Singing Jesus’s Birth | the Reach December 2023

Dear friends,

It seems like everybody sings in Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth: Mary sings (1:46-55), Zechariah sings (1:68-79), the angels sing (2:13-14), and finally, Simeon adds a chorus (2:28-32). So much singing.

From our distant 21st century American vantage point, we might be surprised to hear individuals break into song at significant moments like these—unless we’re fans of the great Broadway musicals! But I live in Nairobi, and as my Kenyan friend Elizabeth Mburu wrote in her book African Hermeneutics, “Song is the genre that best represents the heartbeat of African peoples. Whether in our traditional or modern contexts, songs are never far from our lips. What is a wedding without songs of rejoicing? Or a funeral without songs to express our sorrow? How else would politicians express their political agenda except through songs and poetry? . . . This feature of life has not changed in modern Africa” (p. 166).

Songs are everywhere in Africa, even today. Liz Mburu reminds us that “the culture of the Bible resembles African culture in so many ways” (p. 6). Even spontaneous songs in Africa can be very personal, with someone expressing their own experience and perspective through music. Likewise, have you noticed the incremental changes in emphasis from Mary’s song to Zechariah’s song to Simeon’s song?

Read Luke 1:46-55. Do you see how Mary emphasizes God fulfilling his promises to rescue his poor and lowly people from the oppression they’ve faced? “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (vv. 52-53). There’s nothing in this song about sin, there’s nothing in here about forgiveness, there’s nothing in here about eternity in heaven. But there’s a lot about mercy and justice. A powerful deliverer is coming!

Now read Luke 1:68-79. If it feels like a good bit of repetition from what Mary said, you’re right. When I moved to Ethiopia, I was impatient in meetings when each person seemed to repeat what the previous person had just said. To me it seemed like a waste of time! But then I learned how the repetition—enhanced by small changes and additions that each speaker made—built consensus and led to unity in Ethiopian decision-making. Yes, in Zechariah’s song we hear again about promised rescue, about mercy and righteousness (or justice, the same word in Greek). But the small thing that Zechariah adds comes in verses 76-77, that Zechariah’s son John “will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.” Now we hear a whisper of something significant and new! Not only is a powerful deliverer coming, but one who brings forgiveness of sins.

Finally, read Luke 2:28-32. What does Simeon add to the chorus? In verse 32 he announces that this baby will become “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” Simeon is quoting Isaiah 49:6: “It is too light a thing [or, ‘too small a thing’] that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” In Isaiah 49 the intended servant was most likely Israel as a nation. But Israel did not manage to take God’s message of salvation to the Gentiles or to ends of the earth. Now, Simeon adds, that’s what this baby will do. He’s the servant, a powerful deliverer, who brings forgiveness of sin—to the whole world!

A powerful deliverer who brings forgiveness of sin to the whole world. It takes three songs to fill out this picture of Jesus in Luke’s story. What about your own song? What have you personally found to be true and essential about Jesus that you’d like to add to the chorus as you sing his birth this Christmas?

© 2023 Stephanie L. Black

Rev. Dr. Stephanie Black is an International Theological Education Specialist serving under a co-op agreement with Serge. Based in Kenya, she travels to Asia and elsewhere in Africa to teach in theological seminaries, help develop programs, and strengthen partnerships. With a heart to train the next generation of leaders for the global church, Stephanie is a gifted educator, leader, and life-long learner. We are so glad to have her in the WO family.

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Serving the Lord Reaching the Unreached | the Reach November 2023

Dear friends,

Dave and Mindy, after eight fruitful years of serving as World Outreach mobilizers, recruiting and coaching more than 20 people for the mission field, will transition into retirement and continue serving with World Outreach as Mission Assistants (volunteers). Their time with World Outreach has been their greatest ministry venture. Although Dave was an EPC local church pastor for more than 25 years, this was the first time that they were true equals in ministry. They have learned to appreciate each other’s strengths and compensate for each other’s weaknesses.

Here is one story of God’s faithfulness in their ministry.

Though we have been reaching out to refugees and immigrants for many years, two years ago we felt a new sense of call when we realized just how many Afghans had been brought to San Diego County. People from a region in Afghanistan which never had missionaries come to them were now housed in Hotel Circle in San Diego, just four miles from our home.

Dave recalls a day last December when he was given the address of an Afghan family that had just arrived in the U.S. “All I had was an address and a $25 gift card. I had never met this family. They had no idea I was coming. But I knocked on the door, and it opened! In typical hospitable Afghan form, they invited me into their small apartment, sat me down on a chair, and offered tea. To my pleasant surprise, they spoke fluent English and we were able to have a conversation. I had no idea at the time where this new friendship would go.”

The next day we contacted the San Diego EPC church and found out that they already had a team in place to minister to this family. We quickly agreed to be part of that team. As time went on, we and other team members made it a point to visit them often, and it was always a joy. They have three young children, including two girls who love books. And Mindy loves to read books to children!

One afternoon in March, a group of kind-hearted souls were visiting from the EPC church in Orange, California. We took them on a home visit to meet this fun, young family. It had been raining that week, and during the conversation it came out that this family had no car, which is common. “How do the girls get to school?” one of our friends asked. They walked. “In the rain?” The silence answered the question.

After tea, we left a gift of sweets for the family, prayed, and went on our way. As we drove away, a man from the church in Orange blurted out, “They need a car. Those girls shouldn’t have to walk to school in the rain.” But cars are expensive. And with the cost of new cars skyrocketing, even used cars are out of reach for refugees. “I know somebody who will donate a car to this family,” he said. And he took it on as his personal mission to make sure that this family had a car.

Sure enough, they got a car. When the rains begin again in Southern California, the girls will not have to walk to school in the rain. What’s more, this car has become a source of livelihood for this family. The father works all night, driving for Uber. The girls come to a tutoring program that we are a part of. We are now truly friends with this Afghan family. They will be visiting us this December to see how we celebrate Christmas.

We should ask, where is Jesus in all of this? Isn’t he right in the middle of it? The time will surely come when they ask their new American friends for a reason for the hope within them. In the meantime, we are living the gospel in front of them.

The call to be a global worker is a beautiful call, but the call to be a missionary among those in our own country is also beautiful. The nations are coming to us. God is bringing them. Look around, who are they in your community? Are you ready to meet them?

“We love because he first loved us” (I John 4:19).

Our time as formal World Outreach workers is coming to a close, but this is not a goodbye. We are excited to see what the Lord has next for us.

Dave and Mindy Fenska

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Great Tragedy, Great Need, Great God | The Reach October 2023

Dear friends,

It was 6 a.m., and I rolled over to check my alarm before it went off. When I saw 2 missed calls at 5 a.m. from my good friend in the Southeast of Turkey, I knew something wasn’t right.

And that was how it began, our gradual understanding of the devastation caused by the pair of 7.8/7.7 magnitude earthquakes that rocked our country and left over 50,000 people dead and 2.5 million temporarily homeless.

One night a few months later, I was helping move supplies to build temporary homes in the devastated earthquake zone. It was late, and I was tired when my truck and cell phone died within moments of each other. After getting some help from those living in a nearby tent to recharge my phone, which only got to 4%, I finally reached someone who could help. Unfortunately, help was 1.5 hours away, at least, and they couldn’t give me an ETA of when or who exactly would help. I turned my phone off to save the battery, and I began my long wait in the truck.

In that moment, I found myself grumpy and discontent with God’s timetable and His ways. But I think there was a seed of God’s desire in my doubts. I really wanted (and still want) God to be closer to me, my family, and this injured world. I was and am wanting heaven.

That night, I didn’t find a lot of answers, but I was comforted there in the truck, sensing that God was with me. In fact, at one point during that long night Psalm 139 came to mind, “If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”

I eventually was picked up around midnight, about 3.5 hours after breaking down. We transferred the materials to another truck, and after some sleep, and by God’s grace, we were able to build a home the next day from those materials for a needy family who had been living in a tent since the earthquake. 

This is one of dozens of homes built by believers in that region. Multiple Fellowships outside of Turkey including the EPC contributed to financing these homes. In fact, the EPC International Disaster Relief Fund and the direct contributions from another EPC church financed a total 10 of these homes.

Fast-forward another 4 months, and I received an invitation to a re-opening of a small Fellowship in the earthquake region. This Fellowship had been very small and meeting in an apartment for some time before the earthquake. But now 7 or 8 families have been asking to come, and they have found a home to meet in!

 This is a drop-in-the-bucket compared to the 80 million lost in this country, but even human life starts small, very small, smaller than a mustard seed. So, while we may not understand our personal hardships or the world’s, we can celebrate when God makes his presence known to us in stressful moments—or grows a small Fellowship after a terrible tragedy. And we can hope for God’s Kingdom to fully come! So, let’s trust, hope, and love together.

– R*, World Outreach Worker

*Names removed or changed for security purposes.

Directors note . . .

Thank you for reading the Reach.

If you’ve been a longtime follower, you’ve likely noticed a break in the circulation of our monthly publication this year. We’ve gone through some significant changes in our office operations that led to the hiatus. In this current issue and the coming months we look forward to inspiring you and helping you engage in new and deeper ways with God’s work in and through EPC World Outreach as we seek to help fulfill the Great Commission.

Jesus said to His disciples that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. 

God’s mission – that every tribe, tongue, people, and language fill His throne room in worship for eternity – is the ultimate culmination of the Great Commission. 

In our formation and discipleship as Christ followers, being attentive to the kingdom of God aligns our hearts, minds, and work to what matters most. Being attentive to His kingdom requires intentional efforts to observe, listen, seek, learn, pray, and join in where God is working. We pray that the Reach will play a part in your own formation as you draw closer to the heart of God for the nations and those who have least access to the gospel. 

Partnering with you to fulfill the Great Commission,

Gabriel de Guia

Executive Director 

EPC World Outreach

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