Category: Global Partnership

Meet Sasko – Church Planter in Poland

We met Sasko several years ago while visiting Krakow, Poland.  We challenged him to think about becoming a church planter as he was interested in partnering with us.  We connected Sasko to Redeemer Church’s city to city church planting training and he has been working on his church plant, Christ the Savior.

Sasko has a core team but is always looking for others to join them in reaching Krakow. This city is the cultural capital of Poland with one million people but only 0.1% evangelicals. As you can imagine there are very few believers or churches. If you speak English, are interested in music or the arts they could use your help!

By: Bobby & Teresa LaDage, Serving in Germany

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Building a Fire in Burma

As a young boy, I remember building my first fire. It was exciting to watch it grow hotter and hotter and then bigger and bigger. In my adult years, it would become a place of gathering friends for conversation and would provide warmth for those who needed it.

However, every fire I have ever built, I knew that at any moment, if it got out of control, it could destroy everything in its reach. I grew to love the experience of building fires, but was always reminded of the weight of responsibility that comes with it.

Democracy, like building a fire, comes with mixed feelings of joy and apprehension.

When I carried my camera into Myanmar (formerly named Burma) this week, I listened to the stories of the Burmese who are experiencing their first taste of democracy.

Just like my first fire, there is a thrill in the lights and color that are now spreading through a once desolate nation.

After 50 years under military oppression, these young men and women are witnessing democracy for the first time in their lives.

However, the thrill is tempered with the weight of responsibility.

How do we contain this? Do we trust all the foreign investment that now wants to come in? Now that I am allowed to publically speak out against my government, what do I say? Or instead of speaking out, maybe I should participate in a solution?

It is clear that young leaders across the world are grappling with similar questions of how best to participate in democracy.

As I watched these impressive young leaders passionately cast vision for a better Burma, I was reminded that democracy, whether 200 years old or 1 year old, is to be appreciated and handled with care.

Its legacy does not lie with one person, rather it lies on the shoulders of hundreds of young leaders who are willing to sacrificially serve their nation and maintain this fire, that if handled properly, will provide light and warmth for generations to come.

By David Johnson, founder of Silent Images, a nonprofit organization that provides other nonprofits and charities with professional photography and videography services. Check out their other blog posts HERE.

Help From Historical Heroes

How can a missionary share the good news of scripture in a way that people in a given culture can understand it with minimal cultural barriers?  The same Gospel UWM shares around the globe may be rejected as foreign, as western, or as “un-Slovene” (fill in any other people group here).

Over ten years ago UWM missionaries Benjamin Hlastan and Todd Hunnicutt began to learn more about Slovenia’s Reformer, Primož Trubar.  Together with other scholars and church leaders they rediscovered the simple, clear Gospel that Trubar shared in the 1500’s, and they saw the potential for impact.

Several Kairos moments have followed since then.  In 2008, the 500th anniversary of Trubar’s birth, they co-founded a Slovene non-profit organization to translate Trubar’s works into modern Slovene.  Three key books have come out gaining attention from national media, one during the 450thanniversary of its original publication (originally published in 1564, republished in 2014).  Materials are being used in educational settings, including various videos and an animated biography of Trubar that was made by UWM missionaries Brian and Barbara Thompson and an animator from a church that supports the Hunnicutts.  Countless events, lectures and concerts with Reformation themes have followed in the years since.

2017 was the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation; and Todd and Benjamin worked with others to provide events and outreaches all year long.  After years of work by Benjamin and another scholar, 50,000 copies of the New Testament from the first Slovene Bible (1584) were printed in 2017 by Eastern European Mission.  A book that sells a few thousand copies is considered a best-seller in Slovenia, so to be able to partner with the evangelical churches to distribute all 50,000 copies in 2017 was a massive accomplishment!  Time after time at live events, in open markets, on the street, people gratefully received God’s word; they couldn’t believe such a quality edition of this book which is so important in Slovenia’s cultural development could be given away for free.  All of this has been done in partnership with the evangelical churches of Slovenia and in partnership with various mission agencies in Slovenia and in Europe.

What has been the response?  One person who received a New Testament was literally going to commit suicide the day he got a copy on the town square, but said he knew this meant God is calling him. Another man who used to go to an evangelical church had fallen back into drugs; he was on his way to his dealer when we saw people from that church giving out Bibles.  He stopped to talk and is now coming to church again!  Churches have had people come to church who got a New Testament and then found out about a local church on the Dalmatin Bible website. The first copy of this New Testament was given to Slovenia’s president, and a copy has even been sent to First Lady Melania Trump, who is Slovene.  If 50,000 copies of the New Testament have been given out, that means, we can estimate that around 10% of Slovenia’s 500,000 households now have a copy.  Slovenia’s reformer is sowing seeds 500 years later that we trust will bring fruit in the years to come; and they are planning a reprint of 15,000!

So….how can Christians share the Gospel in a country with a predominant religion, such as nominal Catholicism in Slovenia?  Look to see what God has done here before in this land and who were his mighty men and women of faith.  Trubar is the father of the nation, the one who synthesized a written language out of the various oral dialects of his time, who wrote the first books in Slovene, who started the first schools and libraries.  But like many great men and women of God from the past, he has been defined in the centuries since by the agendas of others, his message muffled by the passing of time and changes in the language.  By breaking the molds Trubar has been trapped in, the Hlastans and Hunnicutts are cooperating with others to claim space for the evangelical church in the public square, they are allowing Trubar to speak once again, they are restating Trubar’s words in ways modern Slovenes can understand and are creatively finding ways for the message to be heard broadly.  The public profile of evangelical churches is much greater, and there has been amazing media coverage. There is no one more “Slovene” than Trubar, so the Gospel cannot be easily rejected as “un-Slovene.”

UWM missionaries are partnering with others to enable his Gospel message to be heard again after 500 years, in a culture that is searching for identity, a people who have rejected traditional forms of Christianity for materialism or eastern mysticism.  His life is a model to a nation as a man of character with a message as relevant in today as in his time.  And Trubar is also speaking into the small Slovene churches with a solid, biblical theology.

By Todd Hunnicutt, Missionary to Slovenia

Paving New Roads in Spain

This year marks the inauguration for Avance España (AvanceESP), a sister program to Avance in Mexico. In this post, we interview one of the first AvanceESP participants, Audrey, as she settles into her life and ministry apprenticeship in Granada.

AvanceESP: Audrey, you have been here for just over a month. What has been one of the best things about the Avance España program thus far?

Audrey: The connections!  Kevin and Leah have accomplished so much in setting up the Avance program in Spain.  As a result, I have connections to various churches and Christian organizations all over the city.  What a blessing it has been to spend time with the individuals involved in each organization and to have their loving and prayerful support!

 

AvanceESP: What has been one of the most challenging things for you?

Audrey: As a woman that loves to stay busy by actively serving, I have found it challenging to find close friends.  I am in the Word daily, and I have a loving church community in which I serve.  But, when I spend most of my energy investing in and mentoring others—which is so fulfilling!—sometimes I forget to also seek out a few friendships with more reciprocity.

 

AvanceESP: Since Avance is a mission immersion program asking all participants to come as learners, we try to frame our learning within context (i.e. Granada, Spain) and congregation (i.e. the ministries in which you serve).

Let us know briefly what your ministry placements are and in two sentences describe the place that you live.

Audrey: Currently, I have two ministry placements: La Iglesia Evangélica Bautista de Granada (IEBG) and Existe+Mundo (E+M).

My role at IEBG is to welcome, care for, and disciple young women in the church ranging from ages 18-22yo.  I will also be involved in Sunday school with the younger children and summer activities!

My role at E+M is to help with digital marketing, to participate in caring for the homeless individuals of Granada, and to aid in the administrative aspects of E+M’s organizational structure and event planning.

My host family has four members: Cristina (Mama), Cristi (18), Dani (14), and Alicia (12).  They are so kind, loving, and welcoming in every way.  In their home, I am blessed with my own room that has a window displaying the entire city of Granada, including the Alhambra!

 

AvanceESP: In Avance España we try to frame all that we do around imago Dei (image of God) and missio Dei (mission of God).  How do you see these two missional concepts play out in your daily life and ministry while immersed in this new context?

Audrey: As humans, we are created in the beautiful image of God.  Although I am imperfect, I strive to reflect His image, His character, His being with accuracy.  God has also created me with a unique purpose, and I choose to embrace my identity in Christ rather than in the expectations of others.  Therefore, each morning I place my life in God’s hands so that He might speak to me and shine through me as I interact with others in love, authenticity, truth, and obedience to His calling.

 

AvanceESP: What is your favorite spot so far in Granada?

Audrey: I have enjoyed every part of the city so very much.  Granada is filled with local and unique shops as well as well-known chains.  In other words, it has a little bit of everything!  But, one my favorite spots at the moment is the Río Geníl.  I’ve spent some time walking along this river (even on rainy days!), and I find it simply enchanting.

 

AvanceESP: What is something you have encountered in this city that we can be praying for?

Audrey: Many people in Granada have no interest in hearing about Jesus.  In fact, many individuals view evangelicals as unintelligent and feeble-minded.  For example, when Cristi’s teacher realized that Cristi was a believer, she responded “Oh… I thought you were smart.”  My request is that you pray for God to open the hearts and minds of the people of Spain.  Pray that God will unveil their eyes and spark a curiosity for the truth like never before.


Avance España and Avance Mexico both exist to provide mission apprenticeship opportunities under local, national leaders while immersed in the local context. Through mentoring, spiritual formation, and engagement in ministry, our year-long apprenticeships offer an opportunity for young adults to explore their missional call while utilizing their gifts and education and growing in new capacities.

Interested or know somebody who might be? Inquire here: http://uwm.org/serve/internships-tracks/

*Both Avance España and Avance Mexico partner with Go Corps (gocorps.org)

*Also inquire about the optional master’s degree with South African Theological Seminary

Training Pastors and Leaders in Cuba


After 10 years of ministry, it is gratifying to hear the following phrases:
“Sembradores has given me helpful tools for my ministry.”
“After Sembradores, my ministry has become stronger.”
“Sembradores encourages me to continue on in ministry.”
These are phrases that you hear from the lips of pastors and leaders all throughout Cuba.

Sembradores is training that has provided Cuban pastors and leaders with tools and strategies based on the experiences of years of church planting work, now with fruit in the mission field. At each meeting, failures and successes of both the speakers and the students are shared, and these nourish the participants with the spirit and desire to continue the work. It doesn’t matter where they work or the church they come from, the vision of expanding the Kingdom of God is what unites us. Church planting is the means given by God and the method used by Sembradores to saturate the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Today, after years of work, you hear testimonies from pastors who have seen their ministries grow to be fruitful and successful, and they pass the word on that Sembradores’ training is effective. A lot of them have multiplied into sister churches and leaders, who in turn have continued to reproduce. After blessing more than 1,500 pastors in 36 denominations in Cuba and seeing the result of more than 800 new congregations started and the birth of new prayer groups that have put Sembradores methods into practice, it encourages and inspires us to continue forward in our work for the Lord, which is never done in vain.

We are motivated to train the many who feel called by God to the nations and that wait for us, Sembradores, to train them. In our missionary work, we provide leadership tools, tools for marriages and the strengthening of people’s spiritual lives, tools for the personal and ministerial life of the leader, as well as providing means for each ministry to strengthen its gifts and to reach and serve churches and society.

Today, Sembradores rejoices in respect, credibility, and trust within the Cuban church, which has been reached in all these years of work with United World Mission and American churches, as well as churches and collaborators in other countries that pray and wait for Cuba to give of its people for the missionary work and fulfilment of the Great Commission. It is encouraging to hear each pastor full of gratefulness to the Lord for the existence of Sembradores’ ministry in Cuba.

By: Otoniel Martinez, Serving in Cuba

Who’s In Charge Here?

The plan was to travel with a medical team to Senegal and serve 2 villages by providing free doctor’s consultations and free medicine to people who were too remote and too poor to seek medical help in the city.

The morning of the team’s departure from Charlotte, we got word that the government would not allow any medicines to be brought into Senegal.  We all had to quickly re-pack our suitcases and remove all the Tylenol, aspirin, Neosporin, etc. that we had intended to use in the free clinics.

Upon arriving in Senegal, we were told that the government would not allow us to do a medical clinic in the villages.  We had 2 doctors on this team and 3 nurses.  Why would God allow this to happen?  The only thing to do was pray.  As our team sat there in a circle, Dr. Joe was not discouraged.  He said, “Obviously the Lord has other plans for us.”  We prayed for God to show us what He wanted us to do.

After that prayer time, our Senegalese partners came to us saying they had received permission to take our medical team to 2 prisons and serve the prisoners and guards.  So we were able to treat them, pray for them, and share God’s love with them.

We did go to our adopted village, but instead of offering the medical care, we visited every family in each hut and prayed for them individually according to their specific need.  There was not one person who refused prayer.  God’s plan is always the best plan.

By: Cheryl Toombs, Former Missionary to Senegal, recently retired from Home Office Staff.

DR Congo: What in the World is Partnership?

Today “partnership” is an overly used term meaning everything and anything, but for UWM it means advancing national leaders, churches, organizations, and movements by bringing together necessary components to see something “audacious” happen. I like the word “audacious” because it’s literary means, showing a willingness to take surprisingly bold risks.”

One bold risk was the establishment of a new effort to transform a generation who suffered genocide, government corruption, and unfathomable atrocities. In the early 2000s Dr. David Kaswera told his wife, Kaswera, “God’s telling me to move home”. Puzzled Kaswera replied, “but we are home.” Dr. David Kasali was president of Nairobi Evangelical Seminary by Extension in Kenya, but David being Congolese responded, “No, home to Congo.”

Now you have to understand at that time the war in Congo was not over and the government didn’t have control of the country. More than Five Million people were murdered within five years as roving militia terrorized the people, robbing, killing, raping, and exploiting people in ways that were indescribable to the world.

By being audacious, trusting God, and bringing together like-minded churches, people, and organizations Congo Initiative emerged as light to this beleaguered nation. Transforming a new generation so they can transform their nation is the goal so through education in several practicums, student community service, and heart transformation a new transformed generation of people is entering every stratum of society, and change is taking place.

This all takes bringing those of like mind together, or “partnership.”

Years ago we found this message scrawled on the wall of one dorm. I think it says it all, “ils n’avaient pas d’avenir mais ils ont reussi. il n’y a pas d’accident” translated; They had no future but they succeeded. This was no accident!”

By: Mark Szymanski, Director of Strategic Partnerships Africa, Latin World, Brazil & The United States

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More Than I Expected or Imagined: Serving Thai Believer’s Vision


Protestant missionaries have been working in Thailand for almost 188 years, and yet this nation, known as the most Buddhist country in the world, still has less than 1% evangelical Christian.  The remaining Thai population is made up of 93% Buddhists and about 6% Muslim.  So why has there been such slow progress in seeing Thais receive the Gospel?  I began to think that maybe we missionaries have not been as helpful as we thought we were.  After studying how Christian movements in the past have accelerated, I was convinced that reaching the city and seeing churches established was the most effective way to reach a nation.

After serving in a campus ministry organization in Thailand for 14 years, I changed mission organizations in 2005 and joined UWM.  During this transition time, I was encouraged by my director to do an informal survey to see what Thai leaders thought about what kind of work missionaries should be doing in Thailand.  After so little progress, I thought this would be helpful to see what Thai’s thought about the how ministry was being done and the missionaries’ role.  I talked with several leaders, but one Thai leader, who was the president of a Thai seminary, told me something that changed the trajectory of how I approach doing ministry.  He said, “in the past missionaries would come to me and ask, ‘Do you have any seminary students you could send me to help me start my church, or my denomination or ministry organization?’  So, we would send Thais to the help the missionary accomplish their vision.”  He said, “this was okay in the past, but now we have Thai leaders who have a vision and are equipped to start churches and ministries on their own. Now, we need the missionaries to come alongside us Thais, to help us accomplish the vision God has given us for our nation.”

At that point, the organization that I was working with had started two very weak churches, one in Bangkok and the other in the Northeast of Thailand. Not only was it propped up financially by us missionaries, there were too many missionaries in both churches and this inhibited the Thais ability to step up and lead.  So when this Thai leader said this, it made sense, and I’ve never gone back to trying to get Thais to help me accomplish my vision.  It’s their nation, and they know their people better than me. Therefore, they are more likely to see Thai people come to Christ.  At that point the Thai leader invited me into what was called, the Thailand National Plan.  This was a plan to see churches started all over the nation.

Over the past 11 years, I’ve been able to come alongside Thai leaders on the local, regional and national level to help them accomplish their vision to reach their nation.  This has been much more fruitful and rewarding in seeing churches started.  Locally, I am partnering with Thai business leaders to establish a church, and just this month we moved into a new facility that was not your traditional way of building a facility.  The business leaders partnered with another businessman who has soccer sport complexes throughout the city, so when he was planning to start a new business in our area of the city, we invested in the business and built our facility within the sport complex.  A creative and more economical way of getting a more permanent facility.   The thing about joining with a national to help them accomplish their vision of planting a church is that, if I have to leave at anytime, the ministry will continue because it was the Thais vision from the beginning.  I see missionaries struggling to turn over the churches they’ve planned or the ministries they have started, and many times the ministry dies because it was never owned by the Thais.

Regionally, our team has come alongside churches and organizations to provide discipleship and leadership training.  Offering this kind of training to many churches has been exciting and the local pastors welcome and appreciate the opportunity to partner with us.  On the national level, as God opened the door for me to serve through the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand and on a national planning committee thinking and planning for strategic initiatives on the national level.   Over the past 11 years, I have been able to serve denominational leaders and to bring resources, training and ideas to the table help enhance and expand the vision and plans of national leaders working together to reach the entire nation.

One recent example of working with Thai church planters is that I have been able to join with a church planter training team who trained over 250 pastors and leaders in four regions throughout the nations.  These pastors set a goal to start 150 new churches over the following year.  Last year when we followed up on these pastors 134 churches had been started.  Through helping the Thais accomplish their vision God has done more than I expected or imagined.

By: Gregg Nicholson, Serving in Thailand

Esteem Them Very Highly in Love

Partnership is a word that would very well sum up our (almost) 5 years in Budapest.  Soon after we landed in December of 2011, we began to attend a church called Agóra that had been planted the year before.  The two pastors who planted it, Trey Shaw (IMB) and Hamar Dávid, asked me (Ben) to join them as the 3rd leader in July of 2012.  Since then, I have served in a variety of roles depending on the needs of the church.  Most recently, and perhaps the best fit so far, has been the Steward of the church and Manager of its space, a community center called the Forum.

agora

In these years we have interacted with many Hungarians, and several of them have become very dear to us.  This probably resonates with many of you, connecting with nationals in your own context.  One of these Hungarians is a young woman called Kata.  We met Kata about two years ago when soon after visiting the church, she began to sing on the worship team.  She and a few of the other worship team members were invited to our home for supper, hospitality being a big part of our ministry.  Our firstborn hit it off with her right away, something that hadn’t yet happened between him and a stranger!  She was warm and friendly that evening and every other time we interacted with her.

kata

Last March, we heard that she had quit her job and was looking for work.  I was beginning to wind down my activities at Agóra and the Forum in preparation of our summer return to the USA.  I had a very long to-do list that seemed impossible to complete at any level.  I approached Kata about assisting me for the last 6 weeks we had.  We were also looking for a new babysitter, and she agreed to watch the boys for a few mornings each week in addition to helping me.  To say that she was a life-saver would be an understatement.  She helped me accomplish 10x more than I would have alone, and allowed Megan to have an occasional break that every Mom needs.  We grew closer to her, and were able to pray for her a few times.

In conversation with Trey, one of the pastors, we learned that she had been discussing with him her questions on some deep, theological issues.  I was able to share with him something Kata had recently told me, “I love Agóra, I love my boss, and it is YOU!”  Agóra is a place for healing in Christ and a big part of that is being a safe space for questions.  Hungarians are highly intellectual and so group discussion has always been a strong part of our DNA.  Kata felt safe enough to share her concerns, to ask her questions, and she wasn’t mocked or shamed as she likely would have been elsewhere in Hungarian society.

1 Thessalonians 5:11-13 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.  But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.  Live in peace with one another,”

This is what we did for Kata.  It didn’t seem like much, simply thanking her often for her help, and letting her know how valuable she was to us and to the church.  It’s not just Kata, though.  From our pastor, Dávid, to the other members of the worship team, to the leaders in the church, they all labor diligently.  It is our joy and privilege to get to know these people, to love on them, to feed them on occasion, and to esteem them VERY highly in love.  That is what we should all do for our partners, because many times their own society does not.

By: Ben Naylor, Serving in Hungary

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