If you asked me before what I thought God has called me to do in East Africa, I would have said that I think I am called to equip the local church by teaching and building up the church leaders here. I still believe that is my calling. But God has given me an additional new calling to go along with it. This has been something that has been developing gradually in my heart over the last few years here in East Africa. I believe God wants to use me to help bring people who are already in the local churches to a true saving relationship with Jesus Christ as their savior. That this is such a great need in the churches here took me by surprise.
I really appreciate our brothers and sisters in Christ here in East Africa, especially those in the Pentecostal and Anglican denominations I have worked with. I love them and their churches and there is so much we can learn from them. But at the same time, I have noticed over the past years that there are multitudes of people worshiping every week in the churches here who loudly proclaim that they are born again, but who have no concept of what that means. For many people, being born again means that they go to church, pray, don't drink, and don't fornicate. This is an exaggeration, but you get my point. While there are very many true Christians here, there are also so many people in the churches who have trusted in themselves and their good works for salvation, and not in Christ. They are open and honest about this if you ask them the right questions. In saying this, I'm not condemning them to hell. Only God knows who are his. God's grace is amazing and our faith in Jesus can be so small for us to still receive eternal life. But it's incredibly important for people to learn to trust in Jesus fully and not in their own good deeds to be sure of their salvation.
Some of you might want to comment and say this is a problem in the USA too. In a way you are right, but here it's taken to another level. I think many, if not most, Christians in the US have been taught about God's grace and justification by faith alone. Many Protestant churches still teach this, even to their children, and how it is one of the things that is different from Roman Catholic teaching. Here, whenever I preach or teach that we are saved completely and fully by what Jesus did for us, and not by our good works, it seems like it is a completely new teaching that people have never heard of before. African theologian, Matthew Michael, claims that justification by faith is the least preached doctrine in African churches.
I ask people, "what did it mean for you to become born again?" and they answer that it means they wanted to be Christians who really worship God and really obey what he says. I ask people what happens at Judgment Day, and they say that God will let you into Heaven if you've been a good person and done more good than evil. I hear people saying you can be saved as a Muslim or a Hindu as long as you are a good person. I hear people saying that "being saved" means you are a person who doesn't do this, this, or this. I hear people say that if you sin and then die before getting a chance to confess it specifically, that you are going to Hell. I even hear people saying that once you become a Christian, you no longer sin and you have to be without sin in order to be saved and go to Heaven. All of this is religion, not the Gospel. This is believing in salvation by works, not salvation in Christ. What is tragic is that most do not realize they are trusting in themselves while professing to trust in Christ. They only realize that they have inconsistent views when I start asking them questions about salvation, sin, or Judgment Day.
When I was young and felt called to be a missionary, I envisioned evangelism and church planting. Later I learned that my gifts were more in teaching and I felt a tremendously clear call to equip and teach church leaders instead. But what I have been spending so much of my energy and my preaching time doing is a sort of mixture between those two types of ministry. God has been working in my heart to give me a passion and a burden for these lost people who are already in the churches, to preach to them the good news of the true Gospel, to teach them about justification by faith in Christ, and what it means to really be born again. Thus I am starting to see myself as something of an evangelist.
I've found that this is a difficult task. Some few people get it, but some people have a hard time even understanding the concept that we are saved completely by grace, and not by works. And then many who understand and ponder the concept while I preach don't seem to take the next step of really accepting Christ as their full 100% complete savior. It seems to me like they think - "huh that's interesting" but then they go back to their salvation by works paradigm in their daily lives. I can see how blind they are to the Gospel, but they don't know that they are still blind, and I am unable to fully remove their blinders. (Only the Holy Spirit can do so!)
It's also difficult in that it's hard to preach to people who are already supposed to be saved and know Christ, and challenge them that some of them may not actually trust in Christ completely as their Savior. To tell them that some people in our churches will say "Lord, Lord, we did all of these things for you," but Jesus will say, "I never knew you." This is not a fun message to give, and some could find it offensive, but I love people enough to tell them this hard message. I'm not alone though. I have seen some other brothers in the churches here in East Africa also preaching the same thing, telling people that it's not enough to go to church, they must fully trust in Christ for their salvation, not in themselves.
What keeps me going is when the few people who actually get it are changed. I appreciate the testimonies of one or two who come and talk to me after a sermon or a class, and thank me with joy in their hearts. They see that they don't need to fear death or fear God's judgment when they sin. That their salvation rests solely on Christ and what he did for us, and not on how good they are. And then it is a joy to see them go out and preach that good news to others as some of my students have done. That makes it all worth it.