2014 marked the 11th year of my ministry with the Extension Program of the Bear Valley Bible Institute. My first five years (2003-2007) were principally with the Andrew Connally School of Preaching in Arusha, Tanzania. I served as the Bear Valley Coordinator, making three trips a year to teach, counsel with the students, director and staff. I was also responsible for recruiting other American preachers as short-course teachers and communicating with BVBID in Denver, CO.
During those years, Sarah went with me every summer to participate in the Safari for Souls evangelistic mission. She regularly taught in the Ladies Seminar, VBS, and Bible studies. Several ladies were baptized into Christ. This obviously brought joy to her heart and was the highlight of her summer.
During the same five year span, I taught in Ukraine each June, both in the undergraduate and graduate programs. Sarah also traveled with me, teaching ladies classes in Kramatorsk, Sylvanask, Ilivisce, Gorlovka, and Donetsk.
Beginning in 2007 I was asked to serve as the Director of the Master’s Program. A part of the vision of the Extension Program was to provide additional training for those who would serve as directors and teachers of the Extension Schools. Other exceptional students could also enroll in this advanced program after they had completed the two-year school of preaching. The Master’s Program has complimented the two-year course of study throughout the world. In Tanzania alone, teachers who attended the Andrew Connally Master’s Program are now teaching in Bear Valley Extensions in Arusha and Chimala, Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya.
Through the years, Master’s Programs in Nigeria, India, Guatemala, Ukraine, Ghana, and Tanzania have helped produce mature Christians and qualified teachers for Bear Valley Extensions and other faithful programs. My participation in the Master’s Program has led me to teach in many more locations than if I had continued to serve as the coordinator of one school. Memory may fail at this point, but I have taught in Central and South America in the nations of Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Peru and Paraguay. In Africa, I have taught in the countries of Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana and Nigeria. Other countries include India, Nepal, Cambodia and Ukraine. After I had made 50 trips, I quit counting. I say all this boasting only in the Lord and being blessed to participate in this worthy work of God.
The extension ministry, which is spearheaded and led by the Bear Valley elders, has partners among scores of congregations and hundreds, if not thousands, of individual Christians. Graduates of many faithful American Schools of Preaching and Christian Colleges serve or have served as directors, coordinators, and teachers in these 17 schools of preaching that are found on 4 continents and 14 countries.
In my early years with the Arusha Extension, Mark Hooper and Ralph Gilmore brought students from Freed-Hardeman University to participate in the Safari for Souls evangelistic campaign. Cy
Stafford, evangelism coordinator in Arusha, Tanzania, can name dozens of congregations and hundreds of American Christians who helped the light of evangelism burn more brightly in northern Tanzania.
Coordinators of other Bear Valley Extensions have their own story of the fruit of God over these past 15 years. One with whom I worked closely and admire is Terry Harmon, who served as the Coordinator of the Ukraine Extension for ten years.
Paul, an apostle who spoke by inspiration, also knew by his own experience that after we have sown the seed, the Word of God, and watered it with time and tears, God Himself has given the growth. The apostle who shunned to exalt himself, said “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” (1 Cor. 3:7).
THE PILLAR AND GROUND OF THE TRUTH
The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Early in his ministry, Paul selected Timothy to work with him in the spread of the gospel throughout the Roman world (Acts 16:1-3). They would work together for the rest of Paul’s ministry. Near the end of Paul’s life, he reminded Timothy to live for Christ and to conduct himself as a faithful Christian and evangelist. An incentive that Paul uses is that Timothy is “in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”
As a pillar or column supports a building, the church supports the truth of God. The church of the Lord is entrusted with preaching the truth to all the world and defending it from the assaults of error. This was true of the church of Christ in the first century, and it is true today. Jesus, who redeemed the church with his own blood (Acts 20:28), commanded it to preach the gospel to all the world until the end of the world (Matt. 28:18-20). Those whose sins are washed away by the blood of Christ in baptism are added to that church (Acts 2:36-47; 22:16) and have the responsibility and privilege to teach it to others.
The house of God is not the temple of Diana, which stood there at Ephesus in the first century, erected by artisans of silver, who superstitiously believed the goddess Diana fell from heaven (Acts 19). The splendid temple of Diana is no more, for God does not dwell in a temple made with hands (cf. Acts 19:23-27; Acts 17:24-29). While the temple of Diana represented pagan worship, the church supports true worship of God and Christ.
Neither is the church today built upon the traditions of the Hindu writings, Buddha or Mohammad. Rather, it is built upon the deity of Christ (Matt. 16:13-19). Christ is the fulfillment of Old Testament promise and prophecy (Acts 3:18-26). The Son was eternally present with the Father be- fore the world was created and then manifested in human form in the fullness of time (John 1:1-3, 14, 18). He is both God and man (Matt. 1:18-23).
Neither is the church built upon a human foundation of an apostle such as Peter or one of the renowned Reformation leaders. The apostles whom Christ chose to preach the gospel were ordinary men also in need of salvation. Peter, who was aware of his human weakness and fallibility, was a servant, not the Lord (Luke 22:31-34; 54-62). The reformers, even if courageous and well-intentioned, were subject to error. This is why we wear the name of Christ, not Luther or Calvin.
Paul reveals to Timothy the mystery that God has revealed to us in order to make us godly: “God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16). The mystery is not something incomprehensible; the hidden wisdom of God is revealed in the gospel. This is the truth the church of the living God is to preach to the world. MAY GOD HELP US TO DO JUST THAT WITH FERVOR AND COMPASSION!
I first met Perry B. Cotham in 1973 when I was preaching in Idalou, Texas near Lubbock. He preached a gospel meeting for us. This began a friendship and working relationship of more than 35 years.
Very much a novice in the mission field, I went with Perry to Surinam in South America, formerly known as Dutch Guiana in 1974. We took several hundred of his tracts which had been translated into Dutch, the national language. We preached each night for two weeks at the Red Cross building in Paramaribo and distributed Bible tracts during the day downtown and in the suburbs.
I traveled again with Perry to Hawaii in 1978 for a gospel meeting and VBS on the island of Oahu. This time we took reinforcements. Students from Southwestern Christian College along with other Christians accompanied us.
Perry preached at a congregation near the Schofield Barracks Army base. I still remember his lessons on the Bible subject of marriage and divorce. The next weeks he also preached at the Wahiawa congregation where we also conducted a Vacation Bible School. Both congregations were primarily composed of American military forces and their families.
Many Bible studies were conducted and con- tacts made for Christ. The relationships that we made with the Southwestern students continued for years.
The following year in 1979 most of us who worked with Perry the year before joined other Christians to teach the gospel in Scotland and Ireland. On this occasion, Sarah was also able to go. The main group left a week before we did. When Sarah and I arrived in London, we had to literally run to thrown our bags on the train for the all day trip to Peterhead, Scotland.
The city of Peterhead was the largest fishing port both in Scotland and the British common- wealth. Therefore, the congregation was primarily composed of fisherman and their families. All of us lived with the local Christians and joined them in going from door-to-door throughout the town. Per- ry preached, and the church was greatly encouraged.
Last of all, we went to Belfast, Northern Ireland and evangelized for a week. Our work was with the congregation in Newtownards, a suburb of Belfast.
Perry was our leader both in sermon and action. He walked every mile we did and challenged us to walk a few more. He was a mere 69 years old then. He would live to be 102. Sarah and I visited him when he was 101, his mind as as sharp as ever.
Perry was the consummate missionary mentor, not only to me but to thousands more in the USA and around the world.