This interview was conducted and published by Living with Faith on their website at www.livingwithfaith.org
CHILDREN IN CHRIST® (CIC) is a unique Christian organization founded in 1997 and working in some 20 countries across Africa. CIC’s CEO, Jen M., kindly agreed to answer our questions about this organization’s approach and what it is accomplishing.
LWF: Although it does not ignore adult populations, CIC seems to have a unique approach in its focus on taking the Gospel to many of the world’s children. Could you briefly explain that approach for our readers?
Jen M: Adult missions’ efforts towards resistant unreached people groups can often result in either closed doors or flat-out persecution. This is one of the reasons why there are still 1,292 people groups across the globe with no known church, believer or missionary engaging them. But while adults are often entrenched in their attitudes and ways, children are not. Yet along the 10/40 Window, particularly in Africa, children are marginalized not only economically and socially, but spiritually as well – even amongst local churches. And yet children represent 50% of the population today and they are the future of the African church tomorrow.
That is why CIC works to inspire, equip, and mobilize a God-grown indigenous ministry that empowers children in servant Christ-like leadership to impact families, villages, and nations for Christ. These local churches then are inspired and able to go outside their church walls into unreached people group villages and start children’s clubs that reach and disciple children weekly.
Last year over 78,527 received Christ through CIC Clubs. And not only children, but also many of their friends, moms, dads, aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighbors received Christ as a result of their testimony and prayers. We’ve even had village chiefs and villages receive Christ because of the impact of children’s changed lives.
LWF: So CIC is active in the so-called 10/40 Window of North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia where there is the highest concentration of peoples who have the least access to the Gospel, but are there particular areas within that region in which you are trying to make inroads?
Jen M: There is a Kingdom and geo-political significance to Africa that is intensely compelling and urgent, and Africa remains our primary focus. Africa is predicted to be the fastest-growing continent through to 2050, and Sub-Saharan Africa its fastest-growing region. Looking at a missions map you’ll see that the world is divided into people groups that are “green dots” (those considered reached with the Gospel), “yellow dots” (those who are at least 2% or so reached) and “red dots” (those less than 2% reached and/or known to be unreached). Of the continents across the world, Africa has the most people groups without one verse of Scripture – and hundreds of red dots.
Additionally, in Africa there is a significant red dot/green dot divide. The red dots are all to the north (North Africa). And the green dots are all to the South. And a compelling percentage of the turbulent, terrorist activity and clashes in Africa are along the line where green dot Africa meets red dot Africa. It has become a spiritual battleground which will shape not just the continent’s future but also all of ours and the world’s. As just one example, if you look at the source of ISIS fighter recruits, the majority is coming not from Middle Eastern countries, but from northern Africa.
Every year by God’s grace we have been able to strategically partner with over 600-700 local indigenous churches to help them minister where no one has gone before: in other words, to help the “green dot” indigenous churches go to the “red dot villages.” In 2015 we ministered to children with over 18,000,000 child-hours of discipleship across this line.
A new thing for us in 2016 has been India. Though we’ve had many invitations to enter new continents, after much prayer we did feel led this past year to answer one such invitation in India, with a dynamic church-planting church. In just a few weeks the pastors there had started roughly 10 CIC clubs in extremist village regions.
LWF: Your website stresses the fact that Africa, with 20% of the world’s population, has well over 200 million people who have not heard the Gospel, and that most of these individuals are children. What are the social conditions or attitudes that lead to relatively fewer children being taught the basics of Christianity even in Christianized areas?
Jen M: Amazingly, the African indigenous culture and church context isn’t so different from the days of Jesus when He was indignant that the disciples were rebuking parents bringing their children. The first time I attended a typical African church I was struck by the strangeness of watching children being corralled to a special corner of the assembly space. A church member was on duty to oversee them and, if a child made a noise or disrupted the service, the ‘miscreant’ was whacked with a stick. Other African churches might send children to ‘children’s church’ where they are kept in another room, most of the time without materials or teaching. And in other churches, children are left to their own devices – to play outside in the street or field nearby while the ‘important people’ (the grown-ups) enjoy their church service.
In our CIC trainings with pastors, we often show them two candles – one burnt halfway down, and one brand new candle out of the box. We’ll ask the pastors, “Which one of these candles is a child and which one is an adult?” And the pastors will look and quickly point to the tall candle and say, “This one is the adult,” and point to the small one and say, “This one is the child.” And we’ll pause and then tell them, “No. . . . Don’t you see? The short candle – the one half-burned – that one is an adult, because that person’s life and testimony is already half gone. But the tall candle, it has a lifetime to burn and shine the light into the darkest corners.” In Africa, the average life expectancy is age 50 and the median age range is 14-20. To reach Africa for Christ means reaching the children!
LWF: CIC proclaims the visionary goal of “every child reached,” and you are making tremendous progress with some 250,000 children being discipled weekly. Tell us a little about the “CIC Clubs” you utilize to do this work.
Jen M: While we have fun games and laughter, we also have lively, participatory learning of the Word – from the Old Testament to the New Testament – and we do this weekly. And the genuine love of the Club mentors, the adults, truly sharing Jesus’ love, is also what really impacts children. These mentors aren’t just ‘on’ during club hours. They care for these children, pray with them, visit their families, coach them through problems and issues, and serve as a loving Biblical counsel and mentor in their day-to-day lives. Volunteerism is definitely key. Unlike many ministries, we don’t pay children’s ministry workers to spend time with children. Nor do we pay churches to participate. So the people who stay with CIC only stay because they are deeply, fervently inspired and called. Their reward is a spiritual blessing, not a monetary one.
Another core value in CIC Club ministry is coaching, equipping and empowering Child Leaders. Within each club, adult mentors identify children between the ages of 9-18 who bubble up as highly committed and called individuals. In separate trainings (5-day long Biblical worldview camps) and discipleship meetings, we coach them in servant leadership, biblical worldview, life skills, how to lead CIC Clubs, how to reach peers with the Gospel, how to disciple one-on-one with peers, and other Kingdom leadership content. These Child Leaders co-lead the CIC Clubs with the adult volunteer and play a vital role in the impact and multiplication of the ministry. The idea of youth leadership is counter-cultural for Africa. But these young leaders are the life, vitality, and future of this ministry. Several of our current field leaders started out as Child Leaders in a CIC Club!
LWF: Africa has seen the horrendous activities of groups such as the so-called “Lord’s Resistance Army,” which include abductions and abuse of children, forcing them to serve as soldiers or in other ways. More recently, the terrorist group Boko Haram and others have been widely utilizing the same practices. Are there ways in which organizations such as yours can help to alleviate the sad results of this situation?
Jen M: That’s such a great question. Reaching these children with the love of Christ and nurturing them in His Truth is paramount to stemming and reversing the tide of these groups who are actively trying to recruit children through deceptive teaching and radicalization.
There is an escalating, dangerous battle for the souls of these children. There’s never been more urgency to reach and disciple them than now. The question is, “Who will reach them first?”
LWF: Your work also brings CIC into contact with the results of African witchcraft. Could you explain the significance of that?
Jen M: There’s a famous saying in Africa that “The Christian goes to church on Sunday, but goes to the witchdoctor on Monday.” Having lived in Africa, I am still trying to process and wrap my East Coast evangelical Protestant mind around traditionalism and occultic practices that seep into everyday life – even into the church membership. In the contexts where we operate, the church is often not able to deeply disciple its members and this shallow teaching can sometimes lead to syncretism and confusion, with clashing worldviews that destabilize the very Body of Christ. The shallow teaching is one of the reasons why Rwanda had an 80% Christian population somehow perpetrate the horrific slaughter of genocide.
And while some in the West have relegated witchcraft to fairytales, it’s still a real, powerful shaping force in Africa. We have thousands of children who tell us they live in fear every day of demons and the supernatural, and though our Western ears have a hard time believing it, it is not wholly uncommon to hear of ‘child sacrifices’ and evil acts perpetrated against children. In one village in Ghana 7 years ago, villagers were still conducting a “rite of passage” for children that forced them to be placed into a burning kiln. Those who survived were considered to have special protective forces. This was in 2009! Soon after our CIC Club started ministering there, the parents and children refused to participate in this ritual. And now, the kiln has been fully dismantled – it’s no longer in use. Such things are not uncommon across Africa. During election years, child sacrifices increase as politicians hope to win the gods’ favor in the polls. And occultic prosperity theology perpetuates such heinous acts as well.
LWF: CIC believes strongly in mission partnership and collaboration. Could you tell us briefly about some of your current or recent collaborations?
Jen M: First and foremost, we believe the indigenous local church is uniquely gifted by God for finishing the Great Commission. They know the heart language, the culture, the context, the terrain, and they can sustainably stay, nurture, and build up the Body of Christ while remaining under the radar. We truly believe they will be some of the great heroes of the faith who finish the task. So our whole heart is to inspire, encourage, embolden, uplift and equip as needed our fellow brothers and sisters who are part of the Body of Christ in these countries. That’s what we do every day. While some NGO’s build buildings, dig wells, or provide material resources, we inspire, train and mobilize.
CIC also partners with a range of in-field Kingdom partners in various countries across Africa. For example: providing weekly spiritual nurture for about 60,000+ World Vision children annually over many years, providing an ongoing discipleship venue for Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes in a variety of regions, coming alongside Open Doors for children’s ministry in several challenging contexts, partnering with DAI for indigenous leadership training, etc. The list is long, and each one enriches the collaborative fruitfulness of the Body of Christ working together in the field.
Along with this, CIC has had a faithful core of Kingdom-focused partners and donors in the US who have given prayer support and resources to equip the local churches to serve His call across Africa. We’re thankful for every single one of them. We’re always praying for more people to join us.
LWF: CIC is clearly a vibrant and forward-looking organization. What are some of your plans as you look to the future?
Jen M: We’re prayerfully seeking to enter 20 completely unengaged and unreached people groups this year and more deeply establish an inspired and equipped indigenous volunteer church network in 3 undisclosed countries/regions. We are also seeking the Lord’s continued wisdom and strength to finish and roll out a completely new orality-based (storytelling) curriculum and methodology made for this context. This will be a watershed project for us – having the potential for even greater multiplication as well as enhanced retention within an extremely oral-based learning culture. In partnership with DAI, we are also co-authoring an advanced level curriculum for Child Leadership principles that will further develop biblical worldview leadership amongst this generation. But we look to the Lord for His wisdom, plans, and timing as we hold onto all these projects loosely. All of it – every single bit of it – is done by Him. It’s just a privilege for all of us to be a witness to His power, work, and glory in CIC.
Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted by Living With Faith. You can visit their website at http://www.livingwithfaith.org/