|Mario with Michael at a party at our house, Feb 2011|
If I were honest, I would say that when we came here four years ago, I thought we would change the way that the church was being built in Africa. We had come on three ocassions for ministry trips and were part of the greatest team raising up new leaders in all communities. The greatest of these, were the poor.
Since they can't afford medicines, hospitals or even over-the-counter medications, poor churches were relying on the healing power of God, and we saw Him come through with amazing results, partly because of their incredible faith. Since they can't afford schooling or seminary, the average poor pastor will "educate himself" with the Bible. Some read all the way through their Bibles a few times a year. In some very poor countries, rural Pastors may split their Bibles in half and share them with another pastor who doesn't have any. Many are from heavily tribal areas. Many are just learning to read. Many have come from worship of idols and ancestors to a new faith of believing in ONE GOD - and trusting Him with everything. Some have lost relationship with families who find this a threat and a dishonor... to turn away from tradition and walk by the light of God only.
Watching this as an American, used to American church with American finances, was not only inspirational, it challenged me to throw away my version of faith and take on the radical belief that God is who He says He is. I have never, ever given my life to anything the way I have given myself to the spread of the true Gospel through Africa.
After awhile travelling the continent and seeing amazing things, Mario decided to take on the role of an elder at Junction and our ministry "settled down" to Northern Johannesburg. Building up the local church, or encouraging the people here to have accountability and relationship, brought to light the struggle of the average pastor, or lead elder: they must encourage the same people day after day to grow in their destiny, what God has called them to do.
There are two unwritten rules of helping to lead a local church: 1.) You must take care not to burn out; and 2.) You must take care to raise up leaders to replace you. Without minding the second point, a leader turns into a one man show - taking the place of Jesus. If you build toward yourself, rather than toward the Lord, the people you are trying to reach become dependent upon you and never learn to lead....
One of the leaders that God put in front of Mario to "raise up" is a man named Michael. He is married to a woman named Cynthia, both are active at Junction Church, both are influential in their communities, their families and the church. They are the kind of people you can count on to do what they say they will do, and are peppered. Few leaders want to lead in small ways - they usually want to preach to thousands, lead worship, lead prayer or give prophetic words in front of the whole church....especially in traditional churches in South Africa. We are not a traditional church.
Michael has been leading by example in our church and his community. He has done a lot of un-glamorous work at Junction - set up the hall, organized public transport, supervised sound and music at weddings. He cooked food for our pre-service lunches...and all of this was done well.
For years we did the same thing: set up chairs, halls; cleaned the unseen corners of church that could never be seen. Work like this is never mentioned or acknowledged as great. Mario's heart has always known that God saw everything, and everything he did was for God, and that's enough. I am not as noble, and many times wondered why other people didn't help us get all of the un-glamorous work done. Building a church, I thought, involves servant leadership on many levels - including the grunt work.
Michael and Mario are two men that are rare: not seeking attention, but getting stuff done. When Mario began a life of church eldership,his main role changed: focusing more on the study of the Word of God, prayer and government, directing the growth of the church God had entrusted him with.
The transition is not as easy as it seems. A servant setting up the unseen things usually has the heart of a servant, and notice others who do as well. We became aware that some were doing too much hard work, (Michael among them) and challenged them not to become burned out with the work he was doing.
While they worked together to build up new leaders, Michael became sick. For the last three months, Michael has been in and out of the hospital for a myriad of health concerns: a swollen heart, TB, pneumonia, and lungs and feet with edema. No one here asks about or talks about the virus. It is a taboo and private thing, especially in the townships.
Our church has been noticing Michael's absence in real ways, and seeing its effect on Cynthia, his wife of many years. She is part of worship team, and her passion for worship, or praising God is felt every time she sings. Last Friday we asked her if she wanted to go to the hospital with us when we went to see Michael. She said yes, and we picked her up from her workplace. We chatted on the way, of new directions we were taking as a church, and a controversial decision to transport church members differently. By the time we got to the hospital, we were all ready to visit.
Michael was sitting up in bed, seemed like himself and was wrapped in two blankets, a pillow behind his back. We talked chatted, laughed (his sense of humor is amazingly American, dry and witty)... and gave him a supply of soup for the next couple of days.
Michael's bed was one of eight in his corridor; one of twenty-four in his ward. The public hospitals are usually known for being inefficient and their staff overworked, and today seemed no different. I couldn't tell if there was a nurse assigned to his corridor, there didn't seem to be one for the whole ward, so we all made sure he was well taken care of of before we left.
The weekend (as usual) was busy... Sunday (our day to celebrate) was Mario's birthday...and Father's Day. It was a wonderful day, although a little chilly. My trainer came to church; we sat and had coffee afterwards. Mario preached the second service and was awesome. All the kids called him and we got to see their faces and hear their voices....
Monday (the day filled with meetings) was busy, and we looked forward to the next day, when we had an evening out scheduled to celebrate Mario's birthday.
On Tuesday, Mario went out to the hospital again. Taking the load of soup and snacks we try to keep him supplied with, we went separate directions, and at 2 o'clock when I came home, Mario was already home and looked sad and tired.
He told me that Michael was very much worse. He had come to the hospital and found Michael much weaker, winded and discouraged. He cried, suffering, and told Mario he wasn't sure if he'd pull through. Many times he told Mario how much he meant to him. Mario had to feed him the soup he brought, since Michael was too weak to do it himself.
As Mario shared with me, I could see it was weighing heavy on him. How could we celebrate his birthday when our brother was in the hospital and getting worse?? We prayed, then called the whole church to pray. I sit and write this, asking you to pray.
We don't have a fool-proof plan on prayer and healing. I have seen many healed, and I have seen many die. I do pray, though, that God would heal Michael because I am would like this world not to lose him yet. Please pray with us...and believe God will do what He promises. Blessings and Peace....