Inside United: Realtime

Exciting News & Updates from UCGIA

Letter From Melvin Rhodes, UCG Chairman

April 20, 2012

Dear Fellow Ministers,

I’ve just returned from a very positive and uplifting trip to Zimbabwe and South Africa. It was really good to be with the members down there.

I spent Passover, the Night to be Much Observed and the First Day of Unleavened Bread with the brethren in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.

Members in Zimbabwe are scattered all over the country—a nation that is over three times the size of the state of Michigan—where I live—so it’s always a joy when everybody can get together for a couple of days. It costs us about $1,000 to bring them all into a central location. It would cost far more for me to travel around and visit everybody. They also benefit from being with each other.

In a country that not so long ago suffered from severe food shortages, the ladies put on a really nice meal for us on the Night to be Much Observed. Thanks to the generosity of a teen in Lansing, Michigan, I was able to give every single household a box of scripture cards prepared as a fundraiser by our Ambassador Bible Center.

At the same time, Marshall Takaindisa, a long-time member from a remote rural area, received his “new” (used) battery operated wheelchair. Marshall teaches at a sprawling school complex and, so far, has depended on others to push him around. But now he can get around by himself.

He asked for a wheelchair a few months ago. Finding a wheelchair was one thing—getting it into the country was quite another. Freight charges and customs duties are only part of the problem—the paperwork is quite daunting. It was suggested that I “ride” it into Zimbabwe. For this, I needed a letter from my doctor saying that I needed to use a wheelchair in Johannesburg where the new airport requires a lot of walking. For once the wound in my foot was advantageous!

I asked the office in Pretoria, South Africa, if they could help find the wheelchair. Finally one was found, but when our office employee’s husband, Neil Wallis, went to pick it up, he realized there was no foot-rest. That meant I would have to keep my feet up while using the chair. A foot-rest could be added once it arrived in Zimbabwe.

At the airport the battery ran out so I had to be pushed with my feet up, but we got it on to the plane and into Zimbabwe and into the hands of Marshall, who was absolutely thrilled to receive it. As LifeNets paid for the wheelchair, there was no cost to the church for a wheelchair that will make a big difference in one man’s life.

After Sabbath services on the first Holy Day, I was able to travel to Mutare, a four-hour drive away, where our deacon, Mike Mukurati and his wife Primrose, live. This beautiful mountainous area is close to the Mozambique border. I spent the remainder of the weekend with them. On the Sunday Mike and I visited a new member who lives in Mutare, an 83-year-old lady originally from South Africa, Claudia Harrison. Mrs. Harrison is the only person of European descent in the Zimbabwe congregation. If you’re ever in Mutare you must visit—she makes a really good cup of tea! (I can’t speak for her coffee!)

Following my visit to Mutare, we returned to Harare, and I then flew back to South Africa. I was able to spend the Last Day of Unleavened Bread and the weekly Sabbath with the members in East London, a congregation that recently returned to the United Church of God after they became more aware of recent events.

Their enthusiasm and the spirit of love, joy and peace (the first three fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians chapter 5) was an exhilarating experience for me personally. I longed for my wife to be there to share the time with me, but she was not able to make this trip. Once again, it was a real joy to be with the members in an isolated part of the world.

After returning to Johannesburg, the three ministers serving in the region were able to get together Sunday morning to discuss future plans for serving the area. At the present time, there is just one elder resident in South Africa, Roy Demont, who was ordained last year exactly one week after his wife Jean died. Roy is in his seventies and has been speaking in all four congregations in South Africa, once a month in each. The churches are so far apart that three require flights to get there. While we were talking he offered to go to Zimbabwe a couple of times a year, which will help me out greatly, as I can only make it there twice a year from the United States.

Roy’s son in law, Grant Chick, was also present. Grant lives in Australia and, with the support of the Australian National Council, was able to help out in South Africa during the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread. He and his wife will be returning to the area for the Feast of Tabernacles, where Grant will speak in both Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Also present at the meeting was Jason Webster, who has been doing an outstanding job taking care of the church’s needs in the Johannesburg and Pretoria area.

In both Zimbabwe and South Africa I had the very real sense of being on the frontline of the work that God has called us to do, the work of preaching the gospel and preparing a people. There are currently 120 attending with us in South Africa and about 30 in Zimbabwe.

South Africa does not need a great deal of help from the Cincinnati home office. They are self-sufficient. But we in the U.S. do take care of their magazine and booklet printing and some of their mailing costs. Occasionally they need help in other areas. For example, Richard Kennebeck, our information technology (IT) manager, was there during Unleavened Bread helping them with their computer and office system. His wife, Emma, also helped their office manager and treasurer in South Africa, Isella Wallis.

Zimbabwe requires slightly more help. The members in both countries are excited at the prospect of preaching the gospel in their areas—it is hoped to hold a Kingdom of God Bible Seminar in Harare next time I visit.

Spiritually, the visit to both countries was also a big boost for me personally. In Zimbabwe I very quickly realized my new iPhone did not work at all, which meant I was cut off from the rest of the world. I could not receive calls, text messages or e-mail—and it was wonderful! Very relaxing. I had more time for prayer and Bible study and more time to talk with the members—a reminder of the importance of living by the two great commandments, love toward God and love toward neighbor.

“Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 22:35-40).

Our priorities should always be our relationship with God, first and foremost, and then our relationships with other people—with our spouses, our children and members of God’s spiritual family. Electronic gadgets can get in the way—they don’t save us time, they consume time—sometimes at the cost of neglecting those important relationships. In the Western world our spiritual lives are constantly threatened by modern technology. It’s a joy to go to areas that are not yet spoiled in this way and where people still matter. It is not surprising that Africa is the only continent where the number of people claiming to be Christian is actually increasing.

“Look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest” said Jesus Christ in John 4:35. In the previous verse He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.”

That work continues to this day and we have a part in finishing it. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

The African field is indeed “white for harvest.” Those turning in hope to Jesus Christ need to understand the need to be like Him, to keep His commandments, to walk as He walked, to live His way of life. Simply calling yourself Christian doesn’t do this. There’s a need for the truth of God to be revealed and for people to take God’s commands to heart. “You shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul” (Deuteronomy 11:18). “And you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

Africa is an exciting place to be, especially when you are visiting those areas where God has called people to be a part of His spiritual family. Remember your brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Africa; and, if you are ever able, be sure to visit them and be inspired—and take a break from all those electronic gadgets!

Sincerely,

Melvin Rhodes—Chairman, Council of Elders, United Church of God

April 20, 2012 - Posted by | Council of Elders | , , , , , ,

11 Comments »

  1. Wow what a wonderful article, very inspiring, God is good all the time.

    Comment by Harold W. Ballew | April 20, 2012 | Reply

  2. Mr. Rhodes,
    I’m sure that there are many, like myself, who really enjoy reading about your work in Africa. Thank you.

    Andy Fowler of TC, MI

    Comment by Andy Fowler | April 21, 2012 | Reply

  3. Mr. Rhodes, As someone who has had the privilege to visit both South Africa and Zimbabwe, I am so encouraged by your letter. I do know that the people of Zimbabwe have had difficult times due to poor government leadership and I pray regularly for all Zimbabweans. I too believe that the fields of Africa are ripe for the harvest and am continuing to pray for success there. Thank you so much for your continued service to the Southern African brethren.

    Deborah Barr, Los Angeles, CA

    Comment by Deborah | April 21, 2012 | Reply

  4. Thank you, Mr. Rhodes, for your dedicated service to all of God’s people. Your sacrifice of love is very much appreciated. I appreciate the zeal of God’s people everywhere. Though your iPhone was not working at that time, it was indeed a great blessing for you to be face to face with God’s people. Fellowship, one on one, is so vitally important. It is a wonderful blessing!

    Comment by edenhomeandgarden | April 21, 2012 | Reply

  5. Thank you Mr. Rhodes!
    May our God continue to help you keep up the good work.

    Comment by Skip Miller | April 22, 2012 | Reply

  6. What can you tell us about the online reports of difficulties in Portugal and western Canada?

    Comment by Richard | April 22, 2012 | Reply

  7. Sometimes it appears as though we are doing something “for the greater good”, but I was struck as I read this that although there may have been good intentions in delivering a wheelchair, there was also an undeniable agent of deceit. This is bearing false witness…this is lying. I must ask, would God have respected this method over simply following the protocol? Are we above the law? More importantly, are we above God’s law?! Sometimes when we do things the hard way, yes, the seemingly expensive way, there will be unforeseen blessings that present themselves…little gifts from God that are undeniably His way of saying, “you’ve done well…here’s a bonus”. In no way do I think this man should have been denied a wheelchair if it was possible, but did Melvin not “need” the chair on his way home…perhaps he would not be going home though the grand Johannesburg airport that was such a hardship. I understand that he has a foot issue, but it is not to be used to influence an outcome.

    Comment by Discerning | April 22, 2012 | Reply

  8. I don’t believe the doctor would have signed the waiver authorizing the need of the wheelchair had it not been medically necessary.

    Comment by SarahB | April 23, 2012 | Reply

  9. Thanks for posting this inspiring letter!

    Comment by davespice | April 24, 2012 | Reply

  10. Why does the Zimbabwe congregation need to wait until Mr. Rhodes returns to do a KoG seminar? Is not Mr. Mukarati trained to do these things? I appreciate that the men in the head office want to do good works there, but the work needs to be done regardless. Cannot the money spent on flying there (it’s not cheap), be used to subsidise or pay for Mr. Mukarati to be a paid minister?

    I am also a bit surprised about the whole wheelchair debacle. What would it have mattered to spend some money on duty? “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”. May we all learn from this lesson!

    All in all, what a blessing to visit the brethren in those areas! May more ministers and members have courage to do so.

    Comment by Hope | May 2, 2012 | Reply

  11. About the wheelchair.. I think that it was a matter of being as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove. (Is the solution wise, and will it do harm?)

    When the midwives were confronted, of why they did not kill the newborn babies in Moses time. They said that the Israelite women have their babies too quickly. They did not tell their primary reason. Scripture said that God was pleased with them.

    I do not know when diverting the truth is wise and when it is not. Lying could be a subject like killing. Not all killing is murder by God’s standards. Therefore, could there be a possiblity that if truth was evaded, skirted around for anothers safety or welfare, that God will wink on that?
    Also Rehab put men in a basket to protect them. When terrorist come into your home, and you are protecting your grandchildren. Are you going to enable the terrorist to kill your grandchildren by telling where they are hiding? Those are questions, that one has to pray that they make the decision that God wants them to, and according to their conscience. God can intervene. African members have to live this.

    In the case of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham put Sarah in harms way, but causing probable adultry. That is why this half truth was not harmless as a dove.

    Before we get too harsh in other peoples decisions, we need to weigh in other sides of the coin. The NT supersedes the letter of the law of the OT, by the spirit of the law.

    I don’t have the answers. I don’t know what God thinks on this.
    I thought that the solution was a clever one, and it did no harm to anyone. It just expediated through the complicated red tape, when there was a need.
    I think that God blessed it, by the making the paperwork go more smoothly.

    I am definitely not a believer of “situation ethics” either. A lot of the time, obedience to God takes discretion.
    On the subject of Do Not Lie, we have to check the rest of the Bible for examples.

    I have not forgotten the couple in the NT that lied, and dropped dead. Study below the surface for the real meanings in stories and examples.

    I do not think this subject has a black and white answer.

    Comment by Jeannette | May 4, 2012 | Reply


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