Equipping Local Churches in West Africa to Do Missions

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One of the questions I'm often asked is, how is World Renew connected to the church? With the name change, how do we know that the ministry is still Christian? My standard reply is that we work with indigenous churches to do our work. As Kristen deRoo Vanderberg recently reported in The Banner, one example is that of Yan (name has been changed).

Yan* is a wonderful example of what World Renew’s ministry is all about. Rather than sending staff to teach literacy classes or provide training in agriculture, World Renew equips local churches to carry out these ministries.

World Renew believes that God calls Christians everywhere to love their neighbors and to care for those in need. As many North Americans have discovered, when they respond to this call they are as blessed as those they serve. By working through local churches to equip Christians like Yan, they experience the blessing of serving others.

Yan grew up in West Africa in an animist family. “One day I read a booklet called ‘The Voice of God,’” he said. “In it, I found John 14:6. That verse touched me profoundly.”

He began to follow Jesus, and one year later he enrolled in a local Bible school. When he finished training to be a pastor, Yan was sent to a small village as an evangelist for three years, to another village for two years, and then served as a pastor for yet another church for two more years. That’s when he realized something was missing.

Yan believed that the gospel’s witness could be strengthened by helping people meet their physical as well as their spiritual needs. Deciding to pursue further training, he traveled to a neighboring country to attend an agricultural and Bible school for an additional four years.

To pay tuition, he sold his bull. When that money ran out, he collected grass to sell as feed for other people’s animals. His wife supported him by making and selling shea butter.

When he graduated in 2009, Yan returned to his village with a goal of teaching rural communities about modern agriculture. Little did he know that he would soon become the answer to several years of prayer.

Many years earlier, World Renew’s local partner denomination had had a vision of someone ministering in a remote community called Y-town. Denominational leaders visited several times and obtained the blessing of the chief to have a Christian presence there. A Christian government employee visited the community periodically and established good relationships with village leaders.

The ground was fertile for Christian ministry, but the denomination could not find someone willing to move to this remote region to serve as a pastor.

Nearly a decade later, Yan had the training and the passion to fill this need. World Renew and its local partner supported him in his move.

“My local church asked me to travel to one village, load all Yan’s family’s personal belongings onto the roof of the World Renew vehicle, and drop the family off at their new ministry location several hours away,” said Steve, a World Renew staff member. “As we traveled together, he shared his vision: to teach people about agriculture so they can have better harvests and tell them about Jesus.”

World Renew and the local denomination equipped Yan and encouraged him as he tried to live out the main values of World Renew’s ministry: to be deeply present in a community and live out your faith by caring for people’s physical and spiritual needs.

Fast-forward two years. Today Yan is well-known in the community. Thanks to his work, lives are improving.

“Yan is a valuable resource person on many fronts,” said Steve. “He organized a grain storage program. He offered to negotiate with in-laws after marital disputes separated households. He teaches about HIV/AIDS at the local clinic. He arranges for small gifts for the best students in local schools. And he loves to teach people more about how to grow food.”

“I teach people about agriculture and the environment, composting, improved cooking stoves, zai holes, seeds, fertilizer use, vegetable production, pest management, seed priming, post-harvest storage, and other things that help them know about Jesus,” explained Yan.

The evidence of this hard work is visible.

“I was shocked to see such beautiful vegetables in a place that from the nearby paved road looks so barren,” Steve said after a recent visit. “Yan had shown the villagers how to use local plants to fight destructive insects and taught them about composting. Some women also explained that Yan had encouraged them to use manure in their fields, which resulted in significantly larger harvests.”

What’s more, this ministry has also had a spiritual impact. The people in Y-town are predominantly Muslim and animist. Before Yan’s arrival, some religious leaders had used a village loudspeaker to publicly criticize the Bible and the Christian faith.

These days people go to Yan’s house every Sunday morning to learn more about Christianity. Some of the religious leaders who publicly defamed the Bible have asked for their own copies so that they can learn more.

Even those who don’t want to convert have a newfound respect for the Christian church. When a strong wind blew the roof off the village grain warehouse, for example, many villagers believed that sorcery was involved. But the widow of a former village chief came to encourage Yan. “Keep praying” she said. “If you didn’t have your God, there would be a lot more trouble here.”

Yan is just one of hundreds of men and women who work for World Renew’s 75 church partners around the world. Please keep all of these men and women in your prayers as they continue to witness in word and deed to those in need.

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