By Tim Timmons, Special to ASSIST News Service
NEWPORT BEACH, CA (ANS – August 27, 2016) -- Six years ago, my wife Diana, and I, hosted Tamrat Layne, and his wife, Mulu, the former Prime Minister and First Lady of Ethiopia. As we chatted together in our living room, our “get-to-know-you” chat quickly turned into the most amazing conversation I’ve ever experienced!
I've had the rare privileges of meeting with many Heads of State (Senators, Congressmen, Members of Parliament, Kings, and Presidents), speaking on the Dalai Lama’s platform before nearly 800 Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, and Christian clergy, participating frequently in the President’s National Prayer Breakfast, lecturing on the largest corporate platforms in the world and enjoying a private audience with Pope Francis to discuss the person of Jesus, at his request.
All of these encounters were both exciting and humbling, but I've never had the experience of having a conversation with a person who has had as dramatic and supernatural encounter with Jesus as Tamrat.
Tamrat’s saga is a Nelson Mandela story, combined with that of the Apostle Paul on the Road to Damascus...on steroids! I’ve never heard anything like it and never expect to hear anything like it again!
At the age of 19, Tamrat was a communist and atheist who was initially out to change the capital city, Addis Ababa, and then the nation of Ethiopia, to help the poor among his people and to overthrow the cruel and ruthless, Soviet-backed regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam. It became too dangerous to remain in the city, so he and a few friends fled to the mountains to build an army to overthrow the then largest army in all of Africa.
It took them 15 years to build an army of over 150,000 and they did overthrow Mengistu’s oppressive regime and he fled to Zimbabwe, where he still lives.
While in power, serving five years as Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Tamrat realized that communism wasn’t working. The poor were still the poor and now he and his friends were in the position of being the rich. When he shared his concerns with the “central committee” saying that he had come to believe that their approach wasn’t working, his best friends, who were co-leaders of the revolution, almost immediately betrayed him by fabricating corruption charges against Tamrat and had him sentenced to 18 years in prison.
His wife, Mulu, and two children fled the country for their lives. Tamrat went from an acclaimed national hero to being branded by his revolutionary “comrades” as a corrupt politician, who had stolen the people’s money and stashed it. Although this was the only narrative given for many years, Tamrat’s story of being falsely accused and imprisoned by his “friends” is now a course that is taught in the law schools of Ethiopia.
After feeling the pain of betrayal and the emptiness, Tamrat became sick enough to be sent to a local hospital, still under guard. A nurse who was attending him was sent by God with a note to introduce Tamrat to the only one who is capable of changing a person’s life, a city, or a nation or the world. His name? Jesus.
Through this simple introduction, Tamrat reached out to Jesus and Jesus dramatically found Tamrat right there in the prison hospital. Jesus appeared to him three nights in a row, inviting Tamrat to follow Him. After this miraculous encounter, Tamrat asked the nurse for anything she could get him that could tell him more about this Jesus. The next day, she brought him a small pocket Bible. Then, for the next seven years in solitary confinement, Tamrat studied the Scriptures in order to get to know Jesus. He had no Bible teacher like me to mess him up in any way; Tamrat was taught quietly by the Spirit of God.
When Jesus apprehended Tamrat, He didn't ask him to become a Christian. Jesus’ message was crystal clear to Tamrat in prison as it was to His early disciples: “Follow me and take my name to the world!” And, this is precisely what Tamrat has been doing!
Within the overall plan of God’s grace, Tamrat was released from his 18 year prison sentence in 12 years. No one saw this coming, but God had arranged for his release.
In the year 2002, a former communist, atheist guerrilla fighter encountered Jesus while in political prison and found a new freedom. The same year, a former Christian pastor and author (That's me!) encountered Jesus while imprisoned by religiosity and was set free! As Tamrat and I were set free, we each had a burning passion to follow Jesus and make our lives all about Him. We each took His mandate to “Make disciples of all nations” seriously and stubbornly.
I never really understood the revolutionary, life-changing, dynamic of making disciples, until I met Tamrat. The powerful army of 150,000 was built and held together by a communist curriculum, written by Tamrat for the revolutionary, communist cell groups.
The communists stole the methods of Jesus and Tamrat embraced them well.
NOW, Tamrat and I have teamed up to build another “army”, this time, the dynamic is Jesus. We have just completed a purely Jesus curriculum, THE WAY. This unique Jesus curriculum is all about small group discipleship—and it works! The first volume contains 12 Study Sessions on Personal Transformation, including two invitations from Jesus: “Come & See!” and “Come & Follow!” (Volume II: People Transformation is to be released by the end of 2016.)
If you want to make disciples of Jesus, then why not use Jesus teachings and methods exclusively? Church growth books and seminars rarely train how to make disciples of Jesus. Leadership books and summits rarely speak of making disciples of Jesus. Very few spiritual leaders rarely make Jesus’ primary mandate as their primary mandate.
Making disciples is Jesus’ mandate for all who choose to follow in His steps. For most of my life I’ve been convinced that Jesus was serious about making disciples, But, along with most everyone else I was confused about how to make disciples of Jesus. The ever-popular thinking about discipleship is that it is the passing along of information—either teaching one on one or teaching in a group. Discipleship doesn’t happen in a Bible study, no matter how good the teaching is. It rarely happens in the typical small group.
When I was pastor of one of the early Southern California mega-churches, I gathered all who wanted to be disciples of Jesus in a large group of 1,000 at a time for four weeks and taught them well. At the end of four weeks, I believed I had just made 1,000 more disciples. All I really did was to make myself feel better that I was “making disciples”. The damage was done to the participants. By equating discipleship to a stack of information, I led several thousand people astray from what it means to be a disciple and how disciple-making is accomplished.
Check out the small group studies that are available in the marketplace right now. Their end-game is not to make people followers of Jesus. The predominant themes are how to become a more productive church member or how to become a better or more knowledgeable Christian. I can assure you that these issues were not on the mind of Jesus, when He commanded, “Make disciples of all nations.”
The most encouraging response we’re experiencing is from young professionals and university students in a variety of cultures, both here in the USA and around the world. They are thrilled with the simplicity and purity of a tool that is about Jesus and from Jesus’ teachings. A surprising and enthusiastic response has been from pastors of large churches around the world, who already have hundreds and thousands of small groups in place. They are seeing how unique THE WAY Jesus curriculum really is!
FINALLY, after publishing 14 books, this is the most significant experience ever for me! We began shipping to leaders in over 60 countries! Tamrat & Mulu and Diana & I are busily training followers of Jesus everywhere we go. FINALLY, it’s all about making disciples of Jesus, the Jesus way!
THE WAY is the first of several tools to fuel the Jesus movement and to advance the conversation of Jesus. Why not use a revolutionary Jesus curriculum to make disciples of Jesus? It just makes sense! Check it out for yourself and your group. THE WAY is presently available at www.timtimmons.com in print and digital formats.
Photo captions: 1) Tamrat Layne, former Prime Minister of Ethiopia. 2) Mengistu Haile Mariam. 3) Tim Timmons and Tamrat Layne in Ethiopia, discussing the next steps for THE WAY. 4) Tim & Diana Timmons and Tamrat & Mulu Layne...caught in a selfie taken by a daughter of Tamrat. 5) THE WAY front cover. 6) Tim Timmons and his wife, Diana.
About the writer: Tim Timmons is a teacher, mentor, author and speaker. He and his wife, Diana, have five children and 16 grandchildren, and presently live in Newport Beach, California. Check out the following websites: www.timtimmons.com and www.tamratlayne.com. Tim can be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org .
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