The eV&B Bulletin

Reflections on the Mission to Kitale

eV&B Bulletin: October 15, 2010

eVB logoThis isn’t going to be so much a mission report but (as the title indicates) my reflections on the mission. More than a week has passed since I returned from Kitale and I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time staring at my computer monitor waiting for sensible words to appear on-screen. Hopefully, an actual report of this mission will appear in the next Vine & Branches magazine. But for now, this is what is on my mind.

As most of you know, this was my first mission in over a year because of the problem I was having with my foot. Even now, my foot is still too tender to walk around barefoot, so I was more than a little concerned I would hold up in Kenya – my foot, my voice, my stamina. Thankfully, I still find teaching the message of In the Power of His Might very invigorating, and that helped keep my energy up. I didn’t really feel tired until I got home. Right now I feel like I’d make a very convincing zombie for Halloween.

All in all, I’d say it was a very successful mission, probably my most successful mission in Kenya to date. But even as I write these words, I am chastised by the admonition of 1 Corinthians 4:5 to “judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come.” From beginning to end, the Bible testifies of the power of the Holy Spirit to achieve the Lord’s purposes in spite of human interference:

Isaiah 55:11:
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

Nevertheless, it is always my ambition to be more of an asset than a liability in the Lord’s undertakings. Hopefully, in my eight years of making missions to Africa I have learned some things that help promote a fruitful experience!

To me, a successful mission depends on a marriage between the right message and the right audience. That is why I am so grateful for people like Rev. John Robert Opio, the founder of Christian Life Teachings International (CLTI), who invited me to teach my seminar in Kitale.

Generally speaking there are two kinds of pastors who invite me to Africa. Some invite me with the objective of raising sponsorship for their own programs. They are not really looking for additional Bible teachers to join their fold; they are looking for outside help to further their ministry. Unfortunately, intermingled among this group are scores of con artists soliciting money for their own pocketbook – but that is a different story. There are many honest ministers promoting extremely worthwhile causes in Africa. But the main kind of help they are hoping to get from outsiders is financial, and WTWH is sufficiently challenged to trust God for its own financial necessities.

The other kind of pastors will invite me to Africa because they believe the message I bring is beneficial to building strong Christian disciples. They understand that my service to them is for spiritual edification, not financial endowment. These are the ministers who will not be disappointed at the end of our time together.

Rev. Opio understands the service that WTWH has to offer and the kind of people who would be most benefited by it. That is why the partnership between WTWH and CLTI has been so fruitful over the years.

The easiest way to draw an audience in Africa is to include free meals as part of the seminar. This is a very common practice among foreigners because it guarantees dramatic photos of big crowds to show the folks back home. When I am planning a mission, I try to take a lesson from the story of Gideon’s army. I try to pare down the number of participants from the many to the faithful few. That is why I require something of the students in return. For our missions, we require the students to make a contribution toward their meals. This probably reduces our potential audience by 75%, but it separates the real students from those who come for dietary reasons.

Having the right message and the right audience sets the table for success. However, as a Bible teacher, it is another challenge to know how to portion out that message. Knowing the large financial expenditure that each trip to Africa requires (on a short mission it works out to about $1,000 per day), I am tempted to force feed the students with as much material as I possibly can. However, such efforts have proved largely counterproductive. We all know how agonizing it is to sit through a lecture once you’ve reached the point of saturation! You cannot simply keep taking in food (physical or spiritual) without adequate time for digestion.

Bible teachers tend to overestimate their abilities to hold an audience. We forget that it is far easier to talk than it is to listen. Even our English-speaking audiences can be dumbfounded by our thick accents and strange colloquialisms. Additional deterrents for the students include sitting for extended periods on a hard bench in a poorly ventilated building with the hot African sun simmering in through a low tin roof… well, you get the idea. My challenge is to present a message that is as complete as possible before reaching that place where I am just speaking into the air.

So how did I cope with all of this? At John’s suggestion, classes were held from about 8:30 until 1:00 so we could dismiss the students before the noonday sun got too brutal. In order to prevent overload, I reduced my usual 30 lessons to only 16. Call me melodramatic, but for me it was like having the desire to take 30 children on vacation with only enough room in the van for half of them. I had to leave some of my favorite lessons behind. Of course, one advantage I now have is that I could give the students my book In the Power of His Might to read after the seminar was over.

The week went by very quickly. We left Baton Rouge on Friday and spent most the day Saturday in Amsterdam before departing for Africa that night. We arrived in Nairobi early Sunday morning. Our hour-long flight to Kitale came after what seemed to be an endless “few hours” of waiting. Jay taught his seminar on Monday, and I taught from Tuesday to Friday. On Saturday we did a little tour of Kitale, and on Sunday after church we started our travel home. Looking back, it seems like such a short trip. Still I feel like this was a mission accomplished.

Now, in about four weeks, I will return to Africa with Evan Pyle for our mission to the Maasai in Tanzania. Once again, I have requested that the student enrollment be limited to those faithful few who will be able to teach others what they have learned. I will teach in the daytime and Evan will teach every evening. After six days in the village of Madungulu (aka Matebete), I will teach a group of young people in the village of Melela.

Thank you for your interest in this work. I continually endeavor to be proven worthy of the trust you show me in helping to finance the ministry of WTWH. Thank you very much for your prayers. May the Lord bless you richly.

In the service of His Majesty, the King of kings,
Rev. Tim Sullivan

You can see photos from our mission by clicking HERE:


The eV&B is now Tim's Blog.