Archive | November, 2013

Angola: Training up a nation

20 Nov

Helping a war-ravaged society heal itselfAngolaFlag

Why should a country that exports oil and diamonds have to import half its daily food? Over a dozen years after the end of a brutal civil war, Angola’s economy is slowly rebounding. Yet residents can only expect to live an average of 54 years, and child and maternal mortality rates remain among the highest in the world. This country clearly has a long way to go; so does the Church.

AngolaTeam2Yet after many years of investing themselves in this southwest corner of Africa, Wessel and Joan van der Merwe say that their hearts overflow with joy to see a dream come true: Angolans are becoming missionaries in their own country. Marta, one of the most promising students in OM Angola’s 10-month mission course, now feels a strong call to join the team long term. Nando, another student who took Petra College’s correspondence course on children’s work this year and attended the “Walking with the Wounded” training in South Africa, has already joined OM. Unfortunately, while both of these young people have promises of some financial support, it is not enough for them to stay long term.

Training in God’s Word

Meanwhile, the demand for Bible correspondence courses continues non-stop. With the help of local believers, the materials are being translated into another language, Luchachi. Wessel and Joan are looking to God to provide the necessary printing costs.

“One very big need, however,” they add, “is the constant demand for Bibles! We cannot keep up with the need for Scriptures in Umbundu, Cokwe and Luchachi languages. People come daily to our base to ask if we have received any more copies.”

Bible school training

Raising up qualified leadership for Angola’s churches has been a priority for OM since its beginning. When the team saw that existing seminaries were often too expensive for the average person, they created a programme that would allow students to work and study at the same time. Seven Bible schools have now been established in Uige, Luanda, Menongue, Kuito Karnivale and Calai. Other institutions assist; Veritas College, for instance, offers a course called “How to interpret the Bible with the Bible”. The Africa Leaders Institute in Namibia has also been involved, and the Christian Reformed Church in South Africa is committed to helping with both training and financial support of Angolan leaders in the same denominations.

Equipping children and youth

With forty-four per cent of Angola’s population under 15, OM has a wide-open door to share God’s Word with the next generation and teach them basic English. Children’s clubs have been effective in reaching the un-churched. Programmes held every Saturday are impacting about 400 children in just two communities.

Thanks to contributions from a supporter in England, construction has begun on the foundation of OM’s children’s centre in Menongue, another long-awaited dream.

“A lot of work remains,” note the van der Merwes, “so we ask you to trust God with us for the time, hands and outstanding finances still required. We also ask prayer for a speedy registration process with the government and for wisdom, discernment and protection against all forms of corruption. Plus an individual or couple must be found to live on the premises and co-ordinate the work in our absence, whenever we go to Luanda or South Africa. With God’s help, our centre will assist very needy children and orphans to reach the full potential He has for them.”

Meanwhile, the team continues to train pre-school teachers and Sunday School teachers for Angola’s churches. “So many do not feel well-equipped. We praise the Lord for opportunities to help teachers learn how to build relationships with their children, as well learn how to prepare and present well-balanced lessons.”

Discipleship training for teens

Youth who once attended children’s clubs and are now trying to stay faithful to Jesus in their teens AngolaDisciplingprisonyouthalso need training. Some committed Christian youth are volunteering their time to minister in the local prison in Menongue.

“Early every morning at 6:00, young people who were using–and sometimes still use—marijuana show up for discipleship training, ready to be equipped with God’s Word,”affirms the team. “We are very encouraged by their zeal, but sexual temptation is very big here. One of the devastating statistics of Angola is that 43 per cent of youth have had sexual relations by the age of 15.”

OM Angola hopes to build relationships with the ever-increasing numbers of youth who are using drugs by making their property available as a soccer field. “We are excited about the opportunities for introducing Christ’s way through the rules of the game. Please trust God with us for His time to start this ministry, as well as the right people to co-ordinate it.”

Advocacy courses for church leaders

Meanwhile, training is helping to close the gap between church leaders and the children in their churches and communities. This year OM Angola held its first advocacy course with the support of Petra College, which partners with the team in children’s ministries.

The team’s goal is that each leader and Sunday School teacher will make sure their children have assurance of faith in Christ Jesus, so they will experience His sincere love for them.

Angola’s greatest hope does not lie in its oil fields or diamonds, but in its next generation. Will you join in asking God to raise up more Angolan young people to reach the world in which He placed them?


The Maltese Cross

1 Nov

Sharing God’s good news with local people and foreigners on Malta gives the cross a whole new meaning.

MaltaCrossThe cross is a cherished and significant symbol for one particular island in the Mediterranean Sea. Malta is not only one of the smallest and most densely populated countries in the world, it is one of the most Catholic. Almost everyone is baptised into the Roman Catholic Church at birth. Tourists are struck by the prominence of crosses and images of saints all over the island.

 Malta took a strong stand for Christianity when the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked on its shores, but countless battles have been fought on its soil. It was thanks to the Knights of Malta, whose symbol is the Maltese Cross, that the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire were halted from their advance into Europe. During World War II the island served as a British outpost, and King George VI awarded the people the George Cross for their valiant stand, helping to free Europe and North Africa.

The cross has also been the underlying motivation for Dutch workers on Malta, Dirk and Wil Knies. While serving on board OM’s ship Logos II in the Caribbean during 1996, the couple were in a car accident that left both of them badly injured. Forced to leave the ship ministry, the Knies moved to Malta in 1998 to start something new

Evangelicals in the MinorityMaltaSea

Dirk estimates that there are perhaps 800 to 1,000 believers and 12 to 14 evangelical fellowships on the island, although some are tiny and meeting in garages or homes. He believes that visits by OM ships over the years have helped to break the religious ice. But, he adds, “The church is still small. The ground is still hard. Catholicism is an important part of life here. A Maltese who steps out and becomes an evangelical Christian will be isolated from his family.”

Last Easter Dirk and a few friends shouldered a giant wooden cross and carried it across the island for eight days, stopping frequently to talk with residents.

“To most people Easter is just a traditional religious feast,” he observes, “they don’t know what the cross is really about. But six people came to Christ!”

Dirk and Wil found themselves focusing more and more of their concern on new arrivals from the Middle East and North Africa. Malta lies only 176 miles east of Tunisia and 207 miles north of Libya, and its proximity has lured thousands of men, women and children to chance the perilous sea crossing. The UN’s refugee agency estimates that approximately 8,400 migrants and asylum-seekers landed on the coasts of Italy and Malta during the first six months of 2013 alone. Often these desperate people pay $1000 or more for transport in unseaworthy boats. While Malta’s search and rescue efforts have saved many lives, almost 500 people were reported dead or missing at sea in 2012 alone. Those who do manage to reach Malta may be sent back to their home countries or held indefinitely in a detention camp.

“We get boats all the time,” relates Dirk, “people arriving in horrible shape.”

Finding Refuge

Distressed by the condition of such refugees and seeing many Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East hiding in fear of authorities, the couple began to help them both practically and spiritually. They even took some of the men into their home for long periods of time, assisting them to find asylum in other countries. They have also had the joy of seeing Muslims discover a more permanent spiritual refuge in Jesus Christ.

MaltaDirk1Over the years Dirk has volunteered to lead OM teams into North Africa. He often takes along a Maltese flag; using the cross that it features to share about Jesus’ sacrifice. “I’ve been pulled into the police station a few times, but not imprisoned.” He shrugs. “I’ve never really suffered.”

The Cross in a Box

This summer Dirk hosted his fourth OM Transform team on Malta. One of the evangelism tools he has designed for their use is the “Little Big Gift,” a cross with pictures and Bible verses from Romans that folds into a small box.

“I love to train people and put stuff in their hands that works,” he says. “We need to multiply our efforts so that more will get out there to evangelise. I’ve tried the Little Big Gift everywhere and given away 1500 or 1600. Nobody has ever really refused, even in the Middle East. I used it once to share God’s gift with a lady at a bus stop and after 10 minutes she said, ‘I understand! I want Jesus in my life.’ She got on the bus a new person.”

Dirk calls himself “a pipe through which God’s love, grace and blessings flow.” “For over 40 years I’ve witnessed to the average man on the street as well as presidents, princes, police and others in authority. I’ve shared in palaces, government buildings, schools, factories, shacks, tents and on hundreds of streets in the darkest countries of the world.

 “At times I’ve felt like quitting,” he admits. “Believers with a Muslim background often hurt us; many times we’ve been cheated, deceived and in some ways stabbed in the back. There are times that I’ve failed too. I’ve let down my Lord and my family. But the one thing that has always kept us going was continuing to look to Jesus. ‘For us, to live is Christ; to suffer for Christ is honor; to die for Christ is gain‘” (Phil. 1:20-23, 29, 30).

Dirk values your prayers as he continues to shoulder the cross on the island of Malta.