In mid-September, we received a somewhat unusual phone call at the HeartCry office. An African ministering in South Sudan was in the area and asked if he could stop by the office. Though hesitant and perhaps a bit skeptical, we invited him to visit. After all, I have prayed for South Sudan for many years, and it’s not every day that someone from there is in our neighborhood.
A couple of hours later, I met Joseph, a warm and eloquent Kenyan who managed a Christian radio station in South Sudan. In the course of the conversation, Joseph explained that he had been sent to South Sudan by a church in Nairobi whose pastor is faithful, respected, and friends with HeartCry’s Kenyan leadership. My caution melted away. Here was a kindred brother, likeminded in doctrine and practice, who had actually been converted through one of Paul Washer’s online sermons!
He told an amazing story of a Christian radio station in South Sudan, started by Canadian Reformed missionaries who then passed it on to his management. In time, Joseph saw the growing need to train pastors in their region. When they hosted their first conference for pastors and church leader, over 500 showed up. They slept on the ground. They brought their own food. Since there weren’t enough chairs, many sat on the ground in the blazing heat to hear the Bible taught.
The next year, the radio station was running short of funds to pay staff and fuel the generator that powered the radio transmitter. Rather than ask the West for help, Joseph and the staff appealed to the local villages. Did they appreciate the teaching ministry of the radio station? Would they be willing to give to keep the station on the air? At the next conference, 800 pastors came! Even more shocking, the 800 churches in this war-torn area of subsistence farming had raised an equivalent of $20,000 to fund the radio station!
Would you believe these village pastors complained about the conference? Yes, they complained that the conference was only for 2 days. Why not have a week-long conference? They would pay more. They didn’t mind sitting or sleeping on the ground. They could bring their own food.
An Amazing Opportunity to Help
As you can imagine, we were moved by stories of such spiritual hunger. Joseph’s pastor in Nairobi confirmed that the stories were indeed true, using the word ‘sterling’ to describe Joseph’s life and ministry. Joseph did not come to HeartCry asking for money. He came asking for help with teachers for the conference.
Within just a few emails, we had pastors in Zambia and Kenya jumping at the opportunity and begging to go. In the end, Ben Nkaausa of Lusaka, Zambia and Sam Odeny of Oyugis, Kenya were chosen for this wonderful task. Ben taught on the qualifications of an elder, and Sam taught on biblical church membership.
Last week I received a summary report from Joseph on the conference. He gave some background on the region, explained the content of the conference, and shared some encouraging fruit after the conference.
“Aweil East and the whole of northern Bahr el Ghazal region has been very badly affected by war in the past, due to it’s proximity to Sudan (North). There is hardly anyone in this region who has not lost a member of their family in the war. We are grateful that since 2015, when 12 bombs were dropped in this area, we have not experienced any further aerial attacks. Diseases and starvation, however, continue to oppress the people.
We are thankful that, due to these circumstances, people are turning to God and seeking His face. They want to know him. There are about 900,000 people that live within the area of our radio coverage. 95% of the pastors have never been to Bible School. They have mainly learned God’s word through the radio and in their local churches. There is an average of 2 Bibles in every congregation.
2019 Pastors Conference
Our vision with these conferences is a healthy gospel-centered church for every community in Aweil and beyond. For this reason, all the topics that we cover during the conference are geared toward the spiritual growth of the church. This year our topics were: biblical conversion, biblical church membership, discipleship at home and church, adorning the Gospel of Christ as believers, and the qualifications of elders.
Pastor Ben and Pastor Sam witnessed firsthand how hungry our people are for God’s word. They taught at the conference, at the military barracks, at school, and at church on the Lord’s day. What a blessing was it to have them here.
Of the 905 pastors who attended, about 150 arrived at our compound the night before the conference. They all slept outside, waiting anxiously for the conference to start in the morning. The next morning, there were about 250 pastors at the gate by 6:30 am. Even though it was drizzling for about an hour in the morning, that did seem to bother them. They were eager to be admitted into the conference grounds.
Pastor Ben spoke on qualification of elders, and that seems to have cut into their hearts by the grace of God. There were a few women attending who have planted churches and are leading them. We are very thankful that they received the message very gracefully. There were several questions asked on how women who have planted a church can hand it over to faithful men to lead. (It must have been on that day that I received this WhatsApp message from Joseph: ‘Pastor Ben arrived with a powerful teaching on qualifications of elders. He preached for an hour and fifteen minutes, then answered questions for an hour, then discussed one-on-one with individual pastors for another hour. Such a blessing to us in South Sudan.’)
The pastors who attended reported to us that this conference was one of the best that we have had. They pleaded with us to increase the frequency of our conferences, promising to support financially. They are already collecting money to bring to us again this year to support the radio
ministry. We plan to divide them into groups of 50 and start holding 10 day Bible classes where they can learn more on the basics of Christian faith. The conference and daily radio programs are not enough. The 2-week bible classes will be a great follow up on the conferences and radio programs.”
It was not only preachers who benefited from the conference. The conference speakers also had opportunity to visit the local army barracks and preach 3 times – first to the top ranking general in the region, then to a morning assembly of the troops, and finally to an organized evangelistic workshop!
Joseph also wrote of some encouraging fruit that began to appear almost immediately:
“Two days after our 2019 pastors conference, I was very encouraged to find a group of 7 soldiers (military officers) seated under a tree discussing the sermon that Pastor Ben gave. Only one of them had attended the conference and he was already passing the message on to the rest. Five days later, I met a pastor who had just arrived from a village 90km from our station. He did not attend the conference, but came reciting what had been taught at the conference. He told me that the pastors who attended from his area have been talking a lot about the different subjects, and that’s how he learned so much of what was taught.”
Please pray for Joseph and the radio station in Aweil as they continue broadcasting the gospel and biblical truth in the border region of Sudan and South Sudan. Pray for these 900+ pastors who show a remarkable hunger for sound doctrine, that they will conform their churches to the truth they are learning.
Before his current role at HeartCry, Robert served several years in pastoral ministry, and a few years in Zambia, Africa as a missionary. He is also a veteran of the Marine Corps. Robert and his wife have been blessed with 3 children and 4 grandchildren. They live near Christiansburg, VA in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains, where he enjoys deer hunting and fly-fishing for trout.More By Robert Shepherd