Last Sunday we had three first time visitors but our attendance was down again. It was very overcast, and halfway through the service the clouds burst open into a heavy downpour.  Preaching was tough because of the noise of the rain on the metal roof, but despite the rain the sermon was preached and at the end a lot of people came forward to make decisions at the altar.  I even had people texting me throughout the week to let me know how the sermon was a blessing to them and how they learned a lot.  That means a lot to a pastor.

Sometimes I feel bad when we have visitors attend on a rainy day, but our regular members stay home because of the rain.  In a way, it saddens me because I think to myself “this sermon today would have really been a blessing to this or that family” and they are not there to hear it.

Our Sunday preaching service at Calvary Baptist Church of Ndola.

I pray that you will take time today (and each Sunday) to attend church and worship our Lord and Savior with other believers.  Remember, the day that you choose to skip church may be the day that the Lord would have spoken to your heart and changed your life!  Most of you are very blessed.  You have at least one car with a heater and windshield wipers. Don’t let mild weather keep you from the Lord’s house and fellowship.

The Lord has really blessed us at our mid-week prayer meeting and Bible study.  We have actually had more visitors and repeat visitors on Wednesday evening than we have had on Sundays.  It is a simple format – 20 minutes of singing, 20 – 25 minutes of Bible study and questions answered, and 15 minutes of prayer in groups of two or three.  Sometimes in a group setting it is hard to get people to ask questions about the Bible; however, during our Wednesday service people are opening up and asking questions – some simple, and some more challenging to answer.  It is a great way to introduce visitors to Calvary Baptist Church of Ndola, and to reveal to them the simplicity of salvation through grace.

For the last two weeks we have tried to have a baptism for two young men.  Each Sunday we fill our outside baptism tank and each Sunday we have been rained out.  On Wednesday during our prayer meeting one of the young men raised his hand for prayer and his request was “please pray that there will be no rain on Sunday so that I can get baptized”.  For some reason this surprised me and I was touched by his genuine desire to follow the Lord in believer’s baptism.  I told him that we would fill the tank on Thursday and any day that he was ready to be baptized I would baptize him.  No need for it to be on a Sunday.  So yesterday after men’s prayer the rain stopped for a bit and we had a baptism service.

A Saturday baptism at Calvary Baptist Church of Ndola. Since our scheduled baptism service on Sunday had been rained out two weeks in a row we filled the baptismal tank and waited for a break in the rain and then did the baptism. Very few were able to attend, but the two new converts did, and that is enough.

The other day I was out visiting with one of our youth and he had some questions about the United States.  He asked if it is true that it is free to ride trains and busses in America.  I told him no and then explained how transit and intercity busses work and how subways and Amtrak works.  He was surprised.  He said that on TV you never see people paying to ride, they just get on.  Many Zambians have a very skewed view of life in America and Europe.  All they know is what they see on TV and to them it looks like everything is free – housing, food, insurance, holidays.  They are surprised when we tell them how hard people work to save and to pay for these necessities.  Even without these assumptions, to the rest of the world, America is still the land of opportunity.

Thank you for your prayers for my arm.  The burn from the mango sap is completely healed.  Thank you also for your prayers for Allison.  Other than a stomach bug that she and Jill had this week, she is still doing very well.  Her diet is very limited, so the goal now is to get her the nutrients and nutrition that she needs through the sparse foods that she has found so far that her body can tolerate.  Please continue praying for our family’s health.

Please also pray for Andrea and Anna.  This coming week is finals week and so there is a lot of tension on campus.  You know how it is, when some young people get under pressure they forget to eat right or sleep right and they do not take care of themselves as they should.  Please pray for good health and for the girls to do well on their testing.

Jill and the youth of the church have done an excellent job in decorating the church building for the Christmas season.  Jill does hours and hours of prep work for the youth projects and then helps the youth with their work and then directs the decoration of the auditorium.  In the end, we have a beautifully decorated church building in which to worship our Savior as we celebrate His birth.

One of the things that Jill and I love about Zambia are the beautiful trees.  The last few times that I have written I have touched on our love for our avocado tree and our mango tree (Jill and Allison have picked 542 so far and there are many more on the tree!). There are so many kinds of beautiful and fruitful trees in Zambia.

As you drive throughout the central and northern part of Zambia you will find beautiful, stately, hardwood trees.  Some of them are many decades and possibly centuries old.  Mahogany, Teak, Mukwa, Musase, Rosewood and Eucalyptus are just a few of the beautiful hardwoods that thrive here.  Sadly, deforestation is happening here in Zambia and these stately old trees are being harvested and turned into charcoal or shipped overseas as exotic timber without any replanting taking place.

The beginning of the rainy season and the beautiful massive hardwood trees are an interesting combination.  The beginning of the rains brings some strong tropical storms with high winds, lots of rain, and lightning.  

Some of the beautiful trees that we drive by every day and admire are actually not what they seem to be.  On our way to church we drive down a road with huge red mahogany trees lining each side of the road.  Their trunks are massive – probably 10 – 15 feet in circumference and they stand around 70 feet tall.  They are full of branches and thickly covered with leaves.  They look strong and healthy.  But this is not always the case.

Sometimes the tree is completely decayed inside.  At times it is from rot, usually it is from termites.  The tree is indeed tall and beautiful, but inside there is practically nothing there.  Their massive form is no longer strongly connected to their root system.  They are very nice to look at, but not really useful and can actually be quite dangerous.  Sadly, when the rains begin this is discovered the hard way.

You see, when the tropical storms come with the high winds and lightning, and the torrential rain loosens the soil, many times these trees come crashing down.  Jill and I have personally known 2 people who have been trapped in their cars when a tree fell on it.

Last week we saw a very tragic scene.  A beautiful tree that had stood for many decades in front of a high school came crashing down during a storm. It landed on a van waiting to pick up blind children to take them home from school.  Two adult occupants of the van were killed and one injured.

The sad aftermath of a recent tropical storm and a tree rotted from the inside. If you look closely at the top left photo you can see that the inside of the tree is hollow – almost half way to the top. It looked strong and beautiful from the outside, but in reality it was a disaster waiting to happen. Two souls entered eternity when the tree crushed the van in which they were sitting.

Two days later on my way to Calvary Baptist Church of Ndola I stopped by the school to look at the tree.  I could see where the lightning had scorched the inside of the tree. But when I looked up inside the tree from where it had fallen I could see that the interior of the tree was deteriorated and was practically hollow.  So beautiful and stately on the outside and yet so empty and potentially dangerous on the inside.  

In our day and age this also describes many churches in our communities.  They are large and beautiful but inside they are dead, they are rotting, and when they finally fall they will not just destroy themselves but will also potentially take out innocent bystanders as well.  

We have seen this in the U.S. and we have seen this here in Zambia.  Not just large churches either, some smaller ones too.  

Churches are made up of families and individuals, and I think if we want strong, genuine, Godly churches, we need to start with ourselves and make sure that we are strong, genuine, Godly Christians.  Do we practice what we “Amen” on Sunday? When no one is looking are we genuinely Christian?  In our homes?  At work?  In our vehicles to those we share the road with?  On our computer?  On our phone?  With our family?  Are we genuine Christians or are we like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day whom He described as full of hypocrisy and iniquity?

Matthew 23:27,28 “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”

I want to be a genuine Christian with a genuine relationship with the Lord.  Please pray that our testimony and life, as well as our witness, will help bring those around us to Christ.

As you pray for our family and the Lord’s Work here in Zambia this week please remember a few other prayer requests that are dear to our heart.  Specifically, please pray for our friend Al who is now in hospice and will soon be with the Lord.  Please also pray for Cathy and her cancer battle, and remember our friends Kent and Andrea Gossmeyer who serve as missionaries in England.  Kent’s father passed away this week after a heart attack and he will be buried in Oklahoma on Tuesday.

Thank you for your faithfulness to pray and be a partner with us in the Lord’s Work.  In all the busyness of the season don’t forget to take time to express your love to those who are dear to you and to remember the true reason for the season.  We pray that the Lord will bless you as you serve Him!