I am primarily an evangelist and teacher who travels around the world in apostolic ministry as God leads and enables me. In addition to preaching and teaching the Bible, I mentor our key partners to be more strategic and impactful for the Gospel in their countries and cultures, just as they continue to mentor me. I am relationally focused rather than program or project focused in ministry relationships and partnerships.
Dear NDI Partner,
Loving greetings in Christ from Timbuktu! Yesterday it was 120 degrees here! So if you think it is getting warmer there in America during springtime, you should be here! When we arrived here a week ago, the weather was unseasonable cool. I actually slept under a sheet the first night I was here, which was a first for me in my four trips to Timbuktu. Just like many of you are experiencing a change of seasons in America from winter to spring, they are going through the same thing here in Mali.
May and June are the hottest months of the year here. Generally the seasons are hot, hotter and hottest! But during May and June you just go into a survival mode here with daily temperatures ranging from 120 - 140 degrees! Fortunately, it cools down at night to the low 100’s! So everyone sleeps outside during those months in order to catch any breeze that might blow, which is seldom. So thankfully, we are here this time just before the hottest weather. However, my first trip here was during May 2003, and it refined my theology of hell! They say that if you die in Timbuktu, you bypass Purgatory and go straight to heaven!
God has marvelously blessed our Conference here in Timbuktu. It is our third one here. We had a wonderful group of men and women from 5 major cities and towns around Mali. There were also more than 10 distinct tribal groups represented. I taught the men and women together in the morning and then we divided in the afternoon. Patt, Maribell Chittenden and Pat Sebby taught the women. We had around 100 attending the Conference, which is a BIG Conference in Mali since it is an overwhelmingly Moslem country.
While there is religious freedom in Mali, Islam dominates politics, culture, education, economics - everything. Since there is little or no separation between religion and culture, conversion to Christianity is exceedingly difficult just like in most Moslem countries. It is not just a matter of accepting Christ. It is a matter of denying one’s family, religion, culture, politics, and total way of life. So, conversion to Christ always means rejection, ostracization, persecution and sometimes death.
The best estimates today are that there are only a total of 200 Christians in Timbuktu - and that includes Protestants and Catholics. The population of this city is between 30,000 and 50,000, depending upon how many nomadic squatters are in Timbuktu proper from the “Belt of Misery” that surrounds the city in the Sahara Desert. And while the Catholics came to this city first in 1895, they are so small that they do not even have a full time priest living here. The majority of Christians here are Protestant.
The very first convert here to Jesus Christ is our national partner, Nouh Ag Infa Yattara. After accepting Christ as a young adolescent, he ultimately grew up to become the first national pastor in this city. And his church is still the largest with around 100 members. There are two other smaller groups here, one with between 20 and 30 attending and the other with only 3 or 4. So the Body of Christ is still very small in this city. We had pastors and leaders from all three churches attending.
Because of its almost mystical history, culture and religion, the city of Timbuktu is being targeted by the World Islamic League to become the very capital of Islam in North Africa. And the presence of tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts here - predominantly all Koranic - only intensifies the drive to make this an exclusive Islamic city. In fact, the discovery of these ancient Koranic manuscripts have the potential to become to Islam what the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls are to Judaism and Christianity.
Already, Timbuktu is considered the fourth holiest city to Islam behind Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. But there is a strong concerted effort to make it the single holiest city of Islam outside of Saudi Arabia—only superseded by Mecca and Medina. Until just a few years ago, there were only 10 mosques in Timbuktu. Today there are over 30, and all of the newly built ones are more fundamental and jihaddist in persuasion. The radical Wahabbi sect from Saudi Arabia have financed the majority of the new mosques. And if they have their way, Timbuktu will become an exclusive Islamic Holy City to the degree that there will be a “no fly zone” here for any other faith - especially Christianity.
Another strong and growing political and religious emphasis here is coming from President Ghadaffi of Libya. He is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the country of Mali - and especially into the City of Timbuktu—just as he is doing across the entire Islamic belt of North Africa. All over this desert city are signs boasting the presence and partnership of Libya. Ghadaffi is building mosques, Koranic chools, paved roads and a water canal for boats from the Niger River right into the heart of the City. And he recently bought the largest tourist hotel to make it his showcase here. In addition, he bought a huge tract of land very close to the Ahara Kabara Church that NDI was able to help build last year. It is the first daughter church of the mother church in Timbuktu led by Pastor Nouh. So because of his growing financial influence all across northern Africa, it would seem that Ghadaffi is seeking to become the major Islamic leader of this region of the world. And regardless of his recent peaceful overtures with America, he is still fundamentalist Islamic to the core!
So these are just a few of the reasons why we MUST be here in Timbuktu. We must “seize the moment” while we have it and “redeem the time,” as Paul exhorted. We do not know how long Mali will be able to remain a rather stable and moderate democratic country with religious freedom. Just like in every other Islamic country of the world, the fundamental jihadist are seeking to impose their radical form of Islam and Shairi Law. So we must do all we can to encourage, equip and empower the national Christian leaders of this country and city.
One of our other strategic partners here is the Living Water Project. It is the largest farm in the area and the only green belt you see from the sky, in this sea of Saharan sand, as you fly into Timbuktu. It was the vision of Pastor Nouh, and is headed by Rich and Anna Marshall. And these “sea of green” farm plots can be seen from our American satellites. It employs some 72 families who have now been taught successfully how to farm. But to date, none of them have become followers of Jesus Christ. So pray that God will bring a “double harvest” spiritually to match the agricultural one that is now taking place.
Finally, I want to share some urgent opportunities we have to strengthen and encourage the Christian leaders here:
1. $10,000 to build a pastor’s home (2 are needed right now)
2. $2,000 to build a basketball court for Sports Evangelism
3. $5,000 to drill a village well beside a new church
4. $2,000 to put a roof on a new small primary school
Most of all, we are praying for a gift of $30,000 to buy a Hydra-Form Brick-Making Machine. It will produce hundreds of inter-locking bricks a day. They are made of existing local clay with only a small percentage of cement. Once we have this, we can more quickly and cheaply build better churches, pastors’ homes and schools. And in the process it would generate jobs and income for the local Body of Christ. This would make a VERY strategic one-time investment for some church or businessman.
Thanks so much for praying for us while we are here. And Patt and I are especially thankful to those of you who gave toward the $10,000 we needed to sponsor this 5-day Leadership Conference. We just could not be in remote and strategic places like this without your spiritual and financial support! So may God richly reward you for your faithful “partnership in the Gospel!”
From the Cutting Edge,
PS: By the time you receive this initial report from Timbuktu, we will be on our way to Ghana for another weeklong conference. I will write more from there where we will be joined by several other couples and NDI partners. After our week of ministry in Ghana, I will go on to Ethiopia for a final week of ministry, some will return home and yet others will go on to Kenya for another week of ministry. So please continue to pray us all through this challenging and diverse times of travel and ministry.
Jesus made an incredible statement to His disciples about His relationship with them: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (Jn. 15:16). There are few things in life that will last for time – much less for eternity. In a temporal world, nothing has permanence. The Law of Entropy always overtakes our best efforts and investments to the degree that eventually everything runs down…falls apart…decays…dies…disintegrates. But not relationships. They are the only thing that are eternal. Only our relationships “in Christ” will last forever! Everything else will ultimately perish. That’s why every wise person keeps a people priority in life.
Jesus demonstrated that in His brief earthly ministry of about three years. He specifically chose twelve men to invest His life in. He personally mentored them under every circumstance of life. Then He commissioned them to go and do the same thing with other people. He said “..go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” And while they were very unlikely candidates to bring forth eternal fruit, it did happen in and through them because of the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. If you are a Christian, then you are a part of their “…fruit that will last” – forever!
After his dramatic conversion on the Damascus Road, the Apostle Paul gave the rest of his life to mentoring others. His letters are filled with personal references to the many people he was constantly mentoring. In fact, between the Book of Acts by Doctor Luke, and his own Epistles, there are some 95 people who are named as his close associates. And 36 were his intimate partners in ministry. Amazing! And Romans 16 is the longest list of his partners and mentorees. There he names 26 people – and at least 7 of them were women. So Paul was a team player – not a solo Christian leader.
Is it any wonder then that he instructed a young pastor he was mentoring by the name of Timothy:
“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (II Tim. 2:1-2).
The greatest joy of my own life has been in watching the people I have invested my life in go on from “strength to strength in the Lord” (Ps. 87:4). Many of them today are great Christian leaders who are now “…teaching others” in various spheres of influence. Two such couples recently surprised Patt and me with a plaque and roses at a Mission Conference. They are Pastor David Horner and his wife Cathy. He is the founding pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh – one of the great churches in America today. With them on the stage were Joel and Sonya Leath, who are leaders in outreach and worship at Providence. Both couples were members of NDI in their high school and college days. So what a joy it was for Patt and me to be honored by them for the small mentoring role we were able to play in their early Christian lives. They are truly two of the finest Christian couples of spiritual and marital integrity you will ever meet or sit under! And both of these couples impact thousands weekly with the Gospel of Christ through preaching, teaching, singing and mentoring.
A third couple is Duffy and Maggie Robbins. I mentioned them earlier in “Part 1” of this series on Mentoring. It was my privilege to speak along side them recently at the National Youth Workers Convention in Indianapolis. Duffy is not only the Head of the Department of Youth Ministry at Eastern University, he is one of the top speakers and authors in the area of youth in America today. He has authored more than a dozen books on teenagers and Youth Ministry. And they have recently co-authored a book on Christian Meditation entitled Enjoy the Silence. In addition to speaking to hundreds of thousands of young people and adults every year, Duffy has already had some 1,000 students graduate from his Department of Youth Ministry at Eastern. So his impact on the American youth culture is incredible and incalculable! And both Duffy and Maggie were a part of NDI during their high school and college days – so two more wonderful examples of God’s “abiding fruit” that continues to “reproduce reproducers!”
So I pray that whatever your vocation in life is – you will become a mentor for the Kingdom of God! All it takes is re-prioritizing your life around people rather than things. And then you must be willing to invest your time, talent, treasure and technology – where God invested His Son! If you will do that, then you will “…bring forth fruit that will remain” – FOREVER!
In His Mentoring Love,
PS: When you receive and read this email, Patt and I will be flying to Africa for several weeks of mentoring ministry. We will first be in Timbuktu, Mali, then Kumasi, Ghana, and finally in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We do covet your prayers for this diverse and intense time of mentoring strategic men and women in Africa!
2007 is already proving to be another full and challenging year of travel and ministry for me. Even though I have moved from being CEO to CMO, my pace has not slowed down at all. If anything – it has increased! And though I have just turned 65, I do not believe in retirement – only in re-firement and redeployment! So as long as God gives me health and strength, I will continue to travel and minister and stay on the “cutting edge” of where His Spirit is moving in the world.
As you know, I started off the year in India, Nepal and Hong Kong. Now I am headed back to Africa on another “Kingdom Mission Trip” for the balance of March. So in just the first 3 months of 2007, I will literally go “From Kathmandu to Timbuktu!” And all of our travel and ministry is made possible through your spiritual support through prayer and your physical support through giving.
On this trip, Patt and I will be holding Conferences together in Timbuktu, Mali and Kumasi, Ghana. Then she will come home and I will go on for another week of ministry in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. So please print out the itinerary below and begin praying for us NOW. And remember that we will be between 7 and 9 hours ahead of your time in America – depending upon where you live. So if you pray for us just before you go to bed, we will just be starting our day of ministry in Africa. But since God is not bound by time, He will use your prayers for us any hour of the day or night!
Finally, each of these three countries has a strong and growing Islamic influence spiritually, politically and culturally. Mali is especially a Moslem stronghold – and Timbuktu is the fourth holiest city to Islam, after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. And the Islamic fundamentalists have targeted Ghana in West Africa and Ethiopia in East Africa as special targets of evangelism because of their decades of Christian influence. They know if they can take these two strategic “Christian African countries” for Mohammed, then the other countries around them will easily fall under the dominance of Islam.
For the last century, Africa has experienced one of the greatest spiritual revivals in history. As a result, it has moved from being the so-called “Dark Continent” to being the “Christian Continent.” And this incredible spiritual revival has especially been true in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s why the Moslems are seeking to take the continent and plant the Islamic crescent from east to west and from north to south. And their rallying cry is: “From Cairo to Cape Town!” Everywhere you travel in Africa today you see multi-million dollar mosques springing up like minareted mushrooms! So this is the hour as never before to “encourage, equip and empower” the Christian leaders of Africa with the full spiritual and economic resources of the Gospel!
Please pray with us through the following ministry itinerary…
MALI: March 10 – 17
GHANA: March 18 – 24
ETHIOPIA: March 26 – April 1
Finally, this past week I have been working hard to get two containers filled with supplies to ship to Africa. One is a 20’ container for our Samburu partner, Stakwell Yurenimo, in South Horr, Kenya. The other is a 40’ container for Dr. John Nyikako in Yei, Sudan. And I will be back with both of these brothers in May. God has graciously provided the funds to buy and fill the containers with agricultural, building, medical and sports supplies. But it will still cost us $8,000 to ship the 20’ container and $10,000 to ship the 40’ container. So any financial gift you could send in to help with these needs would be very timely and greatly appreciated!
Thanks for praying Patt and me through this trip!
In His Faithful Love,
PS: Please also be praying by name for these people who will be going with us to minister to both men and women:
· Coulson & Mimi Mucher
· Doug & Kathy McClay
· Pat Sebby
· Maribell Chittenden
· Barbara Holton
· Elaine VanWingerden
· Neelam Swarmy (from India)