WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Shortly after Pamela and Ruth accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior at their home in their Kenyan village, questions and hurt lingered.
For Pamela, sadness remained over the recent loss of her husband. As for Ruth, she could not understand how God could love her after losing four of her children to death.
Craig Willingham, a Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary master of divinity student and his wife, Tonya, remained with Pamela and Ruth to help them find the answers to their questions.
“I just felt those ladies needed to know someone loved them and that my wife and I loved them,” Willingham, of Rougemont, N.C., said.
A group of about 25 Southeastern students and a dozen volunteers from two North Carolina Baptist churches went to Kenya June 27-July 6 to assist members of Southeastern’s first class of church planters in evangelism and discipleship in the east African country.
Volunteers from Bay Leaf Baptist Church, Raleigh, and Hickory Grove Baptist Church, Charlotte, joined Southeastern’s mission efforts this summer.
Hut-to-hut evangelism led by the seminary’s church-planting pioneers resulted in hundreds of people professing Jesus as Lord. The showing of the “Jesus” film in Kenyan villages was used by God to draw hundreds more to himself.
But the volunteer group’s task was focused toward turning new Christians into mature disciples for Christ.
Keith Eitel, director of the Center for Great Commission Studies at Southeastern, said the discipleship training is especially important because, in Kenya, many new Christians quickly doubt the security of their salvation. “There has been so much influence of Catholicism and a mixture of cultic type offshoots of Christianity,” Eitel explained.
Critics of the discipleship approach contend many new converts could be missed because of the time spent in follow-up. But advocates say it will only be a matter of time before these lost individuals hear the gospel from one of their own people who has been discipled in the faith.
Paul Taylor of Hampton, Va., spent two years in western Kenya participating in Southeastern’s church-planting program. “I’ve seen the effects of evangelism without discipleship in Kenya,” Taylor said. “There are a lot of weak churches, a lot of false doctrine. … I had a church that was sacrificing chickens, another church making beer because Jesus turned water into wine. Only the chairman of the association could do baptism or give the Lord’s Supper, and he charged money.”
Taylor said death is central to the Luo culture because of ancestral worship. Luo people are the second-largest Kenyan tribe, numbering more than 10 million in western Kenya near Lake Victoria. Luo are steeped in deep-rooted traditions such as shaving their heads to keep away evil spirits when someone dies, Taylor said.
“They sleep with the dead,” he said. “If a man’s wife dies before he remarries, (then) someone has to sleep with his dead wife.”
At first, Taylor said, many of the Kenyan pastors resisted his efforts to disciple them. “They were convinced if they went to Bible school it would take away the Holy Spirit,” Taylor said. “They would pick up a Bible and read and say whatever (came) to mind and (would) say that’s the Holy Spirit.”
But before Taylor left western Kenya, six of the Kenyan pastors in his area had enrolled in a new Bible school started by the Southeastern church planters. Several Kenyan pastors peddled 50 miles one way on their bicycles to attend a seminar Taylor taught on Baptist doctrine.
“That showed me they had a desire to truly know,” Taylor said. “People ask how many churches did we start and I say, ‘Go back in a couple of years and you’ll find out.'”
Taylor said the church-planting mission in Kenya taught him that you can’t separate evangelism from discipleship. “When you lead someone to the Christ, you take responsibility for nurturing that person in the faith,” he said.
Members of Southeastern’s summer church planting team initiated the discipleship training immediately following a Kenyan’s profession of faith. Student missionaries visited the new Christians, leading them through a Bible study developed by Tim Bentley, a member of the first Southeastern church-planting graduating class.
“In Kenya, people get saved and then you never see them again,” Bentley said. The study, which Bentley translated into two other languages, Swahili and Luo, addressed aspects of the Christian life including assurance of salvation, eternal life, overcoming sin, loving and obeying God, prayer, Bible study and baptism.
“Jesus spent a lot of time with the disciples to prepare them,” Bentley said. “It takes more than 15 to 30 minutes or an hour to make someone a disciple.”
Southeastern church planters encouraged new converts to get involved in Bible study groups led by seminary students. During these sessions, Southeastern students said, the new converts began taking their first steps toward Christian maturity.
“You could really see the people (becoming) strong leaders,” Willingham said. “The people who were interested in the Word of God would ask questions. It was very rewarding. You could see them already starting to grow.”