The word instantly conjures up achievement! And you would be right, these humble servants have persevered through many challenges for over 6 years to get to this day, so this is a great personal achievement for each of them. When I asked them their personal reactions to the day almost to a man they said, “We have never experienced anything like this in our entire lives, and we never expected we could achieve this!” Their gratitude to us as a mission and to all those who encouraged them they could do this was palpable.
The week of intensive training that culminated in the graduation ceremony was, as usual, intense. Each person attending is a pastor selected by their peers to come and get intensive training and then return to their communities and teach the same courses to a group of pastors. The groups (extension schools) have as few as 8 leaders and as many as 40 attending, and it is hard to express how much work this requires of these willing volunteers. Many of the pastors they are training cannot read Portuguese (the language of the course) and many others read and write their own language (dialect) only very poorly. The result is hours of translating, explaining, encouraging and revision. As a result, much of our week of training is spent in encouraging these (what we call “monitors” of the course) to hang in there and reminding them of the eternal difference they are making in the lives of so many.
One of the topics focused on is servant leadership, and we often talk about leaders who serve. This week we focused on servants who lead. Numerous topics (besides the course material) focused on the challenges and sacrifices we make in serving but with the reminder that our Lord led the way by example and served and sacrificed and suffered. There was also the reminder of the promises Jesus made to those who do sacrifice and leave home and fields and family. I was able to personally share how God has richly blessed our family even though it has meant the sacrifice of being so far away from each other much of the time.
The Sunday Graduation Celebration was held in a local church and was truly a Celebration! Besides all the normal formal stuff, there was much praise and much dancing…something not strange to church here in Africa. These men have now returned to their communities and our team will visit them and their schools and provide ongoing seminar training and partnership in projects.
Just yesterday, we celebrated with a further 8 graduates from 2 of our extension schools. One of these has already been selected to be the district leader for his church denomination and the church sent an entire choir from quite a distance to participate in the singing, dancing and festivities. Pastor Antonio (another of our graduates who is also a monitor and the National leader of his church group), shared the challenge of now “planting the seed stored up from your studies! “Seed in the barn cannot produce anything”, he said.
Graduation, besides meaning “achievement”, also clearly refers to the fact that we now graduate to a new level of service and effectiveness often requiring even more personal discipline, sacrifice and sometimes suffering. Please keep these men and all those men and women they will now be training in your prayers as they continue to apply what they have so diligently studied.