by the Hurst Gospel Hall elders, with Stephen and Gill Davies
Historically, the relatively small assembly at Hurst in Berkshire has always been interested and involved in mission work, including sending large numbers of parcels abroad, and meeting monthly for prayer and mission support.
We first became aware of Stephen (Steve) and Gill Davies’ personal interest in mission in 2000. While on holiday in Zimbabwe, the Lord confirmed His call to Steve and Gill to serve Him in Africa. We had regular discussions and prayer times with them as we sought to understand the Lord’s will and direction. After two years of waiting, they felt that the Lord was steering them to serve Him at a mission school in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
As elders, we realised the weight of responsibility attached to commending a couple to serve overseas. As well as the implications for their teenage children, they both had parents who would miss their presence and support. The assembly had not commended a couple to the Lord’s work before, so we were entering new territory. We considered the various commendations in Acts and the Epistles, and also found much help from an Echoes booklet about the commendation and care of missionaries.
We spent time talking matters through with Steve and Gill. We had few reservations as they had been faithful, active in the assembly and elsewhere, and were given to hospitality. They also had a good knowledge of the Scriptures and were able, skilled and respected teachers in education. We had in-depth discussions regarding their call, motivation, concerns and fears. They later described these as ‘emotional to the core’ but looking back they are so pleased to have done this, as it is a point of reference to which they return in challenging times. In addition, an open meeting was held with assembly members who asked challenging questions, which built a bond of trust and fellowship between us all.
We have always seen the work of the Davies in Tanzania as an extension of the work of the assembly
Our concerns about their family arrangements were resolved by having their older daughter remain in the UK, lodging with one of us, while their younger son was educated in Africa. In the three months they had to prepare, we were deeply involved in helping, praying for and supporting them in practical ways, such as packing up their house and arranging their commendation meeting.They left for Tanzania in January 2003.
Motivation & Inspiration
There are four key drivers behind the elders’ and assembly’s support.
The assembly’s responsibility effectively started at the commendation service but did not stop there. We have always seen the work of the Davies in Tanzania as an extension of the work of the assembly. Arrangements for regular contact are maintained. Two elders and their wives have made regular visits to Tanzania. Steve and Gill have included us in all major decisions. They consider us available in times of crisis to give advice and support. On more than one occasion, the Lord has arranged for visitors from the assembly to arrive at ‘just the right time’.
The assembly members have their own relationships with Steve and Gill, and help in various ways…
Personal Love & Relationships
The assembly members have their own relationships with Steve and Gill, and help in various ways, some from a distance and others personally in Tanzania. For example, in relation to buying and setting up the site for the day care centre, Watoto wa Thamani (Precious Children), practical help has been given in Tanzania and from the UK with the buildings, their maintenance and resources. Individuals and the assembly itself support WWT through providing resources and sponsoring children.
Family Ties & Relationships
Steve and Gill’s daughter married the son of one of the Hurst elders. Most of the local assembly in Dar es Salaam attended the wedding celebration, giving an added insight into Tanzanian culture, geography and assembly life to those from Hurst who were also privileged to attend. The whole Hurst assembly was invited to a later celebration in the UK. Practical, emotional and spiritual support was given to Steve and Gill’s daughter during this time.
General Mission Interest
Within the Hurst assembly there has always been interest in the Lord’s work overseas, evidenced by regular missionary offerings, with updates from workers being shared in the assembly. Some may buy little treats, such as their favourite tea or chocolate and arrange for these to be sent out to Steve and Gill with the next visitor. Those with practical skills knit jumpers and blankets to be given to poor families or as prizes for the children’s activities at WWT.
Taking Responsibility to Heart
In taking responsibility we:
- consider Steve and Gill to be members of and in fellowship with the Hurst assembly
- try to keep them uppermost in the prayer life of individuals and the assembly
- keep in regular contact
- read, digest and respond to their regular newsletters, and read ‘between the lines’
- seek to be aware of their possible needs
- set aside sufficient time for debriefs with the elders and their wives during each furlough
- arrange report meetings for the whole assembly
- visit Tanzania and get alongside them, both spiritually and physically, in support of the work, including anything from sharpening pencils to building fences
- take them away for breaks to relax and berefreshed, when visiting them in Tanzania.
Learning About Mission
We have learned far more about mission than we can possibly explain but will highlight a few salient points. We trust in a wonderful God and Saviour who, while allowing us to pass through some dark and difficult valleys, will nevertheless stand by us and sustain us. One has to visit the mission workers and their local assembly to begin to appreciate the religious, cultural and day-to-day environment in which they work. We have seen first hand the fruit of Steve and Gill’s commitment to study the local language in the engagement this enables them to have with the local people.
The most wonderful thing is that we have the same Lord, the same Scriptures and the same Hope.
We have appreciated the importance of having a mature Tanzanian brother and sister, who can be relied upon to give guidance in the translation of notes for teaching, as well as cultural and practical advice from a Tanzanian perspective. In our context, we see hospitality as an integral part of the wider term ‘fellowship’. Generally, Tanzanian believers have neither the accommodation nor the means to offer hospitality as we know it. The absence of the forms of fellowship we are used to can lead to a great sense of isolation and loneliness, which is not helped by the great distances between other mission workers in that country.
We may consider life in Tanzania to be similar to that of the UK, albeit with more sunshine and locals who speak Kiswahili. In reality, just ‘ordinary life’ can be very taxing. In Dar es Salaam, the sun rises around 6am with an early start to the day and sets around 6.30pm, when the mosquitoes come out. Further aspects, which can only be appreciated by being there, are the unrelenting high temperatures and humidity. Day-to-day life can be gruelling. Water and electricity supplies may be intermittent or sometimes cut off for days and, on occasion, their water connections have been stolen. A standby generator has alleviated much worry about power failure, but telephone and wi-fi can also be unreliable. Steve and Gill have, on many occasions, felt led to assist Tanzanians in a variety of practical ways and it is difficult for them when the recipients of their kindness and care break their promises.
It is vital, in our view, that workers should not feel guilty about taking time for rest and recuperation. Even the Lord said to His disciples, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mk 6:31). The mission worker may feel a sense of failure if they are not able to report large numbers of people being saved. The majority of Steve and Gill’s work is among children, the fruit of which may not be seen or fully appreciated until the Judgement Seat of Christ.
We Have Been Enriched
Seeing over 350 children waiting for the Kids’ Club, or the well-behaved students at WWT walking barefoot between classrooms, is an overwhelming joy and wonder. To experience the melody and rhythm of the African chorus or Bible memory verse recitation is heartwarming. It is thrilling to hear and see hundreds of children, some very young, learning Bible passages of considerable length and having a driving ambition to gain the prize of a Bible.
It has been eye-opening to see, in practice, how resourceful people can be when they have to struggle to earn a living, a reminder that owning lots of possessions is not the route to happiness. It is a joy to be part of the Lord’s work in Tanzania – a part of the world with avery different culture. The most wonderful thing is that we have the same Lord, the same Scriptures and the same Hope.