The Mutori church hosted an all church conference at the end of August. We invited two leaders from each village church to the conference. About 50 leaders from 22 village churches came. The first item on the agenda was updates. We spent an entire afternoon doing these updates but they were well worth it. It was a cloudy but dry day so we all met under a tree. Each set of leaders who came to represent their village church came and stood before the rest of us. They told us what was going on in their communities. Some told stories of how numbers are decreasing at their Sunday morning meetings. Some told stories of how they have seen God answer prayers for the sick. Some told stories of new church plants they had started. After each report, those from the next village would come up and pray over those who had just told their stories. Then as the old group sat down, the new group would start to update all of us. Like I said, some reports were good news and some were bad news. But all were taken to God in prayer.
The next morning it was still drizzling from a night full of rain. So it took longer than expected (I don't know why I still have these expectations after 7 years in Africa) to get started. On this day we broke out into three groups. One group went with Chad to the new Dagara Christian Bookstore that has been opened in Dano. They discussed how they can keep everyone informed about what's going on in the movement. For now it seems they are going mainly with a bulletin board at the bookstore. Hopefully as people come into Dano on market day they can go by the bookstore and read the bulletin board for announcements. One group sat under the tree with Andy and Geoffrey who asked them their opinion about various ideas to help their communities. One of the big ones is Geoffrey's knowledge about well pump repair. As a result of this conference Geoffrey now has a list of folks that are willing to become apprentices or otherwise learn from and assist Geoffrey in a water project for the Dagara. The last group got stuck with me teaching them about trying to figure out God's will in prayer.
So I saw three different groups of leaders that day. We sat down together and studied a method of discussing and praying through problems / decisions that a congregation or movement might face. I stole this method from one of my mentors from ACU, Dr. Sonny Guild. I couldn't really give it justice here, but some of the steps involved include dreaming about possibilities, but also looking at the facts that need to be faced, and brainstorming. After we've gone through all of that, our expectation is not that we will have sussed out God's will as a group, but that we will have emptied oursleves of all our human wisdom and laid all our cards on the table. We recognize that all our best ideas and arguments are only human. We then take some time as a group in silent meditation guided by scripture to see if God has anything to say to us about all of this. Perhaps we will just be reminded of a truth from His word that we already knew but couldn't see. Almost always, we will be reminded that we all have equal footing before God. Then if we have anything to share with the group we share and try to figure out if God is trying to tell us something and decide together what our next move should be.
Well, there have been some large donations (to Dagara eyes) given this year to help out with famine relief. Being handed this large sum of money as a group could hurt the movement if some are tempted to use the money for their own power. Usually we missionaries get a donation like this and we decide what to do with it in our ivory tower (Note: we don't actually have an ivory tower, although our decisions might seem more impressive if we announced them from an ivory tower). However, we have recognized that if we're really going to hand it all over to the Dagara leaders some day, they are going to need to know how to handle partnerships with American brothers and sisters that have much more resources than they can imagine. This is an opportunity for them to get their feet wet.
Anyway, I presented this issue as the issue for discussion to each of the three groups that met that day. What's interesting is that I believe that each group was truly submitting themselves to God's will, that each group received a message which was unifying for the group, but that each group also received a separate message. The first group came to the realization that each community's needs may be different and that before a dime is spent, we need to get each community to discuss their needs and send those in for a discussion. The next group recognized the value of the method (and it should be noted, usually this is something that a community takes on over a series of meetings, not all in one hour and a half chunk like we were doing for teaching purposes). However, they also recognized that they were still not getting a clear message as to what to do next and learned that this is when you go back through the steps. The final group reacted completely differently. First, they wouldn't really get into it. During the time where they were supposed to lay all their cards out on the table they just all acquiesced to one of the more dynamic leaders who said that they should just give us back the money so that we could buy corn and distribute it. While that may be where God is leading us, it seemed like they were missing the point. However, I finally got them going when I asked them to whom should we give the corn - just to Dagara villages where a church had been planted or to all Dagara villages, or to just Dagara villages where church plants were starting, etc. After they started to argue it out, I realized we were almost out of time and we hadn't even prayed. So I stopped them and although we went way over time we spent the same amount of time in meditation as the other groups did. What came out of this was the most surprising of all to me. I had not seen this coming. Several of the members of the group shared how the same basic idea in really different ways had come to them. They felt led as a group to evangelize more. They said, "You know, food is great, but you can't take it with you, and we need to be praying for and talking with our neighbors and family members that are still in the darkness about our faith." Wow! Sometimes as a missionary in one of the poorest countries in the world you worry that you focus too much on teaching Christ and not enough on just helping people. It took a group of Dagara Christians to remind me this week that those things aren't necessarily separate and that fellowship with God really is our deepest need.