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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.
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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.
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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.
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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
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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.
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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.
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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
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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.
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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
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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.
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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.
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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
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For the glory of God among the nations, I offer another list of dilemmas that I have experienced over the past year. Please pray for us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
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Just a few minutes walk from the house where we meet each Sunday in Valdezia, a young boy was abducted while returning from school. Eye witnesses in the village saw several men who were involved, and they identified one of them as the man who lives just behind where we meet for church. Tinyiko who was baptized in April this year, along with many of her neighbors, firmly believes that the boy’s body was mutilated for use in voodoo. The next week, Callie and I were evangelizing there when we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of a mob beating one of the suspects. If I call the police, a wicked man may get far less than he deserves. If I pass by, an innocent man may be beaten.
Because of the historic tensions between blacks and whites, is it wise to ignore cultural differences or weaknesses or sins if they don’t immediately touch the gospel? Gentleness and kindness are fruits of the Spirit, but Paul also prayed for boldness (Eph. 6:19). How can I tell when something is a minor difference, and when a tradition is really the twisted flower from a pagan root?
If a culture is accustomed to little ones puttering around, should I interrupt a sermon to have a child removed? Is it a chance to teach the reverence of a sermon, or a chance to pass over minor things in the hopes that the parents will eventually be converted?
When we lived and evangelized in Elim, we had home Bible studies, a boys’ breakfast on Saturdays (following Paul Schlehlein’s example), and often had neighbors at our table. Many times we saw the church members and interested sinners throughout the week. Yet now we are attempting to preach Christ 25 k’s away in a cluster of villages called Valdezia. Must we live there? How can we see their lives if we do not live there? But if we do live there, does that mean that a missionary must build a new home for each new church?
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Paul was known for preaching the gospel, not for helping people move out of poverty. He did not encourage rice Christians. But he did say, “They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.” As an American in a rural context, should I ever offer to help someone else with money? If refusing to help hurts the church, were they coming for the right reasons? If I give, am I not moving away from my role as a preacher toward a patron?
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I’ve met a man who is a pastor in a village about an hour away. Though at our initial meeting he offered some good answers to my questions about salvation, since then I have seen several flags that he has been influenced by prosperity preachers. Since he asked me to come preach, should I go with the gospel on my lips for a congregation that may not have heard it? Or, since I know that it commonly takes people months and even years of studying the Bible to see the light, and since I may have been invited simply for the novelty of my melanin levels, and since my presence there may endorse his ministry, should I decline the invitation?
Between two churchplants and an evening Bible class, I could spend many hours per week in preparation for sermons. But both “churches” have so few people that I must spend time finding listeners. If the sermons aren’t finished, should I write, pray, and meditate, or go out into the highways and hedges?
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The history of missions shows that many enquirers are willing to take Jesus Christ if they can add Him to their previous beliefs. If I hear a testimony of faith in Christ, is that enough for me to baptize the man, or must I shrewdly wait to see if he has made a break with those self-styled Christian teachers who have no more interest in the New Covenant than Mohammed had in a peace prize?
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Right now we have the joy of seeing a young Shona man who is drawing near to the narrow gate. As I have spoken to his mother, the evidence is mounting that though she professes to be a Christian, she is far from grace. Yet she speaks in front of her son as if she is a Christian just like my wife and I. Must I tell him differently, or should I just preach the gospel and let him decide?
- Should I rebuke those who cling to their mother tongue even if it discourages evangelism among those of other languages?
Imagine there are 10 language groups, and they all understand one common language among them. Of course, each person loves his mother tongue the most, but the “trade language” is understandable to everyone. Now if one of those groups, simply by using the trade language on Sunday, could reach members from all the others, it would be wise to give up that right. After all, Paul voluntarily gave up many comforts that he enjoyed so that others would be converted (1 Cor. 9:3-15 and 10:33). The question is, Should I talk to those who refuse to give up their mother tongue for the sake of evangelism? Should I rebuke them in love? Or, is this a matter of Christian liberty?
Pursuing a serpent’s wisdom with a dove’s innocence,
Seth and Amy
The new tent colors the landscape and sends the first message of architecture to the surrounding homes in Mambedi. Last month we were given this fine first building to house our score of chairs, buckets, and mats. Tinyiko, the first believer here, offered her yard having cleaned it nicely of brush. We had been meeting under some nearby mango trees usually listening against our wills to the two nearest homes playing music which seemed to please them especially during the hours when our church met on Sunday afternoon.
Our new tabernacle inspired the idea of holding evening evangelistic sermons in hopes of attracting others at night. So this week, Wednesday to Saturday, my family, believers from Elim, and unbelievers in Valdezia are meeting from 6:30 to 8:00 pm in the tent. Last night we had 12 unconverted adults and teenagers with a few children. I preached from Revelation 12:7-11 urging them to fear God and His chosen King rather than Satan and witchcraft. Tonight, Tiyani, our first convert when we moved into our Elim home back in 2006, will bring the gospel.
Lord-willing, 3 September we will serve the Lord’s Table for the first time to Tinyiko who was baptized back in April. We ask you to join us in praying for the power of the Holy Spirit in making the gospel clear and causing hearts to be willing to turn to Christ from dead animism. Those who are showing the most interest right now are:
- Joseph Mathye—In two months he will turn 80 years old, and he knows his time is short. Though he went to several other churches, he was ignorant of the gospel. Now the truth is entering his heart one drop at a time.
- Langu Mashimbye—At 17 years old, he has no religious background, but for about 6 months, he and a handful of other young men have been studying with me each Saturday.
- Thabiso—He follows me on evangelism on Saturdays before the Bible study with the other young men. He has raised several good discussions and shows evidence of conviction.
- Mhana Khosa—This gentle grandmother has been attending on Sundays for several weeks after she heard the gospel in her home. Though she cannot read, she took the initiative to join us and meet with Tinyiko to learn about her new beliefs.
Back in Louis Trichardt, we are blessed to have over 10 unconverted adults regularly attending. Several have met with me recently asking questions about the new birth. The membership is still small at 8 people. Amy’s Sunday school and my efforts at youth group on Friday have about a dozen interested young people. Pray that the light would not be extinguished in this church or town (Rev. 2:5) as we are…
Planting, building, fighting, fishing, proclaiming, warning, and persuading for Christ and His people,
Seth and Amy
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New Believers in Zimbabwe
About two weeks ago, our family travelled into Zimbabwe to visit the families of Wastemore Sarireni and the twin brothers Jastone and Justice Sebola. Each of these men are planting churches in the poorest places of Zimbabwe.
At Wastemore’s house, we feasted on fresh turkey and talked into the night around the fire with s’mores. He and his wife have adopted 7 children, but they made room for our family happily. Wastemore is leading a men’s group on Wednesday with 8 men from his own church and about 15 others from the village. His 18-year-old son desires to follow his father’s footsteps into the ministry.
On Saturday, our trusty Toyota took us about 300 k’s away to see the Sebola brothers. Sunday the service lasted 3 hours before the baptismal testimonies began. Seven candidates presented themselves, but only six were baptized as one asked for more time to consider the gospel. One of the ladies, Rachelle, spoke in Sotho which Justice translated for us. “I am a sinner in Adam, and also because of my own actions. … Now I know that the Father chose me before the world, and the Son died for me. I am ready to follow Jesus Christ.” I asked her what people or circumstances God had used to save her to which she replied, “I used to attend different churches, but none of them teach salvation. Early this year I began studying with the pastor and his wife.” Six new members including the first man were added to the nine who were baptized last year in March.
While in Zimbabwe, our family went to see the ruins of Great Zimbabwe which Amy had covered this year in homeschool. It’s great to be a missionary’s kid.
New Believers in South Africa
The very next week was Reformation Day as we recall the great works of God in the past, and pray for power in the present. All the Tsonga churches gathered along with the English-speaking congregation that we have been serving with for the past two years. The singing was lively and Paul even translated a hymn for that day. Wisley wrote four pages for his baptismal testimony—I do not think I have ever heard a new Christian profess his faith with more doctrine or Bible verses. Then Tintswalo Kubayi declared her faith in Christ showing real humility and willingness to obey the Lord Jesus Christ. A number of unconverted but interested sinners from the new churchplants in Mambedi and Riverplaats heard these testimonies, and we trust will soon close with Christ.
This service was particularly pleasing because all the believers gathered for the first time in Elim Baptist Church’s completed building. We thank God that EBC is healthy and “selfish.” Please pray for these who have been baptized that their roots would go deep.
After Five Hundred Years
A few days ago we remembered Luther’s bold posting of the 95 Theses 500 years ago. In hopes of seeing a Reformation in Africa, I listed 95 Theses for today (article) as well as delivered a message (MP3) on the subject “Why Does Africa Need a Reformation?” One of the greatest emphases of the Reformation was personal responsibility which has fallen on hard times in our day of socialism, communism, victimhood, and everyone’s-a-racist. Personal responsibility is good news for the poorest people, and here are some articles on that topic from a missionary’s perspective.
Strengthened by the past for service in the future,
Seth and Amy