By Dr Allen Pelham

The emails and texts started as “can you do discipleship training for five maybe 10 South Sudanese pastors?” One call I cannot refuse is the opportunity to teach other believers how to make disciples. To me, disciple-making is at the core of what the church is called to do and be. My motto, be a “Disciple-maker-maker.”

As preparations for the trip started to fall into place, the emails and text began to change. It went from preparing training for 5 to 10 to 30 to 50 church leaders from the area, more like an associational conference. For those not Baptist in their church polity, this means several churches are coming together to share resources. The good part was the team was going a week early to review other ministry operations, and I would get a chance to see several of the local church leaders in their context. By the conference, we had 50 to 60 men and women church leaders in attendance.

That first week each evening after arriving back to base camp, I would look back through my notes, looking for what would translate and contextualize, and what parts would only apply to the Western American church. Then I would rewrite my lessons. In preparation for the trip, God in His providence, arranged for me to take a course at my workplace on the process of coaching, training, and observing. It was amazing how these terms gave illumination to the concept of teaching small groups. 

The Pastors and church leaders of South Sudan learned to develop disciple-making groups made up of three or four people. Each day they modeled the group format exhibiting the Coach, Trainee, Observer model with the group’s primary teacher representing the Holy Spirit. Then, for three days the groups, practiced the discipline of reading of God’s Word (or “Storying” for those that could not read), meeting together in gatherings (ultimately in weekly public locations when possible), and the giving of grace.  Learning the regular practice of these disciplines will help demonstrate to the world around them how Christ-followers love one another.  

The groups’ practice of discussing Scripture was not simply a means for them to become more knowledgeable. This practice will help strengthen relationships between group members in Christ.  God’s Word will continuously challenge and transform each member of the group. Each of the groups were encouraged to watch for the one person they should invite to join their group. As the groups grow and become six in number, they should split and have two new groups of three people. Reaching lost souls around them should be the  focus of every group; as well as providing safe retreats for people to experience disciple-making, which will lead participants to become fully devoted followers of Christ. 

It was amazing for me to see how church leaders had set up camp in the church courtyard. Each day we ate lunch together, prepared by the women of the local church. Each evening they would sit around the campfire in fellowship with one another, sharing stories. You could easily imagine Jesus walking daily with His disciples, as they lived in “Public Spaces” with each other. Jesus often took aside his three, Peter, James and John, to witness things that none of the other disciples got to see.  This mixture of group moments strengthened the deep intimate work of the call to love one another.  

These South Sudanese refugees living for God in the Ugandan camps live to see their people find hope in the one true God. The God who sent His Son and now sends them to lead people to walk with God in the terms and conditions of life in a fallen world. They understand this is not our home. But, like Joshua’s call to the people, “whom will you serve,” they are leading people out of the bondage of sin to live the disciple-making life of the promised land so that the world may know that Jesus, the King of Kings, is coming back to take us to that perfect home of paradise.  

The last day (day four) of the conference was a Q&A time. One question from the group was about John 14. “How can we understand that Jesus had gone to prepare a place for us, a house for us?” A young man said, “many of us have never owned or lived in a home.” To him, Jesus was the provider of permanent shelter. No matter how much opposition the people of God face, the day will come when everyone sees Jesus for who He truly is. For my South Sudanese Christian brothers and sisters, peace comes from knowing our pain will end. Joy results from our confidence that Jesus is returning to make all things new.  His reign will finally be realized on earth in the same way that it has consistently been recognized in heaven.  

The book of Revelation reveals the goal of discipleship. John’s vision of every tongue, tribe and nation in the worship of Jesus confidently calls the church to the disciple-making of all nations. The church is called to reach out to the world around it knowing that All’ authority belongs to Jesus, and His plans always succeed.  As the Holy Spirit empowers the people of South Sudan, we can be confident that efforts to make disciples of all nations are assured. If God is for us, who can be against us (Rom. 8: 31)? In spite of rejection and enduring suffering, the witness of the South Sudanese Baptist places God entirely in control. The power of the Gospel will prevail.