By Bernie Lee
Synod Communicator for St. David, West Columbia
Rich Wilson asked, “How big is your world? Is it comprised of one nation, one state, one city, or one house? It wasn’t until God opened my eyes to a whole new world that I began to truly see and understand what His Kingdom agenda is. God can use you to answer prayers being prayed on the other side of the world.”
Have you ever been to a third world country? Most people in rural Africa live in shacks with dirt floors (a cinder block building with a concrete floor and a tin roof is a luxury). Electricity which, if available, may only be turned on a few hours a day. Air conditioning is a hand fan. Drinking water usually comes carried by women and children from a stream used for bathing, laundry, irrigation, and human and animal waste resulting in many preventable diseases. Much food comes from locally grown crops subject to frequent drought; malnourishment is a frequent problem. Cooking is done in wood-stoked ovens. Travel is done on foot or on overloaded and dilapidated vehicles. Education is poor. Government assistance is corrupt and minimal. Life expectancy is low; if there is a hospital there may only be a nurse, no doctor and not enough medical supplies or needed medicines. HIV/Aids are rampant due to prostitution to earn money for survival. Islam is spreading and personal safety from religious persecution of Christians has caused political volatility and internally displaced people in camps. So why would you want to go to Africa?
To break this generational poverty the ELCA SC Synod has sought to improve the African people’s lives, especially in our companion Synod in Tanzania, through Christian education, building infrastructure (such as housing, schools and clean water projects) and increased food supply with modern agriculture methods. Pastor James Laurence, Marvin Sox, President of Lutheran Men in Mission (LMM), both of St. David Lutheran Church, West Columbia SC, and Bishop Herman Yoos and others from the ELCA SC Synod are preparing to travel for eight days to Matamba, Tanzania, in August as a follow up to multiple trips over the past several years. Installed water projects need maintenance and new wells need to be planned and installed. Assistance is indispensable with crops as well as with building a school dorm and cottages. There is an overwhelming call to provide essential needs.
Similarly, after serving as pastor of Oakwood Baptist Church, Lexington SC, for over 21years, the Rev. Dr. Richard (“Rich”) Wilson answered God’s call to also go to Africa. Rich spoke at the June 5th monthly meeting of the St. David Lutheran Church LMM telling them the events that led to this decision for he and his wife, Kristi.
Such a journey alone is reason enough to speak to LMM but the connection between our two churches predates both Pastor James Laurence, who celebrates 15 years at St. David, and Pastor Rich in a unique way. These two churches supported a Snack Pack program together for a while (St. David still does), and along with Fellowship Baptist and New Mt. Zion AME churches have hosted an Oak Grove Community Thanksgiving Service for a very long time. The Thanksgiving service is held at one of the four churches with the host church rotating each year.
Kenya will not be just a week-long missionary trip for the Wilsons. They have sold their home and all their possessions (Luke 12:33; Matthew 19:21), and are leaving their children and other family behind (Matthew 4:18-22). This will be a permanent and indefinite move working as members of African Inland Mission (AIM). AIM started with its first African mission endeavor in 1895 and has grown to serve in over 20 African nations. According to AIM,2 Africa is changing; it is the fastest growing population in the world with an estimate by 2050 that one in four people on Earth will be African. African nations are caught up in battles for their vibrant economies and valuable resources. They are also caught up in a fierce spiritual battle where the gospel has yet to take root with deeply rooted traditional beliefs and a powerful movement of Islam.
Rich had five years of mission experience going to the Caribbean. Kristi later joined him on one of these short-term trips. They went to Kenya in 2015 and again in 2016 with their daughter. Rich and Kristi felt called to do theological education so applied with the Baptist Southern Convention but they were scaling back. Then they were accepted by AIM to serve as part of the faculty of Moffat Bible College, a missionary academy and a hospital in Kijabe, Kenya. Missionary work was great but the Wilsons felt the best way to make an impact is to teach native Africans to be pastors, church planters and church leaders in their own communities. African pastors typically serve two to three churches. Rich and Kristi have raised the funds to go for two years and leave July 6th to learn Swahili and a six-month orientation before going to Kenya in January 2018. They need further funding for a vehicle in Kijabe and to stay longer in the field. You can follow and support the Wilsons at their blog – www.awilsonjourney.com.
Godspeed to our ELCA SC Synod group going to Africa, and especially to Rich and Kristi.