Saturday, March 26, 2016

Trends of Hope

As I now reflect back on the MANI 2016 Conference that took place in Addis Ababa from March 7-13, there are three themes in particular that are both encouraging and significant in terms of indicating the future of mission effort in Africa.

With African Emerging Leaders at the MANI Pre-conference
Theme #1 – Young Emerging Leaders. Beginning with a pre-conference and extending through special breakout sessions during MANI 2016, there was an emphasis on emerging leaders. MANI has always encouraged younger men and women under the age of forty who are involved in mission, but this time it was amazing to see both the quality and passion of this rising generation. I was privileged to be asked to give one of the keynote addresses at the pre-conference. Borrowing a metaphor from George Ayittey’s well known Ted Talk about the Hippo and Cheetah generation of African leadership, I suggested how leaders of tomorrow are going to need to think and behave differently than the previous generation in order to help the church truly respond to the incredible challenges Africa is facing. Judging from the enthusiastic response and the desire these young leaders have in being mentored in new ways to avoid past leadership failures, I think there is reason for great hope as we see the next generation of African church and mission leadership take charge.

Theme #2 – Go North! Without doubt the center of Evangelical Christianity in Africa is focused in the countries south of the Sahara Desert. But, with the recent increase in missionary Muslim influence coming south from North Africa, these sub-Saharan churches are realizing that much more needs to be done to reverse that trend by reaching northward with the Gospel of Christ. Fortunately, there were a few northern Africa countries represented at MANI 2016 by a single person Yet, they were enough to help inspire members of stronger church movements in the rest of the continent to commit to sending more indigenous mission workers to such places as Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. So, besides media broadcasts and other ministry efforts streaming southward to those countries from Europe, we should soon be seeing much more complementary mission effort coming northward from sub-Saharan Africa as well.

Theme #3 – An African Theology Foreign mission endeavor in Africa dates back to the mid 1800s. But because of the strong Western influence of those early missionaries, much of the theology of African churches still lacks some of the important contextualization that would make it more relevant to the African mindset. Instead, there is often a tendency toward syncretism or mixing of animistic African culture in with Christian beliefs. During the MANI 2016 conference we heard several outstanding presentations strongly challenging African leaders to grapple with the areas of theology that need to speak more forcefully about living out commitment to Christ in an African context. One of those talks highlighted five areas in the church must be more outspoken: 1-The value of the human individual, 2-The value of children, 3-The importance of the family, 4-Social Justice, and 5-Care for the environment.

Let’s pray that these three themes at the MANI conference are only the first signs of a great new movement that will truly propel Africa as a major global force in world missions during the next couple of decades.

Friday, March 25, 2016

China to Africa: Second Try

The year was 2010. Over eighty Chinese pastors and ministry leaders from the Beijing area were excited about being part of a delegation of two hundred from the People’s Republic of China to the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization that was to meet in Cape Town, South Africa. Boarding passes in hand, they were just minutes away from getting on their plane when a security officer asked them all to follow him into a special conference room. Anxiety mounted as the minutes stretched into an hour or more. No explanation was given. Finally, when their flight had departed, they were released. News soon came that the all of the two hundred delegates had received the same treatment. It was clear that, for some reason, the Chinese government was not in favor of any delegation from their country participating in such a large, Christian, public forum.

That is why, with a special sense of excitement and praise, the five hundred and fifty of us at MANI 2016 enthusiastically welcomed five of those same Chinese pastors to our Africa-wide conference in Addis Ababa.  I was particularly proud of the fact that my own mission, One Challenge, was the key organization that had facilitated this special visit. There seemed to be no end of interest on the part of African leaders to chat and strategize with them, especially during coffee breaks, meals, and special breakout sessions.

Due to the incredible number of Chinese laborers coming to Africa to build major construction projects, African church leaders have been eager for Chinese missionaries to come to Africa to minister to the growing Chinese diaspora in the major cities of the continent. More than once, I’ve tried to be an intermediary for this plea, seeking a response from Chinese contacts I’ve made in the past. But consistently, I have been told that fledgling Chinese missionaries want to be on the cutting edge of missions, targeting unreached African populations rather than their own countrymen. After all, that doesn’t even demand learning a new language!

That’s why it was particularly heartening for me to hear these five Chinese delegates clearly express  that they are ready to partner with the Africans to reach the growing thousands of Chinese across the continent. “We have heard your cry, and we are ready to respond,” one Beijing pastor said with passion and sincerity.

Praise God that these friends experienced freedom to travel to our MANI event. Now pray that these new bonds of partnership will truly grow into fruitful ministry results in the years ahead.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Reunion at the African Union

It's the United Nations of Africa—a huge, modern, impressive facility located in downtown Addis Ababa which is now the place where all of the nations of Africa periodically gather to discuss and decide on key issues related to the political progress of the continent. From March 7-11, however, it was the venue for MANI 2016, a continental missions conference that brought 550 key leaders together to challenge each other on how to advance Christ’s Kingdom in their own countries and abroad.

MANI is a network that emerged out of the AD 2000 & Beyond movement of the 1990s that first challenged Christians to reach unreached people groups and coined the concept of the 10­-40 Window. When it concluded on December 31, 2000, all of the African delegates decided they wanted to sustain the momentum, so they formed the Movement of African National Initiatives (MANI). The objective was to help spawn a missions initiative in every country of Africa that would bring God’s Good News to the remaining unreached as well as mobilize African participants in global missions.

Having served on the MANI leadership team for the past three years, I found myself immediately immersed in the logistics of the conference. From planning the daily agenda to creating and operating the PowerPoint backdrops for all the sessions, it was quite a challenge to work alongside the rest of the MANI leaders to offer a smooth-flowing schedule of events each day. But despite our human frailties, it was clear that God was very able to accomplish his divine purposes of orchestrating strategic encounters among the many delegates from fifty different African countries. One such encounter happened when I introduced Jason Mandrake, the editor of Operation World, to a good friend from Nigeria, both of whom are working on similar visions for initiating global prayer centers that they now may be able to link together.

Probably the most meaningful event of the conference to me was the final session when everyone was challenged to fill the huge stately hall, the symbolic center of African political power, with praise and worship to God. That was the first time it had ever been done. Even my wife, Anita, was able to join in with the worship team and, in typical, joyous African fashion, help lead the delegates in worshipful song to our Lord.

So if the forces of spiritual darkness think they have an exclusive hold on the direction of African politics, they just may have another guess coming the next time African leaders meet in that hall and find the lingering impact of that special celebration of praise to the one true God!

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.