Passion for God, Compassion for People
– By Shodankeh Johnson –
Practical demonstrations of God’s love play an integral role in Church Planting Movements. They serve both as entry points for the good news and as fruits of kingdom transformation in people’s lives and communities.
Access ministries are one of the pillars of New Harvest Ministries (NHM). Since New Harvest began, they have played a major role in showing God’s compassion, making disciples, and planting churches in more than 4,000 communities in 12 countries. These compassionate engagements have been key catalysts in shaping hundreds of thousands of new disciples, and more than ten thousand new Christian leaders.
Compassion is an essential Kingdom value found in the DNA of every Disciple Making Movement. We have dozens of different types of access ministries. Each one plays a unique role in helping us advance God’s kingdom in Africa. Most are not expensive, but with God’s help, they make a great impact. We partner with local people in every ministry. They often provide leadership, labor and materials— things present in the community that can help meet needs.
New Harvest serves many countries from our headquarters in Sierra Leone. When Ebola struck in 2014, we could not stay in safe places and not engage the disaster all around us. The crisis hit many Muslim villages especially hard, as the burial rites caused the epidemic to explode there. Suddenly, because of Ebola, people could not even touch dying parents or children. In that context, several New Harvest leaders volunteered in the most hazardous places. Some survived, but several lost their lives serving others— mostly Muslims.
The Muslim chief of one community was discouraged by people trying to escape his quarantined village. He was amazed at seeing Christians coming to serve. He privately prayed this prayer: “God, if you save me from this, if you save my family, I want us all to be like these people who show us love and bring us food.” The chief and his family did survive and he kept his promise. Memorizing passages from the Bible, he began to share in the mosque where he had been an elder. A church was birthed in that village, and the chief continues going from village to village, sharing the good news of God’s love.
Discovering Felt Needs, Engaging Lostness
For NHM, access ministries begin with assessing the felt needs of a community. When we complete a needs assessment, the partnership with the community must develop mutual respect and trust. After a while, the relationship leads to story-telling and Discovery Bible Studies (DBS). Access ministries let them see the love of Christ and powerfully touch their hearts.
The On-Ramp to Kingdom Movements
Prayer is the foundation for everything we do. So once an assessment is done, our intercessors begin to pray for:
- open doors and open hearts
- the selection of project leaders
- open hands by locals
- a supernatural move of God
- the leading of the Spirit
- God to provide needed resources.
All our prayer centers know the communities being served. They fast and pray for each of them. And God always opens the right door, at the right time, with the right provision.
Prayer is the most powerful and effective access ministry. It has caused a cascading effect throughout the movement. We are convinced beyond any doubt that strategic fasting and prayer consistently leads to the defeat of dark powers. Sometimes praying for the sick opens wide a door for access. Through persistent prayer we have seen very hostile communities opened, unlikely Persons of Peace identified, and whole families saved. All the glory goes to the Father who hears and answers prayer.
Prayer undergirds everything we do. I tell people that the three most important elements of access ministries are: first—prayer, second prayer, and third prayer.
Every Project Makes Our King Famous
We do whatever it takes to get the gospel to people so Christ receives glory. Our work is never about us. It is about Him. We make Him known with a strategic focus on unreached people groups.
When education is an obvious need, our intercessors take this need to God in prayer. While we are praying, we engage the community to discover what resources they have. We find out what they can provide to meet their own need. Often the community will supply land, a community building, or construction materials to build a temporary structure.
We usually encourage the community to pay part of the teacher’s salary. The teacher is fully certified and he or she is also a veteran disciple maker or church planter. Schools start with a few benches, pencils or pens, a box of chalk, and a chalkboard. The school may start under a tree, in a community center, or in an old house. We start slowly and grow the school academically and spiritually.
When a Person of Peace opens his or her home, it becomes the launching pad for DBS meetings and later a church. We have launched more than 100 primary schools, most of which are now owned by the community.
From this simple program God has also raised up 12 secondary schools, two trade technical schools, and Every Nation College. This college has an accredited School of Business and School of Theology. Contrary to what some might expect, Disciple Making Movements also need strong seminaries.
Medical, Dental, Hygiene
When we identify a health need, we send in teams of well-qualified medical practitioners with medicines, equipment and supplies. All our team members are strong disciple makers and skilled in facilitating the DBS process. Many are skilled church planters as well. While the team treats patients, they also look for a Person of Peace. If they don’t discover one on their first visit, they make a second visit. Once they discover a Person of Peace, he or she will serve as the bridge and the future host for the DBS. If they don’t find a Person of Peace, the team will go to a different community, while still praying for an open door into the previous one.
Ten church planters have been well trained, equipped as dentists. They are accredited by health authorities to do mobile dental extractions and fillings. One of them also doubles as an optometrist. He checks eyesight and dispenses suitable glasses. He does this at cost, to keep the process going and to avoid dependency. Other health team members provide training on hygiene, breast feeding, nutrition, child vaccines, and prenatal care for pregnant women.
A Most Unusual Access Ministry
We do all of this in a Christ-like manner, seeking to make God’s kingdom visible. God moves and makes His presence known. This often starts with one family or an unlikely community leader. In this way we consistently see ongoing multiplication of disciples, Discovery Bible Groups, and churches.
One large community in the Southern part of Sierra Leone had been very difficult for us to enter. They were extremely hostile toward Christians. People identified as Christians found it difficult even to enter that place. So we prayed for that town. But time passed and none of our strategies worked.
Then suddenly something happened! The national news reported a health problem in that town. Young men were becoming ill and dying. It was found that the infections related to the fact that the village never circumcised their boys. As I prayed about the problem I felt the Lord convict me that this was finally our open door to serve this town.
We gathered a volunteer medical team and went to the community with the proper equipment and medications. We asked if they would let us help them. We were delighted when the town leaders agreed. In the first day they circumcised more than 300 young men.
Over the next days the men were just healing. That gave us opportunity to begin Discovery Bible Groups during the healing days. We saw great response, and soon Kingdom multiplication began happening with churches being planted! Within just a few years a place where Christians could not enter was transformed into a place where God’s glory shone brightly. The compassion of God’s people, the power of much prayer, and the transforming Word of God changed everything.
Our first access ministry was agriculture. In places where farming is critical, agriculture becomes a great gateway to serve people. Most of the farming is subsistence farming, mainly for family consumption. Often no seed is saved for the next planting.
These situations led us to develop seed banks for farmers. As with our other teams, we trained nine agriculturists who are also trained church planters. These agriculturists/disciple makers educate the farmers. Their training and mentoring lead to relationships that result in DBS groups, baptisms and eventually churches. Today many farmers have become followers of Christ….
About 90% of our attempted access ministries have led to a church. Very often one engagement results in several churches planted. As we revisit communities we hear many testimonies of individual, family, and community transformations. Compassion for people, making God famous!
Shodankeh Johnson, husband of Santa and father of seven, is the leader of New Harvest Ministries (NHM) in Sierra Leone. Through God’s favor, and a commitment to Disciple Making Movements, NHM has seen hundreds of simple churches planted, over 70 schools started, and many other access ministries initiated in Sierra Leone in the last 15 years. This includes churches among 15 Muslim people groups. They have also sent long-term workers to 14 countries in Africa, including eight countries in the Sahel and Maghreb. Shodankeh has done training and catalyzing prayer and disciple-making movements in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the United States. He has served as the President of the Evangelical Association of Sierra Leone and the African Director of New Generations. He is currently responsible for global training and prayer mobilization for New Generations. He is a key leader in the 24:14 coalition in Africa and globally.
Adapted from an article originally published in the November-December 2017 issue of Mission Frontiers, www.missionfrontiers.org, pages 32-35, and published on pages 26-33 of the book 24:14 – A Testimony to All Peoples, available from 24:14 or Amazon.