Six-hour service marks Nigerian anniversary

September 12, 2011

Archbishop Christian O. Ekong of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria

Dear friends,
This past Saturday and Sunday I was in Uyo, Nigeria, near the headquarters and seminary of the Lutheran Church in Nigeria (LCN). My good friend, Archbishop Christian O. Ekong, invited me to take part in this moment of joy to mark the 75th anniversary of their church, which began in 1936 with the arrival of the first Lutheran missionaries. In those days they called Nigeria “the white man’s grave,” because tropical diseases and other dangers took the lives of a number of mission workers. Some of their resting places are still very near the LCN headquarters.

The services were held in “Luther Hall,” a huge, open-air “cathedral” which seats thousands for worship. I had the honour of preaching on Saturday for the festival service that day. It was lengthy!

Then came Sunday, which brought likely the longest service I ever attended in my life. Worship began by 10 a.m., and we were just leaving the church before 4 p.m. There was no stopping for lunch, either! Several thousand attended the Sunday communion. Offerings are received multiple times during the service, and each time it can take 30-40 minutes, because all worshipers come forward, pew by pew, many walking rhythmically or even dancing.

This is the rainy season. Torrential rains cause multiple power outages, though the hotels very often turn on their generators immediately so you don’t go without power for long. At the end of Sunday’s marathon service, with heavy rain falling on the metal roof of the cathedral, you could scarcely hear the pastors’ voices, even when they shouted loudly and used microphones.

The rainy season makes some roads almost impassable; others become bumpy, and your spine really feels it, as mine did when I was seated in the rear of a van right over the wheel well. Along the roadside are people’s homes, often sporting a table in the front of the house where they sell food, electronics, or any other items to help their income. People carry enormous loads of fruits, grains, and even building materials on their heads as they walk along.

The young people at the Lutheran gathering on Sunday made quite the impression. Many of them belong to organized groups with their own uniforms and put on marches for church festival days. So many of them are incredibly polite and friendly, sometimes running up to a Canadian visitor like me, anxious to carry my briefcase, other times bowing or asking for the favour of having our picture taken together.

I’ll write a bit more in the coming days once I have collected my thoughts a bit. I’m now on the long trek back home, waiting for a flight here in Lagos, the former capital, which will take me to Amsterdam … then another to Toronto … then another to Winnipeg.

I sincerely hope you will pause and thank the Lord for the growth He’s given our friends in Nigeria these 75 years. Their synod is now bigger than ours! I hope also you will pray today and often for the witness God wants us to give to Christ in our beloved Canada, and in the communities, neighbourhoods and workplaces where He allows us to live.

Sincere greetings from Nigeria,
Robert Bugbee, President

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President Bugbee reports from Nigeria

September 9, 2011

Dear friends,

I greet you all this Friday morning from Lagos, Nigeria. I arrived here yesterday after lengthy flights from Winnipeg, Montreal and Paris. It’s the first time I’ve set foot on African soil, and I treasure this chance to bring encouragement from all of you to our ministry partners here.

Today I’ll fly another 90 minutes farther east and am scheduled to end up at Obot Idim, the site of the seminary and synod headquarters. The Lutheran Church of Nigeria (LCN) is marking its 75th Anniversary this weekend, and I have the honour to preach at the festival service set for Saturday, September 10. I am here by invitation of their Archbishop, The Rev. Christian Ekong, who serves with me on the Executive Committee of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). Bishop Ekong is the area representative for Africa, as I am for North America.

I read a good bit about Nigeria in the airplane on the way over. I’m amazed to learn its the most populous country in Africa, and seventh most populous in all the world. Analysts say the economy will grow at a rapid pace in the coming decades. And now the Nigerian film-making industry (called “Nollywood”) is the third-biggest in the world, after the Americans’ “Hollywood” and “Bollywood” in India!

Our churches in Nigeria, however, are the primary reason I’m here. They’ve grown to rival LCC’s size, and function in several hundred locations across the country. If I can manage Internet access throughout this anniversary weekend, I’ll write you again to tell you a bit more. We’re in the rainy season right now, and have had four power outages just in my first day here. None of them lasted very long, but I was awakened in the night several times by torrential rains.

In the meantime, if you are reading these lines, why not pause to pray that God would bless our partner church here, and not just as an organization. May He bless our friends to find ways to get the Good News of Jesus, crucified and raised again, into the hearts and homes of those who do not know Him. As I send this off, I’m pausing to pray that blessing for all 322 LCC congregations in Canada, too.

In Christ our dear Lord,

Robert Bugbee, President


Reflections from Thailand and Cambodia

January 26, 2011

by Robert Bugbee

(Photos by Carol Harms)

Even though I’m back in my office chair in Winnipeg, in my thoughts I’m still very much back “on the road” as I recall a week packed full with visiting our mission partners in Thailand and Cambodia. Internet headaches aborted a report I sent while I was gone, but I want to report to all of you what’s going on there while everything is still fresh in my mind.

The trip was lengthy—made lengthier by a delayed plane from Vancouver to Tokyo that made me miss my connection to Bangkok. I arrived 35 hours after leaving Winnipeg. Dr. Leonard and Carol Harms, gracious hosts throughout my visit, got me quickly to a welcome shower and cup of coffee, because my first informal meeting with staff began four hours after I arrived.

A long first day

President Bugbee discusses outreach with “Boom” Monta Ekwanit, director of the Lutheran Hour Ministries office for Thailand

President Bugbee discusses outreach with “Boom” Monta Ekwanit, director of the Lutheran Hour Ministries office for Thailand

Bangkok is home to a number of our ministry partners: The “Thailand Concordia Lutheran Church” (TCLC); “Into Light Lutheran Church” (a congregation in Bangkok); “Journey Into Light” (the Thai name for Lutheran Hour Ministries); and “Luther Institute – Southeast Asia” (LISA, the agency that provides seminary training for pastoral candidates in that part of the world). A number of co-workers from these groups spent coffee and conversation time with me the morning I arrived.

In the afternoon of that first day, we were off to the airport again, and another flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We were met there by Rev. Vanarith Chhim, president of the “Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cambodia” (ELCC). Pastor Vanarith, just 29 years old, was converted to Christianity in the 1990s, like most of his pastoral colleagues in the ELCC. He was also attracted by Luther’s Small Catechism and the clarity of our Law/Gospel approach to God’s Word.

Trained by LISA in Phnom Penh, Vanarith became an acknowledged leader of the church in his country despite his young age. Without any pushing or prompting by outsiders, the Cambodian Lutherans decided on their own to constitute their self-governing synod in 2009. The Cambodian government has formally recognized the ELCC a religious organization by, and already the new church body numbers dozens of congregations and/or preaching stations.

Encouragement and harsh reality

President Vanarith Chhim and President Bugbee in front of the building which houses Lutheran Heritage Foundation, LISA, headquarters for Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cambodia (ELCC) and services are held in this building also.

President Vanarith Chhim and President Bugbee in front of the building which houses Lutheran Heritage Foundation, LISA, headquarters for Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cambodia (ELCC) and services are held in this building also.

On my second day in the region, I met with the ELCC Board of Directors, and was heartened to hear these young pastors tell the stories of their conversions and their enthusiasm for having found their way to our Lutheran church. Many of them endured abuse and criticism from Buddhist relatives after their conversions. Still, their zeal for Christ, their desire for more resources translated and printed in their Khmer language, and their deep gratitude toward our Canadian church are a huge encouragement.

Of course, it’s hard to visit Cambodia without hearing something of the dreadful genocide which took place in the late 1970s. Though my schedule did not allow me to visit the infamous “killing fields,” I did see a former high school transformed into a torture-factory back in those days. I won’t go into details about the methods of torture employed by the regime, but they are chilling. It was especially upsetting to learn they treated babies and young children with the same harshness as adults.

The presidents beside a fish pond on Pastor Sem Sothea’s property. The fish provide food and income for the pastor and his congregation
The presidents beside a fish pond on Pastor Sem Sothea’s property. The fish provide food and income for the pastor and his congregation

My last day in Cambodia was taken up with a trip to the countryside. Near Kampot we had something like a “circuit forum” in which pastors, deaconesses and church members gathered to meet me, since they’d been unable to make the trip into the city. I saw one of the famous fish ponds and how it provides income for a poor pastor and his family, since the congregations don’t have the means to provide salaries for their ministers. (It made me proud of the Sunday school children back at Holy Cross, Kitchener, where I used to be pastor, who gave so much money for these projects. Yes, children, your love did make a difference!)

Church relationships

President Bugbee models the Thai shirt presented to him by President Ted Na Thalang of Thailand Concordia Lutheran Church.

President Bugbee models the Thai shirt presented to him by President Ted Na Thalang of Thailand Concordia Lutheran Church.

After two days in Phnom Penh, I returned to Bangkok for two days in that enormous city of 11 million residents, Thailand’s capital. The country, home to 67 million people, is noticeably wealthier and more advanced than Cambodia. LISA courses in this city have helped train pastors for TCLC. I’m so grateful for “our” Dr. Len Harms and all the time he has taken in retirement to devote to this work. His wife, Carol, has also embraced Thailand as a second home and offers warm encouragement to the Thai church and its people.

The full-day meeting with TCLC leaders was a wonderful experience. They outlined the history of their church, their hopes for the future, and their desire to join the Cambodians in establishing a special working agreement with LCC. They treasure the fact that, instead of sending North American missionaries to do the work for them, we invest in training native pastors who speak the people’s language and can understand them more deeply than we ever will.

I think I was at eight different airports during this trip. After a flight southward from Bangkok, I spent my final two days in the region around Takuapa and Khok Kloi, where we’ve had partnership with the churches for many years. This region is the tropical part of Thailand that dangles like a “tail” toward Malaysia (check your atlas at home; you’ll see). It’s also the stunning waterfront region where the tsunami hit the beaches six years ago. Yes, the scars are still there: large ships driven inland by the water that cannot be moved back to the sea; refugee-type housing for families who lost their homes. But the rebuilding has happened, too. Now it’s a very swanky tourist region, especially frequented by people from Scandinavia and Germany. Rubber trees, pineapple farms and elephants meeting you as you drive along the highway are par for this course.

…and finally

Friends, I apologize this has become so long. During my initial term of office I have attempted to visit all our major mission fields: Ukraine in 2009 and 2010, Nicaragua in 2010, and now Thailand/Cambodia in 2011.

Everywhere I go it’s a wonderful story of people whose lives have meaning now because of God’s Son, Who died for them and was raised again. Everywhere I go it’s a wonderful story of people who thank you for the approach taken by our Canadian church to equip them for their work so they can reach their neighbours. Everywhere I go it’s mixed with a little frustration that I cannot pack all of you into the suitcase and take you along, because the story of our LCC mission work is a story of money carefully spent, grateful partners in far-off lands, and people who by their courage and devotion teach and give us far more than we can ever give them.

God bless you all for your prayer support and gifts of love for this work! And thanks for taking the time to read these lines, which I send to all of you…

…in the love of Christ,

Robert Bugbee, president

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