April 2013

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Last week on this blog, we introduced the Breakthrough Partners Network conference that took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Read that post here. This week, we’ll continue looking at two key themes that arose out of this conference: unity and connection, through the eyes of Breakthrough Partners’ Director of Global Leadership Development Mark Mielbrecht.  

While on the long flight to Africa, Mark suddenly felt inspiration from God. As soon as they had landed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, he quickly acquired a map of Africa. Mark then tore it into  30 pieces. Later, as he spoke at the opening of the Breakthrough Partners Network (BPN) conference, Mark placed a piece of the divided map in front of each of the eager participants. “Each person had a piece of the bigger picture God was creating for the future of Africa,” Mark recalled. “Not until we put all of our individual pieces together could we see God’s vision for Africa, the place where God has called us to minister .”

After Mark had divided up the pieces, they taped the torn map back together, making it whole again. However, it was missing one small piece. “It was small, but clearly a gaping hole,” remembered Mark. It wasn’t until the last day that the final piece was placed to fully reconstruct the map. “It was clear,” said Mark, “that if even one of us doesn’t step in to fulfill the purpose God has for our life, the whole body will miss that  person’s contribution.”

Each of the leaders brought together in this conference are living into dedicated, fruitful ministries of service in their home communities. As a result of the conference, BPN is nudging these individual ministries to be collaborative, to work together and create sustainability in their work. In particular, the BPN network members are all seeking to create economic  engines so their ministry communities can be self-supporting.  This will enable local  leaders  to better meet the physical and spiritual needs of those they serve, and be less reliant on external support. In order to achieve this, the leaders who had gathered were encouraged to look for what they do currently have, to find what resources and skills they can bring to the table to initiate change. Ultimately, these leaders have promised to turn to each other, to collaborate, initiate, and help support the work of programs and projects being developed in their local context.

This is a movement of relationship and unity; a movement of connectedness and vulnerability to each other. These leaders have united and are seeking to follow God’s plan for their countries, so that true change, new change, will be brought to fruition.

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Last month, on the final morning of the Breakthrough Partners Network conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,  a community leader from Nairobi stood up to address the attendees who had gathered for the week. He referenced the recent Kenyan election and related how they had been given the right to choose well those they wanted in leadership. “Now, will we exercise our rights as community leaders?  Too long,” he said, “Africans have looked to the outside, to NGOs, foreign aid programs, to be the answer for change.” He finished by saying that Africans themselves have been given responsibility for change. Will Africans accept it and move forward?

How do we help bring about profound change to the broken, distressed communities in Africa? For Breakthrough Partners President Gary Edmonds, the answer lies in the belief that God has already planted leaders in these communities. For over a decade, Gary and Breakthrough have been meeting with community leaders in Africa who have invited them to come and act as coaches, as they lead their communities. Breakthrough terms these men and women “Local Community Catalysts,” or LCCs, people who have networks in their communities and the ability to catalyze people and unite their neighbors to work together for the transformation and common good of the whole community.

As requests for coaching and consulting streamed in from LCCs, Breakthrough decided a new plan was needed to accelerate the process of consulting assistance; the Breakthrough Partners Network was born. Several months later the Breakthrough Partners coaching team assembled in Ethiopia, alongside 30 LCCs from all over the continent. Leaders from various African countries shared their expertise, sparking an unprecedented level of bonding, unity, support and relationship between the leaders. Over the five days of the gathering, the vision of what God is doing in Africa and where that vision is spreading rose clearly out of the swirl of thoughts and ideas, and was held in firm ownership by these African leaders. 

In reflecting on this conference, Gary emphatically rested his hope for the future of Africa on one simple truth: that God has planted a seed of greatness within these African LCCs. They possess humility, vision, willingness, and the courage to seek the well being of others in their community. Above all, they possess ownership. One can see in these leaders the recognition of the mandate God has handed them and their desire to shoulder the responsibility and look forward to the actions they will take to exercise their duty to bring about change. 

Is Africa ready for local ownership and change? Gary answered with this parallel: “After years of wandering, with God providing the daily manna and leading, God said: ‘Now pack your bags; we’re crossing the Jordan to settle the land.’ This means from tomorrow on, there is no more manna. You take responsibility.”

To African leaders, God is saying the time is now for Africa to be led by Africans.

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