Monday, February 25, 2013

February 2013 Newsletter

Dear Prayer Partners,

Thank you SO much for your prayers over this last month! If any of you who have been here in the past & happen to still receive "travel warnings" from the US Embassy here, you will know that this last month has been filled with many heightened security situations for our country (including the capital city). Needless to say, ministry here has taken a different turn as we continue to adjust to new restrictions and areas deemed unsafe for Westerners. We appreciate all of you who pray for our safety & for wisdom for us as we do ministry in this country.

In other news, if you follow our personal blog (or Facebook, Twitter or Instagram), you will already know the big surprise we received as a family ... the Lord is adding to our family! We are expecting our 3rd child at the end of August. We are so grateful for your prayers for not only our ministry among the Songhai but also our family. And this news may also explain the reason behind the lack of posts on our Songhai blog as the first trimester has been a bit of a rough go. But we do have some new posts on there that I highly encourage you to read!! The Lord is doing some AMAZING things, even amidst all these security situations. We know why the Enemy does not want us to travel outside the city ... there are so many Songhai that have yet to hear! But He is faithful & is calling SO many to Himself. Your prayers for the salvation of the Songhai are being heard & answered. Please continue to pray for many more to hear & know!

that ALL may know HIM,

Mark & Parker <><

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Road to Gaya

After the incredible week of NLTS, we turned our attention to a new area of ministry.  According to the Joshua Project’s research, there is a pocket of Songhai people to the South of Niamey and towards/along the border of Benin.  This area basically consists of two 90+km (55 mile) roads with several market towns on each.

So the team from Living Hope, Randy, Cephas, Ibrahim (from Ayorou), and myself loaded up into a bush taxi early Saturday morning and set out on a seed-sowing adventure.  From talking to other organizations, I was pretty sure the Gospel had never been to this area so we set out knowing this would largely be peoples' first encounter with the message of Christ.  Earlier in the week I had shared with the team our Songhai team’s ministry theme this year: sow with hope, reap with humility (taken from John 4). 

We turned off the paved road and headed down our first dusty road.  While only 65 miles from the capital city of Niamey, in the first village we stopped at we found out our initial thoughts were true.  No one had ever brought the name of Jesus here. We were truly the first people to carry the name of Jesus to this area. 

Now, just stop and try to imagine that.  Imagine driving from Bowling Green to Louisville and stopping at every exit along the way only to find that no one in this entire area had ever heard the Good News! 

We knew we were in for quite a day as we pulled out of the first village.  The name of the village meant “Salvation” and there was an openness we’ve rarely found in Songhai villages. In just an hour in the village we identified several men of peace (a process that sometimes takes months) and loaded back into the bush taxi.

From here, a blog simply can’t describe the rest of our trip.  I need a cup of coffee and a couple hours to sit down and try to describe for you how God moved in those next 36 hours.  I will simply try to give some of the highlights here but for those of you at Living Hope, I challenge you to give Travis, Bill, or Kasey a call and take them out to lunch to hear what happened.

Names of villages:
As I’ve already stated, the first village name meant “salvation.”  The Gospel-centered named of villages didn’t stop there.  We would later find villages named “Debt Paid,” “Surrender,” “People of the Fruit,” and “Clearing the Way.”  It was if God had been preparing these people for His Good News since centuries ago when their villages were named.

At the second village two men confessed Christ!  There are missionaries who go entire terms (& even careers) who don’t see the fruit we saw half a day into our trip!  Fruit here usually takes time and while we truly were trying to sow in hope, I thought (if I’m totally honest) that this would simply be a foundation laying trip of sowing the initial seeds. 

Every village we went into we immediately found men of peace or had people actually confess Christ!  Every village we entered we also heard the same thing: “we’ve never heard this message,” or “we’ve never heard of Jesus.”  One man, after we asked if we could pray for him said “I don’t know what you mean by ‘prayer,’ I’ve never seen a Christian much less seen one pray.”  After explaining to him what prayer was for a Christian, he eagerly wanted us to pray for him and his village.

By the time we reached our final destination, 15 men (mostly in their 20’s or 30’s) had confessed Christ with 10 actually following through with baptism!

Amazing things:
Here’s where it gets hard to capture the whole trip so I’ll just share 2 stories.

In the first village where someone believed, one of the believers was a reader (pretty rare out in the bush) so we gave him a Bible.  So here is this brand new believer, he’s heard and responded.  He now has God’s Word.  That’s really all the time we had with him before we had to move on.  Yet, without any prompting from us, he immediately walks straight to a group of the village elders and begins reading the Bible to them! 

In the last village on the first day we saw our ministry philosophy (His sheep hear His voice) in action.  As Cephas shared with a group of men several were obviously uninterested, a few wanted to debate, but there was one who was captivated by the words he was hearing.  He grabbed us to talk more about this Good News.  He not only believed but wanted to be baptized.

At the river he takes out a pack of cigarettes and says “I don’t need these anymore.”  Then he takes out his Muslim prayer beads and says “I don’t need these anymore.”  Then he takes out two amulets and says “I don’t need these anymore.”  In a matter of minutes he was laying down every idol he owned, breaking free from his previous generation's false gods, and acknowledging Christ was all he needed.

As we prepared to leave we asked what he wanted us to pray for him.  Here were his two requests: 1) that I’ll show grace to those who curse and persecute me and 2) more in my village will believe. 

Well God answered his prayer and in a matter of minutes there were now 9 more who believed and were ready to be baptized!  We also learned how great the sacrifice of his amulets was.  This was a man known in the village to be possessed by a demon.  A fierce demon who would take him and throw him to the ground.  His only protection from this demon were these 2 amulets.  These weren’t some good luck charm, they represented salvation for him.  And yet, he understood he didn’t need them any longer, he had a better salvation!
These stories only scratch the surface of a truly unforgettable weekend.  The fruit we were able to see was not because of our clever strategy or great ability but because we simply went and shared the name of Jesus with those who’d never heard and God’s sheep heard His voice.

We were all challenged and, quite frankly embarrassed, by the deep faith these new believers showed.  Do we so quickly part with our idols?  Do we pray for grace to those who hate us?  Do we go share to those who have the power to hurt us?  We may have our systematic theologies all neatly lined up in our heads but these young believers understand something far too many of us sadly miss out on.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

NLTS 2.0

We completed our second (of 12 total) class of NLTS this past week.  The class was all about Spiritual Formation as we discussed topics such as Bible Study, Prayer, Fasting, Spiritual Gifts, and Stewardship.  We had 17 attendees who represented 11 villages.  Jody and Randy taught early in the week and then a team from Living Hope finished the teachings.

It was an incredible week of learning and fellowship and from day one there was just a sweet spirit among the believers.  They are growing and they are realizing more and more how to lead their churches or outreach groups back home.  They are learning more and more that they can still grow and learn and teach others even though they cannot read. 

It was so awesome to see God’s sovereign hand even more visible this past week.  When God gave us the vision for the HUB and NLTS we could go virtually anywhere in Niger we wanted.  Now, however, as our country has become a less safe place, the need for a central launching pad here in the capital is a necessary part of our ministry!

We gave our teachers a goobo (Songhai wooden cane).  This is a vital tool for shepherds as they will use it to keep their flock on the right path but also to defend their sheep from enemies.  I gave them these to remind them of how they’ve sharpened these leaders into stronger and more qualified shepherds.

I also told them a story an old believer here once told.  He said that his walk with Christ was a journey and that he wanted to move forward along the road.  However, sometimes a snake came out in the road.  If you have nothing in your hands, i.e., a goobo, you have no option but to turn (and run!).  But if you have a goobo, you can kill the snake and continue to move forward.  "So what is the goobo?", I asked the man.  "The goobo is God’s Word, it is our weapon and if we don’t have it, we can’t move forward in our journey with Christ!," he replied.

I told these men that in teaching these believers this past week, they have given them a goobo.  A goobo that will allow them to kill any snakes that come in front of them and I reminded us all that we live in a land full of snakes!  

I gave all of our attendees a Niger soccer jersey and told them as I handed them their gift to “Soak your jersey.”  This is a phrase here that soccer coaches will tell their players.  The idea is to go play hard and, therefore, sweat and get your jersey wet.  The theme of the week was disciplines.  And disciplines take work and practice.  We reminded them that knowledge isn’t enough and tools aren’t enough.  We must work with them or, in other words, we must soak our jerseys!

Thanks for your prayers for these men and this ministry.  Again, many of you were the first to take the Good News to these brothers' villages and maybe even these men themselves.  Many of you were there when they took their initial steps in the faith.  And now, many of you pray for these men daily as they try to shepherd their flocks.  Pray that they’ll be able to defend against snakes.  Pray that many will believe as they take the Gospel to their people.  And pray that they’ll soak their jerseys!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Weekly Prayer Focus: FBC Franklin team

Please be in prayer for a team from FBC Franklin, Ky team this week. They will be targeting areas surrounding Niamey where we have ongoing work to minister to children through one-day VBS events. They will also be spending time in the villages sharing C2C & encouraging believers.

As some of you may know, things have been a little "difficult" for ministry over the past month with a heightened security situation. We are thankful for this team (& the other teams that have come this year) to minster alongside us despite these situations. Please pray for this team's safety as they will be in many different villages & along many different roads. No 2 days will look exactly alike!

Pray for their health & stamina as the heat is increasing each day ... especially during the times they'll be walking around doing C2C. One of the team members has already been wiped out for 2 days due to a kidney stone! Pray for the other 8 team members to remain healthy & for this volunteer to be able to regain his strength soon!

Pray also for the many, many children that will hear of God's love & plan of salvation for them this week ... many for the first time. Pray also for the men & women that will hear of the same. Pray for God to call many to salvation & for the believers in these villages to be bold in their witness. Pray for churches to be established where there are none & for existing village churches to be encouraged & strengthened as the Gospel goes forth in their "backyards."

Friday, February 15, 2013

News from Gomer: February 2013

Dear Friends,

I pray this finds you all in the peace and love of God. I want to truly offer to you all a big and heartfelt Thank You for all your prayers and support. There has been so much happening here in the last four months and it has been at times a rough season in some ways. We were so happy about the new place we found to live and minister, but it has brought us many challenges. We have encountered so much in the past few months, but, God has been faithful. We know we are at odds with the evil one and we know he will do all he can to derail our work. We also see God's hand of protection, we feel the peace and joy of following the true and only God. We also see that in all the crazy things that have been happening, God has continued to protect the ministry and even grow our understanding of what He has for us to do. We have seen God at work in the hearts and lives of many in the last few months, and after all, God and His message of Love and Salvation through Jesus is what it is all about anyways.

There are many things to praise God for and we have petitions we would ask you to join us in lifting up before God. We ask for His will to be done in all things.

First, I praise God for your prayers for this ministry, for Mustapha and for me. There have been many times in the past few months that the knowledge of people praying and seeking God on our behalf has been such a comfort and blessing. I know God honors the earnest prayers of His children.

I praise God for the wonderful work he is doing in the hearts and lives of some very fine young men right now. There are about four young men that have been drawing close and are really being encouraged by God to seek Him more and more. Two young men come occasionally and will fry up an egg or two and make a sandwich, when they do they always want us to pray with them before they eat. One has been showing the Jesus video to many of his friends, he even told of one friend that is starting to earnestly seek the truth of Jesus after years of defiance against Christianity. One young man who can read, has been reading the Bible and has found a great desire to know more, understand and live out what he is reading and hearing from the words of a true and living God. We have even seen some young men taking the Arabic Bibles to read. Couple weeks ago three young men took bibles and copies of the Jesus video with them, and the next week we got a visit from some of their elders. God is working, and I praise Him for His love for the Songhai and all people, I praise Him and thank Him for the opportunity to be a small part of what He is doing in the hearts and lives of so many.

Please join us in praying that through some of these young men God will raise up some leaders, some young men that will come to be missionaries, evangelist and pastors to their people. Pray that God will work through them to establish a conduit of His Truth running from here in Accra all the way to the villages in Niger, Mali and all the areas where the Songhai are. We are seeking God's guidance as to how he wants us to guide and support them as they show up, we know God will bring them. God will build His kingdom and the Songhai will be there praising Him.

God is growing and expanding our ministry. Pray that as He does, we will be faithful to do all He wills for us. Pray that we will fully seek to follow Him. We are seeing God work in some really interesting ways. We have Bissa people we are working with, these are Mitch's family and people. We are seeing God work through the Dagomba man in Kumasi. We are seeing the Songhai bringing in some friends that are not Songhai, because they seek to share with them what is piercing their hearts. I know God has my focus on the Songhai, but it is so great to see the people reach out across the ethnic, people group borders, as they seek to share Jesus. One day not too long ago, we had three Songhai, two Bissa, a Dagomba and a hillbilly from that United States all together sharing in the words of God. Pray for us as God grows us as a ministry, that we will always and only seek to do His will and share His Love and offer of Salvation through Jesus Christ His Son.

Thank you for your prayers, for your love and your support. God Bless you all.

Praise God for the work He is doing in the hearts and lives of many here. Praise Him for His love and salvation.

Praise God as He raises up Young men to be leaders in His church, sharing Christ and the free gift of Salvation through Him.

Pray for many young men to come to be pastors, missionaries and evangelist to their people. Pray that God will give them all knowledge and wisdom, that He will give them the strength to stand and courage to go forward with His words of Love and Salvation.

Pray for our ministry, that we will seek God first in all we do and that we will always and only seek to do the will of Him who called us and sent us. Pray that God will use us to grow His church and that He will give us knowledge and wisdom, courage and strength.

 In Christ we offer these praises and request to the most Holy and Righteous God.