here are moments that cause one to seriously pause and consider his life, direction and destination. Such introspection typically occurs at New Years, funerals, or after a tragedy. But once in a while, it just pops up and requires attention at an unexpected moment. It happened that way at our most recent Diploma Graduation in December. Something sparked my spirit to reflect and reconsider my life, my hopes and my aim. Actually, not “something”, but rather some dear friends: Robert, Lydia and Christiano. The three of them have inspired me, and many others. All three are in their late sixties to early seventies. They entered the Bible School at an age and season of life that many would dare not. None of them finished high school. Two of them never completed primary school. It had been many decades since any of them had ventured into a classroom of any sort. They came from very diverse church backgrounds, family situations and personal challenges. But in common, they had much indicating they would probably not get far in a fast paced Bible School & Discipleship program. By God’s grace, they pressed on…and proved such predictions wrong. Lydia suffered tremendous physical hardship throughout her time in the program. Hospital visits, long periods of bed rest, and chronic severe pain in walking. How she made it into the Kibera slum for Bible School, I will never know. The path is a maze of bare rocks, railroad tracks, mud puddles and raw sewage…all combined with a steep and slippery slope. Only to be met with our ill-fitted steps to the second floor…even the youngest, strongest students complain about the steps at the Kibera Bible School. No two are the same width, depth or height! Yet Lydia faithfully, gracefully attended class week in and week out. And then some! The Discipleship Program takes a
minimum of 12 classes over 2 years to complete. Most students do so within 2 to 3 years. It took precious Lydia 34 classes and 6 years to pass her 12 classes. It wasn’t just her determination that inspires me…it was also the abundance of God’s grace that causes me to pause…and consider: God’s pleasure in fulfilling His calling on our lives at His own unhurried, but unrelenting, pace. God is beyond time. He is not driven by time, timeliness or efficiency. His goal is the final “vessel of honor” we become…by the hands of a very patient, enduring and merciful Potter. Lydia’s tremendous testimony is this: God… our endlessly patience Potter! Robert has vibrant health, and a sharp mind. His greatest obstacle and hindrance was his spiritual heritage. He is a Senior Pastor in a popular spiritual cult. It is difficult to describe how difficult it is for such a person to even enter an evangelical Bible School. In fact, it’s absolutely unheard of anywhere in East Africa…except at the DSM Bible Institute. Such churches are steeped in ancestral worship, sacrificial practices and pagan beliefs…mixed in with a cultic hope of being one of the 144,000 of “Africa Israel”. Members of such churches are typically illiterate and rarely urbanized. All this coalesces into a reactive fear and prideful distain from other “mainstream” churches and Christians. We continually focus on reaching Pastors and Ministry Leaders from such churches. Robert took the chance. The cost was high. He was shunned by church members, and endured much hostility from his pastoral peers. He was only allowed to keep his position because of his seniority, and the cultural constraint to respect the elderly. He passed through the required 12 classes in just 2 ½ years. Eventually Robert took the radical step of
Pastor Christiano and his wife Mariana
removing “Israel” from his turban. It took courage and spiritual fortitude beyond description. He told me “my hope is for the youth…but I’ve not given up on my age-mates!” He brought four young Pastors to his graduation to let them “taste and see” that not all evangelicals hate or fear them. And that God wants to refine their spiritual zeal…through His Word. Robert’s testimony loudly proclaims: God…makes all things New! Christiano came to the Bible School with his wife. They have a church in the Kibera slum. His first wife died years ago, leaving behind four young children. Christiano tells everyone that “God blessed me with a miracle…my second wife.” Marianne came into Christiano’s life when he was a drunkard and wayward “Pastor.” She lovingly nurtured the struggling family…all 5 of them. Years later, it was at her suggestion that they came to the Bible School and Discipleship program. Christiano had every reason not to come: pride as “an elder”, fear as a semi-literate, and the chronic busy-ness of a Pastor. By God’s grace he put that all behind him and came. It wasn’t easy to continue. Christiano didn’t have the health problems of Lydia, or the spiritual hurdles of Robert, but he had a mind resistant to self-study, taking notes and memorizing: three essentials of the program. I remember him pleading with me about the extensive Scripture memorization work we require. “My mind just won’t work! I’m telling you, the years of alcohol ruined my mind. I just can’t do it!” I would encourage time and again that God would heal his mind…in His time. And in the end, it was the Scripture memorization that brought him passing marks each semester! Christiano never scored more than 50% on the test questions…but his miraculous new knowledge of Scripture causes all of us to marvel! His son, who has a history of alcoholism as well, has decided to leave that life behind, and follow in his father’s steps. He is now enrolled in the Bible School. Christiano’s testimony bespeaks of Our God…the God of Second Chances! I consider these three saints as friends. We have labored together in God’s Word, we have prayed fervently for one another, we have much in common to bind our hearts in this pilgrimage. But I have always respectfully and consciously regarded them as my elders. For that they are. They have traveled through this Valley of Tears longer than me. They have tasted the bitter and the sweet that life offers both with, and without Christ. They have determinedly thrown in their lot on the side of trusting God for their remaining days…without reservation, without condition, without looking back…at lost years, lost opportunities, lost battles. We would do well to follow them forward. No one understands this better than God Himself…and none can improve upon His Wisdom and Words through another “late bloomer”… Paul the Apostle... “...I count all things loss for the excellence of the Knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I might gain Christ and be found in Him… Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” Phil 3.7
God “laid hold” of the savage sinner Saul…and graciously, patiently, lovingly transformed him into the Apostle Paul. The same Living God laid hold of Lydia, Robert and Christiano…
While other graduates stand, Pastor Robert sits… overwhelmed with gratitude and me. He’s doing the same work, for the same reason, by the same method. It is a work that is painful at times, and perhaps excruciatingly slow in our estimation. But God is the Perfect Potter. He intimately knows our sins, our strengths, our weak points and our nature. If we will allow Him to move in our lives, He will bring forth His own glorious testimony…in our otherwise pathetic lives. “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind And reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind.” Phil 3.12
Lydia, Robert and Christiano are our elders in every sense of the word…scarred by the wiles of this world, but now marked with the sign of Faith. They unhinged from the spirit of religion, and found the Living God…in His Word. As elderly, they are worthy of honor by virtue of their age…as elders, they are worthy of “double honor” by virtue of their walk… “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the Word and doctrine.” 1 Tim 5.17
Let us loose our grip on what is passing, and fasten onto the Living God. Never falling behind. Never idle. Just patiently, persistently Pressing On!
Contact Paul & Marcia Cowley Email:email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org Phone from USA 011-254-733-609-066 Skype: marcia.cowley Africa Mail Disciple Support Ministries P.O. Box 2318-00621, Nairobi, Kenya (please do not send packages) Contact DSM in America Disciple Support Ministries Phone: 561-901-3590 Send Contributions To Disciple Support Ministries P.O. Box 3982, Panama City, FL 32401
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