Newsletter (March 2013)
Dear Friends in the Lord,
“Welcome to Paris Charles-de-Gaulle airport, the temperature is 2°C (35.6°F)…” That was my arrival in Paris after 3 weeks spent in West Africa, in temperatures around 40°C (104°F)! Because of the heat, this was a very tiring trip, but the Lord gave strength.
The occasion of my going to Africa this time was mainly to participate in the 2013 Grace conference for West Africa. This was once again held in our usual venue, the very convenient CBDIBA centre just south of Bohicon in Benin. We had a record number of registrations but, as is often the case in Africa, many did not turn up for various reasons. There were about 50 participants, about the same as last year. Although we often say that numbers don’t count, the little twinge of disappointment I experienced showed me that they do a little! It is amazing how this desire to see and quantify the Lord’s work sticks to us! The flesh is still very present!
The level of ministry (5 sessions a day) was very good. This year, we did not have an overall theme as we had had the previous few years. The fact that the last few conferences had been exceptional made this one something of an anticlimax, but it was still good. It seemed to take time for the participants to interact together. We had men from 5 different countries, although those from Burkina Faso did not make it, again for various reasons. The two colleagues from Ivory Coast, Paul NGoran and Vincent Dua, were able to come and share in the teaching. Vincent is taking more responsibility for the work in Ivory Coast itself, while Paul is devoting himself more to the oversight of the local Church in Gagnoa. Please pray that the change goes smoothly and that the work develops. I am so thankful to have two very spiritually mature men in partnership in the spread of the Gospel in a very needy and troubled land.
Among the subjects dealt with at the conference were: “The mystery of godliness & the mystery of lawlessness”, “The ministry of the Word”, “The foundation and object of faith", "Follow Me, and I will make you...", and a couple of question and discussion sessions, which are always an opportunity to look at the impact of the Scripture on life and ministry.
Our friend from Brazzaville, Gildas, was with us again this year, and another good friend and brother, Matthieu Hanto, pastor of a small fellowship in Libreville, Gabon, also came. He is the person who planned my last two visits to that country in December 2011 and August 2012. Matthieu is very committed to making the Gospel of Grace known in the place where the Lord has called him. Although from Benin originally, he relocated to Gabon a few years ago and helps us there by being a contact for making the books known. We were able to encourage him recently, when a young student from a church I visit in neighbouring Brazzaville went to Libreville to study. We gave her Matthieu's details, and that young lady has been worshipping with them ever since.
Other places in Benin
I arrived in Benin a week before the conference, as I was invited by the church in Porto Novo, together with fellow preacher Cyriaque Aholou, to preach at a week-end seminar. This is the third time we have such an opportunity, and we had a good time around the Word. Cyriaque is a good preacher, very clear and to the point. He has a true pastor's heart for this fellowship.
On the Saturday, we went by boat to a little village located on the lake, where a group of people meets regularly for worship and the study of God's Word. I had never been, and it was a beautiful experience, seeing people busy with their fishing and a hundred other activities in the quietness of the lake. On Sunday, after the worship service, we had a session with the young adults of the church, looking at their questions in the light of Scripture. I love these times when one can help these younger ones catch the relevance of the Word of God for all parts of today's life.
I had planned to travel north, right up to the border with Niger, in order to encourage the various congregations we have been in contact with over the years. However, Islamic terrorists had threatened French citizens with kidnapping. I therefore stayed in the south. But the work of the Gospel went on as others went on to visit churches in Glazoué, Parakou and Banikoara. This was a great encouragement for the brethren, as not many people come their way, and for our little team as they could see the growth in maturity in some of these churches.
Just after the conference, I was due to preach in a church in a small village nearby where I had been for the past two years. But the leader told us that the visit had been cancelled as he was not sure he wanted his people to hear “that” message, i.e. the Gospel of Free Grace! This is sad as I had good responses from the people on the last visits – probably why the leader did not want us there again. As is often the case, this young man, who is a student of the Course, is under an older "pastor", and he has realised that he must choose between his position and a message which is not so popular for those who want to be little lords over their congregations. We really need to pray for such situations as this is a real challenge to many younger men.
Then we went to a small town, Klouékanmé, and a village, Agbédranfo, in the Couffo area, the birthplace of voodoo. There is a faithful church in the village and, over the past year or so, the brethren have helped a little group start in the nearby town. It was lovely to see the work of the Gospel spread in this way. A number of years ago, we got in touch with the pastor of the church in Agbédranfo, Dodo Simon, who had been listening to the radio programmes. The friends from the church in Bohicon started going there, guiding the church in the truth. Now we see these friends replicating this model and leading this new little group in the same way. This is such an encouragement to me!
My colleague Julien and I then drove on to Lomé, the capital of Togo. The reason for the visit was a second invitation to preach the Gospel at a week-end retreat in a Baptist Church there. The contact came a few years ago when the pastor of the Church attended a similar retreat we held in another place. He then started doing the Preachers’ Course and invited us to come and preach in the Church where he is pastor. The first door has now closed, it seems, but this one is now open.
We had good opportunities to preach on several evenings, on Saturday morning and Sunday, and to answer questions from the Scriptures. We also had a session with the young adults of the Church who are full of questions. This was a good chance to show them how to find answers in the Word and how to think biblically. As the whole culture is changing because of its contacts with the West, the younger people have to rethink their whole model, and it is good to be able to direct them to the only message that saves and never changes.
Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic was again the scene of another coup in March. It is very sad to see this poor country unable to rise above its troubled politics. I guess that the presence of diamonds in its soil goes a long way to explain this instability. Rebels from Sudan and such places had for some time been threatening to take over. A few months ago, they had got to the outskirts of the city, but negotiations had brought some respite to the situation. This time, they were successful in ousting the president.
Our friends in Bangui are safe so far. They shared how the house next door, belonging to a wealthy official was looted and destroyed. They did not suffer apart from being unable to leave their homes. Many people have fallen victim to such looting, and there are reports of church leaders being shot in the bush. Our friends, Abel, Firmin and blind Julien, are still meeting every other Saturday around the Word. The books are still being distributed for the moment, although not as freely as before.. Let us pray that the political turmoil will not affect this activity, especially as the new
leaders have islamic sympathies.
As I mentioned earlier, brother Gildas, who sells the books in Brazzaville, came to Benin to attend the conference and spend time with our group. It was a good opportunity for him to familiarize himself with the message and with the brethren there. In Brazzaville, we face a new challenge as we want to strengthen our operations there in order to touch more people with the Gospel in a lasting way. Please pray for this new step which is quite daunting for this young man. He could then, not only have an impact on the city, but go to other places in the country. Gildas needs to realize that it is a ministry given by the Lord, rather than a job with Westerners. He needs our prayers for this crucial step.
Thanks to the support of many friends in the autumn, we were able to reprint short runs of several titles which had been out of print for some time. Half of these are already out of print again. Several more titles are ready to go to press now. The present crisis has meant that we really had to change the way we operate. Whereas we used to print several thousand copies of a title in the past, we have to go for much shorter runs now, even very short runs at times as we try to keep all the foundational titles in print as much as possible. A very challenging time, but the Lord continues to
open doors in very needy places!
We recently had news that one of our books (“The art of divine contentment, Thomas Watson) was used of the Lord to give great comfort to someone in Switzerland going through a very difficult ordeal. It is good to see the ministry of the books in unforeseen directions.
Recently, we also heard of the visit of the Prime Minister of Madagascar to a missionary hospital in the town of Mandritsara. He was very impressed by the quality of the work, better than state-run hospitals apparently, and by the spiritual element as the friends who run the hospital try to present the Gospel which heal souls. The hospital administrator gave the man a copy of one of our books ("Morning by morning", by Charles Spurgeon), and we reported the event in our little newspaper, "Les Échos de la Vérité". Then, a few weeks ago, there were riots in the town, and several members of the government came to try to bring the situation under control. The day they were visiting the hospital, the copies of the newspaper arrived there, and they could see the interest of their Prime Minister in the work ! The friends entitled the news of this "Mandritsara 8:28", with reference to Romans 8:28!
We have a few titles being prepared for publication; in particular a very good book by Sinclair Ferguson (“By Grace Alone”), based on the biblical truths expressed in a hymn composed by an old pastor from Burundi. Hopefully, this will be of great benefit to the people of God and to sinners alike, especially in Africa.
I plan to be in the US in June and part of July, visiting churches and friends, and to promote the interest in the work. Then in the autumn, I would like to return to Brazzaville to strengthen the situation there if possible and discuss with Gildas the way forward. This would probably include a visit to Gabon if we can put together some sort of schedule. Last time I was there, I had many opportunities to preach on the radio and television, as well as to speak in various churches
I had planned to return to Haiti in June, but it will be preferable to postpone this till November or December in order to better prepare for such a visit. Over the past few months, I have developed several contacts which would enable me to visit places in that country other than just the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Please pray for all these plans, that I may discern the Lord’s will in all I do.
May the Lord bring glory to His name through the work of the Gospel.