Entry #3

Today is the third day of the Nigerian Missionary Refreshing Conference. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to learn what missionaries in Western Africa are doing, worship and pray with them, and listen to some fantastic preaching from pastors from the countries represented here. We’ve also been able to get a taste of the different cultures, too. They’ve even allowed us to participate in some of their cultural traditions.

Each day, for example, the Adeboye’s have provided traditional Nigerian clothing for us to wear to the conference. It’s been like wearing bright color printed pajamas. They’re loose-fitting, long hanging shirts, that are actually cool and comfortable. The weather hasn’t been very hot at all (in the 80’s and low 90’s) so our Nigerian wardrobe has been very welcome and cool. We were given two sets of clothes today - one to wear during the day at the conference and the other to wear for the Refreshing Conference Banquet later tonight (a matching ensemble with a long shirt and shorts). Oh, and also, Troy and I have been given clothing that matches identically each day - and Jonathan has matching clothing, too! It’s a little unusual for us, but everyone seems to be excited every day to see us in traditional clothing.

Literally, all we’ve done since we arrived in Ilorin is travel back and forth between the hotel and the church that’s hosting the conference. There’s been no time to drive around town, visit other villages, or really anything else. But every day has been packed with so many meaningful opportunities to learn, serve, and share. It’s impossible to quantify just how grateful all the pastors and missionaries are to have us here to join them. They understand all it took for us to get here - the complex visa requirements, expenses, distances, and dangers involved with Western Christians coming to visit. And they have let us know over and over again how much it means that we know they’re here, we understand their plight, we pray for them, and we stand by them in solidarity for the advancement of the gospel.

Troy’s other church in Palm Springs helped collect about thirty pairs of reading glasses to give away and they were all distributed this morning within a few minutes! There’s already been a request to bring or send more. Perhaps the next time the Adeboye’s visit, we can collect glasses before he arrives and he can bring them back to Nigeria himself. We’ll ask him if that’s a possibility.

Today, Troy and I both shared at the conference on two different topics. For my sessions, I was joined by a believer named Paul who’s a professor from a local university. Our topic was “Do You Understand What You’re Reading?” based on the question asked by Philip to the Ethiopian in Acts 8. The purpose of the presentation was to encourage the pastors and missionaries to pursue deeper theological knowledge in their roles as spiritual leaders. Many of the people assembled at this conference would consider themselves to be preachers. Not all would consider themselves to be teachers. So we discussed the importance of having both roles in their village churches.

In other words, preaching shouldn’t only be inspirational, but also instructional. It must not only be passionate, but it must also be practical. We can‘t always lecture. Sometimes we need to listen and ask questions, in exactly the way that Philip did in Acts 8. But then, of course, we need to have answers, as Peter directed us in

1 Peter 3:15 “...always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect.”

We discussed how poor theology and a shallow, or inaccurate understanding of God only undermines our integrity as spiritual leaders and our own spiritual lives instead of producing a firmer foundation for our faith and more effective ministry for others.

We went to Hebrews where the writer warns us:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity. (Hebrews 5:12–6:1)

Most of the attendees had never heard of Systematic Theology. So we introduced this in a clear, simple manner as an important tool in helping us to understand and teach the Bible in a thorough, accurate, organized manner. Many assumed that they would need to attend seminary or Bible School to learn about theology so it was exciting to assure them that this wasn’t the case at all!

Troy’s topic was evangelism, and he was joined by Pastor Jonathan. They both shared fresh examples from practical experience and biblical illustrations how to share the gospel in their individual contexts, whether in their villages or communities where they serve, or literally wherever they go. Troy shipped some tracts and bracelets from the USA to pass out to everyone as another resource to put in their evangelical toolbox - both for those they encounter who are illiterate and those who are.

Then in the evening, everyone gathered together for the annual conference dinner and it was quite the party! Each country presented a cultural dance and song from their region and it was an unbelievable experience. The children and adults from each nation sang and danced with so much joy and exuberance it was electrifying! God was always the center of the celebration and they couldn’t stop acknowledging Him and singing his praises. Troy and I both felt so honored to be seated as guests of honor to watch this event.

Next, each missionary group shared a report about what God has been doing in their midst for the past year, as well as the challenges they face for prayer support from all the other pastors and missionaries who were assembled. Their stories were so moving and deeply inspiring. Some of their stories were also heartbreaking. They face challenges and dangers that surpass anything we can fully understand in the US. The threat of Islamic extremists continues to grow and many Muslims are constantly threatening and harassing the Christian community. But they press on and persevere, even in the midst of opposition and setbacks.

Others face issues with the forces of nature. One missionary shared how access to the village where his family served was only accessible by a small bridge, built by local villagers, over a large river. Recent floods destroyed the bridge making passage across the river extremely treacherous and difficult. So they acquired a canoe to go back and forth but the canoe was washed away in another flood that swept through the region. They’re determined to get access to the people they serve, but they asked for prayer and support in trusting God to provide away.

Another missionary, Pierre, from the Niger Republic, was our French translator for the conference. VBC has sent funds to purchase motorcycles for missionaries and Pierre is one of the missionaries who received funds to purchase one (about $900 USD). These motorcycles allow missionaries to cover great distances on extremely rustic roads and trails for travel between the remote villages in which they serve. Pierre was so excited to share the difference that the motorcycle has made in his ministry - he said it was like he was a given his own airplane!

Other missionaries shared of souls being saved, of leaders being raised up, and the gospel spreading in the harshest of environments. The banquet was filled with lots of Nigerian pomp and circumstance, and we got front row seats for all of it, seated alongside Jonathan and Christianah, at the head table, on the stage overlooking the audience. Jonathan invited about fifteen other Christian leaders from the community, introducing them one at a time, to join us at the head table. After listening to all the missionaries on the field share their updates, then he asked those of us sitting at the head table to share our responses to what we’d heard and provided words of encouragement and insight. So many of these leaders shared so many words of thanks and praise for what God is doing through those serving in remote and dangerous areas.

Troy and I were asked to share and we were able to give everyone a greeting from their brothers and sisters in the US. We assured them that we are praying, we’re aware of their service and sacrifice, and that they are an inspiration to us. We don’t really grasp all that they are called upon to endure to the service here, but just listening to their stories was deeply moving and helpful in being able to understand the depth of commitment and faithfulness involved in serving as they do.

Troy has been here many times and he has personally helped fund several wells for local villages and also recruit others to provide funding for wells. The people all know of Troy’s commitment, and how he’s part of VBC, and they couldn’t be more thankful and appreciative for all that he and our church have done. They all smile and lovingly call him their Oyinbo Nigerian brother (the white Nigerian brother) and he considers this to be a great honor.

It was a late night and the program ended after 10:00 pm. We ate a later dinner, reflected on the evening with Jonathan and Christianah, then headed back to our hotel with Christopher and our security guards. What a wonderful night and an incredible experience. God was highly exalted and His people were greatly encouraged.

Tomorrow, we’ll begin the trek back to Lagos and the airport to head home. Please join us in praying for...

  • the conclusion of the Missionary Refreshing Conference (MRC)

  • the spiritual, financial, emotional, safety, and other needs of the missionaries represented here

  • insight about how we can partner more effectively with the Adeboye’s and what God is doing here

We’ve been honored to serve here and encourage those we’ve met. We definitely feel like we’ve been even more encouraged and inspired by our Nigerian brothers and sisters though! Thank you for praying for us, and we long to be reunited with you all and share even more about God’s work here in Nigeria.

Your brothers and co-laborers in Christ,

Tim & Troy

August 14th, 2019

Entry #2

Troy and I are staying as guests at the Savanah Hotel in Ilorin. We’re about five minutes away from the Adeboye’s home and five minutes away from the church he pastors, where the refreshing conference is taking place.

After breakfast at the hotel, Jonathan and his son, Christopher picked us up and we had a few minutes to talk. Jonathan reminded us that he first became involved with VBC after meeting Bob Wattles (a long time VBC friend) when they were at conference together in Europe in 1999. Bob, who served for years with the Navigators, invited Jonathan to visit us in California, and he did in 2001. The Adeboye’s met Fred and Lucille Evans from VBC and the Evans accompanied Bob on a visit here to Nigeria in the early 2000’s. Jonathan, and sometimes his wife Christianah, have regularly visited California ever since (usually about every other year).

In 2009, Troy Van Sloten heard Jonathan share at VBC and was intrigued by the well ministry and that’s when he got started partnering with Jonathan and encouraging his clients to help sponsor wells for villages. Many of clients have done so, but to date, none have been able to make the trip over to actually see the wells that were dug through their contributions.

The ministry Jonathan oversees, TOMGNET, has two boards, both composed of Nigerian board members. One is here in Nigeria and the other is in Texas. None of the board members from the two countries personally know each other, but both are involved in promoting the ministries of TOMGNET, assisting with fund raising, and providing guidance and counsel when needed. The chairman of the Nigerian Board, Bishop Israel, was one of the keynote speakers last night at the conference.

Today, I spoke at one of the morning sessions. They wanted me to speak for an hour, but since the message was translated by a French translator (for the pastors and missionaries from Cameroon), I really only got through about thirty minutes of material from 2 Timothy 3. They wanted me to preach about why God gave us the Bible and why we must preach all of Scripture, and not be selective about only preaching what people want to hear or what we enjoy. It was a challenging and exciting message to share and the crowd seemed to appreciate what God gave me to share with them.

After a brief break, Troy and another woman led a discussion about living lives as ambassadors of Christ, no matter what circumstances life may bring. Troy spoke about his early years as a businessman and lessons he learned about humility and trust in God. Then he shared about marriage and parenting and the Christ-like example he strives to set for his family and others.

The woman who spoke with Troy is named Comfort. She had an heart wrenching testimony. She’s a Nigerian national and last year, her oldest daughter was graduating from college so the entire family decided to drive to see her walk in the commencement ceremony in a town several hours from their home. At the last minute, Comfort was delayed and so her husband and their other children went ahead without her. Unfortunately, they were in a tragic automobile accident and all of them were killed. The family car was so badly burned that it took a long time before any information was obtained to contact Comfort. So she went on to the graduation ceremony in another car, and actually passed by the accident where her family had perished. She attended the ceremony, bewildered as to where her family was. It wasn’t until hours later that she was contacted and notified of the horrific accident.

As she shared her story with the audience today, everyone was gripped by the horror of losing so many family members at once, but at the same time, we were all mesmerized by the faith of this woman. She shared her sorrow over the loss of her beloved husband and children, but her unshakable trust in the promises of God and His sovereignty. She shared how she uses her story frequently to tell of the goodness of God. Her husband and children were all born again believers and she is confident that they are with their Heavenly Father. She tells people that because of the fallen earth we live on, there are no guarantees that mothers will outlive their children and there won’t be pain or heartbreak. But the faithfulness of God guarantees us that He will be with us, and comfort us, and give us what we need to endure anything that life serves us. The Holy Spirit ministered to everyone in that auditorium through Comfort and even her name just kept reminding us of the tender mercies of God and His gracious care.

Another guest preacher came to wrap up the evening - Dr. Theo from an Assembly of God Church in the community. He spoke for nearly two hours on the topic “God Said” and reminded us about the authority and trustworthiness of anything God says in His Word. By the time he finished his message, the whole auditorium was up on their feet, shouting ‘amen’ and applauding the message God had given them.

Jonathan drove us back to our hotel and explained the plans for tomorrow. Both Troy and I will speaking again - on evangelism and theology! This should be fun and interesting.

Please continue to pray for...

  • Comfort (the woman who spoke with Troy) and God’s care and provision in her life

  • Speaking opportunities for me and Troy tomorrow

  • Encouragement, equipping, and refreshing for the pastors and missionaries at the conference

  • Believers to have an effective influence in sharing the gospel with their Muslim neighbors

  • Future ideas for service and support in Nigeria and surrounding countries

We are daily reminded of your faithfulness to pray for us! We are praying for our church community as well. It’s an honor to partner with you in serving our Savior King!

Your brothers and co-laborers in Christ,

Tim & Troy

August 12-13th, 2019

Entry #2

Troy Van Sloten and I left the Bay Area on Sunday morning after the 9:00 am worship service to begin our journey to Nigeria, Africa. So after two days of traveling across North America, and a brief change of planes in Frankfurt, Germany, we arrived in Lagos, Nigeria on Monday afternoon. Our host, Jonathan Adeboye, arranged for a security guard to meet us at passport control, walk us through customs and immigration, and escort us to meet up with Jonathan in the airport lobby.

Unfortunately, there is a growing presence of Islamic extremists in Nigeria who often target Westerners, so Jonathan isn’t taking any chances. He’s actually hired a security team to accompany Troy and me during our entire stay here. The most well known terrorist group from this nation is called Boko Haram, The Boko Haram insurgency began in 2009 when they started an armed rebellion against the government. The source of their conflict is with Western influence, particularly religion and education, and there have been long-standing issues of religious violence between Nigeria's Muslim and Christian communities. They have been mostly active in the northern region of Nigeria and other countries, but they are increasingly trying to expand their influence and move south.

We met up with Jonathan and his son Christopher, went to their car, and began the five hour drive to Ilorin. We ended up only driving a couple of hours and stayed the night at a guest house in a Christian conference center called “Camp Redemption.” It was a massive facility (like Hume Lake only a hundred times bigger!). Many people live there year round, and there are banks, restaurants, and guest houses. We got very comfortable, clean rooms, ate dinner in the hotel (a typical meal of semovita (starchy white wheat doughy dish), Egusi Melon (spinach, beans, grain, spicy hash), and chicken. We ate our fill, spent time in prayer, then turned in for the night. We’d need to leave by 6:00 am tomorrow.

Troy woke me up this morning to tell me we had a couple of flat tires (the roads are really bad here), so our departure would be delayed. We eventually got on the road, but had more tire problems and it ended up taking us over seven hours to arrive in Ilorin, but we had a great time of conversation and fellowship along the way. Plus, I learned a ton about Nigeria.

This country has the largest population in Africa with over 200 million people (some say 250 million!) and one of the strongest economies on the continent. It has shared borders with Benin on the west, Niger on the north, Chad on the north-east, Cameron on the east, and the Guinean Gulf of the Atlantic Ocean in the south.

The official language is English, but Nigeria is a country with many tribes with their own languages. In general, there are more than 520 languages spoken in the country. Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba languages are the most widespread ones. Nigeria is divided into 36 states and one capital. The capital is Abuja, but the largest city is the former capital, Lagos, with an estimated 21 million people.

I looked up Nigeria’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita according to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) report as of October 2018 is $2,050. Just in case you need a reminder about GDP per capita, it’s a measure of a country's economic output that accounts for its number of people. It divides the country's gross domestic product by its total population. That makes it the best measurement of a country's standard of living. It tells you how prosperous a country feels to each of its citizens. So even though it’s one of Africa’s most prosperous nations, by other standards, it’s extremely low.

Nigeria won its independence from Great Britain in 1960 and first became a republic in 1963. It succumbed to military rule three years later after a bloody coup. A separatist movement later formed the Republic of Biafra in 1967, leading to the three-year Nigerian Civil War. Nigeria became a republic once again after a new constitution was written in 1979. However, the republic didn’t last very long and the military seized power again four years later. A new republic was planned to be established in 1993, but was dissolved by a military General. When he died in 1998, a fourth republic was established the following year, which ended three decades of on and off again military rule.

The country’s new Constitution became official in 1999. Since then, several democratic presidents have come and gone. The current president, Muhammadu Buhari - a Muslim - seems tolerant of Christians and is in opposition to any forms of terrorism, even from his own religion. Pray for his salvation and that he will continue to protect his people and assure them of their freedoms.

Okay, back to our hosts. Jonathan and his wife, Christianah, are Nigerian nationals and long time friends of VBC. They have four children and serve as pastors and leaders in their community (Ilorin, Nigeria) but have influence throughout Nigeria and in many surrounding nations as well. Both Jonathan and Christianah have doctorate degrees in biblical studies, are authors, and oversee a ministry called TOMGNET (Total Missions Network Global Ministry). This ministry equips pastors throughout Western Africa to serve their church communities more effectively, spread the gospel, care for those in need, and much more.

One of the main works of TOMGNET is helping remote villages without running water. They seek financial sponsors who pay $600 to dig a well and drastically improve the lives of a village. Many of these villagers have been walking for miles every day to get water from the closest water supply (which isn’t always the cleanest). So to have a well in their own village is one of the most life-changing benefits they can imagine. Until Jonathan and his team of leaders explain that Jesus is the Living Water and if they drink from this supply of water, they will never thirst again. Since we began partnering with Jonathan in the early 2000’s, there have been over fifty wells dug and countless people have become followers of Jesus!

Jonathan and Christianah invited us to Ilorin to speak at a refreshing conference for missionary/pastors serving in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, the Benin Republic, and perhaps some other neighboring nations. He hosts this conference every year to give these leaders a time to rest, enjoy meeting with one another and sharing how God is at work among them, and to be recharged through the teaching that they will hear.

The theme this year is “Preach the Word” and focuses on the need to preach the entire Bible. We’re focusing on 2 Timothy 3 and during each session, a different speaker will reinforce the theme. Tonight is the first night of the conference and we heard from an Anglican Bishop named Israel, whose jurisdiction is over much of northwestern Nigeria. He has influenced the Anglican Church in his district to maintain a highly evangelistic focus and Jonathan has become close friends with him.

So, as you can see, there’s lots to pray for!

  • Nigerian souls to be saved

  • Peace from terrorism and extremists

  • Refreshing for pastors and missionaries at the conference

  • For Troy and I to provide effective teaching and encouragement to Jonathan, his family, and others we are meeting

  • Insights into how God might want us to partner in ministry with Jonathan and others in the future

We are so thankful you are all praying for us. Don’t ever doubt how grateful we are for your loving and prayerful support.

Your brother and co-laborers in Christ,

Tim & Troy