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Africa in the News

Ebola Crisis: Sierra Leone

Each day we receive an update on the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone from Country Director, Jonathan Titus Williams. Today he shared a significant increase in the number of confirmed cases, from from 1532 people to 1571. Today also began a three day lockdown in which citizens are asked to stay in their homes so that health workers can find and isolate cases of ebola.

The lock down began with an address to the nation by President Ernest Bai Koroma, last night.

"“We know some of the things we are asking you to do are difficult. But life is better than these difficulties. Today the life of every one is at stake, but we will get over this difficulty if all do what we have been asked to do. Ebola is no respecter of persons. It is not an APC or SLPP disease. It is not a disease of any political party, or ethnic group or district. Anyone who is not careful can endanger themselves and others that they love.”

Support African Leadership's Team in Sierra Leone in implementing a simple, effective plan after the lockdown lifts. The current ebola plan would work through the 10 districts (of Sierra Leone’s 14 districts) where African Leadership’s Academy is currently located. Awareness and education will function on three tracks simultaneously:

- Social mobilization – where health care workers will train pastors and community leaders in our 10 districts on proper responses to ebola including customs on how to greet one another, how to care for one another, and how to remain properly clean. This training will form the basis for AL academy pastors and community leaders to inform their congregations and communities - Media education – there will be 6 30-minute informational radio broadcasts in each of the 10 districts (totaling 60 broadcasts) to reach those that might not be in villages or towns where our community leaders are located. - Hygiene kits – 2500 chlorine sanitizer packets will be purchased and distributed to those that attend the training seminars held by they health care workers for use at their churches or community centers.

Click here to download Sierra Leone Ebola Statistics cumulative through 9.17.14

In The News: Democratic Republic of Congo

What does "community" mean when "home" is ever-changing? In the Democratic Republic of Congo, almost three million people are refugees, internally or externally displaced due to war. One of them is Denis, our Country Director, who was forced to flee to Goma in 1994. Twenty years later, people are still fleeing violence. Just this month, 10,000 people led to the opening of a new camp for DRC refugees in Rwanda. And some 60,000 residents of a country most of us have never heard of until recently - the Central African Republic - have fled to places in the Congo that were themselves overrun by violence just a few short years ago.

Displacement brings challenges. It is always abrupt and involuntary. "Home" becomes a memory. "Community" becomes uncontrollable and uncomfortable - even life-shattering. Parents worry about their child's education. Pastors work to foster order and peace. Families try to create an environment that will do as a home for now while dreaming of a home for the future.

Here is where community matters most.

Early in his career, Country Director Denis Hangi was sent to a village and a church that were "falling apart." From this "failing" core grew 15 churches, a farm that funded housing for each family, a coffee company to support the church, and cows, goats, and sheep to provide pay for the pastors. 

In this village that was "falling apart," "community" was found in a life-giving, vision-sharing, Gospel-centered local church. The church was at the center; it was the common ground that gave life to the community.

As we work with Denis, his pastors, students, and communities to build Common Grounds with Congo, we invite you to help create community for a country of people robbed of home - the 10,000 people moving into the new refugee camp, the 60,000+ pouring into DRC from CAR, and thousands more.

So, what does "community" mean when "home" seems lost? It means everything.

Find your Common Ground: You can read more about the new refugee camp here; about life as a refugee in DRC here; and about Common Grounds with Congo here. To be a part of Common Grounds with Congo, please email johnw@africanleadershipinc.org.

Update from South Sudan

The past month has been a hard one in South Sudan. Following an alleged coup attempt, the President, Salva Kiir, accused the former Vice President, Riek Machar, of fomenting rebellion against his rule. From the middle of December until now, the UN has estimated that there have been over 1,000 deaths and 201,000 internally displaced people. Since we last updated you on how the violent outbreak has affected Tito, our Sudan & South Sudan Country Director, we have received more news from the field and wanted to share:

Tito ended up evacuating his family, taking his wife and children to stay with friends in Uganda. Tito himself has been in Nairobi, Kenya for the past week and a half working on his Master’s degree program and will go to Uganda to be with his family today. He plans to take them back home for the next few weeks unless the violence increases or circumstances worsen, but all have remained safe and for this we are thankful. Please continue to be in prayer for the protection of Tito, his family, and all African Leadership students and teachers in South Sudan.

Pray for South Sudan

Earlier this week, fighting broke out in South Sudan following an unsuccessful coup attempt. In the days since, gunfire has continued, sending around 15,000-20,000 residents to seek shelter at local UN facilities. Estimates suggest that 400-500 people have been killed and reports now state that fighting has spread beyond the capital of Juba. For a brief overview of the situation and continual updates, you can check BBC here.

We have been in contact with our South Sudan Country Director, Tito Iranga. On December 18, he reported that some residents have been able to leave their homes to access food and water today, but rebellions are emerging in several areas. Depending on the progression of events over the next few days, Tito may take his family to the border while he stays behind. His specific prayer request is as follows: "Pray for this young nation to be stable so that the peace of Christ reigns in the land."

As the political in-fighting continues, please join us in prayers of protection and peace for Tito, his family, and the country of South Sudan.

Life without a hero

A Statement from African Leadership President John Walter

A while back, my family hosted an African leader in our home. Over the course of several conversations, it became clear that our friend didn't have a hero in his life. People he looked up to - sure. But a hero? That seemed a step too far. Maybe too many disappointments? It's hard to tell, but I wish he had been with us the other night as news broke about Nelson Mandela's final hours so that together we might reflect on the passing of a great man. 

Nelson Mandela, resilient and exemplary, humble and gifted, jailed yet free. He charted the unchartered, marked up the blueprint, became the dictionary entry for "leadership in hard places."

Photo by Allan Tannenbaum

Where is it written that leaders like Mandela have to be "one in a million?" After signing a new Constitution into law in 1996, he declared that "amongst Africans, Coloured, Indians, and whites there are good men and women without exception . . . The duty of the real leaders of South Africa is to identify those good men and women in all these formations to create an environment where they can pool their talents, their knowledge, their skills, the expertise to pool it so that we can as South Africans benefit from those skills."[1] Words are easy - but Mandela did his best to match his reality to his rhetoric.

Perhaps the answer to these questions - "What? No hero?" and "Why is Mandela so rare?" - can also be found in Mandela. "I am," he said, "an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances."[2]

So what would I say to the African leader with no heroes? Maybe he and those like him don't realize that they in fact are living in extraordinary circumstances, circumstances that need ordinary people of courage and conviction like them. Heroes like Mandela paved the way for them.

And why so rare, leaders like Mandela here and abroad? Maybe, just maybe, Mandela really believed he was just an ordinary man, but we know that in the extraordinary circumstances of his life, he drew strength from an unshakeable conviction, and from that, shook the world.


[1] Speech given December 10, 1996. Available nelsonmandela.org/speeches.

[2] (2013, December 6). Editorial: Nelson Mandela: a man of magnetic dignity, was an inspiration to all. Montreal Gazette. Retrieved December 6 2013 from montrealgazette.com.

 

Nigeria’s War… on Culture

Culture is up for grabs. And the forces competing for the coveted prize – fear, hatred, violence,…hope – are making it quite an ugly battle.

The force seemingly in the lead in Nigeria? Terror.

Since independence in 1960, Nigeria has seen instability in one form or another – a three-year civil war, multiple coups, low literacy, staggering poverty. And now it is gaining international notoriety as home to Boko Haram, the newest name on the United States Foreign Terrorist Organization list.

The name Boko Haram means “western education is a sin.”[1] Their very name rankles our sensibilities.  But simply labeling this organization as the enemy masks a lot of other complexities and issues that also cause suffering and block the spread of God’s good news to millions in Africa’s most populous nation.

James Verini, in the most recent edition of The National Geographic captures this complexity brilliantly. He writes:

“The insurgency’s gravest toll on Nigeria isn’t physical. It’s existential. Boko Haram has become a kind of national synonym for fear, a repository for Nigerians’ worst anxieties about their society and where it’s headed. Those anxieties touch on the most elemental aspects of Nigerian life—ethnicity, religion, regional inequities, the legacy of colonialism—and not least is the anxiety that Nigerian leaders are wholly incapable of facing this insurgency, indeed unwilling to face it, much less the social fissures beneath it. Or worse, that the leaders are no better than the insurgents. That the state is Boko Haram.

It’s not an entirely unreasonable supposition. Of the more than 4,700 killings associated with Boko Haram to date, almost half have been at the hands of security forces, according to Human Rights Watch. Many of those killed have been civilians who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”[2]

For some of the survivors, there are surprising acts of kinship: a man left unconscious in an attack on the city of Kano woke up to find himself being cared for in a hospital. A stranger had picked him up and carried him to safety.[3]

That “Good Samaritan” in Kano has the same opportunity to influence society as a Boko Haram recruiter does. African Leadership’s Common Grounds Academy[4] is a new name for a long-running program that equips the culture-makers of the church to infuse society’s moral underpinnings with the truth of the Gospel. With your support of $108, one student can receive one year of pastoral education, and together we can raise up leaders who matter in towns across Nigeria, and in the battle against the “existential threat” exposed – not posed – by groups like Boko Haram.



[1] Boyle, Joe. (31 July 2009). Nigeria's 'Taliban' enigma. BBC News. Retrieved 26 November 2013 from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8172270.stm.

[2] Verini, James. (November 2013). Northern Nigeria Conflict. National Geographic. Retrieved 26 November 2013 from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/11/northern-nigeria/verini-text

[3] Verini, James. (November 2013). Northern Nigeria Conflict. National Geographic. Retrieved 26 November 2013 from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/11/northern-nigeria/verini-text

[4] More on this in the weeks to come. For now, consider this a “sneak preview” of our ever-increasing focus on “leaders who matter in the hard places.”

Presenting the Mo Ibrahim Prize to…

Why do we even bother to “train pastors?” Here’s one answer: because $108 is an awfully reasonable price to keep us from having to hear this story again…

Presenting the Mo Ibrahim Prize to…NOBODY

While we celebrated Nobel Prize winners last week, another prize silently went un-awarded. The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, a $5 million reward for leaders who step down after their mandated term limit, was not presented because it had no possible recipients. In the past three years, the committee behind the Prize could not find an African leader who fit the bill.

Gifting Tractors

In its seven years of existence, the Ibrahim Prize has been awarded only four times: twice to South African leaders, once to a Cape Verdean president, and once to a Mozambican president.  It is up against deeply embedded norms and long-standing leaders like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, accused of “buying votes with gifts such as tractors, and delivering state-subsidized food only to his party supporters[1]”over his 33 (and counting) years in power.

Bribery, greed, self-importance – all could be viable candidates to blame for the apparent lack of leaders deserving the award. And all are issues the African Church, if properly trained, can address at both the local and national level. The tide of change doesn’t come at the ballot box; it comes in hearts transformed by the Gospel.

Gifting the Gospel

In a recent program assessment, African Leadership got a glimpse into the relevancy of these obstructive tenets: 47% of untrained pastors were willing to pay a bribe, 57% of untrained pastors had not preached about dishonesty in the past three months, and 57% of untrained pastors hid financial records from the church board and congregation. The leaders entrusted with discipling communities, laying cultural foundations, and exposing individuals to the truth of the Gospel are at risk of being consumed by their culture, the very culture that keeps the Ibrahim Prize from being awarded. They lead congregations full of people just as susceptible to sin as we are; they simply face it in a different manifestation and often without sound and applicable theological education.

Noted international economist Paul Collier put it this way: “If politicians can still face a reasonable chance of winning without bothering to deliver good performance, [and] … being honest and competent does not give you an electoral advantage, then the honest and competent will be discouraged. Crooks will replace the honest as candidates[2].” What is it that changes our behavior from abusive self-interest to effusive “other-interest?” (Hint: it’s not a “what.” It’s a “Who.”)

Governing leaders are not beyond the reach of the Gospel. The individuals in their countries are not beyond the reach of the Gospel. And the pastors and church leaders serving them are not exempt from spreading this message – they simply must be adequately prepared to do so. In countries where local church figures are more present and more influential than those in political power, the cultural foundations of society can be informed at the grassroots level in order to undermine the power of corruption. African Leadership’s Applied Education program produces graduates that can take on that task: a post-graduation assessment proved that pastors were markedly more prepared to address bribery, dishonesty, and transparency. This doesn’t just affect one pastor – it affects all of those he leads.

Being a Gospel-Giver

Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese namesake of the award, said, “Let’s put the light there and let us seek heroes[3].” Perhaps the hero we seek is not one who stands to gain $5 million for obeying a constitutional law. Perhaps it is the Church that sets a moral groundwork for a new generation, creating a culture that will not allow corruption to thrive, spread, or win.

You can support those on the front lines of this battle by covering a pastor’s annual education fee for only $108 here.



[1] (2008 March 27). Mugabe faces bruising election battle to survive. Associated Press. Retrieved from http://nbcnews.com on October 15, 2013.

[2] Collier, Paul. (2009). Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places (p. 27). New York, NY: HarperCollins.

[3] Tutton, Mark.  (2013 October 14). Mo Ibrahim prize for African leaders: No winner…again. CNN.  Retrieved from http://cnn.com on October 15, 2013.

The Other Peace Talks

UPDATE: This round of peace talks concluded at the end of September with mixed reviews. Comments from M23 and the Ugandan mediator seemed favorable, but towards the end of the month attacks broke out and the same old blame game ensued. But we were blessed to hear from Denis, the DRC Country Director, on October 1 with much more positive news. He just held a graduation ceremony for pastors completing their training in the South Kivu province. Said one of the graduates, "We discovered many things especially our old mistakes done by ignorance and to know how to defend our doctrine as we are surrounded by many religions: Muslims, Bahai, Kibangu, Jehovah Witness and so on."

They had a guest at the celebration, too — the Archbishop Mastajabu. His words encouraged the graduates: "To train one pastor is more important than 100 believers of a church having a pastor not trained and this is the problem we are facing nowadays." He sent this picture of the ceremony.

 

Africa in the News: Democratic Republic of Congo

Just as the debate about intervention in Syria hinges on the effectiveness of agreements made in peace talks between the United States and Russia, the stability of the Democratic Republic of Congo similarly hinges on the effectiveness of a new round of peace talks between DRC government leaders and M23 rebels.

The Big Picture The DRC has been in varying stages of war since 1996 and has seen an estimated 5.4 million people killed. In April 2012, the situation was further complicated by government forces clashing with a group called M23, a reference to a March 23 agreement that rebels feel has been unfairly disregarded by the government. A mainly Tutsi group (you may recall the Tutsi are the ethnic group that was largely targeted in the Rwandan genocide of 1994), M23's uprising has left hundreds of thousands of Congolese displaced and created communities full of refugees that have witnessed unthinkable crimes.

From Our View The city of Kitchanga knows this story all too well. Fighting here left 200 dead and 570 houses destroyed earlier this year. The city is home to some of African Leadership's Applied Education students, and their teacher, Bulenda Placide, lost his home in the conflict. Country Director Denis Hangi, with the backing of African Leadership, helped Pastor Bulenda rebuild his home, but the larger picture, Denis stressed, is that tribal hatred is resurfacing as a consequence of the ongoing violence.

The outcome of this new round of talks could have a significant effect on our students and teachers across the country. Leading up to September 10, the first day of the peace talks, President Kabila threatened to continue fighting if a deal wasn't made, and rebels staged several attacks in eastern DRC. Please join us in prayer for a successful mediation, a peaceful ceasefire, and true healing for the entire country; the coming days will be very important to the future of peace for Kitchanga and the DRC as a whole.

If the Democratic Republic of Congo is a hard place in which you'd like to serve, African Leadership is currently looking to fund trauma-healing training at the request of Denis for pastors like Bulenda and others in similar situations across the DRC. You can donate to those efforts here.

The Westgate Massacre

 A Statement from African Leadership President John Walter 9-22-2013

In his statement today, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said, "Let us continue to wage a moral war even as our troops continue the physical battle."

He was, of course, speaking to a nation shocked by al-Shabaab's brazen and violent attack on the Westgate Mall and the ongoing hostage stand-off that continues into today (Sunday). The "moral war" results - all too often in a fallen world - in physical battles. In this case, it is Kenya's armed forces standing with the government of Somalia, its neighbor to the east, against an al-Qaeda linked militia.

This "moral war" (to use President Kenyatta's phrase) is not new; it is ancient. It has taken different forms over the long train of history. In the present time it seems to be between those who pray and work for a heaven best described by the prophet Isaiah, and those for whom such a picture is anathema. "They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain..." (Isaiah 11:9a ESV, emphasis added). Former enemies, the wolf and the lamb, live together in peace. Contrast that image with the carnage from the Westgate Mall to see a perfect juxtaposition of worldview between those who work for peace and justice, and an extreme few with warped visions of power and hegemony.

This battle will not be won by bullets or drones; it will be won by God's people exhibiting his boundless love and mercy. It is a war of ideas and of loving labor that stems from this radical belief: that the universe's Master loves all his creation and creatures and wants them to experience reconciliation with him and with each other.

Yesterday, that battle found its way to the Westgate Mall: nearly 60 dead, hostages still being held as I write this, a familiar oasis turned tempting target, a place known to anyone who has spent time in Nairobi.

The attack on Westgate reminds us all of the importance of pastors who find themselves on the front lines of this moral war. The more they can be equipped to explore, explain, and expose the depths of God's grace and mercy, the more the radical ideas of the Bible can soften and replace the physical war.

Most foreign policy thinkers today believe that the Cold War was won not by military might, but by ideas. My wife and I lived and volunteered in Poland in the early 1990s, taking part in the great cleanup after the collapse of the Soviet bloc. I joined African Leadership because the battle of ideas has shifted to Africa, and I am called to it. Our work isn't just about training pastors to give better sermons; our work is equipping pastors for the front lines of this moral war, this clash of visions of heaven that sadly is worked out over the lives of too many innocents.

Let us pray for the safe release of the hostages and for those families grieving today and in the days to come after the news cycles move on.

What you haven't heard about Egypt

UPDATE: On September 6th we were able to speak with Pastor G. His family has been able to go back to their home, but G must remain in hiding. He conveyed his thankfulness for the prayers and asked that we continue to pray, specifically for a personal vehicle to use. It is often difficult to tell if someone is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood or not, so relying on anyone else for transportation is dangerous. He reported that many churches have closed because of the ongoing attacks, and as such requested prayer that those churches can soon be reopened for worship services.

The Headlines

You've seen the headlines. "Raids in Cairo bring sirens, gunfire, then screams" in the New York Times. "Egypt's bloodbath" in The Economist. "Egypt death toll continues to rise" in the Washington Post.

Beyond the Headlines

It's undeniable that Egypt has given the world much to talk about recently. But beyond the headlines - beyond the statistics, the politics, the shifting balance of power - another divide is being revealed: as the military targets Muslim Brotherhood supporters, Muslim Brotherhood supporters fight back by targeting the 10% of the population that is Christian.

Image courtesy of Foreign Policy

On the Ground

Our Country Director - we will refer to him only as "G" - is right in the middle of it all. He lives in a province on the Nile River that has seen numerous Christian institutions attacked and burned to the ground: churches, businesses, houses, and schools. In mid-July, G, his family, and several members of his congregation abandoned their homes to seek refuge together in their church. When they learned this church was a target, G's group fled. They have since relocated to another church building in an undisclosed location where they remain today.

G's Response

With unshaken faith, G has been able to continue his teaching mostly unimpeded. He received a shipment of course materials last week that will allow his classes to progress in their studies despite the turmoil surrounding them. G has ended recent correspondence with us with phrases such as, "We need prayer, but God's work is well." and "God answers our prayers more than we could ever ask or imagine." His is a remarkable faith indeed.

Our Response

It's easy to feel helpless being an ocean away. But as G's faith endures, so must ours. As the attacks continue, G's classes also continue. As many Egyptians worry about their personal safety and the stability of their country, G focuses on his desire to fund the Arabic Study Bibles his students need. While history unfolds, G remains devoted to the work God is unfolding before him.

For more information about the ongoing situation in Egypt, BBC has compiled several helpful articles and up to the minute updates. We also invite you to pray alongside us for G, his family, and his students. If you'd like to help G purchase Arabic Study Bibles for his resilient students at $30 each, you can do so here.