We haven’t mentioned ministry anniversaries, but since we’re now 20, it’s appropriate to reflect and give thanks to God, since ministry is a gift of God’s mercy (2 Cor. 4:1).
In 1990, we made a quick move to Chattanooga, Tenn., where I joined Inner City Ministries, an unsalaried position, working in the larger housing projects, evangelizing, discipling and showing the Jesus Film. Another focus was to get to know black pastors and their churches. My doctoral dissertation asked the question--Why were there were so few African American missionaries? By God’s grace I graduated in 1998, and found that I needed to either affiliate with a new ministry, or create one, to pursue mobilization of African American missionaries for global mission. Since the Lord provided us with land and a log home so providentially, Chattanooga was our base, and there wasn’t a fit in any local ministry. Since I was attempting to reconcile people to God on the streets, to reconcile checkbooks through financial counseling and teaching Christian financial stewardship, and also attempting to reconcile whites and blacks through friendships and collaborative ministry, Reconciliation Ministries Network became our name.
“LORD, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us.” (Isa 26:12 NIV). This report is in the spirit of this truth, that God should have recognition for what He has done for us. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment has been that God has provided so well for our family of six and for ministry. At one point our family had only $25 in the bank, and green beans in the cupboards, but we never went hungry. We had no money for Christian Christian school in Chattanooga, but God enabled us to clean the elementary wing in barter. We didn’t have enough to make it through more than one semester of college for each of our offspring, and none for my doctoral program, but God provided. We had about $16,000 in retirement savings to build a house, and 3 years later moved in with $800 owed for a stairway, which we’d overlooked in the plans.
For the dissertation research I located just over 100 African American cross-cultural missionaries. For over 10 years I’ve tried to update that census, now having located at one point 259 such missionaries. To arrive at this number 400 mission organizations were contacted in 2018 alone. This work is ongoing, since missions mobilizers ask for this information, and some mission execs ask for guidance in their recruitment.
God gave me a love for cultures (but not a gift for learning languages). In 1993 God revealed that He wanted me to go to Africa. Within 50 days I was on British Airways headed for Uganda. Tickets, immunizations, and outfitting—all were provided. Since then God has provided for 25 mostly teaching trips to Africa, 3 to India, 2 to China, as well as for single trips to Mongolia, Indonesia and Dominica. Since India would not process my visa, Joe and Sandy Huebscher led another 5 teaching trips to India, under RMNI auspices and facilitation.
We’ve taken 62 people on our trips, 29 of whom have been African American, and one Indian. However, the same African Americans have returned numerous times. Just four have been on a total of 22 trips! One, Ellen Fox, bought a 1-way ticket for her fourth trip, and has still not returned from S. Sudan in 9 years.
Many minimize or criticize short-term mission trips, and some are of minimal value to the hosts. RMNI has led ministry trips to develop long-term relationships with host churches and schools. This has allowed us to assist with church planting, Christian school development, leadership development, women’s ministry, microeconomic and other development, as well as with emergency needs.
RMNI partners with individuals and churches to develop project proposals that they fund, or that are funded by unallocated giving. Some projects have not gone well. Among failures has been getting an interlocking block machine to S. Sudan that we haven’t been able yet to release for ministry. We tried to plant several churches—thankfully one seems to be operating, through the followup work of another missionary. An orphanage building was built in a remote village, but no orphans came. However, for several years it has housed the pre-school or kindergarten that Ellen Fox oversees. We funded a truck as a micro-development project that quickly went through two motors and was parked.
However, God has blessed partnership with the Presbyterian Church of S. Sudan in Juba. Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Ch. (LMPC) has funded work through these brothers in these amounts: $172,000 for ministry in the UN refugee camp in Juba; $35,600 to start Grace Theological College (GTC) in Juba; and $14,000 to provide scholarships for four students to attend what is now Africa Reformation Theological Seminary (ARTS), together with funding 3rd Millennium curriculum--the precursor of GTC. Currently, ARTS students comprise the majority of GTC teachers.
At the Juba refugee camp LMPC funded Hope Emergency Secondary School, which began as the only high school in a camp of 90,000 persons. Since inception, it has taught over 1,000 students and enabled 239 to pass national exams to go to college or university. In fact 157 are now in various undergraduate schools due to the sacrificial work of the 12-14 teachers, who also live inside the camp.
In 2019 by God’s grace a dental team of 15 dental workers, from 5 nations, treated about 565 patients through extractions or fillings, at the Juba camp. About 2,000 pair of reading glasses have been distributed in refugee camps, and 1,000 pair of sunglasses just arrived in Juba. At the Malakal UN refugee camp in the far north, we’ve distributed Bibles, taught Disciple Making Movement principles (as at the Juba camp) and conducted seminars. Then, in 2018 an eye team of 6 performed 208 cataract or trachoma surgeries there. In previous years, when working in Kenya, our team medical workers treated 1,224 patients. Also within the past 2-3 years—approximately 17,000 Bibles and 1500 Jesus story booklets were distributed in multiple languages in the two refugee camps. Since 1999, God has provided through you and others over $806,000 to and through RMNI for program/ministry. This does not include funds sent directly to S. Sudan from LMPC, which would put the figure at over 1 million dollars.
Walt Robertson, the originator of our website, a former Cedine Bible Institute student, is back as our webmaster. Since 2005 about 5,000 visit our website each month, on average. On our site we’ve posted 34 PowerPoint presentations that have been viewed on Slideshare.net 78,897 times during the last 4 or 5 years. A key element of most trips has been providing seminars. We negotiate with field leaders what is taught, and often have had seminars for women.
Since 2004, RMNI workers have taught 41,102 student hours (1 student for 60 minutes), mostly in Africa and India, in various seminars and classes. In addition, I’ve provided various kinds of counseling, mostly financial, 320 times.
At the Westside (College Hill Courts), we’ve had a weekly presence since 2002. I don’t have a complete record of professions of faith, and try to see if they result in change. Consuela professed faith in 2012 and recently joined the church of a Westside volunteer. Fletcher is another whose life God has definitely changed. He married and is now an evangelist and church leader. We’ve helped people find jobs and have spent over $68,000 on New Testaments, Bibles, Daily Bread devotionals, tracts, and meeting financial emergencies for food, rent and other assistance. An average of 7-8 workers have come to Westside streets each week over the last two years. Since 2011 Jeremy Faber and Dawn Coulter have developed a sister ministry at the Westside, resulting in Last to First Church, launched in June 2019—a huge answer to prayers since 2002. They disciple children, teens and adults. For a while RMNI handled donations to their church, totaling $56,900. RMNI was able to facilitate a gift of $26,000 to this church for a passenger van, just put on the road.
Essential to RMNI’s work has been our 8-member board of directors, who examine all aspects of ministry. They provide counsel, encouragement, accountability and continuity. The board has been half black and half white. We have never had conflict as a board, by God’s grace. Part of that may be due to Judy Sutherland’s excellent breakfasts at quarterly meetings. Some have joined for a second or third 3–year term, after a rest. More essential than anything else has been God’s mercy and graciousness—“…(A)ll that we have accomplished You have done for us.” Is. 26:12. Thanks to all who partnered with RMNI in ministry over the last 20 years!
- Jim Sutherland and the RMNI Board, Mayes Starke, Chair