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In a Village Church, part four.

August 26, 2008

IN A VILLAGE CHURCH, part four, from Steve Plodinec.

This is the final installment of my four part report on the events of a visit I took to Martin Seliane’s church with two of my children, Kimberly (15) and Michael (6). Martin is one of our students here at Christ Seminary in Polokwane, South Africa.

After lunch on Sunday Martin and I went on visitation. Martin loves visiting people in their homes and he is very good at it. He said it is his favorite part of the ministry. We visited mainly old ladies who could not come to church that morning for one reason or another. One grey haired grandma offered us a Coke and took the opportunity to have one herself until her granddaughter come in and spoke sternly and loudly to her in Sotho. Martin told me the girl was scolding her grandmother because she is diabetic and not supposed to have sugar. The girl took the Coke and the then the old lady scolded her, but the girl just walked away.

As we were driving around Martin saw two boys about ten years old and he told me to stop. He shouted something out the window and the boys came sheepishly and slowly to the car. When they got there Martin spoke firmly to them in Sotho and then sent them on their way. He told me they go to his church but that they were absent that morning and so he warned them not to take God and His church lightly or they will live to regret it. Martin is a firm, and good, spiritual leader. He just needs to know and understand more of what God says, which is why he is at the seminary.

Apparently my discussion of submission in the home on the radio on Saturday was well received because Martin and I were asked to be on the radio again on Sunday evening and to speak on Christian submission. The host was a local pastor who had his own radio show and he had been at the pastor’s meeting I spoke at the day before. His show is three hours long and he gave us free reign for all three hours. The time flew by. I talked on Christian submission in the world, in the home and in the church. I took the listeners to Acts 5 and Romans 13 for submission in the world, to Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 for submission in the home and to the pastoral epistles, Hebrews 13 and a little in Corinthians for submission in the church, passages which every elder should know by heart. We also took calls and one person said he was tired of the topic and of Christians in general, so, the host told him to be quiet, that he did not know what he was talking about and that he better repent or would end up in hell, then he hung up on the caller. I kind of enjoyed that part of the evening. The show ended at 8pm and Martin and I went back to his house and went to bed soon after. It had been a busy two days of ministry.

Before closing I want to tell you about a visit Martin and I had on Sunday afternoon. One of the visits was to the home of a young couple and their five month old baby daughter. They have been going to Martin’s church for a few months and they wanted to talk to him about becoming members. They were not at church that morning. We drove up to their home, which is an extremely small tin shack, about 8 x 20 feet, and is just one room. Martin knocked and without waiting for an answer we walked in. It was dark inside, and close. The only light was coming in through holes in the scavenged tin walls and from the gaps around the closed crooked door. There were a few dozen holes in the walls about a quarter inch in diameter and I thought, “Why don’t they plug the holes with something? The wind just blows right through this place and it has to be cold for the baby.” It took a moment for my eyes to adjust and when they did I looked around at some shelves made from scavenged wood, an old cabinet, a small table with two rickety chairs, a small wood stove and a few cooking pots and utensils. A moth-eaten blanket served as a barrier between the rest of the room and the bed. We stepped around the blanket. The young wife and mother stood next to the bed, her five month old baby daughter wrapped to her back with a towel. They looked at us when we came in and then back down at the bed where the young father was lying. His breathing was fast and shallow, more like panting and gasping for air, and it was the only sound in the place. I heard it when we first walked in. He was covered with probably every blanket they had, but you could tell he was shaking and trembling. He was dying of aids. We greeted them and Martin spoke to him and his wife for a few moments and then asked me to pray for them.

I felt weak and worthless at that point because I was not even sure if they understood English and because there was nothing else I could do for them. I was just a visitor looking in on a culture and its problems that are foreign to me, and always will be. But – but – at that moment I came to know through experience what I have understood for a long time. Martin is their pastor, and he loves them. He does minister to them and help meet their needs and does much more than I or any other outsider ever could. This is why my work here is important and has eternal consequences. The church in Africa has the Holy Spirit, it has the word of God and it has some good men like Martin leading it. But, they don’t have resources or training or access to them, so the church is weak and immature and struggling. God’s people suffer and are fearful and even sin in ignorance. They don’t have good examples of godly homes, godly leaders or godly churches and most of them don’t even know where to go in the Bible to find out about those things. At the seminary we just give Martin what he does not have, a deeper knowledge and understanding of God and His word, hopefully a closer relationship with God too, so that Martin can then go out and minister to his own people and strengthen the church and glorify God. Why should the church in Africa stumble along in ignorance and weakness for decades or hundreds of years when they can improve now by training the men who already lead their churches?

I am not minimizing the power of prayer, but at that moment I realized there was nothing else I could do, but Martin is their shepherd and he loves them and I can, if God is gracious, help Martin. So, I prayed and asked God to show more grace and mercy to this little family and to heal the young father. I also asked for God to give us all the grace to accept whatever He does here. The man lifted his head and extended a trembling hand out from under the blankets, I grasped it, he held on and said, “Thank you, pastor, for coming and for praying” then he sunk back on the bed. We left. The father died less than a week later. He had just gotten a steady, good paying job and things were looking up for the little family, but now there is another child in Africa who has lost a parent to aids. Such is the human wreckage of sin. Some estimate that over half the people living in villages like this one are infected with aids. It is particularly affecting to see first hand the great needs here in Africa. This is one of the reasons the work here is urgent and why we need trained men preaching the true gospel.

It was a good time of ministry with Martin at the funeral, at church, on the radio and in visiting the people. Time will tell if God makes it fruitful. The same is true of the seminary. It is a good time teaching Martin and the other students. Though we still deal with some cultural issues at the seminary, and always will, God has already proven that it is a fruitful ministry and we pray that He will continue to bless the seminary and the church in Africa through it. Please pray for Martin and his church, for all the students, for all the lecturers and for the seminary.

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