When my wife Toni and I first came to Arizona with three small sons almost nineteen years ago to pastor what today is Southeast Valley Bible Church, the believers there agreed that I would invest several weeks a year in international mission’s work. As we’ve grown over the years, SVBC has kept their end of the deal. That’s been a thrill for my ministry over the years.
I’ve been privileged to travel the world encouraging God’s men and women in ministry leadership. Many are national leaders. Others are primarily North American missionaries who serve in the context of overseas ministry.
This year I partnered with my slightly younger self-adopted twin brother, Dr. David Deets who pastors Whitneyville Bible Church near Grand Rapids, MI. He and I have done a lot of ministry-travel together over the last four years. David and I also serve and fellowship in IFCA International and in a global ministry leadership organization called IBL (Institute of Biblical Leadership). We were also joined by Pastor Fred Mukumbu.
Fred and his dear brother Andrew have started a handfull of churches, an orphanage, a school, and a home for severely mentally and physically handicapped children. These ministries were started by African men and women largely without the aid of North American dollars. I was amazed to hear of their stories of faith, faithfulness and sacrifice (a theme heard over and over on this ministry trip). Most of the children at the Vision Center simply do not have families who are able or willing to take care of them—so a dear sister in Nairobi named Margaret, who works with Pastor Fred, has stepped out in faith and has done everything from paying the $250 a month rent to buying food so that 16 precious children can be fed, loved, prayed over and brought up in a Christ-honoring environment. When I saw this dear sister and visited with her, I can’t tell you how my heart was pierced.
David and I were privileged to spend a hot day with pastor Samuel in the very beginning of our trip. He apologized for not having working air-conditioning. So I kept apologizing for dumping about half of our drinking water over my head to keep me cool. I could tell Samuel was amused. He noted with temperatures in the mid to high 90’s, it actually wasn’t a bad day compared to what Cairo is often like. I noted we have the same kind of unforgivable heat in the Valley of the Sun but most of us are blessed with pools and AC. I was reminded of the many comforts we American Christians enjoy with our affluence that is clearly absent with the majority of believers around the globe. That awareness became increasingly pointed as we spent the day around Cairo taking in the sights of the Pyramids and the Sphinx. We heard of the sacrifice our brother has shouldered. He pastors a dear congregation that experiences persecution from everyone, really. Sometimes they are targeted by Muslim extremists. Other times they are ridiculed by the Coptic Christians, who are essentially a version of the Orthodox Church in the region of the Nile. They are even misunderstood by the Egyptian Evangelicals, who are largely reformed and don’t understand how these Egyptian conservative believers could be as “Baptist” as they are. Wow, does history not repeat itself!? So these brothers are persecuted by the country they love, neighbors they love and even brothers they love.
Egypt has a long history of God’s children tasting the bitter herb of persecution. About 3000 years before Christ an Egyptian ruler (Narmer/Menes) merged the Lower Kingdom (North Egypt – essentially the delta) with the Upper Kingdom (essentially Southern Egypt – following the Nile South). On the Northwestern corner of the Nile Delta was the location of Alexandria, not far from the region where the Children of Israel experienced captivity for four centuries.
A hundred years after Moses, Egypt was led by a boy-ruler whose name was Tut. Egypt was a refuge for Abraham, Joseph, his brothers, even our Lord. Yet Egypt has been a source of tribulation and continually so. How God’s children trust and faithfully serve and yet they are persecuted while I go home in comfort. So I weep.
I am feeling the struggle of the dear missionaries we met who serve in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. These South African leaders are quite the diverse group. They are largely kept together by a training initiative called Church Ministries Institute (CMI). CMI is used in most South African ministries as a training approach with three arms. First, there is often a one-year certificate program that focuses on training church members who simply want a Bible Institute kind of a program. A second level of training equips ministry leaders for vocational training. The third level are leaders who are wanting to transfer their studies into an accredited learning institution from South Africa, the United States or some other place (such as New Zealand or Australia).
Often these men and women will move on to post-graduate studies. The BMW ministry leaders are a combination of North American Missionaries and white African leaders who were raised in the gospel in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia or Botswana. Other leaders are men and women of color who were from the indigenous tribes like the Zulu. My heart is with the Zulu ministry that reaches out to children whose parents have died of Aids and Zulu grandmothers who are left to care for grandchildren and other children who are simply not cared for by the social programs of the continent.
I weep for Africa. David Livingston more than a hundred years ago told the British Christian Empire that his work in Africa was to a “dark continent.” So Africa has darkness but it also has light. It also has confusion. So many African believers are confused, and taken advantage of, by false teachers peddling a prosperity gospel that leaves the biblical teaching and goes to extremes. It becomes a cult instead of a vibrant expression of biblical faith. The team had the thrill of participating in a great ministry partnership in Nairobi at East Africa Baptist School of Theology (EABST) which patiently works with those who long for biblical discernment and the pure gospel.
While traveling from place to place we were blessed to meet other leaders partnering in gospel work. Ministries such as Russian Leadership Ministries, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, In Touch Ministries, the Gideon’s International, and others, some of whom we weren’t expecting to meet. Each leader has his own story, his own journey, and I was encouraged by each.
Additionally, there is Pastor Ken who, along with the church leadership, is making a large impact on ministry in East Africa. David and I spent almost a whole week with Dan and Angie Huffstutler and their family. I personally watched the work and dedication of Dan and Angie in the ministry of EABST. I love this dear family. Dan and Angie are sent by Inter-City Baptist Church in Allen Park, Michigan, and serve that congregation well. Several other Inter-City/Grace Missions servants are making incredible kingdom gains in Africa. The impact they make is not without serious sacrifice.
Finally, I weep for Christian leaders who have made great sacrifice and shown great faithfulness in Russia. The Moscow Theological Seminary trains roughly a thousand men and women headed for the Lord’s work in nine locations across the former USSR. The halls documented nearly 150 years of ongoing sacrifice of evangelical believers. Included were great and faithful leaders in the 1880’s, in chains because of their persecution by the Orthodox Religion and its partnered tormentors of the Czars. The “workers party” revolution of Lennon of the early twentieth century was followed eventually by Stalin’s purging of Christian leaders of the 1930’s and 40’s. I saw pictures of large groups of Slavic Christ-followers who continued their ministries by faithfully sharing the gospel to those who would also suffer.
In the last years of the war the Western allies put pressure on Stalin to give Christians freedom, so he released various Baptist leaders from their prison sentences to come to Moscow and form a new era of Baptist Union. After the war, as the Allies were torn apart by what would become the cold war, Soviet leadership, no longer in need of Western approval, once again turned on Russian Christian men and women. This went on until the end of the Soviet Union. Twenty years later, faithful believers face a fresh round of anti-missionary laws. Slavic Christian brothers and sisters feel the tightening grip of Russian government that once again cause anguish in the hearts of God’s children, and so I weep.
As we crossed into North America I was delighted with the prospects of seeing my dear wife, my sons, family, friends and congregation. I’ve been in the presence of giants and my own spiritual weaknesses are ever so transparent. I return to the states once again changed. These trips are billed as an opportunity for me to help servants of God ministering in far away places. I desperately want to be a Barnabas to them. If I can just encourage them.
Do I have to fly to the other side of the globe to get all of this? No, I should be able to be strengthened and built up in the holy faith in the States, but it’s hard. We have so much. We give so little compared to many that have little and give much.
So, the thing that mostly happens on these trips is that I hear from God about me. I am challenged to “let go” of more comfort, more convenience, more selfishness. I come home determined to pray more, to share the gospel more, to give more of myself to my wife, my sons, to our congregation, to ministry partners.
As I remember, I weep, but I’m encouraged. Perhaps I have a bit more time to serve faithfully in my corner of the Lord’s Vineyard. I go home and plan on preaching Sunday by God’s grace. Over the next many days I want to sit and rest and pray, like Mary who pondered things in her heart. I want to hear from God primarily through His Word but also through His Work. Join me in prayer. Let’s ask God to change our hearts. Open our eyes to the Harvest.
It’s said that missions work is not one who crosses the sea but one who sees the cross. May God help us to take the splinters from our spiritual eyes so we can see the work in our corner of the Lord’s Vineyard. Thanks to dear friends who have prayed for us. I’m confident God has responded to your prayers.
Joel Tetreau has over twenty years of pastoral ministry experience and presently serves as senior pastor at Southeast Valley Bible Church in Gilbert, AZ and as the Western Coordinator of the Institute of Biblical Leadership. He earned his MDiv at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and his DMin at Central Seminary. He is married to Toni and is the father of three sons.