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The Common Ground Handbook

When asked about what he prays for those who graduate from Uganda’s Common Ground Academy, Geoffrey Ocan’s answer says it all: that they would live quality Christian lives, that they would be relevant in their communities, and that they would be a light to the nations. On this side of the ocean, we couldn’t agree more. And that’s why we created the Common Ground Handbook. The Handbook is a step-by-step approach to locally-led community development. It builds on what church leaders learn during their core two-year education in the Common Ground Academy and applies a Biblical worldview, combining the fact that these local leaders know what their community needs much better than we do with a strategic framework for successful implementation of a sustainable solution.

This fall, Geoffrey will begin piloting the Handbook in three of his classes. Each student will receive an iPad loaded with the Handbook in interactive iBook form. This allows the process to be more applied than academic, more active than passive. It tracks their progress and helps organize thoughts and strategies along the way – mapping assets, noting results of listening surveys and social analysis, and pulling together a workable action plan.

We look forward to keeping you updated on the pilot through the fall and into the spring and invite you to pray alongside us for Geoffrey as he leads this process, his students as they walk through this process, and for the Gospel to be present in their communities because of this process.

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

African Leadership Welcomes New Board Members

African Leadership, Inc. announced today the addition of three new members to the board of directors: Jane Carroll of Nashville, TN, Brent Hoppe of Brentwood, TN, and Bill Mugford of Lake Forest, CA. Jane Carroll is a graduate of Vanderbilt University. She is one of the founding members of Fabulous Friends for Africa, an annual fundraiser in Franklin, Tenn. that has raised over $450,000 in seven years for education and orphan-care projects in Malawi.

Brent Hoppe is a retired Certified Public Accountant from Health Corporation of America. He is active at Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tenn. as trustee, deacon, and Sunday school teacher. He also serves on the stewardship team, missions team, and worship team.

Bill Mugford currently serves as Pastor for Saddleback Church’s HIV/AIDS Initiative alongside Rick and Kay Warren. Bill has previously worked as both Senior and Associate Pastor, radio and television host, adjunct college educator, conference speaker, founder of the Phillip Aziz Centre for Hospice and Palliative Care, and substantive editor of the Encyclopedia of Christian Worship.

“This is yet another exciting new development at African Leadership,” says Chairman Jerry Heffel. “Jane, Brent, and Bill bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the board that will help magnify the role of the church in Africa’s communities. I greatly anticipate their contributions to our team and am confident they will continue to set African Leadership at the forefront of relevant, impactful pastoral education in Africa.”

This announcement follows the staff addition of Shaun Tomczak, former member of Contemporary Christian group Sidewalk Prophets, as Artist Community Coordinator, the sale of fashionABLE as a for-profit independent company, and the launch of African Leadership’s Common Grounds Initiative. The Initiative joins the existing Pastors Academy with community education outreaches such as the Common Grounds Handbook, Common Grounds Centers, and the Common Grounds Investment Fund, all elevating the church’s role in community.

Jane, Brent, and Bill were unanimously approved by the board: Nigerian Clement Aderemi Saseun, Director of Quality Assurance for DineEquity; Chairman Jerry Heffel, President Emeritus of The Southwestern Company; Eddy Messick, President Emeritus of African Leadership; Zimbabwean Thokozile Mkwanazi, Senior Manager of Nissan’s US & Canadian Affiliates’ Cash Management operations; and Jim O’Donnell, retired Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer, and Corporate Secretary of ConAgra Foods.

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.

Field Update: Zimbabwe

It is with heavy hearts that we share news of the passing of Agrippa Dube, African Leadership’s Former Country Director in Zimbabwe, on September 1st.

Joining African Leadership in 2000 as one of our first Country Directors, Agrippa valiantly and steadfastly served in many roles to many people: as the Zimbabwe Pastor Training Director and Southern Africa Regional Director to thousands of students and pastors, as an ordained minister and respected preacher to his church community, as an involved and devoted servant to the most vulnerable in his country, and as a husband to Mainah, and father to 7 biological and many more adopted children.

Agrippa is remembered fondly by President Emeritus Eddy Messick as a dedicated and visionary leader who helped the African Leadership network expand into several new countries, while also overseeing community investment in orphan care and famine relief projects.

President John Walter said, “Reverend Dube’s commitment to pastors and teachers in southern Africa will be felt in that region for a generation. We are in prayer for his family, friends, and community, and are thankful for his tireless service to others.”

A funeral service was held on September 4th in Bulawayo.