Just before leaving for our ministry trip to Rwanda, I began a new sermon series on the Book of Ephesians for our church. In my introduction to the series, I emphasized over and over the fact that Ephesians is filled with DEEP truths about the Christian faith.
Rwanda showed me how incredibly “western” it is to think of Ephesians in this way. “Ephesians is SO DEEP,” I breathlessly reported to my congregation. As if the important thing – the truly needed thing for our lives – is to have deeper, more profound thoughts on spiritual matters. That’s the kind of intellectualizing of the Christian Faith we are used to here in America.
But what is needed is not deeper intellectual ideas. What is needed, desperately, is POWER. In Africa, this became painfully evident to me.
Being in a place so recently torn by extreme evil causes an adjustment in perspective. Feeling the pain of loss, the residual trauma, and the hopelessness of so many hearts is intense. Sometimes, in Bugesera, the epicenter of genocidal madness, the sense of darkness is palpable. If you weren’t certain about the reality of evil or spiritual warfare, Bugesera will make a believer out of you.
In such a place, something more than scintillating intellectual ideas is required. What’s needed is power – the power of God at work in and through lives. And that is exactly what we saw, through the pure and simple ministry of God’s Word and prayer.
In Bugesera we put on a two day conference for pastors and ministry leaders. The theme was: “How to prepare Christ centered Biblical sermons.” That might not sound very powerful to you; but it did to them. 60 pastors and Christian ministry leaders initially signed up for the conference, but in the end, 93 actually came. Some of them travel for hours by bus to get there. The eagerness of this group stunned me. These men and women believe in the power of the Word of God and came with an urgent desire to be more effective for Christ. We could feel their longing. We were touched by the intensity of their prayers. They know first hand the power of darkness that has descended on their land. They long to see the light and the power of God cut through that darkness. They understand that God’s Word has the power to do just that. They know that they are the bearers of the Word of God for their country.
Two years ago, for the first time, a study bible was translated and made available in the language of Rwanda. Previously, those who did not speak English had no resource other than the Bible itself for their study and preparation in teaching God’s Word. The translation of the NIV Study Bible is a breakthrough for these pastors. The only problem is that they are dirt poor and cannot afford to buy it. So we bought one for every person who attended the conference. When we gave out the study bibles, these men and women clapped, cheered, kissed the bibles, and then danced in the lecture hall. That explains the photo at the head of this blog post. It’s a scene I will never forget.
Later that evening, we put on a “believer’s seminar” for about 300 people at the New Life Bible Church of Bugesera. In this seminar, we taught from the Book of Ephesians in a way they aren’t used to. We taught through the entire chapter of Ephesians 1. This is quite a contrast to the normal African method of quoting one verse and then sharing devotional thoughts for an hour. This was the first time that most of these people had ever heard the truths of Ephesians laid out for them. The impact was immediate and thrilling. In a word – it was POWERFUL. Men and women were greatly moved by the powerful truths of God’s Word. This was far more than intellectual candy for them; this was the power of God’s Word transforming lives from the inside out – Light in the darkness – King Jesus setting men and women free from doubt, despair, and fear. Again, I will never forget it.
But what about us? What do we long for? What do we need? Depth is good. Power is best. The darkness we face right here at home is different, but no less real. What is needed is far more than the intellectualizing of Christian truth. We need the power of God to touch our hearts and transform our lives and our community. God help us.