A letter from Rich Hansen in Ethiopia
I have been meeting for several months in a small prayer group with two men who are significant church leaders. Both are former M.A. graduates of the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST), where I teach. Both are in demand as preachers and teachers. Both are “change agents”—one gave up his secure pastoral job and for several years has been building a fledgling small-group discipleship ministry among young people he has led to Christ; the other has been deeply involved in bringing greater biblical teaching to Ethiopian Orthodox church leaders. Along the way both have become passionate that what evangelical churches here desperately need is not the very popular conferences offering an emotional “charge,” but instead grassroots discipleship that helps people grow toward spiritual maturity. Our triad group has evolved into a think tank about discipleship.
To begin, we invited pastors who had a yearning for greater discipleship to come and tell their stories. They came from both Protestant and Ethiopian Orthodox churches (Orthodox are usually treated with great suspicion by evangelicals). The fact that pastors from both backgrounds would come to talk with us was a major miracle in itself!
Here’s just one story. A pastor of a large evangelical church told of being in charge of what his congregation calls “Salvation Classes”—several weeks of pre-baptism classes about the basics of salvation. After they baptized 120 new believers at the end of one round of these classes, he looked around his congregation six months later and could identify fewer than 10 of these new converts who were still attending and involved—all the rest of the 120 had disappeared! It is this “disconnect” between aggressive evangelism and woeful follow-up/discipleship that I have heard over and over again in my time here among evangelical church leaders in Ethiopia.
But how to make a difference? Rather than just hold workshops on discipleship (church leaders here love to go to workshops), I suggested a different model—identify leaders willing to make a commitment to an accountability/mentoring process with the goal of introducing significant discipleship step by step into their congregations. If successful, part of their commitment would be to engage in the same coaching process with other pastors.
To make a long story short, seven church leaders—five men and two women—responded to our invitation to join this intentional disciple-making process we have named "LDP" or "Leadership Discipleship Partners." We introduced a group covenant requesting, among other things, a one-year commitment of meeting together every other week. The group immediately asked that the commitment be expanded to two years—then everyone signed!
Our "LDP" group has been meeting now for some months. Examples of the arenas in which our partners focus on making disciples include:
• One young woman has a soccer team ministry with 25 kids, including 11 Muslims and several Orthodox. She shares her faith with them, talks with them about their issues, and is slowly meeting their families. Many are very poor.
• Another woman pastor (in the Mekane Yesus church, the PC(USA)’s partner denomination in Ethiopia) is putting the principles we're teaching to work in her confirmation class in her church, but also in a Saturday afternoon outreach program where her church ministers to the poorest kids in her area with lunches, academic tutoring, and faith sharing. But...she is so excited about what she’s been learning that she has organized 7-8 pastor friends who now meet with her regularly to talk about discipleship; each time she passes along to them what she has learned in our meeting earlier that week.
• An Orthodox priest and leader in the evangelical renewal movement gaining traction within the traditional Orthodox Church has 12 priests who are his disciples from different areas throughout Ethiopia. It's thrilling to think of the multiplying effect our encouragement of him is having with priests becoming disciple-makers in Orthodox congregations across the nation.
• A pastor of a very large Mekane Yesus church near our home leads their small-group program and hopes to move disciple-making to the heart of their small groups.
• Yet another man is a traveling teacher/evangelist who touches many churches. He has decided that, rather than focusing on one-shot evangelistic events, he now wants to invest his time making disciples throughout the churches who look to him for leadership—again, the potential multiplying impact is amazing.
I feel excited and tremendously privileged to have some input (mostly through my encouragement of my two triad partners) in this crucial issue facing Ethiopian evangelical churches of this generation. It has grown from the ruminations of the three of us in our triad group to an opportunity to offer a new model of church leader training that will hopefully spread in the years ahead.
We continue to be so grateful for your partnership and support of what the Lord is doing here in Ethiopia!!
Rich (and Marilyn)
- Praise that our daughter Lauren got exactly the job she was hoping for and will begin her new position this coming Monday in Pasadena, Calif.
- Praise for the growing reputation of EGST—we just finished interviewing more than 140 candidates (out of 220 applicants) for about 60 positions this next fall
- Prayer for Rich for energy as he copes with the many time demands of these final four weeks of the semester
- Prayer for our safety as we travel the roads in and around Addis
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 95
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