When asked what I miss about America when I am in Africa, a list topper should be public libraries. Benjamin Franklin and friends started the Library Company of Philidelphia in 1731. This organization became the foundation for the public library system that we have today (http://www.ushistory.org/franklin/philadelphia/library.htm).
The American Library Association (ALA) estimates there are 122,566 libraries in the US: 9,214 public, 3,827 academic, 99,180 school libraries, 8,906 special libraries, 289 Armed Force libraries and 1,150 government libraries.
We recently spent a few days at one in Warwick, New York. Literally, the Albert Wisner Public Library is one of the best. It is a wonderful place to work. In addition, it showcases a local artist, has a used bookstore in the lower level, and a community jigsaw puzzle (not shown). Visit your library! 🙂
Today, we are at Eastern Nazarene College for PALCON. Keep the pastors and leaders of this educational region in your prayers. Good things are happening. We will share more about this event next week and how we happen to be here.
Last week was a vacation week, a short break from the intinerant work of our three month home assignment. Amy spent some quality daughter time with her parents in Auburn, NY while I visited with my brother and sister-in-law, Chad and Rebekah, and their children outside Buffalo.
Chad and Rebekah attend Epic Church Buffalo, so on Sunday, I tagged along. One interesting thing about this church is where it meets. They rent out three large rooms at the local movie theatre, one for children, one for teens, and one for the sanctuary. Free donut and coffee in-hand, I made my way into the third room, which was darkened except for the stage lights. Already, the worship band was playing, and 50 people were singing and swaying to the music. (Around 200 would be there by the end). Pastor Mark Rouse preached a sermon on friendship with God and others, set-up with references to “The Goonies.” (The sermon was the first in a four-part series whose themes are suggested by 1980s movies). The sermon was topical, and each point looked at a different supporting passage. When the closing prayer was over, first-time visitors received a free movie pass at the exit.
After the service, lots of people lingered in the lobby, talking and laughing. It was obvious that they’d found a loving Christian community.
Epic Church is a church plant of the Free Methodist Church (North America), a sister denomination to the Church of the Nazarene. Like many new Nazarene churches, Epic does not lead with the name of the denomination. Instead, they lead with Jesus. Later during the membership class, inquirers learn that Epic is part of the Free Methodists.
Pray for Mark and Rebecca Rouse as they lead the pastoral team at Epic Church, that many will come to know Christ and become established in their faith. A movie theatre church? Why not? May the message of the Gospel respect no boundaries in our culture!
The customs officer stamped my passport, handed it back with a smile, then added two words: Welcome home.
That word is more than a physical location. For most people, it conjures up feelings of belonging, of psychological well-being, of safe-harbor.
So was the officer correct? Was I now “home”? What he didn’t know was I had merely flown in for 4 days of education meetings. Whatever might be emblazoned on the cover of my passport, most of my time was being invested not in my birth country but working in various African nations.
As missionaries, Amy and I now work in a single African nation, but still only about 15% of our time – a few months every two years – is given to traveling in the land of our citizenship, keeping up ties with supporters. As a practical matter, if only my birthland is “home,” then we cannot be simultaneously “home” and obedient to God’s calling to work overseas.
So should we just reverse the formula and call Africa our home? There’s an argument to made for that. We’re always learning more about the culture of each African nation where we’ve lived (four), whether it’s a phrase, food, a custom or a proverb. In each country, people have welcomed us with open arms. As we’ve developed relationships on the Big Continent, our thoughts often turn toward friends and co-workers when we’re away. Most of our possessions are in Africa, and it’s the place where we enjoy a daily rhythm.
Truth be told, the definition of “home” changes over time.
When our children were younger and still with us, we defined “home” as “wherever the four of us are together.” Now that they’re grown, that definition won’t work. In reality, we really have two homes. Home is both where we live and work in Africa and the country where we were born and raised. You might say we’re rich in homes, with double as many “homes” as most people, even though we own no house or condo. “Home” is where we’re welcome, and for us, that’s on both sides of the Atlantic. That’s a good thing.
Praying for us
Thank you for asking God to protect us on the road during our deputation, interestingly called (in-light of the essay above) “home assignment.” Amy and I are roughly 1/2 done, and so far, we’ve traveled more than 5,700 miles, speaking in churches in 8 states. We’ve slept in 23 different beds. It has been a challenge but very rich as we tell the story about what God is doing through Africa Nazarene University. It’s exciting to see that Nazarenes still have a heart that beats for missions!
On a past home assignment, a man asked us if we ever reported on churches in the United States when we returned to Africa. We never have. Today, I would like to share about a historic and vibrant church in America.
In 2018, the New Bedford First Church of the Nazarene (Massachusetts) held its 110th annual meeting. In his pastor’s report, Rev. Jon Helm stated, “We are called to carry the gospel to the lost and broken places of this world.”
A quick look around the church demonstrates this other-focus.
This mission focus also includes their local community. The church runs the Nazarene Christian Academy – a pre-K- 12 school which partners with the local school district. The church building is used every day of the week and three evenings a week.
The vision has caught the notice of a vibrant youth group. The group led worship at the beginning of the service with songs and lifted hands. They took part in every aspect of the service and enjoyed our display table after. (The picture only shows a part of the whole group.)
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7
Amy and I continue our missionary work during home assignment, visiting numerous churches in the U.S., telling the story of what God is doing through Africa Nazarene University.
Unfortunately, today we missed the inauguration of our Vice-Chancellor, Dr Stanley Bhebhe. But our thoughts and prayers are with him as officially he takes the reins of the University. He is a gifted man, loves the Lord and has been blessed with wisdom and experience that we know God will use to build upon the excellent foundation already laid.
Say a prayer today for Dr Bhebhe and the entire leadership team of Africa Nazarene University.
The featured picture, above, is from Richmond, Indiana. I loved the sunset streaming in the stained glass window! We had a fun time with the people before, during, and after the service. We also had a great time with the people of Richmond, Maine. I’m not sure if we’ll be going to any other places that share the name.
Yes, I can still take bird pictures even when I am in the United States. I will admit that the littler birds have hidden well. I did get Mr. and Mrs. Mallard when in Franklin, IN and a seagull on the PA Turnpike.
We have made it to Maine and will be here and there in the state for the next week.
The church bulletin boards and wall displays continue to encourage us. Local NMI presidents are doing a fantastic job putting the cause before their people. (This is one of the displays from Auburn, ME).
Have you ever noticed that the simplest things can be really beautiful when you haven’t seen them in a long time?
Food-wise, we are sampling old favorites and trying new things (new to us).
We have reunited with college friends, NMI friends, old friends, and made new friends. Home assignment is all about connections. Thanks to those who have fed and hosted us on our travels so far.
that we keep travelling with high energy, health, and safety;
that we make all the connections that we need to make personally and for ANU;
that we can keep up with our work and studies and still find times of rest and relaxation.
On Monday, Amy and I stopped in to see one of those mentors. Ted Esselstyn and his wife, Joan, lived in South Africa for many years, and Ted is a Swazi. (Yes, he was born in Swaziland and still has a Swazi passport). As Nazarene missionaries, they invested their lives over decades in the work of Nazarene higher education, and Ted served as the first Regional Education Coordinator for Africa.
It was a joy to catch up with the Esselstyns in their retirement home outside Mt Vernon, Ohio and to share a meal together. Ted still faithfully teaches Sunday School each week at his local Nazarene church. We updated him on the progress of Africa Nazarene University, of which Ted was one of the Founders and for many years served as a Trust and Council member.
Thank God today for those whom He has used to shape you!