The best part about being gone is coming home. Coming home to the ones you love, and I'll be honest, coming home to the comforts of life. But probably the next best thing about being gone on a mission trip is coming home with the memories from the trip. Memories of seeing God work first-hand in your life. Crushing memories of God humbling me. Memories to last a life time.
While I was in Tanzania, I wasn't able to blog or even give Facebook updates about what God was doing. If you know me, you know I like to talk and share, and I'm overflowing right now, wanting to share the snippets of insight that God has been teaching me over the last two weeks. So over the next few posts, I'm going to try to catch up on those things. I have so much to write that I could easily go overboard, but I will do my best to refrain from my normal chatty self and stick to the basics! As you read, please know that I can identify with Peter and John in Acts 4:20 when they said "For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard!"
Background. In order for you to understand the work Firewheel Church is doing in the Mara region of East Africa, Tanzania, you first must know the background. In a nutshell, God gave our Pastor Jerry Zucha a compelling vision to lead our church to work in Tanzania. He knew it was from God, and as he prayed over what this would look like, he and five others from our church took a vision trip in October of 2010. Included in those six people was my husband Frank, who now heads up our church's work in the Mara Region of Tanzania.
As the vision team prayed over how and what God would have our church work in Tanzania, it became very apparent that God wanted us to adopt an unreached village, partner with the African Inland Church, and work together to do community transformation. So they could get an idea of what community transformation would practically look like, staff members from the AIC took the six people on the vision trip to a community that has already started to undergo community transformation. Our vision trip members not only caught the vision, but it was clear that this was exactly how God wanted Firewheel Church to begin work in the Mara region.
The search for a community to adopt began, with the AIC surveying potential areas. Just when they thought they had found the area that would be a good match for us at Firewheel, they heard of another village. Bukabwa. This village was written off by the government, due to the witchcraft in the area. It was a forgotten village, one without clean drinking water, and one with only one school, nine miles away from "town."
Staff members from the AIC prayed over this village and camped out in the pouring rain. They fasted and prayed, asking God to show them if this was the right match for Firewheel Church. And God did just that. "Bukabwa" is now a common name for us at Firewheel, but forgotten, even unknown, among most people in the Mara region of East Africa.
One of the first things God showed me after arriving in Bukabwa was the importance of a good foundation. There are no shortcuts to having a solid foundation. As I saw for the first time the area where Firewheel had been working, I couldn't help but think of back home. We live in a newer area where homes are still being built. The home behind us had the foundation poured, and the frame completely finished. We heard non-stop noise for weeks, as the construction workers pounded nail after nail into the wood, building someone's dream home. Then one day, construction on the new ediface stopped. Not only did construction stop, but after a few weeks, a plow came in and destroyed all the work that was done to that point. That was over nine months ago, and even today, nothing is left on the plot of land behind us but rubble and cement.
We wondered what happened - what had gone wrong. Then we heard - it was a bad foundation. The image of the would-be home behind us in Wylie, Texas pierced me while I sat in East Africa that first day. Foundations. Laying a foundation is the most important part of building a home, building God's House, and there are no shortcuts in His plan.
I Corinthians 3:10-13 "By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and
someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work."
Firewheel has now been working in Bukabwa for a little more than a year. In a village that had been given over to witchcraft, a church has now been birthed. A pastor has moved into the area to work with the new Christians, and God is starting to do some unbelievable things! The government has even taken notice that change is taking place, and a doctor has agreed to come work in a local clinic - a local clinic previously abandoned, because no one would agree to work in this area.
But foundations aren't built overnight. They take time. And in order for God to do the work He wants to accomplish in Bukabwa, He must first lay the foundation He wants. You see, Bukabwa needs more than one church. This village spreads for so many miles that it would take hours and hours to walk from one side to the other. As I bounced over rocky terrain in a land rover for 20+ minutes from one part of Bukabwa to another, I couldn't help but see how desperately Bukabwa needs more than one church. If I was driving for 20 minutes, how could people from the mountain areas even make it to the local church that we heelped start? But God reminded me, we must first focus on building the foundation of the first church, and I'm not talking about the physical foundation. In order for the church to multiply and reproduce, it must be strong enough to do so.
On our first day, Frank and Pastor Jerry met with the leaders of the church to assess the work being done and see what the strongest needs were. The church leaders begged them to give them more training on the Bible, leadership, and teach them about vision. The leaders of the church are excited about reaching out to their community, but most of them have only known Christ for less than a year. They knew that their "foundations" needed solidified. Clearly, God had plans for the Bukabwa Church leadership that our leaders, Pastor Jerry and Frank Banfill, didn't know about. Plans to lay a stronger foundation in Bukabwa. And that was exactly what happened. After the assessment, God allowed Pastor Jerry and Frank to conduct a completely impromptu two-day leadership conference, allowing them to be a part of pouring a stronger "foundation" in the Bukabwa Church.
Physically, the church building has already started. There's no cement layed yet, but there are posts up with the area marked off for the church. The villagers are making the bricks for the building, so they had to wait until the rainy season ended to work on the future church building. Right now they are meeting in a make-shift church - the same one that that we met in the first Sunday in Tanzania - one that was crammed full of at least 200 or more people. Yes, the physical foundation will soon be poured, but God is still working on solidifying the spiritual foundation, strengthening it.
Bukabwa is one of hundreds of seemingly forgotten villages in Tanzania. But Bukabwa is no longer forgotten. A foundation has been layed, and it's one that not even the strongest bulldozer will be able to demolish. It's not Firewheel's Church in Bukabwa. It's not the African Inland Church in Bukabwa. It's God's church. The only Bible believing and Bible teaching church for miles and miles.
There's so much work to be done in Bukabwa, and not just in Bukabwa, throughout the Mara region. I can't even put into words the images of depravity that I saw, just my first day. Children with hundreds of flies covering their face, not even caring enough to brush them away. Shredded clothes barely covering the skelaton dark-skinned bodies. Barefoot toddlers with a baby papoosed on their back. The needs are great in Bukabwa. I had to remind myself that yes, this community needs to learn micro-finance. Yes, this community needs a school. And as I stared into yellow eye after eye, yes, this community desperately needs a doctor. But more importantly, they need the Great Physician. Yes, this community has more needs than I can identify. But the one need they have is God - the only sure foundation.
And so my first day ended, similar to how it began, asking God to lay the foundations in Bukabwa. To use me how He wanted, so that His church would be built. How I wish I could express better the images cemented in my memory, but this I do know, God is building a foundation in Bukabwa, and He's using Firewheel Church to be a part of that foundation. How blessed I am, how blessed I am.
--- Beth Banfill