Friday, 16 October 2015

The sun was hot, we were outside under a mango tree and everyone was tired yet we had important work to do.  Welcome to the challenge of being a facilitator...

I love this cartoon film clip from Mosaic which gives top tips on how to facilitate well and so help tired people do great work.

top tips


Thursday, 13 August 2015

'It's not a job, it's not CSD's job for you to do a needs assessment'.  Pastor Li sounds frustrated with his fellow pastor.  Pastor Li, a dynamic young man, heads up the local Church Service Department (CSD) which is a small Chinese NGO.  

He has a great ability to bring diverse people together and to inspire church leaders with vision.  But many local church leaders still look to the CSD to do most of the work.  It's as if responsibility for the second greatest commandment that Jesus gave us 'to love your neighbour as yourself' (Matthew 22v39) has been delegated out to the CSD and it's no longer the role of local churches to live this out.




In a discussion a few days later we ask CSD leaders to think about the current roles of all the different groups involved in their HIV work.  They all see the CSD as leading and local churches and communities implementing or benefiting.  But then we ask them to reflect on John the Baptist's statement that 'he [Jesus] must become greater, I must become less'. In the light of this they realise that they want local churches and vulnerable people to increasingly shape the work themselves.

I notice the value of these questions 'who is leading?' and 'who should be leading?'  I think they are good questions to also challenge ourselves.  Do we sometimes lead when we should be helping others to lead?  Maybe we too need to become less so that others can become greater.   

Friday, 7 August 2015

Do you come alive when someone encourages you?  Take a look at this delightful photo of Lo as fellow participants applaud him.  I love the look of joy on his face.

My colleague Jané and I recently used the encouragement principles of appreciative enquiry to frame two workshops in China.  We focused on 4 stages:

Devotions: What does the Bible have to say about what we are working on?
Delight: What is going really well in the work already?
Dream: What would we love to see happening in the future? 
Design: What steps can we take from where we are towards this dream?    

The beauty of this approach is its positive focus.  As the Bible tells us 'let us encourage one another' Hebrews 10v25.  This helps participants relax, avoids defensiveness and encourages people to dream big and take risks.  We also found that by sticking what we discovered on the walls we could help everyone see the journey we were on.




There's much more detail to appreciative enquiry than this. But I've found over the years that just using these words has often been enough.  For instance I've used them to structure an evaluation, a learning review, feedback on a field visit and the simplest of conversations.  I hope people leave with smiles on their faces and ready to chase their dreams.  

Friday, 24 July 2015

Huen La* seems pretty tentative at first.  ‘We are a new church, here to learn, please feel free to give feedback’.  But as I listen to his story I begin to think they have a lot to teach others already.

‘One day our church pastoral team found a household in chaos.  The man, Ni* was addicted to drugs and alcohol.  He had become so ill that he could no longer walk and his marriage was under huge strain.  Ni had such a bad relationship with the rest of the village that even in a time of crisis no one would help.

Our church members went and helped cook for the family and helped clean their house.  They gave some cups of rice and clothing.  One evening, when three church friends were on their way to visit him, a heavy rainstorm struck and the roof of the house was blown sideways.  Everything got soaked.  The church friends prayed with Ni and then helped him to find government help.  With some government support they were able to replace the roof so that the family could sleep and eat better.

Ni was very grateful saying “I am such a bad person, I had no friends to help me”.  The church friends continue to visit, love and encourage him.  ‘Now a remarkable change has taken place, his house is filled with neighbours’.  He is now able to use crutches and whenever he sees me on my motorbike he makes a major effort to walk out on his crutches to meet me.’

I wonder, am I willing to befriend those that no one else will?   


*Name changed to protect privacy.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

I think Wei is teasing me again.  He seems to imitate me talking then bursts into laughter.  He has a lively sense of humour which is captured in his nickname which means ‘handsome but naughty’!  Yet he has also shared with me the most moving story I have heard yet in China.  Wei tells me:

‘Two days after an HIV training I decided to put the training into action.  In the first family I visited the husband Tien* was in the last stages of AIDS.  Tien’s daughter was so afraid that she had run away but his wife Wa* had stayed.  The wider community shunned their household and warned me not to visit this family. 

When I did sit down with them Wa was deeply moved as no one had visited them for a long time. As she shared her heart with me tears ran down her cheeks.  I was so worried that I would speak wrongly.  I had 50 yen ($8) with me and I gave it to Tien.  As I did so he said ‘Sala’, meaning that he realised I was a pastor.  He held my hand and asked me to pray for him.  When I prayed he started to pray too and became put right again with God.

When he died all of his fellow villagers were too scared to help bury him.  Wa called me for help.  I asked church members from my village, which is nearby, to help and they came.  Seeing their example some of Tien’s fellow villagers joined in’.

How did Tien, as he lay dying, come to know that God still loved him?  It was because one of God’s people, Wei, overcame his fear and became Jesus holding his hand.  Who do you and I need to be Jesus to?  Perhaps it’s to someone nobody else loves.   


*Name changed to protect privacy.

Friday, 19 June 2015


Sometimes prayer gets very practical
Rahul* had been part of a violent gang in Mumbai in India.  He'd taken part in shootings and wound up in jail.  It could have been the end of his hope.  But Christians had started to pray for this vast city and, stirred by God, decided to get involved in bringing hope and vocational skills to prisoners.  Now Rahul is out of prison, is happily married, has found a purpose for his life and helps look after street kids.  


Sometimes prayer gets very big
My friend Arthur Thangiah tells me that when a hundred Christians gathered to pray in 2003 about how to help transform Mumbai their first thoughts were that this was 'pie in the sky, it's beyond us'.  Mumbai is a city where 60% of people live in slums, that's about 13 million people.  It's a huge challenge.

Gradually, however, more and more people have caught this vision.  Since the first prayer in 2003 the group has set aside 3 days every year to pray for the city.  Now more than 1,500 local churches/ house churches are connected through social media to regularly pray for and serve the people of Mumbai.  Churches now help people in 5 prisons and about 15 organisations have sprung up to work among women who have been trafficked.  This looks to me like a mustard seed growing (Matthew 13v31).

Sometimes we need to be broken
At the heart of this prayer movement lie 5 principles.  It all starts with Christians seeking a close relationship with Jesus.  This leads to brokenness as we turn from all in our lives that blocks our relationship with God.  From this flows unity, community and finally transformation.  Are you and I up for such a journey?

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015


The memory of Adan's face doesn't leave me.  Nor does the awfulness of where he lives.  I've decided that I will pray for Adan and his town of Huanani every week for the next 6 months.  I know you haven't met him but I wonder if you are willing to join me?

Here's his story from my time in Bolivia three months ago:

Adan is two years old with big brown eyes.  He’s gentle, smiley and ill.  His intestines don’t work properly and the town doctor says there is no hope for him.  As we visit his small home his mother’s eyes fill with tears.  Why is he sick?  I don’t know but I do know that he lives in a town where you can glimpse hell and that might be why.
  
Huanani sits below vast spoil heaps from the local Bolivian tin mine, the largest
in South America.  The river flows grey- black through the centre of town – it’s more effluent than water.  You wouldn’t dare drink it.   The air too is dangerous.  Many people here die young from silicosis.  We hear a siren, it means another miner has died.  On average one miner here dies every week.

Given these risks the miners are afraid.  They seek protection by making offerings to an idol before they enter the mine.   Will the idol protect them?  The idol is of the devil.

So what hope is there for Adan and his family?   Their hope lies in God and his people.  

Belania church has already been trying to change their town through volunteers like Amanda running a radio station 15 hours a day.  Inspired by church and community transformation they also want to engage practically.  It will take courage as Christians are under pressure for not worshipping the idol.    
Belania church friends

The church now wants to do something for the young people to give them hope and save them from the drinking and marijuana  that many turn to. They also want to start to address the pollution, beginning with collecting the rubbish that lies everywhere.  Ephrain from Tearfund will be alongside them on this difficult journey.  ‘I will give my 1,000%’, he says.

Together with Adan’s mother and their friends we pray for Adan that he will be completely healed.  We wait to see what God will do.  Will you pray too?   Please pray for him, for this small church and that through his church God will help transform this town.  Pray that, by God’s grace, it will begin to look more like heaven than hell.

If you would like to join me on this prayer journey it would really encourage me and Adan's family if you would let me know by emailing me at richard.lister@tearfund.org



Wednesday, 27 May 2015

What if Christians showed up more on the pitch of life?

I love this short U-Tube clip, it's thought-provoking stuff:
Show up

and the follow-up clip
Show-up 2

Let's get more stuck into life, including politics, and encourage and pray for those who already are involved.

Friday, 22 May 2015

I stood in a lush field at the bottom of a floodbank in Nepal and felt secure. The bank was 4m tall and 1,200m long.  However when I stood on top of the same floodbank I didn't feel so safe.  The river water lapped just 1m below the top of the bank and this was in the dry season.  If the bank failed and the river washed through then my friends in Madhumalla village would, at very least, lose their crops and, at worst, their lives.  




Following the earthquakes in Nepal there will be a drive to 'build back better', to replace old structures with new more resilient ones.  I think that is great as far as it goes.  I hope, however, that all involved think of building more than just resilient things.  What if the goal was to build more of God's kingdom, not a kingdom of earthly power but of simple generosity to all, love for the marginalised, forgiveness and grace?  

If we want to see that kind of kingdom coming then we need to work with ordinary churches which won't have the resources, the 4 wheel drives or the logframes of the development world.  They can however, by God's grace, help bring this deeper and richer type of change.  Perhaps we need to encourage the church to think as much about discipleship, prayer and simple service (Acts 2 v42-47) as it does about physical rebuilding.

Maybe it will be the 'lowly things' (1 Corinthians 1 v27-29) that will bring the type of change that will last long after the international community has left.  Perhaps that's what it means to really 'build back better'.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Can churches really change nations?  Let me tell you a story that gives me hope that they can.  Even really challenging nations like South Sudan where fighting has just displaced another 10,000 people.

Burning village painting at

It's the story of the community at Lozoh.  It's pretty remote.  We reached it by driving through the bush following just a wandering path.  And its history is a sad one.  In 1996 fighting swept through this village, the pastor was killed and everything was burned to the ground.  'There we no more tukuls (thatched huts), only trees'.

The people fled and stayed away until the year 2000 when they cautiously started to come back.  But how do you rebuild when everything's been destroyed?  And how do you develop when your own thinking is caught in reliance on others?  'Our vision was just waiting for the diocese to come and develop the area' says Pastor Noel, a tall man with a broad back and warm face.  We were cultivating 'small, small', just enough to eat but not enough to sell to cover other essential costs like school fees, salt or soap.  

However when Pastor Noel heard the ideas of church and community transformation he caught the vision.  One of the big challenges for Lozoh village was the quality of their school.  When they showed me 'here is the government school' I said 'where?'  You have to look hard to see it - it's just some benches under trees.  And even then the school teachers don't always show up.

The church decided it was time for change.  They shared their church building for the school to use and identified and sent 3 volunteer teachers for training.  They also worked out a system where 17 committed villagers work hard to grow additional food to support the teachers.   Now 80 children are benefiting and 'even this year more are coming'.  This type of change will last as there is no outside money involved.


Detailed community health data
This is just the start of change for this village.  On the next day the church and community were planning to meet to analyse the 22 flip chart sheets (!) of information that they have gathered to decide what next to change.  And their vision doesn't stop with their own community.  Pastor Noel wants to share this with 6 other communities nearby.  He didn't ask Tearfund to pay for this - he's just going to do it.

The Anglican denomination that Pastor Noel belongs want to spread church and community transformation across the whole of South Sudan. You can start to see how this troubled nation could be changed from the grassroots up. 

The international community contributes something like $560 million/ year into relief for South Sudan.  This provides key life-saving support but, given that it keeps being needed each year, this money doesn't seem to be fundamentally changing the country.  Maybe we need to look instead to ordinary people working with our extraordinary God for whom 'nothing is too hard' Jeremiah 32 v17.





Wednesday, 13 May 2015

We really are in trouble here’ thought Bishop Bismark. 



He’s a kind-faced man with round glasses and I enjoy eating dinner with him.  He started as a new Bishop in 2007.  He soon realised that his area was not developed and he heard people saying ‘we don’t see the churches doing anything’.  It wasn’t surprising that the church was stuck because their finances were practically non-existent.

For Bismark it meant there was no money to do work, no vehicle to visit churches and communities and just a grass hut to live in.   A local businessman wanted to give him a motorbike so he could travel but the man’s wife asked him – what if the Bishop falls off?  Instead the man gave the Bishop a small tipper truck!  This proved both useful, they could hire it out for income, and ‘a lot of fun’ as Bismark could fill it up with young people when he went out to visit churches.


The challenge of getting round had been solved but the financial situation was still dire.  Bismark realised that the entire weekly church collection in many of his churches was less than 10 Sudanese Pounds (about £3). 

Bismark was inspired by the ideas of church and community transformation.  So he started preaching that people needed to stop waiting for development from outside and instead start doing things using the small resources they already had.  He also brought in trainers from the capital Juba to run workshops on church giving.  We committed to teach this for 5 years (‘we are not giving up’) and led by example.


Gradually the church offerings have turned around.  This means that now the church has its own money to bring the hope of God to communities.  I think many other churches could learn from Bishop Bismark’s example. 

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

'If we are true believers then why are we killing our brothers?' asks my friend as we travel along a bumpy earth road.  During the years of civil war in Sudan many people turned to God for hope.  But in December 2013 the new country of South Sudan was torn apart by political and ethnic violence.  

What hope of peace is there for the ordinary people of South Sudan?  Here are three thoughts:

Turning and praying  This morning my friend Simon Juach and I shared breakfast with the one of the 11 church participants in the national peace negotiations.  As we talked I was reminded of God's promise that 'if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land' (2 Chronicles 7v14).  Are we doing this as we long for a breakthrough?   

Reconciling Communities 'People are saying that the politicians are talking but even if they sign an agreement will it make a difference here?'  Pastor Paul from Lozoh (see photo) is an example of someone working hard to rebuild trust at a local level.  Adding a reconciliation stage to church and community transformation might be an important way forward.  We've already seen amazing reconciliation through this in nearby Rwanda.

Following Jesus more closely At its core the challenge for those of us who are Christians in South Sudan is to follow Jesus, the 'Prince of Peace,' more closely.  'Discipleship is critical but we are not good at it' shares one friend who is a Bishop.  Maybe it's time for us to focus again on who we are called to be.  





Monday, 27 April 2015

Would you like to buy a bio-sand filter?  It might be a tempting offer, they are very effective at cleaning water, but I think carrying a 1.5m concrete tube might just be a problem with my plane weight allowance!




Benjamin is trying to sell me one.  His smiling youthful enthusiasm is pretty persuasive.  He leads a micro-business making and selling these filters and walks the talk by using one at home.  It's a great example of the dynamism of youth and making the most of local resources (they break up the stones for the concrete themselves).  The income generated from the sale of filters, combined with reduced medical costs from fewer diseases, helps Benjamin to provide school fees for his three brothers.

His pastor, Paul Ngwa, is a gentle faced man wearing a great Hawaiian shirt.  He spotted Benjamin's potential and put this 25 year old man in charge of the church and community transformation work.  It was a wise judgement call. By the grace of God and with Benjamin's leadership, this work has already resulted in 10,000 bricks being made and sold, new fields being cultivated, 15 new pit latrines built to improve sanitation, widows and orphans being cared for and dramatically improved relationships.  All without relying on outside help.  Others have wanted to know more so there's been phenomenal growth in their church (from 300 to 1,000 people in just 3 years).  

Young people in Africa (and beyond) aren't usually given such responsibility.  I think it's about time we started to take a few more risks on young women and men like Benjamin.

    

Saturday, 25 April 2015

'The change must start with me' says Richard from Okari.

Early this morning I ate fresh juicy mango with Richard.  It's my birthday today. It certainly was an unusual one but an inspiring day I will long remember. 

Richard is an inspirational man who lives what he believes. So as he helps his church and community make the most of the small resources they have he leads by example.  Before church and community transformation he worried about how to pay school fees for his seven children.  He doesn't mention it once but his left arm is wasted and twisted and must make life hard.

Previously he had planted 25 lemon trees but now he has made the most of some underused land to plant 169.  In time this could give a crop of over 8 tonnes of lemons!  

This along with the 402 teak trees he has planted and the small shop he has started will help him to reach his vision to provide for his children, be able to afford good education for them and even help access electricity for his homestead.

Are you and I willing to follow his example and become the change we want to see?  

Friday, 24 April 2015

'Life was difficult before' Densa tells me.  She has a strong face and broad shoulders but doesn't smile much.  As I listen to her story I begin to understand why.  

Densa's husband has died and two of her five daughters are now dead.  Her elderly mother Josephine shares her homestead.  When we arrived I saw her crawling on her knees.  She can't walk because her right foot is missing and her left foot has no toes.  It's poignantly sad to see her reduced to moving like this.

The Bible encourages us that 'to look after widows and orphans in their distress' (James 1v27) but the question is how.  Natural compassion would be to give her something and that would help short term.  But a more lasting response is needed, perhaps 'wise compassion'.

Densa has been inspired to make the most of opportunities as a result of being trained on church and community mobilisation (CCM).  She takes us along a winding path to see the results around her home.  We pass some of her 12 new goats grazing in the bushes.  At the end of the path is a field she has planted with maize.  It's 2 'fedans' (each 60m by 70m) and she will sell the crop.  She has started a small business where she sells cooking oil, salt, beans, coffee, soap and onions.

These are modest changes that make a big difference to her household.  'Now I am able to pay for school fees for my children and don't need to fear that they will be sent home'.  I ask her about her vision for the future.  'Before I grow too old I want each of my daughters to have a permanent house'.

Life is still not easy for Densa's family but hope is breaking in.  

















Wednesday, 22 April 2015




As night falls here in Juba our vehicle is driven inside a compound and the gate is locked. There's a curfew in place and the risk of car-jacking is real.  I could hire a taxi and go out but I'd rather not risk it.  And this is South Sudan's capital city.  How would you feel if your capital city was that unsafe?

I'm here to help review Tearfund's work with local churches in South Sudan.  It's a challenging context.  We work to empower churches and communities to address poverty themselves but this is a country where people are long used to receiving free support.  Our approach takes time but insecurity is rife and things can change at a moment's notice.

Tomorrow I will travel out to Mundri and will see for myself what has happened.  I remember visiting there 10 years ago and sitting chatting around a fire under the stars.  It was a poor community then and people had little hope that things could get better. Will anything have changed?



  

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

This morning I sat on a wicker chair in our home and started to speak blessings in the name of Jesus on five people who are on my heart and on our village.  I don't know what God will do in response to this.  But I do know a few things.

I know I can't out-bless God because his heart is to bless. As Jesus put it 'I have come that you may have life and life in all its fullness' (John 10v10).  I know that I can feel my heart changing as I speak blessings, becoming more warm towards each of these people, caring more for their whole lives.  And I feel myself getting encouraged about how loving and powerful our God is.  I'm also looking forward to seeing the results - even the tiniest green shoots of God's goodness in these people's lives and in our community.

So yes, as you may have guessed if you've been reading my other blogs, we've started a local house of prayer in our village, in our home.  It's just 4 friends, my wife and I and, amazingly, God.  Watch this space!





If you think you might like to do this where you are feel free to drop me an email richard.lister@tearfund.org  


Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Be careful - this is powerful

'80% of the work to bring Brazil from a dictatorship to a democracy was founded on the Bible' Paulo Ueti (Anglican Alliance)

So if we read the Bible well it can bring life. But are we tackling some of the most sensitive subjects?  In a recent report from Peru (Within Four Walls) 7 out of 10 evangelical adults say that they have suffered, at least once in the last three years, some form of domestic violence.  That's shocking and needs to change.

How can change happen?  Part of the answer, according to Paulo, is training ordinary people to engage with what the Bible really says about men and women, as 'popular Bible scholars'.


If you want to find out more about addressing gender based violence you may want to see Restored or Anglican Alliance 



Friday, 27 March 2015

Are you an ordinary person?  Do you have an extraordinary God?  Read on and be encouraged.

The Chapel at Fflad-y-Brenin is only 12ft by 12ft (4m by 4m).  There's a cross on the wall, a large rock in the centre, red and green cushions and a glorious sense of the living God.  I have never experienced a place where it is so easy to sense God's presence.  And God's presence and his blessing here have produced amazing results. The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk and people come to know Jesus.

What inspires me more is that this outpouring of God's Spirit is spreading from this place through local houses of prayer around the country and the world.  Local houses of prayer involve speaking simple prayers of blessing and they start to make a difference.  For instance a friend and her church have been speaking blessing in the name of Jesus for the local school.  One day a school class was going for a nature walk.  The teacher said 'let's stop and see what we can hear', expecting that the kids would say that they heard bird song, cows or cars.  One kid with no church background said 'I hear God saying that I need to lie down on the grass and speak to Jesus'!  Some months later he is camping out with his brothers and my friend and bursts into fervent prayer.  My friend is also seeing businesses starting to flourish, God's peace for the sick, healing, people moving towards faith ...

What inspires me even more is what this could mean for my village.  5 minutes ago, encouraged by what I'd heard, I prayed for a friend who had just arrived at my doorstep.  The Holy Spirit came down powerfully in our front corridor!  When we finished praying my friend said 'I will now need to walk home slowly after such a powerful encounter with the Lord'.  This wasn't about me, I had to read the steps for healing from a book before trying to use them.  It was about our extraordinary God becoming present in my ordinary house.

Hmmm.  God is moving and we can all take part.  Do you want to join in?        

Friday, 20 March 2015

Imagine ...
'a house of prayer in every town.  Imagine churches filled with Christians who pray and then stand back and watch God change lives before their eyes ... Get ready to do more than just imagine.' (from 'The Grace Outpouring' by Roy Godwin and Dave Roberts)

I long to see God bring life more fully in my village and through every church across the world. But I know that, however hard we try we as Christians, we can't make that happen.  It's fundamentally up to God.

So I am excited to be going to stay at Fflad-y-Brenin in Wales on Tuesday.  It's a place where God has been moving with incredible grace.  I want to know more about how, through a movement called Local Houses of Prayer, I can help bring such grace back to my home village and beyond.  I think this simple approach may be able to help you too with changing your church and community.  So please come on this journey with me, a very ordinary person longing for more of our extraordinary God.


Fflad-y-Brenin retreat centre