Member News

March 2023 Member Letter

March 9, 2023

Dear Brethren,

I am writing this month’s letter having just returned from the latest International Leadership Program held in Johannesburg, South Africa. This was one of the largest conferences so far with over 50 in attendance. We had just under 100 at Sabbath services. It was an outstanding conference and so wonderful to see old friends after almost four years. It was in July 2019 that we held the last conference in southern Africa.

Those attending were from the countries of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and South Africa. Each of these countries is facing its own unique challenges, many of them quite severe. In Zimbabwe the official inflation rate hovers around 250 percent on an annualized basis. It is hard to believe that any country can sustain itself with this level of inflation. Malawi is facing its own challenges, both political and economic. Zambia is probably the country with the least difficulties, but even there the challenges are real—inflation, corruption and potential for an economic crisis.

South Africa is a very sad situation, given the beauty and natural resources of the country. It seems that each time we come we are faced with more dire news about crime and corruption. This time there was news of the additional problem of power blackouts. For the past couple of years, the country has been hit by rolling blackouts, coming at any time of the day or night. Small businesses are being hit extremely hard. And crime has only gotten worse since the pandemic. It seems that so many countries are faced with the misuse of resources and the enriching of officials that took place during the pandemic. Of course, even here in the United States accusations of fraud and stealing public funds under the guise of the pandemic amount to billions of dollars.

South Africa continues to see an exodus of young professionals leaving the country to relocate and begin new careers in the United States or European countries. With this type of drain on human resources taking place, the future for South Africa looks bleak. And that is a great shame. South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries on earth with an overabundance of natural resources. But without the human resources to build on those assets, the future is filled with challenges.

Morgen Kriedemann, our senior pastor for southern Africa, commented to me that the local congregations are seeing a similar departure of members, not from the Church, but from the country. And who can blame them? Mr. Kriedemann told us that within a couple of months two families who were involved in the ILP3 will be moving to the U.S. to start over. The challenges of crime, corruption, rolling power outages and the overall economy have proven to be too much for many young professionals and their families.

I want to encourage all of us to be praying for God’s blessings and protection for those living in this region of the world. Of course, the brethren in southern Africa are not alone when it comes to difficulties. I grieve daily as I read the reports of what is happening in the world and then hear of its impact on the brethren. Consider these examples:

Kenya is facing a severe drought that could take thousands of lives if it continues for long. The president recently announced a day of prayer for all Kenyans, seeking the end to the drought. His approach seems to be that since everything else has failed, let’s try God! The rainy season is due very soon, and if there is no rain or only a little rain, many lives will be lost to starvation in the months ahead. We have already begun sending funds to Kenya so the members can purchase food.

Nigeria is seeing rioting in the streets as the government elects a new president amid a changeover in the currency. The country is currently issuing a new currency to replace the old naira, and in some cases leaving people with nothing in their bank accounts. This is leading to violent riots throughout the country. One member in Benin City detailed how he just missed being involved in a riot in front of a bank that claimed several lives. He was in line to exchange his old naira for the new currency. The bank refused to open, and the crowd turned violent. Just before the violence erupted, he received a call from a friend telling him to go to another bank nearby that was open. He escaped the riot by only minutes. He gives God thanks for protecting him.

In Peru our members are in danger as a result of the rioting going on in their country because of the removal of the former president and the rejection by many of the new president (formerly the vice-president). And in Sri Lanka, the government recently fell into chaos because of the nation’s failed economy. We have members in both of these countries, and overall, they are doing okay, but they live constantly under the fear of violent protests.

This is only a partial list of the troubled nations that exist today. Please keep in mind that in each of these countries we have members and congregations. It is easy for us to take for granted what we continue to have, at least for now, here in the United States. We take for granted getting up on a Sabbath morning, getting into our cars and driving to a Sabbath service, where we have a high level of confidence that we will be safe. While there are more dangers today than a decade or so ago, even here in the U.S., we still have the freedom and safety to gather on the Sabbath. Many brethren around the world meet together, but the challenges are growing by the day.

After spending a week in South Africa, I felt compelled to write and let you know what your brethren are facing in different parts of the world. We see in Scripture that Jesus Christ was often moved, sometimes to tears, when He viewed the suffering that was taking place during His day. How would He react if He were on this earth today? I believe He would be praying fervently each day for His Father to cut the days short and send the Kingdom. Notice His prophetic statement in Matthew 24:22: “And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.” The Moffatt translation uses the words “saved alive.” We must grasp the seriousness of the situation, recognizing that we are indeed living in “those days.” Sadly, the suffering will continue and get even worse in the days prior to Christ’s return.

The good news in this dark world is that God has blessed us with the resources to take this life-changing message to the world and that from those who hear it, God will call new people to join us in completing the mission to preach the gospel and care for God’s people. Think about these things and pray even more fervently as we approach another Passover in just a few weeks. This is a time for deep reflection—on ourselves and on the needs of our brethren around the world.

Sincerely, your brother in Christ,

Jim Franks