I met up with Harold and Coni at “The Centre” on a crisp Wednesday morning. They were well bundled, backpacks on shoulders, prepared for an active afternoon of errands to take advantage of being in downtown Vancouver. They were quick to approach with a warm smile and hands extended. The wizened white of Harold’s hair was in contrast with Coni’s brown hair, but their faces similarly reflected rich life experiences. As we sat down to talk, I hesitated. Harold and Coni had experienced places that very few people in the world today have seen. I had a sense of not knowing how to start, like there was a chasm between us that I could never hope to fill in. Fortunately for me, Harold and Coni were practiced at courageously venturing over those chasms in faith. A story Harold told me during the interview when asked about “a significant learning experience” (that I have segmented throughout this blog) demonstrated that courage, and revealed the situations God used to equip them for Hope of the Nations.
A Story from Harold: Part I
“While working in youth camps as a leader I sometimes preached to the staff. One of my sermons was on developing trust. Partway through the teaching I realized the sermon was meant for me. God revealed that my ministry in youth had always come with a paycheck - it was my security - and that I could do more to step out in faith and trust. After prayer and discussion with Coni we decided to step down at the camp and pursue full-time ministry as missionaries. We sat down with the camp director and arranged to stay on for three more months (to allow the director to find a replacement we could train). He agreed to maintain our salaries until then. We decided to give up our large cabin for the summer as an offering to the camp, since it would help bring in a replacement. So we moved to ‘Cabin 14’, a ramshackle shack that could only fit a bed and a toilet. With no place left to put belongings and a need for money more than materials we decided to sell everything.”
As Harold and Coni took the lead I could feel their passion for their ministry, it was clearly something they loved and often discussed with others. Like dance partners they began to move rhythmically through topics while sparing moments for eye contact or a playful touch with each other. As the listener, a problem quickly emerged; statements they made casually were like icebergs: there was so much more to see beneath the surface. I broke in for a moment to confirm the iceberg tops:
The Hope of the Nations ministry is in Tanzania. Founded in 2006, its goal is to make disciples as we are called by Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20.
The base is in Kigoma which is a port town on Lake Tanganyika (the largest lake in the world).
Hope of the Nations began with Kids Club, a ministry which teaches children about Jesus through games, songs and Bible studies. Since 2006, it has grown from 19 kids with 5 leaders in one location to 2000 plus kids with over 70 leaders in fourteen locations.
With less than 5% of pastors in the area having received any Bible training, Hope of the Nations founded a Bible college.
Hope of the Nations now has a pre-school and a primary school in Kamala. The schools equip children with English and a biblical perspective. Key influencers in Tanzania are English speaking, so the schools create a new generation of influencers in Christ.
Vocational skill training like sewing and jewelry-making is offered, which spawns micro-businesses. Items made are sold in a local shop and all proceeds go to the creators.
What type of training/education had Coni and Harold gone through to equip them to run such a diverse organization? With a smile, Coni replied “None, really. I guess I did some homeschool, I was a full-time mother.” Harold echoed, “25 years of youth ministry, and Bible college. Sometimes we feel we are the two most unlikely people to have done this! We sit at dinner and can hardly believe we are running a school and a Bible college. But hey!”
Things haven’t always gone the way they expected though. At first they had meticulously planned to go to Ukraine with YWAM, but ended up unable to go and had to change their plan to Tanzania. When called to start a primary school, they met many unexpected delays in getting registered. They hit roadblocks, but it didn’t stop them. Harold summarized, “It’s okay to have in your mind what you want to do, but don’t get stuck on exactly how or when to get there… do something!”.
A Story from Harold: Part II
“After deciding to sell everything and putting it up for sale, it seemed God had things well in hand when a maintenance man working in the camp eagerly agreed to buy everything. A small down payment later he loaded up a truck with all our items. Unfortunately, that small down payment was the only one he would deliver. He left the camp and we never saw him again. That was unexpected. Then, as we adjusted to life in ‘Cabin 14’, the director came by and asked to see me. My instincts told me this would be unpleasant. Sure enough, the director said it would really help the camp if he could cut our salary and give ‘Cabin 14’ to someone else. In that moment a war waged within me. I really, really wanted to yell out that he couldn’t do this, to throw quotations back at him that he had misused over past weeks like “let your yes be yes, and your no be no”. But 1 Peter 2:23 came to mind, ‘When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.’. I remembered to entrust myself to him who judges justly. So I said, ‘Yes, we will go’. But it wasn’t easy. There were still months to go before missions and we were to be homeless, jobless, and now with very few finances.”
SEEING NEEDS, FILLING NEEDS
Harold and Coni are gifted listeners who have soaked in the Scriptures. Once they arrived in Tanzania, they used this gift to recognize opportunities as they pressed into people, then act on those opportunities in faith. For example, as Harold researched and met pastors in Tanzania, he saw the need for biblical training; so they started a Bible college. Coni’s women's Bible study had mothers with children in it, but the children hampered the women’s participation; so they started a preschool. In Kigoma, when the street children started to follow them around for tea biscuit handouts, they felt the need to give the kids more than tea biscuits; so they started Kids Club. Every endeavour, it seemed, had a person specifically designed to fill each need. Dismas, who attended the Bible college in 2006, was a gifted translator and bridged the college’s communication gaps. In 2009, Sylvestre joined and worked with the government to help the various components of Hope of the Nations meet required regulations. They met Moses as a security guard for their home, but he soon became the primary leader growing the Kids Club ministry. As the Lord has met the needs of Coni and Harold, He has also empowered them to meet the needs of others through Hope of the Nations.
A Story from Harold: Part III
“We met with some friends soon after my discussion with the director. As we shared, one friend said her dad worked in construction and sometimes needed workers: she would follow up with him and get back to us. Shortly after that I got a call. It was her dad! He said he needed workers... I told him honestly that I had no skills in construction, so he asked how much I got paid at the camp. After I told him, he said he would match that salary. He asked if we needed a place to stay. When I said ‘yes’, he said we could stay at his summer home. I thanked him!
In the days that followed the abundant blessings of the Lord’s plan were revealed. The summer home turned out to be beautiful; it had a six-person hot tub inside. The job was amazing; it built skills into me that I needed for Tanzania not only physically, but also in their company’s Christian rhythms. So I had to think… In my life, how many things do we miss out on by pushing to stay in ‘Cabin 14’ just because it’s there, because we are afraid to let go, rather than listening to the words of the Lord and entrusting ourselves to the one who judges justly.”
A BEAUTIFUL PARTNERSHIP
Harold and Coni have different giftings. They described Harold as a discipler and Coni as an evangelist. Coni’s key verse is John 10:28: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand,” for the school ministry; while Harold has found a guidepost in 1 Peter 2:12: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” Though different, they have merged to strike a beautiful partnership. Similarly, in a wondrous merging of all their ministries, Hope of the Nations sets out in the summer months with visiting teams to do outreach to bring the gospel to unreached communities. They also do outreach during two three-month-long Bible college semesters to further train the Bible college students. Harold uses Google Earth to identify villages along Lake Tanganyika, then the team travels to those places by boat. Often their arrival generates fear, so they follow a strict and respectful protocol to engage with the villagers. The African staff are the first to land and meet the village leaders. They explain who Hope of the Nations is and ask if they can come back with some students from their school, show some movies in Swahili, and do some kids’ activities. If the village leaders accept, the team will come back and set up camp with tents, generators, students, cooks and movie screens. They spend a week per community doing life with the people and sharing the gospel.
A DAY IN THE LIFE
So what is “a day in the life” like for Coni and Harold in Tanzania? They wake up to a hot land very different from Vancouver. There are zebras out front and monkeys down on the beach. If not on outreach, they often head in different directions. Coni goes to the primary school and Harold goes to the Bible college. They do have familiar places they often end up, like the dock where the boat is tied, a Kids Club, or meeting with and encouraging the staff. But they are both “doers” who listen well, so no two days are really the same.
Since Harold and Coni bridged that chasm between us at the beginning of the interview, one fact became abundantly clear to me. Harold and Coni are people like you and I. The world might call them unqualified on paper. They may even call themselves unqualified. But they are qualified because they have faithfully followed the Lord’s call. And having emptied themselves, He has equipped them for every good work and appointed them disciple makers. How can we support them in this calling? They still need many things: an office manager, money to build the new Bible college campus they have planned, subscriptions to support Bible college students. They have faith that these needs will be met… maybe not exactly in the way and at the time they expect, but met all the same. May the body of Westside lift them up in prayer and practical support for 2017.
If you are interested in partnering with Hope of the Nations financially, you can do that at on the Hope of the Nations website.
You can also read more about Westside's involvement with the Hope of the Nations ministry here.
Jonathan Haines grew up in Kelowna and moved to the Lower Mainland in 2001. He is on staff at Westside and serves on the Facilities Team.