"Worship at its best is a social experience where people of all levels of life come together and communicate with a common father. Here the employer and the employee, the rich and the poor, the white collar worker and the common laborer all come together in a vast unity. Here we come to see that although we have different callings in life we are all the children of a common father, who is the father of both the rich and the poor."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr. "Worship", Sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 7 Aug 1955
I'm taking a course this semester at Harvard on the ethical and religious thoughts of Martin Luther King, Jr. For the course, I'm beginning reading for a major research paper that explores parallels between the social gospel movement in the southern USA & the social gospel movement in southern Zimbabwe.
One of the more incredible facets of King's life is the consistent calling on people to keep going in learning to love & serve God - to press on - believing that Church (big C) is a place for sinners to gather, from all walks of life, to worship God.
On this latest trip, I saw that everywhere in Zambia & Zimbabwe. Too often, we paint the picture that the church in Africa is somehow saint like and can do no wrong. I was struck by this falsehood daily, as I encountered sin (along with sainthood) in the local church. You see, people everywhere need to come into relationship with Jesus -- join in a common worship experience, while recognizing that we are all fallen people that are given the gift of redemption...but we are all sinners.
One of the related themes that struck me this trip was this: "We MUST be about the things that God loves, not simply about the things that God hates." Too often, we have been (sometimes fairly) criticized by people (in Africa and the USA) as being a Church that loves to hate.
In Africa, like in the USA, I saw the worst of this comment, as well as the best.
This is why it was affirmed to me that the model God has given Forgotten Voices is a good one: using the power of the local church to create spiritual development and life transformation in the communities they serve, meeting the physical & spiritual needs of AIDS orphans in their communities -- when they are most vulnerable. Their caretakers or parents, no matter how they came to the steps of the church, that they receive the tending loving care that God calls us to provide.
I hope to continue unpacking these ideas in the days ahead, as I continue reflecting on what I learned from my trip and what it may have for you and me here in the states, as we learn with our brothers & sisters in Zimbabwe & Zambia.
Meet Francois. He is the father of this precious little girl that I introduced to you here (video).
Francois' story is the embodiment of everything I love about what you and I get to do everyday.
Francois was living in Rwanda. When genocide broke out and the village where he was living was attacked, Francois and his girlfriend at the time had to flee in different directions -- unsure if they would meet again. How people come to the point of killing in the name of eradicating a tribe of people is for another day!!
Well, by God's grace, Francois and his girlfriend met again at a refuge camp in the Congo, became engaged, and were married soon after.
Due to travel restrictions and residency issues connected to being a refugee, Francois was unable to go to the seminary he had planned on, so that he could receive training to become a pastor.
Someone he knew told him about TCCA, the Theological College of Central Africa in Ndola, Zambia, which is a partner of Forgotten Voices. He and his wife prayed about it and decided to enroll. Now, a graduate of TCCA, Francois serves as the pastor of the Free Methodist Church in Ndola, which is running all kinds of social programs that Forgotten Voices hopes to advance, in partnership with this growing church. We are beginning steps as a result of this trip to help advance these ministries in the Ndola area, with Francois' church leading the way.
1) a women's empowerment program that teaches women skills like soap making, crocheting, sewing, etc and teaches them how to run businesses.
2) a farming program that helps needy families in the church & community with additional land to work, as well as seed & fertilizer.
3) sending orphans & vulnerable children soon to be orphaned back to school by helping pay school requirements, like exam fees, clothing, etc.
Join me in celebrating how God is using pastors like Francois -- who, from a tragedy like the Rwandan genocide, is ministering to people in need and helping those in his congregation learn & grow in loving their neighbors.
I'm so thankful for the opportunity you and I have to advance the hopes & dreams of pastors like Francois, who is choosing to say yes when no would be far more convenient. Francois is helping all of us remember what it means to love the broken, inside & outside the church, and reminding us that our God is a God worthy of our communal worship, regardless of which side of the ocean we worship.
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With all my love to God and affection for you,