Africa is exploding in Christianity and a Farragut church is regularly crossing the ocean to help.
“There are 30,000 new believers being added to the church every single day in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Joel McCall said recently.
McCall is the missionary-in-residence at Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church and is on staff with Equipping Leaders International, a non-denominational organization for training church staff native to a mission field nation. He goes to Africa about twice a year.
“My numbers are low, but I’d rather be conservative in my statements,” he said about estimating the tide of Christianity sweeping across Africa. “Because Christianity is exploding in that continent, if that many new believers are coming into the church every day — and that has been going on for 20 years with no sign of letting up — they need training for those pastors.”
McCall left on his 24th trip to Africa on Friday, July 16, and will spend a month along the Democratic Republic of the Congo border and in Uganda. Hopefully, he won’t come back with malaria like he did for the fourth time last year. He shrugs it off as “just part of the job.”
Members and staff of Christ Covenant, 12915 Kingston Pike, have been making the grueling flight on a regular basis since the church got involved five years ago.
The Rev. Jim Barnes, longtime pastor who retired in May, also kept the road hot leading workshops in Africa. Ginger Forbes, Children’s director, has been three times and her husband, David, also has been. Ginger has been instrumental in creating a way for Americans to give to a special fund used to help impoverished African women start businesses. By using an online code, money can be routed to a group of women who are establishing businesses and getting themselves out of prostitution.
McCall will cover a variety of topics with African pastors, including What makes a good leader? What do you pass on to somebody who comes out of tribal worship of gods? What do you teach them?
“It’s typical when someone becomes a pastor, he only has four weeks of training on the average,” McCall said. “We work with both men and women. As a rule, I go into remote areas. When I say ‘remote,’ there are a lot of people in those areas. Usually I go to small cities. Kigali is an exception. Sometimes men will walk three days on foot to get to the conference.”
He will be working with Bishop Theophile Rugubira and an interpreter.
McCall said he hasn’t learned the language: “I’m bad at learning languages.”
However, Africa has a multitude of languages. “In Uganda there are 53 different languages,” he said. “The fellow I’ll be with for two weeks is fluent in 14 different languages. The Africans have their own tribal language and have had languages imposed upon them by European countries. An individual will grow up knowing their tribal language, but will also know two or three other languages known throughout the country. They have an aptitude for language that makes us feel really backward.”
Ginger Forbes’ first trip was to Nigeria where she helped train children’s workers.
“The next year we went to Rwanda,” she said. “That year we were asked to meet with the Women’s Bible Society … about 30 women. We were actually told their story of how they had been former prostitutes. they had been given micro-finance loans to create a business. Some women sell used clothing, some sell fruit, some sell cans that carry water, some mend sheets. They were meeting at that time for the payback of their loans and their accountability time.
“We met them and I was amazed at their countenance,” she added. “Their faces glowed. There was no shame. Their identity was secure in Christ and they were definitely new creatures. I said, ‘You should be called the Butterfly Group because you have broken free of the chains that have bound you to become the person God wanted you to be.’
“From that point on they became known as the Butterfly Group. The sad part was there was a waiting list of women who wanted to break free of the life of prostitution, but they didn’t have the capital.”
Donate to the Butterfly Group by going to https://advancingnativemissions.com/donate/give/ and selecting “Africa Hope Initiative” under the ministry option.
“When we got back to the U.S., Joel and the mission team began talking about what we could do to help them,” Forbes said. “It’s very difficult to get money from the U.S. to Rwanda. What would be the best pipeline to encourage and help and provide funds?”
“We went to the genocide museum,” she added. “According the museum, almost a million people were killed in 100 days. We saw the mass grave and pictures and articles of clothing. It was neighbor against neighbor. You didn’t know who to trust. You can’t imagine that type of bloodshed.
“When we came back from the second trip there we found a wonderful group out of Virginia called Advancing Native Missions. They locate native missionaries who are very effective because they’re citizens of the country and know the culture. They partner with them and set up a fund for us to be able to give money directly. Africa Hope Initiative is the formal name of the Butterfly Group. The group provides capital for women to get started and tuition fees for their children and was approved by Advancing Native Missions in December. We were able to begin sending money to Africa Hope Initiative in January.”
The group meets every week to pay on its loan, have a Bible study and pray. There also are small accountability groups. If a woman can’t pay for whatever reason, the women in her group help make up the difference.
“At this point, there are 52 in the Butterfly Group,” Forbes said, “but there are a total of 100 being served by Africa Hope Initiative, including women who are poor but aren’t necessarily prostitutes. Only two have defaulted over the last five years, and they died of AIDS. There are 300 women on the waiting list.”
“I don’t know when I’ll go back, but I do hope to go back,” she added. “I want to be an encouragement and help those who are teaching children. Their country is making great strides in recovering from the civil war.”
Forbes said she was inspired by the attitude of the African Christians.
“They are so thankful and feel so blessed with what they’re given,” she said. “They don’t wish for more. They have great joy in spite of their circumstances. I want to strive every day to live with thoughts of being thankful and being blessed and not letting joy and happiness depend on stuff.
“We don’t realize how much our identity is wrapped up in our stuff till we go somewhere where all that is stripped away,” Forbes added. “And we see former prostitutes who are totally joyful and exuding great contentment in who they are because their identity is in Christ and they aren’t worried about what we think of them. They’re forgiven, they’re redeemed and they know who they belong to.”
“What is so moving is there are more sisters in Rwanda who need to take a step and have a new business, but they don’t have the capital. Here we sit in the U.S. with so much expendable capital. We can help these women move from a life of prostitution to a life of supporting themselves and moving forward.”