Our daughter Christy was born in Congo and spent her childhood there while my wife Joy and I were missionary professors with the Evangelical Free Church Mission seminary serving French- speaking Africa. Our son Mark heard about our ministry in Africa all his life, but had never seen it for himself. Although Joy could not join us for this trip, the three of us were heading back.
The day we landed in Africa we were invited to a special dinner at the seminary where Joy and I lived and taught for four years. Christy and Mark got an immediate introduction to the joy and generosity of our African brothers and sisters in Christ. The conversations were in French. Christy, who had just graduated with a French minor at Wheaton College (where she was active in SBE, Students for Biblical Equality), translated for her brother while I caught up on news with old friends.
During the next several days, Christy and Mark worked with children at the elementary school that served the children of the seminary students and others from the city. I taught Bible studies to the seminary students in several venues and separately in a colloquium for the teaching staff. We studied passages relating to men and women in ministry and marriage: Genesis 3:16, 1 Timothy 2, 1 Peter 3, 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 and Ephesians 5–6.
African seminary president grateful for the Think Again series
One evening we were invited to dine at the seminary president’s home. I packed a bag full of presents to bring along with us. When Joy and I started work in Africa, we were each asked by the African leaders to focus our doctoral research on pressing needs in the African church.
We kept this in mind during our first two years, which were spent living and teaching in Congo. There was much disarray in African home life. They struggled with problems such as early marriage, divorce and polygamy. In many churches women were treated with dis- respect and were barred from ministry.
Joy researched Genesis 2–3, especially God’s words to the woman in 3:16. I researched the New Testament passages that referred to the Garden of Eden and dealt with the status of women and men in church and at home.
Just as we finished our studies, we were forced to leave Africa for health reasons. During our 16-year absence we worked whenever we could find time to dis- till our research into lay- level readable booklets.
It was now time to come full circle! In the seminary president’s living room, I presented several sets of our 8-volume Think Again! series on women and men in the Bible for the seminary library. “This gift was not made in a day, and it will not be digested in a day,” said our host. “We receive it with deep appreciation to God and to the two of you.” And then it was time for dinner. (Later, he suggested we might close the seminary for an entire week so that I could teach and answer their questions afterward! He also suggested editing the Think Again series into one volume. “We would like to translate that and publish it ourselves for French-speaking Africa.”)
A change in plan leads to opportunities
We had planned to join other former missionaries to Congo at the 80th Anniversary celebration of the arrival of the Gospel into that part of Central Africa. But the missionary plane had to make a forced landing in the rain forest the previous day and was out of commission. We were unable to fly into Congo as planned.
The missionary in charge of the local office volunteered to take Christy and Mark. They were in very good hands. This was the same woman who helped deliver Christy years before in the jungle hospital in Congo. And because she knew of my back problem, I was told to stay behind. No 12-hour road trip for me!
I waved goodbye as the two boatmen dug heavily into the muddy river and the giant dugout canoe pulled away from shore. Christy and Mark told me later that the road through the rain forest was so bad and the mud holes were so big that they drove over a large sow without knowing it. Someone in the truck looked back and discovered her after, irritated by the disturbance, she heaved herself out of the hole in the road and walked away!
“Lord, what shall I do while they’re away?” No one expected me to be around for the next five days. I caught a crowded taxi back to the middle of town and bought a local newspaper. Later that afternoon, I noticed a bicycle messenger waiting for me in the yard. Someone had recognized me and told the pastor of the large church across town that I was still around. He wanted me to speak at his church the next day. I told the messenger I was happy to accept his invitation.
African congregations welcome the message of biblical equality
On Sunday, I was recruited to speak in four African church services in a different language each time. I chose a passage from our Biblical research for each service.
I spoke to a service full of young men about God’s plan for marriage, based on Genesis 2. I also explained how God created the first married couple to rule together over many things, and that later God had not told the fallen man to rule over the woman.
“You have given these men food for thought. Most are already married and many will have to change the way they treat their wives after this. I took thorough notes and will help them review the passage as you explained it,” said their pastor as we left the church.
I was asked to return the next afternoon. Two hundred women dressed in colorful matching outfits and headscarves filled the benches in the metal-roofed church. They were all deaconesses of the large Sango- speaking congregation on the compound. I taught a session on 1 Corinthians 11, especially verse 10. I asked if anyone had a question. A woman in the middle section slowly raised her hand. “We are so grateful for your teaching from the Bible. How do we put into practice what we have learned?” I replied, “Make sure you review what the Bible says and then ask the Holy Spirit to show you ways to apply it.”
There must have been quite a stir that evening. A late afternoon meeting the next day was hastily organized for the several hundred teachers in the church’s elementary and secondary school system. The deacons attended as well! At the close of the meeting they held a special ceremony to present local ebony and teak handcrafts to express their appreciation.
God’s Word, correctly interpreted and taught simply, is appropriate for people of all ages, and all academic and economic levels!
Other opportunities to share about biblical equality
Early weekday mornings I went out to teach the night watchmen who guarded the mission house. They gathered up their spears, went off duty and sat down for coffee and Bible study. I discovered that several were pastors of churches in their own neighbor- hoods. “I can’t wait to teach our congregation what I am learning!” said one.
One afternoon, I was invited to a private meeting with a former cabinet member in the government that turned out to be not so private. It was recorded for television. I found out later he had been the Minister of Television and Radio!
When we were first teaching at the Seminary and Christy was a pre-schooler, I traveled to Lusaka, Zambia to attend the continental congress of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa. During a break I joined a discussion in progress along a walk- way beside a wall covered with huge poinsettia plants. One person was Board Chair of the seminary where my wife Joy and I were professors. His friend was saying, “I under- stand you have some pastors’ wives in your Master of Theology degree program.” “No,” the Board Chair gently corrected, “we train women pastors in our degree program. And we train men, too.”