By Bob Thiel
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
He also taught:
14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)
So, what does that have to do with Africa?
Well, quite a bit as that is one of the places where Jesus has a lot of disciples. Unlike places such as Europe and North America, internet access is much more limited in Africa, so to better fulfil Matthew 24:14 and Matthew 28:19-20, a conference for Church of God leaders in East Africa was held, after a brief stop in the United Kingdom.
I was able to baptize a man from Mozambique in London on a Friday (March 29, 2014) and then conduct Sabbath services for the first time for the Continuing Church of God (CCOG) in the United Kingdom on Saturday. On Sunday morning I flew from the London airport to Nairobi, Kenya.
Late Sunday night, Regional Pastor Evans Ochieng, and his wife Rose (who is a deaconess) met me at the Nairobi airport. We went into Nairobi together.
Leadership Conference in Nairobi
Monday, Pastor Evans Ochieng and I met on a variety of matters pertaining to the work in Kenya and East Africa. A printer from Nairobi met with us and we discussed our literature needs and negotiated prices for magazines and booklets.
Later, church leaders from all around Kenya began to arrive Monday evening, and we met with some of them then. Tuesday, two men came to join us from Tanzania.
Although most leaders had some affiliation with the Continuing Church of God, none had met me prior to the conference. Leaders from groups not affiliated with the Continuing Church of God were also invited and attended.
The conference took place in the Karibu Hotel in Nairobi Kenya. Karibu is a Kiswahili word meaning “welcome,” and we welcomed leaders from all over Kenya as well as from Tanzania. Nearly all attendees had to travel great distances via buses to attend.
Elders, deacons, deaconesses, and local hosts attended the conference. There were a total of 34 leaders in attendance. These leaders represented over 400 congregants, not all of which were part of the Continuing Church of God.
In Kenya, in accordance with Jesus’ words for “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you,” many subjects were covered: from explaining it is all about love, to church history, to the Godhead, to the date & time for Passover, to marriage & divorce, to baptism, to tithing, to prophecy, to the final phase of the work. There are many physical needs in Kenya, and we also attempted to address some of them.
The conference was held on Tuesday and Wednesday, with after conference meetings lasting to almost midnight. The conference itself was a major success.
Many left Thursday morning to take the long (up to ten hour) bus rides back to their homes. Some stayed later, and I have had meetings all day and into the evening with them. Because of airline issues and mechanical problems, it took me five jet planes, four vehicles, and 50 hours to travel as directly home as the airlines would allow.
Laborers for the Harvest
Brethren, I have repeatedly asked for you to follow Jesus’ admonition to:
38 Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. (Matthew 9:38)
Well, at this conference in Nairobi, I met many current and potential laborers for the harvest. The conference provided additional training to them so that they can assist the work.
As far as leaders new to the CCOG, after the conference, one of the attendees who asked for a meeting with myself and Pastor Ochieng, became one. This was John Owak. For the past ten years he had been a minister in the United Church of God (UCG). John Owak explained that he had been studying CCOG literature for some time (he had also contacted me in the past), and the conference convinced him he wanted to be part of CCOG. We discussed also differences in the governance, prophetic understandings, and the work between CCOG and UCG. He then asked if we would accept him as a volunteer (unpaid, and he did not ask for a salary) pastor of the CCOG in his geographic area, working under the direction of our Regional Pastor Evans Ochieng, myself, and ultimately Jesus Christ. Pastor Ochieng and I agreed and welcomed him into the CCOG.
Leaders once part of GCG, LCG, WCG, COGaIC, COGIT, COGTE, CG7, SDA, and/or VWCG, but now part of CCOG also attended. This was the first time I had been able to meet any of them in person (some had email contacts with me prior). CCOG has over 20 congregations in East Africa.
CCOG leaders at the conference showed a tremendous appreciation for the depth of the doctrines, church history, prophecies, and other topics covered. Their discernment of various details related to CCOG and the final phase of the work was impressive. Many in Africa seem to have much more insight into spiritual matters than others elsewhere and my hope and prayer is that those outside of Africa will be like them, search the scriptures to see that what we teach is so (cf. Acts 17:10-11), and have the proper zeal to support the final phase of the work. Many also noted that a certain boldness in proclamation was needed, that they did not see this in other groups claiming to be COG, but did see it in the Continuing Church of God.
Evans Ochieng commented that the unity of the COG as well as much doctrinal, historical, and prophetic detail has been restored in Africa because of the CCOG. I personally was impressed at how many of them explained the depth that they had studied CCOG literature, and why they concluded that only CCOG could be leading the final phase of the work.
Plans for the Work in Africa
On this trip, I carried as many Bibles, Bible News Prophecy magazines, and new church history booklets as the standard weight limits allowed into Kenya. So much so, that both suitcases seem to have sustained some damage from the weight on them. I intentionally brought light-weight luggage in order to maximize the amount of literature I could bring with me. The new church history booklet was a hit at the conference.
I also brought a new laptop for Pastor Evans Ochieng as well as two CCOG festival banners that can be used to the Feast of Tabernacles. Having a computer should aid in his managing various aspects of the work in Africa, including literature production.
Because of the tremendous needs in this region, we also sent many Bibles, songbooks, prophetic, books, magazines, and history booklets to arrive after the conference to Pastor Ochieng and others in Africa. There is tremendous poverty in this part of the world, and many lack their own Bibles or electronic access to scripture, that us sending Bible and other literature can help remedy.
Our members there face great adversities from their extended families and society when they leave the religions of their families to embrace the truth of the Bible and live as a real Christian. Their willingness to suffer persecution and sacrifice for the truth and the work should be an example to all who wish to believe that they are Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) Christians.
George Lemi, a CCOG group leader in Tanzania, and our primary translator of literature into Kiswahili, was able to attend the conference in Nairobi, Kenya. We discussed with him and others plans to greatly increase CCOG congregants in Tanzania. We also discussed plans to do so in Uganda and elsewhere.
At the conference, I noted that many of the leaders spoke two or three languages (normally English, Kiswahili, and/or their tribal language).
Nearly all in Kenya are comfortable with the English language. Most of those in Kenya and Tanzania are also comfortable in Kiswahili. Yet, in those areas, as well as Uganda, many are more comfortable in their native tribal languages. As the bulk of those with the CCOG are comfortable with the Lua language, I proposed to the leaders that we begin to translate the Statement of Beliefs of the Continuing Church of God into Lua, produce a songbook in the Lua language, our Continuing History of the Church of God booklet into Lua, and ultimately, our Bible News Prophecy magazine into Lua.
We currently produce our Bible News Prophecy magazine in the English, Kiswahili, Mandarin Chinese, Tagalog, and Spanish languages. Although our songbook, The Bible Hymnal, was originally just produced in English, prior to the conference we had begun a project to start to produce an edition in Kiswahili that hopefully should be available by the time you read this. A songbook in the Lua language is now in progress and hopefully something will be ready before the Feast of Tabernacles in 2014.
During the conference, I laid out plans for reaching Africa. This included going over how our current internet sites, field ministry, and radio interviews cover this region of the world. I also revealed our plans for an Africa specific website, which is expected to have our materials online in at least three languages, with other languages probable in the future. I laid out that we should have congregation locations, leaders emails, and even photographs of meeting sites so that it would be easier for interested individuals to attend with CCOG.
The leaders from Kenya and Tanzania were supportive of the plans and seemed impressed that the CCOG was truly interested in Africa and its part in the work.
A Door That is in the Process of Opening Even Further
Although at this time, relatively few in Kenya and Tanzania have direct access to the internet without going to an internet café (which few can afford), I noticed that nearly all had cellular telephones.
Once “smart phones” become popular in Kenya (I had not noticed any while there), we should be able to reach many, many more than we have been able to over the internet. Our plans for the internet and congregations should be ready by the time many of those in East Africa will have additional abilities to access them. This “door” is opened for Philadelphians (Revelation 3:7-8) to proclaim the gospel (cf. Acts 14:28, 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12) of the kingdom (Matthew 24:14) is being opened more for us and we expect to go through it to reach even more. Please pray that God will more fully open this door for us (cf. Colossians 4:3).
Many aspects of the final phase of the work are right now going on behind the scenes, and like the situation in Kenya, be ready when the time is right for others to hear the message of the Kingdom of God,
Africa is somewhat functioning as another “proving ground” that the way this work is being led is the way that Jesus Christ wants us to. We in CCOG also expect to lead what the Bible refers to as the “short work” in Romans 9:28 and many steps are being taken related to that as well.
Additionally, from a physical perspective, there are tremendous needs in Africa and we are always trying to figure out how to best serve the needs of our brethren, including widows and orphans, there.
Despite physical poverty, Africa is a significant part of the final phase of the work. It is my hope and prayer that the comments, perceptions, and support there may serve as motivations to those in other parts of the world to better follow their Philadelphian example and support CCOG as we lead the final phase of the work.
The work of God through the Continuing Church of God is bearing fruit (cf. Matthew 7:15-20) around the world (Matthew 28:19-20) and Africa is showing that this is so.