More Mustard Seeds is a new series from Mennonite Mission Network that will feature one story each month that illustrates how God uses ordinary people to make the earth a little bit more like heaven.
God seems to take delight in working through the people whom society ignores to make the world a better place, using the smallest acts and common objects. With absolute faith in God and using only a stone, a young shepherd boy killed the heavily armed Goliath, the ultimate weapon in the Philistines' war machine — and peace was restored to God's people (1 Samuel 17). Through another child, who was willing to share his lunch, multitudes of hungry people found renewed strength to make their way home, filled with hope and a new vision (John 6).
"Never despise the small beginnings," said Steve Wiebe-Johnson, Mennonite Mission Network's co-administrator for Africa and Europe. "As I look back over the 34 years that I have worked with Mission Network, I keep seeing so many people doing their little bit to make big things happen. All I can do is step back in wonder at what God is doing!"
Wiebe-Johnson illustrated his premise with the example of the West African country of Benin, where a council of 30 denominations invited Mennonites to partner with them in Christ-centered leadership training, holistic healthcare and sustainable agriculture. Within 30 years, this partnership produced an internationally accredited Bible school, one of the nation's premier hospitals, a globally renowned community health initiative and a highly successful micro-finance bank.
Benin Bible Institute (BBI) began with pastors from the 30 denominations gathering in city halls with their Bibles and notebooks. Today, about 1,200 graduates serve more than 70 denominations in church leadership throughout Benin and internationally. All the faculty and staff are graduates of BBI, and in addition to the basic biblical training, there are two degree-programs.
Bethesda Hospital, in Beinin, started with volunteer doctors in three rented rooms and has expanded to six locations, offering15 specialties, including surgeries, ophthalmology, and family counseling. The first director of Bethesda's community health department, Raphael Edou, was previously an unemployed college graduate, who was growing tomatoes to help support his family. His visionary leadership laid the foundation for nine programs that combine practical application, research and consultancy. The waste management and plastic recycling program has been recognized internationally by the United Nations and other agencies. Edou went on to become a minister in the national government.
The micro-finance program, which began with a $2000 grant from one of Mission Network's predecessor agencies to help women boost cottage industries, has been so successful that it has now become a full-fledged bank, to comply with the government's regulations. To learn more about how these ministries grew from small beginnings, see 3-D Gospel in Benin.
The mustard-seed visions that God plants in the hearts of ordinary people of faith continue to germinate and grow through relationships, Wiebe-Johnson said.
"When we use the term holistic ministry, we are talking about sustainable community development that is based in the local church," he said. "Our assumption is that God reveals God's self in all cultures. So, we take our cues from the context into which we are invited, nurturing their vision."
Wiebe-Johnson explained that, if an invitation to ministry corresponds with Mission Network's priorities, the agency walks alongside local leaders.
"Our shared vision is refined through the fire of relationship," he said. "Collaboration bears so much fruit. The little bit we each bring gets multiplied."