Have you ever thought about foreign mission work? Could you do it? Last week, I wrote about redeeming the time — making the most of every moment of every day. So how’s this for redeeming the time? As you read this, God willing, I’m in Nigeria teaching at our Lutheran Seminary there.
The sales pitch wasn’t impressive. I was told of the heat and humidity, the constant mosquitoes, the lack of air conditioning, and the dangers of eating or drinking the wrong thing, the lack of any modern teaching technology, the required medication regimen and the side effects, not even mentioning the possible diseases. I thought of the time away from my family, the work of preparing a seminary course while handling the full time ministry, the effort of setting others up to be able to make sure that everything goes on at Abiding Grace while I’m gone. Yet I’m here. Why?
It comes back to what God’s Word we looked at last week said, "Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity." I saw this as an opportunity, a chance to redeem the time for good, to share God’s Word with those who will be able to affect so many people with that truth.
Now, that doesn’t mean it was an easy decision. To be in Nigeria for nearly a month means that I’m missing some of those opportunities back in Covington to share the Word and live the Word — with my family, the congregation, the community. But here’s what clinched it for me. I’m confident that the work there will go on. My wife will take over the family devotions. At church, you’ll all have the special opportunity to hear some of our brother pastors from neighboring churches preach and teach. And in the community — well, I know the Word works and, as you come and grow in the Word, you’ll naturally go with the Word. And besides, I hope to be able to get to an Internet café on Saturdays to be able to send in an article for the paper.
If you’re reading this, that means it worked. I made it to Lagos last night and am waiting in a hotel for my connecting flight to Uyo and then a drive to Abak and the seminary. And it’s already been an adventure. But I’ll give you more on all that coming up. For now, I want to focus on why I’m here.
You see, decades ago, our church body sent missionaries to what wsa then the very non-Christian country of Nigeria. They came with a message so very different from the spiritism and animism of the tribes here. They told them that it was really the LORD in control and not some selfish, capricious spirits.
It was a hard sell because their thoughts had seemed work for so many generations. Through amazing patience and incredible love — the people eventually saw in those missionaries something special. They helped the people with no concern for their own wants. And eventually the people found out why. Because Jesus’ love changes everything.
Fast forward 50 years. That same love of Jesus continues to shine through the spreading of the word of the One who is truly powerful and who truly loves to the extent of sacrificing his own Son. It’s just that now — the volitilty of the region and the commands of the government mean that these foreign missionaries are no longer allowed to work in the same way. So we adapt. And the Word spreads.
Instead of having any full-time missionaries from "the States," now the work is done by Nigerians. Leaders of each congregation formed by those missionaries so long ago now serve as pastors. And we do our best to help train them more and more in the Word.
Every couple of months, a team of American pastors like me come and meet with those leaders for three weeks of intensive training in the Word.
The class I was assigned to teach was one on the Augsburg Confession and its defense, called the Apology to the Augsburg Confession.
The Confession was written in 1530 to clearly describe what God’s Word plainly says in the face of all the false teachings around.
And it’s still valuable today because those false teachings haven’t gone away. If you want to read it, there is a copy available at http://bookofconcord.org/augsburgconfession.php
Or, when I get back, I’ll try to put a copy of it and of my Bible studies on our website at www.abidinggrace.com.
But back to what I’m doing here. Essentially, my class is about recognizing and combatting error with the Word. My class is all about seeing the powerful and simple truth of Scripture. It’s all about seeing God’s grace.
Since every false teaching takes glory away from God, all we’ll be doing is seeing God’s goodness and love in EVERYTHING.
And I have to say — I’m living this. God is good.
He’s protected me on this trip so far (even though the State Department warns of increasing danger) and he’s given me the opportunity to celebrate the grace of God with my brothers and sisters in Christ from the other side of the globe.
I can’t wait for worship tomorrow. I’ll write again next week and give you another update.
In the meantime, keep me in your prayers and pray that the grace of God shines brightly in everything I do and say.
The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 8 and 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.