21 September 2020

Making the Message of Mark Matter

Monduli seminar
The Monduli conference – the heart of
Masai land

We’re now midway through our conference season and preparing for our fourth event, this time in the wilds of Magambua (23rd-25th Sept), a 3 hour drive from the nearest tarred road. So far the IBM events have gone really well, with 90 pastors (and wives) in attendance. During the 3 day course we journey together through the gospel of Mark, although with only ten teaching sessions we’re only scraping the surface of some of the major events.  Here’s the breakdown, with a few added comments:

1: Intro to Mark.  A man who was possibly a failed missionary but was given a second chance by Barnabas, and who later became very useful to both Paul and Peter.

2: The Parable of the Sower.  A session that promotes more discussion than any other, quite possibly because many of our pastors are also subsistence farmers!?

3: Jesus calming the storm.  A key lesson for me this term, as I keep trying to apply the truth that Jesus is in the boat with me as I face the waves.

4: The feeding of the 5000.  Jesus doesn’t actually need the five loaves and two fish to do his work, but he chooses to use the small amount the little boy can offer to feed thousands!   

5. Peter’s confession of Christ.  If Jesus really is who he says he is, then we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.

6: The donkey-riding King!  King of the Universe – yet he comes in humility and gentleness.

7: The authority of Jesus and the rumble in the temple!  What do we need to remove from the courtyards of our lives in order to give room for more reverence and worship to God?

8: Anointing the anointed.  The deep devotion of one woman who was prepared to give something of immense worth to Christ. 

9: The power of the cross.  Jesus (who didn’t deserve to die) was crucified, whilst Barabbas (who deserved to die) was freed.  Our middle name is Barabbas!   

10: He has risen!  Some of the most important words ever uttered by an angel!

Steve's just relieved he didn't get
the jacket!

At the three conferences so far, the day that stands out from the rest is the third day of teaching.  From a teaching/preaching perspective it has felt as though there has been an extra ‘uummpphhh’ to sessions 9 and 10.  Swahili utterance has felt more fluid and there’s been a real feeling of the message hitting home. The singing that follows these sessions has borne testimony to the fact that hearts and minds have been challenged and blessed, as we’ve considered the awesome power of the cross and the empty tomb.  It’s our hope that the teaching the pastors receive will enable and inspire them personally, but that they might also be mobilised to pass on what they’ve learned to their congregations.  

The Long Goodbye!  At each conference so far the closing minutes have involved a farewell presentation to us from the pastors and their wives, even though we haven’t shouted from the rooftops about our departure home to the UK!  I’d rather pop out the back door once the conference has finished!  A lengthy speech is normally followed by a procession of swaying gift-givers who parade to the front and wrap us up with tribal blankets!  At the Monduli event we were robed in Masai gear, followed up by the longest of photo-calls! 

At the Monduli seminar - clearly the couple on the 
right didn't get the joke!

At the Pwani event, in an attempt to get us to rethink our exit strategy, pastor Reuben quoted from Acts 18:20 where the Ephesians pleaded with Paul to stay: They asked him to spend more time with them.  I politely quoted the end of the verse which says, but he declined!  Such farewells are indeed a blessing and enable us to realise that the work God has given us to do has not been in vain.  Such farewells also help us to finish well and give us the platform to say good goodbyes!  It also gives me the opportunity, in my closing speech, to lift up my Enabler in all of this. 1 Peter 4:11 says whoever preaches must preach God’s messages; whoever serves must serve with the strength God gives, so that in all things praise may be given to God through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs glory and power for ever.  In a season which has seen a few struggles, I am so aware that it is He who has given us the strength to do our work here, and therefore the glory belongs to Him.

The fake birthday!

A Tale of Two Birthdays!  What do you do when a birthday cake is presented to the wrong person, with the wrong name iced on the cake?!  That was the conundrum facing us as we sat in a dining tent in the African bush.  I had decided that it would be nice to wake up in the middle of the Serengeti on my birthday, especially as it would be empty of tourists during this Covid season!  During the booking process I had mentioned that the reason for our visit, apart from animal spotting, would be to celebrate my birthday. And so the cook swung into action to bake a cake.  Their customer care was to be applauded, except for the fact that they put the wrong customer’s name on the top!  So, what did we do as the three staff members paraded in with the cake and placed it before Ruth?  In that split second, and after a couple of exchanged winks, we decided we hadn’t got the heart to correct them, so we played along and I joined in the singing to wish my wife a very happy fake birthday

The real birthday!

Fast forward to 20th August and a very different setting, where we woke up in a £7-a-night guesthouse to celebrate Ruth’s real birthday!  It was the middle day of our second IBM conference, being held in the outback town of Monduli in the north of Tanzania.  Ruth had resigned herself to having a very ordinary birthday, sorting out conference finances and listening to me bellow forth in Swahili - so I decided to go on a cake-hunting tour of the town.  One would think that a bakers might be the best bet but I was directed to a stationery shop where I could apparently order a cake!  Although slightly dubious as to what might be served up, and dodging the temptation to have my name put on the top, I ordered the cake and was told to return in four hours’ time.

On my return I was amazed to find a very professional-looking cake complete with iced flowers and the right name on it!
  What was equally amazing was the response from the pastors and their wives as they queued up to sample the cake.  There was plenty of singing, clapping and dancing as 38 mouths waited in line for Ruth to ‘feed them’ a slice of cake, some of them giddy with excitement at the anticipation!  It made us realise that, whilst we may take such small things for granted, this was a big event and a luxury that some of them don’t often enjoy.  After all, the cake which had cost the same as two nights’ accommodation at our guesthouse (£14) was more money than some would see in a couple of weeks.  It turned out to be a second memorable birthday for Ruth….although Steve is still waiting for his!

Tausi House nearing completion
Ruth’s Report: I was pondering recently on all the different hats one sometimes has to wear as a missionary, things often outside one’s comfort zone and skillset.  Over the last few weeks I’ve found myself managing a building project at Sanga Sanga—definitely something I’m not qualified to do!  Suffice to say that the completion of Tausi* House is near!  The building comprises 3 en-suite rooms which add a further 18 beds to Sanga Sanga Retreat Centre.  The village guesthouses may suffer as a result but it means some of our conference delegates won’t have to walk a mile to their beds when they come for a conference!  We’re thankful to Corsham Baptist for getting the ball rolling on this project, and to Oak Hall for enabling us to finish it.  Otherwise, I continue to train up our new accountant (John Enock), who’s made the move from the big city of Dar to the little village of Sanga Sanga.  So far so good and I’m happy to say that John is doing a good job.  Whilst he’s been crunching numbers, his wife Beatrice has had a tough time of late.  She had to spend four nights in Morogoro hospital with a burst ulcer.  She’s now back at home and on the mend, having also found out during the process that she’s pregnant! 

*Tausi means peacock in Swahili

"It's rude to stare - especially when
I'm eating!"

Diary dates:

22nd -26th Sept: IBM Magambua conference (north of Dodoma) teaching on Mark’s gospel.

5th-7th Oct: Various UL meetings in Dar (Steve).

19th-22nd Oct: IBM Iringa conference – Mark’s gospel.

23th-27th Oct: AIM missionary retreat near Iringa. Steve doing the Bible teaching.

1st Nov: Steve preaching at Emmanuel Church, Morogoro.

23rd-27th Nov: IBM AICT Evangelists conference at Sanga Sanga. Steve teaching.

20th Dec: The End!  Flight home to UK, God willing.

Jan/Feb 2021: Home Assignment UK.  

Points 4 Prayer:

  • Praise God for the completion of three IBM conferences to date, all of which went very well.
  • Steve is thanking God for improving health and a feeling that God is enabling him to finish well here. 
  • Praise God that John has settled in very well. Pray for Ruth as she continues the handover. 
  • Please pray for the remaining four conferences that Steve is teaching at, that in God’s strength he would preach/teach with power, passion and pronunciation!
  • Please pray for us as we begin to declutter the house, sell our possessions and prepare to leave Tanzania.  It will no doubt be a time of mixed emotions.
  • We’re relaxed about the ‘what next’ question but we’d appreciate your prayers as we seek guidance on what we should do next. 2021 is currently an open book!!
  • We’re due to fly home on 20th December, although this depends on the Covid situation in the UK.  If the quarantine requirement is still in place, we’ll delay our return until January as we prefer not to spend Christmas in quarantine!
Many, many thanks for your prayers and support.  We’ll be in touch again towards the end of November.

 Steve & Ruth


Bird of the month: Red-and-Yellow Barbet


Spot the odd one out!