Missionary work in Africa is full of ironies. In this newsletter a pagan chief welcomes the gospel while a Protestant pastor shows contempt for the discipleship classes we offer his parishioners. Also, on the back page, we describe the work which awaits us in N'Djamena for the coming 12 months while our regular administrator takes his furlough.
Welcomed by a Pagan, Ignored by a Pastor
Contrasting receptions reminiscent of Jesus' day
The two young Kwong fellows who were to intersect with our lives were both 30-some years of age and were both leaders in the Kwong village of Soto, but that is where the similarities would end. One, John by name, is a good-looking, charismatic fellow and a natural leader. He is (or was - more on that later) the pastor of the dozen or so adults who form the Protestant church in Soto. The other chap, who we will call Michael, is the chief of Soto. He makes some pretense of being Catholic but is in practice a grade-A pagan. But these superficial contrasts aside, what would distinguish these men in the eyes of Diane and I when we visited Soto in mid-March on our annual Kwong discipleship tour was the reception they would gave us - or fail to give us. The fact that I write about it at all suggests already that, as in Jesus’ day, things were not as one would expect.
John did his best to unilaterally cancel our visit by writing us a letter to that effect three days before we were to arrive. Fortunately, we were about the only people who didn’t see the letter (which is only too typical here). So, in blissful ignorance we went anyway and John made himself scarce, taking no advantage of the 5 days of teaching at his disposal. Fortunately, 30 or so other earnest men and women, both Protestant and Catholic, thought better of our visit and made the discipleship trip a success even without John. In fact this was only the latest occasion over the years where it would seem that John’s agenda was quite at odds with mine and probably with God’s (though I wouldn’t be too presumptuous on the latter). At the village of Ngam, where we went next, he succeeded in effectively staging a boycott of our lessons.
As you have guessed by now, our grade-A pagan, Chief Michael (below with Mark), welcomed us warmly. It is our custom in each village to arrange a time when we can preach the gospel publicly in the town square or in the chief’s compound. We inform the chief of our desire and he, as a matter of courtesy, invites as many of the village population as will to attend, and usually attends himself along with the village elders. Being two of only three white people on the planet that speak Kwong, we generally have no trouble getting a sizable audience, even if the response is often less than overwhelming. Chief Michael was exceptional, however. Besides welcoming us warmly, he listened intently to my appeal, discussed it for a couple hours, and then, with the backing of the mostly pagan village elders who assured him that his authority as chief would not be compromised by the decision, made a tentative decision to offer his allegiance to Jesus as the sun set.
We never did hear anything more substantive than “tentative” from him. I promised that the next morning I would come by and we would talk some more before we went on to Ngam. Alas, as fate would have it, the cattle of a group of nomads invaded the village’s fields overnight and feasted on a fair quantity of the village’s harvest. Michael was obliged to discharge his chiefly duties in the interest of sorting out the problem and obtaining compensation from the nomads, so we never saw him again.
We were hoping that after all the trouble John caused we wouldn’t see him either, but we were to be disappointed in a big way. In fact, barely a week after our return from Soto and Ngam, on the occasion of the regional conference of the Kwong Evangelical church, John’s charisma, stature (he’s taller than Mark), and natural aura of leadership carried him by popular vote (by a lot of ignorant people) to the position of president over the whole of the Kwong church, supplanting our dear Old Moses (at right), and becoming by default our new next-door neighbor and pastor of the church in our front yard! Not bad for a guy that hasn’t even been to Bible school, much less our discipleship lessons. Old Moses got the consolation prize (the vice-presidency) and a ticket to the pastorate of the little village of Danang up the road. Our dismay was what you might guess - and then some.
Such are the ironies of missionary work in Africa - a kaleidoscope of contradictions and unthinkables that become in-your-front-yard realities. Pray for us as we learn to live and work with John. Pray too for Michael, that the tentative steps he has taken would become a life-long pilgrimage to glory.
Ready for a career change? Have we got a job for you! It's ideal for a business-oriented person with a heart for evangelism and missions, who doesn't savor the thought of "bush living" like the Vanderkoois usually do. Should the following - which is our job description for the coming year while our regular administrators Carl and Sandy Hodges take furlough - sound enticing, you will be pleased to know there are many such opportunities throughout the mission community. More specifically, just such a position will be available in Chad in 5 or 10 years when Carl and Sandy (below) retire.
This coming year as we fill the post we will have many opportunities to serve TEAM missionaries as well as several other mission agencies. We will minister in and with the Chadian evangelical church. We will daily rub shoulders and develop friendships with Muslim neighbors. We will also enjoy friendships with and perhaps minister to the wider expatriate community, including embassy personnel.
In case you really are interested, here are more specifics of our (read “your”) job for the coming year:
The fringe benefits are:
While we have gladly accepted this responsibility for one year, we would in truth rather be in Chageen among the Kwong. No, there is no one replacing us for the year, and there are no other missionaries working among the Kwong. We're it. Yes, our work there will be basically "on hold" for the year. As part of the TEAM family in Chad, however, it is our turn to fill in to help insure the proper functioning of the whole field. N'djamena is a city with thieves, pollution, noise, and traffic – all of which are absent from our life in the village. Furthermore, we are not business types, nor extraverts, so for us the job will be a real challenge. Pray for our safety and that we would make wise decisions daily in these very important responsibilities. Pray also concerning the opportunity for you or someone else to be involved in such a role in missions.
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