- Written by John Wolf, LCMS Africa Region Project Manager John Wolf, LCMS Africa Region Project Manager
- Created: January 05 2021 January 05 2021
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.Isaiah 55:8–9
Greetings in Christ from Nairobi, Kenya! Merry Christmas as we celebrate the birth of our Savior and Happy New Year! Thank you for your prayers and support over this year. Even with the circumstances of COVID-19, it is a blessing to look back on 2020 and see how the Lord has moved to spread the Gospel so that people may be reconciled to Him through Christ. It has been a very busy year.
In January, John oversaw the maintenance for LCMS missionary housing at the ELCK seminary in western Kenya. With the expected arrival of two new missionary families, repairs were done on two homes and completion of construction of the third. Sean (our second son) helped me with designs and progress.
In February, John travelled with Tuomo Sumajoki, our local rep for Lutheran Heritage Foundation, to attend a gathering of church leaders from the confessional Lutheran, French-speaking, church bodies in west and central Africa. This was his first time at the annual meeting held at the Center for Lutheran Theological Studies (CLET) in northern Togo. He was thankful to hear so many stories of people who receive the Good News of Christ in countries like Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire, both Congos, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin. This visit allowed him to work more closely with these church leaders and pastors to support projects in their countries.
In mid-March, COVID-19 was identified in Kenya, although increased influenza cases in December 2019 and January 2020 suggest perhaps it was here and in neighboring Tanzania sooner than realized. The response was a near-immediate shutdown of the borders and schools (with all students sent home), a strict curfew set, Nairobi county locked off from the other, more rural counties, and many of the expat community taking repatriation flights back to their passport countries. Although John was unable to check in person on the progress for the missionary housing projects, because our Kenyan church partners outside of Nairobi county could still move around he was able to receive progress updates and photos via phone.
The school closures in March meant that the youth at the Project 24 boarding centers for vulnerable children were returned to their caretakers and extended families. Project 24 a joint effort of the LCMS and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya to provide housing in seven centers for orphaned and vulnerable children in the church who wouldn't otherwise have access to school, regular meals, nor hear the Word of God. However, the site managers, pastors and deaconesses made monthly visits to the 250+ children to bring food staples, prayer, counsel, song and encouragement. Neighbors noticed the visits and asked pastors to come into their homes to pray and share the Gospel. During October, students in grades four, eight and twelve were permitted to return to school. All other grades have had to wait until January to resume school.
The Word continues to go forth even during this time. In a number of countries, John has coordinated with church leaders to provide some relief from COVID through resources for hand-washing, food stuffs and masks.
In Rwanda, as the case numbers decreased the church body was anxious to open the five new churches they had roofed before the pandemic. New regulations required a water source at each church. The Lord provides in His good timing, and gifts were made available that helped procure water tanks and collection systems to allow the churches to reopen.
Two other countries used their COVID support to broadcast weekly services and bible studies on the radio. In one country we have been told of conversions and people coming to Christ. There are many similar stories in the eighteen African countries the LCMS helped with COVID relief.
Because the lock-down in Nairobi did not prevent those outside the city from moving, the LWML “Water and the Word” project could begin in Kenya. Coordination with LWML project leads in the US along with ELCK leadership led to the visit, identification and commencement of efforts to provide clean water to ten ELCK sponsored schools (meeting participants appropriately masked and socially distanced).
The brief reduction in the number of many country's cases in August and September allowed some churches to construct church buildings, and we were able to help them with the installation of the roofs in Mozambique and Kenya. The lifting of travel restrictions into Kenya and Nairobi in August offered an opportunity to move our new missionary families from Tanzania to their new homes at the ELCK seminary in western Kenya.
By October, most of the eight seminaries the LCMS supports in Africa had re-opened in some fashion and many students have been able to resume their studies. Our missionary pastor/theological educators are glad to be teaching again, and John was able to coordinate to ensure resources were in place to do so.
Throughout the year, John's interactions have increased with the Lutheran churches in francophone Africa, and he is grateful for the travel to Togo in February and continued Zoom language lessons. Each of his interactions takes time for coordination, communication, sharing and listening as we walk alongside church leaders and help make the best use of the resources God has provided so that many more can learn about Jesus and salvation through Him. The Gospel continues to go forth according to God's perfect will.
In Kenya, we continue many safety practices, including mandatory masking, restrictions on numbers of people in vehicles, shopping restrictions and regulations, a nighttime curfew, temperature checks at all public locations, limits on crowds and gatherings and requirements on keeping a safe distance from others when out in public.
Despite all this, we have been blessed that our Africa team is still able to gather, using online video-conferencing for daily bible study and worship on Sundays. In Kenya, we are grateful that church services have been allowed to resume, with requirements to wash hands, log body temperatures, wear masks and maintain a designated separation. Additionally, there are limits on the age of those attending, the duration of the services, and the use of elbow bumps or waving instead of the more traditional hand shakes.
Our family is doing well. John has been working mostly from home and has appreciated the additional family time. Homeschooling has continued as normal for us, while our extracurricular activities, such as dance, scouting and orchestra, have been held using videoconferencing (now slowly resuming in-person sessions). The kids used much of the extra time with John and without extra busy time to use ropes and timbers to lash together a treehouse, organize their own talent show with a couple friends which they broadcast online. The boys are ever building things from cardboard, wood or scrap paper (mostly WWII ships and planes).
Our home service in September/October 2020 was postponed due to COVID restrictions. We pray we may be able to visit in 2021!
Thank you again for your prayers and support. Please pass our warm greetings to your congregations, and we pray that the Lord continues to bless and keep you during this time.
John Wolf is the Africa Region Project Manager for the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. He and his family, with the support of LCMS churches like Saint John’s, are serving in Kenya. Please keep them in your prayers! We encourage you to follow their family blog, www.hereiamsendmesendme.blogspot.com, which is also where you can sign up to their mailing list and make donations.