Thursday, March 21, 2019

Psalm 127

By Sara:

Some recent reflections on Psalm 127.

Psalm 127 (NIV):

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
    and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
    for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Psalm 127 (The Message): 

1-2 If God doesn’t build the house,
    the builders only build shacks.
If God doesn’t guard the city,
    the night watchman might as well nap.
It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late,
    and work your worried fingers to the bone.
Don’t you know he enjoys
    giving rest to those he loves?

When I read verse 1 in The Message, I reflected on how the watchman doesn't stop watching if God is watching over the city.  He still does his job.  I've heard some people say that because God guards their house, there's no need for a guard (watchman), or it doesn't matter if the guard knows what he's doing or if he sleeps all night.  Of course we put our trust and our safety into the hands of God.  But at the same time, I also think this verse is telling us that God uses people to do his work.  He is guarding the city through the watchman.  Just so, he accomplishes his work in the world through us, through our small daily tasks and occupations. 

ECHO 2019

By Sara:

I recently had the opportunity to attend and speak at the ECHO conference in Arusha, Tanzania this February.  Something I especially looked forward to was hearing one of the speakers, Roland Bunch, who is the author of a development book ("Two Ears of Corn") and an agriculture book ("Restoring the Soil") which I think are pretty great.  I had missed a visit he made to Soroti some years ago, as well as previous ECHO conferences he attended, so I was excited to see a development celebrity.  His theory, which he spoke on, is that droughts in Sub-Saharan Africa are getting worse because of soil degradation which results in the soil getting hard and crusting so it doesn't allow water to infiltrate much when it rains.  He proposes the solution of adding organic matter to the soil, specifically through green manure/cover crops, to improve it and reduce the severe impacts of droughts.  He has lots of great stories of farmers around the world he has observed and learned from.

There was also an entertaining "panel discussion" (more like a debate) between Roland Bunch and another presenter who had promoted phosphorus fertilizer and inoculants (rhizobium bacteria which help legumes fix nitrogen by living on their roots) for better legume yields.  Both of them have good points, but they didn't seem to want to admit it about each other.  Just for fun, when I got home, I went to an agricultural supply store in Soroti and asked if they sold inoculants.  But they had no idea what I was talking about, even when I described what it was.  So, it appears it is not a particularly practical thing for farmers in this area of Uganda.

Brett Harrison and I gave a presentation to the whole group of conference attendees about the importance of including Bible study in agriculture development, then some of the aspects of the the inductive Bible study we use and how it has been helpful in our experience.

We talked about how we can't ignore the spiritual African worldview when we do development and just replace it with a secular worldview.  Studying Scripture should bring transformation in our lives and affect every aspect of what we do from day to day, not only on Sunday.

We like our Bible study curriculum because it focuses on studying the Bible to hear what God is saying to us.  But in the context of agriculture development, we learn general principles about agriculture from studying the Bible, rather than specific practices.  And there's an emphasis in the curriculum on obedience - putting into practice what we have learned, in obedience to God.  The whole point of studying the Bible is not just to get more knowledge, but to be changed.

Overall, the presentation went really well and I had several people speak to me afterward about how much they appreciated our talk and share the ways it will be useful to them in their work.

We had a second afternoon session which people could choose to attend.  This one was really practical - we led the group through a sample Bible study so they could experience the way it works and hopefully gain confidence in facilitating Bible studies themselves. 

Besides our two awesome presentations, there were some interesting sessions about an inexpensive ripper (an implement for minimum tillage which I'll share about more in another post) and ways to adapt it to other uses.  Like in the presentation below, they were talking about how ECHO is testing an inexpensive planter attachment.

I also enjoyed hearing an anthropologist talk about his experience investigating the results of Heifer International's projects of giving cows which people pass on to others later.  And how often do you hear an anthropologist speak at an agriculture conference?

Neil Miller, who I worked for at WHRI in Texas, was involved in a lot of good presentations, like one about learning with farmers through experimentation.  It is always fun to meet up with people I know from around East Africa at a conference like this.

Maresha Ripper in Teso

By Sara:

A few weeks after the ECHO conference, Neil Miller came to Teso to teach some Ugandan development organizations about a low-cost minimum tillage implement called a "maresha".  It has been used in Ethiopia for a very very long time and Neil and others have been looking into ways it could be introduced into other countries for farmers who want to do conservation agriculture.  One of the most difficult aspects of conservation agriculture for farmers who are used to ploughing with a team of oxen, is minimum tillage.  Without an implement called a "ripper", which cuts a line in the field in which you plant, you need to dig holes for planting by hand.  This feels like the opposite of development for farmers who have large pieces of land and who normally use oxen to do the work of preparing a field.

But minimum tillage is very important and can be hugely beneficial for protecting and improving the soil and land of farmers in many places.

Here is Neil doing a demonstration of how soil is affected during rain if it is covered or uncovered (it's very difficult to always keep your soil covered if you plough it):

So, enter the maresha.  It is super cheap and easy to build.  The group at this training divided into four smaller groups and each one built a maresha.  After that experience, I am confident that I could build one myself.

People had fun trying it out using their own strength:

Then, the next day, we went out and tried it in a farmer's field.

I'm not going to lie - there were issues.  First of all, to properly use a ripper, you need a wider yoke than oxen usually use for ploughing.  This requires a lot of training to get them used to moving together in a new way.  So problem number one: these oxen were not yet trained to use a wide yoke.  Then, this field was super bushy - there were tree stumps and giant clumps of grass all over.  It was hard to maneuver the maresha around these obstacles.  Problem number two: bushy fields; not good for a maresha.  Finally, it is nearing the end of the dry season so the ground was very dry, which made it hard for the maresha point to cut in the soil.  Problem number three: hard, dry ground.

Nevertheless, I think this ripper could be very helpful in many parts of Teso.  I'm looking forward to seeing farmers test it out more and hope to try it out with some of my farmer friends as well.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

21 Alcoholics Trust in Christ!

By Anthony:

There is amazing good news to share in this post, but you'll have to read through the post to hear more about it!

In February, I went to Baringo, Kenya to lead a Timothy Leadership Training while Sara went further on to Tanzania to present at the ECHO conference. We took with us Okwalinga Emmanuel, a very good friend of mine, and one of the people who helps me lead trainings sometimes. He is now the new Bishop of North Teso Pastorate, one of the PAG pastorates that World Renew partners with. On the drive through Kenya Sara took this photo to document the day that she was a chauffeur to a bishop and a reverend.

The TLT manual we did, Biblical Preaching, is the most challenging manual. We managed to finish the training in 4 days but everyone had to work very hard. Some of the participants were learning the technical concepts in their third language. Emmanuel did an excellent job facilitating. I learn new things from him all the time, especially how to keep my focus on Christ in all my sermons, no matter where in the Bible the passage is found.

Here are videos of Emmanuel facilitating:

We spent two days learning and practicing 10 steps for studying a Bible text thoroughly. It is a powerful method in which you can learn a lot about the real meaning of a passage even without a study Bible or commentary. Then we spent a day explaining and practicing together a method of organizing the sermon which in TLT is called the "4 step method" but in Calvin Seminary we learned it as the "4 page method." The last day was spent preparing practice sermons in groups. Each group took a turn to preach their sermon and received encouragement and criticism so that they could improve. 

What we were teaching helps people to keep their sermons grounded in the biblical text, focused on God's grace through Christ, and practical so that their sermons respond to specific needs in their congregations and help people to really live differently.

Here is one of the participants preaching a sermon on behalf of his group who prepared the sermon together.

One of the most exciting parts of TLT for me is to hear the reports about what God has done through the action plans that participants made for the previous manual. This time they were reporting about what happened through their plans made for the manual, From Harm to Harmony: Overcoming Violence in the Family. It's amazing to me the changes that happen when people make a plan and are willing to try something new. As you read these, praise God for what he has done and pray for the people who were saved that they would be able to remain firm without falling back into addiction.

1. One pastor's plan was to reconcile with his son. They had completely lost contact with each other after the son dropped out of school and the money for his school fees disappeared with him. To make a long story short, the pastor made contact with his son again through the son's friends. He found out that his son had become addicted to sports betting and had used up all the money for his school fees on the betting, as well as selling almost all of his possessions, including selling land that his parents had given to him. The son was very ashamed, and the father very depressed, but his father forgave him and welcomed him back home. It was a beautiful story, very similar to the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Now the family is back together and the son is attending school again.

2. Two participants made a plan to try to reach out to three separated couples from their church. Praise the Lord that two of the couples are now reconciled, living together again, attending church together, and they even testified about the reconciliation in front of the church congregation.

3. Most of the participants had plans about reaching out to alcoholics in their communities. (Remember that alcoholism is a massive problem here in East Africa, and drinking in moderation is culturally a very unusual thing. People drink to get drunk). The pastors visited and talked to many alcoholics, and some refused to come to church, did not accept Christ, nor make any effort to stop drinking. However, in total, all the participants together saw a total of 21 people who accepted Jesus as their savior and stopped drinking! An additional 6 alcoholics started to attend church, or are now trying to give up drinking, but they did not yet trust in Christ.

Some of the people are giving up drinking slowly, one step a time with the help and support of the pastors. Some of the alcoholics initially were afraid of the pastors, but now they are friends. About 5 of the 21 people who got saved and gave up drinking were relatives of the participants, relatives who had caused great harm in their families for many years through their addictions.

Two of the participants had targeted people who brew alcohol. Through their preaching and visits, two of the people brewing the local alcohol got saved, gave up drinking, but also gave up brewing alcohol. This was their livelihood. It's shocking that they were willing to give this up, but God changes people! The challenge now is that they need other work to do to support their families. We spent a good amount of time giving guidance to these participants about how to help these people who are now in need of work. Pray for them.

I really enjoyed facilitating with Emmanuel, and we had a busy week. Every morning and evening when we were not teaching, we were busy making plans for training pastors in North Teso Pastorate, where he was just made the new bishop. It's very exciting to be able to work together with a close friend. Together God was giving us so many good ideas. It will be an interesting time working with this pastorate because the new people in the top three positions were all at Pentecostal Theological College when we were teaching there back in 2009-2010, so we have known them all for a long time.

After the Baringo training, I went and visited Berea Christian College where we used to teach, so I could spend some time with the students who were still there. It was a good visit though short. We spent time talking, looking around the campus, playing ping pong, and having tea together. They really miss having us there and I appreciated their loving comments. Here are some of the students I was able to meet with:

After that I traveled to Nairobi and met up with Sara, and we stayed with a World Renew friend. Then we went to a church the next day in Nairobi of our former student, Sam, who is now an evangelist in the Anglican Church of Kenya. He led the service while I had the opportunity to preach. You can see him in the photo below:

There were two services. During the first service, Sara went to another building for the youth service. She led them in her Bible study method and they really appreciated it, and they made action plans based on what they had studied to better love people around them that week in very specific tangible ways, such as visiting children in a nearby orphanage, and planning a visit to a neighbor's shop to encourage them and pray for them. During the second service, Sara got to practice her Swahili by reading a Scripture passage and reading some of the prayers in the liturgy.

I preached about justification by faith from Ephesians 2, a sermon I have preached before in different places. I used pots to demonstrate how we were created good and beautiful by God, but that we have become broken in our sin and worthy of God's wrath, like a broken pot. But I explained how we are made beautiful and holy in God's sight through Christ. When we trust in Christ, we are given the perfect righteousness of Christ, so that we are justified in God's sight and counted as righteous and holy. It is the righteousness of Christ that saves us, not our own good works which can do nothing to fix our broken holes and nothing to remove our stains.

Then we journeyed back to Uganda in our vehicle. We were almost arrested twice by the Kenyan police! They found errors in our paperwork from the border crossing which may or may not have been true errors. They wanted bribes, even directly asked for bribes in Swahili, and threatened to take us to jail. But we refused to give them anything, and were very apologetic and patient. Finally each time after 15 minutes or so of scary threats, they let us go. We traveled all the way from Nairobi, but we counted police checks once we reached Eldoret. From Eldoret to the border alone there were between 20 and 25 police checkpoints. The police stopping you is a bit random, so for most of the checkpoints we didn't have to stop, but it makes for a very stressful trip. We appreciated your prayers. Next time we will take a bus or hire a Kenyan driver to take us, so we don't have to deal with the corrupt police again. They like to pick on foreign vehicles like our Ugandan vehicle.

A couple years ago I had my fun experience traveling an extra day to go to court because I refused to pay a bribe. I don't need to do that again. The Kenyan government says it's tough on corruption, but the whole system is rigged. Unlike in Uganda where you can go to the bank to pay a speeding ticket, in Kenya you have to travel back to the exact location a week later, (even if you have to reenter the country), and go to court to pay your ticket. So of course almost everyone will pay bribes. Pray for Kenya and Uganda and for the people trying to overcome corruption.