Last November out in the back-blocks, a Nigerien chief came to visit his neighbour, W, the senior leader of a team of seven interns who had been meeting for Team Day. The chief announced: “My children are worried that their father is going to leave his religion. They worry about the shame it will bring, and ask ‘Who will follow you, who will bury you, if you turn away to follow another way?’” Each day the chief kept coming back. “As we shared food,” W says, “either at our place or in his hut, he would ask me to pray and thank God for the food.” This was the first time since they knew him he had done this – “When you pray, God listens,” the chief said.
Then T, a local believer from the same language group and culture made one of his occasional visits to W’s family, and the chief was excited to come and talk to him, explaining, “A few nights ago I was in my hut alone and I prayed to God to show which is the better way. Should I keep following the religion that I’ve been following all my life or is the other way the true way? That night I had a dream in which God showed me the true way. I don’t want to follow my old religion any more.”
On the same visit, T was taken to meet another man from this community who had believed through another’s witness a number of years ago, but had never known how to openly live as a believer among his neighbours. Now he asked T about baptism, and if it was okay for his two wives to be baptised.
This is kingdom life at the cutting edge. Can you possibly imagine, if you were to go overseas on a study trip exploring mission, a more effective environment to be immersed in than these seven TIMO (Training In Mission Outreach) interns have in Niger?
Here are two great things about the TIMO model:
- it introduces new mission partners to real mission; not by exposing them to the fringes but allowing them to dive right in, while studying.
- it’s a ministry initiative which lives out the spirit of co-operation between mission organisations, in this case SIM and Africa Inland Mission (AIM).
In the TIMO programme in Niger, some of the team are with SIM and some are with AIM, plus a family from a Kenyan church. AIM has many other teams in other places, both rural and urban.
TIMO was designed by AIM as a two-year mission programme to accomplish three objectives: To equip new missionaries with a foundation for a life me of ministry, to share Jesus Christ with Africa’s least-reached peoples, and to see churches established among them. Teams consist of 6-12 new missionaries and their seasoned leader/s. The team lives among an African people group, seeking to learn their culture and language in order to build genuine relationships.
Going to places that few outsiders ever go, TIMO teams go deep – from the daily lessons in stumbling through language and life’s incidentals, to discipleship strategies, timeless interpersonal skills, prayer, patience and spiritual growth. Perhaps the greatest lesson is one of love. They strive to live simply, and through the friendships and trust they build, they seek to share Christ. The training programme involves read- ing and writing papers, just as you would in Bible college, except the team members are living in an immersion situation and are putting into practice immediately what they are learning through their study.
This calls for humility above all. It asks us to become a learner even if we think we are ready to be the teacher. It takes me and patience. And it calls us to trust in a God who delights in opening hearts and crumbling defences through humble obedience. It is incarnational living. A life lived with genuine interest and compassion toward others produces genuine friendships, and through these the gospel has an opportunity to take root. Relationships are the foundation
for meaningful discipleship which, in turn, lays the groundwork for a Christ-centered church.
But immersion on such a scale can be incredibly hard if you go in alone, especially when the culture you are crossing into is so vastly different from the one you are coming from. Hence this team approach to ministry training. Teams bring together men and women of diverse backgrounds and abilities, foster interdependence, and give synergy to the work. Team members share a common goal in proclaiming Christ, but they also share in a rich array of uncommon experiences as they learn and minister in a new and foreign culture.
Currently, SIM is working on developing a French TIMO curriculum. With a French TIMO team, not only would Nigeriens and other Africans from francophone countries be able to take part, but also Europeans and others who already have gone to French language school or who are native French speakers.
– SIM Niger & AIM website