Pastor Poulo Jacques, the Director of Evangelism and Mission for the EFLT (Chadian Lutheran Brethren Church) paused for a moment, and said, “Here is the foundation of the house originally built by Missionary Kaardal in 1920…” Pastor Jacques could hardly contain his excitement as he gave us a tour and shared with us some of the history and stories of the pioneer work of the first Lutheran Brethren missionaries, recognized as the first ever Christian witness in this region of Africa.
As I listened, I reflected on what we had experienced over the past two days. An estimated 10,000 people had descended upon the small town of Léré, a community in southwestern Chad, to celebrate a centennial of gospel witness in this region of Africa; to celebrate the Church that had grown out of the testimony of those pioneer Lutheran Brethren missionaries. Today, the Church of the Lutheran Brethren in Africa is over 300,000 strong and growing! This is a Church of diverse unity, made up of multiple ethnic groups. This is a Church that—despite their context of existing in one of the most challenging economic, social and environmental climates in the world—has thrived. By God’s grace, they are making disciples of Jesus Christ in their own communities and beyond. And now, in mid-March 2020, they were celebrating 100 years of gospel presence in Chad. Thousands upon thousands had gathered for worship, rejoicing in God’s faithfulness to his Church. It was such a privilege to be part of it.
Listening to the stories, I wondered how our pioneer missionaries would react if they could observe what I was observing today. What would Berge Revne say, who buried his wife Herborg in Africa after 42 years of missionary service, if he could have been here today? What would Jetmund Kaardal and his wife Sofie say if they could stand today within the foundation of their first physical house in Chad, and witness the spiritual house of the Chadian Lutheran Brethren Church that grew out of their faithful witness? What about Esther Fuglestad, who buried her husband Ralph on this very hill not a year after they arrived in Africa as a young married couple, marking his tomb with a headstone that reads: “…to live is Christ and to die is gain”? What would she say, if she could witness the multitude worshiping the same Christ that Ralph died for? What would Anna Aandal say, who as a missionary nurse served tirelessly for 37 years, if she could see the dependence of these multitudes on Jesus, the Great Physician?
And as the decades rolled on, and more missionaries served, all sacrificing some, some sacrificing all—what would they say today? And even in our present day, as our missionaries continue to serve—not only in Africa, but also in Asia—what would they say? And as we the Church continue to call and send missionaries, what shall we say?
Perspective is so important. If we dwell on the worries of this world, it can be tempting to question the worth of mission. Missionaries sacrifice much to go. The sending Church sacrifices much to send them. It costs money. It comes with risk. It is stressful and time consuming to learn new languages and adapt to new cultures. Our best laid plans and strategies can fall apart. Our best efforts can seemingly come to naught. Ministry is hard and costly.
The centennial celebration of the Church in Chad serves as a good reminder of why we continue to be a disciple-making Church. It’s because God is a disciple-making God. God is the one who sacrificed all to come to us, and calls us now, in turn, to sacrifice and go to others. God has been faithful through all generations. Because of God’s faithfulness, we respond with praise to him for his work in the world, and with renewed hope as we look to the present and future. We celebrate the foundation of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren, which since day one, set herself apart as a Church passionate and committed to be a people sent out into the world on mission. And we celebrate the foundation laid by our missionaries, our pastors, our evangelists, and all those who minister the gospel in a myriad of ways, serving as a model for future generations. This gospel in which we are saved and for which we are called is so worth it! On Christ the solid rock we stand, confident that he who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it.
We continue to set our hands to the plow and look ahead. The mission continues. The harvest remains plentiful. The workers remain few. Let us continue to pray the Lord of the Harvest to raise up more laborers. May we not be people who rest on our laurels; may we not be a Church that is lethargic or apathetic, sitting on the sidelines of the ripe harvest fields, while endlessly critiquing what is happening “out there.” Let us rather be the Church that rolls up our sleeves and wades into the harvest. This is not about those “amazing” missionaries. This is about you, about me, about all of us. Participating in the harvest is not about how great we are, how qualified we are, how special we are. No, it is about God commissioning us, God qualifying us, God enabling us, God redeeming us, through the work of Jesus Christ. We are special, not because of what we are, in and of ourselves, but because of whose we are. That is the foundation on which we stand.
Let’s get out there and continue to build this Church, through Christ who strengthens us.
Dan Venberg serves as Mission Mobilizer and Recruiter for Lutheran Brethren International Mission.