On Friday's for the past several weeks, we have been on a journey with Robert and Margaret Fortenberry. This journey has taken us back to 1994 when they left the U.S. to travel as IMB Missionaries to Botswana Africa and through key points in their time and ministry in Africa. It will conclude with their retirement and return to the states a couple of years ago.
We will follow them by remembering various newsletters they sent out through this journey. Today, we will read the 5th installment. I know you will enjoy looking over their shoulder and remembering.
"As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country."
This past Saturday was a special day in our house. It marked the 20 year anniversary of our stay in Botswana. On March 22, 1994, Margaret and I, along with Bethany and Charissa, touched down at Sir Seretse Khama Airport in Gaborone. We were met by a contingent of missionaries and warmly welcomed to their ranks. We were jet-lagged and bedraggled, but certain memories remain clear. Most striking is the image of Roger Childress, our Baptist Mission Business Manager at the time, who handed me the keys to a brand new Toyota pickup and told me to drive. When I protested that I was fatigued and unfamiliar with driving on the left side of the road, he simply said that he would help me as we went along. I drove like I was ninety years old, instead of thirty-five, but we made it to his house without any loss of life or limb. I also remember Margaret heading straight for the shower once we arrived at the Childress house (where we would stay for a couple of days until our own accommodation was furnished), because she had been “baptized” with Coke on the way over. I don’t remember the details of how it happened, just her relief at being able to cleanse herself of the soft-drink stickiness layered over the normal grime accumulated by jet travel. Our two girls were totally unfazed by any of what was occurring, regarding our intercontinental relocation as just another adventure to be experienced. They were sleepy but bubbly, commenting on every donkey, tree, and person we saw.
I spent much of last Saturday contemplating the rapid passing of two decades in Africa. God has been so faithful. We have a rich store of memories of missionaries with whom we have served, we have a large collection of Batswana brethren with whom we still work to share the Gospel, and we have an ever-expanding circle of American friends who have visited and served with us here on short-term trips. We have watched the work in Lobatse grow from a handful of people gathering weekly, only a part of whom were actually saved, to a collection of churches and their leaders spread across the southern half of Botswana, all positively linked to Lobatse Baptist as the mother church. We have seen God provide for the unique needs of our children and family at key times along our missionary journey. Those two little girls who bounced off the plane in 1994 are both grown up ladies now, serving the Lord and making their way in the world. Only those who have lived in a foreign country for extended periods know what it takes for missionary kids to reach that point in life. We are thankful to the Lord for all the ways in which he gave us wisdom, brought people alongside us, and simply filled in the gaps in Bethany and Charissa’s lives to help them to reach a state of normalcy such as they know today. He has been good to us these twenty years.
And, thankfully, our service in Botswana is not yet completed. Some years back we made a list of villages in our area for which we would pray and in which we would ask God to help us plant a church. Hukuntsi, southwest of Kang, was added to that list in 2009. We have made two ministry trips to Hukuntsi already this year, the latest two weeks back with a team from Pinelake Baptist, and it seems that we now should have a stable group there. It is not yet what we can call a church (in the New Testament sense of that word) but it should be a stable fellowship and will hopefully be fully formed as a functioning congregation within the next 12 months. Tomorrow I will go with Jack Rantho, our pastor and friend, and a couple of other guys to Sekoma and Tsabong, also villages in the Bakgalagadi people group area of southern Botswana that have been on that list of church plant targets for a long time, to prepare the way for evangelism and discipleship in them later this year. We hope to have viable groups in both of these locations by the end of 2014. We have many more villages on the list, but the number is decreasing as the years go by. God has been faithful in the past, and He is still giving us vision and hope for the future.
As we celebrate the Lord’s faithfulness during our tenure in Botswana, we ask you to pray with us. We have a desire for what we have learned to be passed along to others. We are the senior missionaries on our team now and want the other, younger missionaries with whom we serve to profit by our years. We don’t want to be overly “parental” with them and, to be honest, are motivated by humility more than pride. There are so many things I wish I had perceived about life and ministry here earlier in my missionary career. I often wonder why I didn’t. Perhaps it was just my own obtuseness. But, be that as it may, it is our desire for others to progress through the cross-cultural ministry learning curve more quickly than we did, with the hope that they will ultimately far surpass our effectiveness as messengers of the Gospel in this context. We also want to help train up a next generation of leaders among the Batswana believers. I could tell you lots of stories about young people we know here who have given their lives to Christ and now want to serve Him. In many of these we see leadership potential, both at the congregational and national level. What do we teach them, how do we model before them, what they will need to grow up in Christ and impart faith to others? It is a never-ending question and one we hope to answer more and more fully as time goes on. Please pray that the Lord will give us wisdom to share what we know with those younger than us, without ever losing our own quiet, learner’s attitude.
As I close, I would remind you that the call to walk more deeply with Christ and to help others to do the same is not limited to the mission field. It is a universal call for all who belong to Jesus. May you grow in these abilities as well, wherever you are. Know that we thank the Lord for each of you and covet your prayers. God bless until we talk again.
Robert and Margaret