As I write this post, I am sitting on an airplane enroute to Nairobi, Kenya, where we have a brief connection and then on to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where we will be training a brand-new group of pastors. The last week in Zambia was very fruitful, but not without struggle.
In my last post, I mentioned how I came down with a stomach bug of some kind while in Rwanda. I thought I was out of the woods once it passed, and I began to feel back to normal. That victory would be short-lived, unfortunately.
On Monday we started our training with around one hundred eager pastors and church leaders in Chingola. About midway through the first morning session, the power went out and I could no longer use the microphone. The venue in which we were meeting was a large open space, so I knew I would need to elevate my voice significantly to be heard. No problem, I thought. I spent the first few years of my preaching ministry yelling, so I’ve got that down! For the rest of the day, therefore, I strained my voice to fill the room and counted it a victory when the last session for the day had concluded.
Unfortunately, after we arrived back at the hotel at the end of the day, I had completely lost my voice. There was no rasp, no squeak, nothing. Radio silence. At this point I knew I was in deep weeds. Typically, another trainer is with me on a trip. However, I’m the solo trainer on this one. The reality began to sink in that I had two more full days of teaching with no voice. Then, things went from bad to worse. During the night my throat got progressively sorer until it felt like I was swallowing a bag of nails. If that weren’t miserable enough, I started to spike a fever.
After tossing and turning all night with no sleep, it was time to get up and head to the second day of training. When we arrived at the venue, I was relieved to hear the power had been restored so I could use the microphone. However, I still had no clue how my voice would respond. By God’s grace, however, I was able to squeak my way through the entirety of day two and day three. Unfortunately, I paid for it when I got back to the hotel each day. On the bright side, this bitter providence provided an unanticipated pleasure. Across the street from our hotel there was a fast-food restaurant that had soft-serve ice cream. What better way to treat a sore throat than ice cream? So, we had ice cream every day. Doctor’s orders.
This light, momentary affliction was also an opportunity to live out a principle we talked about on the first day of the training. That in human weakness, God’s strength is magnified. It is not the messenger that is important, but the message. It is not the personality, but the power of the Word. As leaders of Christ’s church, God is writing His story of grace through us to our congregations. Therefore, we can expect to suffer. As the apostle Paul said, “Death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Cor 4:12).
The countercultural nature of the Kingdom of God is that Christ displays the reality of His suffering to the world through the suffering of His people. But though indeed we suffer, we cannot be defeated. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor 4:8–10).
It was about this time in the teaching that it went from zero to sixty and a near revival broke out in the place. You see, many Africans are very familiar with suffering and affliction. It is the air they breathe. But so often in African churches, suffering is seen as not becoming for children of God. They are taught you must always be prospering in body, soul, and spirit, which, of course, is the damnable lie of the prosperity gospel. Therefore, when African pastors hear that there is a divine purpose in their suffering, it is time to dance!
In fact, there were several off-script moments during the three days of training in which the Spirit of God drove home some deep truths that resulted in alternating times of prayer and repentance and joyous praise. One of the most fulfilling and exciting times in my job is when the lights turn on and a leader gets it. I live for those moments. We were blessed to have several during our three days together. I don’t know who was more excited when they occurred. The leaders or me!
I left the training sensing that the Lord is at work in the Zambian church in a unique way. There was a great hunger to learn and understand the Bible at a deeper level and a great commitment to honor the Lord. Many of these brothers are pastoring churches of 40–50 people. You will never hear their names this side of heaven. But heaven knows their name. One day you will hear their names too, as they take their place at the Great Banquet, when the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
That’s all for now. Until next time. Good night from somewhere over Africa!