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PLI’s Beginning in Ethiopia

In last week’s interview with Dr. Scott Rische, PLI’s international director, you saw a close-up look at PLI’s training focus on the Mission of God and leaders leading with character!

This week I want to look more closely at how the PLI /Ethiopia training partnership began. And then next week dig into a deeper understanding of why the Gospel is spreading so rapidly THERE and not HERE!

Scott, let’s go back. How did PLI’s biblical leadership training first get started in Ethiopia?

It’s pretty amazing. It all started with one man in California who longed to see the Gospel spread in Ethiopia. He introduced PLI’s founder, Dr. Norb Oesch, to pastor/evangelist Derege Fantaye to come and speak…which eventually lead to the Mekane Yesus Lutheran Church of 10 million members inviting PLI to start training some of their pastors and spouses. That was in 2008 or 2009!

It’s being faithful to following where the Lord was opening doors!

Redeemer in Fort Collins, CO, decided to invest in training pastors and spouses in Mekane Yesus as a part of their foreign missions as a sponsoring congregation. Pastor Tim Runtsch became a trainer and champion. Others joined in. All of our international training is funded by churches and individuals that care about missions.

After the first 4 years, there was another group for 4 years. Now we have indigenous trainers that do almost all of our training in Mekane Yesus. You and Gail know Dr. Lalissa Gemechis, who personally will help train 840 pastor couples in 6 different regions! We thought we’d train one time and stop. We had no imagination that they would keep training more and more.

So what did PLI learn from working with Mekane Yesus?

They’ve been tremendous.

  1. They helped us understand the challenges of leading a huge institution! Think about it: a church body of 10 million members.
  2. They helped us understand the context of Ethiopia. We’ve remained students ever since.
  3. We were rewriting all of our curriculum when we started working with them. They helped us think it through. They are highly educated. Highly motivated. They gave us great feedback.
  4. We learned how to address issues of unity. 
  5. We learned the challenges when there’s a leadership transition.

Gail and I were teaching with you and Lori a few years ago when the pastors realized they were more focused on making members who were loyal than they were disciples who follow Jesus.

It was a big moment. It was something they told us, if you remember. It’s easy to do, right? Focus on being doctrinally correct…but not being disciples who follow Jesus. Ironically some of the things we consider as being “good members” does not necessarily mean being faithful disciples.

Some of the leaders were with us in Nashville a few years ago. They had a number of interesting observations. Humbly, hesitantly offered. One observation was that it seems like in North America, most anyone can be a pastor if they want to go to seminary. In Ethiopia, the community of believers sends them. 

That’s very true. In Ethiopia, pastors start out as evangelists. They go to school for a bit. They come back. They’re “vetted” by the church. They look for the fruitfulness of the leader. Then the church sends them on to keep pursuing the process. 

They also said hesitantly: We think we read the Bible differently. When Jesus said to go and make disciples, we believe that Jesus meant that all of us should go and make disciples. In North America that seems optional.

They make a good point. How did the Mission of God become optional in any congregation? 

Last question. PLI is getting invitations from all around the globe right now. Obviously, especially in Africa, where the need for leaders is so great and the Gospel is spreading so quickly. Why should we be going there when the need is so great here? Or, why should we keep developing leaders here when the growth is so rapid there?

To me, the answers are simple:

  1. It’s not one or the other. It’s both and.
  2. We’re going because we’re being asked. We’re not colonizers. They decided we could be helpful to them.
  3. It’s doubling our efforts in North America. There is a desperate need for the church to be awakened in the U.S. and recover the focus on mission that Jesus intended it to have.
  4. There’s a leadership gap. It’s like one of our African partners said: The examples of leadership that we have are nothing that our leaders should be following.
  5. All around the globe, leaders are lacking the capacity to disciple people and to disciple people in Christ-like character.

Next week, we’ll wrap up this series looking at what makes Africa a fertile context for the Gospel to spread and the U.S. a challenging context. If Scott’s last point, #5, hits home, contact Raechel about the new D2MC Learning Community that starts in Des Moines this fall and get a few “early wins” by getting yourself and a few others started in nine months of training with Multipli.

One Response

  1. Ron Bostick says:

    When I asked many LCMS Seminary Pastors how many evangelism classes did they took, the answer was always zero. If the pastors don’t model evangelism, why would congregations follow? LCMS pastors are trained to take care of the “flock” not to broaden God’s kingdom. The observations and training of the African pastors show this disconnect.

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