Update #2 from West Africa

2016 04 11 image 1Meet Francis Olubambi, our national director for Nigeria. We're team-teaching and training about 130 pastors and leaders in Crucible, our course on the life of David, here in Lagos.

I've known Francis for a long time. Probably nearly 15 years. But he's not the same man I used to know. Being with him on his own turf this week has highlighted his transformation.

When I first met Francis, he was brand new to our Walk Thru the Bible global network. He was introduced to our ministry by Phil Walker, who leads our best organizational partner, International Christian Ministries. Under Phil's leadership, ICM has built a network of Bible schools and seminaries across sub-Saharan Africa, and made the best of western resources accessible to African churches. Phil understood the wisdom of empowering national church leaders about a generation before the rest of the Church caught on.

My first impression of Francis years ago was as an overwhelmingly dominant presence. Even though he was attending his first Walk Thru the Bible global leaders conference, Francis had a strong tendency to speak first, loudest, and longest.

Through the years that first impression was confirmed as I watched Francis try to dominate every relationship he had. That included his team members in Nigeria, his fellow African leaders, and Walk Thru's regional directors from all over the world. His interactions with his wife Elizabeth and their three sons followed a similar pattern.

Fast forward a decade or so and the transformation is unmistakable. He's still a very strong leader. But now he leads by serving. The Spirit of God has remade my friend Francis from the inside out.

Humanly speaking, a lot of the credit belongs to Phil Walker. Phil has the same bull-in-a-china-closet natural wiring as Francis, but he learned long ago that his strengths pushed to an extreme become weaknesses.

It is Phil's mentoring that has shown Francis a better way. In Francis' office there's an old picture of Phil hanging on the wall. On my last visit Francis pointed to it and said, "Papa Walker taught me how to lead with love."

Today during Francis' session of Crucible I heard him exhort a roomful of Nigerian pastors to allow their children to make choices and to make sure their kids know that they are loved unconditionally. He spoke those words firmly, but with a gentleness that can only be developed in the crucible of real-life experience.

I smiled as I realized the Francis I used to know would never have uttered those words for fear of appearing weak. But now his authenticity motivated all of us to be more like Christ as leaders, spouses, and parents.

Make no mistake, Francis is still a strong leader. Otherwise there's no way our Nigerian team would have already launched God's Grand Story campaigns in more than 700 churches!

But now Francis is a gentle giant that others want to follow and work alongside. His natural strengths have been recast as spiritual gifts wrapped in the humility of the Savior he loves so much and serves so well.

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