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Houston / Sierra Leone: Two floods Yet One Common Need

From the WO web guy:

As I prepare this post, I sit in my home just outside of Houston, TX and I am experiencing the fifth day of the devastating flooding in Southeast Texas.  My experience is mild compared to many in the Houston area. The attention of America and many parts of the world has been directed towards Houston and the many images of tragedy broadcast through the television airways.  Tens of thousands of people have been displaced, tens of thousands have lost everything and yet to date the current estimate is only a merciful 8* deaths.

A day before Hurricane Harvey began its destructive path through Texas, Dr. Steve Woodworth had sent me this story to post on the WO website.  Steve is one of World Outreach’s ITEN associates. I thanked him but did not have time to open and read until today.  Reading it today reminds me again that I am not the only person in the world with troubles.  Houston is not the only city in the world with troubles.  And while Houston troubles are close at hand, Steve reminds me there are other places in the world also suffering the consequences of a fallen world and in great need of a savior.

Whether in a big city in America or a small village in Africa, the truth and hope of the Gospel is needed, especially in times when fear and loss seem to prevail.

In the big city, pastors of churches give comfort to many with words like the ones shared by my friend, Pastor Richard Harris of Christ EPC in Houston, as he shared Psalm 121 in a letter to the congregation and on Facebook to a city.  Although only a snippet of these words of wisdom, let me share a couple of lines…

Psalm 121:1 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? Who will help us? We are on this long, hard, dangerous journey through this life to the heavenly Jerusalem, and it is full of floods, storms, obstacles, brokenness, and sin. We get scared, tired, confused and we consider giving up. Who will protect us? Who can we trust? Who will see to it that we make it all the way home? Psalm 121:2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. Who will help us? There is only one answer. There is only one who can help. The answer is that Yahweh, the covenant making and keeping Lord, who made heaven and earth will help us.

In the small village, Steve shares his story about pastors to unreached people groups throughout the land, sacrificing their health, financial gain, and personal safety to spread the light of Christ to regions cloaked in darkness.

From Steve Woodworth:

Rokassa. The name of the village took me several days to pronounce correctly, although the hospitality of the inhabitants made me feel immediately at home. And even as I bumbled my way through the cultural divide, they repeatedly honored me with gracious generosity. From the moment you arrive, the children in the village will gather around you, asking for you to take their picture. With salutes, raised thumbs, and bursting smiles, they will hold their poses as long as the camera keeps rolling.

My journey to Rokassa came during the rainy season, when the tin roof of our dwellings and puddle-filled roads provided a setting for teaching where tranquility and a sense of silence seemed to pervade the land. The vegetation was green and the nights were punctuated by the sounds of bleating goats and foreign birds. Life in the village is simple. Electricity is scarce, available for a few short hours each day, and our showers came by way of a plastic tub of collected water and cup to pour over our heads. Our students slept of the floor of a local hospital and dedicated more than 7 hours each day to their studies in a small classroom within the village school.

We had come to Sierra Leone to assist local leaders with the continuing develop of a growing seminary called RBI (Reformed Bible Institute). Over the course of 5 days, we taught theology, pastoral ministry, church history, ethics and leadership to a class of over 40 students devoted to seeing the Kingdom of Christ come to this corner of His world.

Some are former Muslims who have already sacrificed family and their former communities. Now, as pastors to unreached people groups throughout the land, they sacrifice their health, financial gain, and personal safety to spread the light of Christ to regions cloaked in darkness. As we huddled together in our crowded classroom, we learned as much as we taught. We worshiped together without instruments and the pure voices of these emerging leaders filled the village with declarations that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”

The work, we were told, is difficult. The spiritual soil in many places is tough for planting. And yet there was an unshakable belief in the faithfulness of God to bring his promises for Sierra Leone to fruition. The evidence was all around us. Amidst a Muslim village of 500 inhabitants there now sits a Christian school, a hospital, and a classroom full of over 40 converts who have been called to minister the gospel to the next generation. Of course, we always desire more. We always wish for things to come more quickly. But our God is a patient God who has revealed to us the certainty of human history. These pastors we gathered with are the glorious “first fruits” of a movement of God’s Spirit that is spreading like a fire across Western Africa, reclaiming what was once lost to superstition, magic, tribalism, and the dark veil of Islam. In the eyes of these pastors we saw the future. A light on the hill of Africa illuminating Christ into the hearts of every tribe, nation and tongue.

But the rain kept coming.

It poured out of the heavens for days upon days until the soil on a hillside outside of Freetown broke free and roared its way into villagers down below. Hundreds of lives were lost, hundreds more were displaced and left homeless. In a country that has suffered for so long under dictators and diseases, the latest tragedy in Sierra Leone could (and most likely will) be interpreted by some as a cosmic curse on a land full of violence and corruption.

But those critics will not have met the men and women I did. They won’t have listened to their singing. They won’t have heard their visions. They won’t have witnessed a new generation of leaders who are willing to leave their families for weeks, travel hundreds of miles, and sleep on concrete floors to study the word of God. Men and women who believe that the power of God is infinitely more potent than the spells of a witch doctor, prayers to the spirits, allegiances to secret societies or the hollow promises of false prophets. Men and women who are peering into the heart of a wounded country to offer them a lasting hope in the love of a Father who is calling his children to come home. A Father, who when the flood waters recede, will use his Church to bring healing to a country longing for salvation.

“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us;
he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will restore us,
that we may live in his presence.
Let us acknowledge the Lord;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth.” – Hosea 6:1-3

*The Texas death count has climbed to over 30 as of 9/9/17.

FOLLOWING THE LIGHT INTO SIERRA LEONE

FOLLOWING THE LIGHT INTO SIERRA LEONE

By Steve Woodworth, Associate Coordinator of ITEN

The paved highway ended and we turned onto red dirt roads made slick by the rainy season. Two lanes soon become one and turned upward through a potholed maze of boulders and washed-out trails, that twisted our truck higher and higher into the thickening canopy. When the trail stopped, we faced a swollen river and a weary ferry driver unable to navigate our vehicle across the water atop his wooden raft. With hippos grazing along the banks downriver, we boarded dug-out canoes and turned our bows upstream to let the current point us towards the far bank.

Greeted by a throng of villagers eager to catch a glimpse of white visitors, we quickly saddled awaiting dirt bikes that carried us deeper and deeper into the jungle. We raced our way along battered paths, trying to beat the setting sun. Pouring rains had caused local rivers to spill their banks and fill our shoes as the bikes tore through the water into the coming darkness. We gripped the sides of the bikes and learned the rhythms of shifting our positions on the back seat when climbing the root-littered embankments, or plunging down a sudden drop.

Our drivers travel this same path dozens of times each day, their expertise proven when swamped headlights went black and memory and moonlight was the only thing guiding us. For twelve hours we pushed deeper and deeper into the forests of Sierra Leone until the cycles came to a stop just 50 miles south of Guinea.

We had made this journey to meet a family.

Nestled in the heart of this Muslim village was a man named Dominic who had left his job as a lab technician at the University of Sierra Leone in order to bring the gospel to a people who are trapped in a syncretistic world of witch doctors, animism, Islam and folk religion. For over a year, he and his family lived on the concrete floor of a small schoolhouse until the locals pushed him out into the borders of the community.

Eventually, Dominic built a home and signaled to the village that he was committed to staying, to preaching, to living the gospel before their very eyes and loving them into the Kingdom of Heaven. Dominic and his family have made sacrifices that both humbled and inspired me. He is desperately alone ministering 23 miles, through the thick jungle, to the closest church in the region. And he has surrendered every comfort his family once knew in the city of Freeport. During our meal after worship, Dominic’s wife removed the bare chicken bones from my plate and placed them on her own to try to remove anything I might have missed.

But there was laughter and there was joy. There was vibrant worship, and abundant fruit from the labor.

In the years since Dominic first made the journey to these people, the local Muslim Chief has given permission for parents to allow their children to become Christians. When we preached at Dominic’s church the following morning, this same Chief made his first appearance at the worship service. The village’s Muslim Treasurer asked for our prayers simply because “the prayers of Christians are powerful.” The congregation Dominic shepherds is full of young faces who signal a change sweeping through the jungle, a new era when the demonic powers of Secret Societies, spells, and spirits are finally broken. An age in which the Spirit of the living God comes to set the prisoners free, casts out all fear, and allows the people of Sierra Leone to finally cry out “Abba, Father.”

There is no darkness in this world through which the gospel cannot shine.

THE STORY OF ABDA

She pointed to her brightly colored hijab (head covering) and said, “back in Syria I would have been killed by Isis for not wearing black!”

This is the story of Abda.  I interviewed her while in Lebanon. For this story, her name has been changed and the image here is not factual but her story is very real.  Our visit was almost 25 minutes so this is a condensed version of her story. She was a very attractive young Syrian woman, a mother of nine and almost a widow.  But “almost” is the story…

 
Abda came to Lebanon three years ago to escape Isis when her house was bombed. When Isis had come to her home, she and her husband hid in the mountains with several of their nine children. Other family members fled to Lebanon. Abda and her husband eventually worked their way to Lebanon leaving a daughter in Syria. She did not know if her daughter was alive or dead.

 
They got to the Lebanon border and they were stopped and told by the guards that they would not be allowed to get into Lebanon and they would have to go back to Syria. While the guard was inspecting their papers, he came across her son’s name, Isa.  Isa is Arabic for Jesus in the Quran. She said, “I named him after Jesus although I did not know Jesus yet.” The guards told the family that they could enter Lebanon just because she had a son name Isa!

 
When they got to Beirut, hungry and with very few possessions, she met-up with her sister.  Her sister told her they could get some food and clothing at a church nearby.  Abda went to the church, received some food and then someone at the church prayed for and with her. She said, “I was just there for the food, I did not know how to pray.”

 
The second time she came to the church for food, the people began sharing their hearts about how they had met Jesus. Abda was touched. She knew she did not want to live the way she was living but she also did not want to become a Christian. But she became curious to know more about God and she accepted an invitation to come to a worship service.

 
Shortly afterwards, her husband got very sick. He was always tired, could not walk and so could not work. Abda took him to the doctor and they ran tests, discovering he had a severe of lack of blood in his body. They had to go to the hospital so he could receive some blood but finances were obviously a problem.  She wondered with the lack of blood and a lack of oxygen to the heart, how he was even living.  Some of the people from the church and her family volunteered to give blood, so the hospital admitted him. He received four bags of blood and began feeling better.

 
A month later, he began feeling tired again. After re-testing him, the doctor said that all the blood given to him was gone from his system. The hospital gave him some medicine, other friends gave more blood. But his body would not take the blood and the hospital told Abda that he was going to die.  The doctor told her, “I can’t do anything about it, just take him home.”

 
Abda was crying and watching him die in front of her but she could do nothing. She knew the church was praying for her and they told her to have faith. The pastor told her, “If you have faith in God, your husband will be healed.” After she went home, she found her husband laying on the floor, unable to move. She grabbed her husband and told him, from the bottom of her heart, “Have faith in God and He will heal you.” “Don’t believe in anything else, just believe in Jesus Christ.” Abda prayed to God, “I believe in you and if you exist like you are saying, give blood to my husband.” “God I know you are alive and the doctors could not do anything, but I believe in you and I know you can do it, you can heal him.”

 
Within a month, her husband was healed. His blood was completely restored. The doctors were amazed. They told Abda that this was impossible but her husband told the doctors that God was alive and he had healed him.
It’s been a year since God’s healing touch and God has been helping them with everything. Abda said, “I and my family are serving God and putting all our lives in His hands. I am teaching my children about the love of God and the peace that He gives us. Even with war and everything else happening around them, He is never going to leave them. And the best thing He has shown us, is that we will be with him at the end of the world.”

 
She concluded, “We did not know Jesus in the Islamic world, but now we know how loving and how peaceful he is. I thank God for saving us from the war and letting me know him. I have no fear and will keep talking about God and serving him. I hope that anybody that is away from God will meet him and know how loving and peaceful he is.”