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Liberia March 2016

Undisclosed Location March 3-19, 2016

This is a Christian Liberal Arts college that offers degrees in several disciplines, including a theology and pastoral studies track. The Pastoral Studies Department offers programs that equip students to engage in pastoral ministry, women’s ministries, and biblical exposition. Each program combines extensive biblical training with practical skills. Dynamic classroom teaching from experienced instructors and a hands-on internship gives students an understanding of what pastoral ministry looks like in today’s world. The students come from Liberia and surrounding countries, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea.

Follow along as teachers in the field offer their experiences as they share theological training with local church leaders.

Field Notes   Liberia March 2016

Mar  18th,  2016Departure in Glad Satisfaction for Two Weeks in Liberia

Today I leave Liberia after 2 weeks of busy but seemingly fruitful ministry, both in terms of the immediate ministry and the longterm relationship with TLI and Liberia International Christian College. 

My staying within and among the Liberian community proved to be a delightful relationship for me and a welcomed joy for Othello's family -- the family who took care of me. Not knowing the full impact of such a stay, it became a most intimate bridge of acceptance among all. In the end, I am now adopted into a Liberian family; The Othello family treated me as an honored king.
On my first Sunday I had the privilege of preaching in a rather large church (The Feeding of the 5000). On my second Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching at 2 different churches on 2 different passages suited to the desired needs of each congregation. They all smiled at my double duty. I said, next time we will do 3 churches! They laughed. During the week, I had the privilege of meeting with several significant pastors, mostly to make a relational connection for TLIs continual work in Liberia.
Of course, 2 courses were taught -- Church History and Marriage and Family Education. I never personally learned so much as I did teaching Marriage and Family Education. This was a delightful surprise. The approach was to use Genesis chapters one through three, and the Book of Ephesians as the way back home from the effect of the fall and the reclaimation of the God given world view for spiritual maturity leading to healthy families; healthy families that will serve the future stability of Liberia in generations to come. 
Getting to the material was a challenge due to the helpfully vibrant dialogue among the students. As they came to understand God's view of family for all peoples in all places, the energetic dialogue prevailed. The students compared their welcomed embrace of Genesis chapters one and two, against the disruption of Genesis chapter three, in view of their traditional expectations, and there my education began. The students welcomed and enjoyed, in humility, the  rethinking of helpful and unhelpful traditions -- I chose to be the student at their cultural evaluation.
Then came the implied hard question of ministry: how do we pastors now bring into practice the changes, in a cultural rooted in long and ancient tradition? In that work I commended the students to their work among Liberian pastors, patience, and beginning the process among their own families, or a small group of women where we had single women, and a small group of men, where we had single men -- big things grow from small beginnings.
Needless to say, among the pastors, our discussion extend wider than the immediate course on Marriage and Family. The link to local church eldership and the importance of the local church for supporting mature believers and strong families became the complement, thus the entire Book of Ephesians.
I met with Dr. Sei on several occasions. Dr. Sei asked me if I would consider, in my normal relationship with TLI and Liberia, if I would become an adjunct faculty member of the theology department of Liberia International Christian College. I said that I think this would be okay with TLI. I will confirm that with our senior administration.
I am personally satisfied as I depart this evening for America. Dr Sei said that I am white on the outside but Liberian on the inside. As a gift, I was given a Liberian shirt. So I said, now I am Liberian on both the inside and outside.
Serving God with You,
Tom Brown


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Mar  12th,  2016A Challenging Moment in Church History

On Friday we completed our 40 hour course in Church History. In the wide range of theological developments through the ages, two that generated fervent discussion followed from post Reformation history, they were: the essential doctrine of Justification by Grace through Faith and the implications of translating the "Received" Greek text into the common tongue. 

Surprising to me, these took special significance among the class in view of the Roman Catholic authority that declared additional means of grace such as the sale of indulgences, the lighting of candles for a price, and pilgrimages to shrines of Mary -- all in view of lessening time spent in "Purgatory" -- the place where remaining sins are purged in fire in order to be made ready for heaven in purity. 
Although not the same exact issues, questions came from the students: Are there religious acts or offerings to God that do earn additional "favor?" If I give, will God always bless me in greater measure in this world? Most challenging -- not because of the difficulty to answer the questions biblically but because of the varied denominational complication of the class: If a pastor says that he or she won't pray with a church member unless the church member first gives the pastor money, is that right? And, in reverse, is it right if the pastor assures the church member that blessings will follow in the pastor's prayers?
It was a delicate moment for I did not want to slam any denomination but rather direct our attention to the Word of God and let the questions be answered from the word. I wanted to consider the central means of grace from all we were learning from the Reformation and Church History. So, we discussed two matters: True pastoral ministry in the likeness of Jesus and Paul, and the Christian way grace in Christ alone. In both we let the scriptures speak and encouraged the students in that direction.
In pastoral ministry, we considered Jesus and Paul. In Jesus we see an extravagant ministry of mercy to all the oppressed without cost, in fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-3 fulfilled historically in Matthew 4:23-5:1. We considered the Gospel of Luke who showed Jesus' ministry to the broken, the lame, the demon possessed, the women, and all who were the outcast -- and again a ministry without cost. We also considered Paul's attitude in 1 Corinthians chapter 9.
We mentioned though that the greater matter may be the Christian's misguided thinking shown by the pressure to believe and respond to such pastoral assertions. On that we discussed sharpening our focus on understanding the Christian life. We discussed such passages as, "Blessed be the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). We discussed such Reformation theological developments as: Christ, the living Word and the Bible, the written Word, as the central means of grace.
Our discussion took us so much wider but it would be too much to include in this post.
I am enjoying my time with the whole class. On Monday, we begin our second 40 hour class on Marriage and Family Education. Pray that the Word of God would be powerfully opened and embraced for the lifelong pursuit of a true faith.  

Serving God with You,


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Mar  8th,  2016A First Day of Teaching in Liberia

It is the hot season in Liberia and it is the second day of teaching Church History. Marriage and Family Ministry will follow next week. We are given to 7 hour days in the classroom. 

Liberia International Christian College is located a few miles south of French speaking Guinea, the place of the origin of Ebola. The good news is that Liberia and Guinea are now Ebola free.

There are 28 students in the class. Teaching Church History is a challenge in Africa. Every name and event is newly considered for the first time, even names and events intimately related to African Church History.

Rather than merely taking a historical approach I chose to use the historical development of the Church to show the value of the suffering and conflict that gave rise to the theology we love; and to show God's sovereign and providential hand in the building of His Church. 

A most valuable realization among several students was to see the close association of early heretical teachings with similar beliefs in churches today. Among the provocative topics was the Gnostic influence, claiming teachers of secret knowledge and mystical insight apart from the authority of the Word of God alone. I asked the question following consideration of the Gnostic view, do like views exist today? The discussion was wild -- some being challenged to embrace the only verifiable authority, the Word of God. And some holding on to the notion that there are specially endowed and gifted prophets who possess a hidden knowledge. We long to see a wise defense for the faith and a wise shepherding of the saints. 

I will keep you informed on the further developments of our students.  

Serving God with You,

Tom Brown


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