¯I WILL PRAISE YOU, O LORD, WITH MY WHOLE HEART; I WILL TELL OF ALL YOUR MARVELOUS WORKS¯ Ps. 9:1
With all the problems and challenges that we are confronted with in this world, it is easy to get discouraged and feel like giving up. When you look to people for answers, you will always be disappointed. But when you look up and seek the face of God, it puts everything back into perspective. Jesus said it best in John 16:33, ¯These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.¯
Marvelous Works in West Africa
In our last newsletter, we shared about the door of opportunity God had opened for us in Africa in November and December, 2011. Our original plans included Togo, Benin, Nigeria, and Kenya but nothing seemed to be coming together as it should. As we prayed, we felt a check in our spirits that God was directing us to go to West Africa but that He was closing the door to Kenya. As soon as we emailed the Brother in Kenya that we would not be able to come at that time, everything else fell into place and we were able to save $1,000 on airline tickets alone.
We want to thank you so much for your prayers and your faithful gifts that made our trip there possible. God moved in marvelous ways in supplying our needs, guiding our footsteps, and protecting us from danger. Our visas cost far more than we had anticipated but God supplied the need and our passports with the necessary visas were returned to us the day before we were scheduled to fly from Omaha, Nebraska to Lome, Togo by way of Newark and Brussels.
During our two weeks in West Africa, we had opportunity to minister at 3 Bible school graduations, 3 ordinations, and 3 pastors' conferences - 1 each in Togo, Benin, and Nigeria. These 3 countries are much in need of our prayers. There is a legacy of great darkness in this region, the home of both voodoo and the slave trade, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a Gospel of hope and of light. It was very revealing as we visited a slavery museum in the ancient city/kingdom of Badagry on the coast of Nigeria where it borders Benin. The guide kept asking "Would you rather be a slave trader or a slave?" as if those were the only options. Do you want to be an oppressor or among the oppressed? Thank God! Jesus came to set the captive free. Both the oppressor and the oppressed can now become a new creation in Christ Jesus! Badagry was a major slave port but it was also where the Gospel was first preached in Nigeria.
The Believers in West Africa were so encouraged to know that not all Americans have fallen for a perverted "prosperity gospel" that exalts material prosperity and spiritual compromise as "proof" of God's favor and ridicules those who stand for inward holiness and Biblical integrity even when it means personal sacrifice. That perverted theology has robbed much of the Church in West Africa of their missionary zeal to reach the lost. It was a joy to be able to encourage those who are still standing for Biblical faith and personal commitment to righteousness and a burden for souls. God's people everywhere are hungry for those who will preach God's Word without compromise or sugar coating. The Believers we met are sick of having their ears "tickled" while they see greed and corruption on every side.
Yes, we saw tremendous poverty and blatant corruption but we also saw humble Believers who were lost in worship, children who were pouring out their hearts to Jesus in unashamed adoration, and young people gathering for all night sessions of intercessory prayer, determined to see the Church restored to the power they read about in the book of Acts. They are willing to pay whatever price it takes to see the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and the oppressed set free. Please join with us in lifting these committed Christians in your prayers. Pray especially for Sarah and Augustine Onu, our hosts on this journey, that God will perfect the transforming work that He is doing in and through them. Please also pray for Pastor Mathieu Hounkpe, Director of the IAM Bible School in Togo, whose wife recently went home to be with the Lord.
We thought we had enough money to cover our expenses once we arrived in Africa, but we ran out of funds half way through as we were preparing to cross the border into Nigeria. We cried out to God to meet the need because we were cut off from the outside world - not even the internet! We had been telling people that God was their Source and not America or Europe. God wanted to confirm that word and He did. The last service we had was an ordination service in the small church Augustine and Sarah Onu pastor in Nigeria on Sunday afternoon, December 4. During the service, the presence and anointing of God was there in such a powerful way. After the service as we were enjoying the celebration feast, Pastor Augustine walked up to us with the most amazed look on his face. With tears in his eyes, he shared that the offering from Sunday morning combined with the offering taken at the ordination service was enough to cover all our expenses in Nigeria with a little left over! God truly is the God of more than enough!! Thank you for being a part of this miracle through your prayers.
Marvelous Works on Mindanao
We were overwhelmed by the goodness of God when He opened a door that had been closed to us for 6 years and made it possible for us to return to Mindanao just in time to celebrate Resurrection Sunday and the 11th anniversary of the ministry there. Those 6 years had been a time of great challenge as the enemy tried to do everything he could to destroy the work. At times it looked like he would succeed but Jesus gave us a promise when He said, ¯I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.¯ (Matt. 16:18). The ministry on Mindanao has been through the fire but it has come out stronger and purer than ever.
The breakthrough came after those who were involved in the ministry for financial advantage or to build their own kingdoms became discouraged and left. Those who were trusting in America or Australia to meet their needs left to join other ministries who seemed to have more resources. The few who were left stopped trying to accomplish anything through their own efforts and admitted to themselves that ¯Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it¯ (Ps 127:1). So on February 27, the leaders and pastors set aside 3 days to gather for fasting and prayer, repenting for trying to serve God through their own efforts and trusting in their own abilities instead of submitting to Him and trusting only in Him to supply their needs. God met with them in a marvelous way. There was repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and a renewed determination to serve God, no matter what. Then on March 12-14, all the people gathered for a Holy Spirit Conference. Just as the leaders had humbled themselves and been restored, the people came under conviction of their failure to serve God from a pure heart. Many back sliders returned to the Lord. Many who had been resistant to the Gospel repented and were born again. It was a time of great rejoicing and refreshing from being in the presence of God Almighty.
The powers of darkness were defeated by the light of God¯s glory. Two days later we received a phone call from a pastor in Colorado saying that God had given him a burden to pray for us and for the ministry on Mindanao. We told him about how God was moving and mentioned the upcoming anniversary celebration. He told us we needed to be there and that his church would pay for the airline tickets and cover all the expenses for the conference. What joy swept through the Believers on Mindanao when we called and asked if they could postpone the anniversary celebration until after Easter so we would have time to get airline tickets because we were coming to be a part of what God was doing in their midst!
To say that God did a marvelous work among them would be an understatement. This trip to Mindanao was the most anointed time we had ever experienced. When the Believers on Mindanao fully surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, everything came together in God¯s perfect will and timing. We arrived in the Philippines on Good Friday and preached our first message on Resurrection Sunday as we watched God resurrect the ministry of Church Triumphant on Mindanao before our eyes. The sweet presence of the Holy Spirit filled that little church in Uraya, a suburb of Tagum City in southern Mindanao as the people sang about the Risen Lord.
The following day began the 11th anniversary celebration and pastors¯ conference with the theme of ¯Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness¯. The presence of God was there in every service. The young people were enthusiastic as they worshipped the Lord from the depths of their hearts. Broken hearts were mended. Hope was restored. Bodies were healed. Bondages were broken. The oppressed were set free.
The last day of the conference we had a business meeting with the pastors that was unlike any we had ever attended. We began by officially installing Pastor Albert Asang as the new Director of the ministry there. We had asked him to take over the leadership in 2009 after we had to remove his brother Allan Asang because he was misusing ministry resources and being deceptive in his communication with us. Pastor Albert had been in charge of the Bible schools and church planting and had shown himself faithful and had kept the ministry alive at great personal sacrifice. Then we watched as the pastors chose a new governing Board to replace the previous Board who had not fulfilled their responsibilities but had left Albert to carry on almost single handedly because they were too busy building their own ¯kingdoms¯ to bother with holding the ministry to the tribal people together. It was the most unique election we had ever experienced. As a person was nominated, a wave of approving comments swept through the group. This happened not once but all four times for the four positions on the board under Albert¯s able leadership. Every nomination was greeted with unanimous approval!
All of the new board members are young men in their 30¯s and 40¯s who are pastoring village churches and have shown natural leadership ability and a commitment to pay any price to serve the Lord. They are men of vision with a good dose of common sense and not afraid of hard work. The first thing they did after being voted in was to ask Pastor Albert if he would persuade us to teach them the Bible school curriculum as none of them had been given the opportunity for formal Bible training. They loved God¯s Word and had been studying on their own but wanted to learn all they could from us while we were there.
So we spent our last week there in Uraya teaching the IAM Basic Bible Course to 8 eager students ¯ the new Board members, Joralyn whose husband Jamjem was a new Board member, Jonathan who was Pastor Albert¯s associate pastor in Uraya, Elmer a youth leader in Uraya, and Leonido a village pastor from central Mindanao who struggled to read and write English but who was determined to learn all he could about the Bible. They were such hard workers and so hungry for God¯s Word that we were able to teach them 6 weeks worth of classes in 4 ¯ days! The more we spent time with them, the more we were impressed with the depth of their love for Jesus Christ, the integrity of their character, and the quality of their questions. They were there to learn so they could better serve their Lord.
After all the pastors and leaders had left to return home, we were surprised Saturday morning when Allan Asang, our disgraced former Director, showed up at Albert¯s house where we were staying after avoiding us the entire time we were there. It was the first time Albert and Allan had spoken face to face in five years. Allan would call from time to time but only to ask for money. Over breakfast we lovingly confronted Allan about his failures in the ministry and how he had opened a door to deception by believing a lie from a false prophet who told him that he would find buried treasure and become a millionaire. When he tried to blame his problems on his wife, we brought it back to him and his responsibility before God to be the spiritual head of his family.
As we spoke, the presence of God filled that tiny house. Allan broke down into tears of genuine repentance and humility. He asked Albert to forgive him for the first time in his life. He asked us to forgive him for nearly destroying the ministry. He cried out to God to have mercy on him. God did a marvelous work of deliverance in Allan¯s life and restored him to the family of God. It was such a time of sweet fellowship as repentance, forgiveness, and spiritual healing flowed. Allan understands that he will never again be in a place of leadership but we believe that God is in the process of restoring him to a place of ministry as the gifted evangelist he once was to the tribal people. He knows that his first priority is to renew and strengthen his personal relationship with God. It is our hope and prayer that God will restore his marriage and family that have been completely destroyed but that will depend in part on his wife Ruby who also is in great need of repentance and deliverance. Please remember them in your prayers.
Our last full day on Mindanao was Sunday and we were scheduled to speak at Jamjem and Joralyn¯s church in the village of Kipalili. But there was a problem. It had rained Saturday night and the road was impassible to the van that was going to take us there. There was only one solution. Jamjem came down the mountain by motorcycle and we headed off through the mud to Kipalili ¯ Howard riding behind Pastor Albert on the motorcycle we had bought for him with your help and Barbara riding behind Pastor Jamjem.
The 30 miles by highway weren¯t so bad but the 20 miles of dirt roads through the banana plantation, between the rice fields, and up into the mountains were a real challenge. Often the path between mud filled ruts was only large enough for a motorcycle wheel. There were times we weren¯t sure we could make it through but, praise God, we did. The welcome we received from the Believers in Kipalili made it worth every heart stopping minute. Proudly they showed us their church with the block walls and cement floor they had built to replace the original wooden church with dirt floors we had built when the Gospel first came to Kipalili in 2001. Again the sweet presence of the Lord was there to minister to needs as the Word was preached.
After the service, we enjoyed a time of fellowship and a delicious meal before heading down the mountain for the fellowship dinner in the Uraya church to end our time on Mindanao. We had barely reached the outskirts of Kipalili on our way down the mountain when it began to sprinkle. Then it rained! Then it poured!! The only thing scarier than riding up a mountain through the mud on the back of a motorcycle, is riding down the mountain through the mud and the pouring rain on the back of a motorcycle when you are soaked clear through to the skin and can hardly see the road (or what¯s left of it) in front of you. O the joys of missionary life. J
Marvelous Works Through You
You may not ever go to the Philippines or West Africa but God is using you to transform lives there every day. When you pray and you give to make it possible for us to go as your representatives and as ambassadors for Jesus Christ, you share in all the blessings and all the rewards. We would like to close with a note that was addressed to us but really it was written to you as well for we could not have gone if you had not sent us and we could not be effective if you had not prayed for us.
¯We thank God for sending angels like you to minister life in our lives. We were broken. God mended us. We were sick, weak, and weary. God healed and strengthened us. We were sad. God laughed with us. We were rejected. God embraced us. We were down. God lifted us up in prayer and teaching of His Word through tears of life. And He did it through you.¯
GOD LOVES YOU!!!
Rev. Howard & Barbara Gard