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Checkpoint

Enduring Spiritual Opposition

CMS missionary Glen Turner (serving with Dominique in Tanzania), serves as the principal of Mara Primary School. There they face difficulty from rumour, conflict, witchcraft and ill health. Yet they continue to see what their service of God as a glorious privilege.

It was a touching moment as the whole staff of Mara Primary School stood together holding hands, singing and joining in prayer. I had only recently been appointed by our Bishop as the Head Teacher of the school and I had just found some potions and spells, purportedly from a witch doctor of some description, hidden inside the spare tyre cover of our car. My colleagues were very concerned for our family, blaming my wife Dominique’s recent struggles with sickness on this incident. They were also concerned that these potions could lead to a car accident, so following the prayer service for me, it was decided that these items needed to be burnt right away. It seemed as though there were some people who were not happy with my appointment.

But actually this was not the first incident that showed there was opposition to me becoming the new Head Teacher. Just two weeks into the job, supervising the running of very important national exams, rumours were being spread that the school was engaged in cheating during the exam period (an offence punishable by 20 years in prison!). As I was sitting in my office quietly doing some work, the door was suddenly kicked in by the head of the local riot squad. Accompanying him were the regional police inspector and a host of government officials instigating a raid. They left disappointed at finding nothing, but I was beginning to learn that there were forces against this new direction for the school. Why?

Opposing change

Our new Bishop, George Okoth, had asked me if I would consider taking on this role as our Diocese moved through a time of transition. A big part of his vision is to bring a culture change amongst the people of this area whereby their worldview is less influenced by the local cultures and ways of the past. He wants to see their minds renewed by following Jesus and that the way things are done being explicitly Christian and shaped by what the Bible says.

This means that change is being implemented and the way things may have been done in the past is happening less and less. It means that honesty and integrity in work and life is being emphasized. It has resulted in children no longer being hit with sticks at school. Families are now being held accountable to pay school fees on time so that teachers can be paid. It has also meant changes in approaches to teaching whereby students are loved and listened to. There are higher expectations of work ethic because teaching is more than just a job and pay check—it is a calling. All of these things are difficult to implement and sometimes I wonder whether what I am being asked to do is just too Western and not worth the effort.

And with change comes resistance and, at times, outright opposition. I have still been having challenges of parents complaining and spreading false rumours about the school. Even staff members have been actively trying to undermine my leadership and the directions Bishop George wants to take the school in. Some outside the school have accused me of filling my own pockets with school funds. Others have reported me to the immigration department and the Labour Office. What is most disappointing to me is that many of the people doing this are self-professed Christians and members of the local church—people I know and work with!

Seeing opposition from a spiritual angle

I guess what I’ve been going through is a form of suffering. Certainly it is opposition. Perhaps it is born from the selfish motives of others, or perhaps it is the playing out of the battle against the spiritual forces in the heavenly realms as we try to bring the gospel to bear on people’s lives and live out a biblical worldview.

While at times I’m tempted to despair and when I question whether being the leader of school is the right thing for me and my family, God has kindly given me reminders of his goodness and why he has put me in this place at this time. Having teachers catch the vision of teaching in a Christian way brings me encouragement. Parents coming into my office with tears in their eyes because of their gratitude at the way we have helped their children succeed in their studies is humbling. Seeing former students return, remembering the good Christian foundation they received and encouraging the current students to keep trusting in God, brings joy to my heart. When students are so obviously growing in their understanding of the Bible, as they develop in the depth of their faith and as they begin to grasp the amazing grace of God in Christ Jesus, I’m so thankful that God would be so kind as to give me opportunities to serve him like this.

Trying to focus on the positive opportunities and events helps me to persevere when times are tough. But also knowing that there are hundreds of faithful “prayer warriors” joining with me, in what sometimes feels like a battle, is an incredible privilege. I’m grateful to God for this time—even when it’s hard.

Care

Glen reports that he has personally found enormous encouragement when supporters have emailed Scripture verses that are relevant to his situation, or something he’s said in a prayer letter. Is this something you could do for a CMS missionary you’re supporting?