Sunday, September 16, 2018

Headed Home!

My Wesley College students for the past two weeks.
Two weeks. Two college courses.

Exhausting, but exhilarating.  Challenging, but very, very satisfying.

Wesley College is a new endeavor of the United Methodist Church in Tanzania, East Africa. As the permanent faculty is not yet in place, I have been privileged to serve as a guest lecturer for the past two weeks. 

It's been a dream come true. 

First, I've always wanted to be a missionary. I just love the whole cross-cultural thing. I love to learn greetings in foreign languages and watch people smile when I try them out. I love to participate in cross-cultural worship. I love to build relationships with people who are different from me in so many ways, yet the same as me in the ways that really matter.

Second, I've always wanted to be a teacher. There is nothing like the joy of sharing a new fact, concept, or idea and watching the lights go on as people "get it." In my 36 years of ministry, first as a youth director, and then as a pastor, I've done lots and lots of teaching (including teaching pastors here in 2013). But this is the first time I've ever been a "real" teacher, designing courses, giving assignments, grading tests ... It's not as easy as it looks, believe me. I now have even more respect for professional teachers like my son, my daughter, and my sister. 

Now as I sit here in the Kilimanjaro airport waiting to board a flight for Amsterdam, I am filled with gratitude. I thank God for this opportunity. I thank Eric Soard and Bonface Wanyama of Wesley College for inviting me. I thank Bishop Paul Leeland, the cabinet, and the WNC Board of Ordained Ministry for granting me a sabbatical to do this. I could not have pulled it off otherwise. 

Next adventure: Cambodia, February 2019. Between now and then: A new grand-baby, a storytelling festival, a 100-mile bike ride, and lots of time with family. And housework. Which I enjoy. Seriously!

Monday, September 3, 2018

First Day of Class!

Wesley College is on the fourth floor of a new office building in downtown Mwanza. 

The fourth floor. 

108 steps. 

I climbed those steps today for the first time as a guest lecturer (yesterday I climbed them as a guest preacher), and with my computer and books on my back, it was quite a haul. I'll be doing this everyday for the next two weeks. Is it just me, or are African staircases steeper and longer than those in the US? 

The good news is, I should be in pretty good shape when I get back. Might even lose some weight!

Each day at Wesley College begins at 8:30 am with student-led devotions for the entire college. This morning was a great time of worship even though I did not understand it all. But I sure do love the call-and-response singing, a capella harmonies, and vigorous hand clapping that I get to experience here!

At 9:00 I began the first class in my week-long course, "New Testament 1--the Gospels and Acts." We began with getting acquainted. It started off slowly, but as trust levels grew, the atmosphere lightened and we all began to enjoy ourselves. 

I started the teaching portion by doing a quick synopsis of the Story of the Bible. I think it's important to get a feel for the whole story so that you can understand the context of the Gospels and Acts. It's also important to see that everything leads up to, and is centered on, Christ. 

Then we talked about why it's important to understand the historical/cultural/linguistic background of the New Testament.  I demonstrated this by taking the class through Matthew 2:1-12 (the story of Herod and the Magi), and Luke 17:11-19 (the story of the ten lepers). These stories mean so much more when you have some background: Who is Herod? What was he famous for? Who are the Magi? Where did they come from? Why did Luke make sure to point out that the leper who came back to give thanks was a Samaritan? And why did Jesus call this man a "foreigner"?

I think it went well. The questions the students asked let me know that they were tracking with me and that they were learning important concepts. 

An exciting moment for me happened after we broke for lunch.  I dismissed the class and walked down the hall, and then as I walked back past the classroom, four of my students were standing around the whiteboard, talking to each other in rapid Swahili, and pointing to things I had written on the board. It was a pretty animated conversation.  I think part of what was going on was that the better English speakers were explaining the concepts to the ones who didn't quite understand everything I said. I think they were also just sharing their thoughts about what they had learned--processing it together. This was wonderful to see--it was like they were taking ownership of the class--making it their own. 

After lunch we talked about the world of the New Testament--the merging (colliding?) of Jewish, Greek, and Roman cultures. Finally, at 3:30 it was time to stop.  A long, busy day. But necessary if we're going to cover all the material in one week. 

Another exciting moment: After I dismissed the class, they insisted on taking pictures! All together ... the class including Lorie ... one-by-one with me and Lorie ... selfies with me ... what fun! I was honored by their excitement and interest.  You can see one of the pictures on my Facebook page. 

And speaking of pictures--Why am I not posting any on this blog? It's an internet thing.  The connections are S-L-O-O-O-W. I can't seem to get the pictures from my phone to the computer in order to post them on the blog. I can post on Facebook from my phone, but I can't do blog posts on my phone. (Did you get that?)

I have plenty of pictures I'd love to show you. Maybe after I get home. 

If you've read this far, thanks for hanging in. As you probably know, this is the fulfillment of a dream for me. Thanks for your interest, and thanks for praying!

Another Kayler on Mission

My younger brother Dayton is a member of Pine Valley UMC in Wilmington, NC.  Last Sunday, they asked him to give a testimony about his experience serving with the Appalachia Service Project (ASP) this summer. I thought what he said was beautiful, and I asked him for permission to share it here:

After a 32 year absence, I went back to ASP. Some things have changed, but many things remain the same. I was reluctant to go….because I had been before, and I knew the hard work and heat that was ahead of me. Grace, my daughter, wanted to go. And I wanted her to go and experience ASP, to see what it’s all about. Even so, I was still hesitant about going….but decided that I would, just to be a helper, and watch over my daughter….because that’s what dads do.

ASP is Hard----but special. ASP is Hot---but refreshing. ASP is practical---but accomplishes the impossible.

The people we go to serve, end up serving us. They don’t have much….shoes, clothes, food, and beds are luxury items for many. Despite their circumstances, these folks are Gracious to us---strangers. They are giving and kind to us---strangers. They accept us and welcome us with Love----yet we are complete strangers to them. Does this remind you of anyone?

I wanted my daughter to go to ASP to learn about the importance of self-sacrifice and the importance of helping others in need. My hope was that she would see God. I believe my hope was fulfilled.

God is in those mountains, because He Lives inside of those folks----His Children. And that is what they give to us…. A Glimpse of God.

Your support allows our church to participate in ASP. Your support allows God to reveal  Himself through this ministry. We thank you for your prayers and financial support, without it…..this would not be possible.
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Sunday, September 2, 2018

Greetings from Tanzania

Habari Anchana! (Swahili for "Good afternoon!") 

Lorie and I are in Tanzania, and this has been my first opportunity to write about it. 

We arrived on Monday night at 8:05 pm local time after traveling for 27 hours.  We were in our hotel by 9:30 pm, where we fell exhausted into bed. 

The next day (Tuesday), we did nothing but hang around the hotel and rest. 

On Wednesday we were met bright and early by Charles, our safari guide/driver. Liz Soard (one of the missionaries we're working with) arranged this safari for us, as she does for a lot of the mission teams and individuals who come over here to work with our UMC missions.

Charles took us from Kilimanjaro, where we had entered the country, to the Ngorogoro Crater.  IT WAS AWESOME! The crater is 2000 feet deep and the floor covers 100 square miles. It has two big lakes, one salty and one fresh.  And it is chock full of exotic animals! We saw baboons, zebras, wildebeest, hippos, lions, elephants--and we were blessed with a rare sighting of a black rhinoceros.  

The next day it was off to the Serengeti, a flat, grassy plain that extends for miles and miles.  It's as beautiful as Ngorogoro, but in a different way.  Here we saw the above list of animals again (except for the rhino), as well as crocodiles, lizards, a number of beautiful birds, and a very handsome leopard sleeping in a tree.

It was an amazing thing to marvel at the infinite creativity of God!

On Friday we arrived in Mwanza, where Wesley College is located.

Yesterday (Saturday), we spent most of the day with Eric and Liz Soard.  I have worked with them before, and it was a real joy to catch up with them, and to introduce them to Lorie. 

Since coming to Tanzania 8-and-a-half years ago (first as volunteers, then as full missionaries), Eric and Liz have started a secondary school, planted seven churches, trained pastors and church leaders, led several construction projects, led a well project, started the Emmanuel Center for Women and Children--and most recently, started Wesley College. 

We had a great day together with Eric and Liz and their three boys--Derek, Caleb, and Micah. In the afternoon, the boys came and swam in the pool at our hotel, and in the evening we had dinner with them and with some other mission volunteers from the States who have been here three months working with Wesley College. 

THEN--this morning--I got to preach! In addition to the academic and development work of Wesley College, they have also started a new church that meets in their building. The church is called "Center City United Methodist Church." The pastor of the church is Bonface Wanyama, who is also the Dean of the School of Theology of Wesley College. 

I preached through an interpreter (Eric Soard), which is really a lot easier than you might think, because you can think about your next sentence while the interpreter is translating what you just said! 

I think it went well. Some of the congregation members were really getting into it, and after the sermon Bonface said, "I don't know about the rest of you, but I have been challenged!" I pray God uses it to make a difference. 

TOMORROW is the big day: Classes begin! New Testament 1 (Gospels and Acts). I'm very excited--but also a little bit nervous. I hope that all of the prep work I've been doing since June pays off.  

More than that, I PRAY that God anoints the time that these students and I spend together.  I will meet them for the first time tomorrow morning.  I fully expect to learn more from them than they will from me. 

That's it for now.  I'll do my best to keep you posted. Thanks for praying!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Power House

In just a few days, my wife Lorie and I leave for Tanzania where I will serve as a guest lecturer at at the new Wesley College in Mwanza. I'll be teaching two college courses in an intensive format: 30 hours of classroom instruction per week for two weeks.   

As I've been preparing my class on Wesleyan theology, I have fallen in love (again) with John Wesley. The man was amazing. God used him to bring thousands of people to Christ--and to start a movement that literally changed the world. Today 70+ million people trace their spiritual heritage to John Wesley and his brother Charles.

The Methodist movement was born in prayer. In the picture above, I'm kneeling at John Wesley's prayer bench at his house in London. This is how John started every day. He would get up at 4 am and seek the presence and power of God. Today people refer to that little prayer room as the "Power House of Methodism."

God's power is unleashed through prayer.  Look at the book of Acts. Many of us are familiar with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that took place on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).  But what were the followers of Jesus doing before that powerful event? "They all joined together constantly in prayer ..." (Acts 1:14).

I'm headed to Tanzania. My two-week mission is to teach college students. In a way, that's not what most people would call earth-shattering. It's not preaching in the fields, like John Wesley, or baptizing 3000 in one day, like they did in Acts 2.

But what if God, in answer to our prayers, uses these classes to do more than distill information? What if, in answer to our prayers, these classes become a time of real spiritual growth? What if, in answer to our prayers, God uses these classes to shape Christian leaders who do in Tanzania what John Wesley did in England?

What if, in answer to our prayers, God anoints Lorie and me to bring real joy and encouragement to our hard-working missionaries in Tanzania?

And what if, in answer to our prayers, God uses this time to stretch, grow, and change ... me?  So that when I'm done with this year of sabbatical, I'll be better equipped to serve God in my next ministry assignment?

These are the kinds of things that happen when we pray. When we go to the Power House.  When we ask God to pour out his Spirit. 


I hope you'll join me in doing just that. 


*If you want to know why I'm standing on a grave outside a church in England, check out one of my favorite John Wesley stories.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Prayer Partners Needed

No one should go on a mission trip without being covered in prayer. 

As many of you know, I am taking a year off from pastoral ministry in order to (among other things) do some short-term mission trips to Tanzania and Cambodia. The Tanzania trip is coming up fast. I'll be teaching two college-level courses over a two-week period at the new Wesley College.

No doubt many of you have already lifted up prayers on my behalf. THANK YOU.

With this post I'm looking for some folks who will make a more formal commitment to join my team as Prayer Partners.  

When I've gone on mission trips in the past, I've counted on the church I was serving at the time to hold me up in prayer. Right now, however, I'm not pastoring a church. 

So I'm recruiting a prayer team through social media.

Here's what I'm asking for from Prayer Partners: 
  1. Make a commitment to pray for me (and Tanzania, and the people I'll be working with) each day, beginning NOW and continuing through Monday September 17, when I return from Tanzania.
  2. Email me at prayforclaude@gmail.com to let me know of your commitment. 
  3. (Optional) Email me your phone number for receiving on-the-spot text messages.  
 What I'll do for you: 
  1. Send you email updates with insider information and specific prayer requests.
  2. Be grateful to you for the rest of my life!
Please note that this commitment is for the Tanzania trip only. I'll do another sign up before my Cambodia trip in February. 

I hope to hear from you!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Sabbatical

Sabbatical Leave—A sabbatical leave should be allowed for a program of study or travel approved by the conference Board of Ordained Ministry. Associate members or clergy members in full connection who have been serving in a full-time appointment for six consecutive years, or in a less than full-time appointment equivalent to six consecutive full-time years, from the time of their reception into full or associate membership may be granted a sabbatical leave for up to one year...The appointment to sabbatical leave is to be made by the bishop holding the conference, upon the vote of the annual conference after recommendation by the Board of Ordained Ministry.
                          United Methodist Discipline, par. 351

I am now officially on Sabbatical. 

I am no longer the Senior Pastor of Main Street United Methodist Church, Kernersville. That honor has now been given to my colleague, the Rev. Dr. Mike Gehring. 

So, what am I doing? Just lying around, right?


 By no means! Here's what I've been up to so far: 
  • Preparing to teach theology students at Wesley College in Mwanza, Tanzania. I'm teaching two 30-hour, college-level classes in two weeks. That means teaching 6 hours a day for ten days. The classes I'm teaching are New Testament 1 (Gospels & Acts) and Wesleyan Theology. The challenges of preparing for these classes include...
    • Making sure I'm covering the most important aspects of each topic
    • Making sure I'm covering what the faculty at Wesley College want me to cover
    • Figuring out how to teach all of this in an intensive two-week format
    • Figuring out how to schedule exams and papers in this two-week format
    • Planning learning activities (in addition to my lectures) that will keep students engaged for six whole hours! 
  • Taking extra time to pray.
  • Renewing friendships with old friends who live at Lake Junaluska.
  • Attending worship at Lake J.
  • Spending time with my daughter Mary, who has moved back from Chicago and is working with Lorie's business
  • Spending time with David, Lauren, and James (son, daughter-in-law, and grandson), who live in Asheville.  

In addition, I made a trip to Greensboro to help get my Dad settled in to Camden Place Health and Rehabilitation. 
 
Dad's 90th birthday last year.  Making our grandson wear a Dook T-shirt was one of his gifts.


We're all sad that we've had to take this step with Dad. I personally am sad that it took place right after I moved to Lake Junaluska, three hours away from Greensboro. That being said, the good news about being on Sabbatical is that my schedule is much more flexible. When I lived in Kernersville, 20 minutes away from Mom and Dad, I still didn't see them as often as I would have liked. With this move I have traded geographic proximity for a more flexible schedule, and I hope that will turn out to be a good trade.


The idea was to get a picture of Dad & James wearing those matching T-shirts, but James is not one to sit still.
One more thing I've been up to: cooking and cleaning! Not that I never cooked or cleaned before. And not that I was a sexist, chauvinist husband who looked at certain chores and said, "That's women's work!" But it is true that over my 29 years of pastoral ministry, I was usually out and about all day and most evenings, and Lorie did most of the meal planning and cooking, not because she's female, but because she was the one who worked from home. (As her business grew, we were able to hire a cleaning service to take care of the house.) 

In planning for this Sabbatical, Lorie and I agreed that I would be the chief cook so that she can focus on her work--and hopefully rest a little more--and that we would work together on keeping the house clean. 

And so far, I am really enjoying this! Planning meals, going to the grocery store, serving delicious food to my wife and daughter ...cleaning the bathrooms, sweeping the floor, vacuuming the carpet, etc. After 29 years of pastoral ministry, where the results of what you do are so often unseen and intangible--it's really nice to look at a stack of washed dishes, or a clean floor, or a plate of cooked food and actually see the result of your efforts. 

Several folks have asked me if I'm going to keep updating this blog during my trips to Tanzania and Cambodia.  I will do my best. When I went to Tanzania in late 2013, I managed to post updates fairly regularly. (If you would like to read those, go here and then keep clicking on "Newer Post" down at the bottom.) On this trip, with a heavier load of teaching responsibilities, it might be harder to find time to blog. But I promise I'll try.  And when I do post something, I'll send it out on Twitter, which will also link to my Facebook page.

(By the way, I don't check Facebook on any kind of regular basis, so don't use that to try and get hold of me. Or at least, be prepared to wait before I see your message.)

OK, a few last things...
  • I preached a sermon entitled, "Missionary Dreams" on April 8, which I posted here, that answers a lot of practical questions about what I'm doing. It describes the trips I'm taking, explains my reasons for taking a year off, and lays a biblical foundation for my passion for missions. If you just want answers to the questions, scroll to the bottom. But I hope you'll read the whole thing. 
  • Here's an article about the importance of Sabbath and Sabbaticals. The situation of the pastor who wrote it is a little different from mine, but his theological/biblical points are spot on.  
Thanks to so many of you who have been so supportive as Lorie and I have moved into this new adventure. I am truly grateful for your love and encouragement.