May 11, 2021
Interview with Jim and Susan Simmons
Will you give an explanation of what you will be doing and where you will be living?
We have a passion for equipping, encouraging, and connecting the Church around the world through communicating God’s word and His mission.
We’re moving to Nassa Theological College (NTC) in Bulima, Tanzania. Find Lake Victoria on a map of Africa—we’ll be on the southeastern shore. Many of you reading this have spent time in the Lake Region with partners like Tanzania Children’s Rescue Center (TCRC), Africa Inland Church of Tanzania (AICT), and NTC to name a few. In 1957, our church sent Jim & Gloria Orner to East Africa, and we’ve been blessed to grow closer with the Tanzanian Church over the decades.
AICT (through AIM) has invited Jim to teach Bible, Theology, and Missions classes to pastoral leaders and missionaries. The Church in Tanzania is growing rapidly, and the need for trained leaders in local churches and in missions is great. Along with formal education, we will expose students to missionaries already working among Unreached People Groups (UPG’s) bringing them to see the work of missions first hand. Many students are already working as pastors, so we will also seek opportunities to visit their local churches.
Can you describe how God has led you to this point in your journey of becoming missionaries?
Susan was born in Papua New Guinea, and we both grew up in families that loved missions—often hosting missionaries in our homes. In 1994, Susan moved to TZ for two years as the accountant for a seminary in Arusha. During 24 years of marriage, we’ve served on missions teams building relationships with missionaries and church leaders around the world. A major highlight of our life has been working in the missions efforts of East White Oak. We’ve loved getting to know friends from other countries, visiting them in their homes, and supporting them in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
On a 2015 trip to E. Africa, I (Jim) spent time with students, professors, and church leaders in various schools & ministries. Love for God’s word was growing within me through Bible Study Fellowship and teaching ABF, so this engagement with many African leaders in biblical truth sparked an interest in pursuing theological education more formally. After a season of prayer and feedback from godly leaders (thank you Susan, Scott, Ron, and others), I attended Dallas Theological Seminary taking a Master of Arts Degree in Cross-cultural Ministries. As part of the program, we spent two months in 2018 working with the AICT Church in the Mara & Ukerewe Islands Region. Serving directly with Joel Simbitti (20 year friend of East White Oak), we took part in formal, non-formal, and informal theological education across the region teaching a block course on the Biblical Theology of Missions at East Africa Christian College, building and teaching in two rural pastors’ conferences, and teaching foundational biblical truth in a new church that had begun only two months prior to our visit. Serving together, we both recognized that God clarified His call for our future in many ways on that trip. Returning from TZ, we engaged several missions agencies and found a solid fit with Africa Inland Mission (AIM).
How did God lead you to this particular place and ministry?
Many of you reading this have been to NTC over the years. You’ve built buildings, brought farm equipment, and installed water systems and internet services during our long history of supporting Norm & Sheila Dilworth. We have friends who graduated from NTC and are now strong partners. Our church has walked with Micah Ngussa from the beginning of TCRC, and his brilliant modeling of faith in God has grown our own faith. We’ve had the privilege of walking with Joel Simbitti as he has fanned the flame of missions across the AICT Church. Philip Mafuja’s leadership at NTC set the school on a stable foundation for development, and he oversaw the establishment of a missions department at NTC. Each of these leaders, while encouraged by the growth of the church in TZ, feel a real need for pastoral leaders who have solid training in biblical truth and theology. So many people are coming into contact with the gospel, but there are relatively few trained pastoral leaders to keep up with the growth. We hear this same pressure being felt by other leaders in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and other African countries.
Engaging with AIM, we shared our own love of God’s Word and inquired about available opportunities where we could focus on helping establish biblical truth in pastoral leaders and missionaries. AIM has a desire to see “Christ Centered Churches Among all African Peoples” with a priority toward evangelism and church planting among UPG’s and toward encouraging sound theological education where churches are growing. AIM has a category of workers called Theological Educators (TE’s). You can imagine our excitement when we browsed the AIM Website and saw that the first opportunity listed in this category was for a TE at NTC. Our hearts have been welling up for the same things for which our friends in TZ feel a deep need, and when we see this same vision established both in our own sending church here in Carlock and in the AIM organization, it brings a clarifying resolve to our direction. That clarity continues to solidify as we’ve been sharing our plans with friends and small groups here at church. Your enthusiasm and your support for our plans have overwhelmed us with a humbling confidence!
One of our church’s three vital signs is being “Rooted in Scripture”. How do you see this idea at play in your leading to Africa up to now, and how do you see this being an important part of your future ministry?
SUSAN: I was always in and around Scripture, at home & church, but I don’t think I truly began being rooted in Scripture until my 20s – 30s. After college I began attending Bible Study Fellowship where I learned how to study the Bible myself. I saw transformation in my understanding and application of the Word over the next decade, but I still struggled to prioritize spending time regularly in the Bible. In my late 30s some crises hit, and time in God’s word took on a deeper level of comfort and strength for me. I began to see that how I went through each day (emotionally, physically, and mentally) was different depending on whether I had spent time with the Lord in His word in the morning. I had heard this experience described growing up, but now the reality was a stark contrast for me. I haven’t struggled to have a quiet time since.
A hunger for God’s word is a gift from Him, and I know that it has influenced where we are now—on the brink of overseas service—and it will be the fuel for ministry there.
JIM: I grew up in a Bible environment & memorized verses in children’s programs, yet high school and young adult life brought competing explanations of the world and life that challenged biblical truth. From high school science to college philosophy to cultural debates on economics, politics, and social issues, life presented intellectual and experiential alternatives that appeared more substantial to me. Following the ‘apparently’ more reasonable ways of thinking about life and the world, I made a wreck of things and found myself in great need of rescue. In deep need of Christ’s forgiveness and new life, those concepts that I had heard and memorized in my youth came back to me in much more relevant ways. While continuing to read physics, economics, philosophy, and politics, I also began hearing the Word of God taught weekly at church. Far from seeming irrelevant, biblical truth stood out more boldly against the emptiness of those competing alternatives that had earlier seemed sounder. Real transformation began in my life, and by my mid-thirties I joined in with other men in an intentional, deep small group Bible study. That seven year dive into the Word brought a kind of life to the knowledge not realized in prior studies. Invited to teach in an ABF, my personal studies went even deeper, and God pressed each new level of understanding deeper into my soul and lifestyle as well.
I love the word “rooted” in this question. When I think of things that are rooted, they are living things. Things rooted are full of life. Things rooted are drinking in the water and nutrients that feed growth. Things rooted continue reaching down deeper into the richness of the soil below. Tall trees often have root systems as deep into the ground and as far out from the trunk as the visible tree displayed above ground. This is a good analogy to my own life in God’s word. God is The Master Communicator who loves us so much that He gave us His direct verbal revelation in human language, and I’ve grown in my own recognition of the profound source of truth and life that is there to be had for anyone who takes seriously the big questions in life. Based on my own experience of the value of being rooted in God’s Word, Susan and I now head to Africa charged with the call to pass along to others this same truth, which God has so richly poured out onto us.
What were some of your biggest challenges and victories over the last year?
1) We’ve seen God directing us through the same chaos everyone else faced this last year. We applied with AIM late 2019 thinking we’d have 6 months of application process. Plans were scrapped and replanned a couple of times. Many interviews were postponed or set up on Zoom, yet the uncertainties of timing did not derail the process. Working through changes in procedure, changes in requirements, and changes of expectations became the norm. However, in the last week of October, we were offered an appointment with AIM and assigned to NTC the next week.
2) Closing down life here has been challenging emotionally. Both of us moved quite a bit throughout life, so moving here in 2005 began the longest stay in one location for either of us… by twice the length. We feel a sense of strong relationship in community here at East White Oak Bible Church, to the extent that we feel we are leaving our family. We are also literally leaving our own families. While we are enthusiastic about our new venture (including our ongoing partnership in the gospel with you all), we do feel the real cost of leaving.
What have been some things over the past year that have greatly encouraged you?
1) So many encouragements! We’ve seen the deep value of the community of Christ that is the local church this past year. With all the disruptions, we’ve noted the life of small groups walking with each other. We have been amazed how in the face of uncertainty, the outward and generous nature of Christ has shown up in many ways among our local church body generally.
2) We are very encouraged by all the ways that God has directed our lives to this moment in the last year! Many obstacles slowed, redirected, or stopped apparent progress, yet each of these were met with display after display of God’s care and timing and our own awe and worship of Him.
3) You have been so encouraging to us this past year! We are continually lifted as we watch the enthusiasm with which our church body pursues missions. So many families watch for ways to participate in God’s kingdom work and understand that their participation is truly storing up treasure in heaven.
What are some of your goals or desires for your future ministry?
Of course we have long-term hopes in several areas, but in the near-term we have four major points of focus.
1) Language learning. We will spend our first four or more months in TZ studying Swahili at a school in Morogoro.
2) Theology, Bible, & Missions. Jim will be learning how to build curriculum and communicate God’s truth in ways which meet the needs and challenges of a different culture.
3) Engage in a local church. There is an AICT church in Bulima, and we look forward to becoming a part of the church body there – worshiping and living life with our Tanzanian neighbors.
4) Loving people and Learning culture. The best thing we have to offer in Tanzania is to learn and to love the people, displaying the love of Christ.
What advice would you give to someone who may be feeling called to be a foreign missionary?
Missionary service is not an individual sport. God designed His kingdom to advance through His church. East White Oak Bible Church is rich with people ready to help you as you explore ways that you can be involved and serve in missions. We highly encourage you to begin talking and learning with someone on the missions team or one of the pastors. You should know that the missions team has been working for several years to build a pathway that can meet you where you are, help you clarify your call, build and equip you for ministry, and launch you well. Be ready to receive the input and encouragement God will use to guide you in this journey.
How can we pray for or support you as you prepare to go?
It is our desire to have a prayer team who is committed to praying for us while we are in Tanzania. We plan to send out regular, brief prayer requests. If you would like to join our prayer team, please email us at [email protected] Our time here is rapidly winding down, and we long to finish well. To leave our jobs well, to say good goodbyes, and to experience the joy to be had even on the harder days.
Our monthly support goal ($5,000/month) and our outgoing fund ($37,582) must be at 100% by June 8th in order for us to leave on the planned date of July 5th. We are currently at 97% pledged of our monthly support need, and 56% raised of our one-time outgoing fund. If you would like to help with either of those, you can give directly through AIM at this link.
We also have a need for a vehicle in Tanzania. If you desire to give toward a vehicle for us you can do that through East White Oak Bible Church.
How can we stay up to date with your life and ministry?
Website / Blog: We have a website where you can go to follow our updates (Thank you Josh Prather!) simmons2africa.com
Join our Prayer Team: We’re asking for 100 people to join our prayer team. Please email [email protected]