By Tess Rivers
ASIA—Ma Mima* was once so shy that she cried when people tried to talk with her. Today the young woman is one of the most outgoing and vibrant leaders in her Southeast Asian village, says Riley Sharps,* project coordinator for IMB village-based leadership training in East and Southeast Asia.
Along the way, a community with no believers has been transformed into “a shining village on a hill,” Sharps says.
Mima’s transformation is thanks in large part to leadership and literacy training funded primarily by Southern Baptist gifts to Global Hunger Relief (formerly the World Hunger Fund).
“God used the training to build (her) confidence and to lay a foundation for future leadership opportunities,” Sharps says, explaining that one of the project’s goals is to work within the local church to train young adults in literacy, leadership and agricultural methodologies. A second goal is to enable these young adults to share their skills and their faith in other villages where Christ is not known.
After her initial training, Mima traveled to a neighboring country to serve in an orphanage. When she returned, “her heart was broken for the needs among all her people, not just those in her home village,” Sharps says.
Mima began studying “mother-tongue literacy” — the language of her people group — and learned how to teach literacy to others. As a result, Mima now travels to many villages where Jesus is not known. She hosts Bible clubs for children and teaches them to read in their heart language. Because parents of the children often ask for tutoring, Mima has also led many adults to faith in Jesus and helped start some new churches, Sharps says.
“As new believers learn to read their own language, they have the means to access Scripture for themselves,” Sharps says. “As they gather into churches and learn Biblical stewardship, these new churches have the means to multiply into other villages.”
Mima’s story is just one example of how village-based leadership training meets human needs and empowers villagers, church leaders, trainees and graduates, Sharps explains.
Ko Thagyamin* is a local pastor who has been involved with village-based leadership training since its inception nearly a decade ago. In an area where the per capita income is less than $3 a day, Thagyamin helps select students to attend the training and provides opportunities for them to serve in other villages once they graduate from the program.
“Thagyamin gathered some graduates to begin agricultural plots in a village with no believers,” Sharps explains, noting that throughout the project the pastor and his students lived and worked among the villagers — building relationships, teaching agricultural techniques and modeling the Christian lifestyle. After a year, the village had a sustainable community garden that provided food and income for the villagers. It was also home to a new church with more than 40 believers.
“God used this work to transform this dark, desolate place into a shining village on a hill,” Sharps says, noting that this whole-life approach allows new churches to be both spiritually and financially self-sufficient.
In all, Thagyamin and his students have helped start more than six new churches in villages once closed to the Gospel. He is just one of many doing similar work throughout the region.
As each new church is established, it becomes a small center that provides on-going training to meet the community’s physical and spiritual needs, Sharps says. In 2013 alone, this approach reached more than 650 villagers in three new areas.
“The strategy is working well,” Sharps says.
Mima and Thagyamin would likely agree.
Tess Rivers is an IMB writer.