A letter from Dustin Ellington in Zambia
March 28, 2013
Greetings from Zambia. Sometimes it’s a little hard to know how to begin an update letter: I realize people appreciate stories of what God has done, and we do like to share those! But my experience is that the most significant stories that my faculty colleagues and I are involved in are just beginning. Our calling is to equip and prepare others for ministry, so the work we do takes place mostly at an early stage of what God is doing. We teach students, we preach to them, we befriend them, and sometimes we have to correct them. We also do a lot of listening, whether in class discussions, or as seminarians preach, or just informally between classes or sitting with them in our offices. We teach, but we also try to offer a pastoral presence in students’ lives, to take part in what God is doing to mold and shape them for future ministry.
And students are learning and growing. For instance, some of them arrive at our seminary with a call to ministry but very little confidence in their ability to understand the Bible and prepare sermons. This has presented the temptation to take shortcuts by submitting papers and giving sermons written by other people. We as teachers have to bring this up with the students; then we walk together with them through a somewhat painful process of looking at what happened and finding a way forward. At that point we have the precious opportunity to tell the students we believe understanding the Bible is something they really can learn to do themselves. I’ve seen them take our word for it, make an honest effort by taking hesitating steps, and then walk more firmly as they discover truth for themselves and see their own gifts. It’s gratifying to see students find their own thoughts and voices.
The process I’m describing couldn’t happen in a matter of a few days or a few weeks. It’s happened over years. Walking with others in a genuinely transforming way is something that can take time. Real results cannot be hurried. But if we’re patient and stay with people, we see fruit come from their lives. Because of the growth of Christianity in Africa, our seminary’s graduates normally begin their ministries as solo pastors of congregations with between 500 and 3,000 members. The training in character and skills that they receive at Justo Mwale will have ripples in many lives. Through their ministries, many, many stories of what God is doing will unfold.
Let me say thank you for making this ministry possible through your prayers and financial support. Some forms of work cannot be done from a distance or in a short-term way; you who pray for my family and me and support us financially through the Presbyterian Mission Agency are making it possible for us to be here. Thank you, indeed. You are playing a role in the development of grassroots leadership for the church in Africa—and leaders of churches play a critical role in the daily life of communities on this continent.
I want to take the opportunity of this letter to let you know that my family and I will be based in Louisville, Kentucky, for Interpretation Assignment, from late July of 2013 until early July of 2014. We hope we can see many of you before we return to Zambia for another three-year term.
If you would consider inviting us, we would love to visit and share. We can speak in a wide variety of settings—Sunday morning services, church potlucks, mission or Bible conferences, college and seminary events, Sunday school or Bible study groups, and mission committee gatherings—to name just a few. I’m happy to preach and teach, or we can share in less formal ways.
Sherri and I can speak about the following: our ministry in Zambia and at Justo Mwale, the significance of training pastors and Christian leaders (especially in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East), the global work of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and biblical perspectives on the life of mission and ministry.
We will be receiving our normal salary and benefits during this time, so we do not need to be paid for speaking. We would, however, appreciate help with travel expenses, because the Presbyterian Mission Agency is not in a position to cover those. Sometimes congregations work together to share the travel expense.
Please keep us and our ministry in your prayers. For our seminary, Justo Mwale, we would appreciate prayers for a spirit of mutual encouragement among students and faculty, and that our students would gain a vision for ministry that is self-giving in the manner of Christ. For our family, we would appreciate prayers that we may be centered in Christ and have perspective in the midst of very busy days and weeks before we leave Zambia for America. Our son Clayton is also taking many big exams covering the past two years of his British curriculum schooling.
We are so grateful for your partnership with us and the ministry God has given us in Zambia. Thanks especially for your prayers!
Yours in Christ,
Dustin and Sherri Ellington
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 115
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A couple from Rocky Mount, NC, where I live, has been working to establish and expand an orphanage in Chitambo. This couple(Jackie and Mickey Bailey) recently came to my church--Morton Memorial Presbyterian--to talk about their work and the construction, and they admitted they hardly had the slightest idea how they would help when they started on the project. They are related to some of our church members. I think their story is inspiring, and God put helpers in their path as they strove to do good. The Agape Village Foundation is their organization. So I am rooting for you, too, and all who give Zambians half a chance to make a better life for themselves.