It’s late Sunday evening, and I’m tired after a long day. But the day was so special that I don’t want it to end before I tell you all about it!
The story started four years ago, when Bonifácio and several co-laborers began planting a church in the rural neighborhood where we now live. It functioned as a daughter church of a larger church in the city, which named Bonifácio as evangelist and then elder. Now at the fourth anniversary, the mother church decided that the time had come for the young congregation to stand on its own, with Bonifácio ordained as its pastor.
It was for this purpose that several hundred believers converged on the site today. As I prepared photo displays marking the congregation’s history, I reminisced about my own commissioning service three years ago. I even recalled witnessing my current director being sent out by his church three decades ago!
These memories reinvigorated my consciousness of God’s empowering grace upon my own life. I recalled Paul’s words to Timothy: “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership” (I Tim. 4:14). I contemplated his corresponding instructions: “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (II Tim. 1:6).
During the first phase of this morning’s service, Bonifácio recounted the story of the church’s founding, highlighting major events using the photo collages I’d hung behind the podium. He recognized notable individuals, including those who were first baptized and current participants in afternoon Bible lessons. As the event’s photographer, I was snapping pictures right and left, using up two camera batteries over the course of the day.
The camera was still around my neck when Bonifácio called his wife Stephanie and me to the front to recognize his family’s participation in his ministry. He mentioned their children only by name, because they were away rehearsing the music the youth choir was about to sing. Then, with Stephanie and me by his side, Bonifácio explained how I came to live with them and adopt local habits. He emphasized my permanent place in his family, for which my heart overflows with gratitude.
After the youth choir presentation came the second phase of the service: ordaining Boniácio as pastor, as well as appointing an elder, a deacon, and a secretary for the newly constituted congregation. All four men sat in front with their wives while two pastors from the denomination’s provincial leadership shared from Scripture about the importance of the event. Then, as shown in the photo above, one pastor laid hands on each couple while praying, all simultaneously, for God’s blessing upon the ministry to which He had called them. The congregation, which was singing during this whole time, subsequently filed by to greet the four couples with hugs and handshakes. Several friends gave testimonies about God’s hand on Bonifacio’s ministry. Another youth group sang and presented a humorous skit showing the value of generosity in a pastor.
At this point, our family gathered in front of Bonifácio with several surprises. First, we sang a song that I’d written at Stephanie’s request, in which we affirmed God’s calling on him and his qualifications to be a pastor and we pledged to support his divine work. We then presented him with a gift (new shoes Stephanie had selected), and I read him a letter of encouragement from Pastor Ward of EPC. Bonifácio’s demeanor during this and the rest of the service was subdued in response to the moving recognition of the awesome responsibility of the gospel ministry with which he was being entrusted.
With the ordination accomplished, the next item on the agenda was the dedication of four recently-born babies. Their parents sat with them at the front of the pavilion in which the service was held, facing the congregation. A visiting pastor surveyed several Biblical texts on children and assigned one pastor to pray a blessing over each family. Each appointed pastor first took the baby in his arms and prayed — once again, all simultaneously — then handed the baby to his wife while laying hands on the parents and praying for them. Finally, the congregation joyously filed down the lineup of parents and babies, many offering simple gifts which were piled on the ground in front of each couple and later tied inside a cloth for easy carrying.
After singing by yet another choir, a respected pastor from another denomination spoke. He gave a passionate exhortation for all the ministers present to faithfully preach God’s word, taking the gospel to every soul. My heart cried out for the Holy Spirit to confirm his words in the hearers and bring them to pass.
When he had finished, after a few announcements, the service was dismissed. It had begun at 9:30 a.m. and lasted until 3:00 p.m.! The congregation and guests lingered another hour or two for a leisurely meal on the grounds. Then our family began gathering items we had brought from our house to the service, carrying them back on foot because Bonifácio was using the car to shuttle guests back to the city. Actually, “on head” would be a better description of how we carried our loads, in true African style; a plastic tabletop holding the photo collages was perched atop my own head for the fifteen-minute stroll home at twilight.
Before our family retired for the evening, Bonifácio thanked us for our loving support. He observed that while he was the one ordained, the whole family would necessarily share in the ministry to which he was called. He asked us to be prepared to receive even more visitors at home, noting that this might put an emotional strain on me in particular due to my sensitivity to unpredictable situations; I accepted the challenge with reliance upon God’s grace. He reminded us that Satan’s attacks against us will likely increase as our ministry moves up to the next level, and to close the evening he prayed that God will strengthen and protect us against the forces of evil which assail us for His Name’s sake.