Saturday, February 14, 2015

When Helping Still Hurts

The book, When Helping Hurts, is an excellent description of what happens when good intentioned Western aid can actually hurt more than it helps if it is administered without a good understanding of the cultural context. This past week while attending a leadership team meeting of MANI (Movement of African National Initiatives,) in Nairobi, Kenya, I've been impressed by how the legacy of some old well-intentioned help is still hurting.
MANI is all about catalyzing a mission movement in every country of Africa. For the past fifteen years, since the AD2000 & Beyond Movement, MANI has been working hard at inspiring efforts to reach the remaining unreached people groups across the continent as well as preparing Africans for ministry in global missions.

But today, MANI is recognizing that the greatest stumbling block to success is the lack of commitment on the part of local African churches to support mission outreach. The problem is not that they don’t think it should happen, but that church leaders continue to see mission work as something led and funded by Westerners. It all has to do with the way churches were originally planted in Africa 50 to 100 years ago. Most expat mission organizations modeled church-planting as something independent of mission outreach, especially to other tribes, nations or people groups. So today, the idea that a national church should prepare and financially support young missionaries for cross-cultural outreach simply doesn’t exit. Most churches still think the West will provide resources for that.

Reuben Ezemadu, continental coordinator for MANI, stated during one of our sessions that unfortunately, the vestiges of old “evangelical imperialism” still lives on in Africa, especially as we see current church leaders following patterns of their Western missionary forefathers.
This is why MANI is attempting to connect with top heads of African churches to cast new vision that Africans can and should be mobilizing and resourcing mission efforts. A major summit is being planned for a year from now in Accra, Ghana in hopes that several hundred presidents of church denominations will come together for that purpose.

I’m praying this event will be a watershed moment and begin shaping a new African paradigm that will see national churches shedding old hurtful attitudes and truly begin helping to spawn a new generation of mission outreach across the continent and around the globe.

Me and WE

You would think that the name Wycliffe Ethiopia would belong to an old, venerable institution that had been involved in Bible translation for decades. That’s why I was surprised to discover it’s only been around a couple of years.

Bible translation in Ethiopia has been happening for a long time, however, but it’s been under the ministry of SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) and handled primarily by a large contingent of expat staff.  Then, five years ago, the Ethiopian government demanded that all non-profit organizations had to register either for development work or religious work, but not the two together. SIL, for various reasons, choose the development identity. The government immediately frowned on their continued work on Bible translations.

That’s why a group of Ethiopian Bible translators and staff opted to leave SIL and form a new national entity properly registered to continue the Bible translation work. Enter Wycliffe Ethiopia (WE.)

This past week, I've had the privilege to spend two days with the sixteen staff members of WE. With their legal situation in hand, they now are needing to press ahead with such things as a strategic plan, HR polices and guidelines for a board of directors. I've been asked to help them do just that.

It’s always so refreshing to meet more of the new generation of African leaders giving birth to and developing new ministries across this continent. WE is a great example. Led by a young man named Tefera, I sense both passion and vision for getting God’s Word to the remaining Ethiopian languages that want it.  And he’s not afraid to try some of the newest translation techniques that is revolutionizing how quickly the work can get done.

I look forward to see how this first introduction to WE will develop into some more organizational development workshops together later this year and beyond.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


Print On Demand or POD. I’m learning how this new technology is revolutionizing and accelerating the process of publishing new Bible translations.

Today, I had a chance to visit the new POD bureau here at the Nigeria Bible Translation Trust.  At first it looks like a plain room with some innocent-looking printers, a binding machine and a Mac computer. But, what I learned is that this $20,000 equipment investment (thanks to Wycliffe Associates) is going to significantly change the way Bibles become available to unreached people groups in this country. Let me explain.

In the past, a New Testament translation project would take around 10 years to complete. Once ready to print, it would be handed off to the Bible Society which has a standard minimum press order of 5,000 copies. At $10 each, that meant an additional $50,000 had to be raised above and beyond the cost of translation before the Bible Society would touch the project. That kind of money doesn’t come easily for the smaller people groups of Nigeria.  Therefore, it can take years before any printed Bibles are actually available even though the translation is already complete!  Would you believe that there are four to six completed New Testaments here at NBTT that have been waiting for two years for these funds and there’s still no hope in sight of getting them printed?

Completed paper-back POD book done here at NBTT
Enter POD! Now, with a completed New Testament in digital format, it is easily formatted and immediately uploaded to high-speed inkjet printers. Add a bit of hot-melt glue in a special binding machine, trim the edges and you have a completed two-hundred page paper-back book in minutes that costs around $3.50! And here’s the best part of all: it doesn’t cost any more to print one book or a hundred.  In fact, if a small people group want to start with 50 New Testaments, they can now do that and then come back later to add another order for five or fifty any time they want.

It’s been fun seeing the excitement grow in the eyes of the NBTT Executive Director as we’ve discussed the implications of this POD technology. Not only does it have the potential to add a healthy new income stream for NBTT, but they can now prevent any further delay in getting God’s Word out to those in Nigeria who desperately need it.

So, PTL for POD!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Supporting Supporters

Jos, Nigiera!

Once again I find myself in this cross-roads city in central Nigeria. After a six month's hiatus  in international travel, it feels good to be out here, on the road and sharing with my African brothers and sisters.

I'm back at the headquarter campus of the Nigeria Bible Translation Trust, the country's largest indigenous organization focused on getting God's Word written in all the remaining languages of the country that do not yet have a Bible.

This time, however, most of my audience are not the translators themselves, but members of their support committees. Usually community leaders or pastors of a related local church, they have never before been invited to participate in seminar designed to help them do their support job better. My role? To provide a number of short, impactful sessions that will help them gain a big picture understanding of the importance of Bible translation in missions plus learn a bit about good principles of project management, stewardship and team-building.

From the responses I've already received after the first two day workshop which involved about 160 men and women, I'm pleased by the affirmation I've received plus the request for copies of my talks all of which indicates that the messages seem to be getting through. Now I get to repeat the workshop again during the next two days with an even larger group of participants.

One treat for me was to discover among the participants some of the members of the translation project for the Kamwe people in northeast Nigeria. Coming from the very area where Boko Haram has devastated homes and churches, they have basically fled here to Jos and set up temporary residence in order to keep working on their Old Testament language project. Some have had their own homes destroyed and extended family members killed by the terrorists, yet, they carry on undaunted with this translation project. Amazing! These are the same men my good friend, Dr. Roger Mohrlang in Spokane, WA has been raising funds for as well as serving in the official capacity as language consultant.

What a privilege to stand next to men who truly know what it means to stand firm on the front lines of today's fiercest spiritual battles.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Heart FOR Africa in the Heart OF Africa

It’s as close to a scene out of the African Queen movie as you can get. Situated on the banks of the Wamba river in DRC, even the name of the village sounds perfect: Kikongo.

Proving that Kikongo is at the Heart of Africa!
But that’s where the similarity to a 19th century story-book safari ends. Why? First, our visit to Kikongo started with a 59 minute flight in a Cessna 206 piloted by MAF program manager, Nick Frey. Second, instead of the romanticism of a jungle rainforest, we discover some of the tough, realities of mission work in the center of present-day Congo.

Glen and Rita Chapman both grew up in Kikongo as missionary kids. Now, they’ve been serving in this same place for almost three decades with the American Baptist mission. After a mid-morning snack served in the dining room of the house Rita’s grandparents built, we head out to tour the hospital and pastors’ school.

“Some of the things we see happening now are really discouraging and make us wonder if our time of service should end soon. The hospital no longer has adequate funds to maintain normal lab equipment and most doctors find they can make more money selling cheap Chinese medicines in neighboring towns than providing good service here,” Rita explains.

Glen demonstrating his "magnificent flying machine!"
At the pastors’ institute, Rita tells about an even more complex problem. “Self-trained pastors are coming into this area preaching a new version of the prosperity gospel based on an unhealthy preoccupation with spiritual warfare. By instilling fear in the local people about the power of Satan and evil spirits, they find a profitable business offering special prophesy and deliverance prayers for those who will pay for it in order to gain spiritual protection. Churches like these are popping up all over devastating our own congregations. Strong theological training is desperately needed for future pastors, but this competition is challenging their motivation for training altogether.

Despite these discouragements, Glen and Rita carry on with dogged and even creative endurance. A newly, MAF-installed satellite antennae gives them 24-7 connection to the Internet and regular ministry updates on Facebook. And thanks to help from missionary inventor, Steve Saint, Glen regularly flies a powered parachute at tree-top level to nearby villages in order to show the Jesus Film.

Cruising the Wamba River
But the Chapman’s real love for the land and its people is revealed on our dugout canoe ride across the Wamba for lunch at a neighboring village. Showing us the way, they help us dig our fingers into a meal of fish, plantains, squash seed, fermented manioc and stewed greens with caterpillars. It’s clear how much at home they are in this setting and how loved they are by these villagers. It helps me understand the pain in their eyes when they explain the troubling changes happening around them.

“Too bad you didn’t bring your swimming suits,” Glen yells above the din of the outboard motor on our way back to the airstrip for our flight home. “The water’s perfect. . . and the crocodiles stay pretty much in the swamps at this time of day!”

Glen and Rita—I thank God for you and pray for His strength and wisdom as you continue serving Him in this challenging “Heart of Africa.”

Glen and Rita Chapman

Friday, September 19, 2014

Catalytic Boost

The Democratic Republic of Congo is not exactly known for its great reputation of unity. Rampant tribalism and ethnic divisions have kept this country fragmented for years, even within the church community.  That’s why the meeting I attended this week in Kinshasa was so unusual.

I’ve been hosting a first-time visit to DRC by two friends who represent a missions-minded American foundation and thought it would be good for them to hear first-hand reports from national church leaders. Thinking we could have a nice, intimate conversation with ten or fifteen leaders, I was surprised to see our room packed out with over forty-five men and women representing most key national churches and ministries.

In order to help my friends gain a broad perspective, I asked each participant to address questions related to evangelism strategy successes and hindrances. Although each report started out addressed to my guests, it soon changed as people in the room began realizing they were hearing things from each other they had not known before. This was especially true between resource providers, like Scripture Union or Crusade and the actual church denominations that have been struggling to implement new evangelism strategies. It was pretty cool watching the lights come in the eyes of these men and women as they began swapping business cards right there during the meeting in order to connect later.

Equally impressive to me was the long detailed list of obstacles and hindrances discussed during the meeting. Going far beyond the typical gripe of not having enough money, these folks listed sophisticated issues such as lack of credibility of those ministering to professional businessmen, cultural differences over the issue of possessing more than one wife, and racial discrimination between bantu Africans and newly converted pygmy Christians.

By the end of the day, six themes emerged as topics everyone agreed needed more follow-up: youth outreach, holistic evangelism, church planting methods, media, electronic technology, and leadership training. Before we parted for the day, a plan was set up for future meetings on each topic.

Little did I dream that an innocent request for an informational meeting would eventually become a catalytic boost of encouragement toward partnering together in national evangelism for DRC.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Listening Centers

100%!  The answer she finally gave was 100%.

Want to know what the question was? You’ll have to read to the end of this blog.

It’s not every day that I get asked to host someone on a first-time visit to Kinshasa, DRC. For the past couple of days, that’s what I’ve been doing-- introducing two representatives of a significant, mission-minded American foundation to key national church and ministry leaders from this huge country. One of those is Bishop Nyamuke, who has been sharing about five different elements of a national evangelization strategy that includes helping children develop a healthy, Christian world-view.

“We have over 18,000 schools in our country managed by Protestant churches,” he explained. “But even though we are free to teach biblical truth, it’s not happening. Over five million children enter our schools as pagans at  first grade and leave twelve years later still as pagans.”

To emphasize the need for youth outreach further, Nyamuke arranged an entire afternoon for us with school children from two different churches. Through songs and testimonies and even a fiery mini-sermon by a sixteen year old boy, we learned about some of the cool things being promoted among Congo churches. One is the eleven Listening Centers that have been established recently throughout the city of Kinshasa.

Yvonne and her children groups sharing with us in Kinshasa, DRC
“We have learned that many children struggle with deep emotional needs and yet have no place within their families, schools or churches to talk about it,” said Yvonne, one Nyamuke’s designated youthwork trainers. “Now we’re training school chaplains specifically how to listen and sensitively deal with children who are willing to come and open up about their issues.” As we probed further with Yvonne about the types of things children grapple with, we learned that a big one is the sexual abuse of young Congolese girls by fathers, uncles, brothers and other males in their community. 

That’s when I asked my question: “Yvonne, what would you guess is the percentage of teenage and pre-teenage girls in Congo that experience either sexual abuse or harassment?” She paused for a long time before answering, her face becoming quite sober. “Basically one hundred percent,” she said.

For the next three months, I have the privilege of having my four-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth, living in our home while my daughter’s family is in the USA on furlough.  When I stop and think about Elizabeth growing up in an unsafe world that that had virtually 100% certainty of sexual abuse, it just turns my stomach. And yet, it sounds like that is what every young girl can expect growing up in Congo—and I would suspect a good share of the rest of Africa as well.

If there ever was a time, place and reason for biblical transformation of cultural values, even in African Christian communities, it is this issue in the Congo and it is now!  Thank God for Bishop Nyamuke, Yvonne and Listening Centers that are now beginning to do something about it.