After his seminary education in the United States, Tial Thanga returned to his home country of Myanmar in the early 90’s, which at that time was under a military dictatorship. Since then, Tial has been instrumental in development of schools and churches throughout the country. In 1995, Tial started Reformed Seminary in Yangon.
Tial’s most notable featured is his good natured simplicity and the childlike curiosity he brings to his work developing the next generation of Christian leaders in Burma. I sat down with Tial in my 5th-story hotel room in Yangoon. We had just finished a week of discipleship training with some of his leaders and I wanted to hear more of his story as well as some of the unique opportunities and challenges of discipleship in a Buddhist Burmese context.
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New Connections and a Bright Future for WDA Africa
Nairobi 2017 finished Friday with the commissioning of 5 new staff, including new country directors for Congo and Ethiopia. Yesterday, those who are still here drove through Nairobi National Park featuring giraffes, one flustered ostrich, and a big lion fresh off her kill.
The conference I think far exceeded everyone’s expectations. Our 13 African associates connected exceptionally well with each other and our 13 American staff and volunteers, promising to pray for each other and to work together whenever possible. I was thrilled to see them think more strategically about WDA and begin to see it as a truly continental movement.
A few fun highlights from the week!
I bought 13 kindle fires and uploaded ALL our WDA content (bible studies, books, articles, teaching outlines, workbooks, etc) plus a small library of kindle books for their training and personal reading. The response was very gratifying! And more than one of them stayed up til 2AM reading the rest of the week!*I bought 13 kindle fires and uploaded ALL our WDA content (bible studies, books, articles, teaching outlines, workbooks, etc) plus a small library of kindle books for their training and personal reading. The response was very gratifying! And more than one of them stayed up til 2AM reading the rest of the week!
We had a very honoring “roast” for Ken, who started the international ministry 20+ years ago. We shared funny Ken stories and had a time to pray for him as he begins to step back and I take on more leadership. He was also very affirming of me to the guys in my new role.
Having Dan Horne, the chairman of the board there was a godsend, especially as our teams broke into country groups and developed strategic plans for nationalizing their ministries. He brought a lot of good business sense as well as a deep pastoral heart for the men.
It was so fun to have my dad Paul Harkness with me getting to know the guys, sharing a short devotional Friday morning, and then traveling with our group to the safari on Saturday. Of course everyone loved him and it was gratifying to come back with him to Kenya, the first place in Africa I visited with him back when I was in high school!
Restoring Your Heart leader, Nancy Higgins put a fire in everyone’s belly for bringing emotional restoration to their countries. Tanzania, Congo, and Ethiopia are ready to roll as soon as possible! Kenya is planning go through the work books as a team immediately.
I heard literally dozens of testimonies about how God had changed the lives of our staff and the people they minister to through WDA and how this week represented a new page in the history of WDA for them. They are going back home with new materials, a fresh passion, and a clearer vision for how to develop disciple-making movements in their communities and nations.
There are SO many other fun and significant highlights. But the bottom line is this: We connected with God and with each other this week. That was my biggest goal and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. Now its off to Zambia! More on that to come!
This year, WDA expanded its work in the Philippines on a scale that is somewhat overwhelming, yet very exciting and humbling.. What is most impressive is that it hasn’t even been a full year at all, but rather just 8 months. Since last May our local partners- Sowers of the Word (SOW), The Philippine Bible Society ( PBS ) and The Center for Community Transformation (CCT) have all done amazing work. There have been dozens of training sessions lead by James, Remi, Perry and Dennis which have already resulted in more than 20,000 people participating in small groups. Now that our books are being translated and printed in Tagalog these numbers continue to grow. In our most recent conversation with Dennis Monong (CCT Leader) he reported great interest in Life Coaching and Restoring Your Heart this will provide even more opportunities in addition to our established ministries with Cornerstone. As a result of WDA ministry growth and impact, Filipino financial partners have provided donations to hire 2 additional trainers to help with the demand. The overall strategy is to continue to train leaders who begin groups using Cornerstone and follow that initial training with Life Coaching, Restoring Your Heart and Phase III (Equipping for Ministry). A three year plan is in place that addresses publishing, translation, training and leadership development.
God has been continuing to build momentum for discipleship in the Filipino church through the ongoing work of our partners and support provided by WDA. The potential impact of our WDA Training, Materials and Philosophy of Ministry should not be over looked. When people understand that our approach to disciple building is not merely curriculum driven but is part of a wholistic approach toward Christlike Maturity, where people “Think, Feel and Act” like Jesus, they begin to ask for more!
Significant portions of this trip were designed to live our philosophy of ministry. In addition to training, coaching and teaching WDA staff had the opportunity to live with and among pastors, to visit schools, seminaries, orphanages and factories, to visit over meals, and enjoy one another. The first stage in Disciple building and our R-CAPS model is Relationship! Our time together resulted in many in-depth multi-day discussions about how WDA could have a wholistic impact on the lives of Filipinos.
These men, women and children who span the spectrum from extremely impoverished villages and street-dwellers to influential Chinese-Filipino businessmen, have all had just a taste of what WDA has to offer and are eager to continue to know and roll out more. Here are a few of their stories.
“Miles to go before I sleep”
Just how many miles are you willing to drive to help a small rural church learn about Discipleship? James Tioco drove 15 hours to the northern city of Tuguegarao where he met with leaders who are eager to begin our WDA Cornerstone ministry. These leaders were getting trained following the same orientation program and same material that WDA staff and board members presented last May. The week before our team arrived (January 28, 2017) our friend and brother James Tioco, drove to meet with a group of leaders. James used materials printed by the Philippine Bible Society. They were given our Getting Started/Knowing God (translated into Tagalog) which is now printed in the Philippines as a “flip” book. James also taught from Disciple Building: A Biblical Framework and A Small Groups Manual. Each Training done by Sowers of the Word (WDA Philippines) prepares leaders to start a group themselves with leaders who will often begin a new Cornerstone group in their churches. The goal is not to just learn new information but to begin groups using the curriculum. To date over 300 groups have been started.
“MGC New Life Christian Academy”
After the 15 hour trip back to Manila James met our WDA team at MGC New Life Christian Academy where David Parfitt, Buddy Eades and Hugh Kirby were to meet with teachers and students. Hugh presented his testimony and we were able to challenge the students to consider how they would be able to disciple others. The staff was so impressed with what they heard that 2 weeks later our team was invited back to MGC Christian Academy to present WDA’s ministry and give them an overview of our materials. Since our return it has been decided they will use our materials in their schools and training has been set up in order for them to begin!
“Leaders Gather for Celebration, Stories and Orientation”
WDA leaders met together with the national leaders, who have been part of our ongoing discipleship training since our initial trip in May, for a 2 day Leadership Conference. Keynote speakers, Dr. Ruth Callanta and Dr. Melba Maggay, from the Center for Community Transformation (CCT) taught us the wholistic ministry approach that CCT employes. During this conference Jack Larson, Hugh Kirby (New Hope Church), David Parfitt and Buddy Eades presented an overview of Life Coaching and Jesus ministry as it relates to WDA’s Philosophy of Ministry. Each participant was given a copy of the Life Coaching Manual and learned how to develop a NGP. NGP (Needs Goals Projects) is a Life Coaching disciple building planning tool.
“PBS: Host and Ministry Partner”
The Philippine Bible Society has become a significant ministry partner. It should not be underestimated what PBS means to the roll out of WDA’s materials and training. PBS hosts local Manila training in their headquarters. PBS is designing, publishing, translating and providing distribution and sales of our materials (both in their book stores and on their web store). They are part of a the International Bible Society and as a result of this relationship they have committed to becoming a conduit for providing our materials and training to other countries where the International Bible Society is located. Each Bible Society has the same capability to print, design, translate and sell our materials. WDA partners in other countries would have the same opportunities as our Philippines ministry is using to provide WDA materials at a low cost with the same quality, consistency and format. The implications would be that WDA has the potential to print worldwide and local churches would not incur shipping costs.
“Factory Workers see Transformation”
WDA has a goal to see people transformed into the likeness of Christ. One worker at a factory run by Center for Community Transformation has seen her life change! “I was once a loudmouth and now I am different because of being part of WDA.” She and her co-workers are part of small groups provided for every worker. These men and women are not just part of groups but also lead groups themselves. Each factory run by CCT has a pastor who oversees discipleship and manages a process that ranges from management all the way to the line worker. Over 20,000 factory workers are now using WDA material in their small discipleship groups.
“Leaders Meet for Training and Planning”
At the CCT Retreat Center in the Tagaytay Highlands we met with leaders from Sowers of the Word, Leaders and Students from Febias Bible College and Seminary as well as Pastors from the Makati Gospel Church. These men and women were able to receive training on the Restoring Your Heart Ministry and also learn more about the Ministry of Christ and Philosophy of Ministry of WDA. All of these leaders were part of previous training with WDA. The benefit of returning to meet with them is that we are able to reinforce the information that they have learned by reading Disciple Building: A Biblical Framework, doing groups using Cornerstone and also by going thru training in small groups using WDA’s A Small Groups Manual.
The Pastors for the Makati Gospel Church were looking at using WDA as their main discipleship focus for the church. MGC has many small groups and were looking at many different approaches to discipleship. Our time with them over meals, during meetings and in individual conversations has resulted in them choosing to now only roll out WDA as the main equipping curriculum but also were part of helping us use the Cornerstone in the MCG Christian Academy. MCG Academy will use Cornerstone with 7-12 grade students as well as with faculty.
Along with MCG, one of our WDA trainers , Sis. Remi, along with Sis. Joy, Dean of Students at FEBIAS (Far East Bible Institute And Seminary), invited Jack, David and Buddy to meet with students and faculty to introduce our Disciple Building approach. FEBIAS is also looking at WDA as a significant part of student development and small groups at the college and seminary level.
The Restorative Ministry
The Restorative Ministry also sent a significant team to work with Rich Smith, WDA Staff member in Quezon City, Philippines. Rich has been in Quezon City developing a ministry with local pastors who have been very interested in starting Restoring Your Heart groups. The RYH team led 6 trainings over a 3 week period for people who were committed to start RYH groups. The challenges that face WDA with these prototype groups are providing ongoing feedback and training while receiving feedback about how the experience is going. WDA will use the feedback with these leaders and also with groups started by Sowers of the Word to begin a national strategy this coming year. In addition to Quezon City groups, 3 more groups have begun with Leaders at the Makati Gospel Church, the Philippine Bible Society and at FEBIAS.
What we see in these stories is but a small number of ways WDA is becoming a Worldwide Discipleship Association. WDA has a commitment to serve the Church Worldwide. Ministry partnerships around the globe will have ongoing impact as WDA provides the training, service and materials necessary to begin national movements where people grow to maturity. We would greatly appreciate your prayers and financial support in making these endeavors possible.
This is a video provided to WDA by our partner. You can learn more about disciple building by reading Disciple Building: A Biblical Framework and about our Materials available for our ministry on our materials pages.
Muhammad Ali and Joe Frasier faced off in the 3rd matchup of their boxing careers. The previous meetings had them tied one win each. In what was an amazing fight, Ali won by technical knockout in the 15th round. The bout is ranked in the sport as one of the best in the sports history.
WDA sent a team of five men to the Philippines this April, and it was a “Thrilla” as well. For over the last nine months WDA has been establishing a relationship with a ministry partner, James Tioco (pron ch-eo-ko), who leads a ministry called Sowers of the Word (S.O.W). James had contacted WDA after reading many of our books and looking at our website. He believed that WDA had the comprehensive approach that would serve the church in the Philippines. Our Exec VP and C.O.O., David Partfitt, began a dialogue over the phone and by Skype which allowed us to learn about them and them about us. It was clear that James wanted to see WDA help him roll out a discipleship ministry. So this brought us nine months later to our trip to Manila.
David Parfitt, Dan Horne (WDA Board Chairman), Woody Johnson (WDA Board Member), Jeff Pritchett (Chick-fil-A), and I (WDA Church Staff, Atlanta Arts Coordinator, Publishing Leader) began to develop a series of presentations for church and ministry leaders, denomination leaders and ministry partners. We flew to Manila April 27-May 7, and over a week introduce the ministry of WDA to a limited number of people who we hoped would pray, lead and/or volunteer to be WDA trainer of churches. From the beginning, we realized that James could have gathered hundreds of leaders to a one day “training” but we wanted to be strategic in our launch. Limiting the numbers would allow James and Sowers to have a manageable number of people to train.
On Monday and Tuesday we did full-day “orientation” meetings in which we discussed the need for discipleship, the priority of the local church as the vehicle for disciple building, the process, biblical foundation, and our Biblical Framework and the Five Initiatives of Disciple Building, R-CAPS®. Each day closed with a challenge for them to pray, lead a new or existing group using our approach, and/or also be willing to become a WDA Trainer to train churches and ministries to use our approach in their context.
Wednesday we met with potential ministry partners who would commit to pray and fund the ministry of WDA Philippines (Sowers). Our team also spent Wednesday morning meeting with the Philippine Bible Society (PBS) who will be our in-country publishing partner. They will be printing and translating our materials for use beginning in Manila, then to other areas as God provides people and opportunity.
Our last day was a full day with the Sower’s ministry, discussing next steps, strategy and reporting on the results of the earlier meetings. We left the meeting with lots of energy and ideas for how we could move forward.
We were a bit overwhelmed by the many churches and pastors who already were committing to train other trainers. Many were already making plans to begin new groups or multiply existing groups and use our WDA approach and materials. They desired training as soon as possible and wanted to know what materials were ready now! We had financial backers who wanted to know more details and what would be needed to fund this initiative. James said that his phone was full of text messages each night following the meetings as people were responding very positively towards our orientations and vision.
It is by the grace of God that our work in Manila is happening now. Even a few years ago WDA would not have had the ability to move forward with this type of initiative in the way we are able to do today. Over the last two years we have redesigned and printed books for our country and have the ability to take the exact same English materials and have the Philippine Bible Society adapt our format to one which is more suitable in size and affordability for the church there. After being on the ground and talking to leaders, hearing from James and his team, we are positioned to provide materials and training to over 700 people in just this first stage.
We begin by providing leadership training and materials using WDA’s Disciple Building: A Biblical Framework and A Small Groups Manual. PBS will also print all of our Cornerstone (Phase 1 and 2) materials. Leaders will be using Pocket Principles® and Guided Discussions, and the students will get a version that has just the Pocket Principles®. The partners at PBS were very helpful as was the Sowers team in helping us decide how to configure our materials specifically for them.
The churches want to launch their new groups as soon as possible, so we have a goal of 30 days to get new materials in their hands. Our publishing team and the PBS will be working hard in the next few weeks to get books reconfigured and to their printing press. We will also spend these weeks providing short video training segments that Sowers will use to begin to follow up from our orientation and prepare leaders to launch discipleship groups using Getting Started. Over the next 12-18 months, they will complete all of Cornerstone. WDA will continue to work with Sowers to provide training from the U.S. while planning for second trip to roll our Life Coaching Ministry and additional training.
There is the potential for us to see thousands of people building disciples in a relational approach which is able to be adapted for their churches. We have seen a hunger for discipleship as person after person who connected with our presentations also saw the need and understood how our approach to disciple building was progressive, biblical and flexible. We worked very hard to show that one size did not fit all, and that WDA could help them design and build specifically for their country and culture. One leader over hundreds of churches said to us, “You know you have started a fire here.”
We are overwhelmed by God’s providential work in bringing our team to the Philippines, creating a desire for Biblical discipleship, providing people and organizations in-country that are primed to move forward and provide the people and resources for this to go forward.
As of this date we have 81 prayer partners, 71 leaders of new Cornerstone groups, 59 new Cornerstone trainers, 125 new small groups beginning. 35 Youth Pastors trained by a participant using R-CAPS®. The Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship Board, approved our approach and ordered 50 copies of Disciple Building: A Biblical Framework Book.
We are humbled that God would use the five of us men to promote His work. This was not about us as individuals, but it was clear that God wanted to encourage these leaders that they and their church members can have a significant ministry to many people as they continue with us to fulfill Jesus’ commission to make disciples by going, baptizing and teaching to do all that He commanded.
Our team, while still feeling the Jet Lag, returned with great joy and thankfulness for the opportunity to be part of a launch of Disciple Building ministry with a great partner in Manila.
This certainly was a “Thrilla.” There will be much more work but also much more fruit from our trip.
Pray for James Tioco and Sowers of the Word and for us.
Pray for the hundreds of pastors who this very moment are beginning to share what they learned in our orientation.
Pray for the publication of materials, training of leaders and wisdom for next steps.
Thanks for those who pray for our ministry. God is at work all over the world bringing people to himself and raising up men and women in the church who are committed to helping others grow to Christ-like Maturity.