Evangelism—transformed disciples living the gospel in the world
By Christie R. House*
The work of evangelism and church growth, a primary focus and responsibility of the church, is made possible by God’s grace and preparatory work in the lives of people—those trained to spread the good news as well as those ready to receive it. When the church is at its best, all members, no matter what their assigned roles or jobs, live their lives in Christian witness and service to God.
David Makobo, an agricultural missionary from the Democratic Republic of the Congo serving in Senegal, will not hesitate to introduce new people to the life and work of Jesus as he explains why he does what he does. In the village of Pointe Sarene, where the land yielded little, he worked with farmers to increase their harvests. But only about one percent of the farmers were United Methodists. The rest were Muslim neighbors.
“The local farmers were amazed, surprised and grateful to see a Christian from another country helping local people improve their lives and livelihoods,” Makobo wrote in his newsletter. “Being a witness like this makes me proud to be a United Methodist Christian, operating within our Wesleyan theology of mission, which includes both personal and social holiness.”
Abbalah Franck, a Global Mission Fellow from Côte d’Ivoire, works with the Shade and Fresh Water Project in Liberdade, Riberão das Neves, Brazil. In working to keep children safe from the risks they encounter on the streets, Franck says the gospel plays a vital role in the spiritual and moral transformation of children. He describes watching children read the Bible for the first time: “A feeling of curiosity, respect and joy seizes their hearts during biblical reading times. Kids are learning to speak to God through prayer.”
Linda Stransky, a Church and Community Worker with the Jubilee Project in Sneedville, Tennessee, says she thinks one of the hardest, but most important lessons in mission work is to be willing to do “whatever God puts in front of us. There is a broad spectrum of what God needs done and not always what we would choose to do. But if we aren’t willing to do the hard things, then God has no one to bring people the help they desperately need. Being willing to take on those jobs is a wonderful picture of grace,” she notes.
Working as an “evangelist”
The Rev. Marcel Koffi Sachou, an ordained elder in the UMC of Côte d’Ivoire, is one of a group of specific missionary pastors appointed by Global Ministries as an evangelist and church planter. He works with the Central African Republic Mission Initiative. In this role, he is steeped in the ways and means to help the fledgling United Methodist community reach new people. But to do this, he needs to cross over into other kinds of missionary service. For instance, to sustain church workers and assist communities fighting the crippling effects of poverty, he must help the church figure out how to develop seed projects. Some of these projects require actual seeds to produce both cash crops that raise funds for the church’s mission and crops and livestock that will raise the standard of living in the small faith communities that need to stretch their resources to reach others.
The Rev. Marcel Koffi Sachou, a missionary and church planter, presents the mission initiative beginnings, present state, and future plans to the visiting group. PHOTO: ISAAC BROUNE/UMNS
Along with income-generating projects to build up social and financial resources, Rev. Sachou must call on his organizational and administrative skills to help new church leaders learn how to function together as an organized and connected church. How does one teach “Methodist committees” and structure to members who have no knowledge of Wesleyan conferencing? Where will the new faith communities meet for worship and fellowship when the church has no resources for land and property?
And in Wesleyan fashion, Rev. Sachou sees the need to deepen and enrich the idea of discipleship in new believers. “We must continue our ongoing Christian formation and training. It is not enough for them to become born-again Christians (though that’s a first step), we must always lead them through thorough and intensive discipleship training,” Sachou explains. In mission initiatives, in addition to bringing new members into the fold, an ongoing and constant process of education and spiritual formation for those new members must happen simultaneously with the outreach. So, Rev. Sachou takes on the role of teacher. As ordained clergy, he also preaches, mentors and counsels.
Central African church
Global Ministries’ work with the Central African Republic Mission Initiative began after Christians in the country reached out to United Methodists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for help in learning about Wesley and United Methodist practice. They began forming Methodist faith groups after discovering Methodism through Africa Radio International, a Global Ministries-supported broadcast program of the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Revs. Lucien Dockpa and César Gazza of the CAR were the first leaders of the new movement, and both serve today as district superintendents for the CAR church.
Bishops and Global Ministries staff that took part in the CAR Mission Initiative and Kenya trip November 14-18, 2018:Left to right back row: Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar (New England); Yollande Yambo, (Global Ministries Africa Regional Representative); Amy Valdez Barker (Global Ministries Executive Director, Global Mission Connections); Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda (Eastern Congo); Bishop James Swanson (Mississippi); Bishop Rudolfo Alfonso Juan (Davao, Philippines); Bishop Jonathan Holston (South Carolina). Kneeling: Bishop Cynthia Moore Koikoi (Western PA); George Howard (Global Ministries Director of Connectional Engagement). PHOTO: E. JULU SWEN/UMNS
Bishop Gabriel Unda, of the Eastern Congo Episcopal Area in the DRC, oversees the CAR Mission Initiative. In November 2018, he and five other bishops of The United Methodist Church joined Global Ministries representatives for a visit to Bangui, CAR, the church’s central location. They learned about the mission initiative’s plans, hopes, trials and challenges. In May 2017, civil unrest in the country caused more than 30,000 people to flee over the border to the DRC. United Methodists of the Bangassou area were directly affected. Despite that, Daniel Badouangba, a delegate of the Bangassou church, traveled 700 miles to Bangui to represent his church and meet the visiting bishops.
Members of the Central African Church and members of the visiting delegation take a photo together in the Central African Republic. PHOTO: ISAAC BROUNE/UMNS
Evangelism is a central function of this Methodist movement. In August 2018, Petula Dockpa, the Central African communicator, filed a story with United Methodist News Service describing how Rev. Lucien Dockpa and a dozen or so members from the UMC Church of Jerusalem in Miskine divide into groups of three or four and visit neighbors door-to-door. They listen to their stories, assess their needs, talk about Jesus and pray for their families. They stay and talk to neighbors who invite them in and move on if they find no interest. The Church of Jerusalem has seen the number of visitors increase because of their outreach.
In 2015, the church in the CAR counted 275 members. Today, United Methodists in the CAR number about 1,015. The first prayer meetings and gatherings started in 2002. In 2015, the United Methodist Church of Central Africa (EMUCA), as it is officially known, received back Revs. Lucien Dockpa and César Gazza, who had spent six years in North Katanga, DRC, undertaking theological studies and becoming ordained elders in The United Methodist Church. In 2016, Global Ministries appointed Rev. Sachou to serve the mission initiative. In 2018, Mofini Vanessa Marcella was accepted as a person in mission to serve in her own country and joined the leadership team.
District superintendents of the UMC in Central Africa are (left) the Rev. Lucien Dockpa and (right) the Rev. César Gazza. PHOTO: E. JULU SWEN/UMNS
Rev. Sachou has worked on a team with Bishop Unda, Global Ministries’ advisors and the leadership of the CAR Mission Initiative to develop a three-year plan for church growth. In 2019, they will concentrate on training 48 members to be church planters, targeting five to seven key communities in the country. By 2021, they hope to send out the church planters with a goal of creating 70 new faith communities in three years.
They have learned to reach out for help and have discovered evangelical and ecumenical partners in their work. Faculté de Théologie Évangélique de Bangui has been a consistent partner for training and workshops. Local and regional partners have helped with evangelistic events and training and the UMC of Côte d’Ivoire supplied the church with United Methodist resources in French. EMUCA evangelists have incorporated the “Jesus Film” into portions of their outreach.
Though Rev. Sachou’s responsibilities include many aspects of the formation and growth of the church, his main concern centers on the calling and witness of the body of Christ, that same commitment that God places on all missionaries and all church members, clergy and laity. “We still need to work hard as team members to direct our believers as transformed disciples, ready to take the gospel to the utmost parts of the country,” he exclaims. “Training all our church members and providing clear orientation for new converts are key tools for our mission initiative’s success.”
*Christie R. House is a senior writer and editor with Global Ministries.