A Missions Trip to Remember – Who’s Crying in 25?

A Missions Trip to Remember – Who’s Crying in 25?

Joel Tetreau

When my wife Toni and I first came to Arizona with three small sons almost nineteen years ago to pastor what today is Southeast Valley Bible Church, I came with an agreement with the small band of believers that I would be able to invest several weeks a year into international mission’s work. As we’ve grown over the years, SVBC has kept their end of the deal. That’s been a thrill for my ministry over the years. In the accumulated time that has passed, I’ve been privileged to travel the world encouraging God’s men and women in ministry leadership. Many are national leaders. Others are primarily North American missionaries who serve in the context of overseas ministry. Each of my sons have gone with me on at least one of these. Jonathan went with me to London, Africa, Greece and Turkey. Jeremy and I were privileged to minister in Australia and New Zealand. Joshua and I experienced Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. My wife and I have done ministry trips together but we are planning by God’s grace to do more internationally together now that the boys are moving on in life.

This year I partnered with my slightly younger self-adopted twin brother, Dr. David Deets who pastors Whitneyville Bible Church near Grand Rapids, MI. Outside of my wife Toni, David has probably become my best friend in ministry over these last several years. As a result, he and I have done a lot of ministry-travel over the last four years together. David and I also serve and fellowship in the “IFCA International” and in a global ministry leadership organization called IBL (Institute of Biblical Leadership). We are joined by David Phelan, Russ Lloyd, Pastor Solomon (Tann) Doan and Derick Jarvis (along with their spouses) in serving Christian leaders around the globe. I serve in the capacity of the Western Regional Coordinator. David serves the Mid-West Region. Traveling with us for much of this trip were several other ministry friends. One of those friends was Chris Anderson. Pastor Chris Anderson is a well-beloved pastor who ministers in the Atlanta area. In addition to serving as pastor, Chris is a benediction to the modern church in his gifts of modern hymns. Chris and I got to know each other years ago during blog discussions about various church movements. This was our first extended time together and it was a pure delight to serve, “side by side” with Chris. We were also joined by Paul Seger who serves as the head of Biblical Ministries Worldwide (BMW). Paul is a missions giant, although he would squirm to hear that in public. He has a leadership style that is …. well as I often say …. Straight Ahead!

Last of all but not least of all we were joined by Pastor Fred Mukumbu. David and I have been connected with Fred and his dear brother Andrew who together have started a hand-full of churches, an orphanage, a school and a home for severe mental and physically handicapped children called the “vision center” for more than a decade. These ministries were started by African men and women largely without the aid of North American dollars. While being helped to some degree now by partnering ministries here and there, I was amazed to hear of their stories of faith, faithfulness and sacrifice (a redundant theme I would hear over and over on this ministry trip). Most of the children at the “vision center” simply do not have families who are able or willing to take care of them…so a dear sister in Nairobi who works with and under Pastor Fred named Margaret has stepped out in faith and has done everything from paying the $250 a month rent, to buying food so that 16 precious children could be fed, loved on, prayed over and reared in a Christ-honoring environment. When I saw this dear sister and visited with her, I can’t tell you how my heart was pierced. I cried and kissed her sweet forehead as I left. We visited and participated in a variety of ministry opportunities in a variety of settings throughout Africa and Russia over the last 20 days.

So it’s August 24. David and I find ourselves on Finnair, flight #005 from Helsinki to New York. Through a twist of mercy I am in “economy plus” with an empty seat to my left and to my right is an aisle on a large Airbus. If you have to fly over the Atlantic Ocean, this is a great way to do that. So as we swing west at over 500 miles an hour we inch closer and closer to flying over Iceland (which I understand is green) eventually heading over Greenland (which I also understand is largely….ice). In about six hours we will arrive at JFK. Deets and I will head over to LaGuardia where we will check into a hotel and sleep yet again giving our bodies, spirits and minds another chance for rest before heading home on Friday. Dave will fly on to Grand Rapids (via Chicago). I will fly on to metro Phoenix (via Milwaukee). As I sit and think about what we just did and the faithful servants we ministered with and ministered to, I am flooded with a wave of emotion. I’ve been sitting here in seat 25J trying to contain myself. My tears have trashed the napkins which were given to me for dinner. Finnish are on each side of me giving me sympathetic looks (being Scandinavian it would be almost impossible for them to speak to me a stranger – but that’s OK – I ministered with the Scandinavians for three years in Minnesota so I know that in their nods and their sincere glances contains a heart full of “hot-dish” and sour fish). Why am I weeping? It’s hard to tell you exactly.

I’m feeling the sacrifice of my loving bride Toni. I don’t know that I’ve ever met a more giving soul than my wife. She gives of herself and she ministers to those I serve in a variety of ways. One of the ways she does that is by allowing me the time to leave her. While I enjoy going, she and I both don’t like my leaving. I’ve been joking telling friends that next year I’ll just call people on the phone instead of going to them. I’m getting to the point where travel isn’t as much fun as it used to be. Frankly in my humanness I’d rather be with my wife, in my church (which actually is Jesus’ Church), in my home, in my bed. In a perfect world, IBL will become “I-B-Home!” Of course it was Toni who said, “That’s just not practical honey.” This summer has involved a heavier than normal amount of ministry travel helping leaders both at home and abroad. My wife and I have a close relationship that goes just beyond husband and wife. We are friends and partners in our life vocation. When I left her for this trip three weeks ago she was alone preparing for our third son to return home from serving at a Christian camp in New York for his second year at ASU. She was also preparing for a dear college-age young man Michael Masters who is living with us and attending our church this year while he also continues to work on his degree at ASU. Michael’s father is a dear friend in the ministry Jim Masters of Cottonwood Bible Church. Toni serves her piano families, me, our sons and our church selflessly. She gives, that’s what she does. She gives so much and so I weep.

Maybe my mind is on Pastor Samuel who David and I were privileged to spend a hot day in the very beginning of our trip. He apologized for not having working air-conditioning. So I kept apologizing for dumping about half of our drinking water over my head to keep me cool. Without being offended I could tell Samuel was amused. He noted with temperatures in the mid to high 90’s, it actually wasn’t a bad day compared to what Cairo often can be. I noted we have the same kind of unforgivable heat in the Valley of the Sun but most of us are blessed with pools and AC. Immediately I was reminded of the many comforts we American Christians enjoy with our affluence that is clearly absent with the majority of believers around the globe. That became increasingly pointed as we spent the day zipping around Cairo taking in the sights of the Pyramids and the Sphinx. We heard of the sacrifice our brother has shouldered. He pastors a dear congregation who experience persecution from everyone really. Sometimes they are targeted by Muslim extremists. Other times they are ridiculed by the Coptic Christians who are essentially an Eastern version of the Orthodox Church in the region of the Nile. They are even misunderstood by the Egyptian Evangelicals, who are largely reformed and don’t understand how these Egyptian conservative believers could be as “Baptist” as they are. Wow does history not repeat itself!? So these brothers are persecuted by the country they love, neighbors they love and even brothers they love. So I weep.

Of course Egypt has a long history of God’s children tasting the bitter herb of persecution. About 3000 years before Christ an Egyptian ruler (Narmer/Menes) merged the Lower Kingdom (North Egypt – essentially the delta) with the Upper Kingdom (essentially Southern Egypt – following the Nile South). The Capital was near Memphis not far from modern day Giza. On the Northwestern corner of the Nile Delta dumping water into the Mediterranean was the location of Alexandria. Not far was the region where the Children of Israel experienced captivity for four centuries. Here eventually the Children of Israel would make bricks, without hay. The pyramids were constructed in the old Egyptian empire long before Moses, the patriarchs and long before Jesus. Abraham came to Egypt in the transition between the old and middle Kingdom. Joseph became second in command of the Egyptian empire during the middle Kingdom. Moses brought Israel out of captivity during the New Empire. A hundred years after Moses, Egypt was led by a boy-ruler whose name was Tut. Egypt was a refuge for Abraham, Joseph, his brothers even our Lord. Yet Egypt has been a source of tribulation and continually so. How God’s children trust and faithfully serve and yet they are persecuted while I go home in comfort. So I weep.

Perhaps my heart is feeling the struggle of the dear missionaries we met who serve in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. These South African leaders are quite the group. They are diverse – which is a blessing! They are largely kept together by a training initiative called “Church Ministries Institute” (CMI). CMI is a training arm that has united the BMW leaders and has joined them with other dear servants and mission agencies. These include ministries like ABWE, Word of Life and several other solid groups. CMI is used in most South African ministries as a training approach with three arms. First, there is often a “one-year” certificate program that focuses on training church members who simply want a Bible Institute kind of a program. With them in the same classes is a second level of training that equips ministry leaders for vocational training. The third arm are leaders who are wanting to transfer their studies into an accredited learning institution from South Africa, the United States or some other place (such as New Zealand or Australia). Often these men and women will move on to post-graduate studies. The BMW ministry leaders are a combination of North American Missionaries, White African leaders who were raised in the gospel in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia or Botswana. Other leaders are men and women of color who were from the indigenous tribes like the Zulu. Perhaps my mind is with the Zulu ministry that reaches out to children whose parents have died of Aids. Zulu Grandmothers who are left to care for grandchildren and other children who are simply not cared for by the social programs of the Continent. So I weep.

Perhaps I weep for Africa. David Livingston more than a hundred years ago told the British Christian Empire that his work in Africa was to a “Dark Continent.” So Africa has darkness but it also has light. It also has confusion. So many African believers are confused and frankly taken advantage of by false teachers peddling a prosperity gospel that leaves the Biblical teaching and goes to the extremes which make it a cult instead of merely a spiritually vibrant expression of Biblical Faith. My heart was filled once again as all of us had the thrill of participating in a great ministry partnership in Nairobi at East Africa Baptist School of Theology (EABST) which patiently works with those who long for Biblical discernment and a pure gospel. Along with its host Church Emmanuel Baptist Church we were thrilled to work with Dan, Jeremy and Jonathan. I was privileged to teach my favorite group of people… Christian leaders.

While traveling from place to place we were blessed to meet other leaders partnering in gospel work by leaders from other ministries. Ministries such as Russian Leadership Ministries, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, In Touch Ministries, the Gideon’s International and others, some of whom we weren’t expecting to meet. Each leader has his own story, his own journey and I was encouraged by every leader. Additionally, there is Pastor Ken who along with the Church leadership form an unbelievable ministry partnership that is making a large impact on the ministry of East Africa. David and I spent almost a whole week living with Dan and Angie Huffstutler and their three precious daughters. I personally watched the work and dedication of Dan and Angie in the ministry of EABST. I love this dear family. Dan and I both graduated from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary so we are of kindred spirit and theology. Dan and Angie are sent by Inter-City Baptist Church in Allen Park, Michigan and serve that congregation well. Several other Inter-City / Grace Missions servants are making incredible Kingdom gains in Africa. The impact they make is not without serious sacrifice. So I weep.

Finally I weep for Christian leaders who have given great sacrifice and great faithfulness in Russia. Lining the halls of the Moscow Theological Seminary, which trains roughly a thousand men and women headed for the Lord’s work in nine locations stretched across what was once the USSR, was a documented highlight of nearly 150 years of ongoing sacrifice of evangelical believers. Included were great and faithful leaders in the 1880’s in chains because of their persecution by the Orthodox Religion and its partnered tormentors of the Czars. The “workers party” revolution of Lennon of the early twentieth century followed eventually by the Stalin purging of Christian leaders of the 1930’s and 40’s. I see pictures of large groups of Slavic Christ followers who continued their ministries by faithfully sharing the gospel to those who would also suffer. So I weep. In the last years of the war the Western allies put pressure on Stalin to give Christians freedom to his own people and so he released various Baptist leaders from their prison sentences to come to Moscow and form a new era of Baptist Union. After the war as the Allies were torn apart by what would become the cold war, Soviet leadership no longer in need of Western approval once again turned on Russian Christian men and women. This would go on until eventually freedom would come illustrated by the busted Iron walls of Berlin. Of course, not unlike the cycles of the past, twenty years later faithful believers face a fresh round of anti-missionary laws. Slavic Christian brothers and sisters feel the tightening grip of Russian government that once again cause anguish in the hearts of God’s children and so I weep.

So as I finish up my report the screen in front of me tells me I’m near Goose Bay Canada. As we cross into North America I am delighted with the prospects of seeing my dear wife, my sons, family, friends and a congregation that strangely misses “Joel.” I’ve been in the presence of giants and my own spiritual weaknesses are ever so transparent. I return to the states once again changed. These trips are billed as an opportunity for me to help servants of God ministering in faraway places. I desperately want to be a Barnabas to them. If I can just encourage them. Not unlike Aaron for Moses if I can hold up the hands of champions in the faith. If I can simply bandage those who are wounded from serving in the front lines of ministry. Perhaps I can speak a word to these who will have far more crowns at the Bema. Let me be spent doing that! That’s reason to live for…. a cause to die for. So as my heart fills with love for those God uses in these hard places to serve in our Lord’s vineyard, I weep.

Finally I weep that I have to fly to the other side of the globe to get all of this. How wrong is that! Actually I don’t have to do that. I should be able to be strengthened and built up in the holy faith in the States but it’s hard. We have so much. We give so little compared to many that have little and give much. So, the thing that mostly happens on these trips is that I hear from God about me. I am challenged to “let go” of more comfort, more convenience, more selfishness. I come home determined to pray more, to share the gospel more, to give more of myself to my wife, my sons, to our congregation, to ministry partners. Frankly the sacrifice and simple “life-style” I see when I travel here and there is familiar. I’ve seen this before. It dawns on me that I’ve seen this in the faces of my Grandparents (on both sides) who faithfully saved, and gave to the Lord’s work far above the tithe. I’ve seen this same life-style by my parents and my wife’s parents who all their lives were content to have less so that children and grandchildren and most importantly the Lord’s work could be funded for sake of God’s Kingdom. In all of these cases, I see what I see elsewhere – joyful sacrifice. Why? Well because true faith sees that. Like Abraham these have obeyed the call of faith even when that kind of faith requires stepping out without having all the answers. This kind of faith sees God and his promises understanding the reality of a Kingdom and a City whose builder and maker is God! That kind of faith spills out beyond ourselves. Regardless of its context being Africa, Russia or even America, this kind of faith becomes consistent with visiting the fatherless and widow in their affliction. It hits me like a ton of Egyptian “Pyramid Stones”… I don’t have to fly to Africa to do that! I can do more than I have done where I live.

So I weep but I’m encouraged. Perhaps I have a bit more time to serve faithfully in my corner of the Lord’s Vineyard. Not unlike prayer, I leave these encounters being the one who is changed. And so my weeping is turned into joy. So I go home and I plan on preaching Sunday by God’s grace. Over the next many days I want to sit and rest and pray. Not unlike Mary who pondered things in her heart. I want to hear from God primarily through His Word but also through His Work. Join me in prayer. Let’s ask God to change our hearts. Open our eyes to the Harvest. Years ago I heard a dear man of God who described missions work as not one who crosses the sea but one who sees the cross. May God help us to take all these splinters from our spiritual eyes so we can see the work in our corner of the Lord’s Vineyard. Thanks to dear friends who have prayed for us. I’m confident God has responded to your prayers.

Straight Ahead!

Dr. Joel Tetreau
Southeast Valley Bible Church (www.sevbc.org)
Institute of Biblical Leadership (www.iblministry.org)

 

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