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Building Harmony in Mali

Harouna Issaka is the regional director for West Africa with World Renew and also works with Timothy Leadership training. In this episode Harouna speaks with us about how the Timothy Leadership Training has build relationships across unexpected divides.

The following is a transcript of Season 6 Episode 3 of the Do Justice podcast.  It has been lightly edited for clarity.  Listen and subscribe on your favourite listening app.  

Chris: Well hello friends and welcome back to another episode of Do Justice. Today we're really excited to be joined by my World Renew colleague, Harouna Issaka, and Harouna is the regional director for West Africa with World Renew and also works with the Timothy Leadership Training. Thanks, Harouna, for joining us. Welcome. 

Harouna: Glad to join you for this interview.

Chris: Yeah, we're excited to get into the conversation with you and as we're continuing our exploration and our dive into the theme of reconciliation. And Harouna, you're you're closely involved with the Timothy Leadership Training. So, Harouna, can you tell us what kind of impact the program has had where you live? How has this changed the communities and the lives of the participants? 

Harouna: There is a lot of impact that we could share through this training. The first one is the relationships. And of course, as you know, the Bible is about relationships. God is about relationships. And through this TLT, or Timothy Leadership Traning, we are trying to equip people and then they can see transformations happen in their life. 

Let me give you some examples. Through this training, we have a lot of testimony of how Christians and Muslims are interacting in those countries. For example in Mali, we had some church leaders who came to us after they went through this training. This training helped them to find a new way to build a relationship with Muslims, knowing that the Christian community is really a very tiny community in West Africa. In Mali, for example, we are less than 5%. So, building relations, healthy relations, is a key in order to share the Gospel, to share hope, to share new perspectives. One of our trainers through TLT, he went through training and he became a trainer. His name is [indistinguishable]. After training, he started all three and through that he developed expertise. Then later, people who are surrounding him, Muslims, came to him asking for training, asking how they can really farm, how they can produce chicken. He used that as a gift, as an opportunity to build relationships with, but also to share economic opportunity with them. In Mali, training, very good and strong relationship with one of the Muslim leaders – Muslim community, the leader, the spiritual leader in our context is called Imam. He has a lot of power and I used this opportunity, TLT – particularly this manual, we have seven manuals, and one of them is Caring for God's people. Muslims are also God’s people, no matter our differences, so we need to become a bridge in order for them to see light, to see a new way to salvation. And today, this Muslim leader, I had a very good relationship; I visited him quite often. He also called me, he visited me, and even he told me when I visited him “Don't hesitate, brother Harouna, we are brothers. If you are going through any challenges, just come to me and we will handle it together.” So I took advantage of that, after I built that relation with this imam, to share with him the gospel and to give him a Bible in order for him to study. This area of relationship is bringing transformations. We are seeing reconciliation between Christians and Muslims. We are seeing both communities flourishing together and this is very important for Mali, where we are going through a lot of challenges – terrorist attacks, fundamentalist Muslim who are trying to completely destroy this relation, to destroy this way of living. So through TLT, we are bringing new ways of thinking, new messages to the community. 

Another area of impact is the economic impact. Those who went to training using the stewardship manual, they are able to initiate income generation activities from scratch. There is no NGO or external funding. We use biblical principles. What do you have in your hands? You can build from that. Today, we have a lot of testimony from the participants: how their life has been completely changed because they are able to sustain themselves. They are able to cover the needs of their family. The needs of their kids. And particularly women – particularly women. So, we had a lot of areas of impact. We are seeing transformation. We are seeing lives changing and we are seeing people flourishing. It's really amazing to see that.

Chris: Yeah, such a powerful image, Harouna, the picture that you're painting of reconciliation across two different communities. You talk about the Christian leaders and the Muslim leaders working together. It's a beautiful picture. But I wonder, even within the Christian community, inside that community, are you seeing reconciliation through this training as well? 

Harouna: Yeah, Chris. Because of World Renew, when we introduce TLT, or Timothy Leadership Training, we make sure that the participants who are attending the training there is no difference between Catholic, Evangelist, or Charismatic. Even in fact within the TLT approach. We have a group of us in TLT that we send out to go and train communities. And you can find yourselves as a Charismatic or Pentecostal training a conservative church and vice versa. And we had a lot of testimony. We had a lot of gifts. This, TLT or Timothy Leadership Training equipment is really a cross-culture technology. It's a cross-culture opportunity and equipment. No matter our differences. So you have Catholics who are involved within the training. And we don't make any difference. If you are equipped, you are able, you are capable to do the training you become an opportunity, a disciple to be sent out, to reach other communities. So through that, when you are able to communicate with an audience that your theology is really different from their theology, you find a way to bridge, you find a way to reconcile. You find a way to talk to each other. And this is a blessing – it's a blessing in Christ. It's amazing to see how leaders in those communities are able to speak to each other through this training.

Chris: I'm wondering, Harouna. The work that you do sounds so broad. There's a lot happening. There's a lot of different characteristics of your work. But if someone didn't know you and didn't know the work that you did, and you had one story that characterized: this is what my work looks like when it's successful. What is that story? Is there one story that stands out to you where you've just been overwhelmed by what God has done?

Harouna: I have a lot of, stories. I have a lot of testimony. So, let me share one. I have already mentioned, a couple of examples of what I have been talking about. But you remind me too that a lady who has been working for her entire life with one of the international organizations like World Renew in Mali. This lady, she retired, and then she heard about Timothy Leadership Training, and she decided to train with the cohort to be trained. And at the end, she came to me and said, “I am well educated. But this is the first time I got something really practical that I can use, I can implement, and it will help me. And it will help other people too.” So this lady, after 3 years, she came back to us with a testimony. She said, “When I retired I didn’t know exactly what to do. Because, all my life I have been working with the NGOs. But I discovered through this training. How the land is really important. It's not a curse in our community, the way our community is describing it. When you try to farm after you are well educated, you had a good career. It's like a curse for the community.” And she said, “I discovered how agriculture is important, how land is important, how farming makes a difference. And today, I'm a farmer. I'm doing the work of God. I'm not only to produce it, I got enough. I harvest enough to cover my basic needs and also my relatives' needs. And beyond that, my vision is to teach young people through this TLT that I really have benefited from. How they can be more sustainable in their life. How they can engage, at their early age, transformations, income generation activities in order to be independent. Not to wait until they retire. This is an opportunity.” “Now I wish,” she told us, “that I was in touch in contact with World Renew before I retired because I wasted my time, I wasted my energy, I wasted my money. But thanks to God, now I am able to invest in the right directions. I am able to produce. I am able to cover other needs. I am able to satisfy my own community as a woman. The most important thing in our society here is having a woman to own a land. And I am a land owner today because I have money. So I have been impacted by that.” 

I listen to those stories. I have a lot of joy. I can see transformation and I see my own transformation through this story. Starting from scratch and trusting God. And then seeing what he can do when you decide to value what he gives you in your hunt. So this is what I can share briefly, Chris, about. 

Chris: Yeah. The way you tell the story, it seems like there are barriers of age, barriers of gender, barriers of religion… a lot of different barriers are being crossed through this training and relationships are being made – new relationships. Why do you think it's so effective in the communities that you serve? What is it about the training that makes this work so effective? 

There are various approaches that we use as World Renew. The first one is we make this TLT material more practical in order for these materials to speak to the community. We re-adapt the materials to the needs of the community. So it's not a theory, it's something concrete for the community. This is one of the keys of our success. With this material, you can be certified. We have two different levels of certifications. But at the same time, we make sure that if a community needs, for example, how to build relationships we can use only one material, one manual in order to equip them. And this manual could be Caring for God's people. Another manual that we have re-adapted, you don't need to go through the process of being certified. But how can you become a good steward? So we re-adapt the material in order to satisfy the audience's needs, the community’s needs. So the community can see through this material, how they can value their own assets. This is the first strategy that was very helpful for us and helped us to become successful.

The second one is we have re-adapted the material in order to that to reach that audience. In West Africa, in Mali particularly, we had a lot of conflict, terrorist attacks and we are not able sometimes to visit the rural communities. So we re-adapted the material in order to make it an audio program and we broadcast this audio program. At the end, we left our phone number so those who are listening can call us for more orientation and guidance. Because at the end of the training, you have to come up with an action plan that you will implement within three or four months. At the end, we will get in touch with you and see how you were able to implement your action plan. What is the challenge you face? At the end of each year, we had a D-day of TLT in Mali where participants came and shared their experience, their failures and listened and learned from others how they can strengthen their strategy and continue to move forward.

The last strategy that I can share is we focus on women through TLT, which was not the first approach for this material, but we re-adapted it in Mali in order to make a woman the best gender approach of TLT in Mali. If you want to succeed and to reach more people, if you want to see a community embracing this strategy. try to work with women. If they catch the vision, you will see, like a bushfire, transformation taking place. So, the coordination of TLT in Mali is mainly women who are leading that. This happened because we learned from our failures. Fifteen years ago when I started using the material in training church leaders, we focused on men and leaders within the church. After five years, we realized that there is no progress because men are busy. They don't have time. They are well-trained, so there is no disseminations. There is no connection with the next generation. So then we changed the approach. We changed our strategy. And now we are… women are the main gender approached through TLT. So those are the things that I can mention that really are the keys of our success through this Timothy Leadership Training and in Mali, Niger and Senegal. Thank you very much for this question. 

Chris: Yeah, I'm wondering, Harouna, you mentioned part of the training and part of the learning experience for the participants is to come up with an action plan. Can you share a little bit with us what that action plan looks like? What are what are some of the steps involved in in putting that together?

Harouna: Yeah, you have three levels for an action plan and it's very easy. Whether you are well educated or you have never been at school, you will be able to implement, to discover what action plan means. The first thing we try to teach participants: to select some small activities, realistic activities that they can implement. They don't have to select something big. No. What activity they can select for the next three months that they will be able to implement no matter how many challenges they will face? It could be income generation activities or it could be building relationships, and so on. So when you realize that you are able to select a very basic activity that you are always using or doing. It's not really… you are not really bored by that. So then we ask you “What do you want to see? What is the outcome that you are expecting to see?” So then you will describe the outcome that you would like to see. And then we will ask you “How are you going to evaluate that?” So then the next time when we will meet, you will be able to explain to us, using your own words, how you feel, and what is the challenge you face. Maybe even if when you selected your activity, it seemed realistic, feasible, very smart, but during the implementation, you faced some challenges. How do you handle that challenge? What have you done or what adjustments did you do in order to make your activities accessible? And what is the outcome and how did that transform your life and the life of your community? So it's very easy. You have three levels of questions or involvement with the action plan: the activity you selected, and the outcome expected – very easy, we make it simple – and what do you want to see in terms of transformation, not only for you, but for others. 

Chris: Thanks, Harouna. That makes so much sense. And as you tell these stories of the important work that you're doing, I think one of the things that I want to do better and I think our listeners want to do as well is pray for you and your team and the work that you're doing. So how can we pray for you?

Harouna: This is very important. Not only in your office, in your community, but maintain a relation with us. Catching up from time to time. How are we feeling? What is going on? And the reason for that is West Africa, the Sahelian countries where this program is implemented, is in turmoil right now. So when you feel that you have brothers and sisters in Christ somewhere thinking about you, I'm able to reach out from time to time asking, how are you feeling? It's very powerful for us. So this is one way for you to pray for us, to pray with us. Check on how we are feeling. And you will be able to discover more: what challenges on a daily basis we are facing. And the second thing as I have mentioned, in your family, in your community, in your organization keep praying for us.

Chris: Yeah, we can we can commit to doing that, brother, for sure and thank you so much. Thank you so much for the time.

Harouna: You're welcome.

Chris: Thank you so much for the stories that you shared with us. Yeah, our guest today has been Harouna Issaka. Harouna, thanks so much for joining us. God bless you.

Harouna: Thank you very much, Chris. God bless you too.


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