I've been doing a lot of speaking lately. If you are part of my Facebook group "I Support Leisha Adams" and read the prayer update last week, you read that I began a 4 week, 12 sermon series on the subject of "shalom". I was rather nervous at the thought of preaching the Sunday morning services. I've done loads of teaching, in East Africa and the States, mostly to children and my peers, and the thought of full on preaching to an African Mennonite congregation was intimidating.
I've had plenty of opportunity to prepare, and this subject was something I'd already been thinking and praying about, so I got lots of prep time in, but it was almost too much. I have pages and pages of scribbled notes, and finally pulled out a couple of poster-sized sheets of paper and made Leah read my random thoughts out loud to me while I put them in an outline. On Sunday I preached an introduction to shalom, the Biblical concept of, not peace, as many believe, but God returning all things to His original intention. Naturally this complicated concept would be translated as "peace" in many places, because that is the main symptom of God's intended order. Shalom is something that we are waiting for in the "new heaven and new earth" of Revelation 21 when "nations will not learn war anymore", but it's also something we are to be working for in our own lives and the lives of those around us in the here and now. For this reason shalom is closely linked to justice throughout Scripture. This is a tiny bit of what I preached on Sunday, and at the evening service I taught from Matthew 5, re-examining Jesus' "Blessed are the..." statements in light of the shalom-oriented "Kingdom of Heaven" that Jesus was declaring.
I was meant to teach at the Wednesday evening service also, but I had an unexpected opportunity to take some time away from Dodoma, and I took it. Last Saturday I was introduced to the national director of Campus Crusade for Christ in Tanzania. I'm very familiar with CC4C from the church I grew up in, and when the director invited me to participate in their 3-day conference at a campground near Dar es Salaam, I took the opportunity. As I write this I'm at the campground, surrounded by 40-some Tanzanian members of the national staff. These are pastors, evangelists, campus ministry workers, and Jesus film exhibitors who are facing budgetary cutbacks from the States-side organization, so they have agreed to (and welcomed) the opportunity to begin fundraising for 20% of their budget. This conference is the first step of training these men (all but three are men, and the three women all work in the national office in administrative capacities) in raising their own salaries and ministry expenses from their friends, family members, and community contacts. It's the same system that I (and many other) ministry professionals in the States use to raise their funds, and the focus is on developing partnership teams, not a donor base.
I am speaking for three sessions here (two down, one to go), and after listening to the other speakers, I'm focusing on story-telling as part of engaging partners in your work. Although Africans are famous story-tellers (read _Things Fall Apart_ for evidence), many Western-trained ministry professionals have been taught a strong focus on reporting numbers only. I have a great translator, since everything is in Swahili. His name is John, and he and his wife work in Zanzibar. I've had a lot of translators, and, after Mama Askofu, John is the best I've ever had. He is not only translating all of the sessions for me, and hanging out with me after meals, he translated my sessions on story-telling with no prior preparation. It's quite a feat, let me tell you.
Now, in order to put my money where my mouth is where story-telling is concerned, here is a story from yesterday at the conference:
I asked the group to break into small groups to tell stories to one another, then a few offered to tell their story to the entire group. The effort was good, but lacking in the key piece: relating the story into your ministry and how your partner can be involved. The last volunteer of the afternoon, an older man called Eddy, began telling a story about a church in a village in Mozambique. In that village was a woman called Cristina, a very strange woman. She was unkempt and dressed very strangely. Her trademark was a red scarf around her neck. One evening she came to the church and came forward to accept Jesus as her Savior. The church leaders began praying with her, and she removed the red scarf and strange outer clothing to reveal cords around her neck, arms, chest, waist, and legs. Each cord represented the bondage of a demon. As the church leaders prayed and untied the cords, Cristina was delivered from the demons. She has been living a very happy and free life since that day, and was recently married. This story, said Eddy, makes me want to serve Jesus and see more people freed. I'm inviting you to join me in this work of seeing more people like Cristina living free in the love of Jesus.
Wow. This story just knocked it out of the park. It's an extremely common story in most of the non-Western world, so every person could relate to the story as familiar, and Eddy shared with such quiet passion that the man behind him mimed reaching in his pocket for money to give to Eddy. Even now as I think of it, I have vivid mental pictures, and I feel so grateful for people like Eddy who are sacrificing to serve those who are suffering from broken shalom, from oppression and violence and a lack of peace. I feel honored to be counted as a teacher in some small way to these incredible men (and three women).
Bless you, friends. You're a fantastic support team, and I'm really grateful for you supporting me to be here to hear these stories and meet these people.
P.S. The title comes from my new friend and translator, John. He and another friend were talking about my teaching, and they looked at me and said (in Swahili) something to the effect of me talking like I was forty or fifty years old instead of twenty-seven. I am really flattered by their appreciation, and I can see how much God has developed teaching gifts in me over the past few months. Even with translation, people are consistently grateful for my lessons, although I think that has more to do with the East African hunger for education than with anything I have to say being so profound.