Watering Fertile Soil for Homegrown Ministry

Entoto Park sits high over Addis Ababa—above the haze, above the traffic’s blare, above the press of the city’s ceaseless industry. It’s a lofty and tranquil place dominated by a great forest of eucalyptus. Transplanted from Australia around a century ago, the eucalyptus became famous for making straight and strong building spars. But it’s also famous for its thirst, blotting dry the soil wherever it sets its roots. These foreign trees have shouldered aside countless acres of Ethiopia’s native junipers and acacias.

That’s a powerful image, and one that translates easily into our ministry goals in so many parts of the world. Insight for Living Ministries (IFLM) doesn’t want to be an invasive foreign import. Our desire is to water the native seeds of faith already planted that God may cause natural and indigenous growth. This aim demands that we be careful in the work we do—training with sensitivity to local cultural habits and distinctives.

Of course, I was thrilled about leading a Searching the Scriptures (STS) training seminar in Ethiopia. Prior to this trip, I had taught our program only a few times online because we launched it just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Now I would be in the same room with the participants face-to-face!

Then came the hesitations. I fretted like Moses before God at the burning bush. We have no office in Ethiopia, no IFLM pastor in place. No one on the IFLM team even speaks Amharic. Are we committing to too much? What if the program is of little use there? Despite these doubts, God’s leading remained certain, so we submitted our plans into His hands and purchased the plane tickets.

Our airplane touched down, and my wife Rosie and I walked under African skies for the first time—much to our delight. Ethiopians smile readily and help eagerly. Last-minute details settled into place as we began day one of our first conference.

I really enjoyed rubbing shoulders with these men and women of God. The attendees were from all parts of Ethiopia. Most serve the church in their spare time in small towns and rural communities. For this STS seminar, they committed to four intense days of on-site training to learn how to study the Bible carefully for themselves and then to turn the fruits of their work into strong and effective sermons. In other words, they were tapping into the method Pastor Chuck has cultivated and used during his 60 years of pulpit ministry.

Before the trip, we wondered what kind of atmosphere we would have, given the wide spectrum of denominations represented. Disagreements over minor doctrinal points can all too often turn sour. In a breathtaking sweep of grace, however, God did more than merely keep us together. A buzzing camaraderie soon filled us all as we gathered around Christ’s Word to see what He has said to all of us. One breakout session wrestled with a particularly thorny question: What exactly is the unforgivable sin? Harsh and abiding division could have easily erupted. But, even though the discussions got lively, we all came back to the same room—unified by the same Spirit with respect for each other, worshipping and honouring the same Lord.

IFLM’s collaboration with Ethiopian church leaders is flourishing as we focus on watering with the pure Word of Christ that God might cause an abundance of native growth. He did it right before our eyes while we were there! Rejoice with us and pray that He will continue nourishing His people, making them like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season, prospering in all they do (Psalm 1:3).

Terry Boyle serves as IFLM’s regional pastor in the United Kingdom, chief STS officer, and lead curriculum developer and trainer for IFLM’s international pastor-training program. IFLM launched this program to equip church leaders who desire advanced training for pastoral ministry but lack easy access to formal education. Terry’s wife Rosie also serves with IFLM UK as listener representative.