I find myself both excited but with my head spinning a bit. I have two trips to Africa planned for the next two and a half months. Kenya I’ve mentioned a bit, but I’m also joining the Petros Network this October and November in Ethiopia. I should be back from Kenya just long enough to get over the jet lag before I head across the ocean to Ethiopia. I’m excited for both these trips for a number of reasons. I’m excited to be moving into new territory, excited to see what plans God has to move in these places. I have to be honest, I’m also excited to be going to places that are not a war zone. I’m excited to be using the skills that God has given me for capturing the heart of the people I visit through photography. I’m excited to meet new people and new cultures, and see entirely new things.
There’s a lot of exciting (I know, I keep using that word) things going on with the Petros Network, and I’m very happy to be part of it. So I’m writing this blog to feature their story. As such, I’ve grabbed their story from their website, so when I talk about it with people, they’ll know exactly what I’m talking about, and hopefully can spread their vision.
The Petros Network Story
How God’s Kingdom works — small beginnings, unlikely sources, invisible activity, irresistible growth that is Petros Network’s story. – Pastor Ray Noah, Founder of Petros Network
LEARN MORE ABOUT HOW TO SPONSOR A CHURCH PLANT IN ETHIOPIA, SOUTH SUDAN, OR UGANDA
In 1991, Dr. Charles Blair, the pastor of Calvary Temple in Denver, Colorado, launched leadership training in partnership with the Evangelical Church Fellowship of Ethiopia to raise up and equip young pastors. By 1996, Dr. Blair had trained 300 missionaries church planters. Two of those young pastors were Alayu Kebede and Bekele Godeta, who later became key leaders in the Petros Network’s church planting movement. This group of missionaries planted 300 churches in unreached villages, and by 2002 they had multiplied to 800 churches.
In 2002, Dr. Blair was 84-years-old when he received a request from a Christian president of one of Ethiopia’s nine federal regions. This leader asked Charles if he would sponsor in his region 1000 church plants within the next two years while the doors were open under his presidency. In that region were 3000 villages, and the president envisioned that 1000 churches planted could quickly reproduce at least two additional churches and his region could be won for Jesus. Although Charles was growing older and lacked adequate resources to plant that large number of churches, he couldn’t shake the president’s request. So he agreed to plant those 1000 churches!
On the return flight to the US, Dr. Blair was suddenly overcome with doubt. How in the world could an old man with no money plant 1000 churches. So he began to write a letter to the president rescinding his agreement, explaining all the reasons why he couldn’t help and all the things he didn’t possess to do the job. However, somewhere in the air between Ethiopia and Denver, God spoke and said, “Charles, don’t tell me what you don’t have—just use what you have.” Charles said, “Lord, all I’ve got at this point in my life are friends.” And the Lord said, “Then tell your friends—and watch what I do.”
After Charles arrived home, one of the “friends” he first contacted was a former associate, Pastor Ray Noah, who was then pastoring a church in California. Charles told him about the vision. Pastor Ray honestly thought this was the case of an “old man dreaming dreams, “ but he couldn’t help but be impressed that this “old man” was still in the game, dreaming dreams and swinging for the fences.
As Charles asked him what he thought of this idea, Pastor Ray responded, “Absolutely this is a great idea. You should go for it!” And with that Charles responded, “If it is such a great idea, will you help me?”
Pastor Ray had just unwittingly taken hold of the baton he didn’t know was being passed, and together began to strategize how to plant 1000 churches in unreached villages in a remote region of Ethiopia without any money. Staying true to God’s voice, they called 100 of their “friends” to hear about this vision.
After hearing the plan, 99 of the 100 said “yes” to the call. From there, they sent word to 2300 donors and the necessary finances began to come in. In two years, starting from scratch, nearly $2 million was raised and 1000 churches were planted. Between 2003 and 2007, that number grew to 1642 churches and thousands of new converts who had never heard the name of Jesus were brought into those churches. An Ethiopian government census stated that in 2003 there were 5.4% Christians in the region, but that percentage had grown to 13.5% by 2007. A veritable revival had been set loose!
By the end of 2007, Pastor Charles was 87 and his health was growing poor. Because of his illness, he was no longer able to share the vision and raise funds for continued church planting in Ethiopia. However, in that same year Pastor Ray Noah stepped in to continue that vision and took over the financial burden of the Ethiopian offices and ministry. In 2008 he accepted a pastorate at Portland Christian Center. The church whole-heartedly embraced the church planting vision, and even though Pastor Blair passed away, a new group of believers in Portland, Oregon were named as stewards of the vision.
Pastor Bekele Godeta and Gojo, Ethiopia
Pastor Bekele Godeta planted his first church in a small village with no believers when he was 22 years old. The town was ruled by a powerful witch doctor, who was hostile toward this growing young church. He gathered an army of 400 to fight against the 25 new believers. Sadly, 9 new believers died in the conflict, 300 cattle belonging to the new believers were stolen, and all-out persecution began.
The government sent soldiers to fight the 400-strong opposition. In the 3-day war that followed, many more people died. The witch doctor, wanting to kill the leader of this upstart congregation, assumed that he must be a very big man—both in size and influence, for who else could command such influence and authority to have the government fight for him. He never suspected the 22-year-old dressed very casually right under his nose. Pastor Bekele’s supporters kept his identity hidden, knowing the witch doctor was trying to find and kill him. Ultimately, the government quelled the uprising, and the 300 cattle were returned. As punishment, the witch doctor was forced to feed 100 government soldiers for 3 months. All the while, the small church was growing, adding new converts day by day.
A year later, the church members were walking by the witch doctor’s home. They were singing as they walked, but stopped to inquire as to the commotion surrounding his home. “What happened?” they asked. “The witch doctor just died!” was the response. That was the beginning of an even bigger revival, through which 48 more churches have now been planted from that one church! The witch doctor was never replaced.
In 1996, Pastor Bekele, at 26 years of age, moved to an unreached village called Gojo. Before bringing the first 6 converts to Christ, Pastor Bekele faced harsh persecution, even being stoned at one point. However, the number of believers were multiplying in Gojo and other churches were forming. Likewise, the persecution had all but disappeared. In 2009 Pastor Bekele, full of faith, contacted Alayu Kebede, Petros Network’s Ethiopian Call Director and asked him to send an email to Pastor Ray saying, “Will you help me plant 250 churches in the Oromia region.” When Pastor Ray received the email he knew this was a calling from God.
God has a plan…
Within that very week, Pastor Ray was having coffee with a member of his church and began telling him about Pastor Bekele’s request. Unknown to Pastor Ray, the gentleman had some means and called him later that day, “I will support planting 125 churches if you can come up with funding for another 125 churches.” That man was George Wilson ofWater for the World. God had placed a vision in the heart of an Ethiopian pastor, who wrote a US Pastor, who shared a burden with a another brother along with several US/Canadian churches, and Petros Network’s church planting movement was poised for growth.
When Pastor Ray moved his family to take over the pastorate of Portland Christian Center in 2008, he did so under the agreement that the church would join in supporting the Ethiopian Church planting vision of Petros Network. And they did it with enthusiasm! Portland Christian Center has personally sponsored well over 400 of the 1000 church plants in Ethiopia, Uganda, and South Sudan.
Since 2010, Petros Network has planted more than 850 churches in the Oromia Region of Ethiopia. Church planters report over 1.2 million Ethiopians have heard the gospel for the first time, and over 140,000 Ethiopians have responded to the message to follow Christ and joined the local church. Redemptive Lift efforts have followed the church plants. Through Petros Network, and the local indigenous church, a training center, a guest house, two primary schools (Ethiopia and Uganda), 373 physical church buildings have been built, and an additional 303 are in progress. Water has been advanced in the city of Gojo, a model farm is being developed, 50 acres of land is being harvested, medical and dental clinics have been launched by church partners, five widow’s homes have been built, and The TESFA Project was initiated to provide micro-grants, meaningful work, training, and support for widows and orphans. Truly, Petros Network has demonstrated the local church, when at its best, is the hope of the world.
In the spring of 2013, Petros Network formed a key partnership with Pastor Kirk Yamaguchi and the Canyon View Vineyard Church to advance into South Sudan. The results have been miraculous, similar to what’s been happening in Ethiopia over the past decade, showing the power in expanding the Kingdom of God through Jesus’ example of Word and Deed. In addition to South Sudan, Petros Network has also moved into Uganda and Kenya and is investigating other unreached people groups.