Ministry Nurtures Christian Leadership on Dark Continent

Rebecca Grace | AgapePress | Thursday, May 25, 2006

Ministry Nurtures Christian Leadership on Dark Continent

Couple's Vision Equips Africans for Gospel Mission

(AgapePress) - Val Vickery, a resident of Jackson, Mississippi, and former missionary to Africa, had no idea how many lives would be changed as a result of her visit to a radio station on a college campus in Malawi, Africa, nearly 10 years ago.

She and her husband Barry had just moved from the United States to Africa where they would spend the next year and a half sharing the Gospel while teaching. They arrived during the summer months, so the school with which they would be working was not in session.

"We went to the radio station to learn from the manager because I thought I was going to be working with the radio station on that campus," Val said.

A friendship began to develop between the Vickerys and station manager Japhet Mchakulu, which prompted Val to ask Mchakulu about his education.

"Have you ever thought about getting more education?" Val asked Mchakulu.

"Why would I dream? Where would I ever get the money for that?" he replied.

"What if we could raise it?" Val questioned.

"Of course," Mchakulu said.

"OK, let's see what we can do," Val agreed.

And that was it -- the aspirations of a bright young man and a budding friendship that sparked the beginning of Educating Africans for Christ (EAFC).

Going Relational
EAFC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit ministry supported by donations. It was created in 1997 to educate and equip Africans to be missionaries in their own culture while inspiring Americans to get involved with the kingdom of God on the continent of Africa.

"During that time [in Africa], we became convinced of a great need, and that is a need for trained leadership," Barry explained. "We saw so many students who weren't able to go further, where their churches weren't able to train them in leadership. So, out of that grew our desire for seeing leadership trained for the church in Africa."

Specifically, the purpose of EAFC is "to equip those with a calling from God to do whatever work God has called them to for His glory, rather than for personal advancement," according to the EAFC board of directors. EAFC seeks to partner with churches in Africa as a means of providing monetary and relational support for its students in training.

"[But] we're not [only] a scholarship agency," Val explained. "I can't say that enough. We're about relationships."

Therefore, to avoid being mercenary in its function, EAFC institutes student communicators who are given the specific responsibility of keeping in touch with the African students throughout the semester and staying up-to-date on special needs and prayer requests. As a result, friendships are established and the Church is strengthened.

"We have learned that since the kingdom of God is global, we, as Christians, must act globally in our approach to responsibilities, giving and support of each other within the Body of Christ," stated an EAFC board letter.

Going Global
The call to global action became real to Diane Defore, an EAFC executive board member and graphic designer, when she went on a vision trip to Kenya last year.

"I came home moved by the students that I met," Defore said.

"When you go there [Africa], you cannot help but be changed by what you see, whether it's just the dire poverty or the incredible zeal that they have for the Lord," added Sarah Thomas, another vision trip participant.

Although similar to a short-term mission trip in nature, vision trips provide participants a means of observing and assessing the educational and spiritual needs of the African people and strategizing on how to meet those needs in partnership with African churches. Once the assessments are made, a selection process is instituted to choose students who are eligible for training under the ministry of EAFC.

"We are currently partnering with 62 churches in Africa," Defore explained. "We partner with African churches because this is all about the African church, not us. Our role is to come alongside the African church and help them accomplish what God has already called them to do."

The partnerships begin when African churches recommend students to EAFC and agree to take on "Africa-side" responsibilities for those students whose character, abilities and commitment to God have already been established. Support includes some financial assistance, as well as mentoring, guiding, praying for and communicating with the students.

"[The African churches] identify those God is raising up for leadership, and we simply assist them in getting the training they determine they need, but cannot afford," Defore added.

Once chosen, students submit an application that is then rated and categorized by the EAFC scholarship committee.

"As the partnerships grow, we give in relation to them," Val added.

To date, EAFC has supported nearly 100 students with financial scholarships that are used to pay for tuition, not living expenses, at various educational institutions in Africa. The scholarship money is sent directly to the institution the student is attending, and the cost varies based on the degree level on which the student is working. The average yearly cost to support one student at a certificate or diploma level is about $300. For a graduate-level student, the annual cost is closer to $1,000.

"It's just a case-by-case need and [depends] on how much money we have to give away," Val explained.

"We're always six months away from being bankrupted and have never been in the red. Isn't that amazing?"

EAFC seeks to use God's gifts wisely and does so by instituting a five-step process that involves exploring, serving, contributing, relating and evaluating. Using the evaluation step, EAFC decided it would be more efficient to change the location of the training.

EAFC began by bringing African students to the U.S. to study. Now 99 percent of the training received by EAFC men and women is taught in African institutions because it is more cost effective and culturally relevant. They are able to learn in the context of their own culture in the company of family and friends.

Going Long-Term
The ministry believes it is important to support the preparation and equipping of these students in any field of work "since those with a Christian worldview can serve God in many arenas."

For example, Mchakulu became the first EAFC-trained student and now teaches at the University of Malawi. He is a lecturer in communications, a preacher on the weekends, and a volunteer for EAFC. Another EAFC student works as a chaplain for the police force in Zambia. Medicine and community development are some other areas of study being pursued by EAFC students.

"This is a new concept for them [the churches] -- to invest in education for someone else, especially if it's not ministerial or theological," Val said.

But the vision for equipping Africans to minister in their native land continues to expand as churches catch on and long-range plans are put into action.

Within the next five years, EAFC plans to place a missionary in Africa who will act as a liaison between the two continents. The ministry also intends to institute several pilot programs as an attempt to improve communication and other organizational functions.

"A lot of the work we're doing now, we're going to shift to Africa, and the alumni of EAFC are going to be carrying out that work," Val explained. "As we grow and explore with them and seek to serve them, a lot ... will come forth as to how God wants to structure this five or ten years from now."

In the meantime, Val continues to challenge the Church to examine its priorities and recognize the need for global missions. "Do you want to see Africa equipped to spread the love of Jesus Christ on that continent?" Val asked. "The needs are huge. Can you join us?"

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