This summer I had the opportunity to travel to Zambia on mission with a group of complete strangers.
And it has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.
It is amazing to me how naturally this mission opportunity fell into place. But you know, “falling into place” makes it seem like there was no control in the orchestrating of this trip when it is obviously clear to me that God was in control the whole time.
It all began when I met Kristi. Kristi and I met on Super Bowl Sunday through a friend of a friend. I found out that she works for an organization called Gospelink Inc. Gospelink is an organization dedicated to “advancing the Gospel through national preachers,” or international preachers to us in the US. They do this by raising funds through the help of sponsors and distributing those funds to the established preachers in many different parts of the world. Right up my ally!
I never could have imagined that only a few months after meeting Kristi I would be boarding a plane to Zambia as Gospelink’s Marketing intern.
I had the privilege of traveling with a group from Harvest Baptist Church in Maryland. The first time we all met was at the airport in DC, but by the time we landed in Zambia we were family. This wonderful group of believers took me in as one of their own. It was as if we had known each other our entire lives. So, if you ever have the opportunity to visit Salisbury, MD, stop by Harvest and be blessed.
We got started right away. Our first day in the city, we had the opportunity to visit two different orphanages in Lusaka. At both orphanages we were greeted with warm smiles and songs. I had never visited an orphanage before so this was a completely new experience for me and for many on my team. We fell in love immediately and I don’t think any of us ever wanted to leave. There is something so special about these children. I remember walking in and feeling so overwhelmed by God’s love for each one of them.
The following days in Lusaka we spent in the public schools. In Zambia, you are free to speak the name of Jesus in the classroom and that is exactly what we did. Our team broke up into smaller groups and went from classroom to classroom sharing the Gospel and handing out Bibles and tracts to the students.
I have never come across anyone as grateful as the students we met in Zambia. Every single one of them accepted their Bible with both hands extended out in front of them. This is customary in Zambia when giving and accepting a gift, but this small gesture spoke volumes to me.
Our Heavenly Father loves to give gifts. He loves to give abundantly and He loves to give GOOD gifts. Watching these children drop what they were working on or whatever else was in their hand to extend them both to receive the special gift of God’s Word was amazingly convicting.
Imagine spending your time, effort and resources into picking out a gift for someone you love. You are beyond excited for them to open this gift. But imagine they open it and say nothing at all, no thank you, they just move on to the next thing. How upsetting would that be? I don’t know about you, but there is nothing more disheartening to me than giving a gift to an ungrateful person.
After meeting these children I asked myself, “How often do I drop everything I’m doing to extend both of my hands before the King of kings? How often do I respond to His gifts with silence?”
It is all too often that I accept my Father’s gifts as a thankless and entitled child. Through these beautiful children I have been humbled by His goodness. I now stand in awe of my Creator’s continued gifts of love, grace, authority and peace with a renewed sense of wonder.
It’s funny, we were there to teach the children but through the children I believe we were taught so much more.
Since I first started going to Tanzania in 2007, two things have been constant: I have wanted to visit Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania, and I have observed that the greatest need in East Africa is discipleship.
Operation World reports that more than half the population of Tanzania might be Christian. Many of these believers are living in the inland areas, while those living along the coast of Tanzania, in Zanzibar, and some of the southern provinces are largely (or almost entirely) Muslim.
Zanzibar actually consists of several small islands and two large islands. Unguja is the larger of the two and it is usually referred to simply as “Zanzibar.” The capital is Zanzibar City and its historic center is Stone Town, one of eight World Heritage sites in Tanzania. The main industries on Zanzibar are spices, raffia, and tourism. It is often called the Spice Islands because of its large production of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper.
Zanzibar is mentioned in ancient texts as early as the first century. Persian traders used it as a base for their voyages between the Middle East, India, and Africa. Vasco de Gama’s visit in 1498 marked the beginning of European influence. In the early sixteenth century, Zanzibar became a part of the Portuguese Empire. At the end of the seventeenth century, Zanzibar fell under the control of the Sultanate of Oman. In the nineteenth century, the island became a major center for slave trade, with as many as 50,000 slaves passing through the port.
Last summer, we had the opportunity to visit the slave market and go to the underground area where the slaves were kept for up to two weeks before they were auctioned and shipped abroad. The slaves endured inhumane and unsanitary conditions and many of them perished before ever leaving the island. Those that did live to make it to the auction were advertised as being “stronger” than those who died and, as such, secured a high price.
As the anti-slavery movement grew, the British put pressure on the Sultan to end the slave trade. Eventually the English navy was able to enforce various anti-slavery treaties and by 1890 Zanzibar became a British protectorate. During this period England governed the islands through local viziers. In 1896 leadership fell through succession to a vizier who did not meet England’s approval; this resulted in the Anglo-Zanzibar War. On August 27, 1896 the Royal Navy destroyed the palace. A cease fire was declared 38 minutes later. To this day the bombardment stands as the shortest war in history.
The islands gained independence from the United Kingdom in December 1963, and a constitutional monarchy was established. One month later, the Zanzibar Revolution resulted in as many as 20,000 Arabs and Indians being killed, and the People’s Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba was established. In April 1964, the republic merged with the newly independent Republic of Tanganyika mainland to form the United Republic of Tanzania. (However, Zanzibar continues to remain a semi-autonomous region.)
The average annual income for Zanzibar is not much greater than US$250 and is about half of what it is on the Tanzanian mainland.
I had the opportunity to go to Zanzibar with our Tanzanian national director and Brian Thomson from Source of Light Ministries. We conducted a two-day discipleship seminar for 70 church leaders. We discovered at least three things on this visit:
(1) many church-planting pastors have moved to Zanzibar from the mainland to plant churches; (2) the need for discipleship is great and is recognized by the church leaders; and, (3) the church is undergoing tremendous persecution.
We were able to worship with these pastors, hear their stories, pray for them, and offer encouragement. Two days were spent in Bible study using the discipleship materials that Source of Light produces. We provided each pastor with materials which could be reproduced to use with children and youth, as well as adults.
Estimates are that the population of Zanzibar is as much as 99 percent Muslim. Christians are such a small minority on the island that they are easily targeted by extremist elements. The church where we had the seminar is the largest evangelical church on the island. Attendance runs around 1,000 each Sunday. The church was attacked by mobs in 2012. They set fire to the church, burned Bibles, and even set the pastor’s car on fire. Almost every pastor we spoke with shared personal stories of intense persecution. They have been beaten; their homes have been burned; they have lost their secular employment; and, their children have been harassed and even denied access to public schools.
In the coming months, I am planning on visiting Zanzibar again with our national director and one of our regional directors. This regional director will provide the oversight and leadership.
Psalm 68:5 says, “A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy habitation.” God is so glorious that He rides on the heavens, and presides over His vast creation. But He is also so compassionate that He remembers the poorest of the earth! As Charles Spurgeon said, “To this day and for ever, God is, and will be, the peculiar guardian of the defenseless. . .How zealously ought His church to cherish those who are here marked out as Jehovah’s especial charge. . .Blessed duty, it shall be our privilege to make this one of our life’s dearest objects.”
In 2006 my wife and I had the privilege of adopting two beautiful daughters internationally. Mikayla is now 11 and Mikenzie is now 9. They have brought so much joy to our home that it’s hard to imagine what our lives would be like without these precious Frank girls! Adoption is certainly a God-thing. Despite the challenges the adoption process provided, it was thrilling. Our adoption provided an overwhelming sense of the sovereignty of God; He chose these two girls from the other side of the world and placed them into our family.
Each time I step into an orphanage in Vietnam and see the children there, I can’t help but think that God is touched by the plight of these helpless ones. Today there are nearly 150 million orphans worldwide. The Bible calls these the fatherless. They are the ones who have nothing to offer society—no wealth, no talents, not even an identity—the forgotten ones. But not forgotten to the one who rides on the heavens!
The Bible has much to say about the fatherless. First of all, let’s consider God’s eye for the fatherless. God surely sees the plight of the orphans around the world. Being omniscient, doesn’t God see everything? Of course He does. From mundane things like a sparrow falling to the ground (Matthew 10:29) to not so mundane things like the persecution of Christians, found in the verse just prior; God sees it all. But some things grab God’s attention in a special way. Truly our Heavenly Father knows all about the body of Christ that is suffering persecution around the world today. God will one day right the wrongs of this world, until then we need to trust in Him that He is at work, even though from an earthly perspective it may not seem so. Let us not mistake His silence at times for obliviousness.
The fatherless also get God’s attention in a special way. When it comes to the orphans of the world, I believe God sees each of the 150 million, and especially observes how they are being treated. God’s Word tells us in Psalm 146:9, “The Lord watches over the sojourners, He upholds the widow and the fatherless.” In Exodus 22:22-24, God instructs His people, “You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry, and My wrath will become hot…” And Hosea 14:3 says, “In You the orphan finds mercy.” God sees the orphan. God understands their plight These helpless ones have His attention. Isn’t that like our Lord?
Secondly, God’s heart for the fatherless is a heart of compassion! God not only sees, God cares. Whenever God sees misery, His eyes affect His heart! In Deuteronomy 24, God instructed the Israelites to leave some of the harvest in the fields so that the destitute of their society, including orphans, could be well fed. And in Deuteronomy 10:18-19 it reads, “He administers justice for the fatherless and widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” In effect God was saying, “I have graced you by bringing you out of slavery – now grace others!” He is telling the Jews to not just be recipients of His grace, but to be channels of His grace.
Any student of Scripture knows how much the Bible talks about God’s heart for the fatherless. He is passionate that the disenfranchised of our world are cared for. He is passionate that the forgotten of society are remembered. When this happens, His grace is magnified.
Lastly, let’s be reminded that we are God’s hands and feet for the fatherless. God sees the orphan, God cares for the orphan, and God calls believers to administer love and provision to the orphan. As followers of Christ, you and I are His hands and feet on this earth. What a privilege and responsibility! In fact, James 1:27 tells us very clearly what true Christianity is: to care for the fatherless and widows in their affliction. Not only is God’s eye on the orphan, His eye is also on us! How are we treating the fatherless? Are we doing all we can do to be “imitators of God” in this cold and fallen world?
I believe the Church today is being mobilized like never before toward orphan care. Since our adoption several years ago, my wife and I have been encouraged by seeing other couples step out in faith to adopt. We have seen couples commit to foster care. We have watched churches, like our own in Indiana, step up in a big way to pray and give toward orphan care. Only when we all do our part can we observe the overwhelming statistic of 150 million orphans fade into the background. When we become involved all we really see is the single statistic that matters more than any other: it takes a single caring individual to make the difference for an orphan in time and eternity.
Gospelink believes the orphan holds a special place in the heart of God. Our orphan sponsorship program provides an avenue whereby Christians in America can personally engage in consistent, loving orphan care. Gospelink is assisting preachers in Africa who are caring for orphans in their community. These men and their wives are stretched to the limit financially as they sacrifice to provide for the needs of the fatherless in their own villages. They need the help that many believers in the United States can provide!
For $30/month sponsors in the U.S. can “adopt” an orphan through prayer and financial support. Sponsorship funds are used to provide the orphan food, clothing, education, and medical expenses. This is a unique ministry, in that the orphans who have been considered for assistance have been living permanently in the preacher’s home for at least six months. Additionally all those qualifying for support must be double orphans having lost both their father and their mother.
In addition to helping preachers care for orphans, Gospelink runs the Harvest Hope Home as an orphanage in Malawi adjacent to the Agricultural Training Center. Each orphan is placed in a cottage with a loving and godly family where their spiritual and physical needs are met on a daily basis. Here each orphan needs three sponsorships of $30/month.
Similar to Gospelink’s preacher sponsorship program, every orphan sponsor receives a profile of the child they are sponsoring, as well as quarterly reports from the child and the family caring for them. This program provides a practical way to be the hands and feet of Jesus to some of the most needy and destitute little ones on the planet.
As we care for orphans, we demonstrate the same grace that has been shown to us. A person who receives God’s grace through the Gospel must have a sense of obligation to joyfully manifest that grace in the lives of others. As Spurgeon said, may orphan care not only be our “blessed duty,” but may it also be one of life’s greatest privileges!
“This next patient is the wife of a Bible college student, who has come here to Zambia to prepare for the ministry.” The inference did not conjure any imaginations of wealth. “She has lost more than eight pregnancies, and thus far they have no children.” The doctor shook his head with sorrow. In Africa children are still considered a blessing from the Lord. However, his examination offered both insight and hope. In1978, technology was advanced enough for them to place a stint in one of the heart valves of this young woman. Within a year she conceived. The doctors encouraged rest, and the first trimester elapsed safely. After the second trimester, hope escalated by degrees. Finally, might God bring them His heritage in a child!
Civil strife was rocking Zimbabwe to the south so at the time, a strict curfew was mandated in Zambia which restricted any movement outside after sundown. Therefore distress and angst sang their dismal melodies as the young woman went into premature labor. Ruben Nkata, the young husband and Bible college student, had no car and no phone, only a God and a cry. This pregnancy had lasted only seven months, but with no way to reach a hospital, what could he do to save the life of a premature baby?
Miraculously, a knock came at the door. Out of the night loomed a policeman, the only people allowed on the streets at this hour. “I was just thinking about you and your family,” he said to his friend, “and thought I would check in on you.”
“None too soon, my friend, none too soon!” Ruben exalted his Lord in his spirit. Many officers traversed by foot or on bicycle, but his friend at the door commanded a vehicle! “Can you get us to the hospital in your squad car?”
The baby lived, and because the Most High God had heard their prayer, they named him Zachariah. The baby brought joy to the couple. Ruben finished his training and began pastoring a church in Lusaka, Zambia. No other child was gifted to them, and sorrow, as so often occurs in Africa, revisited the young family in ministry. When little Zach was barely three his mother returned to Malawi to participate in the wedding of her sister. Despite warnings against over exertion, she pounded the cornmeal in preparation for the wedding feast. The stint in her heart came loose; she collapsed and died. The poor family observed a wedding on one day and a funeral on the next.
“Ruben can’t care for the child. He’s a pastor. He’s in the ministry,” his in-laws reasoned. Poor or not, Ruben was determined to raise his son.
He already crossed cultural bounds for three years by being the “baby carrier” to protect his wife’s health and strength. Surely God, who gave this child, would provide for its care! But culturally, Ruben could not win. Before marriage he had not afforded the “bride price,” and thus with the death of his wife, the custody of the child now fell to the allotment of his in-laws. “I have always loved the orphan children,” Zach told me once. “I was an orphan.”
Benevolence and grandparents usually go together, but as Zach moved to school age he was sent to live with an aunt and uncle in the city. There he was mistreated, ridiculed and shamed. He served as the house boy, the shoe polisher, the janitor— the in-house slave child. By this time his father was prohibited from visits of any kind, and though he sent Zach clothes and shoes, it was the cousins that benefited from these gifts. Ruben could not have known that his only son was subject to daily abuse; being beaten with a rod, being forced to sit in solitary confinement without an evening meal, and finally worst of all in African culture, to not be allowed to attend school. He was, after all, as his uncle said, “stupid.”
By 1998 Zach was broken and bitter, and the future seemed bleak. Another family member sensed the relational problems and suggested to send him back to his dad, who was still around.
Indeed, Ruben was around. By 1998, Ruben had planted more than 10 churches in Malawi. Despite the gloomy predictions of poverty, Ruben also displayed diligence in the earthly field growing maize and beans. Though accompanied with difficulty, he kept the children from his second wife fed and in school. One can only imagine the tears and emotional upheaval when this poor pastor embraced his God-given son for the first time in a decade.
Providentially that year, for the first time ever, the ministry of Gospelink arrived in Malawi. Desiring to see the Gospel spread and lives changed through the knowledge of God, Gospelink began a quest for church planting preachers who had already been doing the work of the ministry. Ruben qualified. Ruben’s application was accepted, and Ruben became one of the first preachers sponsored by Gospelink! How did he use this new financial support? High school is not free in Malawi, without the sponsorship it is doubtful that Zach could have gone back to school, but not only did he hungrily return to education, he excelled.
“I am not coming to work for Gospelink for the money,” Zach once told me. “Gospelink helped my family years ago, and now I want to help this ministry.”
The education improved Zach’s English and gave him a new lease on life! In a handful of years, he subsequently met a missons team from South Africa. Impressed with Zach’s demeanor, a Christian couple offered to pay for Zach to be educated in South Africa, an implausible dream for any Malawian. By western standards this couple flourished in their family owned business, and Zach went from rags to riches. New clothes, a nice house, and even a BMW became his accessories.
After Zach graduated with a mechanical engineering degree, the family offered him a place in the business. The position and opportunity could never be exceeded in Malawi, but Zach’s heart must honor another contract regardless of circumstances. He had told God, His God, the only true God, that if given such an opportunity, then he would return to Malawi and serve his people.
I met Zach in 2009. His character, already forged by his Lord and life’s trials, prepared him for leadership at the Gospelink Malawi Training Center. Enormous amounts of capital from the United States have purchased tractors, solar panels, trucks, vans, buildings, and pavilions; but the character to manage people and to live in a rural setting where superstition and hypocrisy abound cannot be bought. Today Zach’s motivation flows from a God given desire to serve. He smiles as he regards the 43 children now living at Harvest Hope Home, saying, “Someday, they will lead this place.” He truly desires to make others successful. Daily he fears God, knowing that God is at work with these orphans, knowing God told us to subdue the earth, and knowing it is the glory and power of God that will cover the earth and heal the nations.
Zach and Ruben’s story is one small seed. Ruben is still planting churches and evangelizing. Their testimony has been scripted by the Lord of the harvest Himself. He orchestrated events to enable someone in America in 1998 to pick up a sponsorship of a national preacher for a few dollars, which in turn enabled a poor boy to go to school, which in turn. . . well you’ve already heard the story. But the fruit of that story is still growing because that is what God does! It is our privilege to be involved in the growth of the church, and in the growth of souls, by being involved with faithful national preachers who know God and trust Him to write the final chapters in their lives no matter how difficult they may be.
We have just finished another year, and with a new one upon us. This is an important time to pause and reflect, but also a time to look to the future. This is a time to thank God for what He has done, and a time to ask God for great things.
At Gospelink, we are thankful for more than 250,000 people who welcomed Jesus to be their Savior in 2014. We are thankful for approximately 1,500 new churches that were started. We are thankful for the partnerships we have with 1,300 church planting pastors in 13 nations on 3 continents. We are thankful for the development and the growth of the International Bible College of Zambia with over 90 students that will be studying God’s Word there in 2015, and for the powerful ministry of the Chifundo Medical Clinic. We are thankful for the Malawi Training Center and all of the development and the good that is being done there, especially the orphanage that is changing lives. We are thankful for all of our USA staff members who keep the ministry of Gospelink moving forward at home and around the world. We are thankful for you, as it is you who prays for this ministry and gives to us so sacrificially. We are thankful for God’s goodness and faithfulness to us.
We are looking to the future. We believe that God wants to use us to help finish the task of reaching the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
What does that task look like?
The world we live in is constantly changing and growing. We share the world today with about 7.1 billion people, over 16,700 people groups, and more than 6,800 different languages. God can speak each language and knows each person and wants each one to understand how much He loves them. The challenge is that nearly 6 billion of these people do not know Him; 40% of the people in the world are considered unreached, and 30% have had virtually no exposure to the Gospel. It is estimated that 86% of the world’s Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist population do not personally know any Christians.
God’s plan to reach this world is the church–He wants to use me and you to tell them about Jesus.
It has been over 2,000 years since Jesus rose from the dead and left us with the command to reach every people group with His good news (Matthew 28:19, Acts 1:9). The task will be finished, but it will not be easy. Satan is alive and well, and he does not believe that he will lose.
The large numbers are a challenge: 4 billion are unreached, while over 2 billion have never met a believer or seen a Bible. To illustrate this, it would take an individual over 70 years to merely say the name “Jesus” to 2 billion people. These people need to know much more about Jesus than only his name. The 7,000 unreached people groups are going to be the most difficult to reach because they live in remote areas with harsh climates and with governments and cultures that are hostile to the good news of Jesus.
The lack of resources available to finish the task can be daunting.
The entire Bible has been translated into over 460 languages to date, while 1,215 other language groups have access to the New Testament. This still leaves over 2,000 languages with no access to any portion of God’s Word.
At the current rate of Bible translation efforts, it will be another 40 to 50 years until all the languages of world would have their own translation of the Bible. The number of western missionaries being sent to other nations has been stagnate for the past 30 years. Only 1 in 10 western missionaries are being sent to unreached people groups. Less than 1 penny of every dollar given by Christians goes for reaching unreached peoples.
The challenges are many, but our God is bigger than all of them. We need to make ourselves available to Him. We must pray to God for victory, we need to ask Him to use us in the battle.
In 2015, I want to challenge you and me to pray more for India. Gospelink has partnerships with over 30 church planting pastors there, but India is one of the most unreached nations on earth. We need to pray for God to send more missionaries there and to raise up more home grown missionaries as well.
Today, India is called home by 1.3 billion people, over 3 times the population of the US. There are less than 50 million believers in India, or 4% of the population. In comparison, there are 360 million believers in Africa, and over 440 million believers in North and South America. There are 1,500 languages spoken in India , yet only 10% of these have a translation of the Bible. There are 7 missionaries for every 1 million people, In contrast there are 90 for every 1 million living in Africa and 172 for every 1 million living in Latin America. The majority of those living in India worship false gods and live on just a few dollars a day. It is a nation filled with idolatry and poverty with a need for the Gospel. Will you pray with me for India in 2015?
The challenges of finishing the task are great, but not without hope. The Holy Spirit is on the move around the world. There are more believers on the earth right now than there has been in the history of the world. In the past 10 years, more than 300 million people have received Jesus as their Savior; 10 million in North America and Europe, and 290 million from developing nations. In 1950, China had 1 million believers; today there are more than 90 million followers of Jesus there. In Iran the church has been growing even in the midst of persecution. Ukraine has seen its church pews filling up in the midst of turmoil in the past year. South Korea, Brazil, and the Philippines have sent out a growing number of missionaries every year for the past decade.
There are many new vehicles to get the Gospel out to the world. In the past, we have had radio, film and T.V., but now we have the internet, smart phones, and much more. Still the one tool that God continues to use more than any other is the one on one sharing of the good news of Jesus from one believer to a lost sinner. Don’t stop sharing the Gospel and praying for its expansion in the New Year.
We are constantly receiving amazing stories and like to share them with you. A shorter version of this story is featured on the cover letters for the 3rd Quarter of 2014, but they were so many amazing pictures I wanted to share it again. This amazing story came from Vladimir Telesh.
We enjoyed three full weeks of camp (vacation Bible School) at our House of Prayer. More than 310 children attended. More than 70% of these children came from non-Christian families. The third week of our camp was for special-needs children, more than 90% of them have never been to any church and the majority consider themselves Muslim. The Lord blessed us with a wonderful time of sharing with the children and their parents about the Love of God through Jesus Christ. We didn’t just talk about love of God, we demonstrated it as well. One older sister of one of the attendees was scared of “Christians” because she had heard the Soviet propoganda about blood sacrifices. However, she pensively stayed to watch the games and see the skits and how we communicated Bible truths to the handicapped children.
Before the week was over, this older sister joined in the ministry. She posted on “instagram” that through the lives of the church she had found out about the true and living God!
The savor of Christ wafts from his people, whether they are giving from the United States or whether they are working on the banks of Lake Malawi. The Gospelink Training Center is currently caring for over 40 children at the Harvest Hope Home, and there are 170 tons of dried corn in the garners of the agricultural side! In the midst of working with orphans, training national pastors, and managing the farm, an unexpected ministry is developing in the background. Throughout the developing world, far too many young ladies, cornered with poverty and a lack of education, are trying to earn money through prostitution. In following the footsteps of Christ, who commands us to care for the fatherless and afflicted, we are working with local pastors, churches, and social workers to initiate a discipleship and micro-credit program for these women near the training center. Ideally, the program will allow participants to undergo free trainings and receive a small loan of raw materials. Each woman will then be empowered to run their own local business with our accountability and will be part of a spiritual discipleship program that will meet weekly. $7,000 will enable Gospelink to hire two staff families to oversee the first steps of this ministry with 10 women. Your contribution will cover the costs of these initial loans, pay the wages of the discipleship program staff, and give these women a chance at breaking free from financial and spiritual poverty.