Nigeria and Fall 2004
Our Christmas letter is coming soon, but in order to offer some more detail, we thought we'd send you this "quarterly report" first - so that you can see the "returns" on your investment of interest, prayers and financial support. The majority of the report focuses on Paul's recent ministry trip to Nigeria and the NIFES 2004 Student Missionary Conference. But - before the Nigeria report - a brief word about other Fall travels.
Relationships. In Development Associates International (www.daintl.org), we consider leadership and character development through relationship building a core value. In the upcoming DAI newsletter, our president, Jane Overstreet, writes, "it's all about relationships." Ministry this Fall has borne this out. A friend succinctly capsulized these last three months as the "return on your long-term investment in relationships."
Lausanne Form in Pattaya, Thailand (September 26-October 6). The Singapore 87 conference for younger leaders propelled us both into relationships with leaders from all over the world. We continue many of these relationships through correspondence and resource-sharing, but this Forum provided for some personal face-to-face time with long-time associates serving God in many locales. The time in Thailand started with eight of our DAI staff meeting in Bangkok for team-building, planning, and prayer. Then all of us were among the delegates in the "Future Leadership" track at the Forum.
The Forum, the 30th anniversary conference of the 1974 first Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization organized by Billy Graham, called together over 1500 men and women from 130 countries. Forum 2004 was designed to assess the current religious profile of the world and to design responses to many of the issues facing the global Christian church. We gathered for a week in 32 different issue groups. The intent was to produce documents designed to offer guidance to churches around the world in carrying out their evangelistic mission. Issue group topics included future leadership, Islam, other non-Christian religions, terrorism, the need for reconciliation in a hostile world, the significance and needs of the world's children and youth, globalization, people at risk, the persecuted church, political and religions nationalism, and the Church's response to HIV. When completed, these papers will be posted at www.lausanne.org.
The Forum enhanced both learning and networks. I made new friendships with people doing racial reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia, others developing leaders with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, a leader training pastors in Palestine, a young man encouraging the "Student Volunteer Movement 2" in North America, and another young man mobilizing students for mission in the south Pacific. Opportunities have already arisen because of new friendships made - for involvement in "Reconciliation Camps" in Serbia/Croatia/Bosnia as well as leadership training for Palestinian Christian leaders.
IFES Senior Leadership Team Meetings in Marburg, Germany (November 12-17) Nineteen IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students - www.ifesworld.org) leaders - from East Asia, South Asia, USA, Europe, the former USSR, Latin America, English and French-speaking Africa and MENA (Middle East/North Africa) - gathered for their bi-annual planning meeting. These leaders serve as regional leaders in this student-focused ministry. As such, they serve as resources for the leaders of IFES affiliates in more than 140 countries. It was a great privilege to serve leaders who have such a wide influence.
Building on our year's of relationship-building with the IFES/Inter-Varsity world, Lindsay Brown the General Secretary of IFES invited Paul to join these leaders and lead them each morning in personal reflection. The sessions focused on another key theme in DAI training - "wholeness" - speaking to the leader's ability to keep life in balance: spiritually, personally, relationally, and ministerially. The sessions were well received, and have already led to more leadership training opportunities regionally and nationally with IFES. One leader commented, "Your encouragement came just in time to help keep me from burning out."
NIFES 2004 (November 21-28) in Abuja, Nigeria. In the IFES family, the largest affiliate is NIFES, the Nigeria Fellowship of Evangelical students. NIFES trains more than 35,000 students involved on hundreds of campuses across Nigeria. Every three years, they host the "NIFES Student Mission Conference" (like Urbana in North America). This year's theme was "Servants to the Nations - Raising Change Agents".
I was there because of long-term relationship-building across the miles with people like Femi Adeleye and Calisto Odede whom Christie and I met in Kenya in 1991, visited with when they studied in the USA, and ministered with in 1998 in Ethiopia and 2003 in Zimbabwe. I was there because Mike Adegbile, with whom I ministered in Ethiopia in 1998, trusted that I had something to offer. I was there because of friendships with Gideon Para-Mallam and Bala Usman, who hosted me in Nigeria in 2001. It was also a thrill to be one of two members of DAI who shared in plenary addresses, the other being Reuben Ezemadu of Nigeria.
There were somewhere between 6,000 to 10,000 university students (getting the number of registrants is not an exact science when the conference is held in an open-air venue). Most came from across Nigeria, but though there were also student groups that had come from Niger and the Gambia. Most are involved with NIFES chapters on their campuses. Lindsay Brown, the General Secretary of IFES worldwide, stated that he believed that this was "the largest student missionary conference ever on the African continent."
We met together at the "Land of Promise," a large piece of land about twenty miles outside the Federal capital, Abuja. The land is in the process of being developed - so the dorms are without windows or roofs, and many slept under tarps or on the buses that had brought them. There were inadequate toilets, troubles with the tent covering, difficulties with the stage, and lots of dust.
But nothing could distract the passion for Christ and zeal for missions of these students! I was simply amazed at the number of inconveniences they endured. BUT there was no grumbling or complaining, but rather joy and celebration. Most were simply overjoyed to be a part of this historical event! Concerning the inconveniences, one student told me, "God is training us."
Paul's part in the conference was to present two plenary addresses - "Servants to the Nations-Needs" and "Servants to the Nations-Opportunities." In the first message, I challenged them with a global overview of the greatest challenges facing the international expansion of Christianity. In the second, I offered a host of stories on how their prayers, careers, innovations, suffering, and faith can be used of God to make a difference as they seek to be his "change agents" in the world.
As happens with many of these challenging trips, God gave me some wonderful answers and prayer and even a personal experience of miraculous deliverance.
- First, I thank God for the privilege of encouraging these students.
- Second, I thank God for the African partners and friends alongside whom I could minister.
- Third, I thank God for the influence of books. Almost 8,000 books were made available to students because of the generous gifts of our support team! Every student got a copy of one of the following: A Mind for Missions, Stop Witnessing and Start Loving, or the Bible Study guide Missions: God's Heart for the World.
- Fourth, I thank God for his physical care: as an insulin-dependent diabetic, my medications are very important to help me stay "normal." The first day of the conference my insulin was accidentally frozen (and therefore questionably effective), but God provided, and my health was in balance all through the conference.
- Finally, I thank God for the example of these students. What resiliency, courage, faith and vision! Their willingness to tolerate very tough conditions in order to be challenged was an amazing inspiration. They stayed attentive for more than 9 hours of meetings and seminars every day. I'm confident that I was witnessing a group of students who will truly go globally to change the world. The missiologist Andrew Walls writes that anyone who desires to know the future of Christianity must be interested in Africa. Here I understood why.
I'm not a prophet, but I believe that hundreds - if not thousands - of cross-cultural servants will come from this event. Christians serving in the government, in the media, in the arts, in medicine, and in business will come from this event. The Nigerians have a strong sense of God-given destiny. They believe that they can be change agents - on their campuses, across Nigeria, across Africa, and to the ends of the earth.
At the conclusion of my time at the conference, a NIFES leader was praying me off. As my concluding remark, I told the students that I looked forward to the day when I would be traveling in Libya or Iraq or Iran and they would be there as servants of Christ. I told them that I looked forward to the day when I might find them in across Africa or in the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Western worlds as change agents for Christ. The students cheered wildly. Servants to the nations - here they go!
Thanks for your prayers for me. Please pray for the long-term impact of NIFES 2004.