August Month of Prayer, Revisited

Back in August, we asked you to join us in praying for very specific people, projects, and plans at New Creation Ministries. I’m putting them here as a memorial. This is what and whom we have prayed for. Let’s see what God does!

Eric and Fabi successfully returned to Rwanda in early September when COVID travel restrictions were lifted.

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April 2020

This month was fun with two weeks of “quarantine” in Manson, WA.  And our return to Port Townsend.

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Lost tooth

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Captain Luke

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Learning patterns

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Erosion at New Creation Ministries: wall behind our barn

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Grandpa teaches Grace to use the telescope

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Watching the sunset in Manson

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Preparing for Smores

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Cold weather caps

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Bedtime books

Like the Rainbow Before the Storm

 

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Fred cuts our grass during rainy season.  His “weed wacker” is not as scary as it looks.  It is not an unguarded skills blade.  Rather what looks like a blade is just a sprocket with two razor blades on hinges on the outside. 

Rainy season means the grass and crops grow, that roads (usually congested with motorcycle taxis) are a bit easier to navigate, and we exchange dust for mold as the seasonal allergen.

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Every covered parking lot, bus stop, gas station and awning fills up with these poor motorcycle taxi drivers when the rain starts.

But it was amazing to be reminded recently of God’s grace with a rainbow before it started raining.

Now on a day with rain, put your back to the sun and look for the rainbow ahead of you.  Is there a logical reason that you MUST see the rainbow AFTER the storm and not before? It’s about weather patterns and prevailing winds.  And sometimes it is about expectations and observation.

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In Rwanda, because of experience and expectation, there is an idiom, “like the rainbow before the storm.”

In the story of Noah, there had not been a rainbow before.  When the rain fell for 40 days, still no mention of a rainbow.  Then toward the end of the story, the first rainbow is finally mentioned:

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”  (Genesis 9:12-16)

A sign in the clouds as a reminder that God will not destroy all life.

As a boy, I imagined the horror of the first rainstorm after the flood.  I wonder if rain brought PTSD.  What did they think?  “Will God remember his promise?” Perhaps, though, the rainbow came before the storm, to give confidence before the triggers.  Instead of a reminder after a trial that God keeps his promises, perhaps it came as a reminder before the trial, to trust God with what is ahead and to watch what God will do.

Even as we read the prophets, God says, watch and see what I will do.

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In my life, too, we faced what seemed impossible obstacles: raising money to come to Rwanda, every year having a budget shortfall at NCM, lacking teachers and administrators for CLIR, needing expert help.  And through prayer, God has given us opportunity to hear the promise of his faithfulness before we see the fruit of his faithfulness.  The promise, the rainbow, comes before the storm.  And you will see it, if you look for it.

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In your journey, have you more often seen God’s rainbow before or after the storm?

Back to Work

Thanks for the click!

Here’s the prayer list:

  • NCM Retreat this weekend: unity after a time of stress, vision for the future, rest and fun together
  • Pirolo Family: setting boundaries and expectations better to prevent burnout
  • Pastoral Training School: we have a cohort of year 2 pastors coming on Monday.  We are recruiting for a new cohort to begin in January
  • CLIR: accreditation process requires effective recruiting, consensus building, and wisdom.  We are praying for favor before the government, and a wise group of accreditation auditors who will judge what and how we must adjust.
  • Team: WorldVenture teammates need prayer.  Eric’s new wife, Fabi needs a visa extension in the US. (She is Brazilian.) Laura is having health issues that limit her work capacity. She is so frustrated.

Pictures Promised

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Sumo is an almost graduate of CLIR.  We’re giving him some scholarship money to continue at a partner school.

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This is our General Assembly meeting (second of three in six weeks), where we approved our new statutes.  Yeah, bureaucracy isn’t my favorite.  What I learned, was that these men and women LOVE New Creation Ministries.

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NCM staff playing Jenga.  Pray Together, Plan Together, Play Together

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At this commissioning service for new pastors in the Nkurunziza denomination, I learned that 12 of the 17 pastors present (including denominational leaders and church founders) had been taught and mentored by NCM’s PTS Director Joseph Muyumbano (seated middle in the second Jenga picture).  He is a man of great influence in exactly the right way.

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Grace, Rayna and Luke washing vegetables with Phoebe.  One of many ways we work to prevent amoebas from growing in our tummies.

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Well, I guess we didn’t have two girl rabbits after all.

Selah

This mystery word from the psalms often appears untranslated in our modern texts. It is probably a musical term, and comes at transitions in the text, such as between stanzas. So think, “Bridge” or “Musical Interlude” or maybe even “Dance and Scream Until the Lyrics Start Again.” I have a friend, a contemplative, who was convinced it meant “Pause and Reflect.”

We have been in a busy season, taking on teaching from absent teachers and administrative duties from absent administrators. We were persevering, in the strength of the Lord, and refusing to burn out, rather letting the extraneous “work” fall away in this season. And yet, we did not see light at the end of the tunnel.

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Notice

Rwanda has been seeking to regulate churches and has required that Rwandan Church leaders (National level representatives and local church pastors) must have education from an accredited religious school. Since 2017, the word has slowly morphed. Pastors should be educated. Pastors MUST be educated. Religious schools should become accredited. Religious schools MUST be accredited. And last month, the Higher Education Council of Rwanda widely published a notice that all non-accredited schools teaching at a post-secondary level MUST STOP.

Our CLIR program is a bit of a hybrid, since we do not offer degrees, but do offer an academic program. Our ministry exists to “help the church of Rwanda function as the body of Christ,” and does so with a primary strategy of discipling for church leaders using the mode of educational programs. We have always been happily below the radar, while impacting pastors, their families, their churches and their communities. This model has worked well for us over the years. Do we really NEED to change?

After three 12-hour days of meetings, the answer is a decided YES.

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We’re in the musical interlude between one season and the next.

We MUST pause CLIR.

So we rejoice. Because of the government, the unsustainable pace will not continue. AND now we can focus on laying a solid foundation for CLIR as an accredited religious school. AND we can build something great. While we can’t keep doing what we have been doing, being forced to change will help us sharpen our edge, evaluate the context of ministry in Rwanda, and address our program to the current needs of the church. I believe that what an accredited CLIR program has to offer is a significantly better training for pastoral ministry than any other training available in Rwanda.

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Nick, Josue, Bosco at a conference

AND we also groan in our spirits. Transition can be hard. We have seen significant transition in leadership, and now we are seeing significant transition in ministry opportunity.

In the meantime, please pray: 

  • that our students wouldn’t become discouraged, but would be patient and faithful in the waiting; and that we find places for them to study in the interim.

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    One student giving a testimony of the impact of CLIR on his church

  • for discernment, perseverance, unity and joy for our staff team and leadership as we pursue accreditation, wade through bureaucracy, etc.
  • that meeting the requirements for accreditation wouldn’t require program changes that hinder our ability to fulfill NCM’s mission
  • that we do not act out of fear or “catastrophize,” but would seek the Lord for vision and direction
  • that God would provide for all of our needs (finances, connections, favor, staff, etc.)
  • that our ministry and work would come from the overflow of abiding in Jesus

Thank you for your partnership in this work! The Lord is using your prayers, words of encouragement, and contributions to have a profound impact in Rwanda.

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Our students took a mission trip to a rural area

How to Survive the Weight of the Work

A few months ago, we asked you to pray that God would keep our kids healthy. Then they got sick and God walked us through that time with grace and faith. Over the last year, we have mentioned that our WorldVenture Teammates, the Janzens, home on medical leave. We have been praying for their healing and soon return. And early last month we received word that the required ongoing medical care they need just isn’t available in Rwanda. They will not be returning to work with us.

We have had over a month to process this. We discussed it with our team, our supervisors, trusted friends. Krystal and I spend some significant time fasting and praying for clarity and vision in light of this news. We asked the tough question, “Is this God’s way of telling us to stop?”

The short answer is no. God wants us to continue.

God Speaks

IMG_8382.JPGIt was beautiful seeing how God would bring us each to the same passage in our separate Bible studies. What a time for spiritual growth! And what a blessing to be in it together with Krystal!

A couple of highlights were:

2 Corinthians 4:7-10—But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

Isaiah 40:28-31

28 Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The LORD is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and his understanding no one can fathom.

29 He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

31 but those who hope in the LORD

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

Back to the Question

God isn’t telling us to stop by making things hard. He is reminding us that the work is HIS from first to last. God is returning us to a visceral awareness of our dependence on him. To attempt to do anything in our own strength would be suicide. To steal from our Sabbath to get work done, to forget our quiet time because we are too busy would be to undermine the very source of our wisdom and strength, and would undercut the fruitfulness of the labor.

Resolved

We pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers. (Matthew 9:38) And we see people on the horizon. Our teammate, Laura, has June 18 penciled in as a return date. A Southern Baptist family are due to arrive in Rwanda in August and begin at NCM in March. A Rwandan PhD student, Apollo, plans to return to work with us in 2020. Our lack of missionary teachers has opened the door and opened our eyes to various qualified Rwandans to teach with us as visiting teachers.

We will work wisely, strategically, and diligently, but we will work first from a place of dependence on God to bring the increase. (1 Corinthians 3) This means more delegating, empowering, training, coaching, and trusting our Rwandan colleagues. I also have responsibilities as a husband and a father, and as a Christian in community and at church. I must use my hours wisely.

Pray for Us

Pray that we are able to live out our belief in God’s provision.

Pray that God would keep unity within our family, within WorldVenture, and within New Creation Ministries. Jealousy, anger, dissention, and the other “fruit of the flesh” (Gal 5) are Satan’s way to undermine the work of God.

Pray that God would give us favor as we create a 5-year strategic plan. Pray for wisdom as we modify our programs to meet the needs of the Rwandan church. Pray for our plans for financial sustainability. Pray for God to bring the right workers to NCM.

Pray for me, Nick, as I teach Global Missions to my CLIR students over the summer, and for Krystal as she prepares her course on Making Leaders.  The work is indeed sweet.

We are grateful for your partnership in this ministry. Understand that God uses your prayers to bring about dramatic change in the hearts of Rwandans.

We will send out an email, soon, with a CLIR student testimony, and a request for donations toward our CLIR scholarship fund. Pray with us for generous giving.

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Transitions

As of today, Thursday, co-worker Eric Flaa will be on home assignment to get married, reconnect with supporters, and debrief his first term.  With his departure, I will be stepping in as the Acting Director of New Creation Ministries.  Taking a good share of the work, though, will be a Rwandan colleague, Jean Bosco, and another WorldVenture Missionary, Gary Bennett.  Pray for us, as we, three, carry our own work load, and take up more responsibility.

In the past 12 months our staff meeting has changed from 14 to 9.  We have lost 6 regular staff at NCM: (1 retired, 1 returned to US for pastoral ministry, 1 resigned to dedicate his time to pastoral ministry, 2 in the US for medical reasons, and 1 just now going on home assignment), and gained 1 (dedicated to teaching PTS).  In the next five months, we are hopeful to have two return from medical leave and one new arrival to work with NCM from a partnering mission organization.  ALL THE MATH!  But really, it is change and transition, and unsettling.  More importantly, Rwandan culture fears uncertainty.  Pray especially for our Rwandan colleagues in this time of transition.

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Seven of these fifteen people at our staff retreat in 2017 are not currently serving with us in Rwanda.  Jean Bosco is next to me, fifth from the right.  Eric is next to him in the black shirt.

Remembrance

Sunday marks the 25thanniversary of the Genocide in Rwanda.  Join us in prayer for our Rwandan colleagues and friends who still bear the scars, mental and physical, of that time.  Rwanda has come so far, but there is still a long way to go to see the Gospel transform and heal.

Retreat

We are going to the triennial East Africa Spiritual Life Conference in Kenya next week.  Please keep us in prayer as we have time to reflect and grow spiritually, and reconnect with our leaders at the WorldVenture Home Office.

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This is Grace three years ago at the last Spiritual Life Conference.  Despite her nonplussed expression in this picture, she had a blast!

That meeting will be followed immediately by a family vacation.  Krystal’s mom, Shari, will join us in Kenya with her new husband, Grandpa Steve.  Okay, his name is really Steve, but he’s the first grandpa any of our children have ever known, so there is some excitement.  Pray for traveling mercies all around.  Traveling with young children is not easy, and vacations can sometimes be more work than fun (for the parents).  Pray that this time is restful and refreshing, and a time of joyful meeting, reuniting, and growing deeper all around.

 

The True Gospel Makes a Difference

[Sorry, Prayer Team! I began writing this two and a half weeks ago and couldn’t get it finished before today.]

We are half way through our first term of CLIR, studying Man, Sin, and Salvation, so last week I asked students if they have any testimonies to share. Here is one paraphrased excerpt:

“I am a university teacher. In the past, I would hear my Muslim students and peers discussing the problems with Christianity, and I was afraid to get involved. Because of what I am learning in this class, I was emboldened to respond to their questions and ask them some challenging questions of my own. They were shocked and asked where I had learned this.”

Others spoke of new and deeper conversations with their families and friends. It is such a joy to see these students already growing in Christian leadership after only a month with us.

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Here’s the Cliff Notes, from the first day of class:

  1. God is holy and righteous.
  2. Humanity is sinful.
  3. God, in his holiness and righteousness, must punish sin.
  4. God, in his mercy and love, sent Jesus for sinners.
  5. Those who repent and believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior are saved.
  6. Those who are saved by Jesus, live in Jesus.

Keep them in prayer as they study. It is a spiritual work that God is doing in their hearts and minds.  [In class last week, I challenged the students to repent of sin, and trust in the grace of God alone.  I called them to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  No one spoke up that day, but in our conversations this week, I can tell that they have been reoriented (back?) to faith in Christ alone, and not any works or associations, to save them.]

Family

Continue to keep our family in prayer, too.

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Thank you all for your prayers over the last few months. It was a significantly difficult week before that last email.  The crazy thing was, after the email, after you all started praying, all the kids got sick, but in all that sickness, Krystal and I felt the presence of God keeping us at peace. Ministry these days continues to be an exercise of faith in God’s provision for health, strength, ministry, and fruit.

Do not stop praying! While it is tempting to give in to compassion fatigue, know that your prayers are lifting us up in the storm.

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Krystal

This past year has been one of refocusing for Krystal. As you know, she taught in CLIR last term, and this term she began mentoring a CLIR student. She continues to facilitate a bible study with women from church. She also serves as our team leader, helping us new leaders grow into our roles and offering support and accountability. Finally, Krystal has returned to working in Nyabisindu clinic caring for pregnant moms and doing health checks with babies. She is wearing a lot of hats and uses a day-planner well to keep her days and weeks organized.

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Team Retreat

A generous donor sponsored a retreat for our WorldVenture Rwanda team. We spent three days and two nights at a hotel working with a guest speaker to understand each other and our team culture. Krystal and I have believed that God has called us to be “better together” as a married couple. The same holds true for our team. God has put us together lift each other up and be strong where the other is weak. On the retreat, we experienced the joy of getting to “play” together, but also to know each other more deeply so that we can have greater grace with each other.

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CLIR Status

We were looking for 30, but God brought 24 for this term. Already, I have heard of students contacting their friends to apply. Who knows who God will bring for term 2?

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As we pray for students, we also pray for staff. We have several teachers who are scheduled to teach, but may face trouble. We have one teacher who must finish his Masters degree just before he teaches. Another is finishing his Doctorate abroad. Another three (two staff, one teacher) are abroad on medical emergencies. Another, a skilled disciple-maker in the Pastoral Training School in Kinyarwanda, will be solo teaching in English at the Bachelors level for the first time. Also joining our NCM teaching staff, a new family transferring from Mali to Kigali in September. For all this uncertainty, praise God with us for the growth and development and healing that it represents. God is good.

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Finally, as we consider the process of accreditation and program development, pray that we would do so with wisdom, based on a spiritually discerned strategy that fits with the purpose of New Creation Ministries and the real needs of the Rwandan church.

 

CLIR Christmas and New Year Plans

On Saturday December 15, we hosted a Christmas Party for our CLIR students, especially those who had completed two full years in our program.  I can’t tell you how encouraging that night was!  Each of those students gave a short speech, saying things like:

  • If I had to be done with CLIR right now, without the degree, I would not be disappointed because the program has already been so very transformative in my life.
  • Learning about the Christian Life and Family messed with my head!  I had to put off my wedding (which was two months away) for another eight months, because I knew that my fiancé and I needed a better foundation.  And now, I’m so glad we did.
  • Through the discipleship I have had at CLIR, I have been inspired to begin evangelizing and discipling my parents and siblings.
  • Being at CLIR has influenced how I am as a pastor. I believe that what NCM is teaching and how it is teaching is a light in all of Rwanda that will cause a shift. It is moving all of Rwanda closer to the true gospel.

Our whole team was touched and blessed to hear the testimonies of changed lives, families and ministries.  This is the work of discipleship to which God has called us.  This is our joy.  This is the work you support through your prayers and giving.  This is God’s work and God’s ministry.  May he open the door for more changed lives through CLIR.

A Not Very Good Meeting

Many of you were praying for an important meeting last Monday.  Thank you! That meeting was jarring, to say the least.

We arrived early, but couldn’t find the man to whom we were referred.  Turns out we were given the wrong name. When we did find who we were scheduled to meet he wasn’t available because the whole staff was leaving immediately for a two-day work trip.

I sat in the lobby with Eric, Director of New Creation Ministries, working out a strategy for next steps, and calling to make another appointment when a man came up to help us.  He eventually identified himself as the Executive Director of the Higher Education Council.  He asked us where we were from, and asked if we already had students.  He then advised us that we needed to stop teaching immediately because we were breaking the law.  We left amiably, hiding our crushed spirits.  “That was worse than I imagined it could be.”

I spoke with Krystal. Eric spoke with his fiancé, Fabi. We all prayed.  And felt something significant was happening.  None of us started this ministry.  All of us are standing on the shoulders of giants who worked hard and prayed hard to found these schools.  The roots of NCM were laid through impossible situations and each leader before us had to come to a place of realizing that this ministry is not ours but God’s and he will use it to bring himself glory.  Now it is our turn to persevere in prayer, in spite of opposition, to see God receive the greater glory.  Remember that Moses was told to confront Pharaoh, and told that Pharaoh would oppose him, so that God would be glorified all the more (Exodus 10:1-2).  So too, we are engaged in a spiritual battle that will test our faith, and God will be glorified.

Our Rwandan colleagues and American mentors were not discouraged, but had three important pieces of information. They said, this is the time of annual reviews for ministries, and his department has to present to the President of Rwanda.  They are very busy.  Also, their executive director knows how to manage a department, but doesn’t know our specific situation as well as the application processor who has been working with us for months.  Also, there are hundreds of non-accredited schools in Rwanda, religious and secular, that will not all be closed down immediately. Finally, NCM is registered like a church (Local Religious NGO) and we were told in 2012 that churches are free to offer their own training programs.

Plan

There was confusion about who we were (an already registered organization), and what we were asking.  It is also possible that the new policies have been written, and just not published. Either way, we need to wait until February to have a conversation with someone.  We will continue with finding people to disciple.

As I said, this is God’s ministry and he will keep it.  There are too many pieces to try to manage all on my own, so I need to trust my team, trust the Spirit leading me, and trust God’s providence to maintain us in the favor of the ones who rule.

Please continue to pray for these upcoming meetings!  Pray for understanding between us and the Higher Education Council. Pray for grace. Pray that we will be able to become one of the first Christian degree programs to be accredited in Rwanda. And pray that we would be faithful to the ministry God has called us to do here in Rwanda.

Merry Christmas!

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Gary, Barb, Grace, Rayna, Laura, Eric, Fabi, Nick, Krystal, Luke

Noheli Nziza!

Prayer List:

  • Pray for our future meetings with the Department of Higher Education –we would like to become accredited so that people who would like to teach in churches could have a education that is gospel focused
  • Pray for CLIR student admission
  • Pray for Nick as he prepares to teach in the New Year
  • Pray for our team as we have two families on our team in the States on medical leave
  • Pray for our fellowship tomorrow as we host our celebration at our house