Bishop Notes – September 8, 2008

September 8, 2008

Dear Colleagues,

I hope that each of you has had a great summer and that as the Fall start-ups come, you will have the sense of being carried along by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I want to thank you for your intercessions for me and the others with me during my travels to Sri Lanka and Central Africa. August turned out to be a very demanding month for me and I am thankful for your prayers. You will find pictures in the Photo Gallery from my travels.

It was a real pleasure (and stretching experience) to be involved in the work of the Mission District in Sri Lanka and to visit some of the churches. The dedication of the newly renovated Ministry Centre in Colombo was the first highlight. The second highlight was the pastors and families retreat held near Kandy. It was a privilege to get acquainted with these ministry people and to have the opportunity to serve as their Bible teacher. The ordination of six pastors in the final service was a thrill!

After the retreat, I had the privilege of traveling to a number of the churches and preaching in services. One of the churches that I visited has a ministry that focuses on people who work on the tea plantations picking tea. Their living conditions are very tough, and yet Jesus’ joy was evident in their lives. One of the believers I met is a single mother who supports both her aged parents and her teenage daughter by picking tea. It was a very moving experience to be in their home and to pray with them.

Burundi was next on my itinerary. There I had the privilege of being a guest of Bishop Elie Buconyori and his wife Joy. It was a real blessing to see the work of Hope Africa University—and a real surprise to meet Walter Silver, who had come from Canada to work with others to construct the radio tower for the university. Other Canadians have been involved in providing funds for the university’s radio station. When it is completed, it will be dedicated in honour of Canadian missionaries who are serving and have served the FMC in Central Africa.

Other travel highlights in Burundi included a visit to Muyebe (and lunch with area leaders in the house built by Canadian missionary pioneer to Central Africa, Rev. John Haley) and to Mweya (where the Bible school is located). At Mweya, I also preached to a district youth rally of about 600 young people (teenagers and young adults). It was wonderful to see the Holy Spirit moving in that service as they worshipped and responded to what the Lord was saying to them. We also spent time at Kibuye, where I enjoyed a luncheon with the leaders and toured the F.M. hospital. During all these visits, I was impressed by the wholistic approach that is being used in the churches in Burundi. Bishop Buconyori anticipates that the membership in Burundi may reach 100,000 by the end of 2008.

From August 24-28, I was in Kigali, Rwanda, with other members of the World Conference delegation (Bishops Buconyori and Kendall, and Supt Allan Ellershaw) looking into Bishop Philemon Munyagisaka’s imprisonment. We visited Bishop Munyagisaka in the Central Prison in Kigali and found him in good health and spiritually strong. He was really happy to see us and told us that one of the best gifts that you can give a prisoner is to visit him/her. He is being used by the Lord in his ministry to other inmates; and a Christian social worker who sat with us during our interview with him said that the Christians within the prison would be sad if he were released.

We also had an opportunity to minister to his family and to meet with the Board of Administration of the Rwandan General Conference.

During our visit, we also had extensive and positive conversations with directors in the office of the Executive Secretary of the National Services of the Gacaca Courts and in the office of the Ministry of Justice. We were able to convey the deep concerns of the worldwide Free Methodist family over Bishop Philemon’s imprisonment. Assurances have been given that Bishop Philemon’s case will come to trial soon and that efforts will be made to arrange for a tribunal of judges from outside of Kigali to hear his case.

We will continue to follow up with these government officials. In view of the gravity of the charges, funds need to be raised for Bishop Philemon’s legal defense. All of the General Conferences are being invited to prayerfully consider what support they can collect and send, and so I lay this before you as a matter of prayer. If you feel prompted to participate, please send your cheque payable to the FMCIC and designate it for the “FMWC-Bishop Philemon Defense Fund.”

While we are disappointed that there didn’t seem to be visible progress, we remain confident that God is at work. As Bishop Philemon talked with us, it was like being with Joseph in the Old Testament. He says that he can see God’s plan in what has been happening and that while others meant what has happened for evil, God is using it for good.

Please continue to pray for Bishop Philemon and his family (who are finding it very hard to stay encouraged). Pray that credible witnesses will overcome their fears of intimidation and be prepared to give evidence when his case comes to trial.

The Network Leaders and Network Leader Mentors are meeting this week in Niagara Falls. We are taking the “Culture and the Missional Church” course, and I am asking God to speak clearly and deeply as we consider the issues that this course raises.

We have some announcements this week. We offer our congratulations to the following who have recently been approved by the Board of Administration:

Ministerial Candidates:
Darrin Lindsay-Kingsview, Toronto
Garry Castle (Rustle, Kingston)

Transfer into the denomination
Larry Hart – from the Wesleyan Church of Canada – Central Canada District

Changes in appointment status: Floyd Babcock (Leave of Absence-Secular Employment) and John Foley (Leave of Absence-Personal Reasons)

Lynne Phipps has withdrawn from the conference and the denomination.

May you know Jesus’ deep joy as you serve in his name.

Blessings,
Bishop Keith