Friday, November 13, 2015

Forgotten and By-passed

It’s not on the way to anywhere!

Main Bissau waterfront road
Guinea-Bissau is a tiny, forgotten West African country stuck between Senegal and Guinea-Conakry. Not only is it isolated geographically, due to huge rivers and an island archipelago, but its Portuguese national language further separates it from all of its French-speaking neighbors. It’s no wonder that the sense of being forgotten, bypassed, and marginalized seems to be written all over the faces of its citizens.

Sunday morning church service
Yet, I have found the past four days here in Guniea-Bissau some of the most fulfilling of my recent travels. I was invited on this trip by Miguel Indibe, the director of ITA, the Institute of Translation and Literacy. Thanks to an introduction bu Bruce Smith, CEO of Wycliffe Associates, I met Miguel two years ago and ever since have been mentoring him in his leadership role. But this was my first chance to visit his country.

Despite being a tiny country with a population of less than two million, it is not short on tribal languages which number about thirty. But of those, only one has a complete Bible and three have New Testaments. However, all Bible resources are super dated making them especially irrelevant to the youth. And the couple of translation projects that are underway are all taking way longer than expected thanks to being at the bottom of everyone’s priority list for completion.

Sharing Wycliffe Associate tablet translation resources
So what has made this trip so fulfilling? First, it was the pleasure of speaking to the 1,200 who were packed into a Sunday morning service all sharing the “joy of the Lord” in typical African fashion. Second, it was seeing the excitement and renewed hope in the eyes of the Bible translation staff as I shared new resources Wycliffe Associates has available for them that could significantly speed up their translation efforts. Third, it was being invited to address a number of national church leaders and helping them learn how to connect with the continental African mission’s movement. The VP of one church group said to me, “No one from Guinea-Bissau has ever participated in a major African or global consultation because we always learn about them after the fact. Finally, you are here telling us of two opportunities to attend African conferences next year. You can bet this time we’ll be represented.”

 Guinea-Bissau may be small and forgotten, but it has a higher percentage of Christians than any of its neighbors. And, from what I can see, they’re ready to be mobilized. It is a privilege for me to play a tiny role in helping to make that happen.

Guinea-Bissua church leaders glad to be encouraged

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Saying Goodbye to Comrades in Ministry

Within the last two days, I received word of the deaths of two comrades-in-ministry who played special roles in my life.

Phil Arendt, a fellow resident of Spokane, WA, quietly slipped away from his family Sunday morning after fighting a year-long battle with a cancerous brain tumor. I got to know Phil when I became CEO of Partners International and discovered this third-career missionary on staff who was personally modeling for everyone how to live out what it means to be a servant partner. After years as a mission pastor in Modesto, CA and equipped with a doctorate in missiology, Phil and his family joined SIM and spent a decade in Ethiopia pouring his life into national church leaders. He joined Partners International upon his return to the US and, by the time I arrived, was already expanding his role as a Bible teacher and leadership mentor around the world. I immediately asked him to become one of my VPs. Phil was truly a pioneer and expert in the area of orality and story telling, bringing into close relationship with PI such organizations as Scriptures In Use and Harvest International. In many ways, what I am doing today follows the example of Phil in terms of his effort to be available globally as a mentor, trainer, and encourager of national Christian ministry leaders in the least resourced areas of the world.

 Gary Bishop came to Mission Aviation Fellowship in 1998 as President/CEO. For the next five years I served as his Vice President for Research and Strategic Planning. Together, we crafted a new mission statement for the organization and reaffirmed MAF’s historic by-line of “conquering barriers.”, MAF was not an easy role for Gary because of not having had any previous international mission experience.  Although he brought considerable business knowledge from his previous role as director of the Pittsburg International Airport, Gary faced the challenge of leading an organization that was in the middle of many strategic changes.  One of those was partnering with the Packer Aircraft Project, the forerunner of the Quest Aircraft Company that now produces the turbine-powered Kodiak aircraft used extensively in mission aviation. Gary’s presence at MAF had a major impact on my life, and it was his encouragement in many ways that led to my eventual acceptance of the role of CEO at Partners International.

After MAF, Gary and his wife, Donna, returned to Texas where he became president of World Bible Translation Center and eventually CEO of Far Corners Missions. A heart attack took Gary’s life unexpectedly on Monday.

As I reflect on the lives of these two friends, I can’t help but be reminded of both good and tough times we experienced together in our respective journeys of mission service. I am deeply thankful for how God used both men to shape me along the way and influence who I am today. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Frogs On A Log

Austen Ukachi was a university student when God first touched him with a passion for prayer. Soon after he graduated, he found himself at the head of a national prayer movement that really took off across Nigeria. Looking back, it’s possible to trace the spontaneous outbreak of spiritual revivals linked to students committing themselves to prayer.

Austen found many of the students he mentored joining him for weekly worship and fellowship that eventually grew into a full-fledged church. Today, that church is an active denomination called He’s Alive Chapel that involves some 60 pastors all across Nigeria and spilling over into neighboring francaphone countries.

With Pastor Austen and He's Alive Chapel pastors
It’s with these pastors that Austen invited me to come and spend three days of strategic planning. “We want to sharpen our vision and mission and help inspire our people toward greater outreach in missions,” he told me. I was looking forward to it, since it’s the first time an African-birthed

church had asked for my help in this way.

My first challenge was to convince folks  that a new vision and mission statement would really help propel them toward greater outreach action. They read:

Vision: Building a barn for the Lord for the end time harvest reflecting the fullness of his glory.

Mission: He’s Alive Chapel is committed to evangelism, church planting, discipleship, mission, and spiritual warfare.

I was delighted to see the interest by all the participants during our sessions. Between planning orientations that I provided and group breakout sessions, everyone was fully engaged. But the high point for me was seeing the impact of how the “frogs on a log” riddle, which I had learned from Jon Hirst, CEO of Global Mapping International, convinced them them their mission needed to be about something more than just commitment. It goes like this:

Seven frogs were sitting on a log. Six decided to jump into the pond. How many were left?

The answers from the group were many: “One. Six. Seven.” So I tried it another way:

Seven frogs were sitting on a log. Six were committed to jump into the pond. How many were left?

Needless to say – they got the point immediately! Here’s now how their new strategic plan statements read.

Our Vision: God's people prepared, equipped and bringing in a global harvest of souls for His Kingdom and Glory.

 Our Mission: To spread the Gospel everywhere by means of evangelism, discipleship, church planting, missions, prayer and building strong families.

My prayer is that He's Alive Chapel will truly become even more alive in it's dedication to take God's Good News to those who desperately need to hear it.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Supreme Delight

With Justice Clara and Victor Tukura
It’s not every day that you are invited to dinner at the home of a Supreme Court Justice. And perhaps it is even more unusual that she be a woman and committed Christian on top of that. That is just what happened to me a few days ago while on this ministry trip here in Nigeria.
Justice Clara Ogunbiyi is one of fifteen who sit on Nigeria’s Supreme Court. She came up through the ranks of this country’s judicial system and now has a couple years left before her required retirement at the age of seventy. But during that time she has also contributed her leadership gifts by serving on the boards of several Christian ministries. One of those is the Missions Supporters League (MSL), a group for which I’ve been offering some consulting help. So it was through Victor Tukura, MSL’s General Director, that this evening with Justice Clara was arranged.

Not knowing exactly what to expect, I was very pleasantly surprised to find this woman to be an extremely humble and approachable civil servant, as was her husband, Dr. B.E. Ogunbiyi, a practicing OBGYN here in Abuja, the Nigerian capital. Our table conversation ranged from discussing the current state of the “culture wars” in the United States to the challenges of Boko Haram for the current Nigerian government. It was on this later topic that Justice Clara really opened up. Due to the fact that her home was in Borno State, the very region Boko Haram has targeted, she gave many dramatic examples of how this terrorist group has impacted her people.

One story she told me, however, was unexpected. “As a result of the bold testimony of Christians in the face of these atrocities,” she said, “hundreds of local Muslims there are giving their heart to Christ.” She went on to tell of two young Christian brothers who, in front of a huge crowd, were told to recant their faith and embrace Islam “or else.” When the first young man refused, he was slaughtered immediately. Then they approached his brother with the same demand, thinking that witnessing his brother’s death would change his mind. He also refused and was also the immediate victim of Boko Haram’s savage cruelty. “It is exactly this kind of incredible dedication,” Justice Clara explained, “that has turned the hearts of so many Muslims in that region to Christ.

Leaving her home that evening made me more committed than ever to pray for our Nigerian brothers and sisters – whether facing a terrorist threat like Boko Haram or facing the challenges of nation-shaping decisions at the level of the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Whole World in His Hands

He might be approaching the age of eighty, but George Verwer is no less capable of shouldering the challenge of the whole world has he was sixty years ago!

You might not think about coming to Nigeria and participating in a mission mobilization conference a likely place to run into a missionary legend, but that is just what happened me these past few days here in Abuja, Nigeria. “Selected or Solution” was the theme of this third annual Leadership Summit organized by my friend, Timothy Olonade, who invited a list of inspirational international speakers including George Verwer. Fueling the growing passion for cross-cultural missions in this country, this event is becoming a significant opportunity to learn about the latest resources and methods available to African churches and mission organizations. Along with my friends Jon Hirst, from Global Mapping, and Al Hawthorne, from Wycliffe Associates, I was one of eleven presenters offering elective workshops about everything from how to raise funds to how to translate the Bible.

Nigerian mission leaders recommitting to engage in
world outreach
But without question, the highlight of each day was the evening session presented by George Verwer. As founder of Operation Mobilization, George’s passion for sharing God’s Good News has spread across the world by means of the Logos and Doulos ships as well as through thousands of young people who serve in just about every country on earth. Having experienced before George’s unique presentation style complete with world map jacket and giant beach ball globe in a South Korea football stadium during GCOWE 1995, I was happy to see that he was still as compelling a speaker as ever. What has changed for George, by his own admission, is much more concern for a wholistic view of the Gospel that includes care for such things as human trafficking, HIV-AIDS, rights of the unborn, and clean water.

With George Verwer after fifty-two years
It was fun to reminisce with George about a time in 1963 when we first encountered each other. I was twelve years old on a family camping vacation in Europe and George was launching the first summer youth rally of OM. My dad got permission to pitch our tent on the grounds of a Paris chateau used by the European Bible Institute. So did George. Except our tent slept five and his was huge military style affair that accommodated several hundred young people for his evening rallies! Never would I have imaged back then that our paths would cross again fifty-two years later in a place like Abuja, Nigeria.

I praise God for the faithfulness of people like George Verwer that has resulted in millions learning about the love of Jesus and hope of peace with God.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Unexpected Blessing

He really wanted me to see his brand new training center, but I didn't know why. I thought perhaps it might be another case of an African ministry leader wanting to show me his dream project and then hoping I would help him fund the completion of it.

But I couldn't have been more wrong. Pastor Selenga was not your typical ministry leader. Besides having been the legal rep for his own denomination, he was now the director of ReachAfrica—the regional division of ReachGlobal formerly known as the Evangelical Free Church Mission. It's not every day that an African, let alone a Congolese, is a senior executive of an American mission.

Thirty minutes later, we had navigated the traffic jams of Kinshasa and rolled into the small courtyard of CEMIER—Centre d’Equipement en Mission et Leadership de ReachAfrica. As I was shown around, I couldn't believe this entire facility had been modified, prepped for operation and that already over one hundred pastors and layman were enrolled in courses. That doesn't include the two dozen women at risk being helped at a vocational center behind the main building.

When we got to Selenga’s office, he smiled and said, “All this is here because of you.” My puzzled look prompted his explanation. Last year, During another trip to Kinshasa in order to accompany and translate for two representatives of a mission-minded philanthropic foundation. Among some 40 national church leaders I had introduced them to, was Selenga. What I never knew is that my two friends had maintained dialog with him resulting in a grant that allowed Selenga to acquire, remodel and launch this center all in a few short months.

There is nothing more rewarding for me than to be a network connector that results in a positive advancement for God’s Kingdom. And when it happens as an unexpected blessing, it's the most rewarding of all!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Congress is in Session

They are calling it the 5th Congress on National Evangelism. Held in a big meeting room at the Shaumba high school in Kinshasa, this is a significant event for the leaders of Protestant churches here in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since this event is hosted by my friend, Bishop Nyamuke, head of the ECC  department of evangelism, I received an invitation some time ago to participate and help out with some of the planning for it.

The central objective of the Congress is to breathe new life into a five-year-old plan that has five key strategies for advancing God’s Kingdom in DRC:
1. Plant new churches where they are needed,
2. Encourage mature discipleship amount church members,
3. Help children aged 4 to 18 develop a Christian world view
4. Teach families how to become centers of Christian education
5. Reach the least, poorly and unreached populations of the country.

Jon & Bishop Nyamuke
Two themes have particularly impressed me from the many presentations given during our sessions. The first one is a deep concern over the perception that DRC is facing increased pressure from the West to adopt a liberal social agenda that includes inclusion of gay rights into the mainstream of its culture. The examples given of how this agenda is already being pushed by conditions put on aid grants from the U.S. is startling and discouraging.

The second theme, which is much more encouraging, has to do with the amazing number of resources already available for the ECC and its member churches. Dozens of national and expat organizations exist now in the DRC with great curricula, books, training courses, etc. in French but the problem is that most churches don't even know they exist. This Congress has been good for exposure of these resources, but much more needs to happen for full national access.

As Bishop Nyamuke and I, plus a small team of four, discuss this, we agree to launch a new, concerted thrust  to help promote this national plan of evangelism during the next two years. We've even given it a name: MissioCongo. Besides replicating this Congress in some regional mini events during the next few months, MissioCongo will also involve a new prayer strategy for evangelism, new communication strategy using text messaging and newsletters and a new evangelism resource website.

When I was invited to this event, I knew I might be asked  to share something sometime. I didn't expect I would be giving the opening devotional, a plenary session on stewardship and host the open mike sharing period at the end of each day. But I am thrilled to see the positive impact that seems to be happening here and pray that this MissioCongo follow-up plan truly keeps the churches in DRC pressing forward in advancing the cause of Christ in this huge country.