Monthly Archives: February 2016

Suffering – The Cost of Discipleship. The Cowleys in Kenya

FROM R.K.’S CORNER

Ulrichs 11-14This month’s issue is on a more somber note.  It features a topic which is not at all popular in most of today’s churches… as true followers of Jesus Christ, we are to suffer with and for Him! Suffering is the cost of discipleship!  Today, there is a desperate cry of suffering and pain echoing from the war-torn parts of the Middle East from thousands upon thousands of Christians who have survived the most despicable atrocities from ISIS. In the West, their cry for help and comfort has mostly been ignored.

Every time I speak with one of our partners abroad, I am humbled by the awareness that every one of them serves the Lord with gladness in the midst of danger and insurmountable problems which they embrace by the grace of God.  More than a decade ago, Paul Cowley, a successful entrepreneur living in Boca Raton, an affluent city in South Florida, heard the call from God, left his comfortable life behind. With his wife, Marcia, he pioneered two Discipleship Bibleschools for Pastors of the Least living in the largest slums in Nairobi, Kenya. Here, you may learn more about him and his ministry:

http://www.bridgeinternational.org/2013/05/  

http://www.bridgeinternational.org/2015/04/

Recently, due to increasing threats to him and his family, he has had to consider if it is time for him and his family to return to safety in the States.  Paul’s thoughtful, articulate article revealing his prayerful considerations in the decision-making process,  represents the heart of all of our partners we serve abroad!

PAUL AND MARCIA COWLEY IN NAIROBI, KENYA: CONTINUE SERVING OR RETURNING HOME?        By Paul Cowley    

Cowley Family 10-15 cc

During our last visit to the States, we were regularly faced with questions of concern regarding terrorism and violence targeting Christians in East Africa.  The essential question was, “Do you think it is time to come home?“or similarly,“Aren’t you concerned for the safety of your children?”  Both questions are legitimate and rational questions for us to consider. And both questions reflect genuine concern for and love towards our family. Our answers, typically short and to the point, perhaps seemed frivolous or flippant. They were not. They were simply firm.

In the past several years, there have been numerous incidents of mass murder in Kenya at the hands of terrorists. The large majority of them went unreported in the international news headlines, even some major ones. Several bus bombings have been within half a mile of the two Bible Schools. These real issues do not escape our attention by any measure, nor have we grown numb to the risks at hand. Rather, behind every human event and circumstance, there are spiritual strings attached on which we as Christians must focus our utmost attention.

Jesus suffered greatly at the hands of nationalists, political pundits and religious zealots. He did not court their disfavor, nor did He ignore the impact they could have on His mission. He knew when to avoid confrontations, when to walk away, and when to remain silent.  But never out of fear… always out of divine wisdom and eternal perspective.  This is the same mandate for any and every man or woman carrying His name and following in His footsteps.

“Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves.  Therefore be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men…” Matt 10:17May 2011 cover

This is not the ranting of a madman sending his followers on a suicidal mission. Much the opposite. It is the wisdom and counsel of the Almighty. God has purposely sent all of us into the world…in the face of all possible circumstances. God has designed it such that His people are NOT miraculously shielded and sheltered from all the common trials, tragedies and tribulations of this fallen world. Instead, He has promised He will “also freely give us all things.” (Rom 8.32). Much to the chagrin of the Prosperity Gospel pundits, “all things” does not mean abundance, breakthrough, dominion, promotion or prosperity. Contextually, those “things” are defined as false charges, condemnations, trials, tribulations, distresses, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril and sword. (Rom 8:25-39).

God’s wisdom is not to blindly run into such circumstances. We are to be wise. We are to be aware. We are to consider.  We are to pray. But we are not to flee in fear. For there are profound promises woven into the fabric of the Great Commission we dare not overlook…

“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.  If they kept My Word, they will keep yours also.”  John 15:20

There is the spiritual conundrum: present and pressing opposition brings forth eternal fruit! This flies in the face of  the world’s accumulated “wisdom”. For it contradicts our natural instincts to avoid harm and pursue pleasure.  It contradicts much of our “experience” on a physical, emotional and psychological level. But when we submit to the lens of God’s spiritual view, the spiritual strings are exposed, and the truth is unveiled.

“We must through many tribulations enter the Kingdom of God”. Acts 14:22

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulations; but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” John 6:33                                

So, after much prayer, searching the Scriptures, seeking the Holy Spirit, God confirmed His counsel to us in this situation: “Continue doing that for which I sent you. Be busy about MY business. For the time is at hand.” It does not place us on some mystical, metaphysical pedestal of Christian bravery. Far from it. It is the baseline for all of us. It just took these front-line circumstances in Kenya to get it through my thick head and stony heart.Cowley - Pastors of the Least 10-15

When times get tough, and the tides of fear are rising, I remember two things: the God I serve, and the people He has sent me to. God is sovereign.  The safest place to be is where He has called me… whether Boca Raton or Nairobi, that much is irrelevant.  At the same time, I look around where I am.  The Pastors of the Least face circumstances, persecution, peril, and sword to an infinitely greater degree than I ever imagine may come my way.  They are truly an inspiration to me on a daily basis. Not because they are perfectly pious specimens of some innate spiritual strength. But rather because they continually reflect what a man can become in the hands of our Almighty God…even in the midst of overwhelming poverty, crime, tragedies and trials. That is – I see God working in them all the more clearly because of the cesspool in which I see them living and ministering. And that helps me overcome my faulty faith, incessant complaints and frivolous fretting.Cowley - Slum 10-15

Jeremiah, the prophet of great lamentation and woe, surely would understand the Pastors of the Least in the slums of urban Africa. If any prophet could be termed as having a “miserable” calling, it might well have been Jeremiah.

He was ridiculed, mocked, abandoned, persecuted and “terrorized” by the very people to whom God had sent him. Eventually, he was unceremoniously deposited into a sinking mire of a dungeon well… and abandoned to starvation: (Jeremiah 38:6).

”So they took Jeremiah and cast him into the dungeon… and they let Jeremiah down with ropes, and in the dungeon there was no water, but mire.  So Jeremiah sank in the mire.  …EbedMelech said to the king, ‘…these men have done evil in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet, whom they have cast into the dungeon, and he is likely to die from hunger in the place where he is.”‘ Jeremiah 38.6

Candidly, it sounds much like life in the slums in which OUR Pastors live and minister.  Mud… a rank mix of excrement and fetid mire.  Hunger… a daily consistent companion. Abandonment… by every conceivable human measure.  But confident… in the hands of an Almighty, All-Seeing, All-Knowing, All-Powerful God!  Like Jeremiah, these men wallow and wait in the miserable mire of life on a daily basis: physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.  Which begs the question:

Is God really asking much from me?  To simply stay? And encourage them?

We all live our version of Jeremiah’s well. Circumstances that seemingly have no spiritual significance. No redeeming value. Situations that would cause reasonable men to fear… and then flee. By God’s grace, let us determine to stay the course. Like the Pastors of the Least: firm, but without bravado, without acclaim.  Like Jeremiah, preaching Repentance and making Disciples without ceasing, without compromise. Up to and until God pulls us out. Not a moment sooner.g to 1 Peter 2:21, For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps…”

 SUFFERING – THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIPCowley - Grafiq World Map

Above is a statistical map created by Pew  Research Center (found at www.PewForum.org), displayed by Graphiq and posted on their website www.Graphiq.com. It shows the percentage of the total population who are Christians in every country of the world by shades of color from dark to light; the darker the color, the larger the percentage of Christians in that country.

The lightest shades represent countries with less than 1% Christians.  Most of them are concentrated within 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator.  It is called the 10/40 Window.  In most of those countries, Christians are suffering for their faith, from being marginalized and discriminated against, to suffering mental and physical abuse by atrocities too gruesome to describe. In parts of North Nigeria, Syria and Iraq there is today systematic, extensive genocide by Jihadist Muslims whose goal is to eradicate all Christian believers and cleanse the land from any trace of 2000 years of Christian presence. The majority of our partners we serve through The Bridge, live and minister within the 10/40 window.

There are two groups: those indigenous to their region or country who labor among their own people.  When the going gets tough, they are not going home — they ARE home, where they daily embrace the joys and hardships in their lives and ministry!  The other group are those who have chosen to leave a secure life and future in the West, to settle with their families in a foreign land where they are daily exposed to risks of danger.  They DO have a choice to leave and go back home! 

All of our partners have one thing in common: although they experience daily various levels of conflicts and suffering which come with God’s call to ministry, they are bold and fearless.  They often place themselves in harm’s way; yet they are humble and self-effacing. Their focus is not on their own comfort and security, but on  being transmitters of the Love and Light of Jesus in their care of others.  They know the cost of discipleship according to 1 Peter 2:21, For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps…”