Report from New Oikos Training

 
All the students and teachers in the new training.
Wow, what an amazing four days we had last week! Yes, last week. I know that many of you have been wondering how the training went, and this update is getting out quite late because our internet has been down since then thanks to the greatest internet service provider in the world, Togotelecom. (Can you sense a little sarcasm?) But that’s definitely a story for another day!
Tchéou teaching

Tchéou teaching

Jesus told his disciples to “pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” (Luke 10:2), and we have been praying that same thing and asking you to pray it since we began our work here. Last week we saw the next stage of that prayer being answered. We had new 25 students (5 couldn’t make it for various reasons) at the Oikos School from all over northern Togo who were hungry to learn how to make disciples and start new churches. Many of them already have some experience in church planting, but even they were expressing a genuine openness and a desire to learn and apply biblical principles and practical tools to the church planting process.
Daré teaching about the DBS method.

Daré teaching about the DBS method.

A major element that we emphasize in all of our training is the use of the Discovery Bible Study method. It is a very simple and reproducible way to study God’s word in groups which engages everyone through a group discussion about a particular passage. We introduced the DBS method to them very early on and had the students facilitate and participate in several of these throughout the training. Little by little, they began to see and understand how practical and useful this tool can be to make disciples who will obey all that Jesus commanded. (Mt. 28:20)
Jesse teaching about love-motivated obedience.

Jesse teaching about love-motivated obedience.

We touched on obedience a lot during this training because, like in the West, churches often distort biblical obedience into keeping a bunch of man-made rules and taboos. Therefore, we contrasted what walking in obedience to Jesus’ commands (summarized by loving God and others) looks like in comparison to all the extra-biblical traditions that Christians here cling so tightly to. We also contrasted the mere accumulation of knowledge (what most Bible schools provide) with action-oriented obedience to Jesus. As James says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22)
Andrew preparing a map of the students' locations

Andrew preparing a map of the students’ locations

We also touched on subjects such as: the great commission, the role of the Holy Spirit and prayer in church planting, praying strategically, and the goal of reaching whole families and households. One of the topics that took a large amount of our time, however, was looking at Jesus’ strategy for making disciples. In this, we talked about the parable of the four soils, studied Jesus’ instructions when he sent out the 12 and 72 disciples (Mt. 10 & Lk. 10), saw multiple examples in Acts of “people of peace” (Luke 10:6, i.e. “the good soil” of Luke 8), and discussed strategies for finding this good soil in Togolese villages. The students did several role plays of this as well, which was very beneficial, but also quite hilarious at times.
A map showing all our students from both trainings.

A map showing all our students from both trainings.

When it was all said and done, I think we helped these 25 guys take a giant step forward in getting them ready to make disciples of Jesus and form those disciples into healthy churches. There were several students who shared in front of the whole class how they normally judge, condemn, and criticize the people they are trying to reach because they don’t fit within their traditional “church box,” but that now they have been convinced that this is wrong and that they need to go with a spirit of humility and graciousness. It was encouraging to see the Holy Spirit doing his work through everything we worked so hard to prepare: the teaching, the object lessons, the DBS studies, and the interactive, hands-on elements. We want to thank you so much for praying for this training, but please don’t stop! This is only the beginning of a year-long journey that we will take with these guys, and there is still a very long way to go.
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New training

We have been waiting a long time for this moment. Over eight months ago, Andrew and I had a vision to modify the training we were currently doing in order to equip Togolese believers more effectively to make disciples and start new churches. We quickly realized that this would involve creating our own curriculum that would be quite different from anything we had done before. We wanted to make this training more engaging, more hands-on, and more practical. With this in mind, we set out to create a curriculum that was much less about simply lecturing information to the students, but more about creating a learning environment where they discover and assimilate biblical truths and practical tools in an interactive way. Thus, each lesson has at least one object lesson of some sort (anything from escaping from handcuffs to ball toss games) that clearly illustrates the main truth of the lesson. We will also give the students ample time at the end of each lesson to write down a personal commitment of how the lesson will impact how they think, believe, act, or work in their ministry.

Our goal all along was the have the capacity to handle up to 30 students at one time in our trainings, but we have been pleasantly surprised to see that exactly 30 people registered for this new training. About half of them are from the regions we have been targeting since the beginning of our ministry: the Lamba and Tamberma people groups, while the other half come from a large denomination in Togo that has shown a great interest and openness to learn a different way to make disciples and plant churches. Most of those guys come from the Konkomba people group a bit west of the Lamba, so we’re excited about seeing our training impact a new area.

We are asking you to pray for this new training, which will take place this Wednesday through Saturday. Here are some specific things you can pray for:

  1. For the Lord to work in the students’ hearts and prepare them to receive these new ideas.
  2. For the students to walk in obedience to God’s Word when it comes to making disciples.
  3. For Andrew, Tchéou, Daré and me to be dependent upon and filled with the Holy Spirit as we teach.
  4. For physical and mental strength for the students and teachers. It’s a packed-out, intense four days, so the need for energy and stamina is huge!

Thank you in advance for your prayers, and we look forward to updating you about how it went!

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Oikos School Presentation

I’m in the middle of a whirlwind trip back in the States to raise awareness, prayer support, and financial help for the Oikos School for Church Planting. I gave a presentation on June 12 at our home church, Living Water Church, and wanted to post it here as well for those of you who follow our ministry but didn’t get the chance to be there or connect with me while I was back. Enjoy!

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Baptisms and Persecution in Warango

Just two weeks after attending the baptisms of some believers in Aumalo, we were invited to come to the village of Warango in the heart of the Tamberma region, where another one of our students, Philippe, started a church around nine months ago.

As we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to see such a large group gathered under a shade tree worshipping Jesus before we marched off 2.5 miles to the nearest water. As you can see from the video, the people seem to genuinely love singing praise to their Savior!

Unfortunately, not everyone was so happy to see this gathering and hear of the upcoming baptisms. A regional pastor of a large denomination showed up just before we left for the baptisms, and he pulled a couple women out of the group and began questioning them. I approached him and gently asked him what the problem was, and he immediately became angered and began yelling and causing quite a scene. The whole church noticed what was going on and began watching the spectacle. Four of our Oikos students were there, and they stepped in and began arguing with him, but I was glad to see that they kept their cool. It turns out that he was accusing Philippe of “stealing” his church members, but we later discovered that the three women who had once attended one of his churches left the church on their own and decided to come to Philippe’s church in Warango because it is in their own village whereas their old church was a two mile walk each way. On top of that, the church had no local leader, and this regional pastor only showed up every eight months or so to collect all the tithes and offerings they had saved up so he could line his own pockets. In fact, this pastor is known all around the area for being what Jesus refers to as a hireling, one who leads God’s people merely for personal gain. One church in a neighboring village that used to be under his oversight told him that if he ever came back to one of their meetings, they would literally chase him off! Jesus was very clear that persecution will come from the world, but that wolves would be present even within the church as well, so this is not something that we are shocked or surprised by. But please pray for wisdom as we navigate how to deal with not just this man, but also with his denomination.

Everyone was a bit shaken up following this unwelcome interruption, but by the time we got down to the river we were all very excited to get on with the baptisms. It was a great encouragement for me to see two of our students, Philippe (on the right in the video) and N’tcha (on the left), standing in the water. We have invested hours of teaching, mentoring, counseling, and prayer in both of these guys, and the fruit of our labor was clearly seen through the fruit of their labor. This was Philippe’s first time ever baptizing, and N’tcha had only done it two weeks prior, and that in itself was a huge step in their growth. In the church culture here, no one is allowed to baptize unless they have been to a denominational seminary and been ordained as a pastor. We have been teaching the students, however, that Jesus gave each and every disciple all the authority they need to baptize when he commanded us to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey his commands. It is such a blessing to see these men empowered by the truths of the Word of God to go and make disciples of Jesus!

Please pray for this church in Warango that they continue reaching their village and that they stand firm in spite of any type of persecution that may come.

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Baptisms in Aumalo

 
N’tcha is one of the fourteen students in the current enrollment at the Oikos School. He is single and the second youngest of all the students, which is significant in this culture. Most men in his position would simply say that they’re not ready to plant a church, that they’ll do it some day in the future after they’re married because people won’t respect them otherwise. N’tcha, however, has never been one to let cultural norms stop him.

A little over a year ago N’tcha broke his foot and his father told him that it was because he had forsaken the family fetishes (spirits). His father refused to help with any expenses related to the broken foot, but instead told N’tcha that he would give him a chicken to sacrifice to their fetish, and in turn his foot would get better. N’tcha boldly declared to his father that if the God of the Bible is truly God, then the chicken would be dead by the next morning and that if it wasn’t, he would sacrifice it. The following morning, his father was astonished to find a dead chicken on the ground, and he has never bothered N’tcha about his following Christ again!

When N’tcha began receiving the training at the Oikos School to make disciples and plant churches, he began reaching a faraway village that is tucked away in the mountains near where he lives. Shortly after that, however, the church that he used to lead in his own village when he was with his former denomination approached him and asked him to restart the church, since it had dispersed a couple years prior. After seeing their seriousness about this, he agreed, and they began meeting together again. The astonishing thing about this church is that it is made up of almost all children and teenagers, with just a couple adults joining them each week. This was such an encouragement for me to see because most people leading a church would get discouraged that there are not more adults, but N’tcha sees it as an opportunity. He has also engaged the young people in the daily functioning of the church and has even mobilized all the kids to collect firewood and sell it to merchants so the church can collect enough money to build a meeting place!

A couple weeks ago, Tchéou, Andrew, and I went out to meet these young Jesus-followers and witness five of them identify themselves as such through baptism. This was also the very first time that N’tcha had baptized anyone, which was just as exciting to see. Please pray for these young believers as they continue to follow Jesus together.

The 5 baptized teens with Jean (left) and N'tcha (red & black). The church gathering at their old, dilapidated meeting place.

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Snake Handling (plus a rapid-fire update)

There’s a lot that has been happening lately in our family and ministry, so I’ll jump right in and give you a “rapid-fire” update.

  1. Last weekend we held our 8th intensive training at the Oikos School, which went very well. My teaching abilities were stretched to the limit as I taught for 3 hours straight on “How to Interpret and Study the Bible.” It was quite a bit more of a technical teaching than I’m accustomed to, but I had put a lot of preparation into it, so it turned out quite well, all things considered. When I teach I always try to do or say something out of the ordinary that the students won’t forget in order to create a “memory hook” that will help them recall the important content in the future. Well, since I was teaching about interpreting the Bible, I figured that I’d start off with an example of grossly misinterpreting the Bible that they’d never forget. I read to them from Mark 16:17-18, which says, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” I then told them that Jesus was commanding that we do all these things in order to prove that we are true disciples and that we have faith in Him. I said all this as I opened up a box containing Joshua’s completely harmless Kenyan sand boa and took it out. They didn’t know that it’s harmless, however, and if there’s one thing that nearly all Togolese have in common it’s that they are deathly afraid of any snake! I kept telling them that, in order to prove their faith in Jesus, they had to hold the snake. Sadly, because of the bizarre misinterpretations of Scripture that are all-too-common in churches here, I really think that they half-way believed that I was serious! When I finally put the snake away (much to their relief!) I asked them how I had interpreted the passage. They responded by saying that I had used Jesus’ words to tempt God and force his protection, like Satan did to Jesus when he told him to jump off the temple. They also said that Jesus wasn’t saying that we must hold snakes in order to prove our belief. Overall, it was a great learning tool for them and I think they gained a lot from it. I’m hoping that this vivid memory will help them remember the many tools for proper Bible interpretation that I gave them afterward.
  2. We are still in the hunt for some land where we can build a permanent location for the Oikos School. We have run into two closed doors lately on two different properties, so please be praying that we find the open door soon!
  3. Over the past month, Andrew and I have been working hard to prepare a new curriculum that we will use in our upcoming one-year intensive trainings. Our plan is to target specific people groups and regions to engage potential church planters in a one-year program that will equip them with the tools and knowledge necessary to make reproducing disciples and churches. This would be similar to what we are currently doing, except that it would be done in one year instead of two and it would be based on a curriculum we are creating ourselves that will focus heavily on life transformation and discipleship to Jesus.
  4. There are many exciting things happening in the lives of the Oikos students. On the 7th and 21st of this month, we will be attending baptism services at two churches that have been planted within the past year by two students. These are churches that started in seed form as simple Bible studies under a tree and have blossomed into churches where people are following Jesus together and seeing their lives transformed by Him! Please continue praying for all of the students as they seek to bring gospel transformation to new villages by the good news of Jesus.
  5. The Bible studies with Patrice and Éoda are going very well. We’re about 2/3 of the way through the chronological Bible study, but already they are showing clear signs of faith in Jesus. We believe it’s only a matter of weeks before they make this seed of faith a life-long commitment to follow Jesus as his disciples.
  6. Please be praying for little Ian. He has quite a nasty “Harmattan cold” with lots of congestion in his nose and chest. Because of the incredibly dry and dusty conditions, it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Because he currently sleeps in our room, neither Tiffany nor I have been getting much sleep lately. He’s been quite a handful during the day too!
    Ian NEVER falls asleep in our arms, but this cold has taken a toll on the little guy.

    Ian NEVER falls asleep in our arms, but this cold has taken a toll on the little guy.

     

  7. Joshua and I recently explored one of the many mountain (more like hills compared to the Northwest!) ridges in the area and found lots of strange vegetation at the top of a bunch of huge rocks. Joshua holding a twirly vine Some kind of cross between a cactus and a vine. Togo explorers!
  8. And not to be left out, Owen is starting to come out of his shell quite a bit more, as evidenced by the photos! He is starting to greet people in French and is much less shy about saying hello to people he doesn’t know. Around the house with just our family, he is just as spastic and hilarious as ever.
    Crazy Owen!Crazy Owen!

And there you have it! Thanks for catching up with what’s been going on, and thanks in advance for lifting up these prayer requests to the Lord!

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Land Update

Here’s a quick update about our search for land to build the Oikos School. Rather than rewrite everything, I’ll just share our recent Instagram posts below…

Please pray with us for the next few days as we decide on buying this land to build the Oikos School.

A photo posted by Jesse Shanks (@moun10addict) on

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