Ivan came to our first training in Bamenda, Cameroon in 2013, and he really got it. He left with a passion to create real disciples who could hear God’s voice and study scripture deeply. Ivan’s decision to apply what he learned in his church-plant came at a high price: his conviction cost him his church and his job. However, this was the springboard God had to launch Ivan into a whole new level of impact in the country of Cameroon. This is his story.
I didn’t actually meet Ivan at that first training that revolutionized his ministry; he didn’t stand out in the crowd. Our team was teaching a contextual Discovery Bible Study method we’ve developed called Discovering God’s Love (DGL) and also shared some prophetic words God gave us for Cameroon about systematically teaching the Bible in churches. The training also focused on leadership development and critical thinking skills—skills we believe are critical for the people of Cameroon to begin to find their own unique solutions to their country’s unique problems.
Ivan had a church plant with one of the main denominations in Cameroon. Feeling convicted by what he learned at the training, Ivan began to use DGL studies with his church as part of his message. He also started to preach systematically through the Bible instead of topically. He’d take the key verse from the passage and the congregation would do a DGL, then share and pray for each other in small groups. It was very culturally appropriate in Africa to interact like that—though not the norm in the churches—and his church plant really grew.
Around this time the district leader over Ivan’s denomination allowed some of their elders who lived in the city to relocate to Ivan’s church plant, automatically making them elders in Ivan’s church, without his permission. The first time they attended a church service, Ivan was doing a summary of the book of Thessalonians, asking his congregation, “What did you learn from doing this book?” The elders felt embarrassed in the meeting; they hadn’t seen this before and didn’t know what was happening, so they shared concerns about Ivan with the district leader.
The district leader told Ivan to “stop it.”
Ivan said, “If I have to stop this, I’m not going to be a pastor anymore.” That’s what a big deal being faithful to creating real disciples was to him.
So Ivan gave up his church plant.
Now Ivan had to start over and figure out what to do with his life.
After losing his church, Ivan started going to remote Cameroonian villages with no roads; he would climb his way up into these villages when there was no rain and it was possible to get there. And once in the villages, he would do DGL studies with the people.
In one village Ivan visited there was a corrupt pastor who was charging people an exorbitant amount of money just to walk through the doors of his church. Ivan had a personal connection with one of the women in that tribe; she was too poor to go to the church. “You don’t need to go to the church to walk with Christ,” Ivan told her. “I can show you how to hear God’s voice.” And he started a Discovering God’s Love study with her and her neighbors.
That village didn’t have clean, fresh water. This is a major issue in many areas of Africa, responsible for a large number of deaths, especially in children. Ivan was an engineer by training, so he helped them figure out how to get running water to 24 huts in the village, using bamboo piping. He came up with this new system using the critical thinking skills he’d learned way back in that first transformational training.
One day, the bamboo piping in the village broke. The tribe called him on the phone asking, “What do we do?” Ivan said, “I don’t know.” Instead of telling them what to do, he coached them, asking them what they might have to patch the broken pipes. Together, they figured out that there was a rubbery kind of material they used from a plant that might work. “Is it poisonous?” Ivan asked. “No.” So the people fixed their own pipes, and all the huts had water again.
Ivan connected with the guy who fixed the pipes in that village, and got him a job going to other villages and showing them how to put together their own water systems.
We recognized early that Ivan was one of those entrepreneurs you want to keep your eye on, the kind of person who doesn’t fit the system. Ivan told us he wanted to start his own non-profit, so we began to coach him in how to do that and looking for opportunities to help him.
In 2016 God opened a door for our team to do a training for the government of Cameroon—with all the community developers in the region! We asked Ivan to come with us, sure that his story of creative development and community empowerment would blow these government officials away. After Ivan shared about the 24 huts that got water, the whole group just flocked to him. They knew what Ivan was doing was the real deal.
In the last two months, Ivan has started seven new discipleship groups. He has a bunch of young leaders with him, all around 25–30 years old. These young leaders hope to impact villages with holistic transformation—not just water or electricity, and not just the gospel, but holistic, integrative transformation. We got to do a training and strategic planning time with them, continuing to invest in the work God is doing through Ivan.
In the beginning, Ivan got pushed out of the very system we’re working with in Cameroon because of his integrity before God. But now, because of his faithfulness, God has actually elevated him into a very important role with the same system that spit him out.
These are the kinds of leaders CRM / Novo teams are looking for. Our team goes to places like Cameroon ministering to the crowd—doing trainings for the masses. But just like Jesus, we’re looking for the Peters, Jameses, Johns—and Ivans. And when we find them we take them just as far as God gives those guys the vision to go. That partnership with the village wasn’t my team’s idea; it was the unique vision God gave Ivan. We just got to be coaches and assistants along the way. This is the leadership development strategy that is core to CRM / Novo’s DNA.
God can do things through the Ivans of this world that we CRM / Novo missionaries could never do; sold-out local leaders can make a much bigger impact than we could ever make. We’re trusting God to raise up many more “Ivans” who want to reach into villages with transformation. It’s a real privilege to walk alongside these leaders who want to transform their countries.
For more details about the impact of our work around the world this year, check out our 2018 Annual Ministry Report.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Randy Knutson leads the ChurchNEXT Engage Team, which equips movement leaders to make more and better disciples that transform their neighborhoods. Randy and his wife Karin have been with CRM / Novo for more than 30 years. They live in Southern California but spend several months a year in various nations in Africa.