Something important about their great-grandfather

Something important about their great-grandfather

One of the things I truly enjoy about sending out my updates by email is the large numbers of people who write back to me each time. It's fun dialoguing with people, answering their questions, carrying on a long-distance conversation of sorts. An awful lot of people wrote to me after my email earlier this week, and some of those letters were real treasures as people remembered aloud with me the impact of their own grandmothers on their lives. But truly one of my favorite emails came from my Uncle Sam, who told me about all of the memories that it brought back for him, and about how he goes back every now and then and reads an article that I wrote in 2003 about my grandfather! I had written it when we all celebrated my grandfather's 75th year of ministry in Africa as a missionary. I had a copy of the article sent to me so that I could read what I had written seven years ago.

Tonight when we sit around the fire in the kitchen to eat dinner (it's cold here!) -- I'm going to read it for my boys, both because I want them to know something important about their great-grandfather, and because I want to make sure they come to understand that the roots of the Village Schools International they see today go much deeper than 2005 when we official launched this work ...

The Mission of the Church

By Steve Vinton, March 2003

One of the fondest memories of my grandfather was seeing him late one evening in his home at Kama reading a book by the great missionary statesman E. Stanley Jones. He had come across a sentence where Jones had written that “a Christian is someone who cares.” Briefly, very briefly, Baba was satisfied with that, but then I remember his mood changing and him emphatically saying that Jones was wrong. He proceeded to take out one of his marking pens to mark up the book and handed it over for me to read “A Christian is someone who cares... AND DOES SOMETHING ABOUT IT."

It wasn’t in a classroom that my grandfather taught me about the mission of the Church. Baba taught me by his probing questions and by his patient answers to my own, but mostly he taught me by his actions.

I saw it first the summer of 1976 when I traveled for four weeks from village to village with him. The mission of the Church was not just preaching the Gospel that saves people, although I sure saw my grandfather do a lot of that. The mission of the Church was not just planting churches, although sitting around the fire at night I heard him tell me how all of the idol shrines he found in 1928 had been replaced by hundreds of churches; I knew that my grandfather believed in the importance of planting churches. The mission of the Church was not just training pastors and elders and Sunday School teachers, although in the Bible schools in village after village I saw evidence that this, too, was important to my grandfather.

I learned from him that the mission of the Church was much broader than what some had led me to believe it was. He taught me that the Church couldn’t be true to itself if it only preached the Gospel, planted churches, and trained leaders. It also had to meet the physical needs of people. It had to help those who were sick. It had to care. And I saw that caring in my grandfather and his team as they vaccinated kids, delivered babies, and treated the sick.

I saw that the Church couldn’t truly be the Church if it closed its eyes to the needs of people for education, and I saw in village after village the primary and secondary schools run by the Church. Baba made sure that I met those kids and learned that they weren’t just numbers. They were human beings, who given the chance at an education, could one day be doctors and teachers, pastors and engineers and, in truth, anything they wanted to become. All of those churches started in Congo today run a large network of more than 200 schools with a combined enrollment of 30,000 students, and a lot of those kids I met in 1976 today are doctors and principals of schools and many of them have studied at universities in and beyond Africa.

My grandfather caused me to see that the Church couldn’t be true to itself if it didn’t invest itself in developing the community, in helping the poor to improve their lives, in helping people to believe that they could change their condition for themselves and for their children. In one village, it might have meant working with the community to build a bridge. In another, it meant starting a cooperative so that people had access to soap and salt and matches. In some places, it meant introducing fruit trees, sawing lumber, training carpenters, or getting tools for bricklayers. Everywhere it meant showing people that the true nature of the Gospel compelled those who were Christians to act to meet human needs, to help people better their lives, to show love and compassion and concern.

My grandfather’s legacy is often measured in terms of numbers—75 years of ministry, more than 600 churches planted, more than 200 schools established, more than a dozen Bible schools started—and sometimes his legacy is measured in the uncountable: the untold numbers of women who didn’t die in childbirth, the untold numbers of kids who didn’t join the statistics of those who die early deaths in Africa, and the untold numbers of those who improved their lives for themselves and their families. But I am coming slowly to realize that my grandfather’s most profound legacy might actually be the way in which he impacted my thinking, and the thinking of so many other people, helping us to see the mission of the Church in a much fuller sense...and by influencing our thinking and broadening our vision, he spurred many of us to action. He inspired us by his example to be the kind of Christians who care...and who do something about it.