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Missions 101

The Story of TLI (Part 2) - How to Start an Organization

Jul. 7, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio
This is the 2nd post in a five-part series.

At our first board meeting in February 2009 we spent a considerable amount of time praying for each other. I had chosen a board of men who had mentored me or friends who had mentored them. I remember Dave Deuel turning to me and saying, “This is going to be bigger than you realize.”

The big issue of course was money. I was still pastoring part-timeat Pine City, which was not enough to feed my family. We lived on food stamps during that time. I called a few people I knew and sent a letter to a few others. Having grown up in a loving but non-evangelical home, I did not know a lot of evangelicals who could give. All of my Christian friends were either new pastors or still in seminary. 

Tom Steller and I decided to write a letter that was sent out in the Bethlehem Star, which at that time was mailed out to the entire church and people who had requested it be sent to them. One of those subscribers was a seminary student attending Trinity. When he read the overview of what we were planning to do, he emailed me and said he and his wife wanted to support what we were doing. I thanked him politely for his interest and gave him my home address, where all donations were mailed. Two weeks later I received their gift - a $25,000 check made out to Training Leaders International. I ran into the house screaming to show my wife. I never knew a seminary student could write a check over $100. 


I immediately dumped all of it into a website and by early 2010 we were up and running. Somewhere toward the end of 2009 I had a lead on three potential trips. One to Kenya, where my best friend was a missionary. One to Uganda, to a new school I got connected to when their missionary came to Bethlehem asking for support. The last one was to Tunisia, to be led by a board member.

With a website, recognizable board members and the name of Bethlehem Baptist Church
endorsing what I was doing, I emailed seminaries letting them know of our existence in the hope of recruiting some of their students. It worked, and in the summer of 2010 I led a team to Kenya with two couples from Covenant Seminary, a former missionary (now on staff), a young man desiring to be in ministry and a church planter. The first night half the team slept on the floor of my house and we ate my wife’s awesome spaghetti together. When in Kenya we taught theological foundations to pastors from the Anglican diocese and Pentecostal pastors in various slums. I was the leader and mentor. When I was gone my wife processed all the donations.

When I returned I spent 8 days at home and then turned around and led a trip to Uganda. I even left the team 5 days early to get back in time for my friend's wedding. He now serves on the board. 

Training Leaders International was launched. Of course, the devil hates me and while I am not one to identify whether the devil is involved in anything, it’s hard not to believe he was after me, restrained by the gracious leash of God.

In the early stages of TLI I worked part-time and tried to piece together enough to live. It crushed us financially. I also fell down the stairs, and while the Apple computer I was holding made it, I got a hairline fracture in my spine. Our house was randomly spray painted with a swastika and racial slurs. Our appliances broke. Our kids got really sick. On the first trip to Kenya all three of my kids (3 and under) got pink eye and when I returned for 8 days from Uganda, I spent a lot of the time in bed sick myself. God was in it, but it was tough. I wish I could say my prayer life consisted of long trusting prayers and sweet fellowship with God. They were more abrupt and desparate. I didn't know what else to do.

We were also unsure of whether TLI would be financially feasible long-term and I began looking at churches to see whether I could combine my role with TLI with a Senior Pastorate. One church in Colorado became a very strong possibility, but in the middle of the process, their church had a big blow up and they went with the more experienced candidate. We were left to trust God would provide for our family. 

Our first trip to Kenya in 2010 also coincided with leaving Pine City. The last Sunday in June we said an emotional goodbye and two weeks later I was headed overseas. I was now full-time with TLI with no promise of a paycheck in July. God knew.

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The Story of TLI (Part 1): Beginnings

Jul. 6, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

This is the first in a five-part series that tells the story of TLI.

In 2003 I moved from Camp-of-the-Woods in upstate New York to Chicago to attend seminary. Before I left Camp, the man who had mentored me told me to find Hutz Hertzberg, his long-time friend. Full of excitement I arrived on campus to find Hutz boxing up his office. It was his last day but he promised to stay in touch. Over the next few years we would meet semi-regularly and on one of those occasions he introduced me to Leadership Resources International, a missions organization dedicated to training pastors around the world. I looked at their website, was intrigued, but I reasoned I was too young and would not know what I was doing. I repeated that phrase to myself often. 

I graduated in 2006 and got a job in Minnesota doing what I loved - teaching the Bible and coaching basketball. During my third week at the school I invited Sam Crabtree, the Executive Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church to speak to the students and after we met he turned to me and said, “You should teach at The Bethlehem Institute (TBI). Let’s stay in touch.” At the time TBI was the training wing of the church, offering courses to lay people as well as providing a two-year pre-seminary training program. It was then that Amy and I started attending the church and within a year I was teaching.

In the spring of 2008 I knew things were not going well at my place of employment and for years had been thinking about Leadership Resources International and the need for theological training outside the US. I bought Business Plan Pro 10 and began crafting a plan and calling everyone who had ever mentored me to solicit advice. What came of those conversations was an over-ambitious plan that had as it’s primary mission to mentor and send seminary students to help meet the need for theological training around the world. As a side note, I had yet to travel overseas and my only time in another country was a day trip to Canada.

On a Tuesday in April of 2008 I was pulled into the principal’s office of the school where I served and was asked to resign. Having been let go I applied to a Christian school in CT and was one of two finalists. They offered the other guy the job. It was my first rejection from a job I pursued - a reality check to my pride. With a house that had lost almost half of it’s value in two years and two small children, we were stuck.

Two things changed all of that. 

First, in mid-June I scheduled a meeting with Tom Steller, the Dean of The Bethlehem Institute.Screen_Shot_2015-07-01_at_2.01.13_PM I wanted to pitch my idea to him. Armed with my 15-page business plan, full of charts and promises, I walked into his office and handed it to him. He in turn put it on the floor and listened. To this day I don't believe he read it. After the pitch he said, “I’ve been dreaming about something like this. How would you like to do this at Bethlehem?” I didn’t pray. I just said yes.

At the same time I learned a small church in Pine City, MN was looking for a part-time interim pastor. I interviewed in June and started in July. It would turn into two wonderful years serving as their pastor.

When Tom asked me if I wanted to start my ministry at Bethlehem, I don’t think either of us understood what it would take. Over the next six months we cut through all the red tape of a large church. The hesitation was understandable. I wasn’t a member of the church, had not graduated from TBI, had never interacted with the missions department and really only knew a handful of people. We actually recieved multiple "no" votes before we even got to the elder board. What I learned was that having Tom Steller behind me was enough. By 2009 we were given clearance to file for non-profit status as a ministry of the church. Training Leaders International was born. There was one little problem. I had never raised any money in my life.

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A New Focus for TLI - The Training of Immigrant Christian Leaders

Jul. 1, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Two months ago I spoke at a TGC-Twin Cities event at a Presbyterian church plant that also hosted an Ethiopian congregation. A few weeks later I ran into a friend who was trying to help a Hmong speaking congregation in the Twin Cities. These two situations caused me to pause because we have been working on translating our curriculum to Amharic and Hmong to teach abroad while at the same time we have immigrant church leaders in the US, who for a variety of reasons can not access theological education that is available to them.oc-pastors-conference

On top of this I have been researching migrant church movements as part of PhD research.  

These two things made wonder whether TLI could help immigrant and migrant pastors in the US and Europe by providing training for them in their own language. The statistics are staggering and have led some to call it the "Great Commission in Reverse." Just in Minneapolis, MN we have 90,000 Hmong, 77,000 Somali, 37,500 Liberian and 25,000 Oromo. Or take London, where there are more non-English speaking churches than English speaking church. Or Athens, where up to 20% of the city are non-Greeks.

You may know that we now have 21 US Staff and will be over 30 within six months. We have the teachers and church partnerships to be able to do this.

We want to appoint someone whose focus would be to head of this specific kind of training and get like-minded churches involved in cities in the US and Europe that would continue training. This could also be a wonderful way to foster partnerships between English and non-English speaking churches that worship in the same city.

If you know someone who might be interested in leading this, you can read the job description here.

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Is the West Hoarding Theology?

Jun. 30, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Don Sweeting, president of RTS-Orlando, recently interviewed Dr. Richard Pratt on the role of theological education in the US and the rest of the world. Dr. Pratt was insightful (and provocative) as always, and he gave a lot to think about in terms of not only how theological education is done, but also how, in many ways, the West has been quite selfish and inwardly-focused regarding that theological education. The entire interview is worth watching:

HT: JoelWS

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How Christians in Romania Apologized to the Jewish Community Whom Their Grandparents Slaughtered

Jun. 29, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

I learned the following story while visiting Iasi, Romania.

cleanupIn 1940-41 over 11,000 Jews were killed in Romania, mostly by Romanians from a wing of the Orthodox Church. It started when a Romanian and Jewish soldier were captured by the Russians. The Jewish man offered to die in the place of the Romanian, but the Russian killed them both. It was then spread that the Jewish soldier had actually killed the Romanian soldier. So – when the Romanian soldiers came back from war they avenged the death of their fellow countryman.

2011 was the 70-year anniversary of the slaughter. The local Jewish community in Isai has marked it every year by walking from where many Jews were brought and slaughtered to the train station where they were packed into rail cars and shipped away.  The Evangelical churches wanted to be part of the ceremony – to tell them that as a Romanian they were sorry for what their parents and grandparents did and as a Christian to say that a believer would never do that to them and that they wanted to express their love for the community.

The local Jewish community said no, so in response the local churches banded together and cleaned all of the Jewish gravesites, which had not been kept up for years. The adults and youth of the church cut grass and bushes and cleaned tombstones. It was one of the first times that the Evangelical churches were able to work together. The Jewish community leaders were moved by the expression of love. A few months later the evangelical believers and the Jewish community walked together, dressed in black, in total silence, to commemorate the terrible event. 

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