Last month I gathered together with Vineyard world-changers from around Africa, Europe and North America for my 8th annual African Vineyard Leaders’ Network (AVLN) meeting. It was as amazing as ever. We got a sneak preview of what was to come in the café at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababe, Ethiopia, as six of us (from Rwanda, Burundi, Canada, Switzerland and the US) bumped into each other and stopped to share the black gold of Ethiopian buna (coffee) and tea. Soon we landed in Lilongwe, Malawi and navigated the adventure that is clearing customs at a small African airport. We met more friends and stuffed ourselves into a minibus van, 20 women and men from 11 nations, flying across the countryside, one in heart as we laughed and swapped stories over the next four hours.
Our gathering was along the shores of Lake Malawi, a creative marvel even greater diversity than our group! Yet it was a fit setting. The main events of our times together took place under the shade of a mango tree, in classic African fashion. Thirty-one women and men representing kingdom partnership work in 20 nations. The goal is for international and indigenous leaders to work cooperatively to raise up and release local leadership of contextualized Vineyard movements that express the Kingdom of God in every country of Africa. This retreat-like setting provided a wonderful context for this to grow. Following the example set by Noah Gitau, National Director AVC Kenya, and Akimu Chisale, team leader of the emerging AVC in Malawi, people shared stories of pain and redemption and hope - transparent personal sharing of highlights (both personal and professional), as well as challenges and mistakes we made. People didn't just share, "I'm good." They shared from their hearts. In the words of Kambwali Katenga, a young emerging leader from AVC Zambia, regarding this, his first time at the AVLN meeting, "It's like eating a meal of fresh foods. You delight in it. It is a wonderful and energizing experience and it makes you want to go out and do more."
We did more than simply share best practices and stories from our families and ministries and life. We shared fun and food too! With our guides and African partners, we snorkeled and ate portions of a small tiger fish freshly caught from the lake, roasted over a small bed of coals, on the shores of a rocky outcropping of Lake Malawi. This kind of rest and relaxation provides space for relationship-building and renewal of our souls, both of which are key for long-term health, maturity and sustainability in leading.
I was blessed to spend a few extra days in Malawi with Akimu - six hours on the road to Blantyre, 15 folks packed in a minibus made for 12, at least 30 minutes spent at one transfer point scrounging for passengers to fill the bus, another 10 minutes on a stop with the police paying a fine for overcrowding :) - plenty of time for talking and taking in the sights and sounds and smells of a beautiful land, enjoying shucking fresh peanuts and the happiness of a roadside Coca Cola. A lopsided tan after only one morning...such is the brightly shining sun and the love it has for this place. I spent the weekend with Akim, his family, and the leaders from his church. On Sunday morning we dedicated the new church building of the Blantyre Vineyard. It was their first Sunday. They had literally built a new brick building over the weekend while I was there, taking advantage of my visit as an opportunity to finally improve this land before running the risk of losing it. I hadn’t known about this ahead of time, so I had to rewrite my sermon on the fly, needing a stronger sermon to suit the occasion! As Wesley said centuries ago, my heart was strangely warmed at service. A deep gratitude, sense of blessing, and affection for this church. Akim and his family were so very hospitable, so very humble. Their home was humble, yet their hearts were large and rich.
As Wesley said centuries ago, my heart was strangely warmed at service. A deep gratitude, sense of blessing, and affection for this church. Akim and his family were so very hospitable, so very humble. Their home was humble, yet their hearts were large and rich.
My mind is blown at the grace I've been given. It’s a gift to steward, to come alongside such faithful people in such beautiful and challenging environments.
Jim and his wife, Megan, have four kids. They love living in Ferndale, an inner-ring suburb of Detroit. Jim is privileged to be the lead pastor of the Renaissance Vineyard Church. He also facilitates the US arm of the Vineyard Partnership in Ethiopia. He currently serves as Regional Coordinator for Africa with Vineyard Missions.