Early 2000s #

The Empower One story begins with Barry Wood, Nathan Sheets, and Mike Jorgensen. Barry Wood is the founder of Barry Wood Ministries, a robust church-leader training ministry that has worked on East Africa for decades. Barry is a member of Prestonwood Baptist Church. 

In the early 2000s, Nathan Sheets was also a member of Prestonwood and Barry’s friend. Nathan was on staff at E3 Partners Ministry, and he was the co-creator of the EvangeCube, a Rubic’s Cube-like device you can unfold to tell the story of Jesus. Further, Nathan was tasked with opening up East Africa for E3. Nathan was looking for African leaders who were willing and able to be EvangeCube trainers for E3. 

Nathan knew Barry had been training leaders in Africa for years, and in particular had an impactful training called Key Man Conference. Nathan reached out to Barry for referrals for leaders in several East African countries. Barry introduced Nathan to Joseph Oyuki, a dynamic leader from Jinja, Uganda. Nathan and Joseph were both entrepreneurs and immediately hit it off. Nathan mentioned to Joseph that he was looking for a potential EvangeCube trainer from Sudan–South Sudan did not come into existence until 2011. 

Joseph recalled that he’d been impressed with a young man named David Kaya. David was from Kajo Keji, South Sudan. David had been in Jinja to attend Global Theological Seminary where he met Joseph. 

Nathan met David and was as equally impressed as Joseph. After a short time, Nathan hired David to be an EvangeCube trainer for E3 Partners Ministry. David’s job would be to train pastors and church leaders how to use the EvangeCube to share the gospel, then record reports and encourage church planting where possible. David went right to work. 

^ back

2004 #

In 2004 Mike Congrove met Mike Jorgensen. Years earlier, Mike Jorgensen (Mike J.) had left a lucrative law practice to enter full-time missions with E3 Partners Ministry. In 2004 Mike C. was feeling that same call to leave AT&T and go into missions. Mike J. took Mike C. under his wing and discipled him through that entire process. 

In late 2005, Mike C. approached Mike J. and indicated that he really wanted to go to Africa. Mike J. had been discipling Mike C. to work in Bolivia up until that point. It just so happened that Mike J. was scheduled to go to Rwanda in December 2005 and he invited Mike C. to join him. 

E3 Partners gathered their East African Country Directors and some key EvangeCube Trainers to a meeting in Kigali, Rwanda. At the outset of that meeting Mike J. asked the African leaders to give a short testimony of what God had done in their countries that year. The first man to speak was Yoseph Menna from Ethiopia. Yoseph had challenged a very large denomination of around four thousand churches to each start one new church. The net result had been around one thousand new churches!

No one else had that scale of impact; however, as the E3 team heard from Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, and so forth each had a good testimony. Finally, David Kaya spoke. He said, “I don’t have anything like this.” He told the group a twenty-three year civil war in Sudan had only ended four months prior to our meeting. He said he had gone to Aweil to preach and someone had died during his preaching. He described a place (now South Sudan) about the size of Texas that had no paved roads, no electrical grid, and no running water. He said he’d started 10 churches, but he was feeling stuck. 

Mike C. was drawn to both David and the size of the challenge in Sudan. Mike C. and David connected relationally during that conference, and Mike C. asked E3’s leadership if he could work with David in Sudan. Sudan fell under Nathan Sheet’s purview, so Mike J. sent Mike C. to Nathan to see how he felt about this move. 

Nathan was unreservedly excited for Mike C. to partner with David to work in Sudan. In typical Nathan fashion, he showed generosity by telling Mike his first order of business was to meet Michael Radler of Fort Worth. 

Michael (can you keep up with all the Mikes?) was a successful oil and gas entrepreneur and executive. He had traveled to Rwanda with Nathan on a separate trip than the one described above. While in Rwanda, God also told him to work in South Sudan. 

Nathan introduced Mike to Michael. They decided they would go to South Sudan together sometime soon. 

In the meantime, Mike Congrove went to Rumbek, South Sudan with Bob Funk, a long-time, close friend of Mike’s, and Dana Crawford, a co-worker at E3, in August 2006. Dana had connected to Mark Kissee, a missionary living in Rumbek. Ironically Mark wasn’t in Rumbek while they visited, but he okayed them using a Landcruiser and directed them where to stay. David Kaya met them there. 

^ back

Early 2006 #

That first Rumbek trip was wild. The war had just ended. Every male over the age of 15 walked openly with a rifle of some sort. We stayed at a camp a white Keynan had built that was like the Cantina bar in Star Wars. At the bar/restaurant every evening you’d see military contractors, spies, UN soldiers, deminers, construction workers, NGO workers, and missionaries. 

When I got Mark’s Landcruiser, the camp manager gave me these instructions, “Use the horn a lot so people get out of the way.” And, “If you hit a cow do not stop, drive immediately to the police station in town and ask to be put in a cell. The people may kill you for hitting a cow. You can negotiate payment from the safety of your jail cell.” 

Fortunately, we didn’t hit any cows.

We found and visited a few churches, made some connections, and held a church-planting training in a local church. The translator really caught the vision for church planting. 

As we exited through Nairobi, Bob Funk and I had dinner with Mark Kissee. I told Mark we wanted to engage unreached tribes. Mark had lived in South Sudan for eight years, and was quite helpful bringing us up to speed on the culture, politics, and ministry opportunity. He directed us to Kapoeta, South Sudan and told us there was a tribe there called the Toposa that was unreached and no one he knew of was pursuing. 

The next day, Bob and I drove over to an animal reserve, walked into the cheetah cage, and got to pet a live cheetah. 

With a little support raised and a grant from Michael Radler, David Kaya and I put together another trip for that December 2006. We met in Nairobi. I made it, but my bag did not. We had scheduled flights and chartered a small, four-seater plane they dubbed “The Mosquito.” I couldn’t wait for my bag. A very nice taxi driver gave me a couple of shirts and off we went. 

We flew to Lietnam, South Sudan, which is in Bahr El-Ghazal state. We went there with James Baak, who worked for African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM) at the time. We were exploring a partnership with them in that village. While interesting neither David or I felt God was directing us to invest time or resources in Lietnam. 

From there David and I flew to Kapoeta, South Sudan. We landed, grabbed our bags, I was much lighter than David with only my backpack, and were met by a driver in a pick up truck who worked for the camp where we would stay. This camp was built and run by an American from Marin County, California. He came to Kenya in 1968, and had built this camp in South Sudan recently and started a water well drilling company. 

David and I walked into town and to a church. A few pastors gathered and we started talking. They were cautious of us. Then a young pastor came into the group, and he and David realized they had been in the same refugee camp in Uganda and knew one another. The ice instantly melted and we were accepted. 

David and I asked about the Toposa. They said no Toposa came to any of the churches in Kapoeta. We asked if there were any spiritually mature believers among the Toposa. There was a long pause, then one pastor said, “There is one man named Latuka.” 

We met Latuka, visited a few Toposa villages, and resolved to return to engage the Toposa. 

In February of 2007, Michael Radler, Mike Congrove, and David Kaya returned to Kapoeta, then rented a small Toyota pickup truck with only one working brake and drove to Chukudum and Nagishot. We wanted to visit and try and learn about the Didinga tribe who lived in those mountains. Several missionaries had worked in that area and some were still there, so we would move on from those mountains; however, David would end up adopting a young teenage boy named Peter who was full of anger. Today Peter is married with a beautiful family and works for Seed Effect. 

We flew from Kapeota to Kajo Keji, David’s hometown. We saw First Baptist, his home church that he and Edward Dima had started with the help of their mentor, Harold Cathy. They had secured about 50 acres for the church property. 

After taking a look at Kajo Keji, we flew to Rumbek, South Sudan. We would host our first ever short-term mission team. Our translator from our church-planting training the previous year had caught the vision for church planting. He had started two churches. We broke the American team into four smaller teams. Each would either help a pastor start a church or give a new church a push. 

The second night of that trip, a few local church leaders pulled David and me aside. We had a problem. The translator had planted one church where one wife lived and the second where his second wife lived. I had no idea what to do. I had not dealt with polygamy before. God was gracious. The translator did not want to be married to two women. His brother had died, and his clan had forced him to take the second wife. He willingly entered into church discipline, and we physically moved the churches and set up new leaders. 

David and I had a couple long talks that week. The story of the translator is anecdotal, but it was illustrative of the larger problem we faced: A lack of leaders. We found willing people, but they generally came from one of two camps, either nomadic, cattle-keeping tribes, or someone who grew up in a refugee camp where things were done for him. 

This is when David broached the idea of starting our own bible school. Edward Dima, Kenneth Duku, and he had been dreaming and planning of a school for years. They wanted the school to be different. Instead of a traditional seminary, they proposed a bible school that produced church planters, and one that put students through lots of in-the-field practicums rather than classroom only lectures. 

With help from the Radler Family Foundation, we launched North East Africa Theological Seminary, or NEATS in March 2007. Edward Dima would lead the school. He wanted East Africa in the name to show the vision was larger than just Kajo Keji, or South Sudan. The core curriculum would be Bible Training Center for Pastors (BTCP). He and the faculty they would recruit would build practicums around that core foundation. 

We started NEATS in March 2007 with 17 students who met under three trees for shade. Joyce Muraa became the school’s administrator, along with the ministry’s administrator. She would office out of a small tukel on the campus. A tukel is traditionally a mud-walled structure, built in a circle with a diameter of around 15 feet, topped with thick grass for a roof. 

Starting NEATS would become a turning point for the ministry. Edward first nicknamed the school, “A pastor factory,” then changed that to “A missionary factory.” It would become the engine for our ministry. 

Prestonwood Baptist Church from Plano, Texas and Trinity Bible Church from Fort Worth, along with many individual partners helped us move from the three trees to dormitory, classroom, library, skills training center, and two offices over the next five years. 

Students had to speak English, and they could only enter if a known, trusted church leader recommended them to Edward. Classes would run for four-to-five weeks, then the students would go home for four or five weeks, apply their learnings, then return to the school. The initial certificate degree took two years to complete. 

We would eventually run multiple classes concurrently, and add a diploma degree as well. The students would go out for evangelism, they would have time to disciple new believers, and they would preach, teach, and lead bible studies in the churches we were planting around the school. It was a fantastic environment for a future church planter and church leader to learn both in the classroom and by doing in the field. 

In America, at E3 Partners ministry, David and I dove into Church Planting Methodology or CPM, and Rapid CPM as well. We were exposed to Bruce Carlton, George Robinson, David Watson, Steve Smith, Ying Kai, and Curtis Sergeant. All Godly men, experienced church planters, all passionate about seeing church-planting movements start in the most lost, unengaged areas of the world. 

While never anything close to contentious, David and I had a healthy tension with the methods, particularly the rapid reproduction of churches. That said, the two men we were closest to, George Robinson and Curtis Sergeant, were incredibly helpful, supportive, and generous with how they fed us missiologically. Much of what anyone would see today has a foundation in their teaching along with Mike Jorgensen’s and Harold Cathy’s.

The tension lay with David’s calling and heart of a shepherd-pastor. David was, and continues to be, deeply committed to the health of the local church. We applied many of the CPM principles to the work; however, at that stage of the ministry we did not emphasize rapidity. 

A second tension we felt in America was that David and I did not have a vision for the ministry. Leadership 101 says you have to have a vision that pulls everyone together. Our problem was God didn’t give us one. It was clear God called us to work in South Sudan. It was clear He wanted us to work where either there were no churches or where there were only sick, heretical churches. But at this point in the ministry He would only give us one step at a time. Do this one thing. At times it made fundraising and discussing the ministry difficult in America. Americans were used to big visions and concrete plans and methods. 

We knew we needed to train church planters to go to unreached parts of South Sudan. That was all we knew from 2007 to 2011. 

Early 2008-2012 #

From 2008 until 2012, eight significant things took place. 

The first is those 10 original churches would increase to 140 over these four years. 

The second was the effectiveness of starting primary and secondary schools. In 2007, David, Edward, and Kenneth Duku took the budget for NEATS and they stretched it to start a primary (or elementary) school in Kajo Keji. 

I was skeptical and thought this represented mission drift. In May 2007, we met John Monychol at the first ever Baptist Convention meeting in Rumbek, South Sudan. We had underwritten this meeting to gain access to more leaders, John would stand out from that meeting. 

John was from Baliet, South Sudan in the Upper Nile, a village of a few thousand people. There was a low performing government school and an Islamic school in Baliet. John’s key disciple, James Abwong, taught English at the Islamic school. They wanted to start a small primary school for grades P1 through P4. A family from Dallas provided the funds and we started this small school. 

Within six months that school transformed John’s church and the community. The people loved that a Christian school had begun. Many started coming to the church and many got saved. 

Jackson Mogga was a missionary we sent to Kagwada, South Sudan. When he arrived, the people were cold to him, and he had a tough time starting a church. No one was interested in coming to his church. Jackson switched strategies. He started cutting children’s hair and telling them bible stories. Second, he was trained as a teacher so we encouraged him to start a small school for P1 through P4 kids. Once again, everything changed. The local chiefs granted him 50 acres for a school, many started coming to his church, and many people got saved. 

We had figured out how to pair a small, rural school with a church plant and make that work well. Later, we would create a secondary school business model for Kajo Keji, South Sudan that would have supported the ministry if not for the war that would come. 

The third significant occurrence happened at the end of 2007 into 2008. I took a small team to Yei, South Sudan. Some on that team would lie under their beds on New Year’s eve of that year as gunshots went off to celebrate the New Year.

One young couple came on that trip. David and Missy Williams. They had just gone through the Perspectives course and were primed for mission. At the end of their trip to Yei, a woman they had gotten to know asked them for a sewing machine. She made the case that she was not looking for a handout. If she could get a sewing machine, she could support her family and even put her kids in school. This conversation rocked the Williams’ world. They came home and Missy threw herself into research mode. In 2009 they launched a Microfinance ministry under our ministry umbrella. Missy would leave her interior design business and eventually this ministry would be called Seed Effect. They quickly moved way past our umbrella and today there’s no better Savings Group/Economic empowerment ministry serving refugees in the world. 

As a side note, Chris Cotner went on that trip. He would quit practicing law and help start Water4 with Dick Greenly from Oklahoma City. They not only brought clean water to places all over the world, but they empowered local people to drill and set up drilling businesses themselves. Karlis Gruzins from that trip would also go into full-time ministry. 

The fourth development was God opening a door into Darfur. We had been praying for years for the best way to enter that state; however, God never gave us a peace until 2009-2010. “S,” a missionary living in Malakal sent a disciple of hers, Adam, to NEATS. Adam began integrating and learning until we hosted a 1,200 pastor-strong conference in Kajo Keji. At that conference, a speaker challenged everyone to operate like Abraham, whose faith was immediate, costly, and radical. (The speaker had simply copied a teaching from Curtis Sergeant.)

Adam heard this and was back in Darfur within two months. In 2010, fearing for his life, he brought 30 Darfurians to NEATS where they would live and learn for two years. At the end of those two years, they went all over the world: Iraq, Indonesia, Germany, Turkey, America, and Sudan and South Sudan. 

The fifth development was a surge in short-term mission teams. Steve Grote joined the team in 2007 as an intern. Steve built almost all our systems, set up our processes, and led many teams along the Nimule to Juba road with Tolbert. 

David Hicks came aboard and led teams to Yei, Patricia Caroom to Kapoeta, Brian Bain to Torit, later he would focus on NEATS for a season, Diana Spann to the camps in Northern Uganda, and first Melanie Vaughan, then Sissie Donnell provided fantastic support for these trips. 

The sixth development came around 2010. It stayed off our radar and happened right under our noses. Three men came to NEATS from the Democratic Republic of Congo, William Udar, Dominic, and Uaikani Papa.

Since English wasn’t the Congolese’s first language, they were fairly quiet and kept to themselves. Little did we know that they would graduate NEATS, return to DR Congo, and replicate everything they learned and saw, and not ask for a thing! They started their own training center, they planted churches, they adopted an unreached people group, and when the government demanded they buy land for their churches, they raised it all themselves. They remain three of our strongest graduates ever.

In 2011 God gave us a vision at last, which would be the seventh significant development. We took the Joshua Project’s data and combined it with Finishing the Task and we estimated that there were about 20 million people in Sudan and South Sudan who had not heard of Jesus. From then, we believed our vision was to be part of a movement to bring the gospel to these 20 million. 

In 2012 we were stressing E3’s leadership. We were the only country strategy with a bible school, primary schools, a 12-step recovery program, women’s ministry, a sewing center, and we put a few residential missionaries on the ground for a season. The HR and finance department were as accommodating as they could be, but it was clear it was straining them and us. We had over 40 people on staff just in Africa and our budget was over $1 million. 

After a conversation with John Townsend of the book Boundaries fame, we knew our time at E3 was over, or at least it was for David and me. In October 2012, we left E3 and started Empower Sudan, the eighth significant development. Steve Grote, Brian Bain, Diana Spann, and Michael Yemba came over as well. 

From the American side, we essentially rebuilt the ministry in six weeks. Steve Grote did incredible heavy lifting. Honeystreet, our design firm, went above and beyond and was crazy generous and gracious. Plus, they made us look amazing. It was intense, but God took care of us–even in the messy parts where we didn’t deserve it. 

2013 #

2013 is a blur of God’s goodness and us trying to make sure we survived. We did. God provided like He always does, and we didn’t miss a beat. 

Then December 2013 happened. 

Salva Kiir and Riek Machar started a civil war. Within days ground zero was Baliet where John Monychol, his family, and team all lived. They threw suitcases together and ran north into the plains literally as bullets flew past them from soldiers and rebels coming out of the Sobat River. 

They walked from Baliet to Paloich where they found safety near the oil companies. Their children saw more violence than any child should. One child was so thirsty she drank battery acid by accident and died. James Abwong turned west and ended up in a UN camp in Malakal. Starving, he sold an iPad Nathan Long, a U.S. doctor who comes on many E1 trips, had given him for food for his family. 

We sent funds so as many as possible could fly to Juba then drive to Nimule. In Nimule they rested at Tolbert’s church until they could process into the newly re-opening refugee camps of Northern Uganda. These same camps had just emptied in 2005-2007 following a previous war in South Sudan. These cycles of war have given me understanding on why it’s tough for some of our leaders to have big, bold visions. When you’ve repeatedly had your homes and lives destroyed and disrupted by war, it’s challenging to dream of the future. 

^ back

2014 #

In 2014, we pivoted as a ministry. We followed our friends into the camps and began working inside the refugee camps. Kajo Keji and most of the Southern part of the country were unaffected by the war–for now. 

I was starting to wear from the stress of being the primary fundraiser. In May 2014 Timm Sasser joined as our first Development Officer. With almost no onboarding or training, Timm immediately began bringing in resources and was the catalyst for our first banquets. 

From October 2012, we consistently had problems wiring money to Africa because our name was Empower Sudan. I had anticipated this may be a bit of a problem when we started, so our legal name is Cush Empowerment Group. Cush is the ancient, biblical name for Sudan. Empower Sudan was our DBA. Every month, the US banks would freeze our wire because it was illegal to send money to Sudan, who was on the Terrorist list those years. We were sending the money to Uganda, but each month, I would have to explain that to CitiBank.

To mitigate this constant problem, and because God was expanding our work beyond the Sudans, on November 4, 2014 we rebranded to Empower One. I was scared that two years after leaving E3 and becoming Empower Sudan, rebranding again would make us seem wishy washy. 

The opposite occurred. We rolled out the rebrand at our first Fall Banquet, and it ended up providing a shot in the arm with our American Partners. 

In 2015, we divided our work between the camps and far South Sudan. Fighting was intensifying all over South Sudan. Rebel armies were popping up all over the country. We were growing financially in the U.S., but our team was beginning to struggle with chemistry. 

We had been incubating a ministry called Proclaim Cuba under our 501(c)(3) for about two years at this point. Our board chair, Alfie Pino, had known a man in Cuba named Carlos Alamino. Carlos had started and still leads this ministry, which is remarkably parallel to Empower One’s. Proclaim Cuba had no American presence, so we agreed to start Proclaim Cuba under the E1 banner. We’d essentially let them use our tools and procedures until they were ready to go out on their own.  After about two years, they were ready and spun out. 

2016 #

In 2016, we opened a beachhead in Mabaan, the far northeast corner of South Sudan. We would take 10 young guys back to NEATS and begin to train them. They were all Muslim-background believers who would return and work in both South Sudan, and the Blue Nile state of Sudan, which is 98% Muslim. Unbeknownst to us, a SIM missionary named Eli Fader had begun to discipled them. We had actually been intentionally misled by a local leader who did not want us to know about Eli. Once we learned we had flown his disciples to our bible school, we were sick. We abhor shepherd stealing, and we would never want to harm another missionary like this. 

We returned to Mabaan and sat with Eli and asked for his forgiveness. He was so gracious to forgive us, and we have a good relationship of cooperation today. 

In December 2016 we evacuated Kajo Keji. We had rented a compound in Arua, Uganda months earlier in anticipation of this war arriving at Kajo Keji. David gathered a large group of pastors. We had been through this drill with the folks from the Upper Nile three years earlier, so David told them to rest, worship, and eat well for a week because after that they were going to work hard to shepherd traumatized people in the camps, re-establish churches in the camps, and help as many people as they could. 

For the foreseeable future, we were now a refugee ministry. In hindsight, the war scrambled our eggs more than we realized. Between a farm we had started in Kajo Keji and a financial model we developed for our schools, we finally were about to begin generating operating funds in the country. NEATS was overflowing, we were back engaging some unreached places and the camp ministry was going well. The war scrambled most of this. 

When we moved our schools to Uganda, they bled money and problems. We bought and started a much larger farm in Uganda with better soil. That too lost money and suffered from poor leadership and attention. 

2017 #

In January 2017 Todd Szalkowski, my friend, co-worker in South Sudan from the E3 days, my support-raising mentor, and a guy I relied heavily upon when making hard decisions suddenly died at 52 from a heart attack. This was a hard season without Todd. No one ever went to bat for someone like Todd did for me. This was brutal. 

We fully pivoted to ministry in the camps. We moved NEATS into Bidi Bidi. That February, we held a graduation for NEATS in the camp. What we did not anticipate was that this became a huge marketing and recruitment event. Suddenly we were busting at the seams in this temporary set up we constructed for NEATS. We hoped we wouldn’t be in the camp very long, so we built temporary buildings. 

In June 2017 Scott Heider joined the US team as a development officer. 

We were a bit of a mess. David and I were burned out. We were both spiritually numb. The ministry was stagnating. We were trying to lead and delegate, and we were so empty we had nothing to give. Our respective teams reflected us, both were unhealthy and messy. Praise God no ministry-altering sin or event occurred, but towards the end of the year, I told the American team we were not healthy. I didn’t know how to fix it, but I ended 2017 determined to get our team healthy. The extra painful part of that for me was knowing a team is only as healthy as its leader, which meant this started with David and me. 

At our Fall 2017 banquet, we launched a three-year campaign called The Unlikely. We based the name of this campaign on Phillippians 1:12 where Paul tells the Phillippians that his going to prison has actually advanced the gospel. Our parallel was that the war pushing 1.3 million South Sudanese into 16 refugee camps in Northern Uganda would advance the gospel as well–How unlikely! It was a huge evangelism push, and a lot of credit goes to Scott Heider for the design, and the African team for great execution. 

The Unlikely primarily focused on Jesus Film Teams and the Mobile Evangelism Team. The Jesus Film teams are a pair of trained leaders equipped with rugged motorbikes and a Jesus Film kit that fits in a backpack and runs on solar-charged batteries. They drove to hard-to-reach areas and played the Jesus Film each night for a week or two. They directed the new believers into existing churches giving a huge boost to those areas. 

The Mobile Evangelism Team (MET) used a large, flatbed truck to move a group of 15 to 25 trained leaders into either the areas where the Jesus Film teams had been or to struggling churches in the midst of large groups of people in need of the gospel. The MET team set up camp and stayed for about three weeks following up with new believers, beginning the discipleship process, and placing new believers in local churches.

2018 #

The Unlikely was a huge success. We started to see a tremendous number of people come to faith in the camps. In turn there was a huge spiritual battle. The teams regularly encountered demon-possessed people, witch doctors, and people with deeply evil backgrounds. 

David took a three-month sabbatical. He went to Nigeria, spent time with his family, and rested for the first time since probably his late 20s. 

When he got back, I took my sabbatical: July, August, and September. We were both completely cooked. God restored my soul those three months. I think David took longer. I think he needed more time throughout 2018. Heck, I probably did too. 

The Unlikely kept picking up steam. By the end of 2019 more people would come to faith through this campaign then the previous 10 years of ministry, combined! By the end of 2019, The Unlikely campaign would see 62,306 people profess faith in Christ. Despite being in the thick of a struggle with team chemistry and health, we were in the midst of the greatest gospel harvest we’d ever experienced. 

In March Tammy Lewis and Kelly Pearson joined the team to provide admin, HR, and coaching help, then in May Matt Jones came on to oversee all our short-term trip ministry.

A coup in Sudan overthrew Omar Al-Bashir. Within the next 16 months there would be freedom of religion in Sudan. 

In late 2019, I felt God told me that, “my assignment was complete.” I interpreted that to mean my time was over. We had had a few years of rocky internals. Maybe it was time for the founder to step away and let a different personality lead. 

I told the board I thought my time had come to an end. I had nowhere to go, but wanted to be obedient to whatever God told me to do. That February, we agreed Scott would succeed me, and we began to work out a transition. I told David in Africa that month as well. 

In March, Covid stopped the world. We trimmed every expense we could, and worked to keep as much of the staff as possible. We had not announced my leaving, which probably gave some financial stability through this season. Scott and I kept extending when I would leave, eventually to indefinitely and perhaps I would move to a board role that fundraised for the ministry. 

The churches in Africa stopped meeting, but pivoted to house churches. We saw tons of spiritual fruit from this pivot. Leaders too scared to lead a church grew in ability and confidence leading their homes. Neighbors who didn’t want to come to the churches pulled up chairs at the homes. Many came to faith. 

In September, Scott decided to focus on pastoring his local church and stepped down from leading Empower One, months later Steve Grote would follow him. I stepped back into the U.S. Leadership role. The board gave me until December to seek God’s face, but within four to six weeks, it became clear I was supposed to come back. Now I interpret the “assignment is complete” word from God to mean the mature churches we started. It’s time now to refocus on the unreached, unengaged tribes who have not heard Jesus’ name. 

In December we added Michelle Hammond as our graphic designer. 

2021 #

We added Zach Potts and David Taylor to the team. Both Zach and David will raise up American partners to pray, give, and go, and they’ll partner with members of the E1 African team to help them start churches in hard places and increase the effectiveness of NEATS.

David and I are re-engaged. The new team feels healthy and our chemistry is good. We’ve ceased striving, and our focus is on worshiping God, operating from abiding in Him, and prayer. David is focusing on healthier pastors in existing churches, and we’re pushing into Sudan and a few other places after unreached peoples. 

God is so, so good.

2022 #

2022 was a pivotal year in the history of Empower One. 

As we continued to pray about these Flagship Churches, we reflected more on what we had in Kajo Keji. In addition to the Flagship Church, we also put North East Africa Theological Seminary (NEATS) there, our church-planting bible school. We had a nursery, primary, and secondary schools, along with clean water, and partner ministries Seed Effect and 4Africa set up offices on the compound as well. 

We had formed our best leaders in Kajo Keji in this compound. They could come to NEATS for training, observe David and Edward Dima pastor the large, flagship church, and participate in church plants in the surrounding villages. It was a great incubator. 

What if we multiplied this model? 

We reformed our vision and mission. We launched Vision 2032:

We will have 15 Flagship Churches that will be church multiplication centers. They will be in South Sudan, Sudan, and DR Congo. Each of these centers will have a mother church with about 500 members. These members will pay the pastoral staff and send out their own missionaries. Each church will be self-sustained by the local congregation.

By 2032, each Flagship Church will have planted at least 50 churches in each one’s respective geographic area; 750 new churches

Each Flagship Church will have an accompanying primary school, serving kids from grades one to eight. 

Each Flagship Church will have a NEATS Church-planting Bible School Extension Center (DTI), training 30 church planters each year in bible, doctrine, theology, and practical ministry including evangelism, disciple-making, and planting churches.

Each Flagship Church will also have a clean water kiosk. 

Each Flagship Church will have a clinic/pharmacy serving the local community.

Each Flagship Church will have a radio station providing gospel content, worship music, and discipleship lessons to its surrounding area.

As of this writing, Sudan has 131 Unreached People Groups including nine Unengaged People Groups. We want to be part of a network that touches each of these people groups, and we are praying and hoping Sudan’s Christian population will greatly increase from its current 4.99% as of this writing. 

We recrafted our Mission Statement to:

We empower local leaders in the hard places in Africa to establish churches among the unreached and under-reached people for generations to come. 

Our $660,000 Flagship Church project was now a $13M+ Flagship Church Multiplication Center vision we’re praying comes to fruition by 2032. Three in Sudan, eleven in South Sudan, and one in DR Congo. These Flagship Centers should produce enough revenue to support themselves and the Baptist Conventions of South Sudan and Sudan. This should make the work entirely financially self-sufficient. 

In April of 2022, we faced one of the largest crisis of our ministry. 

Act 1: A Kill Shot Delivered

Have you ever had a disgruntled former co-worker? Earlier this year, we sure did.

He was so upset he told authorities we were training terrorists at our church-planting bible school, NEATS.  Recall, it still operates from a refugee camp in Northern Uganda. He chose his timing well. We had Muslim-background believers there from the North when he made his claim.

What he could not have known was that security forces in Uganda were, at that very time, on alert for this issue within the camps.

Suffice it to say, his claim was taken very seriously. NEATS was temporarily closed for a few months and we had more than a few moments wondering if we could ever teach and train in the camps again. The Northerners were so scared, they went back home, and our faculty are only now returning to normal blood pressure after being consumed with fear. Why fear? Because developing nations’ security forces operate differently than your local police.

Act 2: Stubborn, Broken Guys

In Acts 15:36-41 Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp disagreement” and went their separate ways.

A few years ago, Mike Congrove and Edward Dima had a “disagreement” and went their separate ways. Edward, if you don’t know, started, named, and chose the curriculum for NEATS in 2007. We never would be where we are without Edward.

It wasn’t contentious or ugly. We loved and respected one another, but…we disagreed. You take Mark*, I’ll take Silas.

Act 3: God’s Mercy and Grace

Disgruntled former co-worker tries to kill NEATS and almost succeeds.

Who jumps in to help with this Massive Problem?

Edward Dima.

There’s more to the story and part of the kill shot was directed at Edward also, but it drew Edward back in.

Edward and David Kaya teamed back up to save NEATS. Hard, overdue conversations were had. Disagreements were entirely laid aside.

Total reconciliation and renewed partnership in the gospel, acknowledging we need one another going forward. The joy of real reconciliation is beyond words.

What Satan and a few stubborn, knuckled-headed guys meant for bad, God redeems. His mercy and grace are undeserved and overwhelming, which is why we want to share it so much in Africa.

In November, we added Alexa Congrove to oversee our Social Media, help with graphic design, lead trips, and pilot our future college ministry. We also added “C.” We can’t use C’s name for security reasons. She used to work in a closed country. But C took on all things short-term mission trips. She resurrected them from their COVID hiatus, re-organized the back-end, and created processes and plans to set us up for success. Great additions. 

2023 #

Coming soon…