BACKGROUND REFLECTION – R.K.’s CORNER
I remember it well! Three decades ago, a few years after my return to the States from serving behind the Iron Curtain, our Bridge intercessory prayer group received from Open Doors a list of 356 Pastors and Christian leaders in Russia who were incarcerated, suffering terribly under heavy persecution in prisons and labor camps. Their only crime? Believers in Jesus Christ, they had refused to deny their faith – a capital offense under the atheist, communist regime.
Realizing we could make a difference for the persecuted church, our ten member group rolled up our sleeves and went to work, knowing that we who were blessed with prosperity and freedom in this country, had an obligation to carry the burden of our suffering, persecuted brothers and sisters — praying was something we all could do! We distributed the names among ourselves, and made a commitment to lifting every one of those Russian believers by name before God every single day till they were released from captivity! Many of our members labored sacrificially by fasting and prayer day after day, month after month — it was indeed a labor of love! However, we were not the only ones praying. The Church at large was informed and engaged, standing with the persecuted church.After 18 months, we got the news — every one on the list had been released! We rejoiced — having been a small, but not insignificant part of making history, reflecting God’s love toward our neighbor.
Fast forward thirty years. Today, amidst the Middle East and Northern Nigeria are being ablaze with the most horrific genocide of Christians of epic proportions, as gruesome images are practically daily being broadcast into every one of our homes by the media — 147 Christian university students were brutally murdered in Northern Kenya. Their only crime? They were believers in Jesus Christ who had refused to deny their faith! The news hardly made a blip in the media. The tragedy is that the Western Church is by and large a callous, silent witness to the suffering of our brethren! Has the Prosperity Gospel so distorted and corrupted our faith that we have forgotten amidst our seeking of personal comfort, God’s promise in 2 Timothy 2:12, “… if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him”?
Paul and Marcia Cowley have not forgotten this. Their lives are an example of a life laid down, having chosen to put aside personal comfort to serve and suffer with the Pastors and Christian Leaders of the Least in the Kiberia Slum, Nairobi, Kenya.
In this issue, through presenting the moving testimony of Peter, one of his students at the Bible Institute, Pastor to the Least, Paul Cowley reminds us of the Biblical view: Through brokenness, God molds and shapes His people into vessels of honor to His own glory!
Read about the Cowleys and their ministry at http://www.bridgeinternational.org/2013/05/
Please mark your gifts to the Cowleys: Kenyan Workers
The photo above portrays an image burned into my mind. In a sea of faces at the Bible School, there was always one smiling face: Pastor Peter. No matter how bad things could get, his presence always compelled me to shake it off and move forward with hope and confidence in Christ. Peter would insist on personally greeting me every morning, shaking my hand, and saying this one thing:“I am praying for you, Brother Paul!”
Barely discernible words from a man with a broken body and the sweet presence of the Holy Spirit. Peter was born with cerebral palsy. Half of his body is largely paralyzed. His walk is laborious and painful, his mouth distorted, his speech slurred. In local culture, his condition is considered a curse.
He is a visible reminder of what was said about Paul the Apostle… “…his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” 2 Cor 10:10. It was wrong to predetermine Paul’s spiritual impact based upon his outward appearance. It would be equally wrong to do so in regard to Pastor Peter. Peter has indeed proven to be one of the best students we have ever had at the Bible Institute. He would never have been accepted into any other Bible School. Besides his minimal education, Peter can scarcely take any notes. It is a painfully slow and deliberate process for him to merely write his name. And yet, he passed with high scores. In addition, he volunteered nearly every Friday and Saturday at the Bible School—wiping down dusty desks and praying over each one before the pastors arrived for class.
In the course of his time at the DSM Bible Institute and Discipleship Program, Peter won the award for “Excellence in Volunteering.” He has a profound sense of duty and stewardship unto the Lord for this unique opportunity to study His Word. What I admire most about Peter is what I call “broken boldness.” It is not something that comes from within natural man, but solely from the refining work of God upon a born again man.
Peter lives in the Eastleigh section of Nairobi, home to 325,000 Somalis. It is one of the most feared parts of the city. The Somalis are left largely to themselves, city police and administrators have essentially allowed it to run as an independent ghetto. You would be hard pressed to find anyone venturing into Eastleigh who is not Somali and consequently a Muslim. Peter not only enters Eastleigh, he lives there, works there – and proclaims Jesus as Lord and Savior with complete abandonment.
His Senior Pastor attested to me, “Peter is the most feared man in Eastleigh. The Muslims fear him because he speaks to them about Jesus without fear. He has a little kiosk where he sells used clothes. He witnesses to everyone he meets. And he has answers to all of their challenges. You cannot encounter Peter without having heard about Jesus.” To think that Peter could inspire fear in any man defies logic. But the fear he inspires is not one fashioned in flesh and blood. It is the holy fear of God—the one true and living God whom Peter proclaims so boldly. It wasn’t always that way. Peter himself will attest to that.
On one of my recent visits to Peter, he testified, “This Bible School changed my life. I had zeal for the Lord, but no knowledge. I used to simply repeat things I heard others say. I realize now, most of it was not biblically correct. After I came to DSM, I learned who God is as He Himself says He is; not as I imagined. More than anything, I know that He loves me. And that Jesus is truly the only Way. Please let your people know that this Bible School changed my life.”
I share Peter’s testimony to God’s glory alone. It is His Word, His ministry and His power working in the lives of Pastor Peter and thousands of other pastors and ministry leaders in the slums of Nairobi. The best of human intentions and efforts could never have impacted Peter in this way. The ministry and discipleship of God’s Word cuts through all the obstacles and hindrances that life can throw at anyone — Peter included.
“For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is the discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12.
In the economy of God, cerebral palsy is not a problem to be sorted out, overcome or circumvented. It is the very clay He uses to make a vessel of honor unto His own glory. God is all about using brokenness. And just when things may look the worst from our perspective, God intervenes for His glory — but not always in the way we expect.
Pastor Peter knows this all too well. Earlier this year, Peter was diagnosed with rectal cancer. It was during a visit to his home that he shared the above testimony. That was the message that was foremost in his heart and mind. He never complained about his excruciating pain. He never asked for a thing, other than prayer. I had gone to encourage him, his dear wife and three precious children. Instead of encouraging Peter, he encouraged me. Where I initially saw a circumstance of sour grapes, out of Peter came wine. That’s not something anyone can conjure up with mere human determination and optimism. His life is really miserable. That’s a fact. He lives in a ten by ten foot rusted metal shack in a slum with his desperately poor family. He cannot walk…he must be carried. He is dying of cancer…and has Tylenol to cope with the pain. There is no chemotherapy available in Kenya…except for the privileged elite. Peter’s life is a miserable situation. Yet, out of the rottenness of life in this broken, fallen world — God has brought forth wine. God has made Himself another vessel of honor to His own glory. Only God can do that. And He is seeking to do so in all of us, regardless of what we are going through in these short few years before we see Him face to face.
Broken bread and poured out Wine. Let’s follow in Jesus’ steps. If Peter can do it, by God’s grace so can we. It will require nothing less than utter Brokenness.