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Applied Education

Leader Spotlight: Geoffrey Ocan Geoffrey is African Leadership’s Country Director in Uganda. He is the pastor of Bridgebuilders Church in Gulu, northern Uganda, where he lives with his wife Jennifer and six children. Geoffrey serves 18 teachers and 265 students across his country -- a country that has seen decades of instability and violence.

With the high prevalence of trauma resulting from the unrest, the church faces an interesting challenge in Uganda. Aside from those who lost homes, family, and more, those who were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army often encounter rejection from society when they try to return home. But Geoffrey sees an opportunity here – “it is my firm belief that the church, wherever it is, is to be the salt and the light.” So just how can the church be an effective light and speak to a population that has experienced such unthinkable darkness?

One young man in particular stands out to Geoffrey. James* was abducted by the LRA and forced to fight. When he was able to return home, Geoffrey says, “he had lost hope because of the things he had gone through, some of the people he had killed haunting him. He wanted just to die, to commit suicide.” But Geoffrey’s church stepped in. They accepted him. They prayed with him. “Being there with him as a church, we have given him hope, a purpose to live, and he’s very happy that God has seen him through all that, and God protected and preserved him to manifest who He is.”

Now a “very vibrant youth,” he has since gone on to Bible school and is deeply involved in the church’s youth ministry. Because of servant leaders like Geoffrey – and pastors and teachers in the Common Ground Academy across the continent - Africans like James are finding new hope, unconditional acceptance, and, ultimately, common ground with the Gospel.
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*Name changed for confidentiality.

Leader Spotlight: Christopher Mwanza

Dear friend of African Leadership,

Today we mourn the passing of our Country Director in Zambia, Christopher Maximillian Mwanza. He was loved and cherished by his wife Sylvia and children, Danny, Andy, Sylvia Mthunzi, and Carlos. He was preceded in death by their son Max. Christopher had been battling poor health for the last few months. He will be laid to rest Saturday.

As a young man, Christopher was a freedom fighter in the Zambian independence movement. It took a missionary from Malawi three times to help him see that his talents were meant for something else, telling him: "Now your time has come, don't hide. God is ready for you and He can use you."

A pastor in the New Life Baptist Church, Christopher's ministry with African Leadership began in 2001 with one class of 10 students and grew to 36 classes and 437 students across the country.

He held Common Ground Academy classes in the rural countryside forgotten by other schools, planted new churches across Zambia, and started several local ministries - without outside funding - to care for the poor and needy in his community. And through all of this, he still found time to lead by example - consistently dedicating himself to personal study and family with resolute vision and clear purpose.

His life was sparked by the challenge that his time had come. We will miss him deeply, this man of great character. We trust his funeral will be a celebration of a life spent in selfless service to the Kingdom.

As Christopher would often say in closing: "Remain well, let the Lord bless you and your ministry, and allow God all the time to lead you."

Please join me in prayer for Christopher's family.

John P. Walter

*To read original email sent from African Leadership, click here

Leader Spotlight: Jonathan Titus-Williams

Jonathan Titus-Williams serves a country recovering economically, physically, and spiritually from 11 years of civil war. A country of 6 million people, a majority of them Muslim. Jonathan is a servant leader in Sierra Leone.

Born into a Muslim home, Jonathan was raised by his grandparents. When he reached school age, the school he was sent to required him to attend Sunday church services. It was here that Jonathan became a Christian. Now his dream is to see his country well-evangelized. Says Jonathan, “The Lord will use me as an instrument to reach out to this vast majority of people who do not know Him. That’s my heartbeat and what I pray in whatever I do.”

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As African Leadership’s Sierra Leone Country Director, Jonathan oversees 323 students currently enrolled in the country’s Common Ground Academies. His pilot of the Common Ground Handbook led to the successful completion of a water well for a rural community in the Tonkolili District in central Sierra Leone. This initiative not only opened the door to the church in a Muslim-dominated village, but Jonathan also says that it challenged the norm that “pastors are there just to preach.”

Jonathan’s servant leadership is constantly on display. Join us August 7th to meet him in person and hear it firsthand!

Focus: Quality Growth

One of the core values of African Leadership is impact assessment. If Dennis Omondi’s 168 students are merely showing up for class, listening for a couple hours, then making the trip home, we are not carrying out our mission. To ensure program quality and impact, African Leadership has developed surveys to track student progress on predetermined outcomes and indicators throughout their time in the Common Ground Academy. A recent program assessment created an ongoing dialogue between Africa-based and U.S.-based leaders. The result was a comprehensive teacher development program — something that will help Dennis and our other 14 Country Directors assure that the teachers they serve are being invested in well, so they can in turn invest in their students. Dennis has spearheaded the charge to bring consistency to this teacher development program across the continent of Africa. He and his local team, along with other African Leadership Country Directors, are currently continuing the important work of revising this program — crafting a plan that provides existing and potential teachers with the practical skills they need to be catalysts of transformation in the communities in which they live and serve. With Dennis' help, workshops have already been held in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. These workshops have proven to be a platform for teachers to weigh in on course materials, student retention, and practical discipleship methods. The effect is already evident -- as a result, new class guidelines have been introduced and a renewed focus on quality growth has permeated the Common Ground Academy at the foundational level.

Meet: Dennis Omondi Investing in Africa’s servant leaders means partnering with those men and women across Africa who exemplify Christ-like leadership within their families, the church and their communities.  African Leadership includes a unique group of these African leaders who represent a population of over 763 million people across the continent.  Dennis Omondi is one of these leaders.

Dennis is African Leadership’s Country Director in Kenya. Based in Mombasa, Dennis oversees the 15 teachers and 168 students currently enrolled in African Leadership’s Common Ground Academy in his country. He attended Denton Bible Church's Missionary Training Institute and worked at Denton Bible Church in Texas before returning to Mombasa, where he met his wife and became the lead pastor of South Coast Community Church.

Servant leadership and discipleship are key parts of Dennis’ ministry and were nurtured through example as he was growing up.  Having had a missionary, Ms. Louise, invest in him at the early age of six, Dennis gave his life to Christ during his teenage years while attending a camp. “The pictures from Ms. Louise’s lessons began playing in my mind. God used her in an amazing way” says Dennis.

It is with this understanding of pouring into the lives of others that Dennis spends his time reinvesting in other leaders throughout Kenya. His desire is to “see Africa transformed for African people through African people,” and he is up for the challenge: “Africa is big but I believe this can happen” with the right people. And those people are plenty in Kenya.

To help us continue to invest in servant leaders like Dennis, click here.

Common Grounds: Malawi

“ I have learned to make believers become disciples rather than converts.” Malawi is one of the least developed, most densely populated countries in the world. That’s why African Leadership graduate Pastor Beston’s focus on making disciples in Malawi is both crucial and a major aim of the Common Grounds Initiative. Explore Common Grounds Malawi with us below and see for yourself.

Common Grounds in Focus: Malawi

Population: 17,377, 468

Capital: Lilongwe

African Leadership classes: 79

African Leadership students: 1,039

Get to know: Leonard Chipangano, Malawi Country Director

Leonard felt God call him into ministry in the late ‘90s. After graduating from Zambezi College of Ministry, Leonard planted churches in a Muslim-dominated area of Malawi for six years. He then began teaching for African Leadership become becoming Country Director in 2012.

Take a look around: Kauma & Lizulu

One of the biggest challenges facing Malawi is its one-million plus orphan population. But our Common Grounds local leaders are taking action. In Kauma, the Adziwa school works to minimize the stigma of being an orphan. And in Lizulu, African Leadership partner Everton Kamangire oversees the Lizulu Orphan Care project, serving orphans with food, medical care, education and more. The unity between the project, local church, and local chiefs – a focus of Common Grounds – has been a great help “in the smooth running of the project,” says Everton.

Get a first hand account of Adziwa’s impact on the community through this video from Mocha Club, our micro-giving arm. You can also take a look into Lizulu here.

Find your Common Ground: A Note from Malawi

Leonard is the driving force behind Common Grounds Malawi. He works tirelessly to fuse the work his pastors do inside the church with the work they do outside the church. “It is bridging the big gap between trained ministers and the majority of untrained ministers, changing the affairs of the Malawi Church,” he says. Leonard sees Common Grounds at work through his student, Pastor Mtendere. Before his African Leadership education, he was just a church elder. Now graduated,  “God has used him mightily to impact the lives in his community. Now he is a pastor. And he leads a Pastor’s Fellowship where different churches come together for worship and counseling. He is transforming his community.”

Want to be a part of Common Grounds Malawi? Give here or email for more information, including opportunities to travel to Malawi with us.


Common Focus: Democratic Republic of Congo

Get to Know: Denis Hangi, Country Director

Denis began pastoring in the village of Bambo in 1977 before attending Bible college in Kenya. While in school, he mentored an underclassman named Mezack Nkundabantu, who would later become African Leadership’s Rwanda & Burundi Country Director. After graduating in 1985, Denis was sent to rebuild a church in a local village that was falling apart. The church grew and became a mission church, creating 15 new churches under Denis’ leadership.

The war forced Denis and his family to flee to Goma in 1994. Here, seeing fellow refugees having to live in a school building, Denis was overcome with compassion and began a church in Goma. In 2002, Mezack recruited Denis to African Leadership, and three years later Denis was confirmed as the DRC’s Country Director.

In his time with African Leadership, Denis has graduated 1,214 pastors and currently oversees 20 classes with a total of 487 students. He is known for his dedication to reconciliation and trauma-healing outreach. He has helped rebuild homes of his pastors in war-torn areas and has had graduates go on to minister to other countries or start churches of their own in struggling villages. “The war has provoked tribalism hatred, but only God’s Word can heal,” he says.

Today, Denis lives in Goma with his wife and ten children. He is both African Leadership’s Country Director and a senior pastor at his church as he lives out “his work to build the capacity of God’s people."

To follow stories of Denis' ministry in the DRC, read more here.

Timeless Lessons


African Leadership places a high value on the applicability and sustainability of knowledge – ensuring that our students are using and reusing what they learn in the classroom. One way this is done is through a focus on the relevancy of the material. In addition to a study Bible and ten-course curriculum, students also have access to additional course studies on issues such as HIV/AIDS and Islam – two things that are prevalent in many of their communities.

The HIV/AIDS course in particular has proved pertinent. In a three-lesson manual, students (or church members, small groups, etc.) learn how to combat the falsehoods and stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. It also applies a biblical worldview, detailing the issues Christian leaders may face in their communities: from how to deal with questions about AIDS being a curse from ancestors to how to help those struggling with feelings of guilt and seeking God’s forgiveness.

African Leadership graduate Monica Odero is a prime example of what can come from such targeted and relevant lessons. Monica and her husband voluntarily moved to Kibera, a Nairobi slum suffering from the devastation of HIV/AIDS and a lack of food security. The government was providing anti-retroviral treatment to victims, but then leaving them stuck at that – victims. Monica’s vision was to offer nutritional and spiritual counseling to enable those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS in Kibera to lead healthier – and therefore, more symptom-free – lives. She has seen her vision come to fruition through the creation of HEKO, Heritage Kenya Organization. Because of Monica and HEKO, 475 people were served through spiritual counseling, sports outreaches, nutritional education, and peer groups in just the third quarter of 2013 alone.

Monica’s education moved her from student to advocate. Now Monica is moving her community from victim to victor.

Home Sweet Home!

As Country Director in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Denis Hangi is responsible for ensuring teachers are teaching effectively, students are receiving the highest quality of education, and classes are supplied with the appropriate curriculum materials and Bibles. Responsibilities he must carry out in a war-ravaged region, home to violent outbreaks and grinding poverty. After a devastating rebel attack left the city of Kitchanga in ruins, Denis quickly found his way to our local teacher, Pastor Bulenda Placide. It turns out there is no pastor-training chapter on what to do in the event of a town being caught in the crosshairs of war. There is no “how-to” on handling homes burned to the ground. There is no “how-to” on how to counsel families torn apart.

Pastor Bulenda, a graduate of our two-year program, and Denis, a leader in that program, both see through the lens of the Bible – trust in the Lord, gratitude for His gifts large and small, faithfulness amidst chaos. Leadership in this situation looked like picking up the pieces and restoring the community that is home to several of our students.

The community voted to rebuild the teacher’s home. They raised some funds locally and asked African Leadership USA to help. We agreed, and Bulenda’s house was built.

Says Pastor Bulenda, “though you are not seeing me, the tears of joy are flowing in my eyes for this miracle God has done to me. What I feel in my heart and mind is to be convicted that we can miss parents, brothers, relatives, but GOD will still be our father who takes care of us. In seven months of troubles God provided to me food, clothes, now I have my own house.”

This is what we mean when we refer to our core teaching program as “Applied Education.” This is learning that moves beyond the classroom, learning that can be applied or related to any circumstance, learning that stems from a heart not only opened by theological education, but transformed by the Holy Spirit.

The effect of such education stretches far beyond Denis and Bulenda. It is present across the continent: Mr. Chete and Mr. Chirwa serving orphans at a school in Malawi, Pastor Abebe embracing his role in the community by supporting children being raised by single mothers in Ethiopia. The transformative process is alive and at work in all of these cases and in all of these leaders – leaders who matter in the hard places. 

Not What It Used To Be

Learning techniques, like most everything else, have evolved quickly over the past few years. Research has indicated that traditional learning methods - the textbook and lecture routine so often employed - have only a 5-10% retention rate. Meaning that up to 90-95% of the information taught is lost. It seems like a spurious statistic – but think about it, do you remember who the 19th President was from your history textbooks? Or the DNA structure from your science textbooks? (Don’t worry, we don’t either!) As such, we’ve been reevaluating our teaching methods. The Gospel is too transformative and too extravagant an experience to be subject to passive, traditional teaching. For this reason, African Leadership is developing an intentional and interactive learning system – one that utilizes technology by replacing textbooks with tablets, reading with doing, and theoretical examples with applicable actions.

This interactive tablet leads us into a new era of teaching. It delivers information to students through updated, pragmatic learning methods. The usability of a tablet allows students to relate with and explore the material while at home in their own communities and also opens the door to potential income-generating activities. The connectivity of a tablet supports communication and relationships between church leaders near and far and enhances the discipleship model currently used between teacher and student. The customizability of a tablet makes relevant information accessible, up-to-date, and tailored to African pedagogy.

The retention rate for such participatory-styled techniques? 50-90%. It is education combined with action. Graduates retaining more of the information they learn, preaching more efficiently, and leading their church communities more effectively: this is the future of African Leadership’s Applied Education program.

By The Numbers

Numbers don’t tell a story, right?

You might remember the recent update from Sudan, “Bibles and Bombs in Nuba,” about teachers choosing class locations based on proximity to foxholes. Thirty-seven students are in these classes. Or another story, “Investing in the Hard Places,” that told of a pastor in Ethiopia who relocated his family to an evangelism-resistant area. He has graduated 72 pastors. You remember the stories before you remember the numbers.

After all, the journey of faith is certainly no cut and dry game of numbers. It doesn’t matter how many students are in those classes in Sudan if they are not growing in their faith. It doesn’t matter how many graduates are in Ethiopia if they return to their home churches without an increased understanding of the Bible. Individual transformation – the journey from understanding to commitment to action - is at the core of our mission. But so is maintaining a culture of assessment, something that often does involve numbers.

African Leadership recently wrapped up a three-year assessment with an independent philanthropic research and analysis organization. Tying together stories and numbers, the assessment measured the effectiveness of the Applied Education program numerically and the personal progress of pastors tangibly. Pastors completed a survey before beginning classes and then again upon graduation. Through a number of indicators, the assessment tracked nine key outcomes for the pastors.

What did we discover? Pastors graduating in Sudan and South Sudan experienced a 103% growth in the way they holistically respond to community needs. Pastors in Ethiopia experienced a 21% increase in their personal transformation and consistent display of a biblical worldview. Pastors in Uganda were 51% more effective in the way they communicate biblical truths, and pastors in Malawi saw a 51% increase in biblical knowledge and exegesis.

Now, those are some numbers that matter. Those are the numbers that spur an endless number of stories in communities across the continent. Numbers may not tell a story, but they certainly do validate a story.

Ordinary man. Extraordinary purpose.

John Murphy is an ordinary man. But upon hearing of the desperate need for Bibles in Africa, he discovered his extraordinary purpose. The thought that others weren’t able to experience the transformation that takes place when a heart is exposed to the Word of God, much like his had been, was unthinkable. He was spurred to action. Two years ago, John organized a Bible collection with his local church. His effort rounded up over 10,000 Bibles, which they then shipped to Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa. This year, John’s purpose was magnified tenfold when he traveled to Malawi, the “Warm Heart of Africa.” Seeing God at work in the hearts and minds of the pastors participating in African Leadership’s Leadership Development classes, John realized his extraordinary purpose to make God’s Word accessible had only just begun.

Because of this, an initiative was formed with African Leadership, Leonard Chipangano (our Malawi Country Director), the American Bible Society, and the Bible Society of Malawi to not only get Bibles into the hands of those without them, but to also engage in ongoing assessments of the Leadership Development program to ensure its effective use of those Bibles. The initiative was piloted with graduates of the Leadership Development program who are either pastoring a current church or planting a new church in the central region of Malawi. In June, 20 such pastors were given a personal Study Bible and a case of Bibles in their local language for community use. Now, two months later, almost half of those pastors are already reporting remarkable growth in their churches. Churches that had not previously held Bible studies for lack of resources have established Bible study groups. Unprecedented growth has been conveyed back to us: increased enthusiasm and excitement for God’s Word has attracted many unchurched people into these church communities. Furthermore, it has piqued the attention of surrounding local pastors who were preaching without theological training. Many are now registering for Leadership Development classes.

All of this, because of an ordinary man’s extraordinary purpose.

Much like John, you have the ability to be extraordinary and give the gift of the Gospel by supporting a pastor for just $108. Make your purposeful impact today.

God is in the Hard Places: Sudan

Bibles and Bombs in Nuba

Always at the start of the session, I remind my students where the foxhole is situated so they could be safe in case of any danger.”

Rev. Tito Iranga is African Leadership's Director in both Sudan and South Sudan. He recently filed this report of his experiences in the Nuba Mountains, a large region along the border of the two countries.

He tells of schools that post a student outside the classroom to scan the sky for warplanes; of Miriam who lost all her children and all her property; of the large, new, beautiful mosque that dominates the border town and serves as a reminder of the full nature of the north/south conflict. In short, this is a story of an ongoing war.

And Yet… 

And yet, 37 students – men, women, and children – were present for Tito’s most recent session in this hard place. At a time when the church is needed more than ever, those who chose to stay or were simply unable to flee are ministering to their trauma-ridden communities with a deeper understanding of the Bible’s source, its message, and its power to transform – all of which our intensive education provides to them.

A Surprise 

One thing that caught Tito by surprise was the students’ insistence on using English, not Arabic, manuals. This is a community shaking off the norms, practices, and essence of their former country and present antagonist, a community that deeply desires to know and practice God’s will. So much so that people like Ibrahim are “smiling big because some of the things we discussed in class they have encountered in their ministry, and now they are happy to have gotten the methods of how to deal with them.”

Our Response

This is one of those times when our prayer and financial requests are one and the same. Carrying out this important work in a community that is isolated, under bombardment, and without even basic resources defies imagination. And yet… it continues. But it needs your prayers for Tito, for the pastors who risk their lives to attend class, for endless challenges that sap even the strongest will. Your generous financial support to this region will help answer those prayers.

Investing in the hard places

Four years ago, Pastor Abebe Yewhalashet was completing his African Leadership training courses while acting as class coordinator for the northern region of Ethiopia. With a deep-rooted desire to make the Gospel available to all, he chose to relocate his family and plant a church in the city of Gonder, an area known for its resistance to evangelism.

Shortly after his arrival, Pastor Abebe began teaching African Leadership pastor training classes. After three years of teaching, 72 men and women have graduated as a result of his dedication to passing on the knowledge that has been entrusted to him. However, his efforts to bring the life-changing Gospel to his newly adopted community did not stop with planting a church and teaching classes.

Since moving to Gonder, Pastor Abebe had become aware of a multitude of children who were unable to afford a basic education. Believing that basic education is a key element in the development of every child, Pastor Abebe organized financial support to cover school fees and materials for 30 children within the community, 28 of which are being raised by single mothers.

This overt display of Christ’s love for these children has demolished many of the barriers to the Gospel message that had previously been in place. Now community members are eager to listen to Pastor Abebe’s message of Truth, and the local government has recognized him with a letter of support and appreciation.

Pastor Abebe Yewhalashet’s unwavering faith led him to take action in his community to make the love of Christ known. He exemplifies the character of the men and women that African Leadership desires to equip for the advancement of the Kingdom of God throughout the continent of Africa.  

Rock & Chisel Award

When asked to prepare a story on one of our pastors in Africa who epitomizes “the emerging generation who does not wait for others," it took some time to choose a story. Not because there are so few, but because there are so many to choose from. This is a common characteristic of the leaders we work with all over Africa.  It brought to mind an award that my wife, Christy, received while working in a local banking institution years ago dubbed The Rock and Chisel Award. Inscribed on this glass sculpture of a mountain were the words, “Those who say it cannot be done, should get out of the way of those who are doing it." Over the years, I have often recalled this phrase, especially when I encounter those who are doing such monumental work with limited resources. So without further ado, my “Rock and Chisel Award” for this month goes out to Geoffrey Ocan of Uganda.

In a recent correspondence with Geoffrey I inquired about the circumstances that led to his becoming a pastor, and this is what I learned. Approximately 24 years ago, Geoffrey and a few others were gathering for fellowship and Bible study.  Circumstances arose that caused all of the leaders within the fellowship to leave the country. It was at this point that Geoffrey was compelled to take the lead in the fellowship gathering, and eventually the fellowship became a church. Since that time, Geoffrey’s church has planted nine other churches in the surrounding area.

In a vacuum of leadership, Geoffrey was compelled to lead, and not only that, he was compelled to develop other leaders. So many people, when faced with such a leadership vacuum, simply turn around and go home. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be associated with leaders like Geoffrey who, though facing difficult circumstances and limited resources, charge ahead and bring others with them so they can see how it is done.  Thank you Geoffrey for living out your faith in humble service to God and your community; and thank you for teaching others to do the same.

Bill Sullivan

Director of Leadership Development

Isaac Rono – Kenya Pastor Training Graduate

“Since joining the Pastor Training program with African Leadership, I have grown into a shepherd that can now lead his flock. It has been amazing to see how God has molded me to be the pastor He wants me to be. While I have been a pastor for over five years, I now see that during those years before training it was only by God’s grace that my congregation remained intact. African Leadership fed me solid doctrine that brought to the surface the unbiblical baggage that kept me from clearly teaching God’s word. Before, my preaching would be out of context and full of simple allegories. Now, as I study His word at the pastor training center I feel sharpened each day and fully equipped to serve my church.”