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4. Too Much Training and Not Enough Trials

Thoughts from my journey with JESUS.

Several Bible readings are printed throughout this chapter.

I am very thankful to God for the Bible training I have received throughout my life. The London church where I was converted and then baptised as a believing teenager had some very godly youth leaders who helped develop in me, and several others, good Christian discipleship standards. They also gave me opportunities for meaningful Christian service while I was still young and inexperienced.

At 20 years old, after four years working in banking and finance, and having gained the business qualification my Dad required of me before giving his permission, I went to Bible College in Katoomba, N.S.W., Australia, where Ambassadors For Christ also gave me two years firm foundational training, using both classroom and practical’s, in the conservative evangelical Christian faith. I didn’t agree with everything I heard, but I was generally allowed to discuss questions in a sincere seeking atmosphere. Because I was a foreigner in Australia I also gained a lot of preaching and leading experience in a whole variety of different churches. People were pleased to hear my ‘English accent’ speaking English!

During the long summer vacation, and when travelling back to England after College was over, I was privileged to visit a number of missionary situations in countries like Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, South Vietnam, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Nepal. All this when I was still not 23 years old. I had learned a lot from being alongside and listening to people ministering in a whole variety of mission situations. Three months very well invested.

30 years later during my pastorate at Khartoum International Church I was given their permission to distance study and research for my ‘M.A. in evangelism studies’ degree via Cliff College, Sheffield University. For this I also had to visit England four separate weeks over the two years, attending lectures and discussion-learning with my tutor. The training was specifically geared to my then ministry: ‘How to pastor an International Church in an Islamic capital city’. I was 53 when I graduated with the degree. I still have my precious (to me

) dissertation on that important topic.


“Training” generally is defined as “the process of learning or teaching the skills that you need for a particular job or activity”. [1] It can also mean “practising regularly to be able to achieve a desired goal (as in a sport for example).[2] I am grateful to God that both of these aspects, learning and practising, were highly prized in all of the training I have been blessed with over my 70 years, from Sunday School onwards. I also include in this quite a few regular conferences where I chose to sit under the ministry of respected English Bible teachers such as D.M. Lloyd-Jones, John Stott, Alan Redpath, Michael Green, Christopher Wright and Major Ian Thomas, plus of course the American evangelist Billy Graham and his team.

Thank God for all good training and experience.

Discernment in Christian Training

However, I want to warn my readers that not all Christian training is good Christian training. Please be discerning. Just because you are offered a free scholarship to train somewhere doesn’t mean it is good evangelical Bible-centred training you will receive. Sadly, around the world there are many Institutes, Colleges, Schools and Universities which give liberal teaching that undermines the authority of Scripture and even questions the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The word “biblical” actually means, “contained in or related to the Bible”.[3] So some people may teach from the Bible, and thus be strictly ‘biblical’, while at the same time they question or deny the very truths that God reveals by His Spirit in the Bible. People returning back to Sudan or South Sudan who have been trained in such institutions will do immense damage to the Christian church wherever they minister. They may not hold the same beliefs as when they left. I say again, please be discerning. Respect scholarship only so far as the scholar himself or herself respects Scripture’s revelation and the authority of our Lord Jesus as God the Son, uniquely concurrently both fully God and fully man, the Saviour of every repentant sinner.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it”, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (italics mine).

Paying the Cost of the Call of Jesus

Since I first visited Sudan in 1979 I have watched the amazing boom in mobile phones. Successive governments found it cheaper to encourage mobiles with their masts than to build the infrastructure for land line technology. You may well have a mobile, cell or smart phone yourself rather than a land line in your home. The cost is generally cheaper both for users and providers.

Think about this written by a Christian from Sri Lanka:

“Jesus’ basic call to follow Him was a call to suffer: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me”, Matthew 16:24. His hearers would have known that He was speaking of severe suffering when He said this because they knew that crucifixion was a cruel and painful way of causing death. Jesus told us, “In the world you will have tribulation”, John 16:33. And Paul stated, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”, 2 Timothy 3:12”.

“Jesus did not want people to follow Him without realising there was a cost involved in doing so. So He included the cost in His basic call to discipleship. When some would-be followers volunteered, He presented the cost to them in places where they were vulnerable, Luke 9:57-62. We are not told, but it is quite possible that they decided not to follow Jesus. We know for sure that the rich young ruler did not follow Christ because the cost Jesus presented was too great for him, Matthew 19:16-22. These two passages may be the sections where Christ’s evangelistic method most radically differs from much of contemporary evangelism”.[4]

I firmly believe that suffering and hardship are among the best preparations for any continuing Christian ministry – indeed for any daily Christian discipleship.

The “Stauros” cross of Jesus

The raising up of large wooden crosses in the market square of places where the Christian gospel was first preached in Sudan was often the forerunner to the building of a physical church nearby. In discovered paintings and poetry from early Christianity in Sudan, the cross depicts both the suffering and the glory of Jesus. It seems those early pioneers knew they must accept at face value our Lord Jesus’ primary call to “ take up your cross”. They must be ready to pay the price of following Him in everyday life and to bring Him glory by suffering while doing so. As well as Bible texts from 22 Bible books written in the Old Nubian language, the “Stauros Text” poem (below) is from an Old Nubian translation of a Greek original. “Stauros” means cross in both languages. It captures these twin meanings of glory and suffering for the cross of Jesus, a message revealed from the Bible:

“The cross is the hope of the Christians.

The cross is the resurrection of the dead …

The cross is the physician of the sick …

The cross is the hope of the hopeless.

The cross is the freedom of slaves …

The cross is the splendour of kings.

The cross is the exultation of the apostles …

The cross is the haven of the storm-tossed.

The cross is the forgiveness of sinners.

The cross is the hope of the forlorn.

The cross is the watering of seeds …

The cross is the welfare of the poor.

The cross is the victory over the devil …

The cross is the clothing of the naked.

The cross is the praise of the angels …

The cross is the bread for the hungry.

The cross is the spring for the thirsty …

The cross is the foundation of churches …

The cross is life-giving, on account of God,

Who hung upon it in the Flesh,

because He conquered for us, who needed peace”.[5]

I have recently been most impressed reading the history of Christianity coming again[6] to Sudan and at the suffering the missionaries and early converts were willing to endure. A friend in the Nuba Mountains asked me to get him a book on this subject as he had been invited to teach it to a regular gathering of believers there. Electronically I tracked down two copies among very few left at the publishers in Nairobi. Some people I pray for who are living there helped me buy one for him and one for me. The book challengingly details life’s everyday conditions for the missionaries including climate, food and water, mental and physical diseases like malaria and cholera, deaths of wives or husbands after just a few months of residency, early deaths of children, deaths, illness or returning home of co-workers, misunderstandings and rejection by local people including business people, slave traders, and by the ruling governments, entrapments by external and internal wars. There were also the constant feelings of failure. Of course language was an enormous barrier to everything at first. Culture clashes and misunderstandings were many. Most outsiders brought all their ‘foreign’ church culture and traditions with them as well as their genuine Christianity.

“The churches in Sudan today trace their beginnings to the Anglo-Egyptian rule in Sudan. The modern missionary movement into Sudan did not begin until after Kitchener’s victory over the forces of the Khalifa”, in 1898. [7]

Over the decades as people from Europe, Egypt, USA and Australia arrived in Sudan and Christian groups were formed, training for the local converts became a key issue in order that national people could lead the national church to be “self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating (or self-extending)”.[8] This became increasingly important as the strong Imperialism of 1898 was later met with increasing calls for national Independence, which eventually came in 1956. Followers of Jesus Christ from all sides paid a price simply for seeking to follow the mission strategies they believed to be right.

Many missions trained local people vocationally and established schools for children and young people following government curricula. Roman Catholic Daniele Comboni pioneered ‘agricultural and training colonies’ in 1876 not far from El Obied. “Its aim was to train Christian families in agricultural skills … some Christian families, mostly freed slaves, were brought from the Institutes in Egypt and others from the growing Christian communities in El Obied and Khartoum. (They were also) offered a Christian way of life, guarding them from the overwhelming influence of Islam”.[9]

Initially some advanced students from these schools that missions had begun were taken to Europe for further training in specifically Christian and church matters. But Comboni really wanted “the regeneration of Africa by Africans”. However, this was set back when his first priest, Joseph Pius Hadrian, died after just two months ministering in El Obied. It was not only outsiders to Africa who paid a price.

Almost all missions involved “the training of Sudanese as assistants”.[10] This may have been in a secular vocation or in church ministry. “As independence loomed on the horizon, the new generation of Sudanese politicians saw the need to promote the unity of the different parts of Sudan. This could only be achieved, they believed, through a policy of Arabizing and Islamizing the country. But partly as a response to these directions of government, Sudanese began assuming leadership of the church. More and more the Gospel was spread by Sudanese pastors, evangelists and catechists, both men and women. That is the central story of the church during this period of shock and change”.[11]

“The Protestant missions … aimed to form groups of believers who would develop their own Sudanese style of Christianity”. They were also “all concerned with Islam” and “came with the conscious intention of working on the border of Islam and African religion”.[12] The British government administration forbade evangelism among Muslims in Sudan. This, and subsequent Sudanese government Sharia laws, have increased the conflict between authorities and evangelical Christianity, with the latter’s emphasis on personal conversion by the Holy Spirit and discipleship to follow Jesus in all of life. Many Sudanese have paid the highest price in this life, when they have become saved and ready for the next!

Knowing and growing

“While training helps us grow in ways we know we need to grow, trials enable us to grow in areas of our lives where we don’t know we need to grow”.[13]

Reflecting back on my own life I believe that I have learned far more from experience than from the degrees I earned in theological training or later from conferences I attended. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying formal training does not matter, although I do think it is not 100% essential. It is only our church and denominational rules that make a certain level of formal theological training necessary before having a particular ministry. Nor am I saying that ongoing learning during life and ministry is unimportant for anyone. I believe the best ‘livers-for-Jesus’ are the continuing ‘life-learners-from-Jesus’.

Joy and suffering

A good knowledge and understanding of the Bible, with the application to life of what God teaches us from there by His Spirit, is of paramount importance for any minister and ministry. Life’s lessons may be painful but they can also be powerful. Think about these five Scriptures:

Consider it pure joy, brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”. James 1:2-4 (italics mine).

If you want the Christian ability to keep on progressing through life’s troubles, and to grow into full discipleship as a follower of Jesus Christ, and to always have everything you need to face up to any circumstances life throws at you, then I suggest you journey with Jesus in your heart, the Bible and the Holy Spirit as your tutors, allowing them to re-order your mind and life, in the lifetime school of Christian living and service. Because you know that God is always doing something bigger than you can understand, you can trust Him absolutely. In so doing you will receive an overwhelming joy and an undergirding peace.

Our Lord Jesus called Paul to follow Him. After a lifetime of suffering in this service Paul wrote:

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, Who has been given to us”, Romans 5:1-5 (italics mine).

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”, Philippians 4:4-7 (italics mine).

When our deep inner joy comes from knowing Jesus, we can stop our busy lives regularly to remember exactly Who is in charge! Joy for the Christian comes from our convictions not our circumstances. Remember that in the Old Testament God’s people of “Israel” bore a name meaning “he struggled (or wrestled) with God”, from Genesis 32:28.

South Sudanese wrestling is on the rise amongst men who have migrated to Australia. Crowds of women and men across the age spectrum come to spectate. Matches claim to follow the same rules and strategies as back in the Nuba Mountains or wherever. Every Australian state has a team and there are interstate competitions. Culture and costumes from ‘back home’ are maintained, with an added amplified commentary and descriptive team names. The contests are usually decided by the number of ‘falls’.[14]

Jacob was “blessed” after he wrestled with God. He was left with a permanent disability, Genesis 32:22-32. I believe we Christians always need more in our daily blessings from God and that we should be willing to struggle with Him to gain ‘insight with understanding’ of what He is actually bringing about in our lives and beyond. Then sufferings and struggles can always be viewed as ‘glory-moments’.

Our Lord Jesus Himself said to His distraught disciples, when they just heard some tough news:

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”, John 14:25-27 (italics mine).

Suffering is a basic ingredient of the Christian life. Paul encouraged and warned the new disciples from Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, to “… remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God’”, Acts 14:22. In Romans he wrote that Christians are justified and then we suffer, Romans 5:1-5; Christians are sanctified and then suffer, Romans 7:24-25, 8:1-4, 12-14; and lastly Paul concludes, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us”, 8:18, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword”, 8:35. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us (our Lord Jesus Christ)”, 8:37.

I encourage all my Christian friends in Sudan and South Sudan, together with the thousands who I don’t know, to learn from, and be trained by, the God-given blessings of sufferings. When God allows sufferings they are designed as helps not handicaps.

Have you ever had a painful splinter in your finger? I hope you have a loving, caring , skilful partner or friend who will help you remove it. Do you remember when Paul pleaded three times for his ‘Satan-given God-allowed’ thorn in the flesh to be removed (healed) by God?

“I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong”, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, (italics mine).

Sometimes I think of my laryngeal cancer, which took away my natural voice in 2003, as ‘my speaking splinter’. I am learning to listen to what God says through what He does. I am discovering it is training like no other. God’s voice-box has not been taken away like mine has. He can, and does, still speak.

Finally, there is a startling comment on Acts 14:22 suggested in one book I read. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”. The author tellingly links that sentence with Romans 8:17, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory” (italics mine). He also quotes 2 Timothy 2:12-13, “ … if we endure, we will also reign with Him. If we disown Him, He will also disown us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot disown Himself”, (italics mine). The challenging conclusion the writer draws is that not only is hardship a key ingredient of discipleship, it is also “a condition for entrance into the kingdom of God”.[15]

Please do not be put off genuine Christianity by the price. It is demanding. Please pay the whole cost of following the One Who gave His all to save you.

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have”,

Philippians 1:29-30.

Discussion guide

1. I suggested we should, “Respect scholarship only so far as the scholar himself or herself respects Scripture’s revelation”. Give your reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with this statement. Use Bible passages when you can.

2. Romans 5:1-5 says that sufferings correctly lived through produce, “perseverance, character and hope”. How do the teaching classroom and life’s experiences compare in Christian education? Describe strengths and weakness of each, using Scripture if you are able.

3. What positive Christian things have you learned from suffering that you could probably not learn in a class? Give opportunity for each person in your group to share at least one.

4. Discuss the meaning of “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”, Acts 14:22. Paul and Barnabas warned newly Christian disciples about this (see surrounding verses). What are some of the dangers facing rather young people who train in Bible School or similar, as soon as they graduate?

5. Finally, please read Paul’s final charge to Timothy:

“You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, my endurance, my persecutions, my sufferings – what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”, 2 Timothy 3:10-17.

Pick out from this passage everything that gave teaching in some way to the less experienced pastor, whose guide and mentor was about to be executed.

I found at least twelve. Try to imagine what was happening every day as Paul and Timothy travelled and ministered, taking initiatives and responding to events together.

End notes: [1] on line. [2] Macmillan School Dictionary (Macmillan: Oxford) 2004. [3] on line. [4] Ajith Fernando The Call to Joy and Pain (Inter Varsity Press: Nottingham) 2008, page 18. [5] Roland Werner, William Anderson, Andrew Wheeler Day of Devastation and Day of Contentment (Paulines Publications Africa: Nairobi) second edition 2010, pages 63-65. [6] Egyptian and Coptic Christians fleeing persecution came south. There were early Nubian Christian kingdoms established along the Nile valley, at least from Aswan to the confluence of the Blue & White Niles by today’s Khartoum. “It seems clear that it was a Meriotic court official who heard the gospel of Jesus from the deacon Philip (Acts 8:26- 40), and brought back his new-found faith to the Meriotic capital of Napata. This Sudanese man was therefore the first known non-Jewish believer in Jesus Christ … long before the Gospel reached Europe. So it can be said the message of Jesus was sown in Sudanese soil only a few years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, certainly before the year AD40. However, there is no evidence that any Christian community sprang up in Meroe at this time”. From Roland Werner, William Anderson, Andrew Wheeler Day of Devastation and Day of Contentment (Paulines Publications Africa: Nairobi) second edition 2010, page 22. [7] Ibid., page 165. [8] Ibid., Attributed to CMS secretary Henry Venn in 19th century, pages 236, 241. [9] Ibid., pages 141-3. [10] Ibid., page 202. [11] Ibid page 261. [12] Ibid., pages 178-9. [13] Borthwick & Ripper The Fellowship of the Suffering (IVP: Downers Grove, IL.) 2018, page 111. [14] [15] Ajith Fernando The NIV Application Commentary – Acts (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan) 1998, page 403.


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