CommonCall: Local leaders continue global ministries

Clients of the Buckner Family Hope Center in Bungoma, Keyna, make cooking oil from sunflower seeds. (Buckner Photo)

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When a global pandemic halted most international travel and forced U.S. mission teams to cancel planned trips, overseas ministry involving Texas Baptist partners continued.

Remote villages gained access to pure water. Refugees received food. Indigenous missionaries provided pastoral ministry. Vulnerable children and their families continued to have essential care.

People around the world continued to experience loving care in Christ’s name because Texas Baptist churches, agencies and ministry partners spent years building relationships and nurturing local Christian leaders.

TBM continues to provide pure water

A Texas Baptist Men water ministry team had to cut short its March trip to Uganda when the COVID-19 pandemic reached a crisis level, and TBM cancelled another team’s scheduled summer trip to Papua New Guinea.

TBM had sent a well-drilling and training team to Papua New Guinea last November. When TBM cancelled the June trip, villagers knew they would not have another opportunity to drill wells until months later, after the rainy season.

A drilling team in Papua New Guinea drills their second well. Because of COVID-19, TBM water ministry volunteers were unable to be there, so they guided the local team through the process with cell phones and photos. (Photo / Tim Wint)

“They were so anxious to go ahead and drill,” said Dee Dee Wint, TBM vice president of water ministries. “We had taught them health and hygiene, and we had trained trainers.”

The villagers had installed latrines, organized a local water committee and raised enough money to fund the well’s maintenance, she noted.

“It’s been a challenge, but they have been so determined, and they were so anxious,” Wint said. “They are working hard and very excited about it.”

In Peru, TBM began five years ago training local teams to train others in drilling, maintenance and hygiene.

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“We were working in anticipation of something happening that might close the door there. We wanted them to be self-sufficient. They are pretty much independent now,” Wint said, noting local teams have drilled three wells in 2020.

TBM water ministry also has continued in Kenya, where a newly drilled well will provide clean water for a vocational school, and in northern Ghana, where local Christians have distributed soap and rice while teaching health and hygiene to people in 11 villages that benefit from TBM wells.

“The water ministry is making a tremendous difference in the spread of the gospel in northern Ghana and the planting of churches there,” Wint said. “When we go home, we don’t want the work to stop.”

Mickey Lenamon, TBM executive director, noted in mid-summer that seven wells already had been drilled and two more were in progress because of TBM’s long-term commitment to investing in local Christian leaders.

“For years, we have been training local church leaders how to drill their own wells,” Lenamon said. “Now we are seeing them thrive on their own, giving thousands of people clean water around the world, as well as an opportunity to respond to the Living Water that is Jesus. In times of crisis, God continues to provide.”

Houston church continues ministry to Burma

Five years ago, monsoons flooded much of Burma, also known as Myanmar. Thong Lun, pastor of Greater Houston Burmese Christian Fellowship, a mission of Tallowood Baptist Church in Houston, worked with ministry partners and humanitarian relief groups to deliver 32 tons of rice to people displaced by floods and mudslides.

Although floods destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, Thong was part of a small team that visited seven camps—including some accessible only by specially equipped four-wheel-drive off-road vehicles.

“To be physically present is important,” he said at the time. “The importance of our presence was greatly appreciated by the local people.”

Through the work of indigenous church planters and in partnership with the Karen Baptist Convention and other regional Baptist groups, Greater Houston Burmese Christian Fellowship has continued its ministry to internally displaced people and refugees in Myanmar, even when COVID-19 prohibited international travel. (Photo courtesy of Greater Houston Burmese Christian Fellowship)

Thong and other mission volunteers from his church have been unable to travel to Burma since mid-March because of COVID-19. However, his congregation has continued their ministering presence there through eight indigenous missionary church planters the congregation supports. One of the missionaries is a former Buddhist monk who is now a Christian church planter.

Through the ongoing work of those missionary church planters—as well as partnerships with the Karen Baptist Convention and a regional Baptist group in the Shan State—Thong and his church have supported ministry to refugees, internally displaced people and residents of a “leper’s village” on the border with China.

“We continue our ministry there when we cannot go ourselves through our work with the churches and organizations there,” Thong said.

Greater Houston Burmese Christian Fellowship also provides hand sanitizer and face masks to displaced people through a Christian nongovernmental organization.

“We cannot be there in person at this time, but our partners are working there,” Thong said. “And we are working with them, side-by-side, through the support we provide. We cannot go and conduct the training we would like, but we can partner in ministry with local churches and organizations.”

Abilene church expands ministries in Africa

Similarly, Manassee Ngendahayo, pastor of Rest for the Nations Baptist Church in Abilene, has been able to continue and even expand ministry in Central Africa—even in the midst of a global pandemic—because of personal relationships and established connections there.

More than a quarter-century ago, after 100 days of Rwandan genocide, Ngendahayo felt God calling him to leave his home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to start a church in Kigali, Rwanda, where he began ministering to widows, orphans and displaced people. When he and his family moved to the United States a few years later, he continued the work in Rwanda through the charitable organization he founded, Rest for the Nations Ministry.

About six years ago, after the Ngendahayo family moved to Abilene, he planted Rest for the Nations Baptist Church as a mission of Lytle South Baptist Church. With help from the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering and Rest for the Nations’ sponsoring church, the mission congregation began meeting the physical needs of refugee families who relocated from Central Africa to West Texas.

At the same time, Rest for the Nations worked in Rwanda by providing scholarships that enable children and teenagers there to attend school, supporting pastors and helping meet other needs in partnership with Rwandan Christians.

While he has not been able to travel to Central Africa after the pandemic reached a critical level early this year, Ngendahayo has produced videos for pastors there—both as teaching tools and as an encouragement to them as they preach and provide food for hungry people.

Hunger Offering grants help meet needs

In addition to ministry in Rwanda, Ngendahayo felt an acute need to help people in his homeland. According to the United Nations, about 4.7 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo suffer acute malnutrition, and even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the country suffered from prolonged outbreaks of Ebola, measles and HIV-AIDS.

More than 5.5 million people in the nation are internally displaced, due not only to famine and disease, but also to ongoing armed conflict.

“Churches and houses have been bombed—put to the fire,” Ngendahayo said.

Some people who were forced from their own lands due to violence fled to surrounding countries, but that abruptly ended in March when Congo’s president closed the nation’s border due to COVID-19. Now they live as refugees in their own nation, said Rodney Watson, pastor of Lytle South Baptist Church.

“They are a people without a country,” Watson said.

With a grant made possible by the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, Rest for the Nations has been able to work with pastors and churches in Congo to provide food for internally displaced people—including a distribution to 3,000 people this summer.

Buckner International ministries in Peru and Kenya also benefited from funds made possible by the Texas Baptist World Hunger Offering. And those ministries have continued life-saving and life-transforming work in the midst of the pandemic because of Buckner’s long-term investment in developing strong local leaders.

Buckner provides help in hard-hit Peru

On a per-capita basis, Peru has been hit harder than any nation in terms of deaths due to COVID-19—not only due to its prevalence, but also because of lack of access to medical facilities.

“Many people are dying, with hospitals filled to capacity, tents outside the hospitals and 40 people in line for every ICU bed,” said Dexton Shores, senior executive director of international operations for Buckner Children and Family Services.

Buckner International has continued to meet urgent needs in Peru throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. (Buckner Photo)

Due to high demand and low supply, the price of an oxygen tank jumped from $35 to more than $1,400, he noted. In spite of the cost, Buckner purchased two oxygen tanks to make available to client families who cannot receive help otherwise.

Claudia Leon, director of Buckner Peru, described one family—a couple, Christian and Lida, with three small children, ages 7, 4 and 1—who all contracted COVID-19.

Because Christian has diabetes, he developed complications. At one point, his oxygen saturation level dropped to 80 percent, down from a normal 95 percent level. When he was taken to the hospital, he was sent home because no bed was available.

However, Buckner intervened and—with the help of local officials who know and respect Buckner’s ministry—helped secure care for Christian and all his family.

“Finally, finally they are all doing better—stable now,” Leon said. “They are going to make it.”

Staff who work with Buckner Family Hope Centers in Peru and other ministries of Buckner Peru develop deep connections to the families and individuals they serve, she noted.

“They all have lost people they love and cared for, but they remain committed to serve,” Leon said.

Buckner continues to care for families in Kenya

In Kenya, the COVID-19 outbreak is complicated by the significant number of people in high-risk groups—such as those living with HIV-AIDS—who are reluctant to seek medical attention when they need it, said Dickson Masindano, director of Buckner Kenya.

While mission teams from the United States cannot travel to Kenya as they once did, people in the East African nation continue to benefit from the seeds they planted, he noted. TBM teams and others drilled wells that continue to provide pure water. Kenyan women continue to make cooking oil from sunflower seeds, as well as produce homemade soap, using methods Texas Baptist church groups taught them.

“If you don’t have clean water and soap, you’re as good as dead now,” Masindano said.

Clients at the Buckner Family Hope Center in Bungoma, Kenya, make soap using techniques they learned from Texas Baptist mission teams. (Buckner Photo)

The women who make the cooking oil and soap not only use them in their own households, but also sell them to earn extra income for their families, he noted.

Individuals involved in a Buckner sewing and tailoring economic development project have made masks for all of Buckner’s clients and staff, and they also have been able to sell some to generate income, he added.

Self-sustainability has been Buckner Kenya’s goal since Masindano arrived in 2001, and it has enabled the ministry to continue not only during the ongoing pandemic, but also in times of domestic turmoil after contested presidential elections a few years ago.

Because Masindano has devoted nearly two decades to ministry in Kenya, he has been able to see some who were small children when he first started work there grow into young adulthood. That makes it all the more painful when one is lost to COVID-19 and its complications.

His voice choked with emotion as he described one college-age young woman he first met when she was 8 years old who died recently.

“That was very tough for all of us. It was the worst experience of this pandemic, that we could not be there for her” in her final hours, he said.

Social workers and other Buckner staff have received counseling to help them handle the deep loss.

“It hurt all of us. … It affected all of us who knew her so well,” he said. “You know, this is your child.”

Shores noted the international staff—those who minister day-to-day over a course of years—develop deep emotional connections to those they serve.

“These kids are like family. They have been working with them for years,” he said. “Yet in spite of all the emotional trauma they are living with, they manage to continue to serve clients with excellence.”

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