This post goes along with our series called “These Are Their Stories.” Throughout the course of this year, we at Freedom to Lead have been intermittently featuring segments called “These Are Their Stories.” We are telling stories of men and women throughout Asia and Africa who have been impacted by God’s work in their lives and leadership through Freedom to Lead.
When you first meet him you’re slightly intimidated as he towers over you in height. His square jaw is set and his eyes are piercing. You can’t help notice the scars on his arm, but you try not to stare. But then he offers you a firm handshake and his white teeth smile against the contrast of his dark complexion. He tells you his name. For safety purposes in this post we’ll call him Samuel. He’s originally from Sudan, but he’s now a pastor in Uganda. You feel like there’s more to this story. Much more.
You’re both in Nairobi now in deep discussions with others from various countries about Christ-centered leadership and about mentoring. And there in the mission center over a cup of Kenyan chai and biscuits you ask for his story. You’re struck not just by his soft words, but also by his deep humility.
Samuel grew up surrounded by the influences of Islam. At 13 he was sent to study to become an imam. As a young teenager he would come to know Jesus. He had a brother who later married and had five children. Samuel, too, would grow up and get married and have children of his own.
Then war broke out in Sudan. For many people of his generation war was all they ever knew. Samuel doesn’t seem to want to talk about that very much, so you don’t push him. What you are able to pick up is that he and his family fled the war and ended up as refugees in Uganda. Samuel’s brother and sister-in-law didn’t make it. His nieces and nephews became his own.
Samuel became a pastor and worked with other Sudanese people in Uganda. Samuel strikes you as one of the smartest and most inquisitive people you’ve ever met, which may be surprising considering his background. Now Samuel and his ministry partner Thomas have developed a 6-month intensive discipleship program for young Sudanese men who want to learn more about living and leading like Jesus. For six months they live together, provide life-on-life mentoring and training to these young men, and then send them back out into the world. This fall they hope to welcome 30 more into their community.
Samuel talks of trauma and healing and where true mentoring fits into all of that. You realize right then and there that you can’t possibly understand all that he has experienced. But together you find a way to talk about Jesus’ way, a radically different way of living and leading and mentoring.
Then you turn around and meet Kelinah. She doesn’t speak English, so she grabs another friend to help translate and she begins to tell you her story. She is a discipler and evangelist in northern Kenya. The friend who is translating, who is also another participant in the FTL’s Garden Project program, calls her a “warrior woman.” A warrior for Jesus. She, too, has known loss. As the oldest child in her family she watched as both of her parents were killed in tribal conflict that broke out in her village as a child. She was now responsible for her siblings and figured the only way to do that was to get married. While searching for a husband she met someone who told her about Jesus. “Christ met me on the road that day,” she said. Eventually she did get married and in addition to caring for her siblings had eight children of her own. She now travels for her DMM (Disciple Making Movement) ministry and is a team leader for her area of the country. This time she traveled two days by bus to get to this leadership training. She asked us to pray for her.
Then there’s Michael. Michael is from Zambia. A little quiet when you first meet him, but radiant with joy when you get him talking. Michael, too, is a pastor. And Michael, too, has known loss. Michael is in his late 40’s and is not married, though he is hopeful that someday he could be. First his brother passed away, so Michael helped raise his four children. Then his sister passed away, so Michael also helped raise her five children. So, over the years unmarried Michael helped raise nine children, none of them his own. Several of these children are in college now and they are following Jesus. Michael probably knows more about mentoring than you will ever know.
Finding Purpose in the Midst of Loss
Each of these people have known loss. Tremendous loss. You realize you don’t know what to say because you can’t possibly understand their experience. So, you do the only thing you know how to do. You point to Jesus. You talk about his way of loving and leading. You learn about Jesus’ way of mentoring. You discuss together what this looks like in our current situations. You learn from these brothers and sister. And you share life together.
These are their stories. And today you become part of that story.