Declaring the Wonders of God!

My wife, Julie and I just returned from spending Thanksgiving in Kwamadebe, Tanzania. Our daughter, Bethany, lives there along with a team of ten Christians in the hopes that the 40,000 Alagwesa people who live there might come to know Jesus Christ.  The travel which is required to get to this remote location is, in itself, nothing short of breathtaking. It seemed to give new meaning to Jesus’ words, echoing Isaiah 49:6, when he commanded us to bring the Gospel to the “ends of the earth.”  The nearest “city” to Kwamadebe is a town called Babati, which is several hours away if you have a good all terrain vehicle which can ford rivers and drive through muddy fields and ravines. But even in Babati it is doubtful that anyone has ever heard of the Alagwesa people. No other group even speaks their language and the language itself has never been written. They are a forgotten people living in a remote area without any electricity, running water or modern conveniences. However, God knows that they are there and he sent ten of his choice servants to bring the Gospel to them.

The team is made up of two Tanzanian families, a British family and four single American women. The team is made up of people with amazing backgrounds, including musicians, a doctorate in physical therapy, an expert in American sign language, a computer technician, etc… all skills which are unknown and unrecognized among the Alagwesa. This is a subsistence farming community which values survival skills revolving around raising crops and obtaining water. The Alagwesa are a hard working people, rising with the first rays of sunlight to plough fields, walking to the river to get water or going in search of firewood. No one is ever alone. People sleep together, work together, eat together and bathe in the river together. It it a communal culture, resonating with the beauty of many African cultures below the Sahara.

When I think about the Alagwesa, I am reminded of the amazing love of God in Jesus Christ. He loves the Alagwesa, and these ten Christians embody that love to them. There have been several attempts in the past to bring the Gospel to the Alagwesa, but only in Swahili (the national language of Tanzania). This is the first attempt for people to actually live there and learn their language (Alagwesi) and tell them the Gospel on their own cultural terms. There is a famous story in missions circles about the origin of the Wycliffe Bible Translators. Cameron Townsend was a missionary in Latin America distributing Spanish Bibles when he met an indigenous Cakchiquel man in Guatemala who, using broken Spanish, asked him if he had a Bible in his language. When Cam Townsend said “No” the man famously replied, “If your God is so great, why doesn’t he speak my language?”  This was the haunting question which led Townsend to found the Wycliffe Bible Translators which has now put the Bible into thousands of indigenous languages around the world. Townsend spent the next fifteen years learning that man’s language and translating the Bible into that language. The ten Christians who live in Kwamadebe are there to say to these beloved families, “yes” God loves you and he speaks your language! The Day of Pentecost was not just a sociological event, it was a theological statement by God himself that all the nations of the world “would declare the wonders of God in their own tongues” (Acts 2:11).  John the Apostle envisioned the day when men and women from every tribe, tongue and language would gather in the Eschaton to worship the Lamb of God.  Yes, heaven would not be heaven without the Alagwesa there!  I, for one, can’t wait until harvest time!

When Efficiency Doesn’t Get the Job Done… Living into the Extravagance of God- by Timothy C. Tennent

The longer I walk with the Lord, the more I become aware of the unfathomable depth of his grace and mercy in our lives. God’s grace really is amazing. His love is scandalizingly extravagant. If you lend your support to a righteous person or to a prophet by bringing him or her even a “cup of cold water” you will receive the reward of the righteous and the prophet (Matt. 10:42). God is that extravagant with his generosity.

This astounding truth really came home to me this week in a fresh way. I mentioned in my last blog entry how my daughter was going to have the privilege of preaching the first sermon in the Chasi language in the history of the world. For those who didn’t catch that entry, our daughter is working among an unreached group in the middle of rural Tanzania. They have been working over the last year to learn the language of the Wasi people. A few months ago they began a service in Chasi and began to introduce a few Chasi hymns, but the sermon was still in English or Swahili. The time had finally arrived last Sunday (June 12) to preach the first sermon in Chasi. There are ten people on this team who have moved to this area and are learning the language; Four are Americans, two are from Britain and four are from Tanzania itself, but are also having to learn this particular language (spoken by about 40,000 people). Our daughter was asked to give the first sermon. Her text was Hebrews 10:1-4 which is the passage which says that the Law and sacrifices are only a shadow pointing to Christ. This group in Tanzania knows something of the law through Islam (they are nominally Islamic) and they know the need of sacrifice through their traditional religion. The point of Bethany’s sermon was that of the text; namely, that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin.” The provision of the blood of bulls and goats was in anticipation of a future payment; namely, Christ himself.

Sunday finally arrived and the entire team gathered along with a few Christians from a neighboring language group who are praying for them. However, only three Chasi came to the service and, of those three, two left once the singing was over. Thus, Bethany was in a room where everyone in the entire room could speak English except for one Chasi man. The sermon went forth in Chasi to the one man.

It is here that I want to return to the theme of the extravagance of God. We are so efficiency oriented and so pragmatic that we would never expend such resources for such a meager event (from the world’s perspective). To have ten people leave their homeland, leave their family and friends, leave behind basic comforts such as running water and electricity, and relocate all the way to the heart of Africa and spend months and months learning a language in order to preach the gospel to one man is highly “inefficient.” But, such is the extravagance of God. In fact, this is precisely what God has done in all of our lives. The whole incarnation is about this kind of extravagance. The incarnation is so radical that it strikes us as “foolishness” and a “stumbling block.” That’s the whole point! We can’t imagine the generosity of God. God became man. It wasn’t some kind of temporary disguise or holographic projection. In Jesus Christ God became a man. His love is so extravagant that he steps into our lives and calls us and woos us to himself, despite the deafness of our ears and the leanness of our souls.

I want to live in this kind of extravagance. I want to better exude the radical extravagance of God’s love for a lost world. The cross of Jesus Christ teaches us that God’s greatest redemptive work unfolds under the cloak of failure. I think the same is true when one man hears the gospel among the Wasi. It occurs when we bring that one cup of cold water to the righteous or do anything else in the name of Christ. This past week Bethany sang a new tune into the ears of one Chasi man in the middle of Tanzania. That song, in time, just might become another Hallelujah chorus.

Redemptive History Unfolds…and CNN doesn’t note it! – by Timothy C. Tennent

I have always been intrigued by the disconnect between the redemptive and the ordinary perspective on time and events.  If you open the paper today you will find endless discussions about Weinergate (Anthony Weiner, that is), the 62 trillion dollar US deficit, the NFL lockout, musings about whether Sarah Palin will throw her hat in the ring, the excitement around Apple’s iCloud, and the list goes on.  However, most of this will be quickly forgotten and very little of it, if any, resonates with the great unfolding story of God’s redemption of the world – the missio dei.

Today, for example, an amazing event is taking place in the middle of Tanzania among the Wasi people.  The gospel is being preached in the Chasi language for the first time.  My daughter is a part of a team of ten people who are serving in the middle of rural Tanzania.  They have spent most of the last year doing language learning and, after many months, finally had their first Christian worship service.   However, the sermons were always in English or Swahili because no one had the facility in the language to preach a full sermon in the Chasi language.  That important line has now been crossed.  I am particularly proud because our daughter Bethany was chosen to bring that first sermon in the Chasi language.  So, today, in the middle of rural Tanzania, in a village with no running water or electricity and, certainly no CNN reporters, something happened which won’t make the news.  It seems so “unimportant” in light of the latest Lindsay Lohan scandal or the public humiliation of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  But, from the perspective of redemptive history, something really amazing happened today.   It will be remembered even into eternity.  Today, on June 12, 2011 the gospel was publically announced among the Wasi for the first time.

How much of our lives, deeds, reading and reflection are really oriented towards the great redemptive events which are unfolding in the world?  I am praying that I might be more discerning and, by God’s grace, begin to notice the great redemptive events which are unfolding all around us – and they won’t be picked up on by CNN.