5 March 2015

Running with perseverance...

The past two months have mainly involved four aspects for us: preparation, planning, perseverance …… and teaching!  I’ve been preparing IBM conference talks as well as preparing for a half marathon; Ruth has been teaching her second English course to the staff at Sanga Sanga; we’ve both been helping to plan developments at Sanga, and we’ve both been learning to persevere through church, the hot season, accounts and frequent power cuts!

Everywhere right of the line is in the
Pwani (Coastal) Diocese!
Conference Season Preparation: As most of you will now be aware IBM (Institute of Bible & Ministry) is a theological programme designed to enable, mobilise and inspire the pastors and evangelists of the Africa Inland Church in Eastern Tanzania.  We want them to grow in their walk with God and be effective in their ministries as they serve their congregations and seek to reach out to those who haven’t heard the gospel before. That’s what we’re here for and that’s our main focus for being in Tanzania.  Every year we run 7-8 conferences in various locations in the AIC Pwani (Coastal) Diocese, which covers over half the country and includes 14 different regions.  In fact the diocese covers just over 347,000 square miles which is 7 times the size of England!  So now you can see why we often have to build in a full day’s travel either side of each conference, and request prayer for safety as we travel! 

The first four months of every year are set aside for organisation and the preparation of teaching material, as well as raising the necessary funds to hold the events.  The conference season begins in May and ends in December.  I’ve been tasked with preparing teaching material on the Holy Spirit and so for the last two months I’ve been reading, writing, prepping and praying my way through seven teaching sessions on that subject.  The topic of the Holy Spirit often sparks a lot of interest but, sadly, it’s often surrounded by much confusion and controversy.  In my reading I came across a quote by the former president of the Proclamation Trust, David Jackman, which sums up how I’ve been feeling about the issue over the last few years.  “For many Christians the great and glorious biblical truths about the Holy Spirit have been lost in the cross-fire of argument and counter argument, so that the whole subject has become a ground of contention and dispute, rather than of enlightenment and joy.  There is a place for a simple restatement of the great doctrines of the Spirit’s person and work for a new generation of Christians, many of whom have been forced to adopt positions and take sides in arguments, perhaps without fully realising the foundation principles on which such discussions are based.”

So, this is what I’m hoping to cover as I very simply restate the great doctrines of the Holy Spirit: what does the Bible say about the Holy Spirit?  What are the important tasks he carries out?  What are his roles in the life of the Christian and the Church?  Where does he fit into the Trinity?  What about the spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit gives?  What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?  What about the gift of speaking in tongues and baptism in the Spirit? And hopefully – all of this within eight three-day conferences!  I’ll be honest, although it’s been hard going getting down to study at times, it’s also been a privilege to take a more in-depth look at this vital subject and to wrestle with some of the issues involved.  I’ll quote the American evangelist of yesteryear, DL Moody, as I think he sums up how I feel getting to the end of this study period: “If you ask, do I understand what is thus revealed in the Scriptures about the Holy Spirit, I say ‘no’. But my faith bows down before the inspired Word and I unhesitatingly believe the great things of God when even reason is blinded and the intellect confused.”  I look forward with excitement and trepidation to the start of our conference season and to the teaching of His Word! 

Waiting for the start of the Kili Half Marathon
Running a half-marathon: a new African experience!  It’s 7am on the 1st March and I’m on the starting line with thousands of other runners waiting for the starter’s orders.  A number of questions come to mind as I wait for the start of the Kilimanjaro Half Marathon to begin: will my legs endure the 13 mile run around the town of Moshi? Will my asthmatic lungs cope with running at 3000ft? Will it be too hot and humid? What will the organisation of the race be like?  Will there be enough water stations on the way round?  The sun is on its way up and in the distance the snow covered peak of Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, looms out of the early morning haze.  As I glance around it’s easy to spot the seasoned runners, a few of whom possibly fancy their chances of claiming the £710 first prize.  Incidentally, the first prize for the winner of the full marathon is £1420; compare that with the £36,000 that the London Marathon winner got last year!  

We’re off!  It’s a slow shuffle at first as I jog/walk across the start line doing my best to avoid treading on the heels of those in front.  The first 5 miles of the route are all uphill on a tarred road and it’s hard to get into a rhythm, although the sights and sounds of other runners distract me from the uphill effort.  A Tanzanian guy passes me with a pair of black slip-on shoes on his feet (later to be discarded for a bare-foot race); another guy is wearing Crocs, and still another, a pair of over-sized work-boots!  And here I was concerned as to whether my four-year old trainers would cushion my feet!  A number of messages on the backs of various T-shirts catch my eye: “Excellence in Service” and “One elephant killed every 15 minutes in Africa”. We run past many shed-shops selling bananas and phone vouchers, and groups of people stop to stare, many in silent wonderment at why one would choose to do what we’re doing.  A group of children, some of them bare-foot, are standing on the edge of one of the coffee plantations which cover the lower slopes of Kili, and some of them are collecting the discarded plastic water cups for later use. 

As I begin the downhill section a couple of men stand on the back of a pick-up truck spraying water over the runners with a leaky hosepipe and some nearby loudspeakers rattle the eardrums as I pass by.  There are no half measures when it comes to volume and loudspeakers here in Tanzania!  The halfway point is passed and I continue to keep a steady pace, aiming to keep running for as long as I can.  Police sirens can be heard behind me and soon a group of Tanzanian/Kenyan runners glide effortlessly past me with their lanky long legs. These are the full marathon guys who have joined our route and are at their 18 mile mark!  I’m stunned by the length of their stride and the speed with which they are running.  My stubby legs are probably taking two strides for every one of theirs – no wonder I’ve no chance of taking that first prize!  The last few miles jar the knees but I know that the race is nearly run, and as I turn into the somewhat dishevelled ‘stadium’ for the last few hundred yards, I’m reminded of the great cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews, and so l throw off the growing tiredness that hinders me, and I manage to increase the pace and run with determined perseverance the race track that is now clearly marked out in front of me. 

Congrats to our team-mate Cath Swanson for
completing her first half marathon
Rather unsurprisingly, the ribbon has already been broken and so I settle for a medal and a T-shirt; grab a bottle of water, and look for a place in the shade to rest my weary bones.  And as I sit there listening to the rather loud MC announcing the names of those crossing the finishing line I ponder the many similarities and parallels of a physical race and the spiritual race I’m involved in: encouragement, crowds, fatigue, endurance, finishing.  I’ve managed to finish this particular physical race in a very pleasing 2 hours and 16 minutes, which was better than I had hoped for, but obviously I’m still involved in running the more important race that the writer to the Hebrews mentions.  The beauty and wonderment of the spiritual race is that, because of Christ, everyone who crosses that finishing line gets to share in an eternal inheritance that is beyond all imagination!  Yes, there are ups and downs, there are trips and falls, there are times of fatigue and tiredness as well as times of elation and enjoyment.  There are even times when we might need to get rid of unsuitable footwear and get serious about “fitting our feet with the readiness that come from the gospel of peace”.  Wherever we are in that race, “let us run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us and let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:1-2). 

For the record – one of the long legged Tanzanians won the half marathon in a time of 1 hour 3 minutes (only 73 mins quicker than me!), and the guy who ran the full-marathon was a lanky-long-legged Kenyan who ran his 26 miles in 2 hours and 16 mins, the same time as I managed for my 13 miles!  So, as you can see, still some way to go, but maybe next year…..?! 

For those who PRAY: 

  • Thank God for continued good health for Ruth.
  • We are very thankful that Steve has managed to prepare his teaching material for this year’s conferences – at least in English! 
  • Praise God that He saw fit to bring a friendly accountant to Morogoro at just the right time to help Ruth with the IBM accounts.   
  • Please pray for Steve he begins the translation work for these talks.
  • Please pray for Steve as he prepares to take over unit leadership on 6th April .
  • As part of that process we will both be travelling to Arusha to take park in unit leadership training from 16th–19th March.  
  • Please pray for the work of the Institute and in particular the next phase of development as we look to start building a conference centre. 

Random photos of the month:

Never heard them called that before!

The wall came tumbling down!  Our lovely bougainvillea
was just too heavy for the wall.

Giant grasshopper!