The James Family

The James Family


An Update from Kep James - May 2022

What God Has Done

Aren’t you amazed at the way God works? Often it seems to me that life is like a giant jigsaw puzzle, with God putting each piece in the perfect place of his choice, at the perfect time of his choosing. I think about the Bible stories of Joseph and Moses, and they clearly testify to God working in the lives of his children, bringing them into a relationship with himself and a place of usefulness in his hands. We can thank him that he still works in our lives today. God is constantly working to accomplish his purposes, directing every one of our steps for his glory and for our good.

A Heart For Missions & Help From Near and Distant Places

Debbie and I met at Wheaton College in 1979, both believers from our teen years, and were married in 1981, the same year that Parkside Church (then The Chapel) invited me to come on staff as the youth pastor. I had always felt a call to missions, but it was when Alistair and I went to the Urbana missions conference in the mid-eighties that I sensed that God was moving us to finally go. 

Two years later, we left for Costa Rica so we could study Spanish. When we arrived in La Paz, Bolivia, our country of service, in 1988, our daughter Heather was just 4 years old, Katie was 2, and Andrew was born shortly after. For two years, we attended a church in La Paz while learning the Bolivian culture, and then started the ILC church plant in 1990. God raised up Pepe Rocha, who was 15 when we met him, to later become the pastor of this church plant. Pepe served alongside me for seven years as the associate pastor of the ILC church, and later he became the senior pastor. With Bolivian pastors and elders fully in place in the ILC Church, we wondered if we should leave Bolivia to focus our attention somewhere else, but the sense from the Parkside elders and pastors was that we should use the relationships God had already given us in La Paz to focus on pastoral training. Pastor Pepe from our Bolivian church agreed with this decision since false doctrine and prosperity theology was shifting the churches in Bolivia away from Jesus and his Word.

Lessons Developed, Lessons Learned

In 2001, I developed material for pastoral training while continuing to pastor the ILC church alongside Pepe. The next year, I launched Equipping Servants International (ESI) with 15 pastors from La Paz. The ESI approach is simply about studying the Bible! It is a pastoral training process where pastors and church leaders spend 14 hours each week studying the Bible and then meet once a week to discuss what they have learned and to talk and pray about their personal spiritual progress. This three-year mutual discipleship process is designed to get beyond mere Bible information to experience gospel transformation.

In many ways, ESI came out of the difficulties and failings I experienced in my own early pastoral ministry. I was trying to live the Christian life out of my own self-effort but struggling to ask for forgiveness in my closest relationships, struggling with a loss of joy, serving God out of a sense of duty, and not giving attention to studying the Bible that I was teaching! I believed the gospel, but didn’t know how to live in light of it. Sadly, much of my preaching encouraged moralism and self-effort rather than a reliance on Jesus and the help he offers in his Word through his gospel and by his Spirit. I thank God that his grace taught me the truth of Colossians 2:6-7, that the Christian life is meant to be lived in the same way we came to Christ Jesus in the first place—by trusting in Jesus; by relying on his righteousness! As I began to devote time to serious study of his Word, the Lord showed me what it means to live the Christian life in the power of the gospel—for the gospel that justifies is the same gospel that sanctifies us as we are transformed by God’s Word. Finally, God taught me the importance of living the Christian life no longer as a lone ranger but now with other believers in a relationship of mutual discipleship and accountability. 

That, in essence, explains what ESI is about. We seek to help pastors and church leaders make the study of God’s Word a lifelong commitment, to understand what the Bible says with Jesus in the center, so we can live what the Bible says by grace, and so that we can faithfully teach and preach what the Bible says. We encourage pastors to walk alongside other pastors, and to mutually encourage and pray for each other.

ESI’s Growing Global Presence & New Opportunities in North Africa

In time, ESI has expanded into 14 countries. Currently we have 2,730 graduates and 1,863 active participants in 165 groups in 14 countries. We have groups active in the countries of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico, Spain, and Sweden. We also started a Pastoral Assistant program in the ILC Church in La Paz to prepare servants to plant churches in cities around Latin America.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Debbie and I returned to Parkside for 10 months. During our time in Cleveland, the Parkside pastors and elders asked me to evaluate and to help a ministry in North Africa, based out of Cairo. The need was to assist their 15 church planting training centers be thoroughly biblical and gospel-centered. In 2021, I visited the leaders in Cairo and two of their training centers in South Sudan and Chad. Returning to Cleveland, I worked with ministry leadership to help adjust their training curriculum. This past fall, I traveled to Cairo to train the 15 leaders of their training centers in how to study the Bible thoroughly—seeing Jesus and his gospel at the center.

In November 2021, the Parkside pastors and elders asked Debbie and me to refocus our ministry to include Africa (50% Africa; 50% ESI Latin America), which we are thrilled to do. 
2022 has become a transition year for us. We spent the month of April teaching students in three of the church planting training centers—located in Senegal, Chad, and Turkey. We will be in Cleveland in May and August to get set up in the Cleveland area and will leave Bolivia in October.

Meanwhile, God is doing one more amazing thing…

About a year ago I received a phone call from a Brazilian missionary named Paulo Sergio, whom Debbie and I had never met. He had done ministry in the Bolivian lowlands and heard how God was using the study of the Bible in the ESI groups there to help pastors. He asked, “My wife and I are being sent to Tanzania. Is there any way you could help us set up ESI in Tanzania?” 

In April, Debbie and I, along with a team of people from Parkside, led an ESI Training Retreat with 120 pastors and church leaders from 14 countries in English speaking Africa: Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, and Egypt. Pray with us that God will use this training to mobilize pastors and local churches to move toward Jesus, his Word, and his gospel throughout the entire continent of Africa!

Nothing that occurs in our lives is ever by chance. Our story is really God’s story—and we are amazed to be part of what he is doing in moving the church that he loves toward his Son, and his Gospel, and his Word. 

- Kep and Debbie James