Thursday, June 22, 2006

Printer-friendly Version E-mail Story

Students train Kenyan pastors
March 06, 2006
By Garrett E. Wishall

Southern Seminary student Angela Powell enjoyed spending time with the Luo people group on a recent mission trip to Kenya. Several seminary students led pastor's conferences with local Kenyan ministers on the topic of personal evangelism during the two-week trip. Photo by Greg Powell

In the summer of 2004, Tom Bohnert had a mission. For nine weeks, Bohnert, and his wife and two daughters, lived in Kenya, and he evaluated the spiritual health of the indigenous churches in the western region of that country.

The International Mission Board exited the region in 2000, and sent Bohnert to examine its exit strategy.

"We found some great things and some things that were a little weaker," Bohnert said. "The Luo, the local Kenyan people group, are passionate about evangelism, but lacked some of the practical training to do personal evangelism."

Returning to America, Bohnert began planning a trip to address these needs. Jan. 6-20, he and four students from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary returned to the region and led several pastor's conferences on personal evangelism.

"It was a blessing to be able to do the research in 2004, but it was disheartening because I couldn't address the needs during that trip," Bohnert said. "It was a tremendous encouragement to me and the nationals I worked with that summer to be able to return and address some of those issues."

The group worked in conjunction with the Kenyan Baptist Convention in Nyanza, the western region of Kenya, leading eight two-day conferences titled, "Bringing People to Jesus." Bohnert, a Ph.D student at Southern Seminary, said the goal was to equip the local pastor with personal evangelism skills, which they could then take to the members of their congregations.

"We walked through why we should do evangelism, what makes a good evangelist, what is the Gospel and how to share your faith," he said. "The last segment involved how to help new Christians begin to grow in their faith."

More than 400 church members participated in the conferences, including 120 pastors. Bohnert said there are about 300 churches in the region, so nearly 50 percent of the pastors in the area attended the conferences.

Student Angela Powell, making her first mission trip, said it was encouraging to help educate Kenyan pastors.

"It was a great collaboration between Christians in the United States and Kenya, making sure that the pastors there are educated in the way that they need to be," she said. "It was neat to be able to share what we know while also learning from their experiences and it had a terrific impact on me."

The national Kenyan leaders and Kenyan Baptist Convention set the agenda for the conferences, which Bohnert said enabled the nationals to take ownership of the sessions.

"We were able to say at the conferences 'we are teaching what your national leaders and the Kenyan Baptist Convention wanted us to teach,'" he said.

"What often happens on short-term mission trips is people come in with their own agenda. On this trip, the nationals were able to own the ministry and we just came in with a servant mindset and provided the resource of teaching."

The group taught about six hours a day and a question and answer time was part of each session, which Bohnert said produced some interesting questions.

"Often the questions would not be closely related to the topic at all," he said. "Our team learned very quickly that there were times and places when they were going to be looked at as the expert and they had to be prepared to provide a sound biblical and theological answer to questions. That was an eye-opening experience for them."

Greg Powell, a student at Southern Seminary and Angela's husband, said many of the questions related to the specific culture of the Kenyans.

"Certain recurring questions were brought up which showed that those issues were in the forefront of their situation such as 'how should we finance the church?'" he said. "There were also some cultural issues such as 'can a pastor have more than one wife?' and 'can a woman be a pastor?'"

In addition to teaching at the conferences, the group ministered in a total of six local churches on the two Sundays they were in Kenya.

Bohnert said the first Sunday of the trip, he and the other three men preached and Angela shared her testimony in five separate churches.

Bohnert said it was encouraging to minister to the local congregations and noted two aspects of African churches he enjoyed.

"One element is the singing. Most of their songs are praise choruses that are half scripted and half made up by the song leader as a testimony of his or her walk with Christ that week," he said.

"I also enjoy their view of prayer. Everybody shows up and before they greet each other they take a moment to praise God for getting them through that week and bringing them safely to have an opportunity to worship. That never ceases to amaze me."

2006, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - All Rights Reserved
Home | Contact Us | Reprint Permission