We all know it’s good to take the time to look outside the bubbles of our own lives to see what God is doing in other places in the world. And I especially love getting that chance with worship!
[This post is quite different from what I usually share. But some amazing things happened recently that I need to share with you. Read this story with hearts attentive to how God loves to faithfully move in and through His people in surprising ways and places – for His glory! I’m blown away. I invite Him to do more! Don’t miss the short, awesome video at the end! Oh, and a regular post is coming soon!]
Brief background story: Six months ago, Pastor Harun Okoth of Ugunja, Kenya contacted me through my blog, asking me how he could get more of my teaching on worship – so I sent him a free eBook of Worship and the Word just to encourage and bless him. Not long after, he wrote asking me to pray that they could get the money to buy 100 hard copies of Worship and the Word, because they “needed to learn more about worship” at his and area churches in rural, western Kenya. I immediately felt led to raise the money for them myself. And thanks to the generosity of many, I was able to send the books.
Two months later, Pastor Harun said they were so excited about what they were learning they decided to hold a worship conference in April, and asked if I would please come be the main speaker. It just wouldn’t work out for me, but I had a friend, Joe Horness, who I knew would be the perfect person for them. I knew his teaching would be a perfect complement and next step for their pursuit to be biblically worshiping churches. I had no idea before I contacted Joe that he had taught at worship conferences in the larger city of Nairobi, Kenya before and had a great passion for the people there. (Gotta love how God works!)
Note: I know it sounds like this all flowed smoothly, but it was a spiritual battle to even ask Joe about going. Satan kept whispering to me all of the things that could go wrong. After all, these were complete strangers apart from some emails. But the God’s Spirit gave me courage and peace to keep pressing on. Also, Joe had just moved to a different state to take a new church job – as in just moved. So his life wasn’t in a simple place. It would’ve been far easier for him to pass on this opportunity, too. Especially as new challenges popped up. But God did enough prodding in both of us that we couldn’t let it drop!
Of course, money was still an issue. There wasn’t any. So after we felt like we had enough details to move forward, God again led me to raise the money so Joe could serve these incredible Kenyans. (Yes, I had my doubts – would God do it again? I promise, fundraising isn’t my thing!) And thanks to many more generous people, it happened! Joe went to rural, western Kenya a couple of weeks ago to help these precious, rural churches learn more about God’s plan for worship!
Here’s what Joe had to say after his trip:
God began an amazing work when He used Pam Haddix’s excellent book on worship to connect her with some pastors in rural Kenya. Pam’s connections with them, and with me, eventually put us all together, and last week I flew to Kisumu, Kenya, to spend 3 days of teaching on worship at their revival meetings in the village of Ligega. The people there were incredible, and they were grateful beyond words that Pam and I would conspire together to get one of us there. After reading Pam’s book, they were deeply hungry to learn more about worship, and they needed someone who could help them take the next steps.
The images are so much more powerful than I could ever describe. The memories of the crowds of people gathered in the public square dancing, shouting, and singing will never leave me. (See video below.) In a place where there are no TV’s or radio and very few options on where to go or things to do, these gatherings were exciting events for this community.
I’ll never forget watching people who were not believers come to gather around the outside of the festivities, drawn by the ear-splitting music (incredibly distorted but so full of life!), the celebration, and the words of the powerful preachers. I watched some of those people come forward to receive Christ. I watched humble, godly village pastors praying powerfully over others who came forward to be released from from forces associated with the witchcraft that is prevalent there. (Wow! I’d never seen this!) I saw believers be encouraged and united and lifted up. And I watched crowds of people come every day to spend the day learning about our God of grace and how to worship Him.
I began every day desperate for Christ to somehow live His life through me. The culture was so different that I was constantly concerned about how to take my years of leading worship at a place like Willow Creek Community Church and make it relevant to this place. I began each day on my knees asking God to somehow speak His words through me and to do a work I truly knew I could not do alone. And the most powerful part of this trip for me was watching Him be amazingly faithful to do that. Session after session I walked away saying, ‘Only God.’ And it truly was ‘only God.’
I taught on the difference between ‘song times’ and true times of worship where we engage our hearts and meet with God. I taught about what it means to abide in Christ and let Him abide in us and live His life through us. I taught that worship is more than songs; it is living out of our relationship with Jesus every day so that our songs on Sunday become an explosive expression of what He has been doing in us all week. I taught on humility and creativity and painting people a great picture of God. But mostly I taught about what it means to live worship not with our lips but from our hearts.
If I were going to sum up the impact of the worship teaching, I would quote some of the pastors who were there every day who told me things like, “This is a new teaching. We have never heard this!” “I have been tired with worship; we have done it this same way for as long as anyone can remember. There is never anything new. Now we have new ways to think about this and to do this!” “We now have permission as pastors to dream, to create and to lead our people spiritually in worship.”
These amazing pastors and people were asking for God to teach them about worship, and I believe these days were an answer to their prayers. I truly think that by God’s grace these days will have an impact on their thinking, their hearts and even their culture.
I’m exhausted but energized. I think I learned more last week than the people in Kenya did. I learned about God’s faithfulness. I learned about what it means to abide in Him and let Him do the doing. I don’t think I have ever had to be so completely abandoned to letting him speak through me in the moment. I learned some powerful lessons about letting Christ live His life through me and trusting that He would be enough. And He was. And He is.
Thank you again for believing in this and for making such a powerful impact on these churches in Kenya, and for letting God make such a powerful impact on me. Pam, the people there all send their greetings and their gratitude to you for being the catalyst to make this happen. They asked me multiple times to make sure you know that. Thank you for letting me be a part of this with you.
Hearing Joe Horness talk about how he “began each day on my knees asking God to somehow speak His words through me and to do a work I truly knew I could not do alone” and how God answered those prayers leaves me even more awestruck. You see, everyday Joe was in Ligega, I woke up like clockwork around 1:00-2:00AM, and prayed for the next hour or more knowing that it was the couple of hours leading up to Joe’s first teaching each morning (3AM my time).
I knew Joe went to Kenya with his talks all planned. But I still felt strongly to keep praying that God would overwhelm Joe with His message for those precious people that day – that God would use Joe to give them exactly what they needed to hear to help them more intimately and passionately pursue Him in biblical worship. I’m so overwhelmed by how powerfully God answered our prayers! Like Joe said, only God!
Pastor Harun Okoth wrote me right after the conference saying it was so powerful the people in his church and the other pastors have all come to him asking if they could have a worship conference every year! Wow! (Oh, pray that U.S. churches would get that passionate about worshiping our God!)
Again, I’m blown away by what God has done and is doing in those churches in rural Kenya – and completely humbled that God allowed me to be a tiny part of it.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. Really. I pray that this story encourages you to invite God to work in and through you in new, unforeseen ways! “As high as the heavens are above the earth, [His] ways are higher” (Isaiah 55:9), and His glory is deserving!
I also invite you to pray as to whether God might have you begin a new surge to passionately pursue biblical worship in your church or city! He can and will use any available heart! If you want to learn more about how you might do that, go here!
Now enjoy this short video Joe took that he describes as “every tribe and tongue and nation…a taste of heaven!” It’s a beautiful glimpse of worship outside the bubble. Our God is a great God!
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