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A letter from Dustin and Sherri Ellington in Zambia

December 5, 2012

Light of the world, you stepped down into darkness,
Opened my eyes, let me see…
              —opening lines of “Here I Am to Worship,” by Chris Tomlin

Dear friends,

I began writing this in the dark—and thanking God once again for laptop batteries—since our power has been going out every night of late.  At one point (while our seminary students were studying for their final exams) it was off for 27 hours straight. As so often happens when we lose something we formerly took for granted, “power” and “light” have shot to the forefront of my mind.  I’m sure such themes have been on people’s minds more in the U.S., too, with the recent catastrophes through Hurricane Sandy. 

But “power” and “light” have also been on our minds in the positive sense.  One of the most fulfilling aspects of Dustin’s work as an educator is the chance to “help lights come on” for current and future pastors as they learn to read Scripture closely and study it for themselves.  Recently he asked some students why they thought we focus so much on these skills, to the extent that the seminary even requires a year of Greek and Hebrew.  One student, Francis Mbao, replied: "It's about reducing dependence. When you get the key skills, you've been empowered." Dustin was delighted with that response. For the African church to reach maturity, it must do its own interpretation of the Bible and its own thinking about what it means to live as Christians in Africa.  What a privilege to be part of teaching these skills and bringing this empowerment.

This week a small group of women are on campus as part of the college’s new “Pre-Theology” program.  Dustin had the privilege of teaching them some practical lessons today on how to interpret Scripture, and more lights were coming on.  I am looking forward to leading their morning devotion tomorrow and seeing how they will build on what they have learned today—how their growing skills will give the Holy Spirit opportunity to bring Scripture to light in new ways.

We are also thankful for another area of progress with power and light:  the new backup power system for the Justo Mwale Theological University College library!  As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, power has been going out more than usual lately.  But even in a normal week we lose power three nights a week for between one and three hours each night.  For our students, who spend their days in classes and have only evenings in which to do their readings and type their papers, losing power three evenings a week has really cut into their work time.  This week, through a grant from a donor at National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., our library got a backup power system installed.  It is made up of 16 batteries that soak up power when the electricity is on, and release it to the computers and library lighting system during power outages.  This is going to revolutionize the study week for our students.  When testing the system, the installers cut off incoming power … and the lights and computers actually stayed on.  Our delighted assistant librarian exclaimed “This is development!”  To which Dustin thought, “Well, with development hopefully you don’t need the backup power system, but … yes!”  We know the students will be thrilled when they return for their new school year in January.

Finally, this Advent season I am actually in one sense thankful for the gift of repeated physical darkness.  It may be dreary and put a damper on productivity, but it is also a reminder of the spiritual darkness we were in without Christ, and the relief that came by God’s cutting through that darkness.

“The people living in darkness have seen a great light"—Matthew 4:16.
 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”—John 1:5.

This month, December, is also when our graduates go forth to be new pastors of churches in Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. Please pray that, throughout these countries, they will "shine like stars in the sky as [they] hold out the word of life” (Philippians 2:15). We also appreciate ongoing prayer for God to use Justo Mwale Theological University College to be a beacon of Christ, in both word and deed, on the African continent. 

Thank you again for your support in 2012. As we look to 2013, we invite you to continue partnering with us through your love, prayers, and financial assistance.

Yours in Christ,
Sherri and Dustin Ellington

The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 105
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 115
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