Friday, April 4, 2008

Bernard's Story

Back in the early 90's, a young man named John Opiyo from Nairobi came to Chicago to go to Moody and providentially landed at our church. He said he joined because, in his words, we "worship like Africans." I considered that the highest compliment and encouragement.

He went on to become a pastoral intern here, and eventually went back home to plant a church in Nairobi. Over the years, we have developed an intimate relationship with the church he planted there - Kahawa Sukari. About every two years, we send a team from Armitage to partner with them in various ministry ventures, and they send teams here.

On one of these trips (2002), a rather mystical and amazing guy named Mike Freeman was on the team and had a remarkable experience in Nairobi that resulted in a daughter church to Kahawa Sukari being planted in the slum. More on that later, but first a bit about Mike...

Mike was once a drug abuser, a drunk, and a gang banger with the Simon City Royals. His life and marriage were eventually broken - all by his early 20's - when he encountered Jesus. The transformation was nothing short of radical. Mike is one of those people who just exudes love for God, to the point where even other Christians consider him a little different and don't always know how to take him. He has a tremendous heart for evangelism, not surprising considering where he came from, and as I said, tends to be a bit mystical.

I heard the story about his Nairobi encounter back in 2002 when the team returned. I thought, "How cool! Mike witnesses to a guy who gets saved and starts a church in the slum." I really didn't think much more of it after that.

Then I went to Nairobi.

There I met a man named Bernard. Bernard was one of the guys that Mike evangelized on that day six years ago. Bernard had come to Kahawa Sukari from Hope Baptist Church in the slum for the conference we were having last month. He made it a point to introduce himself to me and tell me his story. To say the least, it was a lot more amazing hearing it from the guy who was on the recieving end of the Gospel.

Back when Mike was in Nairobi, our team stayed at a hotel. This particular hotel was across the little gorge from Mathare, one of the largest slums in Africa, and I believe the largest in Nairobi. Acre after acre of hopelessness.

Mike was washing his face early in the morning when God told him (Yes. You read that right) to go out and preach the gospel in the slum. Being the mystical guy he is, Mike walked out, stood on a culvert adjacent to the slum, and began preaching John 3:16. Loudly. At 6:00 in the morning.

Three guys from the slum heard him and said, "What the %#@* is that racket?!?!"

They decided to go and encourage the white guy to shut up. However, they got within earshot and began to listen to what he was saying. They believed.

Bernard told me, "I got down on my knees and was born again, right on the spot." They then asked Mike what to do, since they had no church in the slum. Mike suggested they start one, so they did. With the help of Kahawa Sukari, Hope was born in the slum.

Hope now has two or three pastors, a school that ministers to 200 slum children, and 60 or so worshippers on a Sunday. God has provided land for a building - in the slum - and a cluster of houses they are using now that they have knocked the adjoining walls out of to have a 20' x 20' space to gather. They just got a generator for electricity.

Bernard now oversees the school and wants to come to Chicago to study at Moody. He has this crazy idea that God can do anything. This guy from the slum that now pours his life into making a difference because one day somebody obeyed the voice of the Spirit and preached the Gospel.

And even though these church leaders could all now leave the slum, they have decided to stay. Imagine that. They seem to think God can take care of them there. I wonder how they ever got that idea...

"I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes..." Romans 1:16

Don't ever forget.

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Blogger KG said...

You have no idea how encouraging and amazing this story is. Thank you for sharing.
I was on that trip with Mike. After his first day in the slums, he told Juan and I that we needed to go down there with him. I'll admit that Mike is crazy. Crazy about Jesus.
Juan and I decided to wake up early in the morning before it was light and walk down the side of the highway with Mike to preach. It was one of the most amazing experiences.
I thought it was great then, but I'll be honest, I am more of a discipleship/church guy than evangelism. I remember sitting in the hotel and talking with Bernard about starting a church.
I am completely amazed to hear that God has made that happen. I remember our last morning going down to the slums one last time and praying in an open space that God would build a church in this slum.
We serve an amazing God. I have always known this, but this confirms it once again in an incredible way. I truly can hardly believe it.
Glory to God.

April 5, 2008 at 5:38 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Wow - I forgot that you were on that trip. It was really something to actually meet Bernard.

It's almost like a Book of
Acts kind of story.

April 5, 2008 at 9:21 PM  

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