January 21, 2014 – JBC Leadership Conference – Jerry McIntosh
“Everything rises and falls on Leadership.” This quote from leadership author John Maxwell is, no doubt, one that you’ve heard recently. I’d like to share with you a story of this concept as applied to our ministry in Sierra Leone West Africa.
I began to attend Jefferson Baptist Church in 2002. At the time, I was considering the development of a managed care type ministry somewhere in the third world. My principal contacts were in South America at that time so I assumed my concept would be developed there. A managed care ministry is an effort to establish primary care clinics with the training and talent available in the community. Patients are seen under protocol and resources are made available for outside consultation. My principal contact with JBC at that time was at the prayer meetings. I believed that a ministry of this type would need to be nurtured in a house of prayer.
Sierra Leone is a country in West Africa located just 8 degrees north of the equator. In the decade between 1989 and 2001, it was engaged in a civil war over the control of the diamond fields on the eastern border with Liberia. The war was between a weak government and five different rebel factions. It was a time of unspeakable atrocity. Children were laced with cocaine and conscripted into military service at 10 years of age; villages were visited by roving bands who amputated arms and legs with machetes. Women were raped with bayonets, and old persons were blinded with gun power lined in the lower eyelid and ignited. Anyone with any type of skill or education was especially targeted.
2013 Bible Institute Photos [nggallery id=9]
When the war ended in 2001, much of the infrastructure had been destroyed. The professional class had either been exterminated or had fled. Pastor Dee and others from our church visited the country shortly after the cessation of hostilities. My first visit was in 2003. We took our first medical clinic to a refugee camp at Waterloo in 2005, with the UN was in the process of phasing out of the country.
Many of the people we saw in our clinic were suffering from the effects of drinking polluted water. The main water source was river that also services as drinking water for livestock, a toilet and laundry facility. I was introduced to a water source a mile from our clinic that had been established by the British army during the Second World War. This water source was fed by an aquifer that drained into a cement tank. The water was pristine and cool at it’s source. I watched for an hour as local residents contaminated this perfect water source by using it as a bathtub, a laundry and latrine while people here were dying from the effects of contaminated water there, in our clinic a mile away. “Where were the community leaders,” I thought. “Where was the UN? Where was the church?” Two years after the war was over, the failure of leadership to act on such a simple remedy to save lives filled me with unmitigated fury.
I came home and wrote a grant with Rotary International to capture the water at its source and to distribute it to the community. I researched other funding agencies. Surely there must be dozens, if not hundreds of Foundations who would be willing lend their resources to such a needy cause. I hired a grant writer to assist in the research.
But at that time, there was little interest in coming to the aid of Sierra Leone. Pundits who wrote on the topic at the time referred to Sierra Leone as being “between wars,” and “beyond repair.” One pundit described the situation as “abandoned by the world and forsaken by God.”
It was in this context that I sensed the prompting of God’s spirit with mine in an extended prayer time to shift my energies to Sierra Leone. By the way, I have become convinced that the fervency in prayer that James talks about has little to do with emotion or even sincerity, and everything to do with time, or volume of prayer.
So along with the schools and churches planted by JBC and West Africa Partners, the clinic led to the water project, which led to well drilling, and agriculture and leadership development. Willamette International now has three families from the US in Sierra Leone along with several Chilean families, and a host of Salonean Nationals as a part of our team.
From the outset our objective has been to build leaders. Everything rises and falls on leadership. We need leaders to rescue our churches from the health and wealth theology that continues to destroy work ethics and initiative. We need business leaders who possess the ethics and commitment to build successful businesses necessary for a self-sustaining economy. As we have gained experience, we have learned a lot of lessons about leadership.
Financial support is necessary to pull people out of the sucking quicksand of poverty. But money will not create leaders. To the contrary, money has the strong potential to create dependence, and a welfare psychology, manifest in the sense of entitlement on the part of the receiver, and frustration and lack of respect on the part of those writing the check.
Education will not create leaders. Some friends of ours in Sierra Leone work with an NGO that specializes in repairing broken pumps in wells. Since the end of the war there have been thousands of wells dug all over Sierra Leone. Many of the pumps in these wells do not work because of the lack of spare parts and/or expertise to repair them. Our friends were inspired with the idea that if they just educated people on how to repair pumps, and provided them with access to spare parts, they could create small business enterprises and solve the problem of broken wells. So they gathered a group of 50 capable individuals and taught them the intricacies of well maintenance and repair. After a week- long training they sent them out into the countryside, taking a certain satisfaction in their creative problem solving.
Presently they began to hear reports about their student’s activities. Some to be sure were attempting to follow the prescribed program, but were meeting resistance because the villagers were convinced the student was attempting to con them. Others would go into a village with a broken pump, examine it, remove it from the well under the premise of taking it to town for spare parts, and were never seen again. Education alone, will not create leaders. In some cases it just makes them more clever crooks.
Religion does not create leaders. Some of the most deceptive scoundrels in that country practice their craft in a cheap suit, with a glib tongue and behind a pulpit.
Relationship alone, does not create leaders. I’ve had the experience of investing three years of my life into a promising young man only to see him corrupt himself leaving with $10,000 of ministry cash and property. The end of that story has yet to be written.
Our conclusion after nearly a decade’s experience is that the key to sustainable ministry is the investment in leaders. We need solid leaders in our pulpits, with a sound command of the scriptures, applied to daily life and taught from the pulpit. We need solid leaders in our families, who will resist the significant cultural conventions of polygamy, laziness and domestic violence. We need solid Bible believing leaders to operate our businesses, for whom “yes” means “yes,” who will follow through on commitments made, and who will treat their customers the way they would wish to be treated. These are not a white man’s values. These are not just American values. These are Biblical values that transcend culture, and are the necessary prerequisite for any ministry to be sustainable.
And so while we will still drill wells, and farm, and develop businesses, our primary focus in Sierra Leone has shifted toward the development of the Bible Institute. Our goal is to reach those young men in the remotest parts of Sierra Leone, and to bring them to training at our compound. To match them with seasoned mentors, and to practice the disciplines of the Christian life, and to apply Biblical principles to the challenges that confront them every day.
We are not naïve about our potential for success. We recognize that that old saying about horses and water applies here. But we have committed to be faithful to our task of planting and watering. And we pray the Lord of the harvest to give His increase in the hearts and minds of our students according to his own pleasure.
God is working in Sierra Leone. In the past year we have witnessed an increased hostility toward Christians by their Muslim countrymen in the central band of Africa. One of our partner churches was burned by the Muslims near Lungii beach over some alleged offense. What would normally follow is retribution, revenge and an escalation in violence. This time was different. The church leaders, who had been studying the beatitudes with our country director Chad, applied the Biblical principle of turning the other cheek in a very public way. The congregation has been building, fed by curious seekers to this counter cultural, radical expression of the Christian faith.
God is working in Sierra Leone. I invite you to join Him in His work. Dee takes a group of pastors over nearly every year, to evaluate communities for church planting potential and leadership development. We aspire to outrageous premise, that by the Grace of God, we can rebuild civilization from the cinders of war, tribalism and corruption and based upon the principles of scripture. But it will take leaders, and lots of them, because everything rises and falls on leadership.
Please contact Jerry McIntosh at (541) 905-0618 to schedule a more detailed conversation and possibly a presentation at your church or organization.