Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Monday, December 9, 2013

Volunteer Testimony - FBC Hurst (November 2013)

Reflecting back on my first Mission Trip to Africa all I can say is How Great is Our God. It was very humbling to serve along side The Phillips, The Saleeby's, my fellow FBC Hurst brothers, and the believers along the Mehana Road. Satan tried many things to keep us from accomplishing Gods work during the week, but he failed (two tire issues).

The goal was to dig and build two latrines during the week along with spreading and showing Gods love to people we met. With much sweat and hard work by everyone the goals were met. The highlights were to see people accept Christ as their Savior, the latrines built to benefit the village of Tessa, Believers who spoke different languages working side by side serving God, seeing Believers in the different villages giving up things from their past to truly follow God and hearing their testimonies.

I'm thankful God pushed me out of my comfort zone to go serve Him in Africa. The seeds have been planted by many and the fruit is showing. Pray for the Songhai Team as they continue their ministries with the Songhai.

- Steve S, First Baptist Church, Hurst, TX

Weekly Prayer Focus: Christmas with the Songhai

You may remember from last year that we held a special Christmas celebration with our Songhai brothers & sisters in Christ. Well, we are doing it again this year (minus the sheep slaughter, though). We are excited to invite the many believers (& their families!) that have been added this year as well as our growing group of national partners.

First, pray for our believers as they celebrate this holiday at home & with us. It's a holiday that many are familiar with but not many know the true meaning. They know it as a "Western" holiday that's on the calendar but they do not know why it's celebrated. For our believers that have grown up in Islam, holidays are not unfamiliar but they are only accustomed to the ones they've celebrated their whole lives. Celebrating Christ's birth should be an exciting time for them, but many wonder, "How do I do it? What are the "rules"?" Pray for us as we teach them about Christmas & for them as they learn how to celebrate the incredible, miraculous birth of our Savior.

For our celebration as a body of believers, pray that each believer that's invited would be able to attend. Pray there would be joy & fellowship among all involved & it would not only be a time of learning but also one of community, encouragement & growth in faith (for all involved).

Praise God that He has already provided the means to make something like this happen (from transportation to meal costs) by gifts from you. And praise the Lord that, because of your faithful prayers, He has provided so many Songhai people to celebrate with us this year by calling them out of darkness into Light.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Jody & Sarah will be hosting summer interns for the Songhai team this year. If you are interested, please read the following "ad" from them ....

Sure, it’s only December, but we are already looking ahead to next summer. This past summer we had 5 college students who came and served as missionaries to the Songhai people. And it was such a great experience all around that we want to do it again!

They were a great encouragement to us and they were able to plant and water many gospel seeds. They also grew in their faith and learned more about how God may be calling them to be involved in missions in the future.

We are looking for college age students or young adults who have a passion and desire to share the gospel with those who have never heard. You will come and serve from May 13 - June 24, 2014 (6 weeks). You will be partnered up with another summer missionary and work together to meet people and share the gospel with many people.

This will not be an easy 6 weeks. You will be in an unfamiliar culture, you won’t be able to communicate very well, you’ll experience HEAT as you never have before, and you will see great poverty and lostness. And above all those things you will be on the front lines of a great spiritual battle. The Songhai people are in darkness and they have been for a long time. More people are needed to come and share the LIGHT with them. Only Jesus can bring change to these people and give them hope and salvation. Would you join us in this great task?

If you want to know more, please contact Jody & Sarah (or leave a comment on this blog) and they’d love to share more about this opportunity with you!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What Do the Foxes Say? (December 2013)

This month we want to share about a ministry that is run by the Songhai team. It is called NLTS, which stands for Niamey Leadership Training School. Basically, it is an oral Bible school. Every few months, a group of believers are invited to come for 3 days for a concentrated time of Bible teaching and training. They are also able to fellowship with believers from other villages, which is especially beneficial for those who are the ONLY believer in their village.

Different topics are taught each session. The next course will take place this week (Dec. 2-4) and Jody will be teaching the synoptic gospels. Pray for Jody as he opens up God’s Word to these men. We expect 15-20 men to participate.

The school has existed for only 1 1/2 years, so in a way it is still a work in progress and adjustments are being made to make it better and more effective with each session.

One major challenge is difference in learning styles. Nigeriens do not learn in the same way as Americans. They are oral learners and most of the men we work with have not learned to read or write. So, when teaching we have to keep that in mind. They can’t open up the Bible and follow along and they can’t take notes of the teachings to refer to in the future. Everything taught has to be taught in a way that makes sense to them and also in a way that can be remembered so that they can teach others.

Pray for NLTS and our team as we seek to teach and train Songhai believers to grow in their faith and to take that message to other Songhai people.

·       Praise the Lord for giving us health and protection this past month.
·       Pray for the ‘motorcycle man’ who has recently confessed Christ. Pray that he will have the time and desire to be discipled.
·       Pray for the many gospel seeds which have been planted in Boubon. Pray that we may continue to water them and that God would give growth.
·       Pray for Jody as he teaches at NLTS Dec. 2-4.
·       Pray that we will have many summer missionaries come and serve alongside of us.
·       Praise the Lord for keeping us safe and healthy last month! We are also grateful we were able to have a ‘staycation’ in Niamey and go swimming a lot and also we were able to participate in field day again.

• C - pray that my bad dreams will go away
• J - pray that I will learn to read better so that I can get my new Bible
• L - pray for my boo-boo on my knee and pray that I can learn more Zarma

*If you'd like to receive the Foxes newsletter via email, please sign up on their blog.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Weekly Prayer Focus: Lottie Moon Christmas Offering

For those of you who are not involved with a Southern Baptist Church, you may not know what the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is all about. You can go here to read up on it but, basically, this offering is what enables us (& almost 5000 other missionaries) to be on the field doing what God has called us to do & sharing the love of Christ with some of the most unreached peoples on the planet. For us, it's living in Niger & ministering to the Songhai.

Every year, Southern Baptist Churches give to this offering & we are so thankful for their gifts!! This year, we are PLEADING with you to give above & beyond. There are hundreds of people just like us who would love to go to the nations & fulfill God's calling on their lives but simply can't because there aren't enough funds to send them. And without funds, the IMB can't send people nor can provide us, who are already on the field, with the resources to most effectively do our job.

Please pray for the offering this year. Pray for Southern Baptist Churches to give above & beyond. Pray for there to be enough funds to not only provide for the missionaries already on the field but also for the hundreds who are waiting to be sent.

Thank you for giving.

If you'd like to give now, you can do so by going here.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Volunteer Testimony: LHBC (October 2013)

Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”  If there ever was a verse that sums up a trip this is the one.  In October, a two-man team from Living Hope was able to go down new roads and into new villages that we have not gone to in the past.  As we went from village to village we could clearly see that God had prepared and ordained our way.  The plans we had made as we were preparing for the trip were being rewritten.  God led us along the roads that he had prepared rather than the ones we had planned to take.  It is greatly encouraging to feel God’s guiding hand and to see His clear directions as He led us from one hungry soul to another.  The Word says in John 10:27, ”My Sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

 We witnessed the excitement upon the faces of desert dwellers who for the first time in their lives tasted the living water.  We saw a man born again in a birthing room as he heard the name of Jesus for the first time and was born again.  We heard stories of missionaries who came over 20 years ago and who sowed seeds of the gospel that were finally ready for harvest.   One man who heard the gospel 20 years before we came was finally ready to believe.  On this trip we saw eight men come to faith in Christ.  One can only wonder and be amazed by how many others may one day believe as a result of the preaching of the gospel through this trip and the many other trips that have happened and will happen through those who are faithful to send, to pray, and to go.  

We concluded the week with a time of discipleship.  We had the privilege of baptizing a new brother in Christ and the following day being able to begin discipling him along with others in the faith as we taught him truth from God’s word.  Jesus says in Matthew 9:36-37 “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples,The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;  therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’.”

As I personally reflect on this trip, I am at awe that God orchestrated my return to West Africa for a second time and I am thankful for the privilege of being a small part of God’s work among the Songhai as he draws more people to himself for his glory.  I was encouraged to experience and see how the gospel brings forth light into darkness.  As I sit and ponder the wonder of this trip and the miracles of seeing men come to faith and baptizing a brother in Christ, I eagerly await the day when I get to worship and fellowship with my Songhai brothers and sisters before God’s throne.

- Jason G, Living Hope Baptist Church


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Weekly Prayer Focus: UUPG

UUPG? Anyone know what that stands for? If you guessed Unengaged, Unreached People Groups, you are right!

Unengaged, Unreached People Groups are groups of people that have no Christian witness reaching them or working them (hence the "Unengaged") & have less than 2% Christians among them (hence the "Unreached"). The Songhai are considered a UPG meaning that they are still Unreached because of the low numbers of believers but they are not considered Unengaged because we are here working among them. Got all that?

So what does a UUPG have to do with the Songhai team? Well, our leadership team has asked every people group team to consider reaching a UUPG in their area while also reaching their UPG. We have the Gospel. We (for the most part) will have a bridge language. We have the calling to take the Gospel to the nations so that every tribe & tongue can hear the Good News. This does not mean that we will forsake our calling to the Songhai. It simply means that as we go, we will intentionally seek not only the Songhai but also any UUPGs in our work area that need the Gospel as well.

What's the first step? Research! We need to find out what UUPGs are in the areas we are already working in or have plans to work in in the near future. We need to know what language they speak & if we have a bridge language with them. We need to find if there are any resources in their language that are already available. Etc, etc.

The next step is to seek them out & take the Gospel to them. Would you please pray for our team as week seek to make this endeavor a part of our strategy for next year? Pray for us as we do the research  & that God would lead us to a specific UUPG. Pray that our hearts would be burdened for these people. And we pray that as this comes to fruition, that many of you would also be burdened to take the Gospel to this UUPG.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Weekly Prayer Focus: Road to Wanzerbe

If you remember from the last newsletter, we told y'all about finally accessing the Road to Wanzerbe with the Living Hope team last month. While we weren't able to access the entire road as planned, we were able to get into villages that weren't on our original plan. But God is sovereign above all & He knew exactly where our team needed to be & who needed to hear. Because, as He has shown us over & over again, His sheep hear His voice. He knew exactly who needed to hear His voice that week & He led the team right to them.

So now there are villages on this road that have Light after centuries of darkness. But, for a couple of these villages, there is only one "Light bearer." Imagine, if you will, being the ONLY follower of Christ in your entire town ... not just your family or your school or your workplace but your ENTIRE town. That's heavy & hard to imagine for those of us who grew up in a Christian home or in church. 

As you try to imagine what it's like for these men that made that bold choice to follow Christ alone, pray for them. Pray for their hearts to remain firm in their faith, for them to remain steadfast in times of persecution & for their light to shine so brightly that others come to faith because of their witness. Pray for God to speak directly to them through His Word & to their hearts, to fill them with His knowledge & wisdom & to grow them in their faith.

Pray for our team who cannot easily access these new believers due to security & distance. Pray for God to raise up more national partners that would be willing to go to these village & invest 3 months of their lives into discipling these new believers.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What Do the Foxes Say? (November 2013)

Here's the latest newsletter from the Fox family ... 

Happy Harvest!
At this time of year we have a few decorations we put up around our house. One of those is a sign we hang on our door that says “Happy Harvest” with a picture of a scarecrow. As I passed by the sign the other day I thought about the phrase ‘happy harvest’. Yes indeed, the harvest time can be a happy time of the year.

Although I have relatives who farm, I did not grow up in a farming community so harvest time didn’t mean much to me. However, the main occupation of the Songhai people is farming. The weather and land are definitely not ideal for farming, but they plant the crops that can handle it - mainly millet. If they‘ve experienced a good rainy season, then the harvest is definitely a happy time of the year. However, this year the harvest was not bountiful. There was a short rainy season and some sort of parasitic plant attack. One of our friends collected 1/9 of what he did
last year. Not a happy harvest.

As I think of this in spiritual terms I am reminded that Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Luke 10:2) There is great joy to bring in a big harvest and Jesus says there is a harvest of souls waiting to be reaped. But there have to be laborers. Some plant, some water, but God gives the growth (I Cor. 3:6). Seeds have to be watered often to bring about growth. We had rains in Niger this year, but not enough to bring much growth. The same is true with evangelism and missions. Many many seeds have been planted by past missionaries, ourselves, and countless volunteers. Yet we must plant more seeds and continue to water and water and water them until a plentiful harvest is brought in. And we must reap with humility because ‘neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.‘ (1 Cor. 3:7)

So please join us as we...
• pray for more laborers
• pray for a bountiful spiritual harvest
• Give God ALL the glory for it! -Sarah Fox

Lottie Moon Christmas Offering
As fall comes to a close & the holidays approach, we would be remiss not to say a HUGE "THANK YOU" to all of you who give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. (If you are not Southern Baptist or don't know what this offering is, you can read more about it here. OR if you need some great resources to use in your church this year, click on that link as well.) Basically, this offering is what allows us to be here. Because you give, we have a house to live in, a vehicle to access & engage the Songhai people, medical care for our family, funds to distribute the Word to the believers in their language, resources & means to train & send out national partners & the list goes on. Your gifts not only benefit us but also the 5000 other missionaries that work with the IMB. We ask that, this year, you give above & beyond. We are so blessed to be here, doing what we love & fulfilling God's call on our lives but there are at least 1000 others like us waiting to go ... & right now, there are not enough funds to send them all. Please give so that others may go & millions may hear of Christ.

Prayer Points
• Praise the Lord for making it through the first 8 weeks of homeschooling! Our girls have been doing great!
• Praise the Lord for a new group of men in a nearby village who Jody has shared the gospel with and who want to hear more. Pray for their salvation.
• Pray for H*, a girl in our village who is in serious need of a difficult eye surgery. Pray for the salvation of this family (the father is a Muslim leader).
• Continue to pray for Jody as he finishes up a seminary class this month.
• Pray for blessings upon our marriage and the strength to continue to grow in this area.
• Pray that God may establish a strong leader in Boubon to lead and shepherd the believers here.

Our Little Girls
• We praise God for how these girls have adjusted to this culture and are developing a passion and love for the Songhai people.
• Pray for C because she has fears at night time.
• Pray for J to continue to grow in her reading ability and not get frustrated so easily.
• Pray for L to learn her letters.

P.S. Our girls love receiving and sending e-mails to other kids, so if your kids want to write we’d love to hear from them!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Weekly Prayer Focus: Hurst team1

So sorry about the lack of weekly postings in October. From our delay in Senegal to arriving back in Niger, we have been "out of touch" on the ole blog. Life just doesn't seem to slow down, does it? But now that we are finally settled back in at home, I hope to be back each week with a prayer request for y'all for the Songhai ... & maybe I can even manage a post or 2 on our poor neglected personal blog.

For this week though, please pray for a team from First Baptist Church Hurst, TX who will be here today (Tuesday). They will be spending a week on the Road to Mehanna doing evangelism, discipleship & a service project for the school. Amazingly enough, when asked what the school needed most, the administrator said, "a latrine."

The schools in Niger have many needs but a simple (or not so simple) hole in the ground is what they needed most. Without a "functioning" facility to have for when the children need to use the bathroom, many kids have to go all the way home or out to a secluded area & then many of them do not return back to school. With a latrine on site, the kids will no longer have an excuse to skip school! Wow! Who would have thought, right? I know I always used the "I need to go to the bathroom" excuse to get out of class for 5 minutes but never to skip school for the rest of the day! We appreciate that this administrator cares enough about the attendance & education of his students that he asked us to help him with a simple project like building a latrine.

I say "simple" but this project is actually far from it. Digging into the ground here past a few inches is not simple at all. It is quite difficult. And it is more than a hole in the ground; it will include walls all around. This will be very tiring work. So please pray for this team this week that they will remain energized & alert as they work all day in the sun & spend time with believers in the evenings of when they will be camping out. Pray that their minds would remain sharp as they disciple believers in this village that have had little chance to be discipled over the last year. Pray for their health to remain in tact & also for them to have restful nights when they camp outside.

Pray for the team's times of evangelism & that many would hear the Truth of the Word & be called to salvation. Pray for the veils to be lifted from their eyes & that many would step out of darkness & into the Light.

Please also pray for the believers in this village to grow in their faith this week, to be encouraged by the times they spend with the team & to grow in unity with each other. Pray that they would be bold as they walk side by side with this team & that they would share their faith without hesitation.

Pray that this project would not be a distraction or a hindrance to the Gospel. Many times, American Christians are only seen as what they can give or hand out. Pray that the village would not see this project as a "hand out" but as an extension of our faith in Christ ... because we love Jesus, we want to serve them. This is not a "hand out" but a "give back". We want to give back to the community because our faith compels us to love.

Friday, November 8, 2013

November 2013 newsletter

Dear Prayer Partners,

Be warned ... there's a lot of info for you this month! We've got a lot of catching up to do!! : )

My oh my!!! It has been FOREVER hasn't it?! Well, as you know, I am FINALLY back in Niger after being in Senegal for 3 months! Thank y'all so much for praying for me, Isabelle & John Cole as we waited & waited & waited on paperwork. I never want to do that again but the Lord was SOOO good to us even while we were separated as a family. I thought y'all would like to know that the "icing on the cake" was when our return trip home was delayed by SEVEN hours because a fuel truck hit the wing of our plane!! I sat there & thought, "Really?!! This cannot be happening!!" But we made it home safe & sound & it was such a sweet reunion at the airport with Mark & Luke! Thank you again for your prayers while we were in Senegal & for your understanding in our delay in sending newsletters.

And speaking of newsletters, you may notice a change to our format. Over the course of this year, the Songhai team has switched our strategy from reaching "areas" to reaching specific "roads" where the Songhai are located in Niger. In doing this, we realized there are 7 major "Songhai roads" in our country (see image attached). At the beginning of this year, we were only engaging 4 of those roads. As of today, we have engaged six. The only thing stopping us from the 7th & final road is security concerns. Since our focus changed to these roads, we decided the format of our newsletter needed to reflect this as well. Feel free to print off the attached image of the map of these roads to pray for them by name.

As fall comes to a close & the holidays approach, we would be remiss not to say a HUGE "THANK YOU" to all of you who give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. (If you are not Southern Baptist or don't know what this offering is, you can read more about it here. OR if you need some great resources to use in your church this year, click on that link as well.) Basically, this offering is what allows us to be here. Because you give, we have a house to live in, a truck to access & engage those 7 Songhai roads, medical care for our family (& new baby!), funds to distribute the Word to the believers in their language, resources & means to train & send out national partners & the list goes on. Your gifts not only benefit us but also the 5000 other missionaries that work with the IMB. We ask that, this year, you give above & beyond. We are so blessed to be here, doing what we love & fulfilling God's call on our lives but there are at least 1000 others like us waiting to go ... & right now, there are not enough funds to send them all. Please give so that others may go & millions may hear of Christ.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for ALL your prayers for our family & our ministry! If you've been with us long enough, you know 100% that your prayers are vital to our ministry & you know how the Lord has been so faithful to answer them & do AMAZING things among the Songhai!! Thank you.

that ALL may KNOW,

Mark & Parker <><

PS - and because SOOO many of you responded with such kind words about the birth of our son, we thought you might like another picture! : ) We think he is rather cute.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Weekly Prayer Focus: Roads Unengaged

The Songhai are spread mostly across 3 countries (Niger, Mali & a small portion of Burkina Faso) while also being found in "Exodus" cities (places they go to find work) like Accra, Ghana & even Indianapolis, IN! Being spread so far & wide & only having a small percentage of believers, there are tons of places that are unreached & where Songhai have never heard the name of Jesus.

In Niger alone, we have found that the Songhai are most populated on 7 stretches of roads (& by "roads", I mean roads that have anywhere from 12-50 villages on them & are hundreds of miles long). As a Songhai team & with our partnering churches, we have "engaged" 5 of these roads. That means that we have shared the Gospel in a few of the villages along the road &, therefore, the Gospel has been introduced (mostly for the first time) somewhere along that specific road. We still, though, have 2 full stretches of roads (thousands of Songhai in dozens of villages) that have never heard.

Please pray for us as a Songhai team & our partnering church, Living Hope, as they seek to engage these roads for the first time next month. Pray for safety in traveling (as many of these roads are "rough") & aloe the health of the team as they'll be camping out. Pray also for the many Songhai that will hear of salvation in Christ alone for the very first time. Pray for openness to the Gospel (open ears, open minds, open hearts) & that many will find freedom in His sacrifice for their sins. Pray that many will believe in the Truth & choose to follow it.

Friday, September 6, 2013

newest member of the Songhai team

We would like to introduce you to the newest member of the Songhai team ...

John Cole Vincent Phillips
born August 28
12:12 pm
Dakar, Senegal
8 lbs 14 oz
20.5 in long

Thank you for all your prayers for this boy! He is healthy & we are in love!

Weekly Prayer Focus: Boumba

Boumba is a village on the Road to Gaya. It has been "engaged" with the Gospel & some have chosen to follow Christ in this village. While we would love to be able to disciple these men on a weekly basis, due to the distance of this village from where we live, we are unable to do so. These men have an audio recording of the New Testament & have been instructed in how to meet together, pray & study the Word.

However, as is pertinent with any new believer anywhere in the world, discipleship is critical. While we know it is next to impossible for us as a Songhai team to be there on a consistent basis, we know that there are believers in Niamey that would love to fulfill this calling on their lives to invest in & disciple new believers. Would you please pray with us for God to call forth such a mature believer to join our national partner team & commit to discipline these men in Boumba?

Please also pray for these believers as they continue to meet & study the Word together, that they would stand strong in the face of persecution, continue to meet & grow in their knowledge of the Word & remain unified as a body of believers. Pray that they would encourage one another & that they would make

Friday, August 9, 2013

Weekly Prayer Focus: Rainy Season & Crops

The rains started a little later this year than normal. But since beginning in late June, they have come often & steady. All of our believers are sustenance farmers, which means they grow enough food to feed their family for an entire year. They do not farm for profit, only for their own consumption. And they grow one crop - millet. The rainy season must be good to ensure that they have a good harvest & to ensure that they have enough food to last them an entire year.

Please pray for the rains to continue to come steadily throughout the remainder of the season which should end around mid-October. Pray that God would bless the work of the hands of His children & our Songhai believers would have abundant crops to provide for their families. Pray also that God would protect their crops from diseases that normally infiltrate crops through insects.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Weekly Prayer Focus: Believers in Dargol

Over the course of the last several years, there has been ministry efforts in & around the village of Dargol. While many seeds were planted, only a small amount of fruit was sown. And among that fruit, there was very little growth. While there have been believers there for a few years, they had made little headway into beginning a church.

However, over the last few months, we have seen the Lord do some amazing things in this village. They have grown in their faith & in their numbers & they are finally on the verge of becoming a church.

Pray for these believers as they meet weekly to study the Word & take the necessary steps to planting a church in their village. Pray that they would remain unified, grow in their knowledge of the Word, seek to apply His truth to their lives daily & would be a vital, flourishing church. Pray that they would be the hands & feet of Christ to their neighbors by serving others but also being bold in their witness. Pray that the Lord would add many to their numbers as they declare His Gospel to those that have never heard.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Weekly Prayer Focus: Night of Power

The "Night of Power" is "believed to be the night when the Quran was first revealed. ... This night being of historical significance, Muslims should worship as much as they can on this night. It is also believed to be the night when God decides the destiny of everyone." (taken from wikipedia)

As the definition above indicates, this night is very significant in the month of Ramadan. This night is not known on the calendar ahead of time but is expected to fall during the last 10 days of Ramadan.  It is a night that many Muslims will be seeking a direct word from God. Pray that many Songhai, who have yet to believe, will hear from the One True God. As they seek out Allah, pray they will find Yahweh instead.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Update on village "LA"

A few weeks ago, we asked y'all to pray for village "LA" where there were new believers. This village has been an amazing bright spot among Songhai villages. Eight men have decided to follow Jesus and are currently meeting weekly for discipleship.  However, lately the village has been growing in hostility towards their new faith.

We told them on the front end that this would be a hard road and they are seeing it for themselves now firsthand.  They have stood strong thus far until today.  As we met today I noticed a considerable number of our guys weren't there.  While this is rainy season and men are working, it seemed odd.  I asked the guys there what was going on and they told me that for 3 straight days there have been Islamic preachers who were sent from Niamey to come preach in "LA".  The subject of their preaching:  chastising these new believers.

Now, imagine if you can what these men are going through.  They are about 2 months into their new faith. They've already been shunned by family and friends and now a group of men are going around the village with bullhorns announcing that these men have become worse than pagans and shaming them to the world!  It is indeed a tough road.

Pray for them to remain strong.  I read with them Peter's response to Jesus in John 6 after the 5000 have abandoned him.  Peter's wonderful response was, "Where else would we go - you alone have the words of life."  The men lit up and said, "That's us, we've found the best thing no matter what it's cost us."

Friday, July 19, 2013

Weekly Prayer Focus: Ramadan

As many of you know, Ramadan began last week. For many of our Songhai believers (30 to be exact), this will be their first year to NOT celebrate Ramadan. If they haven't chosen to make their new faith known to their family & friends yet, it has become abundantly clear over this last week. While the rest of their former community declines from eating or drinking (or some, even swallowing their own saliva) from sun up to sun down, these 30 new believers are not participating alongside them.

There is usually much zealousness for the Muslim faith during this month of fasting as it is one of the "holiest" times of the year & one of the 5 pillars of their faith. Persecution tends to be at its highest during this time as well, yet there is also somewhat of an openness as some are truly seeking to know God.

Pray for our believers to remain strong in their faith during this month. Pray for them to be a visible light in the darkness. Pray for them to have many opportunities to share their faith with their neighbors & family. Pray for them to not back down in the face of persecution. Pray also for their growth in the Word & in love for each other.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Weekly Prayer Focus: New National Partners

We are so excited that we've had a group of 4 men join our national partner team! We began this team almost 2 years ago & have seen some stick with it, some drop out &, unfortunately, some had to be let go. The team is comprised of national men (some Songhai, some not but all that speak the language) who agree to work in an area of Songhai lands that needs a consistent presence of the Gospel. They are usually teamed up in pairs of 2 & work half of a week in their villages while spending the other half of the week earning an income in the city. They are not only sent out by us but also by their local churches in the capital city. They agree to partner with us in the Songhai lands for a 3-month period with, hopefully, a desire on both our parts to renew their "contract" each quarter. 

Recently, we've had a long lull in zero to low interest in anyone joining our team. We've been blessed with 2 national partners, besides Cephas, who have worked tirelessly by themselves in 2 areas of Songhai lands for almost a year. We are so excited that the Lord has called these 4 young men to join our team & thereby extending the Gospel to even more Songhai lands that are currently being unreached!!

Join us in praying for these men as they commit to answering God's call on their lives to take the Gospel to their fellow nationals. Pray for them as they will undoubtedly face persecution, ridicule, hostility & those that simply do not want to listen to the Message they've come to share. Pray that they would have boldness & integrity in their assigned villages. And pray that they will be encouraged daily to continue taking the Light into the Darkness. And pray that many Songhai will hear, know & respond to the Truth of the Gospel!

Volunteer Testimony: Summer Interns (May/June 2013)

Six weeks have passed and in those six weeks, we have seen, experienced, and learned more than we ever could have expected. Stepping out of our compound each day, whether it was to prayer walk, go to a local orphanage, greet our neighbors, or attempt to communicate with locals, we encountered darkness. Darkness presented itself in the form of hunger, sickness, deceit, and a community driven by the commands of a Quran that most can recite but don't understand. More often than not, we felt defeated because the darkness and need seemed to outweigh any efforts we made. See, we came into this internship with big plans- plans to share the Gospel with people who have never heard it.  Plans to teach children to praise Jesus. Plans to disciple hardened women to have hearts softened towards Christ, to teach them what love looks like after living in a society that hardly even uses the word love. This may come as a shock, but those plans did not play out the way would have hoped they would. In fact, the surface was barely scratched for many of them. It's a reality that daily we all had to face as we saw our time here growing shorter and shorter. It became easy for us to question our effectiveness as witnesses for Christ.  As we turned to scripture for direction and wisdom, we found encouragement through the example of Jesus and his ministry. Before Jesus began, he prayed. We realized that the area we were in, the people we saw daily, the children we grew to love may have never been prayed for before we got there. That was a difficult concept for us to begin to understand-to think that no one had ever approached God on behalf of this community, praying for their salvation.  It was our privilege to pray for them. Daily we prayed for the homes we passed, the smiling faces that greeted us, and the backs that were turned to us (belonging to the people who knew we were Christians). We prayed and prayed and prayed and 2 weeks before our internship ended, Biba and Cephas were kicked out of their home (with us in tow) for being Christians. God was in no way shocked by this and in less than 24 hours a new home was found, contracted, and moved into a week later. Just like that, we left our neighborhood for a new one. The Songhai team's theme became very relevant to us in that time: Sow with hope, reap with humility. We don't know what the future holds for our friends that we made, but we do know our efforts were not in vain. We may never see the fruit of our labor this side of heaven. We will continue to pray for the community of Bobiel and ask all who are willing to intercede on their behalf, trusting in God to once again bring among them the truth of his word. The enemy lurks searching for his prize but we know who has already claimed the victory. God has begun a work in the country of Niger and it was an honor to play even a small part in it. John 1:5 has been our motivation through these weeks and will continue to be as we head home: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

- Morgan G, LHBC, Bowling Green, KY

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

June 2013 newsletter

Dear Prayer Partners,

We can hardly believe that another month has flown by!! This last month was filled with welcoming 2 teams from our partnering churches in KY & TX, moving into a new HUB, finishing up with our summer interns, & following up on the work that God is doing among the Songhai. Someone commented to us recently that they have been amazed at what all God is doing among the Songhai right now. Well, we are too!! We are so grateful to be a small part of His name going forward among the Songhai & many coming out of darkness into His Light. We are also SO grateful for your prayer support as you hold the ropes for us, our team & our Songhai brothers & sisters. We know that your prayers are key to what God is doing among the Songhai right now! Thank you!

that ALL may know HIM,

Mark & Parker <><

Friday, June 14, 2013

Weekly Prayer Focus: LA

We have begun work in a new village but with heightened security & persecution, I fear to mention it's name so we're going with "LA." PS - if you haven't read this post on the top 10 countries for worst persecuted Christians, you may have missed that Mali (our neighboring country & home to a million Songhai) is number 7 on the list. 

 Mark described the beginnings of our entry & work in LA in this post. Since that initial meeting & follow up, he has been able to visit this village a few more times with equally awesome times of study & fellowship with these new believers. These men are committed, are growing & are sharing. They are fearless in that they meet in the open with a mosque as their next door neighbor.

Men & elders of the village, usually on their way to the mosque for their daily prayers, stop by to listen to the teachings from the Bible. They do not object & do not argue ... they simply listen, wash up for their prayers & go on their way while the believers stay behind to continue studying the Word of God (making an OBVIOUS statement that they are no longer practicing the Islamic faith).

Even a seasoned national believer & partner of ours noticed what a difference this group is compared to other groups of new believers we've encountered together. These men are eager to learn & excited about their new faith, new life & new hope they've found in Christ ... despite what persecution their obvious statements could bring to them.

This week simply praise the Lord that He is calling the Songhai to Himself. Praise Him for this group of new believers in LA. Praise Him that they are bold, committed & growing together as a body. Pray that they would continue to grow in their faith & boldness & share the hope they've found with their family & friends. Pray for the men who hear the Good News each week on their way to the mosque to realize that their current way of life is fruitless and that salvation is found only in Christ. Pray that even if persecution comes, they would grow in & through it & it would only serve to strengthen their resolve in knowing Christ & making Him known.

Monday, June 10, 2013

the shell story

On my trip to Niger in February of 2012, I knew ahead of time that I would not be able to go to Ayorou.   This was where several dear believers lived that on my previous trips, I had visited and began to love dearly.  My closest relationship was with a sweet brother named Ibrahim.  He is a rock.  His faith has cost him greatly, and he has gladly paid.   He has faced days that i could not imagine and has firmly stood in the strength of our Redeemer.  To my amazement, after we arrived, Ibrahim had made the journey from Ayorou to Naimey!  After greeting him, Mark told me that Ibrahim had a gift for me.  He had asked Mark before hand, because he thought that his gift may not be significant to me.  Mark assured him that the meaning was far more important.  Ibrahim then handed me a snail shell.  It was polished and he wanted me to take it so that I would remember him.  I told him that I would.   He then continued.   Snails often go to the same place.  They have the same needs and therefore go the same place to have them met.  He said we were like snails.   We both have the need of a Savior so we go to the same place to have our needs met.   The next thing he said was new information to me.   He said that it is impossible for a snail to go backwards.  Much like us, once God has chosen us, we cannot go back to our old life, praise God.  Then he took one finger from each hand and simulated 2 snails as they move along there paths.   He said that we, like snails, are on a path.  Sometimes we would be far apart, sometimes our paths would cross, but because God has set us on this path, and we can't back up, one day we would end up in the same place.   I am so thankful for Ibrahim and carry this shell with me daily.

- Travis A, Bowling Green, Ky

Friday, June 7, 2013

Weekly Prayer Focus: *Adam*

I apologize for the month hiatus of posting a Weekly Prayer Focus blog. You can look back at the volunteer testimonies from Campbellsville & LHBC as well as May's newsletter to see what's been happening over the last month.

For this next week, however, would you please pray for a young Niamey believer named *Adam* (name changed for security reasons)? Adam was led to Christ by another young believer ... one many of you have met that is originally from Ayorou. We call him "the Bible." Adam & the Bible have been meeting with Mark on a fairly consistent basis over the last year for discipleship lessons & have grown & matured in their faith.

Adam showed up at our house this morning to tell us that he had been kicked out of his house. He has nowhere else to go so he decided his best bet was to travel to a nearby city, enlist the help of his older brother & return to Niamey to defend himself against his father.

While we know that persecution comes with the territory for the majority of our Songhai believers & things like that are sometimes par for the course, we also don't shrug it off & say, "Well, this sort of thing just happens. Get used to it." We told Adam that we would pray for him ... to have wisdom in confronting his father and for God to provide him a place to live, whether that be in his father's house or elsewhere.

We are now asking you to join us in praying for your brother in Christ who has nowhere to lay his head tonight or nowhere to call home. Pray that the Lord would give him wisdom on when & how to confront his father. Pray that the Lord would provide him grace & patience in doing that. Pray that the Lord would also provide him a home ... wherever that may be. And pray that in all circumstances, Adam would praise His Father & bring glory to His name.

Volunteer Testimonies: LHBC (May 2013)

This is the second time I have been to West Africa.  This trip was more demanding, both spiritually and physically than the last.  We did struggle, but all of us knew that God was doing something big while we were there.  It was a constant battle between darkness and light, and the whole team could feel it.  As we were sharing C2C with multiple people, we came into quite a bit of resistance, with a few patches of light.  The team could see God's presence in this light and it lifted us up.

We also met with a few believers and saw one of them preach the Word to other believers at a worship gathering.  It is something we take for granted in the U.S., but it something rarely seen in the villages of Africa.  It is very encouraging to see the believers stand up for their faith and worship the One True King.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

--- Josh B

Over the past week we have been immersed into a culture that is drastically different from our own. The Songhai are a people that are friendly, polite, hard working, and proud. No matter where we went we were always greeted with a friendly "Fofo!" and a bright smile.

We were invited into many women's homes to sit and talk to one another. In both Boubon and Tagabati we presented the 'Christ to Creation' story to many women and children.  We told many Bible stories of God's love for his people and of the prophecies of Jesus Christ.  We also shared the stories of the miracles Jesus performed while he was living on Earth.  We invited children to come listen to our stories and we sang songs about Jesus and played games.

It was wonderful to be able to share God's love with so many people.  We saw God move in many ways.  For some it was the first sign of hope they had ever seen. For others it was the only testament of love they had ever known. 

We will continue to pray for the Songhai people and that the seeds we have sown will one day bear fruit.

---- Monica Y

We were able to teach and share stories with current believers our first day which was both insightful and humbling. Then the next day we went to Tagaboti, did C2C and had 4 younger men say they believed and come back to the bush-taxi with us. The next day we met with 2 of the 4 and taught them on the Genesis E-Track and they confessed Christ. Then Brian had a epiphany and told them they had to go teach their children what we had taught them. That night we did C2C in Boubon and the man we spoke to listened intently, when we were done he said he wanted to go and talk to the elders first. Jody said, ''You know they will tell you I'm lying." He said, "I am a man, I make up my own mind." I was encouraged by this.

The next two days we did C2C around Boubon, not much occurred fruit wise, but I feel the sowing was important. Even in the midst of arguing, and other goings on while we were talking we could still see His Sheep Hear His Voice. That was the most profound part of the trip Sunday was the Worship service at the Fox's and it was great. We sang with the kids and a couple of the women, then we were taught by a local believer the story and meaning of Daniel in the lions den. It was a good way to finish out time there, however for me it ended too soon.

I have taken the names of those I met with me and I hope to see them soon. I look forward to continuing to see His Hands and His Feet reach His people.

--- John K

Friday, May 24, 2013

Volunteer Testimony: Campbellsville University (May 2013)

What a week on mission in Niger is HOT!

            After spending 9 – 10 day s here in Niger, Africa sharing the gospel, distributing children’s vitamins, baby formula, prenatal vitamins and sweating a whole, whole lot… I have come away with the remembrance of HOT.  Yes it is hot in a physical sense, but hot goes much, much deeper than the sun burn or the amount of sweat that issues forth each day.  HOT is what makes Niger, these Songhai people and the Phillips so encouraging, and mission for Jesus Christ so exciting here in this part of the world.
HOT has a deeper meaning.  The Hospitality we have been shown show’s Christ’s presence here.  The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the leaders, translators and new brothers and sisters in Christ is evident.  The Transformation that is taking place amongst the Songhai is more than a miracle, it’s a promise of God and the transformation among this team from Campbellsville University that has come is apparent as well.
Mention the Songhai people, and the very first word that comes to my mind is hospitality.  These people are never too busy to offer you their time, a cup of tea or even their best chair, which could be their only one.  In every village we visited, on very few occasions, a handful in fact, were we asked not to share the story of Jesus, we were treated as honored guests.  Anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour we shared the Creation to Christ account of how God created, man sinned, separation came between God and man, God’s bigger plan would involve His only Son, and Jesus dying a death we all deserve yet defeating death on the third day after crucifixion.  Hospitality is something I will look back on this trip and see that it can be exhibited even in the most remote places in Africa.  If those that are unsure of where their next meal may be coming from are able to sit, listen and hear the story of Jesus, it makes it more significant that I display patience, time and value to conversations I have with others, whether it be in the United States or around the globe.
Outpouring of the Holy Spirit is upon the Phillip’s and those they work with each and every day.  This Songhai team made up of Mark, Parker, Cephas, Biba and countless others are determined to make Jesus known to all people here in Niger, and the Holy Spirit is opening the ears and hearts of these people to hear this message.  Just sitting and sharing Jesus with an individual who have never heard the name of Jesus can be frightening, yet encouraging at the same time.  On this trip, we saw the Holy Spirit speak new life into five new believers in a village of Latta.  To see some people think about what we share but not fully commit to following right away is somewhat common, but not always.  To see five men at the same time, at a village that has never heard of Jesus, realize they are lost and without hope without Jesus is beyond encouraging.  That is the work of God.  To say that I was a vessel and this team helped share Jesus to celebrate new life with new brothers is by far the most important and exciting part of this trip!  And this was all due to the overwhelming and all-consuming power of the Holy Spirit.
Transformation has taken place.  In the lives of new believers, there is transformation of a life with purpose in praising and sharing Christ.  In the lives of those who have heard the story of Jesus, they now have the opportunity to reflect and choose whether to follow this truth or choose to ignore it; pray that they will be transformed through the power of God through the Holy Spirit.  The transformation amongst this team has shaped each of us to understand that the Gospel truly knows no borders.  A trip to Africa doesn’t have to open your eyes to see the desperate need of Jesus that the world needs to see, but it does give you a good perspective of how you are individually making Jesus known.
As we conclude this trip, and we reflect upon the villages we’ve shared the Gospel, the many vitamins and formula we’ve passed out at health clinics and once-in-a-lifetime experiences of camping out in a Songhai village, eating true African cuisine (African style too) and attending a church service in the heart of Niger, we know that God was at work.  Through the many reflections, the passage from 2 Corinthians 12:9 comes to mind which says,
 “…’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
All that we have seen, been a part of, and accomplished this week is because of God’s power working through us and enabling us to the work we came here to do.  We all became tired, hot, hungry, sleepy, hot, sick, frustrated and hot, but we keep enduring.  Even when we were affected by so many difficult weaknesses, we still found the strength to spend another day in the heat, sharing the story of Jesus with people and saw lives forever changed.  That is only through the power of God.  God’s power is sufficient enough for all people, and with his power in place of any and all our weaknesses, His plan will prosper.
Our team is thankful for all the prayers of those who knew we were hearing serving, and it is because of these prayers that lives were forever changed.  Because of those prayers, you have been as instrumental in this trip thousands of miles away as we were here serving.  Be in continual prayer for this Songhai Team; pray that lives will continually be transformed into the likeness of God, and may Niger and these people stay HOT (hospitable, outpouring and transforming) for the Lord!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Needing Joseph's help!

Today I went back to a village for follow-up where a team from CU had shared with last week.  Five men had come forward last week wanting to believe.  These men were the first believers ever to emerge from their village which is over 400 years old!

I told them last week I'd be back this week so today I went out there.  I found them all and they were still very excited about their new faith.  We went through some initial discipleship lessons and they wanted to be baptized.

However, before we went one of the men pulled me aside and said "i need to ask you something." He went on to explain that he'd had a dream he wanted me to explain.

I can honestly say this is the first time anyone has ever asked me this.  I admitted that I could only offer my opinion and that I was not like Joseph in the Bible who could, through God's help, interpret his dream.

He told me the following dream that he said he had the night that he'd believed last week:

"I was laying on the ground crippled with broken legs.  I couldn't walk, I couldn't move, it was like I was dead.  Then I saw you [talking about me] and a white dove.  You said to me "get up and walk" and the dove came and touched my legs.  I was instantly healed and I got up!"

Now, this is already pretty amazing but listen to this next part.  Remember, here's what this guy knows theologically speaking. He knows a brief Creation to Christ story and he knows Romans 10 about how to believe.

"When I got up, the Holy Spirit descended on me and saved me!"

I told him that I didn't think his dream was too hard to understand.  That God had used me as His messenger to bring the Gospel to him.  That he was dead in his sin and needed to be healed/saved.  God did this and has given him new life.

Now, the amazing thing is his use of "Holy Spirit." This is not an easy concept for our Muslim background believers to understand and even many of our mature believers struggle with this doctrine. 

In fact, I had never mentioned the Holy Spirit in my brief interactions with him thus far.  God had revealed this truth to this brand new believer. 

It was just an awesome reminder of how God is still using the supernatural today.  He is still speaking to His children through dreams and visions. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

May 2013 newsletter

Dear Prayer Partners,

First, let me apologize for the delay in sending a newsletter ... it's been 2 months!!! The kids & I (Parker) went to the States in April for 3 weeks to visit my parents in SD. While I had the best intentions of trying to write a newsletter while in America, I was unable to do so. The day after the kids & I returned to Niger, our summer interns arrived. We spent a couple of days orienting them to life in Niger & then a team of 10 arrived from Campbellsville University. Two days after they left, a team of 7 from our home church arrived! To say we've been busy (& jet lagging!) since returning from America is an understatement!! Oh & we also celebrated Isabelle's 5th birthday somewhere in the middle of all of that!

Thank you so much for your continued prayers (& understanding ... & patience!) even when our communication with you may be sparse at times. We are so grateful for every prayer you lift up on behalf of our family, our team & the Songhai people. Thank you!

that ALL may know HIM,

Mark & Parker <><

Monday, April 29, 2013

Weekly Prayer Focus: Campellsville University BCM

Please be in prayer for a group of 10 that will be traveling to Niger from Campbellsville University's BCM at the beginning of May. This group will assist the Songhai team in targeting unreached areas & opening doors to these villages. They will spend much of their time sharing C2C in villages that have had little to no Gospel access. While here, they will not only be ministering to the hearts of people but also to their bodies as they will conduct "wellness clinics" for women & children. These clinics will consist of distributing infant formula, malnutrition mixes & vitamins to eligible women & children. They will work in partnership with local clinics that desperately need assistance while also sharing the love of Christ through meeting such physical needs in these villages.

Pray for the team in their last minute trip preparations, spiritual readiness & safety in travel.

Pray for openness of hearts & minds of all they will encounter will here. Pray that these students may boldly & clearly proclaim the Gospel to every individual they encounter. Pray that many will hear of His love, many will see it & many will accept Him as Savior.

Pray for the safety of the team as they travel in & around these Songhai villages. Pray also for their health as they will spending many hours in the hot, hot sun with little to no relief from it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Weekly Prayer Focus: Summer Interns

The Songhai team will have a total of seven summer interns over the course of 2 6-week terms. Three of the interns, working with Mark & Parker, will arrive at the beginning of May & will be focusing on ministering to children & conducting ESL classes. The other four, working with Jody & Sarah, will arrive in July.

The Phillips' interns will be centered in Niamey around the HUB. We've desired, since beginning the HUB, to begin reaching out to this specific community in Niamey where it's located. Pray for these girls as they endure extreme temperatures, sporadic electricity, & the task of taking Light into the Darkness. Pray for their ability to communicate (with minimal language skills & using audio resources) to boldly & clearly present the Gospel to all they come in contact with. Pray for openness of hearts among the children & students they teach in Kids Club & ESL classes. Pray that the Gospel may go forth in & around the HUB & many will come to hear of Christ's love & find salvation in Him.

The Fox's interns will be living in their village with them & helping to establish new contacts in that village & surrounding villages. They will also be helping to establish children's ministries in the home village. They, too, will live in extreme temperatures & sporadic electricity. Pray for these interns to boldly proclaim the Gospel in all they say & do. Pray for relationships to be established with men, women & children that will assist & further the Fox's ministry along the Road to Karma. Pray also for the interns' health & safety.

Pray for all the interns as they make their final arrangements & plans for their summer. Pray for not only physical readiness but also spiritual readiness.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Weekly Prayer Focus: Accra, Ghana

Please be in prayer for Mark & Cephas as they make their upcoming trip to Ghana. The capital city of Ghana, Accra, is filled with over 50,000 Songhai people. For some of the Songhai, they come to Ghana to seek work to help provide for their families in Niger. For some, they have made Accra their home & there are now 2nd & 3rd generations living there.

As Mark & Cephas seek out the Songhai in Accra, pray they would be led & guide to those who are also seeking Christ. Pray that they would have many opportunities to share the name of Christ boldly & often with those that have never heard. Pray for wisdom of how to follow-up & disciple any of these men or women who seek to follow Christ. There is a HUGE population of Christians in Accra & many churches there. However, many of these churches are not targeting the Songhai. Pray that Mark & Cephas may establish partnerships with one (or more) of these churches to assist in ministering to the Songhai that, literally, "live in their backyards."

Monday, April 8, 2013

Weekly Prayer Focus: Village YK

Please be in prayer for village YK this week. There has been a lot of work going on in this village over the last 18 months & we've seen almost 2 dozen profess faith in Christ. We've also seen 2 key leaders emerge from this group who have a desire to see a church planted in their village. However, in recent days, there has been some "conflict" between these 2 leaders. It is not physical & does not involve persecution, it simply involves lying. And where there is lack of trust, there is lack of growth & unity.

Please pray for wisdom for the Songhai team (specifically Mark, Jody & Cephas) as they deal with this. Pray that the Lord would give them clear direction in how to handle these men & continue to disicple the believers in this village.

Pray for the group of believers who are struggling now with trust. Pray that they may forgive quickly, their unity would increase & their faith would grow through this.

Pray for the main leader involved that needs to truly repent of what he's done to himself, his fellow brothers & restore the bond that has been broken due to distrust. Pray that he would truly have a broken heart over his sin & he would seek forgiveness from all involved.

Pray that the Lord would use all of this for His glory & the church in YK would only grow stronger as a result.

Monday, April 1, 2013

sow with hope, reap with humility

I’ve tried to grow a garden multiple times.  I’m afraid I don’t have a green thumb.  If anything I have a black thumb.  Plants see me coming and they just start trembling. I’m the grim reaper of horticulture!

However, I continue to try and thus I continue to fail.  Even as I type this, I have begun yet another attempt to grow something successfully. 

It’s gotten so bad that even as I’m planting the seeds into the earth, there is a voice inside my head that says, “This is useless, it’s all going to die, it’s all for nothing.”  And so, even as I’m planting, I’m already defeated thinking this is a fruitless pursuit.

If I’m not careful, I can carry this same attitude into my sowing of Gospel seed.  We see lots of disinterest and even hostility towards the Gospel when we take it out.  Sometimes, even those who quickly believe turn out to be false “conversions.”  If I’m not careful I can hear that same voice inside my head as I’m casting the Gospel seed which says to me, “This is useless, no one is going to listen, no one is going to believe, it’s all for nothing.”  And so, even as we’re out sharing the Gospel, we’re already defeated.

Our Songhai team has adopted a team theme for this year taken from the 4th chapter of John.  That theme is this:  sow with hope, reap with humility. 

Jesus was talking to his disciples about an unexpected harvest in an unexpected place.  His disciples hadn’t even considered working in Samaria and were simply trying to pass through as quickly as possible.  Yet, here we find many who believe.  John is showing us faith where we’d never expect it (to contrast the disbelief he’s shown us where we thought we’d find it, namely Jerusalem). 

If you’d asked Jesus’ disciples about sharing in Samaria they probably would have scoffed and said, “That’s a pointless pursuit!”

Jesus is teaching them (and us) that we should never carry this attitude into our sowing of the Gospel.  And thus, we should sow in hope.  We try to go out prayerfully when we share with an attitude of expectation.  We expect the Gospel to transform lives and to make dead hearts alive!

However, the other lesson Jesus taught those disciples that day was to reap with humility.  A harvest was literally approaching Jesus as he spoke to the disciples as a crowd of Samarians were coming to Jesus to believe.  Jesus taught them that day that they will reap a harvest where they have not sown.

For us as well, we are in a very fruitful season of ministry.  We’re seeing things so many of our colleagues aren’t seeing and so many of our former colleagues longed to see.  Why is that?  The temptation is towards pride.  The temptation is to think, “This is because of our great faithfulness” or “This is because of our great strategy” when the reality is this is because of our great and faithful God.  We are simply reaping a harvest where we have not labored.

And so we go out expecting God to bring about fruit but when He does, we only boast in Him!

May we all sow in hope and reap in humility.   

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Darkness has not overcome the Light

Our Songhai Team adopts a team verse and a team theme each year.  I’ll be blogging later about our team theme for 2013 but wanted to share with you our team verse here.

Our team verse is John 1:5 which says “The light has come into the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

John’s Gospel is full of light/darkness references and we too find our ministry best understood in these terms.  We see our job as taking light into some of the darkest places on planet Earth.  Places that have never heard of the Light and have lived in darkness for literally centuries. 

John’s Gospel promises two things: 1) there will be conflict when light enters darkness and 2) light wins.  When light enters darkness there is conflict because those in darkness want to remain there.  Light means being exposed and revealed and we don’t like that. 

The Songhai, for the most part, are still in darkness.  Taking the Light to them is challenging on many levels and there are times that it looks like darkness is winning.  However, we cling to this promise (and others) from God’s Word that the darkness will not overcome the light.

A recent trip to a new area of work for us reminded me about this reality.  It is a new village where 2 men actually believed on hearing the Gospel for the first time ever.  I referred to this village as Mayberry as it was so peaceful.  A friend from Ayorou even accompanied me on several follow-up trips and we both remarked how kind people were even when they didn’t agree with us.

Well, darkness is never passive.  It’s not enough to try and remain in darkness but instead the darkness is aggressive when light comes. 

We pulled up to this village a few weeks ago and were on our way to meet with the few believers when several village elders approached us.  They didn’t greet us (very un-Songhai) but instead said, “You are the ones claiming you built our mosque and we want to go to the chief and have you judged!”

How’s that for a welcome?! 

We tried to explain the foolishness of this statement.  If anything, we told them, we would build a church!  

They were not appeased and insisted we go to the chief.  At the chief’s house there was a lot of shouting (on their part) as we sat quietly and listened.  They kept saying “the chief says…” although the chief sat there quietly and seemingly embarrassed at the scene. 

At long last, the real reason for their anger came out.  They weren’t mad about this so-called claim (because they knew it was a lie) but were upset because we were preaching Jesus in the village i.e., Light had come to town.

They said, again speaking for the chief, that we were no longer welcome in this place and needed to leave immediately.  The chief returned the gifts we’d given him and we were about to head back to our bush taxi when one of our friends in the village (not a believer) began to scold these elders and even the chief! 

He shamed them about the way they’d treated us because we were visitors and visitors are supposed to be kings to the Songhai.  He shamed them about making up this lie.  He then shouted that he would build a church in his compound and they could do nothing about it! 

We tried to calm this man down as this was not our first encounter like this.  But the man gathered up all people who were not intimidated by these elders to meet at his house where he gave us the floor to share the Gospel with about 40 men!  Light wins.

It’s not always so immediate though and there are plenty of times it looks like darkness is winning.  As I type this I’m so heartbroken over the news of one of our solid believers who has been severely beaten by his father for accepting Christ.

We know light wins and we cling to this promise.  We know that we won’t always see it in this life.  We know that it’s about a bigger battle that’s been won.  Light winning isn’t always about our health or our safety, it’s about the victory Christ has won as he defeated death.  It’s the victory of salvation as he frees these former slaves to sin and makes them into sons of righteousness. 

And so we cling to this verse even when (maybe especially when) we can’t see it.  Light wins.