In January of this year, we had Howell Ferguson, along with his wife Mary, come to work at the school for eight weeks. Of course, Garry Hill was here also teaching in the school and Cyndi and I were here during January and February. During this time, Howell brought forth a new idea for evangelism. It was not something entirely new, but it did put more focus on a couple of things. It was designed to spend more time with each congregation that was visited and it did involve the students more in the program. Something that I want to mention up front is that the evangelism work is currently being headed up entirely by the Tanzanian faculty of the school. This is part of the long term plan to equip and empower the Tanzanians to take charge of this work. So, anytime there is a change like this, it comes as a suggestion, not an order.
Howell talked to me first about this idea and then we talked to Garry to get his opinion, which was favorable. I suggested that we attend the next evangelism committee meeting and Howell could present the idea to the staff and see what they thought. Here is what he suggested. They would divide up into four teams comprised of both teachers and students. Each team would have a series of lessons designed to build up and encourage the local congregations. Each team would spend three to four weeks teaching these lessons and the teams would rotate. This would mean that a congregation would receive about 16 weeks of good lessons and four congregations would be receiving this at the same time. Then after the 16 weeks was finished, we would move to four more congregations. This would do several things; it would give some of the congregations really strong lessons to help them mature and at the same time, give these men who are training to be preachers some hands-on opportunities to learn how to teach the word and encourage their brothers and sisters in Christ.
The committee liked the idea and it was implemented immediately. The results were seen quickly and the numbers of people being baptized and restored went up the first week. As I said, the Tanzanians are running the program and it did not take too long until they drifted away from some of the program’s ideas. They did not keep going to the same churches after the first month, but instead chose four more congregations. I was disappointed that they did this, but it is their program. I believe part of the problem is the many requests from the numerous churches we have here to come and visit; it was hard for them to just concentrate on four churches. The numbers are still good and it looks like our baptisms will be higher this year than they have been in a long time. Hopefully, over the next couple of years we can get more focus on maturing the churches.
Chad is just getting started, but I am hoping that his long-term experience in the pulpit will enable him to help local churches understand what a mature church is. More importantly, and this is something that Garry and I have talked about on several occasions; we need to develop preachers who understand what a mature church is. Garry is working on some curriculum changes to help the program do a better job of doing just that. We that have had the opportunity to grow up in the church in the States have a hard time understanding that people here have never been in churches that have elders, deacons, and evangelists with a long history of knowing what true church leadership is. Another problem they often face here is very small churches. It is hard to develop leadership when there are only a few faithful members in a congregation. So, we still have a long way to go, but we are seeing progress every year. I am going on my sixth year here and I have seen a lot of progress in several of the local churches. I know of a couple of congregations in Tanzania that are in the process of appointing elders and that is exciting news. Progress is being made and we must keep praying and working.