Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. (Col 4:2-4)
The character of the Apostle Paul never ceases to inspire me. Through the years I have grown to an ever greater understanding of him as he is portrayed in the Bible. There is no doubt in my mind that he is one of the greatest personalities of history, one of the most courageous men who ever lived, and a peerless bold adventurer for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Writing to the Colossian church from his Roman prison cell, he asks for prayer. Yet he does not ask as we no doubt would. There is no request for comfort, supplies, or pleas for deliverance. Instead, Paul encourages a prayer life based on unwavering gratitude for all God has done for us through Christ, and for himself, greater opportunities to proclaim the message of life through Jesus Christ clearly. His request breathes with an other-worldly selflessness, which he could only have learned at the feet of the Master of sacrificial living, the Lord Himself.
I never go to places like Africa without wondering what it would have been like to have traveled with him? And when we return safe and sound to our home in Arizona, without having faced significant persecution or suffering, I am both thankful and wistful. Thankful for God’s many provisions and protections along the way. Yet wistful, for I know we have experienced so little of “the fellowship of His sufferings” (Phi 3:10), which Paul considered to be of inestimable value.
Return to Australia
Our way to Africa led through Australia. I had been asked by one of our former students, now pastor Peter Beringer, to speak at a conference in Perth. This provided a wonderful opportunity to visit Wil and Kristy (with little Arelina) in Sydney. Wil continues to work on his Phd. Thesis at the University of New South Wales. Meanwhile, Kristy stays busy with her work, and little Arelina gets cuter by the day!
While in Perth, we were also able to stay with Daniel and Katie for a week, a great time of reunion, as we saw little of them while they were in the States. I spoke at the Family Bible Conference hosted by Rockingham Community Bible Church, along with Neil Zanich (Pastor of Grace Bible Church), Peter Beringer (Pastor RCBC), and Daniel Zanich (who along with Katie just returned from Seminary in L.A). The topics presented were quite thought provoking and challenging.
Then I was able to fill in for Jared, who with Tiersa and little Aram were visiting family back in America. I had two Sundays and the week in between to open the word to the family of Cross Road Bible Church. It was great to catch up with so many of our Australian family, yet the time went so quickly. We rejoice to see so many continue to grow and serve as they live in the hope of His soon return.
During our time there, I was approached by one of the men who had been in our church through the years. Murray Bell had great concern about me taking Nancy on such a grueling journey as Logan and I had endured two years ago to reach the remote church in the Western Province of Zambia. He encouraged me to consider trying to either fly in or rent a four wheel drive vehicle. This was something I had considered with Logan, should we ever return. Along with his concern, God moved several to give support when we left, that could make the rental feasible. I soon learned that the Lord was going ahead of us, as I always pray He will, to prepare the way.
The Great Zambian 4WD Safari
When we arrived in Livingstone, Zambia one bag was missing. It was the all crucial ministry bag, full of books and teaching materials. We were told we would have to wait 24 hours, for next days flight, to get the bag. As we were to find, this was God’s way of keeping us around until a vehicle could be found. Otherwise, we would have been bundled onto a waiting bus and on our way, from bus to truck, then from truck to ox-cart and foot, for a long trek into the desert. This time God had a better plan.
We were met by Pastors Happyson Mwashamputa and Brian Kauzi who would accompany us. Also coming along were two ladies who came to “be friends to Miss Nancy”, Florence and Agnes. They proved to be a great help to us in preparing food, washing clothes, and so many other ways in which they served us.
Ofttentimes when they were working around the fire they would ask Nancy to come and "instruct" them while they worked. They proved to be spiritually hungry young ladies with a heart to serve so that we could concentrate on the ministry in the village. When we arrived in the village Agnes asked how far we had driven. When we told her we had travelled over 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) she broke out in a big smile- at the age of 23 she had never been so far from home!
During our wait I began to check on possible rentals. Everything kept falling through for one reason or another, until we went back to pick up the bag. The rental company at the airport had just gotten in a 4wd, which we could get at a reasonable sum for one week. Unknown to us, the party of Zambians going with us were taking in huge bundles of clothes which the churches had collected for the poor people living in the bush, with little chance to get clothes of any kind. By the time we loaded three huge bundles, and baggage, there was little room for anyone to sit. Somehow we managed to pack six of us in remaining space. We began our journey north at 3AM.
During the wait in Livingstone, I had received an email from Murray Bell, the man who so strongly encouraged me to get the vehicle. In it he gave some wise counsel regarding four wheel drive preparedness, an excerpt follows.
“I do not know how much 4wd experience you have (I had zilch!) and at the risk of telling you how to suck eggs, I offer the following. I know you are in the Lord’s hands, but I also know he gave us a brain to use in these matters and we should prepare for what could beset us. I know nothing of the terrain you will be crossing and can only picture difficult country (how true) in our Australian bush. Before you organize and pay for any vehicles, find out what state the roads are in that you will be traveling on (at the end there are none), and assess the viability of your getting to your destination without trouble.
Please make sure that any vehicle, or two if you need another one for a large group, you hire is fit for the purposes you need it for and has full insurance cover. Two vehicles are always safer on a trip like this in case one gets into trouble. Not all 4wd’s are the same and you usually get what you pay for. Don’t scrimp here, as a broken down vehicle can be very, very costly. If you are going into soft sand areas at all (this was most of the journey), you must have a tyre pump, run off 4wd battery and a pressure guage, so you can let the tyres down a bit, if traversing soft sand.
Extra fuel cans, as there probably will not be many gas stations where you are going (actually, there were none for nearly nine hundred kilometers!). Plenty of water in several containers in case of leakage. Good maps to find your way (there are no detailed maps of the area we entered) and a GPS locator.”
I am so thankful for men like Murray! Several times I was wishing he, or my 4wd fanatic friend Geoff Badart were along with us! As it was, we carried extra fuel and water. We had a dodgy jack, which didn’t reveal it’s true colors until we tried in a sand bog to use it. Off we went, on a course that led for 190 kms (about 115 miles) of paved road, then plunged into a sand track running along the great Zambezi river for over 200 kms (120 miles), then into the sand plains of Western Zambia for another 50 kms. The road was rugged, with deep sand ruts dug by the big trucks that carry needed products along this track. We saw monkeys in the trees, and later the tracks of a herd of Elephant who had crossed to play in the Zambezi river. By 3:30 pm. (12 and a half hours of driving) we were at the village, having suffered one bog-down, which we were able to push out of. God indeed watches over fools and little children!
Over the next four days, we gathered with nearly four hundred people who had come for the conference. Some had traveled for days over the desert by foot and ox-cart with their families, sleeping in the bush along the way. Nan and I were given a small, round thatched roof hut. Our beds were grass mats on the floor. The nights were extremely cold, and we had only brought light sleeping bag liners, so we got re-acquainted with “roughing it” a bit.
Pastor Happyson took the first and last sessions. He opened the conference with one of the best classes on forgiveness I have ever heard. His emphasis was on the need of believers to be forgiving to one another, in light of our total forgiveness by God through Christ. He spoke of how unforgiving attitudes divide families, churches, and villages. He put the story of the unjust servant (Mat.18:23-35) into an African village setting to make it relevant. He then spoke of the New Covenant (Jer.31:31-34, and how the Spirit of God was to write it’s law into our hearts. He then showed that the “law” of the New Covenant is forgiveness through Christ (Jer.31:34b, Heb.10:17). He challenged us to forgive as God in Christ has forgiven us (Eph.4:32), warning that apart from this, God will accept none of our offerings or service (Mat.5:23-24, 1 Cor.13:1-3). It was such a pertinent class for us all, and my respect for this little warrior of the cross could only grow in light of it. In Africa he is an old man (around 65), yet he endures much hardship and privation to trek into these remote areas to encourage God’s scattered flock. His student Brian said of him, “He is a small and quiet man, but when you travel with him, you find out how strong he really is”.
What a joy it is to see the joy and love of Christ in those who have nothing of this world’s goods! Their faith is simple, deep, and strong. What a privilege to share with them in the Divine yet earthy wisdom of the word of God. In the desert, where all of life is stripped to the elemental bone, the word of God shines its brightest. Here, without the props we so often add to what we call “Christian living”, we find the ancient ways of the word of God more real and relevant than ever. Here faith in our compassionate Lord must be lived out in the dust and hunger of a stark environment. The love of Christ finds expression in people sharing, not of their excess, but out of their deep poverty. One night, after the meeting was over, Nan and I stepped out of our little hut. The singing was still going on under the big thorn tree, around a blazing fire. We stood under the stars and listened to songs of praise, in a language we could not understand, with all of the amazing harmony that makes African singing some of the most thrilling in the world. Looking over at the high grass palisade that surrounded the worshippers, I said to Nan, “When I was a child, I read and dreamed of experiencing such things as this. Had someone told me then that I would one day have the joy, not only of knowing this moment, but of doing it all for the sake of the gospel, I could not have believed it.” It is difficult for me, who dreamed of seeing Africa since I was six years old, to express the mystery and wonder of how God has led and blessed my life!
During my sessions of teaching, Nan would often teach a ladies class, a Sunday school training class, or a children’s class. Needless to say she was in her element, and was a great hit with the kids as she taught, sang and played with them. Many of them had not seen white faces, and it took time to overcome their fear that we were in fact some kind of ghost or spirit!
The distribution of the clothes was an exciting time, as those who were most needy were called to pick several items for themselves. Among the poorest were some pastors and evangelists, along with widows, elderly, the blind, and orphans. To give some idea of the needs of these people, let me quote from a “thank you” letter written by Pastor “Billy” Mukulu.
“Dearest Brethren and Friends in Jesus Christ,
Abundant heart felt greetings to you in the name of the Lord Jesus, Amen. It is our pleasure to write you and thank you mostly for the man of God the missionary Pastor Gene Cunningham and his wife Nancy who visited us in the remotest part of the country of Zambia.
(They were) of great support to us by preaching and exposing a lot of Bible truths which stands to make a better church in this territory of Zambia. We thank you for allowing and supporting (them) to travel to this remote area of Zambia. Brethren, our area has been hit with famine. Our crops were destroyed by floods (when the rains come, they often cover vast areas with water), and the little that could have survived was completely wiped (out) by Elephants. I thank you in anticipation.”
We promised Billy and the people that we would share their needs with believers in Australia, America, and other places. They had almost no food when we arrived. We were also able to provide food for all the visitors, including one cow that was butchered to provide meat for the conference, and some made into Biltong for those traveling long distances, who had nothing to sustain them on the journey. There will be no harvest for them for at least six months. We have promised to send what we can to help them through this difficult time. We ask that you pray with us to meet these needs, and give if you should be moved by God to help. All funds designated for Zambia relief will be forwarded to Billy to help the people of his area.
Before leaving on our return journey, I noticed an old shovel leaning against Billy’s house. I asked if we could carry it at least till we reached the road. It was fortunate that we did, for on the way we bogged down to the axles. Everyone got out, and we prayed, and dug, and pushed, and sank even more. I really saw no way we were going to get out. The junky jack would not lift the vehicle enough to get branches under the wheels. So we prayed and dug and pushed even more. Finally, Billy suggested he go and find someone with a pair of oxen to pull us out. This would have meant a wait in the hot desert sun for several hours. Happyson kept saying, “we can get out”, though the rest of us had our doubts. I decided to make one more try before Billy went on a long trek in search of oxen. We unloaded everything to lighten the vehicle. We dug deep, shoved branches under the tires as far as possible, then I put Nan behind the wheel, so I could help push. With Nan gunning and everyone pushing the wheels just caught enough to pull forward to more solid ground. That old battered shovel saved the day! We were homeward bound.
Back in Livingstone, we were able to meet for three days with another church, under Steve Chalumbila, who also serves as a sergeant in the Zambian Air Force. I will quote part of a letter from him along with a picture of his beautiful family.
“We give thanks for all the believers who are supporters for basic training ministries. We pray that God’s favors shall continue abounding as you continue being part of God’s work in Zambia by your provisions of prayers, books, and financial support.
I wish to state that we really had a good time with missionary and Bible teacher Pastor Gene and Nancy. We were really edified when he taught us on Authority and Power. We learned that we can only exercise the authority of God when we identify ourselves as servants, and that the power of God can only increase in us when we are weak and humble. I was very much touched with the service of Elisha to Elijah. Please pray with me that I may be a genuine humble servant as I continue serving in the true vineyard of my Master Jesus Christ.
I pray that I will never complain of any challenge or strife I face because it is meant to strengthen me in the power of God.
Yours in Christ’ service,
Please pray for the provision of food for the relief of these hungry people. We have committed to try to help, not only the church, but the entire area, with some supplies of food.
The Livingstone church requests prayer that they might get a plot of land for a church and training center.
Pray for Happyson, as he makes many journeys to remote areas, facing many dangers and hardships, so as to edify and encourage the saints. Pray for Andrew and Donna Davies from Cross Road Bible Church. They are in Zambia now helping Happyson with ministry in rural areas.
Pray for America. As we continue to watch the economic meltdown of our country, following on the heels of one disaster after another, it is clear that God is knocking on America’s spiritual door. With economic woes, offerings diminish. It is heartbreaking to be unable to help in so many areas of the world. We do not solicit funds. We seek to be wise in using whatever the Lord sends our way to further His work. Pray with us, that God will give us the wisdom we need, to use whatever is given with utmost wisdom.