Wayland group spends summer ministering in Tanzania

If Zack Greer had run a want ad soliciting participants for his summer missions project, few would likely have responded.

“Seeking strong young men for rigorous hiking and camping in remotest areas of Africa. Must be able to carry a heavy pack and share the gospel in tribal villages with no amenities. Long days, short nights. Must work for free.”

Instead, Greer relied on prayer and on God’s selection of the mission group that would spend two months of the summer in Tanzania, Africa doing evangelism and relationship building in remote mountain villages. A senior religion major at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Greer said it was a dream to bring a group to join the mission work in Tanzania that his parents, James and Dana Greer, have been doing for the past three and half years.

“I had talked to my dad about a team coming for the summer and I knew I could put a group together,” Greer said. “I began praying about this last summer and asking God to open doors, and he led me to ask three of my friends to pray about going.”

The three got back to Greer: they all felt God calling them to go and wanted to be a part of the trip. Even after he shared some of the conditions and tasks on the plans, the group remained on board.

“It’s very remote. You’re out in the middle of a 98 percent Islamic country,” Greer explained. “You’re out in the middle of the Bush and you have no personal space. You have God on your side and the guys next to you and that’s about it.”

Even so, Greer enlisted support from friends Jacob Burke, a senior from Amarillo, Drew Pearson, a senior from Cortez, Colo., and Carl Leake, a senior from Fairbanks, Alaska. The group arrived in Tanzania on June 15 with loaded backpacks, open minds and open hearts.

“There was no way Zack could have explained it to us, but he did explain how to communicate with people and to minister to them,” Burke said. “But we also just had to go in faith.”

The men split into pairs and began hiking into remote villages, where they would work with missionaries or local pastors in visiting with villagers. In many locations, they would show the “Jesus” film and then field questions from curious viewers, many of whom had never seen a movie and had no concept of the medium.

“Their number one question was ‘where does Jesus live?’ and ‘how did you get him in the movie?’ There would be 1,500 people sometimes watching a 21-inch TV, and most have never seen TV before,” Greer said. “This was the closest you could ever get to Paul’s ministry. You go into places where no one has ever heard (about God) and just build relationships.”

Even so, many of the villagers embraced the gospel message, with one village’s older Islamic leaders sending a runner to ask about how to be saved. Greer said the group prayed in a circle together to accept Jesus Christ as savior, then began asking about starting a Christian church in their village.

The results were proof that God was at work.

“Some of the people were focused and very adamant about their questions,” Burke said. “It was very evident that the Holy Spirit was working among them.”

“There was no convincing or gimmicks here – just sharing the gospel and letting the Holy Spirit lead the way,” Greer added. “Many times Americans have stepped in and tried to do the work of the Holy Spirit instead of letting Him do it.”

For Pearson, the mission trip was his first. And while he feels called to youth ministry rather than full-time mission service, he felt God wanted him in Tanzania for very important reasons.

“It was really eye-opening to give me a new perspective of how big the world is and how much bigger God is,” he said. “It stretched all of us, and it stretched my perspective of the church as well. Here, it’s much more about programs and buildings and sometimes I think the joy of the Lord is lost.

“Yet in Tanzania, they’re in a 10-by-20 bamboo hut but they’re so happy in the Lord and so glad to have him.”

Leake was also on his first mission trip, and the religion and psychology major said the reality of the experience was much different than he anticipated.

“I wondered if we might not be accepted in some areas there, but I also knew from Zack that they are very people-oriented there,” he said. “I expected a hard two months without many conveniences, but it was actually not that bad. The people were so loving and cherished their relationships.”

The group found it refreshing that the new converts in Tanzania were so excited about their newfound faith. Many, they said, began immediately sharing with their family and friends and bringing them to Christ.

“I loved seeing the changes in people when they accepted Christ,” Pearson said. “They were very evangelistic and on fire and they had much freedom in Christ.”

“Death is very real to them. They understand death,” Greer added in explanation. “They live like it is their last day and they share (the Gospel) like it’s their last day.”

The young men found the experience humbling, as they watched God work throughout the villagers and realized some universal truths.

“We expected to find people who were very different than we are,” Leake said. “But you could look into their eyes and see the same things you see in people’s eyes over here – they need a desire a relationship with God. Praise the Lord, we were able to share that with them.”