When I traveled to South Sudan in March, I intended to include a visit to Paul and Marcia Cowley in Nairobi, Kenya to my itinerary. Paul, however, advised me against coming, due to security reasons. I would have arrived in the midst of the national Presidential election which in the past caused outbreaks of riots in the streets. I took his advise and decided not to travel to Kenya on this trip.
Paul is doing a terrific work, being the Founder, Administrator and Teacher of the Bible Institute for Pastors and Ministry Leaders who serve among the poorest of the poor inside Africa’s largest slums located in Nairobi. It is conducted on two locations within the slums. The focus is on training these ministers to cherish learning, knowing, obeying, and applying the Word of God in their lives as they study the Bible, book by book. In this Bridge issue, I have copied Paul’s report from the recent graduation of 48 Ministers.
Hereby, I am calling on those of you who pray and intercede for our missionary partners overseas: Paul’s two assistant teachers who are prior graduate, have fallen gravely ill. Paul is also struggling with a persistent gastro-intestine attack which has made him allergic to many foods. PLEASE PRAY FOR PAUL, HIS FAMILY, AND THE PASTORS HE SERVES AMONG THE POOREST OF THE POOR! Please mark your donation toward the Cowleys and their work KENYA WORKERS!
Another year had passed. A difficult year being in the valley on many occasions, but this was a day of celebration. We were graduating another 48 Pastors and Ministry Leaders who had completed the Discipleship Program and Diploma in Biblical Studies. It was a milestone for them, and us.
Just a year prior to that, we had our first Diploma Graduation. It was then that we instituted new parameters which “pushed them out” after completing 12 classes in verse-by-verse studies of the Bible books. Discipleship through the Word of God would continue…but on their own, one-to-one within their own disciplined time with God. This second round of Diploma Graduation birthed the same excitement and trepidations as the first. Most of the Pastors and Ministry Leaders pleaded to stay in the program, “I want to finish the Bible with you!” “This is my home. I can’t leave now!” “Can you please just make an exception for me?!” With heavy hearts, we had to hold our ground and release the reluctant disciples: men and women of God, who had been well discipled through His Word, and were more than ready for the missions ahead.
We had our dramatic moments…some tears, exuberant worship and dancing, a fabulous fellowship feast…one of our Pastors even fainted during the group portrait. Many thought he was overcome with the excitement. Instead, we found he had not eaten in two days. It was a sobering reminder of the hidden horror and tremendous tribulations our Pastors and Ministry Leaders endure. This is no ordinary group. Virtually all of them live and minister in the destitute slums. Cesspools of sin, suffering and squalor. Hunger, sickness, disease and disorder abound. And so, a Pastor fainting from hunger is not a mere accident. It is a testimony of the constant Chastening these men and women endure while serving in and amongst the poorest of the poor.
Chastisement is misunderstood by many of us. We acquaint it with God punishing us for our sin. A form of divine retribution. We try to put on a good face, and attempt to believe that often quoted verse…
“My son, do not despise the Chastening of the Lord. Nor detest His correction. For whom the Lord loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.” Proverbs 3.11-12
… yet in our hearts, we often hide a hint of heresy: our belief that God is punishing us for “old” sins of the past, and that He is not properly accounting for our more current compliance with His commands. Indeed, we sometimes harbor at least the “feeling” that God is being a bit unfair. There is an old Hebrew proverb that says, “God, if this is how you treat your friends, then let me be your enemy!” Fortunately we serve a God who can withstand our moments of such weakness and frailty of spirit. But we still need to return to the Truth about God’s Chastening: it is meant for ALL of God’s children in ALL seasons of walk with Him. It will not end; it is a form and reflection of His divine and all-encompassing Love for us. How can that be?
Chastisement is typically imposed at one of two entry points. One: Correction…when we have strayed and sinned. That is the one we most readily focus on. Why? Because we are guilty! But there is a second, often misunderstood, reason for God’s Chastening: Spiritual Discipline. That is, to build our Spiritual Strength. We understand the physical principle that weight resistance builds physical strength. The same principle applies Spiritually. God lovingly allows, indeed prescribes, all manner of testing and trials to build our Spiritual Strength for the challenges ahead. Like our own personal trainer, God puts us through a continual series of strength building exercises, experiences and tests, not for mere physical and temporal benefits rather, for His Eternal Purposes.
Our Pastors and Ministry Leaders are greatly encouraged by this Biblical Truth about Chastisement. It frees them from the temptation to automatically conclude that God is punishing them; that their poverty, sicknesses, trials and tribulations are evidence of God’s retribution, displeasure and disappointment in their spiritual performance.
Often they come into the Discipleship Program discouraged, despondent and a bit desperate for “the breakthrough.”. Variations on the themes of this age often include words like Victory, Abundance, Promotion, Prosperity, Deliverance and such. These are, indeed, valid words that have their place and position in our Christian walk. But more often than not, such words are cunningly cast in the context of physical, financial and material “rewards” that we can name, claim and obtain. Many of our Pastors have been frantically chasing such fruitless fables for years….resulting in frustration, doubt, confusion and even spiritual despair.
It is one of our greatest Joys to see “new” students come into the Discipleship Program, and soon be set free. Free from the deception that Chastising is only meant for those who are sinning. Free from the confusion that breeds discontent when they undergo one trial after another, without ceasing. Free from the false hope of having a wrinkle-free, “prosperous” life they’ve been told they are entitled to as the “King’s kids.” Pastors and Ministry Leaders who endure and persevere through just one or two semesters in the Discipleship Program are quickly rewarded. Not with the physical or financial breakthrough, but rather the Spiritual one. They begin to understand, and then embrace, the Biblical Principle of God’s Chastening for those who are obedient and righteous “vessels of honor”; that Christ Himself, who had no sin, endured the same….evidenced in His tremendous trials, testing and tribulations in the desert, in order to build Spiritual Strength for His soon approaching public ministry. Indeed, we are called to follow in His steps according to Hebrews 5:7. If there was Eternal Significance for the Father’s Chastening of His Son, is there not the same significance today from our unchanging God?
And so Graduation Day is a greater victory for our Pastors and Ministry Leaders than may be apparent. It represents a passing into Spiritual Maturity, wrought through years of Practical and Spiritual Discipline…under the yoke and chastising of God’s Word. It represents an accomplishment of Eternal Significance….enduring the Flames of Affliction that purify, consume and refine men of God, and remove the dross of deceptive beliefs about our God, His Way, His commands and His love for us. On the surface, the 48 graduates of the Class of 2012 do not appear to have prospered, been promoted, nor experienced the much heralded “victory” that the world seeks. Underneath the borrowed graduation gowns, there remain the same distended and starved stomachs, the tattered shirts and worn out shoes, the bent backs and brokenness of life that many first brought to the Bible School. But now there is something hidden and solidified that was not previously present. Something that causes the kingdom of darkness to tremble with fear.
Something that will not bend, break or bow to any defilement, deception or passing pleasure of this world. Something a pagan named Sanballat foolishly overlooked in his hasty ridicule, derision and mocking of the righteous remnant of Israel who returned from captivity in Babylon, and began to rebuild Jerusalem, the very epicenter of their prior Chastening…see Nehemiah 4:2.
Brick by brick the Remnant restored the Jerusalem walls that had been broken down. And they did so in the midst of great hardship, opposition, mocking, ridicule, weariness, trial and toil. All part of God’s purposeful Chastening….His loving discipline…to build His glorious Kingdom! A Kingdom not made with hands. A Kingdom that does not come with observation. His Kingdom in the hearts and minds of His very own people.
And so we celebrated the unseen Victory. And yet many more challenges will come to the 48 we “sent out.” It was a bittersweet day for all of us. Perhaps none more than me. Praying…wondering…at times a bit of carnal worrying…for my brethren. “And what would He have us do now?”
The month following the graduation, God answered loudly: 48 empty chairs were immediately refilled….not with 48 new students…but rather 75! Currently there are 280 Pastors and Ministry Leaders attending the Disciple Support Ministries Bible Institute. All of us….stones to be burned…in His Chastising fire of love!