Monday, December 2, 2019

Advent Adventure

Last Sunday, Anita and I had the privilege of initiating the Advent season at our church by lighting the first candle of the Advent Wreath with the special help of all four of our grandchildren. Before the official candle-lighting, I had the chance to review with our congregation some of the history and meaning of this tradition.

Most remember that the roots of today's Advent tradition go back to the early days of the Reformation when Martin Luther and other church fathers sought practical ways to make the Gospel message clear and meaningful, especially to children. Along with the Christmas Tree, the Advent Wreath was a great way to teach such things as the circular wreath being a symbol of Eternal Life as well as a royal crown for King Jesus, the prickly holly a symbol of His crown of thorns, the pine cones of rebirth and new life, the candles of God's Word lighting the darkness, etc., etc.

But as I reviewed what to share at church, there was a new aspect that I had not thought about before. It had to do with the Latin word from which we get the English advent.The word is adventus which means arrival or coming. What I learned, however, is that the etymology of adventus shows it is actually made up of advenio (arrival) and tus (a suffix that turns it into an action noun.) This means that the concept of advent is not a ho-hum type waiting, like waiting for the school bus to arrive. It is a much more active involvement, like sitting on the edge of your seat with great expectation. Think of the word adventure, which is also derived from the same Latin root. You embark on an adventure with great expectation that something exciting, unexpected, and remarkable might lie ahead.

Another great way to capture this concept of active waiting is to think of the five candles on the Advent Wreath as similar to a NASA countdown toward a rocket launch: 5-4-3-2-1. . . Every second ticked away brings you closer to the exciting climax of a BLASTOFF! In the case of the wreath, the five candles count off the weeks toward the celebration of the most remarkable event in all of human history--the arrival of the Christ Child, Emmanuel, God-with-us! And just like NASA uses countdowns to remember critical action steps in a rocket launch sequence, so too, the five candles provide important reminders of what Christ's coming means to us. The first candle is the Prophesy Candle with a focus on the Hope the prophets told us about. The second is the Bethlehem Candle with a focus on God's Love demonstrated by the incarnation. The third is the Shepherd's Candle with a focus on Joy, since they were the ones who heard the "tidings of great joy." The fourth is the Angel's Candle with a focus on Peace, from the announcement of "peace on earth, goodwill toward men." Finally, the last one is Christ's Candle, lit on Christmas Eve when we celebrate His coming as God's Light to a dark world.

Just like the Advent Wreath is a great exercise in waiting expectantly for the celebration of Christmas, it is also a wonderful reminder that we all still live in the tension of waiting for Christ's Second Coming which is still in the future. May all of our waiting for that ultimate event be an active adventus-type waiting with readiness and great expectation--since without doubt, God definitely has more ADVENTURE waiting for all of us ahead!

Merry Christmas
Jon Lewis                          

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Sobering Reversal

One of the most amazing stories of impressive church growth has been documented in the book by Jerry Trousdale called Miraculous Movements. Utilizing a methodology called Disciple Making Movements (DMM) that results in planting small house churches even in tough, resistant communities, the book tells about explosive church multiplication in various countries of Africa and Asia. I have actually been using this book as one of my required texts for the class I teach at Whitworth University on The Global Christian Movement.

So, it was with real surprise and amazement that I recently sat down for coffee in Addis Ababa with Shimeles Wolde, an Ethiopian friend, who told me of sobering reversals in some of the stories in this book. 

As former director for the Horn of Africa Mission, Shimeles has been intimately involved in the DMM strategy using it with his staff to plant literally thousands of small, house churches during the past ten years. According to him, it was some of these very "miraculous movements" that Jerry used as powerful illustrations in his book. But now, 6-9 years later, Shimeles told me that many of those churches simply don't exist anymore. One example he gave me (which he said was mentioned in the early chapters of the book) resulted in a cluster of 112 churches with some 12,000 people involved. Today, he said there are only about six of those churches that remain. Most sobering of all is that most of those church members have returned to their Islamic roots.

"Why?" I asked incredulously. "What could have caused such a dramatic reversal?" His answer was simple. "I believe it is the lack of adequate discipleship." He went on to explain that despite showing  people how to use the Discovery Bible Study method, he feels that the DMM strategy he used lacked  fundamental teaching critical to sustaining churches long term.  "What do you think was missing?" I asked, really interested to hear his reply. "I can't  give you a definitive answer yet," he told me, "but I believe it involves five key elements that we did not emphasize enough. Today, we are continuing to plant churches in larger urban areas but also making sure that these five things become an integral part of the life of those churches.

Anxious to hear more, I ordered another round of coffee macchiatos, pulled out my notebook, and said "OK, tell me what those five key elements are." Here was his reply:

  1. People need to truly be in love with Jesus. This means a sincere desire to get to know Christ and imitate Him in their daily walk.
  2. People need to learn how to study Scripture with real depth. This has to be more than just reading a passage and sharing what you think it means. It  means really digging in to learn the full truth God wants to reveal in His Word.  He also added that just listening to a preacher, no matter how gifted or popular, is also no substitute for committed personal Bible study.
  3. People need to worship through singing that truly comes from the heart. It is not enough to sing songs other people think are neat. Singing from the heart, even composing personal worship songs, is a critical measure of someone's passion for God.
  4. People need to develop a consistent habit of pray. It is not good enough to just go through the motions of prayer. They need to enter into a prayer experience that helps them connect personally and intimately with God.
  5. People need to understand what true fellowship of the Body of Christ is all about. This cannot be for just an hour on Sunday morning, but a commitment to community that causes them to care for each other throughout the week.

As I jotted all of these down, I was struck with the fact that nothing here seemed to be earth-shaking or radical. But in every case, Shimeles kept emphasizing words like "truly" and "sincere." So, it appears that consistent discipleship that encourages consistency in these five habits is the bottom line "secret" to house church communities that are able to stand the test of time. 

I will be very interested to stay in tune with my friend and hear what reports he might have down the road about lasting impact of his efforts. In the meantime, it seems to me that all of us as Christians around the world could benefit from following the insights being learned by Shimeles and modeled by  his Addis Ababa house churches.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Wisdom of Solomons

It’s not often that you get to listen to the wisdom of Solomon. But it is even more rare to benefit from the collective wisdom of two Solomons at the same time! Yet that is exactly what I got to do on May 4 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia when I was able to introduce two friends from my past life as manager with MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship.)

Solomon Gizau was assigned to my region in the early 1990s as the first Ethiopian national to qualify as an MAF pilot. At that time, he and his family lived in Uganda, but even then, I knew his heart was set on some day returning to fly in his home country. That is exactly what he did, eventually starting the Abyssinian Air Service business with one leased Caravan aircraft and over the years, expanding it to seven Caravans, a helicopter and ten training aircraft used for his flight school. Today AAS is second only to Ethiopian Airlines as a national aviation company that trains and hires all local staff to accomplish its mission.

About that same time back in the 90s, I first met Souleymane Kouyate when I was searching for someone to recruit  for helping to open up a new program. A handsome, six-foot-plus, West Africa, Solo, as we called him, brought along two things he had picked up along the way in France—a degree in electrical engineering and a five-foot-two, blond-haired, blue-eyed wife! It’s been a pleasure watching him grow in experience and capability over the years to the point where today he serves in the same position I used to have—MAF Regional Director for Africa.

Never having met each other, I felt it would be mutually beneficial to getting these two Solomons together to see what collaboration just might arise from their collective wisdom. Finally, this last May 4th it worked out and for half a day, along with MAF VP of Operations, Dan Whitehead
 we shared experiences, lessons learned, stories, and also some outstanding enjera wat Ethiopian food. As I expected, the insights gained were many. Here are just some of the topics we covered:

  • The state of aviation regulation in Africa and how it impacts a small business start-up.
  • The future use of light aviation by the church and mission community.
  • The challenges of maintaining a safety-conscious aviation culture in an African context.
  • The margin of profitability for a small, commercial aviation organization in Africa.
  • The importance of not submitting to expected bribes by government aviation officials.
  • The possibility of giving Western MAF pilots an introductory internship with AAS before beginning their ministry assignment.

 If there is anything I came away with from our time together, it was the satisfaction of knowing that despite the challenges, Africa’s future is in good hands if outstanding national leaders such as these two Solomons are at the helms of their organizations.  And, they might even have some pretty good wisdom to pass on to the rest of us non-Africans as well.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Flying High at the MAFI Global Forum

MAFI CEO, Dave Fyock, opens the Global Forum meeting

You may know all about the historic ministry work of Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). But you may not be aware that today there are some fifteen MAFs around the world. Besides the MAF organizations in the United States and Canada, all the rest have organized themselves as spokes around the hub of a single flight operations group called MAFI (International) with headquarters in Ashford, UK. Every year, representatives of all these groups gather for a global forum to praise God for what is happening and discuss the challenges of future ministry service.
Challenging everyone with what the future of MAF might be

I was privileged this year to be the keynote speaker for the Forum plus spend a couple of extra days facilitating strategic planning discussions. Altogether, I come away with a new appreciation for this great, committed group of organizations and impressed with the way they are grappling with the challenges of future relevancy.

Here are a few of my observations from the past four days:
  • ·        New MAF resource groups are emerging from countries that have not been traditional “players” in the mission aviation world. Gathered with us were members of MAF Italy, France, India, Singapore, and Philippines.  
    MAFI leadership team grappling with a SWOT exercise
  • ·        Although MAF-UK has been the dominate resource entity for MAFI for both funds and technical staff, MAF Switzerland is now supplying as many new pilots for field operations as anyone. This is partly due to great marketing efforts by Hans Leutwyler, MAFS CEO, and partly to a Swiss government policy that offers to pay for half of a future pilot’s flight training.
  • ·        There is a strong effort to recruit pilots for MAFI from developing countries of the Global South. A pilot training center in Australia is focusing on this right now and
    Board members of MAF UK, Switzerland, Italy, and Norway
    enjoy some Rhone valley red Beaujolais before dinner.
    there is even the possibility that young pilots might have a chance to build experience by being employed short term as flight instructors in Singapore Airlines' basic flight school.
  •        Although everyone believes it is still a long ways off, a joint Technology Task Force headed by MAF Canada CEO, Brad Bell, is already studying future mission applications of such things as drones and electric-powered sky taxis.

I was delighted that all these initiatives of MAFI validated the key conclusions I had prepared for my plenary talk—namely that the next season of mission aviation will demand thinking in new and creative ways in order to continue “crossing barriers” and advancing God’s Kingdom around the world.

 I don’t know if I’ll ever be invited back to another MAFI Global Forum, but if they ever decide to hold it again in Lyon, France, the capital of French gastronomic cuisine, (well-proved by the chefs at our hotel!) I won’t hesitate to accept!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Insights into African Leadership

If there is any cry that I have heard loud and clear from the continent of Africa, it is the need for leadership development. And it seems that despite the plethora of courses, curricula, and consultants pouring into the African continent from the US and other nations, it never seems to quench the thirst for more help in training and preparing Christians leaders. That is why the results of the recent African Leadership Study (ALS) sponsored by the Tyndale House Foundation is such a timely resource for getting a better grasp on the dynamics of African Christian leaders.

Recently, I was sent an advanced copy of the study results packaged in the book, African Christian Leadership and its accompanying pamphlet 17 Insights into Leadership in Africa. Right away, I got a sense of the significant effort that was expended over several years to accomplish this research—a clear tribute to academic rigor. I also loved how the leadership team for the project involved 32 experienced participants, a majority of which were African themselves.

The study involved gathering input from 8000 Africans in three countries via a 93-question survey to inquire about the types of leaders and leadership qualities that have the greatest impact in the African context. Most significant to me was that the planners choose their target countries so that they represented all three major language groups of Africa: English, French, and Portuguese. Since my experience is that Anglophone regions of Africa always get the predominance of attention from the West, it was very encouraging to see this attention to better balance.

Sharing about ALS at a leadership workshop in Senegal
During my last trip to West Africa, I had the chance to share about the ALS with leader friends in Cรดte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau. Needless to say, there was immediate enthusiasm and interest in learning more about the study results. And, fortunately, the project is creating an interactive website in all three languages that will provide for that sort of on-going learning and dialog to happen. You can check it out yourself at:

As you might expect, however, I also heard some healthy criticism as some leaders questioned how broad conclusions about African leaders could be made from just surveying three countries. As one friend put it, “Do you think I would fully understand America if I interviewed a few people only in Maryland, Kansas, and Oregon?”  Nevertheless, my sense is that the ALS has produced a valiant effort that certainly opens the door for more discussion and learning. I believe this initiative deserves as much exposure as possible and will be a welcome addition in the continued effort to encourage the healthy development and training of the emerging generation of African Christian leaders.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Repurposing Retired Tires

It's not every day you find an indigenous African project that is dedicated to cleaning up the environment. But that's just what I found today here in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa. Walking across the compound of the church center where I'll be giving a leadership workshop tomorrow, I ran into Iolanda and her youth group project. She has inspired her teenage kids to repaint old tires and, with the help of three metal posts, turn them into recycling receptacles. She showed me how the tires, stacked in the colorful symbol of the national flag, can then support a large plastic bag that can then collect spent water bottles, pop cans, etc. "We've already gotten permission from the city authorities to place them around Bissau," she explained. "And they were so enthusiastic that the regular city trash collectors have agreed to empty them out on a regular basis." Sure enough, on the way to lunch, I spotted several of the eye-catching containers even on the prominent city round-point in front of the main government house.

Trash-free streets is not one of Africa's assets, especially in really poor and developing countries like Guinea-Bissau. Old habits of throwing a banana peel on the ground were fine when most folks lived
in the forest. But today in towns and crowded cities, that has translated into people freely tossing their bottles, cans, and plastic bags anywhere. Piles of trash have become one of Africa's greatest social plights, in some places becoming breeding grounds for disease.

That's why I have been making environmental care one of the key topics the past couple years in my workshops on being a Faithful Steward. It's challenging enough for many African friends to think about applying stewardship theology to their ministries and marriages, but stewardship of the environment is often a concept they have never considered at all. Until now, I haven't have any good illustrations in an African context of what that sort of stewardship could look like. Thanks to Iolanda and her "juventude evangelica" of Guinea-Bissau, I can start showing what can happen when a little creativity connects with a passion to care for the Creation God has given us! 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Quiet Giant

On Wednesday evening, at 7:30 PM, this world said "good bye" to a man who I would like to call a "quiet giant."

Norm Olson was one of the most unobtrusive men in the leadership of Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) but also one who probably had more to do with shaping the organizations direction during the 1960s to 1980s as anyone else.  Most of all for me, his influence in shaping my own career in MAF and ultimately in the mission world, was huge. 

When Anita and I first showed up at MAF's doorsteps in February of 1977, it was Norm Olson who decided right then and there that I should work for him. He proceeded to negotiate with Don Berry, the director of personnel, to alter the rules of becoming an MAF pilot just so that I could join the organization immediately and then later, fly as an MAF pilot. Within a few hours of my first interview, he handed me a piece of paper that had a joint commitment on it that if I worked for his Development Department for four years, and if I completed all my flight ratings, that MAF would accept me as a field pilot - even without an A&P mechanics license. Two weeks later, Anita and I accepted the proposal. 

Have you ever had anyone who believed in you that way so quickly that they were ready to make a major commitment to your personal development?

Those four years stretched into five, and during that entire time, Norm mentored me as a young leader. I learned about time management, about strategic planning, and about ministry effectiveness. Few people I knew where as creative as Norm and he ultimately demanded that same creativity in me. More than once, I went to Norm to ask how to do something and he would simply reply, "We've never done that before, so you'll just need to figure out a way to do it yourself."

By the time those five years were up, I was responsible for all aspects of MAF's Development Department except for the direct mail letters. My group included people like Dennis Whitlock for banquets and Bill Rakozy who helped me launch the first Ministry Partnership department. Norm strongly pressured me to take his place as VP of Development in 1982, but I had just qualified for a field pilot role and was ready to head off to Africa. That was the dream that I needed to accomplish, so I turned Norm's offer down.

Nevertheless, Norm, along with his wife, Cathy, remained special friends throughout the rest of our MAF career and even beyond.

As sad as it is to see a quiet giant like Norm pass from our midst, it is also wonderful to pay tribute to a man who lived his life to the fullest possible extent and though never becoming a big name known by all, finished his life well as a faithful servant of others and of His God. I am proud to be a tiny part of his legacy.