This fall I had the opportunity to join gifted African leaders and support their work to help followers of Jesus grow in knowledge, wisdom and devotion. The photo above comes from BereanSafari, the annual week-long Manuscript Bible Study training event I have been privileged to be part of since it began in 2007.
BereanSafari is organized by a committed group of volunteers from Kenya and Ethiopia. It is focused on serving East Africans, but welcomes people from the rest of Africa, and from the rest of the world. Participants engage in a highly participatory “deep dive” into a Biblical book using the Manuscript Bible Study approach developed by my friend and mentor, Paul Byer. Members of a study group form a learning, interpreting community during the week as they share the discoveries and questions that arise through a close reading of the text of Scripture. Reference works are kept handy, to enable all to find necessary background information. Group leaders seek to be facilitators rather than lecturers: we assist group members to hear and value the contributions of all, and to keep returning to the text itself in search of answers to the questions that arise.
Over the last 16 years, BereanSafari has provided training, coaching and opportunities for many participants to develop skills as facilitators. It is a delight to be invited to serve alongside gifted and skilled African facilitators as we help others to hone their skills and hear God’s call to use them!
This year, the organizers invited me to help facilitate the study of Genesis. Our group had about twenty pastors, student ministry staff and church leaders from half a dozen countries. We spent the week burrowing into the opening chapters of the first book in the Bible, appreciating how they set the stage for God’s call to Abraham (and indeed, for the whole Biblical story, including Jesus). As the week ended, there was great enthusiasm to follow up the learning we did together with online conversations and, Lord willing, a deep plunge into God’s work in and through Abraham at BereanSafari 2024 (scheduled for July 17-24).
After the week of study, Cathy and I joined several friends in a brief animal safari, near the foot of Mt. Kenya. God’s creatures are amazing… and surprising: at first glance these two impalas appear to be smooching.
In fact, this was just a lull in the midst of some very serious jousting!
After our time among the animals, Cathy returned home and I went onward to Ethiopia, for another week devoted to leading Manuscript Bible Study. This event was organized by EvaSUE, the Evangelical Students and Graduates Union of Ethiopia (like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, in the U.S.). My host, Messay Imru, directs Scripture Engagement for EvaSUE and is also a member of the BereanSafari organizing committee. I have long admired Messay’s skills, knowledge and wisdom, as we have worked together on BereanSafaris over the years. So, when he invited me to add a week in Addis Ababa to this Africa trip, I was eager to accept!
From Genesis in Kenya, then, I jumped to Revelation, in Ethiopia. From the Bible’s first book, to its last. That might seem a bit crazy, and perhaps it was. But what fun! And, what a great opportunity to see the overarching unity of the story of redemption. In fact, the revelation that John of Patmos received goes to great lengths to invite its hearers and readers to make deep connections between its message and the books of what we call the Old Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures). Both God (in Chapters 1 and 21) and Jesus (in Chapter 22) identify themselves as “the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” And, the climax to which the whole book moves is the New Creation, in which the dwelling of God is with humanity. The promise of Eden, so long damaged and delayed by human rebellion, will be forever fulfilled in the New Jerusalem. In fact, part of what makes understanding Revelation so challenging for us in the 21st century is the fact that it is full of allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures (so much so, that scholars have written large and detailed books devoted to the subject). So, the leap from Genesis to Revelation is not nearly as strange as one might first think.
In any case, I was very grateful for the chance to join Ethiopian missionaries, development workers and pastors as we helped each other go deeper in our understanding of Revelation. It was a special treat to see how God has used my friend Messay to equip so many to be excellent students of Scripture—both to see it, and to benefit from it! Again, thank you so very much for the prayers and gifts that made it possible for me to be with them!
As I write, I am headed to Indonesia, where IM’s team of itinerant global servants will have our annual gathering. It is an important time to share struggles, victories, learning and visions with colleagues engaged in similar kinds of ministry all around the world. It will also be an opportunity to help our Indonesian Baptist partners develop a wider vision of IM and its personnel.
Thank you for walking and praying with me through these journeys and service opportunities! Thank you for making the work God does through me a part of what God is doing through you! Please join me in praying that they will bear fruit in the lives of the participants and all those they serve.
Love and blessings to you!