I recently traveled to two African nations to encourage pastors and train them in how to multiply their churches. We do this by teaching them to raise up disciples who, like their pastors, will launch new congregations.
This is terribly important as statistics show that the best tool for evangelism, in the world, is a new congregation.
Ivory Coast As An “Add-on”
I nearly missed out on this wonderful opportunity. The original plan was simply to teach in South Africa with a group I already knew.
My friend, Dan Lucero, got wind of the trip and asked if I would be willing to stop for a couple of days in Ivory Coast. When I found that I would need to travel northeast to Dubai in Arabia and then clear across the African Continent to get there I nearly said, “No.” The stopover added about 7,000 miles to the trip.
Well Worth The Time And Travel
I am so happy that I made the trek. When I arrived I found over 125 pastors from seven African Nations awaiting the time.
All are church planters and all of them live under difficult circumstances.
Their enthusiasm was catching. In spite of intense heat and humidity I came alive in their presence. By the way, it was really hot—we met in an open air building with a hot tin roof and nearly 100 percent humidity.
There is one moment that stands out in my mind. In fact it defines the trip for me.
I happened to mention the concept of “house churches,” in my teaching. While some people believe all churches should meet in homes, we see them as a tool for starting something bigger. To me the point of beginning in a private home (or in a coffee shop, or under a tree) is that you don’t need to pay rent. As I spoke everyone began taking notes furiously.
I asked the translator to ask the pastors what I had said that got them writing so intently. The pastors answered, “You just taught us how to plant churches without waiting for American dollars…”
If you think about it, that was a great gift. Anytime we can remove an obstacle to the gospel we are doing something good. When a few words eliminate the need for many dollars we are doing something great.
Strong Leadership By Example
While in the Ivory Coast, or Cote d’Ivorie, I was privileged to participate in an ordination service for Marius Kouame-Gnepe, the man who is president of the movement there. The very cool thing is that we were praying for him as he launches a new church.
Denominational presidents don’t often pastor churches, let alone plant new ones. This man resigned the large church in the big city to step into the unknown. He trusts God that he will be blessed for the sacrifice. The way I see it, the world will be blessed. He already knows how to pastor lots of people. Now there will be two very large churches instead of one. The further blessing will come when others follow his example.
A Troubled History
Cote d’Ivorie, or the Ivory Coast, has a troubled history. It has gone from Muslim rule to being ruled by the French during the Colonial period.
This was a time of forced labor by black Africans in service to white Europeans. The people struggled for independence after World War 2 weakened the Colonial Powers. The nation finally gained independence in 1960.
The years following independence were relatively calm and quite prosperous. The French had seen the need to give up control and spent fifteen years preparing for it. The result was a partnership not seen in any of the other West African nations. Cote d’Ivorie became the richest nation in French speaking Africa (Half of all African nations speak French as a first language, but they constitute only 1/3 of the people. The other 2/3 speak English).
For twenty years the economy grew at a rate greater than 10% per year—something matched only by the growth of China today.
The country is still the largest exporter of cocoa in the world.
Prosperity gave way to greed and corruption. One-party rule may have built an economy but it was not amenable to political competition. The result was that portions of the military rose against the government in 2002. There was relatively little blood shed, but the economy was broken. Poverty has ruled since that time. Though Cote d’Ivorie has a per capita income of more than $900 US dollars per year, a quarter of the people live on less than $1.25 US dollars per day.
A new government came to power after the civil war of 2002. It lasted until a contested election in 2010. Civil war erupted as the former president was seen as corrupting the election process. He was deposed in a violent conflict. In fact, the group I met with lost one of their leaders in the aftermath of that war. He was hacked to death with a machete at the same time I was visiting with Marius and other leaders in South Africa a year ago.
Islam And Christianity
Today the country enjoys relative stability. But Africa is undergoes a continuing contest between Islam and Christianity.
The difference is that Islam “evangelizes” with guns while the Christians do it by extending love to their neighbors. You will note that most of today’s wars in Africa are between the North and the South. It seems that the further north you travel in most of these countries, the more you fall under Islamic control.
Cote d’Ivorie is no exception. Christianity and Islam claim equal percentages of the population (37.5 percent). There is tension among the two groups and another civil war could erupt at any moment.
Arabic nations fund Islamic charities throughout Africa. Some have said that they fund wars as well.
Please pray for these beautiful people. First for personal protection. And then pray for success in their ministry endeavors. They are our brothers and sisters…