Camp Meeting 20181
I do a lot of travel in order to teach the Bible. In the process of traveling and teaching I learn a lot. And I think what I learned while I was ministering in Iowa recently will give an important, additional focus to our ministry going forward.
It's only in the last four or five years of my overseas teaching that people have begun to think of me and treat me as a “missionary.” That label came as a surprise, because I hadn't thought of myself as a missionary, but rather as an itinerant teacher. Lately 95% of my teaching has been in foreign countries, so I've had little involvement with the spiritual needs of my fellow believers in the United States and Canada.
Context in the Cornfields of Iowa
That's why my week of ministry as the Bible teacher at the annual Iowa Holiness Association camp meeting was such a wake-up call. I went there with a burden from the Lord: “Don't tell them what you do overseas; teach them what you teach there.” So, rather than pick a week's topic as I have at past IHA camps, I covered what I share when I go to the mission field, especially with new groups for the first two or three visits. And that is hermeneutics: What is context? Why is it important to know about context when we read the Bible, when we teach the Bible, when we preach from the pulpit, when we seek to lead someone to Jesus?
Those five days of teaching in Iowa proved to be a time of great joy, great hunger, great fulfillment, and much eye-opening. I don't think I've ever engaged a more enthusiastic American audience, and that's despite the hot, humid, un-air-conditioned class sessions in the open-air tabernacle. (For me, it felt like teaching in Guatemala or Honduras!) The enthusiasm was all the more remarkable since the class attendees ranged from rising high-school freshmen to Bible-college students, missionaries, pastors, church planters, and folks entrada en años (as they say in Spanish — “well advanced in years”). I never taught this subject to an English-speaking audience before — a point that was brought home to me by the fact that I had to back-translate all of my materials from Spanish to English!
Yes, those who came were thirsty for this dive-into-the-deep-end-of-the-pool study of the Scriptures. And there were over a dozen whose eyes were opened to the importance of annual reading cover-to-cover through the Scriptures – and they made a public commitment to do just that! The teaching sessions ended around 3:30 pm each afternoon, but individual, after-class discussions lasted sometimes for another hour — and sometimes even over the dinner table at 5 pm. A sampling of comments includes:
Like I said — all ages! (Don't let the bib overalls fool you: he's a Bible-school grad and a good adult Sunday School teacher!)
- “When are you coming to teach at our Bible college?”
- “You've destroyed my flannelgraph theology!” (If you're old enough to remember Sunday School flannelgraphs, more power to you!)
- “You make me wonder if I know anything about the Bible!” (A humorous comment from a godly pastor.)
- “I've read and heard that passage preached on many times and had no idea the depth that was hidden there.”
- “I never saw the context of that verse and passage. What a difference the context makes!”
- “I'd like you to give me a homework assignment.” (This from a 14-year-old who had been asking thoughtful, insightful questions for several days.)
- “How come you're not our Bible teacher every year?” (This from a committed sister.)
Well, dear sister, there are other teachers, too. And I've been honored to teach at IHA Camp in 2014, '16, and '18, and have accepted an invitation to teach again in 2020, Lord willing.
“I've Never Been Taught!”
Yes, it was a wonderful time, with the Holy Spirit leading and guiding into truth. But the blessing contrasted with a growing challenge I have perceived over the course of nearly 50 years of ministry. I have found that American evangelical audiences have become more and more Biblically illiterate, with fewer reading or studying their Bibles, and even fewer who read their Bibles cover to cover regularly. But I remembered an important lesson that I learned while teaching in Georgia over 30 years ago.
We had moved from suburban Southern California to rural Georgia. Almost immediately the Lord opened up a number of doors for teaching and ministry. In one church I was invited to take over the Wednesday night Bible study, which soon began drawing people from other churches. To make a long story short, during a particular study I had to delay a promised topic by a week, so that I could walk the group through the necessary foundational truths which would set the stage for the upcoming subject.
I apologized to the group for the postponement, whereupon a dear sister from the local Methodist Church said something that surprised me. “Oh, Pastor Jim, don't apologize. I've been a Christian for thirty years and I've never been taught!” But it's what happened next that absolutely floored me — every single adult in that Bible-belt Bible study, no matter what their denominational background, nodded in agreement with the dear Methodist sister.
“Can You Come and Teach It Here?”
As I think of the Georgian's statement — “I've never been taught!” — I savor an Iowa Irony: The name Iowa derives from what the original Native American inhabitants called themselves — Ayuxwa, which means “one who puts to sleep.” Herein lies the irony: far from putting me to sleep, my latest foray into Iowa has awakened a sleeping burden within my heart.
The enthusiastic response of the Iowans raises this question: “If this amazing ‘context thing' is what you teach overseas, can you come and teach it here?!” It's a good question, and I must answer it. Here I am now with burdens for two “worlds” — a burden for training hungry, gifted leaders in developing countries; and a re-awakened burden for teaching and building up my own countrymen and my beloved Canadian brethren. Those hungry saints in Iowa brought home to me what a keen spiritual appetite there is in North America for understanding Biblical truth — in context! — and what a need there is for funneling hungry believers back into the Scriptures and into a deeper relationship with the Lord.
What is context? And what is the Great Context?6
So effective immediately, even as Denise and I start our preparations for our upcoming Perú teaching trip (Sept. 22-Oct. 16), I'm sharing this commitment: If you are prayerfully considering a teacher for a conference at your church, a retreat, or a renewal weekend, I am making myself available, as God provides, to share “this amazing ‘context thing'” (and whatever else the Lord leads and a group needs) here in North America. Those called to ministry have something hard-coded in their “spiritual DNA”: “to equip the saints for the work of service, to build up the Body of Christ” with a goal of “attaining the unity of the faith, the knowledge of the Son of God, maturity, and a measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13). We would love to see that goal furthered in your neck of the woods with inspired Bible teaching.
It's time for the mission field to “give back” as a thank-you to those of you who are faithfully praying, giving, and supporting us. You can reach me at this e-mail address.
Much love in Jesus,
P.S.: More photos from IHA camp can be enjoyed from our Facebook album. And while you're there, please like our Finest of the Wheat Facebook page.
- Photo by Brian Fettes ↩
- All photos by Denise Kerwin unless otherwise noted. ↩
- Dusty Bible image copyright: olegdudko / 123RF Stock Photo; used under license ↩
- Iowa flag image is public domain from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag_of_Iowa.svg ↩
- Overlay map courtesy of the interactive website https://thetruesize.com ↩
- Presentation-deck slide from Jim Kerwin ↩