Kathy and I believe the Lord began prompting us a couple of years ago to focus our efforts on building a model FamilyLife ministry in two or three countries of Francophone (French-speaking) Africa. Through prayer and counsel, we became convinced that the predominantly Muslim country of Chad was one of the countries God was leading us to.
No one from FamilyLife has ever traveled to Chad before. The objective of our two week trip in January was to help launch FamilyLife. The launch included a 1-1/2 day marriage seminar for pastors and their wives, three HomeBuilders small group lay-leader trainings, three training and strategy sessions with the local Launch team, and an all-day Launch team planning retreat.
The culture in Chad is very strong. It significantly impacts how people think, how people act, and what people believe. And it especially shapes marriage and family relationships. During our trip, we heard repeatedly that the culture in Chad was even stronger than other Francophone countries. For example:
- It is very foreign for a husband and wife to see themselves working together as a team.
- When a husband’s relative, no matter how distant, asks the husband for financial assistance, he is expected to provide for the need, even if his own family is left without enough.
- Children are generally considered to be the “property” of the husband.
- When a husband dies, culture and laws often leave the surviving wife with nothing. His family of origin usually takes all the property (his house, money, and even the children).
- When spouses have conflicts, it is expected that they will discuss the problem with their family and friends before their spouse.
The biblical teaching on marriage and family interferes with their cultural customs and expectations. This puts Christian couples in a difficult position if they try to “do it God’s way.” If a husband, for example, tries to make his marriage his primary family relationship and provide for his own family first, his family of origin may see him as unloving and uncaring. This can become an obstacle to accepting the Gospel.
Recognizing these challenges helped us grasp the enormity of our task to launch FamilyLife in Chad, but we know that God’s power is more influential than culture.
By God’s grace, we accomplished all of our launch objectives and more, but there is a spiritual enemy who opposes what God wants to do; the launch was not without difficulties.
Some of our flights were cancelled and we arrived in Chad two days late. When we finally landed in Chad, it was very dark! Our plane did not use its landing lights and only the colored marker lights were lit on the runway. Perhaps this was a safety measure so our plane would not become a target of a rebel attack.
Djasrabe Siangar, the National Leader for Campus Crusade for Christ in Chad, formed a team of six couples to provide leadership for FamilyLife. The wives of three of the couples faced challenges of their own. Justine’s mother passed away following surgery in Cameroon the day before we arrived. Nathalie’s brother passed away the day we arrived. The next day, Angeline was taken to a local hospital and treated with IV medication all day. We also received word that my mother, wheelchair-bound and in fragile health, had been hospitalized.
By the grace of God, it was a successful and productive launch, despite the difficulties. About 40-50 people attended every FamilyLife training and event. The first day of the pastors’ conference ended with a session on resolving conflict. On the second day, Pastor Cleopas, who has been married 42 years, shared this testimony. He explained that he and his wife did not communicate well with each other. For several years they had an ongoing conflict that went unresolved. After the session on resolving conflict, they had a heart-to-heart talk (for the first time in years) and asked each other for forgiveness! Now they want to share this teaching with their church.
Dozens of lay couples were trained and given a vision to lead HomeBuilders groups and disciple other couples in their marriages. Seeds for additional ministry were planted. It was clear that God was at work, not only in people’s hearts, but also in circumstances. We can’t count the number of times we said, “God is in this trip!”
The FamilyLife Launch team really “got it.” They understood the strategy. This was very exciting for us. By the end of the trip, they had developed a realistic plan to move FamilyLife forward. And the plan has “discipleship” written all over it!
As the launch team made follow-up calls and visits after the pastors’ seminar, every pastor said they wanted FamilyLife in their church! These pastors understood that godly marriages undergird a healthy church. And when the Church is healthy, the Gospel advances.
The FamilyLife launch in Chad turned out to be one of our most challenging trips, but it was also one of the most encouraging. God’s hand was on it and we saw His fingerprints. We look forward to returning in October for follow-up training and to see how God and couples are working together to build godly marriages and families in Chad.