My wife and I traveled in a rented 4WD truck (we generally get around on foot or by boda) across the many hours of rough dirt road that leads from northwestern Uganda, over to the north-central region. Passing through multiple traffic police stops over several hours, taking detours where the road was flooded, waiting for the ferry in order to cross the Nile, we arrived at our destination!
There, three dear brothers had already partnered with us in preparation for this Study Bible Training. These men are strong members of the community, and had invited sincere and devoted pastors from various denominations, both Ugandan and Sudanese, to attend the seminar. We focus on trainings with these local pastors as resources for distribution are limited, and we pray to see the greatest impact in the region through these men who genuinely count themselves servants of the Lord.
We trust that as these brothers fill up on inspired Scripture, the Spirit will first work in them personally. Then, the impact will spill over into their families, out to their neighbors, and throughout the whole of the community. As leaders are nourished by the Word, they will be best prepared to teach the Truth to the believers gathered together. The application notes, theological articles, African touch points, and proverbs and stories found in the Africa Study Bible all serve to benefit the leader, so that he can present the Scriptures and their application more clearly for others!
Our three pastor friends who organized this seminar are meticulous. They are not offering an open invitation, but bringing together–across denominational, tribal, national, and geographic lines–those leaders who evidence a deep love of Christ, humility, and a desire to shepherd the flock well.
The training consist of two one-day sessions, the first for 10 local pastors. These were men with limited resources but a devotion to our LORD. The second day was similar, with 14 participants; mostly pastors, but also a few of their apprentices! It was a delight to meet pastors who are investing in the next generation, training them to carry on, seeing the Gospel advance in the lives of many.
A few months prior to this Bible Study Training, another had taken place. That is where our three brothers became compelled to carry on this work. So, in these 2 training days, our three local friends were the leaders! They were presenting the material (again, meticulously attentive to the details and with great fervor) they had learned during the training where they were participants. It was a blessing to see not only the transfer of information taking place, but also the excitement of these brothers who have been making use of the Africa Study Bible for several weeks at this point.
They were able to share how the articles, notes, and other aspects of the Africa Study Bible have helped them in applying the Word in their own lives, in preaching and in evangelism, and in training up others to understand with clarity the Word of God. These are trusted men who have grown up in the same culture, region, and circumstances as those in attendance. They are regularly involved together, brushing elbows in ministry and spurring one another on. I was deeply moved when one of these brothers shared a part of his testimony; I will paraphrase below:
“Growing up, my father was married to many women. He had many children, too many to invest in personally. I made up my mind that I, as a Christian, would honor God by marrying one woman. I would love her well and teach our children the ways of God. When I married, we realized we are not able to have children together. The thought did not come to me that I should marry another woman to produce children with, but that God would give me spiritual children. You, men gathered today, are those children. I want to help you along in the ways of God as others have helped me. You are a gift in my life from God.”
I think this moment of sharing, among many testimonies, was a profound illustration of the bonds present in the room, all because of Jesus Christ. Other testimonies demonstrated the regular difficulties in this region. Almost every man with children had lost one or more to sickness. Some were refugees who have transition out of the comforts of home hit by hard circumstance, and have come to a new place with its own difficulties and struggles. These men are well aware of the brokenness of the world, and they believe the Gospel is the only answer. Though they might not use the words, “Christian worldview,” they have it.
Both days of training started at 8:30 AM, and lasted to 4:30 PM. Not one person fell asleep at any point. Some of these men had traveled two hours by boda that morning coming from the refugee settlements, others walked in locally. We began with sharing about ourselves, our families, churches, and testimonies over breakfast, prayed over the training, then dove into God’s Word.
One of the brothers leading the training shared that the Study Bibles had been contributed through the International Mission Board. These resources were gifted through brothers and sisters across the globe who cared for those in attendance, though they would likely never meet prior to Heaven. Everyone wrote their name and date on the presentation page, after peeling back the plastic wrapper. For some, this was their first brand new book–ever.
We flipped through to pages A9-A13, which show the various tables of contents. Everyone was thankful for the alphabetical table of contents, as some smaller books can be hard to find! We looked at the articles and learn notes, noticing how both the reference chapter and the page number is given. We practiced finding various books of the Bible, then articles and learn notes. We examined the difference between the two, and noted how applicable these pages are to ordinary life. Everyone was grateful.
Everyone was excited to read and be enabled to clearly address topics with these titles: Creation and The Fall, the Ten Commandments, Discipleship and The Church, Christian Family and Marriage, Care for Widows and Orphans, Curses and Blessings, Refugees, Repentance, Polygamy, Suffering, Tribalism, Animal Sacrifice, Ancestors, and so many more. These are of great significance and speak life and Truth into dead and broken and difficult circumstances.
I was amazed at the exuberance around the pages of contributors from pages A16-A21. The heading notes: “Hundreds of theologians, pastors, and leaders from 50 countries worked on the Africa Study Bible.” We searched out the names from Uganda and South Sudan, some noting the tribe they would be from based on name, which I would have otherwise been clueless about. Everyone was grateful that so many of the scholars were educated believers from this continent who love Jesus and want to serve the Church, and subsequently the lost, in this place.
On page A24, we noted the various symbols that would mark additional notes and contributions throughout the Bible. We made special note that only the places with chapter and verse are the living Word of God. We wanted to emphasize that these other areas can be greatly beneficial, but should always be held up to the Scriptures themselves for examination. Page A28 shows the vision and history of the Africa Study Bible so well. I am extraordinarily thankful for the work of Oasis International, every church, ministry, and individual involved. I pray those who gave of their insights, knowledge, and time, would know that good fruit is growing out of their labors.
While the NLT has not been my first translation preference historically, I have found it to be a helpful, understandable translation that fills a great need here in East Africa. Some are well-educated in English; many others, less so. I believe that the NLT makes a good version for reading aloud for many gathered together who do not own, or cannot read from, their own Bible. I pray that the Lord would be honored through this translation as His Word goes forth; we long for many ears to hear. We know from experience the Truth of John 10, that the Good Shepherd is yet calling to many sheep who will be brought into the fold. Without fail, our Sovereign God will bring about His purposes. He delights to work through His people, the Church, filled with His Spirit.
We spent a short time explaining how to use footnotes, cross-references, and the index/concordance, followed by several hours in small groups in practice. We would assign words to search for in the index then locate the various passages. We emphasized the wider reading of the passages given in order to best understand the context. We wanted to be sure everyone in the small group understood the helpfulness of cross references and where to locate them for a given passage. Many have owned a pocket Bible that included cross references and footnotes, but they never knew what that column was for, or what those small letters or numbers were representing. We often take these things for granted in the West. They were excited to dive into further study after the training, delighted by this new resource placed in their hands.
We spent the afternoon hours in study of a designated passage (different for each small group of 3-4 participants paired with a leader). We examined the introductory pages of the book which includes the Author, Date, Purpose, and Overview/Story which will be covered. We then examined the context in terms of Biblical history, then zoomed into the local context of the passage examined. We practiced our work of seeking deeper understanding by reading the passage multiple times, accessing the cross-references, and the various notes, applications, and helps on the given page. This was intended to support the pastors in soaking up God’s Word throughout the week prior to preaching. Many have spent Friday and Saturday evening in small preparation.
We wanted to emphasize the importance of the preacher’s time with the Lord, in the Word, and in prayer. We want those who hear the Word preached to hear the Truth rather than our personal thoughts and opinions. We also emphasized that we must model the things we learn in our living! We are made righteous at the moment of salvation, when we repent and believe. At the same time, we are growing as Christians, being made holy day by day as the Spirit works in us through the living Word which God has given. This is our delight as His people. We have been rescued and given a task. Christ brought us into abundant life at the cost of His precious blood. Now we have been entrusted with this message to the lost, and with discipling and encouraging the believers around us. Every group shared what they had learned, what they would share in preaching on the given passage; it was a time of encouragement to see these brothers were grasping the context and context important to convey, and also their ability to apply it to daily life–to our intents, thoughts, words, and deeds.
The article positioned just after the book of John was specifically noted, as many of these brothers are regularly in conversation, dialogue, or debate with those who submit to Islam, ancestral worship, or various forms of animism and paganism. Jesus is significant. Jesus stands out, and there is no one like Him. We want our brothers to be prepared to present Christ as fully God, fully man, not just another man among men. Not just a good teacher, or prophet, though He was surely both of these things. Also, on page 1517, we greatly appreciated the article showing the Harmony of the Four gospels. This chart helps pastors who are preaching a particular passage to consult the parallel accounts, and also to see the unity among the gospels. We can also observe how the various authors may emphasize something in particular, for a particular audience or with specific intent. These pages save a great deal of page turning!
I was surprised again, when we turned to the timeline of events. This was cherished by our brothers! We first skimmed The History of Christianity in Africa article on page 1934, before examining the outlined events which took place on the continent, from page 1938 on. This paired providentially in our conclusion for the day, as we discussed evangelism and outreach to the lost all around us, following a full day focused on discipleship and the feeding of the flock flowing from growth in our own lives by the work of the Spirit. The men shared that this was an invaluable resource (I honestly had not expected to hear this, at all)! They explained that both the contributions to the notes and articles by African scholars from all over the continent, and these early Biblical events and early Church happenings in Africa would help them to repudiate claims that Christianity was “a deception, a white man’s religion from the West.”
They could show that the Lord has been working in Africa for a very long time, with specific accounts. They could use this timeline to counter many of the claims of their Muslim neighbors, and winsomely defend the faith and proclaim the Gospel of our salvation in Christ alone. What an encouragement this was to my ears and heart.
These brothers were not playing games. They came from near and far, over rough roads, not for the simple breakfast, tea, and lunch, but for the living Word of God. They are eager to grow in their own faith, in knowledge, in endurance, in strength and peace, in joy, contentment and thanksgiving, the readiness in every season, and the boldness and gentleness necessary to accurately present our Lord. Though we are clearly all like broken pots, the Light of Christ can and will shine forth from our lives as we devote ourselves in faith to our Kingly Savior. We ask the Father, in His grace and kindness, to grow each of us holy, to use us mightily. We long to spend and be spent for the sake of this unfailing Gospel message with the Triune God as the recipient of all glory.
We closed each day in prayer, that the Word would go forth clearly through us the messengers. We asked the Lord to give us grace in each day, and to lead us in right handling of His Word. We know that one day with devoted brothers is not the same as living daily in their neighborhood or village, but the Lord is able to use this to equip them, to grow them, to grow each of us. We believe wholeheartedly that these tools in their hands have already brought about Kingdom gain. We acknowledge that we have no position to hold our resources (new Bible) over anyone else, but that we must encourage those who need help along the way. As we have been given, let us freely give of ourselves.
A few of the men prayed for my wife and I, for our travels home. I told them I would greet the IMB team that we have been partnered with over these months, and thank them heartily for the resources and for allowing us all to meet together. At the very end, a few men stood to share words of appreciation. One was a founder of the church building where we gathered. He had tears coming down his face, gratitude clear before any words were spoken. He has been preaching a long time and never been equipped to navigate the Bible in such a manner, is what he shared. He extended deep words of thanks from a warm heart. A younger man stood and shared similarly. He presented with a clear expression of gratitude, noting that he would need to have, then sell, 2-3 goats, of which he has none, to afford a resource like this Study Bible. He continued to share that Study Bibles are not even available in his village, local town, or region. From what I can tell, he is right. What a treasure the Lord has given us in uniting us together.
That same young man shared that he previously went through a 6-month discipleship training in which emphasis on rightly handing, understanding, preaching, teaching, discipling, and personally growing by way of the Spirit of God through the Word of God was never taught to him. This made my heart sink; and yet, it rose with his appreciation for a single day of our lives spent together, the Lord clearly at work in all who were present. I am ever grateful for the men who were providentially gathered on that day. I am praying for them now, to speak the Truth in love, with boldness, gentleness, authority, and compassion for the people before them. Our God is a great God. May the people around us come to know Him, and grow up in His instruction. As we were parting, we noted a final time that ownership of this resource does us no good if it sits in the corner of our home. We must open, read, study, meditate, and share from these pages, in step with the Spirit of the Living God. Then, this resource truly is invaluable.
It was a great joy of this season to travel with my wife, see the Word go forth and be received by those of the household of God, and see my wife invest her hours with the children and ladies of the village who were gathered around. I will hold on to and cherish the memories from these days.