The following is an address given by Ryan Forgotten Voices’ President, at CAFO’s Summit in Orlando, Florida on Friday, May 6, 2016. Note for participants: Here’s a video and a webpage on a model for listening well. Thanks for attending the session. We are grateful you came to listen.
Last year around this time, I was sitting in a remote area south of Blantyre, Malawi. After flooding ravaged land that had not received adequate rains in several years, I came expecting to see hopelessness and desperation. Pastors repeatedly told me that 8 out of 10 people they served through their churches were not eating even once per day. Yet, their was hope emerging from the soil of their worn souls. The more I listened to them share their hopes and dreams, the more I heard how God had been doing a mighty work in them.
My desire to fix what I saw with my eyes gave way to my ears, who heard whispers of hope transform into roars of God’s faithfulness.
One pastor told me, we receive $2/week in offerings and we meet to pray and listen to God on how we can bless those in need. We are looking past our trials as we hear of others far worse just nearby. As I went to see this far worse area, those pastors shared how they were receiving $1/week and were praying for wisdom about how to serve widows and orphans.
Choking back tears of awe, I heard my father – a pastor of 44 years – say to God “do they not know they are the poor?”
What a mighty God we serve. There is no economic cutoff where God’s Word stops being true. When we stop and listen, we hear how God has been on the move.
In 1900 there were 9 million Christians in Africa. Today, there are over 540 million (Sagamore Institute, interview, April 2013). The church is growing faster than the orphan crisis. Yet, too often these local pastors leading this explosion of the Gospel are not heard. Their trials are seen when those of us from the West come, but these forgotten voices are not heard.
For the past 12 years, I have been sitting with pastors and saying some form of this: “what I know is God is on the move here. What I don’t know is everything else.”
This wasn’t an intentional international development best practice. It was an honest, humbling moment repeated hundreds, if not thousands of times, as I heard pastors and dying parents discuss what should happen to their children, who would be left on this side of heaven. I didn’t know what should be done and my not knowing gave room so I could listen to those who did. These local pastors and families, with clear voices I needed to hear.
[NOTE: may not have said… time dependent: Listen to this. Did you know 74% of all Zambian families are caring for at least one orphaned child? Less than 1% of American families are doing the same. (Operation World, 7th Edition)]
Here is what I’ve learned from bringing questions to ask and notebooks to fill.
Custom Plans. No matter where you are working in the world, God has equipped local churches and His people with gifts. Listen to hear how God has been at work in them long before you’ve come. By hearing, you build into them contagious hope. Listening allows the person being heard to testify to God’s work through them – even if our eyes at first cannot see how.
Quiet Investments. Did you know that almost always, outside funding leads to a decrease in local tithing and volunteering? What if we could listen without wanting to be seen? Is it important that the people we serve know that we’ve have been there? I have learned that investing quietly to support local churches that I’ve heard from means I am only taking what I deserve. You and I are here pontificating about the great challenges of our day, while a widow will care for her deceased sister’s children crying in the middle of this night. Hers is the voice to hear. Besides local church elders, the people served by Forgotten Voices never hear of our intervention whenever possible because we see the dignity that comes when we point people to God’s work through their local Church. They better learn of God’s love for them, even if they never hear of mine.
Finally, Sustainable Income. Remmy Hamapande (pictured right) is our Africa Director and a Children’s Pastor in Zambia. He says that the local church will be there until Christ returns. We should all be courageously working to equip the church to stand on its own even if it means our ministries have to close our doors.
Friends, listening is not something to do to let local leaders help us, as if we are being nice to them. Saying someday they will get it if we are patient. No. That’s not listening. It’s waiting to speak.
Instead, Listening Expectantly is posturing your ears to be in awe and hear what God has done, is doing and will do without you speaking.
Listening helps us be insatiably curious and contagiously hopeful thatGod will roar always, come what may.
In listening well, we declare our weakness and point people to the God who is doing more than we could hope or imagine.
May we stop, embrace our weakness, allow for our own silence, and listen to the power of God roaring through an exploding local Church around the world. To God be the glory. Great things He has done.
Thank you for listening well.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanmkeith