And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. – Isaiah 35:10
As we enter the winter months, we’re reminded of the prophet Isaiah’s message to the people of God: “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ’Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” Isaiah calls his audience to take heart and look to the Lord for salvation. Paul repeats the same message to the Thessalonians, calling us to take courage and remember that the Lord will come for His people and save them from their oppressors (2 Thess 5-10). This Christmas season, may our hearts be encouraged by remembering that our Lord is not slack concerning His promises, and that He will one day replace sorrow and sighing with gladness and joy.
Congo Bible Camp
Praise God for another successful Bible camp! In this prayer letter, I’d like to give an inside peek on some methods we use when conducting a Bible camp for the deaf.
The topic of our 6th annual Congo Bible Camp was the Gospel of Mark. About 50 attendees from three countries were in attendance. Most were from the DR Congo cities of Bukavu, Uvira, Kalemi, Goma and Rutshuru. About ten of the attendees were from the neighboring countries of Rwanda and Burundi. Our numbers were a little lower than we anticipated, primarily due to travel costs. Some of the attendees traveled as far as 15 hours to get to the camp, and most cannot afford the cost of travel.
The teaching time is always my favorite part. Because the deaf in the Congo have a shortage of solid spiritual leadership, many of them are starving. They are very knowledgeable about a variety of stories all throughout the Bible, but they consistently lack Biblical depth: a comprehensive understanding of the Bible itself remains elusive; the character, nature and actions of God are often preplexing; abstracts that deal with Biblical themes, systematic theology or God’s overall plan of redemptive history are largely unknown to them. When our teaching touches on these subjects, we get flooded with excellent questions – but that’s where things get sticky. Although all the attendees speak sign-language, clear communication is a persistent challenge because of the variation of education levels and variety of sign language across these far-flung cities. When it comes to teaching a complicated passage (for example, Jesus’ conversation with the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30), great care must be taken to properly communicate the subtle nuances and implications of the text. But God is merciful: For the past few years, God has allowed a Congolese teacher of the deaf, John Gakuru, to attend our conferences. He teaches at the the deaf school in Goma and is a certified interpreter – fluent in English, French, Swahili and sign-language. When things got sticky, he was ready and willing to help us communicate some of the more complicated passages.
This year, to address these persistent challenges, we chose the Gospel of Mark. It’s short and direct, and would allow us to cover the entire book in one week, paying careful attention to not just the individual stories and parables, but also the overarching storyline, themes and truths presented in this Gospel. This allowed us to repeatedly demonstrate how the whole of the Gospel is greater than the sum of its parts.
We also brought in a variety of teachers. Yves Beosso, the director of our school in Chad, taught several of the main sessions. As a deaf African, he had a connection with the Congolese that we Americans simply couldn’t match, and raised the bar for what the Congolese could expect in a deaf African spiritual leader. We praise God for the kind gifts of His people that allowed us to pay for Yves’ airline tickets. We also brought two Americans interested in work among the deaf: Rob Slack and Aaron Kuglin. Dividing up the teaching this way allowed for us to cover much ground in a short amount of time.
To further bridge the language gap, we gave each attendee a specially printed tri-lingual Gospel of Mark. Each page had a column in English, French and Swahili. Since most of the attendees read and write in a mixture of the languages, this special printing helped them to better understand the passages by comparing languages side-by-side. We designed the booklets with wide margins, and used them to help teach good Bible study methods: underlining main thoughts; writing comments and questions in the margins, etc. We thank God for allowing Judd Kile to provide the printing of these Gospels. He’s a friend of our local co-workers Tom & Kathy Lindquist, and his contribution was greatly appreciated by the campers.
Kathy and Renee Lindquist had hands-on crafts to help reinforce the parables in Mark. Pililo Amani, the director of our school in nearby Uvira, led each of the morning devotionals. Aaron taught a special session on worship, and Yves taught a special session on the end times. These special sessions were met with great interest. Aaron and Yves covered much new ground and addressed many misunderstandings. By the end of the week, we had covered the entire Gospel of Mark fairly thoroughly, and along the way, addressed many doctrinal questions.
The camp wasn’t entirely a bed of roses: We were badgered by the ANR, a governmental group responsible for investigating meetings held in the Congo.
Their goal was to interrupt us with excessive red tape, hoping we would bribe them to go away. Local pastors from the Berean Mission got involved to help us out, and unfortunately spent two days and many hours being interrogated at gunpoint. The issue was finally resolved when the Berean pastors agreed to pay $100 to the ANR agents. But God has a way of turning trials to gold. The vice-mayor of Bukavu and the regional director of education came and visited our camp and to apologize for the difficulties we experienced with the ANR. They were quite impressed to see deaf adults reading, writing, communicating, studying and learning – so much so that they invited us to collaborate with them to open a school for the deaf in Bukavu. They even offered to hire a deaf graduate to work in the mayor’s office. Needless to say, the deaf were quite thrilled to hear this announcement. Praise God for this wide-open door!
Pray with us that the deaf in the Congo will continue to study God’s Word and will continue to press themselves on to a deeper understanding of the manifold riches of God in Christ. Pray with us that we will be able to find staffing to re-open a school in Bukavu.
On the Home Front
Berta’s hip surgery from earlier this summer is mostly behind her now. Please do continue to keep her in your prayers.
Our beloved Sister, Mary Watson, went home to be with the Lord in October. She worked for many years with the deaf in the DR Congo, and after “retiring”, worked with Berta at the home office in Detroit.
Pray also for us as we prepare for the 7th annual Congo Bible Camp. Lord wiling, we’ll be teaching the book of Colossians. Pray with us that my wife Sheryl will be able to return next year. Her presence was sorely missed, and many of the ladies expressed a desire to have her there to teach them and answer their questions.
So much work, so little time! Indeed, your continued prayers are coveted.