* For security reasons, names have been changed *
The Inogosi people group were the original tribal people in a country that was overrun centuries ago by foreign invaders. The Inogosi people speak a distinctive language and have a strong sense of ethnic identity that has been repressed by the invaders who have occupied the country. It is believed the Inogosi people represent approximately 18 million of the country’s 30 million population. The country, under the influence of the invaders became strongly Islamic. It is estimated that 99% of the population, both the original Inogosi people as well as others would call themselves Muslims. Many of the Inogosi continued traditional religious practices alongside the typical Islamic ones.
Following a long period of colonial rule the country is now independent. The government has tried to encourage modernization within a “progressive” Islamic context though Muslim fundamentalists have created considerable pressure on the national leadership. Unemployment is high.
Missionary work, though extremely difficult, has been underway in the region for over 100 years with limited success. Through the 1980s there were only a few Inogosi believers. Due to Islamic and political repression, the few small fellowships of believers met in private homes and lived in a constant climate of fear and persecution. Due lack of communication, mistrust, and lack of modeling of unity by expatriates there had been a history of relational problems among the few emerging national leaders.
A ministry with a vision for the region and for Kingdom collaboration worked over a period of 2-3 years to develop a relationship with most of the ministries working in the country. Their purpose was to explore whether there was any interest in exploring some kind of partnership that could help accelerate growth of a nationally-led church. After many private discussions, several of the agencies’ leadership indicated they were prepared meet. They agreed to gather to pray and discuss one question: “If we are serious about seeing a real spiritual breakthrough, is there anything we might do better together than if we continue to work independently?” It was agreed that since the issues were complex and the group had never worked together they would allocate three and one-half days to the prayer and discussion process. Further, it was agreed that since the group that had initiated the discussions had no permanent personnel in the country, they could play a neutral role and facilitate the working meetings.
Sixteen people representing five nationalities and eight ministries participated in these first talks. They included Bible translation, broadcasting, on the ground “tentmaking” ministries, literature, and Bible correspondence course ministries. Many in the group had never actually met face to face much less work together. At the outset it was clear there were all the usual concerns of fear, mistrust, perceived and real theological differences, etc.
The group initially spent time “getting on the same page” by sharing about their own ministries and sharing detailed information about the historical, social, political, and religious history of the country and Inogosi people. There was a open discussion about the missionary work of the last few decades and the present state of the emerging church. As the group shared about their ministries, the country, the people, and the state of the church there were a number of times when people acknowledged new information they had never known or had misunderstood. While not everyone agreed on every point, there was a sense that there was a growing common understanding.
The group then moved on to discuss roadblocks to breakthroughs and, eventually, to what kinds of practical action steps might be taken. They were surprised that they agreed on a long list of nearly twenty high priority things that needed to be done but that, really, could only be done together! They understood, though, that as they had never done one significant project together they needed to prioritize and choose one issue on which they would focus their attention for the first 12-18 months.
Partnership Structure/Priorities/Action Steps
Three components seemed to draw the group together as the moved through the discussions growing common awareness and understanding of the real situation; a growing understanding and trust of each other; and, a clearer sense of what could actually be done. They became aware that they could commit to working on common goals without giving up their ministry identify. While there was informal “voting” on priorities and next steps, the group decided to keep the collaboration an unstructured, consensus-based initiative. Their commitment was to the Lord, the people, to each other, the vision they now held in common, and expectations they had jointly established.
The group acknowledged that many ministries were seeing significant numbers of enquiries about Christ from within the Inogosi population. However, due to the lack of coordination between literature production/distribution, personal witness, broadcasting, and Bible correspondence courses, a single person could have contact with multiple ministries — often creating confusion and, in some case, exposing the person to security risks. The coordination of these communications channels, then, was the first challenge the group decided to address. What a challenge! Allowing each ministry to continue its work but finding ways to coordinate the response — raising effectiveness and sensitivity to the security needs of the Inogosi people.
From the convening ministry, a neutral “facilitator” was asked to help the group move forward — each ministry offering to play a role that was appropriate.
Subsequent working meetings gave the ministries a breakthrough in ministry coordination and a further deepening of relationships.
The Role of Prayer
In their discussions, the group engaged in the normal times of prayer and Bible reflection each day — asking God’s spirit for direction in their talks. However, as the work went on, they found many “sticking points” where the direction or next steps were unclear. Soon they began to stop at each of these points and pray in small groups of 2-3. These short times of prayer focused on the issue under discussion but always included time to pray for each other. During those first days, the group probably had 10-12 of these informal prayer meetings!
At the end of the group’s initial meeting and final time of prayer together, there was embracing and spontaneous singing of a hymn of praise. There was a sense that God had done something unique — both among the diverse people in the meetings but in giving them a common vision for the future.