Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Dinner with Justice

Victor Tukura sharing his vision with us and his MSL Board
Having served on a number of boards, I’ve learned that you can usually expect a nice dinner at the conclusion of the meetings either in someone’s home or at a nice restaurant. However, never have I experienced a board dinner at the home of a Supreme Court Justice—until last night!

For the past year my Nigerian friend, Victor Tukura, has been sharing with me a vision for a major project that could significantly ramp up Nigerian involvement and support for global missions. As an extension of the Missions Supporters League (MSL), a ministry he and his wife founded, this project would take his mission to a whole new level of outreach and impact. Recognizing that I couldn’t give Victor all the consulting help he needed for this project, I was able to recruit my Spokane colleague, Scott Rodin, to share in that consulting role. As a result, we’ve just spent the last two days here in Nigeria meeting with the MSL board of directors.

Scott Rodin and me showing off our Nigerian caftans along with Justice Clara,
her husband, Paul, and Victor Tukura
It just happens that the chairperson of the MSL board is none other than a thirteen-year veteran of the Nigerian Supreme Court. On top of that, she’s one of the first ever women to be appointed to that prestigious role in her country. As a full day of board meeting discussions came to an end, we were whisked off to the home of Justice Clara, as she likes to be called. However, before departing our hotel, we were also handed a couple of packages and asked to don official Nigerian caftans for the event. Seated around a huge outdoor table, Scott and I definitely felt like we blended in (sort of) with the forty others invited to the sumptuous buffet dinner.

What a privilege it was to not only get to know Justice Clara personally but also her husband, Paul, who is a renown surgeon at one of the main hospitals in the capital. Their humility, exemplary marriage relationship, and love for God was so evident as we sat together at our end of the long table chatting about everything from presidential elections to our two countries’ Supreme Court value systems.

We’re looking forward to seeing MSL bring a successful completion to this important project they are embarking on. But one thing is for sure, a large part of that success will be a result of board members with impressive credentials and a heart for the advancement of God’s Kingdom.


When they heard the news, the cheering and dancing went on non-stop for twenty minutes!  What made it all the more amazing, is that most of the three hundred people from surrounding villages had never seen a real, live white person before!

It was place called Anasibe, just a cluster of huts in the middle of the eastern coastal rain forest of Madagascar that doesn’t show up on any official government map. But it was also one of several thousand locations in the forest where a house church has been planted recently, thanks to the amazing efforts of the Islands Mission. Starting some eighteen years ago as the vision of a young native of Madagascar, Dinah R., this indigenous mission has had incredible success using the church-planting principles of DMM—Disciple Making Movements. Trained, itinerant church-planters not only have started house churches in remote villages and logging their geographic coordinates with a hand-held GPS unit, but also intentionally trained the next generation of church planters.  Islands Mission now boasts more than six generations of church-planters numbering well over a thousand.

So why the cheering and dancing? Along with my colleague, Al Hawthorne of Wycliffe Associates, we had come to share the news that there was a way we could help them translate God’s Word into their own language. Spoken by more than two million forest people, Bitsimisaraka is a language that does not have one sentence of the Bible translated yet. And because 95% can’t even speak Malagasy, the one national language that does have a Bible, all of those newly planted churches have to use strictly oral transmission as their means of communication—something that is eventually prone to mistakes and misinterpretation.

Dinah surrounded by his friends from Anasibe
Forty-eight hours after flying back to the Madagascar’s capital of Antananarivo by helicopter, curtesy of Helimission, Al had already scheduled the first translation event to occur in less than thirty days. We learned those villagers were particularly anxious to get started because the coming rainy season would inhibit forest travel.

It sure makes you wonder what this world would be like if everyone had the same hunger for God’s Word as the people of Anasibe.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Multiplying Effectiveness with Electronic Tablets

One fun sideline of my personal ministry is preparing digital libraries on electronic tablets for national church leaders who have a hard time getting printed resources. Part of that fun is trying to stay abreast of the new technology that is now available but the most fun is actually witnessing the increased productivity that occurs when leaders actually use the tablets to enhance their ministry.

New tablet users from two countries in North Africa
During this trip to North and West Africa, I’ve had some neat opportunities to witness some of that excitement first hand. In the first country we visited I was able to deliver three tablets and two mini LED projectors to a team that wants to use them in doing church-planting in some remote areas in the mountains. Because both tablet and projector can operate on battery power for up to two hours, it allows a complete showing of the Jesus Film in a house church meeting. In another country, I met with three men who had received their tablets several months ago and were able to give me a report on how well they were working. “These are such great tools,” they affirmed. “It is so fantastic to have all these resources together in this one small device.”

So what kind of practical resources are on those tablets? Here are some these units in North Africa were equipped with:
  • Complete Bibles and Bible commentaries in both French and Arabic.
  • A collection of Arabic discipleship lessons
  • The “Bridges One” Scriptures In Use story-telling training
  •  Five lessons in French of City Team’s DMM (Disciple Making Movement) workshop
  • A collection of videos in French and Arabic including the Jesus Film, More than Dreams and Magdalena (the Jesus Film for women.)
  •  Unfolding Word—fifty story picture-book Bible produced by Wycliffe Associates available in multiple languages and even some audio soundtracks
  • Translation Studio—also from Wycliffe Associates, a free Android-based, self-contained Bible translation application that even features different keyboards for languages that don’t use Roman script
  •  PDF Maps with a complete digital atlas of Africa custom-designed by my friend, Marv Bowers of Information Learning Systems (ILS) that turns the tablet into a powerful research tool with GPS-encoded digital pushpins.

Example of PDF Maps App showing GPS push-pin markers
I’m particularly pleased with the latest model of electronic tablet supplied to these North African friends because it is one of the few I’ve found that not only has a slot for a 64 GB external SD card, but also has a mini HDMI port allowing a direct connection to a larger TV or projector. So, I’ve also pre-installed a PowerPoint application so that these friends can use them for training workshops. Now, whether in the mountains of the Maghreb or the sands of the Sahara, with just a tablet and a mini projector, these friends will have all they need to conduct complete evangelistic meetings or a discipleship training.

If you’re interested in helping to subsidize more of these tablets for future applications like these, please let me know.  I have a special fund set up at One Challenge just for that.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Decision with Historic Impact

It’s not often that one has the chance to stand on the very spot where a single decision changed the course of human history. That is exactly the privilege I had yesterday when, along with a group of new friends, I stood in the middle of the ruins of an ancient Roman amphitheater located in North Africa.

The year was 203 A.D. It was a time when persecution against Christians was widespread across the Roman Empire, but which had done little to stem the growing movement of faithful Christ-followers. Among them was Perpetua, a young woman of noble birth from the city of Carthage and her faithful slave, Felicitas. Discovered to belong to an outlawed band of Christians, they were both condemned to face wild beasts in the amphitheater. Despite last-minute pleas from her father to recant, Perpetua, instead decided to be true to her faith and face the beasts. It was a choice whose impact would ripple down through the next several centuries and set the course for the future of Christianity. Boldly nursing her newborn baby one last time, she handed it to her father, and along with Felicitas, climbed the stone steps to the amphitheater’s main floor where they were gored by wild animals and eventually put to the sword by gladiators.

Believed to be among the crowd of spectators that day was an attorney by the name of Tertullian. According to tradition, not only did the experience propel him to Christianity, but ultimately to become a biblical scholar of great reputation. His influence ultimately shaped the training of a protégé by the name of Cyprian who, in turn, became the mentor Augustine, a young Berber from the nearby city of Hippo Regius (Algeria.)

Two hundred years after that fateful day in the amphitheater, Augustine, serving as a leading church bishop, presided over the Council of Carthage during which the historic affirmation of the New Testament canon was made.

Next to ruins of the basilica where in 397 AD the Council of Carthage
confirmed the canon of the New Testament
What made my experience of standing in the midst of those famous ruins even more moving was to be accompanied by a small band of young North African men whose life decisions to follow Christ are in many ways as dramatic as those of Perpetua and Felicitas. Having endured life-threatening rejection from their families, some know in no uncertain terms what it may mean to become a minister of the Gospel in this part of the world.  Yet they have jumped at the chance to help me and my traveling companions to research how, when and where to facilitate locally-led Bible translation projects so that every language group of North Africa might have God’s Word in its mother tongue. Wow—talk about being privileged and humbled at the same time!

It may not be the context of a Roman coliseum, but without question, the price of living out our Christian faith in our contemporary world is certainly becoming more and more challenging and equally demanding of life-shaping decisions. Thank God for the historic example of these young women that inspire and encourage us to be equally faithful and courageous in our world today.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Beyond Mapping at Global Mapping

I have spent the past three days at another great board meeting for Global Mapping International (GMI). And once again, I leave amazed at some of the new resources and services this small ministry has been able to create for the benefit of those serving in missions around the world.

For example, during the past twelve months, GMI has published seven new books all on important topics relevant to contemporary mission leaders. Here is a highlight of just three of them:

Help Your Missionaries Thrive by Harder and Foote. Based on recent research data GMI produced for a client foundation, this book will help mission executives understand the critical factors that shape the success of today’s missionary field staff.

Serving God in a Migrant Crisis by Patrick Johnstone. With the current crisis of Middle East migrants flooding into Europe, this book could not be more appropriate for helping today’s ministry workers know how to respond. Building on his tremendous experience during the past two decades of authoring Operation World, Johnstone uses his insight to challenge how to use this crisis as a means of sharing God’s love.

Our Anchor in a World Adrift by Hirst and Legasphmunar. This short work, co-authored by GMI’s president, John Hirst, is a great way to put into perspective seven global trends that are changing the status quo as we know it. Beyond simply giving statistics of social impact, the book encourages the reader to use an anchor of faith to help find stability and purpose despite the traumatic changes global trends might bring.

I’m looking forward to digging into these new GMI books and also using them in some of the teaching and workshops I’ll be involved in during the upcoming months. If you are interested in them as well, they’re all available in both print and digital form from Amazon as well as from GMI’s own website:

By the way, they’ve also produced a nice little “trailer” video on the Migrant Crisis book that will give you an idea of what it’s about. And, I’m proud to say, the video is narrated by my daughter-in-law, Sarah Lewis! Check it out here:

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.