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A letter from Dustin Ellington In Zambia

December 25, 2011

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy  (Matt. 2:10)..

Dear Friends,

Graduation on Nov 26 included festive singing.

Last week our family got away for a vacation in rural Eastern Zambia, far from Lusaka. While we do enjoy our African view of the stars from the seminary campus, on the first night of this trip I looked up and could hardly believe my eyes. Before me were a thousand tiny points of light.

At one point in the trip our oldest son, Clayton, read the story of Jesus’ birth to us, including the Magi seeing the star in the east and then traveling a distance to pay homage to Jesus. As I thought about the passage, it impressed me how crucial the star was to the Magi’s sojourn. They would never have started the journey unless a star signaled that a journey was in order, and they would never have reached the goal without a star to direct them where to go.

Our trip was a chance to step back and reflect on what we’ve experienced ministering in Zambia so far. I’ve shared with you before about how I can’t help but be inspired by what God has done in Africa. So many people have become Christians in the last 50 or so years. Worship is vibrant. Almost everyone would say they love Jesus. Zambians pride themselves on living in a Christian nation.

New graduates proudly display their graduation gifts—new bicycles from PC(USA) congregations in North Carolina and Tennessee.

But as I’ve stayed in Zambia longer I’ve discovered that the church here still has a long journey before it. Many churches preach a message of material prosperity and physical healing as though Christianity was a form of magic for getting what you want. The successful are lifted up as models while some leave the church broke, sick, and disappointed. Various forms of corruption and cheating are prevalent. Teenage girls routinely wait around the wealthy neighborhood near our seminary, looking to be someone’s girlfriend in hope of a little cash. Adultery sometimes comes across as a petty sin that Christian men can’t be expected to avoid.

The country has been converted to such an extent that one of my Zambian partners in ministry said there’s no more need for foreign missionaries to come evangelize. Instead, the real mission now is for the church in Southern Africa to grow toward maturity. Converted to the name of Christ, they now need a conversion to the ways of Christ.

When there’s a great distance to travel, it helps to have a star. A passage that is becoming important to me is Phil. 2:15-16, which includes the words “…that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.” Africa needs stars to light the way, many bits of light to reveal that a different way of life is both possible and desirable.

Dustin dedicates the 2011 issue of JMTUC’s journal, Word and Context, to retiring lecturer Dr. Paul Moyo.

I see our seminary as training students to become points of light. They’re learning skills of studying and interpreting Scripture for themselves. They’re thinking through what it means to live as Christians in Africa. I pray they’ll also go forth and wholeheartedly practice what they learn. When they graduate and become pastors they enter communities throughout Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and beyond. My hope is that they will make disciples through word and deed, through teaching and their living example. May they gather people around them who will also be points of light. Together they can be like constellations directing more and more people to live out the ways of Christ. 

Of course this need is not only present in Africa. Every person in every country needs an epiphany. They need to hear the good news of Jesus, but they also need to see up close that a new and better way of life is possible and desirable.  

A clearing in South Luangwa National Park, in Zambia’s Eastern Province.

Our seminary’s chapel services and spiritual companionship groups will focus on “Growing toward maturity” as our theme for 2012. Please pray for our faculty and students, that together we will learn to walk in the way of Jesus and light that way for others.

Please also consider a year-end gift toward our work. Click on the "Give" link below to learn how.

Our family wishes you a blessed Christmas, New Year, and Epiphany. Thank you for being our partners.

Yours in Christ,
Dustin, Sherri, Clayton, and Christopher

The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 105

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