11 January 2017~ Our New Pattern
Church in the Town
For the last 7 Sundays, our family has worshipped in two “churches” each week. Beginning in town about 5 minutes from our house, the English congregation of Baptists meet at a beautiful building. There are 10 members (outside of Amy, Caleb, and I) including 6 who come from Zimbabwe and one from Ghana. At 8:30 we begin our morning service with Sunday school following until 11:00.
Our goal with the English congregation is to form it into a strong church with its own pastor, meeting three times per week, and rooted in the gospel. A decided advantage in town is the building as well as the core group of believers that we started with. Because of these things, we have been hoping to reach the “selfish” status in a much shorter time. The census I referred to earlier documented about 30,000 people living in this town, 85% of whom do not speak Afrikaans—the language that the Baptist Church had been primarily using before we arrived.
Pray for the church in town that we could lead more men to the Savior and so see the church reach maturity more quickly.
Church in the Village
After lunch, we leave at 1:00 for evangelism in Valdezia. There we meet at a lady’s home with a number of children and a few other teens and adults. Valdezia is a collection of villages spread over 6 miles with a population of about 7,500 as of the 2011 census. We started evangelizing in August 2015 on the east side since the tide of development has not reached very high on that shore. Most of the people are Tsongas with a sprinkling of Vendas. In Elim, I could use more English words as I preached such as “that’s why” since Tsonga is sometimes cumbersome or there may be no word at all. However, I have learned that I do not have that liberty here. You have become a real missionary, when you can’t even “cheat” with your favorite English phrases.
That service begins at 2:00 under some mango trees with the 10 chairs that Elim Baptist purchased for this churchplant. We try to sing, but that requires teaching the songs first. Then Amy teaches the children while I preach to the adults. A few weeks ago, Tinyiko raised her hand and called out, “Pastor” as I was closing my sermon. She continued, “I have now entered at the small door,” and proceeeded to give a testimony that she was prepared to follow Jesus Christ. There is an old man, around 80, who also professed faith, but his testimony is not so firm as hers. About three of the 15 children are responding with eager hearts as well. Her house is only about 200 meters from the river, so baptism should be easy and very visible for the rest of the village to see. About 4:00, we pack up and head back to town where the evening service begins at 6:00 pm.
Please pray that we would soon be able to baptize Tinyiko and others in Valdezia.
Even though the day can wear out the little ones, our children have been glad to worship at an English church. Colin, Callie, and Carson are in varying degrees of interest in the gospel. Please pray that they would enter at the narrow gate and love missionary life.
Though we may rightly rejoice in the slow but definite progress of the gospel, we are greatly burdened that our labors might be made effective to the many thousands who are ignorant of salvation. The two places we are ministering in right now have a combined total popuation of around 40,000, but less than 40 of them (.1%) have shown us any interest in the gospel. In both places, we are eagerly looking for new ways to plead with men and women about eternity.
Back at Elim
Finally, two weeks after making our exit from Elim Baptist, we heard of two developments at the church. Can you imagine our encouragement to find out that they had chosen to begin evangelizing as a church on Saturday mornings as well as setting up ladies’ prayer meetings for evangelism on Tuesdays?
Day by day,
Seth and Amy
20 April 2017~ In the Beginning of the Gospel
Attracted by Kindness, Saved by Grace
Three weeks ago on Sunday , April 2, Tinyiko Phaswani entered the water after giving her testimony before the people who gathered in her home for worship. Since August 2015, I have been speaking to people, conducting Bible studies, and preaching in the village of Mambedi at the eastern edge of Valdezia. We met this woman about a year ago on the path as she was carrying a heavy, wooden ladder. She was so surprised when we offered to carry her ladder, that upon reaching her home, she listened to the gospel and accepted the invitation to receive us again the next week. Last week, she began teaching the children at her house to memorize verses and catechism questions.
Over the last year, a score or more of adults and about as many children have joined us for the Bible study held on her porch each week. The majority were “sermon-tasters” or tourists looking to see a white man or his kids, but Tinyiko has given evidence of true faith. Please ask God to give Tinyiko grace to “continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast” (Col. 1:23). Another man, born in 1938, has offered himself for baptism, and four young boys among a dozen regular children have shown signs of grace as well. Pray that the veils would be taken away from the children and adults to whom we have spoken (2 Cor. 3:16).
Even though the Swiss missionaries started about 7 kilometers from this village 140 years ago, for the most part those who stay in this area have offered nothing more than a superficial, temporary interest in Christianity. The marks of the old religion are still to be seen at the funeral rites, strings around the babies’ waists, rampant drunkenness, and religious apathy. One of the men who came once to hear was stabbed in the head with a knife four hours after I pleaded with him to turn to Christ. Four months ago, a Zimbabwean was killed on a path about 1 kilometer from where we meet. The boys who ended his life wanted the $20-30 he had made from his shop.
Elim Baptist Church has been consistent in sending several of its members each week to evangelize, play the guitar, pray, or even preach. We would be overjoyed if EBC would take over the labors here and see this fledgling group through to maturity.
Angered by Lies, Saved by Grace
In the church in town, we are now reduced to 8 members as a family moved to the city for work. However, 3 men and their wives have recently shown an interest. Eric saw a sign that we had posted back in 2009 and called the number. Having worshipped at a false church for over 20 years, he said that he would “do anything” to find the truth. After a theology class on 4 April, another church member led him to Christ. He is now awaiting baptism. Pete and Lufuno are also eager to learn more about the gospel after years in prosperity churches.
Family and Friends
As I am writing this letter, Paul, Melinda, and their family are somewhere above the Atlantic with their hopefully sleeping children. They will be home to report and retool on their well-deserved furlough. If you would like to hear him, he may be coming to a church near you, and I’m sure they would be glad to make your acquaintance or answer questions over email or phone. God has graciously blessed their labors in the village of Mbhokota over the last decade.
For part of March and April, Amy’s parents were with us for what seemed like a month-long dessert. It was especially sweet since the majority of our family has birthdays in this month. When missions has historically meant the loss of family, we praise God for the comfort of seeing and eating in our own home with those whom we hold dearest.
Finally, this Sunday night I will be presenting the lives of Adoniram and Ann Judson to our church in town. These are certainly models for what it means to love our Lord. In an age where we have so few examples of the highest grade of love, I highly recommend both a shorter and longer account of their lives—the women no less than the men. May our Lord return to find us warm, self-denying, and evangelistic as that is the prayer of…
Your fellow servants in the gospel,
Seth and Amy
18 May 2017~ A Prayer Roster
Over a score of times the most prominent writers in Scripture designate death as sleep. Jesus said that Lazarus was sleeping. Stephen fell asleep with broken bones and mangled body. And as many of you have heard through social media, a dear church member and her daughter are now asleep ready to awake at the last day. Barbra and her 9-year-old daughter Sasha left behind a husband, Duncan and a 16-year-old son, Seth on the morning of May 7 when their vehicle collided with another. For the next 5 weeks, Duncan will be recovering in the hospital about an hour away, and we are trying to get Seth into a school here in South Africa after he had been in Zimbabwe since 2015.
Last week at this time I was returning from Zimbabwe after we had delivered condolences, personal love, and caskets to the small town in eastern Zimbabwe where they were buried. Several church members here in town went and offered personal testimonies at the memorial service. I preached from Luke 13:24 on “Strive to enter at the narrow gate.” In Shona, it says “Fight to enter,” and I am glad to report that Barbra demonstrated real zeal in her Christian life. After having grown up in church in Zim, she made a fresh profession and was baptized last year in September at our church. Since then, she asked for sermon notes, came consistently to the prayer meetings, and invited numerous other people to church. Pray for the family left behind to be established in love and holiness.
Six days before the accident, Stanley told me that he needed no more time to consider the options: he was ready to follow Jesus Christ. This 25-year-old Shona began attending our church back in February when Barbra invited him. Pray that his faith would not fail.
During the time that Stanley has been coming to the church, several other men have joined us as well.
Emmanuel is a young man who comes from Musina near the border of South Africa and Zim. Since meeting him in February, he has been active in evangelism at his school just a few streets from our home. By God’s grace, he loves the teaching at the church even though he has a background in charismaticism. Pray that he would be like Apollos whose name is a near synonym for teachability.
Pete comes from an hour and half south of our town, but he moved here for work. Admittedly, he is not a Christian, but he comes to nearly all the services, and I think I see baptism in his near future.
Eric, whom I mentioned in the last letter, has also been trying on the shoes of a disciple and finding though the path is difficult, it is the only way to life. His wife and children have been with him, and we are eager to see them all profess faith in Christ.
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, I have been meeting with two pastors from this area. Each of them has a charismatic background, but they have devoured the teaching on evangelism and hermeneutics. Thomani Ntsieni and Isaac Newten are asking questions about verses the way a scientist might inspect a fish. Pray that the word of the Lord would spread rapidly and be glorified in their lives and preaching. I have hope that sometimes a church may be revitalized more easily than planted.
A group of 4-6 young men ranging from ages 13 to 18 have shown interest in Valdezia. Services there have been discouraging each Sunday since we baptized Tinyiko last month. When will the Lord send us a strong wind from His Spirit?
If you worked with us, this list may produce a hollow feeling because the picture is incomplete. We range sometimes in a single day between great discouragement and fervent hope. The number of disinterested contacts grows while the potential contacts shrinks. Who is sufficient for these things? To turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God? We feel the pressing need for revival and the power of the Holy Spirit. And then our Lord’s words sound in my ears, ““If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” We take strength in your prayers as we are…
Seeing that without divine grace we can do nothing,
Seth and Amy
28 June 2017~ The Miracle of Conversion
A New Believer
The churches we have worked with have taken bread and grape juice once per month in remembrance of our Lord’s saving work. Yet even more rare is the privilege of seeing new believers show in their bodies the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Since I have been evangelizing in town, we have only seen two people baptized, and both of them were church members who realized that they had not truly understood the gospel. In our last prayer letter, I wrote about Emmanuel, an energetic, 21-year-old Venda. The first time that I asked him about salvation, he said something about praying with his pastor, but Christ, forgiveness, humility, and repentance were conspicuously absent from his own story. Here is a message he sent to my phone two Wednesday’s past.
GOOD MORNING SIR, I HAVE READ AND MEDITATED UPON THE WHOLE BOOK OF 1 JOHN, I THOUGHT I WAS A BELIEVER AND BORN AGAIN, BUT AM NOT, I THOUGHT THAT I KNEW CHRIST YET I DON’T KNOW HIM, I BELIEVED IN HIM, YES BUT IT WAS NOT ENOUGH, I MADE A CONFESSION, NOW I BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST OF NAZARETH WITH ALL MY HEART AND SOUL AM READ TO FELLOW HIM AND BE HIS CHILD, SUBMIT AND ABIDE IN HIM. I CONFESS THE LORDSHIP OF JESUS CHRIST OF NAZARETH, I AM READY TO BE BAPTISED IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST OF NAZARETH. NOW I BELIEVE. PLEASE BAPTISED ME SIR. AMEN
Sunday he gave a solid confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and was immersed. He will be in our church for about 6 months since he is only here for school, and the term ends in December. Each Saturday we have been meeting for Bible study and prayer with some other young men.
Over the last few weeks he has shown some encouraging signs of life such as:
- Faithful and interested attendance at church
- Thanking me in writing for different sermons
- Recognition that his previous experiences at prosperity churches lacked the gospel
- Downloading and devouring stacks of Voddie Baucham sermons
Do join in praying for this young man to be rooted and grounded in Christ.
The Memorial Service
Sunday evening we hosted a memorial service for Barbra and Sasha who put off their earthly houses on 7 May while driving back to Zimbabwe. Many visitors and unconverted friends were present. Her husband Duncan sat in a wheelchair on the side as he had returned to his home Thursday evening. Pray that his faith would not fail and that he would be able to see the invisible and eternal good that God is doing in this time. Seth has been at church, but is not yet ready to follow Christ.
Pay by Memory
In Valdezia 3 young men are memorizing sections of the Tsonga catechism. If they can quote them well enough, I’ll give them the booklets for free. About 6 young men listen on Saturday at our Bible studies, but none of them have been ready yet for baptism. Please remember to pray for that village and the one believer that we have there. Pray that her faith would not fail. Pray that disinterested neighbors would find the treasure in the field. Pray that the young people would devote themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ.
As if last Sunday weren’t busy enough, Amy and I looked back happily on 12 years of marriage. Many of you have received these letters since 2004, when I signed them with only my name. God fills our lives with things and people that “if we didn’t have them we would pay a million dollars to get them, and having them, we ignore.” (C. S. Lewis)
Plodding by grace,
Seth and Amy