It is true. No, we haven't changed missions. But mid January we will leaving Lesotho and will be moving to Tanzania. After much prayer, spiritual counsel from our team, more prayer, trying alternative options for ministry here, huge budget cuts from government for flying, more prayer, meeting resistance to doing what we know we are called to do ('Preach and Heal'), more prayer... Sally and I have been given permission to transfer to work in the Kigoma/Ujiiji area of Western Tanzania. It is a big change. It is a long story of how God has taught us about patience, perseverance, trusting in His ways, and being faithful on a day-by-day basis.
We will spend the next 3-4 months in intensive Kiswahili language learning in Iringa, Tanzania. Swahili is the official national
language of Tanzania. Each people group has their own language as well, but we will begin with Swahili. Living in Iringa first will give us the opportunity to give our full attention to language learning. Our team leader wants to be sure that we have a good grasp of Swahili before we move to our mission home in Kigoma.
Once Sally and I reach level-3 in language learning we can move to our mission home in Kigoma. Kigoma is on the Eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika in the far Western region of Tanzania, south of the country of Burundi. We will be working together with the staff of the Kigoma Baptist Hospital.
Sally and I don't know the exact day-to-day details of how we will minister there, but we know that God continues to give us a calling to 'preach and heal' using the gifts, talents, and experience that he has graciously allowed us to have. That we have the privilege of being incarnate cross-cultural witnesses of the hope of Salvation through Jesus Christ is our joy.
We are excited about the ministry opportunities we will have in the Kigoma area. We are confident that having teams of volunteers join us will be an essential part of our strategy to get the Gospel to each person. Already one couple has shared their desire to come in the Fall and volunteer to help us with sharing the Gospel. The task is huge. One statistic I came across says that there are approximately 500,000 persons within a 5 mile radius of Kigoma. Our task is to 'Shatter the Silence" by working with others in getting the gospel proclaimed.
We will certainly miss our friends and 'family' in Lesotho. It has been a privilege to serve together with them. They have encouraged us, loved us, challenged us to grow in Christ, and made us laugh. We love them!
Stay tuned in 2011 as we share the great things that God will do as His kingdom expands in Tanzania. Daily by His grace...
Emmanuel - God with us! It astounds me that God would even consider coming to the earth in flesh, born of a virgin, fully man and fully God, to carry out the greatest rescue ever. To rescue us from our sin and sinfulness. I have been reading in Ephesians 2 for the past months and am repeatedly reminded that we do nothing in terms of salvation. It was God's grand idea, to redeem his Name and to rescue us. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, reminds us that we were dead in our sin and in our sinful destructive behavior. It was hopeless. I have worked for 25 years now in medicine and I have never been able to raise someone from the dead, nor to give life back to a dead person. Only God can do that, and that is what Ephesians 2 talks about. When we were dead, Christ made us to be alive, to have a spirit that will respond to God, to that god-hole that we have in our souls. I'm reminded what the old prophet Ezekiel said (Ezek 36) when he prophesied about the time when God would be taking our hearts of stone and replacing them with hearts of flesh - a heart ready to respond to God. And to give us a spirit that would be ready to follow God's ways with joy.
It is amazing, and lest we get it wrong, it is NOT about us, but all about God, His glory, His great name being glorified.
I'm thankful to be a part of a team (IMB and MAF) that is all about getting that message, of God's rescue, to people in their heart language, in a culturally relevant message. It's a message of hope, of forgiveness, of new amazing God-designed purposeful life.
Sally and I are so grateful for each and every Southern Baptist Church member and others that give through our annual Christmas Lottie Moon Offering that funds the largest portion of our mission organizations budget. Already we have been hearing the news that in spite of difficult economic conditions that people are giving sacrificially to continue the task of taking the Good News to ALL peoples. "For God so loved the world that He gave..."
Please continue to pray for us as we work toward the goal that our region has to "Shatter the Silence" in getting the Good News to each and every people in Sub Saharan Africa.
Have a restful, peaceful, joyful time of Celebration of Jesus!
Lesotho is truly a beautiful country, unlike any other on the continent of Africa. With 2/3 of the country mountains, you can't help but appreciate the beauty of God's creation. For the team from University of Botswana, it was amazing coming from the relatively flat, arid, desert land of Botsw to the high mountains with beautiful flowing streams. We were truly blessed as we served along side their team and the Flora family.
After returning to Maseru to fly to Matsaile Health Post on Thursday, I returned to Katse to complete the week with the team. Sally stayed the whole 9 days helping Teresa and ministering with the team. Friday we pony trekked into one last village. On Saturday Jim and Teresa had all of us head to the river to have a time of quiet reflection on what God had been doing in the villages and in our own lives. It was a great time to relax and pray and praise God. After a picnic we headed over to the village of Ha Kinini where the Floras have been doing a bible study and kids program for almost 2 years. The kids were excited to see the team arrive and
really got into the songs and games and the bible story that Andrew (Team Leader) told them. I got to do what I enjoy - pray while the team was ministering, encourage them, and hold a little
boy sick with flu as he fell asleep in my arms.
I prayed that God would be gracious in his life to allow him to grow up healthy to a point where he could choose to be a follower of Jesus. Life expectancy in Lesotho is only in the mid 30s, and unless he chooses to follow God's safe and life-giving ways, he will end up like 28% of the population, infected with HIV. I thank God for the Flora family and for the pastors and leaders they are training in the mountains of Lesotho. And I thank God for the Botswana University Team for their willingness to come share the good news in Lesotho.
God bless and enjoy this great season of celebrating the coming of the King of Kings. It is truly amazing - Emmanuel - God with us!
So we headed up the mountains to Katse to arrive the same day as the Botswana team. They
began preparing for this ministry in January, meeting once a week to learn about missions, Basotho culture, and Lesotho. Our mission has a family and a single lady doing university student ministry at Univ of Botswana. So we all met at the Flora family house in Katse Village high in the Maluti Mountains.
The strategy plan that Jim and Teresa had developed
with the team was to go to some villages to encourage the few believers and share the gospel with more, and to go to villages that the gospel of Jesus Christ had never been to! The mode of transport is 4WD plus Lesotho Mountain Pony trekking plus feet. The plan was/is simple. Work with a local Baptist pastor to identify the villages, pray, pray, pray, and then pray some more. Then go with the student team to the village, get permission to share, sing songs in Sesotho and Setswana language, share testimonies of how trusting Jesus and following him works, preach, and then do Q&A. Then pray, pray, pray.
So that's what Sally and have gotten to do along with the Floras and their team. Sunday we drove about 1.5 hours (the last 30 min. of that in 4WD) to the village of Lilomong ('dee-low-mong'). Now why there? Bear with me as I share a pretty amazing story about a young pastor and friend by the name of Sefiri. One day, following God's command to go out and share the good news, Sefiri set out on foot to hike back up into the mountains to share the gospel. When he reached a village he would get with the chief and the people and ask if they wanted to hear the good news. Village after village rejected him but he kept on going. Finally he reached Lilomong and they agreed to hear him and this message from God. Some responded by repenting and turning to Christ. He decided to go further up the mountain but was met at the next village by the priest who informed him if he came there again, he would kill him by stoning him! He decided to continue to go to Lilomong whenever possible and that his pastor would also go there.
Pastor Sefiri and Pastor Molapo have been trying to return to Lilomong village at least once a month. So that is where we ended up on Sunday. Our plan was what I outlined above. And God blessed it. The students were amazing. Great singers, leaders, great testimony. I had the privilege of preaching after Andrew shared his testimony.They just loved sharing what God has been doing in their lives and answering questions. After a full day we headed back to Katse village.
Monday we again traveled by 4WD back to Lilomong to hold a free medical clinic (thanks to generous donations to our mission) and to again do Q&A as well as HIV/AIDS prevention teaching.
We began as before - prayer, prayer, and more prayer. Then singing and a testimony by Michael how God radically changed his life when he placed his faith in Jesus Christ. Then it was time to
do the clinic. Andrew and I saw the patients, Sally dispensed the
medicines, Jim and the rest of the team did Q&A and HIV/AIDS teaching. Some was done one-on-one, and some was done in
groups (like the teenage girls). This university student team was amazing. They stayed engaged with the people all the time,sharing, listening, teaching, laughing, and praying.
Again a long day, but praise God for strength to do the ministry - "I have food that you know not of. My food is to do the will of the Father..."
Tuesday we drove about 45 minutes to a place to get some Mountain Ponies. The villagers rent them on occasion. We went with Pastor Sefiri, Pastor Molapo, Ntate Tsepo, and the team. Jim Flora (being a former cowboy) made sure that all the students had some instruction on how to ride as none of them had ever ridden. I think the thing that I remember the best was 'keep your legs on each side of the horse...' So the 12 of us (11 of
us and a guide) headed up the mountain to find the village of Ha Macona. We trekked up the mountain past freshly planted fields, mountain streams, and rock upon rock until about 1.5 hours later we were there. 7,700 ft elevation, a village of about 75 people. Some were not there as it is the season for cultivating the fields. But as they gathered we had about 40 adult men, women and teenagers plus 15-20 kids. We did the same routine - prayed, sang, shared a testimony and preached (this time it was university student Wasa) and then did Q&A.
What was shocking to me was just how deeply engrained was the belief that everything in their life centers around appeasement of the ancestor spirits. The people were very eager to hear about 'what does your church say about...' We answered many many questions in the group and in smaller groups by showing them in the Bible what the answer to their questions were. Many were in disbelief and argumentative at times. Those that attended a Catholic church about 5 miles away told us that the priest told them 'if you have questions about God don't read the Bible, just ask me.' They were so eager to
at least hear what the Bible said. It was awesome to hear the Botswana University students answering the people with 'God says in the Bible...' As we neared the time to go, several of the older women practically begged Pastor Molapo to come back every week to teach them as they wanted to really know what more of what the Bible says. Others were not so interested but as
Basotho culture dictates, were very polite and kind to us.
As we prepared to leave, Jim Flora gave a PROCLAIMER MP3 player to one of the ladies. It has the New Testament in Sesotho on it and it is rechargeable by either solar or hand crank.(check out www.faithcomesbyhearing.org) She and others were elated to receive it. Our prayer as we headed back on the horses was that God's word would be listened to that evening and that through it, their eyes would be opened to the beauty of gospel of Jesus Christ.
After the horse ride back and the truck drive to the Flora's house we were all tired, but excited about what God is doing through simple obedience to his command to go and share. I voiced a brief prayer of thanks for the strength and grace to do what our region's theme is - to "Shatter the Silence" and share the good news.
I'll share more later next week. As I write this I am at home in Maseru preparing to fly to Matsaile tomorrow for medical clinic there, then will head back up to Katse early Friday morning to join the team for another trek deeper in the mountains to another village that has yet to hear the good news. Thank you Jim and Teresa, Gracie, Anna, and Becka and the Botswana University Student team for allowing us to be part of your ministry team. Thank you Southern Baptists and other supporters for making it possible for Sally and I to serve the Lord here.
Hey, thanks for reading and please pray that in all of this, Jesus Christ will be praised and the good news will be heard. Pressing on daily by His grace...
Today is my dad's 80th birthday. I am Larry, son of Leo L. Pepper, Jr. I am so proud to say that. I love my dad and miss him so much - he in America, and us in Lesotho. I am so privileged to have a dad like mine. From my youngest days I remember my dad doing certain things EVERY day - telling my mom that he loves her, kissing her goodbye and again when he returned from work, and reading his Bible. Everyday.
I am so thankful for growing up in a family that loved each other and loved the Lord. Dad committed his life to be a follower of Jesus Christ not long after he married mom back in 1950 and has walked with the Lord ever since. He hasn't been perfect, but what he has shown me is how to love the Lord and love others. He taught me about integrity, about working hard no matter what you are doing, about being kind to people, about treating others with respect, and about loving others. That has had a huge impact on our family and on my life. I have seen my dad walking with the Lord, living a life of love and of service to others. My dad's (and Mom's) love for each other and for the Lord Jesus Christ are the reason that Sally and I are serving in missions in Africa.
I love you Dad! I pray that your Lord and Savior Jesus will continue to give you strength for each day, love for mom and for your family, and many more years to teach us how to be a man of God.
The rains have come to the mountains of Lesotho - actually the whole of South Eastern Africa! This is a critical time for the rains as the people have been waiting and waiting to see if the crops will survive. Most of the Basotho are subsitence farmers, in other words, they depend on each growing season to survive. This is the time to plant corn, the main staple of the Basotho.
Of course with heavy rains and wind comes NO FLYING. So that's not great in terms of getting to the clinics and health posts, but hey, at least with the rain there is the possibility of food and survival.
After two days of heavy rains I did get to fly to the mountain village of Semenanyane with our team. Like my usual mornings, I rode my bike to the hanger for the morning MAF meeting. After the plane was loaded and fueled we got ready to head to the mountains. Semenanyane is a very wind sensitive airstrip so this time the MAF pilot (Melvin Peters) stayed with us at the clinic while we did our patient care. I saw patients while the eye nurse took care of the eye patient referrals and the dental technician saw his patients. We were just about to finish up when I heard the radio call that there was a "Code-1 at Mokhotlong" A Code-1 means a life or death situation and MAF basically drops everything to go and get that patient and get them to a hospital, often to the one in the capital city Maseru. We decided to get to the airplane and head to Mokhotlong - a 20 minute flight. About 5 minutes after landing a double cabin pickup pulled up to the plane with a pregnant woman who had obstructed labor (in other words, the baby was stuck and wasn't coming out without a C-section). Now Mokhotlong Hospital currently has 3 doctors but unfortunately they had no power so they couldn't do the operation. It was either fly her to Maseru (a 50 minute flight) or put her in a truck and drive her 6-7 hours over some rough parts. So we got her situated in the back seat, got ourselves back in and headed to Maseru. The LFDS ambulance was waiting at the hanger when we arrived and whisked her off to the hospital to do the C-section. Tomorrow she'll be visited by the MAF Chaplain (Ntate Sefiri) to get her a blanket for her baby and to share the gospel with her.
It was a great day of treating patients, praying for them - 'meeting needs with loving deeds.' We thank God for how is providing support to the MAF/IMB Lesotho mission teams. We are so thankful to our mission and to our 50,000+ Southern Baptist churches that voluntarily support missions through the Lottie Moon Missions Offering and the Cooperative program.
Lastly, I want to encourage you to take a look at this new You Tube video by MAF about MAF Lesotho. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZmfNCmSPCo) You might see a few familiar faces...