Tuesday, March 31, 2009

If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. . .

The following is a letter from Pastor Nkumu, a graduate of Laban, a man of God, an enthusiastic preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who went to work with cannibals in a village not too far from Nkara, where our mission campus is located.

He writes:

"I give you warm greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. I am Reverend Pastor Nkumu-Benjamin, an evangelist and overseer of 16 village churches. These villages were beginning to die out because of rampant, gross sin that was occurring there. They were eating people and eating a lot of them. In 1998, they killed a soldier in the night and ate him. Nobody even knew it.

They also killed a woman who came from Kinshasa. They cut her up into pieces and put her in a pot, but her head they put on the buffet. When her relative came looking for her, the state had already discovered that her murder had taken place, and sent ther arrested chief of the village and his accomplices to prison in Bulungu, the government center nearby. This took place in November of 2001.

Today I am teaching these people the Word of God, but the first time I went to evangelize, they put a knife to my throat and threatened to kill me. God did not want this to happen. They hid me in a house, and my life was spared. We didn't go there just to share the Gospel. We wanted to give them the whole counsel of God. Many of the youth and the women accepted Christ into their hearts; that is, 1,450 made professions of faith.

Finally, the chief has professed Christ. He said, 'If we had only known Jesus Christ before this happened, I would never have ended up in prison. Thank you so much, Pastor, that you came to evangelize us and that we have been saved.' In all truth, in everyone of these villages--some more wicked than others--men and women have been saved. In fact, there are no 2,762 who claim Christ as their savior.

I am filled with happiness to tell you that 5 men from this village who killed the woman from Kinshasa have now come to Laban Bible Institute. Four have graduated and are now pastors, and one is left to graduate next year.

However, this work has taken a toll on me. I have ridden my bike miles and miles and walked I don't know how many kilometers because some areas I go to are only accessible by foot. I have some kind of lung disease and have suffered malaria time and time again. My voice is worn out, and the doctor says I must take time off to recover.

Please pray for me. Thank you for the training I have received at Laban Bible Institute. God bless you and the family of Jim and Nancy Smith."

Thank you,

Pator Nkumu

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Quotes From Laban Pastors Attending the Seminar

These are excerpts from our pastors' testimonies as they preached the Gospel:

"We crossed large bodies of water on foot."

"We slept in the forest."

"We lost our way."

"We preached in areas that do not know Jesus or the Bible, and some asked us, 'Have you seen Jesus?'"

"In some villages beer and alcohol is their daily portion. They fall asleep in a drunken stupor."

"I went to places accessible only by foot. It took me three days of walking to get there."

"I have 472 in my church," (this man walks on his hands and knees, a polio victim).

John Paul, six foot six inches, known as "Pastor Goliath" said, "I preached in a village very strongly addicted to marijuana. I am alive only by the grace of God. I was beaten with 300 blows of a nylon soldier's strap and collapsed unconscious with blood oozing out of my back. Finally, the soldiers stopped when two other local pastors testified that I truly had come to preach, with no ulterior motives."

Takes us back to New Testament Christianity, wouldn't you agree? What heroes of the faith!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord

We celebrated today by holding the 25th promotion of Laban Bible Institute. Because of Audrey's and Luke's death last year, our school did not hold a ceremony of any kind for the 2008 graduates. So today, with joy abounding, 3000 people gathered in the church to cheer the 12 men and women of the Bible school here at Nkara as well as the 14 women who finished their three years at the Women's Literacy Center.

These brave men and women sacrificed time away from their families, risked their reputation in the village by entering a vocation that pays little or nothing, and must acclimate to living with classmates from other tribes in a totally new location. The women at the Literacy Center are often ridiculed and criticized for forsaking the "norm" of village life, leaving their gardens and children behind as they walk up to five miles one way every day to attend school and then back home in the late afternoon. So you can imagine their anticipation as they crossed the finish line.

The morning started at 9:30 a.m. at the back of the church, where first in line were the 2008 grads of the Literacy Center, followed by the 2007 women grads, followed by the 2008 Bible Institute grads, followed by hundreds and hundreds of former graduates from previous years. They marched in two abreast in perfect synchronization, slowly and hilariously making their way to the front of the church, which took about 30 minutes! Be assured, they enjoyed every minute of the beautiful cadence which they have dreamed about ever since those early days of "small things" when they began their training here.

Incredibly, the Lord gave us very pleasant temps in the 70s, which made us blissfully happy, as the ceremonies run on and on. Today they were four and a half hours long. Singing and moving to the music, clapping, laughing, jubilantly shouting as diplomas caused a great cacophony. They praised God with their whole body. I used to question their "dancing" until someone asked a missionary, "Why do you whites only praise God with your mouths and not with your whole bodies?"

Events that led up to today are noteworthy. It is no small task to feed hundreds of people anywhere, let alone in Congo. We knew when Radio Glory started announcing the dates of graduation and the seminars, which starts March 16th, that the crowd would be huge. So far, 300 graduate pastors have arrived, and so we will probably easily feed 400 or more by the time everyone gets here. In addition to the food we purchased in Kinshasa, rice is delivered to our door almost daily, as well as oranges and tangerines and bananas and fresh pineapples. Five women walked five hours today to sell rice to us and after paying them, we gave them each a solar radio. They beamed!

Although we shopped in Kinshasa, we were limited weight-wise on the MAF plane that flew us here. That meant a trip to Kikwit was necessary to buy the rest of the supplies. So Wednesday morning at 3:45 am, Mabwa, the mechanic, our head nurse, Marvina, Mama Marie, the director of the Women's school, and Mama Jeanne, the director of the feeding program at the Bible Institute, and I left for a four hour (60 miles) trip to the city of Kikwit, where 2 million people live. I think we chose the hottest day of the year. Our big truck preceded us, starting out at midnight Wednesday morning. After meeting up with our truck, the three ladies who went with me and three men who rode the truck, shopped for 7 hours straight, going from store to store to get everything we needed. There is no mall here. This is Africa!

Since diesel fuel and gasoline were also needed to run our generator for the radio station and electricity for our home, plus evangelism and band practice with the electric guitars, as well as to hold services, we stocked up on those items as well. These are purchased in 55 gallon drums. I don't participate in the actual shopping itself, because my skin color makes the prices shoot sky high, so I stayed with Mama Jeanne's relatives, read, and did all the accounting of the expenditures that needed to be made. Kikwit is the kind of place you can spend a week at in one day!

We left at 5:40 pm. the same day and were back by 9:20 p.m., tired but content, and thankful to be able to prepare for a good reception of our many guests. One commodity especially valued is silk worms. They are purchased in 100 pound sacks, as is the sugar, flour, milk, and beans. Cows have really escalated in price over the last two years. It has taken us two weeks to find two that we felt was the absolute lowest price doable. The first one was $450 and the second was $400. They used to be $200 years ago. Those days are gone. So many have lost their cows to disease, so the demand has made the demand shoot up. The standard cost today to purchase a cow is $600. We felt blessed to get them for considerably less.

Many of us took part in today's ceremonies, including Jim and me. Pastor Mboma delivered the message and it was very powerful. He was given a standing ovation, and so energized the crowd, that the atmosphere was electrifying.

Tomorrow we begin classes at 9:00 a.m. followed by a video each evening. Films with an evangelistic bent will be shown, as well as "The Passion" and some fun movies as well. This year's theme is centered around being a pastor, his ministry, church life, the tithe, problems facing a pastor, his family life, etc.

Excitement is mounting as we contemplate what the Lord will do among us this week. Basic needs are so gloriously and thankfully received out here. We have returned to a simpler life. We need each other here, and everybody knows we need each other, so we find ourselves much more involved in the personal lives of people we have known and loved for thirty years. A simple handshake, greetings and prayer with each other mean so very much in Congo. It is an exchange of deep respect. We have been overwhelmed at those who have walked miles to give condolences on the heart-wrenching losses of our grandchildren, Audrey and Luke. They shake their heads in sorrow. They know what it is like to lose a child, having lost several in some cases.

Rich in faith, their enthusiasm for God spills over into our lives, blessing us beyond measure. "One man considers himself rich, yet has nothing to keep permanently; another man considers himself poor, yet has great and indestructible riches." Proverbs 13:7

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How Beautiful are the Feet of those who bring Glad Tidings...Romans 10:15b

These glad tidings in Romans are regarding the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. We have some glad tidings concerning the outcome of the miles and miles some very beautiful feet have traveled here in Congo to share this life-giving message.

In the bush as well as in the cities of Congo, the police and soldiers are greatly feared, lording there positions over helpless women and random travelers. They steel, loot, & rape.

Two years ago, Ezekiel an Hosea graduated from Laban Bible Institute and following their graduation our mission campus was invaded by gangs from Mibiere and Mpene-the same villages who fought Dr. and Mrs. Smith's coming to Nkara in the 40's. They said at the time of attack that they just wanted a little of Jim's blood. Mob's filled with anger made there way into the valley of Ewa, but their efforts were thwarted by more than 40 police and soldiers sent from the government center of Bulunga some 40 miles form Nkara.

I had just returned from Congo, and Jim was out here trying to tie up loose ends, He was due to return to America a few weeks later. The mobs' present, however, necessitated his being quarantined. Arnmed guards accompanied him as he walked up aerobic hill to call me because the valley we live in prevents a good telephone signal. He could'nt teach in the bible school, couldn't welcome any guests in our hoe, and was aloud outside only for emergencies, such as making phone calls to update us on his status.

One day he went to the radio site with a couple of police who were guarding the radio station and taught them scripture. When the other police heard about this, they requested that he teach them as well. So Bible studies began in our home as well as the sheriff's office and the radio station. The police stayed at Nkara until the matter was settled peacefully. They were so troubled by these villages, outbursts, that they threatened to burn their homes to the ground. Jim remembered the devastation we experienced with the fire that robbed us of our home and all our earthly posessions, and he asked them not to proceed with their plan.

The protection the police and soldiers rendered in 2007 no doubt helped save Jim's life. However, as a rule, these men area menace to their own people. The beauty that The Lord brought out of those ashes is that Hosea and Ezekiel were hired to be pastors to the police and soldiers of this area. These men whose thirst for more of the Word of God caused an intense interest in continuing to study the Bible.

Now, two years later, we are told in the reports given to us by Hosea and Ezekiel that the Bible has really done a job on their hearts. Their behavior has been measured by the standards of the WOrd f God and found to be wanting. Many have professed Christ and are now no longer robbing, bullying, and ravashing women. They realize they have been instituted by God to be a form of protection instead of a threat to the population. We stand amazed at their hunger for and reception of the scriptures. These men who have "walked on darkness have seen a great light", and on those who "have dwelt in the land of intense darkness and the shadow of death upon them has the light shined."

Please pray for Ezekiel and Hosea as they bike to far out police posts to continue to shine the light of the gospel on hearts enslaved in the darkness and despair of sin.

Monday, March 9, 2009

If My People Who Are Called By My Name...

Congo is a land of contrasts. Bush dwellers (those who live in the interior of Congo, as opposed to those who live in the cities), as a rule, have no running water or electricity, but they own cell phones. They live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but the average per capita income is $100 per year. They eek out a life in obscurity, yet are very intelligent and speak an average of five languages. Many have graduated university, but are unemployed because no jobs are available. They have been oppressed for decades, yet their faces exude hope. Witchcraft and superstition pervade their culture, but they are totally open to the gospel. Many live in stick/mud huts with few possessions, yet they are quick to praise God, who has kept them alive during the night while they "slept as dead men."

There are two seasons in Congo--the dry and the rainy. It is frequently hot with temps ranging from a rare, beautiful 68 degrees to 110 degrees in the direct sun.

Today is absolutely the most gorgeous day. The tropical sun is hidden by billowy clouds with an underlying veil of white swishes, which prevent the sun's rays from glaring through. As I walk the steep. aerobic hill again, a balmy breeze made the heart-pumping climb easier. The delightful softly moving air followed me all the way to the airstrip where I had a confrontation with the sentinel on the uncut grass on the airstrip.

I went there to "pemisa ntima ya mono" ("to quiet my heart"). Walking the three hundred foot airstrip is something I used to do almost everyday when we lived here all the time. It's a great way to live out Psalm 131..."like a weaned child with his mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me [ceased from fretting]." I can choose to allow this land, so given to witchcraft and demonism, sheathed therein by its self-imposed curse to frazzle me to the point of heart trouble, ulcers, or 24 hour-a-day frustration, or I can wean myself, let all the deterents of the evil one go, and say, "NO!' to that imposing, defeatist attitude, and , thereby, cease from fretting.

For me, that is an incredible option. By allowing myself to work up a sweat and a heart beating hard in my chest as I climb, only to feel exhilaration and relief at the top of the hill, followed by a three mile walk on the airstrip--now that is living and weaning.

The airstrip becomes my altar. Oh, how good it feels to pour out my heart like a drink offering before His majesty, Who listens to me so intently that my prayers enter His holy ears (Psalm 18:6)! And, when my ways please Him, He busies Himself with my every step (Psalm 37:23).

Habakkuk, in chapter two of his book, set himself up in the watchtower of his mind. As a sentinel sets himself up over the grounds he protects. He turned his eyes on and focused his heart in a position of expectancy, waiting on God for answers to the wanting conditions of punishment his poor sisters and brothers of Israel were experiencing in those days. The richer Jews were taking advantage of the poor Jews. God told him that the time of their deliverance would not come until after the Chaldeans (Babylonians) had invaded them and, in great swoops, would kill and destroy many as a punishment from God to bring His people to their senses once again. And I couldn't help but think of my beloved America. Could that possibly be the plan of God for our people? Will God use another nation, more wicked than we as were the Babylonians, whose insatiable hunger for riches and gain drove them to acts beyond what we would call inhumane. Could another nation be allowed to devastate us in order to stop the rank sins erupting and exploding in the United States, spreading their cancer and smell of death everywhere? God, help us. God, be merciful to us. God, forgive us!

Ah, but where there is life, there is always hope. 2 Chronicles 7:14 still holds true,"If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves, pray, seek, praise, and require of necessity My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land."

Are we willing to humble ourselves, not just ask God to forgive us, but to examine our wicked hearts (the Lord calls our hearts desperately wicked), and name our sins of greed, apathy, the barrenness of a busy life, jealousy, skewed perspectives, and on and on, and lay them on the altar, thus exposing them to the light of the Holy One? Or will God have to purge us another way? Of all the sins God hates, pride is at the top. We must bow before Him, look at who we really are, confess our sins, and turn from our wicked ways. We must take some time to wrestle with Him in prayer instead of running around like chickens with our heads cut off or spending hours in front of the TV. Our nation is at stake. Our children and grandchildren are at stake. The Spirit of the Lord will not always strive with man. Isaiah 58 is a description of the fast that the Lord is looking for and will respond to (verse 6). "Rather is this not the fast I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undue the bonds of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every enslaving yoke."

Verse 7, "Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house--when you see the naked, that you cover him, and that you hide not yourself from the needs of your own flesh and blood." Verse 8 is what we can expect after the humbling of ourselves:

"Then shall your night break forth like the morning and your healing [your restoration and the power of a new life] shall spring forth speedily: your rightness, your justice, and your right relationship with God shall go before you [conducting you to peace and prosperity], and the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard." Amen and amen!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Precious in His Sight...Part III

Nikolin is the wife of Mumbunda I, a godly man who loves the Lord and has blessed us by working with us for 30 years. Just a very young man when he came on staff in 1979, he has never caused us one iota of grief. Second in command of the work staff, he is as honest as the day is long, always quick to please, and never complaining or asking for anything. We love him dearly.

He buried his wife on February 15, 2009. She died suddenly in her sleep. Last fall, she began attending classes at the Women's Literacy Center. She was just forty-six and mother of five children, one of whom is deaf and mute. He ran away--far away--three years ago to his father's consternation to look for diamonds. He was so badly beaten and taken advantage of that when they finally found him, his father, with pleading eyes and tears streaming down his face, asked for $100 to bring his boy home. That is the only time I remember Mumbunda asking us for anything.

He came back to work today. Sitting on our couch with tear-filled eyes, we assured him that he could take as much time off as he needed to mourn, but he said he couldn't stand sitting around looking at the four walls of his hut and allowing his mind to be flooded with her memory. The one son is so upset, he just cries all the time. Silent crying and moaning from the depths of his soul for his mama, who has taken flight.

I walked an aerobic hill today. At the top of the steep incline is our dispensary. Puzzled by Nikolin's sudden demise, I questioned Marvina, our head nurse. She told me that by the time they figured out what was wrong, it was too late. She had tuberculosis. A decent microscope and lab equipment, as well as a lab technician, could possibly have saved her life. I shuddered. So many needs here. I cling to God's sovereignty and so does Mumbunda. It gives us peace and comfort. He does all things well so that even things that look like an accident are orchestrated by Him.

Yes, truly, precious in the sight of God is the death of His saints. Their absence leaves big holes in our lives. Unanswered questions. Death always does that. Why? Why now? Why them?

I remind myself they are asking none of these questions. Nor would they ever choose to come back here. Their absence beckons us to that place called heaven. They have joined the great cloud of witnesses we are surrounded by. Not having them anymore makes us long for heaven's shores where sighing and sorrow will be no more.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Precious in His sight. . . Part II

Jacques has been associated with the Smith family for decades. In fact, he goes back to 1949, when Dr. Laban Smith's sister and brother-in- law, Ruth and Mit Yost, first arrived in Congo. Mit taught Jacques everything he knew about mechanics and driving vehicles. Mit was a master mechanic. Jacques worked with Yost until 1973, when they left Congo to serve The Lord in Haiti.

In 1984, when Jim was putting in an airstrip, at Iwungu, the second mission station his dad opened, Jacques came walking out of the tall grass there and said,"Ntangu Me Lunga". (the time has come). "I'm going to come and work with you now".

Jacques had boulndless energy adn talked a mile a minute. Small in stature, he amazed me at his driving skills of the big seven ton as it stands army truck. He loved to laugh, loved children, and would let our youngest son Jack sit on his lap and steer the big beast down the airstrip at the age of ten. Jack was in his glory.

We owe this driven man much. He was responsible for building the Flossie May Bible School Building. Flossie was Jim's mother's sister, highly instrumental in leading Laban to Christ. Without Jacques that building would not be standing today.

For a period of eleven years we didn't see Jacques, sad that interval was, but in 2007 we asked him to come back and be the driver for the vehicle God gave us for our second Bible school at Iwungu. The relief of carrying generators, speakers, Bibles, and sound equpiment in a car rather than on their heads when going on Evangelism was accelerated when Jacques began driving the staff at Iwungu to various campaigns.

Then, without warning, last year he began losing weight and died of stomach cancer. His son Richard, has faithfully served Christ at Iwungu campus by teaching God's Word in the Bible institute and pastoring the local church as well. Over dinner a few days ago, Richard described his father's last week of life. His last words to Richard were, "don't return evil for evil".

Jacques, we miss you.

Precious in His sight. . . Psalm 116:15 - Part I

The death angel has taken three more. We miss them so. death is a two-edged sword, an advantage for the believer, a heartbreak for those of us left behind.

Because life expectancy in Congo has dropped to only 43(undoubtedly due in large part to the war in the east) Jim and I never know who or how many of our staff will have been taken from our midst each time we return. Three have been called home since our last trip. They are Romaii, Jacques, and Mama Mumbunba.

Romaii was 47, a faithful worker and lover of God; straight as an arrow was his fidelity. We could always trust him. Quiet. The father of one and grandfather of three. He never drove a car, not even a bike. Supportd his many relatives educationallly on his modest salary. Made a little extra money by buying flour and selling it to the villagers in Longo. Dependable. Smart. Always smiling. We profited from his efforts and enjoyed his presence for twenty years. He walked twelve miles a day to and from work until we were able to purchase a vehicle for transport two years ago. That's twenty years of walking twelve miles a day five days a weeek. Adds up to threee-thousand miles a year if you figure in two weeks of vacaton. Twenty years later an inconceivable sixty thousand miles of walking has been his lot. I'm stunned. Are you?

Romaii was struck by lightning and he's present with The Lord. Precious in God's sight is the death of His saint.

Part II tomorrow.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Day To Remember

The Congolese people of Laban are very empathetic folk. Oftentimes struck by tragedy, including loved ones, they can say unequivocally, "We know just how you feel." When my mother died in 1994, upon our return, in order to "kabisa bampasi ya mono" or "divide and share my sorrow," they gave me a beautiful two-piece outfit. Again, after suffering the loss of two beautiful and precious grandchildren, they presented Jim and I with new clothes, sacrificially paid for by our staff. We donned our new attire on Friday for an official welcome and comforting ceremony. The Lord was esteemed and lifted high through singing and words of cheer of encouragement, followed by a meal. What a beautiful, cultural offering from their hearts to ours.

Another huge blessing fell on us that morning after breakfast with Pastor Viktor and Pastor Mboma. Pastor Mboma, who is director of Radio Glory, handed us an envelope, which contained his "dime" or tithe. He said, "This is a gift from me to you, our missionaries. I have never done this for you before, and want you to have it." We were overcome. It fills my eyes with tears as I ponder his more than generous gift of $27.31. We will use it joyfully for the reunion coming up. Please pray for that week of March 14-21st. Funding is still needed as we anticipate hundreds of returning Laban grads to the mission campus for both the weekly seminar and graduation.

I am rereading We Two Alone by Ruth Hagee, veteran missionary, who served at Mangungu, Congo. Her co-worker was slain with an arrow, shot through her jugular vein. Her stirring account of the Communistic-induced youth rebellion in 1964 in Congo moved me beyond words and causes me to drop to my knees in thanksgiving for such soldiers of the cross as Ruth Hagee and Irene Ferrel.

We covet your prayers. Thank you for standing with us.