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Following God’s detour

Teaching future pastors for the growing church in Africa

by Dustin Ellington | Mission Crossroads

Justo Mwale University faculty members Dr. Lukas Soko, Dr. Edwin Zulu, Dr. Wynand Retief and Dr. Dustin Ellington enjoying fellowship with one another. (Photo by Johanneke Kroesbergen)

ZAMBIA – 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, which is also my field of study, 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 Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 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 where 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.

Dustin and Sherri Ellington with their children in Egypt. (Photo provided)

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. Zambia 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 many 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 for themselves 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.

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This article is from the Summer 2017 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, which is printed and mailed free to subscribers’ homes three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission.

The Rev. Dr. Dustin Ellington teaches New Testament at Justo Mwale University, which trains pastors to lead congregations in southern Africa. Sherri Ellington is site coordinator for the PC(USA)’s Young Adult Volunteer program in Zambia.

To support Dustin and Sherri’s ministry in Zambia, you may make a contribution online at
pcusa.org/donate/E200478.

June 1 is the final date to apply for a year of service as a Young Adult Volunteer at national sites in 2017–18. Follow this link to learn more and apply.


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