These are very strange days - locally and globally. As Texas (and the U.S. in general) begins to re-open with precautions in place, Africa is just beginning to see the virus spread. I calculate that they are at least 2 months behind where we are in the progression of the situation. It is unknown how severe the impact will be throughout Africa, especially with the common culture of gathering in close proximity, regular hygiene practices, and the availability of resources and treatment. As it was obvious that the virus was coming - with its repercussions in both health and economics - I tried to get out ahead as much as we could by sending funds to our most senior regional leaders to distribute resources to National Directors. Our heart was to stockpile some basic needs as determined by our trusted leaders on the ground (typically rice, beans, cooking oil, bars of soap, and washable reusable masks - which are being required by most countries in Africa) - not to hoard, but to distribute to those who are most vulnerable and experiencing the most severe need in their areas along with a wise, safe, socially distanced presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the face of fear, panic, and need, our network of leaders are meeting temporal needs along with eternal needs simultaneously while showing love for God and neighbor. We have left the timing of distribution to the determination of the local leaders. A HUGE thank you to everyone who helped fund this effort! It's not too late! If you would like to join us in this, please click HERE. Now for some images and updates from various locations.
Ghana has continued to lead West Africa in testing. This means their total number of confirmed cases of the virus are higher than any West African nation. In the North, most of the major markets (think open farmer's market) where most people obtain their food - are closed until further notice. Some smaller shops remain open, but prices have increased severely. Masks are now required in any public setting. Stephen Aputara, our West Africa Director, was able to procure supplies in advance of this and has been distributing relief packets throughout our network. The result has brought more fruit than we anticipated! First, the cell churches have both grown and multiplied new cells. More people are being reached with the gospel and placed faith in Jesus for salvation. Praise God! Second, members of churches in our networks saw the contents of the relief packets and decided they could help as well. The result is this kindness has sparked local sacrificial giving to help those most in need for the glory of Jesus. Third, the Mayor of Bolgatanga (a city in the north) and the Governor of the district (think "state") both heard about what we were doing. They both came to Stephen's house, saw the packets, were impressed and excited AND they both promised to soon add to these resources so that more people can be helped. Lastly, it has resulted in greater unity among all the churches! In Stephen's words, "Everyone in the church has seen that they have a role to help. This has made the church to come together as one." Here are some photos from this work in Ghana:
In Zambia, testing has been somewhat disjointed and following an odd procedure. Instead of contact tracing nation-wide, the government chose to go compound-by-compound (neighborhood-by-neighborhood) to conduct testing. This means, of the over 3.5 million people in Lusaka, Zambia, no contact tracing was being conducted for many days in most areas - while they completed 2 compounds per day... potentially allowing the spread of further contact to take place. Masks are now required nationwide when in any public setting. Our most Senior Sub-Saharan Africa leader, Sainet Phiri, wisely extended the funds we were able to send as far as possible. To do this, he procured maize (corn) in bulk and then had members of the church do their own grinding to prepare mealie-meal (the main ingredient of the staple food in much of Sub-Saharan Africa). He also saw the need for and lack of protein in the diet of those in greatest need, so he sourced a soybean-based food product to include in the packets. A member of the church provided an excellent price for chickens to be a part of the packet. And some members of the church who sew began to produce masks at a discount rate for use in the outreach. After identifying those who were most vulnerable among their congregation and in their local community, Sainet and his teams began their distribution to the compound of Bauleni (with a population of over 120,000) this past Saturday. They intend to conduct a few more distributions over the next few months as needs increase. Those receiving help included households of grandmothers who have their grandchildren living with them, impoverished households, and even a household where both parents have died leaving the 18 year old oldest son to lead the way. Of the 66 unchurched households who received relief packets, ALL 66 had someone receive Christ and be saved. Followup, discipleship, and further care will begin this week with these new believers!
Tanzania has gotten off to a slow start due to nearly all of Israel Wandamba's family coming down with malaria. (Covid's arrival did not stop all the normal diseases from spreading!) Praise the Lord, after a few weeks of struggle, they have all recovered and are healthy again! Israel Wandamba has forwarded funds on to other areas of Tanzania, as well as a few other nations for their work to begin. In Tanzania, there are travel restrictions, but largely there are guidelines set in place without severe limitations. Churches are allowed to meet as long as they have wash stations in place and practice social distancing. Packets are prepared and ready for distribution, which should initiate in a few weeks, after some further research is done in the targeted communities.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
The DRC was one of the first teams to move into action in providing relief packets. While we communicated clearly about how to conduct the outreach with social distancing in place, it didn't connect at first. Change is difficult. Language barriers and long-standing cultural norms make things even more challenging. I believe they have now understood the reasons behind why we are requesting them to move forward with greater precaution, but below are a few photos of their first attempt.
Lesotho has the least occurrences of Covid of any of the nations where we work. They have only had one confirmed case... but they have been hit hard economically. Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa, and is dependent upon cargo coming across those borders daily for supplies of many of the goods they use in everyday life. Additionally, the Chinese-owned factories in the capital of Maseru are dependent on raw materials coming in and finished products going out through these same border crossings. When the outbreak began in South Africa, Lesotho locked down its borders and implemented severe restrictions on its people including a strict curfew and limited shop hours for essential items only. These edicts were enforced by the military and there were many reports of beatings given to those who were found in violation. Since that time, the military has been recalled and the restrictions have been loosened. In fact, the factories have been allowed to re-open with additional safety protocols in place... but the borders are still closed. And since the borders are closed, the factories will not re-open. Our Lesotho Leadership team, led by National Director Henry Khoabane, has done a great job of sourcing relief supplies and finding those in greatest need across 4 different areas of Maseru. They will begin distribution in the coming weeks. With the loosening of restrictions locally, they are also planning on moving forward with some scheduled trainings in churches with whom we have worked previously.
Strategic Impact has a global reach and has teams of nationals in various nations on 5 continents. Each team has sought to wisely and safely reach out with the gospel in these days of great fear, concern, and anxiety - bringing with them the only Source of true peace, security, and hope - the person of Jesus Christ. Here are some other encouraging examples of what has been going on:
In Venezuela - whose economy was destroyed over the past 20 years - our Latin America Director, Omar Piña has been reaching the lost in conjunction with many other believers through the "Bread of Life Project." Omar who now lives in Dallas, was stranded in his home country of Venezuela since December due to a severe delay in obtaining a new passport. Just as he was about to receive his passport, the outbreak occurred, shutting down all government offices! He has persevered in spreading the gospel, bringing loaves of bread to help those in need along with the gospel and Jesus, the Bread of Life! Hundreds have come to faith and hundreds have expressed an interest in joining a local Bible study! Praise God for Omar's endurance and choosing (as did Paul) to use every situation as an opportunity for the gospel! Please join us in daily prayer that Omar may receive his passport soon and be able to get back home to his wife and family!
In India, Arun Meshach, who has partnered with us to launch Strategic Impact across that highly populated nation, has partnered with other pastors to spread the Jesus Film and other evangelistic videos through texting. So far, they have been able to confirm that over 73,000 people have watched the Jesus Film during their time of lockdown! 40 new Cell Churches have been planted during this time, as well! Please pray for the gospel to continue to move forward and for all those who have been reached through technology to be followed up and discipled in person as soon as possible!
We both know there are fewer resources in Africa, and during a crisis like the one coming to our brothers and sisters, the situation will be exacerbated further. The funds I sent were intended for field operations later in the year. In light of the situation and opportunity, I have redirected them to provide relief and to help us do our part to fulfill Romans 8:28 - "work all things together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called unto His purpose." - in advancing the gospel. We have had some folks hear of this added work and join us financially. I would like to send another set of funds within the next few weeks to further our reach in the midst of this opportunity. If you are able and would like to join with us in this endeavor, please click this link:
Regardless, this pandemic has both revealed and created many needs in our own communities. Please be mindful of the needs of your neighbor during these strange days! They may need practical help, and they may need the "peace that passes understanding" which is only available through Jesus Christ! And YOU are there with them... and YOU have the good news with you! Probably not a coincidence!
As I told my men, "This should go a long ways in spreading the gospel! But as we know, this will only be successful if we are moving with God. Please join me in DAILY prayer that many, many would owe their eternities with God to the sweeping spread of the coronavirus. May the Lord receive glory and may many souls be reconciled to God in this time of crisis."
Please join us in prayer that the Lord would use this effort in ways we have not even thought of!
May God continue to bless you and others through you!
THANK YOU for YOUR partnership!
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