Dr. J. L. Williams was an evangelist and teacher who traveled around the world in apostolic ministry as God led and enabled him. In addition to preaching and teaching the Bible, he mentored key partners to be more strategic and impactful for the Gospel in their countries and cultures. He was relationally focused rather than program or project focused in ministry relationships and partnerships. J. L. went home to be with the Lord on December 28, 2016.
Dear NDI Partners,
Before I begin this article, I wanted to give you a brief update on my current health situation because I know that so many of you have been praying for me. The bottom line is this: Last week I had a “MRI Heart Stress Test” at Duke. It revealed some slight scar tissue (about 5%) at the base of my heart. It could mean a previous “silent heart attack” or a virus. They will not know for sure until they go in for a closer exam. So this Thursday, I will be having a heart cath at Duke to try and find the reasons for this scar tissue and for the weak heart ejection fraction (40% rather than 60%). Thanks for your prayers and Patt and I will let you know the results. Now to Africa…
As you well know from the nightly news, vast areas of America have been facing different kinds of natural disasters in the past few weeks. The West has been charred by thousands of wildfires that have burned through hundreds of homes and thousands of acres of woodlands. Parts of the mid West have been inundated by record-breaking floods that have destroyed thousands of homes and businesses. Other cities and states have been ravished by an unprecedented number of tornados that have leveled block after block of houses. Many states in the South are still struggling with the most severe droughts on record. Lakes and reservoirs are at an all time low. Farm crops have dried up in the fields like the parched lawns around many people’s homes. And we are just now entering into our annual hurricane season – which meteorologists are saying will be one of the worst ever! In light of all of these natural disasters, I hope you have read my book, The Storms of Life as well as the study I posted on our web site entitled Stormy Lessons. They will help you get a Biblical perspective on what Jesus called “…the beginning of birth pains” in the natural order.
As a result of these many natural disasters, our national celebrations this past 4th of July were somewhat muted and subdued. Due to unprecedented gas prices, escalating food costs and foreclosures on tens of thousands of homes – many Americans didn’t feel much like celebrating. These near recession economic conditions have caused a growing sense of fear and anxiety about the present and future. And to top it off, Wall Street says we have now officially entered into a “Bear Market.”
But as bad as all of these disasters are, America is still the envy of the free world. Whether we are living under a “Bull Market” or a “Bear Market,” we are still the most prosperous society in recorded history! As a result, we are still the only country on earth that has to build walls to keep people out – rather than to keep them in! And while we have just completed a heated presidential primary, the process has been peaceful without violence and intimidation. As a democratic nation we have every right to believe that the current “Race to the White House” will be free and fair – though hotly contested.
By comparison, our friends in many African countries are not so fortunate. Just a few months ago Kenya was embroiled in a violent presidential race that resulted in tribal warfare, violence, carnage, looting, burning and mayhem. Thousands lost their lives. Others lost everything they owned. And Kenya was the “African Poster Boy” of peace and tranquility since they had never experienced this kind of tribal fighting since their Independence in the 1960s. Thankfully things are more peaceful there now through a brokered power sharing agreement between the two major candidates and parties.
Another sad example is Zimbabwe – previously one of the most beautiful, peaceful and prosperous countries on the African continent. Now it has gone from being the “Bread Basket” to the “Basket Case” of Africa! And all of this is the direct result of bad governance. The current hyper-inflation there is the highest in the world – over 2 million percent! That means that one US dollar is worth $12 billion Zim dollars! A loaf of bread cost the equivalent of $150! The once fertile farms are largely fallow and barren. Grocery store shelves are basically empty. Though there is a strong industrial infrastructure in Zimbabwe, businessmen do not want to produce under such economic uncertainty.
As a result of these unstable political and economic conditions, NDI has had to greatly slow down some of our projects there – especially church building. Right now a bag of cement cost $250 billion Zim dollars! Now it cost over $30,000 to build one church. A few years ago we could build 3 complete churches for that same amount of money.
But in spite of these deplorable conditions – created by bad government and failed economic policies – the church there still goes on “…from strength to strength in the Lord” (Ps. 84:7). These testing times have caused the church in Zimbabwe to go to her knees before the Lord in fasting and prayer as never before! Indeed, this is becoming the finest hour for the church as God’s salt and light in that dark and difficult situation. And many of our national partners there – especially Bishop Trevor Manhanga – is giving strategic servant leadership to both the church and government during this time. He is a powerful and respected voice of reason and reconciliation during this troubled and uncertain season of Zimbabwe’s history. He just wrote me these words about the current situation:
“I am so grateful that the people of Zimbabwe have not allowed themselves to be used by anyone and descend into the kind of chaos and mayhem seen in Kenya and elsewhere on the continent. For that the people of Zimbabwe must be given credit even though we often don’t. For the most part Zimbabweans deplore the loss of lives that have taken place between March and now even if it pales into insignificance when compared to what happened in Kenya. Even if only one person had died, it is one person too many…Thank you for your continued prayer and support.”
And in spite of the highest inflation in the world, Bishop Trevor just finished a Marriage Retreat at Victoria Falls with 120 couples from his church. To fly or drive across the country to Vic Falls and stay in a hotel required great commitment and sacrifice for all of those couples. But that shows the level of their commitment to the Lord and to their marriages – even in these tumultuous times! I only hope our current economic crisis in America produces the same relational results in many marriages that are struggling with the grip of materialism and misplaced priorities.
Please do not forget our dear friends and partners in Zimbabwe as you struggle to adjust to the “new normal” of your own economic situation. Millions there go to bed hungry every day – especially children. The UN tells us that hundreds of thousands are in dire danger of starvation. While many of us will have to make some radical adjustments in our life-style – like parking our big gas-guzzling SUVs, driving one car rather than two, eating out in restaurants less – they are struggling between life and death. Because of our level of affluence in America, most of us only have to give up some luxuries. Many in Africa give up life itself. That reality puts our struggles into perspective!
We must not let our own national disasters – or these many international crises – create the kind of “compassion fatigue” and “giving malaise” that is growing among many Christians. Remember, Jesus warned us of these things in advance so we would not be caught off guard like those outside the faith. He said that in the face of these growing global crises, governmental intrigues, tribal and ethnic fighting, religious apostasy and regional natural disasters that “…the love of most would grow cold” (Matt. 24:12).
So remember saints, whether we are living under a “Bull Market” or a “Bear Market” – we are supposed to be living under the Lordship of Christ. Jesus is still on the throne! God still has the reigns of history firmly in His grip and He is leading the whole world to a sure rendezvous with Jesus Christ (Col. 1:15-20; Phil. 2:5-11). These are our greatest hours of opportunity! It is when things are the darkest in the world around us that we Christians are to shine the brightest! By faith, let’s continue to seize every opportunity we can to advance the Gospel through practical expressions of love and compassion – whether it is natural disaster caused by storms or man-made disasters caused by sin and all of its manifestations!
Jesus is Lord…