God’s Detours

A letter from Dustin Ellington serving in Zambia

March 2017

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Dear friends,  

Greetings from Zambia. I recently wrote a short article for the publication Mission Crossroads telling how our call to mission service came about, and then about our move from Egypt to Zambia. Perhaps by sharing this article with you I can give some of you a little background, while those who have known us a long time may appreciate a big-picture glimpse of God’s guiding hand. Our story could be told from other vantage points; this one is mine. May it encourage your own witness and service right where you are, and may we all be open to the nudges and detours God has for our lives.

At the end of this letter you’ll find a few prayer requests; meanwhile, here’s the article:

Following God’s Detour:
Teaching future pastors for the growing African church

One day, while taking a break from studying in the Duke Divinity School library, I got into a conversation that would change the course of my family’s life. As I talked with a stranger, I learned he was the only person in the world with a Ph.D. in New Testament (my field also) who could speak the particular language of the country where he was training Christians for ministry. This really struck me.

He asked what I hoped to do upon finishing my Ph.D. at Duke. I told him I wanted to advance the gospel, and that I’d love to do that especially through teaching the Bible and working with young people whom God was calling. He replied, “If you really want to teach the Bible and prepare people for Christian ministry, then you should think about doing it outside the United States.”

That evening I went home and told my wife, Sherri, what had happened, and that I wondered if the Holy Spirit had spoken to me. She was immediately positive; Sherri had wondered about a call to mission service long before we married, but had come to terms with the reality that marrying me might mean a “normal” life in America.

I had already served as a PC(USA) pastor, so we called Presbyterian World Mission to express interest in applying for mission service, even though I still had years left at Duke. This gave us ample time to consider a possibility put before us—to move our family to Egypt. I could teach future pastors. As a family we could build bridges of trust for the sake of the gospel and for peace between Muslims and Christians.

We moved to Egypt in 2005 and deeply loved our life and work in that country. We thought we would stay many years. However, it all ended abruptly in 2009 for reasons out of our control. That’s a long story, but suffice it to say that our hearts were broken. And our life course changed again!

We still believed we were called to serve the gospel overseas. We entered a time of discernment, and PC(USA) World Mission suggested new possibilities. It turns out that around the time Sherri and I left Egypt, Justo Mwale University (JMU) in Zambia had asked World Mission for a New Testament professor. As we learned of the intense need for trained pastors in Zambia and surrounding countries, due to recent massive church growth, it seemed like a call—to go where the need for what we could offer was greatest.

I’ve taught at JMU since 2010. Sherri coordinates the PC(USA)’s Young Adult Volunteer program in Zambia. The country is a place where enormous need meets what we have to offer. Many JMU students, upon graduating, become solo pastors of congregations from 1,000 to over 10,000 members. The churches are vibrant, but believers tend to miss the influence of Jesus Christ on the Christian life and see God and the gospel as means to material success. So it is a setting that is ripe for teaching people how to understand the Bible and thus to lay hold of the true good news of Jesus Christ.

We may have come to Zambia through a detour, but we feel it’s truly been the hand of God guiding our path. Each part of our journey has been marked by God’s faithfulness, and we are thankful to be part of God’s mission and the gospel’s progress.

Some prayer requests:

1. The Young Adult Volunteers Sherri supports can use prayer for refreshment as they deal up close with intense poverty and cultural differences; they are experiencing a lot of fatigue.

2. I am advising three fourth-year Bachelor of Theology students as they write their final-year theses and also supervising three master’s students. This is some of my most enjoyable work, and I appreciate prayers for God to work through my mentoring of these key students. May God bring lasting fruit through the learning and skill-building of each of these three women and three men.

3. Please pray for students at JMU to find a deep love for Scripture as God’s word to them and a deep sense of Christ’s presence in their lives. And may JMU students’ love for Christ and Scripture spill over to many believers throughout Central and Southern Africa.

4. On a personal note, we recently experienced the big surprise and deep joy of pregnancy. Suddenly we had not only a child in university and one in high school, but also one in utero. We saw the tiny baby’s heartbeat, embraced God’s new “detour” in our lives, and loved this very special gift. Last week in a follow-up ultrasound there was no longer any heartbeat. Sherri later miscarried. We had known the pregnancy was risky at Sherri’s age, but we are really saddened by our loss. We appreciate prayers for God’s comfort and strength and for Sherri’s health in the coming days.

A thanksgiving is that our donors through PC(USA) met our financial needs in 2016. We feel so supported by the many who stand behind us. Thank you all for your gifts, care, and prayers.

Yours in Christ,

Dustin and Sherri Ellington


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