nd of last year, our family has moved 10 times, although admittedly a couple of those were between family members here in the US. Our sending church, Bethel Baptist in Schaumburg, IL, and Calvary Baptist in Taylorsville, MD graciously brought us home on 18 December for a recovery period as we balance taking care of family (without which we would be worse than unbelievers) with enduring all things for the elect’s sake (which phrase was written from prison).
In the past five weeks, we have seen nearly all of our immediate family members as well as several churches. Our inbox has also been the happy recipient of many encouraging notes, verses, and prayers. We fully recognize that friends and supporters are wondering what is happening in our family and future plans—thank you for your patience as we have talked, prayed, and gathered counsel.
To start, you may be interested in Amy’s account if you haven’t read it yet. And I’ve finally written out a few thoughts on the will of God as a husband and missionary if you want to see the reasoning behind our decisions.
Stability after trauma doesn’t end at a fixed point, but we do have peace to return to South Africa as a family on February 11. For the good of our family, we are planning to move to Louis Trichardt, the town about 30 minutes to the west of Elim and our current house. From that point, we will continue to build the EBC both spiritually and physically.
As I have mentioned in these letters during 2014, we are eager for EBC to be prepared for our departure, yet we are afraid of a hasty spirit. Since the church now has a number of believers who are accustomed to Biblical preaching and Christian discipline, we are waiting as the men reach up to take the baton. Thankfully, the reports coming from SA have given us reason to hope.
Before we left SA, we were pleasantly surprised by a visit from Justice Sebola, one of the students trained at Limpopo Bible Institute by Paul and I. He and his new wife gladly volunteered to come from Zimbabwe to stay at our house and serve Elim Baptist Church in our absence. Between he and another committed man in our church, Alpheus Nyalungu, they have been communicating with the members and preaching most of the sermons. Paul and other members from Trinity Baptist down the road have also added reinforcements as needed. Justice has also been visiting members, counseling with some who’ve fallen away, and evangelizing children in our neighborhood. Would it honor God more for him to plant a new church 4 hours away in Zimbabwe where he has been living or to stay in Elim and minister at our church? Pray for wisdom to discern God’s will.
When Paul praised the church at Philippi for their participation in the gospel, he meant something like what we have felt over the past weeks as so many believers have prayed for us, wept with us, and given at every turn to be sure that whatever He has called us to do, we would have the emotional resources to complete it. We thank you from the depth of our hearts.
THE LARGEST CROWD
In two Saturdays, my teammate Paul will have the chance to address probably the largest number of openly unconverted people that either of us have ever stood before. He has scheduled a debate with a studied and influential Muslim leader in SA that will give him equal time for a 3-hour debate. I’ve attached his most recent prayer letter explaining this, and I encourage you to pray that what God did to Lydia (Acts 16:14) would happen to hopeless followers of Mohammed. If you’d like to receive his prayer letters in your inbox, I’m sure he’ll be happy to hear from you.
This past year was a good one for books. Amy reviewed a book of merely 144 pages that I can’t praise highly enough. Of my books, Doug Wilson’s Father Hunger is great for Dads; a slow reader could finish Brian Edwards’ inspiring biography of William Tyndale in three after dinner readings; and everyone who loves Africa should read The State of Africa. If you do happen to get or read one of the books I recommended here, it would encourage me if you’d let me know.
Seth and Amy
A BUSY HOME
We’ve been in South Africa long enough to have a serious surgery, change houses, start school, and start applying for our visas. As most of you have probably heard by now, Caleb fell from a tree March 2nd and broke his ulna and radius so completely that the specialist who operated on him said it was one of the worst he’d seen in 35 years. Thank you for your kind words and prayers for him.
Our home in Elim is on the market now with a selling price that reflects the amount we’ve put into it over the years. So far, no serious buyers have approached us which is probably due to the location as well as the lack of title deed. Yet our Father has no shortage of providence or generosity, and we rest on His timing. A friend of ours in Louis Trichardt offered to rent a house to us that’s near to the same size as the one we left and about 30 minutes from our previous home. The boxes are almost all done, and our bakkie is gasping for breath after so many trips back and forth.
Now in its fourth year, the Elim Classical Academy has reopened at our home with Caleb in 3rd grade and Colin in 1st. Its nice to hear books like Little House on the Prairie being read around the lunch table again. Please pray for our children to grow in wisdom and knowledge so that they would fear God.
THE LAST BRICK OF THE FOUNDATION
Saturday just after noon, we placed the final brick on the foundation of our church building. We still have to pour the cement slab which we are hoping to complete around April. The church has done all the work so far and paid for more than 75% of the $4,000 we’ve put into bricks and cement. But there’s still a long way to walk on this road. Our goal is to be finished by the end of 2016.
Before we left for the US in December I was teaching a new members’ class with about a dozen teens and adults who appeared to be interested in baptism. Unfortunately, the older participants of that class have nearly all fallen away leaving two women and a number of teenagers. When our churches meet for a combined Easter service, we are hoping that a few of them will be ready to testify by water of their faith in Christ.
EVANGELIZING THEOLOGICAL STUDENTS
Without full-time students, the Limpopo Bible Institute has been hibernating while both Paul and I train our few men on the weekend. This last Thursday I began teaching a night class for the next few months on Hermeneutics. The goal of the class is to help the one Timothy that God has given EBC. However, four other men from town joined us last week and responded favorably to the call for men to pull their messages out of the Bible rather than invent their own messages to offer on Sunday. Please pray for these students to be both convinced and courageous as even last week one pastor told me that he wants to follow Scripture, but the anger of his wife and the other women in the church would be too much for him.
In hope that the Day is drawing near,
Seth and Amy
Though unlooked for, we are nevertheless compelled to return again to the US as you may have already heard. A few weeks ago, I heard from an immigration lawyer who opened our eyes to a new law that just took effect in 2014. Owing to a legal technicality enmeshed with the dates of our December return to the US, we may now only reapply for new visas from our “country of origin.” Though I have contacted just under a dozen lawyers, this is the only way Providence has opened for us.
Regardless of these plans that we would not have chosen for ourselves, we rest confidently that God has good purposes for moving us this way. Hopefully, we will visit six of our nine supporting churches as well as see a number of families. Our flight arrives on 8 May and departs again on 29 June. Please send me an email if you’d like to get together during our two-month sojourn.
Those dates are blocked on either end by some major family news as well. Caleb’s broken arm will be freed from six pins and a cast next Monday, 20 April. He should be healing nicely by the time we get on the plane.
The other end of the trip is clamped in by the good news of Amy’s fifth time to unpack the maternity clothes. Since she is due in August, we have to come back by the end of June or face the dire consequences of paying American health care costs.
We fear that needy people can be exhausting, nevertheless, I must ask if anyone knows of a donkey cart with six seatbelts for rent or sale that we might use during May and June.
LEAVING OUR CHILD BEHIND
Owing to the expense of plane tickets we have decided to leave one of our children: Elim Baptist Church. One of the ways we anticipate God glorifying Himself is by using this trip like vitamins and a workout regimen for EBC. Already the members have divided up the ministries during those two months. God has given us a humble and competent man to serve as pastor-teacher during most of the weeks with another college student also helping one or two Sundays.
Recently, we have also seen two 26-year old men in our church take demonstrable steps of character. Both of these men are showing evidence that they are willing to follow Christ rather than culture in marriage and work. In the past, we have entered the first or even second levels of church discipline with both of these young men.
On Easter Sunday three Tsonga churches met in Mbhokota at Trinity Baptist Church for a thrilling service. The highlights of the day included the public testimonies of three young people from EBC who were baptized as well as a unique confession from a member of Paul’s church. In 2013, this man fell away from the faith. Over the long intervening months and years, he had been hardened toward Paul, but in answer to the fasting and prayers of the church members God granted repentance. Two Sundays back, he surprised many of us by publicly humbling himself and submitting to the Lordship of Christ. May a deep longing be created within those poor churches in Africa or America who do not know the unusual pleasure of seeing church discipline work out like this.
You may recall that Justice Sebola, an LBI graduate, served at our church in December and January. He and his new wife have decided to plant a church in a rural village in Zimbabwe about 4 hours away. Helped by his brother, who also graduated from LBI, they have already gathered a small group of believers in a village much poorer than most of those in SA. Please pray that a Baptist church in Wunga would flourish.
About four hours from the Sebola’s village, the attached picture shows the Rock Baptist Church planted by Wastemore Sarireni. On Easter Sunday, a large gathering of people they have been evangelizing from different villages all met on the large rock that gave the church its name.
For the Church which He purchased,
Seth and Amy
TRAVELS AND TRAVAILS
Seven days ago at this time, we were just getting over the first night’s “sleep” in our home in South Africa. Thankfully, our family is adjusting well, and the sounds of homeschool drift my way as I type this.
In May and June, we reported to nearly all of supporting churches save two. Amy amazingly taught the boys several days on the road as we made house in a wonderful Dodge Caravan. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Shipe for the most innovative, family-friendly vehicle imaginable. As usual for a trip to the U.S., Amy especially enjoyed nurseries! Though we had not intended this furlough, I had the privilege preaching just under 30 times in 8 weeks, and many loving believers refreshed us in their homes.
OUR LITTLE ONE
When we arrived, a young toddler greeted us, or was she a teenager? It’s hard to tell, but we have been both encouraged and burdened by the Elim Baptist Church. Some weeks while we were gone, the attendance was just a handful, yet the church members took responsibility for all the ministries in our absence, and 6-10 unbelievers still regularly attend.
When I met with Ntwanano, a 26-year old believer who has been in our church since 2007, he told me that his extended family has been trying to perform on his new baby girl certain traditional rites associated with witchcraft. They even threatened to come while he was at work and take the child away from his wife. Yet this young man stood firm, telling me, “I am a Christian, so we don’t do things like that. We only fear God now.” Of course, the uncles, aunts, and grandparents all call themselves Christians too, but there appear to be at least two kinds of “Christian” in Africa.
Though only 19, Acres played the guitar for the Sunday singing, taught the children’s Bible club, and led the Wednesday prayer meeting.
Several church members said that watching the commitment and faith of the man who is in pastoral training at EBC strengthened them in their spiritual walk over the last two months.
Our little church needs the Spirit of God to get up after falling, to grow in wisdom, and to reach the many lost around her, yet we are grateful for these and other marks of maturity that are to us evident tokens that God answers the prayers of His people.
Back in April I wrote about Justice and Jastone’s efforts in Whunga, Zimbabwe. Justice visited in SA this last week and would greatly appreciate your prayers as he and his brother labor to evangelize in a village about 4 hours to the north.
As you think of our family and ministry, please pray like Paul in 2 Thess. 3:1-5.
- That the Word of God would run among the Tsongas. 3:1
- That the missionaries would be preserved from perverse men. 3:2
- That the believers and our family would be protected from Satan’s temptations. 3:3
- That the believers and our family would persevere in obedience. 3:4
- That the believers and our family would settle their hearts in God’s great love. 3:5
Warming up again,
Seth and Amy
Once again I offer a list of more ethical difficulties. I’ve done this three previous years, and yet my list is still full today. So, as long as we stumble upon tricky scenarios, I’ll continue to offer these annual conversation starters. As you read, pray for us to have wisdom that we might walk worthy and guide others in that holy path too.
1. Should I accept living together as marriage?
African culture defines marriage loosely as a relationship begun when a man pays the bride price for a girl. However, many are so poor that they don’t pay, or only pay the first “down payment.” What should I do with a church member that has been living for 19 years with a man she calls her husband, yet he’s never paid the bride price?
2. How long should those who fall to fornication sit out?
The rebuke of church discipline does its work over time. When a church member falls morally, how long is enough before he can be restored?
3. Should I ask neighbors to turn their music down?
Two Sundays back we gathered at church and heard the overwhelming sound of a rap-rock blend blasting through the building we meet in. About 50 yards away is a young man who places his speakers outside and turns up the volume. Paul has also had this problem for months at his church. Should we ask for the music to be turned down during church? If they refuse, should we ask again 3 months later? Should we call the police? How can you worship with blaring rock right beside you?
4. Should I rebuke prosperity preachers the first time I see them?
Last week I received a call from a man who wanted to speak to me. I guessed he was a prosperity preacher, and he was. Within minutes I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this man was the typical African charismatic. Should I just quietly close our interview and leave (Pro. 15:1; 26:4)? Should I gently tell him that I oppose the false gospel of prosperity (2 Tim. 2:25-26)? Should I boldly tell him like Peter to Simon that his money will perish with him (Acts 8:18-20)?
5. Should I strive to use English with the people?
Most people in our church would like to speak English. We have tried a few times in the past to teach English, and each time the pupils have quit after two or three free sessions. The average person cannot understand English well, although they do hear it in the schools. If the young people want me to use English, should I preach in English even if they can’t understand it all yet? Should we use English songs and translate the preaching into Tsonga? Or, will that just attract people who like entertainment and an “American” feel?
6. Should I send my children to a public school for the sake of the ministry?
If our children went to the public schools here it would help them learn the language and make friends. Their presence may even strategically bring some of their classmates to Christ. However, the moral standard is grisly. For example, I once entered a public school bathroom where the learners had left waste all over the floor. Should we enroll them for the benefits or keep them at home for the dangers?
7. Should I encourage my children to marry Africans?
The gospel breaks down all social, economic, and cultural barriers (Gal. 3:28). Should I encourage my children to look for an African spouse in order to send a message about the power of the gospel?
8. Should I start a second church before we leave the first one?
By scheduling a service on Sunday afternoon, and by planning more time for evangelism, I could theoretically have two congregations going at the same time. Is that a wise use of time and money, or is it a naïve, impatient grasping that will ultimately damage the long-term health of the our church and family?
9. Should I offer aid to a poor polygamist?
When trying to help the poor, in the past I have purchased tools, food, and education. However, our old neighbor in Elim was a polygamist with three wives and six children all living in a shack near our house. Years ago, I offered to buy him some tools to help him in his work. When he climbed in my bakkie, he also brought two of the three wives. Should I go buy the tools for him because that is what Christian love would do? Or should I refuse to give to him firmly telling him that part of his poverty is coming because of his multiple wives?
10. Should I use expensive evangelistic tools that do not create dependency, but which the nationals could not reproduce without US funds?
My sermons come from a library of over 1,000 books as well as a computer. I also use desk and a printer. One book on preaching that I have recommends 15 hours of preparation per sermon. For many pastors in the rural areas, each of these four factors would be beyond them. Should I refrain from using tools myself that I know the next pastor may not have?
Missionaries need wisdom. And for some of these decisions, they need an equal amount of courage and stamina. Please pray that we would have discernment, grace, and boldness.
In Christ Who is Our Wisdom,
Seth and Amy
Our hearts are full of wonder and joy as we cradled Cameron Lee Meyers this morning. Amy and he seem to be fast friends already, and when I left the hospital they were both sleeping nicely. His brothers and sister are eager to play with this new 8 1/2 lb toy.
Psalm 127 pictures children as arrows which prompted Isaac Watts to put those lines into verse.
’Tis all in vain, till God hath bless’d;
He can make rich, yet give us rest:
Children and friends are blessings too,
If God our Sov’reign make them so.
Happy the man to whom He sends
Obedient children, faithful friends.
We invite you to join us in rejoicing and praying for Cameron to be both an obedient child, and one day a faithful friend.
Seth and Amy
AND LET ONE INTERPRET
Five days ago, my wife found something extremely rare: an extra hour in the week. For 6 years she has been translating Bible stories into Tsonga to serve as a curriculum for children. Last Saturday she finished the final story in the book of Esther. We now have a full book of stories with review questions in Tsonga summarizing nearly all of Scripture. As we look toward the day when Elim Baptist will stand independently, we have hope that those stories will nourish the saplings God plants in our arbor (Matt. 15:13). For her consistent investment in a project that should bear fruit for many years, we praise God.
READING FROM THE BOOK DISTINCTLY
Last year Paul, began a concept called “Ezra Buddies” at Trinity down the road in the village of Mbhokota. Each church member has a partner with whom he meets on Sunday between the services at church. They ask each other questions about what they read in the Bible that week so as to be like godly Ezra who set his heart to study the law of the Lord. While Amy and I were gone, the men at Elim picked up this habit which we were only too glad to see. The pictures show a few Ezra groups on Sunday morning.
And in August, those groups had a sharp increase as four more people were baptized. We now have more adult members than teenagers for the first time in our church’s history. One of the women, Aniki, was the young woman who stayed with us last year for about two months. Another was a friend of Amy for whom we have been praying a mere seven years.
THAT HE MAY BE ASHAMED
Recently, we have had several cases where church members are bearing the works of the flesh rather than the fruit of the Spirit. How can we cultivate a hatred for sin (Rom. 7:15) and protect the members who haven’t yet fallen, while also being patient toward all men (1 Thess. 5:14) and showing the grace that Christ did to the woman caught in adultery? There comes a point when a sinning member should be rebuked and publicly shamed for his sin as Paul says in 2 Thess. 3:14. We dearly love all our church members, so please pray:
1. Those who have fallen into adultery would be willing to fight with their sin.
2. All the believers would fear sin like Joseph.
3. The leaders of both churches (Elim and Trinity) would be wise.
4. Our Father would work these sad failures into greater displays of his grace and glory.
PULLING THEM OUT OF THE FIRE
Since August, I have been trying to reach Valdezia, a new village about 25 kilometers from Elim. Currently, two Bible studies with about 5-8 adults each gather every Wednesday. Two weeks back, I invited Mrs. Mulaudzi, the 50-year old neighbor across the street from one home where we were studying. She showed interest even asking a few questions about the Bible and where to meet the next week. Having already met her, I felt hopeful that she would be there.
However, on my return seven days later the Bible study was canceled because Mrs. Mulaudzi had suddenly entered eternity two days previous. Her neighbors studied with me this week as I labored to impress upon them the desperate nature of the spiritual war. Pray for us to be more fervent in our witness because life is more tenuous when you live in a poor, rural area.
CARING FOR THE THINGS THAT ARE OF THE WORLD
Since last February, we have been renting in Louis Trichardt (about 25 kilometers from our previous home in Elim). This week though we started the process to stop renting by buying a house. Lord-willing, we will be able to enter sometime in November. We thank God for His generous provision through a few families and a supporting church so that we can move into a stable, safer home.
Caleb’s arm will see the knife for the last time, hopefully, next Tuesday afternoon. He is also intent on being baptized. When I arrived home this evening, Carson (3 years old) greeted me with, “Hi, Dad, you awe a good man.” Though he still can’t answer the catechism questions, Cameron has been growing nicely at 13 ½ lbs.
With hope that all things may be placed under Christ’s feet,
Seth and Amy
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WELL, WELL, WELL
Our world is filled with wonders that we take for granted, which if they were removed, we would surrender all we had to get them back. Water is one of those wonders. And for a few churchplanters with whom we are familiar it can make a vital difference in their ongoing labors to evangelize.
Of the nine men who graduated from our Bible college, five of them are trying to plant churches in poor areas of Zimbabwe. Last week I had the chance to speak with two of them who made the trip to South Africa. In both cases, these men are facing hardships due to the drought this year, and in both cases, they are striving to be self-supporting.
I’ve never asked for funds in a letter before, but I think it would honor God to appeal for wells for these two men. At about $4,000 each, would you or your church consider investing in a watery Christmas present? Either with a check, or with PayPal online, anything that comes in marked for “Wells” will go straight down the hole.
For years we have been grateful to see slow, but steady fruit from these men. For example, both of them could be living in greater comfort in South Africa, but for the sake of the gospel they have chosen to live in conditions that would almost impossible for a white, Western missionary. In 2013, I interviewed Pastor Sarireni, and I would encourage you to read or listen to it if you’d like to meet him a little more closely than this letter. My teammate Paul is leading a similar initiative for another churchplanter in Zimbabwe.
HOW FIRM A FOUNDATION
Mixing cement by hand in the sun is a great education, and we have been in this school now for 140 bags at 110 lbs each. However, as of last Saturday, we finished the foundation of the church with the church members doing 100% of the work and paying for 85% of it themselves. We are hoping to be able to finish by the grace of God by 31 October 2017 in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses.
Last February, six men gathered for a Tuesday night class on Hermeneutics (how to interpret the Bible). At the beginning of this class, one of them was a church member. Since then we have finished that class as well as three months on Logic and have begun work on Homiletics (how to preach). We praise the Lord for the power of the Word of God because two more of the men have now given their testimony and expressed a desire not only to join our church but to continue pastoral training. Here is a message that I received after class Tuesday night.
Pastor I would really love to go back and study hermeneutics and logic thoroughly … I really want to be able to divide the word like Timothy without any shame…
Please pray that these three men would grow into godly leaders and gifted teachers.
Sunday morning I was accepted as the English pastor of the Baptist church in Louis Trichardt. This church was started about 50 years ago by the whites who speak Afrikaans. Yet in this town of 25,000, there are now 18,000 blacks who do not speak the language they associate with apartheid. Currently, there are seven English church members in a church building that will seat about 150. Please pray that God would save people in this town as we begin our labors in earnest with the new year.
Refreshed by the water of life,
Seth and Amy