Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Glory of God in Ethiopia - Part 1

Of this I'm sure, God is at work for His glory in Ethiopia through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

By now many of you are aware of why Nathan and I went to Ethiopia, but for the sake of those who are just now joining us, allow for a brief review.

The Lord has given abundant favor to Anthony and Amber Mathenia in the eyes of many of the Ethiopian believers. So much so that a denomination (Addis Kadan) has essentially handed over to Anthony the responsibility to train its next generation of pastors. This is where the Pastor's Training Institute (PTI) was born.

Approximately 80 PTI students from all over Ethiopia (literally) who have been identified by their churches have enrolled in a two-year theological training program with the desire to be equipped to plant churches among Ethiopians who have yet to be reached with the gospel. The students live "out country" and have/will travel into Addis Ababa for two-week intensive training sessions during the next two years. After the two years of study, the students will be evaluated by the Bible's standards for elders, and upon evidence of qualification, will be sent out two-by-two to plant new churches "out country."

It was for one of these two-week intensive teaching sessions that Nathan and I went to Ethiopia. This was only the second session of PTI, the first being only one month prior (and led by our friends Kurt Strassner and Scott Duley). Kurt taught Christian Ethics from the Sermon on the Mount, and Scott taught the Doctrine of God. During our trip, Nathan taught the Doctrine of Christ, and I taught Christ-centered Theology of the Bible.

The students are hungry, and by-in-large, soaking up the teaching. There are obvious barriers for some of them though. For example, the translation of the teaching is in Amharic, which for some of the students, is their second or third language! Could you imagine taking theology courses in Spanish based on what you learned in High School? Of course, theology has a vocabulary all its own, and adds to the interesting translation dynamics. Nonetheless, the students demonstrate an eagerness to learn, and are full of questions. Daily, for two weeks, they sit shoulder-to-shoulder on hard benches for no less than six hours thinking, taking notes, and engaging with the most important things under heaven. Please pray for them regularly!

The misconceptions of biblical truth, and especially how the truth of the bible impacts local church gatherings, is wide-spread. Neither Anthony, nor any of the guys who have taught at PTI, have a desire to "westernize" the ethos of the church in Ethiopia. It is good and right for redeemed sinners to express worship to King Jesus in keeping with their own particular cultural expressiveness...unless, of course, the culture contradicts the Biblical pattern. Everyone on God's green earth is influenced by the culture in which they live. It is part of our relational DNA. We operate, talk, dress, express, and relate in a way that has been ingrained in us from our first breath. Sometimes, though, our cultural expressiveness contradicts biblical practice. This is true for Americans, just as much for Ethiopians. We have "convictions" that church should happen a certain way with certain "non-negotiable" elements (like bulletins, pews, nice clothes, microphones, 30 minute [or less] sermons, invitations, etc.). Well, you get the point. Ethiopians also have "convictions" about "the way we've always done it." For them, charismatic chaos, proof-texting, isegesis, emotional frenzy, and music-dominated services are what church is (Oh, wait, I was supposed to be describing them, not us). Again, I think you get the point.

Because of misconceptions about biblical truth (and we all have them) it is vitally important that the next generation of pastors in Ethiopia have a solid dose of biblical truth. And, what's most encouraging, is that they want it! PTI doesn't concern itself with "what we do in American churches," but rather, "what does the Bible say." Nathan walked the brothers through the gospel of John and in chapter three gave as a clear an explanation of the Spirit's role in regeneration (which, in the text preceeds faith and repentance, but guarantees them both) as I've heard. This, you see, has nothing to do with "the way we do church in the US."

So, as you pray for these brothers, pray that they will be given Holy Spirit discernment to know how to apply the truth they learn in a way that is faithful to the teaching of Scripture...even if it wars against the cultural norm. And, as you do so, pray the same thing for Grace Church!

2 comments:

Kurt Strassner said...

Thanks for the update! Eager to hear more...and jealous of your opportunity to benefit from the PCA this week!

Jeremy Whitten said...

Very interesting post. Encouraging as well! Would this PTI program be considered what has been referred to as "indigenous missions"? I've recently embraced this strategy of foreign missions with my prayer and support going directly to those who need it the most. It gives me joy to be a part of God's kingdom work even if its only a small part. We will pray for PTI and its leaders! Thanks for the update!
-Jeremy