Newsletter (December 2013)
Dear Friends in the Lord,
“Busy Autumn & Nasty Fall” would be a good summary of the last few months! In early November, my wife slipped at home, broke her ankle, and has been immobilized since then until this past week. She has coped very well, with many visits and opportunities to share the Gospel with visitors. I was due to leave for Haiti 2 weeks after her fall, which obviously led to concern as to how things would work out. This is the sort of situation when one wishes to have the African extended family around, rather than our individualistic nuclear family! But we are thankful to the Lord that everything went well at home, apart from having to cancel our plans to spend Christmas in England with our daughter and her husband.
I had not been able to go there since June 2010 for various reasons, mainly too much work at home and in the various fields in Africa. The marks of the 2010 quake are still visible all over, like a huge scar running right across the city of Port-au-Prince. However, an ambitious rebuilding program is going on in many areas, but life is a kind of organized chaos. Houses are being rebuilt everywhere, taking into account the risks of another quake, and much work is going on to help the rain water to flow down the hills without causing devastation as has too often been the case in the past. This leads at times to scary maneuvers when the car comes to an unexpected and unmarked dead-end caused by the road work and has to turn around on a dirt street with a gaping 30 ft hole only inches away!
Through the contacts built over the years and resulting from previous visits, my schedule of preaching engagements started filling up very quickly. Then, a few weeks before leaving, I was contacted by 2 men who seemed to promise interesting opportunities.
Moïse had been a student on our Preachers’ Course but we had lost touch with him for some time. I did not realize at first that he was that student as he used another name to introduce himself. He attracted my attention when he wrote about “the blessed Europresse books that have taught me so much about the Lord”. Interesting how huge doors of opportunities can swing on such small hinges! The first module of the Course (on Romans) had led him to see that salvation is all of free grace. He quickly showed an interest in the project of my visit and managed to fill the rest of my schedule in a very short time. He also offered to drive me everywhere I needed to go, which was a real help. With the traffic congestions so common to Port-au-Prince, that gave us plenty of time to talk together about the Gospel and book distribution.
François, my other contact, is from Gonaïves (half way toward the north of the country). He got in touch because he wants to start a local bookshop. I had wanted to go to that city on previous trips but had not been able to do so. So, I decided to go and meet this enthusiastic young man and see what the Lord had in store for us. In a very short time, François organized a 3-day conference and visits in local churches.
I was therefore invited to come and teach in a local Bible school called C.I.S.E. Several hundred people (both religious leaders and others) came to the meetings. The leader of the school introduced the conference by saying that they were not interested in “isms”, but just wanted to hear what God has said and see Christ as He is declared in the Word. That was a good start! During our time together, we examined therefore the “Pillars of grace”, that is the sovereign and eternal plan of God for the redemption of His people.
There were some very interesting question & answer sessions after each message. From the various exchanges, it was obvious that the Word was not without effect. There was even an instance of a man strongly objecting to what the Bible says concerning the extent of the work of Christ on the cross. The debate got quite heated, but I did not have to get too involved as several men from the congregation started to answer him with what they had just heard and learnt!
François has a very refreshing and bubbling enthusiasm for reaching as much as possible the people of his town and the surrounding area with the Gospel message contained in the books. Within the confine of the Bible school, they have plans to open a library/bookshop, but François will probably start also operating as a colporteur, going round places to get the books known. I hope he will also start on the Preachers’ Course.
About 60 men from the North-West part of the country had indicated their desire to come to the conference in Gonaïves. Many of them are or had been students of the Course. In the end, about 20 of them managed to get funds to enable them to come. It was wonderful to meet men with whom I had been in contact over many years, in particular brother Moram, our first student in Haïti.
In Port-au-Prince, violence and insecurity are on every hand. A couple of times, I saw bodies lying in the street, and we heard of murders virtually every day. It was quite a shock to see people seemingly unconcerned pass by the disfigured body of a thief caught stealing and lynched on the spot, and that just outside a school! On my first Sunday there, I was scheduled to preach to a large congregation for their morning service. The leader was savagely murdered a couple of nights before, just for money it seems. There was only one person to direct that grieving congregation to, and that is what we did (“To whom shall we go… ?” – John 6:66-71).
I was busy preaching and teaching literally from morning till evening in a variety of places, from huge meeting halls to little shacks and a couple of Bible institutes. Again, in some of these places, it was clear that the Word was touching many hearts. May this precious seed take root according to God’s gracious purpose and bear fruit to everlasting life.
The bookshop in Port-au-Prince is still operating well. A few months ago, the friends have relocated to a more convenient place (Delmas 41) and they are planning to extend the shop area. They have also built an office block with classrooms and a large auditorium, which may prove useful in the future if we want to hold conferences in the city.
Moïse has taken a whole consignment of books and has started going around Churches, selling them. This is a welcome extension of the shop’s ministry and something I have been looking for since my last visit in 2010. In the second of our 2 weeks together, he sold nearly 3 times as much as the shop had in the last 2 months! He is so keen to see the Gospel message spreading in his city! Being with him these few days was a real encouragement for me.
Congo Brazzaville (September)
I spent 3 weeks there earlier in the autumn and had a full schedule of preaching engagements prepared by Gildas, the friend who distributes the books in Congo. He had been very busy contacting the various churches he has developed contacts with over the past 2 years. In several instances, it was obvious that the message was new, but the impact of the truth was unmistakable (objections, rejection or reception). What a joy it is to see the Word and the Spirit at work! God’s gracious salvation in Christ alone is such a wonderful message!
This time, we arranged several meetings with the young adults in three churches. This enabled them to ask many questions they don’t dare voice normally. The idea is to teach them how to find answers in the Word of God and to learn to think biblically, rather than just giving them “recipes”. It is sad to see how so very few people are taught to look things up for themselves in the Bible. So often, one meets with pat answers originating from the thoughts of men.
A group of friends in Brazzaville go to preach once a week in the main jail house. They asked me if I wanted to go. That was my only free afternoon gone, but I went with eagerness and, I must admit, trepidation! I had never been in such a place. The experience was… an experience! Pastor Philémon escorted me and took great care of me, and I was glad for his presence. Such squalor and despair! What struck me most, however, was the almost total absence of any regret or repentance and the insistence on one’s “rights”.
I spoke for 15-20 minutes (with translation into Lingala) on Romans 3:21. Apart from the law, the justice of God is revealed in Christ, and there is no distinction for all have sinned. What a message to bring in such a place! About 20-25 men came to listen, some intently. May there be a harvest!
I was able to spend a lot of time with Gildas. This enabled us to look into the future of the work in Congo and to discuss ways to strengthen the operations which we started over 2 years ago. Let’s pray that he can go forward in this environment, very religious yet so often ignorant of Christ. He has a good heart for the message of salvation, but acutely feels his youth and inexperience. I really enjoyed the time I had with him.
Central African Republic
Since the military coup in March, which saw the first Muslim government in the country take over, the book distribution has virtually stopped because of the risk. Taking Christian books around with you is not something that will endear you to the many armed militia men roaming in the streets!
Our friends in Bangui live amidst constant danger and threats. Firmin, the young man who had started selling the books so well over the past 2 years, has lost 5 members of his immediate family in various shooting incidents, himself narrowly escaping once. The families have often had to relocate and live in dreadful conditions, sleeping directly on the ground and without shelter, and illness is common, especially with the little ones.
The little Saturday meeting around the Word continues every other week, and several people have joined the group. Last week, eight people gathered as several could not make it because of insecurity. Let’s keep our brethren in our prayers, and ask the Lord for peace, so that the Gospel can spread again. Our friends place their trust in the sovereign Lord, a very meaningful reality when one is surrounded with unchecked violence.
The developments of book sales in Brazzaville and Haiti, not mentioning other places, underline once again the challenges before us as more and more titles run out without our being able to reprint. It is not just a question of a commercial venture, but the fact that these good tools for the presentation of the message of salvation in Christ alone are not available any more, at least at the present time. The need is acute and serious. Please, join us in prayer and support, so that we will be able to make these tools available once more.
The Lord of the harvest is raising men on the ground to take the books around, but the titles are getting fewer! Yet, it is His work, and I am sure that His people will rise to the challenge. May the omnipotent God bring glory to His name through the work of the Gospel!