Confirmation, confirmation

One of my favorite things that we do is supervise our students on their internships, or block placement. While we certainly make them work while they’re with us at the University, it is tremendous fun to see them in their home churches and meet their families.

This year, I volunteered to visit Joram in the diocese of Maseno West, in western Kenya, as I had been in the diocese in 1998. At a conference in 2015, I promised the bishop that I would come home. So come home I did.

As it turned out, for the time that I would be visiting, the bishop was going to be conducting confirmations in two of the parishes in which Joram had worked, so I went with him to attend both services. And I had the joy of seeing the fruit of his ministry.

In Kenya, the confirmation age is 12, and I think it’s the same in Uganda. This means that confirmation often happens at the close of school terms for the church-founded schools, or towards the end of school term holidays, as the students have been prepared for confirmation during this holiday. Joram said that when he arrived, there were only 12 candidates for confirmation, and since he didn’t want to waste the bishop’s time, he traveled throughout the church to find more people to be confirmed. He ended up with a class of 43. The other service also had about 40 confirmands, so in two days, I witnessed in excess of 80 people being confirmed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a service in the US with that many confirmands!

One of the things I love in African is that the bishop examines the confirmands in advance of their confirmation. Most of the questions are related to reciting the answers in the Catechism, reciting the Lord’s Prayer, or the Creeds (Nicene and Apostle’s), and these are often done as a group.

But then the bishop went around the circle and examined the candidates individually. Sometimes the question was as (presumably) easy as “what is the name of your bishop?” The confirmand answered that question correctly. However, if the bishop was not satisfied with an answer, he retained the confirmand’s name tag, and returned to that confirmand later. The confirmand is free to consult with the clergy (and presumably) others present to get the right answer.

In this class, ultimately three students had to be examined again, and all passed and were confirmed. I asked Joram whether the bishop ever declined to confirm anyone, and he replied, “Oh yes. In fact, he has dismissed an entire class because they were not prepared properly.”

Joram was surprised to hear that this is not the way we do things; in my memory, we did meet with the bishop in advance of the confirmation service, but he didn’t examine us. I assume his agreement to confirm us was based on the recommendation of the rector, or in my case, the youth pastor, who had prepared us for confirmation.

I love that the bishops in Kenya (and presumably Uganda, though I’ve not witnessed the pre-service activities) test the confirmands prior to the service. In my humble opinion, this is as it should be. Confirmation is an important sacramental rite, and we would be remiss to not take it seriously. Praise God for all bishops, clergy, catechists, and ordinands who do treat this work with the gravity it deserves!

Q:  What Is The Best Way to Celebrate Christ’s Birth?

Q: What Is The Best Way to Celebrate Christ’s Birth?

A:  With a New Birth!  

It is with joyful hearts that we welcome Candra into the family of believers!   The baptism and Christmas Eve Carols and Candles Service made for a memorable night, with 79 people gathering in our apartment to worship.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate!   Will you pray with us for Candra as he begins an internship for the next six months, training and then assisting in the work of providing rehabilitation services to special needs children.  We are already seeing God at work in this young man’s life, providing opportunities for him to develop his gifts and abilities in order to be a blessing to others.

Wishes from afar….

Can you believe it? Another year come and
gone! So many things have happened that one’s mind reels…and yet, so much is
yet to be done. Millions have never heard of the Babe of Bethlehem…of the Child
born to die so that all may live.
As we look over the past year, we are
grateful that we could have trained so many trainers…that we could have
multiplied so many multipliers. There is an excitement growing in the Anglican
Province of Southern Africa as clergy and lay folk alike rediscover the simple
method of making disciples who are equipped to make disciples. Even though we
have reached into 13 of the 28 Dioceses in the Province, there are 15 more that
have not been introduced to the first module of the LEAD training. The words of
Jesus echo in our ears: The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.
We are also grateful for every partner in
this ministry…those who have faithfully supported us, prayed for us, encouraged
us, laboured with us, and simply been there for us. Everything we do is dependent
on teamwork…we simply couldn’t do this without you. You are very much
appreciated.

So, across the miles…the oceans and
borders…Louise and I want to wish you the happiest of Christmases and pray for
the Lord best blessings for the new year.

Youth Camp Gets Real

Teenagers are teenagers no matter where you go in the world. There will be boy-girl drama, family problems, girl fights, and school issues. And while living in a different country and culture can be quite overwhelming at times, doing youth work here is like slipping back into an old pair of shoes. It feels natural and familiar.

This past week, we had 150 teenagers flood our campus for our yearly December youth camp. I registered campers, printed name tags, coordinated small groups, led an afternoon of team-building games, and supported our student leaders. Every day I went to bed more tired than the day before. But every day I also went to bed knowing more and more why we do this camp. It all came to a head mid-week when we had something called “family time” where all of the leaders got up on stage and the campers could ask us questions about life. Simple enough but it quickly turned very real.

“What challenges did you face as a young person?”

I thought back to my time in high school as I looked out at the crowd of faces that earnestly wanted to know the answer. “My biggest challenge as a teen was not resisting temptation to do things I should not be doing like having sex or drinking. My biggest challenge was loneliness. I felt like I did not have friends and that the ones I did have did not really know me. I became depressed and no one knew. That time also translated into an attitude of very low self esteem that I am still trying to heal.”

One girl off to the side of the auditorium raised her hand, “How did you combat that low self esteem?” I could see in her eyes that it was not just a question. She knew what it felt like to not believe she is beautiful or capable.

“I know what that feels like. To be so low that you feel like you could never believe in yourself. I remember a specific day when I was 20 years old sitting by a lake in the States and I thought to myself, ‘I can’t go on thinking so little of myself. I know in my head that God thinks I am worthy and beautiful and just plain awesome, but I just do not believe it myself.’ But you know that you change your patterns of thinking by the things and people you have around you. So I decided to just swim in these truths that I did not believe and maybe just maybe it would sink in. So I wrote ‘You are Beautiful.’ On a note card and placed it smack dab in the middle of my mirror so that I would have to see it every morning. And you know what, it slowly worked somehow. At first I would look at it and say ‘yeah right.’ But the next day I would be like, ‘yeah right…?’”

The session went on with question after question. How do you deal with anger towards a mother who was never there for you? What do I do if I feel crippled by depression? How do I relate to my family that has such an unhealthy dynamic? As I sat on that stage, my heart just broke. These teens are hurting and have the weight of the world on their shoulders. And after that night they go back to their hard realities. But the thing that we ARE able to offer is reassurance that they are not alone and a hand to walk along with them even after camp ends, whether that is physically us or directing them to supportive communities.