Saturday, November 24, 2012

Prayer Needed: Nov 24-Dec 17

This morning I've been working on finalizing my Church History class in our new offices of the "Tommy Nelson Center". I will be teaching Tuesday-Thursday mornings and wrapping up this 9th book out of 10 of the BTCP curriculum for our Ujamaa class.
The Tommy Nelson Center! On the left our new offices, on the right our new classroom! Praise God for His faithfulness!  May this facility bring forth as much fruit as the mango trees around it (see the top left of the picture)!

In a bit, I'm going to worship practice at the church, then back to Serve for Ben Karanja's (James Muthee's brother) graduation party. We also have a pastor from Tanzania, Pastor Kalinga, coming in for our new class here in Ukunda. I've mentioned before I desires to have a FULL BTCP class here in Ukunda and God has finally answered our prayers. We have a group of close to 12 who will be beginning classes here once a month from Mon-Fri. So this week is going to be a very busy week of classes here - Monday through Friday 8am-4pm. Dennis and James will be teaching Old Testament Survey, and I might pop in after my Church History classes finish. Pastor Kalinga is an excellent man of God in ministry near Dar es Salaam. He is a perfect candidate for a BTCP Teacher in Mwandege where Dennis and I have gone 3 times this year. I will also be going for a conference there in Tanzania next week.
Betty, Karanja, me, and Daniel.

On Monday, the 3rd, I go to Tanzania and spend a couple of days walking through the BTCP Curriculum with a couple of missionaries who want to start using it there. One of them I met while I was in language school in Morogoro. God sovereignly works all things for His good and in His timing! Then onward to Dar es Salaam / Mwandege for a 3 day conference of which I will be the only teacher and likely repeating a class I did on 1 John...of which I have very little time to prepare. But I am thankful that I prepared really well back in February the first time I taught it. Then I will likely be preaching at a church on Sunday...need to figure out what to preach on.

Then I'll travel back on Monday the 10th, spend a day in Ukunda on the 11th packing and such, and travel to Nairobi on the 12th. On the 13th-15th I will be going with our two stinters, Abbie & Christina,  and a couple of other friends to Amboseli for a safari (a well deserved treat wouldn't you say?). Back to Nairobi from there and then on a plane Sunday night - the 16th all the way to Dallas, Texas............
..........God help me!

In other news, we are continuing forward with our 3rd Serve Intern, Mr. Peter Mutemi. He is doing well and serving here with us as he helps us in ministry, volunteers at the church, attends classes, learns Leadership from Dennis Omondi, and Church History (1 on 1) with me. He is a delight to have around and we continue to pray for his spiritual formation as a BTCP teacher who will be able to start classes in the North Coast. Thank you so much for your contributions to the Internship Program. We sincerely believe that Mutemi will bear much fruit in ministry for years to come!
Mutemi under the Mango Tree.

Please keep me in your prayers for:
  1. Safety as I travel. 
  2. To trust in God and not be stressed over lack of preparation time.
  3. To be guided by the Holy Spirit to say what the Lord desires for the pastors and believers I encounter to hear.
  4. For continued grace and energy the next few weeks as well as a restful time of reconnecting with people back home.
  5. For the Denton Bible bi-annual Missions Conference in January which I will be a part of.
  6. Pray also for the Omondi family as they have been through a lot of trials with Allison and Anjela in the states and Dennis and BJ here. They are pursuing a travel exemption for BJ whose adoption is not finalized so that they can be together in the states as they hope to all attend the missions conference in January. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Three Years!

In my last update I sent out some prayer requests. A couple of good friends asked me the following questions. In consideration of the fact that I am celebrating 3 full years of ministry here in Kenya, I feel these answered questions can be a benefit to you all and an insight into my own heart and reflections of what God has done from 2009-2012. 

September 2009 - the day I left home.

How long to do you plan on being over there?

When I first set out for Kenya in 2009, I felt that letting my mind go beyond my first term was too overwhelming. So I constantly told myself that I was going to Kenya for four years. Upon arriving in my third year, having gone through the difficult pains of adjusting to life here and making a home here, I have come to realize how important the work we are doing here and how necessary it is for the future of the Church. I think in conjunction with that, I consider and project myself into a future in the U.S. and I just can't imagine myself doing anything there. Sure I could go to seminary. I could do ministry in the states. I could get a job. But somehow those things don't make sense to me. It is like they are just not for me. I believe that God wants me to return after my furlough period in 2013-14, but I have a condition. I'm sure you can guess what that is, so you can pray for me in that regard for God's provision.

2010 - Me and Father Prijo from Kerala in Morogoro, TZ at Language School
2010 - James and I in Meru
What is the paramount thing the Lord has taught you over the last three years?

Live by GRACE, under the system of GRACE, under the law of GRACE. Give it. Receive it. Listen to it. Law is death, judgment, works-righteousness. Law is slavery. Grace is freedom. 

I have an issue with observing and then analyzing until I can make a judgment call on a person, thing, situation, or culture. It has really held me back and brought me down and damaged relationships and made me lose good opportunities. It has made my adjustment into this culture slower than it could have been. It has led to a big depression last year, but also a beautiful deliverance from it. 

I have seen my sin better than ever these last 3 years. I have needed Christ's abundant sustenance more than ever. I have begun to live by and understand grace in these last three years. God has shaped me and changed me. It is painful to grow, but in the end it is worth it.

2011 - Leaving again.
Mid-2011 - Nairobi trip for healing
As you reflect, what have been some of the triumphs you've seen the Lord bring you through in the last 3 years?

  • He has brought a deeper unity within our team which was not present before. 
  • When I was in that depression, he delivered me from it, and provided some supporting helps that made it a little easier to guard my heart from going back to that same place of darkness.
  • We have seen a few people truly be transformed by the Word of God and are now specifically being used to transform others.
  • Our dreams and visions for the future of SERVE are aligned, unified, and somehow feel both possible yet impossible at the same time.

2011 - The Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman

What is your greatest concerns for now and the future?

  • Will our work truly bear the fruit which is essential for the change of the Church in Kenya and E. Africa? I.e. Is the impact that we desire really taking shape in these pastors and leaders hearts?
  • People are being lied to all the time in the Church in Kenya, and they often choose the lies that they desire to believe. My concern is that the Truth just won't be good enough for people and the Gospel will be set aside entirely. Or as Derek Webb says, "The truth is never sexy / So it's not an easy sell."
  • Personally: Will I stay focused and faithful and persevere in the ministry for as long as I live? 
  • More than ever before, I feel the weight of Jesus' words: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matt 9:37-38).

2012 - Shepherding Shepherds Graduation

Thank you so much for your gracious support to me over the last three years. God is truly at work here in Kenya as well as in my life and yours.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Story of Daniel Gitonga

In March of 2010, Daniel Gitonga from the Tharaka district of Central Province, Kenya graduated from the BTCP program in Ujamaa, Kenya. Dennis Omondi specifically saw something special in Gitonga. I remember while still in language school in Tanzania, Dennis called me and told me to start praying about a possible internship program at Serve, and that he was about to have a meeting with Gitonga to see if he would be interested in staying with us in South Coast for another year of training.

Gitonga was very glad to accept and rejoiced at the opportunity to continue training in order to fulfill his vision. Gitonga comes from an area which most young people desert in order to flee to the city where education, opportunity, career, money, and entertainment is available. But Gitonga had already begun ministry with his father, a pastor and bishop in the area, and had felt sincerely called by God to continue ministry in his home area. In fact, if you ask how Daniel was called by God into the ministry it is exactly like the story of Samuel who hears God’s voice in the night. The amazing thing is that at that time, Daniel had never even read that story nor heard of it in the Bible! Truly it was the Lord. The ministry of Daniel’s father, Mzee Stephen Njeru, includes church planting, pastoral training, and community development / relief.

During our year together, I was able to have many conversations and lunches with Gitonga about his heart for ministry. Over and over his desire was to teach pastors back home. He was amazed at the insight and wisdom that Biblical understanding gave him personally and he felt compelled to bring the same to the people back home. Not without opposition however. Throughout the year he interned with us, his older brothers laid on him severe pressure to divert from his calling in order to pursue further education and a career. “There’s no money in ministry! Do you want to be poor the rest of your life? You are wasting your life!” So often Gitonga would hear this from his brothers that he would have to turn off his phone just for some temporary peace. In fact, this began long ago. Even when he was in Tharaka, Gitonga wanted to do ministry, but his brothers pressured him so much that he ran away. He felt like he must come to Mombasa. He did not know why, and he had no idea if there would be an opportunity for training, but he knew he needed to get away and that God was directing him to go to Mombasa.

In Mombasa, Gitonga met a man from his home area named Muthengi (seated left with James Muthee and Gitonga on the right). Muthengi has lived in Ujamaa in South Coast for most of his life and he was about to begin the BTCP training there in Ujamaa. The three pictured below all graduated together at the same time. Gitonga thought this was the perfect opportunity to receive training and worked very hard in various jobs including some small farming in order to raise the $150 cost for the whole year’s course.

During the course, Gitonga’s humility, sincerity, and call to ministry stood out to the Serve team and that is what brought him as our first Serve Kenya Intern. As an intern, we would on occasion have Gitonga teach in the BTCP class in Ujamaa – something small like Ruth or Philemon in the Survey courses. The first time he taught the pastors he was nervous, spoke so softly that you could barely hear him, and was always rubbing his hands together. I remember one meeting where Dennis, James, and I had Gitonga inside our Ukunda offices and Dennis really stretching Gitonga to find that “Commanding Presence” either within him or from the Lord Himself! It was very important because otherwise, pastors would not show him respect. Towards the end of the internship Gitonga got up to teach again. I sat in the back and saw him take charge, speak boldly, and command the room to the best of his ability never pretending to be anyone else but himself but at the same time effectively teaching. I was going to take notes to share with him afterwards, but the only thing I had to say is, “You’re done. You’re ready.”

I can’t say that our time with Gitonga throughout that year was well-planned or organized, but God was gracious to us and the Spirit was at work in him. He observed us doing ministry and served with us in pastoral training, conferences, and church ministry. He had many meetings and meals with myself, Dennis, and James either planned or impromptu. We did evangelism in the area near the Serve offices, he accepted intense challenges like reading through Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology”, and he sat through almost all of the BTCP curriculum a second time never having an attitude of, “I already know this,” but instead always wanting more.

In October 2010, James, Muthengi, Gitonga, and myself traveled to his home area which is about 5 hours N.W. of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. It was a very fast journey because Dennis was still in the states and James and I were loaded down with lots of work here. There we saw the great eagerness of these old pastors who longed for a chance to know God’s word and to be taught it well. It was also a very long journey. Eight hour bus ride to Nairobi, four hour bus ride to Nkubu, forty-five minutes down an extremely dusty road to Mitunguu which by the time we arrived everyone was covered in red dust, and then 30 minutes going up and down hills and valleys and trenches, dodging rocks, and hanging on for dear life on the back of a motor-cycle. Thankfully no donkey cart rides. We had a two-day conference and then returned home.

I have just returned from my second trip to Gitonga’s home. He has now told me it is my home. They told me that the first time you come, you are a visitor, but the second time you come, you have become a son returning for a visit home. They may not have hardly any money, but they transported a bed to where I was sleeping while the pastors slept on mats on the floor, they heated up my water for bathing, they cooked my meals, always gave me the best seat available, slaughtered the “big chicken” on the last night, and gave me 4.5kg of green grams (also known as Mung Bean) on my way out. And all of it seemed so automatic to them – the giving, the serving, the hospitality.

The reason for my going was to support Gitonga in the beginning of his first BTCP class of pastors. The pastors come in once a month for one week. They come from various places many of them walking, many on bicycle, and several from very far away. One person required around 8 full hours in order to get home by bicycle and walking. They come with a few dollars for food but also bring beans, corn, and a few other basic foods from their farm. They sleep there at the church Monday through Thursday nights on their mats on the floor, and are in class about 9 hours per day. Monday through Thursday with 5 hours on Friday. The month of April was the third time to meet and Gitonga concluded the week with the book of Jonah in the OT Survey, Book 2 out of 10 in BTCP. He has 18 students. I met 17 of them because one was out because of a sick child who later passed away. They raised a little bit of money for their fellow student.

Already, there is another group of 18 asking Gitonga to come start another class farther interior, but he is currently unable to do so as a new teacher as well as using his other 3 weeks per month to study, farm, and run a small café.

For us here at Serve Kenya, I believe Gitonga has become the perfect example of the type of expansion we would like to see happen. In fact this is exactly what we have envisioned as the purpose of the Tommy Nelson Center (for more info on giving click here)being built here at the Serve Kenya Compound. Here is the story behind it as told by Dennis Omondi. The building will hold offices, a large classroom and several apartments - the picture below is our completed foundation. The house we are currently in will become four more apartments. Serve Kenya could hold the potential to be having 7-10 individuals or families living here, serving here in various ways, doing ministry with us, being trained through BTCP and intentional discipleship, and then being sent back out into their home areas to begin BTCP, discipleship, or other ministries. In other words, we hope to produce more and more Gitongas. Pray for us that the Lord might see this happen and that He would change Kenya and her Church through shaping people as ministers who can remain faithful to Him, His gospel, and His word for a lifetime of ministry going out for the sake of the Name in order to do the same thing which was done for them.

For more pictures go HERE
For a couple of Videos click HERE

Saturday, March 3, 2012

March Update

My class from Bible School in Kabete

Shepherding Shepherds - teaching Discipleship

Look closely for Mt. Kilimanjaro - this was on the road from Nairobi to Mombasa

Hi everyone! I hope all is well! I just wanted to share briefly through videos again. Last month I had the opportunity to go up to Nairobi and teach a whole week at a Bible School through Word of Life. Word of Life is the youth ministry here in Ukunda that we are friends with and are connected with through the church Dennis is pastoring. In the video I explain a bit about who Word of Life is.

Untitled from Ben Warren on Vimeo.

The second video is an update about what is going on at the Serve grounds here in Ukunda. Lots of construction! Here are a few pictures from our monthly Shepherding Shepherds program as well.

Untitled from Ben Warren on Vimeo.

March is looking like we are continuing to stay busy with classes progressing and a trip mid-March (12th-16th) to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with Jerry Barton from Denton Bible Church. Pray for us (Dennis, Jerry, & I) as we are doing a conference there and hoping that we might be able to develop a partnership of establishing a BTCP class with a pastor there in Dar. Thanks for your prayers! Pray for energy, faith, and continual trust in the Lord.

Below are pictures of the construction at Serve for the Tommy Nelson Center:

This is Omondi - the lead Contractor

Loading Cement into the Storage

Digging for the walls / foundation

Bases for the Pillars

Inside the room - Chiseling for electric pipes