Dear Friends in Christ,
On Sunday afternoon, October 12th, 2014, Elder Vernon Johnson and I traveled from America to Tanzania in east Africa. We both arrived in Amsterdam, Holland about the same time and were on the same flight to Dar es Salaam, the capital city of Tanzania. The Lord blessed us to arrive safely in Dar and all our bags arrived right on time. Travel time for both of us was about 27 hours.
I had invited eleven brethren (eight of them are ordained elders) from 4 east African countries (Zambia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania) to meet with us in Dar for 10 days. All of these brethren arrived safely as well. Many of them traveled by bus for 27-30 hours and were weary but so happy to be together. It was such a blessing to see all of them again and behold their love for one another and witness their fellowship in the gospel of grace.
We spent the next ten days in a compound that was built back in 1980 by some people from Sweden. It has a high wall on every side with barbed wire on top of it. This was my seventh time to stay here and I have never felt any fear while in this compound. In the distance, you can see an inlet to the Indian Ocean and occasionally there will be a cool ocean breeze. There are three guest houses for rent, and, in addition to these houses, there are about twelve rooms for rent. It is only about 20 minutes from the airport. Through the years, I have been blessed to meet some very interesting people in this peaceful and friendly setting.
The compound has a kitchen and dining area and you can order three meals a day. I had enough funds to provide three meals a day for all of these brethren. The African brethren enjoyed the food so much. They all thought they gained some much needed weight. Breakfast always consists of boiled eggs with toast and jelly, and instant coffee or hot tea. The cook allows me to cook my own breakfast and I scrambled or fried eggs and cooked country ham (that I brought from home) several mornings for Brother Vernon and me. Two mornings, I cooked for all the brethren. They think I am a good cook! The local cook (Mary) even liked my fried eggs and ham. I also took my French Press coffee maker and made delicious coffee. All you need is boiling water. It requires no electricity. I shared my coffee with some folks from the US one morning and I made some instant friends!
Every morning, we would have breakfast at 8AM and then start our studies around 9AM. We would study together until 12 noon. We would rest in the afternoon. We would meet again from 4PM until 6PM. After supper, we would meet back for 2-3 hours.
On Tuesday the 14th, we started asking the African brethren to preach, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. They would usually stand for 20-30 minutes. Elder Martin Onyoni from Kenya was the first one to preach. His text was Hebrews 12:24 "And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." He did a great job showing how the blood of Jesus was so much better than the blood of Abel!
In the afternoon, another brother would preach. This way, we got to hear all the African brethren preach. All of them speak English and I am glad to report that all of these brethren have a good gift to teach and preach the gospel of grace! Some of the gifts, I would say are 5 talent gifts.
I served as moderator and arranged the schedule for each day. I also taught some on different subjects. Elder Johnson taught through his first notebook in the morning and evening sessions, dealing with basic Bible doctrine. I would describe Elder Johnson as a systematic Bible scholar and teacher. (How he was led to start writing his essays for his first notebook a year before he was ever contacted by folks in Africa is a great story in God's extraordinary providence.) His faithful service has been the backbone of this work in Africa. This was his 14th trip to Africa to labor among the Primitive Baptists. (Last year, he almost died in south Africa due to a dangerous infection. He had to return to the US after only 2 days in south Africa. God was merciful and blessed him to return to Dallas, Texas, for emergency medical care.) He is truly a servant leader, willing to spend and be spent in God's service. His labor in the kingdom of God reminds me of one who is strong, faithful, steady and gets in no hurry! He just gets the job done. What a blessing it was to serve along side this humble servant.
Elder Johnson has met a number of other men from Zambia who have been studying his writings and corresponding with him for 2-3 years. He is planning two trips to Zambia early next year, the Lord willing, to help establish these men in the truth. Please keep him in your prayers concerning these trips.
Elder Johnson is providing rebuilt laptop computers for all these African brethren. He also provides them with a flash drive (no bigger than my thumb) that plugs into the laptop. These little flash drives have over a thousand audio sermons by many Primitive Baptist ministers plus the writings of many of our elders.
During our visit this year, he taught on the Attributes of God, the Total Depravity of man, the New Birth, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Preservation of the Saints, and he spent a lot of time explaining the difference between Eternal and Time Salvation, a major key to understanding the scriptures. He explained in great detail the difference between Justification by Blood, by Faith, and by Works. He explained the Purpose of the Gospel. He also taught a lot on the Kingdom of God.
On the last night, I requested that Elder Johnson charge all of us from the scriptures. He started with Christ's charge to the apostles in Matthew 28. Then he went to the charge Jesus gave Peter in John 21, "feed my sheep and my lambs." Next, he spoke about Paul's charge to the elders at Ephesus in Acts 20. He explained the gifts in Ephesians 4. He reviewed Paul's charge to Timothy in II Timothy 4. He ended with Peter's charge to the elders in I Peter 5. It was the most complete charge I have ever heard. It was a fitting end to a wonderful time of fellowship with these eleven men around the word of God. All these brethren expressed a renewed zeal for the gospel work ahead of them.
Thankfully, we did not have to hurry through any of the subjects! We were together in a formal gathering for about 8 hours a day. However, during the meals and rest periods, there were a lot of Bible discussions going on. Many questions were asked and many answers given. Also, the African brethren did a lot of hymn singing!
When I was a young minister, I was so blessed to spend many hours in the homes of older ministers studying the Bible with men like Elders C.E. Darity, Pat Byrd, Ben and Raybon Lord and many others. Elder Ben Lord was considered by many as a very able fire side minister, meaning he would sit by the fire and open to us the word of God and answer lots of hard questions. During the 1970s and 1980s, I also got to spend a lot of time with Elder Sonny Pyles. He was always preaching, whether in the pulpit or out. I look back on those times as some of the most profitable seasons in my life. Sadly, these brethren in Africa do not have older ministers to sit down and visit with and ask questions about the Bible. However, for ten days they did, and it was, I think, a most profitable time for all of us.
During two of our sessions, we discussed different ways the brethren could provide for their families by starting a business. Elder Kezala from Zambia knew a lot about the goat business and others knew a lot about the chicken business. They also talked about farming God's way. Basically, they talked about organic farming. Some of them already have successful businesses such as planting banana trees and sweet potatoes. Two of the brethren had started photography businesses. Most people in Africa cook on charcoal and selling this product can be profitable. They gladly shared information and experiences in the world of business.
Due to the generosity of so many of you, I was able to help all these brethren financially. (Please accept this letter as a THANK YOU for your support). After all the expenses were paid, there was a lot of money left over and it was divided among these men. None of them were expecting any financial gifts. They left their jobs and families to travel to this two week gathering simply to learn all they could about the Bible. Thank God, there was enough money left over to share with them so that they received, as a blessing from God, a lot more money than they would have earned if they had stayed at home.
Physically, this was the easiest trip I have made to Africa. Last year, Elder Gowens and I were on thirteen different flights during a 25 day trip. We were in three different parts of east Africa. We were exhausted most of the time. There was usually about an hour of preaching each day and half this time was taken by translators so that the folks could know what we were saying. I knew there had to be a better use of our time in Africa.
This year, there were only four flights. We spent every night in the same place. There was no need for translators, except on Sunday. The only time we left the compound was on Sunday when we traveled to Grace PBC in Dar for their regular worship service. By the way, this was a happy day as we met with about 50 members of this church and worshiped together. After church, we had communion and feet washing and then lunch.
Four of Elder Obey's children were at church on Sunday. The youngest twins, Grace and Nico, are away at a boarding school. The twins, Gift and Given, aged 16, were there, along with Barnabas and Junes. Sister Mary's niece, Theopista, was also there. She lives with them. Brother Gift has expressed a burden to preach and is speaking some in their regular services. These children wanted me to express to all of you their appreciation for your love and care of them since the death of their parents.
Elder Obey's youngest brother, Jonah, joined the PBC in April and he loves the doctrines of grace. He lives in Mbeya and has started a small fellowship there and is teaching them what he has learned about the grace of God. It was a joy to have him with us for these two weeks.
I have attached a picture that Elder Charles from Kenya sent me after he got home. He was able to buy two calves with some of the money I was able to give him. In most of Africa, you are considered well off if you can own a cow!!
In closing, I would like to mention that the brethren from Kenya and Tanzania are deeply thankful for the safe drinking water that is being provided for them due to the faithful labor of Brother John Blevins. They wished to thank all those who support this good work. There is no greater material need for people in 3rd world countries than safe drinking water.
Thanks again for all your prayers. Many of my family and friends did not want me to go to Africa this year due to the Ebola sickness. Thankfully, we did not hear of any one in east Africa with this disease. May we pray that soon, this plague will be removed from the earth.
In Jesus name,
Bro. Sam Bryant