Update: Gospel-Centered Apprenticeship Provides New Maternity Center for Ugandan Community in the Midst of Pandemic
In February, we reported on the work of Missionary Bridger Patrick Lutalo, founder of the Christian apprenticeship program Teach Men to Fish in Uganda. In the midst of the pandemic, Patrick’s team of young disciples has been able to complete the new maternity center in Mityana, Uganda. This facility, built by a group of young adults equipped spiritually and practically in Christ, will be a blessing to the overall health and wellness of mothers and children in the community. See updated pictures below.
SAMS World Relief Fund (WRF) provided a grant towards this project completion. Would you help support practical, incarnational ministry in Christ with a gift to SAMS WRF? We thank God for the generosity of Senders equipping Missionaries to provide relief in this increasingly tragic time for our world. In this case, SAMS WRF also helped provide funds for development through local Ugandan youth. We praise God for Patrick’s enthusiasm to mentor these young adults in Christ.
Today, many of your SAMS-USA missionaries are adapting their ministries to share God’s presence in the midst of the pandemic. They are delivering groceries and spiritual comfort to poor communities in African and South American countries. God is also blazing new paths for church community growth in the Netherlands and New Zealand through virtual ministry on the internet. God is providing ingenuity in a completely unexpected situation – much like he enabled SAMS founder Allen Gardiner to set the stage for the preaching of the Gospel in South America.
Since 1834, Gardiner had sought to establish mission efforts among unreached peoples in southern Africa and South America. Various circumstances disrupted his hopes time after time again. Yet the retired English Navy Captain leaned into his calling from God to find fertile spiritual soil. Gardiner dreamed of planting Gospel seeds that could grow to bring hope and peace to a whole continent. After failing to settle among a people group in Bolivia in 1845, Gardiner continued a wilderness journey on horseback. He soon came down with a fever that left him lying weak in a dilapidated, abandoned hut. Gradually he mustered the strength to mount his horse and make it to the next city, where he wrote to his family back in England:
“I well know that had I merely said I had been ill your anxieties would have been much more excited than by having the whole of the circumstances explained. But I will dwell no longer on these circumstances. Rather I look beyond them and trace the hand of my Heavenly Father working in infinite wisdom and mercy for my soul’s profit … These seasons of chastisement are sifting times for the soul, and I pray I may not lose the full benefit … Do not be anxious about me. You know who has said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.”[i]
Captain Gardiner returned to England, turning the attention of his supporting senders to a people group in the far south of the Americas, in the islands of Tierra del Fuego. Living in this region are the Yaghan people, whom Charles Darwin had labeled as subhuman savages that served as evidence for his theories of evolution. Yet Gardiner and other Christ-minded travelers saw in them that divine Imago Dei giving them “equal right with the rest of the human family to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”[ii] Despite the Yaghan’s unfamiliar behavior, Gardiner led teams of fellow missionaries to this region repeatedly to attempt socialization with them. His heart was determined to bring God’s ministry of reconciliation to them. Gardiner did not see an effective way to dwell on land before establishing friendship with the people, so on the second trip the team attempted to sleep offshore in boats with the intention of visiting the Yaghans during the day.
Gardiner’s prayerful and devoted team of men remained hopeful in God, even when they realized that obtaining fresh food was going to be a struggle. They discovered that their store of gunpowder had not been unloaded from the ship that dropped them off. In addition to the curiously low amount of fish in the waters, this lack of gunpowder limited their ability to get fresh meat. As the team tried to engage with the Yaghans, they picked up a few tricks to capture food in new ways, but not enough to save them from eventual starvation and death. The team’s journals, found months later, contain a prayerful, detailed treasure trove of their experiences and observations. One member of the team, a physician named Richard Williams, while dying from scurvy due to the lack of nutrition, found spiritual food in the presence of God:
“We are able, by the blessing of God, to make our abode a very Bethel to our souls, and God we feel and know is here. [Teammate] John often smiles through a tear that flows form a heart full of a sense of God’s love … So we speed the moments by, winging very many of them with the love that aspires after God, that we ourselves forget all our bodily complaints until reminded of them by exhaustion.”[iii]
Christ’s ministry of reconciliation, a ministry of presence through the forgiveness of sins, filled the team with joy despite devastating circumstances. The carpenter Erwin, who had leaned upon the faith of Gardiner, found joy in personal reconciliation with God. This is the spiritual relationship that Gardiner sought to share with the Yaghans and all of South America, though his efforts looked bleak. In his final writings, Gardiner surrendered again himself to God:
“Whether I live or die, may it be in Him. I commend my body and soul into His care and keeping, and earnestly pray that He will mercifully take my dear wife and children under the shadow of His wings, comfort, guide, strengthen and sanctify them wholly, that we may together, in a brighter and eternal world, praise and adore His goodness and grace, in redeeming us with His precious blood, and plucking us as brands form the burning, to bestow upon us the adoption of children, and make us inheritors of His heavenly kingdom. Amen.”[iv]
Gardiner collapsed on the beach after writing on September 6, 1851 that he hadn’t drunk water for days. Navy officers of HMS Dido found his body, and the bodies and graves of his six teammates, in January 1852.
Nonetheless, as was written fifty-seven years later by Gardiner’s widow, Elizabeth, his “work and labour of love was not in vain in the Lord.”[v] News of the team’s courageous sacrifice and their inspiring journals lit a fervor in England for mission to South America, “the forgotten continent.” There was now no shortage of senders or missionaries for the effort. Even Charles Darwin, convicted of his error in dehumanizing the Yaghans, eventually donated to the mission, repeatedly![vi] As Gardiner lay dying, he had carefully written a Missionary Memoranda laying out strategic future plans to bring the Gospel to Tierra del Fuego and other places in South America. In 1854, a schooner named the Allen Gardiner sailed away from England carrying missionaries that, by God’s grace, implemented Gardiner’s plans. These missionaries and their senders founded the South American Missionary Society (SAMS), which was the precursor to SAMS-USA (now known as the Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders). God used SAMS to bring the grace-filled gospel to Tierra del Fuego, Chile, and Paraguay. As the Holy Spirit had strengthened Gardiner and his team, God’s presence filled the people of South America through the holistic ministry of SAMS.
In this season of physical distancing for the sake of protecting each other, many of us are hurting for the lack of presence. Many are suffering from a scary and dangerous disease that scientists are working hard to master as soon as possible. Some of us are fighting for our lives. Many of us feel alone, but we are not alone. The physically risen and ascended Jesus, our Immanuel, “God with us,” has sent an advocate, the Holy Spirit. Christ’s promise of God’s presence upheld Allen Gardiner laying alone and feverish on the ground in the Bolivian wilderness. God upheld him starving and dehydrated on a beach in Tierra del Fuego, and He upholds him now in the nearer presence of Christ. Through Allen Gardiner, God brought eternal hope to countless people in South America. This is all in view of God’s end goal for human history, revealed to St. John on the Island of Patmos: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be their God.” (Revelation 21:3)
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
Featured picture above: Continuing development in the midst of relief. Rev. Dr. Mary McDonald is adapting her ministry to COVID-19 needs in order to sustain development work providing goats in East Africa! Stay tuned for this full story.
[i] Thompson, Phyllis. An Unquenchable Flame, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1906), 111.
[ii] Thompson, 119.
[iii] Thompson, 171.
[iv] Thompson, 182.
[v] Thompson, 195.
[vi] Scriven, Henry. “Darwin’s Missionary Endeavor.” Church Times. February 12, 2009. https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2009/13-february/features/darwin-s-missionary-endeavour.
Above: The building of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Belize, the community served by SAMS Missionaries Rev. David and Mary Beth Alenskis. Despite COVID-19, the church has a ministry of presence through prayer, social media, and delivering groceries to 40+ families this past week.
WE ARE CALLED TO A MINISTRY OF PRESENCE, even as we are isolated by ourselves, separated from friends and church. We are called to a ministry of loving, engaged presence, even as we are irritable because we can’t catch a break from family members who are under the same roof 24/7.
We can turn off the TV and call a friend instead to pray for them. Or we can turn away from the dirty dishes and give thoughtful attention to a preschooler who seems always to be needy. We can reach out to a friend whose anxiety and depression is deepening. We can pop a caring email to a healthcare worker serving on the front lines of suffering caused by COVID-19. We can help provide funds for missionaries to share groceries and God’s presence with starving families. We can tune in to the Holy Spirit through Scripture and the Daily Office. We can converse with a neighbor from the other side of the street, as we inwardly pray to be light in this time of darkness.
For God has said, over and over: I AM WITH YOU. His ministry of presence to us is one of the few rock-solid comforts we can always bank on. We are able to minister through presence because He has ministered to us first.
This is the truth that empowered SAMS founder Captain Allen Gardiner (1794-1851) to go repeatedly deep into the unreached regions of South America, risking everything for the sake of sharing the presence of Christ. When Gardiner was in the Gran Chaco region waiting for the local chiefs’ approval to start mission work, he reflected in prayer:
“Give me faith to take courage in the midst of apparent discouragements, to confide in Thy promises even when all things may seem to be against me….Thou has given this command to Thy servants – Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature, and for our support and encouragement Thou hast added these gracious words, Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
Gardiner had a cloud of witnesses, as we do, inspiring him to press on. As Joshua prepared to lead the Israelites, God encouraged him: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9 ESV)
Through Isaiah God spoke to His people in exile: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10 ESV)
The Psalmists gave testimony to the comfort of God’s presence. Asaph found his purpose in the nearness of God when he realized the hopelessness of being far from God:
“…as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.”
(Psalm 73:28 ESV)
Out of this foundation of presence, the Great Commission springs. I wonder if Jesus had Psalm 73 in mind when he gave the command to go and make disciples of all nations, followed up with the promise, “I am with you always” (see Matthew 28: 16-20). We share the Gospel because it is good news that God is with us through faith in the risen Jesus Christ. It is only because God is with us that we can have the strength to share that good news in the midst of life’s heartache and suffering.
Allen Gardiner failed to establish a mission in the Gran Chaco region. Would he ever succeed in planting a Gospel-centered mission effort in South America? He did not know. Yet Gardiner knew the calling God had placed on him, and he knew he was not alone.
Above: The Gran Chaco region, in purple, includes parts of Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina. Allen Gardiner sought to establish a mission here, but had to move on, trusting God. (Image Source: WWF)
Whatever life holds for you in this pandemic season of uncertainty, fear, and pain, know that hope is never lost, though it may be deferred.
In the promise of His presence we will trust.
Captain Allen Gardiner, the SAMS founder who died of starvation on a beach in 1851, trailblazed paths for the Gospel in South America. He experienced countless setbacks, including feverish sickness in the wilderness. The promise of God’s presence in the Great Commission gave him heavenly endurance and joy to the end, though he did not see the fruit of his efforts. After his death, missionaries inspired by his work sailed to South America on the sea vessel in this artwork, named The Allen Gardiner. His reward was always, and still is, the presence of God.
Stay tuned for more of Allen Gardiner’s remarkable story and SAMS Missionaries’ ministry of presence. Until then, be blessed by a poem from Gardiner’s journal:
Written at Pioneer Cavern, Tierra del Fuego
May 8, 1851
Sweet peace have they whose minds are stay’d,
Firm on the Rock in Zion laid;
No anxious cares disturb their rest;
Whate’er of earthly ills betide
Amid the storm, secure they ride,
Their souls in patience are possessed.
Children of Him whose watchful eye
Regards the ravens when they cry,
What need they fear or bode of ill?
They know their hairs are number’d all;
Nor can the smallest sparrow fall
Without their Father’s sovereign will.
Though all around is dark and drear,
Nor sun, nor moon, nor star’s appear,
And every earthly Cherith dries;
Faith bears the drooping spirit up,
And sweetens every bitter cup–
A bow in every cloud descries.
The Lord who gave may surely take,
The bruised reed He will not break;
He knows we are but dust.
The oil and meal alike may fail,
The whelming storm may long prevail,
Yet on His promise we will trust.
Whate’er in wisdom He denies,
A richer boon His grace supplies,
A peace the world can ne’er bestow;
Though nought remain, we ‘re not bereft,
What most we value still is left,
The Rock, whence living waters flow.
Then come what may, we’ll humbly wait,
His arm was never bared too late,
The promise will not, cannot fail,
Though dark the night, the morn will break,
His own the Lord will not forsake;
The prayer of faith shall yet prevail;
And we shall deem the trial sweet
That laid us waiting at His feet.
Read Part 2 of this series here.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons