Tess Delbridge

The Power of Prayer

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How God used Peter and Christine Akester to reach Muslims in northern Tanzania. In a small city in Northern Tanzania, God is at work powerfully answering prayers and creating opportunities for Christians to share the Good News of the Gospel with the majority Muslim population. Former NZCMS Mission Partners from 1979 to 1998, Peter and Christine Akester responded to God’s call to mission again in 2015, when they returned to Tanzania to serve in the Bible School in Kondoa. “We both knew it was what God wanted,” says Christine. “But it still was difficult to leave family because we have two daughters and two grandchildren and none without difficulty. It was quite a sacrifice in some ways, but we just had to leave them in God’s hands.”When they arrived in Kondoa Peter was appointed Principal of the Kondoa Bible School, and Christine worked as Dean of Studies and the Registrar. Together they taught students the Bible and prepared them for ministry in the region. But their ministry extended well beyond the walls of the school. As the only Europeans in Kondoa, it wasn’t hard for Peter and Christine to get noticed by the locals, and as they walked around the town and the market, people would approach them and ask where they were from, why they were in Kondoa, what they were doing with the Anglican Church and why. “They were almost dragging out a testimony from us,” says Peter. “It was often a good way of asking the question – why would these people bother to come here and do that? “We did have some really good conversations with particular people – one of the leaders in the mosque bailed me up while I was walking by and we had a really long conversation about who Jesus was to him.” But much of their ministry outside of the school was related to prayer. When someone from their church was ill and in hospital, they (and nearly everyone else from their church) would go visit and pray for them. “Sometimes when we’d go to see one of those people, there’d be a whole lot of people around that person’s bed and they’d all pray together. One time we went in and prayed for this person and then the person in the next bed said, ‘well, aren’t you going to pray for me?!’”Even though the neighbour was a Muslim they were happy to have Peter and Christine pray for them in Jesus’ name. Once they were finished, the next patient asked for prayer too. “We ended up going down the whole ward!” says Christine. “That sort of thing was quite a ministry without us actually realising it. We and others would pray for somebody and they’d get better,” says Peter. Christine recalls another elderly lady who was “old and decrepit and needed someone to prop her up. She asked for prayer, so we prayed for her, and little by little she just started to free up. By the end of it she was just sort of dancing. I think she was praising God and moving freely. It’s sort of exciting to see these things that don’t happen much in New Zealand; the faith is certainly there.”For Christine, one of the great joys of her time in Kondoa was the slow evolution of her relationships with Muslim women. “I was really struck by all the women walking along the road with their burqas on. At the beginning I would look at them and smile but there was no response at all. Gradually, over those two or three years, they’d start looking at me, and I could see their eyes just sort of noticing that someone’s continuing to have contact with me. She would occasionally get to speak to these Muslim women, but not very often. “I’d ask them the names of their children and they’d tell me. That was the ministry I thought I could do at the beginning, just relating to the women. And I thought that was quite special really. Later on, they would stop me and ask how my children are,” says Christine. One special friendship developed with a local Muslim woman who knew all about Christianity but didn’t know Jesus personally. “She could tell you all about the Easter week and what was happening. She was always having accidents, and we were always praying for healing, and every time she was healed. We told her Jesus was the one healing her, not us, and she said ‘yes, yes I understand that. I know about Jesus’.“I asked her if she believed in him,” says Christine. “And she said that she believes he is there. But after three years she never came to the point of accepting Jesus for herself. She had a very large Muslim family in another village and I think she realised they would reject her, totally. And that would have been a very difficult decision to make.”Sharing the Gospel in Muslim-dominated areas of the world like Kondoa, where 95 per cent of people are Muslim, is slow and difficult. But Peter and Christine can attest to the fact that God does the work of providing opportunities to explain the reason for their hope in Christ. Having now returned to New Zealand, Peter and Christine believe that Christians in New Zealand can learn a lot from Tanzanian believers. “We need to be thankful for anything and to trust God within that thankfulness” says Peter. Tanzania recently experienced two years of famine and Christine says, “there are stories of families who would sit around a table in the time of famine and pray and thank God. But there was nothing on the table; they didn’t have any food but were just saying thank you Lord that you’re looking after us. And then there’d be a knock at the door and someone would bring some food.” Tanzanian Christians have a deep awareness that everything they have comes from the hand of God. God chose Peter and Christine to take the Gospel to Tanzania, and having twice made the choice to give up their life in New Zealand and serve God overseas, they have some advice for anyone considering a similar decision: “Listen to God’s voice,” says Christine. “We usually think of the problems that are holding us here, and why we like living where we are and how much we’re needed for our family. Yet God is a big God and he can care for all that. I was full of worry this time, but he showed me to just leave the worries in his hands.”Peter says, “Once you’ve got that surety that God has said this, almost expect that there will be difficulties that will come to try and discourage you, but just keep claiming the promises of God that he will lead us and smooth the path. “God has proved faithful and will prove faithful and it’s our job to run with that task that he’s given us.”

Courageous faith from Jim Elliott to John Allen Chau

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Tess Delbridge talks with NZCMS National Director Steve Maina to find out what courageous faith really looks like.As John Allen Chau prepared to land on the remote North Sentinel island in the Bay of Bengal, its residents known to be violently hostile towards outsiders, he wrote in a letter to his parents, “You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people. Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed.”According to his journal, during his first interaction with the tribesmen he shouted, “My name is John, and I love you and Jesus loves you.” They shot at him with bows and arrows. The following day, he was killed by the tribe, his body dragged along the beach and buried. Chau’s story is reminiscent of the story of missionary Jim Elliott, murdered by a remote Ecuadorian tribe in the 1950s, and is somehow both inspiring and frightening for ordinary Christians. “No matter which way you look at it,we need that sort of grit, where you know you’re going to be persecuted, you know you might die, but you’re still willing to go,” says NZCMS National Director Steve Maina. “You’re not being asked to die for your faith in New Zealand, but we still find it hard to share the gospel,” says Steve. “Our confidence in the gospel is getting lost, and we need a reawakening of our confidence and boldness in the gospel.”Steve’s vision for NZCMS is that we would recapture the need for urgent and courageous proclamation of the gospel to all people. “We need to encounter Jesus in such away that he turns our lives upside down. Sometimes I have wondered whether that is actually the problem,” says Steve. “We need to have a living faith and a living encounter with Jesus where it’s his glory we seek rather than our glory or our safety. In 2 Corinthians 5:15, Paul says, ‘he [Jesus] died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’“Is there a problem with our encounter with Jesus? Have our lives been transformed so much that we are devoted wholly to the saviour who has given his life for us?” Steve asks. That’s the heart of the NZCMS mission.We exist to see lives changed by the gospel, bringing glory to God. This year we expanded our mission focus to include various communities at home here in New Zealand. We appointed someone to research how we could increase our work among migrant communities.We have two mission partners specifically focused on mobilising young people for mission, and we have recently confirmed our first mission partner to work among Maori people in South Auckland. Across the world, the stories of gospel transformation continue. In the Philippines children are coming to the Lord in droves. There are new believers in the Middle East. Families in Asia are being equipped to protect their children from human trafficking, and in Africa, clinics and pharmacies are empowering communities and saving lives. And the stories of transformed lives continue to pour in. These are the stories of what happens when people have a living encounter with Jesus.We give thanks to God for our mission partners and supporters, who have caught the vision of courageous gospel proclamation across the world. But we want to go further. In 2019, NZCMS is prayerfully aiming to raise up 20 new mission partners to take up this challenge of courageous gospel proclamation, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. “We cannot give ourselves to these bold steps without an encounter with Jesus,” says Steve. “People are not naturally willing to give their lives to something where they think there’s a huge risk. But I’m praying that God can help us challenge that because I’m finding that if we’re going to be raising workers for the harvest, we cannot promise them safety. So we need brave people, men and women who are willing to go to places that are broken in this world and bring transformation.”But not all of us need to be John Allen Chau, who was prepared to risk his life for the sake of bringing the gospel to the North Sentinelese. An encounter with the risen Lord Jesus enables each one of us to make courageous decisions to share the love of Christ. For some, being brave in this way may mean risking the good opinion of our neighbours or colleagues in order to see some won for Christ. For others it may mean the loss of a treasured job. And for yet others, it may mean a violent death at the hands of an isolated tribe. Jesus says, ‘the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few’.“Are you going to be brave or safe?”asks Steve. “You can’t be both.”