A letter from Dustin and Sherri Ellington, serving in Zambia
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A church that supports our ministry recently sent us interview questions focused on prayer and God’s presence. I (Dustin) responded and thought I’d share the result with you. The questions are based on a book by Walter Brueggemann called Praying the Psalms. He says that Christians pray for all kinds of people in all kinds of situations, and he mentions three ways of knowing how to pray for others. One way is to attend to what’s happening in our own lives and surroundings, since we share a “common lot” with all people.
As you read my answers, Sherri and I would also invite you to consider: How might you answer the questions below for your own life, and for the unique place where God has placed you?
Q. What is the place where you minister like?
A. When we moved here in 2010, Justo Mwale University was on a dirt road at the outskirts of town, but it is now part of the urban mass of Lusaka, the capital of Zambia and one of Africa’s fastest growing cities. Lusaka was just over a million people when we got here seven years ago, but it now has about 2.5 million people. We live on a fairly calm and beautiful 22-acre campus, along with 200 or so others. Our students come from eight different African countries, speak many different languages, and can each preach in at least two languages, in some cases four or five. Our lecturers are mostly Zambian, but four come from the Netherlands, South Africa, and the USA (that’s me).
Q. How have you seen/experienced God’s presence in this place where you serve/minister?
A. I experience God’s presence while listening to my students preach in our Monday morning preaching practicum; while gathering in Thursday morning spiritual companionship group, where we study Scripture, share about our needs, and pray for one another; and during the robust singing and preaching of our Friday chapel services. I also glimpse God in my students’ growth, my colleagues’ wisdom and maturity, and my everyday life with the people I love most—my wife and two sons. Also, early each morning I’m aware of God’s presence as I sit in our living room, read Scripture, pray, and watch the sun rise through the trees.
Q. Where has it been difficult to see God’s presence?
A. A couple of aspects of African culture and church life can sometimes make it difficult for me to recognize God’s presence during church meetings. One is the common cultural assumption that religion is about obtaining success. Another is the emphasis on hierarchy and leaders upon whom ordinary people depend for God’s presence and sustenance. Sometimes I feel my community places so much value on the leaders of churches that it can lose sight of how truly awesome God is, how wonderful Jesus is, how delightful the Holy Spirit is, and how glorious it is just to get to be a Christian. However, our Reformed theology has a way of bringing us back to the majesty of God and our dependence upon him. And we constantly sing very God-focused hymns together, which lift our eyes beyond ourselves to God’s love and power.
Brueggemann’s book on praying the Psalms says that a second way we know how to pray for all types of people and situations is through being attentive to what we read, which has a way of alerting us to the experience of others.
Q. What events in the local news have caused you top pray?
A. We’ve been led to pray by things such as:
*Drought and resulting power shortages and crop insecurity (Though this past rainy season was, thankfully, abundant!)
*HIV/AIDS stories and realities
*Outbreaks of diseases such as cholera
*Zambia’s precarious economic situation – fast growth, yet deep national debt
*Instances when corruption comes to light and can feel sadly pervasive
*A recent “threatened state of emergency” being declared by the President, which at first left the country on edge, as people wondered what would happen next
But, frankly, recognizing my own neediness for God probably keeps me praying the most and leads me into praying for others, who almost certainly need God’s touch as much as I do.
Brueggemann says that a third way we know to pray for all sorts of people and situations is through the Psalms, which give an authentic voice to varied yet common human experiences.
Q. Do you find this to be true of your experience of the Psalms?
A. Yes! I usually pray a Psalm each morning, and I tend to connect with some aspect, or several aspects, of the psalmist’s prayer. As I do that, the psalm also opens me up to feelings and experiences mentioned that might not be my own but that I know others are going through. That way, it leads me into praying for others as well.
Q. Is there a Psalm that has special meaning for you or your ministry? If so, please explain.
A. “I love you, O LORD, my strength” (Ps 18:1). I have found myself saying this simple little prayer, over and over, for many years of life and ministry. It works both as praise to the Lord and also as an affirmation that I’m utterly dependent on God. Especially when life presents stubborn realities that are difficult to change, I need to keep tapping into God’s strength. I also find myself reading Psalm 27, often focusing on verse 4: “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” For me, Christian life and ministry focus on and flow from dwelling in God’s presence.
Q. How can we be praying for you?
A. We would appreciate prayer for daily wisdom and discernment for the work of training pastors and scholars for the African church. My family and I appreciate prayers for my father and stepmother, who both have serious health issues. Justo Mwale University needs prayer as it goes through an important time of choosing a new leader, for Professor Zulu’s term is ending. We would appreciate prayer for the Young Adult Volunteer program in Zambia, as Sherri and others reflect this year on how it can be improved. Also, as we get closer to the “empty nest” years (Chris, our youngest, is in 10th grade), Sherri appreciates prayer that God will inspire her with vision and guidance. And, as always, Zambia can use prayers for such items as mentioned a few paragraphs above.
Sherri and I so appreciate the prayers of all of you who stand behind our ministry. We also invite you to continue or begin financial support. Thank you so much for including us as you pray for “all sorts and conditions of” people!
Yours in Christ,
Dustin and Sherri Ellington
Please read this important message from Jose Luis Casal, Director, Presbyterian World Mission
Dear Friend of Presbyterian Mission,
What a joy to send this letter! As Presbyterian World Mission’s new director, I thank God for your faithful support of our mission co-workers. The enclosed newsletter celebrates the work you made possible by your prayers, engagement, and generous financial gifts. We can’t thank you enough.
After I began in April, I met with mission co-workers and global partners and was blessed to see firsthand the mighty ways God is working through them! Our global partners are asking us to help them move forward with life-changing ministries. Because of your support, we can say “yes” to these creative and exciting initiatives.
I write to invite you to make an even deeper commitment to this work. First, would you make a year-end gift for the sending and support of our mission co-workers? We need your gifts to end the year strong. With your help, we filled two new mission co-worker positions and plan to recruit for others. The needs in the world are great, and World Mission is poised to answer the call to serve.
Second, would you ask your session to add our mission co-workers to your congregation’s mission budget for 2018 and beyond? Our mission co-workers serve three-year or four-year terms. Your multi-year commitment will encourage them greatly.
Our mission co-workers are funded entirely from the special gifts of individuals and congregations like yours. Now more than ever, we need your financial support.
In faith, our mission co-workers accepted a call to mission service. In faith, World Mission sent them to work with our global partners. In faith, will you also commit to support this work with your prayers and financial gifts?
Jose Luis Casal
P.S. Your gift will help meet critical needs of our global partners. Thank you!
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