I LOVE TO PLANT CHURCHES
by Richard Chowning
One of the greatest rewards of our work among the Kipsigis is to witness the birth and first steps of new congregations, over and over again. It is an opportunity to see the cloud of darkness raised from the lives of people, see them take their first brave steps in the light. They are happy and free but each step is tentative. They are so happy when God gives them the power to stand where they never before stood.
Thirty Kipsigis share the shade of a fig tree. Few of them know the songs my feeble voice attempts to teach. Fewer still have ever heard the message I am about to deliver. These are busy people. The rain season has just begun. Earlier in the morning many of these people had held the handle of a plow as the oxen pulled it across the field. Others had dropped seeds in furrows and pushed dirt over them with their feet. This is one of the busiest times for the Kipsigis. They could have spent the afternoon in the field, too, but they were told important words were to be spoken at this meeting.
This is my fifth visit in the village. The previous week six had allowed the Lord to wash away their sins. I love this setting. Mosore village has few tribesmen who claim to be Christians. There are no other congregations of the churches of Christ in this northern section of Bureti location. The rolling hills huddle close to each other. Mud huts and freshly tilled fields are scattered on the hills. I cannot help but dream of a day, not too far away, when a cluster of a half a dozen congregations of the Lord's church will meet within a five mile radius of Mosore. I have seen the Lord move with such power, many times.
I hardly know the people who have gathered. Many of them I am seeing for the first time. Some of them will become evangelists and will plant those congregations I dream about. Now I concentrate on their facial expressions. Months from now I will be eager to hear of their encounters with strangers who become their brethren.
In a thirty minute lesson I compare and contrast Kipsigis sacrifices with the sacrifice of our Lord. I get excited as I close. I feel some will want to become part of the Kingdom today. They must if they are to live. Three men, each over seventy years old, say they want to become Children of God. Few congregations are started with Kipsigis of such maturity. My dreams take a leap. With such a start, what will happen in Mosore in the months to come? God only knows. But to me, it is the beginning of another spiritual adventure in a new village.
One month old
"Jesus took away my fear to stand before others and tell them to follow Him." These are the words of William Arap Rotich a new Christian in Mosore. I have heard them spoken by many others but the joy they bring to my heart has not diminished. Only five months ago William was walking in dark, without Christ. He had not been part of any denomination. He had been a traditional Kipsigis - caught in a culture void of eternal hope.
I love to see a Christian make his first efforts to share their faith with a group. There may not be much content to his first statements. It may only be the phrase "I am Jesus' and he is mine." But his fellow, new converts are motivated by his example. They gain courage to speak for the Lord.
Four months old:
The congregation now numbers fifty. Thirty of those are married people. Most of them husband and wife coming together. Four of the members are over seventy years-old. The older members have all spoken to the congregation about their faith.
Five months old
Recently one member's mother became seriously ill. The congregation held a meeting in her home and lifted her up to God in prayer. The family was comforted and the woman felt better the next day. She has had a couple of bad spells since, but the congregation knows they were of service to her. They helped someone crying out for help. They took one of their first steps. They loved it.
It is very easy for a new congregation to depend on a visiting evangelist like myself. I must let them stand on their own with the Lord in all aspects of church life, as soon a possible. Baptism is something they have seen from the beginning of the congregation. Only the first half dozen members were baptized by an outsider. William was pressed into service only two months after his own rebirth. He was nervous. He did not know what to say, exactly. He almost fell over with the first person he buried in the river. I was not embarrassed because he bungled the rite.
I was so happy I could scream. I witnessed a babe taking some of his first steps in service of his Lord. These new believers need a lot of help. The help needs to be in amounts they can absorb. They are still on milk. My basic gospel lessons allow the members to get a see they have to experience and share with their villagers still in the darkness.
Six months old
No visiting evangelist is with them most Sundays now. They organize their own meetings and feed themselves. They may not be getting the meat they could be getting from a visitor. But they are learning it is possible to grow up in a hurry.
There will come a time, soon, when they will look out on the surrounding hills and say, "we need to start a new church over there." Someone will say, "I have a relative over there." Then they will feel the same excitement I now feel. They will know the new congregation's first steps will be tentative. They have experienced the journey themselves.
Eight months old
They are talking about a new village.
I love to plant a church.