While I am working on the construction of the training center, mostly laying bricks for the past two months, I have a lot of time to think. And there are plenty of questions to ponder. How do we help the local church mature while avoiding pitfalls on every side? How do we train the church leaders to be pastors, elders, and deacons? How do we train them to be evangelists, church planters, preachers, theologians, teachers, and servants? How do we teach a church to minister to the poor, when the church members are the poorest people in the poorest nation on earth? How do we dismantle the culture of dependence so deeply ingrained into the minds of the people, that it is considered the duty of the rich kawajas to grant the requests of everyone who asks, because everyone thinks of himself as poor (and most are)? How do we avoid living aloof above our neighbors, so as not to provoke jealousy? How do we live like them as best as we are able, yet continue to make use of the conveniences of modern life that allow us time to serve them by addressing their spiritual and physical needs? How do I write letters to my supporters back home that paint an accurate picture of God’s work here, without sounding hopeless (as the circumstances often look) or portraying the roses without the thorns (as part of me would like to do)? How do we complete our impossible task?
The answer is found in Psalm 127:1
Unless the LORD builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the LORD guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain.
The LORD is our builder. The LORD is our guard. Our efforts to build and to guard are a hopeless striving after the wind, unless the LORD blesses them. The LORD is the one on whom the success or failure of our mission lies, as several examples will demonstrate.
Our truck of supplies coming from Nairobi arrived on April 2nd, with great excitement. Praise the LORD for this answer to prayer! Someone on our team mentioned that this might be the most prayed for truck in history. People all over the world have been praying for it, since its expected arrival two months prior. Even after the truck was unloaded and left, the children were praying for its safe return to Nairobi. Somehow, for the adults, that prayer was far from our minds. The truck brought windows, doors, sheet metal roofing, 300 bags of cement, chairs, tables, desks, and chalkboards for the construction of the training center, among various other supplies. The lateness of the truck’s arrival was God’s doing and God’s plan, not ours. Our efforts to hasten the truck’s arrival were in vain, but God brought it safely at the right time. Although that time was delayed, and we do not know why God delayed the truck, we can know, in faith, that the timing was right.
Construction projects in South Sudan always face the difficulties of theft and hiring workers. I have heard a number of stories of troubles from past projects. Thankfully, our experience with theft and disgruntled workers has been minimal during the construction of the training center. The protection of our God and learning from our past mistakes have reduced the number of incidents. The few thefts and quarrels which have taken place are sufficient to remind us how quickly our efforts could be erased if God did not guard this work. And it is not only the sin of others that could derail our efforts. Consider how quickly we are filled with anger when someone steals from us, even something small. In such a case, our own impetuousness could easily become the unraveling point for our work.
Another reminder that the LORD is the one who guards the city is the political relations between South Sudan and Sudan. It is completely out of our control whether the two countries go to war or live in peace, open the border or close it, pump oil or shut down oil production, make inflammatory comments or come to an agreement during negotiations. I would rather not comment on the internet about the politics here, because I am sure the politics are much more nuanced than I could understand after my first few weeks. I will ask that you pray for both nations to live at peace by submitting to the Prince of Peace. You may have seen news articles about South Sudan in the past few months. The news reports you can read online are the same articles we read, and we usually do not know much more, although we wish we did. If you are prone to worrying, don’t go looking for the articles. Such articles always report on the hottest activity. If you are afraid of flying, you wouldn’t go read the wikipedia article on plane crashes just before your first airplane ride. Use the same wisdom here.
Pray also for the meeting of presbytery, which is taking place as I write (on Saturday). During this meeting regarding the business matters of Aweil Community Church, the men will plan for the future and examine men who are in training for the ministry. Pray that these men will fix their hope on the LORD to build the church and not trust their own efforts or be distracted by the cares of the world.
In considering how our own efforts could easily be in vain, I Corinthians 15:58 is a challenge to obedience and confident assurance in the LORD:
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.