My March 2017 Mission to Africa

April 6, 2017

tims blog My mind is like a lumbering train. It runs on one track and it is slow to gain momentum. Once it finally gets going, it doesn't like to stop. Because of this every mission I go on begins with a tug-of-war in my soul. Almost inevitably I am in the middle of a project that I don't want to step away from because I know how long it will take me to regain that momentum. I know my mind remains on the mission field long after my body has returned home. Writing these reports (thus the tip of my hat to Snoopy) helps me settle in.

The timing of this particular mission was altered by a very difficult and tragic event, the passing of a young man very dear to me and many others in our church and community. Andrew Rafferty Pyle, son of Evan and Nancy and brother to Christine, died last November just at a time when it seemed the wind was finally at his back. The waves of grief were relentless and suffocating, and for a time they defied comfort. I think I now understand the "groanings which cannot be uttered" – the sympathetic prayers of the Holy Spirit for God's children spoken with words that mortal language cannot duplicate. Andrew will be missed, but not forever. We will meet again. (Here is a tribute video I made for Andrew and his family set to the music of the master songwriter Pierce Pettis.)

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I had planned two separate missions for the spring of 2017, first to Tanzania and then to Uganda. In the end these two missions were merged into one. On March 2, I started my trip to Africa. This mission was extra special to me because it marked my 40th year as a Christian.

March 4 to 11. Matabete Village, Tanzania

Each time I return to Matebete, it seems like a dream. People who once seemed so strange and exotic are now like family to me. Still it always takes me a few days to settle into the rhythm of the village, and a while longer before the special greetings and responses that are said to the men, the women, the young men, the young women, and the children become spontaneous. I mumble even more than usual trying to cover up my abuse of their language.

My relationship with the people of Matebete is unlike any other group I work with because this relationship was ordained by prophecy. I have met several people who call themselves "prophets of God" but only two or three whose lives testified to that fact. Such a man was the late Yohanna Ngekee, a man who forsook his high position in Maasai society in order to serve Jesus. So many things he foretold have come to pass. On his deathbed he left word for me to continue his work. It took some years before I accepted this appointment, and that was only because the Holy Spirit refused to release me from it.

I do not think of myself as a "man of God." I believe such a title should be reserved for a person far more noble than me. "Servant of God" is a title I can live with and aspire to. God gave me a simple word to speak and then he caused that word to resound in the hearts of a certain group of the Maasai. It wasn't me they responded to, it was the Word of God I spoke. And yet it was me because I was the person appointed to the task. At the end of this most recent mission, Anna Kisota put it this way: "Pastor Ngekee taught us through prophecy. Tim teaches us through the Word of God."

I admit that it is nice to be thought of in such glowing terms as the Maasai think of me. Don't get me wrong – I'm not treated like one of those grotesque religious celebrities surrounded by a throng of supplicants waiting for an anointed word to fall from my lips so they can go around telling people what Reverend Tim says. Our respect and admiration is mutual, in recognition that we are all saved by grace and need to walk "submitting [ourselves] one to another in the fear of God" (Ephesians 5:21). That is undoubtedly one of the reasons we get along so well. We know that "there is none good but one, that is, God" (Matthew 19:17). We do our best to serve God without stepping on his toes.

Because of my ignorance of both the Maasai culture and language, I have needed a lot of help to do this work. One of the first things I needed to learn was that being Maasai was important to them in a way I could scarcely comprehend. As a racially-mixed American living in the 21st Century, the obligations of culture and tradition are scarcely in my consciousness. I have no sense of "tribe" beyond my immediate family. My wife is the only mono-racial person in our family, and that is only true because the term "Hispanic" is as nondescript as "white" or "black."

My entrance into the world of the Maasai was initiated by an African of the Nyakyusa tribe. Like many other Africans, he considered the Maasai a backward, unsophisticated people, and eventually it came to light that he stole from them at every opportunity. (Some Ugandans have the same condescending attitude about the Karamajong people. When they grow tired of waiting for some slowpoke to join the party, someone is likely to say, "We will not wait for the Karamoja to develop.") Ironically, the image of the Maasai is commercialized to promote tourism and sell books and souvenirs (with no compensation to the tribe itself) at the same time the tourist industry herds them into dry and desolate areas leaving the fertile land for the lucrative game parks.

This disregard for their culture is one of the reasons Christianity has not caught on with the Maasai. Many evangelists (white and black) were like the Jewish Christians of Galatia who insisted that the Gentile converts submit to the Law of Moses. They demanded that the Maasai Christians sever ties to their culture and join a generic new tribe often referred to as "Swahilis." Wearing Maasai clothes and using the Maa language in church was forbidden.

I have spoken out against the Swahilis since my first visits to Maasai churches. I am happy to report that among the Maasai, two things are now spoken of as my legacy: Maasai Christians in places far beyond Matebete are embracing their heritage, and the denominational walls that once separated them have come down.

I have accepted the torch passed to me by Pastor Ngekee, but I have never felt that it was mine to hold on to for long. I believe that Maasai Christians are the ones to speak to their brethren about Jesus – and this is one of the things Ngekee spoke of as well. For years, I have kept my eyes open for that person the Lord would draw nigh to himself (and to me) for the purpose of accepting this mantle.

Starting with my first visit to Matebete in 2004, a string of people assisted me starting with that Nyakusan man but also several Maasai men and women who for one reason or another each went their own way. Since 2013, my chief interpreter and assistant has been Irene Lobara. No one has done a better job and she is perfectly suited in temperament, commitment, and leadership ability to lead the work. But no Maasai man who is not a Christian (and very few who are) will accept a woman as a leader of men. That is why I am so pleased to report that as of this last mission trip, Reverend Paulo Kurupashi has committed himself to this teaching ministry. Paulo is and will remain a Lutheran cleric, but when it comes to the gospel he is first and foremost a Maasai who serves the Lord Jesus Christ.

The elders who have stood with me from the beginning – men like ITO chairman Patrick Kinana – will remain the chief overseers of the work among the Maasai (ITO is Illasak Tenebo Oninye, "Workers Together With Him" in Maa). The Maasai culture and the Bible share a high regard for elders and this must be kept in place. But the next time ministers gather in Matebete to hear the Ministers' Training Series, it will be presented by Paulo. Irene will help coordinate the women's ministry and serve as one of the main teachers for women.

During my week in Matebete I reviewed my teachings on the spiritual gifts. Our week ended at the same time of a special coming-of-age celebration for some of the young men and women. It could not have been more appropriate.

March 13 to 21. Nyanama, Uganda

I was scheduled to start teaching my Ministers' Training Series at the GEM Sanctuary on Monday morning, but Rwandair cancelled my flight and I did not arrive in Uganda until Monday night. But Pastor Henry Musana is very familiar with my teachings and he did a fine job delivering the initial lessons of The Principles of the Doctrine of Christ to the group who assembled at his church. I started teaching on Tuesday, and the rest of the five classes went very well. We actually finished two days ahead of schedule because of the attentiveness of the students.

The only disappointment in the class was that we were missing one student. Sabdong Tamang from Nepal was supposed to be a part of this class, but at the last minute a Hindi customs official would not allow him to board the plane, demanding more information about the event he was attending. His non-refundable ticket was now just a worthless piece of paper.

In Uganda also, I am entrusting the teaching of my Ministers' Training Series to Henry. (Perhaps I should say that I am not retiring nor have I received a revelation that my time is coming to an end. But a smooth transition takes time and I do not want to be like other ministers I have know who held on too long for fear of losing relevance or donations.) As for me, I look forward to being able to develop my work in other places such as Nepal while knowing the work is going forward in Africa.

Henry is a gifted minister of the Gospel and well-respected in his own country and beyond. He is well-suited to deliver these teachings. He has been tested and understands what it means to live by faith. And as a resident of Africa, he will not face the cultural biases I do (some Africans assume that someone with a pale face comes with great wealth to distribute). Henry also will not be bound by the time constraints I face, and he can portion out the teachings as he sees fit.

I would also like to thank Pastor Mary Kyaligamba of the Church of God in Kireka for inviting me to speak at their Sunday service. As always, I felt welcomed and loved by this congregation.

You can read Henry's report on the class HERE.

I'd also like you to read something I wrote about supporting Henry's ministry.

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Current Projects

In the months to come, I will be revising my Ministers' Training Series teaching outline for these new presenters. My notes were written for my personal use, designed to spark my memory of things that are not written down, and now they need to be written as an instructor's manual. I also want to make a better syllabus and workbook for the students to help them retain the main points of the teachings. Once the instructor's manual and syllabus have been translated, this new program can begin.

I am two-thirds of the way through writing a major revision of my book In the Power of His Might, making it a much shorter work. I am always amazed how much more difficult it is to shorten a book than to enlarge it.

A mission to eastern Nepal is still in the works for May but the details are at this time unsettled.

Once again, please accept my gratitude for your interest and support of this work. There are many, many Christian ministries in the world and Workers Together With Him is a small fish in a very big pond. But I believe there is good fruit to this work and by the grace of God we keep plugging on. Thanks for helping to make that possible.

Finally, please join me in a prayer of appreciation for Reverend and Mrs. David and Beatrice Mantock of Switzerland. After more than a decade of service to their community, the Mantocks have closed the International Church of Berne. May God bless you both and guide you into the next chapter of your service to him. (The ICB website is still operational and filled with many good things to enjoy!)


In the Service of His Majesty, the King of kings,
Pastor Tim Sullivan


Click HERE to see the photos from Tanzania and HERE to see photos from Uganda.


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