Forgive me for repeating myself, but my reports are a means of feedback because of your prayers for me on these trips and ministry events. The older I grow and the longer I go in ministry, the more I am convinced that the intercessory prayers of God’s people makes many, if not most things possible. I am slowly losing my self-awareness and ‘fear of pride’ in asking people to pray for me. It is a desperate and intense spiritual battle out there – I know it firsthand – and I know your prayers make a difference. So you need know how things went!
I was in Ethiopia for the Easter weekend, leading an international “mission partnership” team of three of us: Noah Giteau, leader of the Kenyan Vineyards, and Svanhild Kjondal, pastor of Larvik Vineyard in Norway. The reason for our trip was to do leadership training for the local Vineyard pastors – how we see and do biblical leadership in the local church in relation to “translocal” ministry and leadership. This arose because of unresolved conflict between two senior leaders in Ethiopia; so our ultimate motivation was to mediate reconciliation.
It was an intense and exhausting trip with long meetings from morning till late evening – plus some really stressful emotional stuff. I understand what Paul means when he refers to the care of the churches weighing upon him. The training went well. It never ceases to amaze me, and challenge me, to see the hunger in Africa for God’s Word. There is definitely something envious about the humble and poor (of spirit) – people who live very simply and are close to the oral means of learning. They are so sincere and intent, listening for hours, asking questions, still wanting more! No “sound bites” or 10-minute sermons here! It is an awesome and humbling privilege to teach such people. There were about 20 leaders representing about 15 churches and plants in different parts of Ethiopia. On Easter Sunday I preached in a church plant in Addis Ababa and then enjoyed spicy Ethiopian food and amazing coffee from freshly roasted beans!
We had to prevail upon one of the leaders in the dispute to meet with the other for a reconciliation meeting as per Jesus’ instruction to not even worship if there is unresolved offense (Matthew 5:23-26). Eventually he agreed. It began well with apologies and forgiveness. Then things went horribly wrong! After 3 hours of intense discussion and appeals, because of the intractability of one of the leaders, there was no reconciliation and we had to withdraw our working relationship from him. His elders will meet and decide what they want to do regarding their pastor and ongoing relationship with us as his/their leaders – to push him back to reconcile with us or to withdraw from our leadership. So it ended in a sad mess. I felt like tearing my clothes and sorrowing with repentance for God’s intervention. Pray for the written report we have sent to those elders and the pastor concerned, and to the international leaders to whom we are accountable. God can turn this situation for good.
I conclude with a few observations. To reconcile, no matter what the issue or who is at fault, requires humility – putting aside pride, power and position. If one party hardens their heart there is nothing one can do to mediate reconciliation until that person – and/or the Lord – softens their heart. Unresolved issues, conflict and division in relationships, is NOT caused by differences in beliefs or doctrine, or “personality clash”, or the many other reasons we tend to give. My experience and scripture tells me it is because of “carnality” – power, prejudice, “selfish ambition”, “vain conceit” (1Corinthians 3:1-4, Philippians 2:1-5f, 4:2-3). Jesus said people divorce because of “hardness of the heart” (Matthew 19:8).
Africans say that when leaders fight it is like dueling elephants that trample on the ants – it is the people that suffer. We see it in children when parents quarrel and quarrel, then get divorced. Psycho-emotional violence is far more damaging than the injuries inflicted by physical violence. The pain caused by unresolved stuff in human relationships looms larger than Mount Everest; it is more destructive than the tsunamis that devastated Indonesia and Japan. The need for reconciliation, for relational healing and health, for harmony and wholeness in community, is greater than ever before in my estimation. And what bliss (heaven on earth) when we experience Shalom – God’s peace, harmony and wellbeing – based on loving, right relationships, in families and in churches and society!